The weight of his regard was a pressure, nearly tangible, like a hand resting on her back.
And she knew Erik was waiting for her to betray him, or to buy into his version of this scenario. The abductee would scream for help; the happy companion would simply go to the restroom, tell the flight attendant that yes, the cheese plate would be lovely, and then stroll back to the comfort of the suite, to the man who would be content just to...
He was still looking at her. He'd probably be happy just to look at her forever, she thought, and then her cheeks burned.
"Ok," she said, trying to move on, but her voice seemed to come from outside her head, her words too normal for a day so strange. "Dinner might be good. It's been... How long has it been since lunch?"
"Since noon EST? About 18 hours," and here, he looked guilty, having apparently overlooked his detail. "You should definitely eat."
"Probably," she said, somehow still hesitant, eyeing the door. She took two steps towards it and looked back, over her shoulder. "Is there anything that you want?"
Christine met his eyes and bit her lip at the raw longing so obvious there. Stupid question, she berated herself silently.
"Nothing that the flight attendant can bring me," he said, finally, his tone tinged with a bit of bitter humor, the sort of self deprecation that normally comes with saying one is absolutely, utterly, and completely screwed.
Her heart shouldn't wrench like this; she was angry with him, Erik had kidnapped her, he'd threatened Raoul, he'd offered up his own heart on a platter a hundred times...
"Ok," she said hurriedly, uncomfortably, and walked out of the suite.
White lights lead to red lights as she looked down the aisle, tracklights along the floor for emergency guidance and Christine thought she'd actually know better what to do if she were clutching her floation-use seat cushion and trudging towards an open door over the ocean. Aside from the rows of doors instead of seats, it looked just like a normal airplane. So the bathroom was probably at the front. She squared her shoulders and started to walk towards it.
"Wait," Erik's voice was filled with some sort of urgent need, it filled her ear so fully that she thought he must be standing right behind her... but when she turned, he was standing just inside the door to the suite. She'd never gotten used to his ventriloquy...
"This might be useful, if you want to change, or - if you need to - if you want to, that is - freshen up," and he quickly thrust forward a small rolling suitcase, trying to cover for the awkward words.
"You packed my things?"
"Actually, I bought you new ones." His words were flippant, but they couldn't cover his tone, so earnest. "And I remembered your - disaffection, I think, is safe to say - for the staff at Bergdorf Goodman, so I sent to London for these. Hopefully Harvey Nichols will suit?"
Christine couldn't meet his eyes. He was waiting for the answer to his question, searching for some faint bit of praise in her answering, "of course," but she - she couldn't - she -
"The things you buy are always lovely…" Christine said, deliberately, demurely, de- lost, just lost, and so very tired. "Thank you." And with lowered eyes, she took the suitcase, and quickly strode up the aisle towards the restroom before she could say anything else.
Past the rows of suite doors she found a small standing area, and several lavatories, each marked as unoccupied by a small light, glowing green behind panels of futuristic milky glass. Christine stepped into the first one and swiftly shut the door behind her. She turned the lock, slid the coat off her shoulders, and then, somewhat less burdened, turned herself and fell back against the door, feeling it solid beneath her shoulder blades, head in her hands, exhausted and lost.
But tears didn't come and neither did the feeling of having escaped. She should find a flight attendant, ask for help - she should find an airphone, surely they still had those, didn't they? Insert her credit card and pull the phone out of the wall, call Raoul and tell him... tell him what, really? That she was alive and well and at this very moment not screaming for help because she was...
She didn't even have a credit card, she realized, her purse was probably still back in her dressing room. She lowered her hands from her eyes, and for the first time, looked around. It was unsurprisingly larger and luxer than an average airplane restroom, sleek marble where she would have expected formica. Christine caught sight of herself in the mirror and a laugh, nervous and strange, escaped her mouth as she noticed again that she was still wearing Aminta's costume. She clapped a hand over her lips and stared at herself for a second, then shook her head and went about opening the suitcase.
It was like opening a shopping bag. Each item flattened, wrapped in tissue, tags still attached with the price carefully snipped off. Trousers, blouses, dresses and skirts, all luxurious and definitely more formal than her normal style. There were brands she recognized from runway photos in magazines, and brands she'd never heard of that were probably twice as expensive, each in the right size, a perfect assortment of pieces to wear and recombine in almost any weather, so that she might be comfortable and stylish indefinitely. And she couldn't decide what she thought about that, so she set about opening the suitcase's other compartments.
She felt a row of hard plastic lumps, and unzipped the side pocket to reveal a row of five sunglass cases. They cracked open like resealable eggs, with a different style of glasses in each - sage-tinted aviators, gigantic black Jackie O frames, quick-change identities for a woman on the lam in some modern day film noir. She unzipped the mesh pocket on the suitcase's lid and found several sets of practical but silky and pretty bras and underwear and suddenly felt uncomfortable - even if some sales clerk in London had picked them out, he... he - Erik had folded these bits of satin and put them in the suitcase, thinking that he'd probably never see them again. Or perhaps hoping that he would.
Christine slammed the suitcase shut and whirled to sit on it, drawing her knees up to her chest, hands in fists against her shins. She knew she should not feel guilty; that Erik enjoyed buying this for her, and that he knew he wasn't ever going to be able to buy her. She should not feel guilty - and yet anger at herself flared, because didn't he deserve some greater happiness than just having someone who would reluctantly accept his gifts? He deserved some full fledged woman who knew full well that she wanted to be on this plane, but she - she deserved to not be dragged off by force and - and -
"Dammit!" she choked out, throwing her right fist down and back, against the door she leaned on. Pain lanced through her wrist, through her curled pinky finger as it slammed into the door. It felt like relief, and she turned her arm and bent her fist back, exposing the veins as she beat her inner wrist against the wall, muttering "Dammit, dammit, god dammit." She couldn't stop the frustrated tears, but each burst of pain was under her own control. Her shoulders shook, and she felt so angry and helpless.
A businesslike rap sounded on the door, and she drew in a startled breath.
"Excuse me, Miss?" A female voice, faintly accented but polite and dignified. "Are you unwell? Do you need any assistance?"
Christine slowly let out her breath, and replied, "No, I'm quite all right. Just having a bit of trouble with the zipper on my suitcase." How easily the lie leapt to her lips...
"If you do require any help, be certain to push the orange call button and one of us would be glad to assist," the voice came again, professional and routine, and then Christine heard footsteps retreating.
She breathed relief, and was unsure why; she didn't necessarily want to be a prisoner , but she didn't want to see Erik in jail, and she certainly didn't want Raoul and Agent Kahn to catch up to them if it meant Erik would kill Raoul. She knew exactly what she didn't want and had no idea what she did.
Another deep breath, and she stood, trying to return her head, her heartbeat to normal. The mirror above the sink now showed a girl with red eyes and mascara smears. She bent to open the suitcase again, wondering if he'd truly anticipated everything. A tiny train case in light green leather contained a small assortment of makeup, eye-makeup remover, and an italian skin care line in perfect white plastic travel sizes. Of course. She washed her face, grimacing as she splashed the bodice of her costume from Don Juan, and she decided she'd probably been dressed as Aminta long enough.
Christine stared at the clothing options in the suitcase for a while, thinking too thoroughly which message each choice could send, and not really knowing what the weather would be like... well, wherever it was that they would end up. Though it certainly sounded like they'd be in airports for a while. Layers seemed the wisest approach, and so she finally selected a slate blue pencil skirt with a decent amount of stretch so she'd be comfortable, a navy blue silk blouse, a drapey cashmere cardigan in the same color, and a pair of leather ballet flats in a pretty charcoal metallic grey. There was a purse in the bottom of the suitcase, a structured black leather bag with a top handle and a complicated clasp, and she put a powder compact, the hairbrush, and a lipstick inside.
The heavy wool coat still sat rumbled on the floor, and she looked at it angrily, remembering the last time she'd rather unwillingly put it on. It was too warm to wear indoors anyway, she thought, and again with the not dealing, she folded it, flattened it, folded again and pushed it into the suitcase. Her costume from Don Juan, though, would definitely not fit. Finally she just bunched it up and put it under her arm, crushing the petticoats down as best she could, and figured she'd ask Erik what to do with it - he'd had a plan for everything else. Whereas she... she reached into the suitcase, and found the square leather case that hid the biggest and roundest of the sunglasses, tossed them into the purse, pushed down the lid of the suitcase, zipped it shut, and without looking, thinking, any of it, any more, turned the lock, opened the door and re-entered the world.
The steady low blowing roar filled her ears again, the airplane noise making the emptiness of the nightlight-lit room seem more surreal. Every airplane she'd been on before had been full of people; babies crying, flight attendants pushing drink carts, smokers pacing at several hours without nicotine... suddenly taking up smoking sounded like a really nice idea. Little sticks filled with artificial calm, take one out whenever you need it, and get a few breaths closer to death. Not to mention what it would do for her voice - Erik would absolutely kill her. But Christine wondered, hazily, if he would still love her - if she couldn't sing, if she were just whatever part of her was left, when you took away the voice, and...
A footstep sounded behind her, and she whirled around.
A petite, dark haired woman in a khaki uniform with a red hat and white scarf stood there, holding a tray with a coffeepot and cups. "Can I help you, miss?" she said, in the same reserved, polite voice Christine had heard through the door earlier. Christine stared at her dumbly - somehow still surprised to find someone other than Erik and herself existing on this airplane. It seemed so strange that this woman was just having another day at work, her hair in a perfect chinigon, uniform in order, bringing coffee to the billionaires in their tiny suites six miles above the earth, while Christine was a vanished woman in strange clothes who'd just struggled back into consciousness.
And then, of course, Christine realized it must be stranger still that she herself was standing there unspeaking and finally said, in a rush, "Food? I mean, dinner? Could you bring it to my... our... seats?"
The flight attendant nodded. "Of course. I'll bring the menus to your suite shortly. If you need anything else, my name is Samira." She started to turn, and then looked back, eyeing the bundle of tulle and brocade that Christine held. "Was everything all right with your suitcase?" Her tone spoke more of deliberate politeness than genuine concern, but even through the formality of her question, Christine sensed a tinge of ... suspicion?
"It's fine now, thanks," Christine said quickly, awkwardly, then gave a fake smile and spun on her heel to walk away.
The doors in the hallway all looked the same, and she hesitated, trying to remember how far she'd come up the aisle. She stood in front of the third door from the front, took a deep breath, and pushed the button to open the doors.
Erik was sitting down, turned away from the door, staring over his right shoulder at the night sky outside the window. His chin rested against a loose fist, and there - in profile, in a charcoal blazer and a white dress shirt - he looked like an average business traveler. A well-dressed but ordinary man. He shifted his gaze towards her, slightly, raising an eyebrow without raising his head.
"I thought perhaps you'd found a parachute and an escape hatch," he said in a murmur so wry it was brittle, fragile.
"I found dinner," Christine spoke, gently, leaning against the doorway. "Or the promise of dinner, at least. Sorry it took so long... I had a hard time picking out what to wear."
"That's nice of you to say," he replied, as if she were lying to spare his feelings and had genuinely been looking for an escape route. He turned towards her fully, the mask now visible, and gestured at the door. She stepped in to stow the suitcase and costume behind her seat, and he pressed the button to close the door and seal them away from the world again.
Her seat belt sounded loud when she buckled it, in the sudden silence that had fallen over the suite. Erik was acting withdrawn, and she was drained, and both of them seemed to have the sort of relief without peace that she normally found after a few hours straight of crying. Christine felt like she was all out of emotions, synapses too burnt out to fire, a sense of grey static buzzing in her head.
"You look lovely," he finally ventured, looking down, as though he didn't have the right to say it.
"I look tired," she replied, as if there was any use in contradicting him.
"If you want to sleep, after dinner, you can," Erik said, "I'll take care of everything."
And Christine said, "I know."
Dinner came on dollhouse plates, the tinyness making each course seem all the more gourmet. The flight attendant brought the dishes almost wordlessly, her inquisitiveness seemingly abated.
Christine ate, and felt better. Erik declined the meal.
She didn't know if she'd be able to sleep. But she sat, eyes closed, and tried not to think.
The airplane began to point subtly downward, a slow shift she noticed in her half awake state without thinking about it, until the captain came on the loudspeaker, announcing in three languages that they'd be landing soon. She opened her eyes a bit, and looked out the window, at the infinite ocean and perfectly shaped manmade islands below, still far away.
"Christine..." Erik's voice pulled her back from the window. "We'll need to be ready, when we land."
"Ready for what?" she said, trying to read his eyes beneath the flesh-toned mask.
"Ready to run." Erik removed another rolling carry-on from beneath his own seat. Looking over his shoulder as he rummaged through the suitecase, she saw what looked like a few dress shirts and slacks, several dozen large mesh zipper bags in various colors, and -
He snapped the suitcase shut after pulling out one of the mesh bags in yellow, and unzipped the bag to reveal a plaid short-brim fedora, a dark blonde wig cut in a long bob, and two passports. "I think we'll start by being British," he said, "and attempt more complex endeavors only if they're needed."
"I... don't really understand." Christine said, realizing that he hadn't been joking about having a bag of alter egos handy.
"I can speak Russian in a pinch, but my accent's absolute rubbish," he said, bemused, his voice suddenly that of a Londoner, perfectly accented, subtle but unquestionably acceptable as genuine. Almost like a vocal mask, she thought, noting how easily he slipped it on.
He seemed to wait for her to laugh, and then, disappointed, went on, quickly, in his own voice and businesslike again. "You'll need to put on the wig here in the suite, and put the scarf over it - we can't have the flight crew seeing you leave with a different hair color. In the jetway, you'll take the scarf off - as we're walking, no stopping - and before we get to the terminal, put on sunglasses. You'll need to get those out of the suitcase -"
"I put a pair in the purse," Christine said, gesturing at the handbag.
He paused at her interruption, and tilted his head towards her. "Good instinct," he said, his voice surprised, approving and Christine wanted to lean into it for a moment, to close her eyes and relish the praise, like she did during her lessons so long ago, hours of singing to finally get a faint compliment from the voice behind her mirror...
"Now, this part is important: We're not going to be able to avoid clearing customs. There are a few airports, poorly designed, where it's possible to sidestep the agents by not leaving the airport and just getting on the next flight - but we've got more to lose by being caught doing something different. Today's passports are good, they'll even swipe fine. Later on, well, we'll deal with that then."
She wanted to ask what that meant, but he went on, lecturing almost, his voice growing confidant:
"We're here for vacation - every time, that's the answer, no matter which country we've arrived in. I'll try not to land us in a conflict zone. But even so: 'Business or pleasure?' Say pleasure. 'Pour raisons personnelless ou professionnelles?' Toujours, 'personnelles. Sur les vacances...' The wealthy do the damnest things for vacation, and that will help us cover for much of this... But you won't need to speak unless they demand it. I can take care of all the talking."
"Ok." Christine frowned, trying to remember everything, suddenly worried that she'd mess it up, let him down, ignoring the little voice in her head suggesting that "Help, I've been kidnapped," would be universally understood were she to shout it.
Erik glanced out the window. "You should put the wig on now. There are hairpins to hold it in place."
She nodded, and picked it up, trying to pull it on like a ski cap, but her hair slipped out. She spent a few more minutes pushing and tucking hair up under it unsuccessfully, then took the wig off and tried to put her own hair in a bun first, but couldn't get it under the wig. Finally, frustrated, unthinking, she asked, "Do you have a mirror?"
"I don't have much use for them," came his quick, almost disdainful reply, but his voice relented as he went on to say, "But if you'd like, I can have the -"
"Could you help me?" Christine interrupted, surprised at how childlike she sounded.
He was startled, and when he finally spoke, his voice cracked, as though there were not enough oxygen in the room. "If you wish," he said.
She passed him the wig and looked at the floor, trying to concentrate on the task at hand, again trying to pin up her own hair. She managed a loose coil at the back of her neck and pinned it. Then, heart thudding, Christine looked over and nodded at him. He rose out of his seat, and closed the few steps between them. She couldn't read his face as he lifted the wig over her head - momentarily encircling her neck with his arms - and scooped the wig under the twist of her real hair, stretching it and pulling it over, down to her forehead, inches away from her at all times, yet all without actually ever touching her.
Christine closed her eyes.
His breathing sounded fluttery, ragged. He spread the fingers of both his hands, and placed their gloved surfaces along her skull, slowly pushing the wig forward, adjusting it up, closer to the hairline, and the ten points of pressure on her head felt like... she didn't know what they felt like. He was touching her - through his leather gloves, through a layer of fake hair, and then she felt his fingertips brush her ear, tucking a few wisps of hair into the wig, putting a few bobby pins in to secure it. And when she opened her eyes he was looking just over her, actually, focused on her forehead. Finally he seemed to have it settled and made eye contact.
"That should work," he said distantly, but made no motion to step away from her. And so she stood, and he stood, inches apart, unmoving. He took a hesitant breath, released it, and then took a deep one, and she could see the new mask wrinkle as he opened his mouth to speak...
A bell sounded, and the seatbelt lights flashed, and he appeared to think better of whatever he was going to say, silently returning to his seat for the landing.
Christine could tell the instant the wheels touched the ground, a few bumps and suddenly the seat beneath her felt more solid, followed by the almost maddeningly slow roll of the airplane to the gate. Finally the plane halted, and the light behind the seat belt sign went out with a chime. She looked at Erik - expecting him to grab the bags, and her, and bolt - but he sat still, hands crossed in his lap, until he noticed her staring and then absently unbuckled his seatbelt, and stood to gather the baggage, without a word. Somewhat baffled, she slung the purse over her shoulder, and reached below her seat to pull out her carry-on. She wedged the boots from her costume into the carry-on with some effort, and then turned to ask Erik about what to do with Aminta's dress, but he was already gathering it up, putting it into what appeared to be a large mailing envelope.
"It's an rather easy way to dispose of things," he said to her questioning glance. "It's addressed for a P.O. Box in Australia, which, I'm sorry to say, rules out Melbourne as one of our destinations. But if anyone's clever enough to find and follow it, they'll be thrown a good sixteen hours off track."
"It just seems too beautiful to gather moths in a post office," she said, somehow sad to see it go.
"If one opera costume is the only casualty of this departure," he said darkly, "I will feel quite fortunate. We haven't the luxury of carrying excess baggage, and you could only call attention to us by wearing it." His tone softened. "I designed the dress for you, spent weeks perfecting the thing, but it - it, I can live without."
"I understand," she said softly.
"Good," came his reply, gently. He put the hat on, pulling it as low as possible in the front, and turned towards the door, suitcase in hand... but then slowly turned back to her. She stood with her bag, ready to leave, to follow him... and utterly unable to read the look in his eyes.
"There is," he said, his formal tone unable to disguise the discomfort in his voice, "one additional matter to discuss."
He pulled his hand out of the pocket of his blazer, holding a small blue velvet ring box
Author's note: Finished at last!
A couple of people had asked in the comments, what Christine's motivation was for being in the plot to trap Erik (ie, the Don Juan performance) and what her motivation is to follow Erik now. In ALW, Christine is somewhat passive until the last moment, when she kisses Erik. She says she can't be part of the plot in Twisted Every Way, and yet she goes along with it, she reveals Erik onstage and yet follows him down to the lair and is kind enough to put on a wedding dress once she's there. (True, he's berating her, but she's complying.)
And so I'm using that as a base for her behavior here. Erik berated her a bit in Chapter 1 (he did say he'd kill Raoul if the he caught up to them) and she's so exhausted in her life she's letting other people make decisions for her. I also think some of her passiveness comes from not knowing what she wants, or not knowing how to deal with wanting something she's not supposed to - so the interesting part should come when she finally does.
Also, to answer another question: this story absolutely assumes Erik did kill Buquet and Piangi. Buquet could be self-defense if you squint, but, I'm not going to explain Piangi's away by claiming he was just unconscious. Erik is a dangerous and somewhat unstable man, and Raoul is a vanilla but incredibly nice guy. I think playing down Erik's bad qualities and making Raoul some kind of jerk makes the choice between them far less meaningful.
As ever, feedback would be lovely! Cheers!