Outside of our home, life and time continued at their unabated paces; though we held each other for as long as possible, soon it was time for me to report to the stage for rehearsals. My heart still ached at the thought of Buquet and Piangi—and the other deaths Erik had caused, for though he hadn't precisely said so, I knew they were not the first men he killed—but at least I knew that Erik did indeed regret killing them.
It wasn't much. But for someone who had been frightened that her fiancé was a cold, unrepentant murderer, it was enough.
I loved him still. Erik would own my heart until it stopped beating, and at that knowledge my soul split into halves of sorrow and joy, for I knew both his cruelty and his love as no other could. I hated that he had so callously ended the lives of others, but Erik had sworn to me that he would never kill again unless it was for his life or mine, and I believed that he would keep that promise.
After all, for all of his deception, Erik has never broken his word to me.
Erik accompanied me until I was just outside a backstage entrance; there, in the shadow of a curtain, he slowly drew me close to him. I knew what caused his reluctance. I had not meant to, but when he was comforting my tears earlier I had pulled away from his kiss, ever so slightly. So it was I that tightened the distance between us and lifted my lips to his, but Erik quickly dominated our kiss, his hesitancy dissolving into desire
When he released me, his eyes were gleaming. I could only hope that I was not too badly flushed. We said nothing further; he leaned in to quickly kiss my cheek and disappeared.
I took several breaths to calm myself; Meg, as a principle dancer in our new production, would be at this rehearsal, and I knew that she had been waiting for some time to question me about my recent increase of strange decisions. The cancellation of my engagement to Raoul, my request to the managers that I be left strictly alone . . . my younger friend had given me a worried glance, during our last rehearsal, and I knew that this time she would not allow me to escape.
Meg I could handle. Her mother, however . . .
I shook my head, dispelling Madame Giry's knowing, dark gaze from my mind.
Several voices cried out "Meyerbeer!" in disbelief as I entered the stage; I looked around me in confusion. The performers were all gathered around Monsieur Reyer, who was standing in the center of the stage with an imposing look upon his usually cheerful face.
"Meyerbeer," he repeated stubbornly. Catching my eye as I slipped into the fringes of the group, he nodded at me. "And Mademoiselle Daae will play the part of Alice."
"Alice?" I asked Meg softly as the rest of the cast began to badger Monsieur Reyer about their parts.
"Christine! I didn't see you come in," she scolded, enfolding me in a quick hug. "Yes, Alice. Monsieur Reyer didn't tell us why, but I heard from Mother: the managers wanted to focus on operas that older and dependable. Well, you can't blame them, after . . . " Meg paused, her eyes meeting mine, but I couldn't indulge her curiosity now. When I remained silent, she shrugged and continued. "So they're putting on Robert le Diable, by Meyerbeer. Mother was furious when she found out the opera they chose! She does not want them to perform it."
"I wonder why," I mused. It was an old one; I think it had been first performed in the early thirties. I knew little of the story, except that Alice was the sister to the main character, a misbegotten child by the name of Robert.
"I will be Alice. And you?" I asked her, unsure what parts there would be for the ballet in this production.
Meg's mouth widened into a spectacular smile. "Oh, Christine! I am to play the part of the Abbess."
"Yes, she is a—" Meg looked about us and lowered her voice, a conspiratorial glimmer in her eyes, "a ghost, if you can believe it, who was unfaithful to her vows in life. She and her nuns tempt Robert into stealing a cypress branch from the grave of a saint."
"Meg!" I put heavy overtones of shock into my tone. "First you play a lady of questionable reputation, and now a fallen nun. Whatever shall become of you?"
"It's the same character, really. Stealing the branch isn't all she tempts him to do," Meg replied with a wink. We laughed then, and blushed. Studying me, Meg continued softly, "And you are the same character, too—you are Innocence."
"Aminta's innocence was consumed by fire," I replied softly.
"Christine please . . . you've never said . . . " Meg reached up and touched my cheek. I didn't answer. "What happened to you that night? And what's happening to you now? Why won't you talk to me, or Raoul, or anyone?"
"What has Raoul said?" This, I needed to know. It was vital that I keep my story in line with his, for any discrepancies could make them—the managers, the police, anyone—curious enough to investigate the cellars.
Meg was interrupted, however, by Monsieur Reyer sternly tapping on his music stand. "If Mademoiselles Daae and Giry would be kind enough to join us, we will begin," he informed us dryly. Sheepishly, Meg ran off to the side with the ballet dancers, while I slowly found my place with the other principle singers.
Rehearsal lasted for hours, and at the end I realized I had drawn almost wholly into Alice's character. We had many similarities, she and I; she held great love for her foster-brother, a brother begotten by a demon and taunted with his own innate darkness. My love was not that of a sister for a brother, nor was Erik anything but human, and yet . . . Alice understood what it is to stand on the edge of Hell and beg someone you love not to leap into the flames.
There was only one disruption, thank heavens, and that was not really a disruption at all. It was my turn to sing; Alice was pleading with Robert to abandon his ways and to avoid Bertram, his devil-father who tempted him to darkness and evil. My mind and my heart were solely on Erik as I stepped forward and sang the aria, and when I stepped back into place, the silence in the auditorium was stunning.
Though focused on singing well enough to make Erik proud, I had not truly been paying attention to the sound of my own voice; hearing it again in my head, the soaring notes and crystal-clear tone, I realized that it had surpassed anything I had ever sung before. A slow blush rose in my cheeks as the silence held and deepened; Monsieur Reyer was the one to break it. He bowed to me, finally, and gesturing to the auditorium, said "Your kingdom, my Lady."
The other cast members applauded, and the silence was gone, replaced with their congratulations and friendly calls. I did my best to fade away from the center of attention, but there was no need for me to have bothered; the ballet dancers were practicing their number, Madame Giry controlling them as sternly as ever. With her military presence on the stage, everyone was soon concentrating on his or her own tasks.
I so nearly escaped to the cellars after rehearsal ended; it was a busy moment, with everyone chatting and laughing about mistakes made and plans for the evening. I had almost reached a small stage exit when Meg's voice behind me called out, "Christine!"
Wincing, I turned to face her. Meg was not alone; dressed in her usual black, dark and imposing against the lights of the stage, Madame Giry stood with her daughter and they gave me the same long, demanding look.
Defeated, I glanced furtively towards Box Five. I thought I had seen a white sliver there earlier, but with Erik I could never be certain. He would be listening, however, if I went with the Girys; I was sure of it.
"Yes?" I asked, as innocently as possible.
"We would like to speak with you for a few moments, Christine." Madame Giry's words were not a request.
"Of course. If you would follow me to my dressing room?"
"Yes," Meg started, but my former ballet instructor shook her head.
"My chambers, if you wouldn't mind," Madame Giry replied.
My mouth tightened in a humorless smile; I did not want to have this discussion. "Of course. Lead the way."
We reached Madame Giry's room quickly; it was, of necessity, readily accessible to both the ballet dormitories and the stage. Once inside, Meg and I sat on the bed, side-by-side as we used to do when in trouble as children. Madame Giry smiled briefly, then neatly folded herself down onto her favorite stool in front of her dresser. The smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
She looked at me, for a long moment, as though she was searching for something lost within my features, then she sighed and blindsided me. "You're seeing him again, Christine, aren't you?"
I had expected her to tiptoe around the subject, to hint, to question me roundaboutly . . . anything but directly ask me that.
"Who?" Meg asked.
Neither her mother nor I answered. We were locked into each others gazes, trying to distill truth, wondering whether we could trust. I found an underlying hint of compassion in her eyes, and closed mine, resigned to the truth. "I am." I had worn gloves to the rehearsal; no one thought it odd, considering the temperature outside. Removing the covering from my left hand, I held it out quietly for their inspection.
Meg exclaimed "Christine!" and grabbed my hand. When she looked up from the ring, she was frowning. "It's the ring Raoul gave you," she said slowly, "but it is not Raoul's ring, is it?" I shook my head. "I didn't think so. He wouldn't put replace diamonds with black stones. So whose is it?"
"Someone I love."
"Do you?" Madame Giry's voice was sharp. "Do you really, Christine?"
"Yes." The single word was steely enough to silence the both of them for a moment. "With all my heart. I have chosen, Madame Giry. And he would not have forced me to return to him against my will."
My former ballet teacher's strict mouth tightened a little. "I fear that he has forced you to do much against your will."
"Not so much," I whispered. "And not very against my will." I closed my eyes for a moment, then looked at her directly once more. "You know him. I don't know how, but you do. How can you doubt that he has been anything other than a perfect gentleman?"
"Perfect is a rather misleading term," Erik commented from just inside the doorway.
"My dear," I continued as the three women stared at me with differing degrees of apprehension, "surely your memory is not so short?" I drew Christine to me with a gesture, winking down at her out of the Giry's sight. She smiled, a little, and leaned against me as I wrapped one arm around her.
"Le Fantôme," the little Giry girl murmured, her eyes wide. I let go of Christine for only a moment to give her a fluid, mocking half-bow.
"Erik," There was a definite edge of exasperation in Marguerite's tone.
I raised my one eyebrow at her. "You can hardly expect me to leave the girl alone when you are trying to poison her against me."
"Not poison, Erik." She sighed, and I could see sudden signs of weariness her face. "Warn. Caution. Remind her—and you—that you two cannot simply lock yourselves away in the cellars and let the world burn above you."
I grimaced, but it was Christine who answered. "We know, Madame Giry. This . . . it isn't like last time. I promise. And we thank you for your kindness, but really, we need to be returning to our home." She stepped away from me and drew her blonde ballet friend into a swift embrace. "Meg, I promise, I will talk with you later."
"You must tell me everything," was Meg's reply. Christine laughed, and knelt to wrap her arms about Marguerite's waist, as she had often done as a child.
"Thank you," she whispered simply, and then we were gone, swiftly traveling down toward the chilly familiarity of our home.
Erik drew me towards the kitchen, where I could smell tea waiting. My spirits lifted instantly at the thought of something warm and soothing to drink. He glanced at me and seemed to read the pleasure on my face. "Happy, are we?"
"You always know exactly what I need," I answered as he sat me at the table and poured one of his exotic mixtures into the heavy, comforting mug I usually preferred. It was a citrus blend, one of my favorites. Erik raised an eyebrow at my comment, but said nothing until I had taken a few sips of the tea.
"It is an interesting choice the managers have made." He reclined against the table beside me, lean, dangerous. One of his long fingers traced down my cheek. "You will make an exquisite Alice." I looked up at him; his eyes were unreadable. "Would you like me to be your Robert?" Erik asked in a low, almost menacing whisper.
"No," I replied in a tone just as soft. "Be Raimbaut, Alice's fiancé."
"Raimbaut is a minstrel."
"And you are not?"
His slow smirk chilled me. "I had thought I was much closer to the character of the Devil's Child." The strange emphasis he put on the last two words unnerved me enough that I reached out to hold his hand in my own.Erik must have caught my nervousness, for his strange mood quieted under my touch.
"What is it?" I wondered aloud, abandoning my empty teacup to stare up at him, both of my small hands wrapped around his wrist. "What is bothering you?"
I had not thought he was going to answer, but finally Erik murmured, "Memories," before pulling me to my feet. "You need your rest," was all he said as he hauled me towards my room.
"Erik." He stopped, turned to meet my eyes. I stepped closer and gently touched his cheek. "You aren't really thinking of taking a part, are you?"
I held his gaze. "Yes. I don't want the managers to know that you are alive."
"That's an odd motive, considering our recent discussion with the Giry family."
"Erik, please! What did you want me to do—lie to them?"
This made him snort; he has noted several times that I am a less-than-expert fibber. In my opinion, one in the house is quite enough. Erik sighed and ran his hands lightly down my arms. "I promise, Christine. I won't be unexpectedly appearing onstage. I will stay properly hidden. Does that satisfy you?"
"Good. Bed." He finished roughly escorting me to my room, and left me standing by my door with a quick kiss. A warning in his eyes prevented me from asking him to stay by my side.
Resigned to falling asleep alone, I quickly readied myself for bed and slipped under the covers.
I was almost asleep when I felt Erik lie down next to me; smiling, I snuggled back against him and drifted into dreams.
The following day, and throughout the next few weeks, we developed a steady routine. I spent the daylight hours in rehearsal, and every evening Erik would give me a singing lesson. After our lesson, we would usually spend a quiet evening together, Erik reading to me from his vast collection of books as I leaned against his side. If his mood was foul, I would try to lure him into a better temper, but failing that, I learned to give him space and time. We were learning to live together better; I realized that, far from being angry with me, Erik simply was a very solitary man, and he began to understand that I was used to living with crowds of girls in the dormitories. While I relished the quiet of Erik's home, he surprised me one Saturday by delivering me outside of Meg Giry's dressing room. That, too, became a part of our routine; I hadn't felt restricted to his home, but with Erik's express permission I began to visit Meg regularly.
Every evening, Erik came to my room just before I was asleep, and every morning he left as soon as I began to wake up. He never did lock me in again, but I wished he would stay. I felt that spending that quiet, calming time together might be good for us, but I had no other complaints, and so decided to let him have his way on this.
When we married, however . . .
When we married. Not if, though as the weeks passed and Erik made no further mention of a wedding, I began to wonder if his doubts were banished, or merely hidden.
It would be her greatest triumph yet, the opening of Robert le Diable set for tonight. Everything was ready; her voice was so exquisite, I could hardly believe that it came from a mortal throat. The ballet knew their number, the other singers were passably prepared; even that ghastly chandelier had been replaced, though with something less gaudy and quite a bit more beautiful, in my opinion. The Opera house had already had its re-opening gala, the night that Christine first came to my home, but this was the production that would decide whether the Opera would be able to remain in operation.
The managers were, if possible, even more nervous than usual.
I watched Robert le Diable hidden in their box, amused at the worried conversation going back and forth between them. It was only Christine's strict warning against any tricks that kept me from teasing them when I became a topic of conversation; apparently, Andre and Firmin were not nearly as certain of my demise as they pretended.
My attention left the managers, however, when Christine stepped onto the stage.
I had never, in all my dreams, thought of seeing anything so beautiful. She began to sing, her voice challenging heaven with its divine sound, and I knew that if she left me again, I would die.
The past few weeks, with her in my home, had given me a peace unlike anything else I had ever experienced. I had not imagined that her very presence would be comforting. I had almost died, last time, from sheer despair; to lose her now, when she had so thoroughly insinuated herself into my life, would destroy me.
And yet, the gentleman in me continually reminded me that our current living situation was highly improper. The solution he suggested was one I knew Christine favored . . . more than favored. She had not spoken of it since, but her firm declaration of a desire to marry me still played regularly in my mind.
We could stay in my home—not permanently, of course, for I wanted to live as a normal man if at all possible—but for a while longer. Money, thanks to my many years of being a salaried Phantom, was not an issue. Other than the Girys, Christine had no family, no one to protest her wedding someone as eminently unsuitable as I was; in fact, it seemed as though the only obstacle to our marriage was, in fact, me.
I grimaced. I was unworthy of her; I would always be unworthy of her.
But if I was what she wanted . . .
Who was I to deny the wishes of an angel?
Laughing, my arms overflowing with flowers, I just managed to push the door to my dressing room closed; I leaned back against it, breathless. To say that the opening night of Robert le Diable had been a success was something of an understatement; the theatre was overflowing with guests and patrons, all of them praising the new production.
A quiet chuckle to my left made me turn my head; gently, Erik pulled a particularly lovely bouquet out of my arms. "It appears that you are sprouting, my dear," he murmured, setting the flowers aside.
I quickly laid the various blossoms on the dresser and turned to meet his eyes; there was only one man's approval I sought tonight. Erik smiled faintly and drew me near, his eyes glowing down at me as he ran a hand through my hair; his singular red rose, tied with a velvety black ribbon, appeared in his hand as if he had pulled it from my curls by magic,. "You were magnificent," he said softly, leaning down to kiss my cheek as he tucked the smooth-stemmed rose behind my ear.
"Was I really?" I asked, breathless again for a different reason.
"Brilliant. Ingenious." With every word, his lips pressed against my skin, closer to my mouth each time. "Glowing. Spectacular . . ." He kissed me fully, tenderly. "In a word, my dear, exquisite."
Flushing with praise and his nearness, I smiled timidly and reached up to run my fingers through his hair. Erik closed his eyes, the upward turning of his mouth letting me know he was thoroughly enjoying the attention.
His eyes opened, after a moment, and he nodded in the direction of my changing-screen. Obediently I stepped behind it, hurriedly slipping out of my costume and into the more comfortable gown I had worn on that morning. I had long since gotten over the nervousness of having Erik in the room while I changed; I knew the screen was opaque, and beyond that, I trusted him to behave as a gentleman should. He always did; I had never yet stepped out from behind the screen except to find him with his back turned to me.
Today was no different; I came up to his side and Erik lightly grasped my hand, leading me through the mirror and down toward our home.
That night was much like any other, though we did not have a lesson; Erik wanted my voice to rest. So we spent the evening on the couch, me laying with my head in his lap as he read to me from a collection of Swedish folktales. I knew he had purchased the book for me, as a reminder of my homeland and my father; I loved dearly for him to read the stories of my childhood. Almost, I could hear my father's violin playing in the background, a soothing lullaby . . .
I woke, briefly, as Erik tucked me into bed and lay down next to me; he hummed a few bars of that same Swedish lullaby I had almost heard, and I drifted back to sleep.
I was so used to finding Erik gone when I awoke that it startled me when he was still with me the next morning. Sitting up quickly, I stared down at him in surprise; he was watching me with a faint smirk on his features. "Good morning," Erik greeted me quietly, his voice still amused but his eyes seeking my approval. "How was your rest?"
My lips pulled up in a wide, happy smile as I leaned down to rest my head against his chest. "Wonderful."
"I take it my presence pleases you."
Hoping that he wouldn't be angry, I nodded.
"Christine," he spoke, then paused. Carefully, he stroked my back with one hand. We were both still wearing our clothes from the previous day, but I sighed contently anyway and waited for him to continue. "Would it . . . please you, if I stayed with you every morning?"
"Yes." I did not have to consider my answer; any time he was near me, even when he was angry, I treasured.
Erik lifted my chin, forcing me to look at him. "And if I wanted to be here—legally? What would you say then?"
My eyes widened. "Do you mean that?" I demanded, sitting up to stare down at him. A flicker of doubt crossed his face, but his mouth twitched, and he nodded. To be absolutely certain, I asked, "You wish to marry me?"
"Christine," he whispered, and the tenderness in his gaze overwhelmed me. "I have wanted nothing else."
"Then I think," I answered, my voice breaking a little as tears spilled down my cheeks, "that I would say yes." I lay back down, my head against his chest, and wept joy as he soothingly ran his fingers through my hair.
These tears, I did not mind crying.
It was easier than I imagined, to find a priest who was willing to marry us. Marguerite had apparently been waiting for us to 'do the decent thing', as she put it, and had some time ago contacted an old friend of her family's who had gone into the ministry. He was, in fact, the same man who had married Marguerite and her lost Richard Giry, many years before.
The church was a beautiful little country chapel a few miles south of Paris; we arrived in the early afternoon. As I waited for Christine to enter—she had been whisked away by the Girys to prepare—I realized that, though I had never before felt at ease in a church, the sensation I was experiencing now brought to mind only one word: peace.
I did not have a great deal of experience with peace. And yet, with Christine's influence on my life, I had begun to feel it with greater and greater frequency; most often, it was an unnamed little corner of my heart, for once at rest and whole. Every now and then it would rise up and fill me with the promise of something warmer, deeper, than I had ever experienced, but before now the promised had always remained merely an unfulfilled vow.
Then I turned, and watched my salvation walk toward me.
Tears were sparkling in her eyes, the only jewels she needed; Christine seemed to float, her white gown a vessel borrowed from Heaven to bring one of its angels to my side. As she came to stand beside me, the fresh white flowers in her hair filled the air with sweetness; the happiness in her radiant smile filled my soul with a trembling hope. It is worse than a cliché, to say that a bride glowed, but I will swear to my deathbed that she was surrounded with an otherworldly light as we spoke our vows.
And then she was mine, fully, truly, and wholly mine, and the peace ceased to be only a promise. She was white fire, the kiss that sealed her to me a cleansing baptism that erased the old pain and grief and spread them with the soothing balm of her love, and I knew at last the freedom of spirit that comes from being whole.
One Year Later
I woke in the night when Erik rose soundlessly from our bed; a few moments later, I heard the quiet moans Michel always made before he began to truly cry. Smiling, I rose and followed my husband to our son's cradle.
"There now," I heard him sooth, and the baby's unhappy mumble turned into a coo. I stopped for a moment to soak in the sight of my beloved holding our son, both of them outlined against the moonlight in our new home outside of Paris. To think that I might not have had this moment, that I might have stayed with another out of fear of the love I shared with this man . . . it was enough to make me come up behind them, wrapping my arms securely about Erik's waist.
"I love you," I murmured, leaning my head against his back.
"Look, now, Michel, you've woken your mother," Erik scolded, but his tone was full of only love. The baby in question gurgled.
I laughed softly and gently took our son into my arms. Erik's eyes met mine for a moment over Michel, and my heart fluttered as I saw there what I never had expected to, what shook my very soul every time I witnessed that gentleness in his gaze which was a reflection of what I felt in my own spirit.
Author's Note: I have gone with what seems to be a traditional convention of naming Madame Giry 'Marguerite' (I can't remember if she is named in the books or not). I keep thinking that Monsieur Giry is named in the Leroux novel, but my copy is with a relative, so I called him Richard.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading A Voice without a Soul, and I thank you again for your patience and your praise. Comments are most welcome.
My other stories should be finished . . . soon. Not with any sort of immediacy, for I want to finish them (or mostly finish them) before I post them, but soon. Merci, et au revoir!