An: I do not attempt to say that Phantom of the Opera by M. Leroux is mine. Nor do I make such assumptions.

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Chapter 3

The sweeping scarlet curtain came down for the second time that night. As the young girl had expected, and the managers had hoped, she had been forced to reappear after their initial farewell to the audience. Large bouquets of lilies, iris, and roses found their way into her arms as she smiled blearily up into the audience, remembering a similar performance she had given not so long ago.

Yet, those thoughts were only fleeting in her mind as the noise surrounded her. The deafening shouts of "Encore! Encore!" "Bravo!" drowned out everything else.

And yet, the whisper of a memory ran through her head, surrounded by the spotlights of this dizzying world.

Brava…Brava…Bravissima…

Shivering at the thought, Christine gave one final bow, her arms burdened with the heavenly flowers, and her face in a gracious smile. She stepped back cautiously and slowly the curtain fell.

A moment later, she gathered her skirts and whisked her way through the muddle of backstage hands and other performers. She hardly heard the compliments, the applause, saw the smiles—to her it was all a blur of movement.

Christine, still loaded with flowers, knew she had to get to her room. She had left her mirror open slightly so that the tunnels to Erik would not be completely shut off to her. There were other entrances and exits that she had known of, yes—but none so convenient.

Unlocking the door, nearly dropping the key in her haste, she casually threw the flowers onto her dressing cabinet and moved instinctively towards the mirror. She had seen him this night. Right above her, in box five. She knew she had! He hadn't been dead. No, no, he could not be—

"You did well this evening, Mlle. Daaé," a voice behind her greeted.

It was a voice Christine would recognize in an instant: dark, deep, terse and controlled. It sent a wave of shock up her spine, and turning towards the recesses of her room, she could hardly control a gasp of astonishment and surprise. There, seated in the shadows of her room, reclined most comfortably in a plush leather chair, sat Erik. In his black gloved hands rested a snifter, filled half-way with amber colored liquid. Its scent gave it away as brandy.

Yet she could find no words as she stared across the room. What? Why? How?

"Are you surprised to see me here? Or, perhaps you find it rude for not knocking?" He continued his voice just as potent as it had always been. It was a drug Christine would take willingly as its wave's hung about her unnerved body. "Yes, a gentleman would knock, wouldn't he?" He paused, taking a quick and distinct swing of the alcohol so quickly that his movement seemed almost a blur.

"But we have already established I am no gentleman."

In one fluid motion of the night he was standing, in his familiar shades of darkness—his blue eyes sparkling like sapphires from behind the guise of his mask.

As Erik studied the girl, wishing she would say something, he found that much to his great dismay the similar longing and desire was igniting within the depths of his blackened heart. Yes, she stood before him now—flushed with the success of her dazzling show and gorgeous. Erik also knew that instead of indulging in whatever success had come of Le Nozze, she had returned straightaway to her dressing room.

No doubt in search of him.

What his feet were doing, Erik could not be quite sure—yet he realized that with each passing second he was slowly making his way across the length of the room towards his angel.

"You're alive." She whispered at last, her voice laced with an emotion Erik could not quite discern. Regret? Anger? Resentment? Hope…?

"It would appear so, ma chere. It would appear so." Erik chuckled to himself, deciding to keep the space which separated the two of them as far as possible for the time being. He could not trust himself around her.

A second shot of brandy it was! Perhaps not one of his best choices, but it kept him busy.

"I only come to pay my respects to our new prima donna,"

"I am not a prima donna. I am…" her, which had originally started out as strong and full of the fire Erik had but glimpsed, died and the emotion was lost. Finally, at length, her head bowed in what appeared to be disappointment, "I am but a girl with a good voice."

Erik nearly choked as he brought the glass towards his mouth. How could she say that? His angel with the voice that heaven itself was jealous of!

"No. You are more than that." He sipped the brandy cautiously at time, wishing to make it last longer, "Trust me."

There was a long terse silence. Erik could practically feel his bodily urges taking over—even though they were a respective five feet away! How could he endure such sweet torture? She was so beautiful, even after the exhaustion of such a performance, with the stage makeup still upon her face, and her hair slightly messed. It was beautiful. Glorious. Framed by the candlelight Erik could have sworn he saw a halo about her.

He looked away and sighed.

"Why are you here? Why did you return? Madame Giry said you were dead."

Still not facing her, but a chuckle once more rising from within the depths of his throat, he whispered deviously, "Did she? I do believe you have your facts mistaken, Mme. Daaé. She said le fantôme was dead—did she not? No, the man, Erik—ah, yes, he is very much alive."

"B-but your lair! I went there. There was nothing but darkness!" As Erik was very much aware. Ah, he knew such darkness, and intimately at that.

Christine moved towards him now, her eyes frantic and pleading as though she truly wished to understand the reason behind his secrecy. As though she cared about him—as though she had worried and secretly felt remorse!

As though indeed, Erik scoffed.

"There has always been nothing but darkness, Christine." He spoke her name for the first time. To his senses it was electric and he dug his hands into the surface of the dresser. It had not been his intention, yet it rolled off his tongue. It felt odd and so right to say it; it was her name.

When Erik said Christine, she stiffened. "Do you know then?"

"I know many things, but to what in particular do you inquire towards?"

"Raoul." The girl stated simply, nearly without remorse, regret, or hatred. It was simply a name to her—but to Erik, it was the foulest creature on the earth to ever walk the planet. The Viscount; the simpering doting man who had wrenched his beloved away from under his protective wings and then tossed her, heartlessly, into the gutters of reality.

"Yes….and I am sorry." Despite my loathing of the man, I would have never wished such harm to come to you, Christine…

Erik motioned to depart at this final comment, leaving the half consumed bottle of brandy resting complacently upon her bureau. No doubt Christine would find some means at which to dispose of the alcohol. He could feel it's affects upon his body already and it had become quite an effort not to look at Christine without imagining compromising positions to surface to his mind. He could stand no more of this torture. He was mad already, this he knew, but for how much longer he could practice such ardent self control he could not say.

"No! Wait! Don't go!" Her voice echoed in the stillness of the room.

"I must go. I will not succumb to such torture again by your hand." Brushing her pleas aside, Erik sighed, taking his cape about him and striding quickly towards the mirror. Its reflective surface seemed miles away and he hurried silent steps.

"I was wrong!" She pleaded, begged, whispered as she held fleetingly onto his arm—feeling the tenseness beneath his muscles, feeling the coiled strength within him. What her actions were, why she was doing this, she could say not. Yet, the fear that she felt was overpowered by the dread that she might never seen him again. The hope that she had forced herself to cover had reignited, and suddenly she found herself right back where she had started. A choice had to be made in regards to Erik. But this choice had to be more certain than the last. There could be no going back.

"No, you were not wrong, Mlle. Daaé. You made your choice. Had his family accepted you, I have no doubt you would have been very happy."

Erik delivered these words in blatant revulsion, his hatred seeping into the words and dripping off their meaning. His eyes had narrowed now and he began to shake in bitter anger and disgust.

"No, Erik, don't go, please—," the girl could find nothing to say, nothing that would make him stay.

He was right of course, as he had always been. No doubt, she would have been happy living the rest of her life with Raoul in a life of leisure with no cares in the world. Yet that was the Christine of two years ago, content with ideas of motherhood and a docile life. That was the Christine with a smothered soul and a voice hidden behind false ambitions.

Christine moved closer and cautiously took both his gloved hand in her own and squeezed them gently—trying to convey both her desire for him, but her indecision as well. Beneath her touch he shook and quivered, but he did nothing. He did not move. He did not look at her. Erik remained frozen, as though such an intimate touch had killed his heart.

The heat that emanated from her body was like lecherous vines, drawing him closer and closer. The paleness of her skin hummed gently in his ear. But he could not give in to her advances, to her dangerous flirtation. Erik stepped back quite suddenly, bringing both her hands to the level of his chest and grabbing them in dangerous tightness.

Erik's voice was wet and hot against her chin, full of anger and torture that only Lucifer could know, "Why do you continually torture me, Christine?"

He lowered her hands, and released them, replacing the void as he rested them very gently—almost too gently—against her waist, closing his eyes.

His voice had become thick with emotion, and swallowing he whispered in the dimness of the room, "Do not think I would not wish to touch you?"

His hands subconsciously moved to trace the elegant line of her cheekbone, and her blue eyes met his own and he could have sworn that both heaven and hell could be found with the darkness of her. Yet he continued, his hands motioning downwards to her shoulders. He clenched them, tightly, with such force that she cried out in pain. "To feel you? But I will not be made a fool of twice by the likes of you again!"

Yet Christine's reply was not what he had expected. The girl from two years ago might have reasoned with him, pleaded with him perhaps. Yet, despite her name being the same—somehow, she had altered. Her pretty blue eyes sparkled, with tears yes—but not those of compassion, or even pity. Pity had been the thing Erik had expected—not disdain, not the flare of her dormant temper he had but briefly witnessed once before.

"By the likes of me? You mock me for choosing such happiness? Do you think I would have relished the idea of living below the Paris streets? Being cut off by society had I chosen you?"

She broke away from her gaze and looked sadly and almost regretfully at his gloved hands. A sigh broke out, and she continued, "You sang you would go with me anywhere—but truly, Erik, would you have gone? Would you have forsaken your life such as it is for me?"

The emotion in her words stunned him, and ever slowly he found his warms winding about her, possessively, holding her close as though she threatened to fly away. Traveling up the length of her body, his hands slowly found their way to her uncovered shoulder where he held her, tightly, bitterly and angrily.

How could he have doubted her words? What was there he had not promised—would not do for her? And still, she did not believe. It was infuriating. Did his word mean nothing to the girl? Was it as shallow and useless as a looking glass? When he spoke again, anger flowed forth from his mouth and his lips were tight in a jealous rage. He did not raise his voice, but it was dark and painfully silent, his words.

"You know I would have. You know I would do—would have done anything for you. Why is it that now you do not trust my word, when that of our good Monsieur lead you blindly into downfall?"

He would have faced the cruel and terrible world as it was. He had done it before and—

But these ideas were useless and petty! Anger coursing through his body once again, Erik pushed her angrily away, sending her stumbling towards her dresser. He was tired of this game. This game of cat and mouse, where the roles seemed to him interchangeable. She tempted him. He tempted her. But nothing was ever resolved. Nothing.

"You mock me for my choice. You hate me because of it—,"

Interrupting her, Erik snapped bitterly, "Do you truly wish to argue with me, Mlle. Daaé? I assure you your efforts will be fruitless."

In stealthy steps he began to move towards her petite figure that was plastered against the surface of her furniture. Her eyes were wide in anger, or fear, or some other emotion he couldn't really classify. But it didn't matter. Ah, she was opening up her beautiful mouth now. No doubt she had something to say. And Erik would humor her, for he, despite appearances and mannerisms was quite obliging when it came to his angel.

Her voice was taught with ragged emotion, and the tears fell freely now, traveling down the length of her fair cheeks, "I felt regret and remorse towards you every day I was with Raoul—I don't deny that I might have loved you—,"

But he would not listen to this! To tell him now that she had loved him was pure and utter cruelty on her part. The anger which had been, for the past ten minutes or so, raging within his body finally over boiled and leaping towards her in an angry sweep he grabbed her elegant hands and raised them high above her head. She could not move now. The girl was trapped in his arms, her legs forced against the cabinet by the weight of his body. As he spoke he realized full well how close he was to her, how she trembled beneath his touch, how he could feel everything about her in this moment, in this perfect instance.

"Might? Might? You use such a word for such an emotion? How could you mighthave loved me?"

The words that she spoke were truthful then and they seemed to crackle in the silence of the room, "The same way you might have hated me as well."

Christine shivered beneath his touch, aware of where his hands had begun roving. She did not mind his dark embrace, no, quite the contrary, it was heavenly. Nevertheless, with both her hands above her head, and Erik's hand holding them in place while the other began to track down the length of her chest—it was not the way she would have wished. But her mind had stopped functioning now for Erik had pressed his lips against her neck and suddenly, she could find no other words.

"And do you deny that if Monsieur de Chagny was to enter this room—do you not deny you would fly to his arms?" Erik whispered this sentence, hardly able to formulate it, as his hands dropped and began to slowly encircle the girl's body. Her skin was so soft, so beautiful.

"I would not," Christine shivered, closing her eyes and pushing her chest slightly forward slightly, "I have learned my lesson when it comes to love."

Lessons? Were there such things when it came to an emotion such as this? Erik very much doubted it. Should there be such lessons, he should have mastered them already. He should not have been in her room, caressing her body, and falling deeper in love with this frigid woman than he had ever been before. Yet the irony in the words caused his actions to stop and pulling her tangle of limbs away from him, he looked down at her, smirking in amusement.

"Have you?" The smirk deepened and an eyebrow rose in mockery, "How amusing! And only after two years you have become a master of the emotion? I must say I am impressed. I am nothing but astonishment this evening."

Astonishment at his own foolishness of what he was about to do. But do it he did. And after that moment there was no turning back. For either of them.

His lips were upon her in a second, crashing down upon her with such force and passion that it took a moment for Christine to realize what was happening. There was such emotion behind his embrace; deathly and pleading. And, as he dug deeper within the depths of her body, Christine slowly found herself reacting to him, aware for the first time of the heat that now emanated off his cloaked form, of the smell of his cologne, and the softness of his lips as they now pressed down harshly against her own, threatening to tear her apart with emotion.

Just as she had become accustomed to his touch, of his embrace, of his dark, sweet wetness, he ripped his body off of hers and whispered with such a thick voice it was hardly recognizable, "And what of that Christine? Is that the taste of love or perhaps just obsession? Does such a kiss meet to your expectations of what love is?"

His expression was one of pure and utter torture as he waited for her answer. Erik's chest was heaving with emotion, and he held onto the side of her body, his breath pent within him. He hung there, so precariously, awaiting her answer that could either choose to save or condemn him.

"No, it does not. For the love was not returned in such a kiss." Christine replied with a tremble, wishing his lips were upon her once more.

She looked up at him, and watched as his blue eyes turned glossy, as though he was about to cry. Yet if tears fell from his blue eyes, she never saw, for once again she was thrown against the furniture as Erik motioned to leave, his movements quick, hurried, and full of panic.

But this wasn't what she had meant! No, not at all! Christine ran after him, tripping over the layers in her costuming, but following after him nonetheless. He was nearly through the mirror now, and a second later, he would be gone from her forever. She could not allow it. Not this time. She had chosen wrong in the beginning, but she was one to learn from mistakes. "Erik!" She pleaded, nearly tackling his retreating figure in the dark, "No, please, wait!"

As soon as she touched his figure, he went as stiff as a board. He did not look at her, he did not face her. He became part of the darkness in that instance.

"You misunderstand…" She pleaded, attempting to look at his face, attempting to convey the emotions that she had meant.

In the obscurity of the night, his voice rang out cold, cruel, and unemotional, "What is there to misunderstand? To you I am but a monster."

Then there was silence. The party beyond Christine's door was but a memory, the darkness of his lair, just a dream. It was the two in the black of the night, and a choice.

The crinkle of fabric as Christine stepped close to the tall sturdy figure of the man she had spurned. Moving closer, so that they were now inches apart, she slowly, ever slowly, reached up to his face and stroked the visible side with such tenderness that it's description is beyond words. "No. To me you are something I was not ready for, something I could not see—,"

She stopped herself short, and slowly, careful of Erik's erratic temper and condition, she reached up and slowly undid the porcelain mask of his face, revealing the disfiguration beneath it. Yet, even in the darkness there was light enough to see the bumps and mounds which formed like rolling hills. Christine, standing upon her tip-toes, learned forward against his body and kissed his disfigured cheek, tasting the salt from his shed tears.

Her lips traveled down the side of his face, and finally, in the dim, she found his lips. Erik was still unmoving beneath her, even as she wrapped herself against his form, pressing her chest into his own, and with her own will finding the dark wetness within his mouth. Slowly, she urged the man from out of his shell, and at length Erik found himself reacting to her advances. The sweetness that she carried within her and the heated passion flared dangerously to the edge and quickly he pulled away.

He would not submit, not if she remained silent as to her choice. Oh, but how he hoped…

"Have you made your choice?"

Christine nodded in the darkness, and reaching upwards once again, she found the sweet darkness to which her heart had been longing in utter silence. Yes, she had made her choice.

-fin-