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The bed is so, so soft. Bedelia becomes aware of the mattress and blankets as real physical objects separate from her body slowly, and by each degree, their existence seems more and more miraculous and delightful. She’s on her back, which isn’t how she usually sleeps, so she can’t quite turn her face enough to burrow it into the pillow. She tries to roll over onto her side, but it doesn’t work; which, for some reason, fails to be particularly concerning. This is fine. This is great. She thinks she could stay like this for the rest of her life, and be quite–
She opens her eyes to the morning light, and catches sight of the IV stand beside her bed.
It was nice of him to leave me with so much morphine, she thinks, and the thought is backwards, ass-first, there was a reason for the morphine, it’s only because of the morphine itself that all she can feel is pleased about the morphine, that the idea of him slips past her defences and she doesn’t drag it back by the coat-tails and examine the fact that him is somehow plural.
With an effort of will, something akin to a skeptic reluctantly allowing evidence to be presented that they cannot yet believe will be sufficient to convince them, Bedelia pulls back the sheets covering her body. Her right leg splays out, toenail polish chipping, a single day’s worth of hair growth stubbling the skin. Her left leg ends above the knee.
This would be the right time for the horror to hit her, for her to gasp or scream of cry, but life is only cinematically sweeping when he is around; without him, it reverts back to the way it was before, just a succession of things happening. What happens now is that Bedelia wants to go back to sleep. She turns her head to the IV pole, and wonders if there’s a dial on it she can turn up to drug herself back up; but no, and not only that, the bag is nearly empty anyway. The only things in the room that weren’t there before, besides the IV pole, are a pair of crutches leaning against the head of the bed and a pump-top bottle of hand santitizer. She’s fairly sure she hadn’t bought them, or even arrived in the bed under her own steam. Therefore, he had brought them and placed them here.
“Cute,” she says out loud. Her voice is raspy with sleep and drug. “Thanks.”
She swings her legs over the side of the bed, the long one and the thigh covered in gauze. She awkwardly slathers the alcohol gel over her hands before using one to pull the IV needle out of the other. “Thought of everything,” she mutters, then it occurs to her that if she starts talking to herself– starts talking to him— like that, she might not be able to stop.
She’s not even sure if she can stop now. The crutches are comfortable under her arms, well-padded. She imagines him trying them, perhaps after having broken into some medical supply store under cover of darkness. Will standing around impatiently. I don’t care if Bedelia’s armpits are sore or not, she imagines him saying.
It seems somehow strange that even down a limb, her body still otherwise functions like normal. She has to pee. She hasn’t really appreciated the fact of an ensuite bathroom since the last time she had sex with a man, and that was– well. Before Italy. Everything is either before Italy or after Italy, and willingly inviting a man to her bed was something that definitively lost its appeal, afterwards. She’s not even certain it’s anything to do with him; they’d never actually had sex in the grand apartment in Palermo, only play-acted the before and after like they had someone besides themselves to convince that this little attempt at domesticity was working. Still.
The note is on the counter on top of a plate, as if it were unworthy of something that he had written on to touch Bedelia’s bathroom counter. She sits down on the toilet first, hiking up the nightgown that he must have chosen from her closet to dress her in. He’d left on the underwear she’d been wearing, which would have been gentlemanly if it didn’t mean that she’s now wearing dirty underwear that’s been on her for god knows how long. How long had she slept? Hours, or days? In any case, the underwear reeks of sweat. She pulls it off and pushes it away from her on the tiled floor with her foot.
She pees. Getting up off the toilet seems like a lot of effort. She reaches forward and pulls the note towards her instead. In gorgeous flowing script he’s written post-amputation wound care instructions, as if she hadn’t also gone to medical school, or doesn’t have internet access. There are also medication dosages included. This, finally, propels her off the toilet to check the medicine cabinet. There are several bottles containing, as far as she can tell from a glance, the exact quantities prescribed in the note, and no more. She imagines him sitting at a table, carefully counting out antibiotics and painkillers. Apparently, he has a desire that she not become addicted to opiates. Maybe she should, just to spite him.
More indignities of the body: she’s hungry. For some reason she hadn’t eaten much at dinner last night. She has to go down the stairs to get to the kitchen. Standing at the top of them like a runner at the start of a race, she closes her eyes and calls to mind how she’d seen patients on crutches get around in the hospital, during her residency; there is a technique to it. The stair railing is on the left, so she picks up the left crutch and moves it to the other side horizontal with the other, so she can hold the handrest of both crutches with one hand. She shakily takes hold of the railing. Crutch goes down to the next step first. Hold tight. And hop. She doesn’t immediately lose her balance and tumble down the stairs in a heap, so that’s good. Haltingly, she makes it to the landing and into the–
“Fuck,” she says, more annoyed at her own reluctance than actually frightened. One more hurdle to jump over, just when jumping is no longer her strong suit. “The kitchen.” The kitchen where what had happened, had happened.
When she arrives in it, the kitchen is spotless. More so than it had been before, in fact; Bedelia isn’t a lazy housekeeper under normal conditions, but she’s not immaculate. She’d tried for a little while, when the money from speaking engagements first started flowing, hiring a maid service to come once a week; but the idea of someone in her things, opening her cabinets and laundering her sheets and brushing away the dust and detritus of her life, had been too disturbing to countenance after a few sessions. So the only part of the house that someone is paid to keep up is the garden, which she has never had any particular taste for managing.
Digging in the dirt is supposed to be good for one’s mental health, she recalls. Yet he must have dug in the dirt plenty as a child, both of them, one with his snails and the other with his at least theoretical lower-class rural American idyll of outdoorsy childhood. And apparently it hadn’t done either much good, so. Bedelia keeps a gardener.
Muscle memory takes over, even though it has a different number of muscles to work on. She pulls open the fridge. There’s butter in there, perhaps some jam. She could eat toast sitting in bed. That feels appropriate. She could–
There are leftovers in the refrigerator.
For the first time since waking, Bedelia’s stomach lurches with nausea. On the top shelf, there is a line of glass containers that she hadn’t previously owned: rice in one, sauce in another, and enough meat to fill three of them.
She has to do it quickly. Like cleaning up dog shit on the floor: out of sight, out of mind. She grabs the containers, stumbles over to the garbage can under the sink, and drops them in. She barely makes it to the back door of the house in time to heave over the side of the back porch’s railing. All that comes up is a bit of watery bile, soaking into the grass below. She’s not sure whether she’s glad or not that it wasn’t more. What became of the meat in her body has to come out on one end or the other, after all.
She gets back inside, pours herself a glass of water. She’s actually hungrier now, which doesn’t seem fair. Instead of opening the refrigerator again, she reluctantly, as if compelled by some force beyond herself, opens the cupboard door under the sink and stares into the garbage can.
He had taken out the garbage; not just the garbage, but the recycling bin is also empty, as is– when she opens it hesitantly to check– the compost. She peers through the window into the composter in the corner of the yard that is her only concession to gardening, and imagines him emptying her week-old eggshells and banana peels into it. There is no residue and only a faint chemical smell in the compost bucket when she lifts the lid; he must have cleaned and sanitized it, as well. Same with the garbage can: it is fresh-smelling, and the bag that lines it was empty, before. Now it is full of her.
Stuff is supposed to stop existing when you put it in the garbage. That’s what garbage is; objects grouped together solely on the basis of being unwanted. Once an object becomes garbage, it ceases to be itself. And yet somehow the ontological transformation that the garbage can is supposed to effectuate on its contents doesn’t work if the garbage can contains only one object. She stares down into it. It’s not a garbage can containing garbage. It’s a stainless steel container containing a scented plastic bag containing her leg.
She removes the containers from the garbage can, puts them back in the refrigerator, and makes her way slowly back up the stairs. She is due for a dose of the antibiotics he left her. Before or after eating, he’d specified next to the dosage, but she’ll just have to make do on an empty stomach this time. The idea of disregarding his instructions gives her the same kind of pleasure that eating candy in bed gives a child. She considers that she could eat candy in bed as well, which would be just as counter to his intentions– as well as having exactly the same actual effect on him, that is to say, none at all. She finds the pill-bottles in the cupboard in the bathroom, exactly where she would have chosen to put them herself. Then she pulls her laptop onto her bed, and orders home delivery of several boxes of energy bars from the grocery store. She needs to eat something, and she has no plans to re-enter the kitchen for a good long time.
When she was just starting her residency, young and enthusiastic and naive, Bedelia had moved to Baltimore and lived in the house of a man who’d advertised in the newspaper. I am a retiree with three rooms to rent in my home, the ad had run. I am looking for people who want to be a community together. No eating meals in your room alone, we’ll be like a family. The price was good. Community, Bedelia had thought as she’d picked up the phone to call the number. Yes, perhaps that’s what I need. She’d never quite managed to find it on her own, after all; too strange, too chilly, too morbid, to ever really have a group of schoolmates or colleagues make the transition to a group of friends. Paradoxically, every failure of connection had made her want to double down, be more herself and less of whatever it was people generally wanted in a housemate. (Perhaps it was that aspect of her that had made him decide that she was the only person who could ever be his therapist; he, too, only ever sought to become more and more himself through therapy.)
The retiree had accepted her happily, and once she’d arrived in the house, she’d realized quickly that the ad was more of a desperate wish than a description of the actual atmosphere. The retiree was eccentric in a way that appeared charming at first but quickly became tiresome; he ate a restrictive diet intended to improve his longevity, and would talk about it at great length at the slightest provocation, so eating meals together was somewhere on the spectrum in between unpleasant and actually impossible. He had sent for some sort of impovrished Eastern European mail-order bride, though it had taken Bedelia a while to figure out what she actually was and that they had in fact never met, because he talked about her only as “Nadia, my beloved,” and was fixing up his grimy basement for them to live happily ever after in once she arrived. The basement was also where the oven was located, which the retiree explained was fine because one oughtn’t eat too many cooked foods anyone for the sake of one’s longevity, so it was really to Bedelia’s advantage that she couldn’t cook anything while the retiree was napping, which turned out to be most of the day that he wasn’t trying to find someone to lecture about longevity or the beauty of inter-cultural and and -linguistic love. Thus, far from the idyllic community promised by the newspaper ad, Bedelia had followed the example of the two other exasperated students living in the house with her, and taken most of her meals by buying something prepackaged at the grocery store on her way home from school, hiding it in her bag and scurrying to her room to eat alone, sitting on her bed.
Bedelia’s life in the days following what she has come to think of, partly humorously, as the Last Supper, resembles life in the retiree’s house to a degree that is both discomfiting and oddly pleasant. Discomfiting, because she is used to this house being her domain; the fact that she is now barred from the kitchen by the vagaries of her own mind is not a welcome development. On the other hand, once the comparison to life in the retiree’s house presents itself to her, she finds things to be grateful for; that she can order takeout food and non-perishable groceries with the click of a button, and doesn’t have to hide them from anyone as she scurries from the front door back to her room. That she doesn’t have to sneak the garbage out afterwards; and if it sometimes piles up around the bedroom, not exactly sanitary or a state of housekeeping she would show to anyone else, so what? There is nobody else here to see. She is alone. Being alone– both Bedelia and her two most persistent psychiatric patients have always known– is both its own reward and its own curse. Freedom is a double-edged sword.
And the food– well. It’s as well that she isn’t preparing her own food, because she’s never been much of a vegetarian cook– despite the retiree’s best efforts– and it seems that eating flesh is too much, too far, right now. She’d tried it once, adding a serving of General Tso’s Chicken to her order from the closest Chinese joint and trying to convince herself it’s no big deal. “It’s barely even chicken,” she’d said out loud an hour later, sitting on the comforter with the styrofoam container open on her legs. “It’s mostly batter. Just deep-fried cornstarch. That’s all.” She’d taken a nibble of it like it might hurt her, and found that it did in fact hurt her: a bone-deep ache in the boundary of the amputated limb, the shock of which sent the pain arcing through her entire body like electricity. She’d left a stain of reddish sauce on the white comforter from dropping the container of chicken, then thrown it away and not tried again. She orders a lot of food from the cheapest, objectively worst Indian place in town: plenty of almost-too-old vegetables doused in sauces made up mostly of salt and heavy cream. Nothing like she would ever make for herself. Nothing like he would ever make.
It’s fine. It’s a life. She’s alive. She’s eating food, somehow, after, which in itself she feels should be some sort of point in her favour. She wonders how many of his former dining companions in the Baltimore social scene are struggling with a certain kind of late-presenting, atypical anorexia. Perhaps she could set up a practice counselling them. He would find it amusing, at least, but the laugh that bubbles up in her feels sour in her throat and dies before it reaches the air.
Then, one day, there is a knock at the door.
Bedelia is, as usual, sitting in bed. In theory there’s no reason that she couldn’t use other rooms beside her bedroom to sit around in, but this one feels the safest. There’s no room that he hadn’t entered and invaded, but at least she doesn’t actually remember him tucking her to bed, whereas she remembers with absolute clarity him in the kitchen, sitting at the table, bringing her to the parlour where they used to have therapy sessions for a class of Scotch after dinner– not for her, of course, he’d apologized, as she was now on painkillers and antibiotics. She’d gotten cranberry juice with soda instead, like she was a teetotaller stuck in a bar or someone with a UTI.
She also remembers him knocking on the door. Will had told her, after all. It ought to have been expected. And yet– they’d fallen off a cliff. She’d seen the pictures and for once, had managed to delude herself into thinking that the usual laws of physics and reality might apply to him.
The laws of physics and reality don’t, but his own laws do. And she’d understood, even as she was lying on the makeshift operating table in her own basement (does he prefer it in a basement, when it’s like this, she’d wondered) that he was forgiving her her influence over her– over them. And yet her influence was only partial, so the forgiveness need only be partial. He prefers the world with her in it. She knows that. So she shouldn’t be this hesitant to open the door. Or perhaps she simply shouldn’t bother; it’s probably a Jehovah’s Witness, or something. They’ll go away if she ignores them.
They don’t go away. The knocking gets louder. Then the mail slot opens and a voice drifts through the house: “Dr. Du Maurier, I know you’re in there. I saw the light on and your shadow moving. The downside of modernist architecture: very little privacy.”
She frowns. She is still taking enough morphine daily that it takes her a moment to place the voice. Also, the last time she heard that voice addressing her in that tone, she was even more drugged-up than she is currently.
She’s been getting better at getting down the stairs; she has to do it to pick up her deliveries. She opens the door to find Jack Crawford standing on the stoop, hands in his pockets, looking unimpressed. Which is to say he looks normal, which is a strange kind of relief.
Bedelia does not look normal. She looks woozy and bloated and like she hasn’t washed her hair in a week, and that’s without mentioning the crutches and the missing leg. A few days ago she’d started finding it irritating to be dragging around several feet of useless fabric underneath her stump, so she’d cut off a few pairs of pyjama pants. It’s not a particularly elegant job; she hadn’t sewed up the edges so they’re fraying, and the ragged edges leave the impression of her leg having been cut off right along with the pants. Like she’d simply taken an enormous pair of scissors to half of her lower body.
Crawford doesn’t seem particularly surprised or horrified by her appearance. Well, she considers, it makes sense that he’s not surprised. The only subject Crawford has ever had any interest in talking to her about is him, and if he’s here to talk about him, her body does the talking much more eloquently than anything she could say with her mouth. As for horror– well, he’s probably seen worse. He does work for the FBI. Or does he?
“Agent Crawford,” she says, flatly. She’s not sure what kind of affect she’d intended to inject into her greeting– perhaps that is why it doesn’t make it in.
“Mr.,” he corrects. Well, that answers the question of whether or not he still works for the FBI. Apparently serial killer death matches are frowned upon. She’s somewhat relieved that the correction also clarifies that they’re not supposed to be on a first-name basis.
She leans heavily on the crutches, looking at him. He seems content to be inspected, at least for a moment, and even in her not-quite-with-it state she can see, with a tiny bit of relief, that he appears almost as dishevelled as her. Okay, not almost, she is forced to admit. But he is, at least, moving somewhere along the spectrum of personal descent into entropy whose far reaches she is beginning to plumb.
Bedelia really needs to get better at telling the people who show up at her front door to piss off. And yet apparently today is not the day that she improves, because this is the first human contact she’s had since– well, perhaps that didn’t count as human contact, exactly. He (they, she tries to keep reminding herself) has moved on from humanity. (Have.)
So she could tell him to piss off– could even call the police, probably, if he refused, since he apparently no longer has a badge to wave at them– but she doesn’t. Instead, she steps aside. “You can come in if you want,” she says, and her voice comes out sounding doubtful. She’s not embarrassed about the state of the house– dusty, with mail piled up by the door and probably smelling of stale takeout smells that she can no longer discern from having lived among them for so long. But she’s still a little bit surprised when he murmurs “Thank you,” and steps inside.
They stand stiffly together in the entranceway. He peers into the parlour, and she stiffens. She’s either going to have to invite him to sit down in one of the rooms she hasn’t entered since the Last Supper, or… something else. They could go outside, she supposes. She hasn’t been in the backyard, or even looked at it, besides picturing Hannibal clearing out her compost bucket.
He nods his head slightly towards the parlour, and it’s either say something, or go with him. “I have found myself,” she says, “Unable to make use of most of the rooms of my house, recently.”
She’d expected pity, or scorn. It’s what she would feel, probably, which is likely why she was never a particularly effective psychiatrist for the average person. But instead Crawford just nods, like she has offered merely a fact that must be accommodated. It’s the kind of bland acceptance of horror that you learn, she realizes, when someone you love is dying and you’re both trying not to talk about it more than absolutely necessary.
And for some reason it is that– the knowledge that he has watched someone he cares about far more than her go through horrors of the body much more pronounced than hers– that makes her discard any sense of propriety she might have been trying to keep up. “We can talk upstairs,” she says, and without waiting for an answer turns around to make the laborious ascent to the bedroom. She can feel him behind her, following patiently, trying not to rush her. She hops into the bedroom and sits back down on the bed, exactly where she had been. She’s aware that the bedroom is a mess, and decides not to care. If he thinks she’s disgusting and slovenly, perhaps it will just make him leave sooner– and that would be fine. She should probably want that.
She doesn’t want that. Crawford looks around the room for a chair, and finding none, settles himself on the other end of her bed, without asking. He is very good at sitting on beds, Bedelia thinks. It’s a learned skill, sitting on someone else’s bed and not being too stiff, nor to intrusive. She stretches out her legs, leaning against the headboard, and watches how he doesn’t prevent himself from looking, but he also doesn’t seem all that tempted to stare. He’s seen worse.
“Do you need anything?” he asks. “Groceries, help around the house, a lift to appointments?”
For a moment, Bedelia is actually rendered speechless, trying to parse the question. He is offering her things, they both know perfectly well, that she can easily pay to have done for her. The kind of thing that the poor and middle-class need to help each other with, when they are incapacitated, but that neither ex-psychiatrists with the savings borne of a period of hefty speaking fees, nor ex-FBI directors with presumably hefty buyouts, need to worry about finding a friend to do out of the goodness of their heart.
Bedelia can remember a time in her childhood when her mother, perhaps, would have made that kind of offer to a friend; but Bedelia herself had never had anyone that she cared about enough to do such things, and then she’d graduated out of the social class that would consider it polite to make an offer that involves by necessity invading someone’s space and being witness to their vulnerability. She, and everyone she has known for the past many years, would be infinitely more likely to send over their own maid service or cook or driver than offer to help out themselves. Not only is it less work for the giver, it’s less obligation for the receiver. Only one individual of her acquaintance, of course, would choose show up with home-cooked food instead, and he’d had ulterior motives.
She can’t tell if Crawford has ulterior motives. She tries to imagine saying yes, and asking him to go buy her toilet paper or take out her trash. For some reason, it’s easier to imagine him doing it than Crawford. And yet Crawford is the one here, offering. Sincerely.
She clears her throat. “Thank you. No. I… have everything I need.”
Crawford looks slightly skeptical at that, but at least verbally he takes her at her word. He shifts, posture shifting from casual to slightly more intentional to signal that he is about to come around to the real purpose of his visit. He reaches into the inside pocket of his jacket, and pulls out what looks like a postcard in a plastic evidence bag. Bedelia keeps her face very still. She doesn’t need to be told what it is. She doesn’t want to see it, either, but neither can she imagine letting Crawford leave without her having seen it.
He holds it in his own lap for a moment, staring at it, like he needs to steel himself to even explain. She could be kind, and make it so that he doesn’t need to. She could just take it from his hands and look at it. She doesn’t. Instead, Crawford finally forces out, “He sent me a card, every year on the anniversary of Bella’s death. For the first three, Alana kept them back and asked if I wanted them. I suppose I should have kept them as comparison, but I told her to throw them out. This year…”
Now Bedelia does reach forward and take the bag. Inside is a postcard, set up exactly like you would find in a gift shop, but on thick high-quality cardstock cut to size. On one side is a stamp– from Italy, but of course that doesn’t mean anything. Wishing you the best on your day of remembrance, it says, and a signature. She turns it over. On the other side is a watercolour painting of a small lake or pond, surrounded by thrushes and willows. In the middle of the water, a dog’s head emerges, swimming towards the perspective of the painter. The entire image exudes an air of nearly shocked contentment. As if the artist can barely believe himself to be so lucky as to be witnessing the scene in front of him, and can only make sense of his emotions by rendering the scene hazier and less real on paper. It is more believable for this to be an ideal, a fairytale, than for it to be real.
Which, she understands immediately, is exactly the problem. “My replacement at the BAU,” says Crawford, “points out very reasonably that anyone could have done this. A hoax. One of Freddie’s peanut gallery, hoping to stir up some law enforcement news worth gossiping about. News of my… retirement… has not been widely circulated.”
Bedelia shakes her head slowly, and the air between her and Crawford seems to soften slightly. After a moment, it feels almost natural for them to be sitting on her bed together, staring at this. They are the only two people who remain who are not in hiding, who are in possession of most of their wits and the important parts of their bodies, and who can tell at a glance that this is not a hoax.
“There have been plenty of hoaxes, I assume,” she says.
“Plenty,” he answers. He hadn’t needed to consult her, or likely anyone, about those.
She both does and doesn’t want to look at it again, but when it comes to him, she has always been terrible at looking away. She glances at the handwriting for barely a moment, then turns it back over stare at the painting.
“I’ve never known him to work in watercolour,” Crawford says, “But you know his artistic sensibilities better than I do.”
“A new medium for a new phase of life,” she says. His pencil drawings had rendered reality in a nearly painful kind of beauty, stark in their faithfulness to his perception and yet as revealing of his own perspective as any pun or veiled admission he’d ever made. This is the mirror image of that kind of art. Nothing and everything has changed.
“So you think–” She looks up, and Crawford simply lets his sentence trail off. He doesn’t want to say it. She doesn’t want to hear it.
“I assume the FBI is in possession of many pieces of art to which a qualified person could compare this, even across media.”
“They are. They’re not interested in doing so.”
So Crawford not only doesn’t work for the FBI, he now has so little influence there that he isn’t trusted even as a tip reporter. Either that or he does have influence, it’s just the wrong kind: everything Jack Crawford touches turns into career suicide.
The kind thing to do would be to tell him to let it go, as no doubt his replacement and his former employees have already done. She could say, truthfully, that if he (they) isn’t (aren’t) already dead, they are as far as Crawford is concerned, and he should move on with his life.
Bedelia is not kind. He had certainly never come to her for kindness, and Crawford hasn’t either, so she doesn’t give it to him. Besides, she has never been in the business of giving out advice she wouldn’t take herself. And as much as she would like to be able to claim the high ground on this one, Crawford has found her hiding out in her bedroom under a pile or takeout containers.
She opens her mouth to give him instructions, then closes it. For some reason the idea of someone else being the first to enter any of the other rooms of her house since him makes her even more nauseous than the idea of entering them herself. For a moment she is simply frozen, convinced she can’t do this. Of all rooms, she had to have filed her patient records in the basement. The basement.
He notices her distress. “Are you all right, Dr. Du Maurier?” he asks.
She covers her face with her hands, pulling at her skin, breathing through her fingers. “Call me Bedelia, Jack, please,” she mutters, more a stall for time than anything. And it feels as if they ought to be on a first-name basis for what they’re about to do together.
He touches her elbow softly, the kind of professional soothing touch he’d probably used thousands of times on distraught witnesses. “Bedelia,” he says, in his smooth soft Good Cop voice, “I’m sorry for upsetting you. If there’s anything else you can tell me–”
“I have something that will interest you in the basement,” she says. “A drawing that you can take for comparison. If that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for.”
He pulls back. “That would be great,” he says gently. “I can go get it for you. You don’t have to make the trip down there.”
She shakes her head. “I do.” And then, with the last shred of her dignity feeling like and elastic stretched and about to snap, “Will you come with me?”
“Of course.” He’s used to odd requests. He’s used to broken people. She reminds herself that this is normal for him– perhaps the most normal thing that he’s done since his last scheme at the FBI went terribly awry (at least from his perspective.) A return to the status quo. She is giving him something to do that he is good at, so perhaps she’s the one who really has it together in this situation, and he needs her. It’s a lie, but a comforting one. Neither of them has anything together.
He follows her down the stairs to the front entrance, and she manages to make it across the house to the top step leading into the cellar before she stops, her heart pounding too quickly and she needs to stop to rest.
“Don’t touch me,” she snaps, unsure of whether he was even going to try but unwilling to find out. He doesn’t touch her, and they both lapse into silence, staring down the polished wooden steps into the darkness of the basement below.
She wonders how long he would stand here with her before saying or doing something. It seems almost appealing to try it and find out, but the experiment into human behaviour would be just a ruse, and excuse she was making to herself to cover up the fact that she doesn’t want to do this. She just doesn’t want to.
She’d recommended exposure therapy, in the past, for patients with phobias and anxiety. She’d asked them to face their fears and come back the next week to report on it. Some came back tearful having failed, and some jubilant, having triumphed. She’d imagined it, privately, like a kind of game. She placed internal bets on who would be able to carry out the assignment, and felt vindicated when she was nearly always right. Of course, she was aware that a more caring doctor would likely only feel personal failure when a patient failed in their task; it was her job to prepare them for the task, after all. And yet still, she was always more interested in seeing what would happen than arranging for the most favourable outcome. Yet another thing that her and her penultimate psychiatric patient had in common.
In the end it’s not some force of will that propels her down the stairs: the ankle of her right leg begins to ache, not yet used to holding the weight of her body on its own. “You first,” she mutters to Jack, mostly because the stairs are steep and she is afraid of missing her footing and pitching headfirst down them. He seems to have the same thought, and makes his way down in a kind of sideways posture that is ready to catch her at any moment without wanting to appear that way.
There’s nothing, of course, no indication anywhere of the last purpose this space had been put to. The folding table that she uses as buffet holder when holding social events in the garden is nowhere to be seen, presumably back in the storage closet where it belongs, though she isn’t going to check. The plastic drapes they’d placed over it were probably simply placed in the garbage; no particular need to hide the evidence of the crime when she was right here, human evidence. The only indication that anything at all had happened here is the slight smell of cleaning solution, a chemical lemon smell that isn’t usually present.
Jack looks around. Even without the evidence of her terror, she thinks he would be able to recognize the crime when he sees one. There is a certain arrangement of the air, a heaviness, where it still holds screams.
There are three filing cabinets in the corner of the room; a lifetime’s worth of patient files. She takes a deep breath. A patient. He hadn’t been a patient, technically, when he’d given her what she’s looking for today. She considers as she pulls open a drawer and runs her fingers through the contents whether it would matter if he had been. If Jack asked for her entire file on him, right now, would it matter? Could she even tell Jack anything he doesn’t already know, or would the only information of value in there be on her?
She doesn’t want to linger. Her skin crawls like there are bugs climbing up her from the floor, and if she could she would run back up the stairs like a child running out of the darkness and into the light. She can’t, so she just clutches the piece of paper she came for in one hand and doesn’t particularly care if it gets crumpled as she hops her way back up. Jack trails her silently, and she is breathing hard by the time she collapses back on her bed. This time, he doesn’t sit.
She holds out the paper. “Here.”
The drawing is of her. She’s sitting at a table, a plate of oysters in front of her, the image frozen with her fork half-lifted to her mouth. She has never been able to tell what emotion is being portrayed in her eyes. She’s not even sure what was there at the time– at the amalgamation of times from which he’d drawn this from memory in his jail cell– and it is even more ambiguous in the drawing. It looks a little bit like pain. She can’t tell if the perspective of the drawing delights in the pain, or sympathizes with it, or both.
Jack looks at it. “Oysters are traditionally considered an aphrodisiac,” he comments finally.
“Not a very successful one,” she says. Jack glances at her, and for the first time he has the shadow of a smile on his face. It’s not that funny, but they’ll both take what they can get at this point. Besides, he’d probably wondered how far the little game of house he’d stumbled into in Florence had gone. Now he knows.
“May I borrow this, then?”
“Please don’t return it,” she says. Then, in a rush, “Don’t destroy it. But don’t return it.” She doesn’t want it here, a drawing of her that is as good as having a portrait of him, and yet the idea of it being thrown out or ripped up or burned feels like an insult to her, not just to him. She would feel it as her image was destroyed, one more piece of her gone forever. It seems right, though, that it should stay in an evidence lockup forever, if Jack actually manages to get anyone at the FBI to listen to him, or failing that, with him. Jack can have it hanging around in his basement for the rest of his life, to be disposed of by distant relatives when he finally kicks the bucket. He probably has more functional distant relatives than Bedelia does, anyway.
“All right,” he says, unexpectedly gently. The bag containing the postcard is larger than the postcard itself, and he unfolds it to slip the drawing in alongside it.
She leans back against the headboard, suddenly exhausted. Two flights of stairs at a decent clip is more exercise than she’s gotten in quite a while, so it’s not exactly surprising, and Jack seems to have an instinctive sense of when an invalid’s energy has run out. He nods. “Thank you,” he says. “I can let myself out.”
She just nods. Oddly, when she falls back asleep, it is more restful than it has been in quite some time.
The leg aches. The parts of the leg that aren’t there ache, a phenomenon of which she was well aware from textbooks but feels somehow unfair when it happens to her. She graduates from gauze to a compression sock, a selection of which she finds in her underwear drawer. Her skin crawls at the discovery, but it’s better than having to decide on her own what to buy and ordering it for herself online, so she wears them. The four walls of the house close in and in.
She stands at the bathroom vanity one morning, staring at her own too-pale face. She looks simultaneously too thin and too puffy. “You can’t go all the way down,” she tells herself. “You don’t even know how deep this well goes.”
After several weeks of very nearly trying to spiral into a sort of numb indifference, however, she now realizes that she’s not entirely sure how to exit the pattern. Normal people have showers, get dressed, go to work. Bedelia does not have showers: she’s not steady enough to stand on her own on the slippery ceramic, and having someone in to install handrails is a concession to this condition being permanent that, despite its obvious and immediate permanence, she is not yet willing to make. Baths every few days will have to do, and yet there is somehow significantly less get-up-and-go motivation encapsulated in an awkward, splashy bath with one thigh thrown over the edge of the tub than there is in a shower. So, showering is out. Getting dressed: well, she does have the few pairs of pants that she’s cut off at the knee. She could have a tailor here, order an entirely new wardrobe. Not just for her lower body; she feels that somehow she ought to look different, now. A significantly accomplished tailor could simply take over the details– she could say “make me some new clothes, whatever you think is right” and have them delivered within a few weeks. It’s what he would do. Adapting to his new circumstances would be, Bedelia thinks, something very like a joy for him. Perhaps that is why she is so resistant to it. As long as she avoids anything even close to joy, not to mention art, she can slip farther and farther away from anything that he seems to have staked his claim on in her mind.
That leaves going to work as the final portion of the normal-person trifecta. She imagines sitting down in her parlour, inviting patients into her space like the last two hadn’t just gone and eaten her. It makes her throat feel unexpectedly tight with emotion, and she realizes that on some level, she wants to. She’s pretty sure she’d never gone into the medical profession for the reason that you’re obligated to at least insinuate on your application essays– to help people. The idea of helping people seems like far too weak a motivation to ever get anyone to do anything; is anyone telling the truth when they say that? Bedelia isn’t motivated to help most people, but she does like to understand them: take them apart like intricate toys and put them back together in a different pattern. If they understand the reorganized self to be in some way better than the old one, and credit Bedelia with it, it’s nothing to do with her. Other people are like funhouse mirrors. You see yourself in them, twisted beyond recognition. Sometimes you see yourself in them all too clearly, at which point– she now knows– you should probably leave the country.
She misses it. But to see patients would require– well, all of the other things, first. The showering, the tailor, the cleaning. The extra railings in the bathroom and down the stairs. The fitting for a prosthetic. It would require her to want to look for herself in other people, when she can barely look for herself inside her own body.
So she doesn’t do any of that. Instead, she makes herself dares. The house is now more of an obstacle course that some place to live; every part of it feels fraught with a different sort of peril. People who haven’t experienced enough of both might think that physical and psychological peril are different creatures, but those who have experience with both know they are not. They are one and the same. So the stairs and the kitchen and the aching pain that takes up residence after the morphine runs out and the dining room and the way his ghost walks through the hallways making comments and the smell of garbage that needs to go out– it’s all the same. She dares herself to go touch the kitchen counter with a fingertip for three seconds. Or poke her head into the living room and say “Hello, Will,” in the same tone of voice she used to say it when he showed up at her house for therapy. She’d learned that tone of voice from him, for him, a greeting that gives nothing away.
Mostly she fails the dares. After the first time that she simply doesn’t do it, not doing the things she dares herself to do starts feeling kind of gleeful. Neener neener, you can’t make me do anything, her mind taunts itself.
Oddly, there is one kind of dare that she manages to do every time. She doesn’t want to break her streak, in case she loses the ability. She can go into the basement now.
The lemon scent has dissipated. She has never been the kind to hear the echo of long-gone screams in a place; that was for Will Graham and his ilk. And Jack Crawford is Will Graham’s ilk. He had sucked her terror from the basement air and tucked it away in a corner of his mind as evidence.
There isn’t much to do in the basement, but she starts spending more time there anyway just to prove she can. She looks around and wonders at how very typically American it is: the underneath of the house serving primarily to store things that there is no room for on the upper levels. Out-of-season clothes, shoes, coats. A washer and dryer and dehumidifier. Plastic tubs full of notebooks, textbooks she’d put away from school and never quite decided to be done with. The kind of thing plenty of middle-aged divorcées stow away in their basements. It amuses her to think of herself as just that; a scorned lover, an affair that fell apart, well, he ran off with someone else, never mind the missing leg, that part’s not important. The detritus of her life is packed away here neatly. Filing cabinets full of patient records.
She sits beside the filing cabinets one afternoon and spends three hours going through it. Not his records, but the others. The neurotics. The anxiety and depression and occasional psychosis just to keep things interesting. They seem like more interesting people in retrospect, or at least more tolerable. She wonders how they’re doing, and spends another three hours sitting on the steps leading up to the main floor, nose buried in the glow of her phone as she searches the name of every patient whose face she can remember on social media sites. The ones she can’t find, she assumes are dead. None of her regular patients had left her care well-adjusted enough to simply choose not to use addictive social networking sites.
It’s nice. Through the basement, she has a tiny window to the rest of the world. She cannot pry it open any farther than this on her own. She presses her face to the crack and tries to breathe the fresh air.
In the time it takes for the phone to ring three times, she nearly hangs up. Her finger is on its way to the red “end call” button, her body flooding with relief, when the line springs to life with a click. “Hello?”
“Agent– Mr.– Jack.” Smooth. She’d kick herself if she had enough limbs to do it with.
“Bedelia.” He doesn’t stumble over her name. Well, that’s good, probably.
She’s in the bedroom, leaning on one crutch, staring out the window. In this moment she misses having a landline. She’d paid for one right up until Italy, and when she’d returned it had seemed a silly thing to reinstate when setting up house again. What does anyone use a landline for, these days? Well, right now, she would use the coiled length of the cord for nervously twisting around her finger. The glass of her smartphone screen is slick with oil from the side of her face.
She shouldn’t have called. There’s still time to take back the call, if she can think up another pretext for phoning him. She could tell him something, anything, about their life in Florence that she can pretend she’s just realized may help him. She wracks her brain. He brought home a little Will-imposter and killed him on the carpet in front of me, she could say. Not really relevant information to the current situation, since he now has the genuine article. Also, she doesn’t feel like saying that.
She says the thing she called meaning to say. “I was wondering if you could come to dinner at my house.”
There is a pause. Not a long one; he’s good at rolling with the punches. There’s not much left on this earth that can surprise him. Or at least, it feels good to tell herself that. “Sure,” he says. He’s not going to ask the follow-up question: why? He’ll come and suss it out at the meal itself, instead, like a good little FBI agent. He’ll read her intent, her neediness, from the walls and the pattern of air movement and the way her hops stutter as she passes from room to room. She’d rather just tell him.
“As I mentioned our first meeting,” she says, “I have found myself psychologically incapable of making use of most of the rooms of my home. I would like to challenge that inability.” She doesn’t need to tell him that it’s him who challenged the previous one; that she’s been thinking more and more about the way he seemed to clear the basement for her like he had performed an exorcism.
“What should I bring?” Jack asks, and she remembers him offering to help her out around the house. It’s another stolidly middle-class question, out of place in both of their situations. This time, she doesn’t refuse.
“I…” her fingers twitch, aching for the landline cord. She hadn’t planned exactly how to say this. She wants him to come to dinner. That doesn’t mean she’s going to be able to cook.
“How about I bring over some pizzas on Friday,” Jack says, with an air of finality that sounds so natural he can only have learned it over an entire career’s worth of practice. She imagines that if he said “How about I bring over some pizzas on Friday” in that tone of voice to Will Graham, Will Graham would indeed be eating pizza on Friday, will he nil he. Supposedly that was more or less the case, but with gruesome murder scenes instead of pizza. Her lips twist into a smile that feels like a grimace.
“That sounds very nice,” she says, voice stilted with relief.
“Alright, Bedelia, I’ll see you then,” he says, far too indulgently. Like he has it all together and he’s doing her a favour. Her mouth tastes sour as she hangs up the phone.
She needn’t have worried. Jack talks a big game, but when he shows up on her doorstep on Friday, he looks like complete shit. He’s lost weight; he was never a slender man, and theoretically it should make him look fit, but somehow it just looks gaunt instead, like the spectre of his former body is hanging over his current one for comparison. The whites of his eyes are shot through with red, like someone who hasn’t been sleeping or has been staring at a laptop screen all day or both. He’s clearly had to dig out some old clothes to find something that fits him, and the mismatched suit looks like a remnant of his student days or early career days, cheap fabric with the creases not quite pressed out by a hasty iron.
Bedelia smiles, and opens the door wider to him. “Come on in.”
He holds up three stacked boxes. “I got some of the, uh, nicer frozen ones from the grocery store,” he says. “Figured you could use the leftovers.”
“Or you could,” she says. She’s not sure if she means it as a pointed comment about his appearance, or simply permission for him to take home whatever amount of food he wants.
And then he’s making his way into the kitchen like it’s nothing, which to him it isn’t, and that is exactly why she invited him here. So that he could stand in front of her oven and peer at the controls and say “Afraid this is too fancy for me, Doctor. How do you turn it on?”
She makes her way across the kitchen, for the first time since the first day of her new life. The pizza box has “425°, 12-15 minutes” written on it in black sharpie. She fumbles a little trying to arrange her right crutch to allow her to lean forward to the control panel of the oven, and Jack steps in to support her. The buttons on the oven have quiet, musical tones to them.
She stands back up. She is in the kitchen. The oven is warming up. Perhaps there was fingerprint evidence on the buttons that she has just smudged over, or perhaps its last user had wiped them cleanly off. It doesn’t matter now.
“All right there?” says Jack.
Bedelia lifts her chin a little, imperiously, an echo of an affectation she vaguely remembers used to live under her skin permanently. “Wine?” she asks, and is moving to the counter where she’d set out a bottle before he even answers.
“Please.” Jack doesn’t ask if it’s okay for her to be drinking, but she can see the question in his eyes.
“I’m celebrating,” she says. “I just finished the last of my antibiotics and painkillers a few days ago.” When she hands him a glass, he raises it in the air.
“Congratulations,” he says, and they both drink.
There are stools around the kitchen island. It would perhaps be more appropriate to wait in the parlour, but she’d invited him here to open the kitchen for her, and she’s not sure she’s ready to leave it. They settle there instead, Bedelia perched carefully with her crutches leaning against the island, Jack running one hand over his chin pensively.
“I’ve been running up against… limitations,” he says finally.
The oven chimes to signal its readiness, and Jack stands to slide two of the three frozen pizzas inside it. It gives her time to think of a response, which she needs. She hasn’t done this in a while.
“So have I,” she offers when he returns to sit down. “What is the source of your limitations, Jack?”
He shakes his head. “No source,” he says. “They were always there. I’m just noticing them for the first time.”
“You have been deprived of the resources that you grew used to in your position with the FBI. It’s natural that you would feel bereft without them. Even more so when you’re undertaking a manhunt that the FBI itself has given up as hopeless.”
“Not hopeless. Just not politically expedient,” he corrects. “But it’s not just that. It’s the people. I grew used to the subtlety of management. Finding out how someone works and then figuring out how to arrange them to get the best result. I was more like an orchestra conductor than a police officer.”
“For an orchestra conductor, a rather large number of your musicians died. Or worse.” Bedelia had gotten to know him too well to blame anyone but Will Graham for how Will Graham turned out, but she can’t apply the same standard to the others– his trainees, his employees that he had sent into Hannibal’s path on their own. She’s read the reports. Miriam Lass, Beverly Katz. There are probably more that she doesn’t know about. Maybe more that Jack doesn’t even know about. Failures buried too deep in his own psyche to dig out now.
Jack nods slowly. “But it’s really a very dull story, isn’t it?” he says, his voice soft like an echo of the past. “A generational gap. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I retired. My entire generation grew up thinking that pushing people was good. That this was how you managed. The coach screaming obscenities from the sidelines, the parent punishing a child for their own good. That’s how we were raised, Doctor, and I never looked around me hard enough to notice that times were changing.”
She doesn’t miss the casual we in the latter half of the sentence, the objectively odd assumption that the two of them must have grown up in the same pocket of social and generational assumptions. Perhaps it’s not entirely untrue, but the argument as a whole does make her chuckle a bit. “‘I was just raising ‘em up like I was raised,’ really, that’s your excuse?”
At least he has the good grace for a tiny, rueful smile. “Not much of one, is it. Hannibal–” and Bedelia flinches involuntarily at the name spoken aloud so casually, like it’s an incantation that could call him up from thin air– “once told me that when it comes to nature vs. nurture, he chose neither. I’m beginning to see his point. If I was a bad manager from nurture, then my soul is innocent. If I was a bad manager by nature, then my actions were predestined, and how can I be to blame?”
“Either way, you come out innocent,” Bedelia manages to respond, trying to will her heart to slow.
“And that…” Jack sighs. “That just doesn’t seem right, does it.”
Bedelia stares at the numbers on the oven timer for a while, counting down. The silence is heavy but not awkward; the ball is in her court, and she is still planning on lobbing it back as soon as she can find a racquet strung tight enough.
When she finally finds it, she has to force the word out with a puff of air. It sounds like she’s spitting. “Hannibal,” she says, “wants to be wholly responsible for his own actions. He would never admit to either predestination nor the influence of his experiences having an impact on his choices. It’s why he publicly refuted the insanity defence that saved his life. Do you want to be responsible, Jack?”
“Maybe I’m beginning to see the attraction. Even if responsibility means you’re a monster, at the very least, you’re not a victim.”
The oven chimes. Bedelia points wordlessly to a hook with oven mitts on it, and Jack slides them out of the oven and onto cutting boards. They’re really too hot to cut into or eat right away, but she watches with interest as he digs in her drawers anyway and pulls out, instead of a knife, a pair of scissors. He brings them to the centre of the kitchen island and snips the pizzas into slices with scissors like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Bedelia just watches, fascinated. It’s the kind of mundane, domestic thing that reveals more about a person than any therapy session, and yet you would never know just from talking to them. Perhaps that’s why he— why Hannibal— preferred to converse over food. Each grasp of a fork was an opportunity for unintentional revelation.
He rifles through her cupboards for plates without asking for direction, and when he hands her one, she pulls a slice of pizza onto it without waiting for it to cool. A long, greasy thread of cheese lengthens between the pizza and her plate and then snaps, hanging over the edge of the ceramic. She licks it into her mouth.
“You’re not a monster, Jack,” she says finally. “I’m sorry if that’s disappointing to you.”
That seems to close the conversation; if Jack has further thoughts on monstrosity, he doesn’t share them. Bedelia makes her way through three unexpectedly good slices of pizza in silence, and at first the silence seems companionable. A pleasant change, to have a dinner companion who has no need to hear the sound of his own voice unnecessarily. She asks him to pour her more wine, and he pours for both of them, his eyes meeting hers in what looks like suspicion.
He thinks she might be lying about the medications, she thinks, with a flash of something halfway in between affront and pleasure. He doubts her, but he’ll keep pouring as many times as she asks. If she wants him to, he’ll help her self-destruct. After all, she had helped him; handed him a piece of evidence upon which to stake his hopes, acted as his partner in the inevitable spiral downwards that will have to result from going after Hannibal again.
“We’re terrible for each other,” she says out loud, pushing her empty plate away from her and taking a deep drink of wine. “And the worst part is, we don’t even like each other.” Because that is the worst part, she realizes almost at the same time she says it. For all that she had seen from both perspectives Hannibal and Will’s swirling resentment and hatred and violent love, she had also seen all too clearly their friendship. Friendship ought to have been too simple a thing to bind them together, but in the end, if there was anything she had been jealous of in their dance, it was just that. That they liked each other, enjoyed each others’ company.
Jack’s company is, now, better than nothing, and she can see that that is precisely what hers is to him. But nothing has become, for both of them, a sucking void above which nearly any sympathetic human presence would be preferable. Hannibal and Will, meanwhile, had cultivated their own nothings like gardens with high walls. They are the only thing better than nothing to each other.
She doesn’t need to explain her train of thought to Jack; he has followed it silently, inevitably. “I like you just fine,” he answers. It’s not a lie.
She raises her newly full glass. “Here’s to ‘just fine,’ then,” she says, and they both drink. This time, the silence that they lapse into is stranger, full of questions. If they despised each other, like they had goaded themselves into doing in Italy, or if they liked each other something more than just fine, it would be easier. But the fine-ness feels gooey and malleable. It could be any shape, but right now it is amorphous and sticky. The silence stretches between them like hot taffy, and they both attend it carefully, wondering when it’s going to snap.
It snaps when Jack, finally, chuckles a little and shakes his head. “If someone had told me four years ago,” he says, “That I’d be sitting in your kitchen trying to figure out if it was a good idea to make a pass at you, violence would probably have resulted.”
It feels, unexpectedly, right. Why should this be any weirder than they two of them having dinner together? At least there’s a script for a man and a woman ending up in bed together after dinner. If she’s lucky, she might even remember some of the lines from it.
“It’s a bad idea,” she says, “But given the trajectory of ideas in the portion of our lives for which we have known each other, it might be an upturn.”
Which is how they find themselves back in Bedelia’s bedroom. It’s somewhat cleaner than the last time he had been here; since she’s started spending more time in the basement, she’s become more adept at walking up and down stairs, to the point that taking out a bag of trash every once in a while no longer seems like so onerous a task. In a way, she finds it unfortunate. It would have been somehow appropriate to force anyone who wants to get close to her physically to enter the refuse dump of her mind, view her unwashed laundry pile and smell her week-old takeout containers. Instead, the room is relatively clean. Seems like false advertising, but then, she’d never intentionally advertised anything to Jack. If he wants her, that’s his own damn fault.
She sits on the bed, because there’s not much she can do with her hands standing with the crutches, so he sits beside her. She sets to work unbuttoning her blouse. It had been clean when she’d put it on for dinner tonight; most of her real clothes, the ones she’d have previously considered actually wearing on a daily basis, have been untouched since the Last Supper. Too difficult to get off and on, too reminiscent of a person she isn’t any more. Jack’s hand stops her on the second button.
“Let me?” he says, and yes, that’s a good idea, people who are about to have sex are supposed to undress each other. She nods. Jack takes off her shirt like a nurse, not a lover. But then, he’d never intentionally advertised anything to her, either.
She can’t exactly return the favour. The easiest position to remove his belt from would be kneeling, but she’s off-kilter. He does it himself. They end up lying across from each other on their sides, Bedelia resting on her left side and using her full right leg to prop herself up, Jack on his right. Someone needs to do something. He reaches a hand out. “Can I…?”
You’re not supposed to ask to touch someone’s damn breast once they’ve already indicated an intention to have sex with you, and yet, if he had done it without asking it would have felt odd. “OK,” she says, and then hastily amends it to a more enthusiastic-sounding “Yes.”
She feels like she should ask, too, but forces herself not to and just reaches a hand down to cup his cock instead. It’s soft, which is fair, since she’s pretty sure if she had one it’d be soft too. He pinches her nipple lightly, and she grabs onto that as the first genuine sensation since they’ve entered the bedroom. “Mmmhmm,” she says, awkwardly, hoping that’s the most appropriate way to communicate “more of that.” He does the other one. His cock stiffens a little, a weird sensation when it’s happening directly against her hand.
“Maybe, ah, some lube,” Jack mutters. Bedelia winces. Nobody enjoys saying the word “lube” out loud. Luckily there actually is some, a probably-expired bottle in the drawer of the bedside table. She has to reach across him to grab it and nearly falls flat on top of him, which would bring them into the most skin-to-skin contact they’ve had all night, so she carefully avoids it. It feels cold, slick and awful when she pumps it onto her hands and rubs them together, but when she reaches down for his cock it seems more interested.
He takes his own dollop of the stuff, correctly intuiting that she’ll need it, and this time he doesn’t ask before bringing his hand down between her legs. She closes her eyes, waiting. He pushes two fingers between her folds, getting her clit slick. It feels fine. His fingers are warm. It’s fine. She opens her eyes and concentrates on his cock, which is half-hard. He’s breathing a little harder but it might be for show, or in an attempt to will himself into a serviceable erection. It makes her feel a little bit bad for penis-havers, as a category. You can’t lie back and think of England– or more to the point, think of anything besides your weird fucked-up life– when your body won’t co-operate. She imagines for a moment offering to fuck him instead, pretty sure she has a plastic cock stashed under the bed which she’d brought it to Italy just in case. She’s certain Hannibal would have accepted enthusiastically if she’d ever actually offered. She’s not so sure about Jack. But she didn’t offer then, and she doesn’t now.
It takes up some time, both of them pawing at each others’ nethers, lost in their own thoughts. Eventually Jack says, “Should I put on a condom?”
Bedelia shrugs. “Not on my account.” Hannibal, she thinks resentfully, would never have been so rude as to remind her of her own menopause in bed. Probably. If he did, it would have been an intentional jab, or some kind of quasi-philosophical comment on aging, and not an attempt at politeness or safety. The thought nearly passes through her head without meta-commentary, until she realizes that it’s probably the first unpanicked, almost positive one she’s had about him since the Last Supper. It should have her vomiting in the bathroom, but she feels fine.
She rolls over onto her back, inviting. It hurts a little when Jack tries to enter her, which is almost funny– if you go too long without having sex, do do regain some kind of virginal state? It’s a nice thought, that you can erase the history of your body simply with time. Only you can’t, of course. She tries to help, holding her own labia apart to let him guide himself in, but then realizes that the problem isn’t her, it’s him; he’s not quite hard enough. Now would be a good time to do something sexy, probably, roll him over and give him a handjob or a blowjob, but that sounds exhausting. He manages to slip mostly inside and give a few half-hearted thrusts, braced above her on two hands like he wants to avoid touching her (well, he probably does) before he sits back and says “Yeah, sorry, this isn’t going to work. Can I–?”
He reaches back to her clit, lying down beside her to rub at her. She closes her eyes and tries to find the path in her body that will eventually lead to orgasm, but it doesn’t seem to be there. There is sensation but no narrative, nowhere for it to go. Eventually she grabs his wrist and says, “It’s ok.”
They lie there for a while naked, arousal ebbing. Bedelia finds herself coming back from wherever she had gone, and oddly, both of them seem more present now than they had been while attempting to get each other off. When they meet each others’ eyes, Bedelia can’t hold back a smile. Then, a tiny giggle.
“Don’t laugh,” says Jack. “It’s not funny.” But he’s started smiling, too, and the smile is growing.
“It is,” she says, “A little.” She holds her thumb and forefinger close together. “Poco poco.”
“Estremamente poco,” Jack admits, and then they’re both laughing out loud, the sound filling the the house like a gas, seeping into the corners and making them bright and inviting.
As they catch their breath Jack rolls back over to his side and touches her shoulder, rubbing a thumb over her skin; with no intention but to touch her, and entirely more diverting than their sexual attempt. She breathes out hard one last time, and turns to really look at his face. He looks so much older than he had the first time he’d shown up at her house to ask if her patient could be protecting his own patient. It feels like it’s been millennia.
He runs his hand down her body to rest on her thigh. “Are you going to get fitted for a prosthetic?” He asks.
“Ugh,” says Bedelia, drawing out the syllable like a petulant teenager. “This post-coital pillow talk sucks ass.”
“We didn’t engage in coitus,” he points out reasonably, and waits for an answer.
Bedelia stares at the ceiling. “I haven’t thought about it,” she admits quietly. It’s true. She had been consciously avoiding thinking about it at first, when it was new and getting around the house a pain that constantly reminded her of what she was missing, but now she’s settled into a rhythm. Not exactly a healthy or functional one, but a rhythm nonetheless. It’s stopped seeming so urgent, and as the urgency fades, the resistance to the idea builds. She doesn’t want to show someone what happened to her. It’s the same impulse, she knows, that causes clients who booked psychiatry appointments of their own free will to clam up in sessions, say nothing and claim that everything is fine; but understanding the phenomenon doesn’t do anything to excise it from her own mind.
Jack’s fingers drum on her skin. “I know how you feel,” he admits.
“Sometimes it’s easier to continue in the status quo, no matter how unpleasant, than make a change,” she says. It sounds like a therapy platitude, and perhaps it is, but if she said it to a patient, it would be with the goal of convincing them that it would be worthwhile to make the change. She doesn’t have the energy to try to convince either herself or Jack. She will continue limping around the house on crutches, and he will continue throwing himself at the brick wall of the search for Hannibal and Will.
“Mmm,” he agrees. They lie there for a while more, and then Jack stirs and starts looking around for his clothes. It’s kind of convenient, Bedelia thinks, that there’s no semen to clean off from anywhere. None dripping out of her unpleasantly, more to the point. A therapist would probably point out that the pleasure and connection of sex is supposed to be worth the cleanup, but somehow it’s stopped seeming that way. This is better.
“You can…” she stops herself. Why? What does she want out of this? It makes no sense. She says it anyway. “You can stay the night, if you like.”
Jack, standing by the side of the bed with his pants half on, is clearly as surprised as she is by that pronouncement. He considers it for a moment, and she knows the rejection is coming, and braces for it.
When it comes, though, it’s soft as a feather. “I don’t know if I’m ready to sleep in the bed of a woman who isn’t my wife,” he says, and the raw honesty in it is nearly blinding. Bedelia nods. Sleep is more intimate than what they had just done, even more intimate than what they had just failed to do.
“Maybe, uh, maybe next time,” he says, absurdly.
“Sure,” she says. “Next time.”