"Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." -James Arthur Baldwin
Erik was wandering through a nightmare world.
It was his own life he was reliving-all the worst moments he could remember. From his early days in the slum with his mother and his nights in a cage at the freak show, to his years in the underground labyrinths beneath the opera house and the months after he left, he felt once more all the pain he'd felt then.
Despair, hopelessness, betrayal, rage, loneliness.
Stumbling through this hellish landscape, Erik knew he had to be dreaming, but try as he might he could not wake up and escape the nightmare. Now he was being swept along by a raging river, blood pouring from the gunshot wound in his back. The river had no bottom, just a never ending blackness that was pulling him farther and farther from the surface. Just when he thought he had drowned at last, he opened his eyes to find himself standing in an unfamiliar cave illuminated with an eerie bluish light that came from nowhere and everywhere at once. A strange, thin mist floated about him and filled the cave chamber, its icy tendrils wrapping around his body and chilling him to the bone.
Suddenly Erik realized he was not alone in the cave.
A shadowy figure stood halfway across the chamber, tall, dark, and menacing, almost completely obscured by the mist. For a while the two remained still, just staring at each other. Then, slowly, the shadow began to move closer. As he approached, Erik saw that it was a man in dark robes, his face hidden both by the mist and the black hood that he wore. Soon the man was standing just a yard away. His presence gave Erik an unusual feeling; he felt strangely familiar, but there was something very foreboding, even wicked about him.
The other man let his hood down, revealing his face. Erik gasped. It was his own. Or it would have been his face, if it hadn't been deformed since birth and scarred by the knife. A perfect face without a mask stared back at him, smiling with an air of arrogance.
"Hello, Erik," he said.
Erik just looked at him, confused. What kind of dream is this?
"We've had quite a strange relationship as of late, haven't we?" The man with the perfect face began walking in a slow circle around Erik.
Erik tried to speak, tried to ask him, What are you? What's going on? But as sometimes happened in his dreams, he found he could not say a word.
Still, the other man responded as if he'd heard. "I am the Phantom, though I shouldn't have to tell you that. We've known each other for a very long time, you and I."
Go away. I don't want anything to do with you.
The Phantom glared darkly at Erik. "You should. I am the better of the two of us. You know this to be true. I've always been the stronger one, the smarter one. The one who could do anything, whatever I wished. But you had to resist me, you had to let your weakness ruin everything for the both of us. Do you realize that if you had let me stay in control, your life at the opera house could have been perfect. Triumphant. Instead, it ended in disaster. We were left alone, failing at everything we'd set out to do. The love of a woman, our finest operatic work, and our beautiful opera house were all lost in one night, and we were forced to run away like a frightened animal, reduced once more to complete and utter grief and shame. You and I have been fighting each other for too long, Erik. It's time now."
Time for what?
Suddenly the Phantom had a sword in hand, the one with the silver skull hilt. Erik reached at his sides and found that somehow he had a sword too, identical, save that it lacked the skull.
"You're weak, Erik…and I'm not speaking of your inherent, constant weakness of heart. I mean that you are very weak from your injuries…"
That was your fault, not mine. I had moved on from Christine. You were the one who was still mad with an obsession for her.
"…and now you are sick with fever, skirting on the edge of death. Only one of us will survive, Erik. I think we both know who the victor will be." The Phantom smiled again. "I am the stronger of us, after all. I thank you for creating me, my friend, and it has truly been a pleasure helping you thus far. If you had ever learned to permanently combine our strengths, we could have been great, what with your music and my strength and intelligence. But you didn't, and now I'm afraid it's time for me to take back control. Forever."
This is madness. What kind of nightmare is this?
Erik drew his sword, and then he and the Phantom were fighting, the sound of metal striking metal ringing throughout the cave. He was bruised, battered, sick and weak, and he was losing, being driven back through the mist, toward the dark beyond the cave chamber. The Phantom was strong and powerful, and the sadistic grin never left his beautiful face as he drove Erik back. The weak human was being defeated by the great, dark angel.
Erik's sword was struck to the ground, and he collapsed, unable to fight any longer. He covered his hideous face with his hands and braced himself for oblivion.
But it didn't come. He looked up.
Alana had somehow appeared in the cave.
The Phantom had stopped and was staring at her with loathing. She lunged at him, but he easily threw her to the ground.
Erik staggered to his feet and took up his sword again, enraged.
"You may have resisted me at times, but you never denied me out right. Not until she came into our lives," the Phantom snarled. "She makes you even weaker."
She makes me happy.
"Denying me even once would have been foolish. Denying me every day…well, that's just deadly."
You've been the cause of every horrible thing that has happened to me in the past few months. You're insane.
"You're pathetic. I've had enough of Alana. And I've had enough of you."
Alana stirred and stood up, recovered from her fall. She backed away, looking at the Phantom in terror.
That's not me, Alana, Erik reached out to her, but it was like she could not see or hear him. The Phantom's evil was all she saw. I'm not that person. The Phantom isn't real. I'm real. Me. Erik. The one who loves you, more than anything in the world. I don't need the Phantom anymore…there is nothing that I need. Nothing but you.
Suddenly there was a flash of light that overcame everything and left him blinded for a moment. When the brightness dimmed and he could see once more, the misty cave was empty but for him and Alana. The Phantomwas gone. Nowhere in sight.
Wordlessly, Alana took his hand and led him out of the darkness.
Erik woke up in his old room beneath the opera house. With his free hand he wiped the beads of sweat off his forehead. Even that movement was taxing; his body ached all over and he felt horribly sick. But despite his pain, he felt a strange inner peace, like some deep cold inside him had faded away.
His free hand…
Erik turned his head and couldn't help but smile.
Somehow, Alana was lying next to him, fast asleep and holding his hand tightly in hers. She looked so beautiful now, resting quietly. She was sleeping more peacefully than he'd ever seen her—he remembered when she'd been plagued with nightmares.
Just like him.
It touched his heart that she'd decided to stay with him as he slept, but he wondered…had she come here to comfort him—or herself?
Perhaps it was a bit of both. But it was no matter. He was just happy that she was here. Still smiling, he moved closer to her and closed his eyes. When he fell asleep again, he dreamed of nothing, resting at last.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cerise and Amélie had just begun putting the breakfast dishes away when there was a knock at their front door. Andre, who'd sat through breakfast silent and sullen, eating only a few bites of bread, looked at Raimond and shook his head, so the other man rose and went to the door.
"Good morning, monsieur," he said to the shabbily dressed gypsy man on his doorstep. "Can I help you?"
"I certainly hope so," the stranger answered in accented French. "My name is Emilian Richters. I'm looking for work. For the past year I've survived doing odd jobs, and I was wondering if perhaps I could be of service to you."
Raimond raised an eyebrow, doubtful of whether to trust this stranger or not. "Perhaps…did you have anything in mind?"
"You are the pastor of the church on the other side of the street, are you not?" Emilian asked, gesturing to the plaque with Raimond's title alongside the front door of the house.
Raimond nodded, still a bit suspicious.
"Well, I've noticed that there are leaves along the grass there and on the sidewalk that could use raking. The shrubbery could use some trimming as well. I could do some gardening for your home if you like, as well as any repairs inside the church or your house."
"Hmm." Raimond stroked his chin. "Come to think of it, there is a broken railing along the steps to the bell tower inside the church that I haven't had fixed yet. Do you think you would be able to reattach it?"
"Certainly, monsieur," Emilian said confidently.
"I also have a broken pane of glass in our back door. Someone broke into our house a while ago and we've pinned down some cloth to cover the empty space, but it is very important for it to be repaired soon, with the nights getting colder…"
"I can repair that as well. If I was given the money, I could go fetch you the new pane of glass right now and have the job finished today," the gypsy man offered.
Raimond folded his arms. "That would be wonderful," he began, "but…can I trust that you will indeed use my money to buy my family a new window? I've only just met you."
"I can assure you, monsieur, my intentions are thoroughly honorable. I do not seek to cheat you or your family."
Raimond turned. Andre had apparently been listening to the conversation, and had just come up behind him.
"You're not really going to give this stranger money and turn him loose with it, are you?" Andre shook his head with disapproval. "You'd be out of your mind to do something like that."
Emilian looked wounded. "Good monsieur, I have assured your companion here that I have no intention of cheating him."
"Here's an idea," Raimond said. "Why don't I give you the money, Andre, and you can go with Monsieur Richters to get the new window?"
Andre looked surprised.
"You both will have a chance to prove that you can be trusted. Surely neither of you would cheat a clergyman." He gave the two men somewhat of a sly smile.
"Oh, no monsieur," Emilian said, making a sign of the cross. "I can be trusted."
"So can I," Andre growled. "Do you really think I'd steal from you, brother?"
Raimond just stared back at him, making Andre scowl even deeper. Then he went back into the house for a while, leaving Andre and Emilian just looking at each other uncomfortably. When he eventually returned, he handed Andre the money without a word, and handed Emilian a small slip of paper. "That's the measurements for the glass pane," he said. "Good luck gentlemen."
When he'd gone back inside, Emilian spoke first. "Shall we go then, monsieur?"
Andre grunted in agreement. "Where are we even going?"
"I know a good place down the road, follow me!" Emilian said eagerly, and they set off. To everyone else, it would seem that the gypsy man was just relieved that he had found work. He was glad for the money he'd receive for that work, but that wasn't important. He couldn't believe how close he'd be able to get to the family. It would be easy for him to determine if the Valjean girl was helping the Devil's Child. He wasn't sure how exactly he would do it, but the wheels were constantly turning in his mind, and he would keep his eyes open for any opportunities.
They came to a shop with a sign above the door reading A and F Hardware. He'd passed it a few times since he'd been in the city, and had overheard the Vicomte de Chagny talking about it to the Comte de Bellamy. It was a fairly new establishment, and the aristocrats had some sort of connection to the shop owners. As good a place as any to buy the stupid windowpane.
Upon entering Emilian and Andre were enthusiastically greeted by a curly haired, mustachioed man.
"Good morning, gentlemen! How can I help you today?" The middle-aged man was smiling, but his eyes seemed to plead with them—desperately—to buy something."
Emilian handed him the slip of paper. "I'm working for a man who needs a new windowpane. These are the measurements. We'd like to have the glass as soon as possible."
"Well, you've come to the right place!" the man said brightly. "I'll just speak with my colleague over there," he pointed to another mustachioed man across the store, with meticulously styled hair and large dark eyes that gave him the appearance of being constantly alarmed. "We'll have it ready for you very soon, I assure you!" He chuckled unnecessarily and went with the other man, who turned and disappeared into one of the back rooms.
"You can pick up the windowpane tomorrow afternoon," the curly haired man told them.
"Then we'll be paying you tomorrow afternoon," Andre grumbled. "No sense in sending me down here anyway." He massaged his temples, wincing.
"Thank you, monsieur," Emilian said. At least he could pretend to be polite. "I've done some work for the Comte de Bellamy and the Vicomte de Chagny, and they spoke favorably of you. I'm sure your shop will do a fine job."
Emilian noticed the curly haired man's eyes darken, and his smile disappeared for a moment at the mention of the Vicomte's name. How did the two men know each other? He wondered. Perhaps this man is another affected by the evil of the Devil's Child. It might explain his association with the Vicomte de Chagny.
The man recovered himself. "Well, we will certainly do our best, monsieur."
"Thank you." Emilian turned and left, with Andre following him, muttering angrily to himself. The gypsy man walked beside him in silence, but his constant grumbling, sighing, and complaining began to annoy him. Finally he asked, "Are you related to the clergyman?"
Andre looked at him in irritation. "Yes. I'm staying with him now; he's my half-brother. Why do you care?"
Emilian shrugged. "I don't. I'm just trying to have a polite conversation."
"Do I look like the kind of man who has polite conversations?" Andre laughed darkly.
Emilian laughed too, shaking his head. "No…I suppose I don't either. But, anything is better than listening to you moaning and complaining. You're not the only one to ever have a hangover," he said knowingly.
"It's not a hangover…this time. I'm trying to stop drinking and it's not agreeing with me."
"Then why stop?" Emilian asked. "I enjoy a drink as much as any other man. I wouldn't dream of giving it up."
"It's for my daughter," Andre said with a sigh. "I want her to get to know me again, to stop being afraid of me. She hasn't seen me sober in years. I've been terrible to her."
Emilian gave him a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry to hear that. Is your daughter living with you and the clergyman as well?"
"Yes, she is," Andre said. "Or at least I think she is, unless she's decided to extend her visit to our old hometown. That wouldn't surprise me if she wanted to stay there, away from me. She can't stand the sight of me." Suddenly he scowled. "Why am I even telling you this?"
"I'm just a friendly ear, monsieur," Emilian said. "I'm not judging you because of what you're telling me. We all have our vices."
"Not my family, they don't," Andre growled. "A bunch of perfect do-gooders, that lot is. My daughter included."
By then they'd reached Sacree Boulevard and the house. After telling Raimond the window would be ready the next day, Andre went inside while Emilian got to work raking leaves off the grass and the sidewalk by the church. Nothing could erase his grin as he worked. He'd already gotten useful information from the girl's family, and it was only the afternoon of the first day! In no time he would find her and the Devil's Child. He would be the hero who put an end to the monster's reign of terror, not an aristocrat like the Comte de Bellamy, surrounded by wealth and power, consumed with anger at the one thing in his life that hadn't gone right. Emilian's life had never been easy, but the Devil's Child had cost his family and friends everything. Thanks to him, their business had collapsed, and ever since then he had struggled to have food to eat and clothes on his back. His uncle had died, as well as other people he'd loved, and those that survived had parted ways. The Comte thought he was angry with the Devil's Child, thought he deserved revenge upon him.
The Comte does not know what true anger is. It is all I have known since I was a child. This anger is a terrible thing, but soon I will be rid of it. Soon I will find the Devil's Child, and I will finish this, once and for all.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
When Erik woke, he was alone.
He started to panic. She's gone. She left! Where is she? He struggled to sit up and tried to drag himself out of bed.
"Stop right there!" came a stern voice.
Erik froze immediately as Madame Giry rushed toward him. "Where's…Alana?" he managed to say.
"She's bathing," Antoinette answered, easing Erik back into bed. "May I take this opportunity to remind you how brilliant you are? Your water filtration system is awe-inspiring. You should have abandoned the Opera Ghost business and been a full-time inventor."
Erik would have laughed, but his body was too sore for that. "Look at me, Giry. There was nothing I could have been." Since he had known her, Antoinette had always tried to get Erik to share his inventions, his designs, and his music with the world. If she had been cursed like he was, with a hideous face and the hatred of the whole human race, she would not have made such suggestions. He sighed heavily and lay back down, reaching up to touch the bandages on his face. "What is to become of me now, I wonder…"
Madame Giry turned at the sound of footsteps echoing in the cave. Alana was coming over to them, shivering and holding the warm robes she wore tightly around herself.
"The water…was…s-so, c-cold!" Her teeth were chattering as she sat down, still shivering, beside Antoinette.
The other woman nodded sympathetically. "Yes, Monsieur Erik has not yet invented a water heating system. But once he gets well, perhaps he can begin on that. He'll certainly have time on his hands now that he's back home again."
Home. Is this home? He wondered. He didn't even know if he wanted to stay here or not. If the world thought he was dead, then he should no longer have to worry so much about being discovered by the law, or by reward money-hungry citizens. Then again, it would be impossible for him to fit in as a part of the outside world. Perhaps it would be best to remain underground forever, far away from the frightened and disgusted glances of others. Erik shook the unpleasant thoughts from his mind. "Have you had anything to eat or drink, Alana?" He asked hoarsely.
"Yes I have. Madame Giry brought me something from that café. It was delicious!"
"You need to eat and drink as well." Antoinette rose and turned to go.
"No, please…" Erik begged. "If you force food down my throat I'll only feel worse."
Madame Giry returned to his side and placed a hand on the exposed side of his forehead. She frowned. "You're burning up."
Alana's eyes widened. "Will he be all right?"
Antoinette looked at her, then back at Erik. "I believe so. If he gets enough rest. I'm going to fetch you some water now, and you're going to drink it when I bring it to you. If I have to watch you drink it, I will."
Erik watched her leaving, then turned to Alana. "I apologize for the cold water," he said, trying and failing not to slur his speech. He felt cold like Alana, but he also felt as if his entire body was on fire. "Besides that…how do you like it here?"
Her smile made him feel stronger. "I love it here." She looked around the room, her eyes shining. "I can't believe how beautiful you made this place."
Erik cringed inwardly. Many things here were his own creation, but many others had been stolen or acquired through other ill means. "I'm glad you like it…but I have to ask you…how long to do plan to stay?"
Alana shrugged. "I'm not sure. I would like to stay with you until you get better."
Madame Giry had returned to the room. "You are welcome here of course, mademoiselle. Here." She handed Alana the glass of water she carried. "He may listen to you better than he would me."
The other woman left the room again, and Alana held the water out to Erik. Without a word, he took it obediently and slowly emptied the glass. When he'd finished, she set it aside, stopping to look around again. Another smile crossed her lips. "I wish I could stay here forever…this room is so beautiful. And the main room! All the light, and the art, and all the different musical instruments! I don't even recognize some of them!"
Erik managed a small smile. "I would tell you about them, and play them for you, if Antoinette would let me out of bed."
"Oh, that's all right, Erik. Stay here and rest for now." Her eyes sparkled, an idea forming in her mind. "Maybe, if you rest for a long enough time, I'll bring you something that you can play right here."
"Very well." Erik sighed. "It has been too long since I played music. Or sang." He turned to Alana. "Would you sing for me?"
Her cheeks flushed pink, and she smiled at the floor.
Still looking down, she took a breath and began to sing a song he recognized right away.
Before today, there was only pain
All I've ever known is night
But now I see, when you're with me
All I know is light.
No more hate, despair, or fear
It all fades when you are near…
Suddenly Alana broke off, and hid her face in her hands.
Confused, Erik sat up quickly, making his head spin. "What's wrong?" Why is she sad?
Alana didn't move, didn't say anything. She just sat there, frozen.
Erik's heart started to race. Why won't she talk to me? "What is it?"
Finally she raised her head. Her eyes were full of tears. "I can't hold it in anymore. I can't act like nothing is wrong…"
"Please, Alana. Tell me what's wrong."
She took a shaky, gasping breath. "It's what Damien said," she blurted out. "You told me what he said was true…"
Erik frowned. Oh, no. He'd hoped Alana would forget, but now he supposed that was unreasonable. His insides burned with both fever and shame. "It is true," he whispered.
"How?" A tear ran down her pale cheek. "How can it be true? I know you…how could you do such…terrible things?"
He hung his head. He could not deny his actions; he could not excuse them. I hate myself. "I don't know," he said dumbly.
"The story you told me…about how you hurt your face while you were a soldier. That was a lie." He could feel the pain he had caused her—it radiated out from her and pierced his own heart. "I thought I loved you…but I don't know you at all."
She thought she loved me. Does that mean she doesn't anymore? His entire world was collapsing around him; he felt like he was sinking into an ever deepening hole. "I'm sorry, Alana. I'm so sorry." He knew there was nothing he could say that would make it better.
Alana choked back a sob. "Tell me," she pleaded. "Tell me who you really are. Everything that's happened to you…why you did what you did. Why you lied to me…so much." She wiped her eyes, but a fresh flood of tears coursed down her cheeks. "What's your story, Erik? Tell me."
Erik let out a long, deep sigh, closing his eyes and burying his face in his hands. "I had hoped I could go through life and never have to tell you the truth. But I was a fool." He met her eyes. "I know now…the past is over. I do love you, Alana. I swear it…and that's why I have to tell you the truth about me. I can't lie to you anymore."
Though his heart was about to break, he finally began to tell his tale. He told Alana the story of his life—every major event that had ever occurred in his life. He confessed every single horrible thing he'd done—at least he thought he covered it all. He told her of his shame, his sorrow, his rage, his obsession, his power, his fear…and his love. And when at last he had finished his story—the true story, this time—he looked over at the girl he'd grown to care so much about.
Alana gazed straight ahead, staring at nothing. She had stopped crying, though her cheeks were still stained with tears. She looked completely and utterly numb, not moving a muscle. At last, she looked up and met his gaze, her expression unreadable.
Erik didn't know what to say to her now, so he just stared back at her, his chest aching terribly. His heart broke more and more with every passing moment. "I…" he choked. "…I would understand…if you didn't want to see me again. If you can't forgive me."
Another, single tear ran down Alana's face.
"Madame Giry and Meg can take you home if you want to leave," he forced himself to say. Alana still stared at him, with the saddest eyes he'd ever seen. "Well? Don't you want to leave?