A/N: I originally posted this on Aria under waxing poetic back in 2005. It's been heavily edited and re-written, so if you read its predecessor you might not recognize too much in this new version. Thanks to sparklyscorpion for encouraging me not to let this story sit collecting dust forever and for beta-ing both the original and revised versions! Credits go to ALW and Julius Caesar.
"Why? Why...?" I roared at her, my words resounding off the stone walls of my prison. Somewhere behind us I could hear the mob echo back with its own cry and I poled the boat furiously, even more desperate to reach the shore; it was a wonder we did not capsize.
At last we docked and I exited the boat and held out my arms to aid Christine, but she shrank from me. There was no time for her little games—with a barely repressed growl I dragged her out of it, pulling her along through the concealed entrance to my home and into the bedroom despite her feeble attempts at protest. I was too frustrated to be gentle, still reeling from her recent betrayal on the stage. When I flung her unceremoniously onto the bed she struggled to kneel and backed away from me, trembling like some poor mouse eying up the cat that had cornered it.
"What is it you're afraid of, Christine? Hmm? Tell me. You said that night on the roof that I would kill you. Tell me just what you think me capable of, my dear…" I snarled, stalking forward. When she found her voice it was stronger than I had expected.
"Murderer!" she raged at me. "You have killed two innocent men!"
A cold smirk came to my lips. Oh, I have ended far many more lives than that, my dear...
"But you heard the managers! Accidents, both of them…dreadful accidents," I nearly purred, taking another slow step forward. She reprimanded me for murder, but the way she clutched at her cloak and pulled it closed at her throat betrayed her true dread.
I froze. Does she think me that sort of monster? "Oh, I see!" I spat. "It is not your life you fear for, but your precious modesty!" I brought a hand to my forehead, feeling suddenly tired, but snatched it away as I noticed that my fingers were trembling. The heat of the heavy costume cloak I still wore was oppressive and I stripped it away wearily. The bed frame creaked beneath her weight as she shifted anxiously.
"I would never harm you, Christine," I stated calmly, but she did not lower her guard, her eyes still accusing. Something within me snapped. "You cringe before the man who would be content simply to look at you and worship you…but I forget! I am only a beast."
I swung forward and ripped the cloak from her weak grasp, hauling her to her feet. "How could I be anything else? What do beasts do but kill?" I ranted, tearing at the clasp and finally tossing aside her cloak. My gaze drifted briefly to the mannequin in the corner and the wedding gown I had intended for Christine. Despite everything I wanted to see her in that fountain of white satin, to take her far away from the Opera Populaire and finally have a living bride after decades of solitude. I looked back, my eyes pleading even through my anger.
"But even animals have a right to defend themselves, their home, Christine. The basest of creatures that crawl along in the dust are permitted to seek out what they need in this life…"
For a moment I almost imagined that her expression softened, or that her hands moved towards me a fraction…but I would not give her the opportunity to dupe me again.
"Take off your gown."
She stared at me in mute horror at my command. When she did not comply, I spun her around and clawed at the small buttons along her back. The sounds of her weeping reached my ears but I blocked out the noise, hardening my heart against her suffering. I, too had suffered! And at her hands—those white, delicate hands which held the power to soothe my hurts as easily as cause them.
"The curtain has fallen on the first act of our little drama, my dear...and it is time for you to change into your costume for the next." She seemed to follow my stare to her waxen likeness, emitting a cry of surprise as she realized my intentions. I wrenched the fabric down to pool at her feet. I was not prepared for the sight of sparse calico and lace beneath, and I looked away briefly.
Taking a deep breath, I turned her to face me. Tears continued to course down her cheeks, her arms crossed over her chest. "Is the thought of me as your husband so disgusting, Christine?"
"Please, stop this..." she whimpered, turning her head and squeezing her eyelids tightly shut. Even with all her efforts at denial I still desired an answer. If she despised me I wanted to hear it from her own lips, would beg to feel her beautiful mouth against my crooked one even as it spelled out my unhappiness. Gritting my teeth against my weakness I took her chin in hand and forced her to look at me.
"You are not a beast."
Her quiet reply surprised me. I had been prepared for more accusations, more words of hate. I released her chin and stepped back. "So I am a man to you, after all?" I asked faintly, my earlier fury slipping away at the need to know that I was more than simply a monster to her.
"You are not a beast," she repeated faintly. "Nor a phantom, nor an angel..." An unreadable expression flickered in her wide blue eyes. "You are nothing but a man."
Somehow the thing I had longed for her to say now only increased my despair, a biting reminder of my deception. Stepping out of the discarded costume on the carpet, she came to stand before me. It was my turn to shy away from her candid gaze, longing for the shelter of my mask. Instinctively I raised a hand to cover the right side of my face.
"Your face does not matter," she asserted in a soft voice. In the corner of my vision I could see her reach for my hand as if to lower it for me.
"Does not matter?" I repeated in disbelief, my hand dropping back to my side. "You foolish child. Look at me!" I bellowed, taking her shoulders to hold her still as I held my ruined cheek before her eyes. Her ragged breathing was warm as it flowed over the uneven ridges of my skin, the closest thing to a caress I had ever experienced. "You ask why I must live below the ground like a worm burrowing in the earth, why I must stain my hands with blood…and you have the gall to tell me this…this…infection does not matter?"
"Your soul is more twisted than your face ever could be," she spat bitterly, shaking off my grip.
I stalked over to the mannequin with a growl, tossing it facedown onto the bed so I could undo the fastenings along the back of the gown. Thinking herself free, Christine made for the door. Without looking up, I reminded her that there was no escape.
"Where is there for you to go, Christine? Shall you drown yourself in the lake?"
A frustrated noise was my only reply. I stripped the wedding dress from its waxen frame and held it out to her. "Put it on," I commanded. She opened her mouth as if to protest and I added curtly, "If you do not put it on, I shall do it for you."
When Christine refused to move, I threw the gown onto the floor at her feet, urging her to step into it as I tugged the fabric up around her, guiding her arms into the sleeves. She stood as still as the dress's previous occupant as I pulled the back closed and fastened the pearl buttons which stretched from collar to bustle.
It fit her perfectly, as it should—it had been the product of months of painstaking designing and redesigning. It was the gown which, in moments of weakness, I had dreamed of slipping from her pale shoulders on our wedding night…
Even with flushed and tear-stained cheeks she was more beautiful that I could ever have imagined. I carefully arranged her hair over her shoulders, and could not help slipping my fingers through the silken curls. She flinched and I drew back quickly, frowning as I moved to take the veil from the discarded mannequin.
My hands fisted unconsciously in the flimsy material, and I nearly tore it to pieces as the pain of her continual refusal smoldered within me. I would see her at the altar if I had to drag her there by force, and finally claim her as my own before the eyes of men and the God I did not believe in.
Her cloak still lay on the floor where I had thrown it earlier that evening. I bent to retrieve it, flinging at her in disdain. "Put that on. We shall leave presently." She gave me a look of puzzlement, clutching the dark material in her arms.
"I am afraid we must be off before the bridal party arrives, my dear," I stated calmly. "Now, unless you wish to catch your death of cold I suggest that you put on your cloak."
Never mind that it was the middle of the night, that I had no idea where to take her once we had left the Opera. We needed to make good our escape before the mob found my home; more importantly, I needed to ensure that we were far away from de Changy before he could ruin everything once more.
She stood unmoving, the cloak sliding unheeded from her grasp. With an impatient growl I seized her arm. "The die is cast, Christine, and I am afraid you have no choice in the matter. I grow weary of your childishness," I snarled, dragging her into the other room. This would all end tonight, I had decided—one way or another.