I do not own the characters. They are from various versions of The Phantom of the Opera.
Hello, all! It's been awhile, hasn't it? Well, this is actually my latest, finished project, another full length phantom novel! This story is dedicated to every single one of you who asked and pleaded for something long. I wanted to give you guys something that you would enjoy and something to thank you for always being so appreciative. I can't tell you how much you all mean to me. Thank you! This story is my own gratitude back.
And for those of you who have been wondering and asking, my published novel is still scheduled to be released August 26th. I am hoping to set up a website in the next few weeks, and when I do, I will let you know and add a link somewhere.
Anyway, this is a love story. I hope you enjoy it!
SUMMARY: To find the true man beneath the mask, Christine must unravel the Opera Ghost from every role he chooses to play and show him what it really means to love.
"The Opera Ghost Unraveled"
Twilight, and the world glowed in pinks and violets as shadows elongated their sinewy fingers until they swallowed any brightness that lingered behind. Christine gave no thought to the dark or the watching shadows. Not a single one could dim the smile upon her lips. As she entered an iron gate that resounded in an annoyed whine after her, she contemplated that this was the first time she'd been able to enter such a sacred place with lightness in her heart. Typically, there were tears and a hollow pain in her chest that dully ached with every step between marked graves and headstones, but this time nothing could steal her elation.
Crickets chirped an early summer song, and she paid close attention to their pitch and timbre. For the first time, everything around her seemed like music, from the distant coo of an owl in an unnoticed tree to the rustle of her footsteps. A song when it all came together, a song to capture this moment in time. Her whole life was music! Every glorious detail, and how she adored that her ears had finally been opened to hear its sweet strains!
Her laughter filtered above in its own counterpoint as she scampered between more headstones, seeking one in particular. She halted before its permanent marking and stared at the letters carved into its stone, letters that came together to form words that tried to pull at her light heart. And yet even reminiscence could not darken her spirit as she quickly knelt on the chilled ground before the grave of her beloved father. Was it wrong that she felt no urge to cry when tears would usually be half of the words spoken at this spot? But she had no need to mourn what extended beyond death and its limits. Yes, her father was gone; she was not foolish enough to believe the dead still walked the earth, but his soul had proven to exceed its eternal rest and bless her one last time.
"Oh, Papa," she softly bid as she touched her palm to solid stone. "Thank you. You sent him to me, just as you promised. I never doubted that you would, but it's hard to hold to dreams in a cynical world. I was so alone and lost. But you saw me. My darkest moments without a path as my own, and you gave me an angel to inspire my heart once again."
Merely the word brightened her glow until it beamed like sunlight in her eyes. Angel…, and hers was everything she had ever hoped to have as her own.
"You would be so proud of me, Papa," she continued, forcing away delightful echoes of an ethereal voice in her ear. It was just too easy and preferred to fall into her mind and daydream that voice into corporeal existence. "The Angel of Music is teaching me. He says that I have an extraordinary talent, and…," she lowered her voice as if she spoke a secret, "Papa, he says I shall be the prima donna. More than once now, he has said such a thing. He truly believes it and insists I must as well. It's as if he knew my every dream and is bringing them to life for me."
Her excitement laced every word, and as her eager eyes glanced up at appearing stars, it seemed like they were within her reach, like any dream she could ever have would be hers, given to her by her devoted angel and his adored presence.
"The Angel of Music," she breathed to herself, eyes still on twinkling stars. "It must be wrong to carry such affection for a holy being. It must be," she asserted. "My head keeps telling me not to love him, that it can never be and I will only destroy my heart, but…. He is everything to me. I barely survive the day until I am once again in his presence. Just a word spoken from his beautiful voice, and my knees shake. How ridiculous a thing! To tremble at a mere hello, but just to know that he's there and speaking a greeting to me, as if I deserve such brilliance, it overwhelms me."
Her smile only then dropped its corners. "…And yet I realize that my heart must eventually be broken in two. He's an angel. I can't see him, can't touch him even if I long for those very things. To know he exists and hear his voice must be enough, but my heart selfishly yearns for more. It must be a sin!" she decided again. "I have tarnished the innocent beauty of his existence in my life, but…I love him."
With such a heavy admission, her eyes lowered to earth and headstones as impeding dark made them little more than silhouettes. "Papa, …you didn't want me to be alone, so you sent the angel, and it is ungrateful of me to want more. But…can you ask God to make my angel real? A man with a heart and a soul to love me in return. He speaks of the music, and it would seem to be all that matters to him, but I've caught longing in his voice and words an angel must not indulge or feel. If he were a man, he could love me without restriction and tragedy at our end."
She suddenly shook her head and insisted, "I know I'm asking for too much, but…I'm terrified that someday, he'll leave me and return to heaven. An angel can't stay forever, but a man…. If he were real and tangible, we could be together always. How selfish I must seem! You sent me the Angel of Music as you promised, and I had to fall in love with him! But…my heart knows where it belongs. It yearns to be only his forever."
Her voice broke off, and yet her smile slowly returned as she rose with one last touch to the name on a grave. "I must go. It's getting dark, but…I know I have an angel to watch over me, and I'm not afraid. No, I say shadows come near if it means he will swoop down from heaven to protect me." Suddenly laughing aloud, she decided, "I am a fool indeed! I must be to fantasize such a fate! But I see it in my mind's eye: an angel with brilliant white wings, the most beautiful creature ever to exist flying from heaven and taking me away from this world…. And if you were here to hear such a thing, Papa, you would call me melodramatic and tell me how wonderful my talent at exaggeration will translate to the stage. You always said the most overdone people make the most believable actors. Well, the stage is my destiny. You were right, and I love you for it."
Pausing one final breath, Christine dared to bend and set a solitary kiss to the top of the cold tombstone as if it were a daughter's duty. "Goodnight, Papa, and thank you…for not forgetting me."
And there were the tears she thought gone, gathering in the corners of her eyes despite her smile. But to realize that not even death could sever her father's love was humbling. She hardly felt she deserved the gift her father had sent. An angel…. It had to be wrong to wish for more. But fantasy held no boundaries, and it encompassed her now in its pictures, creating visions of a beautiful, white-winged man.
Giggling at her own ridiculousness, Christine ran for the cemetery gate, her cloak billowing behind her like its own set of matching wings. Throwing her arms out, she embraced the night and its transcendental power of illusion as if only in shadows could dreams be real. The night, its music, the promises it held, and with hasty steps, she hurried to savour every one and wish on those spying stars for a hundred more.
The instant the iron gate whined its close behind her, one of the shadows watching shifted its shape, transforming from a seeming part of an elm tree's base into the distinct form of a human being. He chose to be unseen, spying like the stars always from the background, typically only touching lives if violence and consequences were involved. But…this was the one life he touched with only tenderness and a certain reverence for her very existence, as humbled by her presence as she was by an angel's. He was so careful in every interaction with her, making music the most important thing when he felt too awkward and terrified to speak about much else. Music, but music was his passion, and it seemed a fitting disguise to assume the role of her yearned for Angel of Music, as if it were a vacant spot waiting for him to fill it. And now…she said she loved him.
No, sense argued. She didn't love Erik, the flawed and corporeal man; she didn't even know he existed. She loved the angel he'd created for her, the intangible, bodiless voice. She would never be able to fathom that her heaven-sent guardian was really a flesh and bone man, watching her, loving her, lusting after her from behind the mirror of her dressing room. That was a sin far greater than loving an angel could be. Loving an angel…, loving a monster was more accurate. The reality dulled every vivid hope taking root in Erik's heart. Her innocent, little fantasies showed her a beautiful angel; she could never accept the true horror of the creature she had allowed into her life. Such a nightmare was beyond the limits of her imagination. Her angel love was a disfigured murderer….
Silent as the graves surrounding, Erik followed her trail, always keeping beyond her sight. No analogy needed to exist for the plain fact that she did have a guardian angel ready to rush to her aid if necessary. He would never allow any harm to come to her. He might be the furthest thing from beautiful, white-winged angel in existence, but he would protect her like one. He already felt so sure that she was his to guard and cherish. His…, it should be impossible and improbable. She had asked for a transformation into a living, breathing man; would she be able to accept a flawed carcass over the perfection in her mind?
The question would not quit haunting him, not as he saw her safely home, not as he kept a silent vigil outside her apartment, not even after he gave up his post and wearily trudged through the abandoned, nighttime streets of Paris. She wanted her angel as a man to love her. He could give that to her, but at what cost to both their hearts? Weeks of lies and fabricating a heavenly existence, and when reality meant shattering her dreams, it left him hesitant. If he did this, he would be thrusting her out of her childhood; he would be stealing naïveté and trust, and he might lose her in his hope to win her.
Without a decision as his own, Erik slipped back into the darkness that led belowground and out of sight. Alone, secluded, separated from life, he'd accepted that fate long ago. Why then with one glimpse of an innocent girl with blue eyes that pierced into his soul did he suddenly want so much more? Why was the mere idea of ending contact and leaving her to her life inconsiderable? Such a path held nothing but cold emptiness in its details. To never see her beautiful face again, never hear her sweet voice sing so brilliantly or call him 'ange' as if he could be suited for the title, to never hold the hope of appealing to her as a real man and a life with her that could be his if she were willing…. No, no, he couldn't possibly. It was the equivalent of ending existence and never breathing again. She was his future. Amidst every fear in between was that one certainty, and if he were brave enough to seek her heart, then he might have his every dream spread before him.
With a full head, Erik entered his underground home, already scheming how he could weave himself into her reality without destroying it to pieces.
Disappointment was a common emotion for a tortured life. Erik was victim to its bitter sting over and over again from days of childhood. No, always no, always raising hopes to have them shatter in every detail of his tragic existence. Attempts to be normal, to fit into a world that only ever denied him, all hopeless and pointless and never with an ending that did not involve violence and regret. So the world denied him, and he took to living on its outskirts. Belowground, buried like the corpse they'd called him. And disappointment did not touch one who didn't hope. Perhaps it would have been merciful never to know hope again. But…hope came with big blue eyes and dark curls, with sweet porcelain features and the glorious curves of an artist's creation.
Christine…. She had changed every detail of his world in his first glimpse of her. For the first time in Erik's existence, he was resigned not to settle with disappointment as a finale. No, he would fight for her, no matter what it took, until every bad emotion and heartbreak must be snuffed out of existence and turned into bliss.
Lingering behind her dressing room mirror, Erik waited impatiently for her to return from rehearsal. How many hours had he spent in this place? Pining for her presence when she was onstage, longing for her even when she stood so unwittingly before him. Was he meant to have only yearning, and was it to be enough to tide over a passionate soul? Love had seemed inconsequential when it was only a word to a blind heart, but now that he understood its possession, he had rewritten his world in hopes of capturing it.
And yet he watched through mirrors. Huffing his discontent, Erik stared into the world on the opposite side. This dressing room had been an unused storage closet until he had manipulated his wishes out of the managers. As the omnipotent Opera Ghost, he had quietly had the room renovated and made ready at the same time that he had had Christine pulled out of a gaggle of ballerinas and given small, insignificant roles. Nothing too auspicious…yet. This was only the start. Soon enough, he had great plans for her to be the headlining prima donna. But for now he settled with getting her heard, building her confidence, and putting her in a place where he had redesigned a full-length mirror to a transparent boundary between their worlds. Since its construction, he had not dared to set foot through its threshold. That was all about to change.
Like a fantasy that betrayed reality's grip, the door on the other side of his protective glass opened, and his beautiful muse glided inside, closing out the world and as eager for his presence as he was for hers. Of course, to her, he was a voice, intangible, never a threat if hands and faces were only imagined. She could never know that her image made his heart skip madly against his ribcage and his hands tighten to fists with their unconscious need to touch her. Or how he suddenly ached in a way only a living, breathing man could ache, a way angels would be damned to dare.
A smile curved her pretty lips. Oh, how often had he witnessed its brilliance lately? It stole away his first impressions of a crying, broken child without father or friend. This was a light-hearted, euphoric woman before him; …this was a woman in love.
"Ange," she called the appellation that always tugged his heart. How he longed to be worthy of its title! "Are you here?"
Erik paused a long breath, racing one more ravenous stare along curves accentuated by her simple, dark blue gown. His eyes lingered on her eagerly expectant face with that ever-present light in her blue eyes before he answered, "Good evening, Christine. I trust your rehearsal went well."
At his first word, Erik watched her smile brighten until it was a beacon all its own. It touched his heart and made him press a wanting hand to the glass between them. Had he ever mattered so much to anyone?
But beyond her elation, Christine didn't comprehend his spoken words at first, amusing him with her unhidden admiration. It was so powerful as it overcame her that he once again had to push, "Rehearsal? How was your arietta in scene two?"
"Oh…." Sense suddenly seemed to appear with an abrupt return to reality. "Well enough, I suppose. I could have done better, but I was a bit flustered. La Carlotta stood in the wings staring daggers at me for the entire piece. It was distracting."
Erik did not heave the curses playing in his head. He already knew the exact cause for Christine's mediocre performance, having watched every moment hidden in his box. He rarely liked to leave her alone and carried a worry that one day she would finally break under Carlotta's poorly-concealed jealousy. Jealousy granted in cruel insults and taunting. His poor Christine had been its victim ever since the managers suddenly gave her a minor role, and Erik felt entirely responsible for what she was enduring because of it.
"As I've told you again and again," he said, his flaring temper only revealed in tense letters, "you need to put Carlotta out of your mind. There will always be a dozen more like her, ready to tear at your spirit and shred your confidence at every note. You need to believe that they don't matter. I could insist that it is only petty jealousy fueling her, but until you believe that you deserve to be on that stage, it will mean nothing to you."
She put weight in his every declaration, and he half-regretted being so blunt when she dutifully lowered her head and red-tinged cheeks with her abashment. But no. Did she not need to learn such things? It was equally for his sake.
"Christine," he breathed in gentler tones and watched her lift eyes eager to please him at every moment, "your heart is so pure, so untarnished by this cruel world. If it were up to me, I would protect it and block every atrocity from ever touching it, but…I can't be with you forever. You must learn to be strong."
They were empty words. He had no intention to leave her, but merely the threat brought his desired result as her eyes widened and she clasped desperate hands in frantic beseeching.
"Oh, please don't leave me yet, ange! I've disappointed you with my childishness. I promise to be stronger, anything. Just please don't go!"
Erik's fingertips touched the glass at the level of her cheek, wishing with whole heart that he could touch skin instead. "No, Christine, you are never a disappointment to me. You are the only one…. But you must be strong, petite, more than you've ever been. I have such plans for you, so many glorious goals I know you could surpass, but if you let the world tell you what to think and what to feel, you will crumble. …You do want to please me, Christine, don't you?"
"Of course, ange. More than anything!"
"Then tomorrow when you sing your arietta, I don't want you to consider Carlotta or the daggers in her eyes. Only consider me, Christine. My voice, my guidance. Sing for me alone, and the rest of the world will mean nothing to you. …Will you do that, petite?"
The answer was already vivid in blue eyes. "Yes, ange. Of course. I will always sing for you."
"Then let's begin."
This time was Erik's favorite, as cherished as time spent composing, more so because it was shared. It was easy to forget everything when music was the sole purpose in the room. Even the mirror doorway became no more but an ignored piece of glass, no longer acknowledged as a boundary between worlds. How could it be when it did not hinder the notes from pouring and streaming about him, lighting the darkness shading his backdrop?
And he could love her so simply in the music, love bound in a certain respect that prevented overdone compliments. Her training was his most imperative task. He never considered that Christine pushed herself and posed such a diligent work ethic for his presence alone. He'd seen her as a ballerina, practicing to exhaustion until every step was accurate and every graceful motion elegant. It was a point they had in common and something that made his adoration soar. She put all aside but a determination to learn and perfect her technique, to exceed herself.
Their role of choice was currently occupied by La Carlotta. How uneasy Christine had been when he had first presented it to her! As if she had no right even to learn it! He had insisted against her wary concerns until full tones came from her lips, until she showed exactly why she was destined for greater things. She was claiming the title of prima donna without ever realizing it and had no idea as of yet that her perfect and brilliant rendition would be the one seen on that stage. The plan was already underway, and Erik was adamant that she would be prepared.
They worked well into evening, and even then he was loath to end and lose her fixed attention and the companionship shared through notes on a page. How preferred to make the music their world and be swallowed in its wonder!
"We shall stop there," he finally found the will to say. All at once, he felt dropped back into the body of a mortal man, as if he truly had been angel when teacher, and now desire surged to overwhelm any moral notions. Desire, and his eyes suddenly ravished her, desperately memorizing for the unending time of her absence. One more vision to tease his eager mind.
"Ange?" Christine could not keep the reluctance from tainting her voice, her gaze wandering the corners of her familiar dressing room as if he would dare materialize. "Will you…?"
"Speak freely, child," he urged.
She hesitated, finding the words upon her tongue and collecting bravery before she could mutter, "Will you stay a bit longer? …I don't want to leave you just yet."
This was new, and she grew anxious when no answer to her request came. Silence. She had a growing terror that she had crossed from a considered sin by secretly loving an angel to a committed one.
"Stay," Erik breathed without sound, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. Stay, have a real conversation as he had only created in his inner ear, and the idea was so terrifying that he wasn't sure he could concede. A role! He would play a role! Erik the mortal man had never had a decent conversation with another human being, but his every other persona carried the confidence he couldn't. Angel, Opera Ghost, neither would hesitate. They would know words and exact phrases to capture her interest. And he adopted the façade as easily as ever, burying fear beneath feigned bravado.
"All right, Christine, I will not leave you yet. Shall we discuss the next piece we shall work on? I already have dozens of ideas in mind."
"No, no," she nervously insisted. "No more talk of music. Our every word is always about singing and my future, a career on the stage."
"But…that is our most important goal."
"Of course, but…will you tell me nothing of yourself, ange?" Her voice trembled to ask such a bold question.
Erik was once again shaken beneath his countenance, and he stammered distantly, "What…what would you like to know?"
Relaxing with a sigh as if she had been expecting anger or rejection instead, Christine suddenly flounced down in the center of the room, arranging her skirts about her shape. "A…a name. Have you a proper name, perhaps an appellation you were given before you became the Angel of Music? Or have you only ever been known by such a revered title?"
"Erik," he breathed before he could think better of it, but the mere idea of hearing his name spoken in the glorious timbre of her voice was too great a temptation. "My name is Erik."
"Erik," she repeated, and he shuddered down the length of his spine. Dear Lord, it was a more beautiful sound than he'd imagined! It made his name into a legato lyric as soul-stirring as the renowned librettos of the stage.
"Of course it wouldn't be appropriate for me to call you by such a name," she mused, "but…I like knowing. It almost makes you seem mortal and less like a spirit beyond my reach."
"Never beyond your reach," he was compelled to correct. "You make it sound as if I am above you, and I cannot bear to consider being so far away."
Christine could not dim a smile with his words, shying it beneath dark-fringed lashes and a pretended concentration on the wrinkles in her skirt. "And yet…you are so far away. You fly to heaven every night and leave me alone on earth. I am no angel; I cannot go with you or even be in your ethereal presence. To me, you are only a voice."
"And…that isn't enough for you?" he inquired idly, focusing on crescent-shaped lashes of half-closed eyes.
But instead of an answer, she posed, "You're the omnipotent Angel of Music. Surely you bestow the gift of your presence to other deserving mortals as well. When you are not here teaching me, …are you teaching others?"
Erik almost laughed aloud, replying with the undeniable flutter in his voice, "What an absurd question!" Jealous, …she was jealous! And he adored her at that moment.
Blue eyes flew up, roaming random spots in the ceiling as she bid, "I'm sorry. I'm being too forward! I didn't mean to upset you, ange-"
"No, no, I'm not upset. I simply find your question ridiculous. When I spend every moment watching over you, there is no time for anyone else, nor do I have the ambition to seek those who can only be disappointments. You are the only one worthy of my presence. You have so much talent."
"Talent," she softly repeated. "And you watch over me to make certain that I am meeting my potential. But…is that the only reason?" A blush tinged her cheeks, and she bit her lip as if regretting her question.
"If only it were!" he replied on an exhalation. "It should be. I should watch you with only your future in mind, but…."
An admission he wasn't sure should strike the air was on the tip of his tongue, and he denied its urging. "You should be on your way home, Christine. You need to rest."
A dutiful nod, and she reluctantly rose on shaking knees, eyes downcast as she slowly collected her cloak. Another visit by her adored angel over, and now she would have to endure the long set of hours in between until she could be back in this place. And could she dare let this conversation go so quickly? Never to be mentioned again?
Christine was a step away from the door when she paused one final instant. Hesitant, she concluded, "It's because of what you are, isn't it? If you say you care, will you be punished? Will you be tossed from heaven? It's a sin, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's a sin," Erik somberly admitted. Beyond a sin, it was a crime. An angel falling from grace for loving her; no, a man burning in hell for lying to her.
She didn't speak another word about it, but he could read her hurt. In a small voice, she said, "Goodnight, ange." And with that, she was gone.
Erik stared at the final close of a door, and every bone in his body ached to pursue, to appear as a man, take her away. But he knew the sick reality. He'd be a stranger to her, no matter the countless hours they had savoured each other's company. She would look upon a man in a mask, and she'd be afraid. And he might utter words, convince her through his voice that he was one and the same with her Angel of Music, but she'd hate him forever for his deception. He would lose every sweet smile, every anticipation, every hope. She could never understand that when she asked for more, for a mortal man, she'd be getting a monster.
It was that moment that he decided he could love her all he liked from behind a mirror's protective doorway, but nothing more. He was acquainted with the sting of disappointment; he would not teach her the same thing. Disappointment…, disappointment was returning to his world alone and knowing he was doomed to remain that way.