Guarded Hearts

This story was started several years ago and has laid untouched for a full seventeen months, much to my utter mortification and shame. I have no excuse other than I am a terrible person and have let my busy reality distract me from the far more important false reality I have created in this story. Either way, in an attempt to finally spur my muse on now that I have the free time ahead of me to continue with this story, I have gone back and made several edits to all of the chapters posted so far. Nothing drastic, so there is no need to re-read if you are already caught up with the story, but there are slight tweaks in all of the chapters that make me feel much more comfortable with my work, as it seems my writing style has shifted a bit in the year of my abscence. Anyway, enough of my rambling. Read and enjoy.

The first coherent thought that registered in Christine's mind as she woke up was that she was going to brutally murder whatever fiend dared to call her at four o'clock in the morning. However, as her eyes slowly managed to focus on the glowing digits of her alarm clock, which revealed that it was, in fact, eight in the morning, she decided murder might be a bit extreme and settled for simply punching whoever it was once or twice in the face the next time she saw them, instead. So, still aggravated but no longer seething in fury, she fumbled for the plastic device shrilling loudly in her ear.

"What do you want, Meg?" she snapped, not even bothering to check the caller ID.

"Well someone sure is cheerful today!" her obnoxiously perky best friend greeted happily.

Christine rolled her still-bleary eyes. "'M not cheerful 'till noon… Call back later 'n' I'll be a ray of sunshine."

Meg's happy chuckle gave Christine the overwhelming urge to shout random obscenities and hang up on her, but she managed to ignore it and straightened up a little in her bed.

"Come on, wake up already! Don't you want time to make coffee this morning before your big meeting?"

"Mmm… Caffeine…" Christine muttered wistfully, rubbing her eyes in a vain attempt to make everything around her focus. "Wait… What meeting?"

"Chris! You're meeting that guy from the security agency today! Don't you remember?"

Christine attempted to locate that information through the thick, sleep-induced fog that still clouded her brain, then winced and released a resigned sigh once everything had managed to register. "Oh… I'd forgotten about that."

"Clearly."

"Ugh… Don't you think this is all just a bit over the top?" she huffed, pulling the covers back and stepping reluctantly out of her bed.

"Chris, come on! Your dad is a famous attorney who's made it his goal in life to clear the incredibly corrupt city we live in of crime. He's pissed off a lotof really scary people. Add that to the fact that several of them have made threats on your life-"

"Which they haven't actually acted out-"

"-and I'd say that's plenty of reason to need protection from a security agency," Meg finished, as if she hadn't been interrupted.

Christine sighed. "Fine, fine… I guess you're right. And I really don't mind them setting up security equipment around my house, but giving me a professional bodyguard? Really?"

Meg chuckled. "Hey, what if he's cute? Having some guy follow you around everywhere might not be so bad…"

Christine tapped a finger against her chin thoughtfully. "Hmm… When you put it that way… I suppose I'll be okay with this for a while, but only because Daddy's insisting."

"Good girl. Now run off and get ready so you can look sexy for your bodyguard."

"Yes ma'am," Christine acquiesced with a chuckle. "Bye, Meg!"

"Good luck!"

Christine smiled, hanging up the phone and tossing it carelessly onto her bed. With a final stretch, she stumbled into the bathroom to brush her teeth and change. After washing her face and donning a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, she was satisfied that she wouldn't make a bad impression on whoever came to meet with her that day and quickly bounded out of the bathroom and into her kitchen to make a cup of her beloved coffee. As she sat waiting for it to brew, her mind began to ponder the situation she was currently in.

Despite the blasé attitude she took with Meg, Christine was truly frightened of the way her life was going. Her father had recently been elected as District Attorney for their city, and he was focusing all his effort into reducing the astronomical crime rate in the area. This was a valiant attempt on his part, and Christine respected him immensely for everything that he was trying to do, but it had made him the enemy of many powerful criminals. The area in which Christine and her father had taken residence had been subject to rule by corrupt politicians for a number of years, which had made it something like a haven for big time drug lords and organized crime. The ease with which the authorities were bribed allowed these criminals to settle in quite comfortably and go about their business with next to no opposition. The people of the city, though, were becoming fed up with the violence and crime spreading unchecked through their home, and the recent election had brought about drastic changes in the government.

Gustave, along with the mayor and several other important government officials, had immediately begun a campaign to bring law and order back to their city, and this campaign was gaining a significant amount of attention… particularly from the criminals whose domain had suddenly been threatened. This attention was something that did not bode well for either Gustave or Christine. It was no secret that the elder Daaé adored his only daughter, and already several people had made threats concerning Christine in an effort to dissuade Gustave from taking action against them.

Not wanting to back off his attempts, but unwilling to leave Christine in any danger, Gustave had quickly made arrangements with a professional security agency which had seen fit to equip her with a personal bodyguard, who was currently on his way to meet with her… and move in.

Not only was the guard meant to accompany her to all of her classes as well as out around town, he was also instructed to stay in her apartment and guard her at night. Then again, Christine had been looking for a room-mate ever since Meg moved in with her boyfriend. Why bother with two separate things when you could just get a bodyguard/room-mate combo? Hmm, maybe he cleaned house as well…

Still, the thought of a complete stranger coming to live with her made Christine slightly jumpy, which might explain why she almost dropped her coffee cup at the sound of the buzzer going off.

"Who is it?" she asked casually, trying to ignore the scalding pain on her hand where she had spilled coffee on it.

"Your bodyguard," a man replied, his voice garbled and full of static due to the building's ancient intercom system which had long been in need of repair.

Christine stared warily at the intercom for a full minute before finally muttering a reply and buzzing him in reluctantly. As she stood by the doorway, waiting on him to reach the apartment, she tried to recall all she had heard about her new bodyguard from the man she had spoken to at the agency.

"Mr. Draven is… unique," she recalled the man, Nadir, she believed he had called himself, explaining in a lightly accented voice. "He's led a very challenging life, and his experiences have left him with a rather cynical view on society. He tends to be very cold and brusque, and he has quite a temper, but when it comes to your safety there's no one I would trust more to guard you."

The light knock from her doorway jolted her from her thoughts, and, apprehensively, she pulled the door open. It took all of her willpower not to jump back in shock at what she saw.

Mr. Draven is unique… This line sprang instantly to her mind as she surveyed the imposing figure placed before her. He was extremely tall, probably about six foot four, and stood perfectly erect and still, not even a finger twitching as Christine inspected him. He was quite thin, but a bit too fit to be considered scrawny, with taut and sinewy muscles well-defined even under his clothing. His skin had an almost sickly pallor to it, though his powerful demeanor gave no hint at illness, and contrasted sharply with his inky black hair and dark attire. A black leather mask covered his face, leaving only his thin lips and strong jaw open for inspection, though the contours of the mask hinted at sharp, angular cheek-bones and a straight, aristocratic nose. What stood out to Christine the most, however, more so than even the mask, were his eyes. Deep, molten pools of gold gleaming from within the shadows of the mask, they viewed Christine intensely with a predatory gaze that intrigued and terrified her all at once.

Unique? Understatement of the century…

"I… umm… Hi," Christine stuttered after what she realized was entirely too long of a pause.

A slight incline of his head was the only response he gave.

"Err… Come on in!" she called, shuffling awkwardly away from the door as she watched him effortlessly lift the hulking suitcase from beside him and enter her apartment. He moved with a lithe, cat-like grace that gave his actions a decidedly predatory edge, causing Christine to gulp inaudibly. If my bodyguard decides to turn on me… Who protects me from him? she thought wryly as she shut the door behind him.

They stood in uncomfortable silence for several moments before Christine finally gathered the courage to speak.

"So, since you're going to be living here and all, I suppose you might like a tour?"

He raised one shoulder slightly in a gesture of indifference, not a single emotion flickering across his masked features.

"Right… I thought you might," she muttered, plastering a fake smile to her face to cover her unease. "Okay, well, this is obviously the living room, where you'll do all of your living. Temporary death is required when using any other rooms."

His icy glare actually gave her chills. Christine quickly shook them off and continued on.

"And this is the kitchen! I'm a big fan of junk-food, but we've also got enough groceries in here to cook a decent meal every now and then, so hopefully you won't starve." Briefly she showed him where the food and utensils were stored, trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling she got as his intense eyes bored into her, never once showing an ounce of emotion.

Finishing with the kitchen, she then led him down a narrow hallway, pointing to the first door on the right. "This is the bathroom. It's the only one in the apartment, so you'll have to share with me. I apologize in advance… I'm sure sharing a bathroom with an extremely disorganized girl wasn't exactly part of the job description when you signed on as a bodyguard, but I'll attempt to keep all feminine products hidden for your comfort."

Was that a smile that flickered across his face, or did his lips just twitch?

She opened the door across the hall from the bathroom to reveal a large room, three of its four walls solidly covered in shelves overflowing with books. A large, fraying, overstuffed armchair sat in one corner, and in another stood a large grand piano with various sheets of music strewn across it.

"This is my favorite room in the whole apartment," Christine explained with a soft smile.

"You play?" the bodyguard asked softly, a hint of surprise coloring his voice with the first emotion she had witnessed from him and his golden eyes surveying the piano with undisguised hunger.

It was the first time he'd spoken since he got there, and Christine couldn't help the gasp that escaped her lips at the sound. His voice was incredible… Rich, deep, and melodic, with a hint of an animalistic growl which somehow seemed to add to its sensual quality, it was enough to send shivers coursing down her spine from just those two words.

Shaking off her surprise at his voice, she gained enough presence of mind to answer the question. "Huh? Oh… Well, not exactly. The piano was actually a gift to my father. We're both musicians, but he plays the violin and I sing. We usually just use the piano for tuning, and when I moved out he brought it to my apartment to help with my vocal exercises," she explained sheepishly.

The bodyguard gave no audible response, but Christine could guess by the hard set of his lips that he felt their usage of such an instrument was a waste.

"I take it you're a musician as well?"

He gave a slight nod, his gaze never flickering from the piano.

"Well, feel free to use anything in this room whenever you like."

Instantly his eyes were centered on her, and, though she couldn't really tell due to the mask, she pictured one of his eyebrows raised in question.

"Well, considering you're going to be living here for a while, it's only right to give you free reign over anything you want in the apartment. Just stay out of my dark chocolate stash and we'll have no problems."

A hint of a smirk seemed to play across his face, but disappeared before she could really tell.

After standing in yet a few more moments of awkward silence, Christine finally led him down the hallway to the last two rooms in the apartment.

"That's your room," she announced, pointing towards the room on the right side of the hall. "I'll leave you alone and let you get settled in. My first class isn't until ten, so you've got a while to get unpacked. Just call if you need anything, I'm right across the hall here," and with a final, uncomfortable smile, she turned and bounded into her room.

Erik watched her surreptitiously as she left before turning back to his room and opening the door. The room, though rather small, was lacking the bland that were generally found in guest rooms. In fact, far from being bland, the room was decorated with an intensely contrasting color scheme of jet black and stark white.

Erik stared in open astonishment, his eyes taking in the new carpet, silk sheets, and thick black curtains blocking any sunlight from entering the room. He surveyed everything in surprised amusement, wondering how on Earth she had found out enough about him to decorate the room as well as she had, or why she would go to the trouble of doing so for a complete stranger. He turned around to thank her, but she had already shut the door to her bedroom, and at that moment he heard David Bowie start blaring from her stereo. At this, he felt an uninvited smirk pull across his lips.

He was about to begin unpacking when his cell-phone rang. Glancing briefly at the caller ID, he flipped the offending device open and propped it against his ear.

"Khan," he greeted curtly as he unzipped his suitcase.

"Draven," Nadir shot back in a slightly mocking tone. Erik rolled his eyes and refrained from responding. "I was just calling to check in and see how things were going with your assignment so far."

"Well, considering I just arrived at the girl's apartment a little over three minutes ago, I don't have much to report. Check back in a month."

"Oh come now, Erik. Three minutes should be more than enough for you. You've never met a person whom you couldn't find at least ten reasons to hate within a single meeting. I can't imagine now would be any different."

"You couldn't have at least waited an hour before starting to harass me?" Erik responded dryly, not deeming the man's previous statement worth commenting upon.

"Humor me, here. I'm extremely curious," Nadir entreated, Erik's surly attitude only seeming to amuse him more.

"Curiosity killed the cat, you know."

"Did it?" He chuckled. "Well, that's all well and good for the cat, but most of the boys at the agency have their money on the infamous Phantom and one of his temper tantrums being the cause of my demise, and I can't find it in me to argue with them."

"Wise man…" Erik murmured, fighting back a grin. "And for the record, I have incoherent rages, not temper tantrums," he stated archly. "I am an emotionally troubled artist, not a damned toddler, Daroga!"

There was a silence as Nadir seemed to ponder this. "I'm sorry, Erik, but I'm failing to see a difference here."

"So, are you trying to speed along our coworkers' pay offs on this bet, or have you just decided life isn't worth the effort anymore?" he retorted menacingly.

"Are you threatening me, Erik? I am utterly shocked!"

Erik's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Are you?"

"Yes! It took me a good four or five jabs at you before you ever mentioned bodily harm! You're going soft."

"Hardly," Erik scoffed, his voice hard despite the amusement twinkling in his eyes. "Now state your purpose and be done with it, you insufferable man, so I can go about my business."

"I thought I already had. I wanted to know how things were going so far!"

Deciding to get to the point in the hope that Nadir would leave him alone, Erik released a sigh. "They're going fine."

"Well, what's this Christine like? I'm dying to know."

"She's… tolerable," Erik admitted after a pause.

"Oh? And what exactly qualifies as tolerable? Is she anything like you were expecting?"

The bodyguard growled slightly in annoyance at his pushy friend. "Not really, no."

"So she's not a whiny, spoiled, materialistic little girl with a much too elevated opinion of herself simply because of her Daddy's accomplishments, who automatically despises you due to your facial accessories?" he asked with a hint of a smile in his tone.

"Surprisingly, no."

"Well, what is she, then?"

Erik glanced around thoughtfully, listening to the muted strains of "Rebel, Rebel" seeping from her room and eyeing the décor inside his own. "I'm not entirely sure."

"Ah, so we're being vague about this, then? Well… how did she react when she met you?"

"Like most people react when they first meet me, she seemed positively eager to get away," Erik explained cynically. "She did, however, at least make an attempt at being civil, and she gave me a tour of her apartment."

"Oh yeah, what's it like?"

He sighed, wishing his exasperating friend would just lose interest and let the subject drop. "It's… small, which was a surprise."

"True, anyone with enough money to hire you on should be able to afford a Penthouse."

"Nadir…" Erik growled in a warning tone.

"Sorry, sorry. Continue, please."

"It's rather typical… Living room, kitchen… I have to share a bathroom with her, by the way."

"Well that should be fun."

"She has a library," Erik continued as if he hadn't been interrupted, "albeit a rather small one, and there's a piano in there. She said it was her favorite room."

"Hmm… So she's musical and literate. Sounds like you're going to have a miserable time over there," Nadir joked lightly. "Anything else?"

Erik paused. "She decorated my room for me," he finally stated, his voice faintly tinged with some indefinable emotion.

Nadir grinned smugly to himself. "Ah, now that one I knew. I gave her a few designer tips."

"How very generous of you…"

"Well, what can I say? I'm a step away from sainthood!"

Erik snorted lightly to himself at his friend's fake egotism. "I'm going to finish unpacking now. Goodbye."

"Bye, Erik. Good luck on your first day."

Erik felt an irrational surge of anger at that statement which caused him to respond in a scathing voice. "Please, Nadir… Luck has never been kind to me. If anything goes right in my life, it is because I have fought for it tooth and nail, despite Fate's best efforts to destroy me. I stopped hoping long ago for anything good to just fall into my lap," he muttered darkly before promptly hanging up. After running a hand across the contours of his mask and giving a melancholy sigh, he set his phone down on the nightstand and began the tedious process of unpacking.

Once he finally had the room set up to his satisfaction, he glanced down at his watch. Nine-thirty. Christine should be leaving for her class soon. Giving a final glance around the room, he pulled on his black, floor-length duster, his hand instinctively slipping inside its pocket to feel for the reassuring coil of rope resting there, and stepped into the living room to wait for her.

As he entered the room, his hand shot up reflexively to catch the couch cushion hurtling towards his face. Holding the cushion up warily as a shield, he peered around it and raised an eyebrow at the sight of Christine tearing frantically through her living room.

"Dammit… Dammit… Damn, damn, damn!" she shouted as she continued to rip apart her furniture. "I swore I wouldn't be late this week!" she muttered under her breath, apparently oblivious to Erik's presence. "Ergh… Stupid defective memory… I know I had it out last night, so what did I do with it?" She moved her search from the couch to the kitchen, scouring the table, cabinets, and even the refrigerator. Erik had to bite back a laugh when he noticed she was only wearing one shoe. "Agh! Where the hell is my theory book?" she shrieked in frustration, slamming the dishwasher shut and stomping back into the living room.

She froze in surprise as she was met by a stone-faced Erik silently holding a music theory textbook in front of him.

"Oh. Um… thanks!" she exclaimed awkwardly, taking the book from him. "Well, let's head to class then," she stated as she shoved the textbook into her bag and headed towards the door.

Erik stood where he was and shot her a questioning look, glancing pointedly towards her one bare foot.

Christine noticed his actions and blinked in confusion for a second before following his gaze. "Oh!" A blush quickly worked its way up her cheeks. "Yeah… the other shoe might help…" She glanced around, attempting to locate said object, but saw no trace of it in sight. "On the other hand, symmetry is highly overrated these days…"

Not sure whether to be amused or frustrated with the scattered girl, Erik quietly stalked to her television and pulled the elusive shoe off the top of it.

"Oh… Right… That's where I put it… Thanks again!" she exclaimed with false brightness, hopping on one foot as she slid the other shoe on and then turning towards the door. "Shall we, then?"

"After you," Erik murmured, holding the door open for her.

Christine flashed him a startled smile for his chivalry and made her way out.