In fair Paris' own opera house, Garnier's angels and demons chased each other in an eternal dance while crimson velvet draped marble and gold; the temple to Euterpe reigned over by only a solitary spirit – a specter with Lucifer's own voice who could just barely be seen in the fifth box by those brave enough to look . . .
There was a voice that sang her to sleep, that loitered with her on the waking hours and whispered to her the promises of so much morepast her fingertips – if she would merely raise her own voice in response, and answer the siren's call . . .
The girl was hardly eighteen the first time he saw her (just out of the conservatory, and looking for a role in the chorus, no doubt), appearing to be just as lost as he felt as around her the river of those who knew who they were, where they were going, parted around her as if she was one of the islands in the middle of the Seine – unmovable and lost to time.
It was an accident at first – answering the girl's calls for an angel while he loitered in the shadow like the blackest of villains, and what was made to be a one time thing (giving comfort where he saw a grief and loneliness to reflect his own) was suddenly so much more as the pure tones of her voice rose and meshed with his – a perfect match, as if made by God for him, and him alone.
Ever since she was a child, she had known that she was different . . . needing music as she did like water, like food, like breath. . . without it she was an empty shell, devoid of life - a pale waif of a creature that even the ghosts had scoffed at for having no soul.
But now, she drank in the music granted her by divine provision like a woman amongst dessert sands – sure that if she took her fill she would fill the empty and aching gaps around her that still thrived throughout all these years.
"Lotte," the voice from her past was quick and light as it landed upon her ears, the handsome young man before her the same child in her memory with sand in his hair as he chased the surf with her - Raoul, her cherished childhood friend . . . and favored of her father.
"I believe that I have found myself in quite the unexpected position," Erik whispered, and Nadir narrowed his eyes at his friend (once again they met on the battlements of the Notre Dame, but this time the masked man was strangely sedate, troubled even), "perhaps you will judge harshly – but I can assure you that this started with the truest of intentions . . . and expectations."
"Where did you learn to sing like that?" was the harsh command as she finished her aria, and Christine felt her cheeks burn as she realized just how far she had came from the frightened little girl who could hardly contribute to the chorus – let alone carry the role of the leading lady.
Her expectations of an angel fell flat as she followed the man before her through her mirror – her eyes entranced and bewitched as she tangled her gaze with the mismatched one holding her; her eyes slipping to the mark of an angel in the harsh white of the mask that cut across his face, hiding his visage from her.
She raised the expectations of her art significantly, her audience touched by her song as if touched by the divine; but Christine looked away from her admiring crowd, and turned her eyes towards the heavens, seeing only stagelights and the far off shine of the chandelier like her angel's own blessing.
Dear God, but that face . . . that face . . . that voice. . . her angel's voice . . . yelling at her, anger making golden tones unbearable as the words lashed through her skin to tear right at her heart . . . at her soul, at every part of her that had been bright and innocent before, a defilement more thorough than any of the body every could be.
He wanted her to know – and told her in great detail; the story of the boy in the Gypsy camp, the young man apprenticing in Rome, the magician in Russia, and the assassin and court architect in Persia; he spared her no gory detail, his voice half mad as he held her chin in a tight grip, forcing her to stare at the disfigured whole of his face as he forced his secrets into innocent ears.
She soared and fell through every composer imaginable as they filled their silences with other character's words; she voicing her anger and her pain, and he his apologies on stolen lines, lips never to breath truths when too much of the false had been built up to tear asunder between them.
"The ghost's whore," Carlotta simpered as she walked past, her eyes harsh and her words jealous, even as Christine squared her shoulders to return a stare of her own, knowing that if Carlotta truly thought so then she wouldn't dare breathe such words where the phantom might hear.
"Ange – Erik," she corrected herself, trying to keep her voice light and natural when all she wanted to do was crawl in on herself, sure that any moment she would set his temper off once more; the mercurial spin finally too much for her to keep up with.
"Do you still not believe that this building is haunted?" Meg retorted as around them stagehands and actors ran too and fro, any and all of the opera's players cast into confusion as around them a ghostly laugh twined like miasma, daring all who had crossed him to do so once again.
He had vowed long ago that he would not take another life, but his promise seemed further and further away as he watched the boy jump in the role of knight to the damsel, his hands dancing over Christine's even as she innocently gave him the treasure of her lips – a touch forbidden to him, but offered so easily to another . . .
She buried her head against Raoul's shoulder, filled on the easy sort of affection he offered her when everything within her was lost in turmoil, suddenly so incredibly tired as she was pulled this way and that, ready to simply snap and let the pieces of her fall.
The bois de boulognewas silent so late at night, none but the two of them out as she entwined her arm through his, their breath mingling on the air with the snowflakes, the crunch of their boots and the almost companionable silence between then as sweet a sound as their thundering chords, a timbre all their own.
"My dear," the Persian man clasped her hand in his own, his jade eyes troubled, "just remember that saving his soul does not have to come at the cost of your own."
Her first two weeks spent beneath the opera house with Erik were a new version of hell as she learned to navigate his temper and her own; the days after that little better until her time above and her continued visits (for Raoul, she told herself – all for his safety, lest Erik made good on his threats) blurred the line between obligation and willingness, pain and confusion and heartache and fascination creating a sick twist of feeling deep within her.
She watched from the doorway as he lost himself to his compositions - his long musician's fingers dancing with the organ keys in a union more intimate than any of lovers, his eyes closed to the melody he heard within him as he tried to translate the epic planes of his mind into something mortal ears could just barely comprehend . . . and she could only stand in the shadows, and appreciate the rise of his soul from afar, for to come any closer would be to surely loose herself completely.
"He would never hurt me," Christine hissed when Raoul asked, her voice breaking on a high pitch at the ferocity of her own insistence (surprising herself as well as him), for even when he had been at his worst (the night she had unmasked him), he had not laid a hand on her to inflict the pain she had so obviously lashed upon him.
"Goodnight my dear, and may angels watch over you," her fiancée kissed her goodnight, having no idea how ironic his words truly were.
The orchestra played with a desperate rhythm, held in thrall to the ghost's hold as even the audience tensed upon hearing Hell's own opera played before them – shadows darting in the rafters and an inhumanly beautiful melody lighting up the wings until it was unsure what was played on stage was fiction or fact.
"Could you truly blame me – you, who know his sins better than any – could you blame me for looking to a life of simple comfort and easy affections when to take Erik's hand would be to constantly battle his unfailing temper and his always lingering madness . . . my god, but the hate he holds for mankind in his eyes – how long before that would take hold of and strangle everything he loves about me?"
She clutched her crucifix in her small hands as she prayed – desperate for God to erase the blight upon her soul, praying that he would return the innocent girl she was – the girl who was fascinated with angels, before her heart fell in thrall to a man who had spilled the blood of so many . . .
"You feel this," was the whispered voice at her ear, a gloriously beautiful sound that ignited her veins and turned her heartbeat into a quick percussion (perfectly in time with his own),"oh, the average man may feel the rise of a crescendo, or tremble at the base – but you, youfeel music in your veins, it is your soul, Christine . . . almost as it is mine."
"It's so romantic, Christine," Meg breathed fondly as they returned to Christine's flat to find the whole of the little home covered in rose petals, crimson and fragrant as they shone like embers in the light of the dying day.
"And so the Prince Prospero locked he and all of his courtiers in his enchanted ballroom, each and every one spinning in time to the clock that kept beat to the demon waltz; knowing his end was near as Red Death stalked through the impenetrable fortress, crimson trailing in his wake," Poe's words were harshly beautiful on the golden tones of Erik's voice, swirling with the drunken rush of masked dancers around her, and punctuated by his hands at her waist, drawing her into the dance with a possessive spin until she was sure the waltz would never end.
"No, this – this is as much a lie as the angel was," she shouted, mask in her hand and fairly shaking as her rage overflowed her horror, filling her until she burst – screaming and seething and lost to the thick flood of feelingwithin her; higher than any crest of a crescendo he had ever cursed her ears with.
"Obviously, this whole nonsense of singing will have to cease," Comte Philippe de Chagny fairly sneered as he looked his brother's intended up and down, Raoul's unthinkingly cheerful 'without a doubt'a harsh and staccato thing upon her ears as she clenched her hands tightly together in her lap, forcing herself to remain smiling.
"They will kill everything that lets you thrive, Christine – your music is your soul, and they will crush it more unfeelingly than you have ever accused me of . . . you foolish girl – but cast me away, but never the gift that your God felt moved to grace you with."
She felt as if she were a tiny ship, tossed about the violent waves at sea, even as the wind tried to unfurl her sails once more – but, oh, how could the benevolent wind understand how glorious it could be to drown?
He did not look as threatening when he was at rest – the handsome half of his unmarred face was younger in repose, and the elegant lines of his form had lost their tautness (as if permanently ready to ward off a blow) – and a part of her was bold enough to reach out to hesitantly touch his mask, feeling the mark of his pain as her own.
The porcelain was heavy and chilled, his skin even colder still – like a corpse, the child in her mind still moaned in fright – and for a moment she wondered if he could feel the heat from her hands as she passed her touch over him, as gentle as any song.
"Your voice is very pretty, Christine – but that same quality that lets you hit those notes also hurts my ears when you are standing right next to me," Raoul had an earnest grin on his face, but she felt her own smile slowly fall as she read the empty appreciation he held – and always would – for her life's greatest joy.
Under her careful hands as she tied her child's cravat (a young man now at sixteen, and quite the Adonis), Gustave looked up at her with annoyed eyes (so much like his father's that she had to fight the pang in her chest), "I don't know why we have to try to hard – sometimes I wish that I was born horribly ugly, at least then they'd hear my music instead of just seeing me."
"You said to the boy yourself that you did not have the strength to leave – so I shall take the choice from you," Erik muttered, his resplendent voice half mad as he flung the wedding dress at her, much to her horror.
Up above, she could call the connection she shared with him unholy, but to deny it in thismoment, (where the music thundered around them, and his voice meshed with hers as if created for and by her alone) would be a sin – for this was her completion and her half, her whole found in his passions, in his music, his glory hers to share and make soar as an unearthly beautiful swell of sound rose between them, heaven sent in the depths of the earth. - even his disfigurement marked him for her and her alone, made by God and saved from the attention of any other.
"I don't love him," Christine repeated, her voice trembling as an awful shock of feeling spiked in her, and as she always did, she pushed the feeling away for what was good – what was right, knowing that the truth of her emotions was becoming harder and harder to convince him of.
She returned to the house on the lake a week before her wedding to find the home ravished and defiled – sheets of music (his life's work) torn to pieces, and the grand organ (the one he had built by hand, angels and demons and roses etched into the brass pipes) smashed, her own room had been looted, and dear God, but there was blood on the floor . . . and finally, she let herself weep her requiem to the ghosts remaining, completely defeated.
The cast cared little for the ghost's opera they were to preform, she knew – its genius was ahead of its time, and while it was torn asunder by those who should have nurtured it, Christine felt herself amazed and humbled upon reading the notes . . . how . . . how had he had been able to write something so incredibly breathtaking, even as he hated her so completely for her betrayal?
Her angelic maestro, her dark friend was gone in that moment – Erikwas only there, everything dark within him boiling to the surface (like an animal finally backed into a corner) as he demanded her hand in exchange for Raoul's life . . . and oh dear god, but she would never forget the pain in his eyes as she seethed at his hate – for in that moment, hate she did as well as he.
"America?" Erik repeated incredulously when Nadir asked him what he would do next, the notes he struck onto the broken piano discordant as he seethed, "now whatever would I go and do that for?"
The first kiss was to save a life, an agreement sealed as if by a pomegranate's stain; the second kiss was for her, and her alone – exorcising his demons while giving fuel for her own to thrive anew – for he kissed her almost desperately, with the tenderness of an innocent, and the passion of a man who understood that she was his completely in that moment . . . should he choose not to finally set her free.
Thiswas what it was to love completely; this was what it was to hold another life before your own – this was what it was to be the man whom she had always wanted him to be . . . and in the years to come he would honor her decision, the broken man put back together for a stronger copy – one worthy of her (built up where she had finally torn herself down).
He had won, but he was far from the victor, Raoul knew – for the broken girl had had left with was slowly revealing a young woman forged from the blackest fires – he did not recognize the Christine with him as they sailed away, and something insidious whispered that while she was his, she had never been further away from him.
As much as he would always haunt her – he was more; he was the spirit that had infused the great building he had crafted with its elegance and mystery, and he was the rise and the passion to her own voice – the phantom that lurked in her soul possessed her as well as it had haunted the opera house - but now, the loss of him was one which the world would only ever understand in passing – for with the death of the ghost, so died the spirit of the great palais garnier – never to be the same again.