This story was written for a part of PFN's 2005 Secret Santa for PFN member and fellow author Nabira. Her request was:

"I want to stick with the Christmas theme too... though I want a dark EC. Leroux based preferably (I want Christine to know who Erik is and not still think of him as her angel of music) but I'm happy with Kay as well. Just no ALW! (Nothing against it, I'm just growing out of it at the moment)."

"Would you care to go for a ride?"

"A what?"

"A ride, my dear. Through Paris, perhaps even some of the countryside out of the city if we begin early enough."

Christine looked at Erik from her comfortable position on a couch in the house on the lake, wondering what flight of fancy this was. She was loath to leave the warm room, much less go outdoors for a ride! Christine felt perfectly content to remain here, sipping a cup of Erik's strange Russian tea while his seraphic voice filled the room with more warmth than a fire ever could.

"Why would you want to do that, Erik? I thought you didn't go… up… there…" Christine gestured helplessly above her, the meaning of her callous remark dawning on her after it left her mouth.

Erik opened his mouth to make a comment. Christine, sensing this, rushed on.

"Well, it's not that you don't but I thought you wouldn't want to, just because… well…" She dwindled off, tugging on a stray lock of hair in embarrassment.

"I simply suggested it as it is the time of year where such romantic pastimes such as rides at night occur, and thought you might enjoy an evening out instead of being cooped up in this house."

A tense silence filled the once relaxed area. Christine's eyes fell to the floor, away from Erik's which seemed to be pleading at her behind that blank mask. She had promised to go out for a late night dinner with Raoul, but this venture of Erik's would take her far later into the night than expected, and would most likely end with her spending the night in her little room in this house.

Guilt and part of her conscience battled over whether or not to accept. She felt as though she ought to go with Erik, it was the least she could do for him after… Christine pushed the thought of her foolish action and Erik's face – if it could be called that – from her mind. A little part of her mind said no, do not do this. He is not trustworthy… why does he want to bring you out of doors at such a time? Christine trusted Erik. She knew her would never do anything to harm her. All he wants is some time with me… She thought, and Christine's mind was made.

"Certainly… thank you for the offer, Erik." Christine glanced up to see his yellow eyes sparkle, with delight and something else that she dared not delve any further into.

"Would you care to change into something warmer? It's quite cold out there. I shall make sure that everything is ready, and will meet you in here in fifteen minutes." Erik stood, walked over to the door before slipping on a black cloak and sliding out the door like a shadow, closing it behind him with a soft click.

Christine sat there a moment after his departure, staring at her hands. Starting slightly she sat up, casting off the blanket she had wrapped around herself. Draining the last of her tea from the cup she picked it up, placing it on a tray with the teapot and taking Erik's cup as well before bringing them to the kitchen to clean later.

Entering her room, Christine quickly made her way over to her dresser to search around for some thick tights to replace her stockings. Quickly changing into them, she could feel the cold of the room wrap around her legs like a snake. After a quick search of the dresser and other areas of her room, a cloak, gloves, and a scarf were found. Lacing up some sturdier boots, Christine went out of her room to wait for Erik to return.

She was sitting on a couch running the fringe of her scarf through her fingers when Erik arrived. His yellow eyes softened slightly upon seeing Christine as he coughed lightly to attract her attention. She glanced up, startled out of her reverie.

"Christine, are you ready to go? Is that cloak really thick enough?" Christine nodded mutely, unable to speak. A sudden lump had risen in her throat, seeming to her to be caused by a seeming apprehension.

"Child, are you all right? Are you sure you want to do this…?" She wished to say no, I cannot do this. What shall happen to me to-night? However, she saw the rising concern in his eyes, and guilt won her over.

"Yes. Yes, Erik, I am ready."

And they were off.

Erik escorted Christine to the boat, tentatively offering her an arm which she tentatively took. Now that they had set off, her sense of foreboding had worn off to be replaced by excitement. How often did one go on midnight rides throughout Paris and the countryside? And with such company? Christine caught Erik's eye and grinned.

Erik helped her into the boat and swiftly started rowing. Christine stared out into the blackness that was held at bay by the small lantern on the boat, daydreaming until they reached the other shore. Swiftly helping her out Erik led her along through a passageway, his light casting shadows that danced on the wet stone walls.

A snort and the pawing of a hoof, there was César. Christine, holding up her skirts from the damp floor with one hand, noticed that the saddle was not one for a lady. She briefly wondered if they would be riding like this or if they would hire a carriage once outside of the opera. Knowing Erik and his unpredictability - this whole venture was out of the blue, she thought – she couldn't be sure of either.

"Erik…" Christine began timidly, continuing once she was sure she had his attention.

"Shall we really be riding… like this…? I mean, I don't mind… but…" But I'm a lady, and I do mind! Christine thought, but did not say to Erik. She did not want to see the hurt in those yellow eyes again…

"Are you suggesting some other means of transport?" Erik seemed to notice her anxiety, and his tone softened as he looked at her.

"My dear, there's no-one here to see. It is simply for convenience, and I was hoping you would not mind."

Christine nodded. Erik laced his long fingers together to create a step for her, boosting her up onto César. She swayed, hands reaching for something to grab for balance. Erik held out a hand for her to grasp until she had regained an upright posture and then put a foot into a stirrup and swung up behind her, one arm encircling her waist while another leather-clad hand grasped the reins. Christine relaxed against him, her momentary panic forgotten. However, all thoughts of peace were dispelled when Erik nudged César with his heels and he broke into a fast trot.

She sat bolt upright from her somewhat lax position, grabbing Erik's arm tightly. He glanced at her, and Christine felt a flush spreading across her face at the sight of her skirts, hiked up to her knees. Relaxing her tight grip on his arm Christine let herself calm down to enjoy the rhythmic gait of the horse. Tight in Erik's arms, Christine felt safe.

By now, they had journeyed quite a ways through the subterranean passages of Erik's domain, and Christine felt like the ever-present darkness was going to swallow them up, and they would disappear forever from the eyes of men. She had already lost track of time, and in the eternal night of the underground her senses were completely disoriented. Mirroring her emotions, Erik seemed quite at home in the dark, as did César.

Could his keen eyes make out some light that Christine could not? And César's as well? Christine's imagination was rampant. Was she blind? A cold wave of fear passed over her. Oh, Lord, not blind… Don't be ridiculous, you silly child. Am I being ridiculous?

"Erik!" Christine frantically whispered, her eyes roving the blackness for any signs of light.

"Christine, child? What is it?" Out of the dark, his coloured eyes appeared, strangely reassuring.

"When shall be out of this darkness? I can't see a thing!"

"If my senses are correct, which I would assume they are, we shall be in at least a small bit of light quite soon. There is no need to worry." Christine opened her mouth to protest that she wasn't worried, but saw the truth in his words and held her tongue.

True to Erik's word, several minutes later she caught glimpse of some light up ahead, a dusky sort of shade, but much better than the black nightmare they had been traveling in before. Christine leaned forward, heartened by the sudden appearance of light. As they traversed through the damp passages she caught a glimpse of a white something, and she leaned forward even more to see what it was.

Erik seemed to realise only now that Christine was leaning perilously far out on the saddle and quickly pulled her back, reining César in until he stopped, champing at his bit.

"Christine, I will ask for your patience and cooperation on this, and you must say yes."

"What, Erik?" Christine turned her head so she could see his eyes.

Erik pulled out a scarf from his cloak, the red silk standing out against his dark gloves and clothing. He gently tied it around Christine's head to cover her eyes, making sure that none of her curls got caught in the knot. Christine felt a waver of uncertainty at this, but remained quiet.

She felt César start to move once again, softly snorting in the gloom that she could no longer see. He started, and she could feel herself starting to slide in another direction. She reached out her arms to grab onto a hank of mane, frightened of falling off the horse in this strange dusky tunnel. Erik's arm quickly made its way around her small waist once again, and Christine swallowed the scream that was in her throat, ready to burst out.

Erik's voice filled the shadows, calming the startled horse. Christine felt herself start to relax once again. That was until she heard the sound. Cra-ack. Cra-ack! Craa-aack… Crack! Ccc-runcchhhh… Ccc-runnnnchhhh… Ccc-rrunnnchhh…

César started at some unseen thing, and his pace sped up, as did the noise. Ca-runch-runch-runch-runch ca-runch-runch-runch-runch… Christine realised that the sound was being made by the very horse she was riding. What was he stepping on to create such a noise? Sticks? Dry branches? The possibilities were endless. Christine thought about that smooth white shape she had seen. Light-coloured sticks perhaps made that way by being in the sun for a long time, now washed down here by way of the sewers. Still, that white form plagued her thoughts. Perhaps it was more than sticks… Christine sternly admonished herself for thinking such things.

"Erik…" She whispered, afraid to break the resounding thuds of César's hooves in the bare white branches of this strange underground.

She could feel his eyes on her, and a shiver worked its way up her spine.

"What is César stepping on? It's making a dreadful noise, what is it?"

There was a silence from Erik. Christine guessed that he was looking at the ground to see what she was speaking of.

"Sticks, my dear… probably washed down here by… ahh, the river Seine, I suppose… don't let your imagination take hold of you, Christine."

The strange cracking continued, the sound seemingly magnified by the slick stone walls. Christine, in the dark, began to feel watched. Her hands itched to rip away this scarf to see what – if – anything was following them. She inched back in the saddle until she was even closer to Erik, willing him to chase the shadows away for her.

Christine felt that the darkness seemed to close in around her until she could barely breathe. A feeling of panic began to grip her. Were they lost? She wouldn't allow herself to think of such a think, but unbidden thoughts such as that filled her mind.

Suddenly, Christine felt a rush of air around her face. Hands were near her head, untying the blindfold. She reached up and grabbed Erik's hand, suddenly nervous for what sight might greet her. His hand reminded her of a bat's wing, with its skin stretched taught over a thin bone. Christine dropped Erik's hand.

The sight that greeted her eyes was anything but horrible. Blinking from being in the darkness so long, Christine could do nothing but stare. The firmament of the late evening sky was almost otherworldly- it was a time of fairies and other beings, the sky a beautiful dark lavender shade, the first stars of the evening just starting to peek out from the fleecy blanket of clouds in the sky. They were outside of Paris.

"Christine?" Erik's voice pulled her out of her daze, and she turned her head to see him, telling him that she was ready. But for what?

Once again Erik urged the ever-willing César on through this new environment. The horse snorted, prancing in the light coat of snow on the ground. Christine felt a hand leave her waist to make sure that her cloak was firmly around her shoulders, ghosting across her skin and causing her to tremble. They rode onwards.

Child that she was, Christine could do nothing but stare at the scene around her. She had not been out of Paris in what seemed like a lifetime ago- and certainly not in such weather! The snow continued to fall, slowly piling up on the ground and on trees, lightly coating them with snow as a chef would with powdered sugar.

Turning her head to the heavens, snow fell upon her face, a chaste kiss from the sky itself upon its blessed daughter. The snow seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, falling fast from the near-approaching darkness above her. The crisp cold did not penetrate her cloak, and from her snug albeit jostled position on the horse Christine looked out at the frozen world around her, an ice queen's palace.

And on they rode. Through fields, trampling the tall dead grass, the sole marking of their passage through this hidden world, seemingly untouched by man. They saw frozen wonders, works of art in this natural world that was usually bursting with life- but not now. This was the dead of winter; Persephone was in the underworld and was not to emerge for many months.

The sky was much darker now. Christine shivered, perhaps from the cold, perhaps not, and wondered exactly how late Erik intended to keep them out. However, her nerves were calmed by the reassuring feel of him behind her, although she felt as though his golden eyes were burning a hole into her back, willing her to turn around. She closed her eyes for a long moment before opening them and looked past César's ears, seeing that they were approaching a wood.

As they entered it gaping shadows seemed to swallow the small figures in this large wood. Tall, dead trees quivered in the wind. The snow fluttered down like wounded angels to land on the ground, the sound of the snow muffling everything around them except for the faint cracking of a far-off tree falling over. Snow was heaped on the branches of the trees. There was not a single track of an animal to disturb the crisp white snow. Even the tracks of César were obscured by the falling snow. Christine knew that no-one in the world knew that they were here. The very idea gave her a delighted thrill, but terror was in it too.

The silence seemed to grow, consuming everything around it. Christine listened to the breaths of their steed, and the pounding of his hooves in the snow. The leather saddle creaked slightly, she listened to that. No sound came from her fellow rider, and she ached to break the silence with humming, or whistling, even singing. A small sound emerged from her throat in the stillness, a wordless noise; a seeming sigh in this shadowed world. Slowly it grew, and Christine herself lost track of how long they had been riding, or the period of time she continued this wilderness song.

Suddenly César's ears pricked and he sped up his pace. Christine's song stopped and she looked at Erik, whose eyes looked down upon her with a sadness – maybe even guilt – that she could not even fathom. A hand reached up and tenderly smoothed back her hair from her face. Christine did not flinch.

"Erik…" She began, looking around her, wanting to speak, to say something to him, but she said nothing.

Suddenly, they veered to the side and continued down a different invisible road. Through the trees, Christine glimpsed a single, lonely house. It was veiled in shadows, and she was frightened of this wood and Erik's eyes and wanted to return to the Opéra, where its halls were always lit by light and laughter.

"Erik, what is this?" Christine asked desperately, clutching at the sleeve of his arm around encircling her waist.

"This…" Erik made a sweeping gesture to the land around them, the house, and part of Christine thought, himself.

"This is your future. This is our future."