A/N: The Phantom of the Opera and all related characters belong to Gaston Leroux. Thanks to W. A. Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte for Don Giovanni. The two arias referenced here are both Zerlina's: "Vedrai carino" (the source of the title) and, just briefly, "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto." Many thanks also to bee (sparklyscorpion) for her support and advice on this story!
Erik had instructed her to come to him by the rue Scribe entrance, stating that she was to make the journey to the dining room on the lake alone. Glancing up and down the alley to make sure there were no prying eyes about, Christine retrieved the iron key he had entrusted to her, feeling somehow lighter now that it no longer sat heavily in her dress pocket. Though he had demonstrated how to use it she struggled with the contraption before finally gaining entrance to the underground passage beyond the gate. Dutifully she located the lantern and matches he had tucked away in a concealed recess in the wall before locking the gate behind her and making her descent into the cellars. It was a path she had taken many times, and each time she feared more and more that she would never make the return trip to the surface.
She thought Erik would greet her at the lake's edge, but did not see his dark silhouette against the water's bluish glow. The boat was not docked at its outcropping in the rocky shore, either, leaving Christine twisting her free hand in her skirts as she considered what to do. She could not help but wonder if this were some sort of test, if Erik were hiding in the shadows, watching to see if she would persevere or retreat. She remembered how he had told her of a path running along the perimeter of the lake and gathered up the hem of her gown in preparation to seek it out, wishing she had more than the small circle of light the lantern provided.
Upon reaching what served as his front door Christine perceived a sliver of light escaping from around its edge, and saw that it was left open for her. The lamps in the drawing-room were lit, yet Erik was not waiting for her there, either. She searched for him, and after exhausting all other possibilities she hesitated in front of the closed door of his chamber. The coffin inside had never ceased to make her uneasy, nor the morbid hangings on the walls of the living tomb Erik had built for himself.
Pushing aside her fear for the moment, she rapped on the door softly before opening it. Erik was there, slumped over the keyboard of the pipe organ. She called out to him softly, unsure of how she would react if he did not reply. He was already a living skeleton, already smelled and felt of some dead thing, and Christine supposed that he could be no more terrifying in death than he was in life. "Erik…?" she repeated. Trembling, she took a few steps forward, holding the lantern out before her though it was no longer necessary. She stopped just out of arm's reach, near enough to see his back rising and falling ever so slightly as he breathed.
It was unsettling to see him in such a vulnerable state, and she silently willed him to awaken. Unable to compel herself to touch him in order to rouse him, Christine called his name once more and held the lamp up higher so it would shine on what she prayed was his masked face. Although she had burned one mask weeks ago, she knew he must have others. Either the light or her cries must have been effective for he stirred, bracing his hands on the edge of the keyboard and sitting upright with a groan. When he turned to face her she stifled a sigh of relief at seeing his death's head covered by black silk. His yellow eyes were dim in their hollow sockets. "Ah, Christine," he finally spoke, his voice weary. "Our appointment, yes. Erik forgot, please forgive him. But he sees you have followed his instructions! You are always such a good girl…"
"Why weren't you waiting for me in the boat, Erik?" she asked, finally setting aside the lantern. "I thought I was going to fall in the lake, having to walk the edge of it like that." He turned back to the music stand and gestured with one bony hand at the score which lay there. His scrawling handwriting covered the open pages and Christine wondered yet again if that scarlet ink were his blood and not ink at all. "I have been working on my Don Juan, you see. You know how Erik forgets everything when he is working, even to eat or sleep, though it is true that he needs those things less than other men." He sighed deeply and stroked a page of music, smudging a bit of wet ink, staining his fingertips.
Christine felt a spark of what might have been pity if she did not imagine the red on his fingers as the mark of a fresh kill, if she did not recall his words regarding his opera—how he had told her that once it was completed he would take it with him into his coffin-bed and never wake again. At the time she had tried to appease him, discouraging him from working on it so as not to end his life too soon; now she bit her lip against repeating herself, not with feigned concern for his well-being but with genuine terror for her own. He had sworn that she would never be free from him, and Christine feared that he would not be the only one to find eternal rest in that ebony box.
"Perhaps I should go," she managed to squeak, attempting to squelch her eagerness to leave the room. "I've obviously interrupted you, we can have our lesson some other time…" At her suggestion some life seemed to return to him, as much life as possible for a walking corpse, and he stood abruptly. "And after all the trouble you took to get here?" Erik asked, speaking again before she could answer. "How generous of you, my child." Christine resisted the urge to bolt as he spun about slowly on his heel, doing her best to maintain an emotionless yet pleasant expression. "Generosity? No, Erik, simply concern! You must be tired…" she explained in her sweetest tone, urging her feet to carry her a few inches closer to him. "You should rest now—I will wait for you in the drawing-room and read for a little while. Surely an hour's delay will not do any harm?"
Despite his insistence that he did not require the same things as normal people she knew that even Erik could not go without sleep indefinitely; he seemed almost tempted by her proposal until he replied, "Another expression of generosity! But it would be rude for a host to absent himself while a guest is waiting…and besides, Erik knows how you long for the world above when you are in his kingdom below. Oh! You hang your head but you do not deny it—nor should you. Creatures of the light naturally shy away from the dark." Christine bit her lip as he spoke nonsense, her lashes lowered, awaiting her sentence as a woman condemned. Even so she saw the truth in his words—she did yearn for air and trees when surrounded by the artificial light and hothouse flowers of the dining room on the lake. Perhaps he would offer a ride in the Bois?
"No, no," he continued, the sharp turn of topic bringing Christine to attention. "I promised you a lesson, and Erik keeps his promises, the few he makes." With that, he resumed his place at the keyboard and began to play—something from the Opera, as he would say—and despite the gloomy surroundings Christine's spirit lifted a little at the sound of music. Recognizing the tune as "Vedrai carino" from Don Giovanni, she recalled how once before Erik had offered to play this work in place of his own. She sang Zerlina's words almost instinctively, not waiting for her tutor's cue, tears pricking her eyes at the peasant girl's offers to heal her fiancé's aching body with her love.
Erik had kept more than the promise of a lesson, it seemed, for as he had said weeks ago she wept to hear him play Mozart. Despite being accustomed to a career in the theater, to assuming the identities of others, Christine felt like a liar singing Zerlina's lines—for although the man before her suffered, the soothing balm which the peasant girl gave to her bel Masetto Christine could not bring herself to offer Erik even now, when he entreated her through music. Her voice nearly faltered as Zerlina implored her lover to touch her and feel the beating of her heart. She closed her eyes as she finished the aria, the sound of the organ dying out before its own final lines.
When her lashes fluttered open again she saw that Erik had turned back towards her, one fist clutched to his gaunt breast. His golden eyes now shone oddly and Christine raised a hand to her chest, tearing it away at the feel of her racing heart. Sentilo battere… He leaned forward a fraction and for a moment she wondered if it would not be so terrible to feel the press of those emaciated fingers, but the death-rattle of his breathing was enough to remind her of what lay beneath the mask and she fled to the Louis-Philippe room, still weeping, wishing instead he had burned her with the fire of his own Don Juan.
un certo balsamo-- a certain balm
sentilo battere-- feel it beating (a line from "Vedrai carino")