It has come to my attention that there is a ridiculous ratio of hits to reviews on this fic. Sad. Shant beg for reviews, but might grovel. I really need reviews because entire plot is not precisely worked out yet. Would be good to get ideas so feel free to give. For the .03 percent who actually have reviewed this fic SPECIAL THANKS. And to mrs. malfoy () who alone out of a legion of hits reviewed this, my hearfelt appreciation. (/P)

"So," Raoul leaned a little closer to Meg so he could see her and the fuzziness would go away. "What do you see in your future?"

Meg sprawled a leg across the yak-hide chair and pointed her ballet-slippered foot. "Well the Opera Ghost told my mother that I would be Empress of the World one day."

Raoul laughed and accidentally snorted up his nose.

"And," Meg laughed with him, "Since I don't even think there is an Emperor of the World, I suppose I'll dance for a while and become a ballet mistress, maybe a box keeper like my mother."

"I'll drink to that." Raoul raised an almost empty wineglass. Cheap wine too. Much better than the stuff that Philippe used to shove down his throat.

Meg nodded and took a swig out of her bottle. "And you?"

"Well I have to be a Count. That's part of being an aristocrat. And the other part is that I can do whatever I want because I can afford it, so I really don't need to work or study anything."

"Don't you want a wife and children?"

"Oh I have to get married and have heirs. The De Chagney name must go on!" Raoul raised his fist and gave a half-hearted cheer. Once he thought about it though, it all seemed rather dull and pointless. He could have anything. He had to continue the family line. That was it. Nothing else in life. "Maybe if I studied really hard, I could become a ballerina like you."

Meg burst into giggles, "A danseur, you mean!"

Raoul rolled his eyes. "Someone who the Opera Ghost can order about. I'd like someone to prophesy that I'd marry the Empress of the World one day. It would give me something to look forward to."

Meg might have smiled shyly and fluttered her eyes.

Or Raoul could have passed out momentarily from being sufficiently snogged.

"I like you Meg." Raoul said decisively, "You're not as talented or as pretty as Christine was, but I like you and you have a good heart."

Meg looked a little confused, but Raoul wasn't going to let that stop him.

"You should meet my family sometime, I'm sure they'll like you too." Raoul leaned a little closer and the fuzziness once again cleared. Or maybe Meg had begun moving away. "What do you say to dinner?"

"The Ghost would never allow it!" Meg's voice was strained and hushed. "He says that the dancers must not eat out of the Opera house. The food is too rich."

"Oh blast it all!" Raoul couldn't believe this. Was his life doomed to follow the same pattern over and over? "You're not getting private dancing lessons from this Ghost now are you? He's not going to star you in the next production that La Sorelli cannot be bothered to dance in, are you?"

Meg looked uncomfortable. "Well…"

"Would it help if I told you he wasn't a ghost at all and that he was only a man?" Raoul threw up his hands and sloshed back against his chair, "That I signed his marriage certificate to Christine?"

Meg raised an eyebrow and looked at Raoul askance.

"And his name is Erik. None of this Opera Ghost business, too dramatic, just plain Erik and no last name?" Raoul couldn't believe this.

Apparently, neither could Meg.

"I don't believe you." Meg said. "You could not have seen the ghost because he has a skull death's head for a head and sometimes it is on fire. No mortal man could be like that."

"Well toots you haven't seen how ugly Erik actually is."

"Raoul you're not thinking clearly. Perhaps I should go now before you say something that he will be angry at." Meg's soft brown eyes were filling up with tears. "He holds our lives in his power, and I will not see you ruin his temper and my career as a dancer." She got up and dropped the wine bottle onto the floor. The liquid sloshed out for a while, then lay still.

Raoul watched her leave. At least, he watched her get fuzzier and fuzzier until he heard a door slam. Poor girl, she was just as duped as Christine was. Duped by Erik the Noseless of Nowhere and Nobody. Raoul prayed silently to the Fashion Designer of Fabulous to strengthen his willpower and fortitude. He would have to have words with Erik. And soon. He didn't want any more beautiful young damsels ignoring him for a voice in the cellar. It was hilarious actually. The most unattractive guy in all of Paris, the most evil tempered, high strung, mentally imbalanced guy Raoul could think of…and he could have had his own personal harem if he'd wanted to. Drat you Erik, Raoul took a swig out of his glass and hoped that his cursing hadn't violated the Fashion Designer of Fabulous' strict limitations imposed on the use of invective. Maybe the Fashion Designer of Fabulous would forgive him, seeing that it was Erik, Angel of Music and Phantom of the Opera.

Stupid titles, thought Raoul as he fell into his wineglass and began swimming.

Christine closed the heavy fortified door behind her and leaned against it with a sigh. It was a relief to breathe again. No more worrying about that staccato passage in La Juive until tomorrow.

"Erik?" She called as she peeled her gloves off and tossed them down by the coat rack. She paused and listened for him a little.

Not a sound. He was probably still upstairs overseeing the scene painters. Blast that man and his eye for art and practically nothing else.

Oh well, Christine flopped down on one of the brocade couches and kicked off her boots. At least ballet rehersal didn't begin for another three weeks. Doubtless Erik would want to oversee every aspect of that as well. Christine wouldn't complain about scene painters when lithe young ballerinas were on their way. Why jump the gun? Panic when you need to girl.

One day Erik would actually wake up out of his dreamy innocence and start looking around. And then he'd be like every other man alive. Christine would have to keep him hers, same as any other woman. It was kinda depressing.

There were some strange thumping noises from some interminable end of the house. Christine ignored them and got up and searched the cookie jars in the kitchen. Erik's large and sumptuous collection of six cookie jars were full of strange things. Like fish. And bits of string. Just like a little boy's pockets. No cookies though. Christine settled on a glass of milk and went back to the living room.

The thumping noises were still there.

Christine stared into the unlit fireplace and imagined a story about a lonely ghost who went thumping around a house to get someone to notice him. Then she took a nap.

The thumping noises were weaker when she woke up.

She started to her feet, "Erik?" It was a bad move because her vision faded out and she got a terrific headache. Also one of her legs had fallen asleep. She tried to collapse back on the couch without causing herself any more pain than necessary. "Erik? Are you home dear?"

The thumping noises stopped, "Christine?"

Oh great. He had started a construction project. Probably a miniature scaffold for his collection. Maybe he'd decided to fix the doorjamb to the bathroom.

Christine got up and limped toward the voice, rubbing her eyes and forehead. "What do you want for dinner Erik, I didn't do to well with the pot roast that you bought this aftern—"

Her hand was on a doorknob and turning it and all of the sudden she was creaking the door open. This shouldn't have been surprising, but how could Erik have possibly gotten himself locked in the torture chamber?

The answer was apparent when an almost completely naked Raoul de Chagney fell out and sprawled across the carpeting. His back was bright red and blistered. His hair was sopping wet. "Water." He gasped.

Christine jumped back, bounced a bit on her bad leg on the way to the kitchen, and managed to return with a large soup pan worth of cold water. She wished she knew where Erik kept his fantastic medicinal herbs. Not that she'd know which ones to use on Raoul's apparently third degree sunburn.

Raoul gulped down the water. Christine pinched the skin on his arm. It sprung right back into place so he couldn't have been that dehydrated.

Raoul's eyes fluttered open, "Christine?"

Christine nodded and held a finger to his lips. Then she grabbed him under the arms and hauled him through the living room and onto the cool kitchen tile. "Wow Raoul, you sure can make an entrance. You could have knocked on the door, you know."

Raoul flinched when she lay his back against the tile. She went and grabbed a couple pillows off the couch for his head.

"Come on drink some more water." Christine held a cup to his lips. "Did you actually do this on purpose?"

"I came to see Erik," Raoul sputtered, dribbling water down his chin.

"He usually works until about six."

"Oh." Raoul looked disappointed. "Is it almost six?"

"Four thirty."


Christine shrugged. "Here's a bucket of water. I'll go look for something to help the burn."

"You could spread me with butter." Raoul suggested.

Christine turned away and didn't acknowledge the statement. Raoul spread with butter. What would Erik say to that? Christine didn't want to find out. Raoul here at all would probably send Erik searching for his maniacal laugh and several barrels of gunpowder. Erik had problems like that.

But then Raoul could be, well not exactly dying, and not in all that much pain either…but it was the principle of the thing.

Christine stood up and started rummaging through the cabinets. The kitchen was not a normal kitchen. It was Erik's kitchen. There was a difference. Erik's kitchen wore a white mask and lurked about in the dark with a piece of catgut ready to strangle you. Christine opened a door and cringed. No need, it was only a mop. A life-size Christine-replica mop with real hair and glass eyes.

Christine closed the door again. Maybe the drawers would be better. She really didn't even know what she was looking for. Something about cactus plants and juice, but surely Erik wouldn't have any of that exotic stuff around. There wasn't a desert or a cactus within a thousand miles of Paris.

Ah but Christine had underestimated the breadth of Erik's spice rack. The spice rack that had the letters of Christine's name scattered all over in little gold pieces and welded onto the cast iron. An expensive honeymoon present, but Erik was never one to skimp. There was the little bottle of the stuff. Aloe Vera, or some other Latin scientific nonsense. The bottle was cool the touch even though it had been sitting out.

Christine uncapped it and took a whiff. Didn't really smell like anything.

She walked back to Raoul and dumped some on her fingers. He shrieked as she daubed it on one of the blisters. Then he started laughing hysterically.


"Ouch ouch ouch!" Raoul giggled. "What is that stuff? It's all sticky."

"It's from the New World. They make it from cactus."

"Madre de Dios, Estados Unidos de Mexico? Como lo sospechaba. Estoy cerca de la muerte."

Christine had never heard Raoul burble like that before. But there was indeed the distinct smell of brandy about him.

"It's not tequila is it?" Raoul began moaning in agony. You're not covering me in pulque? O Santa Maria, te ruego el favor de…Christine, just call a priest."

"You have a sunburn and you're drunk. Now stop squirming. Erik will kill me. I have to get you out of here before six."

"But I came here to talk to Erik."

Christine rocked back on her heels, "Why?"

"I want to tell him to keep away from my girl. He's already got a wife the rata de al cantarilla sin dientes revestido en polyester!"

Christine didn't like the sound of that. Maybe she had better call a priest.

Raoul's face turned a nasty brownish red and he propped himself up on one elbow. "Ahora sus dias de semental un pollo han acabado! Su cerebro es como un frijol bayo!"

"Raoul de Chagney if you don't shut up this minute I'll throw you into the lake!" Christine hollered, "Now if you don't get a grip and stop raving like a lunatic I'll call the police and have them lock you away. Just think slowly and speak in French!" What had she gotten herself into? What would Erik say if Raoul murdered her in a fit of insanity?

Fortunately, Raoul didn't look all that insane. He just was shivering on her kitchen floor looking sticky and miserable.

Christine sighed. It was going to be a long day.


It was eight o'clock in the evening. Christine was miserable. Every sound made her flinch. Erik would be home any minute.

Raoul snuggled closer into a granny-square blanket that Christine had knitted for Erik's last birthday. He had insisted that Christine light a fire.

Christine hadn't had the heart to resist, poor miserable boy. After all it was Erik's fault for building a torture chamber in the first place. What kind of person puts a torture chamber in their house for their personal entertainment? Aside from Inquisitors and Chinese Emperors and Erik.

"You know that stuff worked great," Raoul said quietly, rubbing his stubbly cheek on the couch. "I have a cousin who lives in El Republic del California."

Christine tried to make her fingers loosen their grip on the arms of Erik's favorite mahogany chair.

"I'm sorry for calling Erik all those names before." Raoul whispered, "You were right, I was drunk."

"I thought you were just raving. That actually meant something?"

Raoul nodded a little.

"What?" Christine snapped.

"I said that he was a polyester wearing toothless sewer rat among other things."

Christine sighed. "You speak another language?"

"And I said that he'd never inseminate a chicken again." Raoul squirmed into a half sitting position, "I used to live with my cousin before Phillipe brought me here to Paris. I learned Spanish before I learned French. Can't you tell by my accent?"

"You said he'd never what?"

"Those were the good old days. We lived in una hacienda en la vega un poco sur de ciudad Los Angeles de California—"

"Raoul, you're doing it again."

"Sorry." Raoul pulled the soft blanket higher around his shoulders and just stared into the fire. "Lo siento." He murmured.

"You miss it."

"How could you tell."

"Why did you leave?"

"Philippe. I went to my aunt and uncle when my father died so Philippe could concentrate on his career and finding husbands for my sisters." Raoul spat the words out. "Then he got the bug to be a 'family' again. Didn't want me halfway across the world. Dragged me away from my real family and my real brother, even if he was only a cousin."

Christine smiled with one corner of her mouth, but it wasn't a happy smile, "What was his name?"

"Diego. We were best friends." Raoul let his head fall back against the couch, "We used to ride horses and practice our swordfighting together and play with snake-hide whips. Fight curs in the street and run around barefoot through the sandy grass. Diego had such dreams." Raoul's face creased, "He was so brave. Always charging in and leaving me to tag along. He was a year older."

Christine watched the shadows dance around the room, "I never knew that about you Raoul."

"The words just come back to me when I don't even try. Philippe thought my accent got worse when he let me speak Spanish so he told me not to. I thought I had forgotten it."

Christine caught her breath and blinked her eyes several times. "I'm sorry."

"No." Raoul smiled tenderly up at the ceiling, "Philippe was the finest man that ever lived. He showed me how to live and die. I try so hard to have his courage and capability, but somehow I can't. It was all him. I loved him very much."

"I'm sure you did." Christine had never asked Erik what had happened with Philippe. She hadn't wanted to know why he was found on the banks of the lake. She had no evidence at all that it was Erik's fault. But why did she feel so guilty?

"Is it six yet?"

Christine stiffened, "It's eight."

Raoul took a deep shuddering breath and stood up. "I'll call again tomorrow then." He walked away from the fire and back toward the electric lights of the kitchen. The glow of the fire seemed to go with him.

Christine shook her head and looked again just to make sure she wasn't seeing things. Raoul had managed to turn from fashionable French paleness to a very unfashionable shade of brown. It looked good on him though. Gave him character. He didn't look like so much of a dilettante fashionista now. He looked older.

Maybe it was just listening to his story.

Christine had heard that story before. Rejection, exile and servitude. It was an old story. Only Erik had had a reason that he had been shunned. Raoul had just been an inconvenience. And while Erik had rejected his tormentors in turn, Raoul idolized his as the best man who ever lived.

And Raoul had the fortitude to live on like everything had been normal.

It was like Christine had never seen him before.

"Hate to do this, but do you have anything to eat?" Raoul pulled his blue jacket on, "I'm starved."

"There's a charred lump of ham in the oven." Christine grumbled.

Raoul bent over and peered inside the oven, "Looks good to me." He pulled the platter out and sliced a hunk of meat off." Amazingly enough the meat was pink and juicy and delicious looking in the middle. Raoul bit into it and made enjoyment noises. "Well, it was wonderful chatting with you Chris. I'll have to stop by sometime when I'm not frightfully wounded." He held his hand up in front of his eyes. "You sure worked a miracle with the pulque or whatever you splashed all over me. I haven't had a tan like this since I was a boy."

Christine got up and rubbed her arms slowly. "Raoul, Philippe is gone. You must chose how to live your own life now. You can speak Spanish if you want."

Raoul chewed around a bite of ham for a while. Then he smiled at her and bowed, "Gracias Senora, but I don't think that many Frenchmen would understand me. Now which way out of this carnival house? Don't want to get back in that hall of mirrors by accident. "

Christine showed him to the front door. "Go ahead and take the boat to the far side. Erik will tow it back with him when he comes home."

Raoul nodded, "Thanks."

Christine frowned and braced herself. "Raoul?"

She almost lost her nerve when he turned around. "Hmm?"

"Raoul, why did you come to see Erik?"

Raoul wrinkled up his nose, "I don't remember. But it was good that I came. I haven't talked with you in far too long."

Christine waved goodbye and shut the door before he could say anything further. The old Raoul was safe, young and idealistic, ridiculously handsome and easy to resist. This Raoul was becoming too dangerous. Too dangerous.

A/N: Wow it's actually up on time! This is about the first time I've posted on time since I joined. Celebrate with me! Review!