Hello all- Since hearing the news about the site's recent crackdown on "objectionable material," I dedided to re-submit this, my first-ever story. It's been extensively edited and I hope all the "objectionable material" has been removed. I don't think it's watered down too much, though; it still has some spice to it! Any comments (is this OK for FF, or is it still to racy) are greatly appreciated! Thanks for reading.
-ls

Feel Me

"Christine..."

The plaintive call reverberated throughout the dark, dank corridors deep below the Paris Opera House. It repeated, over and over, a constant echo in the empty blackness, a beacon of sound that led the girl towards her destination. She followed the sound as if it were a siren's call, beckoning her, luring her. Stepping carefully through the catacomb tunnel to avoid falling and possibly injuring herself, she held the small lantern at arm's length in front of her so it could cast its meager light into the all-consuming void ahead of her.

More than once the girl questioned why she was down there, why she did not just turn around and go back where it was safe and light and warm, but some strange force kept her true to her path down, down farther still, down into the deepest, darkest cellar.

She had heard the stories, awful stories of the fifth cellar–and who lived there. After what had taken place during the performance of Don Juan Triumphant, she was certain that at least some of those tales were true. The Phantom–the Opera Ghost–lived there. And from what she was hearing, he was still mourning the loss of his one true love.

The voice was growing louder; she could tell that she was drawing nearer to his lair. Unfortunately, though, the guttering candlelight from her lantern told her that she didn't have much time. Soon the light would go out. Soon she would be cast into darkness. She would be alone, in the dark, helpless and lost. Panic swelled in her breast. What if I never find him? What if I never find my way back out again? I could die down here, and no one would ever know!

The girl strained to see into the blackness ahead of her as the meager light from her lamp grew ever dimmer. She squinted her eyes. Was that a faint light up there? Her footsteps quickened as she hurried towards the dim glow, hopeful that she had finally reached her destination after hours of searching.

She set her lantern down and cautiously entered the room through a sort of doorway that was framed with shards of razor-sharp broken glass, pushing aside the heavy drape that hung across its width. Thousands of tiny pieces of glass littered the floor around her, reflecting the dim light of the cavernous room. She realized that they were pieces of a mirror, probably smashed by the angry mob who had come down here after the Don Juan Triumphant debacle, ostensibly to rescue the damsel in distress. Everyone knew, however, the bloodlust they carried for the man known as the Phantom of the Opera. Hours later they had emerged from the bowels of the Opera, dejected, without accomplishing either of their goals: rescuing the young diva or sending the Opera Ghost to Hell.

The rumors about the Phantom's lair were nowhere near the truth. The stories told of a dark, desolate underground hole where the Opera Ghost lived, a tomb for a living corpse, but the reality was far different. True, the mob had made quite a mess of things, but she could see how it once was: opulent, with rich velvet drapes, beautiful furnishings, candelabra everywhere and a massive pipe organ that encompassed one entire side of the room. Everything now, however, lay in ruins. As she surveyed her surroundings, she was amazed most of all to discover that, where the wall opposite her should have been, the room opened onto a vast underground lake that stretched off into the darkness. Its gentle movements cast dancing shadows over every surface in this mysterious man-made grotto.

"Christine..."

The cry came again–it really was more of a keening–and the girl followed the sound of the voice to a far corner where the man himself sat on the cold stone floor, his back to the wall, his head buried against his knees. A wine bottle stood next to him on the floor, and a quick glance around the room revealed several others scattered here and there.

So, he has been down here drowning his sorrows...

She briefly thought that he didn't seem so frightening.

Mindful of the broken glass at her feet, she carefully stepped into the room.

"If you'll pardon me for saying so, Christine is a mindless twit."

His head shot up at the sound of her voice, a soft voice, but it cut through the silence nonetheless.

He tried to focus his vision on this intruder, this interloper, which was not an easy task given the amount of alcohol in his system. It was a female, he could tell that much from the voice. He blinked several times, and slowly his eyesight sharpened and she came into clearer view. She was young, perhaps twenty, had deep auburn hair and wore a rust-colored dress that enhanced her figure very well. Her face seemed to be pretty enough. She just was not...

Just a moment! How did she get down here, and what was it she said about Christine?

"What did you say? Who are you? What are you doing here?"

"I came to see if you still lived."

He sneered.

"I do. Now go."

He picked up the bottle at his side and lifted it to his lips. Nothing. He threw it against a wall in frustration, and it shattered against the rough-hewn stones.

"No. I'll not leave you in this condition."

She went to him and kneeled before him.

"You dare to disobey me?" he asked, his voice low, but he couldn't quite muster his usual menace in his current alcohol-induced haze. "I have killed for less..."

"I am not frightened of you." She paused, looking him directly in the eye. "Especially now."

The Phantom growled low in his throat.

"Leave me," he said, his eyes boring into her.

"No."

He stood then, rising on somewhat shaky legs, and he leaned against the wall for support as the blood drained from his head. He wavered a bit but quickly regained his composure. The girl stood as well, noticing instantly his immense height: he stood head and neck taller than her, and she was forced to tilt her head back to look him square in the eye.

He probably had not changed his clothes in days. The once-white linen shirt he wore, which hung open to reveal a goodly expanse of his chest, was dingy and limp and bore stains from the wine and whatever else he had been drinking. His black trousers were wrinkled and dusty. A matted lock of thinning brownish-grey hair hung down over one eye but it didn't seem to bother him, for he hadn't made a move to brush it out of the way.

His dizziness now past, he again bore down on his unwelcome guest.

"So, you came here to see how the mighty have fallen, is that it? To laugh at the Opera Ghost's misfortune? Well, you have seen; you now have a grand story to tell your friends about the dreaded Phantom of the Opera, drunk and pitiful, living in squalor."

He pushed his shirtsleeves up his arms, revealing deep scratches in his skin. The wounds did not go unnoticed by the girl, and he immediately pushed the cuffs back down to hide the broken skin from her curious gaze.

She was silent for a long moment as she regarded him once more.

"Christine is a fool and you are an even bigger fool," she said, again raising her eyes to meet his.

Those words got his hackles up. How dare this tiny slip of a girl invade his privacy to insult him and... and...

"You dare to come down here and call me..." The old menace was now back in his voice, and then some.

"She is a fool for leaving you," the girl interrupted, speaking without an ounce of fear, "and you are a fool for mourning her loss."

He cocked his head, seemingly taken aback at her words.

"She took everything you offered her–your music, your soul, your love–and she threw it back in your face. She did not deserve you."

A look of immense sadness crept over his face, and his shoulders sagged. "I did not deserve her," he said quietly.

"Every man deserves the love of a woman."

"Every man, perhaps. But I..."

He brought a hand up to his face, meaning to touch the cold, hard surface of his mask, but instead he felt scarred flesh. All the time he had been conversing with this woman, she had seen his face! He looked back to her with wide eyes.

"Yes, I see you," she said simply. "I see you for who you are, and I have not fainted from shock or screamed in fear. I do not fear you, and you should not fear me."

He watched her closely, still unbelieving that she could look on him and not be afraid.

"If you ask me," she continued, "she and the Vicomte deserve each other. Both empty-headed nincompoops who don't know the first thing about real love."

"And I suppose you do?" the Phantom asked with a tinge of sarcasm in his voice.

He really needed a drink. He surveyed the room and spied a bottle nearby on a side table.

"I do, yes," she answered. "And it most definitely is not what they have in their heads–riding off into the sunset in their fancy carriage, living in a huge chateau, raising a passel of equally empty-headed children..."

"Then would you do me the honor of defining real love, mademoiselle?" he asked snidely as he nonchalantly made his way to the wine.

"Of course. Real love is hard, and it is messy, and it is even ugly at times. It means staying together through the rough times as well as the good. It means accepting someone for who they are, not for who you want them to be. It means that you would rather die than be apart from each other, no matter the consequences."

The girl followed him and, with a stern look on her face, took the bottle from him as soon as he picked it up.

He glared at her for a long while.

"You speak as if you know of these things."

Even though it wasn't a question, he waited for her to answer. Her silence spoke volumes.

Dear God, he needed a drink! Another bottle fell into view on top of the organ. He broke eye contact with her and nonchalantly headed for the dusty, long-abandoned instrument. And what lay atop it.

She knew where he was headed and why.

"Stop!"

Her imperious command caused him to freeze in his tracks. He turned–very slowly–and leveled a frosty stare in her direction. He fully expected her to wither under his unblinking gaze, but she stubbornly held her ground.

"That is something you do not need."

"I'll be the judge of that," he retorted defiantly, but to her satisfaction he remained where he was.

She was a spitfire, this little wisp of a woman. He regarded her with a curious gaze.

"How did you find me?" he asked.

"That was easy. I followed your voice."

He considered her answer for a moment, then nodded slowly.

"Why are you here?" he demanded.

"I wanted to make sure you were all right."

In two steps he was upon her, grasping her by the shoulders. Somehow she could tell that the effects of the alcohol had worn off and he was now completely sober. The Phantom was back.

"Not good enough. Why are you here?"

"I was worried about you." She finally looked away, away from his cold, piercing stare.

"I will not ask again." He took several steps forward, forcing her backward, until she felt hardness against her back. She found herself pinned between his body and the uneven, rough stone wall of the cavern.

"I care for you!"

Shocked at her words, he released his grip on her and took a step back.

"You do not know me."

"I can feel you. I was present at Don Juan, when she unmasked you. Others were screaming in horror, but I felt your betrayal, your humiliation, your anger. Before that, when you sang, I was enthralled. I couldn't breathe. You were so commanding, so proud, so... sensual. I knew what you were doing, trying to get her to come to you. I was so certain she would. And then she..." she sighed heavily, "well, she did what she did. And you have been down here, for how long? A fortnight? Drowning your sorrows, crying over an insipid little girl."

He had been pacing the floor as she spoke, but at her last words he stopped cold and rounded on her.

"Do not call her that!"

"Why? She is nothing but a vapid little chorus girl, one who does not know the difference between a real man," and having said this she deliberately eyed him up and down, "and an adolescent boy. Believe me, I know Raoul. Our families are close. He has never grown up, and he never will."

He took a few steps toward her.

"And you think I am a real man?"

She did not answer his question with words, but she held his gaze unfalteringly. That was answer enough for him.

He took another step closer.

"Why are you here?" he ground out through clenched teeth.

"I told you that already."

"Ah, yes, you can feel me." One more step closer, and again she was trapped between the wall and his body. "Can you feel me now?" he whispered to her with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

Oh, yes, she could indeed feel him. She could feel his hardness as he pressed against her. Her body responded of its own volition by moving against him. A quick intake of air through clenched teeth indicated to her that he felt her just as keenly.

In an instant his hands tightly grasped her hips, stilling her body's movements.

"Woman, do not play games with me," he hissed.

A muscle in his cheek twitched, indicating to the girl that he was restraining himself–with much effort.

Words would not come to her. She was breathing heavily in response to his nearness, and her breasts heaved at the top of her bodice with every breath she took. If words would not suffice, she thought, mayhap actions would. She reached a hand up and slowly snaked it around his neck, drawing him ever closer to her; then their lips finally touched in the most tentative of kisses.

She was rather surprised to hear from him not a harsh growl of desire but rather a soft sigh of acceptance.

He relinquished his tight grip on her hips and cradled her head in his hands, ghosting over her lightly freckled skin with the pads of his thumbs. In this moment he seemed not to be the fearsome Phantom at all, but just a man who craved contact with another human being. His lips explored the skin of her jawline, the column of her neck, the line of her shoulder. She was thankful that she had the wall behind her for support, for she was certain her knees would buckle when she felt the warm softness of his lips upon her skin.

Those same lips immediately returned to hers, alternately crushing and caressing, feeding from her sweetness. When she parted her lips he followed suit, and as their tongues met for the first time a spark of electricity surged through the both of them that never will be duplicated by man or machine. They seemed filled with a need to devour each other as their hands began a ravenous exploration of each other's bodies.

She kissed him on both sides of his face but lingered on the rough, ravaged side, telling him without words that she accepted him as he was. One of her hands boldly slid around his body, pressing against the small of his back, urging his hips in closer to her. He took her hint, and as he pressed himself maddeningly against her, she rocked her hips in that ancient rhythm that no human is taught but somehow all know. He tore his lips away from hers, arching his head back, and let forth a soul-shattering cry so loud that she was sure it must have been heard in the Opera House itself five floors above.

She lowered her head and found the skin of his chest bared by his shirt. She could taste him on her tongue, the saltiness of his sweat, the remnants of his spilled wine. She tasted his frantic heartbeat with quivering lips. He moaned and tenderly clasped the back of her head, his fingers delving into her soft, fragrant hair.

As his lips once again found hers, his hand slid slowly down her body–agonizingly slowly–from the swell of her breast, down her ribcage, to the indentation of her waist, to the fullness of her hip, to the supple smoothness of her thigh. He lingered there for just a moment, his hand absently caressing her through the many layers of her skirts, but then like a man possessed he began gathering up the yards and yards of fabric until he finally reached his goal: the silky bare skin hidden underneath. It registered somewhere in the back of his clouded mind that her legs were not clad in the frilly pantaloons and silk stockings he had seen the ballet rats above wearing on occasion; in fact, she did not seem to be wearing undergarments of any kind. He was not about to question or chastise her, though, for this seeming lack of propriety.

As he leaned down to touch his lips to the exposed tops of her breasts–oh heaven above!–he dragged his fingers over and over again on her thigh, each time venturing higher, each time drawing closer to her most secret of places. She moaned; that was all the encouragement he needed.

"Can you feel me now?" he rasped in her ear.

She could only moan in response. She clung to him tightly, both of her arms wrapped around him, as she lifted her exposed leg and snaked it around him, pulling him even closer.

His hand stilled, and he drew his head back to gaze at her with eyes darkened by lustful hunger. Slowly he took a step away from her.

She did not have to utter a word; the flush on her face and the questioning in her eyes said it all.

He struggled to regain some semblance of composure. "Not here," he said in a ragged whisper. "Come."

He gently took hold of her hand and, never taking his eyes off hers, led her across the room and up the few stone steps that led to his bedchamber.

A small number of flickering candles lit this tiny, low-ceilinged room, casting long shadows on the rough stone walls.

He turned back to her in front of the bed. Neither moved or spoke for long minutes. Finally, she closed the distance between them and touched her hands to his chest. She felt his heartbeat pounding a staccato rhythm to match her own. Slowly she smoothed her hands up over both his shoulders, pushing his shirt off and down his arms; it fell to the floor at his feet.

She took one of his arms in her hands, lifting it so she could examine his wounds. They definitely were scratches, most likely self-inflicted.

"What happened?" she asked quietly.

His brow furrowed and he paused a long moment before answering.

"I... I kept feeling things... crawling under my skin."

Overcome with compassion and sadness and–yes, even pity–for this enigmatic man before her, she lowered her head and placed a light kiss on the wounds. She could have sworn she heard him whimper as her lips touched his flesh.

She trailed her hands down his chest, noticing that his skin was pale, but the candlelight gave him an ethereal glow. She slid her hands farther down to his stomach and ghosted her fingers over his taut muscles. As she reached the waist of his trousers, however, he took hold of her wrists and stopped her.

"Turn around," he murmured to her.

He grasped both her shoulders and pivoted her around until she faced away from him. His hands delved into her copper-colored hair, one by one removing the pins that held it up, dropping them on the stone floor where they each landed and skittered away with a tiny ping. As he pulled out the last one, he let her hair fall in soft waves to its full length, and he breathed in its fragrant scent as he ran his hands through its silky softness. She felt his lips as he kissed the curls at her crown.

Then he set to work on her gown. His suddenly clumsy hands slowly undid the buttons that ran down the back of her dress, and as he finally reached the last one he eased the fabric off her shoulders and let the garment fall to the floor with a soft rustle. Her petticoats followed next as he untied the ribbons at her waist; now she was standing in a large pool of billowing softness.

He growled low in his throat as the girl stood nearly naked before him, clad only in a short chemise and what to him was the most ridiculous and unnecessary garment ever invented: the corset. He never understood how those infernal things worked; how would he ever get it off?

The girl turned around to him upon hearing the noise he made. She could see that he was staring in frustration at her corset.

"No matter. I can undo it." She reached behind her and began to untie the knot that held the laces in place.

"No," he said forcefully, brushing her hands away.

He reached down into his boot and pulled out the small knife cleverly concealed in a hidden sheath. As he wielded the blade before her she gasped and stepped back, nearly tripping over the mounds of clothing on the floor. He reached for her with his free hand to steady her, then pulled her to him and turned her so that her back was facing him once again.

"What are you going to do?" she asked with the slightest touch of fear in her voice.

"I'm going to free you," he whispered menacingly in her ear, sending shivers down her spine.

He kept one arm snaked around her waist to hold her still as the other manipulated the knife to cleanly slice through the corset's laces with one slow, deliberate stroke. She felt the laces give way and the corset loosen a little bit more as each tie was severed. Then the hated garment easily fell away from her body.

His lips once again were at her ear.

"Doesn't that feel better?" he asked in a low voice.

She could only whimper in reply. He pulled her tightly to him, her back against his chest, and his hands found her breasts for the first time. He softly caressed the undersides, testing their weight, feeling their softness through her shift. But no, this would not do at all, he had to touch her, so he gathered the fabric in his hands and lifted the chemise over her head in one quick movement, tossing it carelessly on the floor.

Ah, yes, there it was! Her smooth, pliant, young skin. His hands roamed over her stomach, reveling in the warmth of another human's body. She covered his hands with her own, gently guiding them back to her breasts. Trembling fingers danced over her soft flesh until she was certain she would go mad.

She leaned back against him, safe in his embrace. His lips caressed her ear, his tongue lazily tracing its outer ridges. Every exhalation of breath sent shivers down her spine and transported her to a world of bliss she had never even imagined before. Her hand shook as she reached up behind her to caress his ravaged face. She turned her head to meet his lips with her own, and as the kiss deepened she turned back around to face him. They clung desperately to one another as if their very lives depended on it.

The next thing she knew, she had been picked up and unceremoniously dropped right in the middle of the bed. She fell on the luxuriously silky bedding with a surprised "Oh!"

The Phantom hungrily took in this naked woman lying in his bed, admiring every feature of her body. Then he sat down at the end of the bed and put her feet on his lap. She watched in fascination as he carefully undid the closures on her shoes, removed them, tossed them aside and slowly, reverently, massaged her feet with long, slow strokes. She felt that familiar tightness creeping low in her belly again, and, dear God, he was only touching her feet!

Her foot jerked violently when she felt his tongue trail along the length of the arch of her foot. He shushed her before continuing on to the sensitive flesh of her inner ankle. He covered her skin with kisses, slowly advancing upwards to her calf, where he scraped his teeth along her pliant flesh.

Her scent permeated the room, driving him mad with desire. He tasted the soft flesh of her inner thigh, slowly moving higher, inch by maddening inch.

He lifted his head to gaze upon her.

"Can you feel me now?" he teased her.

"Mmmmm," she purred.

He grinned and lowered his head back down.

She moaned and lifted her hips right off the bed in response. He continued teasing her mercilessly until all the coiled nerves in her body finally sprang free and she basked in the waves of pleasure that washed over her body and soul.

A few moments later she felt the mattress shift as he got up from the bed. She looked questioningly at him, but then a slow smile spread across her face as she saw him kick off his boots, then unbutton his trousers and let them fall to the floor. Her breath caught in her throat when her eyes locked on his member. She reached out for his hand, inviting him back to the bed. He took her hand with one of his, and with his other hand he pulled a black silk cord that hung down from the ceiling. A black lace curtain slowly descended around the circumference of the bed, cocooning the pair and shutting out the rest of the world.

He lay on his side next to the girl, cupping one of her breasts as he tried to ease some of his own discomfort by rubbing up against her hip. He seemed hesitant. She looked up at the shadows on the ceiling created by the candlelight and the lace curtain. He opened his mouth several times as if to speak.

"I... I have never... been... with another..." he finally whispered to her.

She nodded, still not looking at him. Her brow furrowed ever so slightly.

He watched her intently, then realization finally dawned on him.

"You have," he said quietly. It was a statement, not a question.

She turned her head to look at him, a lifetime of sadness evident in her eyes.

"Once," she admitted, barely above a whisper. "We were to be married."

"What happened?"

"He died. Fever." She looked away again.

"I am truly sorry."

She closed her eyes and shook her head as if trying to rid herself of the memories. "It's in the past."

She lifted a hand to smooth back a wayward lock of his hair.

"And I am sorry that she did not choose you," she said to him.

His eyes met hers, and they were filled with a level of sadness unimaginable to her. She turned to him and touched her lips to his, willing away his grief with her kiss. They clung to each other in the swan-shaped bed, each trying to erase the other's heartbreaking memories.

Soon their kisses grew more passionate. He pushed her onto her back as his lips left hers and traveled down her neck, over her chest and up the slope of her breast.

Reaching down, she grasped him in her tiny hand. He had grown hard once more, and she could wait no longer. She urged him on top of her. He nestled himself between her parted legs and, slowly and gently, she guided him into the tantalizing depths he had never before known.

He closed his eyes, relishing in the sweet agony of the intimate contact. She watched the myriad emotions play on his face as she savored the experience of him filling her completely.

"I can feel you..." she whispered to him.

"And I you," he replied softly.

The low vibrations of his voice sent a hot shiver down her spine.

He had never before felt such a delicious torture–for it could not be described as anything but–as joining with this girl. Every cell in his brain, every drop of his blood, every nerve in his body concentrated on the indescribable joy he had been denied for so long. He heard her crying out in ecstasy from somewhere far away, sensed her limbs tighten around him, felt her shudder beneath him; but he could only concentrate on attaining one goal: complete and utter release. It was not far away now; just a little more, just once more, once more... Oh, yes, yes, yes! Perhaps there is a God after all! He groaned loud and long, finally collapsing on top of her, gasping for air, burying his head in the crook of her neck.

To be sure, he had experienced release before, but only by his own hand, and that always left him feeling empty and exhausted. To finally know the sheer joy of joining with a woman... it was beyond his comprehension!

Still stroked his hair and shushed him with soft words, assuring him that everything would be all right. They lay together, immobile, for a long while.

After what could have been five minutes or five hours, he finally shifted his weight and slid off of the girl, coming to rest on his side next to her.

He curled up against her in the near darkness, possessively throwing an arm and a leg over her sated body. His hand found its way to her breast, covering it and resting there.

They lay together, surrounded by black lace, suspended in time, in their own tiny piece of the universe.

"What is your name?" he asked quietly.

"Susannah."

"I am Erik."

He tightened his hold around her.

They lay together in silence for a few long moments.

"Don't leave me just yet," he finally whispered into her ear.

She turned her head just enough to look into his eyes, but they were tightly shut as if he couldn't bear to see her as she disappeared from his life forever.

She picked up the hand that rested on her breast, brought it to her mouth and pressed her lips against the palm.

"I am not going anywhere."

FIN