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Disclaimer; Christine, Erik and Raoul all belong to Gaston Leroux. The story from which I'm carrying on and Nadir belong to Susan Kay.
A/N - This is set directly after Susan Kay's Phantom, so there are spoilers throughout. If you haven't read Kay's version you may want to go away and read it before attempting to read this; I'm not saying you won't understand it but you will definitely enjoy it more if you know the story I'm going from.
Please r/r, this is my first chapter story and I need to know if you want me to continue it!
Love peace and cookies
Cat a.k.a. Midasgirl
P.S. Thank you to everyone who reviewed my previous story "It's Over now the Music of the Night", you guys are what keep me going!
This story is for Beki, the best friend anyone could ever have - but for her, this story would probably never have made it into publication.
"If my life were important I would ask will I live or die
But I know the answers lie far from this world ..."
Tim Rice, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
"Don't be ridiculous, Christine!" he said, staring at me with the utmost incredulity. "What would he do with the invitation, even if we did somehow manage to get it to him?" Then, seeing that this angle was having no effect whatsoever, he changed tack, his voice becoming softer, more persuasive. "It will only give him more pain, to see it down there in writing ... you don't want to hurt him even more, do you?"
He had drawn closer to me, and now he put his arms around me, pulling me close, brushing a kiss against my hair.
"It's all right," he told me softly. "It's all over ... you don't have to be afraid anymore."
I pulled away from him, suddenly furiously angry.
"I'm not afraid!" I cried, trembling with unladylike rage. "Damn it, Raoul, I have nothing to be afraid of! He's going to die, can't you understand that? The very least I can do is to honour the last promise I ever made him, God knows I broke enough before that!"
He reached out to touch me, but I struck out blindly, batting his hand away.
He stopped short, taking a step back.
"Christine, I really don't know what's come over you lately," he said coldly, suddenly very much the noble husband taking charge of an errant wife.
"Over me?!" I shrieked, fully aware that I was getting hysterical. I drew a deep breath in a vain attempt to calm myself, and tried to speak slowly, measuring my words.
"Raoul. I'm going to take him this letter. Now. And you're not going to stop me!"
"Yes, I bloody am!" he thundered, reaching out and grabbing my wrist.
I struck out blindly, trying to fend him off, but he grabbed wildly at my shoulder in an attempt to restrain me. I lashed out, accidentally catching him on the cheek. My hands flew to my mouth in horror as I realised what I'd done - I took a step back as I saw his eyes widen in absolute fury, then felt his fist connect hard with the side of my head.
I fell sideways from the sheer force of the blow, catching my head against the dresser as I did so and feeling a sudden sharp pain tear through my skull.
I reached up dazedly to touch my head, and my fingers came away red and sticky. Blood. I was bleeding?
The thought solidified slowly, condensing in my mind ...
Raoul hit me.
Then he was at my side, tears streaming down his face as he fumbled in his pocket, pulled out a silk handkerchief and held it to my head to stop the blood.
"Oh, my God ... oh Christine ... my darling, oh Christine! My darling, I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry ..."
Sitting crumpled together on the floor, we cried together, and, wrapping me in his arms, he swore it would never happen again, and I believed him.
I loved him ...
The next way, I made my solitary, but determined way, back to the Opera House. Raoul had offered to come with me - he had treated me like blown glass since yesterday - but I had decided it would be cruel and unnecessary to parade Raoul and our happiness in front of Erik, and besides, I no longer felt in need of protection.
I let myself into Erik's house with the key I had not yet returned from the Rue Scribe entrance - I didn't fancy my chances of rowing the boat all the way across the lake in the dark.
Turning to close the door carefully behind me, I heard a noise behind me and whirled round with a sudden panic.
It took me a moment to place the man who stood before me, shock etched just as clearly on his features as I was sure it was on my own. Then it clicked: the Persian daroga, Nadir something ...
And as the shock faded from his eyes, it was replaced by an expression which showed me just how displeased he was by my presence ...
That girl. That damned girl! Hadn't she done enough damage? Would it really have been so hard for her just to leave him in peace to restore a little of his shattered self-belief?
Suddenly aware that I was glaring at her, I forced myself to rearrange my features into an expression of courtesy, if not of welcome.
"Mlle. Daae ..." I said coolly, making a small bow.
She smiled weakly, a smile which didn't reach her eyes and showed me how shocked she was - she was probably just as surprised to see me as I was to see her, I reflected ironically. My open hostility had unnerved her, and she looked nervous, her fingers twisting helplessly in a fold of her heavy skirts.
She opened her mouth as if to speak, then changed her mind. She looked at me hopelessly for a few moments, then, as I raised my eyebrows slightly, she plunged in with the request I had known must be coming.
"May I see him?"
She sounded almost as if she expected me to refuse her ... as if I could ...
"By all means," I said, gesturing for her to follow me into the drawing room.
I tapped lightly at the door and pushed it open without waiting for a reply. Erik was seated at the couch with his back to us, caressing a small ball of fur with surprising gentleness. I recognised it as the kitten he had rescued from a group of streetboys several days previously and with which he had been up with day and night ever since despite my instructions that he must not ignore his fragile health so brazenly.
I cleared my throat, suddenly apprehensive.
"You know, Nadir, I think she's going to make it," he said without looking up. This had become typical of him; focusing his entire being on one aspect of his depleted life and refusing to allow anything else to enter his sphere until the task was completed. It was his way of avoiding reality ...
He had also developed the irritating habit of becoming selectively deaf whenever the topic of conversation ventured anywhere near his health, the workings of the Opera Ghost, or the girl who stood nervously next to me in the doorway.
She took an unsteady step forward.
His entire body stiffened and the shock jolted through him like a bolt of lightning, causing his head to snap up as if he couldn't believe the feeble evidence of his ears. His eyes, widening in shock, fixed on her as his hands fell from the kitten, ignoring the pitiful whine which escaped it. He rose instantly, reaching out to the table to steady himself, trying to look unconcerned, as if things like this happened to him every day of the week, and failing miserably.
For the first time in all the years I have known him, he appeared entirely lost for words.
"My dear ..."
He took an unsteady step towards her, recovering a little of his composure and taking refuge behind a wall of perfect courtesy.
"To what may we attribute this pleasure?"
I heard the hope quiver in his voice, and groaned silently; whatever purpose the girl had returned for, I was sure it wasn't anything which would make him anything less than truly wretched yet again. Ungenerous? Perhaps ... but cruelly accurate.
She held out a small white envelope, suddenly looking ready to cry, and I saw his eyes crinkle in confusion for a moment, before a wave of understanding swept over him and his shoulders lowered slightly.
An envelope? I searched my mind for any significance ... of course! The ill-fated wedding invitation he had requested of her ... the promise he had been so excruciatingly sure she would not adhere to.
He took the envelope from her, avoiding her fingers and withdrawing his hand without touching her.
He slipped his fingers under the flap of the envelope and withdrew the stiff white card engraved with elaborate gold lettering. He studied it for a moment, his face set and expressionless, then it disappeared with hardly a motion of his wrist.
He looked back at her, his face still resolutely devoid of emotion.
"Thank you, my dear," he said very quietly.
She smiled weakly, then looked down at the floor, unable to meet his eyes.
There was silence for a moment, then I heard his voice rise in alarm.
It was the first time he had addressed her by name and I could she was as caught as I was by the rising current of fear in his voice.
He took a step towards her, motioning that she should tilt her head back slightly; she did so with an expression of nervousness. He inspected her left temple for a moment, still without touching her, then took a step back and fixed her with a look of stony questioning, the one visible eyebrow raised slightly.
I looked closer, and realised that the skin around that area was badly bruised, a fact she had evidently tried to conceal with makeup; I had noticed nothing, but of course Erik's eagle eyes would take in every curve of her face, memorising every contour before she left him again.
"Where would you come by such injuries, child?" he asked, no longer formally polite but with an almost paternal seriousness which made evading the question quite impossible.
She ducked her head, avoiding his eyes, and shrugged helplessly.
There was silence for a moment, in which time he regarded her gravely, then his voice came again, this time with a dangerous edge to it which I feared could explode with all the force of a powder keg should the wrong lever be pressed.
"Did he hit you? Is that it?"
My head snapped up. Surely not ... her fiancé was a Chagny, an old and revered family ... that he should have struck her was entirely incomprehensible.
But the look on Christine's face said it all; the stricken look of abject misery would have told the most dim-witted of spectators the ugly truth; no hope of her lying to Erik on this one.
He swore violently in Persian, hardly even troubling to lower his voice, and began to pace the room with all the barely-leashed power and dangerous ferocity of a wild cat, retaining his natural grace even in his scarcely-controlled rage.
Christine knelt down, looking absolutely terrified. I wasn't surprised; the look of black passion on Erik's face could have split a block of marble straight down the middle, and I wasn't even sure that he was still aware of our presence in the room.
He drew a deep breath, slowly retreating from the madness which had threatened to claim him, and clenched his long fingers around the back of a chair with a force fit to splinter the wood. He took a deep, shuddering breath and I was suddenly struck with the uncomfortable feeling that he was on the verge of tears.
He turned back to Christine, and touched her lightly on the head, causing her to look up at him with a tear-stained face. She'd been crying?
"Do get up, my dear," he said gently, offering her his hand to help her rise. He helped her to her feet, then turned away from her and moved across the room again, touching his fingertips lightly to a painting.
"How many times has he hit you, my dear?" he asked without turning around.
Christine took a step forward, suddenly animated.
"Only once, Erik, and oh, Erik, it wasn't even that hard, and he was so sorry afterwards ..."
At this, Erik swung back to her, staring at her in utter silence with such unsettling contempt that her voice trailed away.
"Not very hard?" he asked, a note of thunder behind the deceptively calm tones.
She shook her head mutely, suddenly looking afraid again.
"Not so hard that you felt you had to try to conceal the marks from me? Not so hard that he made you bleed as you fell?!" Regaining a little control, he added, "Very bad idea, by the way - putting makeup or other toxins over the top of a wound like that creates a heightened risk of infection and may well inflame the skin and slow down the healing process."
She looked dumbly at him, confused by the sudden change of attack.
Erik looked back at her, and suddenly he softened and moved towards her, all anger gone as a curious softness came into his eyes which I had only ever seen before when he looked at that wretched cat of his, Ayesha.
"My apologies," he said very quietly. "Forgive me."
Christine looked at him, her eyes welling with tears. She nodded silently as the tears spilled over and she began to weep in earnest.
Hesitantly, he reached out and touched her gently on the cheek, an action of gentle, almost fatherly affection which only made her cry even harder, her hands fluttering over her face in a thoroughly inadequate attempt to cover her emotion.
Silently he produced a handkerchief out of thin air and handed it to her; still unable to speak, she nodded her thanks and rubbed it savagely over her face with a gesture of impotent frustration at her own weakness which reminded me strongly of Erik himself.
He took a step towards her and, with gentle, elegant motions of his hands, but still no physical contact, guided her to one of the two armchairs and stood a little way off until she could regain control over herself.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice still trembling with emotion. "It's just ..."
Erik's voice was surprisingly gentle. "I know."
As if suddenly returning to her senses, she rose hastily and smoothed down her skirts.
"I should go," she said uncomfortably.
Only the slight trembling of Erik's hands as he reached out to hand her her cloak betrayed the fierce storm of emotion which I was sure was currently raging through him; his face, as always, wore a look of studied indifference and his manners were as courteously polite as ever.
My heart ached for the pair of them as they stood awkwardly apart; the stubborn pride of Erik and wavering indecision of Christine hanging between them like a cloud, this couple who were made to be together and lacked the ability to recognise it.
I knew how badly he wanted her; it was written in every line of his stiff, unbending figure, every word he spoke fraught with agony ... and Christine, naive, innocent child that she still essentially was, hadn't noticed, didn't realise. She hadn't noticed the way he had turned his body ever so slightly away from her, hadn't noticed how tightly he was holding himself; hadn't even noticed the clenching and unclenching of his fists as he fought in vain to regain control over himself.
How could she not see? How could she not see the massive effort this one lonely man to whom she meant the world was forcing himself to make despite all his natural instincts, while she stood and wordlessly defended an utterly unworthy young man who had struck her in a moment of anger?
The cruel irony of the entire hopeless situation made me choke, and suddenly I just wanted to be out of the room and as far away from both Erik and Christine Daae as was possible; to whirlwind back in time when the moment of madness never happened, where Stephen Daae had lived and Christine had never entered Erik's life in search of an Angel and turned it upside down ...
I left the room silently, closing the door behind me.
He hit her. I honestly cannot believe it. That damnable boy! How dare he?! My God, for all I ever did to her, I never touched her against her will ... I will kill him. I will.
I thought I was hallucinating when she first came in; descending further down the road to insanity, now I was hearing her voice when only Nadir was there? But I looked up - I had to look up - and she was there ...
My God! I thought I was going to faint - only willpower and a convenient table stopped me from doing so ... I still can't believe she came back. I didn't think she would keep her promise ... I didn't think he'd let her!
After Nadir left us - truth be told, I had forgotten he was in the room - we stood in awkward silence for a moment before she made her unusually clumsy way to the door and fumbled at the handle.
The sound of my voice made her turn and look back at me; she was crying again, a fact I tried not to read too much into.
I suddenly found I couldn't say what I wanted to; an endless discharge of farcical, emotional rubbish from which she would still run ...
I couldn't break that final barrier, so I looked helplessly at her for the last time, and said, very softly,
"Take care of yourself."
She nodded wordlessly, biting her lip as she tried - and failed - to control her tears.
I turned away, unable to look at her any longer, and heard the soft click of the door as she closed it behind her.
I couldn't stay in the house, there was suddenly no air - I needed to be outside! It was late enough ... most people would have retreated home by this time ...
Nadir looked up in alarm as I left the drawing room, dressed to go out.
"Where are you going?" he demanded, sounding worried.
"Out," I replied curtly. I didn't fancy a long, in-depth analysis of Christine's visit ... I didn't want to share her! Not even with Nadir.
"Evidently," he said drily. "Where?"
"I don't believe that's any of your concern, daroga," I said coldly, lapsing into the old contempt I had shown him during the first short months of our acquaintance. I hadn't called him daroga in years ...
He rolled his eyes. "Erik ... don't go to her house. You'll only make it worse."
"I'm sorry," I said acidly. "I think we must be at crossed purposes. I have no idea to what you are referring."
He rose and walked slowly across the room, until he was facing me.
He seemed lost for words, and suddenly I felt a hot wave of shame. His constant presence in the house since Christine's first departure had been comforting, despite my frequent complaints that I was not a child and required my privacy ... Nadir had been a good friend to me.
"Don't do anything you'll regret, Erik," he said slowly, his eyes never leaving my face.
I laughed shortly.
"Regret?" I turned away from him, hating the way my voice sounded, so bitter and resentful. "My life has been one long regret."
And with that, I left the house, hating myself, hating the feeling of intense guilt that Nadir's eyes boring into my back brought as he stood and silently watched me leave.
To be continued ...