Christine kissed me. For one moment, it was me she loved. For one moment, I was truly human. So I let her go with her boy. There was nothing for it, really. The mob was closing on my lair with murder on their minds. I had to make my escape, and the last thing I needed was a lovestruck ingénue slowing me down.

I scuttled down my rat-hole just in time. I clenched my teeth in rage as I heard them stomp through my rooms, rifle through my music. Violation. At that moment, I thanked god that murderer though I may be, I have never been a rapist.

They did not stay long. The discarded mask and no sign of the two lovebirds were sufficient. They congratulated themselves loudly that the monster was no more and beat a hasty retreat, nearly pissing themselves to get away in case the monster should rise from the grave.

I remained in my hiding place for awhile after it fell silent. With the threat of my discovery and subsequent disembowelment lifted, my thoughts returned to Christine. If I closed my eyes, I could still feel her velvet lips on mine, smell the intoxicating fragrance of her hair, hear her voice. My voice; a voice I'd discovered, nurtured, loved, guided, molded, and given to the world; a voice I'd never hear again. I felt something begin to tear inside me. Not now, I choked, fighting it down, I cannot grieve for her now. Morphine. I crawled from my hole in a quest for peace of mind.

My lair looked unchanged; nothing missing except the mask. Ghouls; souvenir hunters. My priceless music, my books and artwork, all of it remained untouched—unworthy of pillage to their ignorant eyes.

I searched my room and any other place I could think of, but there was no morphine. There was always some laudanum, however. A poor expedient, but it should be sufficient to send me to oblivion for awhile. Dreamless sleep where Christine cannot find me. Making a mental note to seek out the daroga for opium as soon as possible, I took several swigs of the nasty stuff and lay down in my coffin, waiting to go far away.

I hate laudanum. Where opium is a clean, pure oblivion, laudanum sometimes plays cruel tricks on my already addled mind. For instance, as I lay there, the laudanum made me imagine Christine's voice calling to me. This auditory hallucination was actually clever enough to wax and wane, as if she were roaming the rooms of my lair, searching for me. And this was not the normal, compliant, angelic Christine of my agitated fantasies; this one was weepy and pleading. Clearly more laudanum was needed to shut me down.

As I exited my bedroom to retrieve the rest of my potion, I was brought up short by my own Christine.

"You're safe! I knew they wouldn't find you," she sobbed, slipping into my arms. For an hallucination, she was surprisingly warm and fragrant, if bedraggled. Feeling at a distinct disadvantage, I asked her how she came to be in my parlor.

"I made Raoul bring me back. I realized I can't leave you, I can't leave our music behind. I love you, Erik, I want to stay with you. Can you ever forgive me for betraying you?" she pleaded, all cow eyes and quivering lip.

In a black and twisted recess of my mind, I reflected how satisfying it might feel to make her beg, to watch her grovel and swear anything, but it was a foregone conclusion, really. I cannot deny her anything.

She kissed me again, passionately this time. I was suddenly tormented by morbid fantasies of what mischief she might have gotten up to with that vapid boy during my three-month absence. I spat something at her about how her prince had had his way with her and now wanted nothing further to do with her.

"What sort of fool do you take me for, Christine? Do you really expect me to take you in, now that you've got his bastard and you've nowhere else to go?"

"No, Erik that's not true! Raoul never touched me, I swear it," she wailed.

"You'd say anything now to save your hide!"

"I'll…prove it…now, if you wish…" she offered, terrified and desperate.

I looked at my little Christine: barefoot and badly in need of a bath, her eyes and nose were streaming, her dress filthy and damp, her hair disheveled. She was absolutely exquisite to my adoring eyes. She was offering me everything I'd dreamt of, more than I'd imagined. But I couldn't.

"That isn't necessary…I should not have I accused you. I know you are a good girl, Christine." Then she was in my arms again, and soon I was wishing she was not such a good girl.

In self defense, I packed her off to a hot bath. I made a quick inspection of all means of ingress to my home, ensuring security until I could make some improvements. Wading through the chilly water provided the added benefit of cooling my badly overheated blood.

Christine's gown was utterly ruined, so I provided her one of my shirts to wear for the short term. I could not have imagined what a fetching picture she would make in that oversized, ruffled rag of mine, and it made for an uncomfortable evening. I fed her, gave her a bedtime sherry and packed her off to sleep. I fiddled at the piano for awhile, another useless exercise. The thought of those luscious breasts, jiggling innocently against the same fabric which had formerly brushed against my chest…I could not make any music come. I was at the point of giving my agony to the remaining laudanum when my unwitting temptress appeared at her door.

"Erik? I can't sleep. Will you sing to me?"

I perched on the edge of the bed. Uncomfortably, good: the more uncomfortable, the better, under the immediate circumstances. I began to sing, and Christine closed her eyes. She was so still, I thought she was asleep until she reached for my hand. Her little hands cradled it against her cheek. I continued singing until once again I was sure she'd fallen asleep. As I attempted to extract my hand, she reached for a handful of my shirt and whispered, "Erik, your voice makes me feel as if you've kissed me. I know it sounds terribly wicked." Her eyes glowed huge and childlike in the candle glow.

"I don't think you're wicked at all, my love," I assured her. If you only knew…

She tugged on my shirt. "Kiss?"

"Christine, dear," I sighed, with more forbearance that I believed myself capable of, "now you're here, I would hate to take unfair advantage of your trust."

"Oh, but I trust you, Erik, I do," she insisted, wide-eyed, "I know you would never harm me!" You are one flimsy bit of fabric away from harm, you little fool. "You…want to marry me still, don't you?"

"Of course I do, Christine, if that is what you want," I smiled weakly. She nodded vigorously, "Oh, yes, more than anything," she swore, throwing her arms around my neck. I relented and allowed my arms to buckle, stretching out beside her; Christine got the kiss she'd insisted on, and more. My fingers found their way under the ruffles and brushed a perfect rosebud nipple. She breathed surprise against my lips, her tongue fluttered against mine. I kissed her throat; she gasped and wriggled against me. I continued my progress until my tongue teased her nipple. I was drunk with sensation: Christine's flesh, petal-soft, with a fragrance so heady that the room seemed to spin; Christine's fingertips, trailing fire over my cheek, neck, and chest; Christine's lips, honeyed wine; Christine's musical sighs, the voice of heaven.

Heaven, indeed. My hand slithered under the shirt hem, made stealthily up her thigh for the rise of her hip. I was nearing my objective when Christine fired a salvo of ice water at my loins. Her lips just brushing my ear, her sweet breath: "It's alright, isn't it, Erik, if we're going to marry?"

I've lied to her before. No doubt I will again. Why, just then, could I not say what we both wanted to hear? I retreated. Self-loathing welled up inside me yet again; whether it was aimed at my lust or my forbearance, I cannot say.

"I must quit you now, Christine," I spat. The sacrificial victim was wounded, confused at my rejection.

"I've done something wrong," she deduced.

"Not at all," I replied. I dared not look at her.

"You're angry with me!" I heard a tremor of tears in her voice, compelling me to turn back to reassure her. The oversized shirt had slipped from her shoulder; again her creamy flesh beckoned me. I tore my eyes away and bolted from her in a fury.

I locked myself away in my sanctuary. Even with the laudanum, I was tormented with agitated dreams of Christine.

I awoke well before Christine—I have never required much sleep—and immediately went above to stock up on whatever feminine necessities I could think of for the short term. I would bring her up soon for a proper shopping spree, but the idea of Christine scampering about in my shirt all day was…untenable.

It was a disaster. I could have fended for myself had it just been for the dresses, hose, shoes, and that sort of thing, but the assortment of nonsense that women wear under their dresses is endless. I may as well have been among the Hottentots. I had no idea where or how to begin, and while the sales clerk was helpful enough, the little tart was clearly enjoying herself at my expense. There was nothing for it, I was forced to drag Christine above ground immediately to get her provisioned.

Our reunion after the debacle of the previous night was rendered painless, happily. She was solemn and cow-eyed until I mentioned 'shopping', whereupon all her embarrassing questions about my distressing behavior evaporated. It seems to be a tenet of the feminine canon that a shopping trip rights nearly all wrongs between a couple.

I would never have chosen to come above ground so soon if Christine were not all but nude. It was only a day after the fiasco at the Opera House and it was daylight. As a result, I was even more on edge that usual, if that is possible. Then, Christine was seized by some sort of madness when we began to shop. I now realize that it is a common shopping mania to which all of her sex is prey, but at the time…I needed morphine.

As it happens, all these frilly, lacy things which go under the dress are critical, and Christine is driven to raptures by them, the frillier and lacier the better. In my observation, raptures may also occur over fur muffs in colors completely unknown to nature, things to make the woman smell like anything but a woman, and chocolates. Yes, I recognize that chocolates were not, strictly speaking, a part of the expedition plan, but...I actually enjoyed spoiling her, saying yes to everything she desired, especially after the disastrous 'no' of last night. I was amply rewarded with squeals of delight, kisses, and bounces of sheer joy. The bouncing is quite charming, actually. My only faux-pas of the day occurred when I suggested that the lotions, powders, eau de colognes, and what-not were unnecessary, as she smells quite lovely as God made her. Christine's mortified glare assured me that only a bachelor denizen of the bowels of the Opera House could suggest such blasphemy. Suitably chastened, I resumed my silent vigil as coat and parcel pack-mule.

The astute reader will note that I have omitted jewelry from the list of rapture-inducing objects. I will argue that it is with good reason; jewelry is in a league of its own where women are concerned. They are baffling creatures…I honestly had no idea what I was letting myself in for. She tried every ring in the shop on her dear little finger before settling on a blood-red ruby, in the shape of a heart, no less, surrounded by diamonds. I was completely extraneous to the process until the time came to pay for the trinket. Anyway, we tossed the pedestrian piece of junk that Prince Charming had given her into the lake as a part of our official engagement celebration.

It was an exhausting day, most of which I spent in mortal fear of being discovered and subsequently set upon and torn to pieces. I would not have traded one minute of it for the world. I was as close to a normal man as I ever had been, in the fresh air and daylight with my intended on my arm. Even now I am overcome as I recall it.

My initial idea of a wedding had been Christine and I dressing up, drinking some champagne, swearing undying love, singing together, drinking more champagne, and falling into bed. How naïve I was. Once my prima donna usurped the plans, the proceedings ballooned into a genuine service in a genuine church full of flowers, complete with a genuine priest. "I was raised in the Church, Erik, weren't you?" blink blink. Mme Giry, that flighty Meg and my Persian friend were conscripted as witnesses. Once witnesses are added, a wedding supper is de rigeur.

I returned one afternoon from modifying some tunnels and was horrified to hear two female voices squealing and tittering in my formerly peaceful dungeon. My darling was conspiring with Meg the witless on the matter of a trousseau.

"The other trip was just regular shopping, Erik. I need all new things to wear as a bride, and I've always dreamed of my own silver and crystal and china, and linens and you knew I would wish to redecorate, didn't you? It's so…gloomy down here."

OH. While the ladies continued their chirping, I sat down directly and penned a little note to my managers, explaining that I could not possibly be expected to continue on a paltry twenty four thousand francs annually, as I'd taken on a bottomless money pit in the form of a delectable young bride.

Women are natural disasters, it seems to me. One is never adequately prepared and the havoc is incalculable. The closer I came to the day I'd most fervently wished for, the more irritable I became. The culmination of a lifetime of sexual frustration should have been sufficient, but I admit I had grown comfortable in my routines. My home was clean and comfortable and suited me without redecorating.