***Part Seventeen***

The performance couldn't end soon enough for Christine. She rushed through the required green room appearance after the performance as quickly as she could. Hannibal had come to the performance, but had told her before she left for the Opera House that he wouldn't wait for her afterward. She was pleased he wanted to see her performance twice in a row, but was also glad that he didn't plan on taking her home.

She did not remove her costume before Lissa came to take down her hair. Instead she busied herself arranging the bouquet of roses Hannibal had sent to her dressing room after the performance, humming sweetly until Lissa came. Christine imagined Lissa would mistake her attention to the roses as affection for her husband's generous gift rather than to busy herself so that she would have more time in her dressing room after Lissa left.

Her hair down she stood in her dressing room alone in her tunica and stola, she hadn't even removed the outer layer to prolong their time together. The fact that she was going to be undressing herself in front of a man who wasn't her husband was lost on her at the moment. All Christine knew was that she was seeing Erik again.

She knew no one would disturb her, she was changing and other than Lissa there was no one who would come to her dressing room. The managers were surprised she had agreed to have her old dressing room, which had been exactly as she had left it. Even her hairbrush was in the same place as when she had last put it down months ago. No one had wanted this dressing room. Christine was sure Erik saw to it the Opera Ghost was busy haunting this particular room so that no one would claim it.

For the first time she saw the mirror move and Erik step through from the opening revealed behind it. She ran to him, embracing him without hesitation. "You came."

He took her into the passageway behind the mirror, letting the mirror slide closed over the opening. "Of course I did. I told you I would."

"Will we hear from here should Lissa come back?"

"Yes, Christine, you can hear just fine from here, but we stand a better chance of not getting overheard this way."

"I didn't realize. We never will have privacy again, will we?"

"Not to talk."

She blushed deeply. "Right."

"You're looking well. He's been good to you?"

"Yes, he has been very good to me," she bowed her head slightly at this confession.

"I'm glad."

"I know you're upset with me and perhaps I should have given you the right to make your decision, but he would have killed you."

"I know. I'm not upset with you, Christine. Hurt perhaps and disappointed in myself, but not upset with you. I know you did what you believed you had to do, and I wanted him to believe I was upset with you. I didn't want him to suspect we would see one another discreetly."

"Did you not want to see me?"

Erik took her into his arms and kissed her deeply as his response. He was surprised at her response. Her arms slid up his chest and around his neck drawing him closer to her. They paused once or twice to catch their breath, but the kiss lasted for what seemed like minutes to Erik. It wasn't long enough for him, though, and Christine didn't look as though she was satisfied either.

"I missed this."

"Did you?"


"As did I, Christine."

"I'm so sorry. If I hadn't been out walking this would never have happened."

"It's not your fault, Christine." He kissed her again wanting to dispel these thoughts she had blaming herself. "I'm convinced he would have gone to whatever lengths necessary to get the same result."

She placed her head against his chest, listening to the thud of his heart. "I believe you." And she did. Somehow for whatever reason, Hannibal Lecter had set his sights on her, Christine Daae, a mere opera singer. Christine knew enough about her husband to know that he didn't take defeat well.

He kissed the top of her head and drew away. "You cannot stay overlong or someone will notice and grow curious. You have yet to change out of your costume even."

She lowered her head, her arms at her side somewhat embarrassed. "I waited for you. I was hoping you'd help me."


"If you'd rather not I'll do it myself."

"It's not that I'd rather not. It's that I should not."

"But why not?"

"You are married."

"But we haven't. I mean we're not," she stammered clearly flustered. "Oh Erik, I'm only yours in that way."

"I believe you, Christine, but that doesn't mean we should now. And if I undress you I won't stop with just that."

"I understand," she said dejectedly.

Erik placed his long fingers under her chin and brought her face up slightly. "No, I don't think you do understand, Christine. I want you in a very basic and almost animalistic way. I want to send you home so that he knows I've pleased you. I want him to know he can have you as his wife legally but never emotionally. I want him to know you want me and not him."

"I do want you, Erik."

"He might know. He might be able to tell."

"How? How could he tell? I don't care."

"I can't take you below. That would take too much time."

She lowered her head again and took his hand in hers. She turned to face the mirror. "Open it."

He did as bid and followed her into her dressing room.

She removed her stola and sang softly as she hung it up for the night. She was amazed at how calm she was about this. Yet another thing to ignore when she went to Confession, but she wanted this even if she knew it was wrong. She had essentially been blackmailed into leaving him; she would never have left him willingly. She turned to face him, letting him remove her tunica for her. Her fingers fumbled slightly with his shirt buttons, nervously. They couldn't talk and she knew that. She was taking a horrible chance. She could lose her son, but she couldn't think about Andre or Lecter right now. She needed to know Erik still loved and wanted her.

Her costume and underclothes removed as well as Erik's shirt and trousers, Christine let him place her on the chaise lounge in her dressing room. He started to pull away, but she stopped him from moving too far by her hands on his shoulders tugging him toward her. She knew he was reaching to turn off the lamp, but knew it was best it remain on. Christine would have preferred it off, but she didn't want to draw attention to her dressing room suddenly becoming dark and her exit not immediately following. She reached for his mask and felt him pull away. He didn't visibly pull away, the instinct was subtle enough but Christine's hands at his shoulders and neck felt it nevertheless.

"Please take it off."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Please don't make me beg."

He did as she asked, setting the mask on the floor beside the chaise as he joined with her. The chaise was far less giving and offered less room than her bed, but the pair made do with what was available knowing their time was limited. Their need to hurry seemed to arouse their passion rather than subdue it; both were sating their own needs for their own reasons.

The lamp was turned down low enough that Erik didn't feel the immediate need to replace his mask. Like their last few times together Christine had surprised him by wanting him to remove his mask. He did not regret having given in to her and removing it as she asked. She touched him so freely, even the side of his face he knew frightened her. She never spoke of it, but he knew it frightened her as it did most people. She this wisp of a woman pushed her fears aside to be with him entirely unclothed, which meant more to him than he imagined she knew.

He stood from the chaise, not wanting to move from his place on top of her but knowing he must. They had taken far too long and Erik knew Hannibal would be waiting for her. His back toward her, he stepped into his underwear and his trousers before turning to face her again.

He wanted to talk to her, to tell her how beautiful she looked. Erik didn't like to make her feel cheap or used, and making love in her dressing room seemed cheap to him. The act itself wasn't necessarily cheap, people succumbed to desires in all sorts of places Erik knew. But they were unable to talk to one another for fear someone might walk past and hear. He didn't believe she felt cheap, but her thoughts betrayed she had doubts over what they had just opened the door to. He sat on the chaise near her legs as he buttoned his shirt. He leaned over to kiss her, lingering longer than he should but not as long as he would have liked. Once again fully dressed aside from his mask he drew away slightly and whispered, "I love you."

She whimpered softly. "I love you, too."

Had he hurt her? He hadn't intended to. It hadn't been that long ago since they'd made love. He had tried to be gentle, but he admittedly was more than a little amorous. He smoothed down her hair, pushing back some curls from her face. "Let's get you dressed now, so you can go home."

She nodded hesitantly and stood with his assistance from the chaise. Erik helped her into her clothes, first her shift and then her corset. Her gown came last, a simple damask gown of emerald green which despite its being simple looked beautiful on her. He stood behind Christine as she ran a finger over one of the rose petals in the bouquet of roses she had received that evening. Erik knew who they were from, even without touching her thoughts, and said nothing. His hands dropped from her shoulders and he stepped to the chaise once more, retrieving his mask from the floor.

"Will I see you tomorrow?"

"Yes, my love, tomorrow."

Her smile lifted his heart and he knew she waited for him to work the mirror and take his leave. He stood watching her until the mirror slid over the opening once more. He saw her step towards the mirror and said simply, "tomorrow, Christine."

Erik rested his forehead against the mirror and watched as she left. She looked towards the mirror once more before she left, yes, but the hollowness he felt at her departure was like reliving her choosing Lecter over him all over again. He wasn't sure he could do this, right or wrong aside for very long. He wasn't sure he could withstand the agonizing feelings that accompanied their relationship. At least as long as Comte was in the picture, and Erik wasn't so sure Christine would appreciate or thank him for making her a widow.

He was a fool, he knew he was. There was no way out of this mess, and that was exactly what Erik considered this situation to be. Lecter was a healthier man than Erik was, Erik was sure of that especially since Erik's resolve to rid his body of the morphine had gone to the wayside when Christine had left him. Erik knew, though that as long as Christine wanted him he would come to and give her whatever it was she wanted from him. Hopefully, one of these days she would have Andre with her and he would be able to see his son.

Erik knew with Christine and him embarking on this type of relationship that he would have to ensure that Hannibal Lecter never found out. He would have to see to Christine's safety now more than he had in the past few weeks. Erik believed Lecter would seek out his revenge on Christine before he would on Erik if he were to find out. The only problem Erik saw with this was that he could not be with Christine every second of the day.

While Erik was trying to come to some sort of a conclusion for protecting Christine, Christine herself was faced with a more immediate problem. She had no idea how she was going to get away with not spending any part of the rest of the evening with her husband. She knew he would expect her to join him at least for a little while. Normally she did not mind spending time with him, but that was before tonight. In less than an hour's time everything had changed.

As luck would have it, Lecter was not in the library or his study. Christine knew there were other places to look for him, but those were the two most obvious places and at least it would look as though she tried. Bella was there to see if she needed any help before bed and Christine asked her to prepare her a bath.

Once done with her bath, Christine put on another simple dress and learning Hannibal was in the game room went in search of him there. She didn't want him suspicious that she didn't seek him out as she usually did. If Christine was anything she was predictable, rarely straying from a routine once it had been established.

"Good evening," she said softly from the doorway. The game room typically was a man's room in a household so Christine was hesitant to cross the threshold uninvited. Had he had company? It didn't appear so; there were no other glasses evident but his.

"Ah, Christine, please come in."

"Thank you," she said joining him. "Did you enjoy the show? I missed you after the performance." It was the appropriate thing to say she realized. And she did like his praise, she couldn't deny that.

"I did, of course. You hesitated in one spot I noticed, but only because I saw last night's flawless performance."

She blushed deeply. "Yes, I'm sorry. I don't know what happened."

Hannibal laughed lightly and took a sip of his glass of wine. "You needn't apologize, Christine. I simply made the observation, and am well aware you've probably chided yourself many times since it occurred. I simply wanted you to know that I do indeed pay attention to what my wife is doing when she's onstage."

"Thank you," she said, bowing her head politely. "Did I interrupt a game?"

"I played a game of billiards a little while ago. Have you ever played?"


He laughed again. "Of course not. Would you like to learn? I won't tell anyone, Christine."

"You would teach me how to play?"

"Why not? If you're interested in learning, I see no problem with my teaching you. I wouldn't approve of your going to gaming halls, but in our home I see nothing wrong with it."

She glanced at the rectangular shaped table and nodded her head simply. "Yes, I think I would like to learn."

"Now? Is this going to be a nightly routine with you performing again?"

"What, Comte?"

He sighed audibly. "Your inability to sleep, Christine."

Was he upset with her? "I don't know," she stammered unsure of how to answer that question. There were some nights she was so exhausted after a performance that she felt as though she could sleep for days. It was a little different right now, though. She was excited about being back and having apparently slid right back into the position she had abandoned so suddenly when with Andre. She imagined with time it would wear off, this excitement. "I'm just happy to be singing again."

"As you should be, you were obviously made to do it."

"You think so?"

"If I didn't, Christine, I would not only discourage you from performing I would tell you as I have the right to that you could not."

"Would you," she asked, trying to imagine him forbidding her from doing anything. So far he had laid down very few rules and nothing seemed forbidden.

"I would. I would not allow you to make a fool of yourself or me for that matter."

"I suppose not. It's too bad Carlotta didn't have someone looking out for her as you do me."

He laughed heartily as he set the table up for them to play. "You surprise me with your bitterness toward her."

"She was not kind to me."

"I'm sure not. People who are jealous often show that jealousy as anger because the emotion frightens them."

He was such a wise and observant man; Christine wondered just how she imagined getting away with fooling him. Could she do it? She hoped so because it was too late to have second thoughts on the subject.

She engaged him in conversation for the next hour as he proceeded to teach her how to play the game of billiards. Her father would probably haunt her dreams for engaging in something so unbecoming a lady, but surely if it was bad her husband would not teach her to do it. She wasn't gambling or drinking or engaging in any other behavior that could be construed as sinful. Aside, of course, from having committed adultery, but she tried not to dwell on that. Hannibal was an astute man and Christine tried very hard not to behave any differently than she normally did. If he wanted to teach her how to play a game then so be it.

It was late and Hannibal had walked with her to her room. She was tired now, the evening's performance and other events having taken their toll on her. She waited for his normal chaste kiss he gave her before bidding her good night, but it did not come. She panicked briefly wondering why.

"Thank you for teaching me to play. Perhaps with some more lessons I will improve."

He smiled widely, his tiny white teeth showing as he did. "I'm sure you will, Christine."

What was he waiting for? Was he expecting her to kiss him? Perhaps he wanted her to invite him to join her in her room. Hoping it was the former rather than the latter she reached up and kissed him simply. "Good night."

"Good night, Christine. Sleep well."

"Thank you," she smiled brightly before opening her door and going into her room. She walked to her dressing area and changed for bed. She turned the bedside lamp off again and laid her head upon her soft feather pillow. She sighed softly, the night's events playing over in her mind. What a path she had embarked on and how far she had strayed from the na´ve, innocent girl of a little over a year ago. How had she gotten to where she was married to a man she didn't love while wanting to be with the one she loved more than anything?

She would talk to Erik tomorrow and tell him that what happened tonight could not happen again. She would not blame him or point an accusing finger in his direction as they were both to blame. She had recently started attending services again and had finally come to terms as best she could with the lies her son and marriage were enshrouded in. She could not continue an adulterous affair and continue living as the devout Catholic she had been raised to be. They could still meet, of course, and talk and hopefully sing. But, no, what had happened tonight, making love, could not happen again. If for no other reason she had a terrible feeling that it would bring severe amounts of trouble, more than simply God's anger at her.

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