Hello, people! So here is a story that I've debated posting for months! It is very dark, so be forewarned. But I hadn't posted a darker one in awhile and hope that it will be appreciated for being something very passionate, even if it is on the darker side. Enjoy.

SUMMARY: How much can one tempt the darkness before it burns in return?

"Measure of a Man"

"Go ahead and run! Run all you like! There's nowhere to hide and no escaping from your fallen angel! Christine!"

I could hear Erik's yelled threats behind me, nipping at my heels as I ran on the wings of my terror. My heart raced madly in my chest so that I felt every beat reverberating through my body, but I did not dare slow my pace. He would come after me; I was certain of it.

How had it come to this? That I was now running in fear through the damp catacombs beneath the opera house from my once dear teacher and angel? Yes, I now knew what he was, and foolishly naïve, I had believed that it didn't matter, that we could go on being teacher and student even after I had seen his face. Stupid child! And now I was paying the price.

My step never once faltered as I emerged through the hidden doorway and into my dressing room, into my world. I did not doubt that he would follow, that he was likely in close pursuit already, and that thought made me all the more frantic, running as though for my very life.

It was late, too late for anyone to be lingering in the opera house, and I knew with rising terror that I was just as vulnerable up here as I had been in the catacombs. But chest heaving with exhaustion at my rushed pace, I was undeterred as I threw open the dressing room door and ran into the dark hallway.

Giving up was not an option for me, not now with Erik's anger blazing at its brightest and most unpredictable, and so it was determination alone that urged me onward, …determination and self-preservation. The only thing that I was considering was that if Erik caught me, he could very well hurt me in the throes of his rage and not even realize it until it was over. So dangerous was the game we constantly played.

Swallowing back a rising shudder, I found the vacant, moonlit lobby and the main entrance, making my way to the large double doors and the freedom they symbolized in their simple construction. Shoving with all of my weight against their stability, the horror rose within me to learn that they were locked. Another and another door I tried in sheer desperation, but it was hopeless. I was locked in, trapped in the dragon's lair with the monster himself.

"No," I softly moaned to myself. Oh dear God, he was coming! I could feel his nearing presence, even though no sight or sound betrayed him.

Hide! I had to hide! It was my only choice now, and with a brief glance to the shadows suffocating me on all sides, I darted off again, this time heading upward toward the balconies. Attempting to be as quiet as possible, I crept into one of the boxes, the infamous Box 5. With any luck left on my side, he would neglect to search for me there. After all, why would I willingly put myself in the phantom's favorite box when he was the one I was running from? Hopefully, he would pass me by in his search, and I could wait him out until morning when the managers arrived.

Terror-stricken and half-sick on it, I shrank down to the ground and concealed myself behind one of the box's curtains, hugging my knees to my chest. Silent tears slipped only somewhat noticed down my cheeks and dripped onto the material of my pale pink gown with never a single sound to give them away.

What had I done? I had incited this unfathomable rage in him. It was not the first time that I had glimpsed its brutal power. The first time had been that fateful night when I had still been entranced with the idea of heavenly angels. That night I had stolen away his mask, and I had lost not only the angelic illusion I had been victim to, but also my every hope and dream for my future. Love, it was supposed to have been love. Love with the ethereal creature that adored me as much as I had adored him, and one lie had shattered it to nothing and had bruised my heart so violently that I still wore the colors on the inside. And in his furious rage at my betrayal, he had never considered my feelings, never took any heed to what his own deception had done to me or to the broken soul he had left in his wake….

Damn him! It should have been me enraged with him that night. I should have run away and left him then and there, never to return as his, but no. I couldn't. Not as he had gone from murderous anger to falling at my feet with pitiful sobs in the next breath. I had felt sorry for him, and it was exactly that mercy that always led me back even when his angered outbursts were becoming all the more frequent.

Sometimes, it was a missed note or flawed exercise that sparked the fuse. Sometimes, an unguarded word or sentence that I forgot to fully contemplate before saying. Sometimes, it was nothing in particular at all. His moods were as unpredictable as the weather, and they only seemed to worsen with the more time we spent in each other's company.

Tonight's outburst had been caused by a misstep on my part. I had avoided his touch when he had reached across me to collect a discarded piece of music. It had seemed only a natural movement to me; I had acted as any innocently chaste girl would, shying away from the caress of a man with modesty at the root core, but he had taken my action as an offense. Before I had even realized my mistake, he had thrown the music to the ground, notes interspersed on haphazard pages, and had come after me with flying curses from those beautiful, once so-adored vocal cords, and I had fled him, not knowing how else to endure his assault and survive unscathed. This was the first time that I had actually run away in terror, but this was also the first time I had ever felt such imminent danger if I remained. He appeared on some sort of rampage, and I would have been crushed in his path like a trampled flower with bent petals.

Dear Lord, I should have stayed, no matter the cost; that was my transcending thought at present. Now he would be all the more furious, and who really knew for certain what he would do to me if he found me?

And the irony of the whole situation was that while he obviously assumed that I had recoiled from his touch out of disgust for his face, the truth was that I had not even considered his deformity at all. I rarely even did anymore. Of course, at first, it had been disconcerting, but now it was just a part of him, though at times, especially when his temper was controlling the chain of events, I was secretly grateful that it was always hidden from my view by that mask. Perhaps someday I could look upon it without cringing, but for now I was content to do without looking at all.

My body stiffened behind my curtain barrier as I heard noises filtering up from the theatre below. He was stalking the aisles; I could practically see his shape in my mind's eye and the fire of fury glowing in his mismatched blue and green stare. He would likely not give up until he found me, I realized with a hopeless sense of despair that twisted anxiety within my chest.


His cold yet sinisterly seductive call met my ear, and I curled even tighter against the wall, whispering silent prayers when every cell in my body still felt compelled to answer that alluring summons.

"Christine, where are you? You know you can't hide from me forever." His voice was tight, filtering from one end of the theatre to the other as he paced, and the darkness all around us seemed to seep into him, tainting his every word as he continued to speak to the penetrating shadows.

"Foolish, selfish girl always flirting with every word and gesture, always tempting even the angels with your brazen sensuality. Do you know how you torment me? Have you any idea what agony I endure because of you?"

Lacking a full and proper education on the subject of the male gender, I had only a vague notion what he referred to. My only knowledge came from what I had overheard the corps de ballet girls gossip about. Desire…, and its power…. Did Erik intend to act on his desires with me? …He was my angel and then my disfigured teacher, but rarely did I consider him beyond such standardized and set roles. And yet….

Maybe that wasn't entirely true. Was he not after all one and the same with the dark shadow that consumed me every night in my dreams? In the furthest depths of my mind always kept beneath the surface of thought, I had considered him in such a light, and the prospect of it did not frighten me as it should. But his rage did, leaving me to wonder if the combination of his anger and passion would put me in even more danger than I already found myself in.

"Christine, Christine," he called, and his voice seemed to come from one side of the room and then another, a trick that made me unsure where he actually was. He was teasing me, calling me out of my hiding place if only to seek another one, but I held my ground, cowering against the back wall and holding my breath to prevent any sound from escaping.

Erik continued to speak the unhindered words of his anguish in a voice constricted with fire and need, and still his location was a mystery as each sentence seemed to come from a different place and resound through my ears with their overt temptation. "Damn you, you siren, you Jezebel. I've tried and I've tried to resist you, to restrain myself, but you were so determined to lure me in and torture me with your charms, weren't you? How selfish you can be! Wanting my affections if only to squash them in your inconsiderate hands! You enjoy throwing in my disfigured face what I can never have as mine!"

I shuddered at every single word, so bitter and heaved with such malice. At that moment, I was half sure that he did indeed hate me, that I had pushed him to it with my own naïveté.

His biting remarks were incessant, one to the left, one to the right, one behind me, coming on all sides until I was sure that I would suffocate in him. A new sense of anguish and desperation poured forth, lacing that beautiful voice like a thin thread that wound around me and ensnared my very soul. "Do you have any idea what I feel, Christine, when I have to look at you day after day so near to me? When I know that if I would just reach out, I could be touching you? …How simple would that be? A touch? And yet at the same time, I am reminded of what I am, of how displeasing you find me, of how one touch from my hands would repulse you to the core of your being. I am a monster to you, a freak of nature. How could you ever bear my disgusting, murderous hands upon your flawless skin? …How could I ever be a man in your eyes?…"

His voice broke off, and I felt sure that his anger had entirely evaporated to pain. Guilt gnawed at me because I knew that he was wrong. And yet I did not dare to tell him so, more scared if he knew the truth than if he believed a lie.

"Christine, come out, damn you!" The temporary absence of his anger had abruptly evaporated into a renewed fever. "How dare you cause me to feel these things, things I've never felt before for any single human being and then shun me again and again? To you, it is all a game, but you play with fire so temptingly in your grasp and I could burn you if I so chose. I could consume you!"

There was a long, still pause as my ears desperately tried to catch some sound to reveal his whereabouts, but he was too careful for that.

"I will not be made a fool of!" he roared. "I will not have my heart and my desires trampled over by your weakness and your intrepid childishness! You will be taught a lesson, and you will learn what happens when you cross me!"

All of a sudden, to my shocked horror, the curtain surrounding me was jerked back, and two bony hands grabbed at me, catching my shoulder and forearm and yanking me out of my hiding place and into the balcony box. My scream died on my lips when I glimpsed the raving madness flashing in the depths of his eyes, practically aglow with only moonbeams to illuminate minor details. He was only a shadow and those piercing eyes.

"Shameless slut!" he shouted, his grip bruising my sensitive skin as I tried to pull free but to no avail. "You don't think I know the truth, do you?"

"Know what?" I desperately pleaded, shaking with the consideration as tears filled my eyes again and trickled down my cheeks. "Know what, Erik?"

"I saw you, Christine!" He spat my name as if it was another insult. "Every one in the damn company saw you. You and that filthy Vicomte! He had his hands all over you, and like a cheap whore, you allowed his touch, even enjoyed it!"

I was momentarily astounded and thrown from my wits. Raoul and I…. And then like a flash of light, understanding dawned. Raoul, my childhood friend. Raoul, whose touch I always permitted like that of a brother. Raoul, who Erik obviously saw as a rival for my attention. Raoul was constantly in my company, and often there were small touches between us, innocent touches that to both of us seemed natural and without fault, but, as I now was realizing, were completely foreign and forbidden to Erik. No, Erik had likely never been touched in his life….

"Erik, it isn't that way -," I tried to explain, but he shook me hard, dragging me even closer until I could feel the tension radiating off of him in waves.

"Oh, it isn't?" he challenged, forcing me to hold his gaze with my face only mere inches from his. "He clasped your hand in his; he set his palms upon your shoulders as he spoke; he even caressed your cheek like a lover, and you allowed it; you enjoyed it. You smiled, and you laughed like a coquette. And yet I am not even permitted to reach past you to collect my music, to accidentally brush your arm. You recoil from me as if I would defile you, but for the handsome Vicomte, you practically thrust yourself against him. Is that at all fair? My God, Christine, I give you my whole world, my whole existence, but it isn't enough for you, is it? What more do you want of me? What would it take? If I cut out my heart and lay it still beating at your feet, would you touch it? Would you cradle it in your hands? Or would you shudder with disgust as you do now? Would you deny the gift of my heart as you always deny me?"

His declarations were so impassioned that I felt goosebumps arise on my skin. I no longer struggled against his hold, but instead stared back at him evenly, trying to convince myself not to be afraid. The gift of a heart, but I could find no words to claim it as mine and instead awkwardly muttered, "Erik, please, Raoul is only a friend."

"He is a man, Christine!" my fallen angel roared as if I was ignorant to such a crucial fact. "And you treat him like a man!"

"Erik -"

"But I am a man, too," he continued fervently. "I breathe and I think and I dream and I ache like a man! And you constantly neglect to see that!"

"No," I softly replied, entirely honest in my conviction even if the bravery was lacking to keep my voice steady. "I do see that you are a man, Erik, and that is why I pull away from your touch."

"I don't understand." His tone was urgently demanding, making a statement as vital as a question; he seemed absolutely frustrated with himself for not being able to comprehend what should have been common knowledge.

I continued to hold his gaze despite the intimacy of my admission. "Raoul is a childhood friend to me, and I see him as just that, but you…. I see you differently; …I see you as a man, Erik, …with a man's thoughts and dreams…and desires…." I lowered my eyes then with the flush of pink that crept up into my cheeks.

My words had been God's own truth, and for half a second, I thought that he believed me. His hold loosened to be almost tender like that of a beloved, and his mismatched eyes softened, caressing me with a look. Then just as suddenly, his demeanor shifted, and his hand on my forearm squeezed tight.

"Erik," I whimpered.

"Lies!" he growled, and as I watched dumbstruck, he raised his other hand as if he intended to strike me. I immediately closed my eyes and cringed, awaiting the blow with tears streaming down my cheeks and whimpers of fear passing my lips. But it never came.

Confused, I dared to peek out again and regarded a man who appeared almost as afraid as I myself was. His hand, which had still been poised to strike, gradually closed the distance to my awaiting cheek, but rather than hitting, it was tentatively caressing, growing in confidence until it cupped my face distractedly.

I could hear his every breath as each tore past his partially opened lips as if he was fighting some sort of internal battle, a debate over which emotion to succumb and lose himself to. His touch was gentle at first, a hesitant stroking, but it rapidly grew as desperate as he himself was until it clutched at my skin as if it needed my touch to survive. Breaths even louder, and that hand, with fingers that tensely curled at their joints, moved to my temple and suddenly thrust deep into my hair to clutch my head by my dark locks as I gave a small cry of my surprise.

"Erik," I found myself pleading again.

Gripping me by the hair, he hoarsely threatened, "You'd lie to me so easily, so quickly, and I want desperately to believe in your every deceitful word. Do you truly think that you know anything of my desires, Christine?" He asked the question as if it was some sort of trick, and so I kept silently fearful in my watch. As his hand in my hair fisted tighter, he closed the distance between our faces so that I could feel his breath against my flesh, tickling the surface and creating goosebumps as he spoke bitingly. "I could kill you. I could take you in my hands and squeeze you between them until you shattered to a million pieces. I know exactly how to turn your pretty little neck till it snaps. I could torture you while you screamed for mercy. I could burn you alive or strangle you with a Punjab lasso. I could destroy you with hardly any effort at all…. And yet, I can't make you love me. I can't force you to want me, to welcome my touch; I can't control your thoughts or your dreams…. But, by God, I can try!"

My breath caught in my throat as I realized in that one second what he meant to do. I couldn't have stopped him, and a part of me didn't want to. The hand that he had on my forearm snaked around my waist and yanked my limp body against his, and for the first time, I felt the true power of his desire, the enlarged hardness of his manhood pressing like a threatening dagger against my belly. For a long moment, he just clutched me to him, arching against me, and, Lord forgive me, I felt myself meeting his every movement, nearly writhing wantonly against his body.

"Christine," he groaned with such sorrow, "am I truly to have to force you then? In the darkness, I am just the same as any other ordinary human being. You don't need to see my face or remember how disgusted you are. In the dark, I am just a man, a man who aches to love you and to possess you."

I was far beyond needing to be forced. Already, my body had melted to a pool of liquid warmth that gathered between my legs even through the shame modesty attempted to bring. It hardly seemed, at that moment, an act to be punished for when everything else within me insisted it was what I wanted. My body's response, though new and frightening to me, was as old as time. How could I ever mistake it for anything other than passion equal to my Erik's in intensity? And how could I ever deny it when it felt so incredibly wonderful and so fervently consuming?

Erik was right; the darkness surrounding us hid his features, hid everything but the vague outline of his shape, a silhouette occasionally touched by those intruding moonbeams, and flashes of his fire-lit eyes. And yet I was entirely certain that he saw me clearly as to my surprise, he pressed his lips firmly to mine, his hand still in my hair keeping my head in place without ever the chance to attempt to pull away.

It was an initial shock to feel the pressure of his lips against mine and the brushing of his cold mask to my cheek with his endeavors, for it concealed a portion of that twisted mouth behind its barrier. The kiss rapidly went from awkward to fervent as Erik grew more sure of himself, and I could do nothing but follow his lead. I knew without a doubt that he yearned to deepen it further; I could read his instincts as well as I could read my own. But the presence of that mask hindered his efforts, pressing even more into my flesh with his frustrated attempts and making me cringe with its unnatural and foreign texture when my skin craved skin in return.

Drawing his mouth away from my hungry, eager lips, he whispered hoarsely near my ear in assurance, "Just like any other man, Christine. Just the same." And I knew even without the blessing of my full sight that he removed the mask.

For a moment, neither of us moved. His hand had released my hair but still held me around my waist, my abdomen flush to his, and he waited, waited for me to scream and reject him. Even the shrouding darkness did not take away the insecurity and fear he carried over his deformity. But I could not see it, not even moonbeams gave it life, and to me, he was exactly as he said, any other ordinary man.

After that momentary lapse in his control, he once again took the reins as my forceful assailant, capturing my lips in a brutal and unexpected kiss that I instinctively froze to endure. He was devouring me, manipulating my coercion as he caught my bottom lip between his teeth for a soft nip between breathless kiss after breathless kiss. Just that small primal action caused me to shudder with matching need and edge ever closer. I could feel the occasional touch flesh to flesh of his deformity; he couldn't help that. His mouth for one thing was terribly misshapen and swollen, and his malformed cheek with its upraised scars gently struck my skin while the open gaping hole through which he breathed brushed my nose with each movement of his head. I should have been disgusted to the very depth of my being by any contact with such grotesque features, but I wasn't. If anything, to my own horror, I was perversely savouring each foreign touch, squirming with the powerful desire unleashed against his swollen hardness which throbbed and grew all the more against me.

Overcome with the fire burning between us, Erik drew his lips away, and I felt a slight pull and heard the loud ripping that stung my ears with its finality. Immediately, chilled air swept over my now exposed skin, my gown torn to my waist and revealing my underclothes in their stark whites and laces. If I had been questioning it before, I was now entirely confident that he did see every bit of me by the low rumbling groan that escaped him, and I wasn't shy by this realization; how could I be when his responses were so fervently unbridled?

His eager hand drew down my chemise in a yank to expose my bare breasts, and slightly hesitant yet utterly provocative, he used but one finger to trace the outline of one hardening nipple. I could barely stand it, the ache desperately consuming until I squirmed as my fevered gasping breaths echoed all around us.

"Is my touch repulsive to you now?" he demanded in a tone that was both passionately tender and controlling at the same time. "In this darkness, I can be your perfect mortal lover, and yet I can also devour you like a demon of hell. You do want it, don't you, Christine?"

I could not form a coherent answer, and unsatisfied by my silence, he gave my sensitive, aching nipple a little pinch and ordered again, "Tell me that you want it."

"I do," I desperately whispered, dizzy with the sensations he caused as he manipulated my breast in his hand.

"Then say it," he commanded, and I glimpsed hints of the fiery rage in his eyes burning through shadows and dark, inextricably tied to his passion; he would willingly indulge one or the other.

"I want it," I gasped breathless. "I want you, Erik."

"And my face doesn't matter now, does it? You're wet for me despite how repulsive I am to you, aren't you, Christine?"

"Yes," I admitted weakly amidst his caresses, and with a growl of contentment, he abruptly bent and caught my nipple between his misshapen lips as I gave a delirious cry of delight.

My instincts told me to slide my fingers into his thin hair and clutch his head to my breast, but I denied them, hesitant even as passion stole much of my rationality out of my control. Trepidation kept me tentative because in spite of all that he was doing and my own need crowding any semblance of right and wrong, I was still half-terrified of him, of his rampant rages and violent temper, and it restricted me to be only a willing victim instead of an active participant.

Erik's fumbling fingers were trying to detach the lacings of my corset, and after a few failed attempts, he was successful, tossing it aside as well as my chemise with my skirt, petticoat, and pantaloons to follow suit. To my passion-induced mind, it was almost as if I was being violated by shadows, the shadows that thrived and breathed and writhed all about me, the shadows that wanted to seep into my very being and stain my soul, …the shadows that I yearned to embrace in return.

In a delirious groan, Erik yanked me harshly against his clothed body, clasping in an unyielding grip for a long silent moment where only our panting breaths could be heard to echo and spiral in the air around us.

"Do you feel it, Christine?" he gasped out, shattering the silence. "The darkness throbs and aches for you. It consumes you even as it punishes you. But it could adore and worship you if only you weren't so deceitful and spiteful. …It could love you."

Bending eagerly, he caught my nipple between his lips for one brief instant before he shocked me further by suddenly pressing his unmasked, disfigured cheek against my chest right above my frantically beating heart. I did not shrink away; I was not repulsed by the foreign texture of his deformity against my flesh. No, instead in an act that I allowed on instinct alone, I tentatively cupped the back of his head with a quivering hand and held him there for a moment caught in time, forgetting everything but his constant and so earnest promises. Adore me…, yes, he could adore me if I let him.

But that tentative blissfulness was short-lived; his body was crying out for satisfaction, and I knew that I would not refuse him. I could have…; I could have put an end to this encounter and was surprisingly sure even amidst his unpredictable temper that he would stop if I but asked. …But I didn't want to. And so I permitted him, permitted the trembling hand that climbed one of my thighs and tentatively slid between them. I could not hide my body's obvious delight as his fingertips found my wetness and easily slipped inside. At that intimate caress, my entire frame gave a violent shudder down its every willowy limb, and I sagged against his strong support.

Though the darkness hid his face and its details, I could swear that I felt the smirk of self-satisfaction that he gave at my surrender, knowing I was his to do with as he pleased. As I continued to shiver, he stroked the sleekness of my throbbing femininity, finding the point that was controlling my passion and using his thumb to circle it and rub until throaty cries that I did not even recognize as my own poured out from between my parted lips.

Before I could find release and the pleasure promised on its heels, he ceased his caresses abruptly and drew me down to the carpeted floor, and I willingly lay back as I heard him hastily disrobing with frantically jerked motions. A second more, and I saw his shadow hovering over me, his body being lowered above mine as one of his hands not very gently pushed my thighs apart.

I felt the throbbing, hard tip of him starting to push at my virginal body, and I bit my lip to keep from crying out. With his every movement to enter me, the pressure built and the pain exploded all through me. Some part of him mercifully tried to keep his motions gentle, but nearly entirely sheathed within, he gave up his careful endeavors and thrust the rest of the way. I cringed, tears sliding silently down my cheeks, and I desperately forced myself to stay still even though I longed to pull away and cease the pain.

All at once, Erik became tender, holding himself unmoving as my body adjusted to his violation, and as his head bent near to mine to find my lips for a soft kiss that poured out unspoken apologies, one of his hands brushed away my tears so delicately as if my skin was made of the finest porcelain. Only a brief instant and then he began to move within me, slowly at first, gently, like an adoring lover who marveled over our incredible union. The hand that had been at my cheek slipped between our joined bodies to tease first my breasts and then move lower to my swollen nub of passion. I knew that he was doing it for me because even as he moved in and out of my aching body, he kept himself restrained, and though I could barely make out his features, I felt him watching me intently, studying my reactions as if he was desperate to know every detail and learn every single motion that proved to make me ache.

My smoldering desire was stirring to life again from his generous touches and the thrill of his weight on top of me, his cool yet sweaty skin flush to mine, his hardness inside of me. He was surrounding and suffocating me, swallowing me in the masculinity of him. It seemed too quick that I knew a wild crescendo of my lust as I gave an unbridled cry, and the pleasure engulfed me, …too quick when I wanted to stay in such a place forever, to have this instant when we were everything to each other and nothing else mattered always as mine.

Erik graciously let me recollect myself, sated and pleasure-stunned as I was, but I knew that he was not finished, his need saturating every tensed caress he granted to my pale skin. It was to my avid disappointment that he suddenly disentangled himself from me, disjoining our bodies and helped me to my feet under shaky knees.

"Come, my little vixen," he hoarsely commanded and led me to the balcony's edge that overlooked an empty, moonlit theatre. I knew that if I but glanced at him with the moon's glow constant from the windows above our heads, I would see that ravaged face, and confident of that reality, he dared to guide me ahead of him to the rail before I could try even a single look. "It's time for you to learn the extent of my desires, Christine, and understand what you do to me."

I knew a moment of fear, having no idea what he had in mind as he came up behind me and gently pushed until my upper body was lowered across the cold, hard railing so that it pressed against my belly. His hands parted my legs and situated himself to graze my slick wetness, and gathering me close with a hand around my narrow hips, he thrust deeply into me with a guttural moan of his obvious delight as I gasped and clung to the metal railing with taut fingers.

I had the desperate urge to look back at him and catch a glimpse of his face twisted with his passion as it would be, to have that image to hold to as my own, but his free hand entangled in my hair and kept my head lowered to the rows of velvet-cushioned seats below our box as though he had read my mind and knew my yearning. And so all that I could do was let the images of vacant chairs fuzz in and out of focus and concentrate on the sensations he was causing as he moved in and out of my body.

Erik's small cries of his desire grew, and his movements became more fervent, faster and harder until I, too, was crying out with my own renewed need. He was violent, savage, holding my hips between his tensed palms, still and trapped, creating a symphony of desire that flooded my ears with every glorious sound.

Almost suddenly, a tangled shout came from his golden cords, and I felt him lean over me until his distorted cheek was pressed to my smooth back as he found his pleasure. His urgency incited tremors that raced the surface of my skin and made a resonant response through my own body with him. It was practically ecstasy and left me to arch back against his hard shape and share his shudder as if it were my own.

After a long series of moments while I languidly listened to his breathing calm and felt his heartbeat against my back slowing to normal, savouring every nuance far more than I ever believed I could have, Erik turned his face to press a reverent kiss to the nape of my neck, and I closed my eyes and adored that tender gesture. It meant love more than words or letters ever could have.

So gently, he drew out of me and away, skirting back into the shadows before I could ever have seen him as I lifted myself, unable to quit the constant quiver racing my limbs. He didn't speak; he didn't explain himself or beg my forgiveness. He just dressed in the darkness quickly, and as I slowly drew my torn dress to my suddenly frigid body, moving as if in a dream, he emerged into the moonlight, mask in place and appearing just as pristine and formal as ever, the Opera Ghost himself brought into existence.

I held his gaze, my gown clutched in white-knuckled hands at my throat as a million questions and emotions flickered in my mind. All that I was granted was a blank, unreadable stare in return and a solitary nod as he abruptly turned and fled into the shadows, leaving me alone in the darkness.

"Oh, God," I whispered with tears of shame filling my eyes. With the folds of my gown all around me, I slid into a heap onto the balcony floor, crying brokenheartedly as my torturing memory relived every detail. My body was throbbing and aching, missing his where it had been as if in those mere minutes of joint life, I had found completion, and as lingering traces of his sweat were cooling and drying on my skin, his scent teased my nostrils with the acute desire to be lost to him again when guilt bid me to feel ashamed instead.

I closed my eyes and sobbed softly with that poignant confusion creating shreds of clauses and accusations to twist through my conscience. But to my sudden surprise, in the next moment, I felt a gentle hand tracing my brow. Lifting my tear-filled eyes, I saw him, my Erik, my angel, crouched at my side with eyes that spoke an eternity, that showed how my uncertain regret hurt him as well.

With all of the tenderness of the world, he closed the distance between us and kissed me, so light, so delicate, like the brushing of a butterfly's wings upon one's skin, and my breath caught in my throat with the longing to create the words to make such caresses mine forever. As I let them play on my tongue and never emerge, he continued and kissed every one of my tears away, granting me one more beautifully gentle kiss before abruptly disappearing before my very eyes as if he had never been there at all.

Slowly, I lifted myself to my feet and gathered my clothes, but there was not even an inkling of doubt remaining on my face. No, all that was there was a glorious smile, for I knew something that no one else in all the world did. He would love me again and again, and though he would surely assume that in doing so, he could earn my affections as his, I knew the truth: that he already had them and always would.