While Erik took Hannibal to do whatever it was he needed to do with him, Christine paced her bedroom floor frantically. She avoided the spot where Hannibal's body had landed, not needing to be reminded of that. Thank heavens it had been dark in the room and Erik hadn't needed the lamp turned on afterward. She didn't care to know what he had looked like or to know what exactly Erik had done. It had been quick and sudden; she hoped that it had been as painless as possible.
She had no idea what this all meant, but she did know one thing. Erik had just put her out of a job again. She was a widow and would have to go into mourning. Would she have to give up her job at the Opera? She had no idea what the state of affairs was to be for her upon Hannibal's death. She was aware enough of how things worked to know that she might be left nothing, all could be left to her son. If Hannibal had gotten to the point of even doing that yet. Wouldn't it just be some odd twist of fate if after all was said and done, she'd married the man, given a name to her son that wasn't truly his and have it turn out to be all for naught?
The more she thought on it the more furious she became at this situation Erik had put her in. True, what Erik said was fact; Hannibal had been making an overture to her this evening. And true as well while she might have been able to put him off for tonight chances were he would not have been put off forever. Christine was not that strong a person and Hannibal would have played on her weakness and her sense of honor and duty one too many times to get her to give in. She knew this to be true. Things Erik had said to her rang true, he was good to her but Christine questioned just how honorable a man he was. How honorable could a man be who had done what Hannibal had done to obtain a son?
Yet, at the same time Christine chastised herself. How honorable was she that she did it? That she had essentially sold herself and her son? Despite her feelings for Erik, she should never have done it. Hannibal was dead now because of her decision, and she honestly had no idea where she stood now that he was dead.
She had no idea how long Erik was gone. She heard the clock chime in the house, but paid no attention to what hour it signaled. She knew Erik would come back to her tonight. She knew that what he had done was wrong; he had taken another man's life. Not that he hadn't done this before several times, of course. She knew, too, that Erik felt he was protecting what he believed was his.
Could she blame him? Would she rather right now be succumbing to the desires of a man she didn't love? If she had never experienced it with the emotion of love involved, perhaps she could have. Now, though, she truly doubted she could have done it and not wept ferociously afterward.
She jumped visibly when her door opened, relieved and petrified both to see Erik standing there. How strange it was to see him come through her door, into her room. He looked though as if he'd done nothing wrong, as if the man who had clothed, fed, and housed her for the past few months wasn't lying in some room of the house dead.
"What did you do," she asked unsure whether she really wanted to hear his answer.
"It's best I not tell you, but I made it look as though he was sitting at his desk when it happened, ink pen in his hand even," he smiled wickedly.
"This isn't overly funny, Erik. Do you realize what you've done?"
"I've freed you from him."
"Have you? Have you indeed freed me?"
"Christine," he said pleadingly.
"No. You do not understand. I am a widow now. Do you understand what that means?"
She took his silence to mean he did not and continued. "Unless Comte was not true to his word and I find out from his solicitor that Andre has no legal claim to anything, I will have to go into mourning for the next year at least. I'm quite sure Comte will have provided enough for me so that I can maintain this house without having to work at the Opera. So that means I cannot work, Erik. Once again because of you I have to leave the Opera, the very thing you tell me I belong in you have twice now taken me away from. What are the chances the management will let me come back again?"
Erik was silenced, not having any response to give her. He hadn't thought of what his actions would do beyond freeing her to be able to be with him. Wasn't that what she wanted? Or did she love the Opera more than him?
"We can leave Paris," he offered. "Take our son, start anew somewhere where no one will know anything about you. You can perform anywhere, why limit yourself to Paris."
"And how am I to do that with a son not even a year old, Erik? Comte has a well enough known name, surely unless we leave Europe entirely someone somewhere will know of him and wonder why his widow is performing."
"We can go to America," he said simply. "I have heard there is plenty of opportunity there. The war between their states has finished, there are cities there that one day will rival the large ones in Europe. I believe that, and you could be there at the start it all. A part of history."
"And what of Andre, Erik? What am I supposed to tell him?" She sat in her armchair, exhausted and defeated as well as being thoroughly confused. She placed her face in her hands and began to weep. She wasn't weeping for the reason she would be expected to weep for over the next days and weeks, Hannibal's death. She was weeping because her life had been going so well and now it was in ruins again. "Am I to lie to him about whom you are or who Hannibal was? And then what am I supposed to do to the property and monies he is bound to receive?"
"Give them to him, that's why you did it, wasn't it? To ensure he would be provided for."
"No, I did it to save your life, Erik. Monies, land, and titles mean little to me in the grand scheme of things."
"Well, they do to me."
"What," she lifted her head, her tear stained cheeks red from her crying.
"Damn it. I can't leave him a bloody thing, Christine. The two of us together amount to very little. You might fall into some financial means with your success, yes. But damn it, you married the man, give the boy what Lecter wanted him to have. If you knew the things about him I know, Christine, I don't think you'd feel bad about it at all."
"What things? You've hinted for months about him and told me to be careful, but you've told me nothing."
He sighed softly. "Is it safe to talk here?"
She nodded slightly. "It is. There is no one in the house at night but us. Me," she corrected.
He drew the matching armchair to the one she sat in near her, setting it so he faced her when he sat. His knees touched hers, he leaned forward taking her hands in his. "He was a murderer, Christine. You've read the paper, I'm sure. He's been somewhat discreet and cautious about it, sticking with others who will not be sorely missed by society. Parts of their bodies are missing, internal parts," he clarified.
"No," she said, trying to draw her hands away.
"Would I lie to you, Christine? What do I have to gain by telling you this? You didn't love the man, so it's not as if I'm trying to woo you away from fond memories of him. That is why I told you to exercise caution. I knew sooner or later, once Andre was a little older if you were bothersome he would not think twice about making a widower of himself."
"And you didn't tell me this? You let me live here knowing this about him? How could you?"
"Because I knew that he would know. He was a smart man, Christine. Too smart. In truth, he would have been someone had our paths been fated to cross a different way I imagine I could have matched wits with quite formidably. I didn't tell you to protect you. Believe what you might, but it's the truth."
She sighed heavily, tired with this evening on top of not feeling well. "I don't know what to believe anymore."
"I will leave you as much as I would like to offer to stay here tonight, I realize the foolishness in my doing so."
"I'm awake now, please sit with me. I'm in this because of you, don't you dare leave me now. Tell me what I'm going to go through. And tell me what I'm supposed to do, Erik."
"I did not do this intentionally, damn it. I did not plan this, Christine. I did not plan any of it. My need for you got us into this predicament I'll admit, but I did not plan it. I want you to perform as much as you do, but I have to wonder you seem more upset about being unable to perform for a year then you do relieved at the prospect that we can be together now. Is that what you want? The Opera over me? You promised yourself to me, Christine."
"No, I didn't say that. But please understand Erik I've been working towards this for years. And twice now I've been hurled up to stardom quickly only to have it ripped away from me. I have to believe I might not get so lucky a third time."
"And for that I am sorry, but he was going to touch you, Christine." His hands holding hers tightened reflexively as he thought of it.
"Erik you're hurting me and he can't touch me anymore."
"No, nor will anyone else have the need to again. You will at least no longer need to marry someone to save my sorry existence again. I'm sorry that you did it to begin with."
"You can't be serious, Erik. And then what would I have done? Kept Andre in a cave for his life?"
"He'd have been safe."
"And lived as you have lived, the life of a recluse? Not to mention I do not know how to operate the many traps and switches throughout the Opera. He could have died in there."
Erik frowned knowing she spoke the truth, but there was no point in arguing it now. "Would you rather I have stood out there and let him make love to you, Christine? Is that what you would have preferred?"
"No, Erik, I would not have wanted that. I understand why you did what you did, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it or approve of it. You killed a man, in my bed!"
"As well I should kill any man who visits your bed but me."
"You should have made me your wife then if that was the claim you wished to make, Erik."
"Right, and just as you said a moment ago, and had you and Andre tied to me and a life living in a cave? Should I have bound you to me legally, a man who is unable to support you outside of pretending to be a ghost?"
"You can sell your works, Erik. Your music, your paintings, your designs, your inventions would all go to supporting us very well. You could sell them all and make money. Why are you so stubborn about this?"
She stood then and walked to the French doors leading to her balcony. "You have to think on that, Erik. If you want me as you say you do, you want for us to be together, I will not do it sinfully any longer. We have a son to think of if for no other reason. If you want me, if you truly want me, and if you truly want to give me a life outside of your cave then do it. Otherwise, I will ask that you leave me and my son alone."
"What are you saying, Christine?"
"You heard me, Erik. I've lived a lifetime of sin in the last two years and I won't do it any longer. I won't. I have to live with everything I've done, seen, and have knowledge of. It's more than any one good God fearing person should have to bear. You either want me as your wife, in a home where you provide for your wife and son or you lose not only me but Andre as well."
She hoped he couldn't hear the tremor in her voice, or see her body visibly tremble. She had never been so bold and forthright with him before, but she had to do it. She would not after all this leave it all behind to merely be his mistress. There was at least no shame in her life as it was now, no one knew Andre was born to her outside the institution of marriage. She did, of course, and she would carry the guilt of that knowledge with her always. But there would be another child if they continued on as they were, she knew it, and she would not take that chance.
She had been so foolish in making love to him while married to Hannibal if for no other reason then obviously Hannibal would have known she had continued seeing Erik. And if what Erik had said was true, that Hannibal was a murderer, she had endangered her very existence by doing it. She would not do it anymore.
"Those are my conditions. You either take them or you don't." She turned to face him again. "I won't live as your mistress, Erik. I'd rather live out the rest of my days as a widow, alone then see our son ridiculed for the lifestyle of his parents."
"I should let you go to sleep, or at least appear as though you're sleeping, Christine," he said simply for lack of anything better to say right now. He was unable to look at her completely, everything she said was true but she just didn't get that he had honestly been trying to do the best thing for she and Andre. He apparently failed in his attempt.
"I will give you your time to contend with the issues and duties surrounding Hannibal. You know where to find me should you need assistance with anything." He could have left normally now, but he chose to exit the same way he had entered the house tonight, through the balcony. He made no effort to touch her as he brushed past her.
Christine stared in disbelief as he left. How in the world did he expect her to sleep with a dead man in her house? Knowing she would never be able to sleep in her bed, she decided to go down the hall to Hannibal's room and try and sleep in there. She had been in his room a few times over the months, they would sometimes read together or something to carry on the pretense to nosey servants that they were indeed an intimate couple. She had never slept on his bed before, though. How that would look to Bella in the morning! Christine didn't care, though, and despite everything, she found herself falling asleep as soon as her head came into contact with a pillow that smelled like and was shaped to the contours of Hannibal.
The next few days passed by frantically for Christine. Unable to sleep in her room because of what happened in there, she took to sleeping in Hannibal's room. The servants that knew of this found this an endearing quality rather than odd, their mistress obviously missed her husband. Much was made out of Andre and how young he was to lose a father as well as Christine at being made a widow at so young an age. Christine wept when she felt it was best to do so, smiled when it was all right to do so, and was as polite as she could be until she was entirely too tired of visitors.
The service had been that morning, a week after his death so that all mourners could make the funeral. Hannibal had no church, but Christine saw to it the service was held at her church. She was surprised by how many had come, not realizing just how many people knew him. She wondered if any of them truly knew him, though. She surely didn't, Erik evidently did though.
She sat in his study now with his solicitor. She wasn't sure what she was expecting, but what she had just heard wasn't it. "Excuse me, Monsieur, I did not hear you correctly."
He smiled sympathetically at Christine. "Comtesse, you are a very wealthy woman. Your husband has left you a great deal in the way of property as well as money. Your son of course will be told of what is expected of him later in life."
"There is a house in addition to this one you say?"
"Yes, your husband has property in England, Madam. You have the right to do with the entire estate as you wish. Comte did not want you to feel as though you had to stay here, Comtesse."
This was overwhelming to Christine. She had expected a comfortable existence at best, but Hannibal had in addition to ensuring the servants salaries were paid well in advance had gone so far as to ensure Andre's schooling would be covered. This on top of the monies she received. It was too much. She was stunned.
Thankfully, no one had suspected she had anything to do with his death. Erik had done a thorough job of making it look like someone had broken into the house, including even being as savvy as to breaking the glass of the window to his study. Her inability to sleep, eat, and her insistence on sleeping in Hannibal's room all helped keep any suspicion from being cast on her. She was, of course, an actress, and she played her part well.
She would miss him, even if what Erik had said about his being a murderer was true he had been kind to her. He had enlightened her to literature that she would never have thought to read. He taught her to play billiards and had even offered to teach her to play cards. She had drawn the line at that, cards was too close to gambling.
She stood in his room, looking at his closet. She had never looked in this room before, his dressing area. He was as neat here as he was everywhere, everything tidy and in order. She ran her fingertips over one of his suit jackets, appreciating the cut, quality, and feel of it. She sighed softly and jumped visibly when someone spoke behind her.
"I'm sorry, Milady," Hannibal's manservant said.
"No, Harold, you're fine. What can I do for you?"
"Well, Milady, I was wondering if you knew what you wanted me to do with his clothes."
"No," Christine said quickly horrified by the idea. This was Hannibal's house, she felt like an intruder going through his things. But she certainly didn't want servants doing it. "No, thank you, Harold. When I'm ready to do that I will certainly ask for your help." She offered him a weak smile.
"Thank you, Milady," he bowed his head.
He was worried about his job, as well he should be. Christine had no need for a manservant. "Harold," she asked softly. "Had you and Comte ever spoken of what you would do upon his death? Have you a family?"
"Yes, Madame," he said, brightening at the question. "I have a wife and eight children, six boys and two girls."
"My goodness, Harold," she laughed lightly. "You know," she bit her lip lightly. "I think Hannibal would like it if until Comte Andre is old enough to need a manservant you spent your time with your family. You have been faithful to him for years, have you not?"
"Yes, Madame, of course, almost thirty years."
Christine frowned slightly. Was Hannibal that old? She had never really thought of his age, it hadn't been important. "You wouldn't feel as though I'm releasing you, would you Harold? Because that's not what I'm doing. And when I'm ready to go through his things I will send for you to join me. But I think Hannibal would rather you spend time with your family then here doing nothing."
Harold's smile widened with a polite nod of his head. "Very well, Comtesse. I thank you."
"Thank you, Harold, for thirty years of faithful servitude. Comte spoke highly of you."
He left and Christine couldn't hide the soft giggle that escaped her lips. She would more than likely dismiss most of the servants, she would of course try and find them other households to work in and provide them with recommendations. She did not need as many as Hannibal had had working there. But Harold, she didn't want him to have to find another job for another man. Let the man enjoy his family.
Christine vowed to make no more changes though without going over them with the solicitor first. She doubted somehow the man would argue with her decision regarding Harold.
Leaving Hannibal's room, she went to the nursery. Andre was sleeping, but Christine sat in the rocking chair next to his crib. She was exhausted from the demands placed on her over the past week. She hadn't heard from Erik and couldn't figure out if his last words to her a week ago meant that he had agreed to her conditions and would come for her after all of this was done. Or if he simply had been saying good bye and despite his good bye wanted her to know she could still count on him. It was too much for her to think on, and soon she had rocked herself to sleep.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com