***Part Nine***

Christine sat on the sofa embroidering. There was nothing more for her to do anymore. She had given her last performance at the Opera over a month ago now, stating she had to go out of town to visit a sick relative and did not know when she would return. She had been told not to count on her job waiting for her when she returned. She knew this to be true, and tried not to dwell on it too often.

Erik had been more than kind to her. It was amazing how his home had transformed over the months since she had come to stay with him. It was still dreadfully cold all of the time, but she had added her own touch to all of the rooms aside from his. She had yet to set foot in his room, though she had approached the doorway leading to it a time or two.

Her talk with Comte Lecter had not gone as well as she would have liked. He seemed honestly angered by the fact that she was not accepting his offered hand in marriage. This confused her, but like her feelings about the Opera and her job she didn't dwell on it. She had made her choices and for the most part she didn't regret the choices she had made.

Erik cared for her, cooked for her, and for the most part tended to everything around the house as if he was a servant and not the father of her baby. He was hesitant to let her do much of anything. She tended to push aside her frustration at him, but sometimes couldn't help it. She realized he was doing whatever he could to avoid his child turning out looking like him. Sometimes though she felt like a child.

He had never mentioned the subject of marriage again and she realized at this point it was really too late to push the issue. He had come to her on more than one occasion since she'd lived there and while she never turned him away she couldn't get over feeling the need to go to Confession every time. Oddly, it wasn't for the act itself. She had already committed the sin of getting with child without benefit of marriage so there was no further harm that could be done from his coming to her. She was more troubled by the fact that she actually enjoyed it. She would never initiate, she rarely kissed or touched him of her own doing. She wasn't nearly that brave. But she couldn't go to Confession. She wasn't supposed to be in Paris anymore, so she was virtually a prisoner here in Erik's home.

Of course, he doted on her far better than any woman had a right to expect so she felt horrible thinking of her next few months being prison like. As if God was in tune with her thoughts, the embroidery needle took a nasty detour from the piece she was working on right into her thumb. She let out a small cry, knowing it was useless. She was alone. She had no idea where Erik went off to. He remained a mystery to her.

A time or two she had in a fit of anger and self-pity at being stuck here in his home accused him of being with other women. She knew this wasn't true, but she was insecure enough at her expanding body in more places than just her abdomen to wonder if he didn't find her desirable anymore. She wouldn't blame a normal man for seeking out someone with more experience, who could offer him more than she could intimately. But he staunchly denied any such activities, any such betrayal of her and she believed him. Still, she had no idea what he did. Sometimes he came home with small gifts, sometimes he came home with nothing. Always, though, he smelled of the outdoors, so she knew he hadn't been at a gaming hall.

She went to his kitchen to run her thumb in some cold water to help ease the pain and to seek a bandage to wrap it with. Unable to sew anymore, she was left to reading. She had no desire to read at the moment, she had read more books in the last few months than she recalled reading in all of her life. Erik had a bountiful library of all well kept editions of various books. Some were fiction and some were books of science, mathematics, and other such things that while not stupid she could not begin to comprehend. The fact that he could read these volumes and take from them knowledge in one sitting and apply it frightened her. Would her child be like this? A gifted child, intelligent with a mind like a steel trap that held all of the information it came across? She hoped it might. Intelligence was something she would love to know her child had been gifted with.

Her lack of desire to read led her to take a walk. Her walk led to thinking and thinking led to the turn her life had taken. Why hadn't Erik married her like he said he would? Was she not worthy of his name? She didn't understand it, and she was too timid about such matters to voice her concerns on this. Perhaps he was waiting until after the child had arrived. That seemed logical in an illogical way. Obviously, her state would be obvious to anyone, especially a priest marrying them. Yes, she decided, he was protecting her name. Though, did that mean then that their child would go without the benefits of baptism?

Unbeknownst to her as she strayed farther out of the cave, walking over the small bridge Erik had built for her to cross when she wanted to get out of doors on occasion, her movements were being watched. Had Erik been there, he would have picked up on the small hints, he would have felt the unknown presence there. But Christine was not capable of such things and so she walked about her hand rubbing her swollen abdomen as she did.

Lecter watched and was relieved, his prayers were finally answered. He was catching a glimpse of Christine Daae for the first time in months. He had seen her a time or two around the Opera, usually long before anyone was scheduled to come for the day or after anyone would still be there after the day's rehearsal or performance. He had not, however, been able to find out where she had escaped to. She seemed almost to disappear, but Lecter knew that wasn't possible. She looked healthy, evidence of the child growing within her was apparent but what struck him as most interesting was the lack of a ring on the marriage finger.

Had she lied to him? He couldn't fathom that this little chit of an Opera girl would dare lie to him, let alone come up with the story and deliver it convincingly enough to lie to him. Lecter always knew when people were lying to him. It was one of the things that made him successful in his business ventures and that made him feared as the overseer of his lands. Many a man had been punished severely and openly for trying to hide profits or, even worse, losses. How Comte Lecter knew they were being dishonest few were able to ever figure out, but it helped keep his subjects honest. If anyone suspected the physical and emotional enjoyment he received from watching those punished receive their punishment no one ever betrayed such thoughts or observances to Lecter.

But still, here she was strolling about obviously unchaperoned and obviously with child. Was she living here at the Opera somewhere? He didn't see how that was possible. He had asked at the Opera and had been told she had gone out of town to tend to a sick relative. Lecter knew, as he thought the Opera managers did too but perhaps not, that she had no family. So he had known that was a lie, obviously to cover up the fact she was pregnant. So why then did it surprise him she might have lied to him, too? Maybe she wanted no father for her child. It wasn't unheard of though it was rare for a woman to raise her child by herself. But he had made her such an appealing offer, had basically indicated he would not expect her to physically be a wife. He had no need for a woman he imagined was unresponsive in his bed. If he'd wanted that, he would have married long ago. No, damn it, he just wanted the child. He needed a child to keep the Lecter name from dying with him. A good strong boy child would be ideal, but he'd have taken a girl if that was what they had been blessed with.

His anger grew, convinced that she had shunned him, deemed him unworthy of being a father to her child. Who in God's name was the father then? The President himself? Of course there were men out there with higher raking titles and more land claims than Lecter, but how many of them would grant her the ability and the right to continue performing once they were married? He dare thought none, unequivocally he knew this to be true.

He would bide his time. Sooner or later he would figure out this puzzle and then he would act upon it. Not knowing if she was truly alone or not at the moment, though, he had to leave her alone for now. He would return, though, of that he was certain.

It was dark when Lecter turned from his observation point, thinking he was unseen. However, he was unaware of the man shrouded in black who had eyes like a cat. Had he seen him, he wouldn't have known who the man was anyway, so it would have done him little good either way. Erik, however, was fully aware of whom the man was and that he had been watching Christine. The fury and the jealousy within him surprised him. He wanted to act on it, to challenge the man but he knew now was not the time. He could not chance leaving Christine alone until after the baby came. Then he would deal with Hannibal Lecter, a man he knew would prove a worthy opponent. Erik was aware now of the man's activities. He could have gone to the constable, sure, but there would be no proof linking Comte to the crimes. Only Erik's word, the word of a monster who had spent the last some odd years living beneath the Opera House and preying on its patrons and management as the infamous Opera Ghost. No, no, going to the authorities would not do at all. Erik would handle Lecter himself. The man wanted Christine after all, he had to defend what was his at all costs.

Not until he heard the sound of horses hooves fade into the night did Erik move from his hiding spot. He knew Christine was curious as to his nightly excursions. Sometimes he was out keeping a watchful eye on Comte Lecter. Sometimes he was meeting with his contacts to collect payments, morphine, and other necessities. Never did he search someone to pleasure him as Christine thought. He tapped into her thoughts enough to know that while she wanted to believe him on this that she still harbored some doubts as to his commitment to her. He had sensed the word ‘Marriage' more than once when he was there in her mind and closed the door himself quickly.

He felt horribly guilty, an emotion and feeling totally foreign to him until his dealings with Christine. He had murdered, stolen, beaten, and maimed people and yet he had never felt a sliver of guilt or remorse for what he had done in his fifty year existence until now. Until having to deal with Christine and his feelings involving her. He knew he should marry her, but he also had his doubts as to who would defeat whom when it came to a battle of strength and power rather than wits with Comte Lecter. The man would still offer her his name, his protection to their child so long as the child was ‘normal' in its appearance. Of this, Erik was certain. So he did not marry her, not wanting her to have to explain to anyone, even their child, who he was in the event something happened to him. It was selfish and perhaps backwards thinking, but he was trying to do what was best and easiest for her.

If something were to happen to him and they were married, she would have to go through the societal rules of mourning and so forth. He wanted none of that. He wanted his home to be his final resting place and for Christine to burn everything in it, including himself, when his time came. He didn't want anything preventing her from leading her life as she should be able to.

Going to her the times he had was a compulsion that he could not deny himself the right to fulfill. He knew it was wrong, he knew that while she got some enjoyment out of their times together in that manner that she would rather he did not. He never invaded her thoughts during those times, he was afraid of what he would get from her, afraid that she was only faking her enjoyment for his benefit. He'd rather continue believing that he was at least born to do something right involving other people. He tended to believe, too, by the fact she did not bid him leave as soon as he had finished that she actually clung to him tighter on those occasions that she did in fact reap some enjoyment from their couplings.

At first he had vowed to keep his hands off of her, but that had proven difficult when on her second night with him she had come out of her room wearing nothing more than her shift. Damn but he had no idea how revealing the garment would actually be on her. Even in the dimly lit room, he needed little if any light to work by but had kept some lamps lit for her benefit, he could see her form right through it. And the way she had looked at him, with wonder, admiration and yes even a little hint of desire was there his vow had quickly been forgotten and thrown to the wayside like everything else he had promised himself about this woman.

He saw her before she was aware of his presence in the room. She looked so peaceful, though he knew she was frightened at times. Frightened of him still every once in a while, but frightened of the child and the aftermath surrounding it. He could not promise her she would get her job back, but they spent their days together singing together, he training and teaching her, and working over some scores he himself had written. If nothing else, this time was actually helping her hone her craft and would enable her to leave Paris and get a job at any opera house anywhere as its star. Hopefully, when that time came he would be able to go with her. He wasn't counting on it. He had a huge feeling of foreboding regarding the immediate future and knew better than to doubt his feelings. He would work like the Devil himself to prepare her for whatever might happen, including how to support herself and their child should it have to come to that.

"Have you hurt yourself," he asked concerned when he saw her bandaged thumb.

She nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of his voice. She laughed nervously as she looked at him, the book she was now reading remaining at her lap. "I just poked myself with a needle earlier. I'm fine, really. It was stupid."

"All right," he said, removing his cloak and hat. "I'll start dinner then. Unless you already ate. I know it's late, I apologize for my lateness. It wasn't intentional."

"I had some bread and heated some of the stew from last night, yes," she answered him somewhat distantly, her attention already on her book once more.

"I said I'm sorry."

"I know you did, Erik, and I know you are. It's fine. I'm used to it by now. Please don't worry yourself over it."

He winced at her words. She was used to it. He was failing her in one of the most basic ways, he was letting her down. He was proving himself unreliable. He would have to do better and he vowed from that day forward he would. He would only go out when necessary, when his morphine was to the point of running out and for groceries.

He went to the kitchen to see about his own dinner noticing on the stove that she had reheated the stew but had in actuality eaten very little of it. He was no doctor, but it worried him sometimes how birdlike her appetite was despite her condition. He knew enough about such things to know that the unborn child got its nourishment from her. He could not force her to eat, and so he just hoped that what she ate was enough. It would do no good if she ate and she just rid herself of it shortly afterward from eating too much.

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