I do not own the characters; they come from various versions of the Phantom of the Opera.

Something short during a VERY BUSY week! I wanted to post something new for everyone to enjoy before I leave on vacation. This is told from Erik's POV, a music lesson during a calm interlude before the Vicomte's fated arrival. I hope you like it! :)

SUMMARY: As a certain peace prevails between Erik and Christine after the unmasking, he attempts to teach her about the essence of his music.

"A Heartbeat"

I often stare at her when she sings under the pretext of teaching. That is my role, isn't it? Teacher, angel, tentative friend. She will be mid-aria, putting all of herself into tone and technique, presuming I am watching to correct any folly, but my mind will be far from where it is supposed be. It will be full of observances of the seemingly mundane: the interestingly deepened blue of her eyes this day, the tinged hue of her cheeks that one, the ever-present freckle near one temple almost invisible to casual regard but never to my desperate examination. I often contemplate everything that is her, intrigued by the bits of soul I can always discern, the way that when she is genuinely feeling happiness, that soul peeks out from her eyes as if seeking my own and saying, 'Here I am, all for you'. Yes, I am convinced without a doubt that she is meant to be mine, that our very souls previously mentioned are mirror images of one another's, hers lighter for lack of sin than my tarnished one, but the same in makeup and essence. Despite the minimal amount of time I have spent amongst the world, I have come to realize how rare an occurrence it is to find the other half to one's soul. Too many mistake desire for destiny and end up unhappy and broken. Is it any wonder then that I am so desperate to hang on to this other half of mine? Neither of us could be happy without the other; it may seem presumptuous of me to argue that, but it is a blatant fact and reality. I argue what I know to be true.

This particular day, we were having our daily lesson, moved down to my home since I had been found out, and she was singing me a snippet of a Swedish folk song of her youth. I often picked her brain for inspiration, influenced by every aspect of music that I could get my hands on, and beyond that, I simply delighted in hearing her. She could sing me anything, and I would fall as a willing slave at her feet. Her eyes twinkled as she came to the chorus. I read in those depths memories and nostalgic attachment, wondering which of her parents had taught her the song and what detailed images played in her mind's eye. To me, such a connection to one's past and childhood was unfathomable, my own such a cruel endurance, but watching her now and whenever she'd speak of hers made me wish for a time like that to cling to. Perhaps if I had had one of the pleasant sort, I'd write happier music, know happier emotions. But then again, perhaps I'd have ended up in a different place and would have never known Christine, and just as quickly as I pondered it, I re-embraced my own wretched existence before her. Every bit of it mattered and was glorious in its awfulness if it meant I'd end with her.

As she ceased her song, she smiled so brilliantly that I felt the glow of it like sunlight striking my masked face. She was stunning when she smiled, and oh, how I adored her playful moods. I counted myself fortunate to still have them as mine. For too long after she had learned I was no angel, she had denied me of them, acting reserved and unsure constantly in my presence. Somewhere along the way pushed by my insistent hands, we had resurrected our relationship and had found the seeds of a friendship that had been thriving. It wasn't what I wanted, but it would do for now.

"Well?" she demanded, her dark brows rising inquisitively. "Did you like it?"

I was seated on the piano's bench watching her where she swayed in the bow, and I nodded slightly. "It's certainly different than what I've considered 'folk song' to be."

"But…did you like it?" Always seeking my approval. And it was not even that she sought my appreciation for the song itself; it was her, always her. And how I doted on her! I was never one to deny her an abundance of compliments, most especially on the voice I was shaping.

"Yes, Christine," I replied, my expression as light as hers had been. "You sang it lovely."

Her grin brightened all the more so, if that was even possible, and I was in breathless awe of her, staring wide-eyed as she giggled. As always, it was a most exquisite sound to my ears. "You know me far too well," she stated the very thoughts in my head. Was there truly any doubt that could be considered then of our connection?

I shrugged off her comment even as it thrilled me, feigning nonchalance when the tinge of a smile I gave betrayed and revealed what I hadn't shared.

"So what are we working on today?" she posed, leaning toward me with her little fingers curled against the wood of the piano. "Faust again? …Something a little more…undisclosed perhaps?"

I knew exactly what she was getting at. For a couple of weeks now, she had been pushing to sing some of my own composed music. It had been my fault for putting the concept in her head with an idle comment of how beautiful she would be able to sing the heroine's role in my opera. My own fault, I repeat, for I had bypassed the stubborn streak in her, the acutely vivid memory that kept her recalling every utterance I made. I had known no peace since then.

"Soon," I promised, receiving a disappointed pout that on any other subject would have broken me. "Remember, petite, you are working with the composer on his very own work. It requires a bit more on your part than your usual roles. There are a few concepts you have yet to learn."

"Teach me, ange," she bid, tilting her head as her curls tumbled over her shoulder and caught the focus of my eye with their silken shapes. "Whatever I have 'yet to learn', I can; I promise."

Yes, she would. Such a musician with the hint of a perfectionist within, not to the extent of myself, thank God, but enough to keep her pushing herself.

"Today's lesson will be our starting point," I told her, delighting in the flare of excitement she openly gave. "But you must trust me and do as I say without protest or questions."

"Don't I always?" Her brows lifted so sweetly innocent, and I was sure we both wanted more at that moment; we both wanted our meaning to extend beyond a lesson of music and vocal technique. If only….

"All right," I conceded, rising slowly with my confident air of teacher in place as I strode around the piano to face her. "Our lesson today will be on the importance of silence."

"Silence?" she dared to utter before clamping her own hand over her mouth with an apologetic shrug.

I didn't need to scold her misstep, so I continued. "Silence is music in its own right. It is the point from which music flows…in the silence. It is a beginning and an ending." I stood close enough to her that the delicious scent of vanilla wafted my senses; intermingled with her own scent, it intoxicated me as always. In a gentle voice, I bid, "Close your eyes, Christine."

She did not hesitate to comply, and her blatant trust was humbling to behold. Anyone else, knowing who I truly was, the phantom in every regard, would never so willingly put their life and well-being in my hands, but she did so on a daily basis.

I was shaking, glad she didn't see it; that was something she would not understand. My hand slowly reached for hers at her side, catching it, overcome when she willingly wrapped her fingers around mine. It wasn't common for me to touch her at all and to dare cross the line of propriety, but she gave no regard to that, never once opening her eyes, never appearing apprehensive or afraid. If anything, I caught the tinge of a grin still existing on her lips.

As I lifted her hand, I studied it as I often did when she wasn't noticing, reveling in the small, slender fingers and graceful arch of her knuckles; every bit of her was a work of art. I guided that beautiful appendage to myself with a trembling racing through my body and pressed her open palm to my chest at the place of my heart.

"Can you feel that, Christine?" I whispered so as not to cause too many ripples in the quiet hanging peacefully in the air.

She nodded, her smile growing. "Your heartbeat," she whispered back, eyes still obediently closed.

"Exactly. A heartbeat is the first music, first rhythm, first sound a baby learns in its mother's womb. For every single person, it is an initial inspiration, calming, soothing. Everything, Christine, every sound in the world is a form of music, the bird in the tree whose song is interspersed with rustling leaves as percussion, the pounding of ocean on shore, the quiet peace of a snowfall, the cascading trickle of raindrops. Music exists beyond the sphere of instrument and voice, of aria and symphony. It's in the air we breathe, in nature and world, playing incessantly at the start of the first heartbeat."

I was telling her all of this so softly and watching her intently. These were my own thoughts, my own musings that I had never had any notion to reveal to anyone, but she sparked impulses within me to share everything I had ever given pause to consider. I wanted her to understand me as fully as I already understood her, to feel my own inspiration in her veins as well.

I continued to speak at the level of a whisper, "Listen, Christine. Feel my heartbeat and find its song. Only in silence can you hear it." My free hand found hers still at her side, and less trepid this time, I guided that one to her chest and matched the pose we had with mine, so that her palms were pressed to both of our beating hearts. "Two hearts beating together make a more beautiful music than any ever heard."

The moment I said the words, I regretted them, terrified to push her, afraid to have her learn my feelings at the same time as I longed for just that. I had frightened her away from me once before and was determined never to do so again, even if it meant keeping to these roles for as long as we had to.

So though she gave no reply, save the still-existent smile on those full, pink lips, I put aside any romantic notions and went on, reluctantly drawing her hand away from my heart. "Listen to your own song, Christine. It plays within you, in your very soul. Too often it gets overlooked by the chaos of the world around us. Only in silence can you find it again…. It is inspiration and creativity, and it is the stem of all music, the root, the starting point." Though I would have loved to keep touching her even if it was only against the smoothness of her hand, I slowly drew away and instructed, "Keep your hand against your heart and your eyes closed. I am going to play something, and all I want you to do is listen within yourself. Let the music enter you and seek your soul. Feel it, Christine. Don't think or make a sound. Just feel."

I sat before the piano keys again, my eyes only on her, even as I began to play. It was a beautiful, lyrical aria from my opera, and I watched and saw the wonder of it crease her pretty features, knowing that she knew it was mine. The smallest sigh fell from her smiling lips, her entire body instinctively leaning toward the piano as if in some strange way, it yearned to crawl inside and become an integral part of the melody. If only she knew she already was. I had composed every bit of this opera for her, from emotions I felt only for her. The piece I played was intended for her to sing it, composed with her voice singing in my inner ear. In some way, I thought sure she knew; the bliss on her beautiful face was amazing to me, the subtle flickers of emotions the melody brought to life that were genuinely real.

As I played the piece, I contemplated my next move in this lesson, pondering for the hundredth time if she could handle what I was about to lay before her. For while this particular piece was solely beautiful and innocent, the opera itself was hardly that. It was…sensual; it was intimately erotic in a way I knew my sweet Christine had yet to fathom. Hence why I had never shown her my music. I wrote from a place of desire and sexual frustration; attribute it to a lifetime denied the fulfillment of such urges and a more recent present of learning their true extent with my first glimpse of Christine. Every desperate need, every fervent arousal, I had poured into my opera, and I was entirely certain that just as she had been able to feel the sentiments of this innocent aria, Christine would be able to feel the driving desire of the next piece, this one a passionate duet I had written with the intended performers being her and myself. It was absolutely brimming with provocative lust in a most primal vein, and I was terrified of how she could accept it, even if she could.

With one last long look at her heavenly face and a resolution that this was a lesson she very well needed to ever be fully mine, I modulated the key and flowed seamlessly into the next piece. The very first chords shook her; I saw it in a shudder that racked her entire body, her smile fading away. She never opened her eyes, likely not wanting me to see what she was clearly feeling as the eruption of a pink blush across her skin gave it away. Her fingers curled into the palm against her chest, her elbows suddenly drawn into her body and arms wrapping around herself tightly as she shivered. I didn't know if such a reaction was out of terror or desire, and she was determined to keep that answer hidden.

I continued to play with the music seeping into my own veins as well. It was always the case. I could never detach myself from it or the emotions I had felt upon composing it. What began as a tingle through my limbs rapidly became a dull throb, intensified all the more so by her nearness. She was it, the object of my lust, the craving of my veins, the temptation of my every desire. And she was so close, practically within my grasp. If I reached out, if I succumbed and took her in my arms, she could be mine….

My hungry gaze trailed her face, noting how she bit her bottom lip, lines creasing her flawless brow, and I could see every erratic, trembling breath she took. My God, she was aroused. There was no denying it and no denying that my music was the cause. I couldn't decide whether or not to hate myself for that reality. My pure Christine was having her very first taste of passion, and I was far too humbled to be allowed to witness it to berate my own deceptive hand in its presence.

On the wings of the desirous flames, I hoarsely demanded, "What do you feel, Christine?"

I almost thought she wouldn't answer, jolted by my voice and blushing furiously even though her eyes never opened to regard me. Finally, in a quivering tone, she answered, "I…I don't know."

"Tell me, petite," I breathed huskily.

She grew even redder, her arms hugging her body. "I…I've never felt anything like this…."

"Does it frighten you?" I dared to ask, my eyes never leaving her and my hands still playing despite the near fever I could feel upon my skin.

She nodded. "Yes, …it terrifies me."

I knew I should end things there; rationale begged for it. The last thing I wanted was to scare her away. But didn't she need to learn and understand? I was too encouraged by the sheer fact that she could decipher the desire so vividly in my music, and I reminded myself that she could never truly accept me if she shied away from such things.

"Open your eyes, Christine," I commanded gently, never ceasing the provocative tune.

She was reluctant; I wondered if she would refuse, but then those lashes fluttered and blue depths met mine, hazy with the desire and yet laden with such trust in me that I wondered if I deserved it.

Crooning tenderly, I bid, "Come to me, Christine," and watched her timidly walk around the piano, hesitate, and then sit on the empty space of the bench beside me, shaking so hard I could see it.

I never stopped playing as I explained, "This is my music, Christine. It is raw, and it is intense, and it will inspire within you new sensations you have never fathomed could exist. I need you to understand that, to truly listen and let it into your soul if you are ever going to sing it." How much more was beneath my words? How many of them pleaded for acceptances of my very self? "I am letting you into my soul by playing this for you at all. If you think it is too much for you, then we will stop and never speak of it again. But if not, if you can push beyond the fear and uncertainty, then you will receive more than you could have ever imagined."

I knew what her answer would be before she even gave it, already aware of how desperately she wanted to please me. Our trust was as much a blessing as a weapon I would have to use against her if only to win her heart.

"I will sing it for you, ange," she whispered. "And I will try to make you proud."

To my absolute shock, meeting my eye one tremulous moment, she suddenly laid her head against my shoulder as I continued to play. I almost stumbled over the passage, too overwhelmed, glancing down at the top of her dark head with tears threatening. My sweet child…, and here I was practically assaulting her with my music's potency! I could feel the shivers her little body was suffering, her gasped breaths and racing pulse. It terrified her, and yet, for me, she was willingly enduring it without question or protest, trusting me with her protection. And though I desired her to inconceivable heights, I loved her so much that I modulated my sensual duet back to her beautiful aria. She relaxed within moments, sighing with returned bliss and all the while keeping her head delicately upon my shoulder.

When I at last ended the song with a flicker of sorrow in my soul, I told her, "We will begin to work on this piece tomorrow. Now I'll take you back to your dressing room."

Smiling her excitement with such a promise, she was jovial again on our journey above, everything else forgotten. If she noticed my despair, she pretended she didn't, practically bubbling when I left her, vowing to meet me after rehearsal ended as always. And I knew she'd be there; she would never deny me….

I never played my duet for her again. I let her indulge herself with the aria, hearing so much potential for the more that I wanted but could not have. She wasn't ready…. Perhaps she would be someday….

But then before I could learn our ending, the Vicomte appeared in her life, and my dreams of love, acceptance, and desire shattered to shards of crystalline glass at my feet. He would be the one to convince her that such passion, no matter its valid existence and blessing, was a black and evil manipulation on my part, and my innocent Christine would believe him and deny what her soul was singing in every silent hour. Our ending would be tragic instead of happy, …and all because I loved her too much.