To Be Loved
By HDKingsbury and MadLizzy
Author's Note: Several months ago, I had a dream. I don't always dream of Phantom, but that night I did. It wasn't a complete story, but the germ of an idea. I explained the idea to my friend and collaborator, Lizzy, and asked if she would like to my co-author in this endeavor. The result is To Be Loved.
To Be Loved is a blend of ALW and Leroux--using the basic storyline of Webber's show (the stage version, not the movie, though you're free you visually imagine whatever Erik you want), and Leroux's background for the characters (Christine's childhood, Erik's past, and other things ALW left out).
This will be a story in two parts. The first half will deal with reconciliation. There will be happiness and sadness, and maybe some Erik Angst now and then. Many stories have been written that take up after the stage show ends. Some plot elements may sound familiar--after all, there are only so many different ways to get these two characters back together! I hope, however, that Lizzy and I are doing some things different and giving this story the HD/L "special touch."
To Be Loved For What One Is
Part One: Reconciliation
To be loved for what one is, is the greatest exception. The great majority love in others only what they lend him, their own selves, their version of him. ~Goethe
"Can I get you something?" Raoul asked. Lines of concern were etched deeply into his face, giving him a haggard appearance. The evening had been traumatic for both of them. They had been put through more horrors than any person should ever have to endure.
He carefully regarded Christine as she sat staring into the fireplace, watching the golden glow that reflected off her face. She looked fascinated, almost hypnotized, as she gazed at the flames dancing around the logs. Ever since they had fled the opera house, she had been withdrawn and uncommunicative.
Raoul slowly shook his head. There was little doubt that her mind was a million miles away. No, not millions, but much closer. He ground his teeth. Perhaps as close as the fifth cellar beneath the opera house. He continued watching her, searching for some sign as to what she was thinking. Then he saw her body quiver in reaction to an unpleasant thought. She looked so frail, so vulnerable, and in that moment, all he wanted to do was to hold her and protect her. He grabbed the blanket from the sofa and draped it about her, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders.
"Thank you," she said, looking up at him, her face pale, her smile wan. Her cold fingers brushed accidentally against his as she clutched the wrap and pulled it tight, and she gently shrugged his hands off her.
Interpreting this to mean that she wasn't in the mood to be held, he sat down in the chair opposite hers. Though his own clothes had dried after the soaking they'd gotten in the waters beneath the opera house, he still felt chilled and the warmth of the fire felt good. He looked across at Christine and wished he could do more for her at the moment, but it appeared that what she desired most was room to think; to digest all that had happened. Trying to shrug off his own feelings of helplessness, he joined her in staring at the flickering firelight, finding a calming, sedative effect in the cheery blaze that helped deaden the horrors they had endured.
He spent several minutes listening to the mantel clock tick, then tried once again to engage Christine in conversation, but after a few monosyllabic responses from her, gave up. So he sat, stewing in his own thoughts. Over and over, he berated himself. Tonight's disaster had been his fault. His well thought out plans had gone awry and, worse still, had placed Christine in danger.
His mind raced back six months, to that night on the rooftop. Christine had been frightened that night, and he had promised to take her away from the darkness and shadows that threatened her. He closed his eyes, unable to keep that scene from replaying itself in his mind. Damn it! He'd failed to keep his promise to Christine—to keep her safe.
It should not have ended this way. The plan had been simplicity itself. As no one could find the Phantom's secret lair, what was needed was a way to entice the fiend out into the open, and what better way to do this than to have Christine sing the Phantom's opera? The Phantom, obsessed with the young singer, would be lured into the open. When that happened, the gendarmes who had been situated at strategic points throughout the auditorium were to have picked him off.
But it hadn't worked out that way. Instead, this Phantom had hoodwinked them all.
Not only had he disabled Ubaldo Piangi, the company's Don Juan, but he had also had the audacity to take the tenor's place on the stage. With the character wearing a hooded cloak in that scene, nobody noticed the switch until it was nearly too late. Nobody, that is, except Christine. It might have been the change in her partner's voice, or maybe the way he moved on the stage that tipped her off. Whatever the reason, at the height of their strange duet about passions bursting into bloom, she had exposed the fraud for the world to see.
And that was when the nightmare began.
Raoul tried sorting out his thoughts, but the rest of the evening was a whirl of confusing images and emotions. The Phantom, who at times lived up to his reputation and gave the impression of being more ghost than human, abducted Christine before the entire audience. Making use of his intimate knowledge of the opera house, the man—for he was, after all, only a man and not a ghost—had contrived to have the all the auditorium's lights to go out, and during the ensuing confusion had carried off his victim to his underground den.
Raoul had tried to follow, but it had been a difficult task in the dark. There was no way of knowing in which direction they'd gone. Adding to the confusion were the people yelling and bumping into each other as they scurried about. One of the stagehands finally restored some of the lights, and Raoul continued searching for any clue that might tell him where Christine had been taken. The task seemed hopeless, but then he ran across the mysterious ballet mistress, Mme Giry. Raoul had long thought that the woman knew more about this unholy denizen of the opera house than she let on, but at least she had been willing to help. She'd set him in the right direction, taking him to the stairs that led to the cellar. She herself could go no further, she'd said, and warned him to keep his hand at the level of his eyes. Her words made little sense, and in his hurry to rescue Christine, dashed off in the direction of the cellars without giving her warning further thought. Too late, he had finally understood what the ballet mistress's cryptic words meant.
He made his way through the labyrinthine underground. There, five levels below the opera house, he found the vast glassy lake of which Mme Giry had spoken. Finding no other way of crossing it, he swam the frigid water, which was dark as death itself, and on the other side found the Phantom's hideout. In his elation, Raoul momentarily dropped his guard, and those few unguarded seconds were all the Phantom had needed.
Raoul tugged his collar at the memory of the rope about his neck. What was it old Buquet had once called it? Ah yes, a magical lasso, something to do with the Punjab. But what did India have to do with any of this? Had the Phantom once lived there? Was that where he'd learned his magic? Perhaps before coming to Paris, the man had been a fakir, performing in the streets of Calcutta or Bombay. Raoul grinned humorlessly. The thought of the mysterious and powerful Phantom performing such feats as fire walking, snake charming and lying on a bed of nails might have been funny under different circumstances.
Once he was the Phantom's prisoner, things went—as the old saying went—from bad to worse. There had been shouting, begging, pleading and cajoling. The Phantom had demanded that Christine make an unholy choice. "Refuse me, and you send your lover to his death!" he'd screamed while Raoul, helpless to escape, had been forced to look on and begged Christine's forgiveness.
And then, the strangest thing had happened. In the midst of all this anguish, it stood out in crystal clarity. It was what Christine did next, and it haunted him still. In spite of his threats to her, she had walked over to the Phantom and embraced the misshapen monster. She spoke to the fiend—her voice soft and tender, like a lover's voice—and told him that he was not alone. She reached out to him, put her hand against his cheek.
And then, she had bestowed a kiss upon his godforsaken face.
The very thought of it made Raoul sick to his stomach. Even now, he was having trouble comprehending how she had been able to draw up the courage to do such a thing, but then, Christine had been surprising him a lot of late. Despite the fact that she looked delicate and frail, like an ethereal fairy princess from one of those dark stories of the north her father used to tell them when they were children, she sometimes surprised him with an unexpected strength of will.
As he sat, lost in thoughts of those final moments in that subterranean realm of music and magic, Christine's voice interrupted.
"You don't have to stay here," she was saying to him.
Raoul looked from the fireplace to her face. There it was again, that hint of strength and courage in her expression, as if he were the one needing protecting.
"You've had a difficult day," he said.
Christine responded with a sad smile. "So have you. You should go home, get some rest."
"And what about you?"
She cast a look about the room. "I'll be fine. I'm here, in my own apartment, thanks to you. And if I need anything, Mme Moreau is downstairs," she said, reminding Raoul that the landlady would be nearby.
"But…you shouldn't be left alone."
"What if he comes looking for you? When we left the opera house, he still hadn't been found."
Christine gazed forlornly at the carpet. "He won't come back. He gave his word."
"The word of a madman," Raoul said angrily, immediately regretting the harshness of his tone. "It's just that…how can we trust him?"
"We can," is all she would say on the matter, and Raoul at last accepted that there was nothing more he could say that would change her mind. He remained a while longer, wanting to satisfy himself that she was truly well enough to be left alone. Then he rose and made ready to leave, kissing her innocently on the forehead, encouraging her to get some sleep.
"We'll talk more on this tomorrow," he said before leaving.
She nodded. "Yes. Tomorrow."
Christine listened to Raoul's footsteps as they receded down the hall, hearing his footfall become more faint as he went down the staircase that led to the entrance of the building. She rose from her seat and stood before the window, pulling the curtain aside as she watched for his figure to emerge. Pools of weak light from the streetlamps were all that broke the gloom of the night. Ah! There he was, walking away. She remained at the window until his form was swallowed up by the darkness, then pulled the curtains closed and walked back over to the fireplace.
She appreciated that Raoul had wanted to stay with her, and thought fondly of how it had been so like him to be her knight in shining armor. But another part of her that was angry with him. After all, it had been Raoul's plan to use her as bait to lure Erik out of hiding. From the moment he'd told her his plan, she'd had misgivings, yet when she questioned him, told him how she felt like she was being twisted in too many directions, he had assured her that nothing could possibly go wrong.
But it had.
No! It wasn't his fault, she reminded herself. Raoul has many good qualities. His only thought was to protect me.
If so, then why did she find herself overcome by a sudden ambivalence towards him? This was curious, and she wondered what was happening to her. Could it be that she was still in shock from the night's events?
Her eyes burned and she drew in a ragged breath, doing her best to keep her tears at bay, but too many raw emotions were running rampant. Raoul had been right about one thing. What she needed now was rest. If she lay down and got some sleep, she would be able to think more clearly in the morning. She would be able to look at this evening's event and make sense out of why they left her so terribly confused.
Nervously, she rubbed the palms of her hands against her skirt. That was when she realized that she was still wearing the wedding dress Erik had insisted that she put on. She looked it over. The hem had come out in a few places where she had stumbled over it, and the white silk was marred with water stains, but still, it was a lovely.
She went into her bedroom and carefully stepped out of the gown. From her closet, she pulled out a flannel nightgown and slipped it on, then hugged herself. There, that was better. She felt safer, more comfortable in her favorite nightdress. She looked down at the floor, the pile of white fabric forlornly staring up at her. What was she going to do with the wedding dress?
She picked it up and gently laid it out on top of the quilt, brushing out some of the wrinkles with her hand. She stopped. Really, this would never do. The dress was a reminder of things she'd rather forget. She should tear it up and throw it in the dustbin, but she hesitated to do so. She held it up, admiring the frothy rows of lace and delicate beadwork. It would be a shame to throw it away. Perhaps tomorrow, she could clean it and put it up. But that would be silly, too. What did she think she was going to do with it, save it for her real wedding?
A nervous giggle escaped. Would Raoul approve? She shook her head and folded it as neatly as she could, putting it away, in the chest at the foot of her bed. She had no idea what she would end up doing with the dress, but one thing she did know—she was not going to throw it away.
Then she lay down on her bed and closed her eyes, wondering if sleep would come.
Someone knocking at her door woke Christine, and she was surprised to see that it was almost nine o'clock. It turned out that amidst all her emotional turmoil, she had managed to fall asleep.
"Who is it?" she called out.
"It's me," rang out a singsong voice. It was Mme Moreau, the landlady. "I didn't want to disturb you right away, not after the awful night you had, but I thought you would be awake by now. I made you a nice pot of tea, and brought you some fresh croissants to go with the morning paper."
Christine smiled in spite of herself. Leave it to Mme Moreau to brighten her mood.
The landlady entered the room, carrying a tray. Mme Moreau was a middle-aged woman, rather on the short side, making her look more plump than she really was. Her brownish-red hair, which was naturally curly, was typically worn tucked under a white mobcap. She was a common sense woman who, after the death of her husband, opened a lodging house within walking distance of the opera house. It was a neat and clean establishment, and lodgers could rent one or more rooms for as few as one or more nights, or for extended periods. Its close proximity to the opera made Mme Moreau's establishment a favorite with those members of the company who needed a place to live during the season, one with reasonable rates.
Christine put on her robe and helped Madame with the tray.
"Are you all right, my dear?" Madame asked. "You look a little peaked."
"Yes, I'm fine. A little tired is all."
"Then we shall start you off with some tea," said Mme Moreau, pouring a cup. "Sugar? Cream? And here, I brought your favorite marmalade for the croissants."
Christine gratefully accepted the cup and sipped the hot brew appreciatively. "You're very kind. Thank you."
"Somebody's got to look after you girls. Well then, I'll be going back downstairs. If you need anything, just ring. I'll be in the kitchen." And with that, she left the room, leaving Christine alone to break her fast.
She thought about what she would do today. One thing she was certain of was that she was not up to returning to the opera house. Not today. She was only just beginning to feel a sense of normalcy. Returning there would serve no purpose. There would be people crowding around her asking her questions, asking about…asking about Erik. She wasn't even sure she wanted to see Raoul today, either. No, what she wanted more than anything else was to be left alone today. She would straighten her rooms, maybe read a book. Anything to keep from thinking about yesterday.
A smile formed on her face. Yes, that is what she would do. She would send a note to the opera house, explaining that she was too upset to come in today. She would stay home and pamper herself. Later this afternoon, if she felt better, she might go out and window-shop. There was a lovely dress she'd seen on display at the dressmaker's nearby. It cost far more than she could ever afford, but she certainly could look at it.
Feeling better now that she had made a decision, she picked up the paper. Her smile dimmed when she read the headlines in Le Monde, the leading newspaper of Paris. She stared at the newsprint, scarcely believing her words like disaster, ruin, beast, and freak of nature screamed out at her.
Monster Kidnaps Diva While Horrified Onlookers Watch Helplessly!
"Oh, no," she whispered, hoping against hope that if she closed her eyes and blinked, the terrible words would simply go away. But when she opened her eyes, they were still there, taunting her. She gasped at the illustration of a swarthy, ape-like man with fangs and claws, bound by ropes and dragged behind a wagon. The caption read, "Criminal Also Attacked Sr. Piangi," and adjacent to the frightening image was an illustration featuring Ubaldo Piangi himself, based upon a photographic image taken years before his characteristic paunch had begun to develop. Why, she barely recognized the man! He bore no more resemblance to the singer she knew than did the caricature of the gorilla-man representing Erik.
Erik. Her teacher. The man who had shown her nothing but kindness and patience for the past year, until Raoul reentered her life. Only recently had she realized that he was jealous of her old friend. Too late had she realized that Erik's interest in her had grown beyond the professional, and had turned into romantic love. She brushed a tear from her eye.
If only he had been honest with me from the beginning, instead of hiding, instead of maintaining the pretense of being my benefactor, she thought. We might have avoided all of this…this pain and suffering.
She turned her attention to the news, and read with relief that Piangi had only been rendered unconscious. In the seconds immediately after the lights had gone out last night, she had heard an ear-splitting shriek. It had been La Carlotta, screaming that Piangi had been murdered. Apparently, the reports of the tenor's death were premature. He was at the present recovering in his own home, and Christine was relieved to read that he had suffered no permanent injury.
For that, she was thankful. Piangi may not have been her ideal singing partner, but all in all, he was not a bad man. A little pompous, perhaps, but not bad. As she continued reading, she couldn't help but chuckle. Why, it sounded as if the rotund tenor was already surrounded by wealthy patrons, and news wire services were sending a preposterous story all across the globe of how Piangi had bravely fought the monster in defense of the poor defenseless Mlle Daaé.
That brought a grimace to her face. Defenseless, she scoffed. Funny, but she had never felt defenseless, not with a half dozen rifles trained on Erik—and her. She flushed as she thought of Erik's arms around her, his hands touching her thigh, her waist, her…her whole being. A thought flashed through her mind.
Erik! What has become of him?
Thinking of Erik reminded her of the opera house, and the turmoil that her friends must be experiencing. It was a good thing she wasn't going there today. She couldn't bear the thought of returning to it, not when her own emotions were running high. In fact, she wondered if she ever wanted to return.
A career on the stage was never something she had wanted for herself. That had been her father's goal, and later, it was Erik's. All her life, she had aimed to please the men who influenced her the most: Her father, Erik, and Raoul. Sweet, heroic Raoul, who wanted her to be his wife, and who rushed to help her when he saw her struggling to meet the demands and expectations heaped upon her by the managers and by her teacher.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Why did that phrase keep popping into her head?
Raoul is a good man, a fine man, a proper man. He has never behaved untowardly. He comes from one of the oldest families in Europe, and could provide for my every need…my every need…save one. As the wife of a noble, I would never be allowed to perform in public again.
There it was again, the question of career. What harm was there in marrying Raoul? She'd never have to work again. Never worry about her future. Never associate with coarse workmen and women of questionable virtue. Never be a woman of questionable virtue, for that matter. He was the logical choice. The safe choice.
Suddenly, she longed to be back in her old dressing room, listening to Erik play his violin and sing sweet music to her.
I must be losing my mind! The ordeal of the past few days must be catching up with me. All my life, I have allowed others to determine my fate. First, it was my father. Later, after he died, it was Mama Valérius. At the opera house, it became the managers, and even Carlotta. Then, it became a struggle between Erik and Raoul. What is happening to me? Is this what I want? No! I want to stop being a marionette, dancing to any tune I hear, and live my own life, on my own terms.
She set the paper aside and paced the room.
Well, it is about time I grew up. I am nearly twenty years old, for goodness sake! I may even make the wrong decisions, but at least they will be mine.
Wrong decisions…wrong behaviors…wrong, wrong, wrong.
If Erik was the wrong man, then why was it that when he'd kissed her, it felt so right? Is this what he had meant with his scandalous lyrics about 'buds bursting into bloom'? She compared that kiss to the chaste brushes of the lips that Raoul had bestowed upon her. They hardly compared to the passion that Erik stirred in her. The very thought of it brought a rush of warmth to her cheeks.
The doorbell rang, and she heard Mme greet Raoul.
He'll be up here soon, knocking at my door and inquiring as to my health. He has probably brought flowers, perhaps chocolates, too. Good Raoul. Kind Raoul. Always doing the right thing.
Then why did that thought annoy her?