This story got stuck in my head and refused to get out, so here you go. I wanted to explore an E/C fic from only Christine's POV. I also wanted a Christine who has gone through some horrible moments herself, which all have left her jaded, angry, and reluctant to get close to anyone. A submissive Christine has been done - this Christine is not one to sit around!

This is a MODERN DAY fic. A blend of ALW's Erik and parts of Kay's canon. It's rated T for now, but some chapters will likely become M.

WARNINGS: dark themes including illness, violence, and sexual situations.

This fic is going to be a long and wild ride, spanning across the globe and taking place over about a year.

I hope you enjoy. :) As always, please feed the writer.


Chapter 1

It was the last night of her internship, and Christine had just locked herself in the basement.

The stage manager had told her to do a quick mop of the stage before putting away the last of the costumes and stage props. She had spent the last two months doing whatever was asked of her – cleaning, organizing, running errands – just for the chance to watch and soak up whatever she could of life in a Parisian opera house, the Parisian opera house, before she had to head back home to Boston.

Paris had been everything she had yearned for, the escape she'd wanted for the past two years. She had jumped at the chance to study abroad and intern at the Palais Garnier, the best known opera house in France. She loved anything with the stage and music. She had been a theatre geek in high school, performing whatever roles she could get here and there. Her major now was in stage management, at her mother's insistence for something more practical than mere singing or acting. She really could have done this internship anywhere, but she had needed to get out of her own city, to see somewhere far off, to lose herself in a new culture.

In Paris, she was just another face in the crowd, and she was allowed to blend into the background. She didn't speak French, but that didn't seem to matter. She had figured out the public transit without issue, used to Boston's own rails, and she had picked up enough of the language to order food and drink.

Christine didn't care about making friends anyway. After months of scrutiny from so many doctors, of near constant prodding and seemingly endless tests, she was all too happy to get away from it all. She wanted to be left alone, needed it.

She had given her mother a key to her apartment, told her doctors where she was staying after she managed to get their approval, bought travel insurance just in case, and all but fled to Paris.

She loved the hard work of the backstage, even with the stage manager always at her heels. The Palais Garnier was everything she had wanted in an opera house. Grand, old, and full of spaces for her to explore on her breaks.

The curtain had closed on the last performance of La Traviata she would see before she headed back home, and she had reluctantly agreed to be out of the building by 11:00 p.m. sharp. The four other interns had asked her out for drinks to celebrate the end of the summer, but she didn't feel much like celebrating. No, she wanted to stay here until they turned on the alarm and kicked her out, soaking up every last moment, every last smell and sound of the place.

She loved the silence after everyone had left. She had stood on the stage, behind the curtain, and breathed deeply. The smells, the silence, the light breeze on her arms from the vents high overhead, she wanted to memorize it all.

And then she realized she had fifteen minutes to stuff the last of the props away in the basement, grab her purse from the other side of the opera house, and shut the side exit door behind her before the alarm turned on.

She had grabbed an armful of the last of the wigs, and her feet echoed down the hallway. Many of the lights were already off, but she had travelled this way enough times that she thought she knew where she was going. Even though the Palais Garnier was filled with hundreds of rooms, she had memorized the layout during her long days spent here. She found the right door, twisted the knob with the back of her hand, and banged open the door with a knee. The light switch hung on the wall to the right, and the stairs angled downward sharply and to the left from the landing, plunging into inky darkness. Her elbow searched for the light switch while she tried to keep the door from sliding closed with a foot.

She stretched her arm out, searching, and her foot left the door a moment too long. The door shut with a thundering click behind her, leaving her blind in the dark. Immediately, her breath increased as she fought down panic. Relax, Christine, it's only dark and the light switch it is right there. Just open the door!

She piled the armful of props on the ground near the corner of wall and door. She tried the doorknob, but a quick jingle of the handle confirmed what she feared. The door had locked automatically behind her.

There was another door that led outside down here – this she knew. She had seen it. She just had to find it.

Stupid, Christine. You are definitely not brilliant tonight. Her hand slid over the wall to her right, searching for the light switch. Now that her arms were empty, she found it after only a moment of searching. The room wasn't that big, a small basement in an opera house that had many alcoves like this one, but it was the only one of two that had a door that led outside.

The glow of the small light bulb hanging in the middle of the room did little to erase the shadows of the room. She was at once highly aware of just how alone she was in the building now. Was it past eleven o'clock yet? She should invest in a watch, but she usually had her cell phone in her back pocket. Of course, it was in her purse right now when she needed it the most.

She quickly grabbed up the wigs and tossed them into the appropriate bins in the room before she all but ran to the outside door. What if she set off the alarm? The question popped into her head but she pushed it away. She'd rather deal with pissed off management than stay in this dim basement any longer. The door was locked, which she expected, but she turned the small dial on the doorknob and threw back the deadbolt. She grabbed the doorknob with both hands, turned it, and pulled.

Nothing. The door didn't open. She twisted the knob the other way and pulled. It still didn't bulge. Calm down, stay calm, she told herself. Maybe it was just stuck. She pulled and pulled. She braced one sneakered foot against the wall and yanked as hard she could, the very image of comic relief if she stopped to think about herself. Brown curls stuck to her forehead as she broke out in a sweat – not from exertion, but from the mounting panic that started to rise again.

Only after she kicked the door in frustration did she notice the second deadbolt at the top of the door. Of course. It was too high for her to reach with her five foot, two inch frame. She tried jumping and gave up after the second attempt, feeling the first tears begin to blur her vision. Didn't anyone ever leave the theatre this way? From the look of the dead bolts, which were certainly as old as the door, she guessed not. A quick glance around the room showed her nothing she could use to stand on. The props all fit into cabinets that were too heavy to move or bolted to the wall, and the props themselves were of no use.

She leaned against the door, her fate settling over her. The light bulb overhead flicked as though to mock her. She was doomed, at least until tomorrow. Luckily enough for her, it was a Saturday, which meant there was a matinee performance tomorrow afternoon. Someone would come searching for the wigs, wouldn't they? Of course they would. If nothing else, she could start banging on the door until they heard her and let her out.

Her flight home wasn't for another week, so she still had plenty of time to head back to her temporary apartment and pack up.

It would all be all right. She would be all right.

She found a spot at the bottom of the stairs to sit, leaning against the cold stone of the basement wall. And this is how her internship would end – spending the night in a basement by herself. The air conditioning clicked on, pouring into the room via two vents in the ceiling. The sound of the fans was loud down here, no doubt located nearby. She knew they kept the opera house cold for the health of the props and those acting onstage under the fierce glare of the spotlights. Down here, it was freezing.

She scooted around to find a spot that didn't involve cold air blowing on her, and she finally found it under the stairs. She knew she shouldn't sleep under the stairs, where no one could see here if she opened the door, but she wouldn't be able to sleep if she was freezing anyway.

No sooner had she sat again, the bulb flickering overhead went out for a space of time no longer than four seconds. She froze, her breath caught in her throat, until light buzzed back on.

Then it went out again. She waited, staring into the pitch black, until it flickered on.

About thirty seconds later, it died a third time. This time, it didn't come back on.

Her own breathing was harsh in her ears. She knew she had a phobia of the dark, that she didn't do well when she couldn't see. After her first MRI had ended in a panic attack, her doctor had ordered that she be given heavy sedatives in the future. She tried to focus on her breathing, on drawing in air in a slow suck and letting it out in an even steadier stream. But when the light continued to stay off, those breaths quickened.

She couldn't see where the walls were anymore, couldn't tell if her eyes were open or shut. She grasped the wall with both hands behind her back as though the chilly stone could anchor her to a solid spot. If she could see, her vision would probably have started spinning. Her head felt light and a buzzing sounded in her ears.

With a sound that was half cry and half sob, she stood and tried to make her way to the stairs, thinking she would feel better hanging out at the top of the stairs until morning. In the blackness, she underestimated how low the steps hung.

Sparks shot across her eyes as fierce pain blossomed from her forehead. Soon, dampness trickled down her temple, cooling her skin under the air conditioning breeze.

She was so screwed. She needed to get out.

She felt blindly in the darkness for the edge of the stairs, trying to figure out how to get out from under them without causing herself further injury. In her haste, she fell back against the stone wall of the basement. She expected pain in her hand, but instead a rock in the wall seemed to shift backward under her palm. As she stumbled, a small section of the wall, no wider than a person, shifted to the side long enough for her to fall through.

Behind her, the stone wall slid shut, trapping her on the other side.

Christine tried to will her body to move. Her arms and legs wouldn't obey. The basement had been chilly from the air conditioning, but this new space into which she had fallen brimmed with damp and cold. She had fallen onto her hands and knees. The stone was freezing under her fingertips and covered in a light layer of grit.

Far away, she could make out the glow of a light. It flickered and danced in the distance as though it was a candle or torch. From this tiny bit of light, she could tell she was standing at the top of a narrow staircase that went straight down, cut into the rock itself. The other side of the stairs fell away into darkness.

She fought to control her breathing. If she passed out now, who knows what would happen to her. If there was a light, then maybe she had just stumbled into a different part of the opera house. She knew the Palais Garnier was the opera house of Paris and filled with a rich history. She knew it contained many mysteries such as old passageways no longer used.

She took a deep suck of air and ventured a quiet, "Hello?"

The light began to move immediately, growing smaller. It was moving away from her. Panic rose up stiff in her throat, and she broke out in a sweat that plastered her brown hair to the nape of her neck and caused her t-shirt to stick to her body.

"Wait!" she called out, louder, her voice sounding thin. She tried not to shriek, but probably failed. "Please, I'm lost!" Maybe they didn't speak English? "S'il vous plaît!"

Glancing down, she began to move quickly down the staircase, following the light. The stones were unevenly cut, and some of them were loose. More than once, she stumbled and had to grasp the wall with numb fingers. The trickle of blood down the side of her face tickled her, and she resisted the urge to swipe the back of her hand across it.

"Wait! I know someone is there! Please wait!"

Whoever it was, did they not hear her? Or wasn't that it? Maybe they were going in the opposite direction on purpose. Maybe they had heard her, and they were trying to leave her there.

The light seemed to round a corner, throwing her back into shadows. She tried to keep up her quick pace, but it wasn't long before she lost her footing and slipped on a loose stone. Her left ankle rolled and pain shot across her foot. She launched herself against the stone wall to her right to keep from toppling into the darkness beyond the staircase.

Vertigo hit her hard, her vision swimming. The pain spread up the side of her calf, her foot feeling like a numb block inside her tennis shoe. Blindly, she prodded her ankle with shaking fingertips; it was already swelling. Sprained, at the very least.

She hadn't cried yet, hadn't let herself. But here in the dark, trapped beyond the basement of the opera house, alone where no one knew where she was, she let the tears that had burned her eyes since the door locked behind her finally spring to the surface of her eyes. They spilled hot and fast down her cheeks, cutting paths through the grime on her face.

How long she sat there, ankle throbbing, she wasn't sure. She pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes, willing the tears to stop. She was calm, she was calm, she could keep going. A tentative pressure of her weight on her foot dissuaded her from attempting to stand. In this dark, she shouldn't move quickly anyway.

Onward. There was only one way to go.

She began to scoot her way down the stairs. Her uninjured foot searched for the next step, and the rest of her followed in a slow crab crawl across the stone. Her ankle felt heavy and her hands began to numb on the frigid rock, but she continued on. She really had no choice.

After a while of slow progress, she found the turn in the staircase where the light had disappeared. In fact, the staircase disappeared as a floor spread before her. The air shifted before her, indicating that she had entered a larger expanse of room – a large cave? She could see nothing before her, only darkness. Somewhere far away, she heard the plop of something small falling into water. The light was nowhere to be found.

She sat on that last step, her breathing beginning to quicken again as panic rose solid in her throat. The pain in her ankle and forehead combined with her chilled self threatened to overtake the last bit of rational thought she still possessed.

Really, after the past year, after the doctors and tests and more doctors and treatments, this was not the way she expected to die.

A bark of laughter chased her tears, pushing its way past the dust in her throat. "Really, Christine," she said aloud, "you have the worst luck."

A voice replied, rising out of the darkness behind her. The silky tenor slid past her ear, raising the hairs on her arms. "Christine."

She jerked her head around, seeing nothing in the dark. But she felt… something that wasn't there before. Not behind her, but around her. A presence that pushed the air apart as though it needed the room. She hadn't heard footsteps, but she knew with certainty that she wasn't alone.

"Who's there?" She managed not to stutter but she could barely whisper the words.

"Mon cher, je veux que tu partes… immédiatement!" The voice again spoken in her ear as though he was standing just behind her.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand," she pleaded.

"Ah , vous êtes Anglais." The voice switched, this time speaking perfect, slightly accented English. "You managed to injure yourself, Christine. Now how will you leave?" The voice was musing, no longer in her ear but spreading across the darkness in front of her. "You have to leave," it continued with a sudden steel edge.

She ran her tongue across her teeth to wet her mouth. "Please. Do you know the way out? I was trapped down here. The wall opened up, and I saw a light. My ankle… I don't think I can walk." The information jerked out of her. Was she making any sense? Was anyone even there?

A breeze caressed her face a moment before she heard the sound of hard shoes stepping before her. Something fluttered – a long coat? – about her head from where she sat on the step. She braced herself, for what, she wasn't sure, and a strong hand shot of the dark and clasped her elbow on her injured side. She gasped, but the hand guided her with firm pressure to pull her upright. The fingers, long and thin and clasping her bare elbow with unbridled strength, were gloved in supple leather.

Without a word, he tugged her forward. She stumbled but he held fast to her, supporting the weight she might have otherwise put on her left foot. No other part of him touched her even though she was sure now that a man was next to her, that this man had found her down here. He was swift and sure-footed in the total darkness.

They continued this slow progress for a while until she caught sight of a lantern hanging from the bow of a small boat. A boat? But yes, it sat there upon a wide expanse of black water.

"That was you!" she blurted, now understanding. In the dim glow of lamplight, she swung her head around to follow the sure fingers still attached to her elbow up a long line of black-clad arm and broad shoulder. The half of his face she could suddenly see shone back at her, stark white against the black. His eye, set deep within a half mask, stared down at her.

"Little fool. You have made a mess of my otherwise pleasant evening." He clipped the words at her.

Her eyes were wild. "Who- who are you?" She tried to jerk her arm away from him, but he held fast, looming over her.

"Get on the boat."

She brought her other hand up to shove at his gloved fingers. "Let go of me. I'm not going anywhere with you! Are you from the opera? Is that why you're wearing a mask? If this is a joke, I'm seriously pissed!" Her fingers couldn't pry off his grasp, which was strong as stone around her elbow. At one point, her fingers slipped across the edge of his glove, sliding across for one brief second the bare skin of his wrist.

He dropped her elbow then with a whooshing sound, turned away from her, and climbed into the boat in one fluid motion. The small boat barely moved in the inky water.

Had he hissed at her?

Without even a backward glance, he picked up a long pole and used it to push the boat across the water, leaving her on the rocky shore. She quickly noticed the glow of the lantern starting to fade once again, realization washing over her that he was, in fact, leaving and that in a few moments, she would once again be alone in the dark.

"Wait!" she called after him. She managed to hobble a few steps toward the water's edge before her ankle gave out in a flash of pain. The darkness spun around in her vision as a panicked scream lodged halfway up her throat. Not this again. She had only a moment to curse her fear of the dark before she realized she was too close to the water, her swollen ankle too weak to carry her weight as she tried to backpedal.

The shock of cold took away what little breath she had left as she plunged off the edge, the water swallowing her head in one swift swoop. Her feet sought purchase on the bottom and found none, the water too deep, the edge falling away straight down as though off a cliff. She scrambled to turn around, to find the rim of the shore, couldn't find it with numb, wild fingers.

Again, I die!

Two hands surged under her arms, and she was jerked free of the water and into the wooden bottom of the boat. She landed in a heap at the masked man's feet as she sputtered and choked.

"Stay out of the lake!" he barked, as though she had fallen into the water on purpose.

"I'll remember that," she managed to reply between gasps. Somewhere inside her, she heard a little voice telling her that she'd best mind her tongue, but her cut forehead throbbed, her foot swelled inside her sodden sneaker, and now she was drenched.

He had already turned away from her to push the boat across the lake with the pole, sending them careening smoothly across the wide expanse of water that had stilled again. The vastness terrified her. How could all of this exist under the opera without anyone knowing? Did anyone know?

She calmed somewhat now that she was once again bathed in the glow of the lantern, and, having little else to look at, studied the man. He was tall and swathed all in black from his long-tailed suit coat to the heavy cloak that hung about his broad shoulders to the wide-brimmed hat upon his head. He wasn't facing her, but she remembered the white shape of his half mask. She wished she could see the rest of his face.

His arms and the edges of his cloak were dripping wet. She shivered. Her t-shirt and jeans did little to ease her from the cold air, especially now that they were soaked. Where was he taking her? To another way out?

He said something, and she strained to hear. He was muttering, not to her, seeming to forget she was there. "That way was sealed. Shouldn't have swung open like that. Too close. Must inquire to the Daroga."

"E-excuse me?"

His head jerked around just enough for one glittering eye to glare down at her. "Stay out of the lake."

She swallowed back any reply she might have had. This man had twice saved her – once from the pitch black, once from this underground lake, but she was suddenly well aware of how trapped she now was. This boat moved silently through the water, carrying her further from the opera house, further from hope of getting out this anytime soon. She glanced over her shoulder to see the far shore disappear from view.

After a while, the boat thudded softly against rock, stirring her from her thoughts. They hadn't spoken again, and she had been lulled into a sleepy haze by the gentle movement of the boat and his arms back and forth as he pushed and pulled the pole to navigate them. As soon as they landed, the man stretched out one long leg to step onto a new bank. He offered a hand, gloved in soft black leather.

Her legs had grown stiff from sitting in one spot for too long, and now that she was trying to move, her ankle throbbed in warning. She needed to take a good look at it before her foot swelled too much to take off her shoe. She scooted over and took his hand, which was firm and unwavering, and maneuvered her way gingerly out of the boat.

"Thank you," she murmured.

He merely nodded, not letting go even after she was standing on the rocky surface of this new shore. As he stepped forward to lead her away from the boat, she tried to hobble after him but only made it a few steps before she put accidental weight on her ankle. She cried out in pain.

With a flash of movement surprisingly graceful for his height, he let go of her hand and swept her into his arms, one hand spread across her back and the other wrapped around the backs of her knees. She had no time to protest being pulled against his chest or retort at how indignant she was at being carried like a child. His body was cool, offering no warmth. His face was near hers, one side a smooth pane of strong jaw and high cheekbone, the other hidden behind the hard white half mask. His eyes were a pale yellow; the eye behind the mask seemed more hidden by shadow as though it was sunken.

He glanced at her, his mouth a taut line of annoyance. "Be still."

He carried her with ease across the way until they entered a large chamber lit with many flickering candelabra arranged throughout the room. It was richly furnished. A large piano stood to one corner; papers were strewn about the instrument, many of them covered in red ink. Besides the piano, a black divan was set nearby with a tall-backed armchair next to it. Shelves filled with books lined the far wall.

More rooms seem to lie beyond this one, but she didn't have time to ponder them just yet. He crossed over to set her down about the small couch.

She swallowed, finding her voice at last. "I-I thank you again for helping me. I think I should be going, though. It's late and people will wonder where I am…" She trailed off as the man knelt before her. His gloved hands pulled off her left shoe, which unstuck to her foot with a wet squelch. His quick fingers peeled off her sodden sock, and she had a quick flash of embarrassment over the state of her foot – she had been in these shoes all day, after all.

He seemed to take no notice, instead giving her ankle a thorough look, prodding a bit with his gloved fingertips. She sucked in a breath only partially because of the pain.

When he was satisfied, he nodded and stood to his full height. "Your ankle is not broken," his told her, "though anymore injury would surely result in needing a cast. I will wrap it for you in a splint to prevent further strain on the tendons. Come." Without asking permission, he picked her up again, carrying her further into the chambers.

Two smaller rooms were cut into the stone further back. A quick glance told her that one was a bathroom with a washbasin and large stone tub. The other, she saw as he strode in, was a bedroom with only a tall armoire to the side and a bed that filled the rest of the space. He set her upon the dark wine-colored bedspread, which was silky beneath her hands, and stepped back to stare down at her.

She began to babble as she grew more alarmed at her predicament. "I don't want to impose on you further. Perhaps it's best if I leave and see a doctor about my ankle. Not that I don't trust your judgment," she added hastily, "but I don't want to worry anyone when I don't show up for work tomorrow. It's already so late." She cut off when he left the room, only to appear a moment later with a crisp white shirt. One of his own, she realized.

His eyes bore down at her, daring her to say something. "The path you found I had thought long sealed, and I doubt I can get it open again. The next closest way back to the opera is too far for you to walk in your state and too treacherous for me to carry you. I suggest you stay here until your ankle heals." He thrust the shirt at her. "This will do for now until your things dry."

He… wanted her to change? Into his shirt?

All she could do was stare at him like a deer that has been spotted by a hunter's scope. In the brighter light of what she could only call a bedroom, she got her first full look at him. He stood tall before her, his height causing him to loom over her even if he didn't seem to be trying to be imposing at the moment. He still wore his cloak and hat, and he was dripping a bit on the rug that covered the stone floor here.

The shirt shook in her face, and she warily grasped it with shaking hands. "Thank you," she said, not knowing what else to say. "Please-" she cut herself off. Please what? Please don't hurt me? He hadn't yet. Please leave the room? It was his room – shouldn't she be the one to leave?

"May I take a bath?" The question came out before she could stifle it. Oh god, a bath?

His golden eyes grew wide, white showing around his irises. "Yes, of course." He offered her his hand once more, and she took it, hobbling across the short hallway to the bathroom with his assistance.

The bathroom was small but gorgeous, all dark cut stone, and the tub itself was massive, clearly built in a moment of indulgence. She draped his shirt across the small stool nearby and turned around. The man stood in the doorway, watching her every movement. She couldn't read the expression on his face, but he looked both stunned and still a bit angry, an emotion that seemed to always linger under the surface with him. Was he as caught off guard by her as she was by him? He certainly didn't seem to entertain much here. Her guess was that he rarely had visitors.

She cleared her throat, hoping he would take the hint, and he did, nodding at once. "I will find you something to eat," he said. "And then, it is best if you get some rest."

He had often spoken in these absolutes, as if he needed to maintain control over the situation, always knowing what was about to happen with her. The bath had thrown him for a loop, as though he hadn't considered the possibility before, but he had recovered quickly. She thought he was a man who missed little.

"Thank you," she said, and turned to the bath. The wooden door closed shut behind her.

As first, she feared she would have to take a cold bath, but when she turned the knob, blessedly hot water sprang forth. She ran it as hot as she thought she could stand. Once she started to undress, she caught a whiff of herself. She smelled of the daily stress of working backstage at the opera house, along with a hint of mustiness that could only have come from the lake.

She laid her clothes across the sink the best she could and climbed into the tub. A bar of some kind of soap lay nearby; the soft foamy lather smelled of pine needles and something smoky, like a fireplace.

She wondered if he smelled like this.

Shaking her head, she adverted her thoughts elsewhere. This man was dangerous, of that she was certain. She could tell in the way he held himself, in the powerful grip of his hands, in the glint of his eyes. He wore a mask for god-knows what reason, to conceal his face from recognition or because he was horribly deformed underneath. He looked at her as though he was daring her to give him a reason to do her harm, and even though he had yet to hurt her in any way, she knew he easily could. And still might.

Here she was naked, sitting in his tub, about to put on his shirt. She had no idea who he was, no idea why he was living under the opera, didn't even know his name. Though the warm water was helping, her ankle still throbbed, reminding her of the fact that she couldn't run away.

She scrubbed her body quickly and drained the tub, wrapping herself in one of the gigantic towels she found nearby. She hesitated only a second before putting her bra and underwear back on. They might both still be damp, but she felt more dressed that way, less vulnerable. She squeezed the water out of her hair the best she could and left it in damp clumps about her shoulders, and then she held out his shirt to inspect. It was a simple white button-down shirt, iron crisp-sharp, and it smelled faintly of his soap. She put it on and buttoned it to the top button. The material fell to her knees – he was as tall as she thought – and she had to fold up the sleeves to her wrists.

Unsure what to do with them, she left her clothes draped over the tub. She steeled herself to leave the bathroom. She could do this. She needed answers, and she couldn't let him intimidate her. Yeah, right. She drew up her shoulders and opened the door.

He stood just on the other side, one hand poised to knock, the other carrying what looked like gauze. His single exposed eyebrow shot up, his fiery yellow eyes staring down at her.

She shut the door in his face.

The motion had been automatic, a quick convulse of her arm before she realized what she was doing. She let go of the door handle and sprang back onto her good foot as though afraid she would get burned. Her heart thudded wildly in her chest. Open it, you idiot. Her motions jerky in panic, she grasped the handle again and flung the door open, half expecting him to have left.

He still stood there, this time his raised hand in a fist at his side. "Are you done?" he remarked coolly.

Her cheeks heated. "I'm sorry. I just – I was surprised. That was rude of me." She perceived that he slightly shifted his weight from one foot to another, his only sign of impatience. "I'm sorry," she said again.

"I will bandage your ankle," he said, walking into the bedroom. "The restricted movement will help it heal properly."

"All right." She hobbled the few feet to follow him, watching him have a seat in the small chair near the bed. He had removed his hat and cloak, and although his presence still filled the small space, he seemed less imposing without them. He no longer dripped everywhere, so she guessed he had taken the time to change. He wore a three-piece suit with a long coat and cravat. He still wore thin black gloves. His white mask was still affixed on the right side of his face, and his black hair was smoothed carefully back. He oozed a calmness that thinly covered tension underneath, as though he was always waiting for a reason to snap to action.

She hesitated a moment, then sat across from him on the edge of the bed. The shirt rode up her thighs, and she quickly tugged it back down, hoping he didn't notice.

"Give me your foot."

"Okay." She lifted it and realized she didn't know what to do with it; she couldn't very well just leave it hovering there in the air. Already, her muscles ached. She didn't know what time it was, but it had to be late, probably well past midnight.

Exhaustion made her careless: she set the heel of her foot upon his knee, the slight warmth of his body a shock to her senses.

She stared at him, her hands griping the silky bedspread, all of a sudden well aware that her raised leg also raised the hem of her shirt, his shirt. He stared back, his own hands poised in midair. She wasn't sure what he had been about to do.

They were strangers. He was dangerous, of that she was sure. As she watched him, he broke into motion once again, ignoring her foot upon his knee as he began to peel off his black gloves. She was entranced; his fingers were long and elegant, pale in the flickering candlelight. Artist hands. His gloves he perched on his other thigh.

He began to prod carefully at her ankle with both hands, his fingertips cold. She shivered but she didn't mind the lack of warmth; it felt good on her swollen skin. He slowly rotated her foot, and she made a noise of pain when he bent it inward.

"As I thought," he murmured, relaxing her foot. "You likely chipped a piece of bone from your ankle when you rolled it. It will heal quickly if you let it." He flexed the gauze and began to wrap it around her ankle with practiced precision until it was tightly bound. "By morning, I will find you a crutch to use as you move about my chambers."

"Thank you."

He inclined his head, tying the end of the gauze. Then he simply held her foot in both hands, his thumbs against the skin of her shin. His eyes were trained on his own fingers as though wondering why he was still touching her; she wondered the same.

"You have other injuries?" he asked, one hand shifting above the other, cupping the beginning swell of her calf. His long fingers wrapped almost all the way around.

"N-no, I don't. Besides my- my forehead. It stopped bleeding." The words came out in a rushed whisper. He touched her with a softness that he hadn't at first, when he had first roughly grabbed her elbow in the darkness of the staircase.

She reached out a hand, slightly trembling, wanting to touch him back, to solidify herself in this moment. She was here, he was real, he was holding her leg as though he couldn't let go, and his touch burned with a cold fire across her skin. She didn't dare touch the mask that loomed like a forbidden thing, she didn't even know his name yet, but she wanted, needed, to touch his uncovered face.

That strong gaze of his remained focused downward, and so her fingers snuck upon him, stroking one light touch across his cheekbone.

Yellow eyes jerked to her at the same time he dropped her ankle. A sharp stinging pain hit her hand as he batted her away with a rapid snap of his wrist so fast that she didn't see it coming. The small wooden chair overturned as he shot to his feet.

"I'm sorry!" she said, holding both hands up in a placating gesture. "I'm so stupid, I'm sorry. You have been nothing but kind. I shouldn't have. I don't have a clue who you are. I don't even know your name."

He was breathing fast gulps of air, his chest heaving as though he had exerted himself, his gaze focused inward. "Nothing but kind," he echoed, his eyes rounding on her again. "I am anything but kind, my dear."

Her own heart thumped loudly, but she raised her chin. "You have been nothing but kind to me."

"Yet," he all but sneered. "You still have time to get to know me. As you are my first invited visitor down here in my chambers, who knows of what I am capable." Despite the harsh words, his voice had smoothed. His shoulders relaxed, his calm demeanor physically returning. He seemed to draw himself back together, to force his body back into a straight line.

Her touch had apparently caused him to panic – was it her or just her touch? Living down here as he did, alone in the dark, marooned on a precipice across the lake, maybe he had never been touched before. His first invited visitor, he had said.

She shifted on the bed. "Even so, I am sorry. Can we start over? If I'm going to be staying here until I'm able to walk, then maybe we should introduce ourselves. I'm Christine." She hesitated a moment before giving her full name, but she was on the stage worker list for the opera. It would be easy enough for him to find out if he wanted. "Christine Daaé."

"Erik," he said.

Erik. The simple, normal name made him seem more real, less like a ghost lurking beneath the opera house. He didn't offer a last name, but this was a good first step.

His eyes raked over her in that way that seemed more intimate than just a look. That stare took in everything with sturdy measure. "Are you hungry? I don't often eat, so this is a topic of which you will need to let me know."

She shook her head. "Not right now. I'm beyond tired though. I-" She stopped as a sudden familiar pain streaked across her chest. She grasped the stiff white linen of the shirt she wore with both hands and held up one when he moved to come closer. "Give me a second. It'll pass." Oh god, that hurt, and now she was well aware that she had taken her last pain pill way too long ago.

Could she trust him to help her in this? He had helped her so far. Though he had acquiesced to waiting, he didn't seem like he would last long before coming to her aid anyway.

"Another injury?" he asked.

"An old one," she said, not willing to say more than that. She didn't want to see any pity in his eyes. "I take daily pain pills for it because it hasn't healed up yet. I have a few doses in my purse, but I left it in the lockers in the opera house." Along with her cell phone.

"I will fetch it. If your bag is left there, they are bound to grow suspicious as to your whereabouts." At once, he was in the doorframe, his full presence filling the space. "For now, you must rest."

She rubbed a bit at the lingering ache in her chest. "All right."

He left, and she didn't overlook the click of a bolt sliding into place. So he didn't trust her to roam about his home without him there. She guessed she couldn't blame him, especially if she truly was the first person he had willingly allowed down here.

Sleep sounded like a wonderful idea, and the heaviness of her limbs wiped all other worries aside for now. The soft sheets slipped smoothly over her bare legs, and the heavy comforter warmed her despite the frigid air of what she could only call a cavern. She caught a slight hint of pine and smoky embers and something that could only be masculine before she slipped quickly into sleep.

She was aware, sometime later, of being roused from sleep. A firm, cold hand lifted under her neck, a glass of water tipped to her lips, the liquid wetting her mouth before a familiar pill was pressed between her teeth.

"Here. Drink," he said, his voice low and rumbling in the dark.

She parted her lips for a fuller gulp of water and swallowed the pill.

He lowered her back to the pillow. "Sleep," he said, and she did.


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