A/N: Why am I starting another story? Because Erik is a terrible muse. He keeps punjabing everything. Hope you enjoy. 'Tis based mostly off the movie, with bits of Kay and Leroux thrown in. Disclaimer: I own nothing—not even my muse, obviously—and nothing owns me.

A Voice without a Soul

Christine

I did not speak to Raoul much that night after we left the cellars. I was unspeakably angry—at both of them, and at myself as well. Raoul and Erik forced me to leave him, leave my fallen angel in his cellar with a mob advancing on his hidden home. Why was I so contemptibly weak—and why, why did they make me choose?

Raoul only said one thing that night I remember: he asked me to leave the Opera behind for good. If I had not already been furious with him for dragging me away—no chance to explain, no way to say a true goodbye to Erik—I might not have had the strength to refuse. But refuse I did; in a cold tone which reminded me too forcefully of my angel at his demonic worst, I informed Raoul that the Garnier was my home; not only did I not wish to leave it, but I would be obliged if he would return me to it first thing in the morning.

The damage would not be extensive, despite the fire, that much I knew. Erik loved his beautiful home, his shrine to Music, far too much to do any lasting harm to it. As for the chandelier . . . well, he'd always hated it.

Raoul did not answer me, and we sat in his brother's front room in silence the rest of the night. I think he was learning that I was not quite his little Lotte anymore . . . that was our first disagreement over the Opera House; it would not be the last.

In fact, our second came early the next morning. Good as his word, Raoul was escorting me home. We had just entered, and I turned to go down the narrow, tangled passages that led to my dressing room, when I realized he was no longer beside me. "Where are you going?" Raoul demanded sharply. I only looked at him in confusion; he had walked this path often enough to know where it led. "You cannot possibly be thinking of returning to that room, Christine," he added quietly, reaching out to touch my cheek. "Not after all that's happened?"

I felt my lower lip begin to tremble. I hate crying; I hate it. It wasn't as if this whole mess was even Raoul's fault; all he ever did was love me. All either of them ever did was love me. The only crimes I could fault them with were those of jealousy.

No, I knew that wasn't true, not for Erik; I knew all too well that Ubaldo Piangi had not been the first man he killed. Yet I found myself shaking, looking at Raoul helplessly, at the thought of moving to another room. That tiny, far-off dressing room was my home, the only connection I had to Erik, and I couldn't leave it. I couldn't. Not even for Raoul.

Dear, sweet Raoul. Without a word he took me in his arms and gently led me to my dreamy little home, so blessedly removed from the other dressing-rooms and dormitories. The great mirror, stretching across one whole wall, was silent; my faithless heart told me it always would be.

The next few weeks were filled with rebuilding, rehearsing, preparing for a grand re-opening night. A certain announcement in the paper—Erik is dead—had sent fear into my blood, but I spoke to some who had been in the mob, and they told me that when they reached the lake, they found that the house had disappeared. I knew my marvelous angel had performed one last grand illusion for an audience that didn't even know it was being fooled; he would have loved the irony. He lived; he had to live.

Carlotta, grieving, had returned to Spain; no one murmured a word when the managers asked me to take the remaining three years of her contract. No one, that is, but a Vicomte who strongly wished me to leave the stage.

The first time I sang in rehearsal, I was surprised and horrified at the sound of my own voice. No one else seemed to notice a thing; fussy M. Reyer even complimented me. But listening to it, I felt was cold and emotionless, a beautiful, perfect instrument played without a heart.

I guess there is a price for everything; I had sung my soul for one man only, and when he disappeared, he took it with him.

Raoul was . . . understandably upset, one morning when he brought me breakfast. I had not answered his knock at my dressing-room door. In truth, I had not heard it. He entered to find me leaning my forehead against the glass of my mirror, listlessly staring into nothing.

I might have expected him to be angry. I could face his anger, but not his pain. He knelt down beside me and tenderly pressed his face into my hands—the closest we had touched since the night of Don Juan. Unwillingly, I felt his tears as he told me, "Don't make me go through this again, Christine. Don't make me sand by your side and watch helplessly as you turn into a wraith." I did not answer; I could see the shadows under my eyes as well as he could. "I think I begin to understand how very close I was to losing you down there, Christine. You were his captive; sometimes I wonder if you wish I had not freed you."

Turning to him, I knelt and gently kissed his cheek. "I am sorry, Raoul. I love you dearly, my white knight, but I loved him too. Can you understand that? Can you forgive it? Yes, I am . . . grieving him, I guess, in some strange way, but I am with you. Please, just give me a little time."

"As you wish," he answered softly.

I did not tell him I was still very much Erik's captive in my heart. That imprisonment, even Raoul could not free me from.

The opening gala went splendidly; Paris was insatiably curious about its Opera House. I had even overheard young members of the nobility daring each other to attend. To them it was a thrill . . .

When he came to my dressing-room after the performance, Raoul seemed a little upset, wary, even. I asked him what was wrong and he said "Nothing at all. I just thought I heard something; a memory."

This made no sense, but I let it pass.

"Christine," Raoul asked slowly, "are we still engaged?"

I had been sitting at the vanity, undoing my hair pins; feeling a little like Medusa, I turned to gaze at him. Finally, I answered, "I don't know. Your family would not want you to marry an opera-singer."

"Blast it, Christine, I don't want to marry an opera-singer!" He reached out to stroke one of my curls. "I want to marry you."

"Then you have a problem, my dear, for I am an opera-singer."

Raoul shook his head. "You've had your grand triumph tonight; you've proven you can sing without him. Leave this life now, and come home with me."

"That's what you think this is about?" I asked in stunned disbelief. "You think I live here, night and day, spending every waking moment in the above-ground stories of this kingdom, singing until I can't speak, to prove something? I am here because I love it here, Raoul. This is my home. Music is what gets me through each day. Please, do not ask me to leave it." I met his gaze. "I have already lost two men who tore their music from my life when they left me. Will you make me abandon all that remains to me of them?"

"I thought," he whispered, staring back at me, "that you chose between us that night in the cellars." A bitter smile, of the sort I had never seen on him, chilled me as he softly quoted, "You try my patience. Make your choice. Because yes, Christine; I am asking you to leave him."

I closed my eyes as he shut the door behind him; somehow, the firm, decided gesture was worse than if he had slammed it. I shivered and went to my little corner bed to wrap a blanket around my shoulders. It seemed cooler . . .

When I turned back to the vanity, it held a single blood-red rose.

Mesmerized by the graceful lines of the flower, I reached to pick it up, gasping as my fingers were pricked.

He had not removed the thorns.

To me, the message was clear. I was being offered a second chance, but not one without danger. He would be no Angel; like the cat he so resembled, there was a possibility Erik's claws might not stay in their velvet sheaths this time.

"How much of that did you hear?" I asked, carefully holding the rose to my face.

Even holding his rose, I did not believe it was real until I heard him speak to me in that angel's voice. "There has been little said in this room that I have not heard," he replied.

I winced. Forget the arguments—and the smiles—I had shared with Raoul in this room; I had woken several times in the middle of the night with his name on my lips. Erik laughed, just a little, and I knew he had heard that as well. Taking a deep breath, I turned to face him.

He looked precisely as he always had; thick black hair swept back and gleaming, his otherwise handsome features set off by the spotless white mask, his cloak and evening attire perfectly elegant. And his eyes . . . those bright, deep eyes, as ever with their slight spark of dormant cruelty and hidden pain—I had found my lost soul. It was held prisoner with my heart in those eyes.

I opened my arms in a helpless gesture. "What now?" I asked softly.

"Indeed." He leaned back against the closed mirror and regarded me steadily. "There are, as always, several options open to you. You may run after your Vicomte in tears, assuring his forgiveness and your silence. You may live here and test whether your hold on him is of sufficient strength to overcome his fear of losing you once more. Freeing the Vicomte, you may still choose to live here, trying to walk two divergent lines—neither wholly his nor wholly mine, but tied to us both. I don't recommend that course, however, as it contains the greatest likelihood of all of us ending rather miserably. You could try calling for the gendarmes, though I assure you that both myself and my home would be quite gone by the time they arrived."

"Or?" I whispered.

"Or," Erik gestured, and the mirror opened behind him. He extended one long, black-gloved hand to me. "You may come home."

"You give me no half-way options with you."

An infinitesimal shrug of the broad shoulders acknowledged this. "No," Erik agreed, "I do not. Do you wish to make an argument against the fact that you have lost that privilege?" He did not wait for my response. "Be very sure of your heart, Christine, before you choose. I am not your wayward pup; were I him, I would not have tolerated you living here under my influence. As you should have learned by now, I demand complete fidelity."

I lowered my gaze to the rose in my hands. So beautiful; so painful. "I know, Erik." I sighed and forced myself to ask, "Will you be able to forgive me for that night?"

"I will consider the possibility."

"I refuse to live in constant penance, Erik."

He coolly raised one eyebrow at me. "Nor would I have you with me under such terms. The night grows late, my dear, and my offer has a time constraint. Choose."

Raoul was gentle and kind. Raoul was good and sweet and only wanted my happiness. I did try to see things from his point of view; I knew he had every right to be upset with me tonight. But he did not understand; and he had never listened.

I could not live without music.

Deeper in my heart whispered an echo: I could not live . . . without Erik.

For his sake, I hoped Raoul would find a woman who could give him what I never would have been able to: her whole heart. Such a woman would wake in the night calling his name; he deserved that. Oh, my dear Raoul, I love you and I will miss you, but please—just this once—understand. Even that first night you came for me, I was not free; I already belonged to another. My childish inability to realize that has caused enough suffering in this world. Let go of me, so that you will not suffer any farther.

I reached out my hand to my angel of darkness. He looked at it for a moment, remotely, and I experienced a deep flash of fear that he would reject me in angry vengeance for his shattered heart. The moment passed, and the cool, smooth leather of his gloves enfolded my hand. I looked up to meet his gaze.

"Come," he said.

We did not speak again until we were rowing across the lake. Unable to bear with the silence any longer, I started to say, "The managers—"

"Will be dealt with," Erik answered smoothly.

"You're dead, you know," I quietly informed the water slipping away beneath the prow. "Or had you forgotten?"

"I am a ghost, my Lady," Erik replied cuttingly. "I have always been dead. It is one of the virtues of never truly living."

Why does he have this power over me? I can fight Raoul without two lonely tears falling into the water, but Erik's harshness stung. I kept my face turned away from him and did not speak so that my voice could not betray me; I had no desire for him to know he could hurt me so easily.

Erik knew anyway. It was a long moment before I realized that the boat had stopped moving and the oars were silent. His voice, when he spoke, was soft and warm just beside my ear. "Do you wish me to return you to your room?"

He was serious. I shook my head, still refusing to speak for the tightness in my throat.

"I will not have you with me against your will, Christine."

I swallowed. "If I wanted to return, I would have asked to." Oh, how I hated that hoarseness. "I deserve your scorn, Erik, don't think I'm unaware of that. Please, just take me home."

"No," he said slowly, "you don't. I seem to recall swearing that you would suffer no consequences for your decision. I have . . . less than kept that promise. My apologies."

Never, in all our time together, had I heard him express any sort of guilt or sorrow at his own actions toward me. I nodded; after a moment, we continued forward.

My thoughts were drifting, but something Raoul had said earlier clicked in my mind. I turned to look at him over my shoulder. "What did you say to upset Raoul tonight?"

For a moment it seemed he would deny it; then Erik's mouth lifted in his sardonic half-smile. "Something similar to what I asked him a month or two ago. I merely questioned whether he was quite certain who you were singing for."

"I sing for no one," I answered, thinking of that strange emptiness I heard every time I sang.

"You can hear it, then? You sound as you did when I first began to teach you—you possess better technique, but you are still devoid of true sound."

We had reached the house now, and he ushered me inside. His words were true, and nothing I had not told myself, but I disliked learning that the soulless quality of my voice was not my imagination. "No one else has complained," I replied stiffly as we entered the music room.

"No one else knows your voice as I do," he answered with faultless logic. "However, I may have a solution. Warm up with that," he handed me one of my old work-pieces, "and then prepare to sing Elissa's solo from act three." I was distrusting of this, of falling into the roles of student and teacher once more, but I did as he asked. When Erik was satisfied that I was sufficiently prepared, he ceased playing the piano and came close to me. Believing that he was going to correct my posture, I held still and watched him; then, quite suddenly, his lips were against mine and he was kissing me with all the ardor of the first kiss we had shared down here. He was the last man to have kissed me; Raoul had not yet tried to retake that liberty. I found myself melting into the extraordinary, passionate depth of his kiss; I had been taken aback, but not unpleasantly so, and I reached up to hold him close.

As soon as I touched him, he pulled away. "Elissa. Two bars." Erik began to play the introduction.

He had me completely stunned.

My entrance came and went with me staring at him in silence, one hand to my lips; Eirk raised an eyebrow at me and began again. Uncertainly, I lifted my voice. "Think of me, think of me fondly when we've said good bye. Remember me . . ." I trailed off in surprise.

That cold, lost quality had vanished. Even in those few words, I knew I had never sounded better.

"Amazing," Erik murmured, eyeing me. "Six months of lessons, and all I had to do was kiss you."

I turned my back to him; I had to. I couldn't face the joy hidden under the amusement in his gaze. "You are forgetting, monsieur," I said in an almost normal tone, "that as a proper young lady I would not have permitted a man I had just met to kiss me."

"You would have let your angel kiss you, cherie." This was spoken with contempt; whether for me or for himself or the both of us, I could not tell.

I looked back; he had turned from me and was stroking the keys of the piano. "Play me Aminta's duet with Don Juan," I asked suddenly.

"No."

"Why I am here, Erik?" I took a hesitant step toward him.

He turned and gave me a long glance. "I had thought it was because you chose to follow me."

"But why did you ask me to?"

Erik's manner chilled noticeably. Something whizzed toward my face and I caught it out of sheer reflex. I gaped down at Raoul's enormous engagement ring in my hand. "Perhaps I only needed to return that," he told me flatly.

I touched the stones he had thrown. "That would have left quite a bruise."

"It already has."

He walked out, and I was left staring at a ring whose clear diamonds had been replaced with stones of flawless black.