Author's Notes: Several reviewers have commented on Christine's mental state. So, a few thoughts on this; first of all, my depiction of the character and her symptoms is based largely on what was presented in movie canon, and not on a set of diagnostic criteria out of the DSM. As such, the symptoms she exhibits do not fit perfectly with any one diagnosis.

That said, it's not exactly unusual that a person who obviously has some manner of mental illness doesn't fit a single diagnosis exactly, so I don't feel too badly about that.

It was not my intention to portray her as schizophrenic; childhood-onset schizophrenia is extremely rare, would have a very poor prognosis without modern medical treatment, and would likely result in far more severe symptoms after 10 years untreated. You can find information on childhood-onset schizophrenia at www [dot schizophrenia [dot com [slash family [slash childsz [dot htm.

I am not a psychologist, and would not try to diagnose anyone who was not fictional, but I think Christine's symptoms are most characteristic of depression with psychotic features – here's an article on that: www [dot nlm [dot nih [dot gov [slash medlineplus [slash ency [slash article [slash 000933 [dot htm. I found no stats on the prevalence of psychotic depression in children, but uncomplicated depression is considerably more common in children than is schizophrenia. I have some personal experience of depression, so I can say that some of what Christine seems to experience in canon, and certainly what I've written of her, is familiar stuff for me.

This is primarily an artistic, not educational, endeavor – if Christine's troubles ring true for anyone else, I'll be ecstatic, but no one should take this fic as a guide to mental illness or its appropriate treatment.

As for Erik – I think he clearly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but I don't think that's all, and I'm not even going to try to venture a guess as to the rest. I'm writing him according to canon as best I can – Leroux and Webber can take credit/blame for whatever realism or lack thereof there may be to his various physical and mental afflictions.


Something landed soft and heavy on Christine's head. She jerked upright with a cry, fumbling free of her formless assailant with clumsy hands and bleary, blinking eyes. She scuttled backward, Erik's sword held defensively before her and trying to convince her eyes to focus. She didn't know when she'd fallen asleep.

The thing that had accosted her came into grudging focus in the dim light of far fewer candles than she remembered; a sheet. Erik was struggling up onto his elbows on the bed, eyes wide.

"It -" Christine gestured at the offending piece of cloth with the sword, realized what she'd done, and blushed furiously. She lowered the blade to her side and shrugged the hood of his cape – knocked askew in the course of her sleep-addled clash with the sheet – the rest of the way off her head. "It fell on me," she concluded in a small voice. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

He just stared.

"I was cold," she offered in rueful explanation for her theft of his cape, staring down at her shoes. Her heart was still pounding very hard. The sword glinted darkly in the meager light. "And frightened," she added even more softly. "I'm very foolish. I'll put them back."

"No," he responded, his voice a sleepy rasp. He cleared his throat as she glanced up. "Keep them if you like," he said in a more normal tone. "It was only – the sight of you -" he stopped and looked down at his hands; some of the blisters had scabbed, but the largest of them, on the ring finger of his left hand where a pencil would rest, remained open and raw. The joints looked swollen. "I should not attempt to hold a pencil," he observed sourly.

"I don't think so," Christine agreed, hedging towards the bed.

"The sight of you – the cape flew around you, when you stood, and the sword -" he tried to explain, gesturing and frowning. His hands trembled at the high point of their waving, and dropped quickly to the sheets. "- and your hair -" His fingers stirred weakly.

"I must have looked absurd," Christine argued tentatively.

"No, no!" he retorted, almost angrily, his mouth pressing into a grimace she might have called petulant on another face. "You were a vision – all dark and gleaming and – the cape – like wings, Christine, it was like wings."

"I'm pleased if you see me so," she ventured, biting her lip; somehow she'd ended up beside the bed. She laid the sword down by his feet and sat on the edge. "You really shouldn't use your hands, though," she whispered.

"No," he agreed unhappily; then, with very determined conviction; "It matters not; the image will not leave me."

At this thought he blinked, eyes darting sideways to her face as if he'd just come to some unpleasant realization. He brought his right hand immediately to the same side of his own face, covering his disfigurement. "Forgive me -"

"Stop that," Christine interrupted sharply, her hand flying out and taking hold of his wrist, drawing his hand away.

"I would not burden you further with a sight you may wish to forget," he insisted, staring as if transfixed at her hand about his wrist.

"I do not wish to forget," Christine replied, her own eyes likewise drawn to their hands; she let her grip grow lax and allowed his hand to slip into her own. Their fingers twined, oh so carefully, mindful of his injuries. "You kicked the sheets away," she observed, her tone tremulous and strained. "You are uncomfortable – of course you are, in your shoes. I'm a terrible nurse."

"You are a miracle," he countered.

"You really, really must cease saying such things," Christine objected, her voice rising another octave. "I don't know how to answer and it makes it very difficult to think."

She had no idea from whence her courage came, to make such a protest; her face felt hotter than the flames of the dying candles, and the entire situation seemed very much like a dream.

"Are there more candles?" she asked, trying to blink the sleep from her eyes and staring fixedly at their tangled fingers; they'd come to rest on the bed just to one side of his leg. Having looked away, she found that she could not look up again; she felt as if she might die if their eyes met. "I don't know how long I slept – I suppose not long, as Madame Giry has not yet returned, but the candles are beginning to burn down. Are there more?"

"Antoinette will bring her own torch," he answered; he sounded as if he too struggled with the mundane topic, as if other words demanded to be spoken, but he held them back. "Do you wish for more light than this?"

"Oh," Christine responded. "I suppose we don't need to keep the whole place lit, then, do we? It's wasteful. You must use scores of candles down here, it must be expensive – no, of course not, I don't need -"

"Don't think of the expense," he interrupted hastily. "It is inconsequential. Do you want light?"

"No," Christine repeated, almost inaudibly. "No, it is all right."

"You do," he insisted. "You do want more candles lit; why are you lying?" An edge began to creep into his voice; Christine clung to his hand and shook her head, feeling slow and muddled and still half-asleep.

"I'm sorry," she whispered waveringly, exhausted tears hovering.

The room went quiet, though Christine could feel her angel's eyes on her.

"I've upset you," Erik said after a long moment; he still sounded frustrated, verging on angry.

"No, I upset you," Christine insisted, eyes clenched momentarily shut, as if she could squeeze the lingering dregs of sleep from them. "I just don't want to waste your candles, that is all. It can't be easy to get them here, and I know you don't want me to mind the expense but I can't help think of it, and truly, I don't need them."

Shaking, calloused fingers took hold of her chin and lifted her face. Their eyes met; she did not die, though she felt vaguely as if something in the center of her melted into fizzling sparks.

His expression gentled and his fingers brushed her cheek before dropping away; she exhaled shakily and forced herself to loosen her grip, embarrassed to realize she'd been clutching his hand tight enough to interfere with circulation.

"I do want more candles," Christine conceded shakily, letting her lips quirk up into half a smile. He echoed it, and her heart lurched; had she ever before seen him smile, even that much? "But I want not to want them, more. It would be a waste, and I do not want to waste your things," she repeated, and felt cowardly for her choice of words, though she could think of none better. She wanted to be frugal with his things, yes - and to care for his hurts, and mend his socks and cook him soup.

She had never really handled money, was proving to be a completely useless nurse, could barely stitch a straight line, and felt it likely that she'd burn the opera down if she attempted to operate a stove. None of this seemed to have any impact on the shape her wantings took. I want . . home. With him.

"I want to give you things you want," Erik insisted. "Everything, anything you want."

"You do," Christine responded, and frowned, wants and unspoken words all twisted up into nonsense that she couldn't possibly express. "You – you give me things to want. You -" she gestured helplessly with her free hand.

He swallowed heavily.

"- you must be thirsty," she concluded, lips quirking up again, laughing at herself. "I want," she pronounced determinedly, "to bring you a glass of water, and to take off your shoes. May I have that?"

"Of course," he answered, though he continued to frown.

Retrieving a glass of water involved leaving his side and venturing back out through the thick web of black lace at the door, neither of which she had considered. Having set herself to this task, however, she would not retreat from it. What use am I if I cannot even bring him a drink of water, for fear of the dark?

I must learn to love it – I must think of it like a difficult, ill-tempered pet, this darkness of his. It is just jealous of my intrusion, and I must teach it to love me.

Erik instructed her carefully how to find another small alcove that hid - she thought, though the caves twisted and whirled her about into confusion - directly behind the room with the tub and the great fissure in its floor. The back wall of his odd little kitchen was less of a wall and more of a slope, not quite meeting the floor, and the chasm from the bathing room continued along its edge, widening as it went. More pipes snaked up out of it, disappeared into chiseled holes in the upward incline of the chamber, then poked their metallic noses back out to pour into a basin carved into the rock. It drained not into another pipe, but directly into that great crack in the uneven, sloping floor.

Where the chasm grew wide enough to accommodate a human form with little effort, he'd set boards across it – a little square of polished wooden floor such as might grace any fine home, just big enough to hold a delicate table and two chairs. It was the perfect setting for an elegant brunch, except that the little porcelain bowl that ought to have held sugar for tea was instead serving to catch the drips from a stalactite overhead. The boards echoed fantastically when tread upon.

Further around the wall – it began to curl up and outward again, like a chimney – sat a fat-bellied iron stove, and a little ways from this, a china cabinet with etched glass doors.

His dishes didn't match, though they were uniformly gleaming and opulent, many of them edged in gold. Christine selected a crystal goblet nervously, wincing at the way the dishes jangled when the cabinet was disturbed. He had too many in too small a space, really; they would have overwhelmed his quaint table, when all set out. There was, in dribs and drabs, service for at least twelve there; she wondered with a pang if he imagined giving grand dinner parties.

A feast for all the things that hide and scurry – rats and spiders and ghosts and trolls and goblins – and my goblin king at the head of the table, resplendent in the dark –

Christine filled the goblet with icy water from the tap, her hands shaking, and then scampered back to the bedroom with his cape fluttering darkly behind her.

He had already removed his shoes when she returned, and had set his fingers to bleeding again in the process. This sent her scurrying back out to the antechamber by the lake to retrieve the rags she'd left there; she tried not to look up at the faces that still remained on the walls, but ultimately couldn't help herself.

She was surprised at how flat they were. Just made of ash.

It was disturbing enough to draw her to them, frowning and entranced; certainly they still demonstrated the great artistic genius of their creator, but the life seemed to have left them. The fear that they might at any moment spring from their pages had vanished, and the thought that it might be morning, up above the ground, whispered through Christine's mind. She touched her finger to a heavy swirl of charcoal, the line of a haughty, grimacing woman's jaw – it felt papery and dry. When she pulled her hand back, her fingertip was smeared with black.

Black like burns.

But old burns. Old scars, that's all they are. What a fool I am.

She scrubbed her finger clean on her skirt and thought again of morning as she picked through the rags to find any that remained clean, and came to the realization that she ought to get fresh water for the pitcher. This necessitated another trip to the taps; the bathroom was closer, so that was where she went, pouring the dirty water down into the chasm in the floor. It was still, slumbering. The light will be coming in the windows of the dormitory, pale and gray, making the dust dance. It will smell of cold air and warm bodies and too many kinds of perfume all together, and very soon, of baking bread.

Her stomach rumbled; she decided it might be wise to make use of the facilities while she was there, and did so, blushing faintly all the while. There was something very odd about using her angel's toilet. But he's not an angel. He's just a man.

My king of music and darkness.

Mine.

It was strange and sweet and frightening, to wash her hands in his sink, the water icy enough to be painful, and to begin to imagine it also her sink. Her lips curved into an embarrassed little smile at the thought of two whole sinks, all her own. Just think how crowded the washrooms will be upstairs, in a few hours – imagine having this place all to myself.

This dark, strange place.

She tilted that thought this way and that in her mind, weighing and measuring it against the clear mental image she had of her life upstairs, and then, guiltily, of her childhood daydreams of a life with Raoul, when he was to have come and rescued her like some knight in shining armor.

She had imagined being the mistress of a grand house, but somehow she had never imagined being an adult. In all her dreams they had remained children, Raoul and she, playing at lord and lady. These dreams had all taken place in the day, and somehow never ventured as far as night and beds and what it meant to be grown and married. Sometimes, only sometimes, she imagined he would kiss her. It would be in a garden full of pink roses, and after they would walk in the sunlight, holding hands and smiling.

Erik was scowling and dabbing at his bleeding fingers with the edge of his dirty shirt when she returned; she tsked and hurried to his side to stop him, giving him a scolding look that made him flinch and her stomach somersault so hard that it felt it might hit the roof of her mouth and bounce. I must grow braver!

They were both quiet as she washed his hands again; he never winced in pain, so she did for him, and in her mind examined her dreams of sunny rose gardens.

She knew now that it would never have been that way; the giggling whispers of the other girls of the ballet came to her, talk of sinful things that she had tried to ignore. Such things had never been associated in her mind with Raoul or with marriage; sitting here on the edge of a man's bed with the rank smell of his unwashed body clinging to the back of her throat, they had to be. That was what it meant, she told herself determinedly, to give one's self to a man – it meant things to do with night and dark and bodies. Those girls who had done it said that it sometimes hurt.

She ripped a strip of dry cloth from one of the rags and bound it around the ring finger of his left hand, where the largest of his blisters still seeped and would not scab. Bandaging fingers was more complicated than she would have imagined, and her first attempt left her too little cloth to tie it in place, so that she had to unwrap it halfway and try again.

If she stayed, if she was his, he would touch her with those hands. Her body would no longer be only her own. Raoul would have wanted the same, she thought, difficult though it was to imagine.

She raised Erik's bandaged hand to her lips and kissed the tips of his fingers, still frowning; it made him shake.

She could go back upstairs when Madame Giry came, and not come back here. She could belong to no one but herself, not Erik and not Raoul and neither the dark nor the light.

I could be a ghost.

Her angel watched her, still silent; she smiled shakily and brought the goblet of water to his lips.

"Little bits," she instructed quietly. He sipped; his throat worked. "Not too much," she admonished, pulling the glass away. He gasped a little when she did; she wondered if perhaps he could not breathe very well through his nose. That seemed unlikely, though; he could not sing so beautifully, were that the case.

He licked his lips; his tongue was wet. Her own tongue touched the inside of her upper lip, then withdrew quickly; she felt suddenly absurdly aware of it.

"Is it all right?" she asked. "Do you feel ill?"

"No," he said, shaking his head and swallowing again. "Thank you."

"More?" she asked.

He opened his mouth, paled suddenly, grimaced, and swallowed frantically. His eyes clenched shut for a moment. He licked his lips again. "No," he said hoarsely, eyes blinking open. "I think I'd better not."

"In a little while," Christine suggested, setting the glass down beside the bed. "I was very ill once, when I was much younger. I remember it was dreadful to try to learn to eat again; I was so hungry, and everything smelled divine, but my stomach wanted none of it."

"I remember," Erik responded, watching her warily.

"Oh," Christine said, flustered. "Of course you do."

"I wasn't your angel yet," he said, "But I remember Antoinette was frantic. What was it you finally ate – those little almond pastries?"

"Yes," she said, the flavor of them suddenly there on her clamoring tongue. What does he mean, he was not yet my angel? "Yes, I – I like almonds very much," she responded inanely, letting that discordant thought scurry away.

"I shall have them delivered by the wagon-full," he offered, a querulous attempt at a smile curving his lips. "Every day."

It accentuated the sagging of the skin below his right eye; the flattened side of his nose did not move as it should, as though the flesh were hard, and his cheek wrinkled around it.

But he was her angel, sitting right there, so close, and he was smiling. It was not a thing of sunny rose gardens, but whatever feeling this was that she could not name, she didn't want to give it up.

"I don't need almonds every day," she retorted, smiling back at him. "I'd grow sick of them."

"What else, then?" he asked. "Chocolates? The finest of meats? Champagne?"

"A kiss," she blurted, the words spoken before they were thought.

His face went utterly blank in shock.

Oh dear God, why did I say that? He will think I'm a whore, like the managers do, like everyone -

"Oh, forget that!" she exclaimed, going scarlet. "Please, forget I ever said such a -"

"A -" he attempted to speak, but had to stop, swallowing. He was shaking very hard. She quieted. "A kiss," he repeated back to her. "Every day?"

Oh – oh. Oh dear. She had not meant it to be a promise.

She thought of hands and skin and sweat and giggling whispered things, her own shameful private explorations and Madame's frank explanations of how a girl gets with child. She thought of music and his bleeding fingers and blood-red roses and the puzzled look on Raoul's face up on the roof, and of Erik's cape – Erik's cape swirling out behind her as she leapt to her feet, and the look in his eyes. Like wings, Christine, it was like wings.

Great black wings. Hundreds of birds, all taking off and swirling into the sky –

They'd done none of the things Madame warned against, but Christine felt as though he'd planted something within her, the seed of something that would not grow into sunny pink roses. Something that wants dark and safe and that look in his eyes to grow, and I cannot deny it the chance. I think perhaps I ought to run, but I don't want to.

"Yes," she responded, her voice gone soft and trembling to match his. "I think I want that."

"Now?" he asked in a wondering rasp.

"Yes," she responded, nearly inaudibly. He leaned towards her, and her heart hammered; then he scowled, and pulled back.

"What -" she began to ask, stricken.

"Christine," he began awkwardly, his face red, "I've been –" he gestured defeatedly, out towards the room by the lake, "- as you've seen. You don't want to kiss me now."

"I do!" she insisted; it was nearly a wail, so anxious and overwhelmed that the line between excitement and tears was very, very thin.

"I have not scrubbed my teeth in several days," he said bluntly.

"Oh," Christine responded, drawing slightly away; her tongue seemed to want to crawl into the back of her throat at the thought. Her own teeth, she realized abruptly, felt somewhat less than clean.

The tension of the moment broke, just like that. There was something dizzyingly ridiculous about the banality of it, and she giggled; he flinched as though she'd struck him.

"No, no!" she protested, reaching out to cup his chin in one hand and tilt his face back up to hers. "I was thinking – it's not been days, but I haven't since last morning, either. And besides – besides teeth, I was on stage, under all of those lights, and – we're both positively disgusting," she concluded.

He still looked wary, tense and awaiting a blow. Her thumb stroked his cheek, all on its own – this habit that the various bits of her had developed of acting without consulting her was really quite disconcerting.

And yet, she felt so very strangely light, small and safe, hidden there with him in all their mutual repulsiveness. He was looking at her as if she held the very world in the palm of her hand and might crush it on a whim.

"Keep your lips closed, please, Sir," she whispered, in the best imitation she could manage of the teasing tones she'd heard from the other girls of the ballet.

He went pale and, much to her vexation, his lips parted ever so slightly – then he seemed to realize it, and clamped them shut. She leaned forward.

His lips were hot and dry and soft beneath hers; they just brushed, and then his hand came up to tangle in her hair, cupping the back of her neck and holding her there. Her eyes opened to find his open also, mere inches away.

She couldn't quite focus on him, close as they were, but her lips curved into a smile, and then his did as well. She didn't think that one was really supposed to smile in the midst of kissing, but she couldn't seem to stop. His nose was bumping hers and his breath was very hot on her skin. He tilted his head, his still-closed lips slanting across hers in a gentle caress as his thumb found the tender, hollow spot at the base of her skull and stroked there. It brought fire rushing up her neck and down her spine, a shivering heat that made her skin tingle. She wanted their bodies closer together, wanted the press of him against her, something to comfort the feeling that she might simply fly apart. Like wings, hundreds of wings, spiraling dizzy up – up – up –

He drew away, averting his face as his lips parted and he gasped for breath. She smiled uncertainly when he looked up again, his eyes searching her face warily.

His expression relaxed when he saw the look on her face, but slowly, as if he did not quite believe what he saw at first. Piece by piece Christine could observe it, fascinated; his jaw lost its nervous tension, his brow gave up its rigid set, and his eyes – she could not say exactly what it was that changed about Erik's eyes as her own smile widened, but it was a wonderful, weightless feeling to be the cause of it.

And then without her having seen it happen at all, he was smiling back at her.

Oh yes, I want this every day. Every single day.

He reached up to trace the shape of her mouth; she caught his hand in hers and kissed his fingertips, watching his eyes. His smile faltered, but it was all right, because she liked this next expression just as well. She turned his hand over and dropped a kiss into his palm. She felt the shudder that raced through him and grinned, ducking and hiding her blushing face behind his hand, though he must have felt the movement of her lips.

His fingers curled under her chin and tilted her face up, then curved around the line of her jaw so that he could touch her smile again, his thumb brushing across her lips almost like a kiss. There was a faint lilt remaining to his own mouth, half of a bemused grin. He tucked her disorderly hair behind her ear as his thumb continued its exploration, up over the curve of her cheekbone and then whispering around the corner of her eye, a ghost of a touch against her eyelashes as she blinked. His fingers skimmed the shell of her ear then slid down her neck, pausing at the place where she could feel her own pulse jumping.

She wanted to reciprocate in kind, but had enough sense remaining to refrain. His face was still uncertain territory, and Christine feared he would misunderstand if she wished to explore it. At some point in the course of the last few hours, it had ceased to be frightening or repulsive, and had become just Erik; she could imagine him no other way, and that she had never before seen a face like his was a point of curiosity that begged for further study.

In time; I don't need everything now. There will be other times.

Every day.

But today he is ill, and should be resting.

"Could you drink more water?" she asked. "You should try, little bits at a time, you'll feel better."

"I can feel your voice," Erik said, ignoring her question. His head tilted in curiosity and his thumb caressed her throat. His eyes were fixed on his hand on her neck, and his smile had grown, lopsidedly. "Speak again."

"What shall I say?" Christine asked. His grin deepened as she spoke.

"Anything," he said, mesmerized. "Sing."

"Think of me," Christine sang, watching his rapturous expression with a feeling like melting. "Think of me fondly . . " Her voice trailed off into stillness and he glanced up, meeting her eyes. His hand was still on her throat.

"I love you," she said.

He stared, struck dumb and utterly still, for a long moment. Christine held his gaze and waited. It felt very much like the teetering, weightless moment before a fall.

"Should I not have said that?" she whispered, when the silence had grown too heavy to bear.

He took his hand away from her throat and swung his legs over the other side of the bed, attempting rather shakily to stand.

"I'm sorry!" Christine exclaimed, tears welling in her eyes and a feeling like lead in her stomach making her slow and clumsy as she scrambled around the bed. Erik managed to get his feet under him, but he looked none too steady. His face had drained of color when he stood, and his eyes were momentarily glassy and vacant. Christine hesitated to take hold of his shoulders, suddenly uncertain if her touch would be welcomed, and instead planted herself in front of him, near enough to grab if he started to fall. She blinked furiously, trying hard to keep her face composed. "I should not have said that, you must think I'm -"

"Christine," Erik interrupted, frowning down at her as if surprised to see her there. He glanced across the bed to where she'd been, then back to where she stood now. He still appeared to be having some difficulty making his eyes focus, and he was breathing heavily, exhausted by the simple effort of standing up.

"Don't go," Christine pleaded. "You should be resting. I'll go, if you want me to."

"Why would I want you to go?" he asked, his frown deepening. "No, I don't want -" He blinked and grimaced, then shook his head to clear it; just that small motion caused him to sway alarmingly on his feet.

Christine lurched uncertainly forward, prepared to catch him; he sat heavily on the edge of the bed, and she drew back, clutching her hands together. His face remained twisted into a fierce scowl for several seconds before his eyes opened to glower up at her. "Why would I want you to leave?" he demanded harshly. "Why would you ask that? Do you wish to go? You must – you must, damn you, or you wouldn't ask! You're mocking me – it's all a joke -"

"Of course not!" she retorted, tears spilling over. "I wouldn't -"

"Wouldn't you?" he accused. "Don't you? Why else would you say that – and now you want to leave! Of course you do, why would you want to linger in the company this repulsive beast? You've had your fun at its expense - you've had your fun, damn you - making me believe -"

"I don't wish to leave!" Christine interrupted him in a shrill, desperate voice; she felt her own exhausted frustration sparking into anger. "I think the fever has disturbed your mind - it was you who were leaving!"

"Why would I be leaving?" he retorted, shouting. "Is this not my own home?"

"Of course it is, and I don't know!" Christine shot back. "How should I know that?"

"It was you who said it!" he bellowed.

"And you who did it, you stupid man!" she returned; his face flushed a furious red, and his hands clenched into shaking fists in the sheets. She saw her poor attempt at a bandage narrow and tighten about the ring finger of his left hand, and then blossom as red as his face. "And you're bleeding again!" she exclaimed in tearful exasperation, striding briskly to his side and snatching his hand up without thought.

He tried to pull away. "Stop that," Christine snapped, tugging his hand sharply back towards her in response to his flinch. Her own face had gone hot with embarrassment at her angry words, and she kept it averted, all her attention on his bleeding finger as she unwrapped the bit of rag that was now digging into his flesh, no doubt painfully.

"You know I don't truly think you stupid at all, but I'm very tired – and I ought to have more patience, I know, but I'm very -" She sniffled, tossed the bloody rag onto the floor, and looked about for the pitcher of water and clean rags. It was on the other side of the bed, of course, where she'd left it; she could have sobbed. "- I'm just overwrought," she finished in a small and strangled voice.

She dropped his hand into the sheets and pushed herself up, retrieving the pitcher. There was only one clean rag left, and her nose was running; she was half-way around the bed before it occurred to her that she should have taken a dirty one to use for a handkerchief. Going back for one such was entirely too much trouble, and so she scrubbed her nose on the back of her wrist, leaving a wet smear across her sleeve. She felt childish and disgusting for it, which fit her overall mood perfectly.

He'd pulled his hands back onto his lap, and was watching her once more with a cornered rat's bravado, fierce and glaring and yet twitching away when she sat next to him.

"Give me your hand," she requested. He did not move. "Please?" she tried again, her nose still running, the pitcher set awkwardly on one knee. It was cold; she was cold. His cloak had settled mostly beneath her, creating uncomfortable bunches of cloth under her legs and providing little in the way of warmth. "Erik, I'm tired," she pleaded, sniffling.

"Why would you make such a cruel joke?" he asked, his voice still tight and angry, but with a trembling thread of pain in it as well. "Christine, you must know – you must know -"

She looked up at him. "I must know what?" she asked wearily. "Will it matter at all if I swear I wasn't mocking you?"

He didn't answer, and his hands remained where they were, curled protectively around his arms. The bleeding seemed to have stopped on its own. She tied her one remaining clean rag carefully around the handle of the pitcher and set it down on the floor. "I should not have said it, anyway," she repeated in a small voice.

"You asked to leave," Erik accused, speaking in a tense whisper to the back of her bent head. "You swore you wouldn't, that you would stay here – that you would come back, on your own, you wanted to come back – but then you say – you say – and then you want to leave!"

Christine closed her eyes, and saw in the shuttered dark of her own mind all the pointing, jeering faces he had drawn.

I want to give you things you want.

I want you to believe I wouldn't hurt you. Can you give me that?

"Where were you going?" she asked; it was all she could think of to say that had not already been said.

"Going?" Erik repeated; still terse and wary, seeing a concealed barb in every syllable.

"You tried to stand," Christine reminded him in a voice that wobbled; without her pitcher and rags, she didn't know what to do with her hands. She began to pull fistfuls of his cloak out from beneath her, tugging it up around her legs. "I thought you wanted to get away from me, I thought I had offended you."

He wasn't offended, she saw that now, but also realized with grim, nigh-hysterical amusement that he could become offended yet, if she ever managed to convince him that she'd been in earnest.

"Must I admit it again?" he snapped, voice rising again towards anger. "Can you be so cruel?"

Stop, Christine thought exhaustedly. Please, just stop.

"I believed you," he repeated. "I thought – I let myself believe, that you could want . . . " His voice seemed to strangle itself.

"I do," she insisted, quiet and so very, very tired.

"Do not," he begged. "Do not torment me."

"I don't mean to," she answered miserably.

He was silent. She'd pulled as much cloak free as she could and wrapped it about herself like a cocoon, leaving her hands again purposeless, settled restlessly in her lap. He watched her; she could feel his eyes on her. My angel. She knew that feeling better than anything else in the world; even now, it was steadying, comforting. She wanted to laugh, and cry, and possibly be sick.

She did not laugh; she didn't want to know how he might interpret that. The silence dragged on.

"I – I cannot believe you," Erik confessed.

"I know," Christine responded with a sad little smile, understanding that his words had been chosen deliberately; not do not, but cannot.

Not a choice. Just . . just old burns.

"I should not shout at you, regardless," he offered; it was not quite an apology, but it was something.

"No," Christine agreed, as mildly as she could.

The room went quiet once more.

"I would not be offended," he ventured. "I was not offended. I stood because I was going to – to retrieve – no," he stopped abruptly, though he had her rapt attention. "No, I will not say it. Perhaps – perhaps later?" This last said with a note of tentative hope.

"Of course, later," Christine agreed. "Later when you're feeling better."

"You will be here." It was said flatly, and in a tone that warned of dire consequences were she not; it was none the less a question, and a desperate one at that.

"Yes," she agreed.

Quiet again. Christine looked down at her tangled hands. Then, his voice, almost inaudible: "Say it again?"

She looked up. "I – I still don't think I can believe it," Erik admitted. "Perhaps for another moment. I would like to hear it, anyway."

"I love you," Christine whispered.

"Oh, Christine," he sighed, shaking. "Christine, I love you. You must know how I love you."

She couldn't help but smile, trembling and terrified that the moment might burst like a soap bubble and plunge them back into confusion.

"I do," she said, with a helpless little shrug. "I do know it, though I want to hear it – I want to hear it every day," she offered; a careful, tentative grasp for the sweetness they'd found earlier, kisses and promises. It brought half an uncertain smile to his face, which was miracle enough to make her feel capable of flight. "Every day," she repeated, voice steadier. "It's all right – I can believe for both of us."

Erik reached out to cup her cheek in his hand, his thumb tracing the delicate skin beneath her eye. "But you are tired," he observed aloud. Her face was still a little damp with recent tears. He glanced behind him. "There is only the one bed." He took his hand away from her face to brace it on the edge of the bed frame, shoulders squaring, preparing again to stand. "It is yours, of course."

"Oh, of course not!" Christine protested, catching his arm. "You aren't well, you need rest. We -" She stopped, feeling again the heat of his scrutiny. It was tempting to look away, but instead she raised her chin. "I'll lay atop the sheets," she proposed determinedly. "In your cloak, and you'll lie beneath. It's likely it will be only a short time until Madame comes and wakes us both, anyway."

For a moment he just stared at her, looking utterly flabbergasted. Christine felt her still damp and sticky cheeks going very red, but held his gaze determinedly.

"Christine," he began carefully, and then one side of his lips quirked up in an uncertain twitch of a smile. "I would not find that restful. I do not know how I could sleep, with you laying beside me."

She hadn't thought her face could grow any hotter; she'd been wrong.

"Well you'd best learn, hadn't you?" Christine managed to choke out. She released his arm and gave his shoulder a half-hearted push. "Lay down, please? I'm very tired, and M. Reyer is casting Faust tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," he repeated, insinuating himself beneath the sheets and laying back in reluctant obedience, all the while eying her as though she might bite. "Il Muto has ended then?"

"Yes," Christine agreed, scooting herself up onto the bed with some difficulty, his cloak reluctant to loosen itself from her legs.

"You played the Countess."

"Yes," Christine affirmed again. "I was well received," she offered, hitching her shoulders self-consciously in a rather futile effort to make that statement sound somewhat less conceited than it must.

"I didn't hear you," Erik confessed mournfully.

Christine ducked her head and arranged cloak and sheets beneath her, smoothing out the wrinkles. There was a pang of disappointment; she'd known he hadn't been listening, of course, it was what had driven her to Madame in the first place. There'd been no rose – no accolade and no admonishment either. He'd never ignore her, of this she was certain, no matter how she disappointed him. So she'd reasoned, apparently correctly, that he simply wasn't there.

That he'd abandoned her, left her to fend for herself in the role in which he had placed her.

She knew that wasn't fair, but couldn't help the panicky little knot in her stomach, the urge to grab onto him and cling.

He's only ill because he didn't eat or sleep for days. He'll recover, and I won't let him ever do that again.

"The entire production was well received," Christine continued lightly, fussing with the cloak's hood, trying to fit it over a pillow. "Some of that may have been -" her eyes darted up to meet his, then down again, "- the scandal, but I don't think all, and anyway I suppose that will be remembered too. I'm sure we'll do it again." Another pause, settling her hair back over her shoulders. "They're calling it your opera, you know, the Phantom's Opera."

"Mine?" This brought Erik up on one elbow, indignant. "Il Muto? Mine?"

"Well they don't believe you wrote it," Christine clarified. He continued to look incensed. "Only that you are fixated upon it; that it's haunted."

"Il Muto," he repeated, voice a strangled combination of incredulous, infuriated and pained.

"You'll have to haunt something else," Christine suggested.

"Immediately," he agreed fervently.

She smiled. "Lay down?"

He did, though he continued to frown. Emboldened by this more familiar side of him – how often had her angel ranted about M. Lefevre's musical selections? – Christine reached out to trace his furrowed brow. The skin felt papery and fragile, which she attributed to too many uninterrupted days spent trapped beneath the mask, but also warm and living. It was different, she discovered, to touch him this way, than to tend to wounds. Her fingers trailed gently around the orbit of his sunken eye; its lid fluttered closed.

She darted impulsively forward, tangled in cloak, to press a kiss to that closed eye. His lashes tickled her lips, and she could feel his trembling inhalation. She retreated just as quickly back to her pillow, a decent distance away and wrapped from toe to ear in heavy black cloth. His eyes blinked open, very bright, and she thought hers must look the same. Erik took her hand, twining their fingers together.

"I must grow used to this?" he asked shakily. "I must learn to sleep this way?" He made it sound like an utterly impossible task.

"Yes, you must," Christine returned shortly, smiling. "Now go to sleep." Very determinedly, she shut her eyes.