Just a quick note: The character of Lord d'Arcy is inspired by and named after the character who stole the Phantom's music in the 1962 Hammer Horror movie version of Phantom (and he is also slightly influenced by the Baron in the 1983 version starring Maximilian Schell). If you have not seen these versions, don't worry, it's not important at all. Enjoy!

The Writing on the Wall

Lord d'Arcy is an Imbecile

"Erik… Did you know they were casting for the new opera today?"

Christine's mysterious guardian and voice teacher looked up from the score he was marking. "No. I assure you, I was as surprised as you were."

Christine settled comfortably onto the chaise near his mahogany writing desk and absently perused the shelves of unusual titles that made up Erik's library. "I don't even think the management knew. Lord d'Arcy interrupted our rehearsal and just…took it upon himself to begin auditions then and there." She returned her anxious gaze to Erik. "Is it true he's also insisted upon directing it himself?"

Erik straightened the papers and set them aside. "Yes, that I do know. Unfortunately. He is the simplest minded composer I have encountered in many years." He leaned back in his chair and pressed the tips of his fingers together. "Possibly ever."

"But the opera, Erik… The pieces I have heard… It's beautiful."

"Too beautiful," he nodded. "I would wager anything he paid some poor starving genius quite a sum for it." He stood, and before Christine could respond, he added thoughtfully, "Or did away with him."

"Erik!" she gasped, astounded that he would say such a thing.

He laughed softly. "D'Arcy did not write it, Christine. Any fool who has so much as heard a note of his previous attempts would know that in a moment."

"But all of Paris will think he wrote it when it opens here…"

"A pity," he sighed, and he took the book he sought from a shelf.

She watched him for a few moments as he flipped through its pages before she spoke again. "He approached me… He waited until I was alone."

Erik set the book down on the desk and turned back to face her. "Again?"

She nodded and without thinking, pulled a small round cushion into her lap. "He makes me nervous. This is the third time…"

"Fourth," he corrected her.

"Yes…" Her fingers traced the curve of the pillow.

"What was it this time? More poorly veiled solicitations?"

"No… Well, first he…complimented me. He said that after hearing me sing for him today, he could imagine no other as the leading lady in his opera… He said that I… That I had a voice that could set a man on fire, and if I was not able to display on the stage the…delicious passion his opera needed, he did not think any woman could…"

Erik's tone was dry yet contemplative, "I don't know whether to thank him or to threaten him." He returned to his seat and scanned the page of the book he'd found.

Christine smiled, but only for a moment before she recalled the rest of the conversation. "But then he said that my…technique could use some work."

Erik turned a page and answered sharply without looking up, "Your technique is perfect."

"He said that…if I would accept the role, it would be his pleasure to…coach me privately…"

The next page Erik turned tore right out of the book's binding. His eyes snapped up to hers. "If he so much as goes near your voice, much less the rest of you privately, I'll kill him."

Christine's expression was uncertain, as she did not know whether to smile at the warmth of Erik's overprotective outburst or to shrink back at the very real lethal look in his eyes.

"Not only does he lack talent, Christine, he is simply an imbecile. One session with him, private or not, would surely destroy something vital in the perfect voice I have given you."

She nodded quickly. "I told him I that already have a voice teacher."

"I should hope so."

"He asked who you were…"

"And I should hope you told him that it is none of his business."

She nodded again and hugged the little round pillow to her breast.

Erik looked back at his book and for a moment seemed confused by the torn page in his hand. "As it is," he began in a more thoughtful tone. "I doubt giving you voice lessons is what he actually intends to do with you in private at all. It is not the virtue of your flawless voice that would be in certain danger."

She shuddered and rested her chin on the top edge of the cushion. "It's the way he looks at me… Even when he knows I can see him watching me. And I am not the only one he looks at that way…But why do I feel like I am the only one who does not like it? He even said he could convince the management to increase my salary and give me a larger dressing room. I know other women would jump at the offer, but he makes me feel like he trying to purchase me."

Erik's hand struck the table and he laughed out loud. "If you want a larger salary, Christine, I am the one you ought to ask! I am sorry, though, but your dressing room is staying exactly where it is."

His uninhibited amusement brought a frown to Christine's face. "I don't think it's funny, Erik. He becomes bolder every time. And he always waits until I am alone."

Erik relocated himself to sit at her side on the chaise and he gently pulled the pillow from her arms. "What do you want me to do, my dear? Shall I do away with him?"

She scowled and turned from him. "Please… Must you say things like that?"

He reached across and took her by the wrist to bring her back to face him. "I could write him a letter."

She jerked her wrist from his gentle grasp and stood abruptly. "Obviously you are not concerned!"

He leaned back, resting an elbow against the top of the chaise and let his eyes take their time to reach her face as he looked up at her. When he met her eyes, his were alert with clear assurance. "I do not need to be concerned," he seemed to conclude. "He has only continued to proposition you because, crafty woman that you are, you do not directly refuse him as I know you would be fully capable of doing should you decide to. Hardly a devoted suitor-if you were perhaps but a bit crueler to him, he would not waste another moment on you before he turned to pursue the next susceptible young thing that caught his eye, and instead make her his leading lady. It is only your inability to sever him, my little opportunist, that keeps him in tow. Such an indifferent solicitor is simply not worth my effort. I have more important matters with which to concern myself. Especially when in regards to you, my dear." He paused merely for the sake of gazing at her for a few silent moments more, and then he stood again. "But speaking of other matters, I do not have much time before I must be going."

She silently considered what he had said with more than a hint of disdain for his frankness, and merely watched him leave the room for a stubborn minute before she surrendered her affronted feelings and followed him. "You are going somewhere? But aren't you going to be there tonight?"

"No, once again, there is much more important business that requires my presence than attending some party in his honor."

"Some party?" She stopped, again put off by his condescension. "The whole company will be there along with all the contributing patrons!"

"By all means, do not think to let my absence prevent you from going, Christine."

It was not as if she had a choice. "I am expected to make an appearance."

He went to her and absently waved away a strand of hair that had fallen over her frustrated features. "Well then, tell everybody I say hello."

Christine was not in the least amused. "What if he finds me alone again tonight, Erik?"

"Alone?" Erik stepped back, immediately somber. "I am quite certain your adhesive Vicomte de Chagny will see to it that you are not left alone for a moment."

She glanced away from him, and though she tried to maintain her defensive tone, her voice was much softer. "At least he will be there."

He turned from her and went into the parlor. "Enjoy yourself with him then, Christine. Enjoy the party. Have a ball."

She winced, at once regretting the blatant jealousy she had purposefully provoked. She did not want to go to the party at all, adoring vicomte or no. She again followed Erik into the room, but lingered by the door as she watched him buckle the straps of a strangely shaped black leather satchel.

"And," he continued to speak as if he had never paused. "If your young gentleman is even half the aristocrat he was born to be, he will gallantly protect your honor from all lecherous or otherwise sinister opera composers. Even if he is pathetically inept in all other areas."

Christine was torn between the apologetic sentiment for having reminded Erik of his rival for her affection, and the offence she took at his comments. "I wish you would not speak of him that way, Erik. He is my friend."

Erik gave leather strap a brutal final tug. "Of course he is."

She did not know what to say then and remained in the doorway, silent with downcast eyes until she realized he had approached her and was simply standing before her, waiting. She looked up to him with sudden expectation.

But he only gestured for her to step aside and said flatly, "Excuse me."

Her eyes lingered on his for an immobile moment, and then she moved obediently out of his way. She watched him pass back again into the hall.

"When are you returning?" she called after him softly.

"In the morning." His voice floated back to her as if he had only gone a few steps, not disappeared all the way into the next room. "I will come for you early in the evening. You will stay here tomorrow night."

She leaned against the frame of the door, sighing inaudibly. "And now?"

He reappeared, dressed to go and handed her her own cloak. "Now, my dear, I do believe you have a party to prepare for."

She wrapped the cloak about her shoulders and followed him outside to the boat.