***Part Fifteen***

Christine stood before her vanity waiting for her assistant. Her dressing room was silent, too silent for Christine's liking. The purple stola she donned as Vitellia had already been discarded. Christine didn't have much difficulty getting in and out of the tunica, so she decided to go ahead and shed it as well. She'd do anything to prevent her from having to think in here, this room where so much had happened to change her life. The golden red wig she had to wear for the part and the severe pinning of her God given hair because of that wig was what she needed help with. She didn't know why she needed the wig, her hair was curly naturally. The managers, though, had insisted her hair be red. So a red wig it was.

She wasn't of the mind to complain she was just happy to be back performing once again. If Monsieur Firmin was to tell her she no longer had an assistant to aid her each evening she would dress herself contentedly and still perform. It had been nine months since she had last performed at the Opera. Nine long months away from the stage, away from the music, and away from the applause. She had missed it dreadfully. Andre was worth the time away, but she had lost Erik as well during her absence.

Hannibal had convinced the managers to give her the part of Vitellia she was certain of it. She auditioned well for it, yes, but she knew neither of them wanted to give her the part. They were still mad at her for leaving as she had. But she had so wanted to perform Mozart, never having done so before and made that wish known to her husband. While La Clemenza di Tito wasn't the work she'd always dreamt of performing in it would do. She was sure that despite what Hannibal had said about not being able to aid her in keeping her job he had done whatever he could to see her in this role. But as influential as Comte Hannibal Lecter and his name were, he was not the Opera Ghost. He neither could hand pick her roles for her nor could he influence the management like Erik could to produce the shows best suited to Christine and her vocal range.

She didn't feel much like an Emperor's daughter or a Comte's wife just now. She walked to the mirror dressed only in her corset and shift. Her wig wasn't as long as her real hair so everything from her shoulders and below was visible. Christine didn't care, though. No one would come to visit her besides Lissa. Kneeling before the mirror as a parishioner kneels to pray she looked into it wistfully. The one person she wanted to visit her had not as of yet, he had forsaken her.

It had been sixty-three days since she'd last seen Erik. The first few weeks had not been nearly as bad as the past few. The past few she had been here at the Opera House rehearsing able to see him if he wanted to. She sat in this dressing room when it was unnecessary hoping Erik would come to her. She had gone onstage when it was otherwise vacant hoping to catch a glimpse of something in Box 5. She had seen and heard nothing, though, and she was growing more than a little depressed by that fact. The possibility she might see or hear from him was what kept her going. It was what got her out of bed every day. Thoughts of seeing him even came before thoughts of Andre each morning. Yes, that was how obsessed she had become with the thought of seeing him, she thought sadly.

"I'm such a fool," she whispered tears threatening to spill from her eyes.

A knocking at the door brought her out of her thoughts. She stood, wiped gently at her eyes and bid the girl to come in. It would not do for Christine to be caught kneeling before her mirror nor to appear she had been crying. She could dismiss the crying, she supposed as being overjoyed with her fine performance. But the mirror, she was trying not to draw attention to it for fear Hannibal would figure out that it was not simply a mirror. How he would, she didn't know, since he had not as of yet set foot in her dressing room. She sat quietly as Lissa removed the wig and unpinned Christine's hair. Lissa was good, Christine wondered if she owed this comfort to Hannibal, too. The last girl who had aided Christine would have taken twice as long. She smiled as the girl left, having dismissed her for the night. Christine didn't need help getting into her clothes.

Erik had missed the opening night of her return. As far as Christine knew it was the first performance of Christine's Erik had missed. As she stood before the mirror dressing, she hoped Erik was watching. She hoped lots of things when it came to Erik and this mirror. Funny how things had changed, now she wanted Erik to come to her as a man. When he first appeared to her as her father's promised Angel of Music she took him at his word. She recalled it now both with amusement and embarrassment. Was she ever truly that gullible and na´ve?

Then she had been worried about her father and whether her father was pleased with her. Now she was worried about Erik and whether or not her performance had pleased him. She hoped she had and she hoped he had been in his box watching. She sang for him and only for him tonight. Despite her husband, le Comte, being in attendance for the evening's performance her music was aimed at only one man in attendance.

She looked more intensely at the mirror wishing she knew how it worked. If she had that knowledge she would leave him a note on the other side, knowing no one but him would see it. She honestly didn't trust her husband not to have someone watching her, though he had given no indication he was doing this. So going up to Erik's box and leaving a note was out of the question. Asking Madame Giry to do it was asking for gossip. She could perhaps enlist young Meg Giry's help, but not so soon after her return to the Opera.

She sighed heavily. "Oh Erik, why have you forsaken me? All I wanted to do was save you, to let you live. Even if we cannot be together as we were you're still alive and will hopefully, even if it's from a distance see your son grow and flourish. Was I so wrong for wanting that for you?"

A deadly silence was her response. She had hoped for some sort of a response, but she expected just what she received. Nothing. She wished she knew the identity of the writer of that letter. She wanted to know if Erik was all right. She wanted to know if Erik hated her. Had she failed him? She wanted to know everything.

Buttoning her lightweight cloak, she took one last step toward the mirror and touched it. Nothing. Just the cold glass of the mirror in which she saw her reflection in. She turned away, extinguished her lamp and left the room.

She forced a smile when she saw Hannibal waiting for her by the main entrance. He looked so handsome dressed in his tuxedo. She noticed more than a few stragglers of the female persuasion looking at him. He offered them a polite and charming smile accompanied by a courteous hello, but there was a distance and a lack of attachment to his courtesy. Christine had no idea who of the Opera patrons knew of Comte's nuptials and to whom those nuptials had taken place with. But to look at him as she was now, one would think he was a happy husband in a happy marriage with a newborn son. Who wouldn't be happy? Everyone wanted an heir, particularly when your name and lands were as old as that of the Lecter family. He played his part well she realized.

She approached him knowing he knew she was near before she actually made her presence known. She had no idea how, but he always knew and this talent wasn't limited solely to Christine but to everyone in the household. The smile she offered was no longer forced when he turned offering his arm. It was difficult to stay upset at her situation when he was pleasant to her as he was all of the time. He was good to her, had never struck her nor lifted a hand to her as if he would strike her. He was good to Andre and she could tell that he would in fact treat the boy like a son and not a child he was doing a favor for. He had been most generous with her as far as her wardrobe went and allowed her to redesign her sleeping chamber entirely. He touched her now and then, kissed her with less frequency than his touches. Neither his touch nor his kisses ever extended beyond the line of formality. Sometimes she sensed he was holding back, she was experienced enough to know that was the case. Never though did he push or grow upset with her.

She took his offered arm and his chaste kiss to her mouth. She had come not to mind such kisses from him, it meant he was pleased with her. She liked knowing she pleased him despite the fact their marriage was essentially a farce. A wife was supposed to please her husband and if Christine could not please Hannibal in every way a wife was supposed to she could at least go out of her way to please him in every other way.

"You enjoyed the show then, Comte?"

"How could I not with my very own Comtesse as the Emperor's daughter," he replied politely. "You took a while in changing your costume didn't look that difficult to get out of. Was there a problem?"

She blushed slightly at the realization he had knowledge of how long it might take a woman to get in and out of her clothes. "Nay, the costume was not the problem. But the hair they had me wear took Lissa almost as long to unpin and brush out as it had taken her to pin up."

He halted their process out the Opera House's doors, stopping to touch her hair briefly. "I'm sure Bella will brush it out for you when we get home, Christine."

"Thank you," she said, bowing her head slightly at his touch. "That won't be necessary. Lissa did a fine job of it and it will come out better in the morning after it's been washed."

"Very well. At least I know not to worry about you if you're not home as early as I think you should be."

"I will try not to worry you."

"I know you won't." He held open the door for her, allowing her to pass through and walk to where his coach awaited them in front of the Opera House. His driver upon seeing le Comtesse exit the Opera House was quick to get down, open the coach door, and set up the step for her to enter the coach with ease.

"I was so nervous I honestly don't know that I noticed anything about the entire night." She smiled and fiddled with her kid glove. "Except my wig, of course."

"A few more performances of that caliber, Christine and I'm quite sure you won't have to worry about your position with the Opera."

"Which I have you to thank for my having the chance anyway."

"Nonsense. Wife or not, I'd prefer to see a talented performer with the lead than someone undeserving."

"I'm not sure how I'm going to adjust to a schedule up at night anymore. I'm going to miss seeing Andre before he goes to bed," she said a note of sadness in her voice.

"I will put him to bed every night. I know it's not the same, but I know it's important to you he know his parents over servants."

"Yes, it is. Very. Thank you. You are good to him."

"I'm glad you think so. I admit I will probably be better with him when he's grown a little and doing some things."

She smiled widely. "That won't be too far into the future either."

"No, I suppose not. I don't have first hand knowledge of children, do you?"

"None. I'm not sure I knew exactly how they came about until after I was already pregnant."

"Of course you didn't."

"Do you think I would lie about that? There's no sense in lying about it now."

"No, I was noticing how little sense some aspects of our society make. Had you known, perhaps Andre would not be here."

"I fear I would have made the same decision, Hannibal. If that displeases you, I apologize."

"Not at all. I appreciate a woman who can make up her mind as you obviously did. And I know you didn't make up your mind on that topic with more than one man."

"No." She lifted her eyes to meet his appalled at the very idea. Surely he didn't think? "Of course there wasn't more than one."

He placed a hand over hers to calm her as the coach drew to a stop. "I know Christine. I know. I wouldn't have married you honestly if that wasn't the case."

He said nothing else as the coach door was opened. Hannibal got out and then handed her out. He placed his hand at the small of her back as he escorted her inside. "I'm going to have a nip of brandy before I retire for the evening. Would you care to join me, Christine?"

"I do not imbibe, Comte, and I'm afraid the rush from the evening is beginning to wear off. I think retiring is the best thing for me tonight. Perhaps tomorrow I will feel fresher after the performance and will be able to stay up longer."

"Very well. I will bid you good night then." He kissed her on the cheek, lingering a moment before he drew away and departed for his study.

"Good night," Christine said softly and turned toward the stairs. She was exhausted and it was all she could do to get out of her gown and ready for bed. She could have woken Bella but saw no need to do that. She liked having a servant to help her, but she hadn't yet forgotten how to do things for herself.

Placing on her wrapper, she walked to the French doors and opened one walking part way onto the balcony. It was a lovely night. The stars were shining brightly in the virtually cloudless sky. It was cool but not cold, a perfect night to stand as she was just now and enjoy God's handiwork. She leaned her head against the stone wall and sighed heavily.

Her thoughts turned to Erik. Had something happened to him? Was she wasting her time pining away for him, hopeful for a glimpse of him visually or audibly? Was she doing what so many foolish women before her had done and clutched to the memory of something and in the process thrown away happiness?

She certainly didn't want to embark upon an intimate relationship with Hannibal or anyone who wasn't Erik, but Hannibal was her husband. He expressed displeasure of his being made a cuckold, how she hated that term. But was he, in turn, remaining faithful to her? Was she being laughed at and ridiculed behind her back for being unable to keep her husband happy and at home so soon into their marriage?

Men, of course, were not held to the same standards women were. Her husband could have mistresses, one for every day of the week, and it would mean nothing. That didn't mean she liked the idea of it, though. Not that it should matter. He had married her to legitimize Andre and make Andre a Lecter. That had been accomplished. So now what? Did the three of them live out there make believe life? And what of Andre? Wouldn't he sense that his parents weren't in love? And Christine had so wanted to teach him about love.

If only she knew where Erik was and what he was thinking. But she didn't. She had not sensed him or had any feeling whatsoever the past few weeks at the Opera giving her any reason to believe he had been nearby. Maybe she was being a fool and should just get on with her life. Then again, maybe she was being a fool for believing Hannibal would even want her as a husband wanted a wife.

She gathered her wrapper tighter around her, clutching it to her neck. What sort of rejection that would be, and it was something Christine would rather not bear. It was bad enough to know that Erik was rejecting her. He had said he wanted her to return to the Opera and she did as he bid her to do. What else could she do? Nothing. There was nothing more for her to do. Yet he was still staying away from her. Did he believe she had been unfaithful to him?

Christine was exhausted and knew it was time for bed. After a brief stop in Andre's nursery to kiss the tiny forehead of her sleeping son, she returned to her room. Turning down her bed, she left the bedside lamp on just a little out of habit. She realized that despite not having Erik here with her she had not suffered a bad dream or a disturbed night's sleep since coming to Hannibal's house. Was there a connection somehow? Or was just the fact that she no longer had so many things to worry about enough to bring her a good night's sleep? She didn't know and quite honestly, as she reached to turn the lamp all the way off for the night, she didn't care.

Hannibal enjoyed his nip of brandy and decided it was time to retire for the evening. Christine had held true to her word thus far and left her door unlocked. He had taken to checking on her every night before going to bed. Sometimes he stayed for a little longer than was necessary merely to check on her in an attempt to keep servant gossip at bay. Not that he was overly concerned. The child was still young enough that it would be reasonable that he had not taken to visiting his wife for those purposes. Hell, he got his heir, he could stay away for the entire length of their marriage and while his servants would talk he doubted many would think it entirely strange.

Christine came across very much like the woman Lecter wanted her to come across as, despite her occupation. She was a pristine and well behaved young woman who held to her morals. So it would not be too far fetched that their procreation would halt once the boy had come to be. Sure some men would want more than one child, but Lecter knew that wouldn't be possible for them. It was too bad, he mused with a slight smile to himself, that he had admitted his inability to bear children to Christine. It might have been fun going through the experience of at least trying.

Even her room reflected her innocence. Her bed linens were a virginal white, the soft pink duvet the only thing of color on the bed. This soft pink was the same color she had selected for her curtains as well. The room had been drastically masculine when she had moved in, and Lecter found it rather refreshing to have a room so obviously occupied by a woman under his roof.

He noticed at once upon entering the room that the lamp was off entirely tonight. He had never asked of her need for the lamp to be on, assuming it brought her some comfort, but he was a little curious as to the sudden change. Perhaps it ran out of oil and went out, he reasoned. He walked quietly to the side of the bed and watched as she slept. He checked the lamp, found it was full and left it alone. Had it been out of oil, he would have seen to it that it was refilled and turned on again for her. She really was pretty, he noticed once he looked to her sleeping form again. She wasn't the most beautiful girl he'd ever laid eyes on, he wasn't even sure someone like that existed.

Hannibal Lecter was not a romantic and did not believe in things like all encompassing love or beauty. But he imagined if he believed in such things this woman who he had opened his home and even a portion of his heart to would more than likely fulfill both of those things. She looked so innocent, her hair a dark mass of curls beneath her head on the white linen pillow case. Her pale skin so smooth and unblemished, she never wore make up aside from when she performed.

There were nights when he slept alone he wondered just what he was doing when he had made the promise to her of a name only marriage. She loved her Erik he believed this completely. Was there perhaps room for two lovers in her lifetime if one of those lovers was her husband? He did not believe she would refuse him were he to approach her. He wouldn't describe her as dutiful, though she was that. But Christine seemed to take pride and joy in performing her duties, in pleasing him and aiding his servants in running his home. It was a battle sometimes for Lecter. There were times he wanted her more than anything he'd wanted before, in part simply because he could yet could not at the same time. Tonight was not one of those times, though. Tonight he was just a dutiful husband making sure his wife was sleeping soundly before he retired for the night. He drew the blanket around her that she had in her sleep pushed aside and left the room.

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