He opens the small chest and allows me to look inside. I am surprised to see it is full of masks.
The first one I remove is an exact duplicate of the white leather half mask that he usually wore. The next, exactly the same except for the fact that it is black leather instead of white.
The next is a full face replica of a skull rendered in cream colored leather. I recognize it at once as being the mask he had worn at the Masquerade Ball... When he had appeared in his form fitting Scarlet costume and long trailing cloak as "The Red Death".
Erik watches me silently his expression unreadable. I cannot tell what he was thinking. Was he regretting allowing me to see his collection of masks?
Looking back into the chest, I see another mask much smaller than the others bunched up in the corner. I take it out before Erik can shut the lid..an expression of intense despair in his green eyes.
The mask I held was much too small to fit a mans face. It looked as if it had been made to fit a child's face...
Holding the white leather I turn it over in my hands wondering why he had it.
Erik snatched it from me throwing it back in the chest. He throws the others I had removed in also and slams the lid locking it closed.
Erik… Are you all right? I ask softly. He is NOT; and I can see that easily. He is visibly trembling his hands clenched into fists.
I want to reach out and touch him… to calm and comfort him; but I hesitate… cautious.
Sometimes, he can get into such violent rages and I could not always discern the cause. He would shout, scream, break whatever was near him.
He had once flung a heavy iron candelabra that easily weighed over thirty pounds with all the candles upon it; fully lit into the underground lake.
Music stands had been flung aside, sheet music scattered, wine bottles and mirrors reduced to sharp fragments of broken glass.
Yes. Erik would scream and rage and break things just as a child might in the throes of a tantrum...
When the violent rage had passed he would more often than not be in tears; begging for my forgiveness for his abhorrent behavior… expecting and fearing my rejection.
I had come to know when it was safe to approach him, to offer the love and comfort that I so desperately wanted to offer, but which I had learned he would not accept while in the midst of his rages.
I was not afraid of him. I knew without a doubt that he would never hurt me. Not DELIBERATELY.
My mind returned to the first night I had seen his face. I had caught him unmasked and busy composting. So engrossed had he been that he had not heard my approach was unaware of my presence until I touched his arm.
I remembered how he had leapt to his feet with an almost inhuman scream of rage and despair … how his shoulder had hit mine knocking me to the hard stone floor of the lair.
I had never told him; but my entire right side had been badly bruised from shoulder to hip so hard had I been knocked down by his violent outburst.
So yes; I had learned to be cautious when I felt his mood shifting, The Phantom persona making himself known.
I knew all too well that he would be torturing himself long after I had already forgiven him should he accidentally injure me in one of his rages.
My Mother made that mask.
His voice is hoarse with unshed tears his green eyes turbulent and my heart breaks feeling his pain. I reach to touch his hand my own eyes filling with tears.
His eyes flick up to meet mine the desolation in them makes me want to weep. How could any Mother treather own child so? An innocent baby in need of love and protection?
I slowly reach to touch the white leather mask he wore. He flinches but makes no move to stop me as I stroke the mask gently before slipping my fingers underneath the edge and gently pulling it off.
I set it aside as his gaze hardens as if expecting my revulsion and rejection.
The disfigured surface of his right cheek and brow is bruised and chafed raw in places.
He trembled as I gently stroke the uneven surface tracing the ridge of bone over his sunken eye socket.
Erik's green eyes close as I lean in to place my lips on his disfigured cheek.
The skin on his deformity feels as delicate and rough as old parchment paper. I almost fear I will hurt him with my gentle ministrations.
My lips trail soft kisses across the upraised bone of his cheek to his brow. He is trembling violently and I feel his sob rumble against my throat.
I keep going, kissing his eyelid on the deformed side, his forehead, his cheek and the corner of his mouth before gently cupping his chin and lifting his head to kiss him full on the lips.
His green eyes fly open a line tear sliding down his perfect left cheek. I kiss it away.
When you are with me you have no need of a mask. I love you Erik...ALL of you.
He pulls me into a tight embrace, burying his face against my neck as he cries. My hands stroke his black hair as I soothe him.
I would do everything in my power to undo the damage. I knew I had my work cut out for me. But this man I loved… this amazing, strong, intelligent, creative and complicated man…was well worth all my efforts.
I held him tightly whispering words of love and comfort.
The healing process had begun.