Erik watched through the mirror as Christine arranged the roses from tonight's performance in a vase. Her performance had been magnificent, beyond reproach. Even he couldn't find fault with her this evening. He had given her enough time to change out of her costume before making his way to the mirror.
She had taken the part of Cleopatra and made it hers, the likes of which Paris had never seen before. And it was with great satisfaction that he watched as she removed the last of her costume a gold band from around her arm with a red ruby as its eye, a snake. They had done it. Together they had done it. He was about to speak, was about to praise her. He knew that she was waiting for something from him, she always waited for him. Sometimes less patiently than others, but he always knew she would be there. A knock at her dressing room door stopped him. He paused, curious as to who would be calling on her. The employees by now knew she liked to be left alone after her performances.
"Come in," Christine said softly. She still had not gotten used to the fact that the employees of the Opera House were now virtually at her beck and call. She was the star, she was the one the city came to hear perform night after night. It had all come true.
"Mademoiselle Daae," the female voice came. "There is someone in the Green Room who wishes to speak with you."
"I'll be there in a minute, merci," she said softly in response.
Christine frowned slightly and looked at the mirror. She wasn't sure why she looked at the mirror when she thought of her Angel, but to her the mirror was her Angel. There were times it seemed as though she might be able touch him if only the mirror weren't in the way. She finished arranging the roses, humming softly to herself. She couldn't deny being pleased with the night's performance. She hoped He was as well.
Her Angel had told her before the performance that her father wanted to hear her. She hoped she had succeeded in making his wish come true. She would do whatever her father and her Angel wanted if it meant that He would stay with her. She would never grow tired of the roses and of the applause, but not for the reasons Carlotta loved it. Christine just truly loved to sing. But she couldn't help but wonder if without her Angel to guide her she would continue to succeed.
She wiped off her hands and glanced once more at the mirror before leaving her dressing room disappointed that her Angel had not come tonight. Had she failed him? Had she not sung loud enough? Had Papa been disappointed? She didn't think that was it, though she couldn't be sure.
She went to the Green Room and was surprised to see a lone man standing in the room. She recognized him even though he stood with his back to her. He was a patron of the Opera, but that wasn't the only reason she recognized him. He was sinfully handsome and just as equally sinfully wealthy. She'd heard gossip about him around the Opera enough to know that his money and looks got him whatever he wanted. One didn't have to wonder whether or not the gossip was true when the man came to the opera each time with a different woman on his arm. She had no idea, however, he had been in attendance this evening. "Comte Lecter," she said with a polite curtsey.
"Mademoiselle Daae," the impeccably dressed and articulate Comte Lecter turned to face Paris' new diva dressed impeccably in his chosen attire for the evening of a black tuxedo, crisp white shirt, gray waistcoat and a black and gray cravat. He had an unlit cigar in his hand, the end of which was noticeably chewed upon. "I must commend you on a wonderful performance this evening. I've seen Cleopatra done before and I must say your rendition of the Queen brought tears to my eyes."
He exaggerated a bit here, knowing the young woman probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference. He had meant to come to the Green Room right after the evening's performance and commend her on her performance as he always did after the performances he attended. Tonight, however, he would be sincere in his compliments to the leading lady. The woman he brought with him wanted no part in staying beyond the show. So he had had brought her home and come back. This was not something Lecter would do for just anyone, go out of his way to bestow praise upon them. He had heard tales of this young woman's sudden and inexplicable rise to stardom, however, and wanted to meet her himself.
Christine blushed prettily, the color climbing to her cheeks subtly with appeal. "You flatter me, Comte, and I am pleased to know that you found my performance so emotionally satisfying." That this man was here to pay her a compliment was something for her to ponder. Thoughts of her Angel and his normally welcomed appraisal of her performance were quickly pushed to the back of her mind. She clutched at the handkerchief in her petite hands for lack of anything else to do.
"I see you are ready to leave, perhaps I might offer you a lift to your residence."
Christine's surprise was reflected clearly in her eyes. He was offering to bring her home? Surely she had heard wrong. Men of his standing and title didn't take girls like her anywhere. "I wouldn't want to trouble you, Comte. One of the managers normally sees me home. But I thank you," she smiled prettily.
"I insist. Please. My coach is right outside and you shouldn't have to wait until someone is ready to take you when you're obviously ready to go now."
She was ready, she realized. There was the matter of her Angel. She chewed on her lower lip lightly as she thought over what to do. Surely He wouldn't mind if she accepted a ride home. "I should like that," she finally said.
She took his offered arm, feeling quite like the Queen she portrayed earlier that evening, as she left the Green Room on the arm one of the most sought after gentlemen in Paris. Thought of her Angel and whether or not He was waiting for her were forgotten.
Lecter handed her into his coach, pausing to enter after her to get the directions to her flat and give them to the driver. He sat across from her, his large frame causing his knees to touch hers no matter how hard he tried to avoid the contact. "How long have you been in Paris, Mademoiselle Daae?"
"About six years," she answered politely her eyes focused on her hands which rested in her lap. She raised them briefly to acknowledge his question and lowered them again as she replied.
"And you find Paris to your liking," he inquired finding himself genuinely curious.
"I do," she said with a genuine smile. "At first I did not," she admitted hesitantly plucking at a loose string on her gloves. "But now. Well, I'm doing what I love. Doing what my Papa always dreamed of my doing. So I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
"Your father is no longer here I take it?"
"No," she said solemnly her mood changing quickly when the subject of her father came up. Except her Angel had said he would be there tonight. Was he? Had she made him proud? She hadn't been able to find out and she was suddenly overcome with the realization that she may never find out if her Angel was upset with her.
He reached for her hands and squeezed them lightly with his own. It was a friendly gesture, meant to comfort her more than anything else, but he found he enjoyed the feel of her tiny, creamy white hands in the warmth of his hand. "I didn't mean to upset you, Mademoiselle."
"No, you didn't, Comte," she forced a smile. "I just miss him, especially on nights like tonight. I just recently came by the coveted position I have at the Opera, so it's still rather new to me."
"I understand, Mademoiselle, but I believe he is with you and knows what you've accomplished. He died some time ago I take it?"
"Yes, when I was fourteen," she admitted.
"Then he would be especially proud of you," he added realizing the girl seemed to need to hear that.
The coach drew to a stop and Lecter realized they were at her flat. After the driver had opened the door and lowered the steps, Lecter exited the coach and handed her down. He walked her to her door and knew better than to expect someone like her to invite him in. Had it been the other woman, Carlotta, he would have gotten more than an invite in of that he was certain. "I should like to see you again, Mademoiselle."
Christine glanced at him her surprise once more than evident. She had heard he wasn't from Paris so perhaps that was the reason for his ability to go against society's rules that dictated she was beneath him. "Comte," she inquired softly.
He laughed lightly. "I thought I had made it rather clear, Mademoiselle Daae. I would like to see you again, socially. Dinner perhaps. Dancing if you know how," he paused briefly giving her the opportunity to reply.
"I'm not very good at it," she admitted. She had failed miserably as a part of Madame Giry's Corps de Ballet. She was surprised she hadn't been fired on more than one occasion. "But dinner," she paused and nodded. "Dinner would be nice," she finally said.
"I understand you have off tomorrow evening. No performance. I can have my driver come for you around five if that's acceptable."
"That would be fine," she said with a slight smile again a becoming blush creeping to her cheeks.
"I shall leave you then," he bowed politely and kissed her offered hand. "I thank you again for a truly inspiring evening."
"You're welcome," she said automatically and turned finally to open the door to her flat. She closed the door behind her and locked it, smiling slightly as the sound of his footsteps faded as he walked from her door.
Lecter entered his coach allowing his driver to close the door for him. He pulled the curtain back and glanced out the window at the young lady's flat. No candles had been lit yet to indicate where she might be. He wondered briefly if she had a husband, lover or intended somewhere. She was an Opera girl, lovers wouldn't be unheard of for most but this one seemed different. He would find out tomorrow night.
Christine stood in front of her mirror smoothing out the skirt of her gown. It was the nicest one she owned, green satin with gold trim and accents. Her maid had since left as the hour grew too late for her to stay, so Christine was stuck waiting alone wondering if Comte would change his mind about spending an evening with her.
She still had a hard time picturing just how she had gone from not knowing the man beyond his reputation to accepting a dinner invitation from him in less than an hour's time. She took one final look at herself in the mirror and stepped away enjoying the sound of the skirts as she walked across the floor. The bell rang moments later indicating her evening was about to begin.
"Comte Lecter," she said as she opened the door.
Lecter stood on the stoop of her flat and smiled politely as she opened the door. She looked very pretty, even he had to admit that. A little like a girl playing dressup, but pretty nonetheless. "I'm glad to see that you didn't reconsider my offer."
She giggled lightly, covering her mouth as soon as it had escaped wondering where it had come from. "Comte, I don't think a girl would be foolish enough to reconsider a dinner invitation from you."
"So I've heard," he added with a light laugh as he walked with her to his coach and handed her in once more.
They rode in silence to his home, a large stone residence on the outskirts of town. He saw the look of surprise on her face when she realized where they were and was actually pleased that he had not misjudged the girl. He had no intentions on sleeping with her this evening, and from the look on her face she didn't have any intentions on sleeping with him. "I've startled you by bringing you to my home. I took the liberty of cooking dinner for you myself. I didn't think you'd mind."
Christine glanced at the stone structure in front of her. She knew homes like this existed, but never dreamed she'd set foot in one let alone spend the entire evening within one. It was huge. What did one do with all those rooms, she couldn't help but wonder. "No, of course, Comte, I'm sure it will be most enjoyable. And I can go to the Opera tomorrow and brag that I had my meal cooked by the famous Comte Lecter himself. No one will believe me of course and Madame Giry will scold me for telling tales."
"Ah, well, we'll have to send you home then with some proof of the evening won't we? So that your story will be believed."
She blushed hoping he hadn't taken her statement to mean that. "If it would please you to do so."
He laughed lightly. Could she be as innocent as she tried to make him believe? He was beginning to think so. "We'll see what we can do, Christine. May I call you that? And I would hope that you would address me as Hannibal. Much easier to enjoy dinner without having to worry about formalities such as titles and surnames."
"Thank you. I think that would be all right," Christine offered him a demure smile, her eyes sparkling slightly at the fact he had given her permission to address him by his given name. This was no nobleman she was used to encountering. Most of them were snooty and rather stuck on themselves and the title they held, even if it meant little to nothing.
She followed him into the home and stood in the front foyer, the chandelier in the ceiling above was an impressive fixture. Almost as impressive as the one at the Opera House, she thought softly wondering why thoughts of the Opera brought with it feelings of guilt. "It's lovely," she finally said with a sharp exhale of breath.
"Thank you. I wish I could take credit for it, but I'm afraid I bought it as is. The prior owner left without word apparently so the solicitor was rather pleased to not have to sell the note for the residence at much of a discount."
He led her into the parlor. "Dinner should be ready in a few minutes. Can I get you something to drink? Some tea? A cordial perhaps?"
"Just tea with dinner would be fine," she said as she sat primly on the edge of a settee. "If you have something to tend to in the kitchen I wouldn't mind accompanying you there." She didn't want him to think she was averse to seeing more of his home than the parlor and dining room. He had mentioned cooking the meal, so obviously he spent time in his kitchen. She had no servants herself save her maid who was at her flat to clean more than anything else.
Lecter was a bit surprised, but pleased at her offer. "It's just a matter of transferring the food from pots to dishes. We may as well settle in the dining room then, and I'll get the tea started as I prepare our plates."
She followed him to the dining room and glanced at the beautifully set table. "It's lovely. Thank you," she was sincere in her statement and in her appreciation. That he had gone to so much trouble for her was humbling.
Dinner done, Christine sat and stared at the slowly melting candle that sat before her on the table. "It was a lovely dinner, Comte," she blushed softly, "Hannibal."
"I'm pleased that you liked it," he smiled a twinkle in his eye. She hadn't seemed surprised that he had no cook. He imagined it was because she wasn't used to traveling in his social circles.
In truth, there were times that he had an appetite for things an employed cook would be apt to go to the authorities about. He had been tempted that evening to prepare for her one of his famous meals, but had refrained. So far she had presented to him sincerity in who she was. Should that change, he'd invite her for another sort of meal.
"Would you like to see the rest of the house," he asked. "Or a tour of my garden? I have some roses that I think you might be impressed with."
"The garden sounds very nice," she said sensing the garden was the safer of the two choices. She wasn't sure what he thought of her agreeing to dinner with him as she had, but a tour of the house would eventually lead them to more private areas of the house that she was sure were better left unseen.
Lecter stood and helped her from her chair, brushing off the sleeve of his dark gray suit coat before offering her his arm. He had to try, he hoped she would understand. He found himself wondering with interest just what this girl would be like outside of the realms of society and ladylike expectations.
The garden was lovely, Christine acknowledged as they walked through it. The lampposts had been lit prior to her arrival so the grounds were well illuminated. He was quite a gardener if this was his own doing. "Do you allow yourself to get bored, Hannibal," she asked a hint of teasing in her voice as she stooped, cupped a lily in the palm of her hand and sniffed it.
"No," he replied simply. "I don't allow myself to do that. I keep busy. Of course I have my idle moments, but even then I'm thinking of what to do next."
She stood and smiled at him, a becoming smile. He was very charming, it would be easy to allow herself to be fooled into thinking that he was interested in her. The dinner, the tour of his garden, the polite conversation he offered her all with no hint of anything outside the bounds of propriety despite the fact that we were very much alone here.
Lecter returned her home early in the evening, once the walk through the garden had been completed he saw no further reason to keep her. He could go seek out elsewhere the favors of a different type of woman should he desire that as the night wore on. But she wouldn't give him those type of favors anyway.
"I enjoyed my evening, Christine," he said at her door. "I thank you for joining me for dinner. I hope that you will join me again. Perhaps you will allow me to find out just how poor your dancing skills are and work on them some evening."
She blushed prettily, her eyes daring to look directly at him. "I think I would like that." And she found that she would indeed like that. "I had a nice time as well. If anyone had told me yesterday that I would have enjoyed dinner with you today I would have dismissed them quite abruptly as being daft."
He laughed lightly, his maroon eyes sparkling. She could be quite charming when she wanted to be, he wondered if it was intentional. Whether or not she was even aware of it. He didn't believe she was and that made her even more appealing to him. "Well, I could say the same about you. You're quite a star now, and I imagine that will only get to be even more the case as word of your talent spreads outside of Paris and people swarm to see you. It may not be so easy for a gentleman such as myself to get a last minute dinner with you."
"Oh Comte, you sell yourself short if you think that would be the case. I should think I'd accept your invitation regardless of my popularity." She blushed at speaking so boldly, but it was the truth and she saw no point in trying to hide that from him. She was getting on enough in years that she knew that playing the coy, innocent girl wasn't going to get her married. Especially to someone like this man given her occupation and the fact her mother was a Swede.
He smiled genuinely pleased that she spoke her mind for a change. "I'll take that as a compliment, and hope that in the future your words stay true." He kissed her hand politely and then as an afterthought stepped towards her and kissed her politely on the cheek. "I look forward to seeing you perform again. I hope to catch you as Cleopatra yet once more before the show closes."
"Really," she asked both flattered and pleased her cheek still warm from where his lips had briefly been.
"Yes, really. And with that I'll bid you good evening," he bowed his head politely and once she was indoors took his leave.
Christine locked her door and stood with her back against the door part in disbelief that the night had really happened and in part because she was disappointed to see the night end.
"So this is what you do when you're away from me and the Opera," His voice boomed from within her flat. "Deception, Christine, broken promises. Is that what I get in return for giving you exactly as I promised?"
"Angel," she asked unable to hide her fear or her uncertainty that He was here. He had never come to her outside of the Opera House.
"Who else? Or were you expecting another man to be in your home as the other dropped you off?"
She shook her head knowing she should be revolted by what he had just said, but fear was all that she felt at the moment. She had upset Him. She had disappointed Him. She hadn't thought about it. She had been so swept up by the fact that Comte Lecter showed a genuine interest in her, Christine Daae, an Opera girl. "No, of course not, Angel."
He stepped towards her, his lean, tall figure cloaked in black from head to toe aside from his white mask emerged from the darkness of the corner where he had waited for her return. "Your Angel is very upset with you, Christine. Who is he? This man who you so easily dismiss me and our work to run off and see?"
"Just a patron of the Opera, Angel. Someone who enjoyed my performance last evening and invited me to join him for dinner."
"I'll bet he did," he said bitterly.
He hadn't thought of this. Hadn't thought ahead to what would happen once the position was hers and hers alone. Of course there would be suitors, proposals and perhaps marriage. But she was His. There was no room for another man in her life, she had all that she could contend with in Him if she would just let Him into her life as man not angel.
"I have no room in my life for young girls who want to play games, Christine. You either want my help, want your career to proceed and move from here, or you want a social life. You can't have both. I told you when we began it's imperative there are no distractions in your life. The Opera and the Music can be the only things in your life, in your soul. I have no room for you as my pupil if you wish to allow something to infiltrate that."
She bowed her head, tears pricked at her eyes. His words were harsh, and she felt a little uncalled for. But she wasn't an Angel, He was and surely He knew what was best. He was here, had taken the time to appear to her in person when He could have just as easily disappeared from her life without a word for her deception. A pang of guilt tugged at the back of her mind as she realized that she hadn't thought of Him or the Opera much since leaving it the prior evening.
"I understand, Master," she bit back the tears and bowed her head. "It will not happen again."
"You will tell him tomorrow that you cannot see him anymore."
She nodded her head. "Yes, I will." She couldn't stop the tears from flowing freely now.
"This upsets you," he pointed a bony, skeletal like finger at her tear stained cheeks. "There is no room for regret or tears over a man who can do nothing to help your career, Christine."
She nodded her head wordlessly unsure if she could respond at the moment anyway.
"Do you really want love, Christine? Do you want courtship and marriage? With that comes children and the expectation that you are at home tending your husband and children. Do you want that over the Opera? I can give you the World, Christine. I can have it so that people in every city large enough to have an opera house in the world is throwing roses at your feet night after night after night. I can make you one of the most powerful people in the world, Christine. I can do it. No one else can do it. No one else can give you what I can give you. No one else will ever understand your love for music as I do. No one else can ensure your father's dream for you comes true."
The tears dried up as she took in his words, digested them, basked in them. Yes, he could do that, couldn't he? The fact that he was very much in front of her seemingly man not Angel went unnoticed by her. She believed in Him. Believed that He could give her what she wanted, what her Papa wanted. "And I want that, Angel, I do."
But she wanted marriage and children too. Didn't every girl? Surely there was a way to balance both, was there not? She didn't know, and surely her Angel would know for angels were all seeing and all knowing. Omnipotent, they were messengers of God after all. She wasn't sure what type of mother she would make both because she hadn't had one herself that she could remember and because she wasn't sure what kind of mother an Opera star would make.
"Then you must commit yourself to me, my child. The music and me. I will not tolerate our ritual being broken. I will not tolerate another man claiming what is mine. And if I help you obtain your dreams, if I help give you the world and the power that I possess you are mine, Christine."
He loved her, he wasn't sure that he could tell her that but he did. His heart, something he didn't even know he had any longer, constricted when he heard a man's voice outside her door. He recognized the voice, too, Comte Lecter a womanizer who had a penchant for the finer things in life. Christine was definitely one of the finer things in life, he could at least appreciate the man's realization of that fact. But he wasn't good enough for Christine, no one was. Christine was good and pure and innocent, and he needed her to stay that way for she was everything he was not.
He had found over their months together that she had instilled in him the feeling of hope, the acceptance of good and the realization that perhaps life as the Opera Ghost wasn't what he should be doing. If he could take a shy, clumsy dancer and bring out her singing talent in such a short period of time imagine what he could do with her over time and without the mirror as a barrier between them. She was a loving and passionate woman, it was too bad those feelings were suppressed amidst the upbringing that she was to be a lady. But it was clear when she sang that done right that passion could be unleashed in aspects of her life other than singing.
He offered her his hand outstretched and palm up. "You must choose now, Christine."
She bowed her head, her acceptance of his conditions obvious in the gesture. She nodded, she was His, of course she was. How could she think to belong to anyone else? She doubted anyone could truly understand her. But her Angel did, and she had failed Him. She had disappointed Him. She had broken her promise to Him. And yet He stood before her giving her a second chance.
Did she need a big house with a beautiful garden? She would like those things but when all was said and done, she didn't need them. And if what her Angel promised her were true, she would have her own home and garden. Not a home she lived in that belonged to her husband, but hers. She placed her hand in his, taking a step towards him the chill from his hand unnerving but she didn't take it back. Instead she increased her grip on his hand, holding onto it firmer. "I am Yours, Angel," she said simply as if He ever truly doubted her choice.
Her choice was made. The fact that he stood before her as a man, the fact that he wore a mask, the fact that he was able to get into her home were all ignored. Perhaps it was fate that brought Comte Lecter to her last night and tonight. God giving her a glimpse of what she might have either way and making her decide which path she was more set upon taking. "I am Yours," she said again quietly as she looked up to meet his eyes for the first time.
"Completely," he asked.
"Yes, Angel," she replied. "Completely."
"Not completely yet," he replied. "If I said that I wanted your body as well as your mind and your soul would you still choose me?"
"I don't understand," she looked through the mask into his eyes with question. Why would an Angel want her body?
"You do too understand, Christine. I want you completely. All of you. I want you to give yourself to me completely. I am not an Angel, Christine. I am a man and I want you completely as a man wants a woman."
He wanted her as his mistress? She shook her head hoping the shock of his words wasn't apparent to her. "I don't know," she said softly. If she said no would he stop teaching her? Would he move on to someone else? "Might I think on it?"
"You just said you're mine, Christine. Why not complete the deal? Seal your fate. You were meant to be mine. You were meant to be with me."
"It's not right. We're not married," she said softly.
"Who needs marriage, Christine? Who needs a piece of paper telling them what you and I already know? There is no one who can understand you as I do. There is no one who can love you as completely as I do. There is no one who can give you what I can give you." He pressed his hand against her cheek, his voice as he spoke soothing and lyrical.
His hand was cool against her cheek, but his words were almost hypnotizing. How could she resist? Surely he was more than merely a man or he wouldn't be able to do the things he did. Know the things he knew. Sing the way he sung. She bowed her head, a lone tear falling along her cheek and dropping to the floor as she gave into his demand. How could she not? Without him she wouldn't have a career. Carlotta would still be the diva and Christine would be struggling along in the back row of the corps de ballet. "What do I do," she asked simply unable to look at him, but yet unable to dislodge his hand from her cheek.
How could he tell her he himself didn't know? That he himself a man of his years and experience hadn't experienced the act she had agreed to share with him. He shook his head, dropping his hand from her cheek and wordlessly picked her up with ease carrying her into her bedroom. Setting her down he undressed her with care, his long and agile fingertips making haste with the buttons of her dress and the lacing of her corset. He helped her to lie on the bed, leaving her chemise on as he himself undressed, shedding everything but his mask and his drawers. No need for her to see him naked, not at this point at any rate. He wasn't sure where exactly he rated on the scale of endowment, but he had seen enough to know that God had played another joke on him by making him as well endowed as he was but making him so hideous to look at that no one would ever know.
He moved on top of her, her silence was disheartening but he knew not to expect otherwise. At least not now, not this time. And there would be a next time, he would see to that. His mouth with some difficulty with the mask in place made to kiss her neck and throat as he lifted the hem of her chemise pushing it up along her thigh. His hand cool against her leg caused goose bumps to form on her thighs. A soft groan escaped his lips as his hand came in contact with her naked womanhood, cupping her as his thumb seemingly with a mind of its own stroked her nub. He lifted her chemise away with his other hand, a soft sigh escaping his lips as he noticed that her body was reacting to him as her nipples stood erect.
He took one in his mouth startled when she made a sound and stopping until he felt her back arch thrusting her nipple further into his mouth. He pulled the blanket out from underneath her and then pulled his underwear off as he moved to enter her. He felt her hands at his shoulders, her fingertips clutching him causing him to look at her.
"It hurts," she said softly her eyes wide with fear but there was something else in them too. Oddly she didn't want him to stop. She knew she should tell him no. That she should use the pain he was causing her to get out of this last part of his conditions. But there was something else in her telling her to give into him, to give herself completely to this Angel who was a man. A man whose name she didn't even know.
He took the fact that she didn't bid him to stop as permission to continue. He glanced briefly to where their bodies joined and could imagine why she was experiencing pain. She was so tiny everywhere, he imagined there was no different. And he wasn't so tiny. He tried to be gentle, tried to go slow, tried to give her time to adjust to the size of him as he moved slowly inside of her little by little.
He didn't last long, his inexperience and hers probably didn't bode well for their first joining to last overlong. He lay on top of her his head against her chest listening to her heart beat quickly.
She placed her hand against the top of his head. She should feel guilty for what they had just done. She had committed a sin. But somehow she didn't feel too guilty. She closed her eyes curious as to whether he would be there when she woke up.
"What is your name," she finally asked her eyes closed, her breathing returning to normal.
He was startled by the question, startled by the break of the room's silence and that she had been the one to break it. "Erik," he said simply.
"I am yours now," she said both statement and question behind the words.
"Yes, Christine, and you shall always be that."
"You will sing with me?"
"What," he asked curiously.
"Sing with me. On stage."
"You were meant to enjoy the spotlight alone, Christine. We sing well together, but I am not suited to sing on stage."
"I would like it, though," she said softly. "The two of us together. We'd bring them to their feet night after night."
"We'll do that anyway, Christine. Just with only you on stage and me watching from behind the curtain."
"You always watch, don't you?" It was beginning to dawn on her who this man was, but she wasn't willing to admit it just yet.
"Yes, always. Without fail."
"From your box," she asked knowing the answer to the question before she asked it.
"From my box," he said simply.
The fact that he was a killer, a man who pretended to be a ghost she knew should bother her. But for some reason at this moment it didn't. She didn't know what his reasons were for hiding in the Opera, for wearing a mask, or for choosing her as his pupil and at the moment she didn't particularly feel like asking.
She sighed heavily her hand dropping from the top of his head to his shoulder. "You'll leave while I sleep," she asked knowing the answer to this question as well.
"Yes," he said simply though it pained him to say so. "For your reputation as well as the fact I do better traveling the streets of Paris by night."
She nodded simply as her eyes fluttered closed. He was going to guard the Opera House. That's what ghosts did, wasn't it?
When Christine woke in the morning her head was hurting and she felt oddly disoriented. Fragmented images played themselves over in her mind. Her Angel as a man here in her house, here in her bedroom, and here in her bed with her. She remembered quite vividly her evening with Comte Lecter. But it was everything after that that seemed dreamlike and surreal. As she stood from her bed she realized that she must have dreamt it. Her nightgown was on, her bedding was clean, no evidence of her Angel, her discarded clothing or anything else could be seen. It didn't seem like a dream, but it must have been. Either that or her mind was playing tricks on her. Not quite fully awake yet she was surprised to hear pounding at her door.
She opened the door, her dressing gown securely belted at her waist surprised to see Comte Lecter at her door. "Comte Lecter," she said softly clearly surprised wondering if his allowing her to call him by his given name had been part of her dream as well. She didn't dare commit that faux pas. "What brings you by so early this morning?"
"I was worried about you, Christine."
"Worried about me," she asked more than a little surprised.
"I just spoke with Monsieur Firmin at the Opera House inquiring about your health and he indicated he hadn't heard from you yet today."
"My health?" Christine was genuinely confused now. She hadn't been sick more than once or twice in her life and she surely wasn't sick now. "I'm afraid you have me at an advantage. I'm not sure that I understand what you mean."
Lecter was admittedly confused, something he wasn't accustomed to being. But Firmin had said that Christine had sent a message to him two days ago that she was ill. But she looked fine and genuinely seemed to not know what he was speaking of. "Well, Monsieur Firmin seemed to be under the impression you had taken ill. That that was the reason you'd missed the last two performances."
"Two performances?" No, it couldn't be possible. She slept for two whole days and nights? She'd never done that in her life. No matter how ill she might be. And who had told Firmin she had been ill? Her maid perhaps?
Lecter stepped inside not waiting for her to invite him in now. "Why don't you sit down," he said finally as he glanced around her flat. "You're not looking well at all. You're face is pale and you look as though you might faint."
She took his offered arm and allowed him to assist her to the couch. This was too much for her to bear. "I still have a job then," she asked finally. That was all she needed, to disappoint her Angel by getting fired just as He had made good on His promise to remove Carlotta from her position at the Opera.
"Yes, of course. Someone obviously was aware of your condition, because Monsieur Firmin was aware of your absence. I just grew worried that you had perhaps gone and gotten sick from something you had eaten with me."
"No," she said as she shook her head slightly despite the discomfort that came with doing so. "I don't think that's it. But I appreciate your concern." She brought her hand to her head. "If you'll excuse me though, Comte, I think I'm going to go back and lie down. I'm still not feeling overwell it seems."
"Three days is an awfully long time to be laid up in bed. What are your symptoms? Have you been ill? Feverish? Chilled?" He couldn't help but glance at the neckline of her dressing gown that had come undone slightly with her movements. Too bad she was wearing a typical nightgown underneath it. He wasn't sure why he found it amusing that a woman who dressed provocatively on stage would dress as she was now off stage.
She frowned as she tried hard to remember and nothing came to her. "I don't know, Comte. My head hurts at the moment that's all I know and I'm dreadfully tired."
He placed his hand against her forehead, pulling it back slightly when he saw the frightened look on her face. "I'm a doctor, mademoiselle. Surely you were aware of that," he paused realizing she may indeed not be aware of his profession. "Forgive me. I was just attempting to see whether you felt warm to the touch or not. I assume if you've been sleeping as much as you have that you've not eaten or had much to drink?"
She shook her head her doe eyes looking at him with the affection and trust a child would bestow upon a parent. He would take care of her. She wouldn't have to go through this alone, whatever this was. His hand felt surprisingly nice as he touched her. "Not that I know of."
"Well, if you're in need of further rest, I don't see why you shouldn't get it. But I insist you eat and drink something before you do that. I'll make you some tea and make you something to eat as well. I wish I had known I'd have brought something from home for you."
"You're too kind, Comte."
"Hannibal," she smiled slightly her eyes watching him closely. "You're too kind. Just some tea would be fine. I'm not all that hungry."
"No, I don't imagine you are, but you should still eat, Christine. You need your strength. I will tell Monsieur Firmin that you will miss one more performance and hopefully a night of my staying here with you to ensure you eat and drink you'll be well tomorrow."
"But you can't stay here," her eyes were wide with terror. She wasn't sure exactly where the feeling was coming from, but something told her that his being here at all was not wise. She couldn't allow him to stay the evening or the entire night.
"Then I'll bring you to my home. I'm a doctor, Christine."
"Most doctors don't stay over night with their patients. And people don't know you're a doctor. At least not my neighbors. They just know you're a man I had dinner with a few nights ago. Those who saw us together anyway."
He sighed. She was right. Damn propriety to hell anyway. "Allow me then to hire you a nurse."
"I can't afford that."
"I can," he said persistently. "You need it, Christine." He had already guessed she could not. Her flat was sparsely furnished and what she did have was showing its age. She was obviously proud, not wanting to give way to the fact she could afford little by continuing to employ a maid.
She nodded her acceptance finally. She was frightened. If she had slept for two full days she must be seriously ill. To think she'd been by herself all this time. If something had happened to her, no one would know. Oddly, she had the feeling that she hadn't been alone this entire time. That someone had been here to care for her even as she slept.
Her Angel perhaps? She wasn't sure, but it seemed like something He would do. Watch over her. She never did get to find out if her father had heard her and been pleased with her performance the other night. She hoped he was. Hoped that he would watch her again.
Lecter stood then and went to the kitchen to see about her tea. Once the tea was made and she was comfortable on the couch with a blanket to cover her he left her flat in search of a nurse to stay with her as well as to inform Monsieur Firmin that she would be requiring one more night off.
He was genuinely concerned for the girl. Personal feelings, or lack thereof, for the girl had nothing to do with it. She had talent it would be a pity to have that talent lost so quickly, for her and for Paris alike. He'd traveled quite extensively over the years. Unmarried, no living siblings and no known heirs once he'd paid for his medical training there was little left for him to do but travel. Opera and theater being a passion of his he rarely missed a chance to see a show. Christine had made an impression on him unlike any prima Donna ever had until now. She loved the applause and the praise that came with her position that much was evident. But she genuinely seemed so innocent, untarnished, and down to earth that it was hard to picture her truly becoming a star. He would like to find out how she had gotten the gumption to dethrone Carlotta from her position.
Lecter returned with the nurse, having left the door unlocked he was able to get into her flat. He did perform the courtesy of knocking first, but when no response was given he and the nurse he'd hired entered the flat. He observed that she slept on the couch still covered with the blanket he had placed on her before he left. That meant she hadn't moved. She had never really provided him with any symptoms, so he wasn't sure what ailed her. Telling the nurse to watch for any changes in her, he left.
Christine stood in her dressing room waiting. The silence was overwhelming and so she set about arranging some of the roses she'd received for that night's performance yet again. She had left explicit instructions with the Opera staff that she was not to be disturbed this evening after the performance for any reason.
She had not spoken with her Angel in five days, since the night before she'd met Comte Lecter. No matter what he said she still thought of him as Comte in her mind. He was a nobleman and deserved the respect that went with that.
She pushed thoughts of Comte from her mind, but found that by doing so made her grow impatient for her Angel's arrival. But her Angel had an uncanny way of knowing what she was thinking and she knew that if He thought she was thinking of something other than her singing He would grow upset. She had returned to the stage after her three days off and brought the audience to their feet on more than one occasion during the performance. Surely He wasn't disappointed in her.
Her mind wandered to the performance that evening and the nagging feeling as she performed that she was being watched. And also the overwhelming feeling to look in the direction of Box 5, the Ghost's box. A feeling that she successfully fought though had she not been performing she wasn't so sure she would have been able to prevent herself from giving into the compulsion. And that was exactly what it was, a compulsion. She didn't believe in ghosts or the Opera Ghost, but she couldn't help but wonder just where that feeling had come from. Had someone been in there, is that who she had felt watching her. All she knew was that she couldn't shake the feeling that whoever was watching her was not pleased.
She did notice Comte Lecter was in the audience that evening, which was the reason she left strict instructions not to be bothered after the performance. She didn't want to forego her Master's critique once again. As nice as Comte had been providing a nurse for her, her priority was her lessons and her music. And Comte wasn't going to be able to help her with her lessons. Only her Angel could do that.
Tears welled in her eyes when more than an hour had passed and still there was no word from her Angel. Had He left her? The tears cascading down her cheeks as she took a single rose from the vase and moved to the mirror that she always associated with her Angel. Kneeling before the mirror she finally sat, bending her knees and bringing her feet beside her unable to stop the tears from falling now. He was gone it seemed. She had failed Him and her Papa somehow and He had been taken from her. She placed her hands against the mirror, touching it as if she might be able to push through it and reach Him.
"Angel," she said softly.
Erik stood watching her. He had been watching since she entered the dressing room after the performance. He did avert his gaze as she changed from her costume, but otherwise his attention remained focused on her. She didn't seem to remember anything from that night. Of course with the drugs and sleeping aid he had given her he was anticipating that would be the case. He didn't want her to. Not until he knew that she remembered her choice, and that she was certain of that choice.
At the sight of her tears and the sound of her voice calling for him he realized he had punished her enough. "I am here, my child," he said finally.
"It's you," Christine said surprised, thinking for a brief moment she might be dreaming. He had come back.
"Did I not please you tonight, Angel?"
"Your performance tonight was amazing, my child. Do you doubt your own ability to assess your performance?"
"No, Angel, but I like knowing I please You and Papa."
"Of course he's pleased, my child. He's as proud of you as he can be."
"He told you that," she looked hopeful the tears now having dried up leaving her eyes to glimmer softly in the candlelight.
"He doesn't have to. I'm proud of you, and I believe I am stricter than he is. So of course he's pleased." He glanced around her dressing room at all of the flowers she had surrounding her. Carlotta would be envious and furious. She had never received more than two bouquets of flowers on any given night. Here in Christine's dressing room there were five dozen roses. How could she think she'd not done well?
"I've left you a gift, my child, in the drawer of your vanity. Take it with you and open it when you get home. A reward for your performance this evening."
"But how did You know," she asked then quickly bit off the words. Of course He would know how well she would do, He was an Angel was he not. "Thank you," she said softly not sure if she should be accepting gifts from angels.
"You did well, my child. We'll start working on the next part, Aida I believe it is, the day after tomorrow. Cleopatra was only the beginning, Christine, but you must not grow content. I've worked hard to get you here, to get Carlotta off the stage. I must have your complete dedication to the music."
She bowed her head, the single rose still within her grasp. "Of course, Master. I need nothing but our music. I wish you were a man," she said softly not realizing that she had said the words until they had been said.
Erik was taken aback. Perhaps she did remember the other night but attributed it to a dream. "Why, my child?"
"So we could sing together," she said as if He should have known the answer to that without her having to speak it aloud.
"You want me to sing with you?"
Why did He sound surprised by such a revelation. When they sang together she actually felt like she was in heaven, that He had taken her into His arms and by the power of their voices mixing together and blending to become one they had been lifted into heaven
"I'm afraid that may not be possible, my child, not on stage for the public to hear. People come to hear you sing," and once you saw the man I am you would regret having made such a wish he couldn't help but think to himself. "You must go home now, my child and get your rest."
He was upset with her and now He was sending her away. She had questioned their relationship, this Angel who graced she an opera singer with his presence. She knew not to say such a thing aloud. She knew not to question their arrangement. "I'm sorry," she said finally.
He wasn't quite sure what she was sorry for, he was the one who was sorry that he could not give into her wishes. The fact that his wish, too, was to sing on stage with her knowing that together an audience wouldn't have the opportunity to breathe their performances would be so awe inspiring. Together he knew that they could do this. And so he said nothing in response to her apology, it was better not to say anything when he wasn't sure what she was speaking of. He stepped back from the mirror his signal to himself that he was done talking to her for the evening and waited for her to leave.
Her time with Him was too short tonight. She would have liked it to last longer. She needed it to last longer. She needed to know that He truly was pleased with her. Had she upset Him by mentioning wanting Him to be a man as if she wasn't satisfied with Him as He was. Of course she wasn't truthfully. With the voice her Angel had she imagined Him to be incredibly handsome, even putting Comte Lecter to shame. With that she smiled, though something tugged at her mind that that wouldn't be true. That he wouldn't look like that at all, though she had no idea where the thought came from.
She left her dressing room, one final moment's hesitation to make sure that He wouldn't bid her not to leave to stay with Him here at the Opera but there was no such statement and so she left.
Lecter watched as the final performance of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa came to an end and he as well as the other operagoers rose to their feet. Christine's Maria was as good her other performances he had watched over the past two months. He had become a most loyal patron of the Opera of late, coming to a show more than once if it was particularly well done. Each time he hoped Christine would take the time to speak with him privately, but she had not. He even came alone on some nights on the chance she might.
The fact that these nights happened to coincide with reported disappearances throughout Paris was purely coincidence. Lecter chuckled daily as the good citizens of Paris were warned about the person lurking in the shadows waiting to prey on a helpless Parisian as his next victim. He did not, however, like the notoriety that was accompanying these disappearances and realized that he had to do something about this Daae woman or she would quite literally be his undoing.
His frustration had now grown to the point of morbid curiosity. He had never been so blatantly rejected in his life. She was dismissing him as if he were yesterday's dishwater. That just wasn't done, not by someone like her at any rate. Not that he thought ill of her and her chosen career, but still there was the matter of his pride. Hannibal Lecter was no saint, some called him a womanizer, but he never treated a woman with disrespect. That was rude, and one thing Hannibal Lecter could not stand was rudeness. He had been kind to Christine, had gone out of his way to help her and to demonstrate a degree of concern for her that for Hannibal Lecter to demonstrate was amazing. And this is how she repaid him? Insanity.
And it seemed the more he tried to stay away, the more he tried to insist he didn't need to go to the Opera House and subject himself to another one of her flawless performances, and they were all flawless now, he had to go. When he watched her, there were times he believed the audience wasn't even there as far as Christine was concerned. Whoever it was she was singing for was lucky indeed, because she put her heart and soul into her singing. Lecter was amazed to find himself jealous over an unknown person. One thing that he liked about her, and perhaps it was the reason he kept returning, she still had not lost that innocence. The sincerity in appreciation when flowers were bestowed upon her at the end of her performances was genuine as was everything else about her. Lecter had to admit it was refreshing to see.
It was on these nights, the nights that it was a compulsion to see her that his post-opera activities were the most brutal. He knew it, he was aware of it, but he couldn't stop. Knowing that she was singing for someone else, that she didn't have the courtesy to explain to him that she was otherwise involved, and that she had accepted his initial dinner invitation at all were too much for him to bear at times. And someone had to pay for her deeds. Paris couldn't well afford to lose her, so Lecter sought victims elsewhere hoping to sate his appetite that was increasingly growing for her.
He'd thought for sure by now she'd be getting a head about her, thinking she could rub elbows with society. But she had somehow found her way to being in the position to do just that, and yet didn't seem at all interested in it. Where did her innocence come from? Was it a mask she wore? And if so what was underneath it? These were questions that Lecter knew he wouldn't stop asking until they were answered. In fact, if anything her success only seemed to make her work harder. From what he could tell when she wasn't at home she was here. He'd heard that she rehearsed for hours some days. It didn't seem like she needed to rehearse that much if at all to Lecter. But who was he to question? If it worked, and it obviously did, more power to her.
Power, a word Lecter wasn't at all a stranger to. He wondered if Christine Daae understood the power she wielded now. The city of Paris and the surrounding areas were abuzz about the new opera singer, the young girl who had dethroned the infamous Carlotta and who had not as of yet made the management regret their decision. And what was more intriguing was that she was not a true Parisian, not even a pure Frenchwoman her mother being Swedish. And yet the people came.
Lecter wasn't one to pay attention to gossip being a victim of it himself, but he had heard rumors that President Grevy was actually thinking of attending the Opera one evening while in Paris to hear the voice of the virtually unknown young woman who was taking Paris by storm. To have a performance watched by the President and if he stayed for the entire performance would be an honor that she could take pride in especially so early in her career.
Lecter had assumed that Christine was just too busy with other suitors to bother with him, a much older man. And, in truth, he would have preferred that to be the case. At least he'd know he was losing to another man not a building or a career. But from everything he had found out about her, gossip was a wonderful thing when you did want information, she had a friend from her youth that she spent time with from time to time. But everything that he could ascertain about their relationship is that it was a childhood infatuation that neither had dared turn into adult love.
And so it was well after midnight on the night of the final performance of Mazeppa that Lecter found himself in front of Christine's flat. He had just returned his companion for the evening to her home and for some inexplicable reason found himself drawn here. He sat in his coach, he had no intentions of going to her door until in the shadows at the side of her flat he saw a figure, obviously masculine by the form's height and breadth of shoulders. He glanced briefly at Christine's windows, none were illuminated indicating candles or lamps inside were on. He looked once more in the direction of the shadowy figure only to find it was gone. Had he imagined it? Lecter wasn't prone to hallucinations so he didn't believe he had.
He was about to leave thinking perhaps it was a caller that Christine had entertained leaving discreetly, she would certainly be entitled to such a thing. But then a new possibility came to Lecter. The figure he had seen had been dressed in black, perhaps the man had been here to harm Christine. Could Carlotta be vengeful enough to pay someone to harm her? He couldn't imagine anyone else who would wish to harm her. Anyone who saw her flat would know from just the outside she lived a meager existence so he couldn't imagine anyone wanting to burglarize her.
Lecter approached her door and paused briefly before ringing the bell. If it were a lover leaving discreetly he would feel very foolish indeed. If, on the other hand, his thoughts about the figure harming her proved true he wouldn't feel so very foolish. He waited for what seemed like hours, though he realized not that long had passed. Finally the sound of the bolt getting thrown and Christine's sleep filled eyes peered through a crack in the door at him, confusion quickly becoming apparent.
"Comte Lecter," she said simply unable to put much of a coherent thought together to say much else.
"I apologize for the lateness, Christine, but as I was coming by your house I saw a figure leaving from the side of your flat. I thought I'd check and make sure you were all right." If it was a lover who had just left he was either very bad at it that she had fallen asleep right away afterward, or she was a very good actress on top of her singing abilities.
"I'm quite all right, Monsieur," Christine replied sleepily, her voice mumbled. "I'm quite sure there was no one here at my home. But I appreciate your concern." She smiled slightly.
"Very well, Christine. Should you discover something is amiss, please let me know."
"Of course I will," she replied softly. "Good night then, Comte." Christine closed the door then, and slid the bolt back into place. She leaned against the door. Had there been somewhere here? She didn't know.
She had been dreaming about her father and her Angel. Her Angel sat beside her and spoke so tenderly, words she longed to here. Telling her how beautiful she was, how successful she was going to be, and how lucky He was that she allowed Him to work with her. As if she had a choice in the matter, He had chosen her after all. Now that she thought about it, though, it did seem real. It seemed like He was here and actually spoke to her, touched her. Could it be?
She padded to her room still more asleep than awake and glanced at her bed. Was that an imprint from a body sitting at the edge of her bed? Or was it simply from her brushing her hair before bed? It was hard to tell and she frowned her confusion mounting causing her head to hurt. No, no one had come into her room, her Angel had not come to touch her. Surprisingly, she was crying when she made this realization. At least if her Angel was here with her she wouldn't be so alone.
Erik left Christine's knowing he had been seen. Just how much of him had been seen and by whom he wasn't sure, but he knew. And he knew when the person stopped in front of Christine's flat that the person knew her and wouldn't attribute seeing a shadowy figure outside of her home to just someone drunk or lost coming to the wrong home.
Luckily there was a path behind her home that he was able to take easily enough and hope that the person wouldn't think much of it. Damn, he cursed himself for being so foolish. Every evening since Christine's return to the Opera from her unexpected bout with whatever strange illness had held her captive for days Erik had paid her a visit to ensure that she was sleeping soundly. And in part to ensure that she was alone.
Some nights he spoke to her, softly just to ensure her that he was there, that he would always be there. This seemed to soothe her on nights when her sleep was restless. Some nights he sat at her side and said nothing, merely watched as she slept somehow sensing that his mere presence enabled her to sleep easier. He knew that whoever the suitor was she had been out with that night over two months ago that she had not seen him since. Whether or not she remembered the actual events of that night or not, she had kept true to her word. And this pleased him to no end.
He never stayed long, the temptation to stay all night and leave as dawn broke was strong, but he couldn't chance her waking during the night and seeing him. He wasn't sure what her response would be to knowing that not only was her angel a man, but a man who looked like he did. He was quite sure that wouldn't go over well at all. She'd be scared enough to find a man in her room let alone the fright of what that man looked like.
She had been ill lately, more tired than she usually was and he knew she didn't take proper care of herself. He always saw to it that she had enough coal and a blanket nearby should she require it during the night. He wanted to ask her, to voice his concern over her health but he only knew because he had seen her get ill in her dressing room when she didn't know he was watching on more than one occasion.
Back in his lair safely, he poured himself a brandy and sat at his grand piano. The amber liquid tasted good to his palate as he began to play, his fingers stroking the ebony and ivory keys of his piano with affection wishing it was flesh that he was stroking. Christine's flesh. That one night had been burned in his mind forever. He thought it might sate him, had thought that he could take that as her final offering to him to be his obediently and not need it again. How wrong he had been. She was worse than the morphine he needed to survive each day. If it was possible to do so, he needed her more. And with her being ill, his concern and need for her grew.
There were plenty of things he could do, he realized to have another moment like that one with her, drugs he could administer. But he didn't want that. Perhaps he had utilized his power, mention of her father, to get her to acquiesce but she had accepted that night. True, he had administered herbs and drugs to her to speed her body's healing from the process and enable her to sleep through it, but he did that because he was not ready to let her know he was not an angel. Not yet. But damn if he didn't ache for her, to his very soul - the one thing he had long ago thought he had shed. He had long since given it up at any rate.
He was tormented. This angel routine had seemed so ideal at the time. She was so sad, so lonesome, so lost and possessed unreleased talent that he knew he could tap. And he had. Together they had made her the star she had become. But when had he fallen in love with her? Or had he been in love with her all along and that was the reason for his desire to help her when he had long ago stopped helping anyone but himself?
He could never dare hope she'd return his love. That night, however, after she had accepted him she had responded. And she knew he was man at that time. Perhaps her fear of the situation overall made her totally unaware and in use of her faculties, but she knew he was a man. Was there a chance his Christine could indeed love him?
Taking the chance of revealing himself to her could be disastrous, especially if she did have any memories of that night. Would she be upset? Would she understand why he did what he did? Would she leave the Opera? Quit singing feeling as though her whole career was a part of his deception? It was too much for him to think about and so he drank the rest of the brandy, retiring to the coffin in his room that served as his bed wondering just why it was he was of the mind to go shopping for women's dresses the next day.
Unknowingly to each of them, both Christine and Erik slept fitfully that night. Erik had much on his mind, coming clean with Christine was a big step in this façade he had created as her Angel. Unable to sleep any longer, he made his way to up through the bowels of the Opera House to his box. His view of the stage was perfect and at this hour of the night undisturbed by opera workers.
Christine, on the other hand, had visions of her Angel very much a man visiting her, talking to her, singing to her, touching her and sharing her bed with her. This last image should have been horrific for her, imagining herself in bed with a man who was not her husband. But she found as she drifted in and out of sleep that it wasn't so bad a thought at all. He had been gentle, she recalled a small sigh escaping her lips.
She woke with a start at that last thought. He had been gentle. He had been gentle she repeated to herself vaguely aware of the fact that it had happened. Her head hurt from thinking, but she was sure of it. Sure it had been real. And if it had been real, if it hadn't been a dream, then that meant that her Angel was real.
Christine dressed quickly and without thought, pulling her worn cloak on and made her way to the Opera. The streets were empty and damp from a nighttime rainfall, though it could have been the middle of the day with the streets bustling with activity and Christine would have been no more aware of her surroundings as she was this night.
She found the door open that was normally kept open for Opera or orchestra staff that might want to practice alone and entered the Opera House almost in a daze. She shed her cloak and set it on the ground before going out to the stage, standing on the apron she gazed out into the auditorium. Was He there? Would He think her foolish or get upset with her for seeking Him out? She hoped not.
"Angel," she called out finally her hesitance apparent as somewhere in the back of her head the name Erik came to mind. Was that His name? She couldn't be sure, but it sounded right. "Erik?"
He sat in his box, his keen eyesight not requiring the illumination of a torch or lighting source of any type to see that it was Christine on stage. And that she had said his name. His name. Dear Lord, did she remember? And she was seeking him out? He wasn't quite sure if this bade well for him or not. He was going to ignore her, was going to just sit in silence and watch her until she had called out his Christian name. He scoffed slightly at that thought, Christian name indeed. He should have been allowed to die after his birth without the benefit of a name. It would have been much easier on everyone, himself not withstanding. The fact that without him and his assistance, Christine would still be a struggling corps de ballet member was for the moment forgotten.
"Yes, my child," he said finally.
He was there, she found herself oddly relieved. And oddly curious as to why, if He wasn't an Angel what He was doing here at this time of the night. His calling her His child, if her thoughts were accurate about what they had done together also curiously put her off. She didn't want Him to think of her as His child.
"Could you not sleep either," she finally asked gazing about the auditorium wondering where he was.
"No," he admitted with a moment's hesitation.
"We," she paused. "Your name is Erik, is it not?"
Well, here it comes he realized. He could lie of course, but he didn't want to lie anymore. "Yes, that is my name."
"But you are my Angel," she said more to clarify to herself that He indeed was one in the same.
"Yes, my child."
"Will you come here? Show yourself to me? You did once, did you not?"
"Yes, I did."
"In my home," she paused waiting for him to correct her. "Will you again?"
"Why," he asked simply wondering why she needed to see him again.
"I want to see you. I have things I wish to ask you, but I feel rather strange asking like this."
"Ask, my child."
"We," she paused having started to ask this question a moment ago and stopped. "You stayed with me, did you not?"
"Yes," he nodded his head slightly though she could not see the gesture.
"But why did you leave," she asked softly, more to herself than to him.
"For you," he said simply.
"For me?" She glanced into the darkness, her eyes wide with confusion.
"A man seen leaving your flat in the morning could cause gossip, Christine."
"And my illness. That was you as well?" This was all beginning to become dreadfully clear to her, and yet despite knowing that she should be upset she instead found herself curiously more upset that he had tried to hide what they had done.
He closed his eyes, his fists clenched tightly as they rested against the chair's armrests. "Yes, my child. So that you would think it was a dream."
"But why would I want to? Why would you think?" She was unable to complete her sentences. "Why would you want me to think that?"
"I took advantage of you, a moment of weakness, I preyed upon you."
"You gave me a choice," she replied wishing she could see him. "I made it."
He hadn't thought about that, or at least hadn't thought that she might see it that way. "I wasn't convinced after the fact that you were of the right mind to make such a choice."
"But Angel," she said softly, "Erik," she added hoping she wasn't being presumptuous in addressing him by his name. He hadn't given her a last name and well it seemed foolish to call him Angel any longer.
She understood, at least she thought she did. And she remembered now that she was frightened. Frightened of what she wasn't exactly sure. Being alone. That was the biggest thing she feared. She had accepted because she didn't want her Angel to leave her. That would have meant she would be alone once more. A thought she couldn't quite bear. She had been alone for the six years since her father died. She didn't want to be alone any longer. That was why she had accepted his conditions. But he was a man not an angel and that meant he would leave her just as his father had done.
"Did I do something to make you believe that," she finally asked thinking perhaps she had on top of it all disappointed him.
He knew where her thoughts were heading and quickly put a stop to them. "No, my child, nothing like that. You were more than I dreamed you could be." He had no idea how to explain it. The blood on her nightgown and sheets, that he had to burn them and then bathe her. He didn't think she'd want to remember that. Did she remember it now, he wondered?
She frowned slightly not wanting to talk to him like this, in the dark across a stage and an auditorium. She pushed back some of her dark hair and glanced up at his box. "Then why did you leave me?"
"I already told you. I was trying to be considerate of your reputation."
"But that was months ago," she replied not wanting to upset him, but why hadn't he come back. "Why didn't you come back? Why didn't you tell me? You went back to being just a ghost and would have continued to do so had I not come here tonight I'm quite sure."
"You're more than likely correct, I'm much better off for you as your angel."
She thought silently over her recent illness and her inability to shake it, her tiredness. Her eyes grew wide as a thought occurred to her. Her hand flew over her mouth as she fled from the stage and caught a hired coach outside of the Opera to Comte Lecter's home.
"Christine," Hannibal said his surprise evident, a rare occurrence for him that he should display his thoughts so clearly. She looked distraught, enough that perhaps she hadn't noticed the length of time it took him to come to the door.
Christine stared at him, her doe eyes wide and focused intently on his face but yet it seemed surreal and out of focus to her at the same time.
"I'm sorry for the unexpected visit, Comte as well as the lateness of said visit," she paused lowering her gaze clutching at her gloved hands. "But I have no one else to turn to. You're the only person who's shown me kindness in this city." That wasn't entirely true and Christine knew it, and mentally she kicked herself.
Her Angel, Erik, had for some unknown reason taken it upon himself to help her. He was after all, she knew now, not an angel at all but a man. A man. A man who could talk through walls. A man who when she found him tonight had been seated in Box 5. This was all becoming dreadfully clear to her and she felt as though she might faint.
Hannibal caught her as she began to teeter towards him. He was, admittedly confused. He really couldn't risk her roaming around his home, not tonight at any rate. As he felt her go limp in his arms, though, he realized he had little choice unless he was going to bring her home. That would mean leaving his home for a good amount of time before he had finished cleaning up from his activities.
Thankfully, she didn't have his keen sense of smell. Or so it seemed. The smell of freshly shed blood was overwhelming to him. He wondered briefly how she could miss it. Perhaps it contributed to her fainting.
Lecter picked Christine up with ease, taking her into his arms and up to one of his guest rooms. He didn't normally have overnight guests, but the rooms were always prepared. He set her on the bed and afterward lit the lamp that was bedside. He drew the curtains closed, though the clouds in the sky seemed to prevent the moon from shining too brightly this evening.
He could have used smelling salts to bring her back around, but decided instead to let her come to on her own. He took the time to finish cleaning up from his evening meal. Luckily he was a relatively neat person and tended to clean up after himself as he went, so there wasn't an overwhelming mess to tend to. What he would have done had Christine walked in on him tonight to the view she could have seen he wasn't sure.
He hated to think about killing her, but he knew if it came down to it he would. She was after all only an opera singer. Yes, she would be missed, but she would be replaced and in a matter of time forgotten.
He turned the key in the door leading to the room he had placed her in, surprised to find that she was awake.
"I see you're awake," he said matter of factly. If she noticed he had locked her in her room, he couldn't tell. Perhaps she had just woken up.
"I am," Christine said brushing some disheveled curls from her face. "You locked me in," she said a hint of question in her voice.
"I didn't want you to come to afraid of where you were. My house is rather large, and one could get lost rather easily. So knowing I would only be a few minutes I decided it was better for me to come to you than for you to come to me and get lost."
She smiled gently. It made sense, though at the same time it didn't. No house was that large that she'd get lost.
"Are you feeling all right then, Christine? I'm not used to women fainting on my doorstep. So I hope you'll excuse my being presumptuous enough to place you in a bedroom."
She struggled inwardly with how to answer him, her fingers toying with the bedspread which was luxurious. She couldn't help but admire it.
"I'm all right, I imagine. Nothing women haven't been going through for years." She chanced looking up at him, afraid to see the disappointment and scorn in his eyes. But instead she saw compassion, a willingness to hear her out.
"I'm with child. And I don't know what to do. I have no one to turn to. Not that anyone will be surprised given my occupation."
"And what of the father of the child, Christine," Lecter said carefully. He couldn't help but wonder just who the man was. If the woman were anyone but Miss Daae, he would be prone to congratulate the man. But Christine wasn't the type of woman to fall into bed with just anyone. Lecter didn't have to know her overwell to realize this about her.
"I," she paused slightly her eyes clamping shut as she fought to get control over her thoughts. "I haven't told him yet. He doesn't know," she whispered.
"I see," he said simply. Of course he didn't really. She didn't strike him as the type who would deceive someone. Not when it came to something like this. "Are you afraid of how he'll take the news?"
"No," she said her dark eyes wide as they regarded him. How would her Angel, Erik, react to the news? He had said that it had been for her benefit, her protection, that he had stayed away since that night. But suppose it was something else entirely. "I don't know how to tell him."
"I don't really know who he is," she admitted hesitantly. She shook her head quickly to correct herself. "That is to say, he's not who I thought he was. I've known him a number of months, but until tonight didn't know who he was. And even now I don't know that I know who he truly is."
"I'm not sure I understand why it is you've come to me, Mademoiselle Daae, and not this man. Surely you're not somehow implying that it is my child you're carrying."
"No, of course not, Comte," she said not missing the fact he addressed her formally. "I just have no idea what to do. You must find me incredibly stupid, but it didn't even dawn on me until tonight that that is what has been troubling me of late. I didn't even realize there was the chance I was with child, you see."
Was he supposed to understand what she was talking about? Was she implying this man, whoever he was, had taken her against her will? But surely even out of such a coupling she would have to realize there came the possibility of pregnancy. "Again, Mademoiselle, I ask you why you came here to me."
"Because you're the only honorable person I know who might be prone to help me," she said finally tossing back the blankets that covered her and standing from the bed. She walked the short distance from the bed to the chair he sat on and knelt before him, her tiny hands clutching his.
He was silent for a moment, regarding her as she clutched his hand with hers. Touching wasn't a strong point of his, and he somehow imagined it wasn't one of Christine's either. He could have very easily crushed her hand, both of them, with just one of his. She was so delicate, and he had no doubt she would break with only the slightest amount of force. "You don't wish to have the child. Is that what you're suggesting, Christine? I would need to know more before I aided you in ridding yourself of a child."
She shook her head, she hadn't even thought of that as a possibility. That was a vile thought, though she imagined there were plenty of women who found themselves in such a predicament who did just that. "No, I don't want to rid myself of it. I was hoping for your protection, your help and your assistance. I know no one else in Paris save you. I know of no doctors, save you."
Of course, she needed a doctor. Not having discussed his prior occupation with her, he hadn't stopped to think that was what she was seeking him out for. "I don't know how much assistance as a doctor I can offer you, Christine. Delivering babies wasn't my chosen specialty."
"I realize that, Comte. But I just don't wish to be gossiped about anymore than is necessary. I realize I won't be able to hide my condition forever, but with your help perhaps I can prolong my exit from the Opera. And perhaps my condition will never have to be known."
"Perhaps you had better speak with the man responsible before deciding to hide your condition from all of Paris, Christine. Perhaps the man will offer you his hand and you will have nothing to worry about."
"I'm already too far along, Comte. A marriage with the proper amount of time between the engagement, when the bans are read and the actual ceremony takes place I would more than likely be showing already."
He frowned slightly. "That far along," he stated simply. Why had she waited until now to do anything about this? Surely she must have realized something was amiss when she was not in receipt of her monthlies. But then again, as a dancer and one as thin as she there was the possibility that she would not miss them from time to time. And if what she said was true, that she did not realize it was a possibility until tonight. Well, he had no reason to disbelieve her. Unlike some people he knew, Christine did not strike him as a dishonest sort.
"Go and talk to the man, Christine. If he disappoints you with his response, if he is rude to you or will not aid you, then you can return to me. And I will marry you. In name only, mind you. I have no need for a wife, truly. I've gone this long without one. But I could use an heir."
"You," she started her voice quivering as she realized what he had just offered her. "You would do that for me? That isn't why I came here, Comte."
He held up his hand. "I know that, Christine. I do, which is why I make the offer. If it were anyone else I wouldn't believe your story, but I find myself believing you. And I realize that your child will need a father if this man doesn't do the right thing. And as I am unable to have children," he shrugged dismissively.
"It could certainly solve problems for both of us. I could even arrange to have it on paper that we were married before the pregnancy took place. That for whatever reason we chose to keep it secret. Given your occupation that might not be so unreasonable. People will just attribute it to your quest for the limelight, not wanting anyone to know you were married. Keep the male population swarming to the Opera in droves on the chance they'll catch your eye and so on and so forth." He was more serious than he imagined she realized. She didn't realize it though, he knew and that made her all the more appealing.
"But you need to talk to the man first. And if we were to marry and I ever found out that you did not tell the man the truth, did not give him the chance to be responsible for you and his child, I would divorce you. And I would more than likely be able to keep the child that you bring into the world since it would have my name. And I'm sorry, but you don't make enough to fight me on that."
"That's assuming I accept your offer," she said glancing up at him her hands still grasping his. Once upon a time his offer would have been the answer to her prayers. She could be married, not be expected to have children if what he said was true that he was unable to have them, and work at the Opera. But now, she carried her Angel's child. Erik's child. Could she let another man raise His child? One foul up and she could lose her son or daughter. Not to mention going against the Church if he were to divorce her. No, Erik deserved to know that she was pregnant.
"It is a most generous offer, Comte. One I'm sure you don't make in jest and one I'm sure most women of Paris would throttle me if they knew you'd made it to me. A simpleton."
Lecter leaned forward quickly, taking hold of her hands as he stood bringing her against him. "Don't you dare call yourself a simpleton in my presence again. Regardless of our relationship henceforth, I will not stand for it. There is nothing simple about you, Christine, which is the very reason that I make this offer to you. You are like no other girl I've had the pleasure of meeting before."
Christine was startled by his outburst and found his closeness somewhat alarming. She didn't make it a practice to get so close to people in general, let alone men. She felt herself tremble in his arms from her nervousness. "All right," she said with uncertainty. Surely he couldn't mean what he just said. He was trying to flatter her, she reasoned.
He released her slowly. He wondered if the child she had would look like her. A child could do far worse, even he could acknowledge that. He had seen prettier of course, but there was a beauty about Christine that came from within her that made her rather ordinary appearance somewhat extraordinary.
He placed his hand at her chin, lifting her face to look her in the eye. He kissed her briefly, his lips barely touching hers. It wasn't a kiss of affection, but could perhaps be construed as one of fondness. He wasn't sure what he would do if he found himself being taken up on his offer of marriage. He had to think, had to hope that the man would be a gentleman about the situation and ask for her hand in marriage himself.
Certainly there were rooms of the house he could restrict her coming and going to and from. He sensed, somehow, that she would accept his need for privacy without question. He thought briefly of what she might do should she ever discover his other life. Would she turn him in to the authorities? If they were married, he wasn't sure if she would or not.
"You're welcome to stay the night here if you'd like, Christine. I can offer you some warmed brandy perhaps that will help soothe your nerves a bit. I can assure you that once I bid you adieu for the night that I would not see you again until morning."
"Somehow, Comte, I don't feel that I have anything to fear from you as far as visiting me while I slept. You have proven yourself to be trustworthy and perhaps undeserving of at least some of your reputation," she said coyly. Christine wasn't sure how to interpret his kiss, but she knew that it was not a kiss that was a foreshadowing of a pass to come.
"But I fear that staying here would only do more harm to my reputation. Especially if somehow word got out that I was with child and it was someone else's."
"I understand. Then allow me at least to see you home. I never stopped to consider how you got here to begin with this evening."
"A hired coach," she said simply.
"Ah well. I'll see you home then. No sense in your having to pay twice in one evening when I have the time."
"Actually," she said her voice wavering slightly. "I need to return to the Opera. If you don't mind dropping me there rather than my flat."
He frowned slightly. Did this young woman do nothing but work, even when she had life altering decisions to make? "Of course, wherever you care to go, Christine."
Christine waited to go further into the Opera until she knew for certain Hannibal Lecter's carriage was gone. She wasn't going to chance being discovered by anyone tonight. Not that she was wrong in being here. As the diva, she could come and go as she pleased really. Removing her cloak and gloves she allowed her hair to cascade over her shoulders before she walked on stage. She was oddly calm given the circumstances.
She had never sought her Angel out before. Not so boldly at any rate. Would He mind? She had heard rumors, if her idea of just who He was was true, of things He had done to people who went searching for Him. Surely He would not do those things to her.
Her talk with Hannibal had been comforting, proving that she did indeed have somewhere to go without leaving Paris and everything she'd accomplished here behind. Carlotta would be the first to happily bid her adieu, of that Christine was certain. But she didn't want that, to have to leave. She owed it to her father, and to Erik, to see her career with the Opera House through. Even if he were to cast her aside after tonight she owed it to him to see it through.
It was her distraction at thinking of Carlotta that she failed to notice she was not alone. She was startled to see a figure dressed completely in black standing on the stage. As he turned to face her seeming to know she was there already, she knew even before seeing it that his face would be masked. But why, she didn't know. It was clear to her, however, even through the mask, that he was just as startled to see her as she was to see him. She had obviously intruded and she felt terrible. This was, in essence, his home.
Erik stood almost frozen in place, amazed to be standing this close to Christine again with no mirror separating them. She had come back to the Opera after their talk earlier that evening. But why? This could be either good or bad and he was fully aware of that.
"I'm sorry," Christine whispered as she started to back away. This wasn't how she had anticipated talking to him. Not like this. She had only seen him once until now, and she couldn't fully recall that one time. She wasn't prepared for it now.
Fragments of the night they had together were piecing themselves together in her mind and she knew that she should be ashamed of herself for not regretting what she had done. What they had done. But she didn't regret it. Her career at the Opera aside, she still didn't feel the guilt she knew the Church would suggest she should feel. In fact, she realized that her first instinct when she realized what had happened was not to go to confession like she normally would have done. Instead, her instincts brought her here. To Erik, her Angel.
Erik tilted his head slightly, extending one arm effortlessly and with the grace of a lion his index finger beckoned her to him. "Don't go, Christine," he whispered though he knew she heard him well enough.
Christine did hear him, though the voice sounded as though it was coming from within her head rather than from across the stage. There was little thinking to do, however, as his voice called to her. He didn't want her to go, and she found that she herself didn't want to go either.
She knew, somehow that he could have forced her to stay, willed her to stay, but that he was indeed giving her free will to choose whether she wanted to stay or go. Just as he had the night she chose to give herself completely to him. Her Angel. But could he be both Angel and man? She had to wonder.
She stepped towards him, placing her hand in his offered hand. "Thank you," she said softly unsure of just what it was she was thanking him for.
"You came to see me, I presume," he said lyrically, his thumb stroking the top of her hand. "Should I go up to my box so you can feel more at ease, Christine?"
"No," she stammered quickly and found that she meant it.
"Then what? It's late. You should be home sleeping, not out looking for me."
She regarded him with interest, slightly put off with being right here in front of him like this. It was a little overwhelming. "I need to talk to you, Erik. May I call you that," she asked.
"Of course. I have no other name for you to call me by, so my given name will have to do."
"You know," she said releasing her hand from his grasp and walking past the proscenium looking out over the empty and dark auditorium. "You failed to take something into consideration when you deprived me of remembering what happened, Erik." She was trying not to be bitter or accusatory here, but it was difficult not to. If she hadn't remembered something tonight who knew how long she would have gone without realizing just what her problem was.
"We already talked about this, Christine."
She shook her head, a flourish of curls floating through the air as she turned to face him. "No, we didn't talk about this, Erik." She glanced at her hands clutched in front of her. "I'm with child," she said in almost a whisper. Though to her, in this place that was normally a sanctuary of sorts to her she felt that her voice saying those three words was deafening.
Erik audibly took in a breath as her words reached out and grabbed him as no other words could have. He honestly hadn't thought about that happening as the result of their night together. He realized that it was how children came about, of course, but he knew there were people who struggled for months or years to make children. And he honestly didn't believe he was able to make them. He had always imagined he was different than other men in every way.
"I see," he said finally realizing that was probably a horrible response. But he wasn't sure what to say.
"Is that all you're going to say to me," she asked almost pleadingly. As much as Comte's offer was kind, Christine didn't like the idea of someone else raising her Angel's child. "It's yours. I assume you know that there could be no other option but that."
"I believe you, Christine. I just am not sure what to say." In truth it frightened him. What would this child look like? Would it look like Christine or like him? "I hadn't thought about this happening or else I wouldn't have taken the actions afterward that I did."
She toyed with a pleat in her skirt, running her fingertips along it. "I think I know that, Erik. I do not wish to pressure you though. Not into anything. But Comte Lecter."
"You told him," Erik asked his eyes wide with a mixture of both amazement and anger. Amazed that she would admit such a thing to someone knowing how she held to her religion and its teachings. Angered that she would choose him to tell of all people. Erik knew the man wanted something from Christine, though he couldn't figure out what as of yet. The man was slippery, almost as slippery as Erik was which made it difficult to find things out about the man.
Erik, of course, had one advantage over him, he didn't exist. Well, he did, but as far as he knew his mother had declared him dead years ago. There were no records on him, who he was, what he did. He imagined Christine's beloved Church probably covered up his birth well enough as well.
"He's a doctor, and I needed someone to talk to. I wasn't sure you see."
"And he verified you were," he asked angered further at the thought of that man laying a hand in any way on Christine.
"Well, no. He told me to come talk to you actually. He seemed to believe me when I said I thought I was. I have no proof that I am, but it makes sense. I'm more lethargic than I normally am. I'm sick most mornings and sometimes throughout the day. Certain foods that I never liked I now can't get enough of. Does that not sound like the symptoms of the condition of pregnancy?"
He was supposed to know the answer to this? He could tell by the way she was looking at him that she believed he would know. Well, he didn't. He would have laughed if he didn't know it was the most inappropriate thing he could do at the moment.
"It would seem to be, yes. And so he told you to come talk to me for what reason?"
"Well, to tell you of course. He's offered to marry me," she added softly glancing away from him as she said the words.
"So you've come here to tell me you're carrying my child but you're going to marry another man?" He didn't believe that was why she was here, but he was curious just how this marriage proposal came to be. "I appreciate the information. I'm not sure whether you want my offering of well wishes though," he spoke somewhat angrily. The nerve of her coming her with such information only to tack onto it that another man sought her hand in marriage.
"I'm not sure what you mean," she said almost mutely.
"Well, you might want to ensure Monsieur Lecter knows just what he has in store for him if he wants to take responsibility for another man's child." He turned his back to her briefly, removing his mask before he turned to face her again. He didn't wait for her response. It was the first time in a long time he had removed his mask for someone without being asked to do so. "I'm not quite sure he would want a child looking like this. Shall we go ask him to be sure?"
Christine knew he was trying to shock her, and though it worked greatly she tried her best to not give in. But she had never seen anything like it, his face, or what she guessed was his face. It was hideous, frightening and nauseating all at once. How could this be possible? Her Angel with a voice that could melt butter couldn't look like this thing in front of her. "I'm not sure that that's necessary," she finally said not realizing she had taken steps backward in response to his removing his mask.
"Why is that, exactly? You just won't tell him the possibility exists that this child you carry could be another freak of nature? Or are you going to rid yourself of the child instead?"
"No," she demanded. "I could never do that."
"No," he queried taking a step towards her laughing maliciously when she stepped back in sync with his step towards her. "You want to live your life being frightened of your own child and its father, Christine? Believe me when I tell you the child is better off not living at all than to experience a loveless childhood."
She took a step towards him, her hand reaching towards him in almost a maternal gesture. All she had to do was close her eyes and imagine what life for him must have been like. God must have had a plan, though, when He did this. With her eyes closed she could almost forget what he looked like without his mask on. Almost. "But your music, Erik," she said softly opening her eyes again to look at him. She didn't want to look. She would have preferred to look at the floor or anything but him, but she had to. She couldn't stop herself. She was drawn to him, but she didn't think it was his influence drawing her to him this time.
"The only good thing that's come out of my music, Christine is you. I've done nothing else good with my existence, and I even managed to damage and taint you as well. For that," he sighed softly something he didn't do often. "I'm sorry."
"But you didn't damage me," she said sincerely. She closed her eyes, collecting her thoughts. "I would be perhaps out of a job if it weren't for you. Don't you see that?"
"You could very well be out of a job now, Christine, if they find out you're with child. And you can't very well tell them who the father is."
"I can't," she queried her brow furrowing as she opened her eyes to look at him again. She was becoming less and less repulsed by the sight of him. Whether it was from numbness to her senses she didn't know.
"Of course not. I mean, you could tell them my name, certainly."
She was growing more confused by this. "Why? Because of what you do? Who you are? I wouldn't walk around telling people you and the Opera ghost were one in the same person. Surely you realize that, Erik?"
So she did know who he was. "Well, yes, and people will think you quite mad for being with someone like me."
"But," she grew quiet thinking through before she spoke. "I don't care what anyone else thinks. If I did, I wouldn't be in the Opera at all. I would have chosen a respectable profession."
He replaced his mask on his face slowly. "And you're saying you'd rather be with me than Monsieur Lecter who has offered you his hand? I find that hard to believe, Christine. You'd have money, the power of his name, a proper name to give your child, and I'm sure he'd let you continue on here at the Opera."
"He offered in case you didn't want me or the child, Erik. That is all. That was the condition of his offer, that if you wouldn't he would."
He laughed lightly. "How nice of him. I don't like him. So it seems I would have to do the honorable thing if I don't want my child which you're apparently determined to have despite knowing now why I wear a mask to be raised by a man I dislike."
"Why not? Why don't you like him? He's been nothing but kind to me, Erik."
"Of course, because he wants something from you. And I'm sure he sees your condition as a way of getting it."
"I have nothing to offer him, Erik. I don't know what you could possibly mean. He did not know until tonight that I was with child, nor did he have any reason to suspect I would be."
"No, I suppose he wouldn't have," he said softly turning away from her clenching his fist briefly. "What do you want, Christine? You have two drastically different choices presented to you."
"It is your child, you have been my Angel and my teacher for so long I could not imagine my life without you in it."
"And what if the child looks like me, Christine? What would you do then? Would you raise it or leave it to die as it should be able to do?"
"I could never do that. What if he aspired to be something great like you? And I don't care what you look like, you are great at what you do. I somehow suspect there are things you are great at I haven't any idea you even do." She lowered her gaze briefly. "But if you saw to take it upon yourself to do such a thing, I could not blame you."
"Sure because gone would be your problem and you wouldn't need to be married to me or anyone else once more. But God forbid it be on your conscious that you allowed your child to die."
"How dare you," she blurted making no effort to lower her voice at this point. "How dare you put words or thoughts onto me. There are remedies I could take, I know, to rid myself of this child. I don't have to marry anyone. I didn't have to tell you. I could have just fled from Paris, disappeared for the amount of time it took to have the child and been done with it. But here I stand, telling you that you will have a child in a few months time. Perhaps it's you who doesn't want to marry me and be burdened with a wife and child. You obviously didn't care until now that I might have been in this condition."
"As much as you might want to believe it is so, Christine. I am not omnipotent. I, admittedly, know how children come about, but I didn't stop to think it could happen to you. To me. I didn't think I was capable of producing offspring to be honest." Of course he had no first hand knowledge or attempts until this to know whether or not he could. "Had I known, had I thought, Christine, I would have told you." Or he would have given her some herbs to abort the pregnancy before it had even taken. "I would never have dreamt you would have me. Or that you would want my child. Who would? You're far too beautiful. You are perfect. Why would you want or need imperfection in a child? Or in a husband?"
"Because you look," she paused searching for a polite word to describe just what he looked like. She found, however, there were no words for it. He looked like death, but it was worse because he was living. She realized, of course, that he had to touch her during their time together and she tried not to imagine that. She further realized that as his wife she would be obligated to let him touch her whenever he wanted to. "Different," she finally asked.
"That's a polite way of putting it, Christine. I'm sure you could do better if you didn't censor your thoughts. But thank you for showing some tact. Yes, because I'm different. Do you want to married to me? To be seen with me? To be my wife?"
"What other option do I have? I can't go to Comte Lecter and lie to him. You have the right to have and be with your child, Erik."
"Is that all that's holding you back from choosing him over me, Christine? A lie? You're carrying a child, my child that could turn out looking like I do or worse, without being married and you're worried about a lie?" He laughed heartily unable to stop himself from finding this whole scenario terribly bizarre yet amusing at the same time. "If it is, let me know and I will simply tell you I want nothing to do with you or the child and let you go on your way and be happy."
"Stop putting words in my mouth," she demanded. "I'm not saying I want to choose him. I've already told you that. And the fact that I'm here should prove that to you. I could have gone anywhere tonight and gone back to Comte's home and claimed you turned me away. He would never have known the truth. But I didn't do that. I am here."
"And if the child is born and looks like me you'll let me do as I wish regarding its life."
"If you feel you must do that, Erik, I understand," she whispered glancing now at her feet. This was a sin, she was sure, even to be talking about allowing a child to die.
"You cannot possibly understand, Christine, but I appreciate your giving me credit for perhaps knowing what I'm talking about on this matter."
"You will let me see it? Say good bye to it? It is my child too, and I'm carrying it. I will be taking a reprieve from the Opera for a short while." She glanced up at him. "It will only be a short while, won't it?"
He frowned slightly not sure he understood the question. "Well, I am no physician, Christine, but obviously when you begin showing you will have to stop until after the child is born. Some costumes can accommodate and hide the roundness that will come with your condition, but sooner rather than later you will have to take your leave."
"No, I meant I will be returning. You will still teach me, won't you? And you will still let me sing."
"Of course, Christine. You were born to sing. We can hire the best tutors and nannies for the child if you see the need to do that."
She nodded, clearly relieved. "And I may go tell Comte I will not be needing his offer?"
Erik didn't really like the idea of her going near him again, here at the Opera House or elsewhere. His displeasure at the question was more than evident in his eyes, despite the mask. "I'm sure he'll figure it out when you don't return. Wouldn't you say?"
"I, well, yes, of course. But the polite thing would be…"
"The polite thing would have been for him not to make the offer at all until he knew what my response was," he quickly interjected.
"Very well," she succumbed. She wasn't going to argue with him. Not now, not about this. "Do you have a church here you attend," she queried curiously finding it difficult to picture him attending Mass. However, a parish's response to his voice would be interesting to observe.
"A church," Erik queried incredulously. "No, I'm afraid I have never been privy to attending services, Christine. I wasn't allowed to, and by the time I was old enough and capable to attend on my own, I had lost interest." That was an understatement, but he doubted she cared to hear just how dark and disparaging his life had become. That little boy almost seemed like an entirely different person to Erik.
"Oh," she said softly. "Would you like me to arrange everything then? I mean, that is what we agreed upon isn't it?" It wasn't the way she had pictured her marriage being arranged, but somehow she sensed that as knowledgeable as Erik was he'd not have the first clue as to what went into arranging for a marriage.
She tried to push from her thoughts just what she had pictured for her wedding, not that she pictured one often. There was no mistaking she wasn't the type of girl who most men would choose for a wife. She glanced up at him, realizing that she would be expected to be a wife to him. And even though she already had performed that duty for him once before, she didn't remember it to know what it was she was supposed to do. She hoped, though, that children wouldn't result from it any more after this one. She really didn't want one, but there was no way she could rid herself of the child either - before or after birth.
"If you'd like to, Christine, by all means. I'd prefer it small, just you and I if possible."
"I, well, I haven't anyone to attend anyway, so I see no problem with that."
"I should show you your new home then, don't you think," he queried as he offered her his hand which felt cool when it came in contact with her warm one.
"I suppose so," she said clasping her hand over his wondering just where it was he lived. Did he truly live in the basements of the Opera? And did he expect her to live there now, too? She would soon find out it seemed as she followed him as he led the way from the stage.
Christine's eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room before her. She had no idea how long or far they had walked, but she knew they had descended lower in the Opera House. They had certainly gone lower than she had ever dared venture before. Knowing Erik was the Opera Ghost did little to ease her apprehension as they walked. With darkened corridors came rats and bugs and other such things she'd rather not think on.
She heard the sounds of water nearby and wondered just where they were and what the source of the water was. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. Water wasn't something she cared much for, at least water that exceeded the dimensions of a bathtub.
There was no natural light in the room, and even with the fire stoked there was a constant chill in the air. "This is where you live," she asked hesitantly. She was afraid to make him cross, that he would think she was snubbing her nose at him.
Erik regarded Christine quietly as he placed the poker on the stand with the other fire tending accessories. "Yes, it is. I made it while I oversaw the construction of the Opera House itself. I stole, I guess you could say, to make it, but it suits me. I can have my privacy, which I require, yet I'm just a short boat ride to where I dock the boat and can be out from under the Opera House.
"You built all this yourself," she asked incredulously. "I assumed it was already here and you just found it."
"Nay, my child. I can do more than simply sing, I'm what most would call gifted. Gifted with a plethora of talents, talents unfortunately no one will allow me to perform because I hide my face. They think it means I'm shifty or crooked, that I will cheat them. And demands to show my face send me very much in the other direction."
"I wish you wouldn't call me that."
"What," he asked frowning, a gesture even with the mask on he could not hide.
Christine recoiled slightly, afraid she had angered him. "Well, I'm having your child, it seems a little inappropriate to address me as your child."
"Ah yes, it's just habit. Of course you're right I'm just not sure what else to call you. I will do my best."
"You can call me by my name."
"That almost seems too easy," he laughed lightly, a sound somewhat foreign to him. Normally, laughter was not something heard from him, at least not this type of genuine laughter.
"My room is there. Yours is through that doorway there," he said simply gesturing to a door that would offer her privacy. It came complete with a lock. He wasn't sure how wise that was, including a lock on the door, but he didn't want to frighten her.
"Well, until recently it was empty, I admit, but I've spent some time preparing it for you, yes."
"You knew I was going to come to you then."
"No. I hoped, I admit. But no, I knew nothing. I cannot see the future, Christine."
Erik watched as Christine stood and walked to the room he had indicated was hers. He had gone through great pains to make it as complete as possible, he hoped he thought of everything she could need and even some things she'd simply want. He grew curious when he watched her return to the main room, her head bowed looking very ashamed. Had he done something wrong? Had he misjudged her sizes on the gowns he'd arranged to be made for her? He didn't think so.
"I do not deserve such luxury, Erik. I came to you out of anger, and you give me such a gift. A gift I cannot possibly ever hope to repay."
He walked to her quickly, his movements quick and catlike despite his size. "I think you deserve such things. Is it not to your liking? Is there something I should change? I do not understand."
"No, no," she said biting back tears. She looked frightened of him just then. "It's beautiful, perfection. And I don't deserve it."
"Christine. Isn't it up to me to decide whether or not I believe you deserve it? Regardless of why you came to me, you came to me, just as I'd hoped for all these months. I dreamt of this day, thought I was torturing and punishing myself for being as foolish as to believe you'd actually choose to be with me. You could have any man in Paris if you set your mind to it."
Christine blushed deeply at his words, unable to look him fully in the eye. "I don't believe that's true, Erik. And you're not foolish."
"No," he asked somewhat menacingly. "If you weren't pregnant, would you be here?"
"Well, no but."
"But nothing. If you were pregnant and had known what lay beneath my mask prior to this evening when you came to tell me of your condition would you be here?"
"I," she paused. "I don't know," she admitted her shoulders slumping in defeat.
"I highly doubt you would have come. You would have jumped at the chance to marry Comte. Or perhaps not since you have no way of knowing what the child will look like when it's born. It could look like you, it could look like me, or it could look like some horrific version of the two of us. Either way, I doubt you'd have come here to me."
"Stop speaking for me. You're the one who has told me that I'm not a simple minded child, so let me think and speak for myself. I said I didn't know, because I don't know. I was not presented with that situation. I'm here with you now, aren't I," she demanded. "Aren't I?"
Erik stammered briefly for an answer. "Well, yes."
"I could have fled from the Opera stage when you revealed yourself to me. Couldn't I have? I could have run from you, but I didn't."
Erik's eyes fell closed, though in the dimly lit room she would be unable to see through the eyeholes of his mask, as she reached out to touch his exposed cheek. He breathed in sharply, holding the breath not sure what to say. "Yes," he finally managed to say.
"I knew what you looked like when I decided to stay. I touched you knowing what you looked like."
"Yes," he managed to choke out. Her hand at his cheek was so soft and smooth, it was one of the few times he'd been touched and it was rather humbling. Such a basic need he had, to be accepted, and she seemed to do just that. He wasn't sure it was that easy, though. Somehow he thought it would not be. Comte Lecter would not be so quick to let her go, Erik was sure of that. There was also that meddlesome Vicomte, but Erik didn't think he posed as much a threat as Lecter did.
Her hand at his cheek pushed on the mask, moving it out of the way so she could kiss him. He noticed she had to close her eyes to do it, but perhaps all people closed their eyes when they kissed someone else. Perhaps it wasn't an action of revulsion but a natural instinct one has. He didn't have the experience or the knowledge to know for certain, but he kissed her back. The kiss was too brief for his liking.
"Please don't speak for me, Erik. Don't decide for me. And don't assume you know what I'm thinking."
"Sometimes I do."
"Yes, I know you do," she smiled slightly, a little embarrassed at that thought. "I don't want you to do that often though, to get into my mind."
"I will try," he acquiesced.
"The clothes in the closet, were those for me?"
"Yes," he said with a nod of his head. "I imagine we'll need to get new ones made before long."
"Yes, I imagine so."
"It is late, Christine. Perhaps it would do you well to rest."
"You don't mind?"
"Not at all. I will be either out here or in my room should you need anything. I will try and keep the fire going as best as I can during the night."
She shivered instinctively as he spoke of it. "Thank you," she said. "Don't you get cold here?"
He laughed lightly. "I'm always cold, Christine. I mean, no, I don't feel it. Not as you do. I feel your warmth though, when I touch you. I could lose myself in it if I allowed myself to."
She blushed a deep crimson. "I," she stammered. "Thank you. I think," she added.
"You're welcome. If you need anything let me know, but I think you will find I took all things into consideration when furnishing your room."
"Except a fireplace."
"Yes, except that." Was she angry with him for that oversight? He hoped not. He wasn't perfect. She should know that just by looking at him. What more a reminder did she need as to the fact he was far from perfect then the blasted mask he wore.
"Good night," she hesitated, "Erik."
"Good night, Christine," he replied offhandedly. He was already seated at the piano, busy scrawling on a piece of music paper. Ideas flowing through his mind at the moment, he had to at least write them down.
Christine sat on the sofa embroidering. There was nothing more for her to do anymore. She had given her last performance at the Opera over a month ago now, stating she had to go out of town to visit a sick relative and did not know when she would return. She had been told not to count on her job waiting for her when she returned. She knew this to be true, and tried not to dwell on it too often.
Erik had been more than kind to her. It was amazing how his home had transformed over the months since she had come to stay with him. It was still dreadfully cold all of the time, but she had added her own touch to all of the rooms aside from his. She had yet to set foot in his room, though she had approached the doorway leading to it a time or two.
Her talk with Comte Lecter had not gone as well as she would have liked. He seemed honestly angered by the fact that she was not accepting his offered hand in marriage. This confused her, but like her feelings about the Opera and her job she didn't dwell on it. She had made her choices and for the most part she didn't regret the choices she had made.
Erik cared for her, cooked for her and for the most part tended to everything around the house as if he was a servant and not the father of her baby. He was hesitant to let her do much of anything. She tended to push aside her frustration at him, but sometimes couldn't help it. She realized he was doing whatever he could to avoid his child turning out looking like him. Sometimes though she felt like a child.
He had never mentioned the subject of marriage again and she realized at this point it was really too late to push the issue. He had come to her on more than one occasion since she'd lived there and while she never turned him away she couldn't get over feeling the need to go to Confession every time. Oddly, it wasn't for the act itself. She had already committed the sin of getting with child without benefit of marriage so there was no further harm that could be done from his coming to her. She was more troubled by the fact that she actually enjoyed it. She would never initiate, she rarely kissed or touched him of her own doing. She wasn't nearly that brave. But she couldn't go to Confession. She wasn't supposed to be in Paris anymore, so she was virtually a prisoner here in Erik's home.
Of course, he doted on her far better than any woman had a right to expect so she felt horrible thinking of her next few months being prison like. As if God was in tune with her thoughts, the embroidery needle took a nasty detour from the piece she was working on right into her thumb. She let out a small cry, knowing it was useless. She was alone. She had no idea where Erik went off to. He remained a mystery to her.
A time or two she had in a fit of anger and self-pity at being stuck here in his home accused him of being with other women. She knew this wasn't true, but she was insecure enough at her expanding body in more places than just her abdomen to wonder if he didn't find her desirable anymore. She wouldn't blame a normal man for seeking out someone with more experience, who could offer him more than she could intimately. But he staunchly denied any such activities, any such betrayal of her and she believed him. Still, she had no idea what he did. Sometimes he came home with small gifts, sometimes he came home with nothing. Always, though, he smelled of the outdoors, so she knew he hadn't been at a gaming hall.
She went to his kitchen to run her thumb in some cold water to help ease the pain and to seek a bandage to wrap it with. Unable to sew anymore, she was left to reading. She had no desire to read at the moment, she had read more books in the last few months than she recalled reading in all of her life. Erik had a bountiful library of all well kept editions of various books. Some were fiction and some were books of science, mathematics and other such things that while not stupid she could not begin to comprehend. The fact that he could read these volumes and take from them knowledge in one sitting and apply it frightened her. Would her child be like this? A gifted child, intelligent with a mind like a steel trap that held all of the information it came across? She hoped it might. Intelligence was something she would love to know her child had been gifted with.
Her lack of desire to read led her to take a walk. Her walk led to thinking and thinking led to the turn her life had taken. Why hadn't Erik married her like he said he would? Was she not worthy of his name? She didn't understand it, and she was too timid about such matters to voice her concerns on this. Perhaps he was waiting until after the child had arrived. That seemed logical in an illogical way. Obviously, her state would be obvious to anyone, especially a priest marrying them. Yes, she decided, he was protecting her name. Though, did that mean then that their child would go without the benefits of baptism?
Unbeknownst to her as she strayed farther out of the cave, walking over the small bridge Erik had built for her to cross when she wanted to get out of doors on occasion, her movements were being watched. Had Erik been there, he would have picked up on the small hints, he would have felt the unknown presence there. But Christine was not capable of such things and so she walked about her hand rubbing her swollen abdomen as she did.
Lecter watched and was relieved, his prayers were finally answered. He was catching a glimpse of Christine Daae for the first time in months. He had seen her a time or two around the Opera, usually long before anyone was scheduled to come for the day or after anyone would still be there after the day's rehearsal or performance. He had not, however, been able to find out where she had escaped to. She seemed almost to disappear, but Lecter knew that wasn't possible. She looked healthy, evidence of the child growing within her was apparent but what struck him as most interesting was the lack of a ring on the marriage finger.
Had she lied to him? He couldn't fathom that this little chit of an Opera girl would dare lie to him, let alone come up with the story and deliver it convincingly enough to lie to him. Lecter always knew when people were lying to him. It was one of the things that made him successful in his business ventures and that made him feared as the overseer of his lands. Many a man had been punished severely and openly for trying to hide profits or, even worse, losses. How Comte Lecter knew they were being dishonest few were able to ever figure out, but it helped keep his subjects honest. If anyone suspected the physical and emotional enjoyment he received from watching those punished receive their punishment no one ever betrayed such thoughts or observances to Lecter.
But still, here she was strolling about obviously unchaperoned and obviously with child. Was she living here at the Opera somewhere? He didn't see how that was possible. He had asked at the Opera and had been told she had gone out of town to tend to a sick relative. Lecter knew, as he thought the Opera managers did too but perhaps not, that she had no family. So he had known that was a lie, obviously to cover up the fact she was pregnant. So why then did it surprise him she might have lied to him, too? Maybe she wanted no father for her child. It wasn't unheard of though it was rare for a woman to raise her child by herself. But he had made her such an appealing offer, had basically indicated he would not expect her to physically be a wife. He had no need for a woman he imagined was unresponsive in his bed. If he'd wanted that, he would have married long ago. No, damn it, he just wanted the child. He needed a child to keep the Lecter name from dying with him. A good strong boy child would be ideal, but he'd have taken a girl if that was what they had been blessed with.
His anger grew, convinced that she had shunned him, deemed him unworthy of being a father to her child. Who in God's name was the father then? The President himself? Of course there were men out there with higher raking titles and more land claims than Lecter, but how many of them would grant her the ability and the right to continue performing once they were married? He dare thought none, unequivocally he knew this to be true.
He would bide his time. Sooner or later he would figure out this puzzle and then he would act upon it. Not knowing if she was truly alone or not at the moment, though, he had to leave her alone for the moment. He would return, though, of that he was certain.
It was dark when Lecter turned from his observation point, thinking he was unseen. However, he was unaware of the man shrouded in black who had eyes like a cat. Had he seen him, he wouldn't have known who the man was anyway, so it would have done him little good either way. Erik, however, was fully aware of whom the man was and that he had been watching Christine. The fury and the jealousy within him surprised him. He wanted to act on it, to challenge the man but he knew now was not the time. He could not chance leaving Christine alone until after the baby came. Then he would deal with Hannibal Lecter, a man he knew would prove a worthy opponent. Erik was aware now of the man's activities. He could have gone to the constable, sure, but there would be no proof linking Comte to the crimes. Only Erik's word, the word of a monster who has spent the last some odd years living beneath the Opera House and preying on its patrons and management as the infamous Opera Ghost. No, no, going to the authorities would not do at all. Erik would handle Lecter himself. The man wanted Christine after all, he had to defend what was his at all costs.
Not until he heard the sound of horses hooves fade into the night did Erik move from his hiding spot. He knew Christine was curious as to his nightly excursions. Sometimes he was out keeping a watchful eye on Comte Lecter, sometimes he was meeting with his contacts to collect payments, morphine and other necessities. Never did he search someone to pleasure him as Christine thought. He tapped into her thoughts enough to know that while she wanted to believe him on this that she still harbored some doubts as to his commitment to her. He had sensed the word ‘Marriage' more than once when he was there in her mind and closed the door himself quickly.
He felt horribly guilty, an emotion and feeling totally foreign to him until his dealings with Christine. He had murdered, stolen, beaten and maimed people and yet he had never felt a sliver of guilt or remorse for what he had done in his fifty year existence until now. Until having to deal with Christine and his feelings involving her. He knew he should marry her, but he also had his doubts as to who would defeat whom when it came to a battle of strength and power rather than wits with Comte Lecter. The man would still offer her his name, his protection to their child so long as the child was ‘normal' in its appearance. Of this, Erik was certain. So he did not marry her, not wanting her to have to explain to anyone, even their child, who he was in the event something happened to him. It was selfish and perhaps backwards thinking, but he was trying to do what was best and easiest for her.
If something were to happen to him and they were married, she would have to go through the societal rules of mourning and so forth. He wanted none of that. He wanted his home to be his final resting place and for Christine to burn everything in it, including himself, when his time came. He didn't want anything preventing her from leading her life as she should be able to.
Going to her the times he had was a compulsion that he could not deny himself the right to fulfill. He knew it was wrong, he knew that while she got some enjoyment out of their times together in that manner that she would rather he did not. He never invaded her thoughts during those times, he was afraid of what he would get from her, afraid that she was only faking her enjoyment for his benefit. He'd rather continue believing that he was at least born to do something right involving other people. He tended to believe, too, by the fact she did not bid him leave as soon as he had finished that she actually clung to him tighter on those occasions that she did in fact reap some enjoyment from their couplings.
At first he had vowed to keep his hands off of her, but that had proven difficult when on her second night with him she had come out of her room wearing nothing more than her shift. Damn but he had no idea how revealing the garment would actually be on her. Even in the dimly lit room, he needed little if any light to work by but had kept some lamps lit for her benefit, he could see her form right through it. And the way she had looked at him, with wonder, admiration and yes even a little hint of desire was there his vow had quickly been forgotten and thrown to the wayside like everything else he had promised himself about this woman.
He saw her before she was aware of his presence in the room. She looked so peaceful, though he knew she was frightened at times. Frightened of him still every once in a while, but frightened of the child and the aftermath surrounding it. He could not promise her she would get her job back, but they spent their days together singing together, he training and teaching her, and working over some scores he himself had written. If nothing else, this time was actually helping her hone her craft and would enable her to leave Paris and get a job at any opera house anywhere as its star. Hopefully, when that time came he would be able to go with her. He wasn't counting on it. He had a huge feeling of foreboding regarding the immediate future and knew better than to doubt his feelings. He would work like the Devil himself to prepare her for whatever might happen, including how to support herself and their child should it have to come to that.
"Have you hurt yourself," he asked concerned when he saw her bandaged thumb.
She nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of her voice. She laughed nervously as she looked at him, the book she was now reading remaining at her lap. "I just poked myself with a needle earlier. I'm fine, really. It was stupid."
"All right," he said removing his cloak and hat. "I'll start dinner then. Unless you already ate. I know it's late, I apologize for my lateness. It wasn't intentional."
"I had some bread and heated some of the stew from last night, yes," she answered him somewhat distantly her attention already on her book once more.
"I said I'm sorry."
"I know you did, Erik, and I know you are. It's fine. I'm used to it by now. Please don't worry yourself over it."
He winced at her words. She was used to it. He was failing her in one of the most basic ways, he was letting her down. He was proving himself unreliable. He would have to do better and he vowed from that day forward he would. He would only go out when necessary, when his morphine was to the point of running out and for groceries.
He went to the kitchen to see about his own dinner noticing on the stove that she had reheated the stew but had in actuality eaten very little of it. He was no doctor, but it worried him sometimes how birdlike her appetite was despite her condition. He knew enough about such things to know that the unborn child got its nourishment from her. He could not force her to eat, and so he just hoped that what she ate was enough. It would do no good if she ate and she just rid herself of it shortly afterward from eating too much.
The baby was due any day now. Erik had arranged for his friend's son to deliver the baby at his home. Erik had paid for the young man's education so he called in a favor, something Erik rarely ever did, but needed to in this instance. It wasn't a long carriage ride from the Opera House, so Erik knew all would be cared for and that he would get Christine aid quickly.
He had stuck to his silent vow to be more consistent for Christine then he had been her first couple of months with him. He had rarely left home other than to tend to necessary errands. He walked with her outdoors when he knew it was safe for her. He was ever on the watch for Comte Lecter, but if the man was watching them he kept himself hidden well enough that Erik was unaware of his presence save for a handful of times. The man was as patient as Erik was and Erik was, for once, grateful for his mask. Of course, Lecter would know who Erik was by the mask but without the mask, Lecter would have no way of knowing that man and the masked man he saw Christine with were one and the same.
The snares and traps leading from the Opera House to his lair were increased in number since Christine had come live with him. He wanted no one mistakenly stumbling upon his lair. He didn't want her witnessing the death box he had created for any Opera personnel who happened to trip the switches and so forth to make their way near his lair. Few had dared venture so low in the bowels of the Opera, and even fewer had stumbled into his death box. Erik had enjoyed beyond belief watching as they slowly, painfully died.
The snares he had by the lake, however, he had had to disable for fear Christine would one day walk somewhere she shouldn't and get harmed.
Now, however, it seemed so petty, so foolish to have existed in such a fashion. He was too old to change, he certainly didn't hold the beliefs Christine did regarding her God. With Christine and their child he thought he had been given a chance for somewhat normal life and he was trying to walk the path presented him. Decreasing his dependence on the morphine had been difficult. At first, it had been unbearable, decades of reliance on the substance had made his system immune to small amounts. He had imbibed in more liquor at first to help ease the pain, but slowly and surely he had eased his dependence on the drug. He wasn't totally free of its hold on him, but he was getting there.
Today, however, Christine was not feeling well. Erik was tending to her as best as he could. He had been out once already to speak with the doctor. He wanted to ensure that a fever with no other symptoms beyond that of a light case of influenza so close to her due date was no cause for alarm. Assured only if her symptoms worsened was there cause to worry he had returned to care for and read to her while she rested.
Despite the intimacy they shared, Christine was still inhibited to a point. He had all he could do to convince her to sit in the parlor area with just her shift on. But he needed to sponge her off and could not do it if she had layers and layers of clothes on. It was so far the only form of therapy he could offer her to aid in keeping her comfortable.
She was sleeping at the moment in Erik's arms as they both reclined on his sofa. The cloth he had been wiping her down with was clutched in her hand so he knew she wasn't dead asleep yet. She hadn't slept at all the night before, so he didn't dare move for fear of waking her. He watched almost transfixed as he saw the visible signs through the thin material of her shift of his baby moving. It looked comical in her tiny frame. All he could do was hope the delivery went smoothly for her.
Tonight, the child was very active, more active than it had been for the past week or so. He had grown worried for a while, though he was careful not to voice his concern to Christine. The child had become so still it seemed that he had thought something was wrong. He knew he was worrying needlessly. He also knew that he more than likely should not be reproducing. But he couldn't hide the excitement either at the thought that inside of his beloved Christine was a part of each of them growing. He had seen pregnant women before, of course, but he had never been this close to them before. He had never been able to touch the mother's stomach as the baby moved. He had never been able to sing to the unborn child.
And sing to both Christine and the child Erik loved to do. He hadn't had occasion in years to sing for any sized audience, so it was odd for him at first to sing to Christine. She so obviously loved it, though, that it was hard for him to refuse and she stated that it was good for the baby. She said she could tell that his music calmed the baby already. He had no idea if that was true or not, but she seemed convinced of it and so he continued. Rarely a night or time for nap went by without his singing at least one song for her to sleep by.
He felt her abdomen under his hand tighten before he realized she had come awake. Her cry of pain made him realize what it was he had felt. He had felt a baby pain, whatever it was, he had felt it. How utterly amazing. He was going to be able to see the workings of the delivery process, and soon it seemed since the pain that she had experienced wasn't from her fever. Erik was always one that liked to experiment and tinker. Not that there was anything regarding Christine or their baby he would choose to experiment or tinker with, but it would be fascinating to watch and learn about the process. He had grown fond of the process of creating the baby over the months, he wasn't overly certain how fond of the process of birthing it he'd be. He certainly wasn't averse to blood and gore, he'd caused it more times then he could count and basked in the glory of that blood and gore when his kill had been an especially good one.
She fell back asleep after the pain had subsided much to his amazement. The way she had called out and clutched his hand he was surprised sleep would come to her again. He was glad though. He suspected somehow that hers would not be an easy or quick delivery. She was so small, he felt incredibly selfish at times for not having ridden her of the baby without her knowledge. Herbs could have been administered, but at the risk of losing her as well. And that was a risk he was not willing to take.
Did Erik realize that the baby could live and its mother might not survive childbirth? Yes, of course, but he wasn't fully conscious of the ramifications, the consequences of such a thing becoming reality. Christine would outlive him by decades. She was barely twenty, and he was double that and then some.
What Erik expected to take a short amount of time ended up taking hours. It was hours before her labor pains started coming close enough together to warrant getting her to the doctor. He dressed her with care, ensuring she was suitably warm without being too warm. She still hadn't broken her fever, he didn't want her to pass out from exhaustion. Though that might be a blessing, for them both, if that were to occur.
Hours turned into the next day and Erik lost track of time as yet a second day broke and the baby still had not delivered. He was assured this was normal, and though she was obviously in pain and frightened Christine herself tried to assure him that it was indeed normal. How she had knowledge of this fact he didn't know and didn't want to know. Now was not the time to discuss what Comte Lecter had discussed with her.
Finally, near the end of her second day of labor, the baby made its appearance into the world. The doctor had to use some light forceps to aid the head's delivery but after that it went rather easily. Erik had walked to the window at the word she was crowning, not wanting to see the baby now. He had grown fond of it inside of its mother's womb, as crazy as that sounded. Yet he vowed to himself, for his own peace of mind that if the baby looked anything like him he would leave it to die. He heard Christine's cries as she pushed with the labor pains, the squalls of the child, but heard no sound of horror or panic from the doctor. Perhaps he was just being kind since this was Erik's child. Erik couldn't help but turn and look.
The baby was rather wrinkled looking, but was a nice pink color with a thick deep red coating that Erik recognized as blood covering its skin. He stepped closer, frightened and hopeful at the same time.
"It's a boy," the doctor exclaimed in time for Christine to hear him and then pass out.
Erik was not surprised she did. Though the afterbirth still needed to be delivered, the doctor could help it out without her assistance. Erik looked at the baby in the private nurse's arms and let out an uncontrolled sigh of relief. He was normal. Not a patch of missing or decomposed appearing skin anywhere that he could see. His nose was intact and complete, his lips were pink and full, his eyes were bright blue and the most beautiful pair of eyes he'd ever looked into besides those belonging to Christine.
But this was different. Christine wasn't his. This baby, this boy was his son. He, somebody people had for years deemed a monster, had helped produce this beautiful and healthy baby. The doctor asked him if he wanted to hold his son once the umbilical cord had been severed, but truthfully Erik knew nothing about babies and was afraid he'd drop the boy. The babies he had seen before now were quite a bit bigger than this newly born one.
"I'll wait to hold him until Christine comes to."
"She'll need to be woken up soon, Monsieur," the nurse was speaking now as Erik watched her clean up his son for the first time.
"What for," he asked dumbly.
"Well, to feed him of course." She smiled at him, seeming to understand his nervousness and lack of knowledge on the subject.
"Oh yes of course, sustenance, he will need to eat, won't he?"
"Do you have a name picked out yet, Monsieur?"
"Nay, we had not thought of any yet," he admitted. "Anything but Erik," he added as an after thought.
"You don't like the name Erik Monsieur. I think that's a very strong name for a strong boy."
"One would think, wouldn't they," he replied dryly. "Nay, Erik is not a suitable name for any boy of mine."
The nurse finished her duties with the as of yet unnamed baby while Erik took a seat next to the bed Christine was laying on. He found her hand and took it, holding onto it tightly almost as if he was the one who had just gone through close to forty-eight hours of labor. But emotionally in some ways he had. He had not been prepared to kill the child. Months ago he had no qualms about doing it, had even thought it a necessity. Now he was not so sure anymore and was glad he didn't have to face the problem.
Christine came to a short while later, sore and generally in bad shape but she smiled when the doctor presented her with her son. He was bathed now, clean and in fresh blankets swaddling him. "He's beautiful," she said simply. "Please leave us, Doctor."
The doctor looked from Christine to Erik, the ultimate decision maker despite her request. He was after all the man, the father. Erik nodded at which the doctor stood and left the room.
"Take off your mask," she said softly.
"What," Erik demanded fiercely. Why of all days would she make such a request of him?
"I want to see you, Erik. I want to truly see you when you look at our son. Please, Erik, for me. I've asked so little of you. Just this once, remove the mask."
"Very well," he said somberly. What if the sight of him sent the baby into fits? He wasn't sure he was prepared to scare to death his own son. Maybe that was what she had in mind, he couldn't be sure. But he slowly removed the mask, his head lowered so she could not see anything but the top of his head and the few wisps of graying hair still visible there.
"Please, Erik. Look at me. Look at your son. And tell me that you're not grateful to at least once look upon him without your mask."
He did as she bid, unable to refuse her much of anything and she knew it. And she was right in what she had said a moment ago, she so rarely asked anything of him. It seemed so simple, to look at her, but she had no idea the inner struggle he experienced before his eyes finally looked into hers.
"You look tired," he admitted softly his large, thin and cold hand reaching out to cup the top of his son's head.
"I am," she said softly with a slight, forced smile. "Be careful of his head, Erik."
"Yes, yes. It's soft here, I know. It will close in time?"
"Yes, in time it will be gone."
"Good," he said relieved to here that this was not an abnormality.
"He's fine, Erik. Healthy, beautiful. He's perfect. Thank you," she whispered softly.
"You are thanking me," he asked incredulously unable to comprehend that as being fact.
"Yes, I am. I wouldn't have him if it weren't for you. I probably would never have had a child if it weren't for you."
"I'm sure your Comte friend would have seen to that."
"Nay, Erik, he couldn't have even if he'd wanted to. That was the reason he was willing to marry me. He can't have children."
"Oh," he said. And suddenly things were much clearer regarding Comte Lecter and his motives. He was looking for an heir. He didn't want a wife, but if marrying a willing and already pregnant Christine was part of the bargain for him to gain his heir he was willing to do it. Of course the man could do far worse for a wife than Christine. She would make a wonderful wife to a man who truly deserved her devotion. Lecter wasn't the man either, but Erik had no control over who she might choose.
"I was thinking of names. Have you any in mind?"
"Nay, Christine, none come to mind. Aside from Christopher, the masculine form of his mother's name I have no suggestions."
"I like Christopher. Or perhaps Christian."
Erik stood, smoothing the palm of his hand over the baby's head gently, slowly feeling the soft tufts of hair on his son's head. He was so tiny, so soft, so defenseless, and so vulnerable and Erik was now responsible for this life. "Whatever you want Christine."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. I should leave you so the nurse can go over feeding him with you. For some reason I sensed I was not to be included on such lessons. Silly, isn't it? I can watch as our son is born, I can help in making him, but I can't sit in the same room with you with your breasts exposed while you're feeding the child I helped create."
Christine flushed and dropped her eyes from Erik to their son. "I suppose it is silly. Perhaps."
Erik struggled to place his mask on once again but Christine placed her hand on his forearm to stop him. "What is it, Christine," he asked concerned.
"Thank you for taking it off for me."
He shrugged slightly, shrugging off just how big of an ordeal it was for him to give into her wish on this particular matter. "You're welcome." He leaned down to kiss her lightly, the kiss almost more paternal than husband or lover like. He then left the room, allowing the nurse to enter the room and go about teaching Christine the ins and outs of feeding their son.
Christine paced the stone floor with bare feet, exhausted and exasperated. Andre would not be quiet. She had bathed, him, fed him, and changed him and could think of no other reason for him to be so fussy. Erik seemed almost amused rather than annoyed by Andre's behavior and Christine's frustration. He was seated at his writing desk and while his head was down Christine knew when his eyes were on her. She felt it. And despite that feeling she still jumped when she heard his voice.
"Would you like me to take him for a while, Christine," he asked softly, politely.
Christine cringed slightly at his tone. He was trying so hard to be kind that it made her feel badly for bothering him. She knew Andre's late night antics were probably preventing him from getting his work done. She couldn't help it, though. "I'm sorry," she whispered clutching Andre to her, her hand against his head trying to soothe him that way.
Erik stood after covering the jar of ink and setting his pen down. "You have nothing to apologize for. Look at you, Christine. You haven't slept at all tonight and you aren't even wearing slippers."
"I know, I forgot to put them on."
"Let me take him, Christine."
"But you're working."
"Not on anything that can't wait. It's not like the public is awaiting my next work."
"Only because you don't chance making your work known, Erik. I wish you would let me try and sell one, to see what would happen."
Erik walked to her, taking Andre from her arms. He was still not overly confident in holding the baby, but he was careful to support the newborn's head. He sang softly to quiet the baby before responding to Christine. "Absolutely not. I write for fun, for the enjoyment, because the music is in my head and I have to write it down to banish it so that I can start on the next one. I do not do it for profit. I will not be subjected to their standards. And I will not have what I deem perfection altered."
Christine sighed, both grateful and jealous that Andre had quieted. He always quieted easily to Erik and his singing. She knew how her son must feel, Christine had always loved his voice. She still did. Secretly, she wanted to take one of his pieces without him knowing and see if someone would buy it. She knew he would grow furious with her if she did which is what stopped her. She did not want to be on the receiving end of his wrath. Love her or not, mother to his child or not he would still get angry. "I understand," she whispered looking away. Her hair hung loose around her face, a curtain of chocolate covered curls hiding her expression.
"I've upset you."
"No, you haven't upset me. I just want everyone to know what an able artist you are, Erik. That's all." She stepped up to him, her hand moving to cup her son's head. "I wish you wouldn't sing to him."
Erik looked at her sharply. "Why?"
"I'm afraid he'll grow used to it and one day you will not be here when he's fussing so and he'll be expecting you."
"I have no plans on that happening."
"But you can't be here every minute of every day."
"No, of course not, but I've been better about being here for months now, Christine."
"I know that," she demanded. She was well aware that he had gone to great lengths to be present as much as he could. They both needed their time away from one another, of course. Erik seemed to sense the necessity of that just as she did.
"I won't do it if it displeases you so, Christine. I was just trying to help. I know how tired you must still be. You shouldn't even be up and walking around yet."
"I can't sit in bed forever. I'm not an invalid and it's been four weeks, Erik. You don't come in to see me like you did before Andre was born and I admit I like watching you work."
"Yes, of course. I've watched you at times I think you don't even know I'm there. I try overly hard those times not to disturb you, but it's just so fascinating to watch you. I think now that I know you better, as a man, that I'm even more fascinated and amazed."
"You prefer knowing me as a man?"
She paused, her head lowered grazing the cold floor with the toes of one foot. That was a double-edged sword for Christine. She was glad to be here with her Angel, that he truly existed, but she knew that the way that they were living was sinful. She no longer dared go to Confession. She'd be saying ‘Hail Marys' for the rest of her life she feared. That fear kept her away, though she still wanted to go.
But on the other hand, this man was a genius unlike any man she'd ever read or dreamt about. Everything he touched was a success, including her. It was far less flattering to her that he had chosen her when she thought of him as an Angel. Knowing he probably could have taken Carlotta herself and turned her into a songbird made her question once more why he'd chosen her of all people was the biggest compliment she'd ever received.
She raised her head slightly and looked at Erik holding their son. He was obviously uncomfortable holding him, she knew it every time he took Andre. Yet he went out of his way to aid her as best as he could. There were things he could not assist her with, but she knew it troubled him that he could not. He was a good man, she had come to learn that during their last few months together.
Yet another reason she did not dare set foot in a Confessional booth. She was living with a murderer, but she suspected somehow that he had had reasons to murder. Not that committing such an act was justifiable under any reason, but she knew how powerless he felt at times. He had lots of anger, some of it was repressed, and Christine was able to understand that anger to a point. She doubted she'd ever truly comprehend what his life had been like.
But despite it all, his faults and his strengths all added up to make him who he was. And Christine realized for the first time that she loved who he was.
"Yes," she finally said raising her eyes to meet his though her head was still lowered slightly. She was afraid that he'd know what she had been thinking, where her thoughts had taken her. She wasn't prepared to admit she loved him. She was barely able to admit it to herself let alone to him. She should tell him, she knew. She should let him know how deeply he'd touched her life, but she couldn't go that far.
"Thank you," he said softly.
She smiled at that. "You're welcome." She hoped he hadn't been touching her thoughts just then, but he didn't react like she'd imagined he would if he learned she loved him. So she took that to mean he had not been.
"Would you like to place him in his crib?"
"Yes, of course," she rushed to him, her feet making a slight pattering noise against the stone floor beneath them as she walked. She took Andre from him. "I'm sorry."
He stopped her from walking away by placing a hand on her shoulder. "For what, Christine?"
"For interrupting your work and for not taking him as soon as he had quieted so that you could get back to work." She tried not to let him see how his touch affected her. He hadn't touched her often since Andre was born. She suspected perhaps it had been too much for him. She wondered if he would no longer come to her now, but she didn't dare ask for fear he'd interpret her curiosity for something else. Why she was curious she didn't know exactly. Did she miss his making love to her? No, she demanded. But tugging at the back of her head was a resounding yes. Not so much the act as the closeness they shared, he wasn't larger than life in those moments. She felt for a short while like she was helping to ease his pain, to help him feel normal, and she wanted to keep doing that for as long as she could.
"Please don't apologize, Christine. I don't mind. If I minded, I'd take my work into a room with a door that closed and ask that you not disturb me. I do that when working on my inventions, but not necessarily to keep you out as to keep the noise down and to keep the clutter from overflowing out of that room."
"I know," she admitted somewhat meekly. She hurried away from him, placing Andre in his crib. It was a crib that Erik had made by hand. It was simplistic yet ornate at the same time. The carvings were exquisite. She had no idea how long he had worked on it, she had only seen the finished product and hadn't realized he was making a crib. She ran her hand along the railing after raising it once Andre had been laid to rest in it. The wood was so smooth, such care had gone into making it. She hoped one day Andre would appreciate the effort that Erik had gone through to make it.
She returned to the main room, surprised to see he had taken to the sofa instead of back to his writing desk. "Are you done for the night," she asked. She was looking forward to getting some sleep but she missed sitting with him as well. As if the decision had already been made for her, she joined him on the sofa.
"No, I just thought I'd sit with you until you drifted off too. Then I can take you to bed and tuck you in for the night. He should sleep for the rest of the night, yes?"
She should have been bothered that he wasn't fully aware of their son's sleeping patterns yet, but with the schedule he kept she doubted sometimes he knew whether it was night or day. "Yes, he's only waking up this one time now. About this time every night. I think shortly he'll be sleeping through the night," she said, not bothering to hide the relief from her voice. Her head rested against his shoulder, finding comfort in being near him.
He kissed the top of her head. "I'm sure that will be welcome when it happens."
"Yes, unbelievably so," she said softly with a yawn. "That sounds horribly selfish, doesn't it?"
"Not at all, Christine, I'm sure you're not the only new mother who has felt that way."
"I hope not. I cherish him, I really do. I never thought I could feel about a person as I do about him."
"I'm glad," he said softly. "You deserve it, Christine. You could have very easily seen him as a burden and treated him indifferently given how he came to be."
"Never," she said adamantly. She curled her feet underneath her to keep them warm, nestling against him more. "I can't think of anyone else's child I'd rather he be, Erik."
There was a long moment of silence. "Can't you," he asked finally.
"No," she was too tired to argue or to inquire as to who else he believed she wanted to bear children to.
"Nor can I, so I'm glad you feel the same way."
"Did you want children before now?"
He laughed loudly. "No. The thought never entered my mind, Christine. I think had I had the opportunity to try before you I would have gone out of my way not to."
"You mean," she paused unsure how to ask her question. It was incredibly bold and improper of her to ask it. "I'm the only woman you've been with?"
"I thought you had figured that out by now," he said clearly surprised.
"I, well, now that I know that, yes it does seem obvious by some of the things you've said over the past few months. But I had never given it any thought. I just assumed you had been."
"Well, you're quite a bit older then me and experienced in a vast array of things. I just assumed that was one of them."
"Does it bother you," he asked.
"No. Truthfully, it's one of the things I love about you, Erik. I don't feel like I'm one of many, I feel like I'm one of one."
"You are, Christine, the only one." He paused. "Did you mean what you just said?"
"Yes, I feel special, Erik. I admit at first I didn't, I was upset, but that's not true anymore."
"No, I meant about loving me. You've never said it before."
"I've been afraid to. But, yes, I do. I don't know that I really realized it until tonight."
"When you asked me if I liked knowing you as a man better than my Angel and I realized that I did. That's another way you make me feel special. I can't tell you how flattered I am that you've chosen me to teach, to share all of this with."
"Soon you should be able to return to singing."
"Do you think so? I still feel so incredibly tired. And physically, I don't know that I look right."
"While I haven't seen you out of your shift since the day Andre was born, I assure you you look fine to me."
"I'm willing to try whenever you think I'm ready to, Erik."
"A few more weeks yet, I think," he said softly rubbing his good cheek over the top of her head. "And Christine," he said softly. "I love you as well. I'd do anything for you."
"I know that," she murmured softly. Sleep was shrouding her in its embrace, and she welcomed it just now. She was exhausted and cold.
"Good night, Christine."
"Night," she murmured again.
She felt Erik take her into his arms and carry her to bed. Felt the blankets as he brought them around her and sighed softly. She was at that point where she was still conscious, but unable to talk or do anything other than just enjoy being taken care of. Soon, though, she was unaware of anything around her at all as sleep overtook her completely.
Once assured Christine was indeed asleep Erik left the room. His intention was to return to the main room and work once more on his score. The music and lyrics both were flowing freely through his mind, so freely that he could barely stand to shut his eyes for fear that he'd miss something. But instead he extinguished all the candles and lamps, leaving one on that lighted the way to Andre's bedroom and returned to Christine's room.
She had told him she loved him, not of her own free will and it wasn't a boisterous declaration. But she had said it nonetheless. He hadn't been overly sure since Andre's birth just how she would feel if he came to her. Not that he would come to her expecting lovemaking so soon after she had given birth. He did still long to hold her, though.
There were nights when Erik knew she needed him, even while she slept. She never spoke of her dreams, never explained the reasons behind her restlessness some nights. Erik suspected her father's death and years of having no one to count on but herself played into it. He knew that a long time of having to watch how much she spent, how much she ate and how much coal she used to heat her home had left her afraid.
She had been sleeping better as far as Erik could tell, aside from her sleep being disturbed by Andre and his needs. But still tonight he was drawn to her. Almost five weeks he had refrained from sleeping with her and even longer since he'd touched her in an intimate way. That was in truth part of the reason he stayed away now. Not that he was insatiable, that wasn't it, but he had grown accustomed to being able to when the need to presented itself. He wasn't so sure in sleep he wouldn't do something foolish.
Not one to need much sleep himself, Erik found himself drifting off to sleep anyway. The soothing sound of her sleep laced breathing lulled him to sleep quickly.
Christine stirred clutching the bed's sheet in her tiny hand. Her lack of good sleep these past few weeks wasn't entirely due to Andre. She had missed Erik dreadfully. During the past few months whenever she had woken from a bad dream or been frightened by an unfamiliar sound always Erik was there to comfort her. She could turn to him, bury her head in his chest and shake with or without tears and he let her take solace in him. It was as if his arms granted her sanctuary from her troubles, for in his arms nothing seemed as bad as she originally thought. She called out Erik's name in her sleep induced state, not realizing that she was in fact clutching the front of his nightshirt not the bed sheet.
"I'm here, Christine," he said softly, his hand caressing her hair and cheek lightly.
Her breathing calmed and her hold on his shirt front loosened slightly. Gone was the panic she had felt at the thought of being alone. Her hand moved from his chest. She caressed him gently through his shirt, reaching for his neck. If she heard his soft moan in response to her touch, there was no indication of it. Her caress grew bolder as she reached to bring him toward her.
Erik knew he should wake her, she was obviously unaware of what she was doing. She had touched him of her own accord before this. It hadn't been like this though. This was bold and sensual in nature and very unlike Christine. It made him wonder just what she was dreaming or thinking about at the moment.
Then she was kissing him, light, butterfly like kisses against his face, mouth, chin and, "oh God," he muttered, even his neck. He tilted his head back slightly, allowing her to kiss his neck better.
"Take off your mask," she whispered.
Erik's head moved forward quickly, surprised by her request. "What?"
She looked up at him. "Take off your mask."
"Please, Erik. You never take it off. I've never really felt you kissing me."
He did so begrudgingly, not sure just how she wanted him to kiss her. He had kissed her before, many times. He thought, too, he'd done a reasonably good job of it. At least his kisses had seemed to do the job they were supposed to do.
"Thank you," she whispered softly and with only the briefest hesitation kissed his cheek and then his jaw.
"Christine, you don't have to do that," he whispered.
"I do," she maintained. "How can I claim to love you if I make you keep the mask on all the time?"
"You don't make me, Christine. I wear it willingly."
"But you shouldn't have to, not in your house," she said softly almost timidly.
"But," he started to protest further but he was prevented from speaking further by her kiss. His hands went around her waist, still so tiny even after bearing his child. It had been weeks since they'd kissed like this, and it had always been at his instigation not hers.
"I've missed you," she said softly, placing her cheek against his mouth. "I kept waiting for you to come to me again, but morning after morning I'd wake up alone."
"I'm sorry," he whispered kissing her cheek. As she moved her head, he kissed a new place until he was kissing her jaw and her neck. He nibbled lightly there, which she seemed to like and so he continued.
"You're here now. Just please don't leave me alone at night again."
"I won't," he promised. He assumed their kissing was through when he felt her sit up. His hands slid away from her waist to each hip. He was about to ask what she was doing when he felt the thin material of her shift pull away from underneath his hands. "Christine," he said questioningly.
She placed a fingertip over his lips after setting her shift aside. "You've done so much for me, Erik. Please let me do this."
Unable to deny the fact her being assertive was arousing as hell he was wondering if he should just shut up and let her do what she seemed hell bent on doing. "You don't owe me anything, Christine. Certainly not this," he demanded.
She placed her mouth over his, her hands moving to either side of his face as she moved to straddle him. He could feel her lower herself to him, could feel her hesitate. Should they even be doing this? He didn't know and he imagined she would know better than he if she was able. "If it hurts you, Christine, please stop," he said the closest he was going to get at this point to telling her to stop.
He was grateful for his keen vision, because even in the dark room he was able to look upon her and see her as she moved. She was so beautiful like that, so timid and unsure of herself but she seemed to need to do this. He certainly wasn't of the mind to argue with her, not now at any rate.
He wasn't sure she realized he was able to see her as clearly as he could, which for once he was glad. It left him able to watch her. Never before had he been able to look at her like this, until tonight he had always been the initiator. He had always been atop of her and had sensed she did not want him looking upon her. It had been difficult for him to do, but he had until tonight abided by those unspoken wishes.
Despite their physical intimacy, she still bathed out of his view and rarely was he allowed to view her when she wasn't fully dressed. Now that Andre was born, she had been less adamant about that as it was impractical to dress fully every time a baby woke up during the night.
But surely with her initiating this and not just initiating it but moving atop him instead of simply suggesting she wanted him in this way as they normally went about it he had the right to look. Her abdomen was flat once again and luckily there were no unbecoming marks from her having carried Andre for those nine months.
Not that the marks would have bothered him any, but he knew once she went back to the Opera she would have someone aiding her in dressing each night. She would not have wanted physical evidence of the baby, proof of her lie. Proof of the life of sin he had unintentionally forced her into living.
Her breasts were fuller, effects of having to nurse Andre herself. He reached to touch her there, he had before but never in this way. His touch had always been brief, as he sensed she wanted it to be. Enough to bring about her body being ready for him, but rarely beyond that. And he always felt guilty about that, that she saw this act as a duty.
Tonight she didn't seem to have this opinion of the act and he took advantage of her seeming willingness to look at and touch her like he'd wanted to do over the past few months. By her body's reaction and that of her verbal reaction to his touch, she seemed to like it too.
He only hoped later, when this was finished, that she did not regret what she had done. He hoped, too, that tonight would not be the only night she was bold enough to do this. He sensed, though, that he would not be so lucky. She was doing this out of some sense of need, and he wasn't sure that need would happen again. But despite knowing it wasn't desire or want that was driving her, Erik couldn't help but enjoy it.
Her hands touched his face, all of it, and he kept waiting for her to realize just what she was touching and pull away. But she didn't and he groaned softly in response, unable to stop himself. The love and acceptance he had craved for years she was, knowingly or not, giving him this night. A night that started with a simple request of him removing his mask, a request that had he allowed it to could have turned into an argument rather than this. If he believed in Christine's God, he'd be thanking him right now for giving him the strength and the insight not to argue.
One thing about their lovemaking Erik could take pride in was that he had obtained enough learning knowledge to know that a woman could obtain pleasure just as a man could. He had never been selfish with Christine, other than perhaps their first night together not quite a year ago now. Tonight was no exception, though the physical aspect of bringing about her pleasure was a little different. He wondered if before tonight she had realized exactly what he did to aid in this sought after release. If she didn't, she did now. Being on top of him, there was no mistaking how he went about assisting her in this.
She remained laying on top of him, clutching to him as if her life depended on his remaining there with her. He was overcome by her neediness. Did she think he was leaving her? Was that what tonight was for? An attempt to prevent him from leaving. He had no plans on leaving her, but perhaps some of his thoughts when he had been tapping into her thoughts had been conveyed to her unwittingly. He hoped that wasn't the case.
"Are you all right," he asked his voice gruffer than he intended it on being. He was still in shock over what had just happened. Well more than an hour had passed from when she first started kissing him.
"I'm fine, Erik. Thank you."
"For what," he couldn't help but laugh lightly at that. "I should be thanking you."
"No, you shouldn't be, you deserve so much more than what I'm able to give you," she said softly her head still buried against his bare chest. "I meant for taking off your mask for me. I know you don't like to."
"I don't mind so much when the request is made by you, Christine." His long, thin fingers made their way through the heavy curtain that was her hair draping across his shoulders and upper arms. He would never tire of touching her like this. He could forego the actual act of making love entirely if they could retain this closeness that came after it. Tonight, though, was different than normal.
"I know, but I try not to. I just wanted to see you."
He swallowed hard. She could see him? "Why," he asked hoarsely not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
"I wanted to know if you disapproved."
"And you think my mask could hide that?"
"Yes. I knew with it off you would feel sort of vulnerable and be more apt to reveal your disapproval if you felt it."
"I don't. I not only approve but you've made me very happy."
"I'm glad," she said simply. "You won't expect it of me often, will you?"
Erik laughed heartily. "No. If you didn't like it, don't do it again."
"It's not that I didn't like it," she said softly and then paused. "It's just I'm not sure it's right."
"It's only wrong if you feel that it's wrong, Christine. I'm not the person to tell you whether it is or not, only you can do that."
"Thank you," she said softly, kissing his chest.
"Are you ready to go back to sleep then?"
"Yes," she said softly. "I was having the oddest dream. I was reaching for you and you weren't there. So when I woke up and you were here I was so glad."
"Perhaps I should spend a month away from your bed again if that's the welcome back I'll get."
"Don't you dare," she said quickly, lifting her head to look at him.
He smiled widely, the gesture obscured slightly on his face. "I wouldn't dare, no. It was for your benefit I stayed away. I knew you weren't fully healed yet and in my sleep I didn't want to do something foolish."
"I know. I think I just proved to you I'm fine now. So please don't stay away. I don't sleep well without you and now that Andre is sleeping through the night mostly I'd like to sleep again."
"I know," he said feeling on the bed for his mask. He found it and clutched it in his hand before bringing it to his face. How nice it would be to leave it off entirely. He wasn't sure what she'd think about that in the morning, though. So he placed it back over his head, in its rightful place.
"Christine," he said when she'd been quiet for a moment.
"Hmm," she murmured sleepily.
"I love you."
"I love you, too," she murmured.
Erik felt her slight form slide from on top of him so she was now lying beside him. Her head, though, and one of her hands still remained resting on his chest. He liked her on top of him better, but he would take this show of closeness too.
Hannibal stood in his hiding place hoping today he'd catch a glimpse of Christine. It had been weeks since he'd seen her. He wasn't concerned, though. Quite the contrary, he assumed due to her size when last he observed her that she had had the baby by now. Enough time had gone by, though, that she shouldn't be bedridden any longer. So he'd returned to his observing place.
It was close to sunset, the time she had normally taken to walking. Sure enough, she came into view and he watched, pleased that he had been right. She had obviously had the baby. He wondered what it had been. He hoped it had been a boy, curious why he cared so much. She had obviously made her decision, and that decision did not include Hannibal Lecter.
Lecter made his way closer, careful in his step to avoid stepping on any twigs or rubbish on the ground. Her figure had filled out as he thought it might have with childbirth and the elements that went with it. But she looked tired and worn, even more so than he'd have imagined from a rough delivery. Was she not well? He grew concerned and it was that concern that led him to approach her.
He hadn't intended on approaching her and knew he would startle her, but if there was something wrong he could at least provide medical attention without anyone else knowing. Of course, she'd be indebted to him for his kindness, but he'd come up with a way for her to repay him that was suitable to all involved.
"Mademoiselle Daae," he said politely as he walked towards her. He was just a man out for a late evening stroll. He enjoyed attending the Opera, so his presence here shouldn't come to her as a great surprise. He saw her visibly jump at his calling her name, and couldn't help but laugh to himself.
"Monsieur Lecter," she spun around to face him, clutching her cloak to her throat.
"I am not here to hurt you, Mademoiselle. I was surprised to see you. The Opera management told me you'd left town. I presume that was just a tale you told to aid you in having your child." He gestured with his hand to her abdominal area. "I trust you've had it and all is well."
"Ye-Yes," she stammered.
Lecter knew he had shocked her. Men not married to a woman didn't go around asking that woman about their pregnancies and babies. "You look well. A little worn perhaps, newborns can cause one to lose out on sleep."
"How did you know when I'd had him?"
So it had been a boy. "I'm not a fool, Christine. I deduced some things and took your absence from the Opera to mean you were unable to go on stage anymore without your condition being obvious. And you're slight enough that I imagined it might have been a little sooner than some."
Christine flushed deeply. "We're doing well Comte, both of us. Thank you for asking."
"You're welcome," he said though his attention was no longer on her. His keen sense of smell had picked up on a familiar scent. One he had smelled often while near the Opera here. He had no idea what it was, but as he saw a man dressed in black emerge from what he assumed was a cave of some sort the unfamiliar scent grew more intense and Lecter realized it must be this man. Though he smelled like no man Hannibal Lecter had encountered before.
"Christine," he spoke not having seen Lecter yet.
"Yes, I was on my way in."
"You," Erik said unable to hide the possessiveness and ferociousness in his voice even with only a one word utterance. He reached for his Punjab lasso, but regretfully the damned thing wasn't there. Of course it wasn't because he had stopped carrying it at some point during the last few months. Christine, though she didn't know exactly how deadly the item was, had requested he stop carrying it with him. Unable to deny her much of anything, he had abided by her request.
Lecter was legitimately confused. This man knew who he was? But of course it made sense, he must have been watching as Lecter watched Christine. The smell, he should have known, but he had never imagined it had belonged to another person. The mask was a little odd. Was he hiding from something or hiding something from others? He'd be curious to find out.
"You know this man, Christine," Lecter asked.
"You'd do well to address her properly, Comte," Erik said bitingly. He honestly could barely stomach this man's presence let alone address him by his title.
"I would, would I? She's never had a problem with my addressing her by her given name before now. You have me at an advantage, for you know me but I don't know you."
"Comte. Erik. Please," Christine pleaded. "Comte, please just go. You shouldn't have come here. You shouldn't have talked to me."
"Is this man so uncertain of your loyalty that he forbids you to associate with anyone but him," he asked bitingly before turning his attentions to Erik. "Erik, is it. I've noticed over the months no wedding band on her marriage finger. You would ruin her to save from tying yourself down. Is that it?"
"Comte, please don't," Christine pleaded. "You don't know what you are you saying."
"And you," Lecter said glaring at her now. His maroon eyes flickered briefly with rage, the only part of him that depicted his mood. "I offered to marry you, to give you a name and to save your child from bastardization. And you turn me down to merely be someone's lover? So much for that propriety I thought you followed to the letter."
"No," she demanded. "I do. I mean I'm not." She looked to Erik pleadingly to come to her rescue.
"Our relationship is none of your concern, Comte. And while I cannot ask you to leave, as I do not own this property, I can ask you to leave Christine alone." He turned his attentions to Christine. "Go inside, Christine," he demanded.
Erik wielded his dagger once assured Christine was inside, he was used to being on the offensive but this time was different. He would not strike first, but he would certainly be prepared for what Lecter did. And he felt it with every bone in his body that Lecter would strike him. He had come here for a reason, to get Christine, and Erik didn't think Hannibal Lecter would stop until he had gotten her.
Lecter had obviously hit on a nerve with the both of them by bringing up their not being married. "Don't you love her enough to marry her? Or do you enjoy knowing you can turn her into something she's not? As if her reputation isn't ruined enough by her chosen occupation. How is she going to explain a child? You talked her into turning me down, didn't you? And for what?"
"I thought it was in her best interest I not marry her, Hannibal," he said dropping formalities entirely. "As if it's any concern of yours. My family is not your business."
"You should have made her your wife if you want other people to know she's your family."
"Damn it," he swore and in a fit of both anger and guilt struck out at him with the dagger. His aim was good, dead on, but Lecter was quicker and just as strong. He had been prepared for his attempt and blocked the blow. Lecter's forearm connected with Erik's forearm rendering the dagger for that moment useless. He was not successful in jarring the dagger free, but he knew he'd get another opportunity.
"You've been watching me watch her, haven't you? I didn't realize it until now, but I smelled you. Were you fearful she was meeting me? That you don't please her enough?"
"No," Erik countered. That thought had never entered his mind in all the times he'd watched Hannibal. His concern had been for Christine's safety. Erik had believed that the man standing before him would attempt some violent act as revenge for her turning him down. "She loves me. She could never love you. I know what you do, Hannibal," he said distastefully. "I've followed you at night. Apparently, you weren't able to catch my scent those occasions. I'm curious to know just how many victims you have under your belt. More than me I'd wager."
Lecter's gaze faltered briefly, ensuring Christine was not nearby and that she had not heard. He saw her step out of the cave's entrance again holding the baby, but she had not heard. At least Lecter didn't think she'd heard. Lecter was briefly, very briefly, distracted by sight of the baby at last. Not that there weren't other babies to be had, but the type of women that normally came up pregnant weren't the type that would stay out of Lecter's affairs. That was why he wanted the silent, obedient Christine Daae as his wife and mother to his child.
Strength wise this Erik would be a formidable opponent and perhaps in a battle of wits he would be, too. Lecter believed the man to be intelligent, he picked up on it even from their brief encounter here and now. But Erik had a weakness Hannibal Lecter did not, love. Erik loved the girl, Lecter loved no one. Sure he was capable of feeling and of caring, but he would use Erik's love for Christine and evidently hers for him to his advantage. He also had another advantage, Lecter knew Christine was back again watching them. Erik did not know this.
"You think so," Lecter replied rather calmly. If he was worried or frightened at the moment, or uncertain that he would be victorious he hid it well. Instead, he simply smiled at his opponent, one of the only victims Lecter would allow to fight back before he finished him off. And Lecter knew without a doubt that by the end of this Erik would be another one of his victims.
"You don't deserve her. At least I don't mislead people into believing something I'm not."
"Ah, of course you don't, which of course explains why you stand before me as a man and not as the ghost most believe you to be."
"I'd rather kill the child then let you rear him, Comte."
"The child? You cannot even address him by his name? Is that all he is to you? The child. You are such a fool. Do you really think she will stay here with you and remain happy? Once one or two more children come out of it and she can no longer sing because she's no longer the petite diva all have flocked to see perform, she will resent you. She will resent you and the children you give her. You've taken her away from everything she believes in Erik." Lecter sensed by the veins on Erik's neck that were now protruding almost perversely that he was indeed striking a note with the man. "What have you given her? Please tell me what she has given you that she is better off because of it? Her career? She may not have that anymore because of you. So that's not the right response."
It happened so quickly, too quickly. Erik lunged at him and at the same time Lecter drew a pistol from his side and fired. The bullet landed in Erik's shoulder causing him to fall back, dropping the dagger he had been using to attack Lecter, and clutching his shoulder. Lecter knew that Christine had seen Erik as the aggressor. Lecter had, after all, just been talking.
Christine screamed out, petrified, clutching Andre to her chest as if to hide him from the sight being played out before them. Somehow, she had no idea where she got the strength to do it, Christine ran toward both men. She saw the look in Comte Lecter's eyes. He was going to shoot him a second time. Christine knew nothing about guns, but she knew that the wound to his shoulder might not be fatal. "Please, Hannibal, Comte. Please don't kill him. Please you'd be killing a part of me as well. Please I beg of you, don't do this to us."
"You love this man who won't marry you so much you'd plead with me for his life?"
Christine's lower lip trembled slightly, but otherwise she showed no sign of wavering. Her grip on his forearm tightened. "Yes, I do. I don't need the vows spoken in a church to believe he will do as a husband would for any wife. A father to any child of his." She lifted her chin defiantly, daring Comte to challenge her.
"Then come with me."
"What," she cried out.
"You heard me. Come with me, or I'll shoot him again. And then you're on your own."
"You wouldn't dare!"
Two sets of eyes met, one maroon and one blue. Neither said anything, the sound of the hammer on the gun being pulled back again. "Don't test me, Christine. I'll marry you. I'll arrange it so that it will appear we were married a year ago. You can still work at the Opera. You will be treated well and fairly, Christine, as well as your son. You will be Comtesse. Who would dare ridicule you then?"
Christine faltered first. Her eyes closed tightly as she turned her head in Erik's direction. She opened her eyes and looked at him, lying on the ground obviously in pain. Would he die anyway? She did not know. But surely a second bullet perfectly aimed would mean he definitely would not survive. "I," she stammered. Even through the mask she could see the fear in his eyes. She had never seen that emotion there in his eyes before now and it startled her. Humbled her. "I'll do anything to spare him, Hannibal. But you must promise me to send a doctor here for him. Or you can shoot me here and now as well. I won't leave him here to die. He," she started trembling and her eyes filled with tears she was unable to prevent from spilling over onto her pale cheeks. "He wouldn't want people to see him, Hannibal. Please."
"Christine," Erik said weakly, his voice barely a whisper. "No."
"What other choice do I have, Erik," she asked kneeling before him. "I cannot live without you. Where would I go? What would I do?" The tears were falling quickly and in abundance now. She kissed him boldly on the mouth. "Remember your promise, Erik," she whispered against his ear. "I cannot sleep without you. I need you here. At least knowing you're alive will be some solace to me."
Erik forced his eyes closed, the pain in his shoulder was unbearable but he'd live. The pain from knowing she would choose that man, that animal, to save his life was more than he could bear. His life wasn't worth saving, didn't she realize this? Obviously she did not, she believed she needed him. And when she kissed him like that, spoke to him so passionately, it was difficult for him to say no to her. Even if it was her wanting to leave him. He knew she was going to leave one day, it was inevitable, but it didn't mean he liked it. He'd rather never have experienced any of the past few months then to have to experience this moment. He turned his head away from her. "Go," he whispered. "Go!"
"I love you," she whispered not caring that she was not only getting blood on her but on Andre from Erik's shoulder wound. "Please know that."
He couldn't bear it and he didn't want to hear her words of love, not when she was agreeing to be someone else's wife. Anyone but Comte. Anyone else and Erik could perhaps have dealt with it. "Be careful," he whispered hoarsely. "Please be careful, but go. Do not worry about me, Christine. Whether I live or die, I will never leave you. You have our son, take strength in him. And give him your strength."
Christine wasn't about to argue with him about whether she possessed strength or not. She stood, clutching Andre to her and faced Lecter, her cheeks stained from the tears. Her eyes were red and swollen. "You will have a doctor come for him, yes?"
"Yes, Christine, I am not a murderer. I will come back myself and tend his wound."
If Christine heard the light laugh that came from Erik at Lecter's words she did not give any indication. She was too deep in thought as to just what she was agreeing to. What other choice did she have? She could never live with herself knowing that she was responsible for Erik's dying. Or anyone else dying for that matter, but certainly not Erik. She didn't want to marry Comte. She certainly didn't want to be a wife to Comte. That was something she had come to enjoy with Erik, but never with anyone else.
She lifted her skirt with one hand and nodded her head. She had no idea what else there was to do. Demand she wait there until Lecter return with what ever he needed to tend the wound? She wasn't sure she could bear to sit with Erik, not knowing if each breath was to be his last. Knowing she'd only have to leave him when it was all said and done. No, it was better she go now. She would surely know, in her heart and in her head both if Erik died.
She looked once more at Erik. "I'm sorry," she said softly. And she was sorry. More than she believed he could ever understand. As much as she had wanted him to marry her she would have stayed here with him. She was good for him, she believed that. And he helped her in ways no one else ever would or could. There was no sense dwelling on it now. She sighed softly and followed Comte to his coach.
She sat quietly, not loosening her tight grasp on Andre the entire ride to Lecter's estate. She was nervous and frightened. She was shown to her bedroom, a different one from the one she had slept in one night months and months ago. She panicked when she heard the sound of a lock falling into place after Lecter had left the room. She rushed to the door just as Lecter opened the door, nearly hitting her in the face with the door. "I thought you'd locked me in," she said.
Lecter laughed lightly. "No, I'm afraid not. Should I do that? Would that make you feel more at home, Christine?"
"No, Comte, it would not. But I am not here necessarily of my free will."
"I suppose not. I," he said holding the key up before placing it in the palm of her hand. "I just wanted you to know that you can lock me out."
"Oh," she said softly. "I didn't realize. Thank you," she said clearly relieved.
"I will go see to your lover now. It's late enough in the season no one should have stumbled across him accidentally."
"Please don't call him that. You make it sound so," she paused searching for the right word.
Christine blushed deeply. "Yes," she said simply knowing it was indeed sinful what she had been doing.
"It is what it is, Christine. I'm not a pious person, don't get me wrong. But don't lie about it." Lecter laughed heartily knowing he had shocked her and turned, leaving the room. He turned again briefly once he had stepped across the threshold to the hallway. "All rooms you're allowed to enter are open. Any locked, I will expect you to respect my work and stay out of."
"Of course, Comte," she whispered and despite herself followed the words by a polite curtsey even though he couldn't see her.
In Lecter's absence, Christine was approached by servant after servant welcoming her to his home and telling her who they were. There were so many, Christine wasn't sure she'd ever know for sure who was who. The most important seemed to be her maidservant, Lecter's manservant, the servant for Andre who indicated that she would arrange for a wet nurse and the cook. Christine wasn't so sure she wanted a wet nurse for Andre, she would have to talk to Lecter about that later. Beyond that there were house servants who cleaned, gardeners, and servants to help servants.
Christine hadn't realized Comte would have all of this! She did not deserve all of this, and she wondered yet again what on earth she had done to get this. The fact that she had basically sold herself, and Erik, to get it wasn't lost on her. She could only hope that Comte would help Erik as he said he would. Christine had no reason to believe he would not keep his word on that. She was standing out on her balcony enjoying the view of Hannibal's gardens.
It seemed like hours had gone by when her maidservant came into the room. "Comtesse," she said with a curtsey.
"Christine," Christine said softly as she walked from the balcony into the room. "Please call me Christine, Bella." Christine offered her what she hoped was a polite smile, a nice smile and waited for what Bella had come to tell her. Perhaps Hannibal had returned home and wished to see her. Was Erik dead? She could only pray he was not, unaware if at this point her prayers would even be answered.
"If you say so, Lady Christine," Bella smiled a small smile. "The dressmaker has come to call for you, should I send her up here?"
"Yes, Miss, dressmaker. To fit you for the clothes you'll be needing, of course."
"Of course," Christine said with an authoritative nod as if she had a clue as to why she'd need more clothes. She had plenty of clothes at Erik's home, her home, that she could bring with her. Hannibal hadn't given her any time to collect anything, not even for Andre.
"She also has clothes for the baby, Milady."
"Oh," she exclaimed. He had thought of everything hadn't he? And why was Bella already referring to her as Comtesse? Did she believe they were already married? Oh dear Lord, was Hannibal going to come to her tonight expecting favors? Surely he wouldn't. She couldn't do it. She'd just assume run away then have to do that.
"Yes, I'm fine, Bella. Thank you. I just got lost in thought," she said with a slight shrug of her shoulders.
"Should I send the dressmaker up here then?"
"Yes, please do, Bella. Thank you. And she has things for Andre, you say?"
"Yes. Most unfortunate your trunks being lost as they were, but Comte will ensure all is replaced soon enough."
"I know he will," Christine smiled dismissively. Did his staff not find it strange he'd come home with her so suddenly and unexpectedly? Where had the servants been the night she had dinner with him months ago? Had he given them all the night off in the hopes that they would end up in bed together? She shuddered at that thought. Not that Hannibal was unattractive. He was indeed a handsome man, a gentle man. Christine knew she could do far worse in such an arrangement then being here.
Lecter stood where he knew was the spot he had left Erik. The man was gone. There was a rather large spot of blood on the grass, so Lecter knew for a fact he had the right spot. He glanced around him debating about whether or not to look any further. Obviously if the man had been well enough to get to his feet and take himself to wherever he came from he didn't need Lecter's aid.
On the other hand, if someone had happened upon him and taken him to a doctor, Lecter might very well be in some legal trouble. He wasn't so sure Christine would defend his honor over her lover's. Once they were married, there would be nothing she could say, but they were as of yet not. That would be remedied at the latest tomorrow, though. He, too, wasn't sure she'd be brave enough to admit publicly what her relationship with Erik had been. And Lecter while a gentleman, if it came to his being imprisoned would not hesitate to make that information public.
His decision was made when he realized he had no idea where the man lived. He assumed it was somewhere within the Opera House, somewhere through the cave he had observed Christine exit from and enter over the months. If the man was well enough to walk away there was nothing saying he wasn't waiting for Lecter somewhere, and he preferred to live another day. Lecter didn't believe he had anything to fear from Erik as far as the man himself going to the authorities. What was the man going to say? He'd have to admit to who he was, and Hannibal didn't see that happening.
After one stop after the Opera House, Lecter returned to his home. He knew the dressmaker he had sent for would have come and gone by now. He had left very specific instructions for the styles and colors he would approve of for his Comtesse. On stage she could dress as her profession required, but off stage she would dress as he deemed fit for her newly acquired position. He didn't think she'd protest much, she had been raised properly enough he believed for her to know what she represented.
In truth, once the birth papers were drawn up making Andre his Christine would then be expendable. He would not let her carry on and make a fool of him under his nose. People would then begin to question Andre's paternity and while there was no way they could prove it one way or the other, Lecter did not want the boy he would be raising as his son to live with those rumors throughout his life. No, he would keep Christine until she proved to be a hindrance to him or until he believed Andre no longer clung to his mother's skirts. The boy would of course need a mother for a little while. Lecter himself knew first hand how traumatic losing your parents at an early age could be, he would not do that to his child unless he had to. At least in the absence of his mother, Andre would still have his father to raise him. He would not lose both parents at the same time as Lecter had lost his.
Told he could find her in the library, he walked to this room and knocked lightly before entering. He had to smile despite himself. She sat on the floor, her knees gathered underneath her, and her long brown hair a mass of curls surrounding her face almost hiding her from view. He wondered why she chose the floor, but decided not to ask or push her into believing she had to pretend to be comfortable where she was not.
"What are you reading," he asked as he took a seat near her without seating himself too close.
She jumped visibly at the sound of his voice, the shock and surprise on her face evident as she looked at him. "I'm sorry, Comte, I did not hear anyone come in. Did you say something to me?"
Lecter laughed and smiled amused, his tiny white teeth visible as he looked at her. "Yes, I asked what you were reading. Obviously it must be good."
"I was reading Euripides actually," she said holding up the volume he had on Greek tragedies. "I've never read him before."
"I'm glad you've found something of interest, Medea is my favorite." He rubbed his hands on the knees of his trousers and stood once more. "I did not mean to disturb you, but I do want to be honest with you as well. I was unable to find your Erik. When I got there he was gone. I know your instinct is to want to go find him, and I will allow you to go but only after we have been married and with me accompanying you. No offense, but I will not be made a cuckold no matter how farcical this marriage might be."
"Of course not," she said blushing deeply. "I would just like to know he's all right nothing more, Comte. I would never forsake a wedding vow, for anyone."
"Of course you wouldn't," he replied dryly knowing she indeed would. He could read her face clearly and saw that she was more than just a little concerned for her Erik. He did as he had promised, it wasn't his fault the man wasn't there.
"A friend of mine will be by this evening to marry us. It will be small, private, and the paperwork will indicate we were married some time in June."
"Yes, I noticed your servants addressed me as Comtesse. Where have I been? And how did a baby come out of our marriage when we've been apart?"
"Ah that's easy. You had a sick relative that you were committed to caring for. It fits with the story you told the management of the Opera. I had to stay here, of course, to attend to my lands. We had a few nights together before you had to leave Paris and when you wrote telling me of your condition I instructed you to stay put until after the child was born. Once the baby was born and you were able to travel again you returned to me."
"All this lying and deception," she sighed heavily. "I'm not sure I will be able to keep it all straight."
"There will be nothing more to lie about once this part is over, Christine."
"Except for Andre," she whispered.
"He could do far worse, this son of yours. He will inherit the Lecter lands and my name is one of the oldest and most respected in France. I know of only one family more respected and whose line dates back farther than mine. I believe you know someone from the family as well."
He was talking about Raoul and Christine smiled wondering how her friend was. Christine knew Raoul had been sweet on her and once upon a time she was sweet on him, too. But so much had changed since she was a little girl. "I know this, Comte. I do. And I will do what I can to raise him right. But I must ask, am I in need of a wet nurse? I was told one would be hired."
"Well, I'm assuming you want to go back to work at the Opera as soon as you are able to. You won't need a baby strapped to your breast all day Christine, that might pose a problem."
"Yes, of course, you've thought of everything. And I haven't even thanked you for arranging for Andre and me to have new clothes. I've done nothing but interrogate you," she curtsied, bowing her head apologetically. "I apologize, Comte. Truly."
"Nonsense. I hope we can at least come to amicable terms and be friendly toward one another. I like you, I genuinely do. And I had no idea you knew how to read." He frowned slightly realizing how demeaning that sounded. "That is to say, I didn't know the extent of your education. I'm glad to see that it's better than I had thought. You will enjoy the library I'm sure, and should there be a book you want, please let me know and I'll see if I can't procure it for you somehow."
"The dressmaker, she was nice to you?"
"Oh yes, and she had plenty of clothes for Andre to wear. I hope I didn't get too carried away, but I couldn't resist."
Lecter laughed and shook his head slightly. "No, Christine, you're fine. I'll let you know if you get carried away. And since my home is already furnished and staffed, all that leaves you to worry about is your chambers, the nursery and your wardrobe as well as Andre's. I don't imagine you will break me buying clothing and draperies. But I will be sure and let you know if you're coming close."
She couldn't help but smile, she knew that he was teasing her. "I would expect you would," she said simply.
"And please don't call me Comte. If you feel you must, but I never did approve of marriages where the spouses called one another Mr. or Mrs. for the extent of their married lives. If the walls of propriety can't come down when you're married, I don't know when they can."
"All right. I will try," she said twisting her handkerchief in her hands. "So we've been married a year?"
"The papers will have a date on them, Christine. I guessed late July was when your son was born and told the gentleman to account for a baby's birth when figuring the date. We'll have a date this evening."
"What of our sleeping arrangements," she asked unable to look at him.
Lecter knew what she was asking, but was tempted to pretend he did not. He wasn't sure she could take much more today, so he refrained from baiting her. He had no intentions on seducing her. Not that she was unattractive to him, but he was not going to compete with another man. And in good conscious he knew he hadn't been entirely guiltless in how this had played out. Had he left well enough alone, she'd still be wherever she had been in the Opera where she had apparently been content. "My room is just down the hall from yours. I would request that my servants not know that our marriage is not an intimate one. I've given you a key, you may lock the door though I'd prefer you did not. I will not force myself on you, Christine. If that's what is worrying you."
She hastened a glance in his direction, meeting his maroon eyes with both gratitude and confusion evident in hers. "Thank you. I will leave my door unlocked, Comte. Unless you give me reason to do otherwise. I understand about rumors, and I will do my best to keep them at bay."
"Thank you. You're being more than cooperative. Given the circumstances, I'm surprised at how pleasant you're being to me in all honesty."
"What good would being unpleasant do me, Comte? Would it change anything? Would you let me go back? No. I made my choice and I must live with it. The world is better with Erik in it, this I believe, and I could not stand by and watch you take another man's life."
"He would have taken mine," he added quickly. "I didn't see you coming to my aid."
"I love him, Comte. I built a career with his assistance and a life around him. What did you expect me to do?"
"Nothing," he replied simply. "Absolutely nothing, Christine. I will use what influence I have with the management to see that your position with the company is reinstated."
She brightened visibly at this. "Thank you, Hannibal."
"You're welcome. A couple more weeks and I see no reason why you cannot go back, or at least start rehearsing again."
"I have been rehearsing for months. That's all I did until Andre was born is rehearse and practice and rehearse some more."
He said something indecipherable and walked to the library door. He spoke with his back towards her. "Nevertheless, you will need to make your name again for yourself on your own. I believe I can see to it you get your job back, I cannot see that you retain it."
"Of course not," Christine replied to the already closed door.
Her thoughts brightened at the thought of working again. She could do this. She would be able to see Erik at the Opera, assuming he was alive and able to see her. She had to believe she would feel an emptiness in both her mind and in heart if he had died today. Lecter would never know. He didn't know about her dressing room, or its mirror and no one would. She was sure no one would suspect the mirror was anything but a mirror without Erik to work it. And everyone but Christine treated that dressing room as if it was haunted, so she doubted anyone else had claimed it in her absence. If she could just bide her time until she went back to work at the Opera and behave like an obedient wife. She just hoped he suspected only that she was looking forward to performing once more.
A knock on the library door brought her from her thoughts. "Come in," she bid softly not used to having people listen to her command.
One of the servants entered the room and handed her a note. "This came for you, Comtesse," he said bowing his head politely before leaving the room as quickly as he came.
She knew of no one but Erik who knew she was here. But her name was not written in his distinct, almost childlike handwriting. He had improved over their months together. She had worked with him on his writing, but he hadn't improved this much. She grew perplexed and decided to take the mysterious letter up to her room where she knew she'd have privacy.
She closed the door and leaned her back against it for support. She broke the seal and pealed open the envelope, taking out the sole piece of ivory linen stationary. It was fine stationary, Christine could tell. The handwriting was obviously masculine, fluent but easy to read.
I must apologize for the intrusion on what I know must have been an upsetting and trying day. We share a mutual friend who was hurt today. He wishes you to know he is alive and well, save for the bullet wound to his shoulder which I have attempted to repair to the best of my layman's ability.
So that you know, when our meeting time had come and gone I went in search of him and found him where he had been left on the ground by the Seine. Rest assured he would not have perished had he been left there for a longer amount of time. I'm not sure, though, that he would have remained conscious. I'm telling you this only because I want you to know he is not in any grave danger of dying from his wound.
He has instructed me to let you know not to come to him. To protect himself and you he has re-established the traps and snares he dismantled months ago. He understands the decision you made, but is not pleased you made it. He stated as well that you possess all of the knowledge you need to succeed, that you are no longer in need of his teachings. He did say, however, that he will continue to occupy Box 5 and bids you to return to the Paris Opera House stage as soon as you are medically able.
He I'm afraid, and this is my personal observation not words he said to me, believes he is a coward because you stepped into protect him. I believe, too, that he was not afraid to die and perhaps possibly welcomed it. His life has not been an easy one.
I will not contact you again as he has promised not to compromise the current situation of you or your son. I do know of the boy and do know of the agreement made, your secret will remain with me. I have kept his secrets for years.
I ask that you burn this upon reading it so that your husband will not find you in possession of it. I have included a briefer letter with this one simply stating that our friend is alive and to stay away from him. Keep it, but destroy this one.
Humbly and respectfully yours,
Christine wiped the tears from her eyes as she did as bid. Even though the person was unknown to her, a mysterious N identifying him to her, she did as he told her to do. She watched, the tears flowing freely from her eyes, as the letter burned and there was nothing left. He didn't want her to come for him. That hurt more than anything. He was shutting her out of his life.
Didn't he realize that she did this for him, so that they could continue to at least see one another? She wasn't foolish enough to believe in angels any longer and knew that with his death their relationship would cease. She didn't care if it had to be in secret, with a mirror separating them, she just knew that she couldn't bear not being able to at least talk to him again. She trembled as she knelt before the flames, she didn't want just to talk to him. What had she become? And she had become it, no matter what Hannibal might try and twist it into, Christine had made her choices.
Did he ultimately care so little for their relationship to not even want to try and see her? She didn't believe that was it and she wished she hadn't been so hasty in following the suggestion of burning it. What was it the person had said? That he was embarrassed she had protected him? As if that was something to be embarrassed about. That is what people who loved one another did. At least she thought so, perhaps Erik did not. Perhaps she had not loved him well enough, for everything he learned about love he would have learned from her and their time together.
She collapsed on the bed, face down and wept. She remembered their last time together, she had been so daring and bold and he had liked it. She had, too, in a way, but had it been too little too late? Had it not let him know just what she was willing to do to please him?
When she had cried the last tear and was heaving more than she was crying she sat up and took a deep breath. Standing from the bed she began to pace, trying to collect herself. She had to be strong, three people were relying on her being strong right now. She would risk nothing when it came to Andre and do whatever it took to keep him safe. She shuddered visibly with that thought realizing that sooner or later she might have to share her bed with a man she didn't love. A man she was going to raise her son to believe was his father rather than his real father. This was too much for her to bear and she felt a resounding headache coming on.
A knock on her door brought her out of her thoughts. She was glad now she had burned the letter right away. She glanced once at the fireplace to confirm there was no evidence of her having burned anything. "Come in," she said and smiled at Bella when the young woman came into the room.
"It's time for you to dress for your dinner guest, Comtesse."
"Christine," Christine said softly.
"Of course, I'm sorry, it will take some getting used to, Christine. I will try to remember." She walked to Christine's large closet and stepped inside. "You have a few to choose from that Madame Rosen left for you. Did you have a favorite?"
"They're all lovely," Christine said making small strides to the closet. She was trying to collect herself. "Which do you think would look best?"
"I like the blue one, Christine," she peeked out from around the door and smiled. "With your hair up just so it will be very becoming."
Christine wasn't sure private or not she wanted to get married in a blue gown, so she shook her head. "I don't think I feel like blue tonight, Bella. I think the pink one will be better."
"Very well," Bella said retrieving said pink gown from the closet before setting about fixing Christine's hair for the evening.
The ceremony, if one could call it that, was more than brief. All it entailed was a basic exchange of vows and each signing their name where necessary on the papers. They had been married on June 23 said the document. Christine gave Andre's date of birth to process the birth record and that was the extent of their ceremony.
The couple shared a cordial meal, after which Lecter retired to his study. Christine went for Andre, bringing him with for her visit to Lecter's study. She wasn't sure how she would go about addressing Lecter as Father or Daddy, just that morning she had used the word in reference to Erik. If she didn't have Andre she'd contemplate ending this all by taking her own life, despite the grave sin such an act was. She had committed enough of them of late that she wasn't sure who she was anymore. Of course, it wasn't lost on her that if she didn't have Andre she wouldn't be here in this particular situation right now. "You wanted to see me," she said once she had knocked on the door and been instructed to come in.
Hannibal stood from his desk and walked around to the front of it, leaning against it. "Ah, you brought the baby with you. Good thinking. I will do my best to spend as much time with him as I can."
"Of course, as you wish," she said lowering her eyes respectfully.
"There was something I neglected to think of earlier today."
"Oh," she asked perplexed. As far as she was concerned he had thought of more than enough. She could think of nothing he'd neglected. "I'm unaware of what that might be, so I'm sure it's unimportant."
"To the contrary," he said extending his hand toward her.
She took his hand and stepped toward him uncertainly.
He released her hand briefly before placing a ring on her finger. "Your wedding ring, Comtesse, you must have one. I'm sorry it's not as modern as those available. It has been in my family for generations and on such short notice I thought it would do."
Christine stared at the large pear shaped diamond solitaire ring. It looked especially huge on her tiny finger. "Comte, I cannot accept this ring. I do not deserve it," she argued her voice hitching.
"You are my wife, are you not?"
"Yes, I am, but this is a family heirloom."
"And you are my family as of this day. You will give the ring to your son when it is time for him to marry and the cycle will continue."
She dropped her eyes to the ring again, it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. He was certainly taking this marriage to her seriously. But of course he would, it was his name at risk more than hers. He was marrying a performer, it didn't matter what she had accomplished before. All that would have been forgotten by the time she returned and she would have started all over again, gaining the respect of the people. A single tear fell to her cheek. "Thank you, Comte. You are too kind to me. If you wish to get me something else I would understand."
He touched her cheek lightly with the palm of his hand. "Christine. It is yours. I do not want to get you another one." He dropped his hand from her cheek to the top of Andre's head. "You may go now if you care to, Christine." He placed a polite kiss on the top of Andre's head and returned to the other side of his desk. "Thank you for the enjoyable evening."
"You're welcome," Christine said clearly confused. She looked as if she was waiting for him to say more and when he did not, she turned and left the room.
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 and 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 due 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 naïve?
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, 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 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.
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 ever 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.
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 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 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."
"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?"
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 naïve, 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.
As Christine's triumphant return as Vitellia in La Clemenza di Tito turned into another until she was now on her sixth show in merely three months, Christine was obtaining something she never had until now. Christine was gaining confidence in herself and her abilities as a performer. Before now she had Erik pulling strings as the Opera Ghost and she had Hannibal Lecter using the influence of his name and his being a wealthy patron of the Opera ensuring she got her job.
Erik was unable to use his influence as the Opera Ghost any longer; Christine had made him promise during Clemenza so that Hannibal would not get upset. She had also made Hannibal promise not to go beyond getting her the job back. She was a success on her own and had retained her prima donna status through her own merit and based on her talents. A more confident Christine could be seen on the streets of Paris.
During these months she started living up to the expectations associated with her marital position, helping Hannibal tend to his duties. She joined sewing circles, bowing to his preference since she had no preference of her own to assert. She volunteered at the hospital despite being queasy at the sight of blood. Andre, now sitting up and awake for a good deal of the day was a popular baby and both Christinen and Hannibal loved to show him off.
It was important to Christine that she set an example that not all performers were people of bad standing or questionable backgrounds. The people living on Hannibal's land were not altogether sure what to make of her, but they seemed to give her the chance. They did all like the idea that they now knew who would oversee their lands when the current Comte Lecter passed on. Even though he was only six months old and Hannibal showed no signs of passing on anytime soon it eased their minds just to know that there was a future Comte Lecter waiting to take his father's place.
Other than Christine's resolve to keep her relationship with Erik platonic didn't hold, Christine was leading a good life. She was a woman some envied and some were jealous of. She was wealthy and enjoyed dressing nicely, but she remembered what it was like not to know where her next lump of coal was going to come from. Christine was not snobbish nor did she flaunt her wealth when it wasn't necessary or prudent. She was perfectly comfortable wearing plain damask or cotton dresses around the house during her mornings and days spent with Andre.
There were events she attended with Hannibal where it was of course necessary to dress as finely as she could, she was Comtesse after all. She wasn't certain how the two men in her life felt about her metamorphosis and that is exactly what it was. She was a butterfly breaking free of its cocoon, turning into the woman she could have been and perhaps should have been once upon a time before her father's death.
Erik no longer visited Christine at her home, at least that she knew of. She was sure he did sometimes and perhaps didn't visit her room but simply observed the grounds to ensure she was safe and sleeping well.
Hannibal treated her well, which did make her feel guilty for her dishonorable actions. If he suspected anything he seemed to think her actions with the people of Paris and his subjects outweighed what she might do in the privacy of her dressing room. She hoped this was the case at any rate. He never asked her about Erik and she never mentioned him, but both husband and wife were aware that Erik was always there as a barrier between them spoken of or not.
She was at the Opera one afternoon having brought Andre with her. It was the first time she had brought him to the Opera House, never having dared broached the subject with Hannibal before now. He had been surprisingly agreeable to the idea when Christine mentioned one of her stops for the afternoon included the Opera House. One of the invalids she visited enjoyed getting flowers from a performance. Hannibal always gifted her with flowers of some sort after every performance as did other well wishers, so giving the woman flowers was never difficult for Christine to do. The older woman seemed to enjoy listening to Christine's talk of the Opera and its goings on.
No one was in the dressing room area since this was an off day. They were in between operas at the moment the previous show having closed the previous night. Christine was counting on this and had told Erik she would bring Andre with her today when collecting the prior night's flowers to bring to Mrs. Lynne. She could not stay long, but she knew Erik was dying to see Andre.
She closed the dressing room door after she'd entered and removed Andre's little coat and hat protecting his ears from the wind. She sat with him on her lap waiting for Erik to come. She smiled brightly when she saw the mirror move and stood. She had been feeling under the weather the past few days and was grateful that the show had ended so that she might have a little while to rest up before the rehearsals for the next show began.
Erik's eyes went from Christine to Andre and back again. He was unable to believe he had had a part in creating anything so undeniably perfect. Sure, he had created works of art and been able to decipher mathematical problems and so forth, but this was something entirely different. This was a living, breathing thing that he had been responsible for bringing about.
He knew they could not talk, Christine was afraid to bring Andre into the passageway for fear he'd get scared. He reached his hand to touch the top of his son's head, cupping that part of him easily with his large palm. The soft spot there was closing well, which he was pleased to see. "He's beautiful, Christine," he whispered.
"I know," she cooed. She, of course, could talk. Anyone passing by would just think she was talking to Andre when they saw her leaving with him. But Andre obviously could not talk back yet.
Erik took Andre into his arms, amazed at how he had grown in a few months. He no longer needed to support the head, ever curious his son moved his head of his own free will peering at his surroundings. Erik clutched Andre to him, his hand at his back rubbing gently as he paced around the room with him. It amazed him and saddened him at the same time. Perhaps he should not have seen him, he would want to see him all the more now despite knowing he could not. Sooner or later, sooner then Christine would want to believe if the boy took after him, Andre would start to question who the man with the mask was. Erik doubted Christine wanted to be asked questions by Andre or by Hannibal when Andre posed the questions to him instead of his mother.
The visit wasn't nearly long enough for him, but he knew she could not stay forever. He relinquished his hold on Andre, putting his little arms back into his coat sleeves. He let Christine tend to the hat, securing it under his chin. "I cannot thank you enough for bringing him, Christine."
"I'm sorry it's not more and we cannot stay longer." Both knew kissing in front of Andre was unwise, so neither attempted anything beyond a verbal exchange of goodbyes. She let Erik gather the bouquet of flowers she would be taking to Mrs. Lynne for her and took her leave once he had left the room and the mirror was back in its place.
Hannibal was waiting for her when they returned that evening. He did not look pleased either which made Christine panic.
"Join me after you've given him to the maid, won't you?"
"Of course," she said simply and went off to see Andre was put in the hands of his maid and she was made aware he would be hungry.
She joined him in his study and closed the door when he directed her to do so.
"Is there something wrong?"
"I've been kind to you these months, have I not?"
"Of course, Comte, more than kind, which I believe I tell you frequently. If it's not frequent enough I apologize."
"Bella told me something this morning that concerns me."
"What is it?"
"She says you've been ill these past few days when you wake and are slow to want to get up."
"It is true, yes. I was grateful for the next week off so that I could try and recuperate."
"So, you're with child again then?"
"Of course not," she demanded quickly. "I've just been ill is all. It's the season."
"I suppose it is," he said clearly relieved by her answer.
"Is that all, Comte?"
"Yes, Christine, that is all. I'm sorry I had to ask. I had to know you see."
"Of course," she said and stood from her chair.
Christine was more than terrified when she left Hannibal's study. Dear Lord, thankfully she had gotten evidence of the fact she was not with child only last week. She walked as if in a daze from his study up the stairs to her room and laid down to rest. What a horrific thought, something she hadn't even thought on. Had Erik? Perhaps Erik was taking some sort of precaution to prevent that from happening again. She wasn't worldly or knowledgeable, but she knew there were things to do. She knew full well there were some couples who went through the process of making the children without wanting the actual result of children from the actions. Christine was one of those people now. What would she do if she were to get pregnant? She had no idea, but it was something obviously to think on.
Lecter left his study after Christine left and went for a walk in his gardens. Her answer had been too quick and too certain for it to be a lie. Not just that but she hadn't hesitated or visibly reacted to his question. Hannibal had suspected at first she might stray, but his suspicions hadn't borne fruit and so he had given up trying to find fault where there seemed to be none. Perhaps she was over her lover and there was room for Hannibal in her life now.
She had certainly taken to this new life of hers. She had not only taken to it, she had embraced it with such enthusiasm that Hannibal had to remind himself sometimes that she had not been raised for this purpose. She was a natural caregiver and was therefore liked by many. She was also disliked by many as well. There were those in the old guard who were suspicious of her because of her occupation and her background. Those doubters would always be there, though. And her actions thus far had really left little room for those naysayers to talk.
Later that night, Hannibal approached her room. He realized she must be looking forward to the next week or so off from the Opera House. She had been working so hard over the past few months, her work at the Opera aside. He doubted she had worked quite this hard in the past. He was admittedly worried that perhaps she had taken on too much. Sometimes he wondered if she was taking all this on to have time away from him. Some things they did together, but many didn't require his presence. In fact, most of the things she had found for herself didn't require his presence or his financial backing.
For Lecter giving money had always been easier for him. He did what was required of him, but avoided doing more than he had to. He didn't mind the functions and the meetings, but he did prefer his solitude. He would have understood if she had thrown herself into projects and causes that all it took was some money. At first he had wondered what her purpose was, assuming that it just wasn't natural for anyone to be so giving. Christine seemed to be one of those people that giving was just a part of who she was.
Lecter, too, could be giving when he wanted to be. He was generous to a fault with Christine and Andre, and his servants were treated fairly and well paid. He contributed to the Opera House, music hall, Christine's church, and the other Paris establishments he felt it prudent to offer financial backing.
He knocked lightly and upon her invitation to enter he did. He glanced quickly around her chambers before his eyes rested on her form seated in bed reading. "How are you feeling? I was told you didn't eat much."
"I seldom do, Hannibal. I've never had a large appetite."
"I imagine you don't, you are so slight. I've often wondered how you carried much less delivered a child."
Christine's face turned a deep crimson color at his statement. She closed the book she had been reading after marking her place and set it on the table by her bed. "It wasn't easy, I assure you, but I don't believe I had it more difficult than any woman does." She drew the bed sheet up along her torso and shifted slightly on the bed.
"I like it much better when you call me by my name rather than my title."
"I do try, but sometimes I feel as though you're talking to me as you might a child or an associate."
"Well, we are more or less associates are we not?"
She hesitated glancing at her small hands in her lap. "Yes, I imagine we are. I do try."
"I know you do," he smiled with a slight nod of his head. He sat at the edge of her bed near her crossing one ankle over the other he watched her with interest. He knew she was uncomfortable with him sitting so close, but he also knew that their relationship would never go beyond that of acquaintances that happened to live under the same roof as husband and wife if he did nothing. Perhaps she did not realize he was not only attracted to her but had grown fond of her over the months.
"I will try harder," she offered him a nervous smile.
He reached to touch her hair offering her a smile. He knew his touch wouldn't comfort her or ease her nerves. "I like your hair down like this after Bella has brushed it out for the night."
"Yes. I so rarely get to see you with it down."
"I can wear it down for this week if you like."
"You would do that?"
"If it is what you wish of course. It seems the least I could do. I wear it up or partially up because it's what's expected of me."
"Then down, please. It's so thick and it always smells so good after it's dried from your washing."
She smiled slightly, lowering her gaze. "Thank you."
"Please don't look at your hands. You're my wife surely you can take a compliment without feeling embarrassed."
"I'm not embarrassed. It's one thing to receive applause for a performance and another entirely to be sitting here with you alone receiving your compliments."
"I imagine there is a difference. You have changed quite a bit since you've come to live here at my home. Good changes, at least I see them that way. I hope you do too."
"I am happy here. I worry sometimes that I will do something to upset or embarrass you, but I trust you when you say you'd let me know."
"So far you've done everything right, Christine. I imagine had I hand chosen a woman who had born and raised to live the life of a Comtesse I would have chosen differently. That is no poor reflection on you, so please don't take it that way. I'm simply being forthcoming with you. I think you've done far more for my name without realizing it or trying to and honestly that makes you more appealing."
"Yes, really," he laughed lightly. He leaned toward her and kissed her lightly, more as a test to see how she'd react. "You're so genuine and anyone who knows you or even simply sees you work can tell that you are doing these things because you want to and like to, not out of some sense of obligation."
"I see nothing I do as an obligation, Hannibal."
"Nothing," he queried.
"No," she said shaking her head to match her response though she had clearly hesitated.
"Not even this," he asked kissing her again. This kiss was no test and it was no kiss he'd give an associate.
"No," she admitted when he broke away. Christine hadn't expected his kiss, not like that. Her heart raced and despite what she wanted her body couldn't help but react. He was so capable, there was nothing clumsy or uncertain about his kiss. She instantly felt guilt at her body's betrayal. It was easy to see why women would have been tempted into his bed, though.
While Christine admitted to being curious what someone with knowledge of the intimacies she and Erik shared might do, she knew that she didn't want to be one of many. She liked knowing that she was Erik's only. Yet at the same time, she really could not deny him. She she couldn't help but recall a time or two of seeing a look he had given her that frightened her. What was she to do? She and Erik had never discussed what if anything she was to do if Hannibal came to her.
"Good," he said simply offering her a smile. He leaned towards her bedside table to turn off the lamp there. "I've waited for months in the hopes that you would not see it as an obligation, Christine."
"Have you," she asked her voice small. He knew she wasn't feeling well, perhaps she could claim illness as a reason to delay this until another day. And perhaps another day would never come. She wished know she had forced herself to talk to Erik about this. What did he expect her to do?
"Yes," he said simply.
She jumped accompanied by an audible vocal protest when she felt his hand rest against her shoulder. She tried to tell herself that there were women who did this with their husband every day. He wasn't expecting her to do something he had no right to take even if it was against her will. He was good to her, treated her fairly and had just gotten done complimenting her actions as his wife.
"I didn't mean to startle you."
"I know. I'm just surprised is all."
"Yes," she said simply.
"Why are you surprised," he asked as his fingers worked the tie at the top of her nightdress.
"I just wasn't expecting this; I didn't think you thought of me like that."
"How could I not? You're smart, attractive, talented and a good mother and wife."
She sighed softly, his words were kind. "Thank you. I don't know that I've been a very good wife, though."
"I couldn't ask for much better, Christine. And the part I could ask to be different we can change tonight."
"It's so sudden."
"Sudden," he laughed lightly. "We've been married for four months."
"I know. I just never imagined you wanted this from me."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"You're far more experienced than I and would think you deserve the same."
"In a whore, Christine, yes, but you're not that so no, your inexperience does not pose a problem to me. At least I know he was good to you."
"How can you tell that," she queried softly grateful that he had for the moment stopped touching her.
"I just can. You're frightened more of me then you are of the actual experience, I can tell."
"For that I'm grateful. You are lucky. I hope you know that. There are men out there who are not nice, who treat their wives like property. Actually, they might treat their property better. And you weren't even his wife. Mistresses sometimes have it better, but not often."
"Please don't talk like that, Hannibal. That's not how it was," she said pleadingly.
If either of them heard the small click of the French doors leading to her balcony indicating they had been opened neither gave pause. Certainly Erik noticed Comte seemed entirely too focused on his idea of seducing his woman to call on his keen sense of smell to aid him. Erik had the lack of light on his side as he could see without aid of lamps to light the room.
He wasn't sure how Christine would react to what he was about to do and perhaps he should have waited until Hannibal had retired to his own room down the hall. Erik could not be sure that the evening would not yet take a turn that made the blood coursing through his body heat his normally cool body to a feverish condition.
Hannibal had plans on seducing his Christine, and that was all Erik needed to know. He had stood outside on the balcony for longer than he deemed even a reasonable man would stand and listen to his words. When the lamp had been turned down, Erik's hand went instinctively to the Punjab lasso at his waist when he sensed that Hannibal Lecter had not turned off the lamp as a signal of his leaving the room.
He had come here tonight to rid Christine and him of Hannibal Lecter. After seeing Andre earlier that day he knew that he could no longer let this man who led dual lives so successfully raise his son. Christine, as his wife and mother to his son, would inherit the house so she would no longer need to live in a sparsely furnished flat wondering how she would heat her home for the night or feed their child for the day due to lack of funds. His son would be well provided for, as far as Erik knew the child was presumed to actually be Hannibal Lecter's by whoever had done the soliciting work regarding their marriage and the child's birth. The conception and birth of the baby had just occurred out of wedlock. Given Christine's occupation it wasn't unbelievable.
This was how his mind justified it at any rate, not that he'd ever needed to justify taking another's life before now. This was different. Until he had realized what was on Hannibal's mind, he had contemplated waiting a little longer. Perhaps suspicions toward Christine would be aroused if her husband were to die so soon after her return to Paris. But now as he waited for Hannibal to realize he was in the room alone before actually using his readied weapon, Erik just didn't care what anyone would think. He didn't even care at that moment what Christine would think and that by doing this she might never see him again. All he cared about was protecting the only thing that was his that mattered to him. He could do without Andre if he had to, but never without Christine. And he would never forgive himself if because of him and what he had done she had to take to another man's bed. No man would allow a woman to do that for him.
He could tell when Lecter became aware of his presence. The visible stiffening of his shoulders, the cock of his head to the side Erik knew was not a reaction to Christine's words. His hands were quick as soon as he saw the man turn and pull away from Christine. Did he feel bad not giving the man a chance to defend himself? Erik thought on this briefly before he felt the give in the lasso indicating his foe's neck had been broken. No, he did not. Had Christine not been with them that day months ago outside his cave, Lecter would not have thought twice on fighting him hard. He would not have hesitated to shoot him dead there on the spot either, Erik was sure of it. The only reason he hadn't was his want to get his hands on Andre, and ultimately Christine. But Erik knew that Lecter would tire of Christine and rid himself of her just as Erik was ridding Christine of Lecter now.
Quick to go to where he had fallen on the floor, removing the lasso and ensuring the man was in fact dead, Erik turned to face Christine. She was frightened, but she didn't appear angry. At least not yet.
"Are you all right," he asked. "He didn't touch or hurt you?" His eyes fell to the unfastened tie at the collar of her nightdress and he wished he hadn't been so swift in delving out his punishment to Hannibal Lecter.
Christine clutched the bedding to her, her eyes wide. "No, he didn't hurt me. He wouldn't have hurt me, Erik."
"You wanted to make love to him then?"
"No. Of course I didn't, but I don't think he really would have, Erik."
"Oh really," he said his fingers finding the undone tie. "And this is untied thusly because you are unwell then?"
"No," audibly trembling with her response.
"Who remains in the house at this time of night?" Erik knew she was still more than likely in shock over the events and was hoping he could get her to cooperate for the moment before the shock wore off.
"No one," she said automatically.
"Christine," he said as tenderly as he could given the circumstances. "Listen to me," he pleaded. "I couldn't let him do it. I'm sorry. I should never have seen and held Andre, but the thought that that man was loving my son and possibly you as I should be was driving me absolutely insane."
"But we never did, Erik. I promise you."
"Can you honestly tell me, Christine that you believe he didn't want you?"
"Up until tonight no," she said not able to look anywhere but at Erik.
"Well, you won't have to worry about him wanting to again. And if you'd rather be rid of me as well, I understand."
"I don't know, Erik. This is too much, I'm a party to a murder. What have you gotten me mixed up in, Erik? And why? He would not have hurt me."
"Christine, have you forgotten that he would have killed me? Have you forgotten that he took you away from me? Have you forgotten what he would have done to you had he found out that our relationship continued?"
"Christine, I will not bother to dwell on the things that I know of him, but he was not a good man. He was a dangerous man, perhaps even more dangerous than I ever was. Please know that I could never have lived a peaceful day knowing you were with him and that one day he would find you expendable, useless, or no longer necessary."
"I knew you were concerned," she admitted.
"Yes, I was. Now I'm going to move him. Just leave me to take care of everything and then if you want me to go I'll go. But you realize something I hope."
"What," she asked curiously.
"We can be together now."
"No, no. You'd stay here. This is our son's home now. Surely you've thought on that, haven't you? This is yours, Christine. You will no longer have to worry about struggling to make enough money to feed yourself. You will no longer have to live in the Opera, I can come here to see you. I can stay with Andre while you perform."
"I can't think on all of this now, Erik. Please just go take care of what it is you need to take care of."
"Should I come back?"
"You can, I don't know that I'll have anything to say."
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 with 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.
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 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.
New Orleans, Louisiana - Five Years Later
Christine smiled as Andre picked more flowers from the stage from that night's performance, the closing night of Don Giovanni. Christine's dream of performing with Erik had finally been realized. It had taken much coaxing on her part, but since it was Erik's opera house to do with as he pleased she saw no reason why he couldn't perform.
Christine's name was known enough in the city of New Orleans that she believed it was worth the risk to have Erik play Giovanni. People would come, she was sure of it, and she was right. Word had spread like a wild fire how well the leading lady and man performed together. All walked away from the performance believing they had come as close to heaven as they would in their lifetime. No one knew the person playing Giovanni was in fact the opera house's owner; all realized people might be hesitant to spend money on tickets to see essentially a nobody perform.
In reality, it was Christine's opera house as she had used her funds to build it, but Erik had designed it and had put all of his sweat and tears into the creating of it. She had done the easy part, financing it. If the solicitor found it odd she had moved to America and built an opera house he never said a word, thankfully.
Andre, now five, never ceased to amaze her at his abilities and his endless talents. Sometimes she felt dreadfully out of place as father and son would sit for hours and scour over building plans or talk of mathematical formulas that made Christine dizzy. Andre never asked why his father wore a mask. In fact, Andre seldom asked Christine any questions. Christine wasn't sure if this was because he didn't deem them necessary or if perhaps Erik himself answered the boy's questions. Christine tended to let Erik explain things to Andre, knowing instinctively she would tend to simplify things based on Andre's age and he would grow bored with her and her explanations.
Erik stayed true to his word and was able to support Christine between the selling of his music and art as well as the money brought in from the opera house. She sang now because she wanted to not out of necessity and knew when the day came that it was no longer fun for her that she could quit the opera and not have to worry. She would not have to touch any more of Hannibal's monies either. She had used enough of it to build their house and the opera house. If Erik minded these things had been built with another man's money, he never commented. Christine was certain not all of Erik's activities were honest, but she knew that he was selling his things, making a name for himself. People didn't care that he wore a mask as Christine knew would be the case.
The only regret for the past five years for Christine was that she and Erik had been unable to have more children. A doctor she had visited with once suggested that Andre's birth might have been too much for her and she very well might not be able to conceive again. Erik seemed relieved at this, afraid that they wouldn't get as lucky as they had with Andre if they had more children. At least she had Andre, and though she might have wanted more children, he was enough.
Did she think on Hannibal and the events that led up to her marrying him and his death? Yes, she thought on him, but she tried not to dwell on it. Thoughts were more prevalent after she and Erik had married, guilt mostly because she had married Erik so soon. They had waited, just barely, until Hannibal had been dead a year. She was happy here with a husband who despite his own dislike of people was willing to put aside those dislikes for her.
Christine had little to complain about and she hoped Erik felt the same way. She knew Andre was happy. He was a serious child in general, but his laughter could be heard throughout their house often as well. Questions about Hannibal and just who he was for now had been put off being answered. Andre didn't remember the man, but he was aware that he had lands and a title to lay claim to.
One day, Christine knew they would have to answer all of his questions, but for now she was content living her life for the here and now. It had taken her a long time to come to this point, to not overanalyze and make everything out to be a horrible sin. Some of what she had done had indeed been sinful, but there were certainly people who had committed worse sins than she had. And in the end it had worked out as Christine believed it was supposed to. She was with Erik who though he was flesh and blood like a man was still the Angel of Music her Papa had promised her.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com