I do not own the characters; they were borrowed from various versions of Phantom of the Opera. And there's my mandatory disclaimer.

I was so excited to see that so many people liked my last story, and I've been anxious and nervous to post more. This particular one will be cut into two parts because it's too long to post at one time. I am not a chapter writer; in fact, I hate chapters, even when I'm writing my novels!! I tend to break things into chapters only when I have to! So I intend to post the second section as I get it edited this week.

In a somewhat similar vein as my last story, this one also takes place after the unmasking scene, but in my own variation of a timeline. I like to add a gap of time between Christine learning who her teacher really is and the point where Raoul appears and alters the drama. In my own Michelle-land of writing, that would be the time where Christine and Erik have a chance to fall in love. My version of Christine in this story is a little stronger, a little angrier at what she's endured; it isn't necessarily true to her original written character, but I prefer to give some edge to her personality! After all, if she can learn to love Erik, she has to have some darker aspects to herself as well.

I hope you enjoy my story!!

SUMMARY: Told from Christine's POV, this story deals with her twisting emotions and confusion as she has to learn how to accept Erik in her life as a man and not an angel.

"A Twist in My Story"

That night I dreamt of angels…. Cruel irony? My subconscious certainly had a twisted sense of humor, eager to torture my heart as if it were not a connected whole. Dreaming of angels when in the very pit of hell…, with the devil himself as master…. And I awoke to bitter tears, sobbing without sound, terrified to be overheard by the very cause behind their existence. Phantom…. Monster….

This was the first night I had spent in his underground home since I had learned of his more earthly roots. It was something I had been desperately avoiding in the weeks that had passed in between, giving excuses at every turn to keep my lessons up in the world, to keep him as the voice behind my mirror yet and cling with childishly desperate hands to an angel that my rationale screamed did not exist. How many times had I wondered if I hadn't have stolen that cursed mask away, if I had allowed us to continue the charade, would my heart hurt any less now? Would I feel less bitter toward the lying creature that had destroyed me and my innocent beliefs with his selfishness? …And how long would we have carried on in that dance before the truth eventually sprang forth as it inevitably had to? …How much more would I have ignorantly given him? …How much of a fool did I feel like now for every word, every thought, …every dream I had so naively created! I was deserving of the pain I now had in return. Yes, I deserved this….

My room in the underground was…exquisite. It was the sort of room that I knew ladies had, rich ladies of a class I never had and never would belong to. It amazed me to consider that he had done all of this for me, but that was the veritable truth of the matter. Every carefully placed object, every added detail had been arranged with me in his mind, under a hope that I would eventually take use of it, that I would eventually want to be there and appreciate and perhaps even offer gratitude for the effort and generosity. …And maybe if he had ended up being anyone else, I would have.

In pinks and peaches, the canopy of my gloriously soft bed cascaded down and billowed to the carpeted floor, the furniture all white wood and hand-carved. If I closed my eyes and thought very hard, I could almost place this room in any other house, …above ground. I could pretend that I had perhaps caught the eye of a rich patron instead, a handsome, kind man who would dote on me with similar affection as Erik but would be everything he never could be. I even kept that idea in my head as I dressed for the day, burying subconscious images of winged beings that did not exist and imagining I was dressing to meet my true love and heart's desire instead of my captor. Pink silk, it was more luxurious and stylish than I could ever have owned with my meager income, and as the gown's perfect fit clung snugly to my curves, the vain part of me relished it, fashioning a fantasy where said handsome patron would look on me with lustful eyes and bestow a dozen compliments through perfect lips…; perfect, not misshapen and bloated.

And then every hope I harbored shattered with a gust of the reality I now had to face in the form of a masked monster. The frown on my lips felt heavy, dragging the corners down no matter how much they yearned to reach upward and seek something more. This was my punishment, I reminded myself yet again. I deserved it….

With one last deep breath of air that was not oppressed, I left the sanctity of my rose-hued daydream and tentatively stepped through the corridor and toward the lit dining room at its end. Not for the first time, I knew a flash of wonder at the sheer construction of this seeming house, knowing he had done it all himself. He had created his own world, his own life, deciding to shun a society that had equally shunned him. And in doing so, he had anticipated never interacting with people ever again. Such a consideration left me wondering why he had chosen to break that self-imposed captivity with me. What made me so special? …Special or unfortunate, I never could decide which.

I found him seated in the dining room, awaiting me with a cup of tea in hand. Beside his place at the head of the table was a plate of food at an empty chair, obviously intended for me, and I could not help but wonder how he had known I was even awake at all. …I knew the walls were thin…. Or had he been listening far too attentively?

"Good morning," he greeted with an air of congeniality in that golden angel's voice. Could anything be more cruel to hear? Why couldn't his voice have turned out to be as unappealing as his face? Why couldn't its beauty have gone the way of angels with shimmering wings? It was a cruel joke.

I didn't reply; I just observed him a long moment through haunted blue eyes, my face set in its own sort of mask, one that screamed agony. This was the vision of a phantom, a murderer, a monster. Seated tall and elegant with a newspaper spread open before him, he was…pristine, poised, a gentleman, and oh, how I hated him for it! Deceptive to the end in every image. Masked, he was playing another role. Not angel, but perhaps more the patron I fantasized about, as if should he play the part to perfection, everything else, including the stark vividness of that mask, could be overcome, …forgotten.

Erik gestured to the vacant chair. "I made you breakfast. After you eat, we can start our lesson. I want you to be ready to sing your part flawlessly when rehearsals resume in three days."

Yes, three days…. I had unwittingly committed myself to the prison of this lair of three whole days. It hadn't been a trick of his, though I would have loved to argue otherwise. No, …he had asked if I would stay from behind the mirror, where I couldn't see him or the mask, where he was still an angel's voice with golden tones, and I had accepted, regretting it in the very next breath. Three days in hell…. And no one to blame for my imprisonment but myself.

Still not speaking, I took my seat and idly gazed down at my plate, wondering how often he had watched me up in the world to know that I didn't favor eggs or meats and to have instead made crepes like the ones I often bought at a nearby café. Obviously, he had meant it to be a pleasant gesture on his part, but all I could see was further proof of his intrusion into my life.

Under his watchful eye, I lifted my fork and reluctantly took a bite, angrier yet that they were so perfectly cooked, far more delicious than the café crepes, …far more delicious than most anything I had ever tasted. And one glance at him showed that he was awaiting my reaction with a timid air of uncertainty.

"Do you…like it?" he almost stammered, and had he been anyone else, I would have found such an eagerness to please me as endearing.

But I only gave a hesitant nod, not anxious, not with the true excitement that was tingling my taste buds, and instead of the gushing of my thoughts, I softly demanded, "Aren't you going to have anything to eat?"

He shook his head, lowering his eyes briefly. "I ate earlier."

Yes, he probably had, but not because he had been hungry and tired of awaiting me as he wanted me to believe. I was no fool. He had yet to share a meal with me, avoiding it with one excuse after the next when I already had concluded the truth, that to eat, he had to remove the mask. He did not want to subject me to that horror inasmuch as I did not want to see it. Just considering watching those twisted features, unable to look anywhere else, and see them distended with food, masticate, swallow…. It was already making my stomach turn, and it wasn't even happening anywhere but in my mind.

His eyes were on me again; I felt their intrusive presence before I even dared meet them, chewing small bites like a lady, stifling the urge to relish the flavors as I actually wanted to. I didn't clean my plate either, eating just enough to calm hunger and then setting my fork down all under his stare.

"You…you're finished?…" The furrow in his brow told his dejection, believing that I hadn't liked his meal after all, and I didn't correct him, though the compassionate side of me said I should.

I simply nodded, hands folded on my lap, eyes lowering to the pink silk of my skirts, awaiting orders like a scullery maid and certainly not a supposed guest.

"Tomorrow morning, I could go to the café and get you the ones you like," he offered hopefully, seeking an approval I never gave, my mind drifting elsewhere.

Tomorrow…. Yes, there would be a tomorrow morning and then another, more breakfasts, more meals, more nights beneath the ground, suffocating in earth and dark. …And how many more would follow? How many times would I crumble to that voice, hearing an angel yet seeing the devil? …My naïveté and weakness sickened me.

Erik took an awkward sip from his teacup, and I turned away before he could notice that I had watched, knowing he would be ashamed by his faults. He had had to angle it and carefully tilt it so as not to splash it or hit his mask, and that only confirmed my assumptions that the mask was a hindrance to such mandatory tasks as eating and drinking. Obviously then, he never enjoyed meals with any sort of company. And while I wanted to consider such a reality with detachment, it struck a string of sympathy that I had to urge to snap free in my heart. I didn't want to know sympathy or pity or any emotion at all for this man, save the darker, angrier sort.

"Did you sleep well in your room?" he dared to pose after another moment of disconcerting silence dragged by.

"I had nightmares," I stated flatly. All right, not nightmares, but visions that were too good to be true.

"Do you have nightmares often?"

"No," I replied simply. I knew he was searching for a conversation, poking at one, and I wouldn't give in. I wasn't about to play friendly with him.

"I have nightmares every night," he offered to reveal even without the question on my part. And then he cringed with a thought or regret; I didn't know which; and I knew another unwanted pang of sympathy twinge within my gut.

No, no, no. I didn't want to consider such things! I didn't want to wonder what his nightmares included; I didn't want to wonder what his life included. Pain, I was sure, trauma, horror….

"I…I mean," he attempted to retain his cordial demeanor. "This is someplace new to you; once you get adjusted to it, I'm sure you'll sleep better." When the only response I gave was a nod, he decided to shirk his attempts and instead bid, "Shall we practice then?"

Our lesson was the exact opposite of our leisure time. Then he was teacher, and I was student, perfectly assimilated in those roles, two different people than the ones who had tried to share a meal together. As teacher, I could view him with a respect I could never have for him as a man. He was a brilliant musician, a virtuoso, and he knew how to inspire such glorious sounds from my voice, ones I had never known I was capable of making. Is it any wonder then why I couldn't break our connection? …why I could not leave him, no matter his deceptions and sins? And he knew that; I was sure he was counting on exactly that to keep me, to virtually chain me to him. He was the very spark behind my talent; it was pitiful, and it was true.

And still so like the bright-eyed pupil taught by an angel, I hung on his every compliment in that setting. To hear such words from one so proficient and a genius in music was beyond what I felt worthy of, but how I savoured every uttered syllable as truth! When he praised a cadenza I had executed perfectly, I felt my knees shake with longing to please him further yet. And when he raved over a high note, I pushed beyond with the next piece to an even higher pitch with equally rounded tone and melted with the pride beaming in his mismatched eyes. For my angel teacher and maestro, I would have sold my very soul if he asked. It was the only time I could let myself love him….

Once the music faded, conflict returned as it always did, the wall I had eagerly dismantled already reconstructed with my heart locked behind its protection out of his reach. I saw the disappointment erupt in those eyes for the briefest instant before he concealed it from my view and again chastised the reverberating guilt it tried to bestow on me. No, guilt was unacceptable! He should know guilt, not me!

The rest of our day was spent silent and uncomfortable. I willingly lost myself in a book, and similarly, he escaped in his music, the chords and fragments of melody pouring out of his music room to where I had curled up on the living room couch. Every so often, I listened, and I found myself in awe of what I heard, tears passing idly through my line of vision at times and at times smiles arriving. Dear God, he was so talented! It was a bitter twist of fate that such genius was squandered and wasted underground, that the world would never even know it existed. Every few notes, he would stop, and I guessed he was writing down what he liked, sometimes repeating passages with an altered chord or note to see what he preferred, but then at the end of a section, he would play the work in its entirety, and I was an agape, enraptured audience every time, moved beyond anything I had ever known.

After one long interlude that left tears pouring down my cheeks unbidden, silence followed. I had thought perhaps he was writing or considering. I never heard him enter the living room doorway, not until he spoke.


My hands darted up from holding my book on my lap to shove the tears away, my entire head dropping in hopes he hadn't seen, futile as it was since there was no doubt that he had. Collecting myself abruptly, I demanded softly, "Yes?"

His smile was forced as he chose not to acknowledge the emotional state he had found me in. "I was wondering if you were growing hungry. I was going to prepare supper."

"Oh…. Yes, I suppose," I stuttered, still not meeting his eye.

Only when he left me alone again could I relax and sigh my frustration. I wondered if he knew the effect his music could have, if he knew he could use it as an advantage over me…. It could be his greatest weapon….

Supper was alone again on my part. He insisted not to be hungry and only sipped a glass of wine when I was not observing his clumsiness. I didn't push for answers and honesty. I was too busy trying desperately not to care.

I was able to escape him afterward for a hot bath, soaking until I was a shade of pink all over. I was loath to leave the warm comfort of the water and return to the world,…to his world, but once clothed in my nightdress and wrap, I felt the obligation to say goodnight, blaming such propriety on the teachings of an insistent father. We might have been poor, but he had always been determined that I would learn to be a courteous and elegant lady. I was sure he had not intended such mannerisms to be wasted on a monster of the underground, but what could I argue against it?

I found Erik seated at his piano once again, banging out a few random chords through a concentration of seeking the best fit, shaking his head at one and attempting another only to discard that one as well. Both sounded satisfactory to me, but then again, I was not the virtuoso.

"Erik." I had to say something, or I doubted he would even notice my presence, far too engrossed in his work.

Those mismatched eyes were so eager to land on me, and as they did, I felt shaken. I could never explain such odd feelings that were so inexplicably tied to Erik alone. I tried to blame them on a modicum of lingering fear, that such fear would intensify and vary any feelings, but I wasn't sure that wasn't a lie to pacify myself.

"Christine," he bid softly, and as those eyes passed over me, I curled into my nightclothes ever so slightly. Vulnerable…. Should I feel vulnerable at all? Even if I shouldn't, I did. The previous night I had gone in to bed without giving him this intimate portrait, and though my right mind tried to insist that it shouldn't matter, I knew it did.

A moment he seemed at a loss for the basic ability to speak, staring blatantly in a way that had he been anyone else would have seemed rude. I gave him an inkling of tolerance because of the sheer sense of awe on his features so vividly displayed. He had this way of making me feel more beautiful than I ever allowed myself to believe I was, and part of me savoured it no matter the internal scolding it received in return.

"I…I came to say goodnight," I stammered, ducking my eyes from that enthralled stare.

Before I could turn and scurry away per my own intent, he suddenly declared, "You play piano, don't you, Christine?"

"Not like you," I replied, unsure where this was going.

"But you do play." He was already rising from the piano bench with a gesture for me to take his place. "Would you be so kind as to play this for me? I am in need of just listening to make sure it sounds like it feels to me when I am playing."

My eyes scanned the handwritten piece as I took the offered seat, deciphering chords and progressions that had no real pattern. Erik was never the sort of man to follow common practice; no, he wrote based solely on feeling. "I…I'm not sure I can play this."

"Just do the best you can. I'm after the idea of it altogether as a whole." He came to stand right behind me, so close that I felt goosebumps rise on my skin, but I refused to let him know of their presence. To me, each and every one was a betrayer of my soul.

I felt trapped, but I knew it was too late to refuse as, tentative and unsure, I struck the first chord. My piano skills were mediocre at best, and the music before me was probably the most difficult I had ever attempted, but I waded through it. The tempo was slow, slower than I had heard Erik playing it, but he did not complain. He only listened intently, every so often leaning past me to scribble something on the page, adding notes here, subtracting there. I came to anticipate his every approach as his eyes would glance at my concentrating face, then my arched fingers, contemplating me first and then the music, his reaching arm with poised pencil grazing my shoulder at every motion.

The page needed turning, and his hand passed only a breath from my cheek as he performed the task for me, an intangible caress so close that I felt my flesh tingle as if indeed a touch had been made. The sensation made me fumble the next passage, and with a huff of annoyance, I repeated it, better the second time, as he returned to jotting down a few added notes to the melody line, small ornaments that he was hearing in his head.

I was almost at the final cadence, both proud of myself for managing to play it decently enough and disappointed for our encounter to be over. It was strangely satisfying to feel useful in some way to Erik, our roles usually reversed. And to have any sort of hand in his music…, it was almost humbling to consider.

As I struck the last chord and drew my hands back, he leaned in again to make a few more revisions, and I glimpsed the sheer concentration on that masked face, the lines indenting the corner of the one exposed eye, the pursing of lips that seemed normal with mask in place. To my sense of wonder, it was as if he was hearing the section he was altering being repeated in its entirety with the details he wanted in his inner ear.

As he finished, he met my eye, his masked face too near to mine for my comfort, yet almost mesmerizing me so that I dared not pull away. Gesturing to the keys, he inquired softly, "May I?"

I could only give the most hesitant nod, and without pause, he sat beside me on the piano bench. Get up, my sense begged, but my body would not obey, leaving me stranded beside him, our legs nearly brushing. If he noticed such a thing, he never showed it, his focus only on the music. I knew I would be in his way, but he gave no regard to that fact either. Did he dismiss my presence entirely? Or was he just terrified that if he showed anything else, I would scurry up and away? Considering how often in the past weeks he had granted seemingly accidental touches whenever possible, I was favoring the latter explanation.

Erik began to play what I just had, making me sure my rendition was nearly a massacre, and I felt a shiver race my spine. His hands were so fluid on the keys as if playing the piano was only so natural, so simple and easy, and I stared at their motion transfixed, desperate to avoid a glance at his face, ashamed to let him see the depth to which I was being moved by simply the introduction. But looking at his hands was disconcerting in itself; they were long and white, the hands of a musician, and as they touched the keys with such reverence, such gentility, I shuddered, remembering the one and only time they had touched me with intent, that first night he had brought me to his home. An angel's hands had been acceptable and craved on my skin; I had nearly swooned with my desire at every contact, despite the innocent timidity beneath. He had stroked a path down the length of my arm, over my shoulder, one caress to my cheek; that had been all, nothing too forward, nothing too improper, and yet each and every brief moment had been relived a thousand times over by my addled brain and others created in the days that had followed. How I hated myself to consider any of it! And how much a slave to my thoughts I was!

I dared to cast a furtive peek at his face, even though tears were slipping silently from my eyes. It was the most beautiful image of him I had ever had; every emotion I was feeling brought from the music itself was written in utter clarity and brilliance in those eyes and on that face. Everything seemed backwards; instead of playing notes on the page and feeling them, it was as if he felt and the notes appeared. I saw the exquisite savouring of a particular ornamented passage, the way his eyes briefly closed, the way the corners of his lips formed the faintest smile, and I nearly sobbed. It sickened me to consider just how much I wanted those expressions to be all my own.

As he ended the piece with the new chords he had only just added, he gave the hint of a satisfied nod, having a conversation with his judgment, and then as the tones drifted off, his musical confidence shattered in the instant he lifted quizzically unsure eyes to me.

"Oh." His expression fell to despair. "…You're crying…. Why do I always make you cry when I play? …Is it really so horrible?"

It shook me because he truly believed that; he was entirely ignorant to the extent of his talent. A lifetime detached from humanity and any other pair of ears to tell him otherwise would have had such a result.

I shoved the tears away with the backs of my hands, yet still made no move to rise and distance myself as I knew I should. Shaking my head somberly, I told him, "I don't cry because it is horrible, Erik; I cry because it is too beautiful…, and it makes me forget…."

"Forget what?" he pushed urgently, leaning ever closer to me.

I was trembling, every limb, every inch; at some unknown point, his leg had ended up resting against mine, and it was just so natural and comfortable that I hadn't noticed until then. It astounded me that if I but edged the remaining distance, I could be in his arms…, astounded and horrified.

With an abruptness that shocked us both, I stumbled to my feet and backed toward the door, insisting in a wobbling voice, "I…I have to go to bed…."

"Christine?" He tried to stop me with those cords I could never deny, and I halted, back pressed to the doorframe, fingers behind myself and clinging to it as if they could keep me from giving in and wandering back to him.

He seemed like he meant to say something, something part of me yearned to hear, but after a moment of silence and a stare, he only whispered, "Thank you…for your help."

I nodded curtly and quickly fled the room, shivering violently as I closed myself in my own. Nothing felt stable, as if the ground itself was shifting beneath me and knocking me off of my base. I was so angry and disgusted with myself that I wanted to cry, to weep to the depths of my soul until every bit drained out and left me empty but free. Yet I knew I couldn't. I was too sure he would hear, and for some reason, I couldn't fathom the idea of my tears hurting him.

A night of restlessness awaited me, and when I rose in the morning, it was with a minimal amount of genuine sleep. Much like the previous day, I dressed and left the protection of my room to find him awaiting my presence in the dining room. True to his word, a plate of crepes from the café was set before my seat.

"Good morning," he called with a renewed air of congeniality as if the previous night hadn't meant anything in an unpleasant vein at all.

I eyed him solemnly as I sat, softly replying, "Good morning, Erik."

"After breakfast," he went on, never faltering in his smiling façade, "I'd like to pick up at the point we left off with your lesson."

I nodded and poked at the unwanted crepes idly, keeping my gaze on them as I asked, "Aren't you eating anything?"

"I already did," was his assumed answer, and I just shook my head without argument.

Neither of us spoke for a long time, the silence as deafening as loud noise. Only when I set down my fork and sat back from a barely touched breakfast did he say a word.

"You don't like the crepes?" he asked with complete confusion as if he could not comprehend what he had been so sure was fact.

"Yours were better," I admitted, though my expression remained set and solemn, the smile I should have given lost somewhere I could not find it.

"Oh…." He wasn't sure if I meant my words as a compliment, but neither was I.

My lesson went in a parallel progression of events as the previous day's. It was too easy in those exquisite moments to fall into the past, to hear an angel's voice in my ear, to strive only to please him.

We worked well into the afternoon, and when at last he ceased, it was almost to my dismay; how much would I have rather stayed trapped in those roles than go back to the ones we were predestined to? I was taking my leave of him, knowing he would spend the next hours with his music as I feigned reading again like the day before and listened with rapt attention instead.

En route to the door, he called after me softly, "Christine?"

"Hmm?" I halted mid-step and turned back with wide eyes, unable to stop myself from responding.

"Last night…working with you here, I felt…inspired." He was so timid, almost afraid to admit such a thing to me. Seated still at the piano, he lowered his eyes to the keys and the idle patterns his fingers were forming against them without pressing to make real sounds. "What I am working on today requires…inspiration. Will you…will you just sit here with me for awhile? Your presence alone seems to bring my creativity to the surface. …Will you inspire me, Christine?"

I just stared at him a long minute, unsure how to react, to answer, …to feel…. And then of their own accord before the decision was even made in my mind, my legs were carrying me back to the piano. I held those mismatched eyes and saw the briefest flicker of hope as I sat beside him on the bench the same way I had the previous night. Close again, too close…. We were staring at one another in that breath, seeking more than either of us were giving but yearning just the same.

"I…I'll play for you what I have so far," he told me before dragging his attention to the piano. No music rested in front of him; this one was still in the preliminary stages of development in his head, and I couldn't help but be all the more intrigued. This was new, unheard; how much trust was he opening to me to play it at all? It was staggering to consider.

Driving arpeggios rang out from the piano's belly one after another, a scant melody fragment sounding above…. And then as he played, the notes creeping into my skin to strike in pinpricks at the marrow of my bones, he began to sing, …and I shuddered. This was raw, emotionally passionate, intensely so. It was not classical technique, not his usually overly brilliant tones; it was purely about the words and the feeling beneath. He never looked at me, and I wondered, lost to the music as he was, if he felt the trembling I was suffering beside him…. He had to feel it.

The words to his song stabbed me deeply because in their essence, I knew they were about me. They spoke of deceptions and apologies, of the endlessness of stars in the sky, of every bit he was fighting to understand and to give me at the very same time. As the accompaniment drove harder, his intensity went with it until he was blatantly putting his heart on display, cut out, severed in two with its insides in view to my tear-filled eyes. The pounding notes were more daggers in their own right, pummeling my soul, and as I silently cried and shook, I listened to the edge of every golden note from his angel's voice. Every emotion was passionately declared, tears pouring down his own face as that voice caught here and there over particular words with swells of fervency…. Dear Lord, it was as beautiful as it was desperate.

As he ended the piece with a few soft, ringing chords, I could only stare, coherency evading, and when he turned those eyes on me finally, I did not look away as better judgment bid me to. He swallowed hard, terrified suddenly, and with an uncertainty that was mirrored within my own self, he brought his hand toward my cheek. I had plenty of time to stop him, plenty of time to shrink away, …but I didn't. I just watched with bemused interest as that hand neared, and when it grazed my cheek, brushing away tears, I could not contain the small gasp that fled me. I was amazed that any one single touch could carry such sensation on its fringed edges. Maybe I had been anticipating it too long and too much; maybe I had ignorantly given it that power.

"You're crying again," he said softly.

"When did you write that song?" I asked as quiet as he.

Erik's eyes averted to the hand that had touched me that had been drawn away and now curled into a tight fist in his lap. "This morning before you awoke…. Did you like it?"

What to answer to that? …'Like' could not begin to describe the vastness of emotion sweeping through me. "It was my…. I mean…I've never heard you sing like that before."

Shrugging apathetically, he replied, "Sometimes I have a difficult time detaching myself from the music, and it overwhelms me, like my soul is pouring out of me." Mismatched eyes met my constant stare again as he insisted, "It isn't finished yet. I wanted…your opinion."

"Oh, …leave it alone," I told him, and I meant it, looking at it through both my own eyes and the trained musician's within me. "Don't change anything; it's perfect."

He nodded and gently said, "You are the greatest inspiration I've ever had. How contrived it was when I would write about certain emotions before…, but now…now that I genuinely know what they feel like…. Well, it changes my very perception."

The tumult of thoughts twisting and churning in my brain was never permitted to be displayed on my face. I was in agony! And I couldn't, wouldn't share that with him! I'd rather he believed I resented him; I did resent him…, but there was so much more to it. And I knew it was exactly what he wanted, what his music was meant to ignite and remind. Was he using its gloriousness to manipulate me, or did I go only too willing and eager?

Erik was shaking, too; I noticed it as he lifted his hand again, and it trembled in midair as it approached me. He was more uncertain than even I was, but when I made no move to draw away, his hand grew bolder, and this time his caress came down my cheek and across the line of my jaw. I could hear the harshness of his breaths, and weren't my own a complimentary duet of sound?

His eyes bore into me as he asked with a husky edge to his beautiful timbre, "Can you feel it, Christine? …Do you feel what I do? Or is the only thing I see in your eyes revulsion?"

I did not answer; was it better if he thought he was right? But I did not pull away either. To my own horror, I even leaned a bit closer to that overwhelming touch as he dared to bring fingertips across my lips and gently up my other cheek.

"Your skin is so soft," he breathed. "I've never felt anything like it…or like this, this thing that exists between us…. Have you?"

I shook my head, but it was with an iota of misery attached. I didn't want to feel it! I didn't even want to acknowledge its existence! And yet there it was, blatantly assaulting me with every brushing of his cold touch, every burst of sensation under my skin, heat so poignant from a touch so chilled.

"Christine…." I felt sure that he meant to kiss me then; he was slowly bending toward me, his eyes searching mine as he neared, and I…. I leapt to my feet and finally employed the scolding virgin within, letting her take the reigns.

I never broke the gaze we still shared, watching the flash of rejection that he stored away as quickly as it appeared. "I…I'll leave you to your music," I whispered, my brow furrowing beneath the weight of constricted emotion within my small body. I was sure he saw exactly what I wanted to hide, but I shook my head desolately and fled his presence.

We spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding each other. I would have contently spent the rest of my time in his home that way, only communicating during my lessons and in no other less acceptable terms. …But again the propriety within me made my conscience remember to know guilt.

So when he came to tell me that supper was ready, I joined him without argument, following his dark shape into the dining room, trying to decipher his own reserved manner. At my place atop my yet-empty plate rested a red rose, …and oh, how I hated its infernal appearance! Grateful, I should be grateful…, but I wasn't at all.

For propriety's sake, I muttered a 'thank you' and sat, lifting the flower away with fingers that ached to squeeze it between themselves and crush it to a mess of velvet petals. It took every ounce of control I possessed not to go through with it.

As always, he watched me with his glass of wine in hand as I idly poked at my food without real intent of eating. I was too tortured within to consider such a mundane necessity as food.

Casting a look at him as he attempted an awkward sip from his glass, I knew a swell of the ever-present hatred within me…, and I wanted to hurt him.

Setting down my fork, I asked as I did at every meal, "Aren't you going to eat anything?"

"I'm not hungry," he replied as I expected him to. This time I didn't let him lie to me.

"No," I insisted curtly, "you can't eat with your mask on."

He froze, staring at me, jaw slowly clenching with anger or pain; I wasn't sure which. It was strange to me that he gave an honest reply. "No, I can't."

"You couldn't have kissed me with it on earlier either," I stated, surprised by my own lack of cowardice.

His lips pursed in a thin line, his shaking fingers setting his glass down with a clank to the table's surface. "I suppose I couldn't have," he whispered sharply. "At the time, I didn't consider it."

"How could you not? It's always there."

Pain…, I read it clearly within his eyes, but he attempted a congenial smile strained as it was. "When one wears such an article of clothing his entire life, one doesn't always consider its limitations in new and unfamiliar situations…. It isn't so awful a fate…, and I will eat later when you are otherwise occupied, so you need not worry about seeing my face if that is your concern."

"Show me," I commanded, part of me cringing with the memory of the horror I was asking to see. "I want to see it and see you attempt to eat like a normal person."

"No, you don't…. You're angry with me, and I'm not entirely sure why. You're trying to hurt me with your words as retaliation."

His accusations were accurate, but I shook my head. "No, I'm not. I am just tired to watching you play the part in every other way, as if your mask doesn't exist. You've been doing it for days, and I cannot tolerate it anymore."

"I have been nothing but respectful as any gentleman would," he snapped back, his temper finally a leaping flame. "More so. I have been bending over backwards to please you and mend our sordid relationship."

"I realize that." I matched his tone with equaled fury rising. "And stop it. I never asked you to be what you aren't. So stop pretending the part."

"Christine, -"

"Be a monster!" I suddenly shouted, standing with my fists pounding against the wood of the table. "Be the devil you are! No more gentleman façades and enacted gentility! I cannot endure it any longer! Stop trying to be an ordinary man! You aren't and can never be! Be the murdering monster you truly are, and stop lying to us both!"

He just stared at me agape. Did he truly believe I would never release my pent-up rage, that we would go on in the motions of a relationship forever? That I would forgive his deceptions all on my own, perhaps forget the other less noble details of his true persona? How could he possibly? And how could I ever see him in any other light as he obviously wanted me to? It was an impossibility!

His eyes had lowered with attempted deep breaths as he fought to control himself and his rage, but that was not what I wanted. I wanted rage! I wanted anger! I wanted a reason to hate him! Because if I didn't have one, then what did that mean? What did that mean for me? I couldn't fathom it!

With a near shriek, I flipped about and stalked out of the room, tears threatening in the backs of my eyes. I truly did not think he would dare pursue me, not under his current cordiality and fake gentlemanliness. But to my surprise, before I could close my bedroom door behind my entrance, he was there, shoving it open, his eyes a blazing inferno of rage as they met mine. I was almost afraid.

Erik suddenly grabbed me without any inkling of gentleness, his hands bruising my upper arms with their hold, and he growled, "Is this the monster you want then, Christine?! The one you can hate?! The one you could never possibly give your heart to?! Because what woman could love this!" He shook me hard, and my breath caught with terror in my throat. "You base your views on hearsay and stories, on the one deception I gave you to use against me because I have never treated you like anything but a gentleman. Until now, until now! You want a monster to hate! Well, here he is! Here's your monster!"

And with that, one hand released me long enough to rip his mask off and expose those deformed features, to show me exactly what I had asked to see. I couldn't help but cringe a bit, enough to incite bursts of pain within the haze of his anger.

"Is this what you wanted?" he coldly demanded, sneering bitterly. "You wanted to see the bloated, misshapen lips that wanted to kiss you? You wanted to watch this twisted horror as it attempted to play the part and eat a single meal with you? You wanted to see it and hate me for it? You wanted to remember what exactly I am?"

"No," I retorted with restrained pain in my own tone. "I wanted you to remember what you are…. You are not a man, Erik; you are a monster. No matter how much you wish otherwise. And I could never love a monster."

He laughed! He actually laughed! It was grating and bitter and laden with mocking. "Couldn't you?" he demanded with a shake of his head. "Funny that you already do then, isn't it? Cruel on the part of Fate…. But I know all about Fate's ironic sense of humor. I've been its victim all my life…. And now so are you. The beautiful Christine in love with the murdering freak, wanting his deformed lips all over her body…. It's hysterical, isn't it? A twist in your story. An ending you would have never seen coming."

The tears I had been fighting and winning against only then turned around to beat me, streaming down my face as I gave adamant denials to his assured expression. "I don't love you! You sicken me!"

Suddenly before I even guessed what he would do, he dragged my body firmly against his, and without even a useless cry from me as protest, he forced those bloated lips against mine, kissing me hard and demanding. At first, it was only a vicious act, a savagely made contact, but after a moment when I gave no struggle, I felt him relax, felt those misshapen lips, every detail of them against my own as they began to move with a modicum of tenderness. My knees went weak; I couldn't help it, my body throbbing in its most secret places. The room spun until I no longer knew ceiling from floor, upside down even. All I knew was Erik. He was in all of my senses, his lips now devouring mine with such ease as I let him. I even kissed him back!

I would have succumbed to him completely then and there, ready to offer body and soul despite my internal torment, but as quickly as it had begun, it ended. He jerked back from me and released me entirely, staggering away as if appalled with himself. He was gasping choking breaths into lungs that could not seem to hold them, watching me with guilt-laden eyes. But he never spoke, never uttered an apology. He only grabbed his mask from where it had landed on the floor and fled my room and my presence.

As soon as he was gone, I fell to the floor in sobs that this time I did not keep inside. I wasn't even sure why I was crying, if it was for myself and my predicament or if it was for him and his. I deserved this, I heard my mind insisting…. And yet I wasn't entirely sure that the 'this' I meant wasn't completely unwanted…. How could it be? My knees were still a jellied mess, my insides burning…for what? …For more?…