Disclaimer: Comes standard. I do not own POTO, only the storyline and the unaffiliated characters.

To everyone who read, thank you. To those of you who reviewed, thank you again.

Lee


Avow

Christine

It was the gentle touch of skin on skin that woke her, the barest brush over the back of her hand. She stirred, and the hand on hers stilled, hesitant.

Christine shifted, glancing up at the man who looked at her with brilliant eyes. A flush spread over her cheeks as she remembered their last conversation. Sitting on her bed, he was so close, close as she had feared they might not be so soon after their argument. She could swear he he could feel the confusion running underneath her skin. Whether or not she ought to reach out, she didn't know. She wanted to, longed to hear his heartbeat merge with hers once more, but... How could she be sure he would not run from her words again? Christine sat up, her movements awkward and uncertain.

Erik didn't seem to notice. His eyes spoke apology, love. And yet, reflected in them, she saw her own unsurety. She felt a questioning rise in her, an uncertainty in the breadth of the moment. She hesitated in the silence, then the words slipped out of her unthinkingly.

"I'm sorry. For what I said yesterday." Her voice was a dry whisper.

His eyes flickered downward, fingers pausing on hers. "It's all right, Christine. You... may have been right in saying it." His voice was calm, but behind the soft velvet she heard a silent struggle, as though he still warred with himself over her words, fought to speak through his own barriers. The blue eyes were still downcast, gleaming softly under the morning light, thoughts swirling through them like ripples through a disturbed pool, leaving echoing imprints on the surface.

At least he's stopped running. she thought dazedly. She wished she could reach beyond that surface, into the mind and soul behind. A kind of tension strained between them, made of all the things they could not seem to say and the resulting tangling of their emotions. She wanted to touch him, to hold him, but the heavy atmosphere in the room weighed down on her, stifling her attempts to reach out to him before thought could become action.

He continued quietly, voice slightly strained. "About what I said..." He did not seem able to look at her, eyes fixed in determind study of the floor. He halted, seeming unsure of how to go about apologizing to her. She got the impression he didn't do it very often. His body betrayed his tension as he searched for words.

Oddly enough, it was his discomfort that eased her. Christine felt a slight smile curve her lips, the grey stillness of the air lifting like rain dispersing into light mist. She didn't need to hear the rest. It was enough to know that he, who she knew was not a man for apology, was trying to rebuild what lay between them, that he was the first one to reach out and make amends this time. It was enough to know that he cared and, whatever his difficulty in saying it, he regretted as much as she the harsh words that had passed between them.

Christine didn't need any more than that.

She spared him the struggle, entwining her fingers with his, savoring the light touch. Warmth flowered, trailing up her spine, a kind of lightness that hovered on the brink of wondering laughter. Christine felt a vague gratitude for whatever had brought him back to her, eased confusion into serenity. "It doesn't matter, Erik."

"Christine," he tried again, and she smiled at his awkward determination. It was endearing, but also, oddly sad in a way she could not quite define. As though he felt his words to her yesterday some kind of sin to repent for, some sacrilegious transgression. His eyes were strangely pleading, as though he could not quite believe that he had received her forgiveness so easily, as though he thought there should be some kind of atonement. There was a slight flush under his skin, a certain breathless tension with which he held himself. As though he feared he would he would lose her so easily, and longed to bring her back to him. As though he thought she might still doubt him if he did not speak.

Somehow, I don't think that will happen, Erik. Christine sat up, slid under his arm. "It doesn't matter." She kept her eyes steady on his, promising. Gradually, the tension drained from him, the visible, unmasked side of his face relaxed. Christine lay her head against his shoulder, reveling in the feel of his warm heartbeat. It didn't matter.

He said it anyway. "I should have listened to you, Christine; I owe you that. I'm sorry." He touched her hair tentatively, gently brushing a few wayward strands back from her face. She marveled at the way her brow fitted so perfectly against the hollow of his neck, his arm over her. The strange sense of rightness about this moment, fulfillment. Completion, a solstice, the golden eye of the sun finally at its zenith in the noon sky.

Let it stay. Let this stay. She looked up at him imploringly, voice low, hesitant. "Just- promise me one thing, Erik. Promise me you won't do it again."

Erik

Her eyes were brilliant, bright on his. He could feel her reaching out to him, her spirit a potent force that belied the lissome body against his. "Do what, Christine?" he asked.

"Hurt yourself. Erik- it scares me. I don't..." her hands balled into fists, kneading the smooth fabric of his shirt. Her eyes were touched amber by the sun, endless springs; the same sunlight gilding her troubled, upturned face with dawn. He felt her tense against him, her body drawing closer to his almost unconsciously, warm as glowing embers. Even in uncertainty, it was him she turned to for comfort. "I don't like to watch you running from me. When I see you surrounding yourself in darkness... it frightens me, Erik." Her voice was strangled, throaty with the emotion that surfaced in her mahogany eyes. A silent plea stirred in their depths.

He kissed her forehead, tracing her jawline and lifting her face. The overwhelming longing he saw there, a sheer need for comfort, flooded him, an incredible sadness spilling through him as her autumnal eyes met his. Oh, Christine. Didn't she know that he would never desire to frighten her? He brought her closer to him, his hold on her tightening, comforting. He brushed a kiss over her cheek, reassuring her. He could feel her breath shaking as it left her body. "Don't be frightened." Erik traced the line of her neck, lifting her eyes to his. And, for a moment, words were powerless.

She turned his head to hers, her veneer of control shattered as her lips met his in sudden desperation. Surprise jumped through him as she molded her body to his, clinging to him. Her charged, clarion emotions rang through him, her need, her desire, her fear, carrying like music over open water and resounding through him. It bordered on dangerous, he could lose himself in this complete immersion. It was a lightning-struck sea that he succumbed to now, a state of turbulent, surging instinct.

But he was not the one in danger of drowning. He stroked her back, holding her, soothing wordlessly. He could feel her heartbeat jump under her skin, a humming under his fingertips. Taut against him, holding herself to him as though that simple gesture would keep him with her. In her, he felt the fear so familiar, the fear of loss, burning. It flared much as his had, fueled by desperation. Her embrace was defiance, a promise she would never let him go.

She broke the kiss, breathless, but did not move away, fingers moving through his hair in fevered intensity, as though only that repetitive motion could soothe her. "Promise me." she whispered. Her turmoil reached out and suffused him like flames, the panic that gleamed behind her eyes touching a chord within him, echoing like wind chimes over a fierce gale. The warmth of her body was a living pulse, touched with myriad emotions that he could not seem to name.

"I-"

"Promise me!" Her hands fell to his shoulders, clenched tightly, her voice broke. He felt the taut grip of them, stronger than he would have thought a woman of her stature to be, digging sharply against his shoulders and collarbone. Her eyes were almost hypnotic in their torment, copper and blazing under the dawn light. She stroked the hair back from his face then, her hands gentling, her eyes never leaving his. The focused clarity in them froze him; for a moment, he forgot to breathe. The fragility and devotion conveyed with that simple gesture alone was staggering. "Please, Erik- no more darkness." Her voice calmed to a low murmur. "Let me be your light." Her eyes sought his, steadying, offering. She waited.

He caressed her cheek, soothing her with voice and touch. "You always have been." Always, Christine. Her gentle exhale and soft smile were reply enough. The air around them seemed now less an oppressive weight than a shroud of peace.

As she reached up and held his hand against her cheek, the thought struck him. Looking at her now, her eyes closed in something that was both serenity and need, a clinging to the moment.

Was his control worth her fear?

Was it worth it, that he should frighten her with his dark ritual when she offered to protect him? Was it worth it to see the apprehension, the desperation in the eyes of the woman who loved him- whom he loved? Was it worth it, when he could lose this, lose her?

Was it worth her happiness?

No. It would never be worth that.

He felt her fingers lift the mask, a breath of air rushing over the exposed scars, the sudden warmth of sunlight. Involuntarily, he felt himself freeze, his heart suddenly racing in a still body. Christine hushed him wordlessly, turning his face to hers. Glancing at her, unsure, but somehow trusting still, he was met with her tentative smile. His eyes closed as her fingers moved in loving surety, a gentle caress. "Erik," she whispered, "look at me. Trust me."

He obeyed, half-entranced by her soft voice, the warm touch of her fingertips. She did not recoil from touching him... Erik heard his own breath shudder as she continued softly, autumnal eyes lit with a steady radiance. "You don't need your control with me. I will never hurt you. And I don't ever want to see you hurting yourself."

She kissed him softly, chastely. A gentle flow of light seemed to imbue them, scattering like dawn through mist, shafts of sunlight parting the shroud. He felt it cleansing his fears, his doubts. How could he cling to them when her lightest touch overpowered his spirit in a way the heaviest darkness never had? How could he hold to those things when she held to him? Cling to lonely shadows when she offered herself as light?

She pulled away, but her arms remained around him. "Never." she breathed against his lips. Rapture joined them now, and his promise could bind them once more. He could see her happy, he could see her smile, her laughter, and share it with her. All he had to do was promise her, and hold to that promise, and they could begin together.

If it would content her... how could he deny her anything that would bring her joy?

Perhaps he could not have done so for Nadir, but for Christine...

The eyes on him were intent, glowing in the sunrise. The light lent her an almost otherworldly vibrancy, a soft, strange radiance beneath the ivory skin. He traced her brow, her eyes half-closed under his touch. They mirrored the cares and the fears he felt pulling at him. "Erik," she began.

For Christine... He touched a finger to her lips and she ceased. Her eyes were grave, glowing in the aureate dawn, as they searched his.

"If it frightens you so..." he said to her quietly, "... than forget your fears, Christine." Resolution entered his voice, a promise that, for all the softness with which it was spoken, was meant with every moment he had loved her, would love her. "It won't happen again. Not as long as you're beside me." As long as she was with him, he would not need that control.

Only her.

For the love of her, it seemed little to relinquish, a life of lonliness cast aside for one of joy. For the sake of her happiness, it was so little to give up. He would do nothing to jeopardize the love in her eyes, and he would not cheapen what lay between them by deceiving her. Nor would he cause her pain.

Never will I do anything to harm you, Christine. His hand strayed through her hair, she relaxed into his touch. "Then I won't ever leave you." Her eyes met his with something of a smile, relieved, warm. He felt her hand slip into his. "Anywhere you go..."

"... you'll go too." he finished softly.

Her face was radiant as she settled in his arms. She smiled up at him; he arched a brow at her, feeling a similar expression on his face. "Anywhere, Christine?" he asked quietly.

She kissed him, lips slow, lingering. It left him breathless, as she pulled away. "Anywhere." she breathed.

Christine

"Christine?" he ventured sometime later. They stood in the kitchen, the scent of brewing coffee diffusing through the room. Dimly, she could hear the sounds of birdcalls.

She leaned back against him, savoring the comfort as he held her. "Mm?" Christine watched the motes of gold-lit dust stir in the streaks of light admitted through the window. Absently, she felt Erik's hand stroke her hair, an abstracted manner to it. His voice was caught between distraction and curiosity, a quiet inquiry.

"Why? Why do people fear-"

He stopped, unable to complete the sentence. Christine felt tension in the arms around her, the body at her back. She turned in his arms, some nameless, overpowering emotion flooding her body at his almost childlike query, the wistful innocence with which it was spoken. Oh, Erik. She looked up at him, into the intent face lit by longing, blue eyes made brilliant by the sun. Christine smiled, the gesture a little sad. Her hands slid up to cup his face, she stroked back the dark hair from the right side of his face, fingers brushing over the source of his question.

"People always fear what they can't see beyond, Erik." An ache spread throughout her at the light in his eyes, endlessly trusting, almost naive. It was a side of him she had seen rarely; one that reminded her just how vulnerable he was. "Why do you think they fear darkness?" Her voice intensified, her fingers skimmed his cheekbones. She felt a slight tremor in his body, but his eyes remained on hers, unwavering. "They don't fear the darkness itself; they fear what it may conceal. You-" She placed a hand over his heart. "You've always seen clearly in the night. So you never learned to fear it."

She kissed him lightly, unhurried. "It was never you that they feared, Erik." she murmured. He stirred as though to speak. Christine traced his lips with a finger, stopping the words before they could start.

"It was only the mask."

She relaxed into his hold, watching his eyes, distant, as he absorbed her words. The early light struck them with soft brilliance, so that they seemed almost to reflect the ascendant sun in the morning sky. Sunrise bathed his face in light, highlighting the meditative features as he looked out into the horizon. She caressed his cheek and his head turned back to her. Her look must have been questioning, for he smiled slightly, reassuringly.

Keen awareness reverberated through her as his lips lowered to hers, of his hand cradling the back of her head, twined in her heavy curls, the other tracing her spine, evoking a sweet shudder. The press of his body against hers, the warm rush through her blood. It flooded her like heat from the flames of some summer bonfire, celebratory, mystic. She sank into that warmth willingly, her spirit flaring like sparks springing heavenward.

It faded into a warm comfort as he pulled back. His eyes paused on hers, considering. At that moment, she lost all other sensation, his presence overwhelming any other facet of reality. "And what of you, Christine?" he asked softly, his voice like the caress of the sun, glowing heat against skin and soul.

She realized, dimly, that the coffee was ready. Erik did not release her, but reached past her and she watched in contented fascination as he poured a cup, sweetened it. "Did you ever fear darkness?"

Warmth unfurled through her body as his fingers brushed hers. She took the offered cup, fingers encircling it automatically. His eyes remained on hers in steady inquiry; she felt his hand on her back, stroking through her hair. Christine smiled, brushed her lips over his cheek, savoring the simple intimacy of the moment. No, she did not fear the world's idea of darkness, or even her own, anymore.

"Only until an Angel found me."

Her lips curved at the expression in his eyes, partly probing curiosity, partly something else, something inscrutable. Christine leaned back against him, her head falling to rest against his throat. His fingers brushed back the wayward curls; in sync with the soothing rise and fall of his breathing.

Christine placed a gossamer kiss against his collarbone. She felt his breath shudder, then the warm touch of the sun as he tilted her head up once more.


Late, I know. But the weeks of exam cram are over now, and things ought to settle down again. Perhaps my AP teachers will have mercy now that exams are over?

Oh well. It was a thought. I'll try to keep things to a steadier schedule. Thank you for reading. If you have any comments, I'd appreciate them very much.

cookies, hugs, et cetera

Lee