Erik stood with Nadir at the front of the beautifully appointed room, staring toward the doors through which Christine would soon emerge. Purple, white, and powder blue flowers were the room's sole wedding decorations, but they frothed from every corner and covered every surface in a fragrant profusion of rich color. His violin rested on a short pedestal across from him; his instrument of the moment was Christine's cello. Though Nadir held a supportive hand to Erik's back,his real comfort was the cello. Holding it was almost like holding her.
Their few guests sat in comfortable leather chairs on either side of the path Christine would walk. There was no real division between the bride's side and the groom's side. To his right sat Christine's mother and father and her Aunt Carol; to his left sat Jay, his 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) and Meg would leave Christine to sit with her boyfriend.
"It's time," whispered Nadir. He patted Erik once on the shoulder, then went to take his seat.
Erik touched the bow to the strings and played the first few strains of the opening score he and Christine had written 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 cello. 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, met his eyes, and smiled – she understood. The moment was achieved. But even now, as she smiled at the private message, there was an odd nervousness in her eyes. Is she rethinking her decision? No. What, then?
Christine stood across from him now. Meg settled the dress's train and took her seat next to Jay. Erik finished the piece and offered her cello to her. She shook her head and took a step closer to him. Erik saw that she was flushed and anxious; her anxiety was contagious, it quickly jumped to him. She leaned close, smelling deliciously of perfume and makeup.
"This is my second request, my love," she whispered and lifted her hands to his masked face, touching the hated leather barrier, trailing her fingers along its edges. "Please take this off."
Erik's eyes widened when he saw that she was entirely serious. He shook his head slowly with blooming panic and his shaking fingers tightened on the cello.
"You promised." Here came the hard part. Christine steeled herself and carried on as planned. "I cannot marry a mask, Erik."
"Don't make me do this. Not in front of them." How could she ask this? Her parents and sweet little Aunt Carol sat there, innocent of the horror behind his mask. The poor nurse, too, had no idea what she was about to see. Mr. Archer, Meg, and Jay had seen the paper, but print hardly translated into real life. His future family, potential friends, people he might have come to know and care for...if they saw, any chance he might have had with them would be obliterated. Anything else, he'd have granted without a moment's hesitation. But this? "Please."
Family and friends sat silent, not understanding this sudden change in the program. They could not hear a word that was whispered, did not understand the import of the whispered conversation. Knowing the participants, though, they were not surprised – only confused.
"This is cruel, Christine." He let the pain her 'request' was causing him show through clearly, hoping she would have mercy. "This is heartless."
"You promised" she repeated. "Don't you trust me?" Her tone was pleading, but she was adamant. If he refused, so would she.
"I trust you. I trust you, but you are breaking me." His voice, even in a faint whisper, was soaked in sorrow. Why, Christine? "Why can't you just let this be beautiful?"
"It will be." She unwrapped his hand from the cello's fingerboard and lifted it to the ties of his mask. "You don't need this. It will be alright, my Angel of Music. I promise."
Numbly, Erik's fingers fumbled at the strings. His mask dropped to the floor. Christine smiled into his naked face, caressed it lovingly. There were sounds of surprise, fear, and pity from the audience, followed by the sound of running feet. Erik turned to look, but Christine's gentle hands were there, turning him back to face her.
"Let it go, Erik, it's not important. Look at me, play for me and it will be beautiful." She settled her cello against the bell of her skirt.
Picking up where the ceremony left off, Christine played the notes they had agreed spoke their feelings for one another. For the first five measures, she played alone. Please let it go. Just let it go and join me...
Her gaze never strayed from his. Her family was there, watching, but she never looked away to gauge their reaction. If she did not care, how could he? Christine was playing to him - for him - and her expression showed that, for her, there was no one else in the room.
There might not be, he thought bitterly, they might all have run away.
Erik took his violin in hand and lifted it to his chin. Still dismayed by her actions, he began to play flatly, passionlessly. The notes were unbeautiful; his mechanical delivery threw discord into the harmonies they'd created. Christine warmed her performance to compensate for his coldness. She wrapped her music around his like a healing bandage. When nothing else worked, she opened her mouth and added a wordless counterpoint.
It was Christine's voice that melted the fear in his heart. 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, offering it in exchange for the pain she made him endure. This was no longer a performance; it was a series of promises made in music, more precious than blood.
When Erik's mask hit the floor, he was revealed to all their friends and family. Each reacted differently, but all of them ended by looking away. 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. No one else could stand to look at the ruins of what had once been a human face. Christine expected no less. She knew their reactions would be at least as intense as her own. She had made a dangerous gamble on what would happen next.
Her voice woke in Erik the realization that it truly did not matter that he stood unmasked in front of friends, family, and strangers – as long as she stood with him. 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 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. One by one, the guests were forced to look up; the sound was too beautiful. They could look at him now; the music stripped away the hideous veneer and let the man he was meant to be shine through. Christine won her gamble.
By the time the couple began to sing their vows, no one's gaze was averted.
Christine set her cello aside; he 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 was finally recovered enough to carry 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 glisten there. She was trembling like a leaf in a strong wind; she almost could not 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. They 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.
A/N: Thank you all for sticking with me through this writing. Your reviews, praise, and critiques have spurred me on and helped me stay on course. I hope you've had half as much fun reading as I have had writing. With regards to future writing projects, like I've said, if there's something you want to read, just let me know, and I'll see what I can do about writing it.