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Author's Note:  Well, you all seemed to love "Sweet Seduction" so well that we decided we'd do another one shot while we search for ideas for "One Love, One Lifetime."  That was taken down, yes, but if you would like to read it and the many new chapters we've posted, it's our homepage, so just go to our profile and there you were get the link!  :D  We hope you enjoy this and we eagerly await your reviews!

"Stranger than you dreamt it…"

-Erik

Arabian Nights

Erik felt himself on the edge of consciousness, that strange plane between asleep and awake.  His mind was foggy, and he forced his eyes open.  Looking around in the light of the room, he blinked several times, bringing up his hands to rub at his face in confusion.  This was not his home.  For starters, sunlight streamed through a large window at his left, and the room was far to lushly decorated... Wait!  This was Persia!  And not just anywhere in Persia... he would recognize this room anywhere; it was one of the ones he designed, after all.  Somehow, he was in the Shah's palace, in the second most grand quarters of the entire building... but why?!

Sitting up slowly, he gasped when he felt the warmth that could only come from another person next to him.  Looking almost fearfully to his side, his eyes grew as large as dinner plates.  Laying sound asleep at his side, scantily clad, was Christine.  "What is going on?!"  He cried, and he reached out, giving Christine a tiny shake and shivering at the contact of his hand with her soft, warm skin.  "Christine!  Wake up!"

Christine's eyes fluttered open, and a deep blush came to her cheeks as she saw Erik awake.  She shyly avoided his eyes as she asked, "Do you wish for me to return to the harem now, Master?  I apologize for not being gone earlier."  She started to scoot back in the large bed, so that it would be easier for her to roll off the side.

Erik's eyes widened and he moved forward slowly.  "Christine...?  What on Earth are you talking about?!  I have a harem?!"  He exclaimed, his face turning pale from shock.  "I don't understand..."

Christine tilted her head to the side as she gazed at him, amused and yet, concerned.  "Of course you have a harem, Master.  How could you not remember something like that?"  Her bemused expression faded and she lowered her eyes humbly.  "I am sorry, Master, I did not mean it as an insult."

Erik rubbed his face, sighing heavily and looking to Christine again with pleading eyes. "If this is a joke, please... it is not funny any longer.  I don't understand a thing you are talking about, and why must you keep calling me master?  Just Erik is fine, I told you that long ago."  He stated, tilting his head.

Christine's eyes widened and she shook her head, confused.  "But, you told me no such thing.  I am sorry for anything I've done wrong, I only strive to serve you as you wish."  Tears came to her eyes.  "I know the other girls have been spreading rumors about me but you must not believe them.  I serve only you and those you tell me to."

Groaning, he rested his head in his hands for several minutes, before staring at Christine, examining her critically.  "This is real, isn't it."  He sighed.  "Explain this to me.  Explain everything of my life, of why I am here.  I remember nothing."  He stated, fear gripping at him.  Why couldn't he remember this life, what was going on?!

Christine frowned and moved her hair back from her face as she spoke softly.  "You are one of the most powerful men in Persia... Why, if someone didn't know who the Shah was, they would think you were he!  I am... Of your harem, which you demanded only the most beautiful women for."  She blushed and lowered her eyes.  "I don't know why I'm apart of it..."  She mumbled, and then resumed.  "Though, you say you remember nothing, Master, but you remembered my name?"

Erik nodded in confusion, shrugging lightly.  "Yes, I suppose that is quite odd... I remember nothing but your name, actually..."  He sighed, rubbing the back of his head.  "Wait, is Nadir here?"  He asked quickly, eyes lighting up.  Maybe he knew what was going on!

Christine nodded with a reassuring smile.  "The Daroga, yes, he is here.  Would you like for me to fetch him, on the way back to the women's quarters?"

"No!  I mean no... I don't need to see him, and don't leave just yet."  He stated, afraid to be alone and unknowing of everything that was going on.  Looking down, he flushed as he realized he was naked, and he pulled the blankets over his lap.  Did that mean he and Christine...?  His face flushed even more, and he looked almost shyly at Christine.  "I.. still need to know more... what is it I do here?  Work for the shah?"  He asked, biting his lip.  "And... just how many are in the harem..?"

Christine flushed when he covered himself and wished she had more of a covering, as well.  "You are the Shah's advisor... his only advisor, as you are a genius.  The Shah couldn't even take care of matters without you, Master."  She flattered him cautiously, feeling there was something definitely wrong with the man she had come to just the night before, as well as other nights before that.  "And there are twenty women in your harem.  You've been with each one, at least more than once.  They say you'll have over 500 by the day you die."  She blushed and avoided his gaze.

Shaking his head in disbelief, he blinked a few more times.  "Twenty women?!  Am I the only one who.. well, sleeps with them?"  He asked with shock on his features, before looking around the lavish bedroom helplessly.  Slowly he stood, shyly coving himself as he walked to a huge wardrobe.  Looking inside, he selected some clothing and quickly put it on.  "What do I do now?"  He asked almost helplessly.

Christine stood from the bed as well and ran fingers through her hair, smoothing out the blue gauze covering her body that left little to the imagination.  She smiled up at him and shrugged.  "I was told you had nothing of importance you had to do today, but I was still to return before you awoke, as always."  Her smile faded and she dipped her head.  "I should be getting back, should I not?"  She walked near the door.

Erik gasped, rushing forward and grasping Christine's arm.  "Wait!  You don't have to go yet, do you?  I.. well, I'd much rather have company for now."  He said swiftly, pulling her to face him and looking down into her eyes.  "And you did not answer my question..."

A smile broke out over Christine's face and her eyes glittered.  She was flattered that he would want her to stay.  She wanted to tell him, but she did not wish to sound foolish.  Answering his question, she spoke, "You control your harem, Master.  They are your women unless you say otherwise.  You've been known to give one as a temporary gift, or to sell some." 

Shaking his head, Erik sighed.  He didn't understand any of this. "And the women... they do not shy from my touch..?"  He asked in wonder.  Suddenly his eyes widened and he looked urgently at Christine.  "My face!  Has anyone.. have you seen beneath my mask?!"

Christine blanched and shook her head furiously.  "Master, all the women know they are forbidden to see beyond your mask."  She lowered her head and said softly, "Why would any woman shy away from your touch, Master?"

Erik reached out, tipping Christine's face up with one finger beneath her chin.  "Have I let another touch you?"  He asked, voice tender and loving. 

How she wished in that moment she could've lowered her head again!  Taking a deep breath, her voice was still soft and barely audible as she spoke.  "You... Your close friend, Raoul, you gave me to him not a week ago, as a temporary gift.  It was his birthday."  She bit her bottom lip before, as if trying to find the strength to continue.  "He didn't take me to his bed, though.  He just... Master, he told me I was beautiful and that he felt something in his heart for me.  We had a lovely dinner and that was all."  She finished and looked up at him bashfully.

Erik nodded slowly.  "Never again will you go to another."  He stated firmly, stroking her cheek for a moment, before lowering his hand and giving a tiny sigh.  "Could you show me around?"  He asked, biting his lip.  "I may have designed this place, but I don't remember a thing about the layout, or which room is which."

Christine smiled and bowed her head slightly.  "As you wish, Master."

X

Erik sat on a large, ornate throne in the main room of his quarters.  Brightly colored and expensive silk Persian cloths were draped all along the walls, wrapping around each other and tying off to huge marble pillars around the room.  The scent of sandalwood thickened the air, and sunlight streamed through the smoke, creating strange beams of light.  Women swarmed all around, talking or sitting, some were looking out the window, some were reading... a few more were looking at Erik in a way that made him quite uncomfortable.  However, his gaze was trained on Christine.  She sat and talked with a few other girls, sitting on some pillows across the room.  He couldn't take his eyes from her perfect shape, her lovely face, flowing hair...

Neema, a woman quite fond of Erik and his bed, listened to Christine speak of how she had been asked by Erik to lead him around.  The tall, dark-haired woman slid from her place in the corner and came to Erik on his throne, and ran a hand down his chest.  "Good afternoon, my master.  Hungry?"  She snapped her fingers and servants with trays of all different kinds of fruits and meats entered, and a few other women from the harem hurriedly and excitedly made their way over to Erik's throne, taking the trays from the servants.  Fatima, another girl, grinned and held a perfectly cut piece of meat at Erik's lips, grinning seductively at him.

Erik's eyes widened momentarily, and he had half a mind to shoo them all away... but instead he opened his mouth slowly, allowing the food to be placed inside.  It really was quite wonderful, and he sighed as he chewed, continuing to watch Christine, finding himself wishing it were her feeding him...

Neema slid a leg over the arms of his chair and across his lap, and nibbled on his ear as the others continued to bring food to his lips.  They all batted their eyelashes at him and some even sat at his feet, running their hands all over his thighs and calves.  Fatima touched at his chest, her fingers gliding all across it as she smiled at him.

Christine watched from her place, and sighed, trying not to care or not to want to be one of those kind of women.  She didn't have to be like them to be chosen.  She sat on her pillow and continued to talk with her friends in the harem, her peripheral vision still on her master.

Erik gasped softly when Neema sat upon him, and he leaned to the side so his view of Christine would not be blocked.  He continued to watch her with rapt attention, and he drummed his fingertips on the arms of the throne, not understanding how he had ever been able to stand being so crowded...

Christine bit her lip and sighed loudly again.  She couldn't stand it.  That vixen was always trying to steal Erik's attention away from everyone else.  She apologized to her friends and stood quickly, smoothing her now red scanty outfit and moving to the window, to sit upon the large sill and gaze upon the gardens.

Erik noticed Christine's abrupt departure from her friends, as well as the fact that she seemed upset.  He was just about to call out to her when the doors to his main quarters swung open, and Raoul entered. 

"Erik, my friend... I have come to speak to you, on terms of business!"   Raoul exclaimed kindly, allowing his eyes to gaze over several of the beautiful women who looked up at his entrance.

Erik looked to the women around him and began to stand, causing them to move away.  Walking toward Raoul, he tried not to feel rage.  Apparently, this man was his friend... even if he only remembered the fool as the one who stole Christine from him.  "Yes?  What is it you would like to speak of?"

Raoul motioned to Christine.  "Her.  I would like to buy her from you, Erik.  Look around; you have nineteen other beautiful women, let me take this girl off of your hands.  She is young, inexperienced in comparison to your other women, you can't say you would miss her in particular.  In fact, I will see to it that two new women are sent to you."  He said, smiling broadly.  What do you say?"

Erik glared at Raoul, hands forming fists.  "I say no.  Christine stays here with me.  She is mine."  He stated firmly.

Christine heard Erik's voice rise and she glanced cautiously in the direction it had come from, only to see Raoul.  Her eyes widened and she gulped.  Looking at the other women, she knew they had also heard her name, and Erik's firm proclamation.  She flushed and looked away, out at the gardens once more, trying to ignore the glares she was receiving from Neema and her flirtatious friends.

Raoul sighed heavily.  "Erik, I do not want her for pleasure as you do, I feel something for her!"  He exclaimed, becoming desperate. "Please, let me have her!  I will pay you three times what she is worth!"

Erik's pale face grew slightly flushed with anger.  "I feel something for her too!"  He nearly shouted, shaking with rage.  "She is not worth money to me, she is special and you may take your pick of any other here, but you may not have Christine, not at any price!"  Looking over his shoulder, he motioned to Neema.  "Her, you can have her!"  He said, looking deeply into Raoul's eyes.

Raoul gaped.  "Neema?  Oh no Erik, I could never take her from you.  She was given to you by the Shah himself..."

Neema's mouth dropped open and she had half a mind to tell the Shah of this outrage.  Though, what would he do?  She knew he had not a care in the world.  Glowering at Christine, she moved forward, stepping out of her rightful place in the harem and touching Erik's shoulder.  "Let him have her, Master.  Imagine the things we could do together... She is nothing."

Erik whirled around to face Neema and glared down at her.  "You forget your place.  Your words have no sway with me."  He stated, pointing back to the other girls.  "Go back there."  He said, before turning to Raoul.  "You may not have her... if that was all, I would like to return to my meal..."

Raoul gave a dejected sigh.  "This isn't over Erik.... I must have her!"  He stated, before giving a wave and walking from the room.

Christine shivered as she could practically feel Erik's heated words on her skin.  She was almost sure that fight had been about her... Raoul wanted her!  And Erik had been adamant to keep her!  She flushed red and wished she could jump into the pond in the gardens below.  No one had ever fought over her before and she was confused as to why two powerful men such as Erik and Raoul would.  They had been such close friends... Had she ruined that relationship?  She hung her head and examined the cloth covering her legs, picking at it nervously.

"Christine."  He called suddenly, holding out a hand and beckoning her to him.  "Come here and feed me, please."  He had never been so polite to another girl as to add please...

Christine's head whipped to the side to look at him incredulously.  The whole harem went silent.  Their master had just said the 'p' word, and not even to a favored concubine!  Christine's mouth hung agape for a few moments before she slid off the windowsill and walked cautiously toward him, the tiny bells around her ankle jingling.  She took a tray and stood before him, and gulped nervously.

Patting his lap, Erik smiled up at her.  "Sit here, my dear."  He said, reaching out to touch her arm and tug her a bit closer.  Whispering so only she would hear, he said softly, "I apologize for ordering you as such... I want only to show Neema she is not first in my mind, but you are."  He said, eyes appearing a bit nervous after speaking the words.

Christine's mind was swimming with confusion and faint hope.  She was first in his mind?!  He apologized for ordering her?!  What madness was going on in Persia this day?!  She knew not, but she liked it.  She carefully lifted the flimsy material of her outfit, and sat on her master's lap, and let the material go, to where it rested across her upper thigh.  Setting the tray in her lap, her hand shook as she took a strawberry and brought it to his lips, trying to avoid looking into his eyes.

Neema watched with outrage, her hands on her hips, her eyes blazing.  Since when had the imported innocent been favorite?  It was insanity.  She stomped to her large pillow in the corner and grabbed someone's book that had been lying there carelessly.

Erik spoke loudly, making sure everyone--including Neema--heard his words.  "Every night you will come to my bed, Christine."  He stated, looking into her eyes with tenderness and a bit of excitement too.  Opening his lips, he allowed the strawberry in, and tilted her chin up to meet his gaze.  "I will not hurt you, please relax."  He said gently, stroking her cheek.

Christine smiled timidly and breathed deeply before picking up a grape and holding it up in front of him.  She found herself looking almost wantonly at his lips, and her eyes widened as she realized what she had been doing.  She bit her lower lip and chanced looking into his eyes, a bit of a flush rising to her cheeks.

Erik smiled, leaning forward and nipping the grape from her fingers, then almost shyly moving forward and pecking her on the lips.  He knew it wasn't really his first kiss... but it certainly felt that way, as he didn't remember anything before that day...

X

Christine approached Erik's bedchamber with her head lowered.  The guards examined her before opening the large doors and announcing her arrival.  She stepped in and kept her head down shyly, as she had always done previous nights when he had requested her presence.  The large doors shut behind her and she jumped slightly, and looked up to see where her master was.

Erik was seated on a plush sofa, and he stood at Christine's entrance.  Walking toward her, he took her hands and drew her to the sofa, motioning for her to sit down.  Going to his desk, he opened a drawer and withdrew a small box.  He smiled down at it, and walked to Christine's side.  Sitting next to her, he opened the box and withdrew a beautiful silver necklace.  A rose pendant hung at the end, one single diamond in the center caught the light and glittered as if winking.  He looked up nervously at Christine.  "This is for you...that is, if you would like it..."

Christine gasped and one hand went over her heart, the other over her agape mouth.  "Er--"  She paused and looked up at him almost fearfully.  Correcting herself immediately, she smiled tremulously and began again.  "Master, it's beautiful!  It can't possibly be for me!  I've never owned anything as beautiful as that before!"  Her eyes shone with unshed tears.  Why would he give her a gift?!  No one had before, except for her deceased father. 

Erik swallowed hard, reaching out one hand to brush her hair over her shoulder.  Gently he put the necklace around her neck and fastened the clasp.  "It is for you, and only for you.  I went out today in search of something as beautiful as you are."  He said softly.  And it had been hard for him, too... people kept speaking to him the whole time he was in the city, and he had no idea if he knew them or not.

A tear slipped down Christine's cheek and she wished desperately she could hug him.  Being bold, for once, she slipped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly, smiling against his cheek.  "Thank you so much, Master.  I can't tell you how much it means to me."

Erik gasped when she hugged him, and tightly wrapped his arms around her body, pulling her close and pressing his face into her hair.  He could smell through the scented oils and perfumes that every woman wore and smell Christine's own scent, and he sighed blissfully, never wanting to leave her arms.  "I'm glad you like it."  He whispered into her ear, wondering if she would expect him to take her that night.... he wasn't sure that he could do it, but he would greatly like her to stay with him that night.  He felt as if he should get Christine to trust him, to care for him more.. he didn't want to take advantage, he loved her far too much.

Christine smiled and sighed peacefully at the feel of being in his protective embrace.  She loved being in his arms, feeling his breath on her neck through her heavy hair.  It was as if this day with him had been too good to be true.  Remembering his words of how she would come to his bed every night, she shivered, feeling a certain apprehension she still felt, even though she was no longer a maiden.

Gently pulling back from Christine, he cupped her cheek gently and looked into her eyes.  "Christine... do you want to play chess?"  He asked, arching an eyebrow and smiling playfully. "I'm sure there is a set around here somewhere..."

Christine's eyes widened out of shock, but she nodded and smiled.  "I'd like that.  Though, I've never played before.  You will have to teach me... I mean, you don't have to."  She bit her lip and wrung her hands relentlessly.

Erik's brow furrowed and he appeared thoughtful for a moment.  "No, I've a better idea... tell me, Christine, about yourself."  He said gently, reaching out to take her hand in his.  "Whatever you feel comfortable telling me."  He said gently, giving her hand a small squeeze.

Christine was constantly being taken by surprise this day.  She shook her head to shake away her disbelief that this man would want to know of her, and began slowly, trying to remember what she'd tried so hard to forget.  "I came from Scandinavia... I never knew my mother.  I only had my father, and he was all that I needed.  We wandered everywhere, traveling as far as we could.  When we came here," she began, a haunted look coming to her eyes, "We were attacked, and your friend Raoul and some others, they killed my father and took me here, to be in your harem."  She had shed many tears for her father, and was past shedding more. 

Erik's eyes were wide.  "They killed him?!  I never knew of this, I was only told you were found alone and taken!"  Rage filled him, and he rose to his feet, stalking around the room.  "I will see to it that this is taken care of, that is entirely inappropriate!"  Rushing to her side, he put a hand on her arm.  "I apologize... and I know such a thing could never make up for this..."  Tears unwillingly filled his eyes and he looked away.  "This is all wrong!"

Christine reached up to place a hand on his shoulder.  "Master, please do not be troubled by this.  It was long ago and I wish not to dwell on it any longer.  You have no reason to be upset, not for me."  She told him softly, looking deeply into his eyes.

Shaking his head, Erik moved closer.  "But I do!  This is horrible, how long you must have resented being here... you were taken against your will, doing nothing but traveling through!"  A tear moved down his cheek and he swiftly wiped it away, standing and walking to a table which held wine.  Pouring two glasses, he walked back and handed one to Christine, then sat down and took a long drink of his own glass.  "I'm so sorry..."

Christine shook her head lightly after she took a small sip, and said softly, timidly, "I resented it until I met you."  She forced herself to smile reassuringly and cautiously reached for his hand.

Erik held Christine's hand tightly in his own, squeezing her fingers gently.  "If you ever need anything at all, please let me know...  I care for you, and I want you to be happy."  He said softly, not meeting her gaze, but instead staring out the window at the darkening Persian city.

Christine bit her lower lip and eyed him carefully.  "Would you... Could you tell me, why you were upset with your good friend today?"  She knew she was stepping out of her place, but this whole time she'd been bold and she felt she was on a roll. 

Smiling encouragingly at Christine, he moved a bit closer to her, as if he were trying to protect her.  "Raoul wished to buy you from me."  He said, growing a bit angry.  "I told him you are mine, and he refused to understand."  He said simply, then flushed.  "Not that I own you, but that I would not be able to part with you..."

"Master, forgive me," Christine began, slightly upset and still confused, "If you were not able to part with me, how is it that you were able to give me to him, as a gift?"

Erik felt helpless.  "I do not know!  I feel as if I've woken up today... and never known myself before!  I don't remember anything of being here, you know that... I only know that if I were in the mind I am now on his birthday, I would not have given you to him.  Christine, it is very strange here, like it isn't real at all... in fact, I remember yesterday... I was in Paris, underneath the opera in my home, composing my music and wishing you needed another singing lesson!"  He exclaimed, placing his head in his hands.  "I must be losing my mind!"

Christine couldn't help but laugh.  She placed a hand on his arm as she tittered, looking at him apologetically.  "Me!  Sing!  In Paris!"  She shook her head, her brown curls dancing around her face.  "You must've been in a dream, Master.  I've had those kind of dreams before.  It was odd, really.  I was in the gardens, swimming in the pond!  And who does that?"  She smiled and squeezed his arm.  "Sometimes a dream… is just a dream."

He sighed, rubbing his face.  "But that's all I remember, I remember every day of that, every day of that life, and this is all so different... I left Persia over twenty years ago!"  He exclaimed, running a hand through his hair.  "I'm so confused... and you and Nadir, you are the only ones I remember.  And Raoul."  He sneered, clenching his hands into fists.  "How can we be friends?!  The meddlesome boy!"  Controlling his anger, Erik sighed heavily.  "I apologize, I should not shout in your presence."  He said, rubbing his face.

"You may certainly do anything you wish to in my presence, Master."  Christine shook her head and looked at him with a concerned expression.  "Master, are you ill?  Have you bumped your head on something?  Perhaps that Neema did something to you.  She's always plotting!"  Christine examined the uncovered side of his face carefully.  "I'm worried for you, Master."

Erik shook his head, taking Christine's hands in his own. "I am only feeling a bit tired." He said, standing nervously.  "I should like to sleep... but Christine, would you stay here with me tonight?  I do not intend to..."  He flushed, clearing his throat.  "I do not require you to... perform... I only wish to lay with you tonight.  Would that be something you are comfortable with?"

Christine for one moment felt she was disappointed, but she realized she would be able to stay in the protective circle of his arms all night long.  She smiled and nodded, squeezing his hands.  "I am yours to command, Master.  I will gladly stay by your side."  She told him softly.

Smiling gently, he touched her cheek.  "Please... when it is just the two of us, I would much prefer you to call me 'Erik'."  He said, leading her to the bed and climbing beneath the covers.  Gently he guided her to lay next to him, and gently he wrapped her into his arms, pulling her close and sighing softly.  "This feels perfect."  He said warmly, kissing her forehead shyly.  "Thank you."

X

Christine walked with her head down to Erik's bedchamber the following night, though she would've held her head high if not for the events of the day.  Tears continued to stream down her face, and she couldn't seem to stop them from coming.  The dark green gauze she wore today did not soak up the tears; instead, the droplets went right through the material, onto her upper body and some tears even going as far as her thighs.  Her face was red and her temples were sore, but her deep blue eyes were even more beautiful as the tears filled them.  Nodding to the guards as they let her in, she stepped forward and kept her head down, allowing her dark mass of curls to hide her face as the doors slammed closed behind her.

Erik looked up with excitement when he heard the doors open, and he frowned when he noticed Christine's posture.  Jumping up, he rushed forward and grasped her chin in his hand.  Lifting her face to look into her eyes, he frowned, wiping her tears with his thumb.  "Does coming to me upset you so much?"  He asked, eyes wide.

She couldn't help herself and cried harder, and shook her head vehemently.  "No, Master, never."  She sniffled and wiped at her tears, not daring to look him in the face.  She felt horrible for what had happened and she did not want to get anyone else in trouble... But she did not want to see the look of disappointment in his eyes if he made her tell him.

Erik sighed softly, putting an arm around Christine's shoulders and leading her to the sofa.  "Please, tell me what is troubling you... have you been hurt?"

Christine shuddered and looked up at him from underneath her dark lashes, biting the inside of her lip.  She winced as she held her palm open and toward him, and there, in the center, was the necklace he had given her just last night, the rose pendant broken off from the chain.  She scrunched up her face as she felt another set of oncoming tears and tried to resist them.

Looking down with sadness at the necklace, he reached out and took it gently into his hands.  "I can fix this."  He said warmly, leaning over to kiss her cheek.  "Please, do not cry..."  He felt his own tears rising just at the sight of her grief.  "How did this happen?"

Her eyes shifted nervously and she sighed heavily, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear.  "I do not wish to cause others to receive punishment, Master.  Let us pretend that I was as clumsy as always and I accidentally broke it, and let me take the punishment."

Erik shook his head, reaching out to set the necklace aside.  Then his arms were around Christine, tugging her into his lap.  "Call me Erik."  He told her once again, touching his lips to her forehead.  "And there will be no punishment if you desire none to be given.  I wish only to know how this happened."  He said sternly, holding her face in his hands so she could not look away.

Christine took a deep breath before situating slightly in his lap and speaking softly.  "When I returned to the harem... the others..."  She closed her eyes for a moment.  "Some others wanted to know where I had received something so beautiful, and I told them..."  She opened her eyes and shook her head.  "You shouldn't worry so, Mas--Erik."

Stroking her cheeks with his fingertips lovingly, he shook his head. "I will worry about what I care for... now tell me the rest.  Who did this?"  He asked, moving his face closer.  "Tell me."

Christine lowered her eyes and murmured, barely audible, "Neema."  She looked up then and shook her head wildly, grabbing his upper arms.  "It was really my fault, for even wearing it in front of them anyway.  I am the one to blame here."

Eyes narrowing, Erik nodded slowly to himself.  "I should have though as much."  He stated, then looked into Christine's eyes deeply.  "This is no fault of yours, she is a selfish pig."  He said, anger in his voice.  "However, you desire no punishment for her... and so I will let it rest.  If she does anything to you again, however... I wouldn't care if she were a gift from God himself!"

Christine gasped and squeaked, and nearly fell off his lap.  She blushed deeply, and held onto his shoulders as she situated herself again in his lap, and then finally looked up to him with a sheepish smile.  "But you say you can fix it?"  She asked hopefully.

He nodded simply. "Of course."  Gently lifting her from his lap and setting her aside, he stood and walked to his desk with the necklace.  After searching all the drawers he found tools, and very gently began to attach a new round bit of metal to the pendant.  Melting the two pieces together over a candle, he smiled broadly, and let it cool, then slipped it back onto the chain and reverently wiped it with a soft cloth.  Erik grinned as he walked back to Christine and draped the necklace around her neck once more.  "There you are, good as new."

Christine smiled brightly and fingered it around her neck.  "Thank you," she told him sincerely, looking at him with love and adoration in her eyes. 

Erik averted his gaze from her warm eyes, feeling himself flush bright red.  Taking her hands in his own, he led her to the door.  "I should like to take a walk in the gardens... would you join me?"

Christine's smile never faded and her eyes shimmered as she looked up at him.  She nodded and let him lead her out into the lush gardens on his side of the palace.  As she stared up at the night sky, she squeezed his hand and asked, "Which one is the North Star?"

Erik grinned, casting his eyes about the sky for a moment or two, before nodding to himself.  Standing behind Christine, he put one arm around her waist and his left arm down hers, fitting his hand over the top of her own and twining their fingers together.  Raising both of their arms, he pointed to the North Star.  "That one."  He breathed in her ear, bent over at the waist to have his head level with her own.

Christine shivered and bit her bottom lip as she rested her free hand over his at her waist.  She examined their twined fingers with a dreamy gaze and smile.  "Do you know any other stars?"  She whispered, turning her head slightly so that her lips were a breadth away from his.

Breathing heavily, Erik looked deeply into Christine's eyes.  "Yes... each of your eyes."  He said softly, before bringing their lips together.  His eyes were closed tightly and he wished he wasn't such a gentleman.  He knew that this wasn't the way he had supposedly acted before he could remember, but he couldn't bring himself to be anything less than a gentleman to Christine.

Christine sighed softly and brought a hand up to reach back and run through his hair.  She squeezed his hand at her waist and kissed him back the best she knew how, completely lost in their embrace.  She'd been smitten with him ever since he'd first taken her, and she couldn't believe the good fortune she was in now. 

Raoul took to walking in the palace gardens on nights he could not sleep.  His mind was full of Christine, every time he closed his eyes, her image was there.  Which is why he was shocked when he rounded a corner and saw Christine in Erik's arms, the two of them kissing beside a great willow tree, tendrils swaying in the breeze.  His mouth hung open... he had never seen Erik kiss one of his harem girls with such reverence before.  It was almost as if... he cared for her.  But no, that could not be true!  It was Raoul who loved Christine!

Before any of them knew what was going on, Neema pounced from the bushes, a great sneer on her face.  She grabbed Christine by the shoulders and threw her to the ground, and began slashing at her face, her chest; anywhere she could reach with her sharp nails.  She growled as she took handfuls of Christine's hair and pulled them fiercely, screaming at her and cursing her. 

Christine, a very unviolent person and now being attacked by the embodiment of hostile, simply tried to bat Neema away, and called, "Erik!"

Neema looked down at her with rage and kicked her in the side.  "You little witch!  You address him as MASTER!  Insufferable chit!  I'll show you!"  She kicked her again and began trying to drag her by the hair toward the pond.  Quick as lightning she hauled her up and threw her in, and grabbed her by the hair again.  Shoving her head under water, she attempted to drown her.

Erik rushed forward, rage filling him as he dove into the lake and grabbed at Neema blindly beneath the water.  "Let her go NOW!"  He demanded, his voice loud and thunderous.

Raoul rushed forward as well, screaming out to Christine.  "No!  Leave her be!"  He cried, running to the edge of the water and watching with horror.

Pulling Neema from atop Christine, he tossed her aside and grabbed the tiny woman close, holding her to his chest and rushing from the water.  He fell to his knees and laid her out on the ground, brushing her hair from her face and stroking her cheeks.

Christine coughed and sputtered, her eyes wide and on the advancing Neema.  She grabbed Erik's hand and sat up, still gasping for air, and hid behind him as the concubine stood in front of Erik with her hands on her hips.  "Did you hear her!  Did you hear what she called you!  Aren't you going to do anything?!  She deserves to die for that!  It's treason!"

Erik stood up and stared down with rage at Neema.  "I've asked her to call me by my name, and I do not care if she was trying to kill me, never again attack Christine!"  He roared, hands balled into fists, shaking in rage.

Neema's mouth dropped open, as did the trembling Christine's, and the women stared at each other incredulously before Neema cried, "But Master!  I've served you as best as I've could, doesn't that mean anything?!  I deserve gifts, I deserve to call you by your name!"

Erik sneered down at Neema, doing his best not to attempt harming the woman.  "You have done nothing but torment the other women, trying to exert power over them. You treat me like a prize to be won.  I will give you nothing in return."  He stated coldly, before turning to Christine and touching her cheek.  "Let us return to my room, you shall become ill from the cold."  He said, placing his arm around her shoulders.

Raoul stepped forward, reaching out toward Christine.  "I was so frightened for you!  Why on Earth would she be so cruel?!" 

Erik glared at Raoul, pulling Christine away from his hands.  "It is nothing of your concern, I have everything under control, Raoul.  Please, go rest."  He said swiftly, before pulling Christine away.

Christine shivered, and her teeth chattered from the cold.  She felt a warm liquid run down her cheek, and reaching up, she gasped as blood stained her fingertips.  She looked down when she felt the same sensation on her chest and stomach, and gasped once more.  Her scanty material was barely covering her now, ripped open where Neema's nails had scratched her.  Her eyes became full with tears.  "Why do you favor me so?"  She whispered, and lifted a hand to her neck to make sure her necklace was still intact.  "It is dangerous.  I care not for my own life, but what if someone tried to hurt you?"

Erik shook his head, reaching out and lifting Christine into his arms.  "Well, I care not for my life... only yours."  He stated simply, carrying her back into the palace and to his quarters.  "And I can take care of myself, don't worry."  He said, nodding to the guards who opened the doors.  All business now, Erik lay Christine on the bed and moved to his bathroom.  He returned several moments later with several rags and some warm water in a dish.  Gently he began to clean the wounds on Christine's head, before he flushed slightly.  "Your clothing is hardly covering a thing now, and it would be easier to clean your wounds with it out of the way, please remove it."  He said, voice quaking at the end.

Christine did not hesitate.  Before he had suddenly forgotten himself and his life, he'd insisted she remove her clothing upon entering.  It was nothing new for her, not after being trained for the harem before she was even in it, and being drilled when she had become apart of it.  The clothing was see-through, anyway, as all the harem girls' outfits were.  Mindful of where her wounds were, she carefully removed the fabric from her body.

Erik trembled slightly as he cleaned the rest of her wounds gently, trying to minimize the contact of his hands on her skin. After each wound was washed, he looked them over critically to make sure none needed stitching. Sighing in relief, he reached out and grasped the blankets, pulling them gently over her body and stroking her cheek.  "I would like it if you were to stay here tonight, so I can make sure your wounds do not become infected."  Of course, this was only a side reason.  Really, he just wanted to sleep with her in his arms again.

Christine smiled and nodded.  "Your wish, as always, is my command."  Her lips still tingled from where he had so reverently kissed her, and she patted the side of the bed, entreating him to join her.  She loved being wrapped in his arms, and the night before lying there so peacefully had been paradise.  She smiled reassuringly at him and opened her arms.

Erik smiled broadly, shedding his clothing down to his undergarments and swiftly climbing into the bed beside her.  His arms wrapped tightly around her body, and he sighed very softly in relief.  Moving his face toward hers, he looked deeply into her eyes.  "Christine, would you mind if I were to kiss you again?"

Christine was surprised, though she knew she had no reason to be.  This new gentleman side to him was rapidly becoming an expected and accepted thing.  She smiled playfully and scooted closer in his arms.  "Would it matter?  You can do anything you please."

Erik grinned and lowered his mouth eagerly, kissing Christine lovingly and resting a hand at her cheek.  After a few moments he pulled his lips back and smiled down at her.

Christine smiled and wrapped her arms around him, snuggling closer.  "What is your wish now, Master Erik?" 

Erik smiled, kissing her forehead.  "To sleep with you in my arms."

X

The next night, Christine practically ran to Erik's bedchamber.  The guards eyed her cautiously, for she'd never been as outgoing, but announced her entrance and closed the doors with a loud bang, as always.  Christine smiled brightly as she stood at the doors, excited than she ever had been before to see him and be in his presence.  She had fallen hard for this man, that much was blatantly obvious to her.  She was frightened, though, for what if her old master returned, and he didn't care as much for her?  She didn't want to think about it.  He was good to her now and that was all that mattered.

Erik looked up with excitement at Christine's entrance, and grinning.  "Christine, come here!"  He called, eyes bright.

Christine grinned and rushed over to him, her brown curls bouncing around her face and her bright blue eyes sparkling.

Motioning down to his lap, he smiled at the tiny Siamese kitten, curled contentedly on his legs and purring softly.  Gently Erik lifted her in his hands and held her out to Christine.  "She is for you."  He said with a slight blush.

Christine gasped and fell to the sofa, extending her arms and taking the precious kitten from him gently.  She pet it softly, her mouth open with delight, and she looked up to him finally with large blue eyes.  "She's beautiful!  Oh Erik, I adore her!"  She looked down with a loving expression at the kitten, and continued to stroke it softly.  "Thank you," she murmured, and reached out to take his hand.

Erik chuckled, raising her hand to his lips.  "You are quite welcome... she needed a home, and I knew you had love to give to someone."  He said softly, looking into her eyes.  "What will you call her?"

Christine's eyes sparkled and she rubbed behind the kitten's ears.  "I shall call her Angel."  She cooed at the kitten and smiled up at Erik, her eyes full of love and adoration.

Erik grinned, flushing a little as he thought he read something into Christine's look.  Does she care for me?  Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to hers, kissing her warmly and nearly deepening it, before he caught himself.

Christine frowned as she felt him hold back, and she pulled away to look into his eyes.  She knew he probably had a reason, but she just didn't understand.  Shrugging, she smiled and looked back down at her little Angel.  "Did you know I love animals?  You must've remembered something," she teased.

He smiled softly despite himself, and reached out, grasping her face in his hands and looking deeply into her eyes.  Lust surged through his body, and before he knew it, he had Christine pulled onto his lap, the kitten hopping to the floor and licking her paws.  His lips hungrily latched onto Christine's, and he deepened the kiss then, pressing his tongue into her mouth and whimpering.  His entire body trembled when he realized what he had done, and he pulled back, looking fearfully down at Christine.

Christine leaned forward when he leaned back, but she caught herself and gazed into his eyes, her hands resting on his shoulders.  She ran her thumb along his lower lip, and closed her eyes as she leaned forward to kiss him again, wrapping her arms around his neck. 

Erik gasped, kissing Christine passionately then and this time not withdrawing when the kiss began to get heated.  His hands trailed to her back and he shook as he stroked his finger up and down her basically bare skin.  Finally he pulled back, gasping for breath and taking a few deep breaths.  "May we lay down?"  When he realized what it must sound like, he turned pink.  "Not that I mean to...!  I just... I don't wish to make love to you--not that you aren't lovely!  I just can't..."  He said, turning redder and redder with every word he spoke, before he lowered his head to his hands.

Christine smiled and slid off his lap, and took his hands in hers.  She pulled him up and took him over to the bed, and she pulled the covers back before laying down in it and holding out her arms, just as she had done the night before. 

Taking a deep breath, Erik lay down next to Christine and curled within her arms.  After a few moments of silence, he sighed heavily.  "Was your first time with me?"  He asked gently, curiously.

Christine smiled against his shoulder and nodded slightly.  "Yes.  You were my first, and you are the only one I've been with." 

Erik's eyes were wide as he nodded.  "What... what was it like?"

Christine flushed slightly and smiled shyly.  "It was... wonderful

Erik kissed her gently, looking deeply into her eyes.  "Tell me about it..."

Christine bit her lower lip and smiled.  "Alright."

It was a dark day.  Not in a literal sense, but Christine had been moody and scared and practically shaking from what she would have to do tonight.  She would lose her innocence to a man she barely knew, a man who cared nothing for her.  She didn't know how to cope.  Her friends in the harem had told her in would hurt, but that the pain would go away eventually.  This hadn't eased her.  As she approached his bedchamber, she began to shake, and she looked balefully up at the guards as they announced her and nearly had to push her in.  She jumped as the large doors closed behind her, and kept her eyes on the ground.

Erik looked up slowly from his seat on the large throne-like chair in the room, and he smiled at her dangerously.  "Ahh...my new girl."  He said softly, waving a hand at her.  "Undress."

Christine blanched and her blue eyes went wide as saucers, and she gulped before removing her skimpy outfit and letting it pool around her feet.  Her long dark curls fell over her shoulder and covered her breasts, which was a slight comfort to her, though she knew it wouldn't remain that way for long.  She blushed wildly and bit the inside of her lip, forcing the tremors wrecking her body to cease.

Standing and walking toward Christine, he stalked around her body, looking her over fully.  Giving a curt nod, he motioned to the bed.  "Go lay down."  He said, walking toward the bed himself and beginning to undress with ease.  Soon he was naked, and he sat on the edge of the bed.

Christine trembled as she moved to the side opposite his, and lowered herself carefully, willing her hair not to fall away.  It did not obey her wishes, however, and fell to splay out over the pillow as she lay shaking.  She closed her eyes tightly and chewed restlessly on her bottom lip.

Reaching out, he lay his finger over her lips.  "Don't chew, it is bad for you."  He stated, caressing her lips with his fingertips sensually for a moment.  "Beautiful..."  He whispered, almost to himself.  Moving closer, he looked down at Christine curiously for a few moments, before smiling down at her.  Gently his hands moved over her body, starting at her cheeks and caressing down her chest, moving over her breasts and over her stomach.  His eyes took in every inch of her flesh all at once, and he sighed in desire.  Roughly he moved her legs apart, rubbing then at her inner thighs with one hand, and holding her face in his other hand.  Leaning down, he kissed her gently at first, then deepened the contact swiftly, kissing her hard.

Christine gasped and her first instinct was to move her legs back together.  When she did, however, his hand was still there; sandwiched in between her thighs, and she gasped once more, and moved her legs apart.  Her mouth came open from the shock of all that was happening to her, and her hands batted pitifully at his chest as she became extremely more frightened than before.

Pulling back slowly, he looked into her eyes.  "Relax, pet.  I will not harm you.  I want you to feel pleasure as well."  He said, his voice husky and low.  Gently he stroked his fingers up and down her arms, realizing that with this girl he would have to move slower.  Sighing a bit, he kissed her gentler this time, cupping her cheek and teasing her slightly with his tongue.

Sighing softly, she eased, some of the tension leaving her body.  She nervously brought her hands up to rest on his shoulders, and timidly, slowly, let her tongue meet his.  She moaned almost inaudibly against his mouth, her arms wrapping more tightly around his neck as if that would give her comfort.

Erik smiled against Christine's lips, moving a hand up slowly to touch, then rest on top of her breast.  He merely left his hand there then, allowing her to become used to the contact, and he slowly deepened the kiss even more, adding a tiny nip to her lower lip, and leisurely exploring her mouth with his tongue.  His free hand moved from her cheek down to her hip as he shifted to straddle her body. He held most of his weight on his legs though, so as not to startle Christine.

Christine arched slightly into his touch, and her eyes widened as she realized what she had done.  She shifted restlessly beneath him and pulled her mouth away, her lower lip trembling as tears came to her eyes.  "I can't," she whispered, her whole body shaking.  She knew she risked her life, but fear overwhelmed her senses.

Erik sighed, moving from her body and gently taking her hand in his.  "Trust me, I know that may be hard, but you must.  I do not wish to cause you any harm, but only to show you the glory of pleasure.  Let me teach you what your body can feel..."  He purred, leaning forward to kiss her neck sensually.  "Let go of all restraint, allow your body to take over..."

Christine took a deep breath and nodded, the shudders leaving her body.  She held her head high, as she faced what she had been taken to do.  There was no escaping this, so she might as well live it up, and enjoy and be enjoyed as best possible. 

Erik smiled down at her in passion, before claiming her lips once again and clutching tightly to her hips, stroking her soft skin and doing his best to make her feel pleasure with his kisses and touches.  Trailing his mouth down, Erik kissed down her chest and over her breasts, licking over her nipples and winking at her.  His hand rubbed her thigh gently, before sliding between her legs and resting atop her womanhood, allowing her to know the feel of pressure before doing anything else.

Christine gasped and closed her eyes, trembling once more, but not from fear.  Desire had taken over her senses where anxiety once was, and her whole body felt as if it were on fire.  Sensation rode from her chest to the place between her thighs, and she panted softly as she held onto his shoulders.  She'd never felt anything like this before, and she was amazed by the emotions overtaking her.

Grinning, he pressed his fingers against her a bit, moving a finger over her opening and applying gentle pressure there.  Not enough to enter, just enough to begin preparing her for the act which would be soon to follow.  His lips pressed to hers again, and he smiled at her encouragingly.  "Very good..."  He praised, stroking his fingers through her hair.  Reaching out, he took her hand in his and guided it to his straining manhood.  His eyes shone with need and he kept his hand over hers, moving it on his flesh and teaching her how to pleasure him.  "Like that.."  He whispered, cheeks flushing with passion.

Christine flushed and she took deep breaths as she watched her ministrations to his body with interest.  She raised an eyebrow as she applied more pressure to his flesh, stroking him as she watched with innocent curiosity.  She licked her lips, her mouth feeling very dry.

Erik gasped when she put more pressure against him, and he nodded.  "Perfect."  He murmured, sliding his hand down her arm and bringing it to her cheek.  Gently he leaned in to kiss her again, pressing one finger inside of her just a little bit and looking intently down at her.

Christine gasped, her blue eyes widening considerably.  She looked down at herself for a moment before catching his eyes with hers, questioning him.  It didn't hurt... There must be something more.  She tensed completely, knowing the inevitable would happen soon.

 Relieved that she didn't seem upset by the movement inside of her body, Erik pressed a second finger within, moving them up far and kissing her with a firey passion.  She seemed more than ready enough, and God knew if she continued what he had set her hand to doing earlier, he wouldn't last long enough to get the job done.  Grasping her hand, he kissed the back of it and lay it at her side.  Spreading her legs apart then, he kissed her forehead and positioned himself between her legs.  "Relax... breathe..."  Was all he said, before he caressed her cheek for a moment, winked at her, and then thrust deeply inside, breaking through her virginity and resting fully in her body. Erik gasped, not having felt the immense pleasure of such a thing in a very long time...

Gently he slid his hands up her legs and rubbed her abdomen and stomach gently, remaining still within her body and breathing heavily.  "Tell me when you are ready."  He said, knowing she would need a bit of time to get used to him.

Christine's face contorted to a mask of pain and she reached blindly for his shoulders, grasping him and holding him tightly as she whimpered continuously, her eyes closed as she fought tears.  The stinging pain began to throb.  He was a very well endowed man and he stretched her and filled her completely.  She flinched as she moved a little, but the pain began to subside, and she carefully situated herself again, holding tightly onto his upper arms. 

She gazed up at him then, trembling in his arms but somehow feeling safe and protected.  He'd been so gentle with her; he'd made sure she was okay.  He wasn't the ruthless, frightening man he appeared to be at court.  She felt right at that moment, right laying underneath him, right bearing his weight.  She smiled tremulously and reached for his head, to kiss him again.

Erik grinned, cupping her cheeks and kissing her fully, almost reverently.  "I will take this kiss as your saying you are well."  He said, before withdrawing slightly, then moving forward again.  A hiss of pleasure slid from between his lips, and he began a steady rhythm with his hips, stroking in and out of her gently and swiftly.  His lips slid down to her neck, and he licked and nipped there, groaning in need.

Christine gasped and arched against his body, moving with him as best she could.  Immense pleasure overwhelmed her senses and her hands moved down his back to his rear, and then back up to grasp at his upper back as she moaned softly, deeply.  "Master..." She rasped, her eyes shut tightly.

Erik smiled rakishly, thrusting harder into her body and groaning deep in his throat.  "Yesss... You're so good..."  He murmured, eyes sliding closed.  "Perfect...."  His breath came in sharp gasps as he drove a bit faster and harder, his head falling back. For the first time then, he spoke the girl's name.  "Christine......"

 Christine hugged him to her with a moan as she felt her body begin to tremble once more.  She gasped as there was a tingling low in her stomach, and the tingle seemed to spread forward, and out, and she threw her head back and cried out as she felt herself tighten around his flesh.  She shuddered mightily in his arms, as she moaned against his ear.

Erik choked, moaning thickly as he felt her tightening around him, and he thrust into her a few more times, before releasing powerfully.  Tiny groans came from his mouth as he trembled, moving slowly within her yet and drawing out the pleasure as long as he could.  Finally he slipped from within her, and lay at her side, exhausted.  Looking at her face, he reached out and stroked her cheeks, then her long curls.  Wordlessly he drew her into his arms, holding her tightly against his body and panting softly.  "Perfect, Christine.  You shall do just fine."

Christine smiled shyly at Erik as she lifted her head from his shoulder and looked into his eyes.  "And that's how it was."  She tilted her head to the side curiously.  "Is there anything else you wish to know?"

Erik had tears in his eyes, and he shook his head wordlessly, leaning forward to kiss her very tenderly.  "I wish I could remember."

Christine sighed as she rested her head back on his shoulder.  "Perhaps some day you will remember."  She frowned as she drew patterns on his chest.  "You said I sing with you, in Paris, and that's what you remember?  What am I like?"  And in a softer tone, "Have we been together?"

He sighed softly, closing his eyes.  "No.  We have not.  You don't love me."  He said plainly, before realizing his verbal slip. "I'm no master there... I mean, it's quite different..."  He flushed, looking away and closing his eyes again.  "Your father had died a few years before I met you, and would always tell you that someday your angel of music would come to you and teach you to sing.  You came to the Paris Opera... and I lied to you.  I pretended to be an angel, hidden behind your mirror, it was a two way mirror you see.."  He shook his head, rubbing his face.  "You believed me for so long... and then that insolent boy came around, and you fell in love with him.  Forgive me, Christine, but I believe that must be why I feel such strong hatred toward my once friend.  The man's name that you fell in love with is Raoul."

Christine's eyes widened as she took all of this in, and she carefully cupped his unmasked cheek as she gazed into his eyes.  She smiled sadly as she spoke, "Things are different here.  I don't sing, and I haven't fallen in love with Raoul, I've fallen for--"  She paused and looked down, shaking her head.  "You have nothing to fear here."

He nodded slowly, sighing and pulling her close to his body again.  "Yes, I know... it just seems so strange that I wake up one morning and remember nothing but a dream life!"  He exclaimed, placing a kiss to her cheek.

Christine smiled softly and looked up into his eyes, and the mask suddenly caught her rapt attention.  She reached out and placed a hand upon it, and stroked it carefully.  "Erik... Can... Would you... take of your mask?"

Erik's eyes widened and he shook his head. "No!"  He exclaimed, moving away from her and glaring.  "No one can see beyond my mask!"

Christine reached out an arm to stop him.  "Please, Erik, just me!  I won't do you any harm!"  She reached out to touch it again, and accidentally got her nails underneath.  She gasped at the feel of underneath, and jerked back, and the mask came with it.  As it fell to the pillows, her eyes scanned over his face and her eyes widened.  She stared at him with more interest than horror, for this was the same man who had been her master, who had been so gentle recently... It was hardly sinking in to her that this was the man she had fallen in love with.

Erik gave a cry of rage, whipping around and bringing his hands to his face.  "Is this what you wanted?!  Christine, why must I experience your morbid curiosity twice in my life?!"  He wailed, rounding on her then and stalking toward Christine, hands at his sides and his face plainly visible.  "Is this what you wanted?!  To know your master is nothing more than a monster, a horrible freak?!"   

Christine cowered in fear of the menace dripping from his voice, and her eyes filled with tears.  His horrible face contorted with rage didn't help at all.  She staggered back, to the double doors of his chamber, and shook her head fiercely.  "Erik, I'm sorry!  I'm so sorry!"  She fell to her hands and knees, bowing before him.

"You apologize, but it will do neither of us any good! Forever you will remember the face of death that was before you, never again will you be able to willingly touch me... I shall lose you again..."  Sadness filled his voice for that one moment, before anger overtook him again.  "A moment's curiosity, Christine, has destroyed me, destroyed us both!  And destroyed what we could be!  Curse you!"  He wailed, falling to his knees and hiding his face behind his hands again.

Christine sobbed out greatly before standing and scooping up his mask from the bed.  Her kitten followed her as she knelt before him and touched his hand, before setting the mask in his grip.  Giving a slight whimper, she turned and threw open the doors of his chamber, Angel following behind her as she ran from his quarters and out toward the gardens.

X

Erik didn't know how long he had rested against the floor, but soon he could hear sobbing through his open window. Standing shakily he moved across the room and looked out to the gardens, seeing Christine crying, and Raoul approaching.  He watched with wide eyes as the boy drew closer to Christine and apparently began talking with her.  He couldn't stand there and watch them.  I will not let this end as it did before, she will know of my intentions!

Raoul heard crying in the gardens as he went for his nightly walk, and he moved forward swiftly, stunned to see Christine.  "My God, what has happened?!"  He rushed forward, drawing her into his arms and holding her close.  "Christine... what is it?  What has you so upset?  Was it Erik?  I thought I heard him shouting..."

Christine shook in his arms and placed her hands on his chest.  "Oh Raoul, he'll never send for me again.  I took off his mask... And he was so hurt by it!  I'll be dead by the end of tomorrow.  And I deserve it, too.  I know the rules, and he has been nothing but kind to me..."  She sobbed again, softer this time.

Raoul held her close, rubbing her back. "I will take you away from all this, then!  I will not let him harm you!  I will take you back home, back to Scandinavia... and we can be married, Christine... you can have a normal life!"  He said, holding her cheeks in his hands and kissing her forehead.  "I will let nothing ever hurt you."

Christine's eyes widened.  Home?  Oh, how she would love to see her home!  But... marry him?  A normal life.  Just exactly what was normal?  Nothing would ever be the same again.  It wouldn't change what she had spent so many years of her life doing.  And... She did not want to marry Raoul.  But to go home...  She sniffled into his chest and held him close, feeling comforted, but knowing it would never work out. 

Erik rushed through the gardens, crying out in rage when he saw Christine in Raoul's arms.  "So this is how it is, then!  The secret lovers meet together in the garden?!"  He forced his anger down and looked at Christine, eyes hard.  "You love this boy?  Fine.  Then go with him, I lay no claims to you any more, and I had hoped the chains of ownership were on your heart only.  But I see how you feel, you fear my face, my anger... Go with him, I wish your happiness before mine, I love you too much to keep you from your wants.  Leave me!"  He cried, tears sliding down his unmasked cheek and wetting the mask on the other side.  Looking at Raoul, he nodded, then turned and left.

Christine blinked back tears as she watched him walk away.  No... No, he did hold her heart and he had since the day he'd taken her.  How could he draw to a conclusion such as that, that she wanted to be with Raoul?!  It clicked in her mind suddenly.  He had said in the world he remembered, she had fallen in love with Raoul.  Her eyes widened and she pushed away from Raoul, calling out to Erik, her arms outstretched to him.

Erik turned in shock, hardly daring to believe as he watched Christine rush toward him.  Moving forward quickly, he grasped her hands in his and looked down hopefully into her eyes.  "Christine..?"

Christine shook her head vehemently as she spoke, her brown curls dancing around her neck and face.  "Erik, I don't love him!  I belong with you, I... I love you, and I'm not afraid of your face!"  She threw her arms around his neck.  "Please don't leave me..."

Looking down at Christine in shock, Erik pulled her tighter against his body, swinging her tiny body up into his arms and staring down at her in shock. "You love me...?"  Tears filled his eyes and he moved forward, kissing her lovingly.  "Oh Christine..."  Slowly he began to walk toward the palace and his chambers, looking deeply into her eyes the whole time.

X

"Christine...."  Erik twitched just a little, his arm reaching out through the air, eyes tightly closed.  "love..you...Christine..."  He murmured, a peaceful look coming over his face.  "Marry.....me..."  A broad smile rose to his features.

Christine reached out and took his hand, and looked nervously to Nadir.  "Is he delirious?"  She asked softly, though her eyes glazed with hope.  She was almost giddy hearing him say those words, but she didn't know if it was just because of his coma or not.

Nadir frowned.  Erik had been comatose for weeks after a horrible attack on his heart, and had been laying in Christine's bed in the Louis-Philippe room ever since.  Suddenly today, he began to call out to Christine, and had been doing so for the last ten minutes or so.  "I don't know, Mademoiselle...but I think he may be waking up..."

Erik suddenly gasped; eyes fluttering, and he put a hand to his head immediately, groaning.  Suddenly he began to look around.  "Christine?!"  He cried out, trying to find her.

Christine smiled broadly and reached out to touch the hand on his head.  "I'm here Erik, it's alright."  She stroked his forehead, smiling reassuringly down at him.

Looking up at Christine, he frowned, completely confused.  Suddenly understanding flashed in his eyes and he gave a cry of dismay and joy both.  "I'm back!  It wasn't real..."  Tears filled his eyes and he closed them, trying to regain control of his emotions.

Nadir sighed, patting Erik's arm.  "I'm going to go get you some food, Erik."  He said, rushing from the room.

Christine looked down at him with a bemused expression.  "What wasn't real, Erik?"  She questioned, her head tilting to the side.

"I was back in Persia, convinced that here, now, it was all a dream..."  He shook his head a bit.  "You were there, and so was Nadir..."  Looking boldly into her eyes, he held her hand tightly.  "And you loved me."

Christine's eyes sparkled with compassion, and she squeezed his hand as she queried softly, "So it wasn't much different than here?"  She couldn't believe she had been so bold, but she was tired of holding things back, holding emotions back that only turned into misunderstandings.  In the weeks Erik had been in a coma, each day she wondered if she'd ever be able to tell him of her discovered feelings.  Now that she had the chance, she wasn't going to lose it.

Erik blinked several times.  They weren't in Persia... did she mean that she loved him?!  "Christine?"  He couldn't dare to hope, and instead he just stared into her eyes, a tear spilling over and falling down his cheek.

Christine lovingly stroked the tear away, and leaned down to kiss his lips softly.  When she pulled back, she held nothing but love and adoration in her blue eyes, and she continued to stroke his marred cheek.

Sobbing softly, Erik drew Christine into his arms and held her tightly against his body.  "I love you much, Christine!"  He wailed, burying his face into her chest.

Christine held him to her, stroking his hair.  "Oh, my angel... I love you, too."

FIN