Here's my bit of E/C holiday fluff. As a present to Christine, Erik reveals his 'mask' of normalcy earlier in the story. There will be four chapters.
Please don't look for this to be one hundred percent loyal to any version of POTO. It takes place before the Masquerade Ball and is both mostly Kay and Leroux-based. There is, however, a larger gap between the time Erik released Christine after the fortnight and the Masquerade Ball. The timeline isn't quite accurate. Anyways, I hope you enjoy! And remember, it's just a bit of fluff for the holidays.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Phantom of the Opera or any of its characters. All belongs to Gaston Leroux.
Christine was nervous.
Erik had instructed her to wait in the drawing room until he returned. Before disappearing, he had stated that he had an early gift for her and would be back within several minutes. She now sat upon the sofa, anxiously wringing her hands together and wondering with both curiosity and fear what sort of gift he would produce.
On several occasions, Erik had clearly expressed his disdain for all holidays. She did not imagine him regularly giving Christmas presents. Although the only time that she had seen him dangerously angry was when she'd torn the mask from his face, Christine was never quite sure what to expect in that strange underground home.
Perhaps he would emerge with an odd foreign trinket of some kind. He had a variety of ceramic figurines and animals that looked as though they had come from different countries. Some, such as the tropical birds, were exotically beautiful, while others bordered on being grotesque. Maybe he would give her one of the more pleasing ones.
"Christine." She hadn't even heard him come in behind her; his footsteps were nearly silent. Christine turned around to look up at him, nearly jumping up from the sofa in utter shock as her eyes met with his face. Had the familiar tenor voice not come from the figure in front of her, she would have cried out, "Who are you?" Her mouth momentarily hung open. "Does it please you?" Erik enquired. "I have been designing it for some time. All for you, Christine. A gift. So that you may be proud to be with Erik."
"I…" she momentarily stuttered, unable to tear her eyes away from his face. He was wearing a mask, but it was not the normal black piece of porcelain that concealed his entire profile. This one was designed to look like an actual human face, with a prominent nose and painted mouth. The cheeks were full and tinted red, a contrast to Erik's sallow, protruding cheekbones. He had painted the rest of the mask light enough to match the grayish tint of his flesh, while still giving it the appearance of a handsome face. Only his yellow eyes were real, and she could see them glimmer from beneath the eyeholes.
"Do you like it?" he eagerly asked, daring to walk closer to her with his arms outstretched.
Honestly, she didn't know what to say. And so Christine did what she had become accustomed to doing when it came to poor Erik. Just as she had done when she'd told him that his face didn't bother her, Christine lied. "Yes, Erik. It is very nice. It looks almost real!"
"Oh. Well, it does look real, Erik. I could not even tell the difference." Honestly, the mask was not perfect. The human face is so full of tiny muscles that subtly twitch and stretch to form thousands of expressions. Even as skilled as Erik was, he could not mimic the movements within his design. There was also an unnatural shine to it in the lamplight of the room. Only from a distance and in poor lighting would the mask appear to be real flesh.
Her heart wrenched when she saw his eyes light up. Truthfully, the mask disturbed her on some level, but Erik was just simply so delighted by it.
"Yes!" he exclaimed, cautiously coming even closer. "And it can be real, as far as others are concerned." She merely bobbed her head up and down in agreement. "You will take a walk with me this evening?" he eagerly asked. "It is darker now. No one will tell the difference. They will say 'There walks Christine with an ordinary gentleman!'" Perhaps he noticed the uncertainty on her face. "Only if you wish to, of course. We may remain here and sing instead, if that pleases you."
She managed a smile, despite the queasiness in her stomach. It was always good to get out for a while, to go aboveground. Her visits to Erik often deprived her of the opportunity. "No, Erik. I will go out with you. Let me fetch my cloak and gloves."
As soon as she was dressed warmly enough for Erik's liking, they walked down the familiar path by the lake and out the side entrance. The only previous times she had gone out with him were during the carriage rides, and she wondered if he had planned for another one. No brougham awaited them this time, though. Instead, they freely turned the corner and ventured down the Parisian cobblestone streets, soon blending in with the crowds of people. She watched wide-eyed as a group of young boys rushed by, throwing snowballs at one another. Well-dressed men and women gathered outside the entrances of the finer stores, gossiping over holiday galas and gifts. Couples walked together, admiring the displays in the shop windows. There was something so normal about it all that she nearly forgot in whose company she was.
They silently walked forward. Christine hesitantly side-glanced Erik. Indeed, with such little lighting, the mask appeared real. Erik had also put a pair of black gloves on, thereby concealing his white, bony hands and fingers. Still, he seemed intent on staying invisible, sticking to the shadows of the buildings as much as possible. Every so often, he would glance down upon her with nothing less than adoration, all the while keeping a distance between them. "Is there a place you would like to go?" he finally asked her. "I shall buy you whatever you wish."
"No, thank you," she quickly replied. He had already lavished so many gifts upon her, from dresses to hair pieces to jewelry. She had accepted it all with guilt. "I really do not need a thing. I am happy just to be out."
"If you are very sure."
She began to relax somewhat as they walked forward, taking in the sights and sounds of the approaching holiday season. She was even able to almost forget her present situation. "Erik?" she asked after a moment, noticing that he was still at unease. "Did you ever go out before now?"
"Yes," he clipped. "Of course. During the evenings, I often shop for my necessities. I would trust no one else to make certain purchases. I go when few people are about." He paused. "But you would not wish to accompany me during those time, lest you want to receive unwanted attention." Erik fondly looked down upon her. "No. This is much better. You see how they pass by us without a glance, Christine?"
She watched as people strolled by, a collection of colorful hoop skirts and black top hats. Excited children with flushed faces pointed at store windows and bakeries. "Yes. No one notices us." Everyone was so involved with their own affairs, though, that she didn't think they would have noticed if Erik was wearing the black mask. Still, she said nothing. Saying nothing was often better when it came to Erik. She relaxed again as they continued walking.
"Are you sure you do not wish for a necklace?"
"No, Erik. Please. I am fine."
Finally, Erik stopped trying to purchase a gift for her on every occasion that she glanced in a store window. He instead talked of some of the architecture in the city, knowing enough to make her guess that he had been in Paris for some time. He talked of the operas he expected for the spring. It was still all rather odd to her. She was being forced to accept this false normalcy, all the while knowing that there was wrongness in it. Still, Erik had such hope in his eyes as he continued on about trivial matters, telling her what roles she would be perfect for in future performances. A calmness finally descended over her, a sort of inner warmth. She would at least give him this night, before deciding whether to tell him that the mask bothered her. Before telling him anything…
As they turned a corner onto a street with several more expensive restaurants, Christine suddenly heard a familiar voice. Her heart skipped a beat, and every muscle tensed. Please, no. Indeed it was Raoul, standing on a corner with his older brother, perhaps waiting for a carriage. There was no doubt that both brothers were kept busy during this time of year, although Raoul looked less than happy to be there. She prayed that he did not see her that night. Her prayers went unheard.
As soon as he noticed her beneath the streetlamp, Raoul began to rush over, ignoring the calls of Philippe. Christine glanced up nervously. From the eerie glow in Erik's eyes, she knew that he had seen her friend as well. Her heart nearly stopped. The only consolation was the large number of people gathered around them. She waited for Erik to grab her by the arm and disappear with her, but he merely continued to stand there in the shadows. Her breath caught in her throat.
"Christine!" Raoul took a very quick, disinterested glance at Erik, before looking back toward her. "What are you doing here? I have been searching for you. Are you well?"
"Just going for an evening walk, Raoul," she practically choked out.
He frowned. "An evening walk? You tell me there is no one who holds your heart, and yet you walk out late with a gentleman caller. All I ask is honesty from you."
"What I do is none of your business," she shakily replied, every part of her wrought with tension. It is better that you hate me than attempt to fight for me, dear friend. I fear you would win no fight. "Do not make demands of me."
"I do not make demands of you!" he exclaimed, genuine pain evident in his pretty blue eyes. "I simply wish to know the truth, so that I do not make a fool of myself. You know how I feel for you. You know of my love and devotion for you. But if your heart belongs to another, then my pursuit is meaningless."
Erik remained unnervingly silent during the entire exchange, his arms folded against his thin chest as he awaited her response. What choice did she honestly have? "I am with another, as you can see," she softly replied. "It is true."
Her old friend curtly nodded. "So it is settled, then. I wish you all the happiness in the world, Christine. Have a good evening." With his head held high, Raoul stalked off through the snow, but she saw his shoulders slump in defeat once he was at a distance.
Dear Raoul. What he must think of her…Still, she had the feeling that he was not quite ready to give up the chase.
Christine swallowed, nervously awaiting Erik's response to the situation. Was he furious? Would he never allow her aboveground again? To her utmost surprise, Erik unfolded his arms and began to laugh. "It is all better than I could have imagined!" he exclaimed, causing her to draw back slightly. "Ah, the boy will bother you no longer now that he has seen you with an ordinary man." He continued to chuckle. "Did you see the look on his face? I will worry of him no more. How convenient! We could not have come out at a better time, my dear."
Christine felt as though she might faint with relief. Her childhood friend had no idea how close he often came to catastrophe. What if Raoul really did never wish to see her again, though? That thought made her nervous. She had already written Raoul a letter, asking him to meet her at the masked ball this New Year's Eve. Feeling like a prisoner in that underground kingdom, she had been desperate for some sort of contact with the outside world. Would she still deliver it? A heavy feeling of exhaustion descended upon her.
"Are you well, my dear?" enquired Erik. There was a note of suspicion in his voice. "You look a bit ill. Did that boy upset you?"
"No!" She swallowed and smiled. "No. I am fine, Erik. Just a bit tired." She glanced up at the sound of harmonized voices drifting over from a nearby church. "Look!" she softly exclaimed, grateful for the distraction. "Carolers!"
He glanced in the indicated direction. "They are severely off key," he stated with good humor. "You could sing circles around them."
"Oh, Erik," she began with a light laugh. "I doubt that I could."
"You easily could, my dear." Feeling the mood lighten again, she walked forward with him. "Perhaps we should return before it become too cold. The shops are beginning to close. You are sure you do not wish for any small thing? I know how fond women are of trinkets."
"No. I am fine." She forced herself to forget her troubles and enjoy the city, not wanting him to sense her tension. "Thank you for taking me out," she softly stated, as they returned in the direction that they came. Their shoulders brushed as they turned around, and she saw him nearly shudder at the contact.
His eyes lit up. "Of course. We will be able to do it often now. Any evening that you wish!"
She nodded and smiled, allowing him to take her back inside the walls of the opera house. It was only when they were back in his underground home, with the mask in clear view under the light, that she became troubled again. That inflexible face stared at her with a fixed expression. She had enjoyed the walk; there was no denying that. She had enjoyed their conversation and the sights and sounds of the city. There had been warmth in her heart that night. And perhaps it all would not have been possible without that strange mask. Still, it bothered her for a reason that she could not define yet.
"A song before you go to bed?" enquired Erik, beginning to walk toward the organ.
She hesitated. "I fear that I am exhausted tonight."
He nodded, although his shoulders drooped slightly. "I see. Tomorrow, perhaps. You will sing tomorrow."
She quickly nodded, before rushing off to the Louis-Philippe room and closing the door. The false face remained in her mind all night.