A/N: I'm so sorry for the ridiculous delay updating this story. I'm also sorry I couldn't drag it out longer. I had mixed feelings about how long this should be and in the end decided that if it took 6 months to write one chapter, I'd better go with the shorter version. Take warning that it is violent and grim. Enjoy!!!

Chapter 2: With a Bang and a Whimper

The dark veiled figure moved silently through the crowds, and though she was covered completely, Erik knew it was Christine. Why had she left practice? And why did she cover herself and move with such speedy stealth? Terror gripped Erik so completely that he could only stand and watch as his wife receded into the crowd. Clearly she wished to hide her identity, remain anonymous behind her strange clothes, though they only served to separate her from the crowd. People stood back and stared as she passed, a mysterious and solemn figure in the bright afternoon sun. But as Erik watched, he knew that Christine did not notice or care, for she continued with a purposeful step, unconcerned with the eyes upon her, and unaware of her husband who waited nearby. Erik dreaded the possibility that she was deceiving him, but more frightening still was the possibility of losing her in the crowd, of never knowing where she went. Before she vanished, he fiercely suppressed his paralyzing fear and hurried after her.

Christine walked quickly, and though he was far behind her, Erik could still hear her small heels clicking on the pavement ahead. He wondered constantly where she was going, who she might be meeting. Did she have a secret lover? The thought was torturous, and tears ran behind the mask as he imagined the end of everything. The people who parted in confusion for Christine stared in undisguised shock at him, the macabre figure trailing the woman in black. But Erik was lost in his thoughts of betrayal and death and for the first time in his long and miserable life, he did not notice the stares. He could see only his wife's small body in the arms of a handsome man, moving together in time to the only sound that filled his head: the maddening beat of his wife's shoes as they carried her away from him forever. There was no music left; his one source of beauty had abandoned him. The requiem he wrote in the months before she came was lost in his misery. The grace and majesty he hoped would end his days were gone and nothing remained but the ugly steady clicking of Christine's small feet.

They walked on. Time and distance became blurred, for every moment he continued to exist was unbearably long. But maybe he be wrong? Maybe Christine was honest still and had an innocent appointment to keep. Or perhaps she merely wanted to walk alone in the park. Hope penetrated Erik's mind once more, and he quickened his pace as he remembered the last night they spent together, imagining she had been just a little less rigid than before. Perhaps she was learning to tolerate him. Perhaps her submission was more than just a wife's hateful duty. In a sudden fit of exuberance, Erik almost ran to beg her forgiveness for his doubts. He wanted so badly to be near her, but he hesitated, the doubt still creeping, and allowed her to continue unaware just to be sure. His wait was short. Christine walked a few feet more and turned into a doorway and his brief hope vanished once more.

It was a dark apartment building, slightly recessed from the street and plain enough to be entirely inconspicuous. To Erik's trained eye, it was as soulless and uninspired as bricks and mortar could be, and it stung him that his betrayal should come in such a form. He gripped the front door knob, but for a moment he stopped. Could he really enter this vacuous place and bear witness to his worst fears realized? Erik had watched countless men die, torn apart by his own macabre devices for the amusement of others. But it was nothing now compared to the horrifying visions in his head. For a moment he thought to turn back, to return home and pretend nothing was amiss. To continue his ordinary life, existing only for the few smiles he received and the nights when he could imagine that his wife loved him as she lay stiffly beneath him. But it was not enough. Though he asked for so little, somehow the pittance he received was never enough. With utmost stealth he entered and silently followed the receding footsteps that climbed the stairs ahead. Step by step, floor by floor he followed. And when Christine walked down a poorly lit hallway, he watched from around a corner to see which door she entered.

He knew she was meeting someone, and for fear of being caught by her lover, he returned to the street and waited in the shadows. Perhaps ten minutes passed, but no one entered or left the building. Erik waited a few moments longer to be sure, but all was quiet. He entered the building. The walk up to the room was the longest of his life. In his dread, his legs would only shuffle lifelessly up the winding staircase. He reached the first landing. Floor one. He didn't know for certain that Christine was unfaithful. He reached the second landing. Floor two. Maybe she took an apartment to have a few private hours alone. He reached the third landing. Floor three. He had everything he wanted. A wife who tolerated him, who filled the space in the mornings and whose quiet breath he could hear through her bedroom door at night. He was so lonely before her. What life was waiting for him if he lost the only thing that mattered? He reached the fourth landing. Behind a plain brown door down that long dismal hall lay the key to his ultimate relief or destruction.

Could he really bring himself to discover the truth? He didn't want to, but his feet would not stop. One step and his wife was still faithful. Five steps and she was still with him. Twenty steps and the door was in front of him. Could he open it and rush into her arms? He waited and listened. He could hear someone inside speaking in slow soft fragments. It was indistinct, but undoubtedly the voice of a man and though it was somehow familiar, Erik could not place it for the low volume. For a brief moment, he was almost strangled by a last vestige of painful hope, telling him again that he may have been mistaken, that the veiled figure was not Christine. But the moment was shattered, for her breathing and her voice drifted through the door, fast and raised into strange sighs that he had never heard before. Though he had no experience of pleasure or love, he knew immediately, perhaps through some innate animal instinct, what took place inside. Her voice was alive with gratification and the sound was beautiful beyond anything he had experienced before.

All this time he thought he possessed one part of her. Just one small element of his beautiful wife had been his. Her voice that he trained and instilled with such feeling was the one thing he could honestly claim to have won. She told him once that she sang only for him. He believed her, though she lied about so many other things. Her voice was his! Yet here it was displayed in full glory for another man in a way he would never experience. Christine was no cold lover now, but warm and alive, giving away freely to another the one part of herself that Erik had truly touched.

And in a blinding moment of horror the truth struck him. She had never come to him willingly. She came to hide the truth from him; for if her affair came to fruition, he would know unless he thought the child was the product of his own passions. She came to him only to conceal her lover and preserve her affair. But the truth was revealed and as Erik's head reeled from the shock, horror and terrible jealousy, he knew that it the betrayal could not continue, no matter what the cost.

Bursting through the door, his legs barely held him at the sight. Christine and Raoul lay naked in bed, joined together in the bright afternoon sunlight. It was the first time Erik truly saw her, for when she came to him in the night she put out the candles. He had thought she was merely modest, but now he saw it was only with him. Even as Raoul disengaged himself and jumped from bed, Christine covered herself quickly with the sheet, her face burning red as she looked at him and her meaning clear. Her beauty was not for him to see.

"Get out!" Raoul was shouting and approaching fast, his muscled body intimidating in its masculine perfection. "She doesn't love you and you know it, yet you forced her to lie with you. Do you really think an angel like her would willingly give herself to a freak like you. It would not have been different had you raped her. Now get out or I will be forced to…"

But before he could continue, the heartbreak and rage broke through and Erik hit him as hard as he could. He felt blinding pain in his hand and knew that a finger was broken but he bent over the bleeding man on the floor and reached for anything he could. A candlestick. The bastard took everything. Everything that mattered. There was nothing of value left and the world went black.

A frenzied breath panted and in the far distance a woman screamed. Then, like a train emerging from a tunnel, the screaming became suddenly close and piercing and Erik realized it was Christine. He looked up. She stood over him and clapped a hand over her mouth. The room fell silent. All his long years of violence and murder had made him an expert in terror. But he had never seen a human so horrified as Christine now was. Utterly white, she swayed slightly as she stared down at the ground beneath him. His hands were warm and wet. He dropped the candlestick and looked at what he had done. Raoul was dead. There was no question. Not much was left and even Erik was too shocked to appreciate that for once he was not the most revolting creature in the room. Blood was everywhere, even on the sheet that Christine was even now throwing away as she rushed for her clothes.

He couldn't stop her. He knew he didn't have the right. But he couldn't watch. The footsteps started again, jarring his dazed mind. They started again, and quickly they were gone. Christine was gone. It was over, Erik knew. He would never see her again. She was gone, and there was nothing left in him—no hate or jealousy or wild passion—nothing but a pitiful and empty whimper.