Lecter stood where he knew was the spot he had left Erik. The man was gone. There was a rather large spot of blood on the grass, so Lecter knew for a fact he had the right spot. He glanced around him debating about whether or not to look any further. Obviously if the man had been well enough to get to his feet and take himself to wherever he came from he didn't need Lecter's aid.
On the other hand, if someone had happened upon him and taken him to a doctor, Lecter might very well be in some legal trouble. He wasn't so sure Christine would defend his honor over her lover's. Once they were married, there would be nothing she could say, but they were as of yet not. That would be remedied at the latest tomorrow, though. He, too, wasn't sure she'd be brave enough to admit publicly what her relationship with Erik had been. And Lecter while a gentleman, if it came to his being imprisoned would not hesitate to make that information public.
His decision was made when he realized he had no idea where the man lived. He assumed it was somewhere within the Opera House, somewhere through the cave he had observed Christine exit from and enter over the months. If the man was well enough to walk away there was nothing saying he wasn't waiting for Lecter somewhere, and he preferred to live another day. Lecter didn't believe he had anything to fear from Erik as far as the man himself going to the authorities. What was the man going to say? He'd have to admit to who he was, and Hannibal didn't see that happening.
After one stop after the Opera House, Lecter returned to his home. He knew the dressmaker he had sent for would have come and gone by now. He had left very specific instructions for the styles and colors he would approve of for his Comtesse. On stage she could dress as her profession required, but off stage she would dress as he deemed fit for her newly acquired position. He didn't think she'd protest much, she had been raised properly enough he believed for her to know what she represented.
In truth, once the birth papers were drawn up making Andre his Christine would then be expendable. He would not let her carry on and make a fool of him under his nose. People would then begin to question Andre's paternity and while there was no way they could prove it one way or the other, Lecter did not want the boy he would be raising as his son to live with those rumors throughout his life. No, he would keep Christine until she proved to be a hindrance to him or until he believed Andre no longer clung to his mother's skirts. The boy would of course need a mother for a little while. Lecter himself knew first hand how traumatic losing your parents at an early age could be, he would not do that to his child unless he had to. At least in the absence of his mother, Andre would still have his father to raise him. He would not lose both parents at the same time as Lecter had lost his.
Told he could find her in the library, he walked to this room and knocked lightly before entering. He had to smile despite himself. She sat on the floor, her knees gathered underneath her, and her long brown hair a mass of curls surrounding her face almost hiding her from view. He wondered why she chose the floor, but decided not to ask or push her into believing she had to pretend to be comfortable where she was not.
"What are you reading," he asked as he took a seat near her without seating himself too close.
She jumped visibly at the sound of his voice, the shock and surprise on her face evident as she looked at him. "I'm sorry, Comte, I did not hear anyone come in. Did you say something to me?"
Lecter laughed and smiled amused, his tiny white teeth visible as he looked at her. "Yes, I asked what you were reading. Obviously it must be good."
"I was reading Euripides actually," she said, holding up the volume he had on Greek tragedies. "I've never read him before."
"I'm glad you've found something of interest, Medea is my favorite." He rubbed his hands on the knees of his trousers and stood once more. "I did not mean to disturb you, but I do want to be honest with you as well. I was unable to find your Erik. When I got there he was gone. I know your instinct is to want to go find him, and I will allow you to go but only after we have been married and with me accompanying you. No offense, but I will not be made a cuckold no matter how farcical this marriage might be."
"Of course not," she said, blushing deeply. "I would just like to know he's all right nothing more, Comte. I would never forsake a wedding vow, for anyone."
"Of course you wouldn't," he replied dryly, knowing she indeed would. He could read her face clearly and saw that she was more than just a little concerned for her Erik. He did as he had promised, it wasn't his fault the man wasn't there.
"A friend of mine will be by this evening to marry us. It will be small, private, and the paperwork will indicate we were married some time in June."
"Yes, I noticed your servants addressed me as Comtesse. Where have I been? And how did a baby come out of our marriage when we've been apart?"
"Ah that's easy. You had a sick relative that you were committed to caring for. It fits with the story you told the management of the Opera. I had to stay here, of course, to attend to my lands. We had a few nights together before you had to leave Paris and when you wrote telling me of your condition I instructed you to stay put until after the child was born. Once the baby was born and you were able to travel again you returned to me."
"All this lying and deception," she sighed heavily. "I'm not sure I will be able to keep it all straight."
"There will be nothing more to lie about once this part is over, Christine."
"Except for Andre," she whispered.
"He could do far worse, this son of yours. He will inherit the Lecter lands and my name is one of the oldest and most respected in France. I know of only one family more respected and whose line dates back farther than mine. I believe you know someone from the family as well."
He was talking about Raoul and Christine smiled, wondering how her friend was. Christine knew Raoul had been sweet on her and once upon a time she was sweet on him, too. But so much had changed since she was a little girl. "I know this, Comte. I do. And I will do what I can to raise him right. But I must ask, am I in need of a wet nurse? I was told one would be hired."
"Well, I'm assuming you want to go back to work at the Opera as soon as you are able to. You won't need a baby strapped to your breast all day Christine, that might pose a problem."
"Yes, of course, you've thought of everything. And I haven't even thanked you for arranging for Andre and me to have new clothes. I've done nothing but interrogate you," she curtsied, bowing her head apologetically. "I apologize, Comte. Truly."
"Nonsense. I hope we can at least come to amicable terms and be friendly toward one another. I like you, I genuinely do. And I had no idea you knew how to read." He frowned slightly, realizing how demeaning that sounded. "That is to say, I didn't know the extent of your education. I'm glad to see that it's better than I had thought. You will enjoy the library I'm sure, and should there be a book you want, please let me know and I'll see if I can't procure it for you somehow."
"The dressmaker, she was nice to you?"
"Oh yes, and she had plenty of clothes for Andre to wear. I hope I didn't get too carried away, but I couldn't resist."
Lecter laughed and shook his head slightly. "No, Christine, you're fine. I'll let you know if you get carried away. And since my home is already furnished and staffed, all that leaves you to worry about is your chambers, the nursery, and your wardrobe as well as Andre's. I don't imagine you will break me buying clothing and draperies. But I will be sure and let you know if you're coming close."
She couldn't help but smile, she knew that he was teasing her. "I would expect you would," she said simply.
"And please don't call me Comte. If you feel you must, but I never did approve of marriages where the spouses called one another Mr. or Mrs. for the extent of their married lives. If the walls of propriety can't come down when you're married, I don't know when they can."
"All right. I will try," she said, twisting her handkerchief in her hands. "So we've been married a year?"
"The papers will have a date on them, Christine. I guessed late July was when your son was born and told the gentleman to account for a baby's birth when figuring the date. We'll have a date this evening."
"What of our sleeping arrangements," she asked unable to look at him.
Lecter knew what she was asking, but was tempted to pretend he did not. He wasn't sure she could take much more today, so he refrained from baiting her. He had no intentions on seducing her. Not that she was unattractive to him, but he was not going to compete with another man. And in good conscious he knew he hadn't been entirely guiltless in how this had played out. Had he left well enough alone, she'd still be wherever she had been in the Opera where she had apparently been content. "My room is just down the hall from yours. I would request that my servants not know that our marriage is not an intimate one. I've given you a key, you may lock the door though I'd prefer you did not. I will not force myself on you, Christine. If that's what is worrying you."
She hastened a glance in his direction, meeting his maroon eyes with both gratitude and confusion evident in hers. "Thank you. I will leave my door unlocked, Comte. Unless you give me reason to do otherwise. I understand about rumors, and I will do my best to keep them at bay."
"Thank you. You're being more than cooperative. Given the circumstances, I'm surprised at how pleasant you're being to me in all honesty."
"What good would being unpleasant do me, Comte? Would it change anything? Would you let me go back? No. I made my choice and I must live with it. The world is better with Erik in it, this I believe, and I could not stand by and watch you take another man's life."
"He would have taken mine," he added quickly. "I didn't see you coming to my aid."
"I love him, Comte. I built a career with his assistance and a life around him. What did you expect me to do?"
"Nothing," he replied simply. "Absolutely nothing, Christine. I will use what influence I have with the management to see that your position with the company is reinstated."
She brightened visibly at this. "Thank you, Hannibal."
"You're welcome. A couple more weeks and I see no reason why you cannot go back, or at least start rehearsing again."
"I have been rehearsing for months. That's all I did until Andre was born is rehearse and practice and rehearse some more."
He said something indecipherable and walked to the library door. He spoke with his back towards her. "Nevertheless, you will need to make your name again for yourself on your own. I believe I can see to it you get your job back, I cannot see that you retain it."
"Of course not," Christine replied to the already closed door.
Her thoughts brightened at the thought of working again. She could do this. She would be able to see Erik at the Opera, assuming he was alive and able to see her. She had to believe she would feel an emptiness in both her mind and in heart if he had died today. Lecter would never know. He didn't know about her dressing room, or its mirror and no one would. She was sure no one would suspect the mirror was anything but a mirror without Erik to work it. And everyone but Christine treated that dressing room as if it was haunted, so she doubted anyone else had claimed it in her absence. If she could just bide her time until she went back to work at the Opera and behave like an obedient wife. She just hoped he suspected only that she was looking forward to performing once more.
A knock on the library door brought her from her thoughts. "Come in," she bid softly not used to having people listen to her command.
One of the servants entered the room and handed her a note. "This came for you, Comtesse," he said, bowing his head politely before leaving the room as quickly as he came.
She knew of no one but Erik who knew she was here. But her name was not written in his distinct, almost childlike handwriting. He had improved over their months together. She had worked with him on his writing, but he hadn't improved this much. She grew perplexed and decided to take the mysterious letter up to her room where she knew she'd have privacy.
She closed the door and leaned her back against it for support. She broke the seal and pealed open the envelope, taking out the sole piece of ivory linen stationary. It was fine stationary, Christine could tell. The handwriting was obviously masculine, fluent but easy to read.
I must apologize for the intrusion on what I know must have been an upsetting and trying day. We share a mutual friend who was hurt today. He wishes you to know he is alive and well, save for the bullet wound to his shoulder which I have attempted to repair to the best of my layman's ability.
So that you know, when our meeting time had come and gone I went in search of him and found him where he had been left on the ground by the Seine. Rest assured he would not have perished had he been left there for a longer amount of time. I'm not sure, though, that he would have remained conscious. I'm telling you this only because I want you to know he is not in any grave danger of dying from his wound.
He has instructed me to let you know not to come to him. To protect himself and you he has re-established the traps and snares he dismantled months ago. He understands the decision you made, but is not pleased you made it. He stated as well that you possess all of the knowledge you need to succeed, that you are no longer in need of his teachings. He did say, however, that he will continue to occupy Box 5 and bids you to return to the Paris Opera House stage as soon as you are medically able.
He I'm afraid, and this is my personal observation not words he said to me, believes he is a coward because you stepped in to protect him. I believe, too, that he was not afraid to die and perhaps possibly welcomed it. His life has not been an easy one.
I will not contact you again as he has promised not to compromise the current situation of you or your son. I do know of the boy and do know of the agreement made, your secret will remain with me. I have kept his secrets for years.
I ask that you burn this upon reading it so that your husband will not find you in possession of it. I have included a briefer letter with this one simply stating that our friend is alive and to stay away from him. Keep it, but destroy this one.
Humbly and respectfully yours,
Christine wiped the tears from her eyes as she did as bid. Even though the person was unknown to her, a mysterious N identifying him to her, she did as he told her to do. She watched, the tears flowing freely from her eyes, as the letter burned and there was nothing left. He didn't want her to come for him. That hurt more than anything. He was shutting her out of his life.
Didn't he realize that she did this for him, so that they could continue to at least see one another? She wasn't foolish enough to believe in angels any longer and knew that with his death their relationship would cease. She didn't care if it had to be in secret, with a mirror separating them, she just knew that she couldn't bear not being able to at least talk to him again. She trembled as she knelt before the flames, she didn't want just to talk to him. What had she become? And she had become it, no matter what Hannibal might try and twist it into, Christine had made her choices.
Did he ultimately care so little for their relationship to not even want to try and see her? She didn't believe that was it and she wished she hadn't been so hasty in following the suggestion of burning it. What was it the person had said? That he was embarrassed she had protected him? As if that was something to be embarrassed about. That is what people who loved one another did. At least she thought so, perhaps Erik did not. Perhaps she had not loved him well enough, for everything he learned about love he would have learned from her and their time together.
She collapsed on the bed, face down and wept. She remembered their last time together, she had been so daring and bold and he had liked it. She had, too, in a way, but had it been too little too late? Had it not let him know just what she was willing to do to please him?
When she had cried the last tear and was heaving more than she was crying she sat up and took a deep breath. Standing from the bed she began to pace, trying to collect herself. She had to be strong, three people were relying on her being strong right now. She would risk nothing when it came to Andre and do whatever it took to keep him safe. She shuddered visibly with that thought realizing that sooner or later she might have to share her bed with a man she didn't love. A man she was going to raise her son to believe was his father rather than his real father. This was too much for her to bear and she felt a resounding headache coming on.
A knock on her door brought her out of her thoughts. She was glad now she had burned the letter right away. She glanced once at the fireplace to confirm there was no evidence of her having burned anything. "Come in," she said and smiled at Bella when the young woman came into the room.
"It's time for you to dress for your dinner guest, Comtesse."
"Christine," Christine said softly.
"Of course, I'm sorry, it will take some getting used to, Christine. I will try to remember." She walked to Christine's large closet and stepped inside. "You have a few to choose from that Madame Rosen left for you. Did you have a favorite?"
"They're all lovely," Christine said making small strides to the closet. She was trying to collect herself. "Which do you think would look best?"
"I like the blue one, Christine," she peeked out from around the door and smiled. "With your hair up just so it will be very becoming."
Christine wasn't sure private or not she wanted to get married in a blue gown, so she shook her head. "I don't think I feel like blue tonight, Bella. I think the pink one will be better."
"Very well," Bella said, retrieving said pink gown from the closet before setting about fixing Christine's hair for the evening.
The ceremony, if one could call it that, was more than brief. All it entailed was a basic exchange of vows and each signing their name where necessary on the papers. They had been married on June 23 said the document. Christine gave Andre's date of birth to process the birth record and that was the extent of their ceremony.
The couple shared a cordial meal, after which Lecter retired to his study. Christine went for Andre, bringing him with for her visit to Lecter's study. She wasn't sure how she would go about addressing Lecter as Father or Daddy, just that morning she had used the word in reference to Erik. If she didn't have Andre she'd contemplate ending this all by taking her own life, despite the grave sin such an act was. She had committed enough of them of late that she wasn't sure who she was anymore. Of course, it wasn't lost on her that if she didn't have Andre she wouldn't be here in this particular situation right now. "You wanted to see me," she said once she had knocked on the door and been instructed to come in.
Hannibal stood from his desk and walked around to the front of it, leaning against it. "Ah, you brought the baby with you. Good thinking. I will do my best to spend as much time with him as I can."
"Of course, as you wish," she said, lowering her eyes respectfully.
"There was something I neglected to think of earlier today."
"Oh," she asked perplexed. As far as she was concerned he had thought of more than enough. She could think of nothing he'd neglected. "I'm unaware of what that might be, so I'm sure it's unimportant."
"To the contrary," he said, extending his hand toward her.
She took his hand and stepped toward him uncertainly.
He released her hand briefly before placing a ring on her finger. "Your wedding ring, Comtesse, you must have one. I'm sorry it's not as modern as those available. It has been in my family for generations and on such short notice I thought it would do."
Christine stared at the large pear shaped diamond solitaire ring. It looked especially huge on her tiny finger. "Comte, I cannot accept this ring. I do not deserve it," she argued her voice hitching.
"You are my wife, are you not?"
"Yes, I am, but this is a family heirloom."
"And you are my family as of this day. You will give the ring to your son when it is time for him to marry and the cycle will continue."
She dropped her eyes to the ring again, it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. He was certainly taking this marriage to her seriously. But of course he would, it was his name at risk more than hers. He was marrying a performer, it didn't matter what she had accomplished before. All that would have been forgotten by the time she returned and she would have started all over again, gaining the respect of the people. A single tear fell to her cheek. "Thank you, Comte. You are too kind to me. If you wish to get me something else I would understand."
He touched her cheek lightly with the palm of his hand. "Christine. It is yours. I do not want to get you another one." He dropped his hand from her cheek to the top of Andre's head. "You may go now if you care to, Christine." He placed a polite kiss on the top of Andre's head and returned to the other side of his desk. "Thank you for the enjoyable evening."
"You're welcome," Christine said clearly confused. She looked as if she was waiting for him to say more and when he did not, she turned and left the room.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com