Erik frantically paced on the balcony outside Christine's bedroom. Comte had left her room some time ago, but Erik was still in a rage over the other man touching what was his. He went through this every night Erik witnessed Lecter touching her. Christine was Erik's, there was no question of that in Erik's mind. There wasn't in Christine's mind either apparently by her utterances to the mirror after tonight's performance. Perhaps Erik needed to punish himself, because he kept watching and waiting for the night when Comte would not leave the bedroom at all. So far the man had remained a gentleman to Christine. He hadn't touched her much more than necessary even while Christine slept and he could have gotten away with it. Hell, he could have gotten away with it when she was awake being that she was his wife.
Erik believed it was just a matter of time before this changed, and Erik vowed he would never share Christine with another man. Not like that, not as long as he lived and breathed and she wanted him. Erik still could not believe that Christine wanted him, a deformed monster of a man who could provide her with nothing over a Comte who could provide her all that she had now. Erik kept waiting for the day when Christine decided she loved this man who was her husband and gave her all that she could need. Comte's late night and early morning activities worried Erik, though. He feared for Christine's safety. Eventually, Lecter would no longer need a wife tying him down and Erik believed Lecter would rid himself of the unnecessary wife.
He had come almost every evening since he had recovered enough from the gunshot wound to do so. Sometimes he stayed for only a few minutes to ensure Christine was alive and well. Sometimes he stayed longer than he should just to be near her. He was tempted to lie next to her and hold her. He knew she would welcome him, but he knew also his form would leave an imprint on the bed. He was careful not to sit anywhere but the floor for the same reason. Lecter's keen sense of smell posed a problem for Erik, so Erik despite the night air's temperature left the balcony doors open when he visited.
He wasn't sure if he felt pleasure or sorrow at Christine believing he had abandoned her. Yes, he had watched her flawless performance earlier that evening, just as he had watched every rehearsal leading up to opening night. As if he would have missed it. He was exceptionally proud of her. She was going on without him, yet he knew that as long as she performed she would carry him with her. He had gone to her dressing room daily, stood behind the mirror and watched her with an ache in his heart and a feeling of loss running rampant through his body. He much preferred the feeling of despair and hopelessness he experienced up until that night almost a year ago when he had presented himself before Christine as a man to what he was experiencing now.
He as a gentleman should averted his gaze when she changed out of her clothes. He sensed from her thoughts that she was doing it intentionally, that she wanted him to look if he was there. He, however, could not do it without feeling like he was doing something horribly wrong. Mother to his child or not, she was another man's wife now. Erik did not believe in her God or the teachings that went with it, but he knew one day when she came to accept her place in life that she would look back on these instances and resent him. He wasn't sure if he could covet another man's wife when the man had essentially stolen the woman from him to begin with. But he didn't care to take the chance of watching her undress and do more than covet her.
He entered her room quietly, smiling slightly at the extinguished lamp. She was sleeping better, which he was glad of. He tried to keep his promise to not leave her alone at night, but he was not able to spend nearly as much time with her as he would have liked. She looked like an angel dressed all in white with white enshrouding her as she slept. He was undeserving of her, yet Lecter did not deserve her either. No one did as far as Erik was concerned. She deserved Andre and she had to go about obtaining him the usual way, but that was as close as Erik was willing to come to admitting he deserved her love.
As much as Erik wanted to see Andre he could not bring himself to set foot in his son's nursery. He was taking too big a chance seeing Christine, seeing Andre could prove fatal for Christine. Erik would not endanger her more than he already was. How he longed to sing to them both, to lull his son to sleep in his arms when he would not quiet down for Christine. He had never felt so loved, so wanted, or so accepted as he had during those times when his son quieted for him and not for his mother.
Did he wish to speak with her? To touch her? To kiss her? Yes, more than life itself he wanted to do those things. He wanted her by his side. Did he now regret not marrying her as she wanted? Sadly no, he did not. All he had to do was touch the fine furnishings around her and look into her closet full of gowns, some of them made only for her, to know she was better off. Erik could never give her this type of life and she deserved it.
His hand rested too long against her cheek as he thought of these things and he felt her stir beneath his touch. His hand was cool against her skin. He knew he should have left the room before she came to completely, but he stood as if frozen unable to move. His hand was the only part of him he was able to move just then and he brushed her cheek lightly, his breath hitching slightly when he felt her press her cheek into his hand.
He wasn't sure how he knew that she wouldn't wake up startled and screaming; he just knew she wouldn't. He offered her a slight smile, knowing she was still mostly asleep. He held his finger up to his lips to silence her. He spoke to her without moving his lips or speaking aloud. Something he hadn't had to do in so very long. He touched her mind with his thoughts and bid her to join him out on the balcony. There he could hide in the shadows and she would just be a woman unable to sleep getting a breath of fresh air. In here, there was always the chance someone would hear.
Erik retracted his hand, after one last brush of her cheek with his thumb and stepped away from the bed. He left through the French doors he'd entered by, giving her the chance to get her wrapper and join him. Erik knew he was taking a chance. He believed she'd come to him and not seek out Lecter, which is why he risked it.
He was seated on the balcony floor when she emerged dressed in her wrapper. He saw her clearly enough and knew it took her a moment to spot him. He gestured for her to stand near him pleased that she obeyed seemingly without question. She didn't look upset, but she didn't look overly pleased either. Had he waited too long? Erik wanted Comte to believe he had won and that Erik would forever be gone from their lives. Erik, however, wasn't done yet and he had not given up. He would get Christine back, somehow. He was just biding his time until the how made itself known to him.
"You're alive," she whispered.
"Yes, of course I am."
"You haven't been to see me."
"I have you just haven't known, Christine. I can't stay long. In fact, I should go now so you can go back to bed."
"Must you so soon."
"Yes, but I will see you tomorrow after the performance. Is he going to tomorrow's performance?" The he Erik was referring to was obvious.
"No, at least I don't think so. But Lissa."
He reached with his fingers and touched her hair lovingly. "Do as you did tonight, let her do your hair."
Christine smiled, the gesture visible even in the night sky. "I will."
"Stand up now," he said softly. "We cannot talk here again like this, Christine. It's far too risky and you know that. You must promise me you'll be careful."
"Yes, of course I will be," she said as she stood. Her hands on the balcony's railing she peered out over the garden. "Is this your first night here," she asked softly.
"No," he replied. "I promised you I would not leave you alone at night."
She bowed her head slightly. "Perhaps that is why I no longer need my lamp on."
"Perhaps. You have two to protect you now."
"Don't let's talk about him."
He couldn't help himself as he leaned over and placed a kiss against her bare calf. It was there, he couldn't resist kissing her somewhere. Surely kissing her leg wasn't horribly wrong, except that he wanted to do so much more than kiss her calf. He wanted to kiss her everywhere. "I must go," he whispered.
"I know. Good night." She turned from him and walked to the doorway, turning to face him again but he was already gone.
Christine couldn't sleep after Erik's visit. She was excited that he had finally come to see her, but nervous at the same time that he was taking a risk coming here. If Erik was caught, Christine didn't know what Hannibal would do - to her or to Erik. It was late enough that she didn't see the need to get fully dressed to go downstairs and heat herself some milk. There were servants she could have woken to do it for her, but she didn't mind heating up her own milk.
Christine sat drinking the cup of milk hoping it would calm her. She was surprised to hear the door open leading from the kitchen to the outside. Had she woken a servant unwittingly? She didn't think she'd been that loud. As quietly as she could, she stood from her seat and moved back from the table. Too late she realized she had forgotten to take her milk with her. It would be fairly obvious someone had just been in the room.
She let out a sigh of relief when she saw that it was her husband. She couldn't figure out why he was coming in through the servants' entrance. Why would he need to come in this way? And where had he been? She couldn't bear to think of that now, that he had been out with another woman. It really wasn't any of her concern. A few hours ago she might have thought for sure it was her concern. Now that Erik had visited her, had come for her she wasn't sure she cared anymore.
"Comte," she said, stepping out of the shadows. "You frightened me." And for a moment she knew the true meaning of the word fear. He looked as if he might kill her. She had seen the look in Erik's eyes enough to know that look and what it meant. But then the look was gone as quickly as it came and she thought she had imagined it.
"Christine. What are you doing up this late and down here all alone? You should be in bed sleeping. You have another late night tomorrow."
She stepped towards the table once more and took her seat again. She had nothing to fear from this man. She was just taking Erik's words to be careful to heart and seeing things where they didn't exist. "I couldn't sleep and decided to warm myself up some milk." She lowered her eyes to the cup her hands were both holding onto. He looked so disheveled, she had never seen him look like this before and wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Was she jealous? Surely not, but she could think of no other explanation for his appearance than a late night dalliance with someone. At least he had the decency to do it after dark. "Would you care to join me?"
"Do you have enough for two?"
"I could heat another cup up if you'd like some."
Lecter offered her a charming smile and slicked back his hair. "Sure I'll join you. Let me change if you don't mind. By the time I return the milk should be heated just right."
Christine stood to walk in the direction of the stove, but Hannibal blocked her path. She glanced into his maroon eyes and smiled a little confused. "Was there something else, Hannibal?"
Lecter kissed her, startling her he knew because it was so unexpected. It was unplanned even to him. He drew away from the kiss unwillingly but he knew he had to. "Just that. I'll return in a minute."
Lecter changed quickly, grateful that it had been his rather unobservant wife who had been in the kitchen rather than a servant. It was a good thing, too, that he was conscientious in his clean up away from his house. He glanced at himself in the mirror to ensure there were no spatters of blood he had missed. No, he could see none. His clothes weren't the same clothes she had seen him in earlier that evening, but that wasn't something to worry about. She had last seen him when they returned from the opera, of course he would be dressed differently.
The kiss had been a foolish thing to do, but he couldn't resist. She caught him off guard standing in his kitchen in her shift. Of all the women he could have chosen as his wife over the years, he was curious to know which of them would have warmed their own milk regardless of the time. Hannibal doubted any of them would have for any reason. If there had been no servants available, most women would have just gone without.
Shortly after Hannibal left a dazed Christine in the kitchen she began to heat the milk she had promised him. It distracted her from thinking about that kiss and what it might mean, and it stopped her from thinking of that look she had seen in his eyes when Hannibal had first come in. Was that desire in his eyes she saw? Had he been able to smell her as he sometimes did? He seemed genuinely surprised at seeing her though, so she didn't think that was it. And she knew enough of desire from her experiences with Erik that she thought she'd recognize it.
It didn't take long at all for Hannibal to join her again. She poured them both a cup of milk and joined him at the table. "Have you ever sat in here before," she asked him hesitantly.
Lecter looked around the large kitchen and then back at her. "No, honestly, I haven't. Other than to walk through it and to cook a meal on occasion, I spend very little time in this room. Do you?"
"No, this is my first time doing it. I couldn't sleep," she admitted. "So I thought I'd heat some milk. I didn't realize you were out," she added hesitantly. Had he seen Erik leave? She believed Erik was more careful then that, so she doubted that was the case.
"I just had some things to tend to, Christine. I'm sorry I was not here when you couldn't sleep. Perhaps I could have brought you some milk instead of your having to get out of bed."
"I don't mind. I'm used to doing things for myself, Hannibal, really."
"I know you are. I'm trying to break you of that habit," he smiled slightly.
"I'm sorry. I probably sound ungrateful."
"Not at all," he laughed. "I can honestly say I enjoy sitting in here with you alone than with a servant around because you wanted some warm milk. I enjoy my privacy, Christine, so I don't begrudge you wanting to do things for yourself."
"I'm glad. I don't know that I'll ever get used to all of this. Even at the Opera you've gotten me someone to tend to my every whim."
"Is she too much?"
"No, that's not it. I just hope you're not doing more than paying her to tend my hair. She helped me into my costume tonight, but I got out of it on my own. I guess I'm kind of a private person, too," she admitted a little shyly.
"Which is why I think we get along so well, honestly. I shudder to think what the reaction of most wives would have been to my coming home as I did, late and through the servants' entrance rather than the front door."
"It is not my place to question you."
"I suppose it is no wife's place to question their husband, but still some would have. And yet it seems you're not even curious. I suppose you assume I was with another woman."
The cup Christine had been sipping from dropped from her hands, falling against the table with a loud thump. Milk splashed over the front of her shift and along her face, neck, hands, and arms. "What," she asked her voice barely a whisper.
Lecter stood and got a cloth from one of the kitchen cabinets, which Christine took from him when he offered it to her. "You heard me."
"Thank you," she said softly. She wiped her hands and arms off. Her shift was wet and there was little point in attempting to dry it. She would have to rinse it out and change into a new one before bed or she'd smell like rotten milk by morning. "I did. Yes. I just don't know what you want me to say. Again, it is not my place to question you. It would certainly be within your rights as a man to do so. And given our situation," she trailed off.
"And given our situation what? It is too soon into our marriage for me to be conducting myself in such a manner, Christine. You've given me a child, a son, I don't believe that disrespecting you so soon is the polite thing for me to do in return for such a gift."
"No of course and I appreciate that, Comte. I just assumed. A man given your age and your experience."
"Given my age and experience of what, Christine? In truth you know very little about me. I wish you'd ask me rather than make assumptions based on rumors or gossip. It's true I've enjoyed the company of women in my time, but I'm certainly not the type of man who can't control himself."
"Of course, I didn't mean to imply you were." He placed his left hand over hers and squeezed her hand lightly. She had never noticed before that he had six fingers on that hand. She couldn't help but stare at it. She'd never seen something like that before.
"I know you didn't, Christine. Have you had enough milk for the evening? Do you think you can sleep now? As much as I enjoy talking with you like this, about this, I don't want to keep you up too late. I know you want to spend as much time with Andre as you can."
If Hannibal noticed her staring at his hand he gave no indication of it. Christine didn't mean to be rude, so hopefully he did not notice or was simply just used to it when people noticed this about him. "Yes, I think I'm fine for the night. Are you finished?"
"Yes," he said indicating his empty cup.
"Were you going to upstairs then?"
"No, no, please not on account of me. I just figured I'd walk with you if you were going up."
"I'll walk you to your room. I enjoy seeing you to your bed safely, Christine."
"I admit I like being taken care of."
"I know you do, and I enjoy doing it." He stood and placed both of their empty cups at the edge of the washing sink. "I was surprised to see you without a wrapper. Did you forget it?"
"No. I mean, yes." She stammered slightly and smiled. She accompanied him out of the kitchen. "I thought at first I'd just pace a bit and then I decided to come down here and I guess I just didn't think about it at that point. It was late enough, I knew the servants were not inside the house."
"Don't get me wrong. You're beautiful, Christine, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I enjoy looking at you. I'm also glad that you're feeling comfortable enough in my home that such a thing is fine with you."
"I am feeling more comfortable, yes," she admitted. And she had been, too, until Erik came to visit her tonight. She had just begun to realize that she needed to content herself with the fact Erik no longer wished to see her. But now everything was different. Erik had come for her, he still loved her, and he had said he would see her at the Opera after the next night's performance.
Hannibal kissed her politely, much differently than the earlier kiss in the kitchen and opened Christine's bedroom door for her. "Good night, Christine. Thank you for the milk."
"Thank you for joining me. I apologize if I intruded on your solitude."
"Not at all. I could have chosen not to join you. Sleep well," he said softly, tucking some of her hair behind her ear. "Don't forget to change your shift."
"I won't. Thank you," she said before closing her door behind her. She thought briefly about locking the door for the first time since living there. But she really didn't believe she had anything to fear from Hannibal.
Hannibal retired to his room. He readied himself for bed and sat in an arm chair looking outside, the doors to his balcony were closed currently. He stared at nothing in particular. In his hand he clutched a snifter of brandy. He found himself needing the brandy in lieu of the need he was feeling for his wife. She was softening towards him, growing more comfortable with him. And yet she was still so shy, acting sometimes like more of an innocent than she was anymore. He had no idea how she would react knowing he wanted her, and it was too soon into this arrangement to make his desires known.
Allowing himself to get emotionally attached to her was going to prove a problem and he knew this. Emotional attachments to anyone or anything might cause him to get sloppy or careless and that was something he could not afford. For Christine's son sake he had to be more even more careful than he normally was. He had taken the son in as his and had given him his name. Hannibal could do nothing to tarnish the name the boy had been provided. If it meant curbing his outside the home interests, then perhaps he would need to do that for now.
His activities had always been somewhat of an amusement to him, snubbing his nose at those in authority who could not figure that the man was one of their fair city's upper crust citizens. Up until a short while ago, Hannibal had nothing and no one else to worry about. Now that wasn't true. Forget what it might do to Andre, what would his getting caught do to Christine?
She had married him and trusted him to provide her with at least a remotely decent life. If something were to happen to him, it would reflect poorly on her and might cost her her job. And while she would be provided for financially being his wife and Andre's mother, it still would not be easy for someone like her to live with the disgrace that would surely come with what he would get into trouble for. For if one was discovered, more than likely they would all be discovered.
Finishing the brandy, he set the glass down and stood. Damn it, it was time he figured out just what type of marriage this wife of his wanted. If he was going to change who he was for her, he would have to be sure it was worth his while. So far she had done nothing to indicate she was being unfaithful to him. No one had heard from the Opera Ghost for weeks, and as far as Lecter could tell no one had tried to contact his wife.
Her assistant at the Opera was paid well, but Lecter was honestly thinking of obeying Christine's wishes and cutting back her duties to only seeing to Christine's hair. She had been unable to provide Lecter with any useful information. Christine did nothing at the Opera save sit in her dressing room and occasionally went onstage to rehearse her non-vocal movements.
She had given him no reason to be suspicious here at the house either. She never went out aside from to the Opera House unless Lecter himself was with her. Here at the house, she was in the library or in the nursery if she couldn't be found in her chambers. She read to Andre with enthusiasm, Lecter found himself intrigued at times with her story telling.
Perhaps it was time he put aside his paranoia and started working on getting the woman to love him. He was sure it wouldn't be difficult to do. Once he started treating her as a woman and no longer like Andre's mother perhaps she would grow fond of him as he found himself becoming of her. He believed her to be a faithful and loving woman. Surely there had to be a reason this man who had until her chosen to live as a ghost selected her. Lecter doubted very highly it was her hair or pretty eyes. Tonight was a start to this end.
They had shared a small moment of time together with no servants, no baby, and no other distractions. If they had more times like that perhaps it could work. Getting her away from the Opera might be wise, but he had given her his word that she could keep her job with the Opera. If Lecter was nothing else he was a man of his word. He was setting on a course which would essentially break his word of not expecting a physical relationship with her, but he didn't dwell on that. He couldn't dwell on it. That kiss tonight had been spontaneous and even a little fun. She had been hesitant to return it, but had it not been unexpected perhaps she wouldn't have been. It was a start anyway. She had never recoiled from his kisses or looked at him as if she were offended he'd done it. Yes, it might work if he could tempt her without pushing her.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com