(by Nicole Gruebel)
Disclaimer: I don't own any of Gaston Leroux's, Susan Kay's or Andrew Lloyd Webbers "Phantom of the Opera" … I just love it enough to pick some pieces of each and my own ideas to form a little story.
Summary: After Erik set Christine free, he still couldn't give up on her completely. But he had a long way for to go, and first, he would have to take care of one of his many victims first, which might bring some surprises.
Notice: This will be "Another Woman" story, but since Erik doesn't know that yet, there will be E/C, too. Please review and tell me what you think about it … this is my very first fanfiction.
Many thanks to my great beta-readers Lotte Isilya and Willowsong!
Chapter 1 – Rise from the ashes
The pain inside his chest was like being stabbed with a dagger. No, worse - he had been wounded by blades before, but he never had felt anything like this. His mind raced; all his wisdom hadn't prepared him for such an agony and he just couldn't think of a cure right now. It had started when she left ... and when her last words were carried to him - the soft song of his beloved.
Did she sing to that 'pretty' boy to assure him that she would forget all about the Phantom? Or was there any chance that she sang one last time for him ... her angel of music? She had kissed him, hadn't she? Christine would have stayed, but Erik had been too ashamed to accept this gift ... and he had sent her away. It was the biggest mistake of his whole, unhappy life.
Then his gaze was caught in one of the big mirrors. There was no famous 'Phantom of the Opera' anymore. All that was left was Erik. Poor, unhappy Erik, who was damned to live alone … he really was a pitiful creature of darkness. The rage came back and he smashed the mirror with a golden chandelier - the first thing that his shaking hand had found. He put all his strength into it, as if it were possible to destroy himself and his rotten face with those blows. The pain didn't go away, but now he could ignore it for a few moments. If Ayesha hadn't already fled when Raoul and Christine had come here, shouting and causing trouble, she surely would have run away now. The cat liked Erik, but she was also quite jealous and didn't like visitors or too much noise.
He stopped, breathing harshly from his wild outburst, and stared into the black opening of a secret passage that had been hidden behind the last mirror he had broken. The angry mob already could be heard; soon they would find his lair. They would kill him ... and for a moment, he didn't care. The pain shot through him again and nearly brought him to his knees.
"Christine ..." he moaned softly, tears of a lost soul running down his cheeks. Just then Erik realized that he wore the ring on his little finger. It was her ring, which should have made her his bride. He must have slipped it on, after she had given it back to him.
It had been the last time they had met face to face. Her wonderful eyes had held no horror when she had looked straight into his ugliness, but they had been sad and full of pity. Erik had been unable to move when Christine actually had approached him without hesitation - just like the moment before she had kissed him. His first kiss ... it had left his poor soul somewhere between heaven and hell. But this time she only had placed the ring in his hand and made sure, he wouldn't lose it.
Why had she given it back to him? Why hadn't she just thrown it away ... or at last kept it as a memory of the wonderful music they had created. No, she did come back; although Raoul surely had been afraid Erik would forget about his last words and keep her. The broken man who mourned after his lost love could find only one answer. 'Christine would have stayed, but this arrogant boy has stolen part of her heart. She belongs to me, and she knows it. This boy won't have her for long ... I'll win her back and this ring will never leave my beloved again!' When he had made this silent vow to himself, he felt strength come back to him and his mind calmed.
Erik was well into the secret corridor, which was now sealed behind him with some nice traps, when he realized the pain was nearly gone. He could breathe freely again and where a few moments ago he had felt only despair, new plans were forming inside his never-resting mind. "First I have to settle into a new safe place," he murmured while he already knew where to go.
The corridor was as dark as the deepest night, but Erik knew perfectly the right turns to take to find its exit. His hand found the black cape on a hook as well as the hidden mechanism to open the wall, just as if he were carrying a torch. This was one of his escape-routes out of the opera house. It wasn't the first time he had had to flee a place he considered more or less as his 'home', and as always there wasn't much he cared enough about to take with him. His inventions could be rebuilt; his music was always in his mind. Some other treasures were safe from the fire and unwelcome guests, and he could come back for them at any time, if he felt the need. The most precious thing he possessed right now was resting on his finger.
Since Erik hadn't cared to put on the mask again, he pulled the hood of his cape over his face. He felt rather safe to go outside now like this, because it was night. Well, and of course there was all the tumult caused by the burning opera, so no one would pay much attention to a shadowy figure like him.
When he stepped out of his secret passage and sealed it again so that no one would find it too easily, much less be able to open it but him who created it, he looked around in the stables. The horses and other animals that were kept here obviously had already fled or been evacuated. That was good; else he would have had to take care of that. Erik was sure that Ayesha was safe, too, for the cat was far too cunning to get trapped. The growing heat and the noise of cracking wood and screaming people told him that he shouldn't stay here too long ... the stables soon would be consumed by the fire.
Like a cat he hurried over the street, right through all kinds of folk that were running around. Most of them tried to extinguish the flames or flee to safety. He ignored cries for help as well as out of panic. The police were still around, but fortunately completely busy with everything else besides Erik ... at least those who weren't down in his lair with the mob.
Just as he started to vanish into a narrow alley a shrill scream full of panic echoed though the air. No matter how much the disfigured man didn't care about the chaos he was leaving behind, this sound made him turn and his eyes immediately fixed on its source. The stables were breaking down with a deafening noise, and a large piece of the wooden, burning wall was about to bury a woman. She was alone and nobody else was near enough to notice or even help her. Obviously she had been stupid enough to stay too long in this dangerous area.
Erik was not too busy with his own misery to not feel a little sorry for her, but he made no move to help her, either. Not until he realized that she hadn't been killed by the collapse. He could still hear the woman cry and wail though the loud cracking of the bursting wood. In an instant he was near enough to peek though the flames, the heat was already nearly breathtaking. A formerly white dress now charred by the smoke … long dark hair, a slim figure ... "Christine!" He didn't care if anybody heard his shout full of terror. With a swift and fluent movement he swung his cape from his shoulders and pulled it through a dirty basin that used to provide water for the horses. Now the basin was leaking because it had been damaged by the collapse of the stables and it was full of all kinds of debris. But it was enough to moisten the cape to provide some protection against the hungry flames.
Without any second thoughts Erik jumped through the fire when it seemed to open a little, his face was deep in his hood, and he held the soaking cape close to his body. The smoke and heat embraced him immediately and he coughed heavily. Though his eyes still were teary he crawled towards the shape of the woman. Erik realized that she was silent now and another wave of panic came over him. "Christine!" He could smell burned hair and flesh even before his eyes could see clearly enough to recognize the truth.
The unconscious woman Erik gently cradled in his arms and under the wet cape wasn't his angel. She didn't wear a wedding dress, rather some crude, pale garment that probably wasn't too clean even before is became half scorched. She had burns on her arms and some on her face too, which she obviously had tried to shield from the flames. Erik knew that there was no time left to waste, for if he waited here any longer the fire would catch him, too. While trying to cover the woman as well as possible with the cape, he jumped through the flames again, and not a moment too late. He didn't care to look back, but he knew that the few larger wall-pieces that had a moment before sheltered and entrapped her in that corner were now breaking down completely. Instead he ran into the alley he was headed before and didn't stop until his smoke-filled lungs seemed ready to burst. Gently he placed the bundle he held in his arms on the ground, all wrapped up into the cape now.
Alarmed like a wild animal Erik looked around and listened for the sound of other people passing by around the corner. The uneasiness due to the lack of his mask came back to him. For now he was in the shadows, but in such a chaotic night anything might happen. Erik felt more exposed than ever, because he no longer was the faceless Phantom. Far too many people had seen his face on the stage, and now they were after him. A pained moan startled him so much that he even fingered for his Punjab-lasso, only to realize he didn't have it with him. To his relief it was only the nameless woman who was beginning to stir, not an angry mob who wanted to hunt and kill the monster that had set the opera house on fire.
For a moment Erik wasn't sure if he should approach her. She surely would get another shock if she saw his deathlike face now. 'Thank god it's not Christine!' he thought, sure that God would watch over an angel like her, even if He obviously didn't care much about Erik.
"Help ... me ... hurts ..." The woman's voice was weak and unsure. She struggled to sit up, but that was obviously beyond her strength now, and the wounds on her skin were hurting at every movement. Erik couldn't stand her pain; it reminded him of some very dark spots in his past he had tried to forget. He must have made an unconscious step towards her, because her head turned to him and she pleaded again: "Help me! Please! Who are you? Please, help me!" She seemed so desperate that Erik finally closed the distance between them and lifted her up a little bit, but he made sure that his head stayed in the shadows. "Don't worry, I'm here," he said, and his voice seemed to take effect immediately. She calmed and didn't struggle a bit as this stranger pulled her so close. Sometimes he wondered if this magic voice, which could manipulate so easily, wasn't kind of a curse, too, like his ugliness.
His hands were as cold as ever, but this time it was a good thing, because he could ease her pain with his touch. The burnings didn't seem life threatening, but they should be treated fast and well, or otherwise some scars surely would remain. While he was wondering if it was a good idea to leave her here, hoping that someone would find her soon enough, or if he should dare to place her somewhere closer to a main street, she began to move in his arms. No, it was only her head, which swayed in a strange way from side to side. "Keep calm ..." he began, and realized that she lifted her face immediately to him ... no, to his voice. Her eyes weren't open. They couldn't, because they were crusted with the blood of small cuts and bruises and burned skin.
She must have sensed him getting tense and since he had gotten silent, and his spell wore off. Shivering and with some bit panic in her voice she asked: "Monsieur? What ... Is the fire still near? It's so dark, but I can still feel the heat ..." Erik resumed his soft words to comfort her. Soon he used only soothing sounds, and it didn't take long till she was in a deep sleep, nearly unconscious again. 'She got blinded by the fire. It's my fault ...' Suddenly he realized that there most likely had been more people hurt or even killed by the chaos he had left behind without care. A chaos that actually might have brought a similar fate to his beloved or people like Madame Giry, who was his ally. 'No wonder that Christine couldn't stay with me, no matter how much her heart might have wanted it. My soul is really as rotten as my face, if only I'd seen it sooner!' He was angry at himself. He had been a fool to believe an angel could live with a demon. 'But perhaps I can free myself of this ...' Erik wondered.
With an uncanny determination in his eyes he vowed to the sleeping woman and to himself: "I'll help you as best as possible. I'll watch over you, so that no harm will come to you ever again."
To be continued ...