Preliminary (not exactly a chapter…you'll see)
Summary: AU; what if Christine ran back to Erik as the mob approached, just to make sure he survived? And what if she stayed in Erik's kingdom of darkness for three days before returning to Raoul? ALW-based, with Kay influence because I FINALLY READ PHANTOM! w00t!
Disclaimer: If I owned Phantom of the Opera and its many versions, Erik and Christine would have ended up together. So needless to say, I don't own any of them. (And if Kay's ending can be construed as Erik and Christine ending up together, I still don't own it.)
Pairings: Erik/Christine (doy)
Author's Notes: I do not like Raoul. He just bothers me…he actually bothers me even more now that I've read Phantom (squee!), actually. But I know some people are offended by Raoul-bashing, so there is none in this phic. Besides, I'm saving the Raoul-bashing for a prospective phic entitled Operation: Fop Removal that two of my friends and I are planning.
So, yeah, this phic mainly based on ALW's movie, with a ton of references to Susan Kay's version of Erik's past, most notably in the prologue. For instance, Erik's eyes…I love the idea of Erik having golden eyes, so basically my Erik is Gerik with a worse deformity (though still only on the right side of his face) and really cool eyes. Honestly, I have a bone to pick with the death's-head deformity; how do you survive without a nose, your first line of defense against infection? And how do you sing? Well, he's Erik, I guess that's how. But anyway, I like the idea of Erik being really handsome on one side of his face and deformed on the other; kind of a symbol of his personality—he can be a cold-hearted killer, but his heart is there, and it really does warm up occasionally, especially when Christine is around. Okay, enough philosophy, more phic. Thank you for your patience.
I know this is a bit unconventional, but singing done in this phic will be represented by italics in quotes rather than italics only.
This is only my second phic, and my first non-one-shot phic—though it will have only three chapters, a preliminary, and an aftermath (NOT a prologue and an epilogue—what you are about to read is way too freaking long to be considered a prologue). But still…feedback, please?
Our story begins as Christine and Raoul sail away from Erik's home. The cries of the mob echo threateningly through the catacombs, momentarily overshadowed by the faint strains of All I Ask of You…
"It's over now, the music of the night!"
A frantic shattering accompanied the Phantom's heart-wrenching cry, splinters of glass clinking desperately on the ground like fallen tears. A shudder seized Christine's spine, and her voice broke off mid-note.
Raoul, who had continued their affectionate duet, turned to face her, confusion painted on his handsome features. "Christine, what's wrong?"
The Phantom's voice echoed in her ears. In that single phrase, there was none of the rich, powerful, entrancing voice that Christine remembered, that voice that had once lulled her into a state of tranquil bliss, the air around her pulsating with song. His voice had been reduced to raw emotion—pain and sorrow and anguish in purest form.
"I have to go back." The words escaped Christine's lips before she even knew what she was saying.
Raoul's eyebrows shot up. "What?"
"I have to…the mob…" Christine's entire body quivered uncontrollably, as if she were straining with all her strength against the world's heaviest burden. She inhaled deeply. "He deserves another chance, Raoul. To write his music."
"Christine, he's a madman! A murderer! If anything, you should make sure the mob catches him!"You alone can make my song take flight…
"He'll kill you!"
"No…he wouldn't hurt me. I have to go."
"I have to," she pleaded.
Raoul hesitated. "Be careful, Little Lotte." He kissed Christine briefly.
Christine nodded. "Go back to your family's manor. I'll meet you there."
"I love you, Christine."
"I love you," she whispered in reply, then leapt from the gondola.
The icy water slammed into her thin form like a ton of bricks. She gasped aloud, feeling as if scores of freezing daggers were digging into her unprotected flesh.
She struggled through the frigid lake, hardly able to sense the presence of her legs as she pushed forward. Was it really so far back to the lake's edge? The chill deadened all her senses, numbness creeping through her body like a virus. She slogged on, the black ice-cold liquid swirling thickly, forebodingly, around her slender limbs. The expanse of dark water seemed to stretch infinitely ahead of her, Erik's home fading to the faintest distant point of candlelight…
Suddenly Christine stumbled. Caught off-guard, she fell, and her hands met cold rough stone. She had made it.
The young soubrette staggered to her feet. Her knees and ankles trembled uncontrollably. I heard the mirrors break. Where did he go? Christine dragged her dead feet forward, step by heavy pained step, towards the destroyed mirrors. Abruptly her legs gave; she crumpled into a heap on the cold floor. She crawled towards her room, the place Erik had set aside for her and her alone…she could rest there, briefly…
She leaned against a short table, fighting to keep her eyes open. God, were her eyelids weighted with lead? The mob's faint cries were not so faint now…the furious words were encroaching, bringing rage, hatred, wrath, enough to rip and tear living flesh to lifeless pieces…I have to get up…
Christine faltered as she stood, her hand brushing against something cold and smooth, something familiar…
The Phantom's mask lay on the table's surface. Christine lifted it gently, stroking the white porcelain contours. The mob's howls crescendoed behind her, and she started. What was she doing, dawdling here when a vicious crowd was ready to slaughter her fallen angel? He was a killer, and most definitely insane…but he was going into hiding now; surely he would conceal himself deep in the bowels of the opera house…if the mob didn't catch him…
He was so…troubled…yet his music was so beautiful…how can a soul so dark and twisted produce such loveliness? I have to make sure he lives, if only to compose again…his music of the night…
Seized by a new resolve, Christine bolted for the mirrors, the Phantom's mask clutched in one hand. Two of them were cracked badly, damaged by blows with something blunt and heavy. But she saw nothing behind them, no secret passages, no tunnels…where has he gone?
Then she spotted it; a deep red satin curtain, draped over what seemed to be a mirror frame. Could that be…?
Christine tore the fabric aside, revealing a stark, unlit tunnel, plunging seemingly into emptiness. This must be it…
The mob sounded again behind her, and the screams seemed predatory, inhuman…and closer than ever…without hesitation, she plunged into the darkness, pulling the crimson curtain down behind her. Feeling her way through the channel, Christine staggered down, down, through sharp curves and corners, seeming to plummet into negative space…the blackness was all-consuming, she could see not a step ahead of her…but the stone beneath her feet was solid, if jagged…he must be here, there's nowhere else he could go! Christine's grip tightened on the cold white porcelain in her hand.
Then…suddenly, a dull flicker of golden light, a good distance ahead…
Christine scrambled forward, nearly tripping many times. Whether the Phantom was within a few feet of her or whether it was a trap, it was still light, a spot of protection against the murky, threatening darkness…
The singer paused before a small chamber to her right, the source of the warm yellow light flooding into the black passageway. But she had no time to hesitate.
"Track down this murderer, he must be found! Hunt out this animal, who runs to ground!"
She heard the menacing cries behind her again…the mob…oh God, they found the passage!
Christine burst into the small chamber. The Phantom sat on an outcropping stone bench in one corner, leaning against the wall, the good side of his face toward Christine, eyes closed. There was a candleholder in his left hand, and the friendly golden flame illuminated the liquid diamonds trailing down his cheek. Despite the biting cold, the two folded blankets stacked next to him were untouched. He did not seem to notice her.
She stopped briefly; even in this fallen, heartbroken state, he still clung to that dark majesty that he had once held in Christine's eyes. There was a strange grace in the way his back and head bent under the indescribably heavy burden of shame, a sort of elegance in his sorrow, as if he had experienced it many times before and learned to make it beautiful.
Christine laid a hand on his shoulder. "The mob is coming."
He did not open his eyes or move; his voice startled her when he spoke. "Your point?" His tone was raspy and heavy, the antithesis of its former heavenly timbre.
"They'll kill you!"
"Is that not what you want, my angel?"
Christine's lips moved, but no sound resulted. She did not know what she had expected, but certainly not this.
"What are you doing here? Do you wish to watch those pitchfork-bearing idiots impale me, so your haunted mind can finally be at rest? Do you need reassurance that you will never again lay eyes on this abhorrent visage, is that it?"
"No," Christine whispered. "I…wanted to give you another chance. You may have…you…oh, in spite of everything, you were still my teacher for so many years, and I wanted…I thought…the music you write, that you gave me, is so lovely, I can't let that die…"
He stood in one swift, fluid motion, without warning; Christine stumbled backward in shock.
"Do you not have ears, Christine, or has your memory simply failed you?"
Whether or not Christine's memory had failed her, her voice certainly had.
"You heard it a matter of minutes ago. 'You alone can make my song take flight. It's over now, the music of the night.' Or have you forgotten already, the same way you forgot the long, lonely years I spent laboring to make your dreams of singing come true?"
Gingerly, Christine stepped forward. "I did not forget…I was hoping you might find yourself to be wrong, eventually."
He did not reply.
"I found this." She delicately proffered his mask. He took it from her small, outstretched hand and secured it onto the right side of his face.
"Thank you. Now those gendarmes and angry opera patrons won't have to see my face when they kill me."
"Not if you run now! Please!"
The Phantom's eyes flickered menacingly; Christine resisted the urge to flinch away. "Is this some sort of twisted game for you, Christine, trying to make me believe you care what happens to this Devil's Child? Is this you seeking revenge for my being so frighteningly in love with you?"
"Too long he's preyed on us, but now we know the Phantom of the Opera is there, deep down below!"
Christine could hear the individual voices now, below the raging, clashing chords of the mob's hunting song:
"Destroy that monster!"
"Send that demon all the way back to Hell!"
"Killed Piangi and Buquet, that heartless beast!"
"Hunt 'im down!"
The Phantom leaned almost casually against the wall. "Go, Christine. The carnage soon to come will not be a sight any young woman should have to see."
Christine swallowed. She knew he was a murderer, a criminal of the worst kind…so why could she not bear to leave him to his death?
The mob's cries were closer now. Surely they could not have already made it down the long channel, but there were so many of them…
"And what about that lil' slut, that Christine Daaé, who knew where 'e was?"
Christine's blood turned to ice.
"Protected that monster, she did!"
"She's no better than 'e is!"
"We'll find her after we kill him! Onward, men!"
"Merciful Heavens," Christine moaned, the color draining from her cheeks. "If they find me…!"
The Phantom rapidly collected the blankets from the stone bench and extinguished the candle flame. "Come. We must hide you."
"Now, Christine, you foolish girl! This way!"
Startled by this sudden change of heart, Christine sank into the darkness after the Phantom. But his footsteps receded quickly; she was smaller and slower than he was, especially considering the feeling had not returned to her chilled legs. "Wait! I can't keep up…"
She felt him at her side, swiftly gathering her up and carrying her as if she weighed nothing at all. He was nearly racing down the corridor, somehow easily following the twisted, unpredictable path of the tunnel. "How can you see?" she whispered. "Can…can you see in the dark?"
Christine shivered; what sort of person…or animal…could possibly see in this blackness? He's lived down here for years, of course he has learned to see in the dark…he's a human just like you, Christine, don't be silly.
"We're nearly there. You'll be safe."
Christine was about to query, "Where is 'there?'" when she heard an ominous, crackling rumble above her head. What in the world…
The Phantom cursed; then, without warning, he tossed Christine's body into the darkness a few feet ahead of them. She landed feet-first, but her legs crumbled beneath her like those of a rag doll. Her head spun, her limbs ached; what was going on?
She soon found out. The ceiling seemed to buckle under the pressure of an enormous fist, sending blocks of stone and bits of rubble flying. A thunderous crack like the shot of a giant's gun filled the air. Christine screamed.
The Opera Ghost lay prone on the floor, pinned there by stark cold piles of fallen rock, dust fanning out around his still form. For a moment Christine wondered if he was dead or unconscious; but no, he was moving, fighting to free himself from the cave-in.
"Oh God," Christine whimpered, her ears ringing from the crash, imagining her own thin frame buried beneath the rocks. "Oh, God…"
The Phantom struggled to his feet. "Come, quickly. They will be around that last bend any minute now."
"Are…are you all right?" Christine quavered.
"Nothing that won't heal with time." He took her arm, led her a few steps further, leaned his back against a wall, pulled Christine to his side. She felt his fingertips briefly caress her cheek before his hand closed, almost gently, over her mouth. Her first instinct was to fight, but, for a reason she couldn't quite place, she remained completely still and quiet.
Christine felt her body begin to pivot. No, wait, it wasn't her. It was the floor. The floor was moving. Panicked, she squirmed against the Phantom's grip, only to feel his arm tighten protectively—not constrictively—around her. "Hush. It's all right."
The wall against which she and the Phantom leaned swiveled until it had made a full 180-degree rotation. They stood facing another small chamber, identical to the one where Christine had found the Phantom; only this room was bigger.
He released her. "We will wait here until the mob is gone."
Christine nodded and sat down on the floor.
The mob came closer. Their songs and shouts of vehemence sounded warped through the stone walls, distorted, animal-like. This mob would tear her limb from limb like a ravenous wolf if she were discovered. She shivered and hugged her knees to her chest.
The footsteps of the mob were encroaching…no, not footsteps, this was a thunderstorm, an earthquake…the discordant yowls of the mob assaulted her ears and hurt, and the livid pounding of their approach shook her entire frame and vibrated in her throat like a demon stealing her voice.
As she stood hesitantly, the floor seemed to tremble beneath her small feet. She crossed the floor to hover near the Phantom, the mob's furious thundering and preternatural yowling creeping closer, closer, like sinister hands crawling along her spine. Quivering, she sank her fingers into his arm. "I'm frightened."
"They won't find us here. You have no cause to worry."
"The noises…it's terrifying…"
"It's all right, Christine. They will be past soon."
The mob was close enough now that Christine should have been able to distinguish individual voices. But there were none. The members of the mob, originally only policemen and angry opera house employees, had blended into one murderous, palpitating, screaming mass of rage and revulsion. A cry of alarm escaped Christine's throat as the horrendous sounds approached, barreling into her brain like a battering ram.
Then the mob roared past the chamber, the full force of their hatred slamming into Christine's diminutive frame like a screeching tornado crashing through the flimsy structure of a man-made house. Her knees buckled; she felt a pair of arms catch her, hold her close.
For Christine, the relief was immediate. The Phantom faced away from wall as he embraced her, the cries of the mob seemingly deflected by his back, hunched protectively over her shaking body. His arms tightly encircled her trembling form like a shield or a thick blanket. One hand slid soothingly through her hair, quelling the worst of her tremors. The mob's storm of footfalls had dwindled to a sound rather like a light rain shower.
The Phantom held Christine firmly, loathing her quakes of fear, and mentally cursing the mob for frightening his beloved. The soft swell of her chest rose and fell frantically with her panicked breathing, and her heart raced hysterically as if it were trying to tear loose from her ribcage. As he began stroking her hair, her shudders slowly receded as she leaned, relaxed and motionless, against him as the mob pounded by. She did not move, even after the long, horrendously loud minutes of the furious crowd's passing were over.
Her arms were wrapped securely around his neck. Almost without thinking, he pressed a hand gently into the small of her back, bringing her closer, and she nuzzled his shoulder like a cat.
Release the poor child, you selfish creature! You think she enjoys being held by a monster?
He let her go, and the stumbled backward almost hesitantly, eyes glazed slightly. "Are they gone?" she whispered.
"They have passed. But they have not abandoned their search."
Christine nodded slowly, the glassiness retreating from her dark hazel orbs.
"You ought to rest until they have given up." He turned away from her, resting his forehead against the cold stone of the wall.
Behind him, Christine gave a strangled cry.
Startled into concern, the Phantom turned. "What's wrong, angel?"
It was only then that he realized his back had been badly scratched and cut by the cave-in. "So it seems."
Christine carefully brushed aside the torn bloody cloth covering his wounded back. "Doesn't it hurt?"
"Let me see."
"I would advise you not to do that, Christine."
"Why not…? Oh!"
Christine jerked away in shock. His back was crisscrossed with the profanely white and shiny lines of injuries never quite healed. The ragged stripes screamed across his ravaged skin like a wake of destruction left by some horrific natural disaster. She felt him flinch away as she laid her fingertips against one of the longer scars. "What happened to you?"
"You do not want to know, Christine."
"I know very little about you. I don't even know your name."
He was silent.
"You…have a name, don't you?" Christine could have kicked herself when she heard how idiotic she sounded. Of course he has a name; don't be stupid! He'll think you have the same intelligence level as an insect…
"My name is Erik."
"Erik," she repeated quietly. "It suits you."
Again, he said nothing.
"Where…where did you get all of those scars?"
"Why is it so vital that you know?"
"I want to know who was beating you. That's what happened, isn't it? That's what it looks like."
"Yes." Unconcerned, he struck a match and relit his candle.
"It is not important."
"Erik, please, tell me. I want to know." Christine laid her hand on his arm.
He turned. "Christine Daaé, you are soaking wet."
Christine abruptly realized that he was right; her gown was dripping on the floor, the damp fabric clinging to her near-heatless body.
"You'll catch your death like this."
"I…I don't have anything to change into."
"Wrap yourself in a blanket, then." He lifted a folded blanket from the short pile, and Christine saw that there were only two of them. Something soft and glittering dropped onto the stone, and recognition flashed across Christine's mind.
"My Aminta dress!" Christine picked it up. "I put it down with this blanket when I changed into this…goodness, that was lucky!"
Erik leaned against the wall, facing away from her. "You may change. I won't look at you."
Christine stripped off the once-glorious white bridal dress and slipped into the gown she had worn in Don Juan. The frock was thin and rather scanty, and she shivered, goosebumps ravaging her bare arms. "I suppose I'm not wet anymore, but I'm still so cold."
She felt one of the blankets rest upon her near-bare shoulders. "Keep that around you. I won't have you catching cold. It gets to be frigid in these caverns."
"Thank you," she whispered, wrapping the thick cloth around her body. He has such concern for me, and none for himself. If I hadn't found him, he would have let the mob tear him to pieces? Am I all he lives for? Surely that can't be right!
"I don't want you falling ill. I don't know how long we will be down here, so if you sicken, I won't have any way to cure you."
Christine lowered herself to the floor and tugged on the blanket's corners until she was completely encased in it, with only her head protruding from the dark brown tent. "What happened to your back, Erik?" she questioned softly. "Where did you get all those scars?"
"Insatiably curious, are you?"
"Yes. Please, tell me. Is the story so terrible that you are trying to shield me from it?"
"You might say that. But in any case, you do not need to know."
"Don't you trust me, Erik?"
"Trust is not the pertinent issue here, Christine, which is lucky for you, as I tend not to trust people who have attempted to have me killed."
Christine flushed, a sharp pang of guilt piercing her chest like a needle. "I came back, didn't I?"
"After betraying me with a useless slave of fashion, exposing my face to an entire audience, playing the central role in a plot to have me shot like a rabid dog, and dashing any hopes I had of companionship, yes, your guilt forced you to return simply because you love my pretty music." The last two words might have been dragged through an ocean of liquid sarcasm.
Christine forced her vocal chords to produce sound. "That's not…that's not the only reason why I returned…"
"I don't want your pity, Mademoiselle Daaé."
"So that's why you won't tell me why your back is so scarred? You don't want me to pity you?"
"How astute of you to realize that. No, I do not want—nor do I deserve—your pity, sympathy, whatever you wish to call it."
"Then what is it that you want from me?" The young singer cried.
There was a pause, long and viscous and ugly, blocking out even the semi-distant shouts of the mob. Erik whirled to face her at he spat out the next words. "Do you truly want to know the answer to that question?"
Erik's response reminded Christine of a river that had been reduced to a mere stream during a drought, then swelled to the size of a flood with the onset of rain. "Very well. I'll have you know, little one, that loneliness makes for a very bitter traveling companion, especially when she becomes your shadow. I became used to the loneliness, though…until I laid eyes on you. Since the moment I first heard you sing, I knew you must be as devoted to music as I am, for you had such talent…you were unpolished, yes, but your voice had much promise…but you lacked inspiration. You needed the Angel of Music that your father had promised you. So I became your teacher and your protector, hoping to gain your trust and nurture your extraordinary voice. Foolish, egotistical creature that I am, I should have simply guided you and your singing from behind that mirror in your dressing room, rather than entertaining the impossible fantasy of you ever wishing to spend your time with a monster. Understand, Christine, that it is difficult for any man to simply watch the one he loves from afar, playing the part of some distant, discarnate mentor…yet still, I should never have approached you in person, and for that, I apologize." He exhaled deeply, as if half-ashamed and half-relieved at his own words. "Is that explanation enough for you, Christine? I wished for a companion, an ally, a partner of the soul."
"You've claimed to love me," said Christine almost gently. "And you wished for my feelings in return?"
The corners of his mouth twitched, perhaps in a restrained smile. "Perhaps in my most mad and farfetched dreams, yes."
"But you did think I cared for you," Christine protested. "You claimed that your deformity was poisoning our love. Not yours, ours."
"You know perfectly well I was not thinking rationally when I said that." His voice was turning hard and cold as the stone floor where Christine sat. "And you never answered the question: was it explanation enough for you?"
"No. You still haven't explained how you came to have those horrid scars."
"You have the gift of non sequitur, Christine."
"I want to know!" Christine resisted the urge to lurch to her feet and stamp her foot, which would only serve to make her an immature child in Erik's eyes.
"That much is apparent."
Christine lowered her eyes, forcing her voice to remain level. "Please. I truly wish to know what happened to you. Please."
There was another pause, this one nearly not as impenetrable as the other. Christine felt Erik kneel at her side. "If you truly want to know, angel, then I will tell you…if only because you are so relentless in your curiosity."
"Tell me." Hesitantly, Christine extended a hand and wrapped her small fingers around his wrist, as if to comfort him. He quickly moved his arm away from her touch, but began his explanation anyway.
"I was eight years old when I ran away from my home. I ran across a band of gypsies during my flight—curious, they looked beneath my mask. Of course, they decided to use me as an exhibit in the freak show section of their traveling fair."
Christine made a sound like a whimper. Erik ignored her and continued. "I lived, mostly, in a cage. I was kept like a wild animal, and my keeper's name was Javert. To paraphrase what you wish to know about the time of my life when I traveled with the gypsies, Javert was…quite cruel to me."
"He beat you." Christine's voice was barely audible.
"And that is where the scars came from…"
"Your powers of deduction are astounding."
Christine disregarded the sarcasm. "Oh, God…" she reached for him, but he drew away from her.
"Don't waste your pity on something like me, Christine."
"Why do you refer to yourself like that? Calling yourself something instead of someone?"
"It is not so different from the way you and your lover speak of me when you think I can't hear."
Christine bit her lower lip; this was, after all, quite true.
Erik got up. "You have been through quite a lot tonight, Christine. You should rest."
"I am tired," she admitted demurely.
He took the other blanket and laid it on the floor, folding down one edge like a pillow. "It's better than the bare floor, at least."
Christine crawled onto the blanket and lay down. A few of the mob members stalked down the corridor, intermittently banging on the walls with clubs or some other kind of weapon. "You expect me to sleep in this setting?"
"I won't touch you while you're sleeping."
"I was referring to the mob!"
Erik knelt beside her again. Christine held herself still as he reached for her, then let her eyes drift shut as his long fingers caressed her scalp, tousling and gentling her dark curls. Christine sighed happily.
"I must admit, Christine, I have never seen anyone respond so dramatically to simply having their hair stroked."
"It's so soothing," the singer purred. "When Meg and I brushed each other's hair before performances, Meg would complain that I always fell asleep."
"I see." Erik massaged the back of Christine's head gently, and she bit back a most unladylike groan, leaning back into his hand. "Sleep, my child."
Christine had no trouble at all obeying. Her eyes already shut, her other senses became dark and numb one by one, and she let the welcome black cloak of sleep enfold her.
Christine dreamed of fire.
The stage of the Opera Populaire was in flames, great ravenous monsters of crimson and gold and rusty orange and even pale merciless blue. Christine's eyes searched frantically for an escape route, but there was no backstage, no audience, no curtain, nothing…just fire, leaping and roiling and howling and roaring and devouring and burning, burning everything.
The shimmering, golden swirls of Christine's skirt merged and danced with the fire.
Shrieking, she jerked away.
The starving flames reached for her, as if with sentient hands. Christine beat at the hungry flares, clinging to the prayer that she could extinguish the fire…
She wasn't burning.
Morbidly fascinated, Christine bent and ran a hand through a fluttering yellow plume. The flame licked and caressed her hand with its warmth, but her skin remained completely unscathed.
"Christine!" She turned at the sound of a cry behind her. It was Raoul.
"Raoul!" Her beloved childhood friend embraced her tightly.
"Christine, hurry, we have to get out of here,"
"Yes," she agreed, gripping Raoul's hand and following him.
"Christine, quickly!" Raoul led her across the flaming stage. The fire flickered against his pant legs, but again, the fire did not catch.
Suddenly Christine froze. "Wait! Erik must still be here…"
"The Phantom. He must still be here." She bolted from Raoul's side, ignoring the fact that he was calling frantically after her.
A shot panicked search later, Christine found him. He was trapped in a clear circle where the flames seemed unable to reach.
"Erik!" Christine cried, her voice barely audible over the hissing and growling of the conflagration.
He glanced up at her, his golden eyes startlingly serene behind the black Don Juan mask. "Christine." His voice was quiet and reverent, like a prayer.
"Erik, it doesn't burn! Look!" Christine passed her hands through the flames. "It's all right! Come with me!"
Christine stepped into the circle, and Erik gently laid two fingertips on her cheek. She extended one hand to him, the same way he had led her through the mirror the evening she had first heard the music of the night. Trusting her, Erik reached out and clasped her hand.
In that one brief instant, the protective circle around Erik vanished, and the flames that had complacently ignored Christine and Raoul attacked him with a vengeance. His cloak brushed against the fires and caught, the famished saffrons and oranges devouring the cloth. With a scream, Christine tore the cape from his back, but she was too late; his entire body was crawling with flame. Christine wailed, tugging on Erik's hand, trying to pull him free of the spitting flares. He did not move. "Hush, Christine. There's nothing you can do."
"I won't! I won't leave you!" She grasped both of his hands tightly.
Erik smiled thinly as he turned to ash before Christine's eyes. "You already have, my angel."
"No!" Christine's screech merged with the victorious howls of the fire. "NO!"
"No! Erik…please, no!"
Christine woke thrashing on her blanket. Erik turned to face her, and she couldn't for the life of her read his expression; was he concerned? Disgusted? Angry? Ashamed?
"What in th' name o' Old Clootie was that?" bellowed the drunken slur of a mob member's voice.
"That was a scream!"
"The monster's got her behind the wall!"
"I'll lay odds he's torturing her!"
"Come on, men! Break down the wall! We'll get 'em!"
"Sweet glory," Christine whimpered.
"On your feet, Christine. We can still escape them."
"Take the blankets, and your dress."
Erik was standing beside one wall, holding something protruding from the stone—a loose brick? A lever—and beckoning. She hastened to his side, clutching the blankets and the discarded wedding dress.
"Hold on. Don't cry out."
Christine obediently wrapped her arms around him, restraining a whimper as the wall through which they'd entered began to crumble under the berating cudgels of the mob.
Erik yanked the lever.
It took every ounce of her self-control Christine possessed to not scream as the floor dropped out from under her.
They landed quickly, contrary to the endless fall Christine had been expecting. Erik moved swiftly to another lever and jerked it, causing the trapdoor to slide shut. They were safe.
The wall to the chamber above them gave, and a rumble like thunder reverberated in Christine's ears as the phantom-hunters flooded the upper room.
Listening to them trundle by was nothing compared to this. The grinding and pounding and stomping and shouting and growling sounds above her were unbearable, the vibrations invading her every joint and painful spot. It was as if the crowd was crawling over her scalp, chastising her brain with their torches and clubs…breaking through her skull, drilling into her thoughts…she battled back a cry of agony, tangling her hands in her dark damp mane. "Erik…"
He ignored her.
Christine's heart was beating so rapidly, it seemed to rise into her throat. She reached to squeeze Erik's shoulder. "I'm frightened."
"I would imagine you feel like a rabbit hiding in a fox's hole to escape a hunter." His voice was cold enough to freeze water in the full heat of summer.
"Please…they sound so horrible! It scares me."
A furious cry sounded from above. "Where are they, the devils?"
Christine plastered herself against his back. She fiercely pressed her eyes shut; she would not allow herself to cry, not even as the voices of the mob shredded her insides. She would not cry, she would not cry…
She felt Erik turn then, felt herself sink into the soothing, now-familiar embrace. He seemed to know that the horrendous noise was ravaging her mind; he passed a hand over the crown of her head, mussing and then smoothing her hair. The torturous throbbing and pricking sensations vanished instantly, and she heaved a sigh of relief. Erik's other arm was wrapped closely over her small back, stilling the spasmodic shivers that tore across her spine.
Christine reopened then closed her eyes, her long curled lashes brushing his chest. His heartbeat was close, steady as a drum; the murderous crowd might as well have been in the Americas of the Far East.
Christine did not know how long she remained in Erik's arms. But she became gradually aware that the crowd's racket was gone from above her. Now that they're gone, is he going to let me go?
"Hold me," she whispered fiercely, and it was not a plea; it was an order.
Erik said nothing, and he did not release her. Christine slipped her arms around his neck. "Thank you."
Without any warning, he jerked away from her. "You have nothing for which to thank me."
"What? That's twice tonight you've saved my life!"
"Let's not forget what else I've done, Christine. I kidnapped you, terrified you, nearly murdered the person you love, and nearly got you killed. I find myself unable to fathom how you can bear to be in the same city as I."
"But when I screamed, and drew their attention…that was my fault. You're not…angry at me for that, are you?"
"Don't be ridiculous. Any woman has the right to scream when they dream of being ravished by a monster."
Christine blinked; she had not expected that sort of reply. "But…I dreamt of the opera stage on fire. I was there, and Raoul, and the fire couldn't burn us…" The full memory of the dream returned in a rush. "You were trapped! I tried to help you to safety, I tried, but you were burning, and I couldn't stop it, I couldn't do anything…!"
"Christine!" Concerned, Erik took her by the shoulders. "Calm yourself. It's all right."
"I…I know. But I have to ask…well, you seemed quite certain you knew what I was dreaming."
"Don't you think it's a plausible nightmare?"
"Do you?" Christine paled.
"That's not what I meant, angel." He placed a comforting hand on her cheek. "You have to know, Christine, I would never do such a thing to you." His eyes were intense enough to light a candle at twenty paces. She shivered.
"Well, that's…good to know." Christine's tongue stumbled over the words. "But…the things I've heard…in the end, you are still a man…"
"I would never rape you, Christine, because I know how terrible it is."
Her eyes widened until they were large as sand dollars.
"Is that…is that possible?"
"Trust me, it is."
"It was Javert, my cage-keeper. Don't look so worried, Christine, I stabbed him and ran before…before anything happened." A tight smile stretched his lips. "My first murder. I was twelve."
Remembering his disdain for pity, Christine did not say anything; she took his hands from her shoulders and held them tightly. "I realize how little I know about you now. For-for instance, did you build these chambers?" she questioned, hoping to change the subject.
"I designed them, yes, but I did not build them all myself. You likely gathered that, considering that one of the walls collapsed."
Christine could not hold back a small laugh. "So, on top of music…you're an architect?"
"I designed this opera house." The simple statement was nearly devoid of emotion, but Christine detected the faintest swell of pride.
"You did? That's…amazing."
"Thank you." His voice was odd, as if he were unused to compliments.
"What else have you designed?" Her voice was so eager.
"I did much work for the shah of Persia."
"Persia?" Christine's eyes were wide, like those of a child enraptured by a fairy tale.
A fairy tale—ha! If only she knew… "Yes."
"What is it like there?"
Erik's eyes darkened. "Perhaps we should save that story for later."
Christine quickly saw that she had inadvertently struck a nerve. She nodded. "I understand. I have another question."
"Yes?" There was something distant and guarded about his reply.
"Why did you kill Joseph Buquet?"
Erik sighed. "He was killed in one of my traps." (A/N: Erik is not lying here. This is a reference to Kay's book rather than ALW's movie.)
"Yes; one of the traps protecting my home. When the idiots who run my theater disobeyed my command to give you the lead in Il Muto, I used Buquet's body to frighten those fools into obeying. However, I succeeded only in frightening you." The hand on her cheek wandered almost instinctively to her hair, twining a few of her silky curls around his musician's fingers.
A twinge of guilt pierced Christine's chest. That was the night I said I loved Raoul—I ran to him because I was so frightened of Erik. Thank God he doesn't know what I said about him when Raoul and I sang to each other on the roof!
"Erik, I'm sorry," Christine tried to say, but her sentence was cut off by a rather sizeable yawn. She clamped one hand over her mouth, ashamed.
"Let me help you."
Erik rewrapped Christine on one blanket and fashioned the other into an impromptu bed again. Christine slowly lowered herself onto the cloth. "What about you?"
"I sleep very little. I have always found the nighttime far too exquisite to waste on sleep."
"The night is beautiful," Christine agreed, settling down onto the makeshift mattress. "But I do need my sleep."
Erik curved his palm around the back of Christine's head, stroking and soothing. Christine sank her teeth into the pillow to muffle the soft moan that rose in her throat.
"You truly are sensitive, aren't you?"
Abruptly Christine froze. What would Raoul say if he could see this? Me just lying here while the infamous Opera Ghost toys with my hair?
"Christine? Are you all right?" The warmth of his hand was gone from her scalp.
"Yes…I just…I'll fall asleep on my own."
"I see." There was absolutelyno inflection in his voice. Christine hated it when he spoke that way; he sounded so cold, so…dangerous. She flinched. "Sleep well, then. I will wake you when it's safe to leave." He left her side and knelt against one of the walls, looking away from her. She watched him hesitantly, as if waiting for something. He never once glanced in her direction; he stared either at the wall or into space, occasionally running a hand through his hair.
She turned her face into the blanket, and found herself missing Erik's hand caressing her hair. Stop thinking that way. You have to run back to Raoul as soon as Erik releases you.
It took much longer than optimally possible, but Christine finally succumbed to sleep.
A voice was calling her name. And the voice was incredible…quiet, yet with so much power and emotion, and sinuous and sibilant as the flowing of water.
"Christine, wake up. They are gone."
It was Erik.
She stirred. "How long was I asleep?"
"Two hours, more or less. Now, come."
Christine stood. She found that her entire frame was trembling violently. The cold air had seeped into her bones and was chilling her through and through.
"Y-yes." Her teeth were chattering. Erik wound the blanket closer around her body.
"It's all right. You'll be warmer soon."
He unlatched the trapdoor and helped Christine climb into the upper chamber, then followed her. He took her gently by the shoulders and led her through the gap in the ruined wall and the lightless passageways. This time, though, he was carrying the candle, so Christine could see much better than able to during their first mad flight.
Why must he be so tender with me? It would be so much easier to hate him if he didn't treat me so well.
"Are you unwell, Christine?"
"I'm just tired…and still cold."
Erik held Christine a little closer. "I apologize, but it does get quite cold in these catacombs. I try to keep my home a bit warmer."
"We're nearly there."
It was only a minute or so later that they stepped into the dim light of Erik's underground kingdom.
Christine lifted a hand to her mouth. "Oh no…"
The mob had ransacked nearly everything. Erik's once stately, elegant home was a shambles: candles blown out or knocked over, papers shredded, furniture strewn about and toppled…the irate crowd, so bent on destroying Erik, had destroyed his home as well.
"Thank God they didn't damage the organ!" Christine cried.
"Their main goal was to capture me…they did not have much time to completely demolish this place." Erik said dryly. "It will be an irritating mess to clean up, but there is probably no irreparable damage." He removed his arm from Christine's shoulders; this did make her feel colder, and she buried the lower part of her face in the blanket, as if that could warm her up. "However, that isn't what I'm worried about." Erik's eyes scanned the scene with something like fettered panic. "Where is she…Ayesha!" he called suddenly.
"Who is Ayesha?" queried a mystified Christine.
A piercing, high-pitched, mewling noise sounded from a few feet away. It was…a meow?
"Ayesha!" Erik shouted again. Then, from beneath the pipe organ, skittered a cream-bodied, dark-faced Siamese cat with large pointed translucent ears and enormous sky-colored eyes. A glittering bejeweled collar was fastened aroundher neck.
Erik knelt on the floor, opening both arms to the cat. The Siamese leapt into his arms and immediately began to purr like a train. She arched her back in undisguised joy as Erik scratched her ears. "Ayesha, my dear little feline, I was frightened they'd hurt you…" He was laughing, actually laughing, as the cat's rough pink tongue licked the unmasked side of his face. The sound of Erik's laugh was completely foreign to Christine…though it was a little like hearing him sing again, she supposed…it was a sound that shone and glistened like liquid happiness.
Christine briefly wondered if she were dreaming.
Erik stood, still holding the cat. "Christine, this is my cat, Ayesha. Be careful—the doesn't often take kindly to strangers."
"She's adorable!" Christine extended a hand to the cat, who sniffed the outstretched hand and gave it a curious—but rather indifferent—lick.
Without caveat, Christine's exhaustion suddenly overcame her, and she leaned against Erik for support.
"You look exhausted. Do you want to stay the night here? I doubt you have energy for a carriage ride home."
"Yes…I can leave in the morning then…" Christine's words slurred with weariness.
"You aren't leaving…"
"What?" yelped Christine, alarmed. A startled Ayesha leapt from Erik's arms and bared her teeth at Christine, hissing menacingly.
"Let me finish my sentence, Christine. I want you to stay here for three days—just three days out of your entire life. Word will be sent to the Chagny boy assuring him that you won't be harmed and that you will soon return."
Erik inhaled deeply before replying, as if steeling himself. "It is my finest dream—my life's dream—for you to stay permanently. However, as that is likely your worst nightmare, I would only have you remain here with me for three days, so I can at least have some impression what it might be like to have you at my side."
Memories flashed across Christine's mind: Erik's selfless rush to save her, his long fingers gliding through her hair, the surprising solace of his embrace as the mob's horrid noise assaulted her senses. Would staying here for three days—out of a lifetime of days—be so terrible? And if Raoul knew she was all right, what was the harm? "That's…that's fair."
"You should be the one to write the note to your lover, then. He would panic if he received a note signed 'O.G.'"
Christine nodded drowsily. Erik helped her to his desk, where she sat and penned her letter of reassurance:
My Dearest Raoul,
Please do not fear for me. I have promised Erik—that is his real name, Erik—that I will stay with him for three days. He will treat me well, I know; in spite of everything else, he does care about me. I will return promptly after the three days are over.
All My Love,
She folded the note in half and handed it to Erik. "I presume you would like to sleep now," he mused as he took the paper.
"I will have your letter delivered after you are asleep."
Erik lifted Christine's body carefully and carried her to the black swan bed. Christine sighed happily as he laid her down on the silky sheets. She turned onto her side and felt the covers come to rest upon her still-quaking form.
"Christine, are you still cold, or do I simply frighten you?"
"I'm cold…I can't seem to get warm."
Wordlessly, Erik stood, and Christine could barely hear his retreating footsteps. He returned not a few seconds later to drape two more blankets over his beloved's frame—the blankets they had taken into the tunnels? Christine was too drained to care.
"Sleep well, my an…Christine."
She may have been asleep even before her eyes slipped shut.
"Raoul, I've been there! To his world of unending night, to a world where the daylight dissolves into darkness, darkness…"
Please let this be a nightmare. The bitter thought was the first thing that flitted across Erik's mind as he woke. After a few seconds of drowsy confusion, he realized that he was actually hearing Christine's voice. It was not a nightmare; she was singing in her sleep.
Erik got up laboriously; he had fallen asleep at his organ after sending a delivery boy to the Chagny manor with Christine's letter, then sneaking into Christine's dressing room (it was singed, but not destroyed) to fetch some of her belongings.
"Raoul, I've seen him! Can I ever forget that sight?" Her voice quavered; not with vibrato, but with fear and discomfort and vulnerability.
Erik brushed aside the luxurious silver curtain that separated Christine's room from the rest of his home. The sight before him made him wince in shock and concern; the young woman resting on the bed was twitching and tossing in a nightmare, her cheeks flared and bright, her skin clammy and damp, her dark hair clinging to her sweaty scalp. Ayesha, who could tell, in that unearthly way that cats could, whenever anyone was sick, was seated at the foot of the bed.
This is no ordinary nightmare…look at her, she's ill, she could be delirious…
"Can I ever escape from that face? So distorted, deformed, it was hardly a face in that darkness…" Christine broke off and coughed weakly. "Darkness…" Her voice snapped in the middle like brittle bones.
Must she be singing that? I need no reminder of thatdamned night when I first heard her declare her love for that useless boy...although I suppose that she imagines he is near, and she needs him to comfort her… "Christine?"
Her lovely cocoa-colored eyes snapped open; they were horribly brilliant and glazed with fever. "Who's there?"
Erik said nothing. If he identified himself correctly, she might panic.
Christine blinked, and her glossy eyes found his. "Erik?"
"Oh, Christine…" His voice was quiet, compassionate. I was afraid she would sicken, wearing that wet dress in those cold chambers, but I didn't expect it to come on this quickly!
"Erik, I'm cold, so cold…" Her white hands gripped his shirtfront with a strength Erik would never have anticipated.
"Shhh." Erik stroked her hair and her face, trying to soothe her. Heat radiated from her skin, as if there were fires raging inside her. "You're burning up."
"No, no, Erik, I'm freezing, I'll die, please…"
"You have a fever, my child. I have something that will bring it down. Wait here."
"No! I need someone here…don't leave me. Don't leave me. Don't leave me!" Her frantic voice rose in pitch with each repetition. "I'm so cold…" Her teeth chattered like the death rattle in a moribund person's lungs.
"Hush, my angel, hush…" Erik took her hot shaking hands, lightly massaging the supple blazing skin. "Do you want to get warm?"
"Then lie still. I'll be right back, I promise."
"No! Don't leave me!" Christine shot up in bed, her soft matted curls clinging to her flushed, perspiring face.
"Christine! It's all right. Lie down, little one, lie down. I'll be right back, I promise." She stayed stiff and upright, still trembling, her fingers cleaving desperately to his. "Rest, my angel," he sang to her gently, letting the silky tones of his voice work their magic on Christine. Slowly, her muscles unknotted and she sank back into the covers. He let her hands fall back to her sides and swiftly bolted from her side, hastening to the cabinet where he kept his many concoctions. After a quick search, he selected of the vials, grimly listening to Christine's pleading, delirious, quaking voice floating through the caverns:
"Raoul, I'm frightened. Don't make me do this. It scares me. Don't-don't put me through this ordeal by fire! He'll take me, I know! We'll be parted forever…he won't let me go…he won't let me go…what I once used to dream…I now dread…if he finds me it won't ever end! And he'll always be there singing songs in my head, he'll always be there singing songs in my head…" Christine's voice slipped into a helpless cry.
Erik hesitated, leaning his forehead against the closed cabinet door. She thinks that boy is beside her…when did she say this, I wonder? Was it before Don Juan? God, was I truly that cruel to her? Did I frighten her so terribly? Poor angel, she never deserved any of this horror…look what I've done to her…
He walked slowly back to the ailing girl lying restlessly on the bed. Her eyes were blank and unfocused, her breathing ragged and heavy. The sight of her so listless and uncomfortable released an arrow of sympathy and unease into Erik's heart. Whatever disease had invaded Christine's innocent body, he loathed it with all his being.
A faint whisper passed her parched, cracked lips: "Don't make me do this…" Erik reached to take her hand, but drew back.
Her eyes rolled in his direction. "Yes?"
"Here. This is a mixture of herbs. It should bring your fever down." Crouching at the bedside, Erik splayed one hand behind Christine's thin back and helped her to sit. She took the small vial in both unsteady hands, and Erik uncorked the crystal flask to tip half its contents down her throat.
"Now, sleep. You will feel better in the morning." He moved away from her.
"No! Erik…stay with me. I need you. Or I'll freeze."
You would die of fear and shock upon waking if I stayed, little one. "I can't, Christine."
"Why?" she moaned. "Erik, please, I'm so chilled, blankets aren't enough…"
Curses! I can't leave her like this…now what? "Ayesha!" Erik called over his shoulder, and the Siamese leapt over to him with a lilting, questioning meow. "Stay with Christine. Keep her warm."
Ayesha quizzically tilted her head to one side, one of her massive ears twitching.
With a switch of her tail, the svelte animal turned to affectionately nuzzle Christine's nose. Christine gave a weak smile and stroked Ayesha's head as the cat curled up with her head under the sick girl's chin. "That's better," the young singer sighed.
"Good night, Christine."
Christine's face was buried in Ayesha's thyme-scented fur; Erik barely heard her reply. "Good night."
Erik slipped out of the room and adjusted the sheer velvety curtain. He remained standing there for a few seconds, watching Christine's now-peaceful slumber, before turning away.
A/N: How could I not put Ayesha in there? I love her, honestly…she bit Raoul! Yay! And she reminds me of my cat, who has a special mournful meow for whenever I leave. And, yes, I know this was really, really LONG; it will likely be the longest chapter-type thing in this story.