Continuing Tales

Prelude, Renascence and Denouement

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Christine Reynolds

Part 3 of 4

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"Who?" Giggling excitedly, the young women in the frothy costumes of the opera ballet corps clustered around the speaker, a tall blonde. The blonde glanced over her shoulder, then whispered, "Christine Daae!"

"You must be mistaken. She's gone off to London with..."

"I saw her, Meg," the blond interrupted. "She's back."

The other dancers joined in, drowning out Meg's further protests. "What's she doing back here?

"How does she have the nerve to come back after what happened?"

"What would Carlotta say if she were still here?"

"Maybe Christine's vicomte has discarded her already," one suggested with a giggle.

"After only two weeks? Surely he wouldn't get tired of her that quickly."

The blonde arched her eyebrows knowingly. "Maybe he didn't. Maybe there was another reason. We all know that she was taken away by the Opera Ghost and kept...all night. Maybe the Vicomte discovered that she wasn't as pure as he'd thought."

"You're a fine one to talk!" Meg snapped. "Any man that comes along can have you."

"Only the handsome ones," the blond laughed. "I've never pretended to be an innocent virgin--not like our Mademoiselle Daae. And you know as well as I do how important virginity is to a man like the Vicomte de..."

"Girls!" A sharp voice cut through their chatter. They spun guiltily to face Madame Giry, the ballet mistress. "I believe I left instructions for practice, not idle gossip."

"But, Madame," the blonde said boldly. "Christine Daae has come back to the Opera."

Madame Giry silenced her with a stern glance. "And if she has, it is her affair, not yours. Now go!" She clapped her hands in command and they scurried away. "You too, Meg," she added to the only one who had lingered behind.

"But, Mother, if Christine is back..."

"If she is, you'll see her soon enough--after your rehearsal." She watched as Meg followed the others, then, with a grim expression on her face, turned to walk away.

Her cheeks burning with embarrassment, Christine drew back further into the concealing shadows of the curtain she had ducked behind when she had heard her friends approaching. Her father had always told her that people who eavesdropped never heard good things about themselves, but she hadn't meant to listen in on their conversation--only avoid them for the moment. She shook her head. It was natural for them to speculate on the reason for her abrupt return; if she had been in their place, she would have done the same. Let them think what they would. She doubted that any of them--even her loyal Meg--would believe the truth.

She waited until the silence reassured her that she was alone again, then quickly slipped out of her hiding place and set out through the corridors of the opera house. Luck was with her this time. She arrived at her dressing room--her former dressing room--without encountering anyone else and, as she had hoped, the room was empty. Stepping inside, she closed the door firmly behind her and leaned back against it. Her gaze darted about the room as if she were seeing it for the first time--the dressing table, the row of hooks where her costumes had hung, the mirror... Her throat tightened. The things which had happened in this room and on the stage and far below the opera house seemed so long ago somehow. It seemed that she had been away for years instead of days. She could scarcely believe she had changed so much in such a short time. She had been such a fool.

Crossing the room to stand before the mirror, she slowly stretched out a hand to caress the gilded frame. "I've come back, my Angel," she whispered. "Let me sing for you again." She caught her lower lip between her teeth and waited, scarcely breathing, hoping against hope that he was waiting for her--that she would hear the voice which had once haunted this room, filling her world with beauty and her soul with love.

"No wife of mine will parade upon the stage like a painted whore for other men to stare at!"

She hissed and stepped back, her eyes blazing with remembered anger. Then she caught herself and smiled. Raoul had been right, of course. Christine was sure that the woman he married would indeed be a demure and obedient wife who would hang upon his arm and grace his home and bear his sons and never ask for more. Christine pitied the poor creature.

She stared at her reflection in the mirror. A familiar young woman with wide eyes and an abundance of flowing dark curls stared back at her. She looked no different. The change in her was not physical, except she fancied that her chin jutted out a bit more defiantly--and that her eyes had a sadness to them that had not been there before. No, the difference went far deeper.

"So. Suzette was right. You are here."

Christine turned, squaring her shoulders as if to do battle. It had taken her the entire morning to prepare herself emotionally for this encounter, which she had known she could not avoid, and now she fought to keep all her new-found courage from draining away in a heartbeat. "Madame Giry." She inclined her head in greeting.

"And have you come to rejoin us?" The ballet mistress stepped into the room. There was something disapproving in her manner, but Christine refused to be intimidated.

She shrugged. She had not come back seeking employment--not today. When she had walked through the front door of the opera house, her aborted career had been the farthest thing from her mind; she had had much more urgent business here. Unfortunately Monsieur Firmin had spotted her almost immediately and had whisked her off to a hasty meeting with his partner before she could even begin to protest. Desperate for a diva now that Carlotta had left, they had made her an offer which once would have thrilled her beyond measure, an offer that would bring her fame and money, an offer which now was all but meaningless.

"I don't know," she answered at last. "I didn't come here looking for work. I came..." Her voice trailed away. Now that the moment was upon her, all her carefully chosen and endlessly rehearsed words left her.

"Yes?" Giry's eyebrows rose in question.

She clenched one hand, digging her nails into her palm. "I came to find out about...him," she managed.

"The Opera Ghost?" The woman shook her head, and Christine saw her lips tighten. "You have come to the wrong person then. I can tell you nothing."

Christine ignored her and went on. "There was a mob the night I ran away. They were going down to his lair. Did..." She hesitated. For the briefest moment, she felt as if she were strangling; she had to know, but she was almost too afraid of the answer to ask the question. "Did they kill him?"

"No," Madame Giry said shortly. "He escaped."

Christine's eyes closed briefly and she gave a sigh of relief. "Then he's alive," she whispered.

"I would not know, mademoiselle."

"Haven't you seen him?"

"No one sees the Opera Ghost unless he wishes to be seen."

"That's no answer." Christine realized how sharp her words sounded, but it was too late to call them back.

"I have not seen him. No one has seen him. He has vanished. There have been no threats, no demands, no murder or arson or extortion. Box Five is rented every night without disturbance. He is gone. Is that a sufficient answer?"

Christine's spirits sank. "Then where is he?"

"How would I know?" Giry turned as if to go.

"But you must know!" Christine took a quick step forward, her hand outstretched. "You must know something. You brought his messages and you knew where to send Raoul that night and..."

Madame Giry spun angrily. "I was not the Opera Ghost's accomplice, whatever the vicomte and the managers may think!" she snapped. "What I did, I did out of fear..." Her voice faltered briefly. "And pity," she added in a whisper. Then she stiffened defensively. "Yes, I knew the Phantom's lair was deep beneath the Opera and I kept his secret, even after Joseph Buquet's death. I wanted to believe that had been an accident, so I continued to protect him. But when he dragged you from the stage, I was afraid of what he would do to you and so I..."

"He wouldn't have hurt me," Christine interrupted.

"He had just murdered a man," Giry said bluntly. "I saw nothing to stop him from raping you and then murdering you too."

Christine flinched at the harsh words, emotionally rejecting the thought of what had happened to Piangi. She looked away.

"No," she protested softly. "My Angel never killed. It was the Phantom who murdered--who was evil."

"They are the same man," Giry said flatly.

Christine shook her head. "Are they? I don't think so, Madame Giry. I don't understand how one man can be two different people, but he is. My angel was no murderer. He was gentle, patient, good. We used to talk after my lessons-- talk and share and..." She took a deep breath, fighting back the tears that the memory brought. "I love him so very much."

"You have a strange way of showing your love."

"But I do love him! I always have." Christine knew how inane her declaration must sound, after all she had done to him, after she had betrayed him and run from him, but it was the truth. It was a truth she feared she had recognized too late. "I loved his voice and his music and his soul. And the night he took me away with him, when he touched me for the first time I felt...I wanted..." She blushed, stopping herself before she embarrassed them both by speaking of the desires that had burned within her that night. "I loved him. But then I saw his face. If only I hadn't run from him when I saw his face. If only I'd been wise enough to realize that it didn't matter--that his appearance didn't change what he was inside or what I'd felt for him."

"Why are you here, Christine?"

She met the ballet mistress' penetrating gaze. "I came here looking for him" she answered quietly. "I have to find him and tell him I was wrong."

"Christine, go back to your vicomte and marry him and forget the Opera Ghost."

Christine shook her head. "I won't go back to Raoul. And I can't forget my angel." She took a deep breath. "I've been such a fool. Everything I've done since my father died. Everything. I've made so many mistakes. Now I have to try to set things right. Please try to understand. Haven't you ever been wrong--terribly wrong--and not realized it until later--when it was too late?"

Madame Giry flinched and turned her face toward the door. "Yes," she murmured, and there was pain in her voice.

"Then maybe you understand how I feel."

"Yes, child. I understand." For the briefest second, Giry's ramrod-stiff shoulders drooped; then she straightened again. "Come and sit and I'll tell you all that I can."

Relief at the other woman's sudden capitulation made Christine's knees go weak. She sank onto the stool before the dressing table. "Thank you," she said gratefully.

"I can tell you little more than I told the Vicomte," Madame Giry began.

"Raoul told me nothing." It was impossible to keep the bitterness out of her tone and she saw Giry's eyes narrow. "I'm sorry. Please go on."

"Some years ago, there was a travelling fair on the outskirts of the city." Madame Giry spoke slowly and seemed to be choosing her words carefully. "Meg was just a little girl then and we were living with my parents--my husband had died only the year before. I was ballet mistress for a small theatre near the field where the fair had set up, and every day, on my way to and from the theatre, I would stop to seek entertainment. There were many things of interest, but the one which drew me back again and again was a man in a cage--a hideously deformed creature who played the violin with the skill angel." She paused, then went on. "His music was the most beautiful I had ever heard. He told me that he had composed it himself, that he was an architect and a scholar..."

"You spoke to him?"

"Yes." Her eyes closed and her face became drawn, as if with some painful memory. "To my eternal shame. I didn't know-- didn't understand." She looked down at Christine, and her eyes glistened suspiciously. "You see, I thought he played there of his own free will. Even in that cage--even in rags and with a bear collar around his neck--he had...dignity, and so I couldn't believe... The idea of that incredible talent--that brilliance--being wasted angered me. And so I went to his cage one night after the fair had closed and I berated him. I called him an animal. I said too much--too many things I regretted later. He tried to tell me, but I wouldn't listen."

"Tell you what?"

"That he was their prisoner--their slave. That he was kept locked in the cage and forced to perform."

"Oh dear God," Christine breathed.

"I don't know why I didn't listen. I had seen him beaten for refusing to play. I stood there and watched when his jailer went into the cage with a cane and hit him until he..."

"No more, Madame Giry, please." Christine's fingers knotted in the material of her skirt. She was sickened at the thought of the pain and humiliation her angel must have endured.

"And then one day the cage was empty. When I asked about him, they told me he had died. They were packing up to leave in a great hurry, and so I thought they had probably killed him. I felt as if I had been at least partially responsible for his death, because I had done nothing to help him." She drew a hand over her eyes. "I carried that guilt for years--until the day I encountered the Opera Ghost in the cellars and knew that Erik had escaped somehow."


"He was billed as 'Monsieur Gargoyle,' but I heard one of the women call him 'Erik.'"

"Erik." Christine's eyes went wide as she remembered the masquerade ball over a year before, remembered the man in the monk's robe who had come to her claiming to be sent by her Angel of Music. He had spent most of the evening at her side, bringing her champagne, dancing with her, making her smile--and then had vanished. "Madame Giry, where do you think he is now?"

The older woman looked down at her sadly. "Do you truly want to know what I believe?" Christine nodded. "I believe he's dead. I believe after you left he went away somewhere below the opera to die."

"No." Something twisted painfully in Christine's chest. She found herself on her feet, her forehead pressed against the mirror, without really knowing how she had gotten there. "No. He can't be--not before I have a chance to tell him I love him."

"I'm sorry, child." She heard Madame Giry move across the room and heard a drawer open and close. "When Meg and the others arrived that night, he had vanished. But he left this."

Christine turned and caught her breath at the sight of the familiar object in Madame Giry's hand. "He left his mask?" The implications of the act frightened her. She took it and her fingers caressed across the smooth, worn surface as a torrent of emotion shook her. "Then he really did mean to..."

"Can you think of any other reason he would leave behind something so important to him?"

"But maybe it isn't too late. If I go now to look for him..."

"No, Christine." Giry lay a hand on her shoulder. "There have been search parties--dozens of them--in the past two weeks. If he could be found--alive or dead--they would have found him."

"Then maybe he left the opera and went somewhere else."

"Without his mask?" Madame Giry shook her head. "No. I think he's still down there somewhere, where no one will ever find him."

Christine wanted to throw herself to the floor and shriek with the unbearable pain she felt. She felt as if her heart were trying to tear itself out of her body. The knowledge that she was too late--the idea of him dying alone and unloved when she could have given him so much love... She wondered if this were the sort of pain Erik had felt when she rejected him--when she went away and left him.

"I'm going to look for him." She scarcely recognized her own voice.

"You won't find him, child. Don't torture yourself. What's done is done; you can't change..."

"I'm going!" Christine looked down. Her hands were clenched so tightly upon the mask that her knuckles were white. She relaxed her grip and lifted the mask to her breast, holding it as she should have held its owner. "I have to go."

They were silent for a long moment, then Madame Giry said simply, "I'll bring a lantern for you. And I'll show you the way."

"Madame Giry!" Christine's eyes widened with surprise. Feeling a sudden surge of hope, she threw her arms around the older woman. "Thank you."

Madame Giry endured the embrace briefly, then pulled away. "Don't thank me," she said sternly. "I'm not doing you a favor. You'll find no more than anyone else has, but I see that you have to try." She turned. "Just remember, like that man in the cage, you have a talent which should not be wasted. When you give up your search--or, God help you, if you find his body--then come back here and put that talent to use."

"I will," she breathed. She slipped the half-mask into a pocket hidden in the folds of her dress and followed the other woman out.

"Erik! Angel!" Christine felt as if she had been searching through the subterranean darkness forever. She had come so far below the opera itself that she had seen no one since Madame Giry had left her, and she was almost certain that she was lost. Her shoes and the hem of her dress were soaked from the water she had walked through, and the dampness intensified the chill of the sub-basements. Her muscles ached with weariness and there was a growing knot of despair in her chest. She was rapidly becoming exhausted...and discouraged.

She looked around through the gloom and realized she was back in the place which had been Erik's home. The desolation of the spot--and the destruction which the mob had left behind--made her catch her breath. She bent to set a candelabrum upright. Freeing a candle, she lit it from her lantern and touched the flame to the wicks of the other surviving candles. The glow illuminated the area, bringing back memories of the night her angel had brought her to this place of darkness and candlelight, of the way he had held her and sung to her and...

With a sigh, she sank to the stone floor, heedless of the filth, and pressed the back of her hand to her eyes. The tears which had threatened for some time began to slide down her cheeks. Madame Giry had been right; it had been ridiculous for her to think she could find Erik when no one else had been able to. It had been ridiculous for her to think she would be given a second chance. "Oh Erik," she whispered, shivering as the sound echoed in the stillness.


Her head jerked up. She held her breath for an endless moment, scarcely able to trust her senses, then called, "Erik? Where are you?"

"I'" Even though the words were faint, it was unmistakably his voice, undeniably real. She was on her feet in an instant, snatching up her lantern, her head turning from side to side, her heart beating faster with hope.



"I'm coming." She moved toward the sound, stumbling in her eagerness, and found him at last, wrapped in a dark cape and huddled in an obscure corner which she must have passed a dozen times. She went to her knees beside him, reaching out to touch his arm and reassure herself that he was still alive. He flinched, shrinking from the light and ducking his head in an attempt to conceal his face. "My angel," she breathed, too full of emotion to say more.

"You're not real. You can't be real." He whimpered as her fingers tightened about his arm. "Christine is gone. You're only an illusion..." His voice broke. He surged upward, attempting to stand, but his legs refused to support him and he fell back. "Christine is gone." He moaned and his body began to shake with sobs of pain. "My music is gone. There's nothing left."

"Oh my poor angel." Christine's heart went out to him. Despite the decision she had come to the day before, despite her firm resolve to find this man, a tiny part of her had been afraid to face him again, afraid of the monster who had terrorized the Opera. Now her fears vanished, dissolved by the sight and sound of his misery. Whatever he had done--whatever he had become--there was no monster here, only a desperately anguished man who needed her--her beloved angel, whom she had hurt so badly. She leaned forward, circled him with her arms, and pulled him to her.

"No...don't torment me..." He stiffened at her touch and struggled weakly to escape, but she only held him closer.

"Don't fight me, Angel," she murmured. "Let me hold you. Please."

"If only she would..." With a low cry, he relaxed and settled against her, his head coming to rest upon her shoulder.

"I'm here, my angel. I'm real." Her throat tightened with emotion. It was the first time she had really embraced him, and she was astonished at how right it felt. She leaned back, drawing his unresisting body with her, and began to rock gently back and forth, crooning soothingly as his tears soaked her bodice. "I'm here. I have you. I'll never leave you again." His head moved in denial. "I swear it, Erik. I'm real. Feel me. Look at me."

He lifted his head. Christine braced herself inwardly, determined not to recoil from the sight of his face. It was far easier than she had imagined; his face had not changed, but her perception of it had. The hideous scars that distorted the right side of his face faded before her love and her overwhelming regret that she had hurt this man who must have endured a lifetime of hurts. She stared at him as intently as he stared at her, and she saw his expression change as he finally realized that he was not dreaming after all, felt him begin to tremble as he realized she was actually there.

"Oh God," he whispered, jerking away from her and flinging his hands up to cover his face. "Don't look at me!"

She lowered her eyes and reached into her pocket for the mask Madame Giry had given her. As she had once before, she held it out to him. His gaze flickered from her face to the mask, then back, and he slowly lifted his left hand. She placed the mask in it and closed her fingers around his.

"Wear it if you want to," she said softly, "but your face doesn't...I don't..." She stopped, unable to find the proper words.

He turned away to slip the mask into place. As he did so, his shoulders straightened and he seemed to gain strength. She could almost feel him withdrawing into himself, away from her.

"What are you doing here?" The words were harsh, but his tone was not angry--only sad. "Why did you come back?"

"Erik..." She hesitated, not quite ready to say the words that would bind her to him forever.

"Why are you calling me that?" He dragged himself stiffly to his feet, successful this time, although the effort left him panting. He grunted with pain as he rested his weight upon his right leg and put his back against the wall for support.

"Because it's your name." Confused, she reached to take his hand, but he snatched it away from her. "You never told me your real name before. I only knew you as Angel and Opera Ghost and Phantom."

"The Phantom is dead," he interrupted. "The Opera Ghost is dead. I think even your Angel is dead." He drew in a deep, shuddering breath and exhaled it slowly. "All that's left is for me to die too."

"You mustn't!"

"What else can I do?" He swayed momentarily, then straightened again, his fingers splaying against the wall as a brace. He looked away and seemed to be speaking more to himself than to her. "My life is over." His eyes slid shut. "For so many years I didn't allow myself to need. Not until I heard you sing. And then I forgot who--what--I was. I became your Angel of Music. I loved you, and I was fool enough to think I could live as a normal man--that you would...could..."

The anguish in his voice--the knowledge that she was the cause of it--made her heart ache. "I shouldn't have left you," she murmured.

"What else could you do? Stay here? In this miserable hell with a madman? A...murderer?" The uncovered half of his face twisted with pain. "You made the right choice, Christine--the only choice. I knew. That's why I let you go." His head drooped and he slowly, carefully, shifted his weight to rest totally upon his left leg. His body was quivering, as if the effort of remaining upright were becoming too much for him.

"Oh, Erik," she breathed. "I'm so sorry."

"No. Don't be sorry." His eyes met hers and he smiled briefly, sadly. "There's nothing for you to regret. You made me so happy for a little while, when I was your Angel of Music. You allowed me to dream." His voice went soft with memory. "Do you remember the masque last year--the man in the monk's robes?"

"Yes." She could barely speak. "It was you, wasn't it?"

"That night I was able to touch you and hold you and dance with you. It was the first time I'd ever danced or ever held a woman--anyone--in my arms. You told me you loved your Angel, and I was so...happy. It was such a beautiful night. I dreamt..."

"I dreamt too." Looking up at the shadowy figure of the man she knew she loved, Christine began to tremble with the sudden realization that what she said and did in the next moments would determine the course of the rest of her life--and the fear that she would say or do the wrong thing.

"I dreamt until the night I realized how foolish my dreams were--the night I once again saw myself as I really am. And then..." He gave a choked cry. "Then my dreams turned to madness. But you saved me. You healed me with your kiss. You put your arms around me and touched my face as if I were a normal..." His voice broke. "No one had ever kissed me before. No one. Not even my mother. Your kiss made my life complete."

"I think...mine too." Her lips formed the words, but no sound emerged.

"Why are you here, Christine?" His voice was suddenly unutterably weary. "Why aren't you with your vicomte, out in the sunlight--living a...normal life? That's how I've imagined you--happy and laughing and..."

"Erik, I have to beg your forgiveness for the way I treated you." She took his hand again, and this time he allowed it. "You gave me so much--you gave me everything--and in return I..." She bowed her head, pressing his hand against her cheek. "I betrayed you in the cruelest way possible."

He sighed. "Of course I forgive you. How could I not? It wasn't your fault. It was mine, for wanting too much and forcing you to do the things you did." She felt his fingers brush gently across her hair. "I forgive you."

"Maybe I can forgive myself then...someday," she breathed. His quiet acceptance only added to her guilt.

"Christine...go now. Go back to your husband and be happy--for me."

She looked up at him and shook her head. "I don't have a husband. I didn't marry Raoul. I don't love him. I never did. I just didn't realize it."

"You don't..." He looked bewildered.

"I'm where I want to be, Angel," she said simply. "With you. For the first time in my life, I know what I want. No doubts--no questions." She smiled. "I'll leave, but I want you to go with me."

His breathing quickened, almost as if he were frightened, and the sudden intensity of his gaze was startling. "Go...with you?"

"I won't leave you to die here. Not when you have so much to live for."

"I have nothing to live for."

"You have your music--your, if you still think I'm worth having."

He shuddered. "Don't pretend...don't torment me...I can't..." His knees suddenly gave way and he crumpled. Christine tried to break his fall, clutching at him as he sank toward the floor. Somehow his body folded into her arms.

"Erik! Oh, Erik, my angel, I'm not pretending. Please believe me. You're so dear to me--so precious." She pressed her lips to the top of his head, and he uttered a low, wordless cry.

"Bless you," he whispered. "Bless you for trying to make me believe that I could almost think..." His voice caught. "You're so beautiful. So good. I love you, Christine."

"Even now? Even after all I've done to you?"

"Always. I'll always love you." He turned his head to press his cheek against her breast and gave a soft sigh of contentment. "Please...don't go. Stay here a little longer and let me die in your arms. That's more than I deserve...more than I ever dared hope for."

"No!" She shook him, her fear for him momentarily taking control of her. "You won't die! I won't let you die."


She calmed and kissed him lightly again. "You must live for me, my angel. My life is nothing without you." She caressed the back of his head, her fingers playing lightly with the thin strands of hair. She felt him shiver and his hand groped weakly upward to grasp her arm. "I love you, Erik." Something gave way inside her as she finally spoke the words aloud to him. "I love you so much."

He was silent for a moment, then whispered, "If this is nothing but a madman's dream, I pray God I never wake."

She fought the urge to weep at the tone of quiet resignation in his voice. "We have to get away from here," she murmured. "My angel, will you let me take you out of this darkness into the light?"

"I tried...for so long. But I could never..." He shook his head. "Where can I live but here in the darkness?"

Holding him tightly and gladly accepting the full implications of her words, she answered quietly, "With me."

Christine reached back with her free hand to push the door shut behind them. "Only a little farther, my angel," she urged. "A few more feet and then you can rest."

Too exhausted to speak, Erik nodded briefly. Christine guided him through the foyer, down the hall, and through the last door on the right. Despite her supportive arm around his waist, he stumbled as he crossed the threshold, but he caught himself and managed the last few steps. With a sigh of relief, she released her hold and let him topple onto the canopied bed. He lay immobile where he had fallen, his eyes closing.

"Here. You'll be more comfortable if you get this off." Christine reached out to unfasten his cape and pull the material from beneath him. He stirred slightly, rolling onto his back. She folded the cape and lay it aside, then touched his arm gently. "There are things I need to do. I won't be long." She wondered if he even heard her.

Her first concern was to lock and bolt the door to prevent uninvited and unwanted visitors. She didn't expect callers at this hour, but since she had been seen at the opera she felt she could take no chances. She leaned back against the door, sighing with relief. They were home. This house had been her final gift from her beloved father--a greater gift than either of them had realized. This place, which had always been her refuge, would be their refuge now.

The journey from the depths of the opera house had seemed endless, even though Erik had known a shorter--and less conspicuous--way out than the one she had taken down. He was so very weak. She suspected that he had huddled down there, scarcely moving and not eating, since the night she had left with Raoul. When she had finally managed to get him to his feet, he had fallen almost immediately, his right leg collapsing beneath him with the first halting step. Remembering the graceful movements of the man who had danced with her and, later, led her through the mirror, she wondered if the mob had hurt him somehow or if he had hurt himself in the darkness. She had pulled his arm around her shoulders, allowing him to lean heavily upon her, and they had slowly made their way out of the labyrinth to the dark and nearly deserted streets of Paris. She had managed to find a cab. The moonless night had hidden Erik's masked face from the driver, and she had explained away his clumsiness as that of a man the worse for drink, holding the driver's attention with a smile as Erik had painfully hauled himself up into the vehicle. Climbing down when they had arrived had been even worse--he had fallen again and it had taken all of Christine's charm to convince the driver that she knew how to deal with her escort's inebriation--but at last they were home.

She shook herself and straightened. The evening was not over yet. Though she longed to lie down and sleep for hours, the need to care for Erik pushed her own weariness aside. She built a fire in the stove and set on a kettle of water to heat, then hurried back to her bedroom, smiling to herself as she realized she had taken Erik to her own room rather than to her father's long-vacant one. Erik was motionless, sprawled inelegantly across the bed, his lips parted slightly, his breathing ragged. She bent over him briefly, then, reassured, gathered dry slippers and a clean dress and slipped across the hall to change out of her wet clothing.

She had left her father's bedroom exactly as it had been the day he died, as if she could somehow hold on to a part of him this way. Looking at it with new eyes, she suddenly envisioned it redecorated--saw a nursery with a small bed and... She crimsoned, but the corners of her mouth lifted as she donned the dry clothing. Before she left the room, she opened the oak dresser and took out one of her father's nightshirts. It was badly wrinkled and smelled faintly musty, but she was sure Erik wouldn't mind. Her father's useless garments would serve him until she could buy him new clothing of his own.

Setting the tray with the sandwiches and steaming pot of tea on the bedside table, she leaned over Erik and lay a hand on his shoulder, softly calling his name. He opened his eyes slowly, blinking in confusion, then started.

"Christine? Where..." His gaze darted around the room, then settled back on her face. "It wasn't a dream?" he whispered hesitantly.

"No, my love." She slid an arm behind him, supporting him as he struggled to sit up. "I've brought you something to eat. But first let's make you comfortable." She lay the nightshirt on the bed beside him.

He was silent as she helped him shrug out of his jacket and waistcoat, but when she reached for the buttons on his shirt, he caught her hand. "Christine..."

"Can you do this by yourself?"

He hesitated, then shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Then let me help you." When he continued to cling to her hand, she added, "Please? I want to."

"I'm afraid you'll be...repulsed," he whispered. "My"

Christine's eyes went wide at the realization that his body might be as twisted as his face. He must have sensed her discomfort, for he lowered his head in shame, released her hand, and tried to pull away from her.

"No, Erik," she said, speaking with more confidence than she felt. "It's all right. Hold still now." He took a deep breath, then nodded wearily and allowed her to begin to unbutton his shirt.

The buttons were small, but they were larger than the ones on her own clothing. There was no reason that she should find them so difficult to undo. She finished at last and, pulling the front open, eased the shirt back and down. Her hands faltered as she stared at the flesh that was revealed. The deformities of his face did not extend to his body--his skin was smooth and the muscles were tight and masculine--but his back and shoulders were criss-crossed with old, faded scars, some deep and wide, some only faint white lines. Unwillingly, she remembered Madame Giry's words--that he had been beaten during his captivity--but these scars were not the result of a single beating.

"Oh, my angel. My poor angel." She said nothing more, only held him to her breast a moment longer than was necessary as she drew the shirt off his arms, brushed her lips across the top of his head as if her kiss could somehow heal him and erase those marks. She helped him pull the nightshirt over his head, then lowered her hands to the waistband of his trousers. He shifted uncomfortably.

"This is no time for modesty, my love," she murmured, yet despite her bold words she looked away, across his shoulder, as she unbuttoned and helped him stand long enough to slip the trousers down over his narrow hips. As she knelt to pull them off entirely, she saw the deep, twisted scar running down the side of his right leg. She caught her breath.

"Oh God," she whispered. She pressed her lips together, fighting a sudden wave of lightheadedness. Suddenly she understood why he had limped so heavily. Even the sight of the scar was painful.

"I fear my appearance is even worse than you thought," he murmured apologetically.

She shook her head and lay a hand tentatively upon the scar. He flinched and she jerked her hand away. "Does it hurt?"

"Only when I'm very tired."

"What happened?"

He shuddered. "I was with a fair," he said softly, reluctantly.

"I know. Madame Giry told me." She stopped at his obvious discomfort. "Did you have an accident?"

He closed his eyes. "The owner. My owner. It was his way of making sure that I didn't run away."

"You mean that this was done...deliberately?"

He shuddered again and nodded. Christine felt herself go hot, then cold. The room receded and she began to lean forward...


Erik's hands were on her shoulders, supporting her as best he could. She caught herself and her eyes snapped open. Embarrassed, she straightened and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I don't usually..."

"It isn't the first time I've caused a woman to faint," he said quietly. He drew his hands away from her and let them drop onto his lap. He was shaking from his attempt to catch her.

"Oh no. It wasn''s the thought that someone..." Her eyes filled, and the tears began to flow, unheeded, over her cheeks. "That someone hurt you so badly--and that I hurt you too. I just didn't leave...scars. Oh, Erik, I'm so sorry."

"Christine, don't..." He lifted a hand and his fingers touched her cheek lightly, almost fearfully. She felt a fierce longing to take him in her arms again--and an even fiercer longing to have him take her in his arms--but she felt the moment was not right somehow. With an effort, she controlled herself and stood.

"Do you think you can eat something?"

"I'll try."

She shifted the pillows and helped him move to lean back against them, pulling the blankets over him and trying to convey her love by touching him as often as possible. "You're far too thin, my love. When was the last time you ate?"

"I don't remember. Sometime before you went away."

She caught her breath. "So long? Why?" She handed him one of the sandwiches. He stared at it for a long moment, then lifted it to his misshapen mouth, bit, and began to slowly chew. She waited patiently, pouring a cup of tea, adding extra sugar, and helping him hold it to his lips to swallow.

"I wanted to die and I was too...cowardly to choose a method which would end my life quickly," he said at last. He took another bite.

She sat quietly, nibbling on a sandwich herself, as he ate, thinking of how easily she had been able to talk with her Angel and wondering if they would ever know that closeness again. There were so many things she wanted to say to him--wanted to ask him. He was obviously forcing himself to eat. He managed to get down all of the tea and half of the sandwich and then lay the rest aside with a tired sigh.

"Would you like something else? More tea?"

He shook his head and eased down in the bed, drawing the covers up to his chin as if to hide as much of himself as possible.

"Erik, what happened that night?" she whispered. "How did you manage to escape?" She wasn't sure he would answer her.

His eyes slid shut and he began to speak softly, painfully. "I almost didn't. I was standing there, watching you go, feeling so much pain that there was no room for anything else. I barely heard the mob coming for me. When I did, it was almost too late, but there's a secret to my chair." For the briefest second, one corner of his mouth lifted in what might have been a smile. "It's a simple magic trick I learned long ago. I hid until they left, then came out and went outside--to the streets. I stood there hidden in the shadows for hours, listening to the people around me--normal people--listening to the sounds of life and of love. And I thought of you, and of what we might have had if only I weren't so...hideous."

"Oh, Erik."

He didn't seem to hear her. "The house beyond the lake was destroyed--torn apart. You saw what they left. I felt... My home was gone. You were gone. There was nothing left for me. Nothing but death. But it took a long time. Such a long time. I was too strong to die easily.

"Thank God for that," Christine whispered.

"They came looking for me later. I heard them. I could have shown myself and let them finish me, but I couldn't bear to think that they would be the ones to... So I waited, and I thought about you and I imagined how happy you must be. And I wished I could have been the one to...make you happy." His head moved to one side with pain. "I wanted you to love me, the way you said you loved your Angel of Music. I wanted it so much. But no one could love this..."

"I do, my angel." She was crying again. She lay a hand on his mask. "I love you. You don't need..."

"No!" He jerked upright, away from her touch. "Leave it. Please, Christine. Please don't..." The outburst seemed to exhaust his meager reserve of strength, and he sank back against the mound of pillows. Christine let her hand slip away.

"I tore your mask away twice," she whispered. "I won't ever do it again. I swear. You can do whatever you wish, my love. My angel. Just remember that your face is dear to me, masked or unmasked." She leaned over him and lightly kissed his left cheek. "And you'll live now. For me."

"Yes. I'll live for you." His words were barely audible, but Christine smiled. Then he added softly, "Until your vicomte comes back for you." Before she could protest, his head slipped to one side in sleep.

With a sigh, she cleared away the remains of the food, then returned to curl up in the stuffed chair which sat before the fire, turning it so that she could see the bed and its occupant. Yawning, she shifted and tucked her legs beneath her, leaning her head against the chair back. Her eyelids began to droop.

"We'll live at the family's estate in the country. You'll love it, Christine. It's beautiful there in the spring. We can come into the city two or three times a year so you can shop for the latest fashions and go to the theatre and..."

"Two or three times a year?" She set her fork down, staring across the table at him. "I thought we would be living in Paris."

"No, of course not. Why would we want to live there?"

"Because I'll be singing at the opera." She saw his expression darken and quickly added, "Not the Opera Populaire, of course, but somewhere else, where there aren't so many...memories." She absently turned the plate before her, trying not to think of the voice...

"Singing? Are you mad? No wife of mine will parade upon the stage like a painted whore for other men to stare at!"

She looked up in surprise. Raoul was staring at her, his eyes wide with horror. "But, Raoul, I have to sing! Singing is my life!"

"Was your life. You'll have a new life now. Don't worry--you'll have more than enough to keep you busy as the Vicomtesse de Chagny."

Anger--blind, unreasoning anger--swept through her. "And I have no say in the matter?"

"You're to be my wife," he snapped, as if that were answer enough.

And it was. Suddenly she saw herself as Raoul saw her--a toy, a creature who had no mind of her own, a thing whose only purpose was to be beautiful and hang upon her husband's arm, smiling up adoringly--whose only occupation was to bear his sons and run his household. Not a woman with desires and dreams and passions, but a doll. She heard her own voice, heard it rising furiously, but she had no idea what she had said when she finally fell silent. She only knew that Raoul was appalled.

"Christine, listen to yourself!" He rose, circled the table, and drew her to her feet, holding her hands tightly. "You don't mean that. Poor Christine. You've obviously been corrupted by your association with that monster. Don't worry." He pulled her to his chest, stroking her hair and whispering condescendingly, "You'll be all right once we're married."

She was beyond anger. Her Angel had not corrupted her; he had shown her what her life could--should be. He had given her his music--given her life and love and... He would not be treating her like this.

"Christine." Raoul's voice changed, went softer. "You know we'll be married soon. I've been very...patient, but now... You'll be my wife within a fortnight anyway." He tilted her chin up to kiss her, then drew back briefly. "There's no need to wait." His mouth covered hers and she felt his tongue slip forward to part her lips. She tried to protest, but he seemed oblivious.

Christine had never objected to Raoul's kisses; they were pleasant enough, even though they left her curiously unmoved. She had assumed that it was only because they were not married--once they were husband and wife she would experience the joy that the other dancers had spoken of so often. Now, for the first time, she found Raoul's attentions actually distasteful. She tried to pull away.

"Let me take you upstairs and make love to you." He held her even more tightly. "I love you."

She shivered as, suddenly, she heard another voice whispering the words. Raoul must have mistaken her reaction for arousal, for she immediately felt his hands begin to move upon her body, down to pull her close, then up to caress her breast. She shivered again, her mind replacing Raoul's touch with another--with a man who had held her in a light, gentle embrace as he had sung to her, hypnotizing her with the beauty of his voice...and his love.

"No, Raoul!" She jerked free, pushing him away from her and moving to place the table between them again. He was breathing heavily, his face flushed with desire. She felt an overpowering urge to laugh as, finally, everything became clear to her. She knew what love was--she knew what desire was. She had experienced both--but not with Raoul. She looked at Raoul and all she could see was her Angel's face, and she realized that the horror she had felt for him was gone. Only the love was left.

"Raoul, I've made a terrible mistake." She could hardly believe the low, calm voice belonged to her. "I'm going back to my room now. Please don't follow me."

"Christine, I'm sorry." He started toward her, but she pulled away from him. "Please forgive me. I shouldn't have tried to..."

"No." She held up a hand to silence him. "Just...leave me alone." Without another word, she turned and fled from the private dining room, through the more public one, up the stairs to her hotel room. The suitcase was out and she was throwing her clothing into it without thought. She had made a mistake. She prayed that she would not be too late...

She looked over at the form lying motionless in her bed and smiled. She had not been too late. Comforted, she allowed herself to doze.

"No! Oh God. No!"

The scream jerked her from her sleep and brought her instantly to her feet. The fire had died down, but there was still enough light for her to see Erik's body thrashing weakly, see his hands raise as if to ward off a blow, see the left half of his face twist agonizingly. She was at his side in an instant, her hand going to his forehead to check for fever. He flinched at her touch, shrinking away from her, whimpering with terror. The sound chilled her.

"Please don't hurt me..."

His skin was cool, and she realized that he must be caught up in some dreadful nightmare. "Erik," she called softly, reaching for him again. "Angel, it's Christine." She lay a hand on his shoulder.

With a wordless cry, he bolted upright, his hands groping blindly for her, clutching and pulling her to him. She sank down upon the bed beside him and let him cling to her, encouraging him to press his face against her breast, holding him tightly as she returned his urgent embrace. "Oh, Erik," she whispered, sickened by his fear--by the thought of what must have caused his fear. "My angel. My love."

She felt his grip upon her loosen suddenly, heard his breathing change, and knew he had awakened. "Christine?" There was a world of disbelief in the single word, and she bit her lip to keep from weeping.

"Yes, love."

"It' You're real?"

"I'm very real, my dearest love. I'm here. I won't let anything hurt you. I swear." She slid a hand up to the back of his neck and pulled him even more tightly to her. "What was it, Erik?"

"I thought..." He took a deep breath. "I dreamt I was back..."

"Back where?" she asked gently when he hesitated.

"At the fair," he whispered.

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

He shook his head. "I can't. It was..." He began to tremble. "I don't want to remember...but I keep dreaming about it. I can't get away..."

She forced herself to keep her voice soft, although she wanted to scream and rail at the unknown man who had hurt him so much. "Hush, my love," she crooned. "Try to put it from your mind. Whatever happened to you then, you aren't there anymore. You're here with me."

A memory from her childhood suddenly came to her--a memory of waking from some nightmare, which surely had been far less terrifying than his, and calling out for her mother. She lay her cheek against the top of his head and asked shyly, "Would it help if I stayed with you the rest of the night and held you?"

"Oh God," he breathed. "Christine..."

"Please? I'd like it myself. Very much."

His head moved once, slightly, in assent. She released him to stand and kick off her slippers, then, still fully clothed, slid beneath the covers beside him. He lay motionless, rigid, being careful not to touch her, his eyes wide with shock or surprise or disbelief--or all three. Nervously, she leaned back against the still-warm pillows and held out her arms with an inviting smile. "Erik?"

Slowly, like a frightened animal, he moved toward her, shying briefly as his body came in contact with hers. Then he relaxed and settled, pillowing his head upon her shoulder and coming to rest in her embrace. "Are you comfortable?" she murmured. She began to gently massage his shoulders and back until the knotted muscles relaxed.

"Comfortable? Oh God, if you only knew." His arm crept out to circle her waist and he edged closer. "This is...I never imagined anything could be so..."

The thought that no one had ever held him or comforted him made Christine's throat tighten. She wanted to assure him that this was only the beginning of what they would share, wanted to tell him that the feel of his body pressed against hers and the weight of his arm across her were undeniably arousing, wanted to speak of a future filled with nothing but love, but the words would not come. Instead, she contented herself with holding him and turning her head to kiss the small part of his face that was not covered by the mask or pressed against her breast. She heard his quick, sobbing intake of breath.

"Christine, what about...the Vicomte?" His voice was muffled.

"Raoul?" She shrugged indifferently. She didn't want to think about Raoul just then, but he persisted.

"What will you do when he...when..." He fell silent and she could almost feel the sudden wave of misery that banished his brief contentment.

"What are you asking, angel?" she said gently.

"This won't...can't...last." He choked, forcing the words out. "He was your...lover. You did love him...and he loved you. If he comes to...take you away again..." His shoulders heaved and the arm about her tightened convulsively.

She gasped as she suddenly understood his fears. "You think I'd leave you? Oh no! No. I'll never leave you again, my love. Never." Her hand slid up, skimming over the curve of his mask to caress his skull, her fingers touching the scarring that the mask could not conceal, playing absently across the curves and ridges and learning their shape. "Do you want me to tell you what happened after I went away with Raoul?"

"I...I'm not sure," he replied in a low tone.

"If I tell you, maybe you'll understand..." She fell silent for a moment, remembering, organizing her thoughts. "The night I left, I did believe I loved Raoul. I can't deny that. I hadn't ever stopped to think about my feelings for him. We had known each other years before--we were childhood sweethearts. And he had so much to offer a wife--money and a title and..."

"And he's handsome," Erik whispered.

She swallowed, then nodded. "Yes, Erik. Raoul is handsome and you are...quite homely." She heard him catch his breath at her understatement and went on before he could respond. "I thought what I felt for him must be love. And for a little while--a very little while--I was happy. But then things began to change." She smiled at the memory. "I began to hear a voice in my dreams."

"A voice?"

"The beautiful voice of my Angel of Music, singing to me, speaking to me, calling to me, reminding me of all the things you had given me that Raoul never could."

His head shifted slightly, tilting backward to allow him to look at her. She wished that he were not wearing the mask; she desperately wanted to press her lips to his at that moment. "My voice? But I was below the Opera..."

"I know. But it was your voice I heard. It was your face I saw--your face, only...changed. I didn't see the...disfigurement. All I saw was the love you felt for me--and the sadness in your eyes." She paused, and her hands unconsciously tightened their grip upon him. "In my dreams, I heard you begging me to remember you. I didn't want to. I wanted to put you out of my mind and marry Raoul. It would have been so much easier."

"Why didn't you?"

"You wouldn't let me," she said simply. "Raoul took me to London--to escape from Paris and the gossip. He wanted us to be married immediately, but by then I had begun to hear your voice. I knew I had made a mistake--knew that I was with the wrong man--but I didn't want to admit it. And then Raoul and I quarreled, and he told me he wouldn't ever let me sing again." She felt Erik's body jerk, heard him hiss with anger, saw his eyes narrow. His reaction pleased her beyond words. "Would you forbid me to sing?"


"Now do you see why I couldn't marry Raoul?" She laughed softly. "Do you believe me when I tell you I'll never leave you again?"

He looked into her eyes for a long moment, then nodded slowly. "I'll try," he whispered.

"Rest now, my love." She drew his head back down to her shoulder. "Sleep in my arms."

"Christine, I love you so much." He snuggled against her as if he were a small child. Realizing that he had no doubt been denied this comfort as a child, she cradled him in her arms and sang softly to him, a lullaby of her love, until he fell asleep.

Christine looked up from the book which lay open and unread in her lap, her gaze wandering over to the bed where Erik lay. The lines of his face were relaxed with sleep and, with the masked side turned away from her, he was almost handsome. She smiled. In the past few days, since she had brought him here, she had felt truly content and at peace--and happy--for the first time in too many months.

That first morning, waking stiff from sleeping all night in one position but elated to find her angel resting in her arms, had been the most beautiful of her life. Her slight movement had roused Erik. He had pulled his hand up to shield his eyes from the morning sunlight, then frozen with shock. His expression--wide-eyed disbelief giving way to unspeakable joy as he looked up into her face--would stay with her forever. It was an experience she longed to repeat, but she had forced herself to sleep in her father's room every night since, leaving the doors between them open in case he needed her. She did not quite trust herself to share Erik's bed. She loved him and wanted him with an intensity that frightened her, and she was not sure if he was ready--or able--to face those feelings yet.

In the past few days, she had done little but care for him--preparing food and urging him to eat, reading to him, singing softly for him, telling him of her love with both words and deeds. Slowly, carefully, they had rebuilt the friendship they had shared when he was her teacher and Angel--only now it was changed, expanded, enriched by their love. She had watched Erik rapidly revive and grow stronger, had been at his side to support him when he first moved the few steps to her chair, had rejoiced in both the sight of the sunlight on his face and in his halting acceptance of it. The light turned his thin hair, which had seemed so dark when he lay in shadow, to a glorious auburn. She seemed unable to tire of fluffing it playfully whenever she passed him--and he seemed unable to repress a shiver of delight whenever she did so.

She had gone back to the Opera almost immediately, in an attempt to forestall any of her friends coming to visit her. She had spoken with Meg, giving her friend a highly edited version of the final quarrel with Raoul and hinting that she needed time alone to recover; she had met at length with Messieurs Firmin and Andre and agreed to begin work on a new production in a fortnight; and she had managed to avoid Madame Giry entirely, certain that the ballet mistress would be able to read the successful results of her search from the happiness on her face. Erik's eyes had shone with pride and joy when she had returned to tell him of the leading roles ahead and to beg him to tutor her once more.

There had been only one dark moment in their intense happiness--the day they had finally spoken of the two men who had died. She had knelt at Erik's feet, clasping his hands tightly, as he had haltingly told her of the madness and desperation that had driven him to commit murder. When at last he had fallen silent, she had taken him in her arms and they had wept together. "The man who did that is dead," she had whispered fiercely, knowing without the slightest doubt that it was the truth. "And so is the foolish woman who rejected him and drove him to madness. We can't change the past, Erik. We can't bring Buquet and Piangi back. All we can do is put it behind us and go on." They had clung to each other for hours that day, until the pain had become bearable and, finally, subsided into acceptance.

Unable to concentrate, Christine gave up all pretense of reading and lay her book aside, devoting her wandering attention to the rise and fall of Erik's chest as he breathed. As if he were somehow aware of her intense scrutiny, he stirred and woke, turning his head toward her. "Have you nothing better to do than stare at me?" he murmured gently, teasing.

"Nothing." She rose and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. "I'm sorry I woke you."

"I should have awakened long ago. I've slept far too long." His gaze turned to the late afternoon sun streaming through the window.

"You need rest."

"I need you more."

"You know I'm here whether you're asleep or awake." She lay a hand on his cheek, smiling as he turned his head to receive the caress.

"Sometimes I'm afraid to sleep," he whispered. "I'm afraid that this has all been a dream--that I'll wake up and find myself back in the cellars of the Opera, alone and..."

She slid her fingers over his lips to silence him. "This is no dream. You'll never be alone again." She traced the outline of his mask, wondering silently if he would ever be sure enough of her--of himself--to remove it, if he would ever believe that when she looked at him all she saw was love.

"Christine..." He looked away, hesitating, and she waited as he fumbled for the words. "This is wonderful--more than I ever dreamt of, but..." He took a deep breath. "What about...the future?"

It was the first time either of them had spoken of what lay ahead, although she suspected it had occupied his thoughts as much as it had hers. "No one knows what the future will bring," she said softly, "but as long as we're together..."

"Together?" he whispered.

She pressed her fingertips beneath his chin, turning his face back so that she could look at him. "I hope you have not been trifling with my affections, good monsieur," she said teasingly. When he didn't respond--only stared at her mutely--she became serious. "Of course we'll be together, Erik--if that's what you want. It's what I want."

"I..." He seemed to be forcing the words out. "I have money, but I don't have anything else to offer you--not like the Vicomte."

"You have your beautiful soul and your beautiful music. And you have love. So much love. What else could I ask for?"

"But how could we be..." He couldn't meet her eyes. "Who would... What clergyman would consent to..."

She understood his question. It was one she had asked herself a hundred times in the past few days and the answer was an easy one. "If we can't be legally married, then we'll have to live in sin," she replied.

"Christine!" She couldn't decide if the note in his voice were shock or delight. She rose and turned away to hide her embarrassment.

"We'll talk about that later. You slept past lunch. Would you like something to eat?"

"Yes. Thank you." His voice was softer than she had ever heard it.

When she returned with a tray, she found him up and dressed in his dark suit for the first time since he had come here. "Erik! You should have let me help you."

He shook his head, lowering himself carefully into the chair. "I'm tired of being an invalid. I feel much stronger now."

"Just don't overexert yourself, my love. I want your recovery to be complete." She placed the tray before him and sat on the edge of the bed. "Shall I sing for you when you're finished?"

"If you have a piano, we can begin work on the new role you told me about."

"That would be wonderful. Monsieur Firmin gave me the music, but I haven't studied it yet. I've been otherwise occupied." She smiled fondly at him. "You'll play for me?"

He flexed the fingers of his left hand. "I'm looking forward to playing again. And if you can bring me some paper, I have an idea for a song--nothing elaborate, just a..."

He was interrupted by the sound of someone pounding on the front door. Christine came to her feet, startled.


"Oh God," she whispered, her eyes going wide. "Raoul." Her hands clenched with fear and, mistaking the cause, Erik stiffened and set the tray aside.

"I can deal with the Vicomte."


Erik started to rise, but she pushed him back, more frightened than ever. "No. He mustn't find you--mustn't see you. The danger... Stay here. Please. If you love me, stay here."

He nodded reluctantly. She rushed down the hall as Raoul called her name for the third time. Taking a moment to run her hands across her hair, she flung open the door and confronted him, praying her face did not betray her anxiety.

"What are you doing here?" she snapped. He moved past her, into the parlor, and she spun to face him. "How dare you break into my home like this?"

"Forgive me. I've been so worried about you since you ran away from me. At first it didn't occur to me that you'd come back here, but when I realized..." He held out his hand to her. She ignored it.

"Why wouldn't I come here? This is my home." She was pleased to hear coldness rather than fear in her voice.

"Let's not argue. I was a fool. Come back with me. I'll let you sing. You can do anything you want."

"You'll allow me to sing? How kind of you." She felt her eyes narrow with anger.

"Please, Christine. I didn't mean..." He moved toward her and she retreated. "It was a misunderstanding. Don't throw our love away because of my foolishness. I don't want to lose you."

"You never really had me. You shouldn't have come here. Please go."

"What is it, Christine?" He gestured helplessly. "What's changed you? What have I done? Is it because I tried to make love to you? My God, I waited long enough before I..."

"It wasn't that," she interrupted. "I could easily forgive that. What I can never forgive is the way you wanted to own me--to run my life--to cage me."

"But I told you that you could sing." The genuine bewilderment on his face saddened her, and her anger faded.

"Raoul, you have to accept my decision," she said, more gently. "I loved you once, when we were children. When I was little Lotte and you were my hero. The rescuer of my red scarf." She smiled sadly. "Those were beautiful memories, and when I saw you again, I felt that same love for you. But we aren't children any more. I do love you, Raoul, but not the way a woman should love a husband. I love you as my dear childhood friend, and I love you for the fine man you've become. For a little while, I thought it was more, but I was wrong. I'm sorry if I've hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you."

"The love we shared was real!" He seized her hands and clasped them to his chest. She tried to pull away from him, but he held her close. "I don't know what's happened to you--why you're behaving like this--but you do love me. I know you do."

"'You can't win her love by making her your prisoner,'" she quoted. "Those are your own words--your own advice. Heed it, Raoul."

"Christine, what is it? What's turned you away from me?"

"Let go of me." She kept her voice low.

"Come back with me. Be my wife. I'll give you the world."

"I don't want the world. Not your world, not your terms. Let me go." She struggled helplessly in his arms.

"Not until you come to your senses and..."

"Release her, monsieur."

Christine took advantage of Raoul's shock to break away, then turned in dismay to stare at the figure standing in the doorway. She caught her breath. Erik stood grim and forbidding, her guardian angel, radiating power and command.

"So." Raoul recovered first. His gaze shifted to Christine, then back to Erik. "Is this the reason you left me--to return to this...this thing?"

"Words lost their power to wound me years ago, monsieur." Erik took a half step forward, and Christine was awed by the threat in his movement. "You were asked to leave our home. Now go."

Raoul shook his head. For a moment Christine thought--hoped--he would comply, but then he slowly crossed the room to stand before his adversary. "I thought you would be dead by now."

"As you can see, I still live."

"What hold do you have over Christine?"

"Nothing but love." Erik was breathing heavily; Christine could hear the sounds even from across the room and could hardly breathe herself for fear.

"Love? What do you know of love, you..." Raoul flung Erik against the wall, and, before Christine could stop him, he struck out, a sharp backhanded blow that sent Erik crumpling to the floor, gasping and fighting to push himself to his feet again.

"Raoul, no!" Christine caught Raoul's arm as he drew it back. "Touch him again and I'll kill you!"

Raoul stared at her in disbelief. "You've gone mad." Jerking free of her grasp, he leaned down to rip the mask from Erik's face. "Look at him! Look at the thing you choose over me!"

Erik turned his head away and rose slowly, one hand moving up toward the right side of his face, to cover it. Then he straightened his shoulders defiantly and his head lifted. He let the hand drop back to his side.

"Christine has seen my face. I trust it has lost its ability to alarm her." He looked into her eyes and, for the first time, he smiled at her.

"Oh Erik." In spite of everything, in spite of her fear for him, Christine felt her spirits soar.

Raoul stared at her, shaking his head. "This is a monster, Christine."

"No, Raoul," she said gently. "He is only very homely." She smiled at Erik as she said that and saw the corner of his mouth lift in response. "That's nothing compared to the beauty of his soul."

"You forget that he murdered two men." Raoul's voice was harsh.

Christine reached out to clasp Erik's hand. "I haven't forgotten. Neither of us will ever forget. But the creature who murdered those men--the Opera Ghost--is dead. He died in the cellars of the Opera. The man who is left here is only Erik, my angel." She met Raoul's eyes, pleading with her own. "And my love."

"I can't believe what I'm hearing." There was a new note in Raoul's voice, confused, despairing, and Christine's heart went out to him.

"I'm sorry I hurt you, Raoul--truly, I am--but I love him. Please--if you care for me at all, give me my happiness."

Raoul looked once more at the figure in black. "You want me to let you go--the way he let you go." He laughed shortly, bitterly. "I can hardly be less honorable than a monster." Setting his jaw, he bent to lightly kiss Christine's forehead. "Because I do love you, I'll do what you ask. I won't brother you again, and I'll keep silent, because there are others who would deal with this murderer as he deserves." He turned to leave. "When you realize the folly of what you're doing--when you come to your senses--I'll be waiting for you." He hesitated, and his eyes closed, so briefly that she barely saw it. "I'll always be waiting for you."

"Monsieur...thank you," Erik said quietly.

"Don't thank me!" Raoul snapped. "I wish I'd killed you when I had the chance. I wish I could kill you now."

"You see, monsieur, how easy it is to be driven to murder when blinded by love?"

Raoul's shoulders slumped in defeat. "Goodbye, Christine," he whispered. Then he was gone. Christine shut and locked the door behind him, shaking with relief and regret.

"Erik, my love." She held out her hand and he came to her. She reached up to touch the cut Raoul's ring had opened in Erik's cheek, wiping away the blood with her fingertips.

"He'll wait for you, Christine."

"I know."

"If you should decide...if you change your mind..."

She threw her arms around his neck. "Erik--oh Erik. Will you always doubt me?"

He shook his head. "You? No. It's my own ability to be worthy of you that I doubt."

"Erik, put your arms around me. Please."

She felt his arms come up slowly, stiffly, then close around her in an awkward embrace. Despite the many embraces they had shared these past days, it was the first time he had held her this way, and they both recognized the difference instantly. His body trembled, and he drew in a deep breath.

"I love you, Erik. I'll never stop loving you." Pressing her lips close to his ear, she murmured, "Do you remember the night you first took me below the Opera to your house beyond the lake?"


"Do you remember how you sang me to me?"

"I remember."

"I wish you would sing to me again, the way you did that night. But without...restraint."

He understood, and his arms tightened around her. "Do you know what you're asking?"

"I'm trying to ask you to make love to me," she whispered.

"Are you sure?"

"Oh yes. I've never been more sure of anything."

"Christine, I'm so frightened. I don't know...I've never...I don't want to hurt you."

She leaned back to look up into his eyes. "I'm frightened too, Erik--a little," she admitted. "But you won't hurt me. We'll learn together." She smiled.

Hesitantly, he lowered his head until his lips touched hers. His first kiss was clumsy, but it thrilled Christine in a way Raoul's kisses had never even begun to.

He drew back slightly, and the wonder on his face made her throat tighten with emotion. He released her and took a step backward, bringing his hands together to pull the onyx ring from his finger. "I gave you this before..."

"And I gave it back." She shook her head. "I was such a fool."

"Will you accept it now as...a wedding ring?"

"Oh, Erik, you know I will. Gladly." She held out her left hand and he slipped the ring onto her finger. "I'm your bride now. I want nothing else--no one else--ever. I belong to you--and you belong to me. Forever."

He clasped her hand tightly, and she saw his eyes fill with tears. "Christine," he whispered, "all my life I've longed to be accepted--to be loved--to be normal. Now, for the first time...I feel that I am."

"My dearest angel." She moved closer to him. "Erik, make me your wife."

He hesitated, then took a deep breath and lay his hands gently on her shoulders to turn her away from him. She felt his fingers at the back of her neck, travelling downward as he clumsily undid the buttons that fastened her dress, trailing upward across the bared skin. His hands slid down her arms, pushing the sleeves and bodice before them, and her heart began to pound with anticipation.

"My love." His arms circled her waist, pulling her back against him, holding her tightly as he lowered his head to caress her exposed shoulder with his lips. She brought her hand up to touch his face, shivering as he kissed her fingertips and her palm. "My love, my love." His mouth moved to her throat, then up to her ear. "Christine, I love you so," he sighed.

They stood that way for a long moment, then he released her. She turned to face him, freeing herself from her dress and petticoats and letting them fall in a heap. She stepped gracefully out of the folds of material and stood before him, blushing at her own boldness. He reached out to loosen the combs that held her hair in place. The dark curls cascaded down her back. His hands trembled as he moved them to the ribbons at the front of her chemise. He parted the linen and drew in a long, shuddering breath.

"You are so beautiful. I never dreamed of such beauty." There was a hunger in his eyes that both frightened and excited her. She lowered her gaze. Slowly, almost fearfully, his hand moved to her breast. Her eyes widened at the unexpected sensations that ran through her body at his touch. She swayed toward him and he caught her to him in an embrace that took her breath away.

This kiss was more sure than the first. Christine let her lips part, kissing him deeply, her senses full of the feel and taste of him. Her knees went weak and she clung to him, her eyes closed and her mouth moving upon his. He swayed and, suddenly remembering his weakness, she reluctantly broke the kiss.

"Are you strong enough to do this?"

"I'm not strong enough to stop," he replied breathlessly. "Come..." His arm around her waist, his eyes never leaving her face, he drew her down the hall to the bedroom and urged her down with him onto the rumpled bed. His hands seemed to be everywhere, the long fingers seeking, learning, fondling, as he kissed her again and again. Christine's body ached with desire. Erik's hands and lips never stopped moving, his caresses becoming bolder as he grew more sure of himself, and she was lost in the feelings he roused with his explorations. She was aware that her chemise was gone without knowing when he had removed it. She heard herself whimper and call his name, feeling she could bear no more.

He rose to quickly strip away his own clothing. The shock of his naked flesh against her own made her gasp. She reached up to frame his face with her hands, her fingers sliding gently over the scarring. He froze.

"I can't," he whispered. "I can't ask you to..."

"Hush!" she said fiercely. She lifted her head to kiss the disfigured cheek, caressed the twisted edges of his mouth with her tongue. "If you stop now, I'll die!"


"Erik, I love you. I want you. Please...please..."

The passion of his response made her dizzy with its intensity. All his uncertainty was gone now. She followed his silent direction, turning and moving beneath his gentle but insistent touch until his body rose over hers. There was pain--a sharp pain that almost brought her to her senses--but then he was worshipping her with his hands and his body, and his beautiful voice was murmuring words of love and desire into her ear. She clung to him, touching him, accepting him, and found herself carried beyond the pain into unimaginable pleasure. She cried out involuntarily with delight and fulfillment.

Erik shuddered violently against her, then was still except for the heaving of his chest and the pounding of his heart. She began to stroke him--face, shoulders, back--almost mindless with joy. "Oh Erik. My angel."

At last, with an effort, he lifted himself and shifted to lie beside her. He reached blindly for her and she curled her body against his, her cheek upon his chest. He circled her with his arms, holding her as she had longed to be held.

"Now I'm completely yours and you're mine. Forever. No one can ever take this away from us." She rubbed her face against him, nuzzling.

He kissed her forehead. "I can't believe this has happened."

She couldn't keep back a laugh. "And it will happen again. And again and again and... Oh my love, it was so beautiful!" She shivered.

"Almost as beautiful as you are." He opened his eyes, and his brow furrowed. "I did hurt you, Christine."

She shook her head, dismissing it. "It was nothing. It's normal for a woman, the first time. The...results were well worth the pain." She lifted herself onto an elbow to stare down at his face. "And you, my love? Are you all right?" He nodded slowly. "You were still weak. I shouldn't have asked you to..."

"You may ask anything of me. Anything. I am...your slave." He smiled at her. "I'm very tired, but I'm very happy, Christine."

She lowered her head to kiss the side of his mouth. "Sleep for a while then. Rest."

"Will you stay with me? I need to feel you here beside me. I need to know you'll be here when I wake, to tell me this was not a dream."

"Oh yes. Gladly." She reached down to pull the covers over them, then lay her head on his shoulder, snuggling into his embrace, feeling totally shameless--and totally happy. His arms tightened around her. "I'll always be here." She brought her hand up to caress his cheek. "I'll never leave you again."



He laughed, and the sound was the most wonderful thing she had ever heard. "I believe you."

Prelude, Renascence and Denouement

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Christine Reynolds

Part 3 of 4

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