I have chosen.
"Erik! I will be your living wife!"
It had been a combination of fear for Raoul's life and the sudden implications of what his words meant. His adamant tone expresses to me what he had planned; his will was inexorable, and I, a weak and insignificant girl, suddenly held the lives of so many in my hands.
"Everyone will be dead and buried!"
My fingers curl in sheer terror, my entire body begins to tremble with suppressed sobs, and Erik stands there, observing me.
"You are sincere," he notes, his flawless voice echoing around my aching head. "You wish to save your young fiancé, do you?"
I nod, seeing there is no way to lie through this. Erik exercised an awesome and terrible hold over me, and my decision to accept his bizarre proposal was more to do with this hold than any pitiful wish I had. How could I compare to him? How could I ever dream that his claims of a "living wife" were little more than an idealized fantasy that centered around myself? I have wondered willingly into his trap, and even now, I feel no remorse.
"You would become my wife out of fear," Erik states quietly. "Not love."
I hang my head miserably, afraid to deny this, and yet more terrified of revealing the truth. What feelings did I have for Erik, other than pity? Surely none at all, I tell myself. I would not love this monster. I did not love this monster. And yet I have consented to become his living wife.
Erik is crying.
I see his tears, for he is not wearing his mask, and I do not turn away in disgust. He is crying for me, because he has wasted his love and affections on someone who is cowardly and naive. He should not love me, not after all I have done to him, but he does, and his infatuation is unremitting. What position have I hoisted myself into?
I walk forward unsteadily, not sure of where my destination is, and he drops to his knees and crawls toward me, like a child seeking forgiveness. He clutches at the hem of my dress, and I keep my eyes open, staring at the wounded man who is at my feet.
"Erik," I murmur, but I have no idea of what to say to comfort him, how to soothe him, but my voice does enough. He raises himself to his knees, as if to draw up, and I put my arms around him.
This act surprises me more than him, and I feel him flinch at the contact, and then freeze as he realizes what I have done. He becomes cold and unmoving in my embrace. I tug my arms around him more so that he has no choice but to lean into me; his tears start afresh, and I whisper once again, "Erik.."
Is this all I can offer him?
He breaks down and wraps his own arms around my waist and presses himself against my stomach, and I can feel his sobs reverberating up my body and into my throat, so suddenly I am sobbing too, both of us crying and clinging to each other like lost children who have been given hope. My tears ran off my face and onto his, so that our connection is greater as I watch him taste those mingled tears.
"I love you, Christine."
I am a frightened child. I do not know how to handle love such as this. I put one of my little hands against his cheek, and he draws back instantly, so I feel empty and cold.
Quite suddenly, he pushes himself up with surprising speed and agility, and I recoil, my arms going back to my sides. He stares at me full nearly a full minute before he says in an authoritative voice, "You are Erik's bride. Erik will do whatever she wishes. Does she wish to be let go?"
His words shock me, but his manner shocks me even more. His cold formality has returned, and even as I look back into his glowing eyes, I see no trace of tears…
"Let go?" I repeat, my mind slow and foggy. "I don't understand."
His chuckle is sad and distant as he looks down at the floor. "You love the boy. I wish to keep you here, with me, but I cannot. Erik cannot have a wife who pines for another. Tell me the truth, Christine. Would you like me to release you and him?"
His short sentences and quickening of breath tell me he is frightened of my answer. He is afraid. His shoulders have already drooped, and I ask gently, "Is Raoul alright?"
A bit of his spark returns at that, and he says, "Standing with her husband, and she inquires about her former lover! He is fine, my dear; Erik keeps his word. He keeps his promises. And he would expect you to do the same."
My reminder of Raoul and reality hits him hard. All talk of being released has vanished. We have recessed to the point where he has not yet offered my freedom, nor cried with me, nor put his arms around me. His eyes are cold again, and he looks at me curiously. Already, I am confused about everything that has just occurred.
I had made my decision, had I not?
What other choice do I have?
My life is worth little now. I suppose it is only for Raoul's life that I shall forward now. How else was I to escape Erik? What good could come out of refusing him? He is a broken man, and yet he is threatening and dangerous. I should be screaming now, and running in the opposite direction! Oh, what has become of me? What have I done to deserve this?
Yet, what has Erik done to deserve this? All his sins are reactions to pain and suffering that has been inflicted upon him. Why should he want me to linger, a constant scar to forever pierce him?
Could I ever even pretend to offer my love?
I struggle internally with myself once again. I am confused beyond measure, my head is hurting me, and I am not sure what is drawing me to stay with Erik.
"Erik! I will be your living wife!"
Wife. I promised to be his wife.
Erik's wife. What did those words mean? What connotations did they hold? What duties would be forced upon me?
My mind is in turmoil again, and I wish to be in Raoul's arms, taking me away from this place. With Raoul, there are no threats or confusing thoughts. Raoul loves me.
But the sad thing is, Erik loves me too.
Two different kinds of love, both powerful, both strong, but a choice I will ultimately have to make. I have made my choice! How many times must I remind myself of the words I uttered over a minute ago? My thoughts are implacable, and they well up inside of me, and I am ashamed of them, ashamed because I am a foolish child who has no idea on what to do. I love Raoul, but I cannot be with him in such a state as this one.
"You are thinking very hard," Erik snaps, and his acrimony startles me, so I look up. "I want to keep you here, with me! All you have to do is love me, and I will take care of everything else!"
I stand still, his voice interrupting my musings. "I will stay with you," I whisper.
"Of course you will," he says. "You are my bride." He seems to want to step forward, but thinks better of it. "Your dress in your room, my dear. Be a good girl and put it on. Come back in here to marry your Erik."
Numbness is beginning to spread through me. I am going to marry Erik. I have made my choice. This is my decision.
A decision of marriage should not be taken lightly, and yet, I feel as if I have just done that. I bring my hand up to my face and wipe at the corner of my eyes where tears have been bold enough to gather, but not enough to fall. I think of Erik's tears, freely flowing from those eyes, the same eyes that worshipped my every move. I could not give him the love he so desperately craved. I could not give him the passion that he gave to his music. Why me? Poor, unhappy Erik.
"You have promised," Erik reminds me sullenly from across the room, as if he tastes my doubt. "You promised me, my love. I will love you forever. You, in turn, must marry me."
"I have agreed to marry you," I reply, staring at my hands, which are clasped in front of me. "That does not mean it has to be right away. Can I not stay down here with you for a while more before we exchange marital vows?" It is a foolish thing to say, I know. I am requesting more time with him, more time to delay what I am beginning to feel is inevitable.
I look up, and nearly scream to see that Erik in inches away from me. Luckily, I restrain my noise, realizing that screaming would surely anger him beyond recognition.
His tone is soft and unbearably gentle and he stares passionately into my eyes. "I do not want to be your captor, Christine," he tells me. His eyes scan my face. I think he is seeking reassurance, or forgiveness—or maybe even love.
I sigh. Something about his closeness reminds me of what he is asking. Then I take his hands, dreadful and terrible hands as they are. He shudders and grips them painfully tight. "No, Erik." I say bravely, my hands turning numb. "Not captor. Husband."