Continuing Tales

Al Fin con Amore

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Heather Sullivan

Part 1 of 3

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From the moment I turned the scorpion, a question plagued my mind; had I made the right choice? I arrived at a decision some time later, but how that came to pass will take some time in the telling . . .

I was ill for several days; the choice took a toll on me. When I finally awoke, I was startled that the darkness did not melt when I opened my eyes. I soon remembered where I was. A faint glow caught my eye from across the room, and I turned toward it. As I did so, it grew closer; a moment later, Erik set down the candle on a table near my bed, and knelt down beside me. His face was questioning, almost pleading, as though he did not know what to say. He studied my form, lying prone on the bed; he reached but did not touch me; he pantomimed the husband, doting on his ailing wife. Finally, he seemed to find some words he felt fitting.

"So you are awake now, my angel?"

Angel. He had used that word to seduce me . . . I should be angry; but the thoughts made my head ache too greatly to bear. And I had chosen. I studied his eyes, the one seemingly in the face of a man, the other gleaming from behind the mask . . .

"Yes, Erik, I am awake," I whispered.

"Has the illness passed you?" he said softly, in the same gentle voice he had used to call me from my dressing-room so many times.

I stirred, flickeringly uncomfortable beneath his studious gaze, and answered, "Yes, I believe I shall be all right again soon . . ."

His face changed, and it startled me slightly; I realized that he was trying to smile, and his face had forgotten how. But he moved away so suddenly that the darkness swallowed his form, and it seemed I had only seen his disembodied mask moving of its own volition. I do not think he had seen me start. I resolved then in my mind that he should never see me start, he should never know my fear; I had chosen, knowing that he loved and would protect me. I must in turn protect him from my cruel reactions.

He was gone only briefly, and returned with food; the smell of new bread and a thick broth made my senses wonder how long it had been since my last meal. He placed the dishes on the table near the candlestick and gazed, wordless, at me for a few moments. Finally I raised my eyes to meet his, and saw the wistful expression in them. I thought I sensed him sigh- whether with my eyes or with my ears I do not know- just before he said, "Will you take some food, Christine?"

Although I could have done it myself, he fed me; I was his beloved and he catered to me carefully and gently. When I had finished he left me silently. Only the chill, in the hand he had touched swiftly as he fled, gave me to know that he had ever been there . . .


Several days passed before he would allow me to leave my bed and move freely about the house again. The few times I had tried to raise myself, he had appeared from the shadows and chided me back beneath the covers. Although faintly irritated by his restrictive nursing, I was glad of his care; he seemed genuinely concerned for my well-being, even moreso than I. In the back of my mind I knew I would likely swoon if I tried to walk, but I did not want to be treated as a child.

At first I foolishly wondered at how he had known to come to me just as I was trying to rise, thinking it only coincidence. But one afternoon, as I lay somewhere between sleep and waking, lazing with my eyes closed, I realized that I was completely mistaken. I had thought he would be busying himself about the house, cleaning and neatening after the furious succession of events that had sent me, ailing, to my bed; but in truth, he had never left my side. I had almost forgotten how skillfully he had prowled the Opera house, his silent footsteps never attracting attention. Surely in his own house, he would enjoy even more freedom to reveal or conceal himself. I came to understand that when I lay awake, he kept his vigil outside the sphere of candlelight which surrounded my bed, enveloped and made invisible by his thick velvet cloak and the darkness that filled his underground domain. It was only when he believed me to be asleep that he ventured to my bedside, and it was only because I lay still that I was able to see him draw a chair near and watch over me, kneel beside my bed and gaze at me. What was in that expression that touched me, made me warm so to his presence, prevented me from angering at his silent observation of my sleeping form? In it I perceived wonder, concern, awe, adoration . . . and desire too, but so innocent that it impeded him from even stroking my cheek as I lay, he thought, sleeping. From beneath my lowered eyelids I saw him raise his hand tentatively, felt him reach toward my face and hang in midair, fingers trembling; with a sigh he drew away again, and I felt it was time to "wake." As he watched me stir, he hummed a soft, soothing tune and produced a tray from the shadows. By the time I opened my eyes and raised myself on the pillows, he stood as though he had just entered the room to serve my lunch.


Finally, one morning I woke to find my room more brightly lit. During my illness the room had been kept in half-shadow at most, enabling me to sleep more easily- and, as I had recently discovered, facilitating Erik's quiet sojourn at my bedside. My eyes opened this day to my old room, exactly as I remembered it. The old candelabrums had been restored, the fireplace blazed with light, and all my things were placed about precisely as I had left them. The only thing that was out of place was a gown that seemed to have been laid out with great care on a nearby chair. I blinked my eyes, which were still adjusting to the brightness, and peered at the dress, which I was certain I had not left there. It shone with the soft luster of fine satin, the neckline and sleeves frosted with the most delicate of laces. A finer gown was never had by any bride . . .

And I was the bride. I had woken on my wedding day.

The thought came a shock to me, although I reminded myself that this had been the condition of my choice from the very beginning. Nothing had led me to think that it had changed. Still, I sat on my bed, my legs tucked beneath the comforters and linens, staring at the dress as though in a trance. I can hardly explain the thoughts which raced in my mind. Was this reality, or did I still dream the delusions of fever? No, I was awake and well; I felt rested and free of the aches and pains which had plagued me throughout my illness. The thought of what would happen today left me strangely inert- I neither anticipated nor feared it, yet I was troubled by one small butterfly which fluttered in my stomach, its source undefinable. My gaze still fixed on the gown; it was a vision of loveliness that contrasted sharply with Erik's poor face, the image of which still lingered in my mind. A faint wave of horror washed over me as I recalled the horrible scene that had occurred the first time I had seen that unfortunate face, and I shivered slightly. However, even as I trembled I realized that it was only the memory of fear that affected me. Somehow, I was no longer frightened by his deformity; I could not pinpoint the moment it had disappeared, but it was true. Three peremptory taps upon the wall echoed through the room and brought me suddenly from my reverie.

Erik entered the room as he had in the older days, confident and almost cheerful as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. The first I saw of him was his back as he closed the hidden door; then he turned and we looked upon each other for the first time, each taken mildly aback by what we saw.

His dress was even more stately than usual; although he always went about in evening clothes, there was something more formal about his black tailcoat and starched white shirtfront. He even carried a top hat and wore white gloves. He was elegant to a fault, but his catlike grace remained unaltered; the combination of the two surrounded him with a mysteriously debonair, darkly sensual aura. A wonder prickled at the back of my brain- beneath his mask, was his face stricken with the trepidation of a bridegroom? I pushed this thought aside in half-reluctance; it seemed somehow irreverent to entertain it, though likewise wrong to ignore it.

His faultless attire made me all the more self-conscious as I felt his gaze on me. I had been sleeping for so many days in nothing but my thin chemise, and my makeup had smeared and my hair come undone long ago. I blushed and dropped my gaze, knowing I likely looked terribly bedraggled to him. Embarrassed to meet his eyes, I listened for him to approach, or speak, but he did neither. The silence was so complete that I was only aware of his breathing, which seemed to come more quickly that I would have expected. Suddenly I felt him near me, and I looked up in surprise; I had not heard him move, and yet here he was, at the edge of my bed, with a curious expression- was it yearning?- in his face. "Erik," I whispered, the only greeting I could muster.

He only looked at me, and I recognized the tumult in his eyes that indicated the churning I knew shook him to his core. My one butterfly beat its wings violently; the effect of his presence was profound and I felt as though the floor had dropped out from beneath me. His pause gave me to know he could only be caught in the throes of emotion, and I wondered if the mad rush of feelings now coursing through my veins could even dimly mirror his. I thought I saw his hand twitch, but he did not raise it; his lips trembled, though, as he answered, "A tousled enchantress with the sweet face of a child. How exquisite you are, Christine." He stood so still as he murmured these words that they wove a spell over us and the whole of our surroundings besides; every thing in the room, living and inanimate, seemed to hold its breath as the sweetness of his adoring gaze washed over me. Oh, the love that he offered me- the warmth and tenderness of his embrace; and I remembered the lines from Don Juan Triumphant- "our bodies entwining, defenseless and silent"- for that promise was there too, one of dark and explosive passion. My virginal conscience bid me turn away from that offer which burned in the depths of his eyes, but I wantonly pushed it aside, for something greater and more powerful made me crave the pleasures he promised . . .

He broke the poignant moment as he drew reluctantly away, pulling back into himself the fervor that he had exposed so briefly yet so powerfully in that fleeting moment. I was breathless and almost faint for having seen it so clearly, so plainly acknowledged, and I felt the strange stirring deep within me coil and tense in answer to him. I was so absorbed in the novelty of these feelings that I did not notice as he moved to the table near where the gown lay and gently opened a small parcel he had carried in under his arm. The sound of the rustling paper caught my attention, and I watched as he brought forth a charmingly flounced petticoat, rich stockings- silk, I could tell from the way they slipped between his fingers- and dainty beaded slippers, all of the purest, most virginal white. I watched as he leaned over the table and pulled the centerpiece to him. It was a fragile arrangement of white roses, orchids, baby's breath: a bouquet, fit for the bride who wore such finery. He touched one of the roses gently, stroking its petals with his long, gloved fingers. I had the sudden, faint sensation of those deft, gentle fingers fanning on my cheek- I shook my head, tried to break the enchantment. He sensed my movement and locked my eyes with his own as he produced one last item from the parcel: a filmy, delicate veil.

He moved toward me like an image in a dream; he looked almost as though he were walking through water. At my bedside once again, he extended his hand; I found myself taking it and being helped to my feet. My toes touched the plush carpet, and he knelt before me, offering the veil to me. His voice was song-like- or did he sing it?

"Christine, I love you . . ."

Our eyes met, and I felt as though he opened the window to his soul and let me see what lay therein as he said, "You made a choice, Christine. Now it is time to fulfill it. Love me. Marry me. Become mine today, now." His words, spoken like a line of poetry, were soft but still emphatic. And the meaning of them struck me, and my eyes strayed from his and met with the mask; panic overtook me, crushing the faintly wavering desire to accept, and I fled from him. I did not go far, but I moved away to the other side of the bed, away from him and the bridal gown and the flowers. He leaped to his feet even as I sprang away, but made no move to stop me. The skin uncovered by his mask flushed and his eyes snapped as he gently, menacingly lowered the proffered veil to the coverlet of my bed.

"So the truth is finally revealed," he said slowly, his tone suddenly harsh. "You lied to me; you made false promises to save the life of your precious vicomte, you led me to believe you were sincere until he was out of my reach, and now you show your true colors!" His eyes burned with anger, betrayal, bitter disappointment, the beautiful passionate offers of just a few moments past obliterated.

As he turned from me, I was filled with a horrible, miserable shame at what I had done. Still, I was indignant at his accusations. I found my voice and shouted, "I am not a liar! I made a choice, I promised, and I will go through with it!" I steeled myself against the impending question, for which I had no answer: why then did I run? I did not know; the panic had forced me to. Had it not taken hold of me, I knew I would have accepted his symbolic offer- but it had, and now there was no turning back.

With his back still to me and his anger electrifying the air, he paced absently to the fireplace. He fingered the mantle draperies and would not look at me, but he replied sardonically, "Yes, you will follow through out of duty; but it will be propriety alone that holds you to your promise. You made a vow, thinking to sacrifice yourself for your dear vicomte; now you have spent weeks in the beast's lair and have compromised your honor. What choices have you now, but to bow to my wishes or choose your death? Or will you do both- and take your own life the moment before I make you mine?" He paused, then jerked his head and fixed his furious eyes on mine, and hissed, "I will not accept your hand unless you offer it willingly! I will not force myself on you, like the monster you undoubtedly think I am. Know that, if you propose to give yourself to me only because you feel you must, I will reject you and the choice you made. It will be null. I will not take you unless you come to me of your own volition!"

He turned from me again, and I stood, barely knowing what to say or do. I had known of his temper, I had seen him become enraged before; but he did not fly at me or shout as I would have expected. His chest heaved and his fists clenched, and I supposed it must be from his tremendous attempts to control himself; but the strange glints in his eyes, the tears that threatened to form gave me to think it was from a different effort. Confusion raged in my soul; my inability to discern the meaning of my emotions gave rise to tears of my own, and I felt my lips trembling as I whimpered, "Erik, please . . ."

His acid whisper cut the air. "You give your heart to a foolish boy who once ran into the ocean to save your scarf. Yet you give nothing but pain and anguish to a man who risked destroying his life to give you the gift of music, to rescue you from your grief and despair after the death of your father. I had lived so long in solitude, but I ventured forth into the public eye to reach out to you; I put myself at the supreme risk of discovery to become your benefactor and, I had hoped, to reap the benefits of the deep adoration I gave to you." He touched one gloved fist to the mantle, emanating reigned fury. "Before the vicomte stepped in and destroyed the foundation we had built, you were happy with me. You did not fear me! You wanted me near you! And you could have learned to love me despite my face. But that fool de Chagny taught you his superficial ways, his materialistic desires. He stole your love from me, and I can never have it back- for you would rather die now than touch me . . ." His voice died with a peculiar choking sound, and he said no more.

I was speechless, and the thoughts in my mind raced. How alike were our souls, that we felt the same pain! For as he spoke, I recalled my disappointment after the first gala, the night I had first sung in Carlotta's place. The applause came back to me, and the rush of joy at my success- and the pangs of disappointment when the managers passed me by upon Carlotta's return. So many times had they snubbed me for the italian diva, who already had a name and a career; they had pushed me aside, despite the money I had saved them by taking Carlotta's place, despite the gala I had saved for them by pouring my heart into the performance. And as he spoke, it came clear to me that I had done the same to Erik. I had disregarded him for the young, wealthy vicomte whose suit gave me popularity and social clout, while it was Erik to whom I owed my gratitude, Erik who richly deserved my love. The clouds of my confusion suddenly broke; I was Eve, having just swallowed the fruit of knowledge and horrified at the truth she had never before seen. I was wrong, and I ought to prostrate myself at his feet, beg him for his forgiveness and- what else? I did not deserve his love, and yet . . . he still offered it, on a condition: I must come to him willingly.

It was the longest trek I had ever made. My knees nearly gave out countless times as I skirted the bed, but my determination urged me on. With trembling fingers, I retrieved the veil and placed it upon my mussed curls. My entire body was wracked with shivers of terrified anticipation as I approached his lonely stand at the mantlepiece. Inches from him, I halted; whether from fear of death or rejection, I could not force myself closer. But my arms reached out, it seemed of their own accord; and suddenly he turned, he faced me, and a look of tremulous confusion and hope creased his face. My mouth was dry, and my voice likely resembled Carlotta's toad; but with fierce determination, I said to him, "Erik, I will keep my word, but not for love of Raoul de Chagny." The expression on his face intensified, burning with one question.

I did not force him to wait. Instead, I moved closer to him, offering my body to his arms, repeating the gesture he had made to me with the veil such a short time ago. My hands reached for the lapels of his tailcoat, and I felt the velvety thickness of the material as my hands lighted there softly. As if I stood outside of myself, I became aware that I was drawing my face to his, that my lips were whispering, "No thoughts are in my mind but thoughts of you," just before they kissed his. His arms came around me in that blissful moment, and the recent pain melted into the soft affection of his kiss. We parted soon, but he held me against his chest for a long while, as if he feared I would renege as soon as he released me. I wordlessly assured him I would not, tightening my arms about his neck, nuzzling the good cheek left exposed by his mask. Finally I whispered into his shirtfront, "You must go now; I will dress for our wedding."

He pulled away from me slightly, enough to look me in the face; our eyes held the same tears. He stroked my cheek delicately, examining me with an expression of wonder; and suddenly he was gone. His final whispered words hung in the air about me, echoing sensually as I washed and dressed:

"I will wait for you in the drawing room."


I took such cares as I made myself ready; I wondered if I was like any other bride, going to her bridegroom's arms. I sighed, for I knew that Erik was no ordinary bridegroom and would be no ordinary husband. But still, I recalled the passionate offers he had made me in the silence of his gaze, and I quivered at the memory. Again, my prudish nature reared its ugly head and chided me for responding in such a way to such brazen thoughts; but again I stamped it out. I was to be married, and soon there would be no need for such modesty. My uncertainty had disappeared, and the thought that I would soon be Erik's wife was fascinating to me; so I would wonder over it all I pleased, despite my nagging conscience.

The fire warmed my room and my skin as I finished with my bathing, and as I dressed I could think only of the embrace we had shared before he left me. The sensation of his lips on mine had not yet faded. Oh, his hands were often cold, true; but his lips were those of a living, breathing, feeling man who wanted that kiss more than could ever be expressed. I closed my eyes, remembering how we had blended together so easily, and how his arms encircling my waist had gently pulled me close. My breath came sharply as I admitted to myself I had wanted to be close, even closer than he had held me; how I would have loved to cling to him and taste the joys he had offered me in his longing gaze! I blushed. Such thoughts before a wedding! Yet a thought cropped up that gave me a pang of- what was it? Anticipation? Delight?; soon they would not be offers, but realities. I shook my head, chiding myself for that wanton musing, but the sensation of the satin dress slipping over my skin made me think of his touch . . .

Firmly I busied myself with the final preparations, my fingers shivering with nervousness as I arranged my hair beneath the veil. I was going to my wedding. The thought was barely conceivable, and yet it was the truth. I took one final look about the room, to see if I had forgotten anything. The bed still stood in disarray and I arranged the covers painstakingly. Fleetingly, a forbidden thought crossed my mind; would we share this bed tonight? As I turned to the mirror in exasperation with myself, I understood the image of the blushing bride. Perhaps all girls suffered as I did before their weddings. My flush deepened, but I smiled. My reflection was one of beauty, and I knew Erik would be pleased. I remembered the mirror in my dressing room, through which he had watched me, spoken to me, given me the benefits of his love. I touched the shining surface gently, imagining that he could be standing behind it without my knowledge. "Now, Erik, I will fulfill my promise and return the favor," I whispered.


I was aware of the faint music from the moment I stepped out of my room. The soft chords of a piano were coming from the drawing room; as I neared they grew louder, and I imagined Erik seated at the instrument, the music soothing his bridegroom's jitters. I paused outside the door to the drawing room and listened for a moment, thinking perhaps I might hear his voice rising with the music, but I did not; he was silent as he always was while playing. The only times I had ever heard him sing were during our strange duets, as if alone he were nothing but in my presence became beautiful. I felt a smile cross my lips- to think that he loved me so much that I made him whole! The knowledge flattered me, warming my cheeks with a pink blush. He worshipped me silently- simply the way he looked at me told me so- and I need only give my consent, accept his adoration, and he would lavish it upon me forever. To live in the love of such a passionate, beautiful man . . . I hardly felt I deserved it. But he seemed determined that I did; and since such a lovely chance might never pass my way again, I would snatch it. I opened the door and stepped into the drawing room.

He was exactly as I had pictured him: sitting at the piano, bent raptly over the keys, luring music out of it like a skilled spinner drawing golden thread from her wheel. From the moment I stepped into the room, his playing caught me up in its spell; his music was as tremulous and emotional as it had ever been, and it washed over me like warm ocean waves, sweeping me deeper and deeper as I surrendered, gave in to the drowning. I entered the room quietly, enraptured by the notes and the sight of him, eyes closed and body swaying softly as the music moved him. He touched the keys with the tenderness of a lover . . . again, improper thoughts raced through my mind, and I recalled the feeling of his hands on my waist as we kissed- would those same hands caress me as gently as they now did the piano keys?

His tune ended, and he raised his attention slowly from the instrument to see me standing near the open door. Wonder and delight filled his face as he looked at me in my bridal finery, my face still flushed from being so touched by his music. He rose slowly, a sigh escaping his lips, and took a step toward me- then stopped.

"Oh, Christine," he breathed. The silence tingled with energy as our gazes locked. In my heart, I beseeched him to come closer; but he did not. He stood and drank in my image for what seemed an eternity. Finally, just as I thought to break the silence, he whispered, "You are so beautiful, my love . . . and I am afraid to come near to you . . . " His voice wavered as he spoke, as if tears threatened him; and I noticed that his entire body trembled. He was truly afraid! At that moment, I recalled the bitter tale he had told of his mother, how she had hidden his face behind a mask since his infancy, and I realized that beauty had been completely absent from his life. Except in one form.

I moved into the room, approaching him slowly and deliberately. I held my lace-covered arms out to him as I said, "Sing with me, Erik."

His face changed, and his confidence seemed to return; for he took my proffered hands and began one of the simple, wordless vocal exercises we had practiced so many times when I had simply been his pupil. I raised my voice and joined him, the slight pressure of his hand coaxing me to soar to new heights on the wings of song. We were enveloped by the sound, and soon we were singing the famous, familiar arias- but with more emotion than we had ever sung them before. Never had the notes been so tremulous and sweet; never had a lesson touched the deepest regions of my heart as this one did. I reveled in the feeling of my fingers entwined with Erik's and found myself singing as I had never dreamed possible, his voice soaring alongside mine to the very gates of Heaven in a new song, one that was entirely our own. He moved about me as he had during our first lessons, instructing me with his own voice, encouraging me with the delighted expression in his eyes. The room faded away into the ecstacy of song, and only then did he reach for me. He took me in his arms and we looked into each other's faces, never once stopping our song; his arm was around my waist and his long, graceful fingers lifted my veil to caress my cheek, my throat, while mine rested on his starched shirtfront, feeling his great chest rise and fall as he sang to me the most beautiful marriage-vows of all time. And as we reached the pinnacle of our song- that delightful, triumphant conclusion- we pulled each other close and sealed the final note with a glorious kiss, filled with passion and joy at the union of our souls which had formed as we sang, and now would never be broken.

We parted, and the spell lifted- but the love that had burned in his eyes as we sang never wavered. I was in awe of him. Touching his lips gently, I smiled. He released me long enough to make a sweeping bow. "Madame le Phantom," he murmured, a smile slowly stretching across his face. I laughed and he took me playfully in his arms, silencing my giggles with the heat of his lips. I threw my arms around his neck and mussed his pristine hair with my fingers, euphoric for a reason I could not quite define. His eyes sparkled as he held me; he was a young boy, just discovering the joys of a girl who let herself be kissed. I quivered inwardly, knowing that behind his playfulness lay the desires of a grown man- my husband, with whom I would spend the rest of my earthly moments. And looking at him, I was overcome with a wave of gladness, for I knew he would fill those moments with the beauty of his soul.

But now was not the time to think of such serious things. I clung to his broad shoulders as he lifted me from the floor and spun me in the broad circles of a joyous waltz. Laughter poured from our lips, filling our once-dismal home with brightness.


I should have known that the surprises of that day would not end there, but I was so joyful that I had not thought much. We spent the day together, touring the underground house hand in hand. I asked him if he would take me out into the labyrinth so that I might begin to become familiar with its dark, winding passages; but he shook his head absently and told me that it was too late in the day to venture out, that he would show me the ways of his maze someday soon. Glancing to the stately grandfather clock in the corner of the room, I realized he was right. Time passed so quickly and with little sign in that underground place.

I was inwardly horrified when we entered his bedchamber and beheld the black wood coffin draped in red satin. Staring at it, I was incredulous; this was where he had spent each night since he had come to Paris, perhaps even longer? Sensing my discomfort, Erik steered me away from the it to the dining room and placed a lovely dinner before us. Of course he should be able to cook, I chided myself; he has lived alone all this time. But he was not alone anymore. My proclamation that I should be preparing our meals from then on made him chuckle softly.

"Fierce little lamb," he called me. The gaze caressing me from across the long table was affectionate, but surprisingly benign. I had noticed that he had been becoming increasingly quiet since our song in the drawing room, and was beginning to feel a bit confused. He seemed not to see the effect his change was having on me, and continued, "Is this dinner so terrible?" I drew breath to argue, but saw that faint smile playing across his lips and realized he was teasing me. I grinned and relaxed, growing playful at his cajoling, and I left my seat, pulling him with me to the drawing room. He sat in his wing chair facing the fire, and I arranged myself on a low stool at his feet. As I rested my head on his knee, his fingers stroked my hair and he spun stories of the many things he had seen in his vast travels. I was entranced by the adventures he had experienced, and his voice sang to me in foreign tongues of lands far away.

The chiming of the grandfather intruded on our enchanted circle, where we had sat for hours unmoving, simply talking and enjoying each other's nearness. Erik stirred and moved his knee away from my cheek gently, finally rising and looking down at me. Something within me twisted in anticipation, and I remembered that it was our wedding night. I lowered my eyelids automatically, feeling suddenly coy and embarrassed; but he stood over me wordlessly, and I finally lifted my gaze to examine him. A strange look played about his face.

"Erik?" I questioned him softly, wondering what went on behind that mask of his. This expression was new and puzzling to me- veiled and cryptic; I could not decipher it. A new twisting began in my stomach as I recalled how he had been withdrawing from me that afternoon; he had come close to me again as we talked, but now his chilly manner returned.

He only looked at me for a moment, then whispered hoarsely, "Perhaps you should retire, Christine. It has been a long day . . . " His voice trailed off, and a distant look rose in his eyes. It disturbed me.

I rose too, realizing that I was stiff from sitting still for so long; I stretched my limbs and yawned automatically. Catching the affection in his eyes as he watched me, I conceded, "I believe I am tired." I hesitated, waiting for him to respond, but the look in his eyes cooled and retreated again; the passion I had expected to see there was absent as he turned and faced the fire. He fingered the delicate lamp that had stood on the small table near his armchair, and staring at his back, I felt bewildered as to what to say next. Finally I murmured, "I shall go to bed then . . ."

I thought I saw his shoulders move as though he had sighed imperceptibly. Without ever turning, he answered thickly, "Good night."

The finality in his tone led me to believe that he wanted me to go, but I could and did not. I did not understand what had caused this change, why he should send me to bed as though I were his daughter. The silence hung between us like heavy blanket as he silently willed me to go and I silently refused.

After a few moments of tense quiet, it struck me that it might continue forever. He had been in lonesome silence so long that words might never voluntarily pass his lips. It was obvious he would not volunteer the emotions he experienced, even though I was now his wife. Perhaps if I asked . . .

But what was it that I wanted to ask him? I hardly knew myself, so the question could not be posed. I hung my head in fury and embarrassment and retreated from the room, back to my own chamber.

Once inside I closed the door behind me and leaned my forehead against it, my cheeks burning with a flush of mingled shame and frustration. What had just happened in the drawing room? We had spent the evening in close communion, whatever worries that had plagued him on our afternoon walk forgotten; but now he had pushed me away- not roughly, but inexorably. I hastily pulled a nightgown from my wardrobe, my actions careless as my thoughts swam in furious confusion. If he wanted me as his wife, he must want to be close to me; and he had been close to me all night, his fingers slipping over my hair in sweet adoration. So why had he broken that closeness and sent me away like a naughty child?

And why had his eyes failed to express the deeper feelings he had revealed to me in this very chamber that morning; what had caused those beautiful passionate offers to disintegrate? I realized that I was perturbed not only at his brusque dismissal, but at his sudden change- did he not want me, after all? Rapidly growing angry, I knotted a dressing-gown over my nightdress and wedged my feet into slippers, determined to return and question him. I had done nothing to deserve his rejection, and he would explain his alteration in behavior to me at once. His wife though I had become, I refused to be a toy in his skillful hands. I left my chamber swiftly, carried along by a flurry of indignance.

I entered the drawing room on the wings of my emotion, but the scene I beheld stayed my angry pace and drained me of my resolution. He sat in his wing chair again, his profile dark against the fire. His back was bent and his face was in his hands, and the only sound other than the pounding of my own heart were his almost imperceptible sobs. I stood dumbfounded as I watched my brave Phantom hide his tears even from himself, like a small proud boy. He did not sense my presence, for I stood outside the circle of firelight. I had never beheld such pain as I felt in that room at that moment; it took me aback. And as I watched, he dried his eyes on his red satin handkerchief and leaned toward the floor, caressing the velvet of the footstool where I had sat for hours, rapt at the sound of his voice. His voice was choked as he murmured, "Oh, Christine . . ."

His voice was so sad, so alluring, that I stepped from the shadows and called to him as tenderly as I could. "Erik, here I am."

I startled him, and he rose abruptly and looked at me with burning eyes. He was obviously ashamed I had seen him crying. Drawing into himself, he said coldly, "I thought you had gone to bed."

The pain still creased his face, and it hurt me intensely to see it. Moving toward him, I extended my arms and put them around him, my head settling to his shoulder. He stood mute and stiff in my arms although I willed him to respond, to resurrect the passion that I knew had smoldered in him that morning when he woke me; I pressed myself close to him, but he did not accept my offer.

Oh, how I could have pummelled him a moment ago- yet now I hardly knew what to do. It seemed ridiculous to ask him his troubles; such a question might have elicited an explanation from an ordinary man, but I knew that Erik was as proud and imperial as his name suggested. My mind raced, searching for a remedy to his catatonia. Recalling how his lips had curled into a smile after our wedding aria, an idea came to me: he veiled his desire for me, fearing to frighten me in my innocence. He knew nothing of the images that had cropped up unbidden in my mind as I dressed, the strange tension in my middle that tightened even now as I held him, unresponsive as a poker, in my arms. I would waken my frozen prince with a kiss . . .

As my lips brushed across his, I thought I heard him whimper almost inaudibly; he softened long enough to pull me from him and gently pinion my wrists at my sides. He refused to meet my glance, and as I stubbornly tried to get closer he stepped away, shaking his head violently. "No," came his ragged whisper.

My frustrated confusion made me stronger than he had anticipated, and I wrenched free of his gentle hold. I flew at him and threw my arms around him again, crushing him to me, trying to kill whatever pain he held inside. "Don't push me away, Erik!" I commanded softly in his ear. The wanton feelings welled up in my breast, and I hardly realized it as they spilled from my lips. "I thought it was time for our marriage to truly begin . . ."

His voice was so small and choked as he spoke that I could scarcely hear him. "What am I to do, Christine? I, this horrid monster who has no right to even be near you, have brought you here and forced you to submit to me. You have been so kind, so sweet; you put my demands aside and came to me willingly. And all I have to offer you is this ugly face, these cold arms which have never conveyed love, the repulsive longings of a man who has never been touched." He pulled back to look me in the face, and his eyes brimmed with tears. "Did you think I would come with you to bed? I could never do that- I could never ask you to make yourself so vulnerable to my hideous black desire, to give me yourself to me when I do not deserve you . . ."

"Erik, no!" I cried, wiping his tears away with my fingers and stroking his face, his soft living skin and the hard dead mask. "You are not cold or ugly or heartless, and the passion you feel is not evil; it is so breathtakingly exquisite that it makes me tremble when you look at me! That is why I have stayed with you; that is why I have become your wife." My emphatic tone startled us both, I think; his eyes grew wide, and I was forced to take a deep breath before continuing, "As you want to protect me from yourself, so do I want to protect you from yourself. You think you do not deserve to be near to me, but I think you do not deserve to spend another moment alone." The emotions raged in me, and I could feel the hair on my arms stand on end with a prickling sensation. "Did you think I would allow you to sleep in that dreadful coffin of yours, cold and alone? No! I smoothed the sheets of my bed for us before I sang with you this morning!"

He held me silently for a moment, his stare almost incredulous. "I would set flames to that coffin in an instant if I could. I would smash it to kindling and watch it burn away," I continued vehemently, no longer caring that my words were not chaste. "I am yours and you are mine; I will give myself to you trustingly and you will come to me as I have imagined all day, hold me in the night as I have always wanted . . ."

His face finally changed, responding to my words, and softened. The tears still stood in his eyes, but his hands smoothed my hair, which I had pulled down carelessly in my hasty undressing. Bending his head, he embraced me tenderly, and I felt something in him relent. He allowed me to take his hand and lead him to my chamber.

I lifted the heavy dress coat from his shoulders, but he removed it from my fingers and gently pulled away from me. He left the room for a moment, whispering "I shall return," as he went; and when he did, he wore a plain black satin nightgown and robe. Watching him carefully, I removed my own dressing gown and hung it on a hook on my open wardrobe door. At first he did not move, and I would have liked to go to him and take his robe; but recalling how he had shied from me earlier, I did not. Instead I moved to him, touched his hand and looked at him questioningly.

The look in his eyes was indescribable, but it seemed to denote the realization that I had meant every word of my invitation. He removed his robe and hung it beside mine, and hesitantly turning down the covers, lay gingerly down on the mattress. I clambered up and moved closer to him, but immediately he turned his back to me and pulled the comforters over himself. I could feel him trembling and imagined his racing pulse as he fought to restrain himself. I wondered how he would react if I touched him as I so longed to, if the dam would break and he would finally fulfill the offers he had made to me that morning. My cheeks tingled as I put my hand on his shoulder, realizing that I might be deliberately torturing him; I did not care. I would not spend my wedding night lying coldly next to my husband.

Every muscle in his body seemed to tighten at the touch of my hand, but I ignored as he begged me silently to remove it. Finally he craned his neck and fixed my gaze with his; there seemed to be liquid fire in his eyes. "Christine, my will is strong, but do not tempt me; I am only a man after all," he choked.

The air quivered between us for a moment as I realized his grim determination to not force me. Burn although he might, he would not attempt to touch me until I asked him to. The tension in my middle grew as I asked myself- did I want him to? Could I bring myself to make such a brazen overture? My innocence got the better of me this time, for I could hardly initiate that which I had no knowledge of. Instead, I shook my head, trying not to reveal my conflicting emotions. "A man who is my husband," I retorted halfheartedly. Leaning closer, I whispered a compromise that might suit us both. "You will hold me at least; I do not want to feel cold and alone on my wedding-night." That, at least, was the truth.

He sighed and turned, gently opened his arms, allowing me to move beside him. For now, this tenderness will surely suffice, I told myself. I slid my own arm around his muscular body, pressing myself to his strong length, inclining my head against his broad chest. Cautiously his embrace crept around me, and I nuzzled him encouragingly. He began to relax, and soon he was no longer holding me passively, but pressing his cheek into my hair and allowing his hands to move gently over the material of my nightgown. I sank into sleepiness as his warmth surrounded me. "Good night, Erik," I murmured, my voice already thick and drowsy. His hand pressing into the small of my back was his only reply.

Just as I was on the verge of sleep, he roused me slightly by extinguishing the candle on the table beside the bed. I felt him move his free hand to his face and heard a small soft sound- the untying of the ribbons that held his mask in place. Reassured that he trusted me enough to remove it, I drifted blissfully into sleep; but when I woke the next morning I found he had replaced it before I could see him.


A significant amount of time passed in quiet domesticity. I began to lose track of the days and weeks, but that concerned me very little; Erik was so big and interesting that he consumed most of my time. We still had our daily music lessons, and he praised me, saying that my voice grew amazingly stronger with each passing tutorial. I smiled in thanks, knowing that it was due to his devotion to my improvement.

Our idle hours were spent together for the most part, and we adjusted to our new roles together. He taught me to play at chess, and I showed him the newer card games; he would show me the quaint acts of magic that he had learned in his travels, and would often devise new clever tricks to amuse me. Each evening he would linger about the kitchen and talk with me, or simply look on in quiet admiration, as I prepared our dinners. When it was late, we would retire together and sleep in each other's arms just as we had that first night.

But his will was of iron, and nothing ever betrayed Erik's desire for me again. If he ached with longing in the night as I lay so trustingly in his arms, I never knew it. For a while I was touched by his gentleness, his efforts to make me comfortable, his wish to never force me; but as time dragged on and my feelings for him deepened and took root, his aloof embraces began to put me off. Our music lessons led us to ecstacy, but when I kissed him, he would pull away after only a moment. It bothered me very little at first, but insecurity began to grow as time passed. I found myself mulling over his indifference toward me almost constantly.

One morning, as he swirled his cloak about him and announced that he must leave me briefly on an errand, I found I could bear it no longer. An irrational sob tore silently at my heart as I remembered how lovely his eyes had been that morning of our wedding; my mind's eye visualized all those beautiful feelings going with him, out the door. I shook my head violently and wondered if I was going mad. No, I answered myself- I was simply suffering from the constraints of my own naivete. Until now Erik had been affectionate, but not passionate; but I had never given him a hint of encouragement. Surely this is why he has never touched me, I exclaimed inwardly; he still believes I would rather die, and has accepted the fact that our union will be forever cold!

"Christine, did you hear me?" His voice drew me from my inner conflicts. I saw that he regarded me quizzically; my reverie had not gone unnoticed.

"I'm sorry, Erik," I replied. "I was not paying attention."

He came to stand beside the chair where I sat sewing, stroked my upturned face affectionately. I closed my eyes, savoring his touch; at least he no longer shied from such innocent contact. "You are often lost in thought these days, my dear. Does something trouble you?"

I bit my lip, wondering how brazen he would think me if I told him how I ached. Yes, I admitted it now! I could not explain the epiphany that had made me inwardly confess my longing for him; all I knew was that I felt it churning in my stomach as I looked at him. I winced at the twisting nervousness in my middle. He watched my face contort and must have mistaken it for pain. Concern creased his face. "Christine! Are you ill?"

"No," I whispered, shaking my head. My voice sounded so sad that it surprised even me, and threatened me with tears. Silence fell as I sat mute for a moment; finally I whispered, with downcast gaze, "I have been thinking of the way you used to look at me, Erik."

The lines of worry became a frown of confusion. "The way I used to look at you, dear? What can you mean?"

My sewing fell to the floor unnoticed as I rose from my chair. This conversation was hurting me; I hardly knew what to say to satisfy my conscience, my feelings and my husband. Wrapping my arms around myself, I turned away from him. I felt trapped and horribly empty; I was overflowing with emotion and devoid of words. Oh, how could I say that I wanted him near me, that I yearned for the passion I had perceived in him to return? My mind and my heart warred with my shyness; even though I had admitted to myself that I desired him, my conscience chastised me for my impurity. Even though he was now my husband, that virginal prudishness stood in my way. I stomped my foot, frustrated with myself. Why must this be so difficult? I, who had never had any experience with even an ordinary man, was to spend eternity with Erik, who was far from ordinary and even more reluctant to speak his feelings than I.

I had been so absorbed in my internal temper tantrum that I had not noticed Erik approach me. Yet now I felt his hands closing around my arms, just above the elbows, and his voice whispering near my ear, "What is troubling you so, Christine? I have never seen you like this before! Why are you angry? Have I done something to displease you?"

His voice wavered slightly, like a repentant child, and it struck a chord somewhere deep in my heart. Turning to face him, I threw my arms around his neck and buried my face in his cloaked shoulder. "Oh, Erik, you mustn't wonder that!" I mumbled into the thick cloth. "It's nothing you've done . . . " My voice trailed off just short of a confession. I was startled by the ease with which it almost escaped my lips. Tears rose in my eyes.

He had drawn me away and was gently wiping away my tears. "My darling," he implored, his breath cool against my damp cheeks. "What is it?"

His voice gripped some deeper part of me as it always did, and I felt a sensation like the heaviness of my guilt being shaken away by the tremors of my longing for him. Something within me seemed to rend and break open, and suddenly it became easy to murmur, "It is, rather, something you have not done . . ."

The look in my eyes must have been unmistakable; the surprise in his face could hardly have been caused by my ambiguous words. A moment passed when neither of us spoke at all, but simply looked at each other; he, ascertaining my meaning and I, waiting in trepidation for his response. Finally, he exhaled sharply, breaking the tense moment, and reverently dropped to his knees before me, his eyes pleading. His hands caught mine and clasped them tightly. "Do you mean this?" came his heated whisper. "Christine- you ask me- willingly?"

I felt the blush rising in my cheeks, but my soul was no longer weighted down by an unspoken desire and I lifted my head, as proud as a queen and innocent as a child. "With all my heart," I reassured him.

He reeled back a few steps, his expression of shock gradually giving way to delight and- fear? I wondered if, beneath his mask, he flushed as red as I did. He was gone suddenly, his words echoing behind his departure:

"I will be back this evening . . . wait for me, my love . . ."


When he returned to me that night, he was obviously changed; I wondered if he had spent his journey lost in fervent daydreams, as I had passed my time waiting for him. Even thought I sat at my vanity with my back to the door as he entered, I could feel the passion in his gaze. How new and exciting, and yet familiar and comforting, was that heated glance!

He never spoke, but came to me hesitantly, reached for me so tentatively; and I drew nearer to him, into his arms, and let him touch me- for the first time, truly touch me. His eyes glittered with ill-concealed ecstacy that flooded my senses with dark, sensuous shivers; I wondered how long he had dreamed of this. He caressed me as though I were a rare curiosity, made of glass or something even more fragile. His breath came rapidly, and I could nearly hear the pounding of his heart as he moved his delicate touches to my throat, my shoulders, my breast. He trembled, entwining my waist with his arms and burying his face in my shoulder. His mask was icy against my skin, but his gentle kiss seared me; tears wavered in his voice as he whispered, "Christine, take off your gown."

"Erik," I answered just as softly, "you are my husband. Take off your mask."

I felt his inaudible gasp, and he raised his head to look me in the face with an expression that pleaded: I cannot, I can not do that . . . But I took his hands, and kissed them, and guided them to the ties of my bodice, where I helped them begin the work. His fingers quivered at first in a mixture of desire and fear, but I kissed his lips and caressed his face, the living skin and the hard chill of his death's-head alike. When the last laces had been disposed of and he touched bare flesh with shaking hands, I softly lifted his mask away and did the same. A look of deepest tenderness passed between us. And though I had started at first at his deformity, he lifted me gently and carried me to bed all the same.

We were one in our naked hideousness, and he was all he was in life- passionate yet innocent, explosive yet controlled. One lovely moment bled into another, and another, until we lay silently entwined beneath the coverlet. He held me tightly in his gentle, strong arms, and his soft hair tickled my bare skin. My hands roamed lazily over the broad expanse of his shoulders, and he hummed a soft lullaby until my eyes closed and sleep came over me. In my dreams I relived the joys we had learned together since I had done what he had asked; I had looked, and seen the man behind the monster, and my vision had a new lucidity; innocent confusion no longer clouded it. He was not the Phantom now, but my Erik; and I loved him.

Al Fin con Amore

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Heather Sullivan

Part 1 of 3

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