If I had presumed to know desire's definition and associates, the next week taught me that I had previously only touched on its corners. My God, desire! It was a hunger and need that became as necessary to my existence as breathing. Erik was as surprised as I was, and yet it was he who pushed for more, he who brought me beyond passion's boundaries to ecstasy in ways that I could have never imagined possible. And Erik…. He never tired of seeking new ways to make me melt. It seemed like he derived more pleasure from pleasing me than anything else. We were like children learning something new and previously undiscovered. To us, there were no limits, and shyness evaporated that first night to Erik's passionate insistence. How he amazed me constantly! And to consider that he had believed he would never know these physical pleasures, to consider that fervent spirit laying dormant his whole life and then realize that it had just been waiting for me to have and hold as my own! At times, I felt almost undeserving of such a blessing.
I was happy, content, excited with the prospect of the future laid out beneath our feet. We finally had a real marriage, finally were everything to one another, and as Erik kept declaring exuberantly, once our house was finished, our new life would be complete. Every day he left early to oversee the building, returning to have supper with me, one I had the privilege of playing the domesticated wife to prepare. Then exercising patience as we both had to, my lesson followed, now with purpose to each step as Erik insisted that I would be the star by the start of the next season. He was only teacher then with his ever-present expectations that he forced me to exceed with each day's work. But as lessons ended almost to the second, he abruptly transformed into husband, grabbing me often before I had my music put away and carrying me to bed while stripping clothes off at every step. It was overwhelming, and it was my dream come true.
One night, I had been half-dragged, half-carried to his bedroom, my gown puddled someplace in the hallway and various other articles of clothing strewn everywhere when I made him cease with a provocative gleam in my eyes. Only my chemise was left covering me, resting with a thin layer of lace at mid-thigh, and he was desperately groping for its hem.
"Not yet," I teased, sidestepping his hand as he groaned his disappointment.
"Cruel, Christine. I've spent all day shouting at incompetent workers, longing only to be here with you, and now you propose to make me suffer further?" he asked, raking desperate eyes over me as if his stare alone could devour for him. "Must I beg?"
"Oh, you will be before I'm through with you," I promised, guiding him toward the bed with an inviting, crooked finger. He did not hesitate to follow, quickly discarding his shirt on the way as I called, "You might as well disrobe entirely."
His brows rose with a delighted question that lit every disfigured feature but was never spoken. With eyes that remained on me as I climbed on the bed, he abruptly rid himself of everything else so that he was exposed to my eager stare. I adored that body; I adored learning its every nuance even more than learning my own. And to have his arousal so blatantly and proudly on display made me ache with an intense emptiness needing to be filled by him.
"And now?" he posed, chuckling lightly with amusement. "Or were you just intending to ogle me all night?"
My blush shown through my boldness, but I did not let it deter me as I commanded, "Lay on the bed, …but keep your hands to yourself or I will take my time with every moment until you are sobbing with want."
I could tell the idea wasn't nearly as unappealing as I would have liked it to seem, but he obeyed without complaint or deviation, laying beside where I sat with a tempting tilt of his head that challenged me for more.
I knew I blushed yet; I couldn't help it, but I scooted to sit beside his head, bending low to graze one simple kiss along his misshapen mouth.
"Oh no," he groaned. "A gentle kiss to start. You must be intending to be merciless with me."
"You'll have to wait and see." Slowly, I began to crawl down the length of his body, laying idle, upside-down kisses on my way. Imitating my game, he dared to capture one of my breasts between his lips, wetting the thin material of my chemise as it passed, but I abruptly jerked beyond his kiss.
"Cheater," I taunted, glancing over my shoulder to see his seemingly innocent expression.
"You practically dangle it in front of me, and I'm not supposed to respond?" he demanded as if the idea was absurd.
"A little restraint, mon amour," I chided before I continued my game, laying teasing kisses along his chest and then his belly. I was so brazen! He made me brazen! He just drew it out of me like it was some hidden talent within, and I never fought it. How could I want to when the sight of my husband squirming beneath my ministrations was so appealing?
With a bit of a grin that I could not hide, I edged lower and lower until with one last look over my shoulder to delight in his anticipating, wide-eyed expression, I took his hardness into my mouth. He moaned so deeply at the first second of contact and arched his hips upward toward me, but at such an angle, he had very little control, unable to grasp my curls as he often did when I kissed him there and guide my rhythm. No, I had all of the power and knew with a blush so fierce that I would torment him.
Drawing back to his moan of disappointment, I began to press tiny kisses up and down the length of him, occasionally adding my tongue and making him jolt with delighted surprise.
"Christine," he gasped, and I threw him a look over my shoulder before suddenly taking all of him into my mouth again, thrilling him further.
Such passionately erotic endeavors could only last a minimal time when both of us were already aching, and to my mew of need, his strong arms lifted me and drew me into his embrace, his lips finding mine in a violent kiss that I met without pause and poured my own fervency in every motion.
When he finally took me, tearing off my chemise carelessly, we were both so lost to the desire that hands were fisted and nails were clutching urgently frantic at one another. His thrusts were harsh and rough, but I only met him, nearly sobbing when release came and pleasure erupted within me so powerfully that I shuddered fiercely in his arms.
"How I adore the passion in you," he hoarsely gasped against my ear, creating even more tingles along my spine.
Words were still a jumble of nonsensical letters in my mind, and coherency evaded me yet as his hands caught my hips and held tight. And as ecstasy came, an unbridled shout and a raspy growl met my ears as his weight crushed me into the mattress.
I was pressing kisses to his sweat-covered shoulder, running my fingers through damp hair, and with a flutter of a giggle, I asked, "Are you all right?"
"I will be momentarily," he managed to reply, searching for his breath, "when I regain the ability to move. My God, Christine, how did you come up with that?"
"Are you complaining?" I teased, arching my hips with his satiated body still inside.
"Lord, no! I'm just…amazed by you…yet again." His hands combed my curls away from my face, and with a wry grin, he declared, "Ah, I know! Your ballet days and the tawdry tales of the ballerinas must have inspired you."
"How do you know about that?" I demanded in a whine of embarrassment.
"You should realize by now that there are not many things that go on under my roof without my knowledge." Tucking my hair behind my ear, he stared at me with such unfathomable love in his eyes and said, "And wherever you were, I was usually there as well, hiding in the darkness, wishing only to be a part of your shadow forever. It's ridiculous to me to consider now that that would have ever been enough. To never actually hold you or kiss you. …To never be so deeply inside of you after making love to you…. Christine, I am so blessed to have you and your love. I am entirely undeserving of it, and yet I am selfishly determined never to let it go just the same."
"You better not," I warned, leaning near to press my flawless cheek to his scarred one. "I love you, Erik."
His arms enfolded me without an inkling of space between us, and I closed my eyes to savour something so wonderful that I could hardly believe it was real and it was mine.
The next morning, I stood before the mirror in my room, pinning my hair back from my face. Even as my fingers performed the task, my mind was elsewhere. How could it not be on Erik? And how could a blush not be lighting my cheeks a soft pink hue with every recalled image in my eager head? That blush and the secretive, introspective smile attached gave me away.
"Do I even need to ask the subject of your thoughts?" Erik inquired teasingly as he came up behind me and met my eye in the mirror's glass. "Or may I assume that I put that beautiful smile there?"
"Every smile is your doing," I corrected, but sweetness faded to passion as he leant down to brush his misshapen lips along the sensitive side of my throat. In a whine of longing, I demanded, "Must you leave me already?"
I felt his smile against my skin. "Considering that I've already been delayed once by you this morning and am presently late, yes, I fear I must. But when I return, I will thoroughly make up for every second apart."
Memories of the previous night bled into memories of just an hour before, and the warmth of the blush on my cheeks grew. …Well, he was right to say I had been the one to stop him from leaving, …shamelessly so, and any complaints he might have given were only moans with my very first attempts.
"Oh, all right," I reluctantly conceded, watching in the mirror as he slowly rose behind me and covered that face I so adored with the mask. Immediately, my fingers tingled with the urge to rip it away again. Its presence seemed so utterly unnecessary and even unwelcome now, and I knew a swell of amazement at how quickly that had come to be.
Smiling at me in the glass, Erik brushed a gentle caress down my cheek, and then he was gone and I missed him in my very first breath taken on my own. Oh well…. Another day of tinkering about the underground house, seeking things to keep busy or go mad from the silence. It certainly left me impatient for our new house to be completed. Then there would be a garden to tend and sunshine to provide bursts of delight. Then there would be a home of our own…and, although the detail had only been implied with the choice of a real marriage, children….
My mind was in a haze of plans with images of tiny fingers and toes to enchant me when walking toward the sitting room, I received my first impression that something was wrong. It was a sense really, a peculiar, unsettling feeling that twisted my stomach. A perusal about gave nothing to ease my mind but nothing actually out of the ordinary either.
…And then I heard a noise coming from outside the front door in the catacombs, …scuffling footsteps. It wasn't Erik; I knew that instantly. It was someone unconfident with the darkness, stumbling a bit, awkwardly on guard, …and en route to the underground house.
I had little time to consider a plan of action, fear twisting my heart and preventing the most logical reasoning from being more than a jumbled mess. Had I had a clear head, perhaps I would have hid or locked myself in the secret confines of my room, but my thoughts came down to one: this was my house, and I wasn't about to be frightened in it.
Courageously defiant, I suddenly strode right out the front door and into the darkness without pause, scanning every shadow. Again footsteps, louder now, echoing about, nervous, uncertain with every motion, …and then a familiar voice.
"Raoul?" Seeing the Vicomte de Chagny emerge from the shadowed passageway in his pristine suit was far more shocking to me than seeing him at the opera over a week before had been. My expression was something akin to horror. Raoul here? …Why?
Raoul came to stand before me within the light cast out from the open doorway, his smile laden with his relief and renewed confidence now that he was beyond the dark. "I saw that monster leave, and I knew this would be my only chance."
"Chance for what?" I demanded curtly. How could I return his friendly smile when his very presence felt like a horrible intrusion? "What are you doing here, Raoul?"
"I came to rescue you, of course."
"Rescue me?" I scoffed at the very idea. Absurd! Ridiculous! …And yet so very like the gallant Vicomte and his self-proclaimed nobility!
Without permission or consent, Raoul suddenly caught my hand in his, his grip firm when I tried to pull away. "Ever since I saw you at the opera, saw you with…him, I haven't been able to stop thinking about you. My God, what a fool I was to have left you here this long! I should have come for you no matter what threats he tried to lay into place! I should have stolen you away months ago! And instead I ignorantly let you suffer!"
"Yes, my poor darling, to be forced to marry that monster, forced to…," he grew pale before the words even left him, "…take him to your bed. What you've been through…, I can't even imagine. But everything will be all right now. I'm going to take you from this place. We'll go away where no one can ever find us."
I was fighting his grip, desperately trying to yank my hand free as I contemplated his words. He thought that what he was doing was right! "Let go of me! You can't just carry me off! He's my husband!"
"He's a murdering freak!" Raoul shouted back. "What's wrong with you, Christine? You should be grateful that I'm here, that your nightmare has finally ended!"
"Nightmare?" I practically shrieked, my voice resounding off of the stone walls. "I love him, Raoul! I love him!"
"The bastard's obviously using a spell to make you think such things," Raoul justified, his other hand grabbing my waist as he sought to pull me toward the dark passage. "Come on, Christine! Once you're free of this place, you'll realize how he's been tricking you. You poor child! This whole time he's probably had you convinced that you want to be here with him. I'm sure that's why you never tried to run and get to me."
"Let go!" I shouted, but my will could not break me loose of his hold. "I chose Erik, Raoul. I chose to stay with him. I made the choice! And I chose to marry him as well because I love him! Now let me go! Damn you!"
"Christine," the Vicomte insisted tightly, refusing to concede, "I'm doing this for you!"
I screamed as he dragged me deeper into his hold and fought to lift me off of my feet, desperately struggling with limbs and nails. This was not happening! I was not going to let it happen! He would not take away my happy ending like this!
"Stop fighting me!" Raoul yelled as I elbowed him as hard as I could in the stomach, but his grasp still would not loosen.
And then I felt him being yanked back and away, his arms releasing me, and I fell in a heap of limbs and skirts to the hard, cold floor.
I nearly cried in relief. Erik was there with a noose clamped tightly around the Vicomte's neck as poor Raoul clawed at its binding and fought to breathe.
"Are you all right?" Erik asked, his relieved eyes perusing every inch of me, though his hold on my attacker never slackened.
I beamed at him with a quick nod, rising quickly to my feet, and though my mind argued with me, I dared to beg, "Don't kill him, Erik."
"I should!" he sneered, purposely yanking the rope to cause Raoul to gag. "Breaking into my home, assaulting my wife and nearly kidnapping her. And yet now we are back in our predetermined roles in quite a familiar situation, your neck in my rope, your life in my hands. My instincts are just begging me to strangle the breath out of you."
He wasn't going to do it. His eyes met mine, and I knew without doubt that he wouldn't. Perhaps a few months before, such a thing wouldn't have been so clear to him, and the Vicomte would have already been a dead body on the ground. But my Erik had changed. I had changed him.
One more tug on the rope to cut off the Vicomte's lungs, and Erik suddenly dropped him, rope and all, to the floor as the Vicomte gasped desperately for air, tearing fiercely at his binding. An eye was always his struggling adversary, Erik stepped toward me, his hand reaching for mine, and I scampered to his side, clasping that hand and the arm attached and adding a grateful kiss to his shoulder.
Raoul had staggered to his feet, the rope tossed carelessly to the ground, and he was backing away from us step by step, wide-eyed and white as a sheet. "Christine…," he stammered as he shook his head in reality's bewilderment.
"If you ever lay a hand on my wife again," Erik growled hastily, "I will not be so generous as to let you live! Now get out!"
I had ducked my head against Erik's jacket, tears in my eyes that I could not control, and all I heard were the Vicomte's running, scuffling footsteps as he fled our world, a place he couldn't belong to or hope to understand. When quiet was all that could be discerned, Erik was the one to guide me back into the house, his arms so warmly secure around my trembling body. I caught the click of the lock on the front door, precautions suddenly necessary, but he did not speak or release me until we were in the sitting room and he was drawing me onto the couch with him.
It took the coercion of every cell in my body to convince me to let him go so I could meet his intent yet unreadable stare. "How did you know?" I asked in a shaky whisper. "You were gone."
He shook his head, and his fingers brushed my tears away. "I have alarms all over the catacombs. I knew someone was lurking about. I never left you alone."
"So you saw all of that?"
"Unfortunately, yes." Only then did he let his real terror appear in his eyes, giving me the glimpse I wanted into that soul.
"He thought he was doing the right thing," I weakly justified. "But, …oh, Erik, what if you hadn't have been here? What if he had taken me away?"
"I would have come for you, of course," he confidently answered. "You should know quite well by now that I'll never let anyone separate us."
"And we're married. That's binding." I had caught the edge of his mask and yanked it away, needing to see that face.
"It's so much more than that now." Though I was curled to his side, it wasn't close enough for him as his strong arms drew me onto his lap and into his embrace. "I wouldn't have come for you because by law you were mine, a possession if you will. I would have come for you only because I love you and I know you love me as well."
He knew, and that meant more to me than anything he could have said. After all this time, he trusted in my heart. He knew that when I said I was happy, when I said I loved him, I wasn't lying to him. Finally!
Smiling even as tears fell again from my eyes, I pressed my cheek to his scars and curved my fingers in his hair, breathing him in, yearning to be lost in him.
"You know, I'm not going to leave you alone again," he warned. "Not until we are safely in our new home away from this place and this life."
"I have no complaint to that," I replied. "However, the Vicomte will always be a part of our lives if the opera is. There is no escaping that."
"Then he better have learned his lesson." I felt the tightness of the welled rage within him. "Let him try to cross me again. I wasn't exaggerating my threat, Christine. No one hurts my family."
I couldn't contain a smile as I nuzzled my nose against his sunken cheek. "I know, my love. You are my guardian angel, after all, and I and the children are expecting you to take care of us."
"Children?" He abruptly drew back and met my eye, and I giggled with amusement. He, the mighty Opera Ghost, looked so suddenly terrified. "I think…. I mean…. Isn't that a discussion for another time?"
I shrugged innocently. "Maybe, maybe not. The things we've been doing lately…, frequently doing, tend to have that ending result, you realize…. And I don't think you'd want to give up those things."
"Certainly not!" he exclaimed, trailing his fingertips along the neckline of my gown. "And…the new house would be large enough, I guess."
I nodded encouragingly. "It would indeed…. Home, family,…. Erik, that's our future."
His grin matched mine when he brushed a kiss against my lips and set his forehead against my brow. "I love you, Christine. You gave me the future."
Future…and forever attached.
Are some people born particularly luckier than others, or is it all in one's perception? Many would call me unlucky to love a man with a corpse's face. But I consider myself luckier than anyone else in the world for that same reason. Supposedly, Erik's face is some unfortunate tragedy, but to us, it is a blessing that drew us together. Perception as a whole is an interesting, unclear opinion at best, lacking a distinct right or wrong path. It is contingent on each and every individual, and if one is lucky, then one is just happy, no matter the circumstances or the details attached.
So I call us lucky and happy, and by such a perception, our ending will be perfection, full of love and bliss. It is my dream come true, and all because I made the right choice….