Disclaimer: We don't need to tell you this, but you know, it's just here. We don't own 'Phantom of the Opera', though we would like to. That belongs to Gaston Leroux and the rest of the wonderful (or not so wonderful… coughcoughFORSYTHEcoughcough…) geniuses who have brought this story to life. Don't bother suing us; we don't make a penny off this.

Summary: Raoul and Erik take their rivalry into their own hands.

I Fought So Hard To Free You: by Lady Death & L'Ange de Folie

At last the black domino came to a stop and ushered the white domino quietly through the door of a private box. The white domino unmasked himself immediately, feeling absolutely foolish in his designated costume. This simple action reveal Raoul, le Vicomte de Chagny to his companion. Contrastingly, the black domino insisted upon remaining masked. A pity, the young man thought. It was no secret that Christine Daaé was an attractive and lovely woman.

Oh, there was so much he wanted to tell her, to ask her, to discuss with her! Her sudden and lengthy disappearance had horrified him, and the sudden urgent note she had flung to him while dashing by a carriage through the Bois with a mysterious man at her side had not improved matters. As it was she who insisted upon the meeting, he hoped she had some answers for him, or information at leas

However, something inside him was dreading the conference for reasons he could not explain. Deeply, he prayed that she would not confer upon him words of consolation as she sent him off on his way while she ran off with another suitor. He didn't think he could live with that

"Christine?" he asked hopefully. "I've been wishing to speak with you."

She ignored him, suddenly glancing out of the door, listening intently.

"He must have gone up," she murmured. But as she listened harder, her eyes widened and she exclaimed: "No! He is coming down again!"

Raoul saw easily over her shoulder, a familiar ghastly figure moving slowly across his line of sight. The recognition dawned in his mind.

The death's-head of Perros-Guirec! The man who played upon the violin, who enchanted Christine and himself. The man who masqueraded as her Angel of Music; who hid and simpered behind her dressing room mirror! The man whose influence caused Christine to treat him so coldly! That hideous death's-head of Perros!

Though only a glimpse, he felt himself filled with outraged passion and indignation.

This man would explain everything that Christine would not or could not tell him.

Without warning, and before Christine could prevent him, Raoul dashed impetuously through the doorway and down the hall to the magnificent Red Death that descended the grand staircase of the Palais Garnier.

The man's evasion at Perros was not enough to deter him. He was not going to escape him another time!

"Raoul!" Christine's voice called from behind him and he could hear her running after him. "Raoul, please, no!"

It gave him pause, but not for long. Christine's mysterious lover would not remain such a secret any longer.

The magnificent costume of Erik's Red Death was far too overblown in Raoul's eyes. It was a spectacular procession of morbidity colored by scarlet with the long, velvet cloak trailing after, embroidered elaborately in gold thread. Then there was that ridiculously extravagant feather to be dealt with, perched frothily upon a large hat looking like something he had seen in illustrations of pirates in a romantic novel; the whole crimson assemblage lounging on a terrifyingly real and fluid death's head.

What a coward this man was to hide behind a mask!

But he would unmask him for the scoundrel that he was, to show her what sort of man this lover of hers was! For Christine's honor if anything else!

"Raoul! Please! No! Come back!"

He ignored Christine, cutting through the thick, whirling melee of the crowd. The Red Death's shock appeal had been worn and the former looks of horror had melted seamlessly into looks of appreciation as he cut leisurely through the crowd.

Raoul plowed through the confusion, no longer caring if any person caught sight of him in his absurd white domino.

He would catch him! He would! And this man—the Red Death, Christine's lover, the Angel of Music; whatever he called himself!—he would not escape!

He neared closer to the man in question, oblivious to the exact moment of when he lost his partner domino to the surging sea of dancers. Another few steps, and… there!

Raoul caught Red Death by the edge of his billowy, red sleeve, who immediately turned. Just as quickly, Raoul found his wrist ensnared by a hard, vice-like bony hand applying terrible pressure in growing increments.

He did not allow the pain to deter him and he glared defiantly up at that fine-fashioned mask with its glowing, yellow eyes. Christine's mysterious lover seemed to recognize him and he ripped Raoul's hand from his ghastly apparel, but did not thrust him to the marble flooring as he had to the unfortunate drunkard during his first appearance.

They stood there for a short moment as the carefree dancers ebbed and flowed about their immobile forms, still moving to the beat as Saint-Saën's "Danse Macabre" reached its fevered peak. Raoul refused to move, his face set.

Christine's so-called Angel of Music stared back with a chilling look, until suddenly his eyes glinted with intrigue. The great, hideous head jerked to the direction of their right in an undeniable motion of beckoning.

Come along, the man's strange eyes seemed to say.

And he did.

Away from the noise and population of the masquerade he was led, down one increasingly dim corridor after another. Down a small staircase and back up another, the sounds of the masquerade because to drift away, until they had reached a part of the Opera Raoul had never seen before.

A single, low burning lamp against the wall was all that illuminated the deserted hallway. Its brilliance ebbed and flowed, the flame twitching, diminishing, then augmenting like the embers of a dying fire. The last barely audible strains of distorted music from the central fête filtered in distantly through the walls, giving the place an overall eerie, isolated feel.

He would not be intimidated.

"As you can see, I'm really quite busy at the moment, monsieur le vicomte, but I am curious as to what business you have in disturbing me," Red Death drawled at length, stopping suddenly at the end of the hall. The scarce light emphasized and cast intimidating, flickering shadows off the impressive costume causing the death's head mask to look somehow more hideous and more menacing than in full light.

"My business is with Christine," Raoul declared, sounding with more bravado than he felt in reality. "You are a fiend, monsieur, and I intend to unmask you!"

The Red Death clicked his tongue in amusement. "A fiend? And what have I done?"

"You have taken advantage of the credulous trust of an innocent young woman!" Raoul said, drawing himself up to his full height. The Red Death seemed to loom over him, making him feel as a small child.

"Oh, that." The other's voice lilted with amusement, but there was a subtle, dangerously defensive undercurrent. "I have merely tutored Mademoiselle Daaé's voice and established myself as her career's benefactor. Surely there is no harm in that?"

"Does your role of benefactor also entitle you to take your protégé on walks in the Bois?" Raoul demanded.

"Erik must admit that does fall outside the usual purview; but when two people love each other as much as we do… Is it not natural for them to accompany each other through the Bois?" the Red Death said, his voice tinged with a perverse and mischievous air.

The vicomte's jaw worked, but nothing came of it. "Love…?"

"Oh, yes," the Red Death said; leering, gloating even. "Love! For you see, Christine loves me for my sake, and I her. But, monsieur, you've gone quite pale… You seem unwell. Could it be you do not believe me? Very well, ask dearest Christine, then, if you cannot trust me! She will tell you the truth, for she is a good and honest girl."

"You've… you've seduced her," Raoul said, his voice faltering; confused. This had to be a mistake—a horrible mistake. Christine was supposed to be this man's prisoner… not his lover…

Red Death smirked at him, or at least it looked as if he were smirking. "Seduced her? Oh, dear me no, I have done nothing of the sort. Erik is not inclined to such enticements. As I told you before—and while I am not in the habit of repeating myself, for this happy sentiment I shall make exception—Christine loves me for myself! I have not coerced her into anything."

"Enough!" Raoul's breathing had quickened, but through anger or fear, he could not tell. "Remove that mask—it doesn't frighten me! I want to know the face of my rival, if nothing else!"

A low, chilling laugh reverberated throughout the corridor, seeming to come out of the walls themselves. Raoul looked around for the source, a tremor tickling up his spine until he realized with sudden fright that it was coming from Red Death himself.

"I do so love the masquerade balls, don't you?" Red Death said, still chuckling. "It is the one time of the year where one can dress as one pleases and no one is given a second glance. Erik imagines this is what society feels like for the rest of the human race."

He paused reflectively, head canting. "Incidentally, monsieur, I wear no mask."

Raoul looked up at the skull-like face skeptically, shaking his head. Then, an unpleasant nauseating shock surged through his stomach as his mind made the sudden transition of accepting what he originally thought to be an impeccably made mask as reality. He stared at the thin, sickly pale skin, the gaping cavity of a nose, the two black holes for eyes, and the rictus grin imprinted in the facial expression with a realness that no mask could ever mimic.

"Mon dieu," he swore, feeling the color drain from his face. His mind still reached for explanations as to why such wretched human deformity could even possibly exist.

"You flatter me, monsieur," came the ready response. Suddenly, those sunken eyes seemed to focus on something unseen beyond the vicomte's shoulder. He smiled. "Ah, and here is our lady of the night, now."

Raoul whirled about to see Christine in her black domino, moving quickly in their direction. "Christine!"

She ignored him, moving straight to the Red Death. "Erik, please," she entreated urgently, laying a pale hand timidly on his sleeve as she glanced furtively towards Raoul. "We should go… please, let's leave…"

"Is it true, Christine?" Raoul asked, his voice trembling only to the most astute listener. "Is it true what he says? That you love him?"

Christine's face turned an ill-colored white and stared at Raoul with deer-like eyes: glassy and panicked. She seemed speechless, confused, torn; but Raoul steeled himself against what he saw. Christine had lied to him, or at least had led him on to believe she loved him. There was a painful twisting in his chest, which upset him more than he would admit.

"I…" Her voice slipped up an octave, shaking badly. She turned to look at Erik—the Red Death, her voice professor, the Angel of Music, who was observing the scene with intense pleasure—then back to Raoul. "…I-I do care for Erik very much, Raoul…"

Raoul could hardly contain the agony that knifed through his chest at those words. So, she loved another, when he himself loved her! She loved her mysterious Erik and not her poor, unhappy Raoul. Oh, Christine! Had he not considered her to be an honest woman? Well, certainly now at this moment he believed her to be as such. It provided full explanation of her recent mysterious and troubling behavior.

She didn't love him. He felt he would die as a result.

Christine turned away from Raoul and began to tug on the Red Death's sleeve. "Erik, please…"

Erik gently displaced her touch from his clothing with a kindly hand, gazing down at her with adoration. "Yes, my dear?"

"Please, let us leave," she implored. "The party has given me a headache and I want to go home."

"Can we not stay for a little longer?" Erik asked, his voice sweet and cajoling. "You know how dearly I love masked balls and there are so few in the season…"

"But, Erik…!" Christine continued, the startled sound of sudden epiphany in her voice. "Before we left for the Bal, hadn't you said that there was something you wished to tell me? Let us go home so we can talk."

"Yes, you are quite right," Erik said, a smile on his face as Christine glanced over her shoulder at her vicomte. He returned her gaze back to him with an expert, guiding finger barely touching her pale skin. "However, the privacy of my home is not necessary for a matter such as this..."

"No?" There was a trace of fear in Christine's voice.

"Oh, no." The Red Death looked beyond Christine's small shoulder to Raoul who was beginning to feel as if he no longer existed beyond sidelong glances. "I believe that this could be done right here."

Without another word, he slipped a plain gold ring off one of his bony fingers and held it out to her. "Christine, I must give you this ring. I give you back your liberty on condition that this ring is always on your finger. As long as you keep it, you will be protected against all danger and Erik will remain your friend. But woe to you if you ever part with it…." He leaned closer to her, whispering something unheard beyond her delicate ear. Christine went pale and started away from him, but acquiescently accepted the ring, slipping it onto her own white hand.

Raoul felt his face flush with anger. Had the man any principles at all? What had he divulged so secretly to Christine's hearing alone? While Erik professed to love Christine, how was it possible that he could claim to love her and not see how he scared her?

And as he saw the way Christine shrank from Erik, he felt triumph. Perhaps she did not love Erik as much as she said, or as much as Erik said; perhaps there were doubts. Perhaps there was still hope!

While his surety of Christine's love may have been currently compromised, the certainty of his own continued love for her was far from impaired. And as such, he was free to act within those bonds, even if Christine was still constrained by the shackles of the dangerous game she played.

"You scoundrel!" Raoul burst out, angry to begin with and further insulted that this Angel of Music had audacity enough for such conduct before another individual. "You threaten her!"

"You saw nothing of the sort," Erik said with a sudden note of menace.

"You cannot pressure a woman to wear your ring, monsieur," Raoul continued, trembling with anger. "It is simply not done this way."

"Raoul, please, do not get involved—"

"No, Christine," the young vicomte said firmly, his blue eyes meeting hers. "I must become involved. He is manipulating you and I shall not stand for it any longer. Though I know you do not love me, it is still my duty as a friend to protect you from miscreants."

He rose to his full height and met the unnatural black holes of Erik's eyes. "Monsieur, I formally challenge you to a duel for Christine's honor."

An exceedingly awkward pause followed after. In that silence, the deeply chilling laugh of the Red Death sounded again. "I think monsieur has had too much champagne, but if this is what he wishes…"

"No, no duels!" Christine begged. "This isn't necessary!"

"What are the conditions of this duel, monsieur?" Erik asked, for once ignoring Christine. Laughter still edged his words.


"Christine, you are being exceptionally rude at the moment. Very rude, indeed. Let the vicomte speak."

Finally feeling as a being taken seriously for the first time in the evening, Raoul responded fervently. "If I am victor, then you must remove yourself from Miss Daaé's existence! If you are victor, then I… I will respectfully withdraw myself."

"I accept the terms," Erik remarked.

"Erik! No!"

"You have nothing to fear, my dear," Erik replied to the distressed young woman with growing impatience. "Nothing can happen to me if I do not allow it. And while I have not fought a satisfying duel in many a year, it is not a knack one loses... If this hotheaded simpleton wishes to provide me this pleasure, then by all means let him! Think of how happy we will be once everything is done!"

"I cannot allow this to happen!"

Christine's continued resistance caused the Red Death to become tense. "And why not? Do you not want us to be happy together? Or could it be that you also feel something for this vicomte beyond the sisterly devotion you declared...?"

"I… well, yes, I… want us to be happy, but…!" Christine repeated helplessly.

"Then there is nothing to fear," he intoned again, this time with such intense will that even Raoul felt pacified and calmed by the assurance. Christine, too, looked dazed and the Red Death turned away from her. "I accept your challenge, monsieur le vicomte. And, tonight, as I am in high spirits, I shall be generous and allow you to select the time, location, and weapon of choice for our little appointment, for you shall need every advantage that can be offered you."

Raoul tried not to appear chilled by that last ominous remark and looked straightly up at the Red Death, jutting forth his jaw. "Very well. Tomorrow night, then, on the roof of this opera house." And then he allowed himself a reckless smirk, tossing out the last sentence with confidence. "As for the weapon of choice, you may bring whatever weapon you feel appropriate."

The Red Death deep laugh resounded up the corridor once more. "Erik shall not disappoint."

And with that, they parted. Raoul was disconcerted to see the way Erik led Christine away; the silent, sheep-like way in which she followed along. Even more disconcerting was the way they seemed to disappear into thin air like a discovered specter, but his calm and resolution was soon recovered.

Down the hall, the forlorn, lonely lamp guttered and discontinued its light, leaving the young vicomte in his white domino costume to stand alone in the darkness while the distant eerie music of the fête continued to play for drunken revelers.