I do not own the characters; they are from various versions of the Phantom of the Opera.
Hello, readers. I meant to post this one last week, but craziness ensued between then and now. My original inspiration was the myth of Cupid and Psyche; I once wrote a paper exploring the parallels between that myth and the phantom story. But it really all comes down to the subject of blind faith. How much can one trust implicitly and take on faith alone without doubt or question? I like the idea, and I hope that you like it, too.
To all of those who have asked, I just finished the final edits on my novel and received the cover art, which is beautiful! For anyone who is interested, I should have a release date very soon and will let you know!
SUMMARY: The beginning: Erik poses the lie, and Christine believes that angels exist
"Angels and Devils"
All was dark in the empty corridors of the opera house save for the light of a solitary lantern creating shadows that danced along the walls. Anyone else would have harbored a sense of apprehension to linger, but not Christine. If anything, she knew a strange peacefulness to occupy hallways that only hours before had been crowded with singers and dancers, frantically searching for props and changing costumes. A dancer herself, she was well aware of the chaos, often rushing just the same, seeking missing ribbons or stretching before her next entrance with a dozen other ballerinas. The quiet that now reigned was a welcome change.
Drawing forth a ring of keys from her pocket, she found a particular one and halted before the locked door to her right. If anyone had still been about, she would have felt that she was intruding, but with no one to observe her actions, she entered the room without hesitation.
It always took her breath away to be in this dressing room. Even though it wasn't hers, right now with no one around to say otherwise, she could pretend that it was. Her first act was to approach the rack of costumes off to the side and seek out the lovely pale pink gown worn in the first act. This was her reason for her intrusion. The gown needed a seam taken out in the back to accommodate the voluptuous body of the leading diva La Carlotta. Though by day Christine danced till her feet ached as a ballerina, when everyone else went home to awaiting families, she began her second job as seamstress. It wasn't a big sacrifice; it wasn't as if she had anyone to go home to herself, and the extra pay was the savings she needed for the life she hoped to one day have.
Her position was lowly, unimportant, but when she was here in the diva's dressing room, she was the diva herself, singing and acting before the overly large, full-length mirror, imagining the full theatre in front of her and those who usually ignored and shunned her gazing at her in awe of her talent instead. A silly dream and yet it was all that she had ever yearned for, all that she had ever known with any certainty that she wanted. Credit it to a father who had filled her head with the stories of the most famous operas, their music her childhood lullabies. She knew every word, every note by heart, and their current production, Roméo et Juliette, was her favorite.
Glancing about as if to make certain what she already knew, that she was entirely alone, she reached for the buttons of her simple gown. This was too much, she knew in the reasonable parts of her mind, but she couldn't help herself. Stripping off her gown with a nervous giggle, she drew on the costume. Her hands trembled in spite of her determination as she lifted it into place and faced her reflection in the mirror's glass.
Christine gasped, her eyes locked on the vision. Dear Lord, had she ever looked more like herself? It was so right, so natural. The gown felt like it was so completely hers, even as it hung loosely to her frame. She had nowhere near the girth and curves of La Carlotta, and pulling the extra material to make the gown fit snug, she was able to find her own shape. It astounded her how heavy the costume was with far more layers of skirts than she had ever worn and intricate beading on the bodice. She imagined that it must take a great deal of strength to prance about the stage in such a gown and sing lines of notes without showing it…. And yet how wonderful it seemed to her!
Christine was reaching her hands to her loose curls, intent on lifting them up off of her neck as Juliette would wear them, but as she released her hold on the gown, it immediately slid down. With a cry of indignation, she tried again, holding the gown in place with her elbows clenched to her sides, but that proved just as difficult. Sighing reluctant acceptance, she allowed the gown to pool on the floor and gracefully stepped out of its layers, sweeping it up and laying it delicately across the vanity bench.
Once again, her eyes were drawn to her reflection in the mirror. She was far from vain, but slipping into her role as diva, she could pretend it quite well. Her fingers glided down the sides of her corset to catch and fluff her petticoat, and she imagined that it was the gown's full skirt instead, fluttering about her with her entrance onto the stage.
Taking a deep breath as her father had once taught her, she began to sing the opening cadenza to Juliette's aria, letting her voice glide smoothly over every note. Then without reservation, she fell into the music, the words coming from her deepest soul as they spoke of living in a dream. It was a waltz, a happy waltz, and she swayed gently with the beat. Lost to the fantasy, it was not her reflection that stared back from the mirror, but was instead a theatre full of finely-attired ladies and gentlemen.
But those intangible people were not the only ones watching her private performance. Another very real person spied on her through mismatched eyes, one sapphire blue and one emerald green. As far as she knew, he was as unreal as the audience in her head, and like them, he had witnessed her performance dozens of times. As always, he was completely captivated by her and her golden voice. How long had he been her rapt admirer? Months…, and yet he couldn't really remember his life before he had seen her face. How bleak it must have been! How empty and devoid of beauty!
On the other side of the glass barrier between them, Christine spun prettily as the brilliant notes poured out of her. Her hands swept up her long curls in one fluid movement, creating an elegant twist before letting them fall again in a thick cascade over her shoulders. If she had had any idea that she was being watched, she never would have been so free, and her observer knew that. It was what kept him from making his presence known.
He was used to being the unseen, the unwanted, …the sinner. This had to be a sin, after all, another on his blackened soul, to spy on this innocent child as she danced about in her undergarments….and to desire her so desperately, body and soul. And yet this was the extent of any sort of relationship they had. He watched her with unspoken adoration, and she went about her daily life unknowing of his presence. That was the only way it could be.
Spinning again with a graceful upsweep of her petticoat, she began the long series of runs with a natural ease, leaving her lone audience to marvel over her for the millionth time. Her talent was inherent, pure. It amazed him, and in its brilliant tone, he could hear the potential she bore, the voice she could have with the proper training. It would exceed the lackluster mediocrity of La Carlotta by great lengths. If only he could mold it in his hands….
Christine leaned close to the mirror's glass as her final note faded away, aware of nothing but her smiling reflection. How ridiculous she was to entertain these unrealistic notions! She sighed her hopelessness. She was a ballerina lost in the background with a dozen other ballerinas, and she was the seamstress, utterly faceless to one such as La Carlotta and her managers…. She was nobody…. Her smile faltered, and without another dared note, she abruptly began to pull back on her dress, her spell shattered to reality's blatancy.
Behind the mirror, Erik pressed his palm to the glass, wondering to himself what her cheek would feel like if he touched her. The glass was so cold, so dead…; she would feel alive….
Pausing in her endeavors to button her gown, she stared distractedly at her image again. Her own hand slowly extended to touch the glass on a whim at the level of her own cheek, her fingers curled against the smooth coolness. On the opposite side, Erik imitated her, meeting her palm to palm as he held her gaze, imagining that she was looking in his eyes…. But that was a fool's dream. He loved her…, but she didn't even know that he existed.
A shudder suddenly racked Christine's small frame, and she drew her hand away abruptly as if she had been burned. She had no viable explanation and no reason for her train of thoughts, but she had the strangest notion that someone was there with her. And despite her surprise, she wasn't afraid or disturbed by the idea of it, but instead knew a sense of familiarity, of comfort even. Her eyes wandered the room, but the rational part of her mind insisted she was alone. No one was there, …and yet….
With one more thorough examination of her surroundings, she slowly gathered her things together. Her gaze fell once again on her reflection in the mirror's glass for a long minute before she hurried out of the diva's dressing room, locking the door behind herself.
Erik sadly watched her go, longing to call out to her. It was peculiar that she seemed to detect his presence even as he was so careful to remain hidden. She couldn't know he was there, and yet she seemed to. What did it mean? And what could it mean for a man who knew better than to hope and yet still did?…
Rehearsals ended late the next day for the ballerinas who were working hard on the dance from Act Three under the observant eye of the ballet mistress, Madame Giry. Christine had a small solo part, and for the hundredth time that day, she came forward amidst all of the other dancing girls and spun into her steps.
From his covert place in Box 5, Erik watched her intently. His eyes followed the graceful movements of her body, the perfect line as she lifted her leg, and the curve of her back when she spun. She moved so fluidly like poetry that rolled off the tongue in a set meter. Nearing the end of her solo, her eyes suddenly drifted up to Box 5, and Erik went completely still, numb, his heart pausing before racing frantically. She couldn't possibly see him! He knew he was well-concealed in the shadows, and yet her gaze lingered a moment before her footing faltered mid-step.
"Christine Daaé!" Madame Giry shouted.
Christine's gaze abruptly shifted to the mistress as all of the other girls stopped their movements, a few snickering at her folly. This was not the first time she had been scolded by Madame Giry for her lack of concentration. What was wrong with her?
"Where is your head today, mademoiselle?" Madame Giry demanded sharply. "Not here!"
"I…I'm sorry," she stammered, her cheeks reddening under the harsh stares of her comrades.
"I expect your mind to be present tomorrow or else one of the other girls will have your solo." The threat made Christine lower her gaze shamefully as Madame Giry moved on to the others. "All of you! There are dozens of girls who would kill to be in your place. You had better show me tomorrow why you deserve to be here, or you will be dancing on street corners for bread."
Nodding with anxious stares, the girls began to disperse for the day, happy to be away from Madame Giry's tirade. As Christine hurried after the others, she nervously tucked a falling curl behind her ear and let her eyes travel once more to Box 5.
Erik was barely breathing, his heart a deafening pounding in his ears. On trembling knees, he hastily fled into his passages in hidden pursuit of her.
"Christine." Before she arrived at the dressing room, her arm was caught by a small hand, and she was dragged aside.
Christine shifted her frantic apprehension to her addressor but calmed her flustered nerves when Meg Giry's green eyes stared back. "Oh, Meg! You startled me!"
"Christine, whatever is wrong?" Meg asked urgently, pressing a palm to her friend's forehead to check for signs of fever and illness.
A slow smile spread across Christine's lips at her concern. Meg was the only person she could call friend in the entire company. "I'm fine…just distracted, I guess."
Meg tossed her golden head to the side, skeptically lifting one brow as she awaited a better explanation.
Mid-conversation as she was, Christine's eyes drifted upward, and looming in the rafters, Erik crouched back, wide-eyed and so desperate to be shrouded in the safety of shadows beyond her sight. "Meg," she began softly, lowering her gaze back to her friend, "do you believe in angels?"
"Angels? …I never really thought about it before, but…yes, I guess so. Why in the world do you ask?"
A reluctant sigh escaped her, and she shifted nervously under Meg's inquisition. "It…, well, it's silly, but when my father lay dying, he promised to send an angel to watch over me. At the time, I thought it was to ease my mind in his passing. But now…. I think I have an angel watching me."
Meg was shaking her head dubiously. "Christine…."
"I know it must seem absolutely preposterous to even say such words aloud, but…I can feel it. Someone is watching me all the time. Everything I do, everywhere I go."
A shudder racked Meg at the very thought. "That doesn't mean it is an angel." There was a certain wariness in her voice as she whispered, "The phantom…."
Above them, Erik cringed at the word.
But Christine just laughed. "The phantom is a myth, a ghost story that has no proven credibility."
"You don't know that." Meg was trembling as she glanced about the corridors frantically. Like most of the other ballerinas, she was a firm believer in the tales. "Everyone knows that he is always around, always lurking, always watching, looking for his next victim."
To Erik's relief, Christine only shook her head doubtfully and gave a skeptical laugh. "Even if there is a phantom, he isn't the one watching me. Why would he? I am nothing special to draw his attention. No, the being watching me has to be an angel. It has to be, Meg. I feel him with me always and yet I am not afraid. I feel safe, like he is guarding me…. You think I am being ridiculous," she concluded by Meg's dubious expression.
"No, not exactly. …I just think that you shouldn't be so trusting. You need to be careful, Christine. Too many things in this world are not blessings at all."
In her right mind, Christine knew Meg was right, but she couldn't discredit her own judgment and the warm sense of security she felt when he was with her.
An angel…. Erik had played a great many roles in his lifetime yet never angel. For her, he would be anything she wanted. Angel…. He would give her the angel she was seeking even if in reality, he was the furthest thing from it.
A few days later, after being forced to remain onstage and perform her solo once again for the obstinate ballet mistress, Christine arrived at the dressing room just as the other ballerinas were leaving. Nearly everyone else had cleared the opera house for the day, the halls dark and quiet, and she peered over her shoulder in time to watch the last dancer exit, closing the door behind herself without a word of parting.
Christine had pulled on her gown over her rehearsal attire, and with one last glance to confirm her solitude, she moved to the large mirror, unclipping her curls from their falling bun and fingering through their mass to untangle knots. Behind the mirror, Erik was watching every motion longingly, curious to the texture of those curls, wondering how it would feel to untangle them for her. He could wait to find out no longer.
The soft whisper met her ear, and her blue eyes immediately grew wide and searched the vacant room for the source.
Smiling to himself as his hand pressed to the glass between them, he again called to her, letting his voice eerily fill the entire room. "Christine…."
Her breath caught in her throat in a soundless gasp, her hand curling against her throbbing heartbeat as she stammered, "Who…who's there?"
"You already know, enfant," he replied, his tone gentle and soothing.
"Angel." The word fell off her lips without will or thought.
Erik paused. He knew that this was his final attempt to squelch this deception before it started, but when the alternative was to return to being the silent observer in a dark and lonely world, the choice seemed an obvious one. "I am the Angel of Music…."
"Angel of Music," she replied to herself breathlessly. "…And you've been watching me?"
"Always…. You possess such a gift, Christine, a talent that is going to waste. I am here to help you, to mold your voice into the incredible instrument it will be and to guide you as you take your place as the star." Of course, he wanted far more than such things, but at present, they would have to suffice. Until she trusted him…. Until she loved him….
In the weeks to come, every day as the opera house emptied after rehearsal, Erik would come to her. He remained a voice, never granting her any idea that he was anything more, always staying hidden behind the mirror of the dressing room. Under his tutelage, she seemed to blossom. Her talent far exceeded what he had initially believed, so much so that he suddenly considered it a fortunate thing for both of them as well as the rest of the world that he had begun this illusion in the first place.
The music! Dear Lord, the music! She would sing to such great heights for him, eager to please him as he watched her grasp with selfish hands to every compliment he gave her. He could clearly see how his very presence was affecting her. How her entire body seemed to perk up upon the first words of greeting he spoke to her every night. How the smiles she granted his bodiless voice were brighter and more genuine than any other he ever saw her bestow the rest of her day. How she seemed to swoon a bit every time he sang the exercise he wanted her to repeat. Of course, he had been denied a woman's attentions and affections his entire life, but he was reasonably certain that Christine Daaé was enamored with him or rather his alternate personality of Angel.
And yet their relationship rarely exceeded the predetermined roles of teacher and student. He yearned to speak of other things, to hint at the aching of his heart for her, but was terrified that one wrong word would frighten her away before he had ever had the chance to have her.
But one night as they finished, Christine solved the problem for him and inspired his confidence. Sighing with an air of drama, she flounced down atop the worn chaise in the dressing room, and sliding off her slippers, lifted her legs to tuck them beneath her skirts. From behind the mirror, he watched her every movement in utter fascination. She was just so graceful, so dainty even in the most mundane of tasks; he adored observing each and every motion she made.
"Christine," he gently bid, "I have worked you too hard. You are exhausted, petite."
"I'm all right," she replied after a moment, setting her head back on the cushions and mussing her dark curls. "Do angels sleep?"
A hint of a smile curved his lips as he replied, "On occasion."
"And do they dream?"
Tilting her head to the side, her eyes roamed the room, lingering a bit too long on the mirror, though he knew rationally that she could not know that that was his hiding place. "What do you dream of, Ange?" she asked in a whisper.
"You." It was an automatic response, passing his lips before he could resist, and once it hit the air, he knew a stab of regret and stared at her, desperate to gauge her reaction.
But her lips only rose in the sweetest of smiles, her bottom lip caught by her teeth for a long, still moment. It was flirtatious, but so intoxicatingly natural.
"What do you dream of, Christine?" He was playing her game, taking a chance.
As her eyes rose idly to the ceiling, she simply answered mid-grin, "Angels."
His heart halted in its beat, his palms pressing against the mirror's glass from his dark world, fingers curled with the urgent need to touch her at that moment, something to convince him that this was real.
But before he could create a comprehensible reply with an uncooperative tongue, she closed her eyes, resting so languidly on the chaise and softly asked, "Will you sing me to sleep?"
He did not hesitate. Gazing upon her so forlornly, he began to sing a tender lullaby, his voice filling the room and wrapping around her like a warm blanket.
Christine sighed her delight at such brilliance, and within minutes, she found the haven of sleep, the smile still upon her lips as he continued his song.
Even when she slept, he dared not go to her, though his longing begged indulgence. How could he when she was so far above him, so much more than he knew he deserved? He was torturing them both with this game he had begun, and yet he couldn't find the will to stop it.
A few days later, Erik became determined that he had to hold her at least once, had to touch her as he was aching to do. His desperate mind sought some way to make his fantasy become reality, but his sweet Christine was the one to give him what he sought.
As had become some sort of unarranged routine, she lingered awhile after her lesson, and as he watched her, she was moving about the wooden floor in a few idle steps, a gentle rising of her arm, a small spin.
"Do angels dance?" she asked after another spin.
As always, the elegance of her captured his immediate desire as he fought to answer, "Yes, but not a single one can compare to you, petite."
Her smile was laden with a pink blush. "You are too generous in your words, Ange." Spinning once again, she went on, "You know, the Masquerade Ball is tomorrow night."
"Ah, the annual company ball." Truly, he had been so distracted by Christine that he had nearly forgotten the rest of the world. "And will you attend, Christine?"
"Alas, I must, though in truth, I am loath to spend the night dancing with patron after patron, flirting and acting interested in what they are saying. It can be quite tedious."
Simply considering her scenario made his jealousy flare. He had seen those exact patrons, had seen them take advantage of innocent girls like Christine without a care. He hesitated and pondered before softly replying, "And if I were to attend the ball, would you dance with me as you would your patrons?"
Christine seemed to beam under the very thought. "For you, it would not be a façade…. For you, my every smile and every flirtation would be genuine." She blushed then, shy, as if she had said too much, but he was overcome be her words.
"…I could, you know. I could dance with you exactly like that, hold you in my arms, watch you smile at me." Even as he spoke to her, the visions were playing in his head, plans forming. It was a Masquerade, a night for masks and hidden identities.
"Ange?" Christine breathed hopefully, almost giggling with excitement. "You would? But how could you? You're an angel."
An explanation, …he had forgotten he would need to give her one. "Oh, …angels can take human form on occasion if we so choose, if the cause is a worthy one…." His thoughts were reeling in his mind as he added, "But you will not be able to look upon my face. Angels retain a certain brilliance that goes beyond what mortals are capable of seeing. I suppose a Masquerade Ball will give purpose to the mask I will have to wear."
Nothing he said could have dimmed the glow pouring from within her. "And…and you would dance with me then and be there with me?"
He could not deny those blue eyes. Had he ever seen her so radiant? And to consider that he was the one to create such feelings within her was almost more than he could believe. "Yes, Christine, …oh yes."
The night of the Masquerade, Erik knew a sense of apprehension, hesitating entering that den of tigers. People were cruel, inherently so, and he had been their victim time and again throughout his pathetic existence. Teased, beaten, shunned. And even though tonight he wore the same mask they did and was virtually their equal, he was still terrified. It was the idea of Christine eagerly awaiting him that made him finally brave enough to slip into the vast crowd of masked beings and assume his role.
He sought her, only her, knowing that he would be able to pick her out, mask or no mask. And there she was. His angel was an angel indeed. She wore white, gossamer and lace, twines of white twisted in her loose curls. On her back was a pair of white, feathered wings that sparkled with her every movement. Currently, she was dancing with one of the patrons, but to his elation, he could see the propriety behind her smile. It wasn't the sort he was usually given, not the ones that glowed from her eyes and throughout every bit of her. Behind the white mask that lay over her cheekbones and across her forehead, he even caught a subtle roll of her eyes to something the patron had said, and he nearly laughed aloud, his insides twisting and bubbling in the anticipation of taking that patron's place and holding her. This was the moment he had spent months yearning for.
As the music of the dance ended, he slipped between dispersing couples, only one destination in mind, and as he came up behind her white wings, he felt his knees tremble with lingering apprehension. If she only knew how terrified he was, if she could only have any idea.
Slowly, quivering all over, Erik leaned in to her from behind and softly whispered near her ear, "Do you believe in angels, Christine?"
He saw her go rigid immediately, her entire posture raising even as a shudder ran her spine, and the breath she had been taking held in her lungs as she turned to face him, her smile gradually becoming a beaming light when her eyes met his for the very first time.
Christine had to force herself to breathe. She wasn't sure she even knew how anymore and wondered if she would faint if she didn't recall that necessary function soon. It was him! He was dressed as the Red Death, all red and elegant. A mask hid the majority of his face so that only a pair of mismatched eyes, one sapphire blue and one emerald green, and his perfectly shaped lips were exposed to her ravenous stare.
"Christine," he breathed in that eerily beautiful tone and extended a trembling gloved hand, and as she shivered yet again, she set her palm in his and allowed him to draw her in as the next dance began.
Erik was shaking so hard that he was sure she must feel it. Her nearness was overwhelming his senses, her scent teasing his nostrils, her eyes holding his as if entranced by him while he was equally entranced by her. He could not resist the urge to draw her even closer as they moved so slowly to the music, hearing a beat all their own, but she was the one to close any lingering gap between them so that she could lay her cheek against his shoulder. He very nearly was brought to tears. She was so warm and soft in his arms and yet was molded so perfectly to him as if she had been built to fit to him. As he leaned his face low to breathe her in, her silken curls tickled the bit of revealed skin of his chin, and he eagerly pressed a tentative kiss to their web of tresses.
"Oh, Ange," she breathed, closing her eyes and reveling in his embrace. "I knew you would come to me."
"Nothing could ever keep me away from you," he replied, his own eyes closing as he sought to imprint her on his body so that he could draw forth this memory when he was alone once again and remember what it felt like to be whole.
Nuzzling her cheek to the brocade material against his shoulder, she whispered, "Take me away from this place; I want to soar in the heavens with you."
Her words set his purpose for him, and without daring to allow a second thought, he gracefully steered her over the dance floor, never once putting even a breath between them. "Hold tight to me, Christine," he bid, and her fingertips curled more firmly into his suit jacket, never once considering to question or hesitate.
And then they were falling. It was a trap door he had used dozens of times. Down, down, down to the catacombs below.
Christine did not open her eyes, trusting so blindly and wholeheartedly even as she felt the rush of air around her. Part of her was sure they were flying.
When they landed on firm ground, Erik swept her up into his arms, cradling her gently against his chest as she burrowed her face into him. If she had opened her eyes, she would have seen dark and stone, and perhaps she would have known that they were much closer to hell than heaven. But she was too content to be with him, too blissfully overcome with an ecstatic swell of emotion that stole away everything but the man holding her. Nothing else mattered to her. How often had she envisioned and dreamed of exactly this? And now he was here.
The journey to his home had never felt so unending. Even as he marveled over her, he was aching for so much more. He did not dare part from her until they were confined within the sanctity of his constructed stone walls, only then setting her so carefully on her feet and watching her intently at every second.
Christine's eyes roamed the room she found herself in, taking in the seemingly cozy furnishings with only a fleeting confusion before her gaze halted on the brilliant pipe organ against one wall.
"Will you play something for me?" she asked softly. The questions were just below the surface, but she wanted to believe so badly, wanted her faith in him to remain as pure and unshaken as it was that she couldn't dare ask and risk losing him in the process of doubt.
Erik only nodded, and peeling off his gloves, he led her with a gesture to the brilliant instrument. Even as he ached to touch her warm skin with bare hands, he instead resigned himself to the cool ivory of the keys, sitting at the organ as she obediently came up behind him.
As he began to play, she sighed with awe, the virtuosic music resounding through the room and surrounding them in glorious tones. How could she question his unearthliness when he could produce such genius? How she longed to be a part of the scene! Tentatively shy in her every endeavor, she set her shaking hands on his shoulders, her eyes fixated on the graceful movement of his fingers. If she had glanced at his face, she would have seen him close his eyes in the sheer bliss of her initiated contact, an amazed grin upon his lips.
Erik played and played for her, one piece bleeding into the next and the next. Eventually, she grew courageous enough to sit on the bench beside him, casting overt glances at his masked face between bouts of being mesmerized by his fingers. Her own mask had been discarded during one particular piece that had moved her to tears, and now it was only her perfect features watching him so intently.
One final chord, a cadence, and he timidly met her gaze. "Christine."
"You play so passionately," she softly told him.
"It isn't hard to do when my muse is sitting right beside me," he replied, his hands that had been confident on the keys only now shaking. "You inspire passion, Christine." His gaze was tracing the delicate features of her face, in awe of the simple fact that he was speaking to her, truly speaking to her and that she was looking at him and actually seeing him.
The emotions hung like a thick veil between them, neither sure which to grasp and feel first. Hesitantly nervous, she asked, "Do you often take mortal form and walk the earth?"
Her unwavering belief was a stabbing pain in his chest, but he knew that he could not tell her the truth and hope to have this moment dwindle on a little longer. "Never. I have never wanted to be a part of that world before I met you." And yet how honest were his revelations in spite of the underlying lie? "You make me want to live, to learn all that life truly has to offer, everything I've never known or felt before."
Erik could not repress the urge to touch her with his bare hands, and very slowly, he raised his fingertips to just barely graze her cheek. To his astonishment, she closed her eyes briefly and seemed to savour that simplest of gestures.
When her blue eyes met his again, she whispered, "Your hands are shaking." Without pause, she caught the hand that had just barely touched her and clasped it all the more firmly to her cheek as he dared to cup his palm around its soft shape.
"You must excuse them," he replied, his free hand daring to raise to her other cheek so that he held her face between. "They've never touched perfection before."
Christine shivered down the length of her spine. In a barely audible whisper, she asked, "Do angels know the pleasure of a kiss?"
Erik's entire body was trembling now as he answered her. "I have never known such a pleasure."
It was she who closed the bit of distance remaining and pressed her soft, pink lips to his so delicately as though unsure if she was allowed to be acting out such a transgression, but when he dared to kiss her back, he felt her shudder and edge ever nearer on the piano bench.
Erik was overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of a seemingly uncomplicated action. A kiss…. Of course, he had been denied anything of that nature all of his pathetic existence. And yet never before had he really cared…, not before her. To him, it was beyond a touching of lip to lip; it was a touching of souls.
When she reluctantly broke away and drew back enough to meet his gaze, she whispered, "Can angels feel desire?"
Her own eyes held the haze of just such emotions, and how it amazed him to know he was their cause! It was half a telltale of its own as his voice held a husky quality when he answered, "Most definitely. I feel it burning through my veins at this moment for you, Christine, …only for you."
He did not hesitate to capture her lips in another kiss, this one hinting at the depth of his hunger. His tongue parted her yielding lips and tasted her, and a deep moan rumbled within his chest at her sweetness. And when she met his kiss without reserve, he knew he could not fight the intensity or deny the urgent begging of his body.
Without pause, he suddenly rose from the bench, ending their kiss only long enough to sweep her up into his arms and carry her to his bedchamber, holding her blue eyes with his in an unspoken question as he sought a refusal that did not come.
It was a dream; it had to be a dream. How could such bliss be real? He was shaking, every limb, every inch as he set her atop his bed, and though her gaze darted momentarily to the dark curtains on his canopy, she never once posed a doubt. Her own fingers were ridding herself of her faux wings and her gown, watching the desire beam and blaze in his mismatched stare as it traveled over every bit of skin exposed as if she was a falling angel choosing mortality in her actions.
"Christine," he whispered as she lifted herself on her knees and scooted to the edge of the mattress where he still stood, "I have never wanted anything as I want you."
She only smiled beneath his words and helped him discard his clothes. Never once did she reach for the mask, never once did he need to explain its mandatory presence. Even as he loomed above her naked body and entered her in one long thrust that rid her of her maidenly status, she only held his eye with such an unfathomable trust that he knew he was unworthy of her. Between the two of them, she was the angel, and he had just claimed her soul for hell.
Afterward as he lay with her cuddled securely against him, he lifted one of her hands, twirling it idly in his as he contemplated the delicacy of her every remarkable feature. His fingertips were grazing the lines of her palm when she finally spoke, softly daring to ask, "Had you ever…done this before?"
"No," he admitted honestly. "Never."
"It's a mortal pleasure, isn't it? Something you would not indulge in?"
Erik contemplated telling her the truth right then and ending their ridiculous game, but he was desperate, after what they had just shared, to keep a viable hold on her as something he had never before believed he could have was now so near his grasp. One glimpse into her glowing blue eyes would have made any attempt at courage falter and crack, and he wearily lied, "I…. Not usually, but you…you make me want every pleasure as well as every pain mortality can offer. A life with you would be my greatest blessing."
Hope was tingeing her brilliant smile. "Oh, Ange, that is all I want and dream of. …I love you."
His heart skipped at those beautiful words, so purely falling from her lips. "Christine," he whispered, hoping she would not catch the hint of sadness in his tone. "Rest, petite. Let me hold you as you sleep, and when you awake, we will discuss our future together."
Innocent child as she was, she complied without protest. Within minutes, he felt her relax into sleep against his chest, and without consideration to consequence, he eagerly followed her lead.
Christine awoke a bit later, feeling the steady breath of the man, no, angel, beside her, stirring the loose tendrils at her temple so gently. A soft smile curved the corners of her lips to remember what they had shared and to consider that this was her Angel lying next to her, just like she had dreamed.
It was dark all around her, too dark for her tastes, and careful not to stir her Angel from his sleep, she slipped out of bed, drew on her shift, and searched for some sort of light. Within moments, she found an oil lantern, and as its warm glow bathed her, her eyes traveled eagerly to her Angel's peaceful form. She yearned to fully gaze upon his gloriousness, but that mask stood in her way. He had told her that mortals could not look upon angels, but surely after what they had shared, that rule could no longer apply. She had looked upon his body, every perfect detail of it; why should his face remain a mystery? Surely….
Christine did not give herself the chance to second guess; her fingers reached to that mask and gently pulled it away…. And then she saw…. And then she felt unbidden tears fill her eyes, clouding the distorted vision before them.
It was as one solitary tear falling silently from her blue eyes tumbled down and struck that ravaged cheek that Erik felt awareness returning with a rush of a tingling sensation across flesh that was unaccustomed to any stimulus. When he saw her, he knew.
"Oh," was the only sound he could manage at first, tears filling his own eyes as well. Abruptly, he darted out of the bed, yanking on his pants with shaking hands and desperately keeping his back to her. Over, lost, gone…. With a silent sob, he lowered trembling limbs to sit on the very edge of the mattress, opposite from where she did the same, and in complete silence, they both shed heartbroken tears; dreams and illusions were shattered to sharpened shards of glass that struck and embedded into hearts, drawing blood and forming gashes in their wake. Scars could be all that would remain.
After a time, Christine found her voice and demanded, "You're not an angel, are you?"
"I am the furthest thing from an angel," he replied tightly, still not daring a look even as he extended a quivering hand across the mattress. She understood the silent command and set his mask in his palm, watching somberly as he replaced it. "I am the one they told you to hate and fear, the Opera Ghost, the phantom, the murderer."
"And you so callously lied to me?" Her words, though bitter in meaning alone, were so empty, so devoid of emotion.
"I did," he admitted plainly. "And how I pity you for believing and for giving yourself to the devil. It was a merciful sacrifice on your part."
"Sacrifice?" she repeated, and he only then dared to meet her gaze.
With a solemn shake of his head, he told her, "You have looked upon the face of the phantom, and now I cannot let you go. I usually kill anyone who sees me, but your sacrifice will buy your life." Could she tell how it was torturing him to twist this most incredibly blissful of events into such a blackened sin? "Now I will return you to your world."
Christine was shaking from head to toe as she hurriedly drew on the rest of her clothes; every so often, she dared a glance in his direction, but he never looked back.
As they arrived behind the mirror of her dressing room, he gruffly declared, "I am releasing you, and yet you will never be free of me. After this, …after tonight, I will never let you go, Christine. Don't forget who you belong to; you will always be mine."
She only stared at him in apathy for a long breath before entering her dressing room. No sooner had the mirror returned to its rightful place than she slid to the floor and collapsed into broken sobs.
Behind the glass, she did not know that Erik had done the same, sobbing relentlessly and gazing at her all the while. His hand pressed to the glass between them with his desperation to comfort her. And yet he knew he never could. He was the very cause of her tears.
Illusions were destroyed, and tears were all that were left. Angels did not exist, only a devil in an angel's guise, and he knew he had abandoned her with nothing remaining to believe, save pain and deception. She was broken; she would never be whole again, and it was all a casualty to his lie. And yet even as the guilt twisted within his chest, he knew that she would be his again. She had to be; she carried his heart. With a sheer determination, he forced his weary body to rise and leave her to her tears. He would come again for her tomorrow and the next day and the next, and soon enough, she would realize that she could love him in the same way that she had loved her Angel. Yes, and then he would have his own illusion where he could believe in love and happy endings.