In any typical opera role, Christine could so easily and methodically disconnect her heart and be someone else; this one proved a particular challenge as she lingered in the church's empty foyer and idly cast a quick glance down the long aisle lined by aristocrats in the pews while an equally pristine Vicomte awaited her beside a priest at the end. It was that very scene that reminded her blatantly that this wasn't a performance, but that it was her life, no matter how desperately she was promising her heart otherwise. Her life, yes, but her life equally included Opera Ghosts and music, the other details in an open-ended story looking for its finale. And despite a façade of weakness and slouched shoulders, seemingly odd for a bride or so her audience would think, strength was actually at her core. She would never be weak again.
And that strength became a fire within at the very introduction pitches of a pipe organ announcing her entrance. A wedding march, and yet peculiar in its accurate and ornamented execution. As every ignorant head turned to watch her and gaze in adoration at a bride, she longed to look up to the organ loft and gaze in adoration at a ghost brought to life, playing his beloved down the aisle to wed another man. But as always, music from those fingers was cathartic to her soul and stole any lingering apprehension as she obeyed its call and followed a path lined in rose petals toward her deceptively pleased groom.
It was a miracle that Christine was able to keep her eyes forward and deny the urgent pulling upon the strings of her heart to turn around, but she consigned herself to the empty smiles on the lips of strangers and let only her ears delight in Erik's existence, ears that would give no detail away to betray. No, it was only as she joined Raoul at the altar that she dared a peek at their audience and nonchalantly the stain-glass, window-lined organ loft, and what she saw left her heart skipping in its usually constant pulsation. His silhouette glowing in a myriad of colors from sun streaming through stained glass, only his back but so poised and stoic, the virtuosic musician playing for his love. She had to bury the true smile she yearned to give and force uncooperative eyes to the Vicomte.
As the march ceased, Raoul caught her hands in his, keeping her focus as he gently murmured, "Christine."
It was immediate in the echoing silence of the church from rafters to altar, a responding singsong call. "Christine, Christine…."
Half a performance, Christine's eyes widened, and she frantically glanced about, but there was no longer a single shadow in the loft as Erik was unseen and taunting.
"Christine, …my Christine…." His resonating voice came from every direction, never his true location, eerie and haunting, and everyone in their audience looked for the source with growing agitation.
"What is this madness?" the Vicomte hissed at Christine as she shook a blameless head, appearing just as baffled and surprised.
In her seat amongst nervous aristocrats, Meg Giry cast a quick look at her equally confused mother, knowing that what she was about to do would result in a scolding later but unable to change her mind when this was her one important task in Erik's plans. As his wailing call for his bride resounded from left and right, never distinctive in its origin, Meg let out a shriek that drew attention solely to her and shouted, "The Opera Ghost! It's the Opera Ghost! He'll kill everyone for her! Oh God! Have mercy on us all!"
A sinister chuckle overcame the lilting music in an invisible voice, and as Madame Giry glared in horror at her daughter, Meg kept up a terrified expression, never once breaking to the giggle of pride that was going on in her mind. Ha! They would never doubt her ability to act again!
Christine was containing the same giggles to observe the growing pandemonium in the church from priest to attendants to the enraged Vicomte yet clutching her hands in a viselike grip.
"Christine," Raoul snapped in growing annoyance.
"But Christine is dead," the voice replied from every direction at once and then from the corners at random intervals came a delayed echo. "Dead, …dead, …dead…."
Abruptly releasing his bride, the Vicomte stood at the foot of the altar and shouted out over his appalled crowd, "Come out and face me, you freak!" And even as he waved warning to the armed guards in the back, Christine noted that not even they were paying attention, too engrossed in looking about for a bodiless voice.
"My Christine," Erik called again, and she shivered unconscious delight down her spine.
"Always yours," she dared to whisper back and knew he heard.
"Sing with me, ange," he suddenly commanded, and his beautiful golden voice lifted in melody; appropriately chosen for a church setting, it was a part of the requiem mass, a ceremony for the dead.
Christine was momentarily as agape as her audience. She had known of Erik's ventriloquist skills as he had once described them to her from his tortured days in a Gypsy carnival as a boy but never had she been witness to them beyond a voice appearing anywhere he chose. His current point of sound was the mouth of a glorious statue of the angel Gabriel on one side of the altar. She like every person in attendance was half-certain that the statue itself was singing the minor tune. It was just that flawless of a trick, so much so that even as her mind yet wondered where he was, her body was unconsciously creeping toward the statue and choosing to willingly play along with angels.
As every set of eyes in the room was riveted to a marble statue, Christine savoured the beauty of Erik's voice and sought to match its ethereal exquisiteness as she joined her own with its legato line. Even though she could not see him, she could hear his elation, a smile that slightly brightened the color of his tone, a shiver that jarred the stability of his vibrato, all of these clues so subtle to anyone else, and yet she knew to hunt them out and cling to them as proof of his corporeal existence, as not for the first time in their sordid relationship, she had to make herself believe in his tangibility. An angel brought into existence just for her, that was how she had once considered it and thrilled to be able to call it again. Her angel.
As she sang and felt the power of her own voice reverberating off of the stained glass windows and filling space, Erik shifted to a counterpoint, harmonizing so precisely and inextricably that surely anyone listening could decipher how perfectly their timbres complimented and completed one another, how integral they seemed to each other. A perfect match and solitary fit. And heightening her performance, Christine lifted eager arms toward a singing statue, practically begging him to come for her and carry her away with him to heaven or wherever marble statues were apt to exist as a reality, the world of fairytales perhaps.
Suddenly remembering that this was not a scene out of some opera, Raoul was shaken back into himself, and catching one of Christine's lace-clad arms to yank it down, he shouted over the melody, shattering pitch with dissonance, "Stop this!"
"Why?" Christine dared to demand as she defiantly faced him. Strong, strong was remaining unwavering in a room full of people who thrived at the top of a mortal chain of hierarchy and admitting that one existed at the base of life below their rich-soled shoes. "Every word is true. I belong to the Opera Ghost and rightly so. You can't marry a dead woman, Raoul."
"Not dead, love," came the eerie reply, no longer out of the mouth of a statue but echoing in every direction. "A ghost, but a bride befitting an Opera Ghost to be sure."
"What do they mean by dead?" The only one to dare speak up in an audience full of aghast but riveted spectators was the Comtesse de Chagny from her place in the front pew. "Every bit of this must be some sort of jest; I cannot rationalize a plausible explanation for such a display. The wedding of a Vicomte treated like some sort of circus act! And now to claim that Christine is dead? Unseemly and indecent to say such blasphemy in a church!"
"And what do you call singing statues, I wonder," Nadir countered as he protectively came alongside Christine in the focus of far too many dagger-laced stares. "Marble that speaks and is mystically called to life, and the Comtesse is concerned over the most mundane and yet honest point of all." Sharing a look with Christine, he proclaimed over the throng, "Christine Daaé, opera diva of the stage, is by all legal accounts dead, and therefore, Monsieur Vicomte, you cannot marry her."
The enraged Vicomte was a breath away from lunging at the daroga, and if not for the outraged stare on his aunt's face and the low humming drone of frantic whispers between the rest, he would have acted. It was the thought of fully destroying an already tattered reputation that kept him in his place, but he still spat, "And so you've returned to abetting a murderer, monsieur, despite his own actions against your life."
"What you've done is far worse in this instance," Nadir stated flatly before amplifying a call over the hum of the crowd. "Let it be vividly known that the Vicomte de Chagny wanted to wed an opera diva, and to hide such a seemingly disgraceful fact, he chose to lie and fake her death and disguise her as an aristocrat instead. A vicomte and an opera singer is an unacceptable match, but worse than that is the revelation that the Vicomte is a coward who was once at the mercy of the great Opera Ghost, weeping for his life and actually cursing and denouncing his love for Christine while we sweltered in a torture chamber. Perhaps it was the heat that inspired your words, monsieur, but did you not say that the life of a vicomte is worth far more than an opera singer."
Growling rage, Raoul shouted, "I will not justify myself to you! I love Christine."
"Maybe so, but you love yourself more," Nadir replied with a nonchalant shrug. "You would have given her up for your freedom that night, and had Erik not let her go, you wouldn't have had a difficult time moving onward, not when Christine is a prize more than a woman to you. A trophy, and by your own ignorant doing, you can't even marry her."
Christine posed no protest to the daroga's claims, even if a part of her wanted to yet believe in the love behind Raoul's every concocted manipulation. It was the lingering tie to the friend of her youth that did not want to see the truth and wanted to keep innocent eyes amidst reality, but more and more, the blatancy was peeking in and with it, the stark brightness that stole the fuzzy edges away.
"Christine," Raoul attempted with an appeasing expression, and she could not tell if it was for her or for their observing audience. "Don't listen to this nonsense. …I don't want to lose you."
"No," she argued back, "you don't want to lose, and most especially not to Erik. You threatened his life, not to keep me but to hurt him because he couldn't have me."
"Well, I choose him; again and again, I would choose him whole heart and soul."
"Would you indeed?"
She knew that voice, and this time it was without the theatrics attached; it had one definite direction. And as she lifted eager eyes that longed for his image to the rose-petal enclosed aisle, she saw him, her angel, her love, the very face of death staring at her with such adoration in his mismatched stare that it made her heart sing and dance in her chest.
The gasps and horror that permeated the church should have been deafening, but Erik heard such telltale sounds as nothing more than a foreign sort of introduction to a final duet between the hero and heroine of their opera story. It could only exist in the background when the smile that lit Christine's lips outshone every unpleasant detail as glorious as salvation. But to a God-fearing people, the presence of a veritable walking corpse was not well-accepted, and as Erik stalked the aisle only holding Christine's beaming gaze, many of the finely-composed aristocrats let out screams and cries as they fled from the church in terror with shouts that the devil had risen pouring backwards. One such yell was caught by Christine, and even though it dimmed her glow with its sting, she sought to contradict every word and scurried past the equally stunned Vicomte to meet Erik in the aisle, hugging herself immediately to him with no care for the vile remarks circling their embrace that never found a single gap to sneak inside. No, hearts were protected even in a room full of thrown spears and launched arrows.
Erik stared at the top of that veiled dark head, savouring her nearness and marveling over her very existence for the millionth time. So long watching a world go by from shadows, and now made fearless by a love he felt he did not deserve, here he was, shunned and reviled as he was accustomed to but not caring for the first time. His true face exposed and abhorred, but the woman in his arms was lifting an urgent hand to idly trail his scars, and nothing spoke more to his soul than that sweetest gesture and the unconditional love in risen blue eyes that proclaimed that he was beautiful and adored.
"Damn you both!" It was only the biting curse from the Vicomte that intruded, and as they turned to face a viable fury, Christine weaved her arm securely with Erik's, clenching fingers tightly into the material of his jacket sleeve. She was adamant that this would be her ending, and nothing would be taken away.
"Words are all you have, Monsieur Vicomte," Erik taunted without sway and gestured to the emptying church behind them. "Not even your paid guards have remained to pose your threat for you."
This was, of course, not the first viewing Raoul had had of Erik's unmasked face, but he still blanched a bit when its horror consumed his line of vision and grimaced his disgust as he sneered back, "I don't need a threat, not when it stands willingly before me. There is your threat, Christine," he pointed a hand that shook in its course at Erik and his face. "I wanted to protect you from every danger, but especially this one. How easily you forget all he's done, his past sins and every transgression he put upon your shoulders! You came to me out of fear for him; do you not recall it anymore? A fear for your own life because of what he is and a temper that is unpredictable and terrifying. You're so certain that such realities don't matter, but what happens if you anger him, Christine? What happens if you digress from being his perfect little porcelain doll?"
A sardonic laugh fell from Erik's lips as he added, "Well, she's already learned what happens when she refuses your own chosen depiction of who she should be: you lock her in with armed guards and insistences of sacrifice."
"Not much different from what you yourself did, or has that been forgotten as well?" The Vicomte only granted him one last glare before focusing solely on his lost bride. "Christine, we've played something like this scene before. You made the same choice then that you do now, but you left with me that night. And I gave you a future worthy of you. That must mean something."
"You gave me a future that I never asked for," Christine stated, her grip never loosening on Erik, "and one you carried out for me with never a consideration to what I wanted. You took away music and the opera; you took away my very life, and in doing so, hoped to kill my memories of Erik. Erik's sin was in wanting to control a heart that was already his; your was in wanting to steal it." Shaking her head somberly, she whispered, "I never loved you, Raoul; you know that, and it could never have been enough. How could it be? So to punish me, you tried to break my heart."
"Christine," Raoul warned one last time, and suddenly conscious of the observance of his aunt watching in horror from her pew, he muttered lowly, "He's a murdering monster."
"No," Christine posed back. "Monsters don't have hearts, and Erik does. I'm loved by it every moment of every day to know it is true. …I'm sorry, Raoul. …Leave us be."
The Vicomte was searching for another protest when the Comtesse left her spot and rushed to grab hold of her nephew between continued gaping stares at Erik. In a sharp tone, Constance insisted the same, "Let them go, Raoul. You would have truly dared to disgrace the de Chagny name by marrying an opera singer? You are fortunate that your father isn't alive to see this day; all that he did to establish our family, and you've practically ruined it with this stain! We'll be lucky if we can ever hold our heads up high again! What were you thinking to dabble with this tart?"
"I love her," Raoul attempted, but Constance was resolved.
"You should know better!" the Comtesse snapped, and it surprised Christine that to Constance, it really was that simple. "Come on, Raoul. Let's take our leave of this nightmare and never speak of it again!"
Any more protests were futile. With one more abhorred stare at Erik's face, the Comtesse fled down the aisle, careful as she passed him not even to allow the hem of her skirt to touch his shape.
"Now aren't you thrilled that you're not a part of that family?" Meg quietly bid as she came alongside Christine and contained an unavoidable giggle behind a raised hand.
Christine wanted to answer with her own sense of lightness, but all thoughts of smiles abandoned her as Raoul halted his exit before her. She noticed instantly how Erik tensed, fisting the hand at the end of the arm she still clutched, ready for an attack if necessary.
"I advise you to listen to your aunt," Erik tightly commanded.
Glaring back at the disfigured man, Raoul arrogantly decided, "Christine isn't worth my death. I won't be fool enough to play her hero again. God help you, Christine, if you come to regret your choices and their consequences because I won't be there to save you."
And that was all. The Vicomte de Chagny stalked past them without even a look back, choosing a haughty air over the true defeat of a deserted groom, but Christine did not feel Erik's posture calm and relax even after Raoul was completely gone from sight. He was yet taking no chances.
"Well, I hope that means this is over," Meg said before a shrill shout made her wince.
"Meg Giry!", and her mother came charging down the vacant aisle, casting only one glance at Erik before fixing all of her attention on her daughter. "Haven't I raised you better than that? Yelling out such obscenities at a wedding that we were privileged enough to be allowed to attend? Where is your propriety?"
Meg only lowered her golden head dutifully, already having anticipated exactly the chosen literature of this particular scolding and what her own response would be. "I'm sorry to shame our existence, Mama," she dramatically stated, "but I was only trying to help Christine win her true love. If you want to punish me for it, then I will not pose an argument, but I do encourage you to look at how happy Christine is and then consider what would have been her fate had I not interfered. Tragic, Mama, to be sure."
And her humility had the desired effects as Madame Giry looked at a diligently nodding Christine and a half-annoyed Erik as he made a face of disgust by the depth of such overdone melodrama. Not even the stage was that exaggerated!
Huffing a slight concession, the ballet mistress decided, "Let's go and see if the Comtesse will allow us back in her house to collect our things, and then I think it best that we start for home. Games of pretend are enjoyable only so long. Wouldn't you agree, Christine?"
"Yes, Madame." And Christine meant it wholeheartedly to consider four months lost to her own game as she inched closer to Erik and felt that he was finally starting to calm beside her.
"Are you coming back to the opera, Christine?" Meg excitedly asked as she watched her mother impatiently gesturing for their leave. "I say, blame the Opera Ghost for your disappearance and supposed death and then make a grand return." The little ballerina cast a wary look at Erik, and as the sight of his scarred face made her anxiety rise, she quickly insisted, "Or maybe not…not blame the Opera Ghost, not if that means that the Opera Ghost will return as well with a vengeance…. You make the choice, but…well, it would be wonderful to have you home."
Christine could not deny that as with a frantic hug, Meg scurried out of the church after her mother, giving only a quick wave behind her.
"It is your choice," Erik reminded, finally able to face his beloved now that their uneasy audience had dissipated. "Say the word, and I'll have us back in Paris with you as the featured soprano. And the little Giry inspired me with her rambling. A torrid tale of the manner in which you cheated death would draw an even greater audience. Everyone in the world would want to see the ghost soprano."
"No more ghosts," Nadir piqued up, reminding them of his presence. "Or notes or opera house accidents or singing statues or potentially life-threatening situations at least for a little while. Let me recover my own wits from this one first please. At least give us all a chance to get settled back in Paris before we begin this insanity all over again."
"Then you are returning to Paris as well," Erik concluded matter of factly.
"Well, of course. I have nothing better to do with my life than keep an eye out for yours, and I expect a wedding invitation as well as an official request for a friendly supper once we are back."
"And you're really so certain that you'd rather not return to Persia instead?" Erik offered with annoyance that only grew as Christine released his arm to hug the daroga. He realized at that moment that he'd always be a little disappointed with every second of his life that she was not right at his side.
"Take care," Christine told Nadir, "and thank you."
"I should say the same, only I will add to take care of him."
With a wry smile upon his lips, Nadir exchanged a parting nod with Erik and insisted, "I will see you when you get back."
And in lieu of a sarcastic reply, all Erik said with sincerity was, "Thank you." And that was enough. Every bit of gratitude was poured into two words and felt as acutely as if they had been a hundred instead.
Nadir accepted it with a full heart and left the couple with a new peace that his conscience had not been privileged enough to know in months. Finally, things were in their rightful place.
Eagerly hugging herself to his side again, Christine proudly stated, "You had quite a bit of help today, didn't you? You, the almighty Opera Ghost, who tends to weave his schemes unaided." But all teasing faded as she felt him sag against her with arms that only then shook as they encircled her. "That was all a façade. You were not nearly as confident as you were letting on. Erik, …you were afraid."
"My fear, as you are apt to call it, was justifiable," he replied, brushing a kiss to her brow. "I had something so dear that I could have lost."
"Erik," she breathed adoringly as her fingers traced the features of his face.
The term alone caused Erik's body to go rigid again down the lengths of every muscle, and he lifted a cold glare to the priest who had silently observed the entire scene crouched beside the altar. "Devil, monsieur?" he coldly demanded, lifting his face to make every distorted feature vividly apparent. "Is that what I am to a man of God?"
"Yes, of course, the devil incarnate," the priest nervously stammered with horror staring back.
But it was Christine who retorted before Erik could. "How do you know that?" she snapped defiantly. "How can you look at him and call him the devil?"
"He is ugly-"
"No," she interrupted, "he is different, different than every other human being, and who is to say that that makes him evil? How can you be certain that his face doesn't make him an angel of God instead? Your ideals of beauty are composed in the principle normality of the human race, but God may consider him as beautiful as I do. You judge what you know nothing of, monsieur."
Erik was watching her in awe of her every word and the strength she had grown into carrying. To a man who had spent his lifetime defending himself, facing a cruel assessment at every turn and bend in the road of existence alone, he adored her in that moment more than he ever had and formed a silent prayer to be able to live up to her version of his spirit.
"But his face makes him condemned," the priest dared to protest.
"No," Christine insisted, "you make him condemned, you and the rest of the world who deem his face as a curse when I who love him deem it as a blessing." As she vowed, she gazed at that face and its vibrant scars and read a story of ethereal brilliance in its oddities. "I love you, Erik. Let the world say what it will; it can't change my heart."
Mismatched eyes ran over every detail of her in her bridal finery as his mind recalled another paralleled time as she had vowed her love in a kiss and he had ignorantly given it away. He never would again and bent to graze his misshapen lips against hers, breathing in the merest gap between, "You are the angel, and I am only your adoring worshiper kneeling at your feet, unworthy of your love. I will always be undeserving, but I will always cherish every detail of you until my dying breath. You are my life, Christine."
"And you are mine," she whispered back, cupping his face in her palm.
With one more delicate kiss, Erik kept her curved to his side and led her toward the door with never even a look back at the appalled priest. It didn't matter, nothing did but the woman beside him gazing at him as if he truly was her everything. He felt as blessed as she had called him.
He had promised a love story to the girl who had broken his heart, but love stories did not always have happy endings. The ending had been a question mark that he had been afraid to fully consider until that moment when threats were gone and hope took their place. Now every glimpse down that road was sunlit and beaming, spread out before them like a tapestry of dreams for the choosing. And he had no doubt that love would make every one into a sort of heaven and chase away every shadow of darkness. Love was always the light….