AN: I apologize for the delays, everyone. I really want to write this story, and I very much appreciate all of the encouragement that's been given to me. I've just had a great deal of personal problems lately, and I needed to take a break to sort myself out. That being said, I hope you will all enjoy the story and REVIEW (yes, I really appreciate those).
Disclaimer: I own material goods, the retail value of which is somewhere around $47.63. I wonder how much the rights to PotO cost...
"Yes?" He picked up the line and spoke in a tone more tense than he'd intended.
"I wonder why you must bother with picking up your own calls, when you have such a pretty maid at your service."
Erik could barely contain a sneer at what the call meant. Joseph Buquet was paying a visit. Soon.
If Joseph Buquet called, it meant he wanted something and was intent on getting it. Erik was by no means a stupid man, and Buquet was not a thrifty one.
Still, it was not money—that was no issue at all—that caused the painful knot in Erik's throat. Buquet had long been there, long demanding and complaining and mocking. But there had never been a Christine to protect within his walls.
"Her business is none of yours," Erik was too quick to remind him.
"Is it not in her job description?" The smug sound was more than enough to give Erik the image of Buquet's smile. "Your manor got along fine without the little darling, you devil. So I have to wonder what other services she could possibly provide for you."
Even without the little chuckle that Joseph provided at the end, Erik could feel the barb. He wanted to rail at him, felt the desire to throttle him more than ever, but this would be playing into Buquet's hands. As much as money, becoming obviously affected by his words proved a reason for Buquet's infrequent calls. He had Erik in a convenient position, and enjoying watching him twist and squirm futilely. But someday, someday, it would be ended between them….
Erik swore it.
"Does this conversation have a point?" Erik asked coolly, intoning boredom as best he could.
"Always cutting to the quick. All right, then. I need a little spending money."
Erik audibly sighed. "I'll have the amount deposited—"
"I don't like to be so formal, you know that."
Damn Buquet, but Erik did know.
"I think it might be rude not to come see you personally for the money, don't you?"
"When?" Erik asked through gritted teeth.
"I'm driving, actually. Be there in twenty, so make sure your girl is ready to open the door for me."
No sooner did Buquet hang up than Erik let out a growl that echoed through the manor. No, Buquet would not be given the opportunity to frighten Christine again—he would not permit it, not in his own home!
He ran upstairs to get a few necessary things, before going into Christine's room. Time was short, and he could only do so much…
Christine had frozen in place for a few heartbeats, eyes resting on her hand where he had touched her. His hands….she had never felt such hands. They were not warm, the skin was not like her own. His fingertips, his hands, were calloused by an entire lifetime of musical study. The strings, she knew, cut and bit into anything soft, until the skin learned to harden itself. But she had held her father's hands, and they had known a violin—it was not this that she felt different about Erik's hands.
They were cold, but not ice. Even now, she felt the imprint of his touch lingering like dying embers. Erik burned like cold transmuted into fire. She could not remember, would never know, if his touch had been like this in the lonely past…but she would not forget now.
These thoughts kept her from hearing the conversation, the warning in Erik's tone, until she heard the latch click in her own bedroom door. Startled, she looked up to see Erik walk in, a frown beneath the mask and a small black case under one arm.
Sir? She asked quietly, but he would not meet her gaze.
Silently he sat beside her and opened the case. Inside it contained a few vials of assorted size and color. Selecting an amber-colored liquid, Erik removed the dropper and placed three drops into her tea before stirring it.
"Drink that, Christine." His voice commanded, and he did not want her to argue with him. Setting the case down he lifted his eyes in a stern expression.
At his look, her hand instinctively went to the cup, but she stopped. She shook her head gently.
'What's in it, sir?'
"Something to help you get some rest." In truth, that was exactly what it was. The strength of it, and his motives for giving it to her, however, were another matter entirely.
'I've had plenty of sleep already, and if it was Nadir on the phone-'
"Don't be obstinate!" He snapped, losing patience as he realized he was losing time. However, at her stricken expression, he eased himself. His hand, still uncovered, curled slightly, until a finger brushed her chin and gently bade her to look up.
At the request of the pale fire of his hands, Christine looked up in time to see Erik's free hand offering her the cup.
"Trust me, Christine," he watched her eyes the entire time, as he held the cup to her lips.
Finally, with shaking hands, Christine drank from the tea. It was the same taste, only with a …flowery scent. She was about to ask him why he had wanted her to rest so badly, when she noticed he was putting his gloves on once more. But why?
"You'll feel much better," he spoke quickly, too quickly. "Nadir said more rest would hurry improvement." Now he was speaking slower. "Christine?" He was slurring her name…wasn't he?
She watched him curiously. He had always been articulate, and never used such abnormal speech patterns…so what was wrong with him? And why did he look so guilty, as he eased her back and covered her with a quilt? She didn't need help for that.
"Forgive me," Erik murmured, as her vision blurred and her eyes closed suddenly.
And she knew exactly what he'd done.
She could hear her name, called out in a familiar whisper, but her eyelids were so heavy.
Finally she forced her eyes to open, only to be greeted by a field of tall grass swaying about her, touching the blue sky.
'Is this a dream?'
Christine sat up slowly, tired eyes raking the landscape before her. Waves and waves of green grass flowed before her, and the air picked up its sweet scent.
"You are with me."
The voice behind her startled her, and she turned. The hooded being stood, watching her, his voice eerily familiar.
'He drugged me,' she sighed noiselessly, and stood. She wore a white dress, the hem of which waved here and there where the wind caught it.
"Yes, he did."
'He wouldn't do it unless he thought he had to.'
"What makes you so certain?"
'I have to trust him.' It seemed simple enough, but it was difficult to do. For all of his kinder moments, he remained reclusive, a mystery. And for any progress she might have made, it was clear she hadn't yet completed her task. 'I will wake up in that world, when I am ready to. He will explain it to me then.'
"You forgive him?"
'I have to believe I will.'
"Why, little ingenue?"
Her hands floated over the waving grass around her.
'I hope he'd forgive me.'
"It's a shame your maid's home sick." Buquet said languidly, sitting in Erik's study and pouring himself a snifter of the brandy he kept there. Erik only watched through narrowed eyes.
"Shall I write you a check?" Erik asked as casually as he could, removing his checkbook from his desk drawer and drawing out a fountain pen.
Joseph gave the spiced liquid a delicate sniff. It might have made him appear more of a gentleman, if he hadn't then downed the entire amount at once. Erik suppressed a sneer as best he could at the man's boorish behavior.
"Well," he spoke slowly, after a breath, "if we're not going to have a pleasant conversation, and since there's no one else here to talk to…"
Joseph was talking about Christine, but Erik had taken precautions. He had safely tucked her into bed once more, reassuring himself that her breathing was rhythmic and normal, before locking the door from the outside. Erik patted the black key in his breast pocket. Joseph would not have the chance to so much as leer at her, not while Erik was standing.
Erik's script graced the check, and he held it out to Buquet.
"I've been generous, so I don't expect to see you for a very long time." His fingers kept steady as Joseph stood and took it from his hands.
Buquet's mouth was indiscernible as he studied the amount for a moment, before he cocked his head and whistled low.
"I'll be good for a while, then." Joseph agreed, folding the check neatly and putting it into his pocket. "But isn't this going to be a dent in your finances?"
"You of all people know just how well off my finances are." Erik quipped before he had the chance to think twice on it. Joseph was nearly out of the house, and he had Christine to check on…
"Yes, I do." Joseph spoke in a cold voice, and Erik realized the mistake he'd made. He'd touched upon a sore subject. "We aren't all so lucky to be born with a silver spoon in our mouths."
Even when his eyes were hard and cold, his mouth twisted in a scowl, Joseph Buquet was still a handsome man. His tan was evidence enough that he'd been out in the sunlight, with people.
No, we're not all so lucky, Erik thought bitterly.
"It must be nice to live idly on what your daddy left you." Joseph flung out that word, 'daddy' like it was poison. Already he was at the door of the study. "What I take isn't even a little," he muttered darkly, before slamming the door closed behind him.
Erik remained where he was for a moment, but his ears waited patiently. Sure enough, the engine of Joseph's cruelly used car revved and he was sure the man was gone.
Devil child. Yes, he'd been called that for most of his life, and Buquet hadn't forgotten it. In fact, the man had never called him by name. He had never been a man, had never been Erik; he had only ever been the devil child.
With a sudden cry he picked up the glass Joseph had touched his lips to, and hurled it to the wall. It shattered musically into pieces.
'Devil child, devil child…'
He left the glass lying there. Christine was still staying in bed another day, and Erik was accustomed to cleaning up after his temper well enough. At that moment he needed to see her, and know that she was there, and warm.
With a quick walk e was at her door, key in the keyhole and turning. He stepped inside and sighed in relief. Had he expected to find something changed? That she was not there anymore?
Christine slept, exactly as he'd left her. Easing the chair closer to her bedside, he checked her pulse and breathing. All was as it should be, and she did not look as though she was sleeping uncomfortably.
His hands, gloved once more, smoothed her hair back. Would she see a devil when she opened her eyes, or would she see a man? Erik did not want to know the answer, because he already knew what he saw in her.
A girl, years younger, quiet and a little sad. And beautiful and brave. With hands warm and soft and giving.
Christine sighed in her sleep, turning her head only slightly into his palm unknowingly.
'Devil child, devil child…'
Yes, it still echoed in his mind, his old fears and doubts. But he could hope, even someone like him could wish, for time and patience to work their spell.
And, perhaps someday, she might see a man standing where he was.
AN: Buquet's got a connection to Erik-- but what is it? And what is Christine supposed to do to save Erik?
I know I mentioned dancing before, too, but it's coming up soon...along with a painful realization for Christine. The past, the song, the dance, and the price of innocence are all coming in the next installment. So REVIEW and stay tuned to find out ;)