Christine waited to go further into the Opera until she knew for certain Hannibal Lecter's carriage was gone. She wasn't going to chance being discovered by anyone tonight. Not that she was wrong in being here. As the diva, she could come and go as she pleased really. Removing her cloak and gloves she allowed her hair to cascade over her shoulders before she walked on stage. She was oddly calm given the circumstances.
She had never sought her Angel out before. Not so boldly at any rate. Would He mind? She had heard rumors, if her idea of just who He was was true, of things He had done to people who went searching for Him. Surely He would not do those things to her.
Her talk with Hannibal had been comforting, proving that she did indeed have somewhere to go without leaving Paris and everything she'd accomplished here behind. Carlotta would be the first to happily bid her adieu, of that Christine was certain. But she didn't want that, to have to leave. She owed it to her father, and to Erik, to see her career with the Opera House through. Even if he were to cast her aside after tonight she owed it to him to see it through.
It was her distraction at thinking of Carlotta that she failed to notice she was not alone. She was startled to see a figure dressed completely in black standing on the stage. As he turned to face her seeming to know she was there already, she knew even before seeing it that his face would be masked. But why, she didn't know. It was clear to her, however, even through the mask, that he was just as startled to see her as she was to see him. She had obviously intruded and she felt terrible. This was, in essence, his home.
Erik stood almost frozen in place, amazed to be standing this close to Christine again with no mirror separating them. She had come back to the Opera after their talk earlier that evening. But why? This could be either good or bad and he was fully aware of that.
"I'm sorry," Christine whispered as she started to back away. This wasn't how she had anticipated talking to him. Not like this. She had only seen him once until now, and she couldn't fully recall that one time. She wasn't prepared for it now.
Fragments of the night they had together were piecing themselves together in her mind and she knew that she should be ashamed of herself for not regretting what she had done. What they had done. But she didn't regret it. Her career at the Opera aside, she still didn't feel the guilt she knew the Church would suggest she should feel. In fact, she realized that her first instinct when she realized what had happened was not to go to confession like she normally would have done. Instead, her instincts brought her here. To Erik, her Angel.
Erik tilted his head slightly, extending one arm effortlessly and with the grace of a lion his index finger beckoned her to him. "Don't go, Christine," he whispered though he knew she heard him well enough.
Christine did hear him, though the voice sounded as though it was coming from within her head rather than from across the stage. There was little thinking to do, however, as his voice called to her. He didn't want her to go, and she found that she herself didn't want to go either.
She knew, somehow that he could have forced her to stay, willed her to stay, but that he was indeed giving her free will to choose whether she wanted to stay or go. Just as he had the night she chose to give herself completely to him. Her Angel. But could he be both Angel and man? She had to wonder.
She stepped towards him, placing her hand in his offered hand. "Thank you," she said softly unsure of just what it was she was thanking him for.
"You came to see me, I presume," he said lyrically, his thumb stroking the top of her hand. "Should I go up to my box so you can feel more at ease, Christine?"
"No," she stammered quickly and found that she meant it.
"Then what? It's late. You should be home sleeping, not out looking for me."
She regarded him with interest, slightly put off with being right here in front of him like this. It was a little overwhelming. "I need to talk to you, Erik. May I call you that," she asked.
"Of course. I have no other name for you to call me by, so my given name will have to do."
"You know," she said, releasing her hand from his grasp and walking past the proscenium looking out over the empty and dark auditorium. "You failed to take something into consideration when you deprived me of remembering what happened, Erik." She was trying not to be bitter or accusatory here, but it was difficult not to. If she hadn't remembered something tonight who knew how long she would have gone without realizing just what her problem was.
"We already talked about this, Christine."
She shook her head, a flourish of curls floating through the air as she turned to face him. "No, we didn't talk about this, Erik." She glanced at her hands clutched in front of her. "I'm with child," she said in almost a whisper. Though to her, in this place that was normally a sanctuary of sorts to her she felt that her voice saying those three words was deafening.
Erik audibly took in a breath as her words reached out and grabbed him as no other words could have. He honestly hadn't thought about that happening as the result of their night together. He realized that it was how children came about, of course, but he knew there were people who struggled for months or years to make children. And he honestly didn't believe he was able to make them. He had always imagined he was different than other men in every way.
"I see," he said finally realizing that was probably a horrible response. But he wasn't sure what to say.
"Is that all you're going to say to me," she asked almost pleadingly. As much as Comte's offer was kind, Christine didn't like the idea of someone else raising her Angel's child. "It's yours. I assume you know that there could be no other option but that."
"I believe you, Christine. I just am not sure what to say." In truth it frightened him. What would this child look like? Would it look like Christine or like him? "I hadn't thought about this happening or else I wouldn't have taken the actions afterward that I did."
She toyed with a pleat in her skirt, running her fingertips along it. "I think I know that, Erik. I do not wish to pressure you though. Not into anything. But Comte Lecter."
"You told him," Erik asked, his eyes wide with a mixture of both amazement and anger. Amazed that she would admit such a thing to someone knowing how she held to her religion and its teachings. Angered that she would choose him to tell of all people. Erik knew the man wanted something from Christine, though he couldn't figure out what as of yet. The man was slippery, almost as slippery as Erik was which made it difficult to find things out about the man.
Erik, of course, had one advantage over him, he didn't exist. Well, he did, but as far as he knew his mother had declared him dead years ago. There were no records on him, who he was, what he did. He imagined Christine's beloved Church probably covered up his birth well enough as well.
"He's a doctor, and I needed someone to talk to. I wasn't sure you see."
"And he verified you were," he asked, angered further at the thought of that man laying a hand in any way on Christine.
"Well, no. He told me to come talk to you actually. He seemed to believe me when I said I thought I was. I have no proof that I am, but it makes sense. I'm more lethargic than I normally am. I'm sick most mornings and sometimes throughout the day. Certain foods that I never liked I now can't get enough of. Does that not sound like the symptoms of the condition of pregnancy?"
He was supposed to know the answer to this? He could tell by the way she was looking at him that she believed he would know. Well, he didn't. He would have laughed if he didn't know it was the most inappropriate thing he could do at the moment.
"It would seem to be, yes. And so he told you to come talk to me for what reason?"
"Well, to tell you of course. He's offered to marry me," she added softly, glancing away from him as she said the words.
"So you've come here to tell me you're carrying my child but you're going to marry another man?" He didn't believe that was why she was here, but he was curious just how this marriage proposal came to be. "I appreciate the information. I'm not sure whether you want my offering of well wishes though," he spoke somewhat angrily. The nerve of her coming her with such information only to tack onto it that another man sought her hand in marriage.
"I'm not sure what you mean," she said almost mutely.
"Well, you might want to ensure Monsieur Lecter knows just what he has in store for him if he wants to take responsibility for another man's child." He turned his back to her briefly, removing his mask before he turned to face her again. He didn't wait for her response. It was the first time in a long time he had removed his mask for someone without being asked to do so. "I'm not quite sure he would want a child looking like this. Shall we go ask him to be sure?"
Christine knew he was trying to shock her, and though it worked greatly she tried her best to not give in. But she had never seen anything like it, his face, or what she guessed was his face. It was hideous, frightening, and nauseating all at once. How could this be possible? Her Angel with a voice that could melt butter couldn't look like this thing in front of her. "I'm not sure that that's necessary," she finally said not realizing she had taken steps backward in response to his removing his mask.
"Why is that, exactly? You just won't tell him the possibility exists that this child you carry could be another freak of nature? Or are you going to rid yourself of the child instead?"
"No," she demanded. "I could never do that."
"No," he queried, taking a step towards her laughing maliciously when she stepped back in sync with his step towards her. "You want to live your life being frightened of your own child and its father, Christine? Believe me when I tell you the child is better off not living at all than to experience a loveless childhood."
She took a step towards him, her hand reaching towards him in almost a maternal gesture. All she had to do was close her eyes and imagine what life for him must have been like. God must have had a plan, though, when He did this. With her eyes closed she could almost forget what he looked like without his mask on. Almost. "But your music, Erik," she said softly, opening her eyes again to look at him. She didn't want to look. She would have preferred to look at the floor or anything but him, but she had to. She couldn't stop herself. She was drawn to him, but she didn't think it was his influence drawing her to him this time.
"The only good thing that's come out of my music, Christine is you. I've done nothing else good with my existence, and I even managed to damage and taint you as well. For that," he sighed softly something he didn't do often. "I'm sorry."
"But you didn't damage me," she said sincerely. She closed her eyes, collecting her thoughts. "I would be perhaps out of a job if it weren't for you. Don't you see that?"
"You could very well be out of a job now, Christine, if they find out you're with child. And you can't very well tell them who the father is."
"I can't," she queried, her brow furrowing as she opened her eyes to look at him again. She was becoming less and less repulsed by the sight of him. Whether it was from numbness to her senses she didn't know.
"Of course not. I mean, you could tell them my name, certainly."
She was growing more confused by this. "Why? Because of what you do? Who you are? I wouldn't walk around telling people you and the Opera ghost were one in the same person. Surely you realize that, Erik?"
So she did know who he was. "Well, yes, and people will think you quite mad for being with someone like me."
"But," she grew quiet thinking through before she spoke. "I don't care what anyone else thinks. If I did, I wouldn't be in the Opera at all. I would have chosen a respectable profession."
He replaced his mask on his face slowly. "And you're saying you'd rather be with me than Monsieur Lecter who has offered you his hand? I find that hard to believe, Christine. You'd have money, the power of his name, a proper name to give your child, and I'm sure he'd let you continue on here at the Opera."
"He offered in case you didn't want me or the child, Erik. That is all. That was the condition of his offer, that if you wouldn't he would."
He laughed lightly. "How nice of him. I don't like him. So it seems I would have to do the honorable thing if I don't want my child which you're apparently determined to have despite knowing now why I wear a mask to be raised by a man I dislike."
"Why not? Why don't you like him? He's been nothing but kind to me, Erik."
"Of course, because he wants something from you. And I'm sure he sees your condition as a way of getting it."
"I have nothing to offer him, Erik. I don't know what you could possibly mean. He did not know until tonight that I was with child, nor did he have any reason to suspect I would be."
"No, I suppose he wouldn't have," he said softly, turning away from her clenching his fist briefly. "What do you want, Christine? You have two drastically different choices presented to you."
"It is your child, you have been my Angel and my teacher for so long I could not imagine my life without you in it."
"And what if the child looks like me, Christine? What would you do then? Would you raise it or leave it to die as it should be able to do?"
"I could never do that. What if he aspired to be something great like you? And I don't care what you look like, you are great at what you do. I somehow suspect there are things you are great at I haven't any idea you even do." She lowered her gaze briefly. "But if you saw to take it upon yourself to do such a thing, I could not blame you."
"Sure because gone would be your problem and you wouldn't need to be married to me or anyone else once more. But God forbid it be on your conscious that you allowed your child to die."
"How dare you," she blurted, making no effort to lower her voice at this point. "How dare you put words or thoughts onto me. There are remedies I could take, I know, to rid myself of this child. I don't have to marry anyone. I didn't have to tell you. I could have just fled from Paris, disappeared for the amount of time it took to have the child and been done with it. But here I stand, telling you that you will have a child in a few months time. Perhaps it's you who doesn't want to marry me and be burdened with a wife and child. You obviously didn't care until now that I might have been in this condition."
"As much as you might want to believe it is so, Christine. I am not omnipotent. I, admittedly, know how children come about, but I didn't stop to think it could happen to you. To me. I didn't think I was capable of producing offspring to be honest." Of course he had no first hand knowledge or attempts until this to know whether or not he could. "Had I known, had I thought, Christine, I would have told you." Or he would have given her some herbs to abort the pregnancy before it had even taken. "I would never have dreamt you would have me. Or that you would want my child. Who would? You're far too beautiful. You are perfect. Why would you want or need imperfection in a child? Or in a husband?"
"Because you look," she paused searching for a polite word to describe just what he looked like. She found, however, there were no words for it. He looked like death, but it was worse because he was living. She realized, of course, that he had to touch her during their time together and she tried not to imagine that. She further realized that as his wife she would be obligated to let him touch her whenever he wanted to. "Different," she finally asked.
"That's a polite way of putting it, Christine. I'm sure you could do better if you didn't censor your thoughts. But thank you for showing some tact. Yes, because I'm different. Do you want to be married to me? To be seen with me? To be my wife?"
"What other option do I have? I can't go to Comte Lecter and lie to him. You have the right to have and be with your child, Erik."
"Is that all that's holding you back from choosing him over me, Christine? A lie? You're carrying a child, my child that could turn out looking like I do or worse, without being married and you're worried about a lie?" He laughed heartily unable to stop himself from finding this whole scenario terribly bizarre yet amusing at the same time. "If it is, let me know and I will simply tell you I want nothing to do with you or the child and let you go on your way and be happy."
"Stop putting words in my mouth," she demanded. "I'm not saying I want to choose him. I've already told you that. And the fact that I'm here should prove that to you. I could have gone anywhere tonight and gone back to Comte's home and claimed you turned me away. He would never have known the truth. But I didn't do that. I am here."
"And if the child is born and looks like me you'll let me do as I wish regarding its life."
"If you feel you must do that, Erik, I understand," she whispered, glancing now at her feet. This was a sin, she was sure, even to be talking about allowing a child to die.
"You cannot possibly understand, Christine, but I appreciate your giving me credit for perhaps knowing what I'm talking about on this matter."
"You will let me see it? Say good bye to it? It is my child too, and I'm carrying it. I will be taking a reprieve from the Opera for a short while." She glanced up at him. "It will only be a short while, won't it?"
He frowned slightly not sure he understood the question. "Well, I am no physician, Christine, but obviously when you begin showing you will have to stop until after the child is born. Some costumes can accommodate and hide the roundness that will come with your condition, but sooner rather than later you will have to take your leave."
"No, I meant I will be returning. You will still teach me, won't you? And you will still let me sing."
"Of course, Christine. You were born to sing. We can hire the best tutors and nannies for the child if you see the need to do that."
She nodded, clearly relieved. "And I may go tell Comte I will not be needing his offer?"
Erik didn't really like the idea of her going near him again, here at the Opera House or elsewhere. His displeasure at the question was more than evident in his eyes, despite the mask. "I'm sure he'll figure it out when you don't return. Wouldn't you say?"
"I, well, yes, of course. But the polite thing would be…"
"The polite thing would have been for him not to make the offer at all until he knew what my response was," he quickly interjected.
"Very well," she succumbed. She wasn't going to argue with him. Not now, not about this. "Do you have a church here you attend," she queried curiously finding it difficult to picture him attending Mass. However, a parish's response to his voice would be interesting to observe.
"A church," Erik queried incredulously. "No, I'm afraid I have never been privy to attending services, Christine. I wasn't allowed to, and by the time I was old enough and capable to attend on my own, I had lost interest." That was an understatement, but he doubted she cared to hear just how dark and disparaging his life had become. That little boy almost seemed like an entirely different person to Erik.
"Oh," she said softly. "Would you like me to arrange everything then? I mean, that is what we agreed upon isn't it?" It wasn't the way she had pictured her marriage being arranged, but somehow she sensed that as knowledgeable as Erik was he'd not have the first clue as to what went into arranging for a marriage.
She tried to push from her thoughts just what she had pictured for her wedding, not that she pictured one often. There was no mistaking she wasn't the type of girl who most men would choose for a wife. She glanced up at him, realizing that she would be expected to be a wife to him. And even though she already had performed that duty for him once before, she didn't remember it to know what it was she was supposed to do. She hoped, though, that children wouldn't result from it any more after this one. She really didn't want one, but there was no way she could rid herself of the child either - before or after birth.
"If you'd like to, Christine, by all means. I'd prefer it small, just you and I if possible."
"I, well, I haven't anyone to attend anyway, so I see no problem with that."
"I should show you your new home then, don't you think," he queried as he offered her his hand which felt cool when it came in contact with her warm one.
"I suppose so," she said, clasping her hand over his wondering just where it was he lived. Did he truly live in the basements of the Opera? And did he expect her to live there now, too? She would soon find out it seemed as she followed him as he led the way from the stage.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com