Let Me Be Your Hero

Disclaimer: Don't own POTO… but I do own Dom and Cyrus.

A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who left me those wonderful reviews. I do so hope you will all review again… it might just cheer me up. This is for all of you, and for Adora's World, because sometimes it's nice to get a massive poke in the ribs once in a while and a subtle, albeit telling, reprimand for being ever the procrastinator. And also for theangelcried, because I didn't catch you before you started back and I so wish I had. And just as much for Ripper because I have been so long in doing anything online but I intend to catch up again… how many times have you heard that, eh? And for everybody else because I have not been around for a while and I'm sure you'd rather I updated more often than I do. I am having the month from Hell, seriously. But regardless, Tiochfaidh ár Lá, for those of you who read it, will be updated next… and I won't take anywhere near as long, I promise.

Please read and review…

Chapter 3: Forever Running…

Next to her, Cyrus cocked his head to the side and pressed his nose into her thigh solidly. Watching the dog try to get her attention too, Erik noticed Christine's hand tightening on his knee, not painfully, but hard enough that he gripped her wrist worriedly to see if her hand would loosen.

"Christ – tine?" he tried again, pulling on her.

And then she screamed.

Jumping up instantly, Erik at first took an instinctive step back, recoiling from the sound, and then his worry for her took over and he bent down, shaking her by the shoulders lightly. "Christine?" he said hurriedly as the death-grip she had had on his knee was relocated to his wrist when he knelt before her and took hold of her hands. He was confused beyond belief… usually, when people screamed at him, they did not hold onto him as tightly as she was. They were also usually outside at night and frightened of him if he happened to be walking towards them on an otherwise deserted street, and they were usually completely conscious of the fact that they were screaming at a man in a mask. This was so different, he couldn't think what to do.

Rushing back into the room, Raoul looked between the two of them, confused, and went over to Christine's side, only hampered by the dog who was already there. He was baffled, obviously – he didn't have a clue what Erik could have done to make her scream. He had thought what Erik asked her was a bit forward, yes, but he hadn't thought it frightening… He wouldn't admit to it if asked, but he had been standing just inside the door of his room for the longest time… All he'd gone in for were some photos from his last holiday abroad to show her, and then he'd heard talking and he'd stood inside the door to listen to their conversation. Erik had gotten her to reveal so much to him about her life and her hopes and, in short, everything Raoul wanted to know. So he'd waited, taking it in to see if he could do something about it at a later date. He was going to have to get Erik to teach him how to get her to open up like that, he knew, and he wished, for the first time in his life, that he had taken to music more easily. Here was this beautiful, wonderful girl with him – his girlfriend, in fact – and his father's best friend, who stuttered more in any one sentence when he was nervous than Raoul had when he was tiny and learning to read, but yet Erik was the one succeeding in getting through to her. It made him jealous beyond belief – but it was also a huge relief… after all, Erik could always teach Raoul how to talk to her – if neither of them had been able to, he would be in a much worse predicament…

Placing his hands on Christine to try to get her attention, he momentarily found himself looking towards Erik in suspicion. He suddenly suspected something to do with the mask but then he dismissed that thought as really quite unlikely since he had been living there for ages and not once had Erik's mask ever moved from his face while he was there. "Christine?" he said softly.

And she turned towards him, blinking slowly. She looked at him suddenly lucidly and the grip she had on Erik's hand loosened gradually until he no longer felt such a conscious urgent worry. "What?" she asked tiredly, using her now free hand to rub her right eye.

"Christine, you screamed!" Raoul said quickly, wondering how she could just forget what had caused her such fright. "What happened? You frightened the life out of me!"

She looked at him peculiarly and he returned the look, watching her with great curiosity. Briefly, she looked around herself at the room and looked back at him again nervously, unable to say anything.

Erik didn't like seeing her embarrassed, and though he wanted nothing more than to be sure she was completely and unequivocally alright, he could not let her continue to be focused upon if she did not want to be. "Raoul, get Christine a glass of water."



Conceding that Erik might actually have a point, Raoul sighed and got up, heading into the kitchen where he knew he was supposed to wait patiently for a while until the older man deemed it alright to come back out. And as he left the room, trying to calm down, sure that Erik was probably better at handling this situation, though that thought did not particularly comfort him, he wondered if he would have gone to this much trouble had it been anyone but Christine. He didn't think he would… there was just something magical about her that made her so special compared to everyone else.

"I'm sorry," Christine whispered to Erik in the living room, her eyes slowly filling up with tears. He shook his head sadly and let go of her at last, sitting back on the edge of the sofa behind him. She looked up at him and stood suddenly, her hand slightly shaking as she took hold of Cyrus' lead. "Could I use your bathroom?"

Leading her there, Erik couldn't help but feel useless as the door shut behind her. Of course, he had done nothing technically wrong, but he felt like the whole debacle was his fault somehow. Surely he had done or said something that had precipitated whatever had upset her. He leaned back against the door and ran a hand across his face tiredly, unaware that, at the same time, on the other side of the door, Christine was mirroring the gesture.

"How long has she been in there?" Raoul asked at last as he and Erik sat in the living room on opposite arms of the sofa, both staring as far as they could around the bend in the hall, in silence up until that moment.

Somewhat exhausted from the events of the evening, Erik briefly – and tiredly – looked down at his watch and shook his head sadly. "Oh… about half an hour." Then he went right back to staring with Raoul as he had been doing for the longest time. Truly, he had never cared so much in his life that someone was taking so long in the bathroom… yes, he hated it when Raoul decided to spend an age in their when Erik was trying to get ready for work quickly, but that was annoyance more than anything. This was nothing but concern.

Raoul nodded and let a few moments of silence pass before he asked another question. "Do you think she's embarrassed to come out?"

Neither taking their eyes away from the hallway, Erik nervously fidgeted with his watch, though he was not interesting in looking at it, and started to worry that perhaps she had not come out for a worse reason. "I certainly hope not," he answered at last. "But better that than…" Trailing off, he shook his head and stood up, unsure whether he wanted to pace or check on her.

"So what do you think that was all about tonight, then?" Raoul asked.

"It is not for us to discuss. If she wishes to confide in you, then fair enough… but otherwise, you will only hurt her to speculate." And Erik truly believed that… he had gone through his fair share of speculation and it never did anyone any good. He did not wish for Christine to have to face it too. And yet, he could not help but be curious… indeed, he was curious by nature, always taking things apart to see how they worked and putting them back together again. But Christine was a decidedly fascinating entity he could never analyse like that… and he mourned that he felt he could never put her back together as he wanted to.

Hearing the front door open behind them, they both turned to watch Dom come in and set his things down. "Why are you two in here together?" he asked curiously, taking off his coat and hanging it up. "And how was your dinner with Christine, Raoul?"

Raoul shrugged unhappily and stood up briefly as he moved to actually sit on the sofa. "I wouldn't know yet, Dad, she's been in the bathroom for the last half hour."

"What did you say to her?"

"For once, Dominic, he has not done anything worthy of blame," Erik said unpredictably, fingering the hem of his waistcoat as he still looked on ever-hopeful down the hallway and remained disconnected from the other men in the room.

Raoul smiled unexpectedly, surprised and oddly happy that Erik really thought that. It was a start, he supposed – he was one step closer to actually saying something nice about him.

At length, the three men loitering in the living room heard the lock on the bathroom door turn and they saw Christine coming around the corner in the hall, each having an entirely different experience. Dom was somewhat detached, seeing as he hadn't been there at the time and didn't really know what was going on. Raoul was relieved that she'd come out and he hoped that he could convince Erik and his father to give them some space – he really wanted her to confide in him. Erik, meanwhile, could not take his eyes off of her. To him, she was flawed and beautiful and perfect all at the same time. She was a wonder, yes, but he also found himself relieved that she was human enough to have her own little intricacies and faults – something that gave him the slightest hope she was attainable. While he still thought of her as his goddess with a canine companion, he knew that there was no way he could achieve anything so long as he perceived her as a sublime being and nothing else. So he was happy to see that she, too, had her shortcomings, if they could really be called that – problems, even… things she needed help with or could not fully control herself.

"I have been the worst houseguest ever," she said apologetically as she came fully into the room, looking between the faces of the three men, her face rather red – whether from embarrassment or upset, the men could not tell. "I am so sorry. You invite me here and I upset everything…" Shaking her head in awkwardness, she sighed and looked down. "Let me take up no more of your time or hospitality…" And she started towards the door only to find herself being stopped by all three men at once.

"Stay and have dinner with me, Christine," Raoul said, pulling her back around the coffee table to the chair she had taken as her own.

She looked at him sceptically – curiously – and tilted her head to one side in a gesture she sometimes thought she had picked up from her dog. "Are you sure?"

"Of c – course," Erik answered for him, unwilling to be dismissed so easily, especially after he'd cooked the whole meal himself.

"Can I get you some wine, Christine?" Dom asked, and Raoul felt as if everybody had just invited themselves to the dinner he was supposed to be sharing with his girlfriend alone.

"No, thank you… I don't drink."

"Can I g – get s – s – something for C – Cyrus?" Erik asked, causing Christine to smile at his thoughtfulness and Raoul to mentally kick himself for not having come up with that first.

She smiled then at all three of them, endeared that they were all making sure that she had everything she needed. "That's so kind of you. He eats pretty much anything," she replied light-heartedly. "He shouldn't, of course… but he does." She was so glad she'd met them all, now – though she'd been so nervous at first… she was really unused to mixing with people socially. But she'd taken a chance with Raoul and she was so glad she had – she suddenly felt like she had friends other than her dog, Cyrus. She had actual human friends to talk to – she really did think of Erik now as her best friend, which was an odd thing to say about someone she'd only met a sparse few times… but he was so dear and so nice to her and they could talk of so much. He was officially her best friend, though she wouldn't tell him that as she knew there was absolutely no way he thought of her as that too. And she had Raoul for her boyfriend – a man so sweet and interesting when he found the right things to say. She supposed he was just getting used to her and what she liked and then it would be easier for him to know what to say and do.

She felt awkward over what had just happened that evening, but they were all being so nice as not to bring it up and she truly appreciated that about them. Most people were not so kind, and here she had found three… granted, one had not even been there and did not witness what had happened, but she still thought he wouldn't have said anything even if he had. And as Erik went to get Cyrus something to eat and check that the whole kitchen hadn't burnt down, Dom sat down across the coffee table from her enthusiastically. He and Erik had never had dinner with Raoul and any one of his previous girlfriends before, but he quite looked forward to sharing this meal with Christine. She was an interesting young lady and one he would quite happily call his daughter-in-law one day if it so happened. But he was getting ahead of himself… right now, she had only been going out with his son for the shortest time. Still, he hoped to get to know her a bit better and to perhaps explore the way she seemed to have made Erik not so much at Raoul's throat all the time. She had done a lot in a very short time and he could only imagine the influence she would have if she stuck around longer.

"So, Christine," he started, leaning forwardly eagerly in his chair. "Raoul tells me you are a waitress…"

Looking up at him, unsure what she was supposed to say in reply to that, she tried to decipher what he had meant behind that comment. Perhaps he was trying to make sure she was good enough for his son… "That isn't all I want to do for the rest of my life," she said defensively, though she needn't have been.

Dom was surprised she had taken it that way… he had only meant it as a conversation starter, though clearly he needed to rethink his 'tactics' with this particular girl. "Of course not…"

"I do aspire to be something more than that… but, like any other person, I do what pays the bills, first and foremost."

"I'm sorry if I offended you…" Dom replied hesitantly.

Embarrassed that she had been so utterly defensive towards him for no reason whatsoever, she shook her head and looked down briefly. "No, I am being too sensitive. I suppose I am just used to people assuming that that is all I can do with myself."

"I would never think that," Dom laughed. "You are clearly a remarkable young woman. Tell me, do you go to college or university?"

She cleared her throat uncomfortably and shook her head again, wishing Raoul would step in and say something too instead of just listening to their conversation. Yes, she wanted try to be more social, but she wasn't sure if she was up to answering all these questions about herself to her boyfriend's father when she had really only known them all for a short time and she was still getting used to being welcomed into their house and company. "Not yet… I intend to. But I have not gotten the chance yet."

Dom nodded and continued with his line of thought, going to the next obvious question to ask her. "What would you like to read?"

"Oh, well, I…" She started to say what she really wanted to do and then she stopped herself, knowing that she could never do that. Coughing to cover up her hesitation, she changed her answer and hoped she wasn't too unbelievable. "Probably Music – non-performance…"

"That's a very admirable choice… I hope it works out for you to be able to go soon." And he smiled genuinely, truly hoping that she did not find it too difficult getting in anywhere. He could vaguely remember the year before he went to university and it had been the worst and most hectic in his whole life. He hoped it wasn't like that for her.

Erik walked in just at that point and Christine thanked goodness for the temporary distraction and the possible change in focus. "Ch – Christine… I don't w – want to make you uncom – comfortable, but I don't know wh – what you usually d – do… when you are h – home, if Cyrus is normally off his l – lead, then you are welcome to let him roam, here."

"Yes, Christine," Dom agreed, glad his friend had suggested it – maybe it would make the poor girl feel more at ease. "Nobody would mind if you wanted to take him off the lead for a while… if you are comfortable with that, of course."

"That's kind of you… you must know I don't mean to impose him on you. He will be no trouble, I promise." And she unhooked the lead from his collar, ruffling his fur while she was at it. He'd been quiet for a long time and she supposed that was because he was no more used to socialising than she was.

"So what were you talking about before I got home?" Dom asked, not really seeing the problem with that question.

Christine looked up from Cyrus and met his gaze uncomfortably, unsure of what to say. And by some awesome stroke of luck, the clock on the mantle chimed just as she was starting to feel that overwhelming sensation of not belonging again. Fluidly looking at the time for show, she stood up quickly and replaced the lead on Cyrus' collar, hoping he would forgive her for his ever-so-brief bit of freedom. "I hadn't realised it was so late… I have work in the morning, so I'd better go. Thank you for having me," she said as she hurriedly replaced her coat and opened the front door.

"H – how are you g – getting home?" Erik asked with concern, coming to stand next to her. "Let m – me drive you."

"No, it's alright, I'll walk."

"But it's d – d – dark n – now," he stuttered, following her out the door, even as Raoul gave up for the night and Dom wondered what he had said that had upset her so. "It would be s – safer if I drove y – you." He was getting worked up and he didn't like that he was having more difficulty speaking with her. The evening had been an atrocious mess and none of it had been her fault.

"Thank you, but I have an Alsatian… most muggers tend not to attack people with large, seemingly vicious dogs. It's nice to know you care, though," she laughed self-deprecatingly.

"At least, let me w – walk with you."

"But then you'd have to walk back on you own…"

"I can t – take c – care of myself," he said, and, his nervous stutter notwithstanding, she quite believed him. "It would mean m – my peace of mind if y – you al – allow me to ac – accompany you."

By this time stepping out of his building and onto the street, she couldn't think of a legitimate reason to turn him away, and she nodded, continuing along the pavement at the same fevered pace until Erik managed to convince her that she needn't run all the way home.

Several minutes passed in silence and she turned to him, curious to know the answer to a question that had come to her when Raoul's father had been speaking to her. "Did you always want to be a conductor?" she asked as they walked.

"No… actually, I w – wanted to b – be a performer, but, in th – this life, one must accept one's l – limitations."

"Oh," she said with a significant hint of disappointment. "Are you saying it is pointless to dream?"

Shaking his head, he turned to her and stopped walking pointedly so that she would give him her full attention. "Not for you, Ch – Christine. For me… well, I ha – have conceded that."

"It shouldn't be that way… and what makes us any different?"

"You must be the only p – person in the wo – world that cannot see the potential in you."

"And yours?"

They both fell silent after that, unwilling to go any further in hurtful territory for both of them.

"You needn't come any further," she said suddenly, surprising them both. "I don't live that far away now and I can manage from here." And, with that, she ran ahead of him, hoping she hadn't confused Cyrus too much by changing the pace constantly.

Erik stopped exactly where he was, sighing as he watched her disappear around the bend in the road. Would she always be running? Or could he, unimportant in her life though he was, actually manage to get her to realise that running wasn't the answer? Perhaps then, he would take his own advice and realise the same, or perhaps she would manage to convince him… Either way, there was something enigmatic about Christine Daaé… and he was nothing if not eager to figure it out if he could keep her still long enough to actually find anything out about her.

But even as she had told him of her dreams and her aspirations, she had been running then too… running away from the subject of her in reality. She could tell him what she had always wanted to do, where she had always wanted to go, yes, and yet she could not tell him what was stopping her now, where the people she loved the most were or why she was so eager to excuse herself at any given moment. She couldn't tell him why she was a waitress when he would happily have given her a job as he was sure anyone in the industry would have. She couldn't tell him why she stuck so eagerly to what was safe. She couldn't even tell him who she was, besides her name… she couldn't tell him who she was really.

She was Christine Daaé… and she was forever running.

© Copyright of CrawfordsBiscuits, September 2006

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