Weeks passed after Hannibal's death and Christine heard nothing from Erik. If he visited her she did not know it and after Christine gave notice to the Opera House that she would be unable to perform she hadn't gone back. She had after what she deemed a reasonable amount of time resumed the other activities she had engaged in prior to Hannibal's death. Some were surprised that she did so soon, but she needed to be busy and she couldn't stand spending hours alone in what was now her home.
She was used to being alone having spent years after her father's death very much alone. This time, however, was different. She had spent much of the past year or more with someone. Always when she needed to talk or grew frightened there had been Erik and then Hannibal to turn to. Sure, she had an expansive library at her disposal and a handful of women she might trust enough to consider them friend but it was hard for her to confide in anyone. If she opened up she was afraid the truth would come spilling out and all of Paris would quickly find out what a fraud she was.
Did she regret giving Erik the ultimatum she had given him? Yes, there were days, and nights too, when she regretted it horribly. But she knew it was for the best. He obviously didn't love her as much as he had claimed to, or if he did it was not the right kind of love. She knew he didn't think of her as a mistress, but that didn't mean she wouldn't have that opinion of herself or that others wouldn't.
Though she had full access to Hannibal's monies aside from those left aside for specific purposes, Christine left everything in the hands of the solicitor. She did ensure that copies of everything were sent to her so that she could keep track of everything. Not that she didn't trust the man, if Hannibal did she had no reason not to herself, but she also knew most would think it much easier to take advantage of a woman in charge of things.
Soon Andre would be walking and talking and Christine knew then the hard part truly began. Already he charmed everyone who came in contact with him. She had no idea how to raise a child in the society he was entitled to; she struggled daily with fitting into it herself. It was for Andre that she kept busy in the things she did. She wanted every door possible open for him when his time came to need or want them open.
Christine had decided that a change of scenery might do her well so she and Andre were traveling to the coast. Hannibal had a home in a town there, the name of which escaped Christine. Not that she cared where she ended up at this point, she just wanted out of Paris. The despair she currently felt was worse of that after her father died when she suddenly had to become a functioning adult. She was determined while traveling to the coast to discreetly find her way to a church where she could confess once and for all. She was sure she would be doing penance for the rest of her life, but she did not care she needed to unburden herself with the weight of guilt and dread she carried with her everywhere. She could not do it here in Paris, because she was known; even though Confession was to be anonymous Christine knew it was not.
While traveling Andre was sleeping with his servant, so that left Christine with little to do on this night. The book of poetry she was reading did not interest her just then so she found herself restlessly pacing in front of the fireplace. Perhaps this trip had not been a good idea after all. Tonight she felt more despondent than she had in years and she was tired of sitting. She shrugged into her cloak and left her room deciding a walk in the gardens even at night would be welcome.
She saw him as soon as she took a step off the path towards the creek she had seen earlier in the day. How had he known where she'd be? Was he following them? Not that her entourage would be difficult to spot if one really tried. She hadn't traveled light not knowing how long she'd want to stay; so three coaches had been required for this trip.
She wasn't sure if she was relieved or angry at seeing him sit there so complacently. And oddly she felt like she was intruding on him just then. He was sitting slightly away from the lighted path leading through the garden that most people would take at night, obviously not wanting to be disturbed. She regarded him for a moment discreetly since he seemed unaware of her presence just yet. She almost expected him to know right away having grown accustomed to Hannibal's uncanny ability to pick up on her scent the moment she stepped near him.
She tried to imagine what anyone else would see if it had been a stranger approaching him now instead of her. He was tall, even seated she could see that, and lean. She wasn't even sure lean described him; even dressed in his cloak she could tell how thin he was. The hat he liked to wear hid his face from view so she could not see the mask but assumed it was there. Was he frightening? No, he certainly didn't present himself in such a fashion right now. To think he was a murderer many times over and a man who took pleasure in other's pain.
She tried to collect her thoughts. She didn't want him to think it was this easy for her to let him back into her life. In truth, she wanted to run to him and beg him to take her back. She hadn't realized how lonely she would be without him.
"What are you doing here?" Her voice had a regal air to it that she wasn't aware was there, but at least she hadn't given away her joy at seeing him.
Erik turned toward her voice and she knew he was able to see her clearly despite her inability to see him. She was sure she had surprised him, though there was no evidence of it in his demeanor.
"Sitting, I didn't realize I needed permission to do that."
"Obviously you don't, I meant here away from Paris in the same town I am staying the night in."
"I was curious where you were going. I overheard your servants discussing the suddenness of the trip, but could not figure out where you were off to."
"As if it's your business where I'm going."
"It is if you're trying to take my son away from me, Christine."
"Funny, you haven't showed that you care what I do with our son of late. Why now?"
"You're taking him away from Paris. I have the right to know that, don't you think?"
"Excuse me?" He stood as he asked the brief question, moving to stand in front of her.
Christine shrunk back slightly, realizing somehow she had crossed an invisible line with regard to Andre and just what he would tolerate from her. She swallowed hard, knowing he could see that she was nervous. "Is he the only reason you're here?"
"Of course not. But I was curious what you were planning on doing with him."
"I'm not doing anything with him, Erik. I merely needed to get out of Paris for a while and obviously I have to bring him with me. I can't very well leave him with you now can I?" She saw him wince; even with the mask in place she saw it and instantly regretted the words. "I'm sorry, Erik. Please forgive me for saying that."
"Harsh as they were, you spoke the truth. I would have no idea what to do with him. He's gotten so big. I notice he's crawling."
"You've seen him crawl?"
"Once, yes, you had him in your new bedroom with you."
She bowed her head slightly. "Is that why you haven't come for me?"
"What? Because you've taken to sleep in your husband's bed instead of your own since his death?"
"It bothers me I won't deny, I hate that people believe you loved him and miss him so that you would take to sleeping in his room in an attempt to comfort yourself. But that's not the reason I haven't come."
"You cannot marry me yet anyway, so what's the point?"
"This mourning you spoke of, I know how it works. You're supposed to be distraught for at least a year and then perhaps you can start to enter society again."
"You've stayed away because of that?"
"Yes. I don't know what else to do. You obviously care what those people think of you, those very people who have shunned you for years because of your profession."
"Only for Andre, Erik, only for Andre. Why should I do something foolish that will hurt him?"
"And I'll say it again, leave France with me, Christine. Come away with me. We can marry and I can raise Andre as my son, as I should be able to do. I don't want to be his step-father."
"Where would we go, Erik? And how can you possibly raise Andre as your son yet still leave it so he's entitled to the monies and chances you say you believe he deserves since Hannibal wanted him to have them?"
"We can tell him the truth when he's old enough to hear it first of all. You married Hannibal to save my life, poor judgment on your part as I should have been allowed to die fifty years ago, but I'm sure the boy would understand why you did it."
"And admit to him that I had him outside of marriage?"
"Why not? You are human, Christine. You are not perfect, you are not a saint, and you are allowed your mistakes as anyone is."
"Mistakes? Is that what you consider him? Is that what you consider my living with and loving you for all of those months?"
"No! That's not what I said. I simply meant that he will realize we made a mistake as everyone else does. Perhaps I should have married you as I said I would, but I really had your best interests at heart when I didn't. For just this reason. I cannot marry you now because of some rule that I personally don't see the reason to follow. I'm not going to live forever, that I've lived this long is a miracle of some sort, be it the work of your god or his counterpart I do not know. I simply wanted you to be able to marry and move on with your life without rules preventing you from doing so. That's all, Christine."
"So you want to take us to America? Is that it? And you will marry me. But what of my other conditions? That you be able to support your wife and son as any man should?"
His eyes fell closed and he took a deep breath. "I will do it. For you and only for you, not even for our son would I agree to those terms, Christine. Only because you ask it of me will I agree to it and do it."
"You wouldn't do it for Andre? Why not?"
"Because I don't think a child would care how the food came to be put on his table."
"You wouldn't want to set for him a good example, of how to work hard and strive for achievements? I don't believe it, or else why would you have pushed me so hard in my training."
"Perhaps you're right, I don't know, I haven't had to think on it until now."
"I'm glad I saw you, you wouldn't have approached me for a year otherwise."
"No, I wouldn't have. I knew it would trouble you if I did. I knew no matter what I did you'd be troubled," he admitted.
"I'm glad you have, already I'm not quite sure what to do with him, Erik."
"What do you mean?"
"He's an incredible baby, Erik. Already the servants, particularly his servant, tell me how aware and ahead of where he should be he is. He must possess some of the amazing things you yourself possess. His cry instead of shrill and hard on the ears is almost hypnotic and," she flushed slightly as she spoke, "seductive." She had never spoken of these things to anyone, that she should find anything about her own son; her flesh and blood seductive was craziness.
"Really," she said softly. "I fear I really will need your help with him. If for no other reason than simply to unleash his potential and aid him in using it for good."
"And you think I can teach him about good, Christine?" He laughed loudly. "I never cared about good until you, Christine. I'm not one to teach him about these things."
"But together we can."
"Yes, I imagine you're right. Together we can do much of anything it seems."
"You can't come with us on this trip, Erik."
"I wasn't planning on coming with you, Christine. I was merely a traveler who happened to be going the same route as your traveling party was."
"Am I to believe that?"
"Nay, Christine. I would travel to China if it meant protecting you from the bad in this world, Christine. I will follow you, if you don't wish to speak with me again on this trip I will respect that and remain out of sight. I tried to tonight, but was not anticipating your taking a late night walk."
"I couldn't sleep and reading bored me."
"Yes, seclusion can get pretty boring and lonely sometimes."
"How have you done it for so long, Erik? How have you survived it all without going mad?"
"I don't know. I thought I was mad, honestly. You don't think I am?"
The question was posed so sincerely, Christine knew he was asking her a serious question. "No, I don't think you're mad, Erik. How can you possibly suggest that I'd think that?"
"You wouldn't be the first."
"No, but I'm one of few who you've let actually get to know you. You, not the Opera Ghost or other names you've been known as. Do those other few think you're mad? The person who found you after Hannibal shot you. Who was he?"
"He's a Persian friend of mine, Nadir is his name. And you're right, I imagine, there are a few who don't think I'm mad. But regardless I always seem to disrupt their lives," he said growing quiet.
Christine didn't know what he was thinking about, or who, but she knew it was obviously troubling and it wasn't this Nadir man. She touched his unmasked cheek with the palm of her hand, stroking it lightly with her fingertips. "You've disrupted my life, yes, Erik, I won't lie to you and say otherwise. But you have given me things I could never have gotten without your help and without your disruption. I know you didn't mean for Andre to happen and that you didn't mean for what happened with Hannibal to happen. But you've given me the chance to know that I really can sing, that it wasn't just my father telling his little girl tall tales. I have a son I would not have if it weren't for you for even had I married Hannibal of my own free will he could not have given me Andre. I miss being able to sing, but as you say there are other places to sing outside of Paris. As my teacher and my husband, I expect you to pick the perfect place for your wife and student to succeed."
"I have nothing left to teach you," he said with a smile in his voice.
"You don't? And here I thought I still had much to learn, Erik. Please say you'll continue to teach me. I want to be the best."
"Of course I will, Christine."
"Thank you," she said, stepping towards him to kiss him on the mouth lightly.
"Are you leaving?"
"I should. It's late."
"Sit with me, Christine. We don't need to talk of our future or anything like that. Just sit with me and let me enjoy for tonight having you next to me. At least for a little while."
"All right, I suppose I could for a little while."
"If someone sees you, who cares? We're two people enjoying the view of the tricks the water plays with the moon's reflection. No one will say a word, Christine."
He offered her his hand, bidding her to sit with him on the bench he had been seated on when she found him. She took it without hesitation, feeling somewhat like a little girl when she felt her heart race at touching him again. She still wasn't sure how things would work, but he was right they didn't need to work it all out in one hour. They had plenty of time to figure it out, for she was in no hurry and she doubted he was either.
She sat next to him and despite her fears that someone might see found her head resting almost of its own free will against his shoulder. His arm went around her waist in an attempt to gather her closer to which she responded positively by moving even closer to him. She sighed softly, pushing away thoughts that were floating to the forefront of her mind that she was trapping him, making him do something he didn't want to do. She wouldn't think about that tonight or on this trip. She would simply enjoy his company as best she could.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com