A/N Sorry this took so long, I am very sick at the moment, so it's a miracle its here at all. I have never left a story unfinished and I am not about to start now lol.

Chapter 18

Shadows of the Past

Erik sat forward in his seat, unable to relax, tension filling every muscle of his body as his fingers tightly gripped the armrests. He began to loosen up, as Christine got further into her song. Her voice had started reedy and thin, but as the song had progressed, she had built in confidence and tone.

As her final words died away, Christine's attention was distracted for a moment as a slow, almost mocking applause, started from the back of the theatre. But was soon drowned out by the thunderous clapping of the others present at her audition. However, it had been long enough for her to glimpse the young man, reclining against one of the pillars with an almost bored expression on his face.

Erik knew the performance had been good, but also knew she was capable of much better. It had worked on their side that the backers had little musical experience, just as he had hoped it would. He held out his hand, assisted her down the steps of the stage, and led her over to meet the others. The young man of earlier had moved from his position and seemed to be almost waiting for something. There was something in his gaze, which made Christine feel uncomfortable. The introductions were made and Christine flushed with pleasure at the compliments showered on her.

When she had been on the stage, it had hit her hard, how much she had missed this…the audience, the power to move people with the sound of your voice. Just to be up there, was as if being transported to another world.

"Wonderful performance Miss Daae. I hope you will consider the part of Marguerite. Monsieur Devereux will draw up the necessary contracts,"

After having her hand kissed, by all the eager males involved, Erik placed his hand on the small of her back, in an unconscious act of possession. He lowered his head to whisper in her ear, little words of praise. His breath fanned the sensitive skin as he spoke to her quietly. Christine reacted to the sensations and wondered if the fire in her blood would ever cool over the years. With a little, private smile, she knew that it would not.

"Christine, I wish to introduce you to your Faust, Mr Berto Polletti. You can meet the other members of the company tomorrow, when we begin rehearsals,"

Before he could complete the introductions, one of the other managers took Erik to one side to discuss business. Christine looked at the man, who had mocked her earlier. Now he was out of the shadows, she could observe him better. He was not as young as he had first seemed, maybe only a couple of years younger than she was. His tanned skin and almost midnight black hair, spoke of Mediterranean heritage, but his voice when he first spoke was that of an American, born and bred.

"A charming little act Miss Daae,"

She felt something cold turn in her stomach as he took her hand in his and lowered his head to kiss it. The feel of his lips on her, made her skin crawl. It took all of her skill as an actress to hide her aversion. It was not until that moment, that she realised in her haste, she had forgotten to don her gloves. She took them from her drawstring purse and put them on.

Something told her by the slight curve of his lips that he knew the effect he had on her. No man had moved her to disgust so instantly, on so little acquaintance since Rene De Chagny. A high colour graced her cheekbones as she fastened the little buttons of her gloves at her wrists.

"What an odd choice of words Monsieur Polletti, I assure you it was no act, but sung from the heart,"

His self-assured smile broadened, causing a strong dart of irritation to prick at her senses.

"Let us not stand on ceremony, you may call me Berto, most of the ladies do,"

"I am sure they do," she mumbled under her breath. "I am however, not most ladies. Monsieur Polletti, will suit me just fine,"

"As you wish," He made a slight bow to her.

Erik made his excuses and returned to Christine's side, his hand resting lightly on her forearm.

"Thank you Monsieur Polletti that will be all. We will see you here for rehearsals at nine,"

Erik had already dismissed the man from his attention, as he held out his arm and Christine took it. He bent his head to whisper in her ear.

"Come; let me take you away from the hordes,"

Both were unaware that a very keen pair of deep brown eyes watched them until they were out of sight.

The heels of Christine's laced boots clicked on the shiny marble floors. Everything was so new and fresh, the tang of paint, and wood, strong in the air, but not entirely unpleasant.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked.

Erik turned to smile at her wryly.

"Do not fret; I have no need to take you below stairs anymore. Not that we do not have a very fine basement facility," Erik smiled at her look of alarm. "You are mine," he said with such quiet possessiveness that sent pleasurable shivers down her spine. "I wanted to show you my office, the place I retreat to, when society becomes too much,"

Christine smiled, thinking of the other managers.

"Yes, I can see how that might happen…Erik…Monsieur Polletti…how did he come to be a member of the company?"

Erik turned to look at her.

"Why the sudden interest?" he asked.

"No reason…really…well…he makes me feel uncomfortable. It might help me to understand him a little better,"

He let out a terse laugh.

"You do not have to understand him, only perform with him," Erik sighed. "But since you ask. I first encountered him at a soiree I was obliged to attend with the other managers. It was a few days before I got the note from Madame Giry, as to that matter, you know the rest. Monsieur Polletti been employed by the lady of the house to sing for the guests. I must admit to being impressed by his vocal talents and so were the other financiers, which actually does not account for much,"

Christine flushed. "I suppose I have the fact that they can barely tell good singing from bad to thank for my current position,"

"You were not that terrible Christine. I think you know I would be honest enough with you about that. However if you are willing to put in the hard work we will have the cream of New York's society eating out of your hand,"

"I am sick to death of society, it has been my bane these past years," she sighed tiredly.

"Well my dear, look on them instead, as a necessary evil,"

Satisfied with Erik's answer, Christine swiftly dismissed the unease from her mind. They arrived at a pair of solid oak doors, the brass handles shone in the semi gloom of the hallway. Erik removed her hand from his arm to turn the doorknob. She screwed her eyes at the bright sunlight that flooded the room. The dust motes danced in the bright rays.

The room had a combined fragrance of French cognac and the lingering smell of cigars. She looked around at the two comfortable armchairs and a chaise longue. A cheery fire burned in the grate. To the other side there was a huge desk, piled with papers, but as she turned to look at Erik, what caught her attention were the hand drawn portraits that hung on the wall opposite it. The breath left her throat she looked on her likeness. The paper they were etched upon was yellowed, but the clarity of the strokes, created by hand that had drawn them remained.

Christine removed her gloves and walked over to them. Touching the cool glass frames with a fingertip. She felt Erik's closeness behind her, his warm breath on her neck.

"We all need our memories…I am not ashamed nor ever was of the depth of my feelings for the subject in these pictures,"

Christine turned, finding herself in his arms.

"It is I who should be ashamed," she whispered quietly, moved by the strength of his devotion.

She stood on tiptoe to kiss him, a brief touch on his lips. Erik smiled at her, his grey green eyes, which reminded her so much of winter, warmed with emotion. When he smiled at her, the smile reached his eyes. He left her side for a moment, walked over to the desk, and opened a drawer.

"I know it is not quite noon, but I feel the occasion calls for it," he said, his movements explaining his intentions, as he removed two large balloon brandy glasses from a cabinet and walked over to the Tantalus and unlocked it with the key he had taken from the desk.

He poured two generous measures of the amber liquid into the glasses and walked back over to her. Erik handed her a glass, and she bowed her head, contemplating the glass, absentmindedly swirling it around in her hands.

"What shall we drink to?" she asked, looking back up at him.

"To you. May your time here bring you the adulation you have so long deserved,"

"I can think of better things…to love and a life of happiness from this moment in…for both of us. That is as much of fortune as I dare tempt,"

Erik nodded in agreement, as they clinked glasses and each took a sip of the warming liquor.

A week later

New York was well into Spring now and the days were warm and balmy. However, it was nothing to the inner glow that Christine felt inside. Her lips were still slightly swollen and her body ached pleasantly from the passion she had shared with Erik only a couple of hours ago. He had awoken with gentle kisses that had soon flared into a deeper need for both of them.

As much as she wished they could have spent the day in bed, duty had called for the both of them. Erik had an opera house to run and today was the day that Mother Giry would be arriving. Christine knew how much Meg had missed her mother and wanted to be there with her to meet her off the boat.

So there they both stood on the quayside. Tom stood very close to them, only taking his eyes from the women to scan the crowds for trouble. Christine knew that he carried a revolver with him this time. He was taking no chances there would be a repeat performance of the last time they were here.

All three of them stood in companionable silence as they watched the ships dock. Finally, the one carrying Meg's mother came into port. She scanned the crowds that flocked the decks of the ship, all them hoping for first glances of loved ones.

Christine glanced at Meg. Her face was paper white. She was trembling, and Christine was sure it had nothing to do with the sharp breeze coming off the water. She took Meg's hand in hers and squeezed it comfortingly.

Meg smiled up her at. "I am sorry for being such a coward; this place does not hold any happy memories for me,"

"Meg, coward is the last word I would ever associate with you. Soon there will be better remembrances to replace the old ones. You will presently be reunited with your mother,"

"I must admit I am looking forward to meeting the mother who spawned such an infant," said Tom, his cheeky grin taking any offence out of the words.

Meg turned to him and nudged him hard, in the ribs. He grunted in mock pain.

"That kind of talk Thomas Keane will earn you the severest punishments!" she replied.

"I am counting on it," came the saucy reply that earned him another blow.

Christine held back the smile at the couple's banter, wondering just how far their "relationship" had gone. She knew that Tom had sought to take her mind off things and it had worked. There were bright spots of colour on her face to replace her previous paleness. As the plinth was lowered and passengers began to disembark, Christine's own thoughts drifted off.

Rehearsals at the opera house had been going well. Even her immediate dislike for Monsieur Polletti had mellowed and she had to admit that at times he could be charming. It made it so much easier to work with someone when you were not wasting energies holding him or her in distaste. She mused to herself.

Christine was brought back to the present, by the almost girlish squeal that Meg let out as she ran forward, spotting her mother in the crowd.

"Saints alive, will that girl ever learn!" grumbled Tom as he went in hot pursuit of her.

Christine followed at a more leisurely pace, wanting to allow Meg a little time with her mother before she greeted her. Tom respectfully stood back a few paces to allow her the same consideration.

She watched as the two Giry's embraced. Tears stung her eyes. Angelique had treated her like her own, but it did not stop her from wondering about the mother she had never known. She did not even have a picture of her, only the description her father had given her as a small girl when she had asked about her, and even that had faded with time.

Christine had never felt more alone than she did at that moment, wishing Erik was by her side. She knew it was selfish to want him with her all the time, as it was; she had had to request the morning off to come here. She smiled brightly as Madame Giry, extricated herself from her daughter's embrace and held out her arms to Christine. She returned the pressure, glancing at Meg, over her mother's shoulder. Meg put her finger to her lips to remind her friend of her promised silence. Meg introduced Tom to her mother, and after all greetings were exchanged, Madame Giry looked from one woman to the other, her gaze assessing.

"So, what has happened in our time apart?" she asked.

"Nothing!" chorused Christine and Meg, almost simultaneously. "Nothing," Meg repeated more firmly, blushing anew.

"Hmmm," Angelique replied.

Knowing the sharpness of Madame Giry's mind, Christine got the distinct impression that they were fooling no one.

"This way madam," gestured Tom, as he led them to the waiting carriage. "I have already made arrangements for your bags to be sent on to the house,"

Christine watched the carriage continue up the busy street, before entering the opera house. She nodded at the door attendant as she walked across the marbled floor. There was an excited buzz of conversation coming from the auditorium, which caught her attention. A small crowd had gathered near the front of the stage. Erik was sitting in one of the seats near the rear, his expression unfathomable, as he glanced at Christine.

He tried to catch her hand.

"Christine, wait!" There was a hard edge of urgency to his voice.

She ignored it and continued up the aisle. Some strange instinct propelled her forward as the crowd parted and Christine's hand covered her mouth to smother the gasp that rose to her lips. The entire colour drained out of her face as she met the cold hazel eyes of Carlotta Guidicelli. Christine felt a cold sweat of fear trickle down her spine, fear for Erik. Carlotta was the only one present who could unmask Erik, literally, for his past deeds.

The woman had hardly aged in the last thirteen years. There were lines around her mouth that had not been there before and she still favoured an auburn wig and too much pink. Christine glanced behind her to look at Erik. He was still sitting down in one of the auditorium seats, his expression bland.

Christine turned back to her former antagonist and took a couple of steadying breaths to swallow down the nausea, which threatened to take hold. Carlotta stepped forward, a smile on her lips told Christine that her reaction had not gone unnoticed. She extended a bright pink-gloved hand towards her.

"Miss Daae…what a pleasure to see you…again,"