Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Dream Descends

Part 11 of 16

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The quiet was overwhelming.

It seemed to swallow up the room, pushed against his lungs as he tried to inhale. The very enormity of it was so powerful that it rang in his ears, as though silence itself was a noise.

Something tender and warm pressed against his lips, and it was so foreign a sensation that his surprise broke through the stifling hush, in the form of a cry. His eyes snapped open, light piercing into the unsuspecting irises. He winced instinctively, trying to register his surroundings without sight.

“Erik?” An unsteady voice whispered. “Are you all right? I’m sorry—should I not have woken you?” The tone was so hauntingly familiar that Erik felt an odd pang in his chest.

Then all his tensed muscles melted into the softness beneath him, as memories of the previous night swam to the surface of his mind. His eyes opened again, prepared this time, as he wrapped his arms around the delicate form beside him and crushed it to him.

“Christine.” He hurriedly covered her face with feathery kisses, oddly elated as he felt the corners of her mouth turn up in a smile. Leaning back, he examined her face, trying to memorize its attributes and every phenomenon his body was experiencing with her skin against his. Her dark hair framed each overpoweringly close feature, the infinite brown of her eyes seeming to consume everything in the room. Her lips, rosy pink and swollen, were now parted as she exhaled unevenly.

“Good morning,” she said unoriginally, but correctly. It was without a doubt the best morning Erik had ever had the pleasure to be subjected to. He struggled for something to say, but came up blank.

“I dare not speak,” he finally murmured, “For fear that my heart will fall out of my mouth.”

Christine laughed, a silvery sound that echoed in Erik’s head. It was not mocking, but affectionate. “Why do you fear it?” She asked, placing a cool palm on his cheek. “It is the one thing I would desire most.”

He wound one leg around hers and kissed her in response.

After a while, she turned away, grinning. “If we lie here any longer, Seth will come looking for us. It’s near noon already.”

Erik muttered an expletive. “Why did we bring that boy with us?”

Christine’s grin only widened, and she slid away. As she sat up, the blanket fell away exposing the pale angles of her back. Her muscles rippled as she arched and stretched her arms, and Erik traced a finger down her spine, fascinated.

She shuddered and twisted around, taking hold of his hand. Breathless, Erik concluded silently that the front side of her was even more beautiful than the back. She started to say something, then broke off and blushed when she noticed how he was staring. The white light streaming in from the window made her a shadowy silhouette, so Erik couldn’t see the red stains on her cheeks.

“Stay,” he pleaded hoarsely.

Compliantly, she slithered back under the blanket and eagerly returned his embrace, suddenly kissing him with raw desperation. Just as Erik was about to propose they stay in bed for the remainder of the day, Christine’s prediction followed through.

“Christine?” Several more knocks on the door, harsh and unforgiving, then, “It is very late, and I am bored. Are you awake?”

Damn it.” Erik grinded his teeth at Seth’s confident drawl, gently pushing Christine up into a sitting position. They both eyed the door fearfully for a moment.

“One moment, Seth,” Christine called, holding the blanket up to her chin. In quieter tones, to Erik, she said, “Hide in the bathroom.”

“I—what?” Erik asked, momentarily bewildered. The order was so absurd that he didn’t quite believe it at first.

“Hide in the bathroom! Go, hurry!” With a well-placed shove, she pushed him to his feet, retrieving her dressing gown and handing him a sheet she had tugged off the bed.

The knocks intensified. “Can I come in? Christine?”

“My mask,” Erik started. Christine turned, and then held out the white adornment. She did not offer it to him, however. “Christine,” he said in vexation, “Please.”

She hesitated, and then passed it to him with a pained expression. He arranged it deftly on his face, vanishing into the adjoining chamber.

Christine tied her robe with fumbling hands. Her cheeks were still flushed from Erik’s kisses, and she could feel her skin tingling where they had laid together. Nervously she patted down her hair, and opened the door.

Seth was already dressed, his curls bunched together and dripping down his face. The ends of his pants were caked with dirt, but his shoes were clean. He must have changed them before coming upstairs. “Hello,” he greeted her cheerfully. Plowing his way past her, he surveyed the room with a serious expression. Christine smiled as he said with disdain, “It is a much nicer room than mine. M. de la Rue must like you more.” He turned and examined her with the same look. “Perhaps it is because you are a girl. He has never had a girl here before.”

“I am sure ‘M. de la Rue’ likes you just as much as he likes me, if not more,” Christine said carefully. A muffled snort came from the direction of the bathroom, but Seth did not seem to hear it. He was traipsing around her room, inspecting the furniture with a critical eye, while she edged towards Erik’s hiding place, trying to maintain a casual countenance.

“Whose are these?” Christine glanced up from the door handle she had been about to turn. Her jaw dropped in surprise. Seth was holding Erik’s waistcoat, and gesturing to the rest of his clothes left peaking out from under the bed.

“Those…” Christine said blankly, her voice failing her. “Those are…”

“Wasn’t M. de la Rue wearing this yesterday?”

“Certainly not,” she stammered unconvincingly. “I should like to get dressed now, Seth, perhaps you should wait outside for me.”

“But why do you have a man’s clothes under your bed?” Seth persisted curiously, pulling the rest of the garments out and sifting through them.

“Seth,” Christine exclaimed shrilly, “I asked you to leave!”

“These are M. de la Rue’s!” He pulled out Erik’s cape. “You certainly don’t wear these.” He suddenly fixed his unnerving wide-eyed stare on her. “Why are you guarding that door?”

“What?” Christine asked thickly, panicking. Seth leapt up and maneuvered around her easily, wrenching open the door. Christine squeezed her eyes shut and prepared herself for the shout that would undoubtedly come next.

“You have a private bathroom?” Seth’s indignant voice reached her ears. “M. de la Rue must like you very much.” He came back out and went to the door. “You may get dressed now.” Without another word, he left.

Christine stood, dumbstruck, for several seconds, before wheeling around and scrambling into the bathroom. It was empty. “Erik?” No answer. Her heart fluttered in alarm. “Erik, where are you?”

A sudden chill wrapped itself around her, and a flapping noise came from the window. It was wide open, the green curtains whipping in the wind. Christine stared at it for a moment, mesmerized by the splattering sound of the rain hitting the sill. Then, she keeled over and succumbed to astonished laughter.

* * *

Only Seth had risen in time for breakfast, so it had not been formally served. Christine found Mrs. Attwater, or Edith as she preferred, and was directed to the kitchens. She left with the modest meal of a muffin and teacake, chewing on them absently as she meandered through the house. It seemed she had only gotten used to Erik’s first residence when she had been thrust into an even larger, more confusing one.

Trusting that this would be a longer lasting abode, she sketched out a map in her head as she made her way through it. The size and sumptuousness of the house were only too characteristic of its creator, the dead end corridors and countless portals fairly reeking with Erik’s love of all things mysterious.

The Trapdoor Lover, indeed, Christine thought, abruptly remembering a name Madame Giry had called him by years earlier.

Eventually losing track of which way left and right were, she entertained herself by musing over the possible connections Erik might have with Mrs. Attwater. The intimacy and ease with which the elderly woman referred to him was nothing short of startling, but as far as Christine knew, Erik had very little time to make outside acquaintances before he was brought to the Opera House. He had been with the gypsies for years before…Could Edith possibly be someone from an even earlier time in Erik’s life? Perhaps someone his family had known?

Then Christine remembered that Madame Giry had left the Opera Populaire for over five years, when she married and had Meg, so she would have been unaware of Erik’s activities during that time—and Erik must have come to England sometime to build this house. Or had it all happened in the past four years?

Her head was all but bursting with questions. Her preoccupation over the subject was so distracting that she had wandered deep enough into the house as to not know the direction she had come from. She stopped in the middle of the hall. There were three directions she could go, all of which did not look familiar. She could only tell that she was still on the top floor of the house, for she was sure she had not gone down any stairs.

She decided to go down the center hall, with the most windows. Near the end of it was a very promising pair of double doors that she hoped would lead into an open space, or perhaps onto a balcony.

Unsettled by the solitary noise of her heels clicking against the polished floor, she approached them in rather a rush, and flung them open heedlessly.

Christine’s first thought when she beheld the room was, love.

A rich red that seemed to be Erik’s signature colour in all his houses, striped the walls and splashed across the furniture, bringing vividness and character to the soft beige that was the base hue. The carpet was the same light tan colour, thick and soft, relaxing under Christine’s feet. The chamber was separated into two parts; the first was a sitting room of sorts, with several cushioned chairs and a divan in one corner, with a glossy, low-set table. A desk, devoid of any papers or writing utensils, sat in the opposite corner, an empty vase decorating its surface.

Christine’s gaze was drawn to the pianoforte, the only piece of furniture that showed any proof of someone occupying the room. Its lid was opened, and the bench pulled out.

The other part of the room was awash in light, thanks to a great number of windows and a pair of glass doors leading out onto a balcony. The view was nearly as magnificent as Christine’s room.

There was only one piece of furniture in this section, but it was all that was required. A huge four-poster bed, the striped beige and crimson spread untouched. A gauzy white canopy was tied back with cords of twisted silk.

Certainly there was no question as to whose room this was. Erik did not deprive himself of luxury, and why should he when he could easily afford it?

Now that she had located his rooms, Christine was eager to find the genuine article. She hadn’t seen him since that morning, and it was well into the evening now. Smiling, she wondered how he had managed to climb out the window, wearing only a sheet, and made it all here without being seen.

Of course, thinking of that morning brought her to thinking about the night before it, and she blushed fiercely even though she was alone. Taking a seat on the divan, she attempted to compose herself by concentrating on other things—the weather, Seth, the house, puzzling Mrs. Attwater…

What if he was avoiding her? Surely he couldn’t think anything was wrong, not after…and he wouldn’t leave now, unless she meant nothing to him.

Stop worrying, she ordered herself. He’ll be here any moment and everything will be fine.

Content for the moment, she sat there recalling every scandalous detail and delicious touch, waiting for him to return.

* * *

Frowning, Erik strolled purposefully down the hall, yesterday’s clothes tucked under his arm. He had waited in Christine’s room for half an hour, at least, and she hadn’t shown up. He knew she wasn’t outside with Seth, and she had stopped at the kitchens to have breakfast. She had to be somewhere in the house.

As he made his way through the east wing of the house, a hideous suspicion came over him. Could she be avoiding him? What if she had had second thoughts, and was absolutely furious…and wanted him to leave after all.

Cursing quietly, he sped up, loosening his cravat with agitation. Climbing out the window had irritated the injury on his shoulder, though it was all but entirely healed. The scab had stretched uncomfortably, and he was desperately tempted to itch it.

If she had the audacity to reject him after that feat—well, he would like to see her try to climb out a window and across the roof.

He shook himself mentally, pushing back the surge of anger. She hadn’t even told him off yet, and already he was vile-tempered.

Only several metres away from his destination, Erik froze. Both his bedroom doors were wide open. He had specifically forbidden Seth and Mrs. Attwater to enter his rooms, under any circumstances.

What in hell…?

Gritting his teeth, he stepped inside with three long strides, preparing himself to confront the intruder.

* * *

It was the sound of his breathing that alerted her of his presence. Christine got to her feet, smiling. His shocked expression was somehow gratifying. “You aren’t avoiding me, then.”

“Avoiding you…?” He asked feebly.

“I hadn’t seen you since morning, so naturally I wondered why I couldn’t seem to find you—I am sorry for intruding, but I didn’t know where else to look, and I thought you must return to your room sometime, so I waited—”

She was cut off as he pulled her into his embrace, chuckling quietly. “And I was waiting in your room, good lord—” He kissed both her cheeks. “I shall have to lock you up so I can locate you when it suits me, without having to trek through the entire house.”

* * *

It was some time later that Erik had time to fully reflect on his feelings.

The darkness was almost impenetrable, even though windows surrounded his bed. The rain had slowed to a gentle patter, lulling him into a semi-comatose state of deep thought. Christine had, in sleep, rolled away from the nook of his arm and now rested on her back with one arm slung limply above her head. Her breathing was peaceful and even.

The overcast hid the moon, so he could only admire the silhouette of her, but it was enough. The assuaged angles of her neck and shoulders were hidden by masses of brown curls that shrouded her face like a frame of shadow. His own breathing quickened, and he quickly glanced away. Even after the second night of her lying with him, he still feared to mar her innocence.

It had been when he was waiting for her in her chambers that the full realization of his actions had struck him. True, Christine was no longer married, and would soon in fact be dead to the citizens of France. He dared not doubt her affection for him, as his idiocy had forced her to prove it several times over. But was she wholly prepared for what might, and in all probability was bound to occur if they continued on like this? There would be…results, to term it delicately, and they were not married—not even engaged, in fact.

He chuckled shortly, amazed at the coolness with which he was examining the situation. Four years away from her had taught him an even more brutal sense of survival than the one he had learned in the cellars of the opera—one that did not include the protective walls of his underground home, or the method he had used to easily dispose of people who got in his way. He had to cope with his problems like any normal person would, in addition to the hostile, restrained nature with which people regarded his mask. In a way, it had led him to posses a guarded respect for humanity, now that he lived as one of them.

When Christine had returned to him, they had both been entirely different people, their real desires buried under almost five years of loneliness and bitter acceptance. Only these few desires had driven them back to each other, one victim clinging to another, searching for empathy and compassion.

His trance was broken temporarily, as Christine stirred and turned onto her side, facing him. His eyes had grown accustom to the dark, and he took a moment to admire her blurred countenance. Her eyes moved beneath their lids in dreaming, fragile lashes quivering. Her brow was furrowed, and her lips drooped gravely. His gaze dropped almost instinctively to where the sheets revealed the barest swell of her breasts. Again, he looked away.

How horribly sentimental you have made me, Christine, he thought with a raise of his eyebrows. His entire brain had melted into an unintelligible mush, save the part that thought incessantly of her. The only thing that seemed to compel him was the need for her touch, her gaze—the affections that he wanted solely for himself. He was so ridiculously infatuated that if she spent time with even Seth, he would in all likelihood be green with envy. It was selfish of him, but for the first week, at least, he wanted her attentions on he alone. He couldn’t find it in himself to share her just yet.

She stirred again, this time reaching out blindly and smacking him, albeit lightly, square on the chin. He let out a bark of laughter, and then inhaled sharply as the thin sheet, disturbed by her movement, fell away.

I’ll be damned if she’s turned me into a maudlin fool just yet.

He awoke her without difficulty, and proved that his ardent disposition was not at all extinguished.

* * *

Two weeks passed; an absolutely blissful two weeks, in Christine’s opinion. Erik did not leave, as she had known he would not. She spent her days almost entirely in his company, setting their activities by the unpredictable weather. When it rained, she resumed her singing lessons in the grand ballroom, decidedly her second favourite room in the house (next to Erik’s). When the clouds dissipated, Seth accompanied them on walks through the elaborate gardens and the forest beyond. It was so exceedingly bizarre to see Erik outside, in the company of a little boy, that Christine was completely reduced to fits of giggles the first time they ventured out. Now, she took an almost parental pride in watching him, dressed to the nines, explaining the mysteries of Mother Nature to the eagerly inquisitive Seth.

The singing was a different matter. Christine suspected that, on the sly, Erik had strictly forbidden Seth to disturb them when they entered the ballroom. Normally a boy of his demanding nature would burst in at any given moment, but they remained uninterrupted throughout each lesson. Christine had regained her voice quickly with Erik as her tutor, and they were almost at the point to progress into things she had not yet learned. However, this did not please her as much as it might have.

The lessons were eerily familiar, pulling Christine into the past, willing or otherwise. Erik’s enchanting methods transformed the majestic ballroom into the modest, neglected chapel of the Opera Populaire. She could feel layers of experience and confidence peeling away as she sang, relegating her to the pious, naïve chorus girl she now barely knew.

The way Erik still managed to shrink her down so dramatically disturbed her, rousing a reluctant fear in the back of her mind. She had promised herself she would see him as a man, and treat him accordingly, but with each afternoon spent inside, her feelings grew more and more unsteady. It wasn’t until the keys of the piano silenced and her voice died in her throat that she fell with a whoosh of breath back to reality, clutching at air in an attempt to steady herself.

She knew Erik sensed it within her, by the enigmatic sidelong glances he always gave her after the lesson. It seized him just as powerfully as it did her; she could tell by the mist that clouded his eyes over when he played, a spark of his old obsession creeping back onto his countenance. It was pale in comparison to the preceding crazed devotion, but Christine recognized the signs as easily as she might recognize her own reflection. She knew she had to find some way to drive the ghost out of them before one of both of them succumbed, but how to go about it still eluded her.

The other dilemma that kept the two weeks from reaching perfection was a growing uneasiness on Erik’s part. Christine had felt it at first, as though she was standing on the edge of a precipice, teetering back and forth, waiting for something to come and disturb them in their new haven.

But the worry had been successfully squashed after less than three days, and she had decided, when Erik continued to give her, what he believed to be surreptitious, fretful glances, that he must have something profoundly more important on his mind. She had tried gently to pry it out of him on more than one occasion, dropping subtle hints, giving him plenty of opportunities to open up to her. He had, in his typical curt fashion, brushed her off and changed the subject.

She herself knew quite well that there were several topics of importance that would have to be brought up sooner or later, and she fully intended to make it later. They were quite publicly sharing a room now—as public as something might be considered with an elderly woman and a small boy, even with the new staff Erik had hired to care for the house—and to Christine’s surprise he took an odd pleasure in it.

She had to remind herself that Erik had never led a normal domestic life, and that the familiar gossip of servants was not so familiar to him at all. Their staff was wholly mystified at the relationship between herself and Erik, as there was no ring on her finger, but he treated her far better than a mistress.

Seth rather astonished them as well; it was almost unheard of for a wealthy, high-class gentleman such as Erik to take in children off the street. Christine herself was baffled at what purpose Seth served in Erik’s eyes, save annoying him to no end. She was beginning to think, with a certain degree of hope, that Erik allowed the boy to accompany him purely out of sympathy and kindness.

She received answers to almost all of these questions one warm, weary Thursday evening, two weeks and three days subsequent to their arrival.

They had retired, after a humid, cloudy day of exploring the gardens, to the library. The hearth had been lit, and Christine was reclining leisurely in a comfortably padded chair, Wuthering Heights resting open in her lap. Erik had browsed the selection of books before taking a seat to her right, empty handed. She had observed him interestedly for a brief moment as he stared into the fire, then shrugged her slim shoulders and returned to her reading. She could not force him into confiding in her just yet.

“I didn’t know you read such quixotic silliness,” he commented after a while, his eyes sparkling in good humour as he gestured to her novel.

Christine flushed slightly, but returned his look of exaggerated gravity. “This is your library.”

“Surely you are not suggesting that I purchased that waste of paper.”

“Well, Seth certainly did not.”

He regarded her shrewdly for a moment, his lips curving upwards in the barest of smiles. “You are excessively curious about him,” he stated bluntly. “You’ve been asking ridiculously oblique questions about him all week. I suppose I shan’t be allowed to keep secrets from you any longer.”

“I have a suspicion,” Christine commented blithely, placing her book down and taking a seat beside him on the sofa, “that you aren’t half as mysterious as you pretend to be.”

This issued a skeptical snort from him. After a moment, he spoke. “The reason you doubt Seth’s usefulness is because you have not witnessed him in his element. The boy is decidedly average in many things, but—” He broke off, and looked at her, face alight with enthusiasm. “Christine; the boy is, quite literally, a master of disguise.”

Christine’s face wrinkled in confusion. “What do you mean?”

Erik leaned forward, his eyes glazing over in memory. “When I first encountered Seth, he was dressed in a stolen, quality tailored suit. He was standing on the sidewalk, chin in the air, staring down at the world as if the very King of England was below him. When he saw me, he said, in perfect imitation of the upper-class drawl—”

Erik paused, as his mouth twisted in reluctant admiration.

“‘Sir, that mask is most unsettling. I must question whether your purposes for wearing it are entirely honest, as you can only be endeavoring to obscure your true identity by adorning it. One attempting to hide one’s true identity must be a criminal of some sort, for one would certainly not wish to hide one’s face when performing a good deed. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that you are a fraudulent imposter, and will have to report you to the authorities.’”

Christine’s lips, which she had been struggling to keep tightly shut, burst open in a gale of laughter. Seth, her own grubby, uncivilized Seth, was a master of disguise! She could hardly imagine it.

Erik reservedly shared her amusement with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. “I was about ready to throttle him when he whipped off his cap and confessed his true identity. I have taken a personal interest in his education ever since.”

Covering her mouth with her hand to hide her mirth, Christine asked, “But the art of disguise—even at such an advanced level—what possible career choice would he have where he could use it?”

“He has been of considerable use to me several times, but I suppose he will grow up sooner or later,” Erik replied, looking pensive. “I have suggested some options to him, in hopes of sparking his interest, but government spy was hastily rejected.” He let out a gusty sigh. “I suppose it is partly my fault that he tends to use his abilities for more…dishonest, shall we say, purposes.”

Christine’s smile quickly faded. “You mean…?”

“He has more than once expressed a plan to become the Master Criminal, as he puts it, capitals and all.”

“But if we sent him to the right schools—”

“What quality school will accept a boy off the streets, Christine?” Erik snapped venomously.

Christine realized she had touched on a tender spot, and rested her hand cautiously on Erik’s arm. “Forgive me,” she said quietly. “You are right; I didn’t think before I said it.”

He gave her a rueful smile, and raised the hand to his lips. “Forgive me as well,” he murmured.

Christine sighed, and rested a head against his shoulder wearily. “You truly care for the boy, don’t you?” When Erik didn’t reply, she glanced up at him. “Erik?”

“I had never thought to have…I took him in as a—as a son, you might say.” He voice was steady, but Christine could see the conflict in his eyes. “There are other things we need to talk about, Christine.”

She quickly sat up straight. “If you aren’t ready—”

“I’ll have no more of your tender coddling,” he informed her, through gritted teeth. “No, Christine, it is time you understand exactly what you are undertaking.”

Christine swallowed apprehensively, and closed her mouth. Erik got to his feet with his back to her, leaving her right side feeling conspicuously colder. She watched his shoulders rise and fall, and sensed his hesitation. “Start from the beginning,” she suggested gently.

He nodded. With a stoic tone, he began.

* * *

“I was born in Rochefort, to Eleanor Levesque, the wife of a successful merchant. He and my mother did not love each other, however, and I was the result of her affair with another man. I suspect my father found out of the affair, and abandoned my mother before I was born. I have never been told him name.

“My mother gave birth to me in the home of her only sibling, her older sister, her parents having both passed away. My mother considered my face a message from God, punishing her for adultery. She refused to see me for the first month after my birth, only my aunt and her servants caring for me. My aunt had inherited her parents’ small fortune, but had lost her husband at sea only a year after their marriage. She devoted her time to caring for her sister’s cast off child, while my mother spent her time in her room or at church.

“When my mother finally did come to see me, she brought a mask with her to hide the deformed part of my face. It became a permanent part of my wardrobe as I grew up in my aunt’s household, and I was forbidden to go near any mirror or reflective surface without it on.

“When I was four, my aunt and mother had a falling out, and my aunt returned to England, the homeland of her parents. My mother and I roamed from city to city for two years, I always hidden from view, forbidden to go outside our modest living quarters, forbidden to ever remove my mask in another’s presence. When we finally settled down in Bourges, I was six years of age, and my mother had become the most terrifying woman I have ever encountered. She had already been a vain, self-centered woman when I was born—the shame of living penniless and scrounging for food had driven her mad. I remember her coming home every evening, screeching at nothing, throwing things at the wall while I watched through a crack in the door.”

He paused, shuddering. Christine sat very still, afraid to take her eyes off his averted form. She felt somehow her gaze was pinning him down, the only thing keeping him from drifting away into the horror of his memories.

“She had hated me since birth, and I had only proved to be a thorn in her side as time went on. She would not let me leave the house, so I could not beg for money, or work for food. I was only a nuisance to her, a dreaded marker to remind her of her previous sins. She loathed me with every frail bone in her body, and sometimes I thought her contempt for me was the only thing that kept her in the living world. She seemed to thrive off punishing me, and then would order me out of her sight when she was too weak to take any more.”

Christine dared not ask what he meant by her punishing him, partly because she did not want to know, and partly because she feared she already did.

“It was therefore of no consequence to her when she sold me to a traveling fair, when I was eight years old. The gypsies paid her enough money for her to buy a steamer ticket back to England, and she left me with them without a backward glance. My last memory of her is her grabbing the coins out of a gypsy’s hand, and sneering as she handed me back my mask, after taking it off to display it like a product she was advertising—which, come to think of it, is exactly what I was.

“I lived with the gypsies until I was thirteen, first a part of the cirque du freak, and then promoted to having my own exhibit as my popularity increased.”

He finally turned to face her, his eyes narrowed and glowing with rage, his mouth distorted in abhorrence. “The Devil’s Child had swiftly become the biggest attraction in the fair. My owner, Pavel, was soon the highest profiting in their band. This resulted in an argument between him and his brother, and one night his brother tried to kidnap me from my—cage, to claim me for his own. When I resisted, he brought out his knife and tried to subdue me.”

His voice grew very soft, almost like a cat’s purring, only far more ominous. “He was the first. I tripped him over backwards and flipped the knife, puncturing his lung. He did not live to see morning, and when he was discovered I was already back in my cage, and no one suspected me.”

Christine’s throat was constricting painfully, but her eyes remained almost unnaturally dry. She ached to blink, to turn away from him. But she could not.

“Pavel mourned his brother’s death, and I was his only release for his anger. If he had known I was the murderer, his whip would have come down much harder—but he did not know. And I survived another year before Antoinette—Madame Giry saved me. She had hung back after the first group of the night had gotten bored, and seen me as I took advantage of Pavel’s distraction while he collected the money he had earned.”

All anger vanished from his countenance, and was replaced with a look of thoughtful bewilderment. “I believe at first I only meant to subdue him, to render him unconscious so I would have enough time to escape…It did not turn out that way. Madame Giry freed me, and led me to the Opera House.”

He turned to look at her. She gasped in a breath she did not know she had been holding. “Continue,” she said hoarsely. “Please.”

He stepped towards her, and then seemed to think better of it. “I grew to know the Opera Populaire better than anyone ever had, and probably ever will. It was the only true home I had ever known, and it was there were I first discovered my passion for music.” He paused, and smiled faintly at her. “It was as though I was falling asleep after a age of trekking across the driest deserts, the foulest marshes, the most treacherous mountains, without rest…I still cannot explain it. But it captured me, and at once I knew where my future lay.”

He shrugged, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “With music. There had already been a rumor going around about a ghost, haunting the Opera House. The managers at that time were particularly superstitious gentlemen, and all it took was a few simple stunts to convince them into paying me enough to afford my own piano. As I grew older, the stunts improved, my knowledge grew. I raided the library, studying everything I could on architecture, music, illusionism…

“Madame Giry was, of course, my only connection to the outside world. When she suddenly became engaged, and left the Opera House…It felt as though my mother was selling me to the gypsies once more. She was abandoning me to rot in the cellars, or so I felt, and it was then that the…” He choked on his words. “…The need for revenge, the blood thirst—” His voice was cold again. He turned a defiant glare on her, as though challenging her to contradict him. “—Came over me. It was the first time I had taken a step outside the Opera House, when I left. Something drove me from the place, now only another site of heartless desertion.

“I traveled on what money I had received from the Managers and a small income from demonstrations I put on while moving through Europe, and eventually on to Southern Russia. People were easily entertained by the simplest of tricks, and I was gaining a reputation as a nomadic magician. It was because of this title that I was brought to Persia, to entertain the little Sultana.”

His features were rigid as the mask on the right side of his face, gleaming in the firelight. “My time in Persia was not one fit for story telling,” he informed her frostily.

“This is not a story,” Christine responded with wounded dignity. She had maintained her composure thus far, and failed to see how it could get any worse than his first two murders. The bland expression he wore while speaking of them had chilled her to the bone, but she dared not interrupt. “I would like to hear.”

The look on his face told her he thought she was a fool for saying so, but he continued anyways. “The Sultana was, and is, the most immorally perverse being I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. She was only a young girl, but her fascination with death and torture were well advanced. My skill as a magician quickly bored her, but I had become an invaluable source of amusement to her. She would not give me up. Instead, she assigned me more difficult tasks, and took full advantage of all I had learned in the library of the Opera House. I was commissioned to design her a palace of palaces, and, eager to impress, bigoted by power in the Persian court, I did exactly as she ordered.

“As soon as she took residence in the new palace, she experimented with every aspect of it. The torture chamber I had created especially to please her was never empty, and it led her to another level of interest in the practice. She developed…a new sport, or game, as she considered it. I, the Sultana’s most prized possession, was placed in a stadium with only a Punjab lasso, and she sent in warrior after warrior to combat me. It was, in the literal sense of the phrase, ‘kill…’”

His tone grew quiet as he finished. “…Or be killed.’ I was ordered to slaughter the men, who were captives of the Sultana, and it was only my weakened survival instinct that carried me through the days. By the time I fully comprehended the sickening evil I was taking part in, it was too late to leave. The Sultana ordered her chief of police to assassinate me after my first escape attempt, and I would have died that night…But the Daroga was the greatest of virtuous individuals, and had been my only friend throughout the four years of endless bloodshed. He allowed me to flee the country, and spent five years in a jail I had built for his disobedience.

“There were the blood of over a hundred men on my hands when I left Persia, stumbling back to France seeking the comforting darkness of my Opera House. It was another two years before Madame Giry returned, and she assumed I had been all the while, my trivial haunting again a source of gossip for the ballet rats.” Faltering, his hands dropped loosely to his sides and he looked at her helplessly. “I suppose you know the rest.”

* * *

Christine finally squeezed her eyes shut, tears spilling and tumbling over her cheeks like twin rivers. It seemed as though a hole had been carved into her stomach, a horrible aching pain consuming her small frame as she clutched at her sides. She felt hollow all of a sudden, her arms awkward and sore as they embraced indifferent nothingness.

She knew now what had brought about the haunted, apathetic chill in his eyes, and why he still cried out from time to time in his sleep. His nightmares were no longer a mystery, for they would be hers as well.

* * *

Erik clenched his jaw and looked away as Christine curled into a protective shield and sobbed jarringly. He fought back the moisture in his own eyes, crushing the impulsive urge to kneel before her and beg for forgiveness. She had wanted to know, he told himself; it was her burden to carry, not his. Her fear and hate would surely be the death of him, but there was no turning back.

What happened next, as far as he was concerned, was nothing short of divine intervention. A pair of desperately gripping arms came at him from the side and held him tightly, as hard kisses were pressed to his shoulder. Christine clung to him like a wild animal, her tears dripping off her nose and onto the arm of his coat, leaving diluted stains. Her lips were moving, but her voice was too muffled against fabric for him to understand her.

Erik stared at her, wide-eyed, as she continued in a frenzied rush, then stepped in front of him and attempted to shake him. The attempt was a failure as he was nearly twice her size, so she slumped helplessly against him, wrinkling his lapels as she clenched her fists around them. He finally let his arms go around her, and they stood there, both panting, for several minutes.

“You undoubtedly have the most wretched past of anyone I have ever met,” she said softly. “You are quite lucky my parents are no longer alive, or they would most certainly not let me marry you.”

Erik watched in shock as she held out an elaborate diamond ring, the very one that he had put in his pocket earlier that day. He had intended to propose, if she still loved him before the night was through.

He scrambled for something to say, his mouth opening and closing helplessly. “You’ve spoiled the surprise,” he muttered feebly after a moment, quite aware of how childish he sounded.

She sniffed loudly, and gave him a watery smile, slipping the ring back into his pocket. “How wretched of me.”

Still entwined, they took a seat back on the sofa, Christine settling contentedly onto his lap. Erik retrieved the ring, and they both admired it silently as it glittered in the fire. The band was silver, and curled gracefully around a set of three large diamonds, the center one raised slightly higher than the others.

“I accept,” Christine said breathily, holding out her hand compliantly.

“I haven’t asked yet,” he informed her stubbornly, closing his fingers around the ornament.

“You are taking a very long time.” She hastily wiped her eyes. “What the devil are you planning to say?” She asked him, laughing and crying, employing Seth’s favourite curse word he had taught her several days earlier.

He exposed the ring again and stared at it. “I have never proposed marriage before,” he commented blandly.

“I should hope not.”

Ignoring her sarcasm, he took a deep breath. Which as much a sincere smile as she had ever seen him wear, he held the band out to her, offering it. “Marry me, Christine?”

She promptly burst into tears again, only managing to nod dumbly and hold out her hand as he slipped it onto her finger. With clumsy fingers, she pushed off his mask and kissed him, the saltiness of her tears tingling on his lips.

* * *

The house was dark when they spoke again, this time tucked comfortably in Erik’s four-poster bed, Christine dreamily observing how the diamonds in her ring reflected the moonlight. “What are we going to do now, Erik? Live in this castle and take care of Seth, until we grow old and can only sit at the piano and play?”

She spoke in jest, but Erik’s answer was quite serious.

“I expect, Christine, that between the two of us we will never leave such a calm, peaceful life. No doubt some dilemma will approach us before the year is finished.”

That dilemma did in fact approach them, much sooner than the year’s end. Not a month had passed before it came to their door, in the form of one Raoul de Chagny.


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Dream Descends

Part 11 of 16

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