"Erik?"

Erik looked up from where he was writing a new piece of music and smiled. He and Christine had been married for about three months, and he still found the sound of her voice in his lair amazing. He put down the quill pen he was using to write a new score and came over to where Christine sat on the bed, knitting herself a new sweater. "Yes, love?"

She bit her lip. "I was wondering something," she admitted.

He nuzzled her nose and kissed her. "What were you wondering?"

"I was wondering...if you could teach me to swim?"

He blinked. Of all of the questions he thought she was going to ask, he hadn't anticipated this one. He smiled. He knew of some small pools around the lair that were deep enough to swim in. "I can if you don't mind swimming in yucky water," he laughed.

She smiled, shaking her head. "I don't mind. Madame Giry told me I could use her bathroom anytime to take a bath."

"Why do you want to learn, mon petit angee?" he asked.

"Because it might be a good idea if I knew how, seeing as my home's surrounded by it," she pointed out. Erik conceded she had a point. "I always wanted Father to show me how when he and I had that house by the sea, but...he was too ill to teach me."

Erik squeezed her shoulder comfortingly and looked at the clock. It was just past one, and they had just had lunch. He knew it wasn't a good idea for them to swim after eating. "We need to wait awhile, though. How does two sound?"

"That's fine," she told him, excitement lighting up her coffee-brown eyes.

When two o'clock came, Christine was in her oldest dress, and Erik was dressed plainly in an old pair of trousers and shirtless and bare feet. He took her hand. "There's a small pool just around the corner from us, where it's deep enough to swim in," he explained. "Tell me when you can't feel the bottom anymore."

A few minutes later, Erik felt Christine's hand slip out of his. He turned to see that she had lost her footing on the lake bottom. He reached out and grabbed hold of her waist with his arm. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"Yes. I just slipped."

"Can you still touch bottom?"

"Barely."

He towed her back in the direction they'd come and steadied her until her feet stood firmly in the water.

He demonstrated how to tread water and kick, then had Christine lie on her stomach on top of the water with his arms as a buoy. After Erik was assured Christine had gotten treading down, he stood her up again. "Now I need to show you how to swim up to the surface." He had Christine stand and gently towed her out till the water was just a bit deeper than she could stand up in. "Kick like you're walking," he told her.

He held Christine's waist as she did so and gently guided her arms in the treading motion once more.

They swam for another thirty minutes. Erik was just about to suggest they go back to the lair when Christine shrieked suddenly and was dragged down.

Erik dove after her and found a sight that stopped his heart cold.

Near where Christine had been swimming, there was a sluice gate. The suction and current from the gate had caught her ankle and dragged her down. Erik slipped his arms underneath Christine's and towed her up until she broke the surface, gasping and coughing.

"I'm going to get your ankle out," he told her. "Keep treading water."

Christine nodded, and he dove under.

Erik found the place where the ankle was caught and wriggled the foot as gently as he could, trying to pry it out from between the iron bars. The problem was that the ankle was wedged between the bars at a rather odd angle. He knew tugging it would probably result in a sprained ankle, but he had to get her out. He tugged; her ankle didn't budge. He gave another tug, this time much harder. He heard Christine give a sharp cry, but he kept working. Finally, with another firm yank, the ankle was out. He swam back up and caught Christine just as she was about to go under from exhaustion.

He towed them both back to where he could stand, scooped Christine up, and carried her the rest of the way to the lair. Once there, he spread a towel over the bed and laid her down.

Lifting up the hem of her shift, he carefully examined the ankle and frowned. It was broken, all right. He looked to Christine. Her eyes told him that she had reached the same conclusion.

"Christine, I need to set this," he said gently.

He had had enough experience setting ankles from his time in the circus. All too often a performer would execute a stunt wrong and end up with a broken bone–if he was lucky. Since the circus was too cheap to hire a doctor, Erik had been called upon more than once to set a broken bone. The ringmaster had discovered Erik's fascination and knowledge of human anatomy and had decided to put it to good, if somewhat unqualified, use.

Once he had measured her ankle, he went to get some wood and cut it. He came back and set the wood on the bed beside Christine, removed the belt from his waist and gave it to her. "Bite on this."

Once Christine had the belt firmly between her teeth, he gently straightened the ankle and yanked hard. Christine screamed and fainted.

Erik finished setting the bone, splinted it, and bound the ankle tightly with strips of sheets he kept for bandages dipped in plaster that he kept for sculptures. Once he was sure the ankle was set, he grabbed some pillows and elevated her leg to keep the swelling down.

When he had made Christine as comfortable as he could, he dug into a nearby dresser for some pain pills he knew he kept there. She would need them when she woke up.

Christine heard someone calling her name and shaking her shoulder.

"Christine...wake up, mon angee..."

Christine's head lolled on the pillow, and she blinked, disoriented, to find Erik staring down at her in concern.

"Where am I?" she asked groggily.

"Back at the lair, sweetheart," he soothed.

"Did you give me something?" she murmured. She was feeling woozy.

Erik chuckled, "Only a broken ankle, love. You fainted while I was setting it from the pain." He avoided her eyes. Christine knew he blamed himself for the accident and placed her hand on his shoulder reassuringly.

"It's all right, Erik," she said gently. "You didn't have a choice. Broken ankles mend."

He sighed. "That's not the problem. The problem is this cavern isn't the best place for someone with a broken ankle. The ground is too uneven for you to use crutches. I think it'd be best if I carried you upstairs tonight and left you in the dormitories.

Christine gulped. "How long will it take for the bone to heal?"

"About six weeks."

Christine groaned. "The managers will have a fit! They wanted me to play Marguerite in Faust!"

"It doesn't open for another month," he pointed out. "I'll just write a note to the managers to delay Faust for another two weeks. They can just keep rehearsing it until then." He rolled his eyes. "With some of those ballerinas, they'll need it."

Chapter Two

Christine's ankle mended well. She was checked out by a doctor, who praised Erik's job of setting the bone, and soon was well enough to hobble on crutches that Erik had made for her out of scrap wood he kept around the lair.

One night after the doctor had removed Erik's makeshift cast and given the okay for her to try walking on the ankle, Meg helped her down to the chapel so that Christine could meet Erik there.

Once Meg had disappeared, Erik slipped out from behind a secret door and embraced Christine, who was sitting on the floor as her ankle was hurting her just then. He slipped one arm behind her back and the other behind her knees, lifted her up, and kissed her. "I've missed you," he said.

"I've missed you, too," she said.

"The passage behind us has a wood floor, if you'd like to try walking on it."

Christine nodded and Erik set her gently down. Grasping her around the waist, Christine set her ankle down and gritted her teeth. Erik noticed and bent to pick her up again, but Christine stopped his arm.

"No, Erik," she said. "I can do it...just to the ramp?"

Erik bit his lip. He hated seeing Christine in pain, but he knew it would have to hurt if it was going to get better. "All right," he conceded, "but once we get to the lair, you're using crutches."

Christine nodded and began walking shakily. Erik kept his arm encircled about her waist to steady her.

Once they arrived at the ramp leading down to the dock, Erik picked up his bride once more and sat her down in the gondola and poled across.

Once at the lair, he sat Christine on the bed. "I'll be back," he said.

In a moment he returned with his dressing robe and told her to undress. Christine gave him a puzzled look. "Why?"

"I'm going to soak your ankle in some heated lake water and massage it," he explained. "The water from the Seine has healing mineral deposits in it, and we need to get this ankle moving again, mon angee" he said, offering her a rare smile.

She removed her dress and slipped into the three-sizes-too-big dressing gown. She looked down at her chest and giggled. "I may as well be naked, Erik!" The neck flared out to reveal nearly all of her chest, and she had to tighten the belt twice around herself to keep the robe on her slender frame.

Erik gave her a look that meant he would much rather have had the latter. He lifted her and set her gently on a nearby armchair. Dragging a tub he had standing by over to her, he gently lowered her ankle into it.

After about twenty minutes in the water, Erik removed Christine's ankle from the water and took off his gloves. He glanced at Christine. "This is going to hurt," he told her bluntly.

Christine nodded.

The first rub made her gasp. As he continued, however, the pain dulled as the muscles surrounding the ankle responded to his touch.

When he was finished, Christine changed back into her clothes and was just about to join Erik at the organ when she heard footsteps.

Erik tensed but relaxed when he saw it was Giry. "Yes?" he asked.

"The managers want to put Carlotta in the role of Marguerite," she said bluntly. "I tried to dissuade them, Erik, but they wouldn't listen."

Erik let out a breath of frustration. "Haven't they learned by now?"

"Haven't you?" Giry fired back. "Or are you going to hang another poor soul just because you didn't get your way?"

"He's not," said Christine, before Erik could reply.

This was suck a shock coming from the usually reticent Christine that both Erik and Giry only looked at Christine in amazement.

Christine scooted off the armchair and raised herself on her crutches. Erik shook his head at her, but she just gave him an equally determined look and carefully hobbled her way over to his position on the organ bench. Once there, Erik wrapped his arm around her, removed the crutches, and drew her onto his lap. She gazed into his eyes and picked up his hand, kissing it.

"When we married, you promised to put all of the murders and threats behind you," she began.

Erik felt himself getting angry. Christine didn't understand what was at stake! All of the threats were for her well-being! "Carlotta can't sing or act," he pointed out angrily. "Firmin and Andre are fools to hire her."

"And you will be catering to more foolish actions if you threaten her," Christine pointed out.

She turned to Madame Giry. "He won't cause any problems, Madame," she said, throwing Erik a look to silence him.

Giry looked from Erik to Christine. She could tell Erik was not happy by the way his eyes were snapping at Christine. Perhaps marriage has calmed him somewhat, she thought. Erik would have ignored Christine in the past, but he still had not said anything . Finally, she nodded. "All right, Christine. Rest well." She turned and went back the way she had come.

Erik turned to her, livid. "How dare you speak for me!" he thundered. Before he could say anything more, however, Christine placed a finger on his lips to shush him.

"I promised Giry you wouldn't do anything," she smirked, pausing to let her statement sink in.

When it did, Erik raised an eyebrow. "What are you thinking?"

"She has to dig through a chest for The Jewel Song, right?"

Erik nodded.

Christine grinned. "She'll get a jewel, all right," she told a shocked Erik.

Chapter Three

Two weeks later, Christine was well enough to walk around the Opera House without assistance from the crutches. She strode confidently to Carlotta's dressing room and knocked.

"What?" bawled Carlotta. She fixed Christine with a glare. "Well, if it isn't the little toad," she sneered. "What do you want?"

From his place in the dressing room mirror, Erik watched as Christine put on her best charming smile and smirked. Christine was pulling out all of the stops for this one.

"Carlotta, you've been so good to take my part in Faust," he overhead her say in a syrupy-sweet voice. He saw her take out the box she had brought along with her. "I just wanted to give you a gift to celebrate your return to the Opera House."

He watched as Carlotta opened the box. She had an obsessive fondness for jewels and gasped. "Mio dio! " she cried, bursting into tears. "It's beautiful!"

The necklace truly was exquisite. It was a fake copy of one Erik himself had purchased for Christine to wear on her wedding day, which conveniently Carlotta had not been invited to. The necklace curved in a heart shape around the neck and had two rows of diamonds. In between the diamonds, sapphires were set, with diamonds in-between.

Christine smiled. "I thought you might put it in your chest and try it on on stage tonight," she suggested.

"Oh, si!" Carlotta said excitedly. She glanced at Christine, then waved her hand at the chest that sat on her vanity. "You may put it in there, toad." She looked at the clock, then at Piangi, who stood gawking at the beautiful necklace. "Andiamo, mi amore! I must buy a new dress to match!" She stormed out, slamming the door.

Erik slipped out from his place behind the mirror.

"Did you get it?" Christine whispered.

Erik drew back his cloak to reveal a chest exactly like the one Carlotta would be using on stage. He opened it to reveal a mass of jewels. Within those jewels he had slipped in a garter snake, one of the several dozen that could be seen swimming around the lake in the lair.

Erik smiled to himself in amusement. The first time she saw one, Christine had been lazily dipping her feet in the water and felt one brush against her leg. The resulting scream had been enough to send Erik running from the organ to see what was the matter.

Once he saw the perpetrator, he had laughed and teased her about it for a full week afterward.

He shook his head now as he handed her the chest. "I still can't believe this was your idea," he said wryly as Christine placed the necklace in the chest and buried it well in the fake jewels. She clasped the necklace around the snake.

He held out his hand to her and helped her up.

"Come on," he said, "let's go practice the Jewel Song."

Christine followed him happily down the corridors to his lair.

Chapter Four

That night, as usual Carlotta sang-and acted–horribly. While she was backstage, she caressed the top of the chest lovingly, thinking of what was inside.

From his post in Box Five, thankfully vacant since Raoul had refused to see any more operas, Erik saw Christine, who was playing the minor role of Marguerite's maid, school her features to seriousness. "A chest of jewels for you, Madame," he heard her sing sweetly.

Erik coughed into his hand. The patron from the adjoining box gave a sidelong glance at the seemingly-empty box, but returned his eyes to the stage.

Carlotta went on and strode to a mirror on center stage. The script said she had discovered the chest of jewels at her door from an anonymous admirer, and she was trying on the jewels. Christine and Erik both saw her eager hands grab for the necklace as she sang.

Her horrible-sounding high note soon turned to a high-pitched screech as the snake wrapped itself around her neck in the reflection of the mirror.

To his amusement, he–and the entire Opera House–heard Carlotta scream some words that were most assuredly not in the script.

The audience, having gotten the joke, roared. Looking up at the managers' box, Christine saw a disgusted Firmin motion to her to go on.

After obtaining Carlotta's costume and dressing, she came on and repeated the scene, picking up what she thought were fake jewels. As she dug her hands into the original, snake-free chest, her hands closed upon a new, stunning diamond necklace. Christine smiled as she sang her part, knowing who had put the necklace in the chest.

At the final bow, flowers galore were thrust at Christine but they were nothing compared to her dressing room, which looked like a floral shop. The creme de la creme, however, was a stunning bouquet of red roses, tied with a satin ribbon.

Madame Giry, who was helping Christine remove her corset, quirked an eyebrow. "He has never before sent so many at one time, mademoiselle," she commented. "He must be especially pleased with you tonight."

"I believe he is, Madame," Christine said, a small smile playing at her mouth.

Later, in the lair, Erik laughed and kissed her. "You brought down the house tonight, mon angee," he beamed. "I never knew you had it in you. What made you do it?"

"She keeps calling me a toad all the time," Christine explained.

Erik nodded. It was just one of the many things about Carlotta that infuriated him.

She gave a small smile. "So the toad simply called on one of his friends to help."

At this Erik burst out laughing.

"I am not amused, Erik," said a stern voice.

Christine and Erik turned to find Madame Giry. "Erik, you promised!" Giry said angrily.

"No, Madame," Christine said, before Erik could reply. "I promised. He didn't do anything but get me the snake. It was all my idea."

Giry looked at Christine, incredulous. Ever since Christine had come to the Opera Populaire, the ballet mistress had never had a problem with Christine. Up until now, Giry had supposed Christine to not have a mean bone in her body. "You did it? Why?"

Christine leveled Giry with her eyes. "She needs to learn she cannot just go around insulting people," she said, her eyes filling with tears. "She has those managers wrapped around her little finger, and she knows it. It would be one thing if she could sing well and I could not. But I can, and she can't. Everyone except the managers knows it, Giry, including you." Tears streamed down her cheeks now. "So go ahead, Madame. Go ahead and scold the little chorus girl for stepping out of her place, but I'm not sorry. And I won't apologize for taking the honor that should be rightfully mine."

Giry stood and regarded her for a moment. She knew all of the insults Carlotta had heaped on the poor girl–indeed, everyone at the Opera- over the past month and admitted to herself even she had found a small pleasure in hearing Carlotta screech. She came over to Christine and tilted her chin so that Christine was looking her in the eyes. "All right, Christine," she said quietly. "I understand."

"Thank you, Madame," Erik said as he took Christine into his arms to comfort her. "By the way, did they send my salary?"

Giry raised an eyebrow. "After tonight? Firmin couldn't write the check fast enough! He didn't want any more scenes ruined." She withdrew an envelope from her pocket. Erik took it and scanned the note.

Dear Monsieur Opera Ghost:

Enclosed please find 20,000 francs. We also apologize for our disgraceful casting decision regarding Carlotta and here inform you that as of this week she will be dismissed from the Opera House permanently with Miss Daae taking her place. After her horrendous performance tonight I believe we all agree this move will be best for business.

Sincerely,

Bouchard Firmin and Gilles Andre

Managers, Opera Populaire

He handed the note to Christine and grinned. "Congratulations, darling," he said, hugging her. "You've finally done what I could not do in ten years as the Phantom."

Giry scanned the note, looked at Christine, and smiled. "Congratulations, my dear," she said. "Now I must go see to the ballerinas." She rolled her eyes. "I do hope at least one of them comes in sober!"

The cavern echoed with laughter as Giry returned to the Opera House.