Continuing Tales

Red Rose

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Riene

Part 5 of 10

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Second Chances

Erik stared after Christine, nonplussed at this uncharacteristic display of temper on her part.  Suddenly this comfortable room where they had spent so much of their time together was unbearably painful.  He rose and soundlessly followed her, to stand outside her door.  Leaning forward, Erik lightly placed his hand on the carved gothic arches set into the paneled door.  He could detect no sound from within her chamber, and he would be damned if he would enter without her permission.  Irritably, Erik stalked away to the foyer, swirled his cloak around his shoulders and retrieved his hat.  Perhaps the cold air of the outside world would clear his thoughts. 

For an hour or more he stood hidden in the shadows on the vast roof of the Opera, excoriating himself for every harsh word, until the biting air cooled his temper. Christine’s return had reclaimed him from the morass of despair and self-hatred in which he had become mired.  She had come to him again and again.  Why was he forcing her to prove her devotion, her caring?  Was he punishing her for crimes of the past—for betrayal and abandonment?

Unwilling to return to his home, and aware his black attire made him unacceptably visible against the snow, Erik chose to leave through the Rue Scribe entrance and walked along the sidewalks in the chill growing shadows of the afternoon.  He was gone for some time, skulking the nearly vacant streets of Paris until he found what he sought, then returned swiftly to his lair.


Christine did not answer his soft tap on her bedroom door, so he cautiously stepped into her bedroom.  The sounds of rushing water in the small private bathroom he had arranged for her met his ears.  All the better, he thought, and carefully placed his gift on her dressing table where he knew she would see it and accept it for his apology.  Erik paused a minute, noting the small signs of her presence in his home, in his life; a novel face down on the carpet by the fire, a scattering of hairpins across the dressing table, her little slippers side by side under the edge of the bed.  He smiled very faintly; it was his turn to make an overture of reconciliation.


Christine emerged from the bath, wrapped well in a towel against the possibly chill air of her bedroom.  Stepping through the doorway, a faint blend of scents pulsed toward her; sandalwood overlaid by the sweeter essence of rose.  Erik had been here; she could almost reach out and touch the unseen specter of his presence.

Lying across the mirrored glass tray on her dressing table was a dark red rose bud, so dark a red it was nearly black.  It was winter in Paris, such fragile blossoms were costly.  It was also daylight in Paris; Erik must have braved the public streets and shops to find it for her.  Gently, she lifted the rosebud, stroking the velvety petals and inhaling the sweet scent.  With no need of words, Christine could hear his unspoken plea for forgiveness.  She kissed the upturned tips of the bud, then laid it aside to dress quickly.

Coming out of her room, Christine carried the dark red rose.  She stepped through the open door of his study, seeking him.  The wide desk, set into a niche in the wall, was untended; the room was cold and acrid with the scent of the ashes choking the hearth.

Continuing her search, Christine entered the library music room, past the pair of brass griffins that held open the heavy doors with their carved gothic traceries and looked about for her Angel.  Erik was seated in his heavy black chair, long legs stuck out toward the blaze, hands steepled together.  He had not heard her enter and she watched his unguarded face, lined and weary in the low flames of the gaslights.  “Erik?” she whispered tenderly, her voice carrying easily.

He turned uncertainly and Christine gave him her softest look, raising the rose to her face, inhaling its sweet scent.  She wore one of the gowns he had chosen for her of soft blue and her hair hung in loose damp curls down her back.  She was unbearably beautiful.

Do not be angry with me, his eyes implored, and she smiled.  “I thought it was getting late.  Erik, you did promise to take me up to the roof to see the snow.  Could we go there now, before it gets dark?”

“You will become chilled,” he pointed out, relieved.  “It is very cold outside.”

Stubbornly, she shook her head.  “I’ve haven’t seen this much snow since I was but a little girl, and I’ve never seen snow from the Opera roof.”

Erik allowed his face to soften briefly.  “All right.  Put on your outdoor things.”


He led her up the narrow staircase passages to the side of the Opera leeward of the wind.  They stepped carefully out along the broad sloped roof line of the Opera house and she immediately slipped, clutching for his hand with a gasp.  Erik caught her firmly.

“Christine,” he said, oddly formal, “I am afraid you will fall, for it is rather icy up here.  If you insist upon coming up, you will need to stand close by me.”

She tilted her head back and nodded at him, stepping into his embrace.  Slowly, his arms came up around her, and he enveloped her in his heavy cloak as well, remembering how thin her own was.  Erik stood stiffly apart from her.  As the heat from his body slowly warmed through her, Christine relaxed.  He felt her tension ease and to his shock, felt her settle back against him with a faint sigh of contentment.  Slowly, Erik transferred the edges of his cloak to one hand and cautiously moved the other arm around her waist.  Christine let her head rest on his broad shoulder, her temple lying against his masked cheek, and he held very still, savoring the moment.  She was so close he could smell the sweet scent of her herbal bath soap and the faint touch of perfume she must have put on.  They stood together long minutes, suspended from the ordinary world below, and slowly, tentatively, Christine felt his arm tighten about her.  With a soft smile she covered his hand with her own, lacing her fingers through his, holding him to her.  His steady heartbeat resonated against her back; his breath pulsed softly against her cheek. 

Erik felt a glimmer of blind hope flicker among the embers of his dreams, deep in his heart.  Christine leaned against him, trusting him to hold her in safety, her slender fingers absently stroking the back of his own hand.

The setting sun hung a sullen, angry red-orange in the sky, casting purple shadows on the snow which blanketed the city and frosted the ornate buildings.  From here they could look out across the twilight city, at the cathedral, the Palais de l’Elysée, and the other landmark buildings.  Beneath them, the trees etched a tracery of black lace against the nearly white sky.  From the street below came the distant sounds of horses’ hooves and the faint tinny sounds of peoples’ voices.  Erik rubbed his cheek gently against her hair.  “Are you ready to go back in?”

With a sigh she straightened, reluctantly leaving his arms.  “I suppose so.  It must be nearly dinner time by now.”

They walked back to the underground house in silence, each soberly wrapped in their own thoughts.  In one accord they entered the kitchen together, and Erik found she had spent the time of his afternoon absence preparing their evening meal.  With a compliment for the tantalizing smells issuing from the oven he left her to the final preparations.  Erik went into the dining room, clearing the table of its candelabra.  When Christine entered a few minutes later, she found the austere room transformed.  A fine pale open-work linen cloth adorned the mahogany table, graced by thin, nearly-translucent china and fragile crystal.  Gleaming silver caught the light from the ice-white candles he had lit, and she found a bottle of vintage wine cooling in a bucket of snow.  The heavy silver candelabrum had been placed at the far end of the table, which was set for two.

Christine looked up at him, hope and uncertainty in her luminous blue eyes.  “Erik,” she breathed, “are you joining me for dinner?”

He nodded stiffly, suddenly uncertain.  “If my presence does not displease you.” 

She walked toward him, smiling radiantly.  “Of course not.  Will you help me bring in the dishes from the kitchen?”

After the serving dishes had been placed on the heavy sideboard Erik turned to her.

“My lady?” he said quietly, his dark eyes smiling down at her.  Christine offered him her hand and he took it, barely brushing her fingers with his own as he escorted her to the high-backed mahogany chair and seated her with a flourish.

She watched his graceful movements as he poured them each a glass of dark red wine and sat, partially hidden by the shadows.  Christine picked up her fork and frowned at him.  “Erik?” she questioned softly.

For a long minute he said nothing, sitting paralyzed with trepidation.  Slowly, he lifted shaking hands and slid away the straps that secured the mask to his head.  Christine’s eyes met his steadily, betraying no fear or loathing at the sight of his ravaged features.  Erik reached out, gripping her fingers tightly, his soul, and his face, bare before her.


Toward the end of the meal Christine looked up and found him gazing at her gravely.  “Rehearsals will begin again tomorrow, Christine.”

She did not ask how he knew; he was Erik, who maintained an awareness of all events at the Opera.  Christine sighed, toying with her dessert spoon.  “Yes, I suppose so,” she said absently.  She raised her eyes.  “Will I see you again?”

“If you wish,” he replied quietly.  “Erik is yours to do with as you please.”

Christine shook her head, dark curls waving across her back..  “No.  Erik, I appreciate your letting me stay with you this weekend, but I don’t ever want to be nuisance to you.  I know you have your own life, and that I’ve disturbed it…rather badly, in the past.”

“You could never be that, Christine,” Erik said quietly.  “I enjoy your company.  It gets…lonely down here, at times.”  Such an understatement! he thought ironically. 

Casting about for any reason to maintain their newly wrought connection, Christine seized upon the first one that came to mind.  “Erik, will you still help me with the libretto?  We are so close to performance time now.”

Unaccountably disappointed, Erik kept his face from betraying his immediate response.  “Of course, Christine.  I will always do what I can to help you, but I don’t think you still need my help with the priestess’ part.  Any time you would like to sing, however…” his voice trailed off.

She looked away from his carefully controlled face.  “Thank you,” she said awkwardly, and rose to clear the table.


After dinner, they retired to the library music room.  Erik refused to let her sing, saying he did not want any strain upon her voice.  He cast himself down in the tapestry covered chair beside the fire, deliberately lost in his book, holding it in one spread, elegant hand as his other twisted expressively in the air, mirroring his thoughts.  Christine glanced up at him, her face softening.  No matter how much time they spent together, he was so compelling she could at times simply sit and derive enjoyment from watching him.  He moved so silently and gracefully, his long body almost at times infused with a cat-like stealth.  Erik rarely smiled, and his habitually watchful, grave expression haunted her.  Now, he leaned forward.  “Christine,” he said absently, “listen to this line.”

Erik read to her for some minutes as Christine sat observing him, wishing there was some way she could take away the pain of his past.  Though he seemed to be losing some of his cautious, reserved air around her, in no way was he the Erik of last autumn.  She wondered if he would ever accept that she truly regretted the hurt she had caused him, and if he would in time no longer doubt her love.  With a sigh she rose and came to stand behind his chair.  “Goodnight, Erik,” she said softly, touching him gently on the shoulder.

He looked up into her wistful face, then rose soundlessly to face her.  “Goodnight, Christine,” he whispered.  For several moments they stood only inches apart, each fighting the same fear and desire to hold the other.  With a faint sigh, Christine turned and walked quietly to her room.


They ate breakfast the next morning in silence.  Erik took her across the lake in the gondola boat and up the dank chill corridors to her dressing room.  Outside the pivoting mirror, Christine turned to him, placing her hand on his arm to detain him one more minute.

“Thank you, Erik,” she said softly.  “I enjoyed this weekend.”

“As did I,” he breathed, looking down at her.  He touched her cheek lightly in farewell, and activated the mechanism for Christine to slip through.  For a long minute he stood, watching as she moved about the room in preparation for the day’s rehearsal, then turned and made his solitary way back to the underground house.


Odile rushed forward and enveloped Christine in a hug.  “Thank you so much for covering my part,” she cried, brushing kisses against Christine’s cheeks.

Christine squeezed her arm in relief.  “I‘m so glad you’re well and back with us again!  Between the snow and doing two roles, rehearsal has been a nightmare!”

Erik arrived for afternoon rehearsal, his eyes scanning the busy stage for Christine.  The mezzo-soprano Odile had returned, he noted with disappointment.  Christine entered stage left, wearing his black rose pinned above her heart, and he leaned forward, smiling.  She looked relaxed and happy.  The cast quickly assumed their assigned spots and began the rehearsal of Act IV, practicing with the split-level stage.  The principals began the final number, and Erik listened to the orchestra, wincing.  For a moment he debated sending one of his infamous black bordered letters to the management with a scathing criticism of the oboe section, but reluctantly decided against it.  Let the Opera Ghost remain buried.



Slowly, tentatively, they resumed the relationship that had been so badly broken off at the end of the previous fall.  They spent the days apart, Christine in rehearsal, and Erik in his underground demesne.  He replenished his larder in anticipation of evenings together, and spent hours at the piano.  The neat stacks of creamy paper, covered in his elegant script and classical notation grew as Erik once again found music an outlet for his deeply repressed feelings.  On the increasingly rare times Christine came to him in the evenings, to sit quietly by the fire, reading and relaxing, he would sit and talk with her about their respective days, and would play for her if she desired.  Sometimes she spent the night in his house and at other times he would see her safely home.  As the days grew closer to opening night, Erik saw less and less of Christine.

Often the silence of his underground home grew too intense, echoing with the memories of their time together.  Erik seemed to see her everywhere, seemed hear her rich laughter bubbling up over some dryly amusing comment of his own, see her deep blue eyes watching him, her head tipped slightly to one side as she listened intently to his stories, hear her footsteps on the intricate parquetry of the foyer floor.  At these times he was unable to concentrate on his researches, and often found that even the music was unable to flow from his barricaded soul through to his hands.  Hunched against the pain, Erik could only distract his aching body and soul in exhausting physical labor.  For many mornings he explored the narrow passages of the underground river, or began on another round of repairs to his damaged home.  Even these activities were often not enough, causing Erik to force his body through hours of calisthenics, the drills and routines he had often watched the soldiers perform in Persia.  The exercise left him shaking with exhaustion but finally able to sleep.


One afternoon Christine returned to her dressing room to find a musical score lying on the lyre table by the chaise, a dark red rose drooping lush petals above it.  Thumbing through it, Christine realized it was a sacred work by a composer named César Franck, a man she vaguely remembered as an organ professor at the Conservatoire.  Wondering if this was a tacit apology from Erik after his outburst the other evening, she chose a song at random, sight singing, hoping he would hear her appreciation of his thoughtfulness.


Panis angelicus, fit panis hominum.

Dat panis coelicus, figuris terminum.

O res mirabilis, manducat Dominum

Pauper et servus et humilis.

Te trina Deitas, unaque, poscimus,

Sic nos tu visita sicut te colimus;

Per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus,

Ad lucem quam inhabitus. 

Down in his study, Eric shut his eyes, listening to the simple Latin words in her glorious voice.  She had found and acknowledged his gift.


On the night of the premier, Erik arranged to have his Box Five available to him.  Mme. Giry had contrived to leave him a note in the little box on the wall, explaining that though the Opera management had debated leaving his box unsold--in superstitious fear that to sell it would somehow bring them yet another calamity--it was not to be.  Erik had promptly replied with a note instructing her to purchase the box for opening night, and left sufficient francs to cover the fee.

He watched from high above the stage, hidden on the fly gallery, the level where the giant heavy cables ran up and up into darkness, awaiting the commands to lower marvelous painted backdrops and scenery necessary for the lavish spectacle that would delight the audience.  Frantic stagehands rushed about, ascertaining the placement of pops and double checking the lighting.  From this vantage point he could hear the barked orders of the wardrobe mistress, directing her assistants to not trip and step on the hems of the costumes they were laboriously transporting to the dressing rooms of the principals.  Erik slipped away and dropped lightly to the crawlspace beyond the proscenium arch curtains, soundless as a cat.  The Opera Ghost always appeared before a new performance, in his official capacity, of course.  It was tradition.


The audience in stalls and box alike roared their approval at Aida’s spectacular debut, shouting and cheering as the cast joined hands and walked downstage to the apron, bowing and smiling.  Admirers thronged the entrance known as the Cour de l’Administration and the stage doors.  Those wishing to be known in society paraded the staircases, halls, and salons of the Opera.  Backstage, the principals greeted admirers, throwing kisses and flowers.

Christine gathered the roses, gardenias, and other flowers into her arms and inhaled their heady, spicy scents, laughingly exchanging compliments with Helene and Odile.  M. Firmin planted an exuberant kiss on each singer’s cheek, then rushed off to heartily pump the arms of the men.  It was jubilant chaos, a gloriously successful opening night.

As soon as it was possible, Christine left the stage area and headed to her dressing room, encountering Meg Giry in the halls.

“Christine!  I have been looking all over for you!  You’ll never guess who came here tonight to see you!”

From behind her came a deep warm amused voice.  “How can I see her if you won’t let me pass?”  Raoul asked plaintively, smiling. 

Christine handed the armful of flowers to the little dancer and rushed toward her friend, standing on tiptoe to hug him tightly.  “Raoul!  Did you come into Paris just to see me tonight?” she said, her eyes dancing with happiness.

“Alas, but no!” he said.  “I had other business and thought perhaps they might have a spare ticket for an old patron.”  At her crestfallen expression he began to laugh.  “Of course I did, silly girl!  How could I not come see you?  You were wonderful!”

Seeing Christine blush, Meg laughed and spoke up.  “She was, wasn’t she?  Christine, shall I put these into your dressing room?  I really must be going—Celeste has promised us all a glass of cassis tonight—on her!”

“Then you certainly must be going!” Christine said, widening her eyes dramatically.  “The world must be about to end!  Do yes, please, leave the flowers.  I’ll find a vase for them somewhere.”

Meg scampered off down the hall and Christine turned to Raoul with a smile.  “I’m so glad to see you again, Raoul,” she said with sincerity.  They followed Meg on down the corridor and into Christine’s dressing room, where the scent of flowers was almost overpowering.  Christine dismissed the little dresser who awaited her and turned to Raoul.  He perched on the end of the chaise; hands clasped between his knees and looked at her seriously.

“How are you, Christine?  There hasn’t been a day since you left that I have not thought of you.”

Fondly, she smiled at him in the mirror as she sat in front of the pier-glass removing the costume’s headpiece.  “I’ve been fine, Raoul.  The managers welcomed me back, and with Carlotta gone, it has been much more pleasant here.”  She began to methodically brush out her hair, leaving it in a cloud of long dark curls over her nearly bare shoulders.  

“I’m glad.  It can’t have been easy for you, returning to the Opera.”  He stood, and she rose as well, looking into each other’s eyes.  “I must be going; I have to meet Philippe.” 

Raoul took her hand in his own, his warm blue eyes smiling down at her.  “I really came by to ask if you will join me for dinner tomorrow night.  That is, if you have no other plans?  I’d like to have time with talk to you again, and tonight I must rush.”

Christine nodded, her eyes shining.  “I’d like that.”

Raoul raised her hand to his lips, kissing her fingers gently.  “I’ll send the carriage for you after the performance.  Until then!”

“Until then,” she said, smiling back.


Watching the spectacular performance from the hidden shadows of his box, Erik bowed his head in grieving acknowledgement that she belonged down there, in the light and in society, not in the stygian darkness of his world.  Christine smiled gaily, accepting kisses and the fervently extended hands of admirers, laughing with delight.  Even under the heavy stage makeup his acute vision could discern her sparkling eyes and the carnation color of her flushed cheeks.  He rose and slipped silently into the passage behind the column.

The press of people was nearly overwhelming, as all of Parisian society turned out in overdressed glory for the event.   People thronged the corridors, gaslight sparkling off jewelry, showing gleaming white collars and cufflinks, polished bare shoulders, and beaded handbags.  The gaslight gleamed off the light brown hair of a tall, broad-shouldered man, turning it briefly into molten gold, and Erik stiffened in dismay.  Surely that well-dressed figure was familiar?  Quickly, he stepped into the shadows of a niche behind the statue of a muse, watching with narrowed eyes.  What was he doing here?


Tilde, the little woman who helped the cast dress, returned and deftly unfastened the myriad hooks of the High Priestess’ costume, chattering about the success of the opening night.  She collected the tall headdress and then ducked out the door, calling a cheery good evening.  Christine stepped behind the screens, removing the costume and hanging it carefully.  She dressed rapidly and shrugged on her old pale blue dressing gown over her street clothes, and stepped around the screen, knotting the belt.  Lying across the small table near her chaise-couch was a beautiful rosebud, so dark a red it was nearly black.  Smiling, Christine picked it up tenderly and carried it over to the table.

The strangely acute sixth sense she had developed made her freeze suddenly.  “Erik?” she asked.

From behind the mirror came a chill silence.  “Raoul again?” he said, his icy beautiful voice mingling disbelief and heartbreak.

Christine walked over to the mirror, placing her hand on its cool surface beseechingly.  “Erik, he was only here as a friend; he wanted to see how I was faring.  Please don’t be angry.  Truly, nothing happened.”

“Nothing yet.  You made plans to meet him for dinner,” he hissed, aware he was hurting her.

Christine dropped her hand, her eyes tired and sad.  “Erik,” she said quietly, “you must stop this.  I have told you over and over again that Raoul is an old friend.  I do not love him, but I do care for him.  Surely I may make what dinner plans I choose.”

Your jealousy nearly cost you Christine and your life both, fool.  When will you learn you cannot control her—and when will you learn to control yourself around her?  Erik took a deep breath and passed his hand across his face.

“Yes, of course, Christine.  I am sorry.  You are certainly free to choose your own companions,” he said quietly.

She blinked back tears at the resigned, bitter tone of his voice.  “Erik, she said softly, “I have no plans for tonight.  I could have gone with the others, but I was hoping a certain friend who lives nearby would ask me to dine with him.  I prefer his dining room, and his company, tonight.”

For the space of a heartbeat, there was no answer, and then the mirror opened soundlessly.  “Charon awaits,” he said simply, holding open the mirror.


The quiet warmth and comfort of the underground house was especially soothing tonight, after weeks of intense rehearsal and hours of performance. Christine went directly to the library music room and dropped wearily into the smaller, tapestry-covered carved chair, holding her hands toward the low fire.  Erik walked over to it and knelt down, adding another log.  She smiled tiredly at him.  “Do you mind very much if we forego dinner, Erik?  I’m so tired and stiff I can’t think, and I wouldn’t be a very good companion for you tonight.”

Erik shook his head ruefully, standing.  “Christine,” he said softly, “you are never here merely to amuse me, but you do need to eat something.  Rest, and I will see what can be done.”  He left her and walked swiftly toward the kitchen, returning soon with a tray. 

Concerned, he sat with her by the fire as she ate, observing the shadows under her eyes and the slightly drawn look to her face.  She smiled faintly up at him.  “You know, you haven’t played for me on your violin since I came back to Paris.  Play something for me tonight, Erik, please?”

“Of course, if that is your wish,” he said simply and removed the violin from its case on the shelf.  He lifted it to his chin, testing the purity of the tones, adjusting the tuning pegs until the strings rang with his expectation of perfection.  Christine shut her eyes, her fingertips waving softly with the gentle tune as he moved the bow over the fine old instrument.  He had just finished the Persian lullaby when he noticed she was asleep, her face looking pale and wan in the firelight.  Erik rose slowly from the edge of his seat and replaced the violin in its case, then knelt before her, grateful he could look on her in unseen adoration.

“Oh, Christine,” he whispered, “I do love you so.  Have you any idea just how dear you are to me?”  His trembling fingers carefully brushed her dark hair out of her face.  With a sigh, Erik stood and gently lifted her in his arms.  Christine woke enough to realize what he was doing, and leaned her cheek against his chest, one hand coming up around his neck trustingly.

“I’m taking you to your bed, mon ange,” he murmured softly, and she nodded sleepily.  Effortlessly, Erik carried Christine to her bedchamber and gently placed her on the turned back sheets.  Greatly daring, for he knew she was asleep, he leaned down and brushed his scarred lips across her forehead.

“Goodnight, my love,” he murmured.  With one last, lingering look, he turned out the gaslights and quietly closed her door. 


When Erik awoke the next morning it was to the sound of Christine tapping at the door to his bedchamber.  Since the time he had first showed her this room, she had steadfastly refused to enter here, and he assumed that either the grand organ or the black and silver casket held painful memories for her.  He rose quickly, donning his mask.

“Erik?  Do get up; I’ve fixed us some breakfast.”

He called out an acknowledgement then turned away, to quickly wash and dress.

The aroma of fresh muffins and tea greeted him when he arrived in the dining room.  Erik touched her fingers lightly in greeting, seating himself as she poured out their tea.  Christine wore a dressing gown of a soft rose color over her nightgown and he raised an eyebrow at her choice of attire. 

Christine blushed.  “Do you mind very much, Erik?  I can go change if it bothers you.”

Pleased she felt this degree of comfort in his presence but temporarily unable to speak, Erik shook his head, refusing to let his expression betray his feelings.  She was so lovely, her dark hair falling in a welter of long curls down her back, her cheeks becomingly flushed from the heat of the kitchen. 

“I’m sure you were hungry.  You ate almost nothing last night,” he said smoothly, finding his voice.

Christine rotated her head in a circle, wincing.  “I didn’t feel like getting dressed yet, and I want to take a bath.  My neck is so stiff this morning—that wretched headdress is far heavier than it looks.  I certainly hope the ancient priestesses didn’t have to wear ones like that!”

“No doubt they wore something even more uncomfortable,” Erik said dryly and saw her flickering smile in response.  He gave in to his desire to touch her and moved to stand behind her chair.  “Christine—may I?  I think I can help.”

She nodded, surprised, and he flexed his long fingers, trying to warm them.  “Lean forward, then; rest your head on your arms,” he instructed.

Long spatulate fingers gently touched her shoulders and hovered there a minute on the soft fabric as his ingrained caution forced Erik to wait briefly, seeing if she would recoil from his touch, but Christine shut her eyes and waited trustingly.  Slowly, his powerful hands began to gently knead her stiff muscles, working their way up to her neck and on down to the middle of her back, out across her tight shoulders.  Christine sighed in bliss, limp and pliant under his deft fingers as they smoothed away her tension.

“Erik, that feels wonderful.  Wherever did you learn to do this?” she murmured.

He frowned but answered lightly, “Did I never tell you about the time I spent in Persia?”

“You did,” she answered vaguely, “but you didn’t say you were the chief masseur.”

Smiling, he completed his massage, leaving his hands on her shoulders as she slowly sat up.  “I’m afraid that wasn’t my job, but I certainly observed the slaves perform this service often enough to know how the procedure was done.  I am pleased to know I was an observant enough pupil.”

She reached up, covering one of his hands with her own.  “You’ve never done an inadequate job of anything in your life, Erik, at least, not as long as I’ve known you,” she said, turning to smile up at him.

Erik froze.  Christine’s brilliant smile and loving expression went through him like a rapier.  Without conscious thought, his hands gently touched the ivory skin of her neck with a tender lover’s caress, his fingertips moving around to stroke softly along her collarbone.

Christine drew in a deep, shaking breath, her body suddenly tingling, alive with an awareness she had not felt since their last, their only kiss.  She knew in a flash of woman’s knowledge she should never have come out in her dressing gown.  Erik’s eyes were dark with unguarded desire, and she knew her own expression must mirror his.  Slowly, she stood, gripping his hand and facing him.

He looked away swiftly, unable to meet her eyes, a muscle twitching in his set jaw.  She stepped closer to him.  “Erik?” she questioned softly. 

Oh, God, she is so lovely and you were such a fool to have touched her, he thought bleakly.  Erik backed away, his expression now unreadable behind the mask, then he turned and walked stiffly away, retreating to the music room to distance himself from the overwhelming feeling that if she touched him again there would be no turning back.  Christine followed.

For the first time it occurred to her that perhaps his unwillingness to hold her closely stemmed not from distaste or anger, but from desire.  Erik stood with his back to her, one hand gripping the carved edge of the mantle.  She glanced at him, seeing the heightened flush of color along his exposed high cheekbone, the tight posture of his elegant body, and the clenched fist half-hidden against his leg as he fought to not to betray the emotional and physical turmoil inside him.  The newfound knowledge moved over her in a slow burning wave.

“Erik?” she whispered.

He refused to look over at her, shamed she should see him like this, suffering the black demons of desire.  He drew a shuddering breath as she slowly crossed the Persian carpet toward him, a look on her face he never thought to see.  Christine took his hand in her own, holding it tightly, then raised her other hand to caress the cheek left exposed by the mask.  Erik jerked back, shutting his eyes at the exquisite sensation and she saw his lips tremble.  Christine cupped his face in her warm hand and gently forced him to turn toward her.

“Erik, do you still love me?” she whispered.

His tense shoulders dropped as he shut his eyes in pain.  “How can you even ask me that, Christine?  I told you once I would gladly die for you.  Nothing has changed.”

She stared into the tormented dark eyes, and saw he already regretted the honest exposure of his feelings. 

“Oh, my love, what a fool I have been,” she murmured, and slid her hand around the back of his neck, stroking her fingers through his short soft dark hair.  Erik’s arms tightened convulsively around her body as she pulled his head down to meet his lips.  He kissed her back with the fervent, desperate passion of hopelessness, his arms locking her to him, before he thrust her away and stalked to the black piano, bracing his arms upon the instrument and bowing his head, his shoulders quivering with the effort of control. 

Christine followed him, sliding her arms around his taut waist and laying her cheek on the smooth linen along his broad back, feeling the shudders that racked his lean body. 

“Erik,” she said softly, “Don’t you know I love you?  Won’t you please look at me?”

He twisted under her arms, lithe and agile as a cat, stepping away and turning to stare at her, a world of pain and disbelief in his haunted dark eyes.

“Christine, please don’t do this to me,” he said raggedly.  “Don’t torment me like this.  I don’t have the strength to bear it any more.”

Her face softened in understanding.  Had he been hurt so often and so badly that he could not now see the truth of the love offered in front of him?  In his haze of misery, Erik misread the compassion on her face.

His face tightened.  “I don’t want your pity, Christine!” he snapped bitterly, turning away from her, unable to bear the weight of her gaze.

“Erik,” she said softly from behind him, “I love you.  Don’t push me away like you did the last time.”

He stared at her, disbelief and anguish warring on his face.  Christine slowly walked over, reaching out and sliding her hand up his arm, looking deeply into his tormented eyes.  She caught his hand and cradled it against her soft cheek, kissing his palm.  Erik shuddered, turning his face away and withdrawing deeply into himself, desperate to avoid further humiliation.

“What must I do to convince you?” she said helplessly.  “I love you, Erik.  All of you.”  The pain in his eyes hurt her intensely and she moved closer to him, laying her head down on his shoulder and holding him gently.  For a long moment he stood frozen, his rigid posture telegraphing his fear.  Slowly, so slowly, his arms came up and hesitantly touched her shoulders, then Erik grasped her arms and held her away from him.

“Do you mean this?” he demanded harshly, his eyes blazing. 

Her blue eyes were honest and clear.  “Yes, my love.  I mean it.  I love you; I want to stay with you.”

Erik searched her face, then crushed her to his chest, sudden wild hope springing up in his heart.  He tipped her chin up toward him and she met his lips with her own.  Oh, the soft gentle affection, the dark sensual passion of that kiss….  He felt his heartbeat double, then treble as her arms closed about his neck, her fingers tangling in his hair.  For a long minute she clung to him, feeling the heat from his body as he caressed her.  As though she weighed nothing at all, Erik lifted Christine in his arms and felt her snuggle against him trustingly.  Burying his face in her silky hair, he carried her over to the couch by the fire.  “I don’t know what I shall do if you don’t mean this,” he whispered brokenly.  “I have loved you for so long; I never dared dream this could come to be.”

Gentle fingers stroked his shoulder and she smiled lovingly down into his eyes.  “’Past the point of no return’, Erik.  I decided long ago I could not live without you, but I thought you had stopped caring for me.”

“How could you think that,” he murmured against her throat, and she gasped as his lips trailed fire across her skin. 

Passionate though his embrace was, she could still feel the tightly-leashed fear inside him.  Christine lifted his face toward hers, kissing him gently, trying to communicate without words her own feelings.

But it was Erik who broke the contact, pressing her face to his shoulder, his breathing ragged as he fought for control.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered, feeling her own pulse pounding.

He shook his head, his beautiful voice hoarse and trembling.  “I cannot do this, Christine.  I cannot touch you like this.”  He lifted a shaking hand to her face.  “I want you so much, but this isn’t right.  You deserve so much more than a monster like me.”

Christine stared down at him, shocked and suddenly furious.  She slid off his lap and walked to the fireplace, trying to control her temper.  “For the last time, Erik, I don’t care about your face.  I care about you.  I love your beautiful passionate soul.  I love the gentle way you touch me and that you’re always there for me.  I love your music and your stories, and all the time we’ve spent here together.”  She started to cry, and grasped the edge of the mantle, leaning her forehead on her hands, choking back the tears.

Erik stood irresolute, watching her, the words not registering.  He came to stand beside her and hesitantly, gently took her into his arms.  “Christine, please stop crying.  I can’t bear it when you cry,” he said helplessly.  “Don’t you understand?  I only want what’s best for you.  You should be up there right now, with your friends, celebrating last night’s success in the light, not down here in the darkness, crying.”

She twisted away from him and he released her.  “You’re the one who doesn’t understand, Erik.  I’m where I want to be—with you.”

A hundred other replies he could make flew about his mind as she stood there, tears welling in her dark blue eyes, spots of high color on her white face.  Christine walked slowly toward him, as if every step was weighted down by chains, grieved at the patent disbelief in his eyes.  She reached out and seized his face, tearing away the mask and he flinched violently.  Christine placed her hand on his chest.  “It’s what is in your heart that matters to me, Erik!  Yes, you’re scarred.  You’re horribly disfigured.  When will you understand that I don’t care?”  she said, her voice low and throbbing with emotion.  “I don’t care at all,” she continued brokenly, pulling his head down again to kiss his lips, to kiss the rough skin of his ravaged face.

Erik grasped her wrists, holding her away from him.  “Mon Dieu,” he breathed, looking down at her.  “I think you mean it.”  He released her and sat heavily down on the couch, with none of his usual grace.  Christine followed him and cautiously sat beside her dark angel.  Gently, almost fearfully, he wrapped an arm about her shoulders and drew her close.

Christine nestled against him, breathing in his warm scent, limp with relief.  “Mon ange, you do believe me?”

She sensed Erik’s faint, answering smile.  “I do, my love.  What choice do I have, when you tell me so fiercely?”  His voice became serious.  “But Christine, I don’t know what to say.  I never thought this out, never believed there would come a time when I would have to ask ‘what now?’  I cannot ask you to marry me; there is no place where we can go where the world will not see me as a monster, and I will not ask you to spend your life down here in the darkness.”

Christine laced her fingers with his.  “I don’t know, Erik.  Somehow we’ll work this out.  I just want to be with you, to love you.  Will you let me?” she asked shyly.

Erik carefully removed his arm from her shoulders and rose, quieting her protest with a gentle look.  He walked into his study and emerged a minute later, holding a small, black velvet covered box in his hand.  Christine sat up, swinging both feet to the floor, her midnight blue eyes fastened on his face.  She was dreadfully pale.  Erik knelt reverently before her, resting his hands on her knees. 

Mon ange, I gave this to you once before,” he began, but Christine interrupted him.

“…and I gave it back.  Oh, Erik, can you ever forgive me?” she said tearfully.

He smiled at her, a look of such tender passion and longing she had to blink back the tears.  “Christine, I forgave you a long time ago.  I was the fool; I pushed you too far, too quickly.  Will you accept this ring now?”  His words were gentle, but she read in his face his continuing anger at himself, and the fear that somehow she would still reject his offering, reject him, that he was steeling himself now for this ultimate humiliation.

Christine covered his trembling fingers with her own.  “Yes, Erik,” she said softly, through her tears.  “I will gladly accept your ring.” 

Wonderingly, he looked deeply into her eyes and saw only her love for him there.  Erik drew in his breath sharply, and slowly withdrew his hands from hers.  Carefully, as though the box were the most fragile porcelain, he opened it and removed the delicate, brushed gold ring with its single flawless deep blue sapphire.

“You are certain?” he questioned again, unable to believe, and she could only nod, incapable of speaking past the lump in her throat.  With infinite tenderness Erik lifted her left hand and gently slid the ring on her finger, kissing her fingertips. 

“I love you,” Christine whispered, falling forward into his arms.  She knelt beside him on the floor, and held her dark angel for a long time.




It’s unbelievable the way you thrill me every time we meet,
Unbelievable the way my heart begins to beat, to beat.
In my wildest dreams, I never dreamt that this could be,
That someone like you could believe in me!

It’s unbelievable this miracle each time our arms entwine,
Inconceivable that lips like yours could ever cling to mine.
Never was a love so very….how shall I say?
Extra extra ordinary, this world becomes a place so merry
It’s unbelievable that you could be mine!

J. Livingston, I. Gordon,  1954

Red Rose

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Riene

Part 5 of 10

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