((Authoress' notes: A deviation from my typical canon (though not my typical style) for the Darkphic contest on pfn. It came in second place! (And I'm still a little in shock over this.) And my first real attempt at really dark phanphic unless you count the talking dolls in Shadow-play. This was fun . . . who knows, I might write more like this!))
So it ended, one winter five stories beneath the Paris Opera.
Erik, once called Angel, once called Demon, once called Phantom, slipped the wedding-ring from the finger of the beautiful child never to be his bride. Christine's sky-coloured eyes were full of tears, lending them a sheen like that of mirror-glass as she looked up at him, still trembling from his kiss. It was not his ring she was to wear, and not beside him she was to stand, draped in white before the altar, aglow with candle-light and her own radiance. Heaven's daughter could never marry the King of the Underworld. Angels belonged beneath the sky, and not beneath the ground.
He placed her hand in that of the boy who had long ago captured her heart, Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, and stood them side by side. There. Such a pretty marriage they would make, so alive with youth and beauty. And so they would share one love, one lifetime. That was how it should have been.
"Good-bye, Christine, my dear child. I will always love you."
Paris – November, 1882
There was a sound like the screech of a violin suddenly thrown off-key, in hellish counterpoint to a chorus of high, keening, eldritch shrieks like the voices of the damned, and then silence. Her head reeled with pain and memory; there was a whirl of light and shadow, smoke, mist, candle-light, mirrors, music, silk, ice . . . slowly the images sorted, and faded, and then nothing remained but a dull throb.
She became aware that she was lying on her back in a bed of deep, lush softness, indistinctly familiar but not her own, carefully tucked under drowsy weight of featherdown. She was cradled in it, and serenely infused in some ambiguous sense of security, although she hurt all over with some lingering, old ache, traced abstractly with brighter lines of pain.
Christine opened her eyes. She was lying in the bed that had been hers in Erik's house underground, in the white room he had prepared for her, and frankly no idea of why or how. Perhaps this was a dream. Or perhaps the entire interlude that had passed since she had lain here last was. She sat up slowly, propping herself up on her elbows, and realised immediately that she was not dreaming as her whole body cried out in protest. Alarmed, she pushed back the blankets and found herself in one of the silk night-gowns Erik had provided for her, with the white swathes of linen bandages barely visible beneath it.
Cold with sudden fear, Christine grasped the lace neck of her night-dress with trembling hands and lifted it away from her skin to look down it, when her bedroom door creaked gently open. She looked up, and fell back onto the pillows as her strength flooded from her in surprise. The beloved blonde head of her best friend, Meg Giry, of all people, had peeked around the door.
"Meg?" she whispered weakly.
"Oh Christine! You're awake!" Meg scurried over softly and took Christine's tenuously outstretched hands.
"How long haven't I been?" Christine asked fearfully.
"A few days," Meg admitted quietly, "Ever since the accident."
Christine sat up straight again, ignoring the head-whirling rush of pain that came with the movement.
The details of the accident Christine had no memory of were revealed to her gently by Meg and her mother. The carriage she did not remember boarding had slipped on a patch of ice near the Opera, and overturned. That was all. A simple accident. She was pulled from it, barely alive, by none other than Erik himself, who brought her back to his home and patched her up. She owed everything to him.
"It is very fortunate Monsieur le Fantôme was nearby," said Meg sombrely, "Or you might never have survived."
Christine shuddered a little. "Thank you," she murmured.
"It was nothing," he replied. "Sit up, please." She obeyed, and he slipped his long, skeletal fingers beneath her dark, heavy tangled curls, his cold fingertips probing her scalp gently. She closed her eyes, suppressing a shiver. "What is the date, as last you remember it?" he asked.
"The fourth of November," she replied, "but Meg said I was unconscious for a few days, so it must be later than that."
"Three days," he said, meditatively. "Well," he proclaimed at last, easing her back onto the pillows, "There is no injury to your skull, and the only gap in your memory appears to be over the incident, from shock, doubtless. Perhaps it will return in time."
"Do you think so?" Christine asked.
"Perhaps," he repeated. "Sleep now, child. You are not well yet."
She shrank back under the heavy covers, not quite able to meet his eyes beyond the mask he wore, burning eyes that she felt could see through hers into her soul. She was lying in his house, and engaged to be married to his rival of a year ago in two weeks' time.
It seemed like an age longer than a year had passed since Erik released her from his shadowy Underworld into the arms of her beloved. Raoul was due to return from Sweden, her childhood home where he had gone to make the final arrangements for the house he had bought for them, in a scarce two weeks, and then they would be married. And she would no longer be Christine Daaé, the shy opera singer Erik had loved, but Christine, Vicomtesse de Chagny.
She could not stay in Erik's house.
The next few days passed in a hushed quiescence of dreamless sleep and tranquil waking. Erik came and went, bringing her soup or tea or changing the bandages or sitting at her bedside, reading to her while she was awake and singing to her while she slept, but his presence always hovered at the edged of her consciousness. For a time, it was almost ordinary, like any normal, living husband tending to his normal, living wife. She did not ask questions. But then the realisation would return, just as she was sinking once more into Erik's shadow-twilight world, that she was not to be the bride of Erik, but of the Vicomte de Chagny.
He did not permit her to leave her bed for a long time, although she ached with restlessness. "You are still very weak," he said, "I don't want you to overexert yourself and relapse."
When he was not there, the white room fogged her senses, like a child breathing on mirror-glass to write messages on it with a fingertip. The wallpaper was white with delicate patterns like angel's wings; the counterpane was white with white satin ribbon embroidery; the pillows were white, the whispy bed-curtains were white, the soft rug on the stone floor was white; Christine herself was white, lying drained and pale in her white night-gown upon the massive white bed, between white sheets. There were no windows, here in this house underground. Only Erik's presence dissipated the whiteness.
And a door, set into the far wall. It was painted a glossy red that gleamed dimly in the light from the gas-lamps. When she asked about it, he replied that it was just a storage closet, nothing of importance, but it was always kept locked.
The lights in the room were brighter. Christine wondered idly what time of day it was, and exactly how many had passed while she had lain there. The covers had grown stiflingly hot, and she pushed them off and lay on the pillows, staring at the red door, with its black hinges and its crystal doorknob, following the intricate scrollwork design laid into the paneling with her eyes until she was dizzy.
Finally she decided that she must be driving herself mad with tedium, and decided to take a bath. Carefully she slid out of bed and made her way to the wardrobe. Its door opened upon a dazzlingly sudden spray of colour, nearly blinding against the rest of the room. She selected one of the dozens of magnificent dresses and then carried it into the adjoining bathroom and started running hot water into the white marble bathtub.
She caught the eye of her reflection in the bathroom mirror, and started back in alarm. She had not noticed before the fine, red line of the scar running along her left cheek, mirroring the curve of her jaw. Leaning closer, she ran her fingertips along it ruefully, then glanced with apprehension at the dim shapes of the bandages beneath her night-dress. She hesitated, then whisked the night-dress over her head and unwound the lengths of linen binding her.
Straightening, she brought her fingers to her mouth to stifle a gasp, and stood staring at her reflection in sick horror. Her entire body was scored with a morbid collection of hideous gashes and mottled bruises, dark and awful against the white of her skin and only just beginning to heal. Turning away, Christine climbed into the bathtub. The half-healed wounds stung in protest of the hot water, but she immersed herself determinedly up to her neck, spreading her hair out on the rim of the tub, then closed her eyes and slid beneath the surface.
Distantly, she heard the door to her room open, and Erik's voice, odd and wavery through the water. "Christine?"
She sat up. "I'm in the bath."
She heard him sigh. "All right. Next time you wish to leave your bed, let me know, please. You could have hurt yourself."
"I'm all right, really," she insisted, reaching for soap.
There was a silence. " . . . Have you taken off the bandages?"
"Yes. The . . . I'm healing nicely, I think."
"I am glad."
She washed her hair, spreading an opulent layer of suds out along the surface of the water, then submersed her head again and got out of the tub. Towelling herself off carefully, she glanced at her reflection again in the fogged mirror. "Do you think there will be scars?"
"It is likely, I'm afraid."
Christine prepared to get dressed, then decided, running her fingers delicately along her bruised ribs, that she had no desire to be corseted. She replaced the bandages, then put on her chemise and went out like that. He approached, and she stopped, suddenly realising the flaw in her logic and wondering how on earth she had thought it acceptable a moment ago to appear before him in a filmy chemise and little else.
She stiffened, her heart throbbing in her throat, as he brushed his deft fingers along her bare arms, assessing her retying of the bandages, but his touch was impersonal, professional. "You're trembling," he observed, "You ought not to have gotten out of bed."
"I'm fine," she whispered, the weakness of her voice betraying her lack of conviction.
He slipped his arm smoothly beneath her knees and lifted her, easily as an infant.
. . . She was lifted, bruised and bleeding and scarcely alive, and cradled like a baby.
"Hush, my child," a voice whispered . . .
She was clinging to him desperately, shaking with sudden, unexplained terror. He returned her to her bed and bent over her, his eyes soft with concern. "I want you to stay in bed."
She nodded mutely. He stroked her hair back from her forehead and laid his hand there for a moment. "Sleep now," he said, tucking her in again. She tried to protest, but he had begun to sing, and she followed the sound back into shadowy spirals of dreams.
Upon waking next Christine felt better, and somewhat silly at her earlier helplessness. She sat up, pushing back the blankets, and by some uncanny intuition Erik was immediately there. "I thought I told you to rest."
"I've been resting," she countered, "It's growing tedious."
He acknowledged this, and as a solution the Girys were procured again to keep her entertained. The long afternoons passed quickly in Meg's company; when Christine was finally permitted to leave her bed they spent the hours in her room, discussing in girlish whispers the imminent return of Christine's fiancé, and the approaching wedding, an increasingly elaborate event that seemed to be concerning half the city. Meg, of course, was to be Christine's maid of honour.
"I cannot stay in this house," Christine confided in a whisper, "Raoul will be home soon, and he won't be able to find me. But I am afraid Erik won't let me leave."
"You have been very ill," Meg pointed out, "You probably ought not to go out yet."
Christine sighed. "Well. Have you seen the designs for the dress yet?"
Meg shook her head.
"Oh, it's lovely! I imagine it's finished and waiting for me at the dress shop now . . . But I still remember what it looks like. Here, I'll see if I can draw it for you." She found charcoal and drawing paper in her writing desk and then set about trying to sketch her wedding-dress from memory. "This isn't a very good likeness, but you get the idea."
She handed the sketchbook over and Meg beamed at the drawing in delight. "Oh, it's beautiful, Christine. You'll look absolutely gorgeous."
"Apart from being all over with scars," Christine murmured with regret, tracing the fine raised line along her jawbone with her fingers.
Meg shook her head, fluffy blonde curls bouncing around her face. "You'll always be beautiful."
Before long, Erik knocked upon the door as he did every day around the same time to apologise for interrupting their conversation by insisting that Christine rest.
"We mustn't let Mademoiselle Giry tire you out with her chatter," Erik admonished, but he was smiling beneath the mask, and his tone of mock-severity made Meg laugh. A little reluctantly, Christine was put back to bed, and the lights dimmed, and Meg, with a parting kiss to Christine's forehead, taken away by her mother.
Christine settled herself into the pillows, gazing absently at the red door through the room's collected shadows. As she drifted off, it seemed she caught voices rising and falling in fragments of some far-off conversation, but she could not be sure.
". . . she's very frail right now, it wouldn't do to upset her."
" . . . better, I think. She showed me the dress . . ."
" . . . It's that hope keeping her alive."
Christine laid her hands against the smooth wood of the door, tracing the carvings with her fingers, as they swirled and eddied gracefully, like ripples in a red river. Somewhere, she could hear water dripping. She twisted the crystal handle, but it slipped coldly beneath her fingers and shattered into a hail of glinting shards, and she drew her hand away bloodied. It was not crystal, but ice . . .
She awoke with the sound of her own name pulsing in her ears, as though someone far away had cried it.
"Erik," Christine asked, "What is behind that door?"
For the barest of instants he paused – she saw it – in the process of setting out her lunch. "Which door, my dear?" he asked mildly, "There are many doors in my house."
"The red one. What is behind it?"
"I have told you already; it is just a little storage room. Nothing of importance or interest."
"May I see?"
"Now, what interest would you have in the contents of a musty old closet?"
"I'm curious," she insisted, "Please?"
"I would advise you to reconsider the past consequences of your curiosity," he replied, and his eyes behind the mask were suddenly cold.
"But you said it was just a closet," she pressed, "what consequences can there be on the inside of a closet?"
"Nothing of importance!" he snapped, and she flinched. He sighed. "Why do you deliberately try my patience, my child? It is an uninteresting little closet, and nothing more. Besides, it is locked, and to open it I would have to look for the key."
He left, and nothing more was said on the subject.
She spent her time alone in bed drawing in the sketchbook she had found, dozens of sketches of the dress she was to wear when she became the Vicomtesse de Chagny. The renderings improved every time, capturing subtler nuances with increasing perfection. She came to know it as though she had been wearing it all the time as she lay half-dreaming in this white room.
She tore them out and covered the door with them, so there was no longer anything red in the room, nothing but an encompassing whiteness. It was cold, in the white room, and she shivered nearly all the time now.
"Are you cold, my dear?" Erik asked, concerned. That seemed an absurd question. She felt she must be blue and white by now. "Shall I bring you an extra blanket?"
"It's th-that door," Christine explained through chattering teeth, "Whatever it is behind it. The cold comes in from underneath when I'm sleeping. I know it does."
Erik confined her to her bed, and Meg stopped coming to visit. Christine spent her afternoons alone now, except when he was there, drifting in and out of a swiftly-moving stream of troubled dreams.
She knew she could not stay in this house.
She could still hear water dripping . . . no, it wasn't even water, seeping, bleeding out from the narrow strip of darkness beneath the door, spreading out into the white rug like a crimson shadow and soaking the hundreds of sketched wedding-dresses that fluttered silently to the floor through with red. And it was no longer dripping but a rush, a roaring, frothing icy current that surged up over her even as she tried to get away, but she was entwined with billows of white silk, and could not fight the tide.
She flung out her arms, and opened her mouth to cry out but the sound was lost in liquid darkness.
She awoke sobbing, wracked with a violent tremouring and completely tangled up in her maddeningly white sheets. Stifling the noise with her hand, she sat up straight, praying that Erik had not heard. He did not come. Tentatively, she called out for him, but still he did not appear. Erik came and went, and it seemed he could be anywhere at any time. The heavy covers were in the process of sliding glacially off the bed, leaving her shivering in the middle of it, and one pillow was on the floor. Freeing herself, Christine straightened the sheets and with considerable effort hauled the blankets back up.
Something slipped out from the voluminous nest of blankets and fell with a delicate noise like the chiming of a bell, rolling across the floor. A beautiful sound, she thought, and chased it. It was a simple gold ring, smooth and elegant. She turned it over in her fingertips, as it caught ghosts of firelight and sent them dancing. There was an inscription engraved on the inside. She tilted it, until the fire caught and illuminated the message with gold.
"One love, one lifetime."
It was not Erik's ring.
Inexorably, she slipped it onto her finger.
. . . Warm from his touch and glowing with candle-light, the ring slipped smoothly over her finger. "With this ring, I thee wed . . ." Their hands interlocked for a moment, she glanced up at him through the mist of her wedding-veil, and caught his eyes, alight with love. Never had she seen him so happy. ". . . And pledge thee my troth . . ."
"Raoul," whispered Christine. She scrambled up. There was something missing, pages torn away and hidden, and the answers were in that room, beyond the door she was forbidden to enter.
She ran into Erik's room and, not finding him, began to rip drawers out of his desk with reckless abandon. A key, there had to be a key somewhere. Papers fluttered around her like scattered memories, sketches, business accounts, architectural drawings; a collection of pens and pencils rolled by her bare feet in erratic arcs; a bottle of ink fell to the floor and shattered, pooling across the papers like blood. One drawer hit the floor with a heavy jingle and she froze, and then seized it again and beat it against the stone floor until the fine mahogany splintered and yielded its false bottom, and its contents were thrown into the air.
Keys! She caught at them as they fell about her in a musically metallic spray, scrabbling for them as they bounced and sang across the floor. There were more than a dozen of them, all different. She gathered them up in fistfuls and dashed back into her room. Her drawings whirled about her as she tore them away to reveal the red door, its black hinges, and its crystal knob. One by one she fitted the keys feverishly into the lock, until at last one clicked, and the door swung open before her.
It was a storage closet. Just a tiny room, filled with a puzzlingly mundane array of dusty boxes, unused furniture, out-of-fashion clothing. A little corner of forgetfulness in Erik's house, like an oubliette. Everything was sombre with neglect and coated with a fine layer of dust, except for a soft heap of something white that glowed dimly in the light from her room. Christine reached for it, and her trembling fingers brushed against the cool liquid smoothness of silk.
It was a wedding-gown, her wedding-gown, made to the exact designs that were now flung between every corner of the room, her fairy-tale wishes of a dress carried out in meticulous, fanciful detail. Once, it had shimmered with pristine whiteness, but now it hung from her hands in limp defeat, badly torn and patterned with an abstraction of dark stains, steeped through layers of silk and lace.
Christine whisked off her night-gown and pulled the wedding-dress over her head. It slipped coldly over her bare skin, the skirts, water-stained and stiff with mud and blood, settled about her with a rustle like that of dead rose petals. She fastened it up with shaking hands, and then rushed to her wardrobe to look at herself in the mirror. It fit as though it had been made for her, she saw, smoothing it against her body, tailored by a master hand. Flawless, but for the awful gashes rent in the delicate fabric, edged dry and brittle with blood.
Gashes that matched the scars set into her skin exactly.
. . .There was ice on the bridge. The wedding carriage slid, swinging as though through empty air, tipped on nothing and overturned, falling with a disconcordant skidding of metal like the screech of a violin suddenly thrown off-key, in hellish counterpoint to the high, keening, eldritch shrieks of the terrified horses, like the voices of the damned.
She was wrenched from the arms of her new husband, lost to the clamour and a sparkling rain of glass like ice and ice like glass, his voice, her name echoing in her ears beneath the sudden blinding rush of water. The world scintillated prismatically around her from white, to red, to black.
Something seized her and dragged her from the wreck of the carriage as through the jaws of some underwater leviathan, and then she was lying on the bank of the river, amid the churned black of mud and the white of snow and the red of blood, retching water. She breathed. She was lifted, a tiny, shaking, sodden bundle of virgin silk, bruised and bleeding and scarcely alive, and cradled like a baby. She wept.
"Hush, my child, my love, my Angel," a voice whispered, "you are safe now."
Christine ran. She flung herself out of Erik's house and plunged headlong through the enveloping darkness of the Opera cellars, blind. Her knees were bruised from the countless times she stumbled and fell in the dark, outstretched fingers bruised from the walls she had run against, and somewhere beneath her skirts there was a slow warm trickle of blood against her cold skin from newly-healed wounds torn open again. She kept running.
She half-tumbled through the gate in the Rue Scribe and burst out into Paris, with flailing arms hailed a carriage. "To the cemetery," she gasped, and dropped a handful of keys into the driver's outstretched palm. He prepared to protest, but a glance at the wild-eyed, bloodstained apparition before him seemed to change his mind. For all he knew, he could have been returning a ghost overdue to her grave. He set off at a trot and suddenly Christine remembered, yes, this – the carriage! The clop of hooves and the creaking of wheels, the perfume of lilies and white roses, the flutter of a wedding-veil, and she, in this dress, in Raoul's arms, on a silver morning two weeks lost.
The carriage released her at the iron gates of the graveyard and into it she flew, her bare feet light against the powder of new snow. She knew what she was looking for, and came upon the family plot as though drawn to it. Frost-coloured moonlight illuminated the petals of a wilting assembly of lilies and white roses, and two graves, side by side and shining with newness.
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny
Christine, Vicomtesse de Chagny
Erik knew Christine was no longer in the house as soon as he entered it. He felt that her presence was gone before he came upon his desk, with its drawers wrenched out and in splinters upon the floor amid a chaos of scattered books and papers and everything else that had been in the desk, lying soaked in a spreading pool of wet redness. The keys missing from it were strewn across the floor before the open red door in her white room. She had found the oubliette.
He came upon her at dawn in the misty cemetery, as the first light of a cold sun crept over the small figure crumpled at the foot of a gravestone in the Chagny plot, brushing over the white of ruined silk, the dark chestnut of tumbled curls, the burgundy of old blood. Christine lay in a cradle of snow before the grave appointed her too early, when her body had never been found. Her lips were tinged delicately blue, and a dowry of frozen teardrops like jewels clung to her eyelashes. The wedding-ring gleamed dully upon her white finger beneath a fine layer of frost.
So she lay at last beside her husband, in her cradle, her grave, her marriage-bed, Christine, Vicomtesse de Chagny.