I do not own the characters; they are from various versions of "The Phantom of the Opera."

OK, so this time I have something very dark. This story is told from Christine's POV and deals with the conflict between what she can't resist and the guilt that comes from giving in to it. Again, I reiterate that it is VERY dark. This is one of my own favorites, and I truly hope that you enjoy it!

SUMMARY: "…temptation is black and temptation is strong. I had been unable to resist another taste and then another and another until my soul was tarnished, and purity became only a bittersweet memory."

"Lie To Me"

I am an anomaly; I am a puzzle even to myself. I am an actress; I am a liar. I am a hypocrite. At times, I am selfish and vain, a materialistic idealist, too concerned with my own appearance to notice the rest of humanity and its struggles. Other times, I am compassionate, sympathetic, empathic to suffering, caring wholeheartedly and entirely generous.

With such a tremendous repertoire, is it any wonder then that I lack an understanding of myself? That I am constantly searching for the true nature of my character? Am I a heroine or a villain? In the operas we perform, the categories are so vividly black and white, pronounced and clearly defined. Being a soprano, I am typically cast as heroine, the beautiful, pure, the innocent, but, of course, that is onstage. In real life, I fall into the void of grey existing in between, …maybe a dark grey, …tinged with more black than white. I had been white once, pure white, virginal white, …but once you add even a hint of black, no matter how much white you desperately stir back in, you will never have anything other than a shade of grey for the rest of your life. After my first taste of the darkness, I was overcome with so much guilt that I tried to return to the purity, but temptation is black and temptation is strong. I had been unable to resist another taste and then another and another until my soul was tarnished, and purity became only a bittersweet memory.

I call myself a liar, a liar to everyone including my own conscience. I pretend to be the same Christine that I always have been. Sometimes I even convince myself of it, that that blackness I can feel so sharply beneath my skin isn't real; it couldn't possibly be real…. But it's undeniable in its potency, this ever-present, ever-growing darkness within me that I can't control or refuse. Maybe it was always there, lurking just beneath the surface, and I failed to acknowledge it, …didn't want to acknowledge it…. Or maybe it was thrust upon me, the influence of a force I willingly allowed inside. Either way I came upon it, all that matters now is its presence, its constant, gnawing ache within my core, like a ravenous hunger that never seems to find satisfaction. I am beginning to wonder if I myself am blackened as well. …More than that, if I am evil….

Staring at my reflection in the full-length mirror of my dressing room, I ponder the very term 'evil'. I don't look evil. The blue eyes staring at me are ones I recognize, ones that have looked back at me for a lifetime. The face, the contours and features, I know well; I watched them go from child to woman with a sense of fascination over the years, the changes so gradual and subtle that I only realized them after they occurred. I have always considered myself beautiful; that is the vanity within me. I attribute it to a father who lavished compliments and praises on his daughter with every breath. As I grew older with my father dead and gone, I learned that beauty is subjective and virtually indefinable, thriving in unexpected places and occasionally going against the norm. …And yet even as I am formulating my own definition for beauty and its perimeters, reshaping my core aesthetics, I still consider myself beautiful.

But…. If I stare deep enough into the vision of my reflection, if I seek out the essence of soul lying within the pretty packaging, I can almost glimpse something unnatural, something strange and perverse…, the darkness. Will it eventually become plain on my face? Readable in my eyes? Will the darkness steal every bit of what I believed to be myself until only a stranger remains behind? …And will I care if it does?…

An acute sense of loathing attacks me like a blunt blow to the gut, and I am forced to look away from my suddenly guilt-ridden eyes. The things I have done are like a nightmare that, try as I might, I cannot shake. And that nightmare is about to be relived once again; I am unable to stop it. I am weak.

Careful to avoid any accidental glimpse at the girl in the glass, the girl who has fallen under the dark influence and too eagerly shuns the light, I draw a thick, woolen cloak over my dark blue gown and reach for the hidden latch that unhinges my mirror and reveals the concealed passageway into the catacombs below.

A hundred times I have traveled this path, both in my waking and sleeping mind. I know every bend and curve, every step, every trick that brings me to him.

Him…. My dark angel…. In what bit of conscience I still possess, clinging to with the tips of my fingers, he is Satan himself, the devil come to tempt me to sin and fall. And weak as I am to resist, I continuously return to him, continuously succumb and even beg for more. It has to be evil; the guilt that I always know afterward tells me that it must be evil, and yet I always go back to him. I always demand more.

Flying with black wings soaked in the blood of a moaning heart, I make my way through the cellars into hell's domain and to that fabled house on the lake. He is there within those fiery walls; I am aware of his essence before I even pass the threshold of the doorway. I can feel him; I always feel him, ever since those deceptive days when he played heavenly angel to my vulnerable mind. His aura calls to me, always calls, always keeps a firm, unyielding hold on me. I no longer struggle against it. I need it too much now.

My shoes make a soft whispering sound against the cold, hard stone of the catacomb floors as I reach for the doorknob and slip within that accursed, condemned sanctuary. In the back of my mind passes the fleeting thought that I am equally as condemned. I have willingly made this choice, and the eventual consequences are my own to bear, as I am sure they will come.

The house on the lake is lit with a warm glow, inviting, welcoming my presence, and I feel it radiating into my bones, calming and stealing away my guilt. Guilt doesn't exist here; guilt only comes afterward. In its place, anticipation bubbles in my chest, and I can hardly wait until I am in his presence. Faster, quicker, my very soul is racing ahead of me to find him.

The moment that I enter the living room, he meets my gaze, always with that initial disbelief that I have returned to him. He is sitting in his throne-like chair before a raging inferno of flames in the hearth, and even though he acts like I have come upon him unaware, I am undoubting that he knew of my presence long before, just as I knew of his.

He is…majestic. Erik, Angel. His pose is regal, his attire flawlessly formal, and that white mask glints unthreatening off the flames. This image of him is etched with intricate precision in my mind so that when we are parted, I can conjure it up in my most intimate of fantasies. His mismatched eyes, one sapphire blue and one deep emerald, never once need question my intentions; they immediately begin to smolder like hot coals gradually glinting and blazing with a fire more intense than that in the hearth. Fire…, he is all fire…, fire and heat.

My feet barely touch the floor as I float nearer to him. My skin is already tingling, though we have yet to be touching, electrified like lightning is grazing the surface. I give him very little to decipher in my expression save a determination, a resolve that I will have what it is that I want so desperately.

Coming up to stand before him while he patiently remains seated, studying me with great care and intent, I reach for the mask. I hate it right now; I hate its presence and the barrier it presents. I know that it is a necessity at all other times for both of our pieces of mind, but at this moment before we are to make love, I want only to destroy it, to crush it and tear it until it is gone. My hand finds the coldness of its manmade material, and he doesn't stop my movements; he never stops me. My fingers fit around the edge, and I slowly draw it away a bit at a time, revealing that deformity to my eager eyes. It is ugly; it is ravaged and hideous, a twisted mockery of what a real face should be, and in spite of my own eagerness, I feel the pull of my aversion in my belly. I am disgusted by him, and strangely enough, it only makes me want him more. I need to see this repulsive face if only to assure myself that this is indeed Erik, my Erik, who I am taking into my arms and into my bed.

The mask slips out of my fingers onto the carpet, and I immediately touch his face, cupping that ravaged side in my palm. It is immediate, the thrill that overcomes me, desire from head to toe, black and wrong and so unbelievably powerful. I can't deny it, even if I want to.

Erik knows the same fervent reaction to my touch; I can read it as he closes his eyes and gives a low growl in the depths of his chest. The skin of his disfigurement is so sensitive to any sort of caress, having been so long shunned and concealed, that simply the grazing of my fingertips along the thin layer of flesh that covers his sallow cheek makes him shudder violently from head to toe. I cry out, a nonsensical appreciation for that demon face, and bending down to him, I press my lips reverently to that cheek, lingering in that necessary kiss for a long, still moment.

This is not love. No, it can never be love. He has murdered mercilessly; how could I ever feel love for a murderer? This is desire, black desire; it is raw and savage and consuming. Not love…. Never love….

Pulling my lips away again, I stand straight before him, and with that same determined expression in my eyes, I push my cloak from my shoulders, hearing it fall with a hushed breath to the floor around me. As he stares transfixed, I gather up my skirts in my hands and climb atop his lap, straddling him on his throne chair with a knee on either side of his body. I do not speak, do not make any false utterances of affection. He already knows what I want; why bother with words?

As I lower myself, fitting my body against his until I can feel the growing hardness of his manhood even through the layers in between, I tilt my face towards his, inviting his kiss. Without a dared complaint, he accepts the blatant enticement and captures my mouth with a hunger that makes me tremble. It is always like this; I can be brave, can take control, but in the end, I let him take the reigns. I like being the subservient victim; …perhaps it means I am less guilty.

Erik's mouth is hot and demanding, his kiss hard and bruising, and I match his fervency with my own. To glimpse such savagery between us, one would be shocked. Considering the other Christine, the light Christine I can feign so well, this lewd behavior is unimaginable and aberrant; no one could possible realize how deep this streak of darkness runs within me. Only with Erik do I know it. I felt it in dull tremors from the moment his angel's voice called out my name, and it has only grown since then into the inferno it is today. With Erik, I am not myself. I allow him to do things to me that I could never allow of anyone else. And I! I am unbridled, wild, passionate, craving in perverse ways for things that I could never fathom existed. The hunger is staggering, and whenever I try to refuse and stay away, it builds and assaults me until I can take no more and must yield to it with relieved abandon. I am addicted to this! To these incredible feelings! To the power he has over me! I love being his willing victim! And I cannot imagine a life without this and without him!

His hands are tearing at the clasps of my gown; they still tremble a little as we begin on this exhilarating carousel once again. I wonder if they will always tremble that way, as if he fears touching my body, a body that he already knows as intimately as his own. But as those infernal clasps open and my gown is being stolen, I quickly forget the trembling of his hands; they have taken on a new sort of mystery, like an accomplished musician about to play his instrument.

With utter delicacy, he removes the pins holding back my dark curls and releases a thick cascade that is heavy on my shoulders and down my back. His fingers idly twist and entwine amidst the coils; he told me once that he would love to be lost in my curls and never come out. It is a memory that curves the corners of my lips even now as I watch him intently, a memory that I do not share with him.

Erik sits back in his chair and assists my eager hands as they discard his suit jacket, tie, and vest. But he lets me unbutton his shirt unaided, simply watching with that ravenous need glowing in his brilliantly bright eyes and scorching my flesh.

I am purposely slow in my endeavors; I want him to suffer, to be nearly bursting with desire, …desire for me, and I play a part, feigning innocence and ignorance to what my torturous actions are doing to him. As he succumbs, only shifting uncomfortably and holding his breath to keep a restraint on himself, I thrill in the knowledge that I am in control now. I enjoy having such power over him just as he does, only I never let him know it. I keep my eyes wide, innocent, almost virginal, as if I am still hesitant and uncertain, and this makes his passion burn. Finishing with the last button, I am careful not to let my skin touch his as I push the material from his torso, noting with satisfaction how he arches toward me, expectant and desperate.

In a small voice, I innocently ask, "What would you have me do?"

"Touch me," he nearly growls. He could have grabbed my hands and forced them upon his skin, but that is not how he wants me.

Holding his passion-clouded eyes with my own, I very slowly extend my hand to his white chest until my fingertips are lightly caressing the cool flesh. I play the tease, the vixen, the virgin, and keep my touches light until I feel him nearly writhing with need and only then do I press my palms flat against the smooth expanse of his chest and run them up and down as he arches into my touch.

Erik is in a frenzy of desire, and with a feral cry, he kisses me once more, demanding, fierce. Just one kiss, only one, and he pushes me off of his lap back on my feet before him.

"Disrobe," he commands. His voice is so tainted with his need by now that I can hardly recognize it as his. When he is aggressive in this way, I do not dare argue; it isn't the time to pose a battle with him.

Moving with all of the grace of my femininity, I obey, discarding petticoat, shoes, and stockings. Slower, I capture the hem of my chemise between my fingers and lift it over my head, exposing my breasts to his ravenous gaze, and then without pause, I lower my pantaloons, leaving myself bare. I am being ravished with his eyes alone as they are trailed up and down my every curve. I know that he adores my naked flesh; he has told me numerous times. It is his unending appreciation that makes me unashamed and confident before him, reveling in my own skin and my sexuality.

"I must have you now." It is a statement, not a question, and never daring to take his eyes from me, he hastily sheds the rest of his clothing and sinks back into his throne chair, beckoning me with a crooked finger.

Oh, he need not request. I am only too eager as I climb back atop him, this time sans the oppressive boundaries of our clothing. The very instant our flesh comes into contact with one another's, I feel my knees shake under my own weight, anticipation dancing up the length of my spine. He is warm, a phenomenon that only occurs when we are making love. Usually, his skin is frigid to the touch, so like the very cellars he lives in. But not now. Now his very flesh sears mine with each gentle brushing, the dead brought to life.

Quivering all over in spite of my prior bravado, I lower myself onto him, straddling his hips between my thighs. I am deliberately slow in my efforts, yearning to savour every second and every possible sensation. Even though Erik is in agony, his hardness straining between our bare bodies, he lets me play, but he is always ready to sway things in his direction. In that vein, he captures my breasts in his palms, cupping their generous weight before he lets his fingers pinch the hardened tips. I can't control the cry that I let loose; he knows exactly how to touch me to make me melt. Infuriating man!

With a grin of the seductress I truly am, I part my legs and lower my hips enough for the very tip of him to graze the length of my wetness. I am so ready now that my aching body is only liquid heat. One more long, insufferable moment, and I begin to take him inside. I am still playing, still toying with him as with each inch of him I take, I draw back for a long second, making him wait.

But Erik is not a patient man, and with a roar of annoyance, he clamps my hips with his hands and forces me down until he is fully sheathed within my wetness. I cannot control the delirious cries escaping my lips. Sweet sin! This is exactly what I wanted. To feel him so deeply embedded within my body! To feel so stretched and full with him, only him! I throw back my head so that my curls fall across our joined bodies and tickle his thighs as he continues to hold my hips motionless in place. My every instinct begs for movement, for that primal rhythm to take over, and acquiescing, Erik begins to maneuver my hips in a torturously slow pattern, rocking us with contained passion. I know that he enjoys this, enjoys making our union last as long as possible, and I concede, knowing that his control will not last long.

How right I am! For only a few blissful moments, he retains that savouring pattern, leaning close to find my mouth with a tender, exploring kiss. His tongue slips between my lips, and I can taste the dizzying deliciousness of him as I kiss him back, gentle as he is. My tongue trails the length of his in my mouth, twirling and dancing around it. And that undoes him completely.

I feel his fingers digging into my hips with bruising force and marring my skin. They are not my first bruises from him in the unconsidered heat of passion and will certainly not be my last. Gripping at my body viciously, he suddenly rises from the chair, and with a cry against his lips, I wrap my legs securely around his waist locking my ankles, curious to his intentions.

Erik wastes not time. He carries me to my bedroom and to the foot of this bed we've used so often. It is tall with a lush mattress, and he rests me upon its softness so that my backside is just barely resting upon its edge. With a smirk at the end of our kiss, he lifts his hands to catch my forearms, disentangling them from his neck, and lowers me back onto the bed so that I am laying while he stands at the foot, our bodies still joined as one.

For one breath, he holds my eye as I stare up at him, mesmerized and overwhelmed with the unquenched passion in my veins. And then he creates a rhythm, thrusting into my aching body as I keep my legs wrapped around his waist. His torrid eyes are wandering up and down again from the column of my throat to the swells of my breasts and on to the apex of dark curls where our bodies are united. He often studies my body in this way while we are making love, looking more than touching; he likes to look at me. It is as if he is always trying to convince himself that I am truly here in his bed, sheathing his body within my own. Tonight, however, he doesn't just want to look. Never once disturbing the pattern of his thrusts, he presses his palms to the flat expanse of my stomach, curling his fingers around the sides of my small ribcage.

I shiver and tingle all over, staring up at him through cloudy eyes. Just as he usually likes to look upon me, I like to look upon him as we are lost in this most intimate act. I like to watch his tangled face, to see the desire and the passion build and twist those malformed features into something akin to what I consider beauty to be, my very own learned definition, uncommon and against standard conventionality. But how could it not be beautiful to watch this man give himself entirely to me?

Erik keeps his palms splayed across my belly for a long time before they very slowly make a path up to my breasts, cupping them and exploring as they have done dozens of times before. His fingers brush over each stiffened peak and then settle in a frenzy of tugs and pinches that drive me mad with the fervent need for release. I want to cry. I long to sob tears of my desperate yearning.

"Say my name," he hoarsely demands in that unarguable tone, and when I cannot find my voice to reply, he becomes harsher, repeating with the hint of anger, "Say my name."

"Erik," I whimper, clutching at the blankets on either side of my head with handfuls of my thick curls tangled between fingers.

His eyes are glazed over with a flash of madness, near insanity, as he continues sharply, "Tell me you're mine."

Erik's hand suddenly seeks out the epicenter of my passion just above the place where our bodies are joined as I yell out, "I'm yours, Erik! Yours!"

"Mine forever," he growls, manipulating my flushed, craving body until I can feel my release dangling so close to my grasping fingertips.

"Forever," I repeat of my own accord, hardly realizing that I spoke aloud. My heart is racing violently, my breathing in harsh gasps as I writhe on the bed, tossing my head from side to side amid my soft curls. So near, so close to what my body is burning for, and then in a great swell of passion, I find pleasure with a dizzying explosion so violent that I am left exhausted and weak in it wake.

Erik's bruising grip has returned to my hips, leaving new marks on my creamy flesh as with a guttural cry, he thrusts with a savage intensity a moment more and then explodes deeply inside of me.

I study every expression, every sound he makes, every detail of him during his climax. He has never looked as beautiful to me as he does right now, a revelation partly induced by my sated state of bliss. Dangling on that cloud, I allow myself to see him through the eyes of a lover, to regard him as if my heart is in my expression. As he fights to catch his breath, he leans down to me, pressing his sweat-coated flesh to my own and lays his flawless, unmarked cheek to my chest just above my beating heart, savouring its sound like a lilting symphony. I idly extend my hand to caress his deformity with unrestrained tenderness, as close to him in every which way as I possibly can be.

Long moments blend one into the next until I am unaware of the passage of time. This peace I feel will be short-lived, but I refuse to remember that now. Let me live this illusion a little longer.

Erik is the first of us to stir and find reality. Raising himself, he gently disentangles our exhausted bodies, and even though I avoid his gaze, I feel the unspoken words there. Oh, not now. I cannot tolerate his words now.

The moment that I am free of his hold, I scurry off of the mattress and reach for the dressing gown I discarded across my chaise the day before. As I draw it on to conceal my nudity, I inadvertently glance down to the aching skin of my hips and notice the burgeoning purple bruises forming darker and darker.

"I have hurt you," he states matter of factly, and I jerk the robe closed, tying it tightly into place before lifting my eyes to his. Regret and compassion saturate his expression. How I cannot abide to see it!

Shaking my head, I reply in an emotionless tone, "No, I am fine."

"Don't," he bids as he reluctantly reaches for the extra blanket I keep beside the bed and wraps it around his waist. I know he is doing this for my sake without him ever having to say so.

"Don't what?"

"You always behave this way. You open yourself so completely to me, and in the next moment, you become hardly more than a distant stranger. Is it really necessary to leap out of bed and cover yourself from my eyes? You come down here begging for my touch as if you will perish without it and now you shy away and avoid it like the plague."

"I…I'm cold," I lie. I am not a very good liar when I do not have an orchestra and an audience before me.

"No, you're ashamed of what we have done, of what you truly are, …what lives and breathes within you."

It is as though he has read my mind somehow to know these things, and I cannot deny their validity.

Erik continues on sadly, "Why won't you let yourself love me?"

I cringe and lower my eyes to my idly twisting hands. "I can't love you, Erik," I softly reply. "You know I can't."

"No," he immediately retorts. "You won't. You will come down here and beg me to satiate your passions, but then not an hour later, you will go and lavish your affection on that damn Vicomte."

Raoul…. It is a sore subject on both Erik's and my account that is better not broached and avoided altogether. "The Vicomte is a gentleman," I hear myself insist only half-considering what I'm saying.

Erik gives a bitter, grating laugh at that. "And I guess that makes you a common whore then. No lady would behave in such a shameless manner. Wouldn't you agree?"

A whore! My anger seethes like fire under my skin. How dare he? And yet a small voice in my head is wondering at the possible truth of such a claim. I must bite my lip for a long second to calm my rage, and as a bitter sort of retaliation, I reply, "Maybe I am not a lady, but Raoul is a gentleman, the sort worthy of my heart and my affections."

"Ah, but I am worthy of your body? Worthy enough to take your virginity and use to squelch your unladylike urges?" The sharpness of his comments dwindles away, his expression becoming melancholy as he thinks on his words. He shakes his head, and I am doubtless that for the briefest moment, I glimpse the silhouette of a tear. Just as fleeting, it is gone again. "If your body is all I will have of you, then I will accept it. It may not be love, but it will do…for now."

"For now? My body is all that you will ever possess." Sometimes, I can be cruel; I'm not sure why I act in such a way. I just want to hurt him.

With a sudden abruptness, he darts to stand before me and catches my upper arms in a tight, viselike hold. "Naïve fool!" he roars. This is when I cannot endure looking at that face, when it is so twisted with rage that it can only be an ugly horror, and I vainly wish for the mask to hide it from me again. "What will it take for you to admit that you love me?"

"I don't -"

"Oh, don't you? Then ask yourself why it is that you keep coming back to me? Why you keep begging me to take you? I am not blind, Christine. You do not desire that arrogant boy as you desire me. Your body is screaming at you that we are meant to be together. Why won't you listen to it?"

Before I realize his plan, he releases my arms only to grab both of my small wrists in one of his quite larger palms, jerking them above my head to prevent me from struggling. With his free hand, he parts my tied robe at my thigh, groping at my soft flesh as his fingers travel upward. I want to scream and rage at him for this violation, but I can only mutter a helpless little cry as his fingers plunge into my womanhood, which is already throbbing and growing wet again from his attentions.

Erik moans between clenched teeth and expertly strokes my yearning body. "Listen, Christine, listen to what your body is screaming out. Your body knows whom it belongs to. Why do you refuse to acknowledge it? Do you truly believe that the Vicomte could ever satisfy the darkness within you? It is for me alone."

"No," I weakly protest, squirming against fingers that will not cease.

"Yes, Christine, yes." Erik's voice has grown hoarse again, and I am enveloped in the heat radiating from his body. "Lie to me. Tell me that I am wrong while I have the essence of you dripping from my fingertips." His hand will not stop, and leaning in near to me, he huskily whispers against my ear, "Does your Vicomte make you burn this way? Does he make you yearn and ache and grow so wet?"

I want to lie. Yes! My mind is screaming. Say yes! But the heated warmth of his breath still brushing my ear is making me tremble all over, making me close my eyes and mew my wanting. I don't want to be thinking of Raoul now! I only want Erik, only ever Erik.

"Christine, Christine," he chides in a singsong tone, taunting me with that angel's voice. His fingers are so deeply within my wetness while his thumb purposely flicks across the hard bead at the top, making my knees sway under my weight. "Such darkness thriving inside of you. It shames you when you succumb to it, yet it is far too powerful to resist."

Erik brushes his misshapen lips to the sensitive flesh below my ear and down the side of my throat, nuzzling his face into my loose curls as he goes, and I shudder violently from head to toe. If not for the tight grip of his hand holding both of my wrists captive above my head, I am sure that I would have fallen to the floor. My head is spinning in waves of dizzying euphoria, and my limbs are heavy and numbing. Oh, dear Lord! I can feel myself losing control, can feel my imminent release as his fingers move with purpose. Words no longer make sense, protests abandoned, and all that I can do is mutter nonsensical syllables of delirious desire.

Erik burrows his scarred face against the crook of my throat. "Say you love me." This command is firm. "Say it."

I meekly shake my head from side to side. "I…I can't…. I don't…."

His fingers pause a moment as he brings his lips to my ear and desperately breathes, "Lie to me."

I arch my hips against his fingers as they stroke again and concede, whispering back that blasphemous lie, "I love you."

Erik growls his delight and his caresses increase in intensity until I hear gasps and hoarse cries coming unknown from my lips. One more harsh pass of his fingers. My knees give out completely and only his hands hold me up as I climax with a jerk of my hips, my body spasming and clutching at emptiness as it seeks his to fill it and make it whole.

It takes me a long while to recover and Erik, ever patient when in the midst of our intimacies, continues to trail his fingertips delicately over my satiated womanhood. Such caresses always make me feel worshipped, as if he is in silent awe of my femininity. He lowers my wrists and releases them so that he can enfold me into him with his arm, and as my passion relaxes, he removes his other hand from beneath my robe to make the embrace complete.

It is a lie; it is all a lie. I don't love him; I can't love him, but he will not accept that. He wants the lie, and he wants me to believe in it as well. …And if I do, if I choose to believe, will the lie then quit being a lie and become a reality?… Do I want it to be a reality?…

Erik's embrace is tender and warm. I force the unending plethora of questions and the ever torturing thoughts away if only for this moment. Let me forget them, forget the world outside and the guilt that will certainly come once I must leave him again. The guilt always comes…. But not now…. Now I want to live that longed-for lie and pretend that it is indeed our future.

Closing my eyes, I breathe his scent in deeply and rest my cheek against his collarbone, weaving my own arms around him until we are sharing an embrace that is as necessary as it is passionate.

"I love you." Erik's voice is hardly more than an exhalation of a breath. He does not expect a response from me…. I won't….

And yet I can't keep a passing thought from my mind: if this is love, why does it do nothing but cause us pain? It's not supposed to….

Much later, back under my guise as the prim and proper lady, I leave Erik's house on the lake. Just as I knew it would, the guilt attacks me almost instantly with an intensity that steals my breath away. I can't continue this way; I know it is impossible to even consider. I feel as though I am living a double life. No matter what I do, I am lying to someone, whether it is to Raoul or to Erik or to myself. Someone is always victim to my deception.

Hanging my head low with the ferocity of my shame, I wander the cold, lonely paths back to the world. I cannot say how this must end or how it will end, but whatever happens, I fear that darkness that Erik uncovered will always be a part of me, something that I cannot deny or hope to lock away. And just as Erik claimed, I know that he is the only one who can make it burn. Whether I like it or not, I am intricately tied to him and will be for the rest of my life.

With the secret of my sins blackening my soul, I emerge into the sunlight above, knowing with absolute certainty that come sunset, I will once again lose myself to the darkness….