A/N: this was written for the secret santa thread posted on PFN, and is LONG overdue. This is based on Ripper de la Blackstaff's request for a fiction in which Christine returns to Erik at Christmas for some romance. This version has been edited for younger audiences. If you wish to read the slightly more adult version, please click on my Aria link in my profile page.

The Long Overdue Christmas

Christine sat at the dinner table, bored and dissatisfied. Christmas was only a few days away-her first with Raoul-and the past weeks were consumed with one social event after another, always filled with the same stilted conversation. She wondered at this aristocratic Parisian world she had joined, at the hypocrisy and artificiality; always speaking politely in public while filling back rooms with vicious gossip and disloyalty. Looking around the table, she realized that every husband present-except, of course, for Raoul-kept a mistress, and rumor suggested that many of these men unwittingly raising children that were not their own. How long would it be, she wondered, before her own marriage turned to betrayal?

Not long, she suspected, if it hadn't already. And there wasn't much left in her life to make up for a bad marriage. It was a dull and colorless existence, an endless parade of artificiality; not what Christine had expected after only seven months of marriage. Time had altered many things, and she found herself longing for the opera days, when she was innocent and hopeful: before the veil had dropped, destroying the mystery of life for her, of love, and lust, of romance, and sexuality. In those days that now seemed far distant, Christine had blushed in ignorant embarrassment when the ballet girls spoke of lovers. Now, less that a year later, she could tell them stories of a man's desire that would turn their giddy faces scarlet with shock. And yet, like everything in her life, even Raoul's initial fervor had became listless and dull.

She thought often of the opera and to her distress these thoughts always turned to Erik. It was painful to think of him, and though she tried to repress her memories, she could not fully deny that she missed him. When she had turned the scorpion, nearly eight months ago, he had approached her more hesitantly than a child, clearly intending to kiss her, hopeful and with tears streaming down his terrible rotted cheeks. And yet his ghastly repulsiveness and the prolonged terror of the evening filled her with such unflagging terror and loathing that she could not bring herself to let him touch her. As she stepped away from him she saw an awesome madness in his eyes that she remembered still in nightmares, and he forced her to promise, in exchange for her release and Raoul's life, to return on Christmas Eve so that he might once in his long and wretched life know what it was to have a family at the loneliest time of year. She agreed, of course, and he released her and Raoul, breathing macabre threats in her ear. At the time she fully believed he would track her down should she fail to return, but now she suspected he was only bluffing in a last attempt to hold onto her in some small way. Yet she pushed this thought from her head, believing that Erik would revenge himself upon her if she did not go. It helped her forget that in truth she wanted to return; she wanted to see him again.

The morning after the dinner party she wrote a letter in Swedish, taking care to disguise her handwriting. It read:

Dear Christine,

I have fallen suddenly ill and, having nobody else to turn to, I ask for your help in my desperate need. I am sorry to make such a request at this most holy time, but please come at once if at all possible. I am, as always, in the same small house by the sea, where your father played for us when we were little.

Your devoted friend,

Maria

She rushed to the door when the post came that day and taking the letter from her pocket, she showed it to Raoul, saying it had just arrived.

"But our first Christmas!" he said, and his voice was hurt and sad.

It wasn't without a twinge of guilt that Christine convinced him to excuse her, and she promised to more than make it up to him upon her return. He cried a little as she packed her warmest clothes to complete the charade, and before she left he held her longer than usual, and his voice was unusually sincere when he said, "I love you, Christine." But though this may have affected her on another day, today she was returning to Erik, and the strange and dizzy excitement she felt at the prospect of leaving her boredom for the exhilaration of his desperate love drove all other thought from her mind.

She hailed a cab and directed him to the train station. Disembarking, she crossed the station and hailed another cab on the far side, this time for the opera. Though the ride was brief it felt long and she was impatient to once again be in the underground house on the lake. But in time it arrived, and collecting her small valise, she unlocked the gate on the Rue Scribe and descended into the darkness. It had been many months since she ventured through the winding corridors, but she found her way easily enough and at long last stood on the bank of the lake. The alarm would sound and Erik would come for her. She waited. In the darkness, far away she heard water splashing, echoing eerily and growing louder, coming closer. And then she saw him, eyes shining in the shadows behind the black mask, and he was with her.

He was thinner than before, if such a thing was possible, and he twitched restlessly as he stood in front of her. "You came," he said, and his beautiful voice sounded thin and tired. "I didn't think you would."

"Yes. As I promised." She tried to appear composed and confident, to disguise her excitement as she watched his odd emaciated form trembling nervously.

"And we both know what your promise is worth," he said. Christine reeled from the stinging insult, and opened her mouth to protest. But Erik would have none of it, and jumped lightly in the boat, impatiently gesturing her to follow. "Come, we have an appointment to keep," he said. Christine climbed in quietly and the moment she was seated he pushed off from the bank.

As the freezing waters passed smoothly beneath them, Christine tried to collect herself. This was not the welcome she had expected. Where was the unconditional devotion? Where had the tears and the begging gone? She knew that it was unreasonable to expect these things, yet she couldn't help feeling disappointed at his coldness. But then she remembered the cruel disgust she had shown him, and the months of loneliness he must have spent, filled with bitter resentment and jealousy as he imagined her in the life he had always wanted for himself. Perhaps he had become too embittered to forgive her, or admit still to love. Perhaps his feelings had been poisoned and destroyed. If these things were true Christine would simply fulfill her promise and return to her ordinary life in a few days. But if the ardent desire still burned in his heart, buried beneath wounds Erik could not face, Christine vowed to do everything within her power to ease his hurt and nurture the passion of before. She would try to overcome his hatred and misery, and she would do so in the most direct and powerful way possible: she would treat him like an ordinary man.

In the past, she had always shrunk from him; for then she was deathly afraid of his touch. His unparalleled hideousness disgusted her, it was true, but she also feared the unknown touch of a man, full of a masculine sexuality that threatened her naïve mind. With Raoul it had been simple; his intentions always appeared innocent-romantic without being sensual. But while Raoul was in many ways still a boy then, it was clear that Erik was a man, who wanted a real wife to love and hold, and his ardent desire frightened her almost as much as his appearance.

But things had changed. Marriage had made her a woman, and Erik's passion no longer alarmed her as it once did. And though his hideous emaciated body-withered, cold and reeking of death-remained and could never be forgotten, she realized, to her discomfort, these qualities somehow thrilled her now. For they stirred feelings within her, produced a violent response, that was entirely absent in her bored and frozen existence. And though they were unpleasant, she was beginning to realize that feeling something-anything-was better than feeling nothing at all.

When the boat docked, Erik jumped out and walked away without a backward glance. But Christine was now set in her resolve, and her plan was laid; she waited in the boat until he realized that she lingered and turned to look at her. Leaning forward, she reached out her hand expectantly and waited for his help. He paused for a moment, and his shining yellow eyes narrowed the dark.

"You wish for me to touch you, do you? Have you forgotten the sickening feel of my death's hand?" He stared fixedly at her for a moment, as if daring her to agree, but she did not move or waver. "Should I remind you?" He rushed forward suddenly, grabbed her hand and pulled her from the boat so forcefully that she came to rest not a foot from him. The terrible smell of death that had always sickened her before still clung to his wasted limbs, and though a wave of nausea passed over her, she stood resolutely still, boldly meeting his penetrating stare.

"Thank you Erik," she said with a smile, and she squeezed his hand gently. A look of terror and loathing passed through his eyes, and Christine steadied herself for another callous remark. But he remained silent, watching her for a moment more before he pulled his hand free and entered the house.

She had half expected to find a wasteland of destruction in his once comfortable home. But when Christine saw the tree, decorated and waiting to be lit, the table set around a bouquet of blooming holly, the stockings hanging beneath the ebony caskets; when she smelled the delicate scent of pine and Christmas supper cooking in the little kitchen, she knew instantly that his callousness was insincere and clasped her hands together in giddy excitement.

"Oh, Erik! It's wonderful," she said, and she sat by the tree mesmerized by the tiny ornaments of birds and beasts and twinkling bits of glass that shone in the firelight.

"Is it?" he asked, watching her wryly with folded arms as he leaned on the mantle. "I have little experience with these things, as you know. I am most pleased that you approve."

"I feel as if I were a girl again in Sweden," she continued, ignoring his scornful words. "Have you been to Scandinavia, Erik? It is magical in winter. The snow fall freezes and glitters in the moonlight, and the air is so still that you can hear the footsteps of every wild creature. I would sit by the window, waiting for Papa, and hope to see a fox or an arctic hare. And if I did, I would imagine that I too were wild, and I would follow them on their strange adventures in my imagination, far into the dark north where no men go." She stopped suddenly and looked at Erik, laughing. "I suppose I haven't changed; for here I am, following you again away from the wide world. But as you can see, I always secretly wished for it. Come, dinner smells wonderful; let's eat."

"As the lady wishes," he said, and led Christine to her chair, poured her wine and disappeared into the kitchen to complete preparations. Within minutes the table was filled with the most traditional of Christmas dishes, down to the glazed goose that Erik dropped carelessly in the center, and Christine felt strangely as if she were being entertained by both a kindly grandmother and a bitter nemesis at the same time. He served her, asking briefly which dishes she would prefer, then sat across from her, unmoving and silent. He did not serve himself, and his plate sat empty as he watched her impatiently behind his full black mask.

"Are you not eating?" Christine asked.

"I cannot eat, as you know, with my mask," he said. "And I would not wish to ruin your appetite."

"Don't be ridiculous, Erik. You must eat too. Take off your mask and be done with it. Your face does not bother me, as I've made perfectly clear before."

"Are you still curious then, Christine? I should charge you admission for your constant desire to sicken yourself at my ghastly ugliness." He laughed bitterly, but removed the mask and served himself a meager helping. But he did not eat, and sat gloomily with downcast head.

Christine ignored his remarks, and began to speak of the food, the changes to his house, the decorations; she asked him about his music and the on-goings at the opera, always keeping her tone light and comfortable. Her efforts were rewarded: though he remained reserved, his tone softened, and his responses grew friendlier.

As dinner ended, a strange feeling creep over Christine: a feeling of familiarity, yet not the kind that had become so oppressive at home; it was exciting and magical, and she wondered if this world would become dull if she stayed too long; she wondered if Erik would have become a passive husband, content with mundane routine, as Raoul had; she wondered if she would have been happier with Erik, and she questioned, for the first time, the choice she made all those months ago. She tried to imagine what it would it would really be like to touch him, to be affectionate with him and sleep beside him every night. She tried to imagine how he would react to such affection. Would he tremble, or cry? Would his reserve finally break as he choked on words of love and devotion? She wondered what his skin would feel like, if his body were as cold and wasted as his hands. She could not guess, but one thing was certain: while her life at home had become a wilderness of numb contact, Erik would be fervently genuine. Her life outside Erik's house suddenly dropped from all consideration, and she was filled only with an immediate desire to possess his ardent love once more, whatever the result or consequence. She rose from the table, and led Erik to the drawing room.

Sitting beside him she felt no fear or confusion, and said bluntly, "You meant to kiss me the night I left."

A terrible look crossed Erik's face, and he jumped up and crossed the room. "So this is your game! You mean to torment me, to mock my pitiful weakness. Yes, I did mean to kiss you, abhorrent as it would be from one such as myself. But you were not shy to show me how you felt. And I cannot say that I blame you!"

He continued to speak, though his words washed away, meaningless beside the fervor of her intent. She rose, and crossed the room, pausing for only a moment when his rant died suddenly away. He watched her, silent and wary, as she continued to approach, as she wrapped her hands around his arms, as she stood tall and lifted her head to kiss him. And then the room faded away, even Erik vanished, and all that remained were a pair of thin, cold lips, hot breath in her mouth, and the unrelenting smell of death. It filled her lungs, surrounded her, smothered her in it's intensity and she felt suddenly dizzy, asphyxiated and overcome. And as her legs shook the deathly arms were around her, squeezing as she sank to the ground, crushing her in a terrible embrace. But when she tried to look up, to see the face of the man who seized her, and desperately gasp the untainted air that surrounded them, his hands moved up, into her hair, and clutched tightly, painfully so that her head was fixed beneath the level of his chin, where she could see nothing but the yellowing skin of his neck. But as she looked, though she heard nothing, she saw that the throat trembled and swallowed heavily and she knew that he was crying. He held her fixed, and though her hair pulled and she wretched inwardly at the terrible foul air, she waited silently for the hands to withdraw. For there was pleasure, too, in that embrace. But a moment later he was gone, and looking up, she saw him, expressionless and steady, standing across the room.

"You should go," he said. "Now." And though his face was impenetrable, his voice betrayed his wretchedness.

Christine did not move or speak. Her heart was so conflicted that she could do nothing but wait, hoping he would take the initiative so that she would not have to again. But when he did act, the direction he chose was not the one she hoped for, and as he grabbed her to forcefully eject her from his sight, she looked up at him, put her arms around his neck, and shook her head. A moment of tormented hesitation was all that remained before his broken resolve was exposed, and his forceful grip smothered her once more as he kissed her violently and hatefully. It was remarkable yet disturbing, and for a moment Christine wondered if she hadn't slipped her head into a noose that tightened even as he kissed her. But the moment passed, and she pushed reason away as she surrendered herself to his brutal passion. Erik, seemingly enraged at her submission, grew ever more fanatical and Christine's head swam in mounting panic until suddenly, he stopped and looked at her, examined her features for some trace, any hint, of disgust or revulsion. He found none and in an instant all of the anger, the hatred and the wretched misery bled from his face.

"Do you mean it, Christine?" he whispered, and his voice was small and full of disbelief. "Do you truly mean to let me touch you?"

"I do," she said.

His cadaverous mouth twitched in a broken smile and he laughed uncertainly as he raised a hand to gently touch her hair, her face, her neck. Wonder was written in all his actions and despite his ugliness, it was beautiful to behold. The terrible smell that had revolted her before had overwhelmed her senses and grown softer in her perception so that it now seemed somehow familiar and secure. Again and again his hands passed over her, again and again she sighed in pleasure at the strange and urgent tenderness of his passion.

"Christine, I love you. Oh God, how I love you. And you are such a good girl to let me…you are my angel."

Christine marveled at the change, at the new world, full of magic and mystery, that had appeared in one day. She wondered at the tremendous difference of this moment from anything she had known or expected. And as she reeled in astonishment, she remembered Raoul and she almost laughed; for what else could she do? But then she heard Erik's voice, trembling and sighing with pleasure in her ear, and she remembered nothing else. For though he was clumsy in his inexperienced exploration, his fervor and passionate desire hinted at possibilities that made Christine shiver in longing and anticipation. And as the night wore on, and he clung to her ever more tightly in desperation, she knew that she would discover these possibilities, no matter what the cost.

The night was late, and the clock on the mantle read midnight. Christmas had come-her first with Erik. As Christine drifted in the confusion of delight, brought back from time to time by ardent kisses, by the sound of both crying and laughter penetrating her heady daze, she thought only of Erik: of his desperate love, of his terrible violent desire and his ultimate ecstasy, and she smiled: for her heart beat, and her eyes watered, and she felt the sorrow and joy of real feeling returning.