Disclaimer: The characters and storyline of The Phantom of the Opera on which this story is based are – to the best of my knowledge – the property of Gaston Leroux and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Neither do I own any of the songs or music I make use of or refer to in this story. No infringement of copyright is intended. I have the greatest respect for the creators of all of the above and mean no offence by using their material. This story is a sequel, and this and the original it is based on are my own work with the exceptions mentioned above. Please do not use without permission.
She raced along the corridors, heedless of all else save her goal of sanctuary and solitude.
The rehearsal was an absolute disaster! Oh, the orchestra had played well and accomplished all that she needed them to – and more besides – yet still they insisted that it wasn't enough. Even Danny had begun to press her for what he knew would be an arduous task in spite of claiming to know just how difficult it would be. To face hours of that after a complete lack of rest the previous night . . .
Perhaps her Angel truly was a ghost after all: he seemed determined to haunt her.
Why was it always the men in her life who drove her mad? Refusing to fall down that path of her mind again; she had instead chosen another route and run out of the rehearsal an hour ahead of schedule, sinking into the maze of corridors which usually concealed her so well.
Except for when she ran into someone.
That someone had been coming round a corner just as she was turning it, her momentum almost making her fall if it hadn't been for the fact that he'd caught her. That same someone halted her hurried apology as soon as she saw whose arms she was in: that same someone whom she had run from last night. His surprise swiftly slipped away, to be replaced by a determination she recognised from before: a determination which told her without a shadow of a doubt that his arms would not be releasing her any time soon.
Her head briefly whipped round to the sound of Danny's voice, an expression of frustration and despair filling her features. Seeing that, hearing the call and knowing it potentially meant their inopportune separation yet again; Erik reached for the wall to his right and the mark that had once been so familiar to him. Finding it, he pushed the panel aside and pulled her up against him and through the wall. Caught off guard the old fears flooded her senses. She tensed and would have cried out but for the hand that rose to her mouth.
Her movements froze. The hold, though remaining firm, relaxed on her slightly, allowing her to turn. There he was, resplendent in all his dark glory: her Angel, looking down at her, an unreadable expression on his face. Softly she fell against him, wanting to forget the darkness and the clarity it gave to everything.
He allowed her to sink into his arms and allowed himself to complete the embrace having remembered her fears a moment too late. Slightly muffled, he heard footsteps going past and Arneau's sporadic calls moving further away. Lowering his head, he whispered into her ear:
"Do you know how to get out of here?"
Though she could barely see, she looked up at his face in surprise, nodding. He turned her so that she was facing the wall opposite their entrance. Stepping forward slightly, she moved her hands in a manner that echoed his own. Her sigh of relief was audible when the panel slid aside to reveal . . . was that the inside of a wardrobe? After he'd given her a reassuring nudge forward, she pushed away the covered gowns, opened the door and stepped through into Katie's dressing room. Silently he followed and watched as she slowly and deliberately took in her surroundings; rubbing her arms as though to coax warmth back into them.
She moved towards the dressing table and let her hands hover over a few items there, though she did not touch. The little ritual seemed to give her strength because her fingers stopped their trembling. It wasn't entirely successful however: seeing her reflection in the mirror, her face was as troubled as it had been in the corridor.
"What did Arneau do to upset you?" he asked gently.
She started as though she'd forgotten he was there. Looking at him in the mirror, it was as though an invisible veil fell over her features though the effect was clear.
"Nothin'. 'Twere just a rehearsal that could o' gone better." she whispered hollowly.
Silently he moved to stand behind her. Placing a hand on her shoulder, he turned her to look at him. Tipping up her chin he coaxed her eyes to meet his, examining what lay within the orbs.
"What happened?" he persisted.
Giving up or giving in – she wasn't sure which and she didn't care – Christine let out a dry sob as she once more fell against her Angel, this time holding on to him out of need and want rather than reflex. Surprised by her action, he stumbled a little. Taking hold of her, he moved them over to the old worn couch where he sat and she all but climbed onto his lap as she leant against him, her body drawn across his chest and her arms wrapped around his as her head rested in the crook of his shoulder. She refused to shed anymore tears but that did nothing to hold back the tremors that shook her.
He held onto her almost as tightly as she clung to him. Where had the confidence gone? Where was the woman who had commanded the attention of an entire room with her very presence? Was this the woman who had captured the admiration of an entire opera house; the one who lay quivering in his arms like the petals of a rose caught in a wind? Yes, this was his rose. At last, she was his.
"It's so strange: every time I've seen you, you've run from me, yet now you hold on as though you'll never let go." She raised her eyes to his, full of regret.
It was nothing by way of an explanation, but the one word offered without a hint of brogue was a more effective apology than any amount of eloquence could produce. In response he tightened his hold and lightly rubbed her back. Both of them groaned when the knock came later on the door – although Christine's was the audible one.
"I hate that sound." she whispered, making him smile at the memories before she called out in a thick accent that bespoke her annoyance:
"Who is it?"
"Lass, tell me what happened?" Danny's voice came through the door. Turning in Erik's arms, she ended up lying stretched on the sofa with his arm and knees as her pillow.
Taking his cue, Arneau entered only to be about as shocked as Erik at the redhead's new and rather odd position.
"Lass, what . . . ?"
"Danny, if you want another rehearsal can ye at least pick a different number?"
"Arneau, what happened?" Erik demanded, having yet to receive an answer.
"We were rehearsing the finale. It was difficult, but everything was going smoothly and the orchestra are ready for the day after tomorrow."
"The orchestra?" he asked Arneau, thoroughly puzzled.
"She told us before we started that she wouldn't be singing, and it seems a few of the musicians thought that was only in the early stages so when Miss O'Neill explained that she wouldn't be singing before the concert . . . it didn't go down very well."
All the while, Christine had her eyes closed, her hand holding onto one of Erik's.
"And what is the finale?" halting the immediate protestations of the other two occupants of the room, he swiftly elaborated, "I know the finale remains a mystery until opening night. Why won't you even sing until then?"
"Nelly, lass, believe me: I know it's hard-"
"You don't," she flashed back, "Danny, I know how much she meant to ye, and that ye knew what this song originally meant to her." She closed her eyes again, thinking of how to phrase it without giving too much away – of the mystery or herself. "She always made it music when she performed it – she couldnae help doin' that – but she only ever sang it and really sang it twice on that stage. The first time she did, she was agreein' to marry the man she loved. E'er since then, no one in her family has played, sung, performed or anythin' that song alone. There's always been someone else. It used to be that it was ne'er performed unless everyone was there, but that rule had to change a few years back.
"Danny, I know ye miss her somethin' fierce even after all these years but what ye dinnae realise is that I've ne'er sung this without one or both of 'em bein' there – I havenae sung it since before me Da . . . since he died." Here she tightened her hold on her Angel, who in turn cuddled her closer.
"Danny, if I sing that song, I'll be puttin' the last nail in both their coffins. The concert cannae end any other way and I have got one chance, just one chance to pull it off, and if you or the orchestra cannae forgive me for not blowin' that on a rehearsal, I'd better not be hearin' any more aboot it." Her brogue thickened immensely with the last portion of her explanation, almost to the point of being indecipherable – though the meaning could not have been clearer.
"I suspected something like that, but I didn't realise it had been carried on so strongly. Forgive me, my dear."
"Ach, ye're alright Danny boy." she replied, curling up against her 'cushion', the two of them finally beginning to feel comfortable.
"That is a relief. And now, Miss O'Neill, would you mind telling me just how I am to appease my orchestra?"
Christine looked at him, a wicked glint in her eye and her mouth set in firm resolve.
"Is this The Clover or not?"
"An O'Neill is asking me that? Of course it is!"
"Then what are they skreiking for? If they've earned a place at The Clover, then they're good enough to work without causing all this fuss."
"Now why didn't we think of that sooner?" Daniel mused with a smile.
"Ach, they were bein' too awkward." she answered with a grin.
"O'Neill!" Christine covered her face with her hand. Having introduced herself to the wardrobe mistress – and avoided no end of grief had she otherwise failed to do so – and bumped into her several times along the corridors, she was all too familiar with the firm, no-nonsense voice of the dwarf-like seamstress. And she recognised well enough the tone that said she was in trouble.
Arneau recognised it too, which is why he beat a rather hasty retreat – which meant that he ended up bumping into Victoria Jammes; quite literally. His apologies were both profuse and funny, but short-lived as that woman was on a mission. Christine tried to get up, but was held firmly in place by her 'cushion'. She looked up at him in question, and received only a knowing, almost cheeky smirk in reply.
"O'Neill, what in the blazes-"
She caught sight of the pair and instantly halted whatever she'd been about to say. Instead, she crossed her arms and started tapping her foot at which Erik promptly picked a very surprised Christine up in his arms and carried her over to obediently stand before the petite intruder.
"Mademoiselle Jammes, I have one O'Neill ready for her fitting. Where would you like me to deliver her?" How the barely 5" 2' woman managed to stare down the Phantom, Christine would never know. But at length, he bowed his head in submission – and missed the smirk that was twitching about the lips of the two women.
"Wardrobe and be quick about it."
The trio made quite a sight – a dwarf and a shadow with a redhead in his arms – as they headed towards the deceptively small wardrobe department. It was actually far larger than it looked, but was so filled with costumes old and new, bolts of fabric and various weird and wonderful sewing machines – some of which looked as much like antiques as Mademoiselle Jammes herself – that there was hardly any room to move about in.
"Well, put her down, man. I can't fit you like that." Jammes chastised after he had stood there for a few minutes whilst she bustled about getting various bits and pieces that had been hidden who knew where. Tossing him a costume from a pile that had his name marked all over it, she shooed him out of sight and Christine heard a curtain being drawn, surprised that he was being given a fitting at the same time.
"O'Neill," she called sharply and Christine found herself being shooed behind a curtain nearby where a costume was already hanging in a cover.
"Now get that on and let's see what needs doing. I don't know how I'm supposed to work with deadlines like this . . ." her voice faded as she moved away bemoaning the time frame she'd been put under with the last minute additions to the concert.
Christine shook her head good-humouredly, understanding why her mother had found Victoria so much fun. The smile disappeared from her face when she opened the garment bag and saw the contents. So that was why they were being fitted together. Automatically she slipped her own black ensemble off and reached for the skirt and blouse, bringing them over her head before wrestling with the corset. There was a mirror in the little cubicle but she kept her back to it. Keeping her chin up, she refused to look down at the garments. They were well chosen for Carmen, capturing the gypsy look perfectly; plus it would be easy enough to exude sensuality in such a form fitting and revealing costume.
"O'Neill, are you done yet?"
Slowly she pulled the curtain aside and let Mademoiselle Jammes in to assess any work that needed to be done; knowing there was none. Still she stood and obeyed the wardrobe mistress' instructions whilst that was confirmed. After turning one final time, Jammes drew the curtain back and Christine's eyes locked with those of her 'Don Jose' who was outfitted in an equally familiar fashion.
"Well thank you, Mr. Destler; doesn't look like I need to be doing anything. O'Neill, I'll check what you've brought and see if it'll match any of his – unless you two have something particular in mind for the 'Wedding' number."
Bustling off, she left the two standing unmoved. Christine remained partially hidden by the curtain, but her attire was clear to see, and he took in every inch of her that he could. Stepping closer, he took her hand and drew her out into the open, though she kept her right arm behind her as much as possible.
"Exquisite. But something's missing."
He drew her in front of the larger mirror and stood behind her, his hands vanishing from sight until one appeared near her right ear where he tucked a perfect red rose. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he spoke straight into her right ear.
"Now I see Carmen."
Finally remembering to breathe, Christine answered in a shuddering breath without any hint of an Irish brogue:
"I see Aminta. And I see Don Juan."
Turning her by the shoulders, he once more took in the sight of her: so beautiful, so alluring. So broken. His hand on her right shoulder found the slight roughness beneath and he caught sight of the scars that had been forgotten and she had not had chance to hide – the undeniable mark of . . .
"Why are you doing this?" she pleaded. Cupping her cheek in his hand, he replied:
"How else was I to draw you out?"
They say the eyes are the window to the soul, but his were two panes she could not bear to see through and she moved away.
"Even now you turn from me? Is my presence here really so distasteful to you?" he asked with a voice marred by pain and sudden bitterness.
Whirling round, he barely ignored how much of her legs were revealed, so intent was he on her face.
"How can you say that?" she demanded, causing him to flinch.
"You asked me a similar question last night, Miss O'Neill." releasing a sigh of frustration and resignation in an effort to calm himself, he proceeded, "If my being here truly disturbs you so much, then I shall leave you alone save for when we perform-"
"No!" Christine managed to choke out as she clung to his arm. Instantly seizing possession of her waist, he took her chin in one hand and demanded,
"Why did you run from me, Christine? WHY? 'How could I "what"?' What is it that makes you run from me one instant and finds you in my arms the next?"
Tears pooled in her eyes, but still he held fast, demanding an answer as much with his vehement words as with his silence.
"How could you sing those words for me . . . about me . . . after everything I did to you?"
"After everything . . . you did?" his grip on her gentled, though it did not loosen, "Christine, you did what no other person has . . ." taking his words as an accusation, she tried to pull away in self-loathing, but instead he slowly and firmly drew her into a tender embrace, "this."
For the first time since knowing they were back under the same roof, Erik held Christine in his arms with no walls between them. Pulling back slightly, she looked up into his face, searching it, tentatively asking:
Smiling, he replied:
Breaking out into the biggest grin he had seen on her face yet, she threw her arms around his neck in an almost strangling hold – though he would have gladly forgone breathing for the sake of the moment.
"I don't understand. What magic led you here and onto the stage?" she asked breathlessly.
"Yours, my rose. You told me to live." Hesitantly she raised her hand to the right side of his face, her eyes asking the permission her words dared not. Just as hesitantly, he lowered his cheek into her palm, his eyes closing in ecstasy as he savoured her touch, her caress.
"How?" she whispered.
"Surgery." Hearing the sounds of Mademoiselle Jammes' imminent return, he asked hurriedly, "I'll tell you later. May I see you after rehearsals?" She stood on her toes, placing her hands on his shoulders for support and pressed her cheek against his right one as she spoke into his ear,
"Since when did my Angel need to ask? You can see me during them if you like."
Just before the wardrobe mistress burst through the door, Christine pressed a kiss against her Angel's now unmarred features. Quirking an eyebrow, she continued,
"We have a lot of catching up to do."
Although whether that was in reference to their conversation or the kiss would keep her Angel guessing for quite some time.
"Well, O'Neill, is that costume alright, or are you going for that red and black number I keep hearing about?"
She exchanged a look with her mentor and knew the answer.
"Aside from the obscene split in this skirt or the indecent neckline – oh and by the way, there's no way these sleeves are goin' tae stay up – it should be fine so long as Mr. Destler here remembers not to spin me onto my right; else me leg won't be good fer much else." Christine answered in good-humoured indignation.
"I'm sure I can manage that."
"Well, I've had a look at what you've brought. You're going for the green, right?" Mademoiselle Jammes turned Christine's attention back to the matter at hand.
"Well, Mr. Destler, do you have anything in mind for what you'll be wearing?" her tone suggested that he'd better not say 'no'.
"Our duet in the last act. Do you think you can find a pair of black trousers?" Christine replied, looking at her usually black-clad former mentor with that smirk on her face which only made him want to devour her mouth.
"I'm sure I can manage that." he repeated; the fact that he was humouring her being more prominent.
"I'll be right back."
"O'Neill! You're not going out like that!" Jammes called out. Christine ran back in and gratefully accepted the wardrobe mistress' assistance with getting out of the corset.
Once she'd disappeared off again, Erik turned to the little woman who was bustling around as usual.
"Didn't you notice?" She stopped moving and looked hard and long at him.
"If you mean her scars, it would be hard not to notice. You knew about them?"
"Then you know better than to speak about them. They're the sign of a love that people can only be described as blessed for having experienced. They're the marks of an equal pain which she hasn't stopped carrying. Besides, you'd only be adding to her hurt if you were drew attention to them anymore than she wants."
"You knew Katie well." Again she looked at him, weighing him up.
"I know her daughter too." She stood in front of him and tugged his head down so that he was at eye level with her, "Don't hurt her."
Surprise held him bent over a good few seconds after she went back to her bustling around. He only just managed to straighten up before Christine came back in with a parcel wrapped in white tissue paper, that smile on her face which he knew was for him.
"Well what have you got there, O'Neill?" Jammes asked, appearing out of nowhere and causing them both to start. Moving over to a table, Christine carefully unwrapped the package she held so delicately. Holding the pristine white garment out to her Angel in offering, she shyly met his eyes, wondering if he knew. Taking the shirt as carefully as it was offered, he went back to where he had changed the first time. He heard the call for Jammes as he removed the upper half of the Don Juan costume; heard her angry mutterings – most of which probably weren't fit for polite conversation – and was grateful to hear her leave as he slipped the shirt over his head. Tucking it in neatly, he was amazed at the perfect condition it was in.
Stepping out, he faced Christine who could only look at her mentor in wonder for now he truly looked like the man she remembered.
"You kept it?" he asked, gesturing to the fine linen he wore.
"So did you." she answered, looking down at her own garments from so long ago.
"You left it behind." he explained, stepping nearer to her.
"So did you." she whispered, hesitantly echoing his movements until they were barely a hair's breadth apart.
"This is what I think it is?" he enquired. Wordlessly, her eyes never leaving his, she let her fingers trace over the almost invisible line of small neat stitches; the pressure of her hand causing her fingers to move over the thin white scar which lay beneath.
Seizing that hand, he roughly brought it to his lips where he placed the softest yet heated of kisses into her palm. Christine's eyes fluttered shut with the sensation.
The one sacred word was a plea but also a promise. Looking into his eyes, she saw how much he was fighting himself – about as much she was struggling over the same battle within – but equally she saw that promise that he would wait. They still had a concert to give which both of them held dear. But even after three years apart, there remained too much between them for their reunion to be a light matter and his promise was that of so much more once Saturday evening was over.
Giving in and easing some of the palpable tension in the room, Christine brought her Angel's head down and rested it on his shoulder, holding onto him as fiercely as he wrapped his arms around her, straightening and lifting her off the ground so that she really was his.
Christine tipped her head back, groaning loud enough for anyone outside to hear.
"Danny boy, you and I are going to have a serious falling out soon," she said without the brogue – and not entirely with good humour.
"I believe it was you who requested a different number. We do have a rehearsal to finish." he said quietly.
Resting her forehead in frustration against that of the Angel who still held her inches off the ground, she answered like an Irishwoman,
"Fine. I'll be there in a bit."
Opening her eyes, she looked into the captivated orbs of the one who again had bewitched her. Again, she pressed her right cheek against his, this time rubbing softly and slowly against the smooth skin.
"Are you coming?" she whispered in his ear.
"Do you think anything would keep me away?" he replied heatedly. Looking into his eyes again, she saw the Phantom of old looking back at her; but she saw her Angel as well.
Pressing a slow, lingering kiss against the cheek that had only recently known its first, she felt him ease her gently to the ground. Looking at him once more, she saw a stranger who was as familiar to her as the beat of her heart – and as vital – looking into his eyes, she saw Erik.
Smiling, she wrapped his arm around her waist as they headed off to her rehearsal.
Finally, she felt at home.
She was his.
AN: Happy now? Am I forgiven? Oh come one, double update for the first time since this story started: plus some serious ECness that was actual ECness? You gotta put the ropes away for that:) Thanks, guys. N.