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A Capacity for Surprise

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She’s only a little surprised when she finds the famous cannibal on her doorstep, his clothes caked in blood and his face pale and haunted. It’s not that his sudden arrival is anything less than shocking, but her capacity to feel it to its full breadth is somewhat diminished.

“We need your help,” says Hannibal Lecter. She looks past him to the driveway, where the dim shape of a man sits slumped inside some manner of boxy domestic vehicle. She thinks it’s probably that former FBI fellow who was always in the tabloids, but she can’t be certain from this distance.  

“I could have sworn you were in prison,” she says.

“He set me free,” Hannibal says. “But he’s going to die. I might, too.”

She clucks her tongue in pity. "What a terribly dull end that would be after a thrilling prison break! I suppose you should both come in, then.“

She watches Hannibal limp back to the car to fetch his passenger. As they draw near the house again, she can see that it is, indeed, the former FBI fellow. Will Graham? Yes, that’s the name. He’s even bloodier than Hannibal, and paler. She remembers thinking he had a beautiful face when she saw it on the news. It looks like meat now.

"You can have the guest room,” she says, waving an arm towards the hall.

“Do you still have any of Dr. Komeda’s medical supplies?” Hannibal asks.

“Of course,” she says. “It would be just my luck to get rid of them and then he’d finally come home after all these years. What a fit he would throw!”

“I do recall he had a temper,” Hannibal says with a weary smile.

She excuses herself to Richard’s study and gathers everything she can think of. Scalpels… gauze… suture kits…an armful of things she doesn’t know the names of… The isopropyl alcohol has evaporated from the bottle, so she brings vodka.

When she returns to the guest room, Hannibal has arranged his friend on the bed. Despite his shallow breathing, the whole tableau has a funereal air about it, right down to Hannibal’s expression of reverence and despair. Unlike a funeral, however, there is also a note of hope that rings out so clearly she can nearly hear it.

“I know a thing or two about stitches,” she announces. “I can assist you.”

Will Graham remains unconscious for the duration. He still looks dreadful, but markedly less so after Hannibal’s surgical attention. They both need blood, but it’s not like she has any of that just lying around. Under his guidance, she stitches up the wound in Hannibal’s back. She’s only ever had to sew up relatively small cuts, but she manages a decent enough job of it now.

“Serendipitous that the bullet went cleanly through,” she says, bandaging him up.

“It wasn’t by chance,” Hannibal says. “He intended to kill me by means other than his expert marksmanship.”

“He?” She gestures towards Will.

“A mutual enemy of ours,” Hannibal says. “No, Will tried to kill me—tried to kill both of us—by pulling us into the sea.”

“Lovers’ quarrel?” she asks.

“A quarrel,” Hannibal says, “between the two halves of his heart.”

She laughs lightly. “Was it the winning half or the losing half that threw you into the sea?”

“I think they worked in concert,” Hannibal says. He takes hold of Will’s hand, rubbing the bruised knuckles tenderly with the tips of his fingers. “It’s impossible to predict him with any degree of certainty.”

She watches them for a while, and feels as though she’s intruding on a deeply personal moment, even though Hannibal gives no indication that he wants to be rid of her company. She thinks she’s never seen anyone look at someone the way Hannibal is looking at his Will Graham now.

“I thought you were a shallow person,” she says. When he glances over at her she flicks her wrist. “I don’t mean it as an insult. I liked it about you. I’m a shallow person, too, you see. I’ve made myself this way, so that nothing truly surprises me anymore. If nothing can surprise me, then nothing or nobody can frighten me. Because it’s not really me, you see?”

"Richard was always himself,” Hannibal says.

She gives a small smile. “Being frightened only made it worse. Prolongs it. Oh, I never know whether or not to speak of him in the present tense! Never mind—I spent half the day dreading his return home, and the other half tiptoeing around him as if my own house were a cemetery. But being shallow is so lovely! Thinking only about parties and new designers and neighborhood gossip… Pretending to have a life is so much lovelier than living one, isn’t it?”

“It can be,” he says.

“But you’re not shallow,” she tells him. “Perhaps you were pretending to be to keep everyone from knowing what you are, or perhaps you’d genuinely shut off a part of yourself. Either way, he got past your defenses, this Will Graham. Didn’t he?”

“Your astuteness betrays the depth you claim not to have,” Hannibal says.

She scoffs and pours herself the last of the vodka. “The tabloids I read are merely coming back to me now. I have to think they didn’t call him your Murder Husband without cause.”

Hannibal smiles and lays a hand over Will’s heart. She doubts that Hannibal is a man of prayer, but if he were, he’d be trying to make a bargain with God about now.

She brings him a ewer of warm water and washcloths so he might clean Will as best he can. “I don’t know if you’ll want a shower with those stitches, but there are towels if you do, and clean clothes of Richard’s for both of you.”

He thanks her and begins dabbing a wet cloth over Will’s brow. The wound in his cheek looks worse rather than better, and she wonders if the antibiotics in Richard’s supplies were expired. Perhaps it’s just too soon to tell.

“You don’t seem worried that I’ll call the police,” she notes.

“More important things to worry about,” Hannibal says. “Saving Will matters more to me than preserving my freedom. And I thought you might be too curious to see how it all plays out.”

“It’s not like I can ever tell anyone,” she tells him, adopting a scolding tone. "Either you’re going to kill me when this is all over, or I risk admitting I abetted a fugitive from the law! Oh, but I’d love to see the gallery set’s practiced looks of horror!“

"I’m not going to kill you, Elisabeth.”

She smirks at him. “Hmph.”

“I have no reason to,” he says. “And you can say you feared for your life. Make a grand story of it, if you wish. I made you help me. I came at you like an animal.”

“Or-or a demon,” she tries. “Oh, yes, I like that. You do have an almost otherworldly charisma about you. Oh, but wait—you said ‘help me,’ and not 'help us.’”

“Will may wish the world to think he died,” Hannibal says. “Or he may wish to return to his family when he’s healed, so I ask that you not mention him. Better I remain a me than part of an us until I know his wishes.”

“It’s impossible to predict him,” she quotes back. “Oh, Hannibal. You poor smitten thing, you.”

Not twelve hours later, Hannibal is packing up their stolen car in preparation to leave. Will is still unconscious, but Hannibal seems satisfied that he’s out of the proverbial woods, or enough so to justify moving on.

“I’m not going to tell anyone you were here,” she tells Hannibal. “It will be my little secret to savor, and it will give you more of a head start.”

Hannibal, wearing one of Richard’s old sweaters and much better than he ever did, looks unsure. “I assure you, you have my permission—”

“Tut tut, Hannibal. It’s not nearly juicy enough without the love story aspect, anyway.” She gives his arm a friendly swat. “And what if you end up wishing for the world to think you’d died, too?”

She goes about packing the rest of the antibiotics and some bandaging, and what little food she keeps around the place because she can never be bothered to actually cook. She also takes five thousand dollars and a pistol from the safe in the study.

“He’d be furious if he came home and his gun were missing,” she says as she hands it over. "But that’s a bridge to ponder later.“

"Elisabeth,” Hannibal begins. "You’re free. Richard’s not coming home.“

"Well, you never know. They never found him—”

“They never found him,” Hannibal interrupts, “because I hid him rather well.”

He says something else, but she rather suddenly can’t hear him very well. It’s the oddest thing. Shethinks he’s explaining about how Richard met his end one night seven years ago after turning up drunk to his shift at the ER once too often, but she’s not entirely positive. Why can’t she hear exactly what Hannibal is telling her? And why does he look so concerned? He reaches out to her and puts a hand on her arm.

She slowly realizes that she’s laughing—louder than she can remember laughing in decades. Her cheeks are wet, so she might be crying, too.

It’s too much all at once. The relief, the element of surprise she hasn’t let herself truly experience for so long, the sense of amazement and ridiculousness of it all… To find out like this! On a random day when a famous cannibal showed up at her door!

She bows her head into her hands as the laughter becomes sobbing. “You should have told me sooner,” she says, then she says it at least a dozen times more.

A little over a year later, after the FBI seems relatively sure that the Chesapeake Ripper and their former special agent are long dead, there’s a presentation and exhibit about them at the Evil Minds Research Museum.

She wanders among the attendees, draped in a length of silk hand-painted just for her by a new designer of her acquaintence. This is not her usual circle, but it’s a bit like visiting friends in absentia which she finds is rather nice.

She sips mid-level champagne and makes her way over to a small group that’s gathered at a photograph of Hannibal and Will at a crime scene they worked on together.

“Well, Lecter’s a psychopath,” one man is saying. “It’s not like he can ever really love anyone.” The rest of the group nods and murmurs their agreement.

“He could and he did,” she says, sweeping into their little gathering.

Everyone turns towards her.

“I happened to know Dr. Lecter,” she goes on, remembering to speak of him only in the past tense. “He worked with my husband when they were both surgeons, and I went to many of his parties. Whatever other failings he had, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved Mr. Graham terribly and truly.”

Titters of excitement go up among them. “Can you tell us anything else?”

“Oh yes, you’d be surprised,” she says, adopting a scandalized tone. “I was certainly surprised when I learned the truth for myself…”