For five long days, Erik carried the question around with him like a millstone around his neck. To walk into a ceremony in a fine suit with his face uncovered seemed patently ridiculous, until he imagined kissing Christine to seal their vows with that barrier between them. Her request was impossible and necessary all at once.
Who could he consult? Social etiquette demanded that anyone he asked tell him that it would be "…just fine. Whatever you decide is fine." Nadir would tell him to do as Christine asked. Christine seemed to have taken a vow of silence on the matter, but every day her eyes asked, 'well, will you, or won't you?'; there was no question what she wanted. Her parents would tell him to go without it, but they were innocent of the horror behind it.
Meg would tell him to wear it. The thought made him chuckle. The one person whose opinion he cared least about would be his staunchest ally in an argument to remain covered. The simple fact that she would agree suggested that wearing the mask was the wrong choice.
But all those eyes! Those pitying and disgusted thoughts that no one would ever admit to!
Around and around his thoughts swirled, never fully resting on any decision, casting a pall on an otherwise-joyful time. He did his best to smile and nod and go along with everyone's giddy happiness until the day finally arrived.
Erik stood with Nadir in a recess at the back of the beautifully appointed room, staring toward the doors through which Christine would emerge, called to him by the music he would play for her. The room itself was perfection. Purple, white, and powder blue flowers were its sole decorations, but they frothed from every corner and covered every surface in a fragrant profusion of sweet colors. His violin rested on a short pedestal in front of the officiator. Christine's cello leaned against its own prop beside it.
Their few guests sat in comfortable leather chairs on either side of the path they would walk. There was no real division between the bride's side and the groom's side. On the right sat Christine's mother and father and her Aunt Carol; to his left sat Jay, Erik's father and the nurse who had been hired to care for him for the day. Soon, Nadir would join her parents (with whom he had become very friendly over the past few days).
"It's time," whispered Nadir. He patted Erik once on the shoulder reassuringly, then gave him a little shove..
Erik reached up to check that his mask sat straight on his face and noticed that his hands were shaking and slick with sweat. Wiping them off on his pants and hoping the wetness did not show, he began a somber march down the aisle. He picked up his violin and stared at it for a moment, completely at a loss as to what such a thing was, or what he was supposed to do with it.
He breathed deeply until the confusion passed. They had rehearsed this. He knew this. This was not the part he had to fear.
Erik smoothly touched the bow to the strings and played the first few strains of the opening score he and Christine wrote together. Right on cue, the door opened and an angel in white stepped into the room. Her gown was intricately beaded with tiny crystals that caught the light and reflected it; she shimmered with every step. Meg walked behind her, holding the long train to keep it from catching on anything.
Erik forgot he held the violin. He forgot about his small audience. The music stopped. Christine stopped. Bit by bit, Erik regained use of his rational mind. He had a surprise for her – something only he and she would understand. He'd prepared it especially as a sacred, secret moment between just the two of them in the midst of a ceremony meant more for the onlookers. If he waited much longer, she'd start moving again, and the moment would be lost.
With fingers that wanted to deny his control, he lifted the bow and began to play, but not the original score. The sweet sound of the first song that ever passed between them, Cello Song by Nick Drake, welcomed his bride as she walked the aisle. She looked up and smiled – she understood. But even now, as she smiled at the private message, there was sadness in her eyes.
He knew why.
Christine stood across from him now. Meg settled the dress's train and took her seat next to Jay. Erik finished his piece and waited while she took up her cello. She set her bow to strings and wrapped her music around him like a shielding blanket. When she opened her mouth to add the wordless counterpoint, though, he lifted a finger and silenced her. Instead of protesting, she tilted her head to the side like an inquisitive bird.
Erik had brought that voice to life himself, taught it and nurtured it. It was a part of her that he'd always thought of as his. It was still his. She was giving it to him, giving herself to him, as he was giving himself to her. This was no mere performance; it was a series of promises made in music, more precious than blood, and his decision was made.
He set his violin on its rack and stood staring at her.
"Erik," she whispered, "what…?"
But with a tiny shake of his head, Erik forced his numb fingers to fumble with the strings of his mask until they gave way. It fell into his hands, and he held it out to her like a sacrifice. Christine smiled into his naked face, caressed it lovingly. Her eyes became overbright and glistening with tears, but the sadness was gone.
Cries of shock and pity burst from the audience, followed by the sound of running feet. Erik turned to look, but Christine's gentle hands were there, guiding him back to face her. Her gaze never strayed from his. Her family was there, watching, but she never looked away to gauge their reaction. For her, there was no one else in the room. If she did not care, how could he?
Here he stood, revealed to their friends and family, all of whom managed to swallow their reactions and return to quiet acceptance. All that is, except Meg, who had run to the back of the room and was sick in the fancy waste basket there, and Erik's father, who stared as if seeing a ghost; for the shortest of moments, he recognized his son. Here he stood in his greatest fear, and all that really mattered was her soft hands on his cheeks and the proud sparkle in her eyes.
"Anything you ask," Erik answered her, as he dropped his mask to the floor.
His passion stirred as he began to fathom the depth and courage of Christine's request. She was not trying to hurt or humiliate him; she was demanding that he be a man, like any other. She risked everything to show him, and everyone, that he was so much more than an ugly man hiding under a mask. She was demanding that they look – really look – and see the truth.
Erik answered her demand. He thrust her cello into her hands, lifted his own instrument, and played with the whole of his spirit, throwing every ounce of his skill into the music. He mingled his voice with hers, balancing her bright soprano with his dark baritone. The guests were forced to look; the sound was too beautiful for averted eyes and twitchy discomfort. They could look at him now; the music stripped away the hideous veneer and let the man he was meant to be shine through.
The officiant, his turn come around at last, stepped forward and asked them to repeat their vows. Christine set her cello aside; Erik relinquished his violin. This last piece was composed in the style of a melodic chant, designed to put the words before the music without surrendering the spell of melody. Christine was first.
"Let there be only sweetness;
Let me be the calm in your storm.
I promise to find you, no matter where you hide,
I promise to know you, no matter your disguise,
I promise to be the music that breaks your silence."
Erik answered her,
"Let there be only sweetness;
Let mine be the arms that comfort you.
I promise to hold you up when you fall,
I promise to be the light that illumines you,
I promise to be the music that breaks your silence.
"I promise to love you and keep you until darkness takes me."
They turned to Mr. Archer, who calmly carried on with his part in the ceremony.
"Do you, Erik Valliere, take Christine Daae to be your lawfully wedded wife from this day forward?"
"Do you, Christine Daae, take Erik Valliere to be your lawfully wedded husband from this day forward?"
The officiant handed Erik Christine's ring. He took her hand, kissed it, slid the ring onto her fourth finger and pronounced, "Let this ring always remind you that you never need be alone. Let my heart be your shelter, my arms be your home. I love you." His voice was strong, his hand steady.
Christine took Erik's ring from Mr. Archer. She looked at her husband, standing across from her - maskless and unafraid, even proud. He was perfect; there was no disfigurement or blemish that she could see. Her breath came hard, despite the elasticized stays. She took his hand in hers, kissed it, and saw her tears fall onto it and gleam there. She was trembling like a leaf in a strong wind; she could hardly put the ring onto his finger. "Let this ring always remind you that you never need be alone...never..." she could go no further.
Erik held her close, letting her tears of joy and relief soak his tuxedo jacket. "It's alright, Christine. I know," he murmured.
Mr. Archer stepped in. "Then let this couple be joined in the eyes of the law and of their friends and relations. Erik and Christine, I pronounce you man and wife."
Nadir walked solemnly to the front of the room, pocketed the mask, and picked up Erik's violin. The old violinist played them out of the room, blinded by his own tears. The newlyweds glided out in a blissful delirium, unaware of their sniffling guests or the horror-stricken stares they received from distinguished denizens of the hotel as they made their way to the wedding suite.
For Christine and Erik, the dream had begun.