OK, here is the first chapter of the longer story I promised. This one is specifically dedicated to the many people who have asked again (and again! ) for a story that includes Erik and Christine as parents. But this isn't just a baby story; it's a little something for everyone! I hope you will all enjoy it!
SUMMARY: Erik holds Christine to her choice and seeks a new life together.
"Where Nightmares End and Dreams Begin"
I have never been one to trust my intuition. Intuition once told me to be wary when a voice began to speak to me and called itself an angel, and I shut it out and chose the fantasy and lies instead. Intuition once said that chasing behind Raoul was only going to end in disaster; again, I deafened my ears and made the Vicomte my everlasting hero. Intuition insisted that there was more to a masked man than the sins on his soul, and if I but looked and truly saw, I could love. I didn't want to look, and so I closed that premonition out as well and denied love could exist at every turn.
Love a disfigured murderer? Ludicrous! Never mind that my heart had its own agenda and fell without my permission. It loved behind every wall I tried so desperately to construct, and intuition was its ally in every whispered foreboding. Intuition knew that last night in the catacombs of the opera that Erik would go to extreme lengths for his own version of love, that he would choose a route that resembled insanity in his frustration to get me to admit the truths behind the walls. Love… I'd conceded to a kiss, but love? I chose sense over the heart's logic and never spoke the word.
Intuition was a persistent infection, and when one denied succumbing and believing in it, one made mistakes and had guilt as penance. That final night and one kiss, and I was determined never to shut out its guidance again. It was the sensation of intuition that made me certain that our story was not over. As Raoul and I returned to the de Chagny mansion, exhausted and with suspended hearts, intuition said it would be the last time I saw him…
"It will all be better in the morning," Raoul assured, clasping my shoulders between his palms and gazing at me with those sweet blue eyes. The boy I'd spent childhood enamored with, willing to do anything to gain his affections in return, and now I had them and wasn't sure they were everything my child self had once envisioned.
Raoul looked fatigued, more than body despite the leftover indents from a noose about his flawless throat. Those were marks that would heal and fade as if the entire evening were only a nightmare. But scars within, …those were permanent, and the three of us who played the main roles in the night's drama would carry them forever. Raoul loved me; I did not doubt that, and I did not question that he would remain ever-devoted even after I'd kissed another man in front of him. But the scars would exist in our every shared stare, every kiss, every intimacy. He'd never forget, and neither would I.
"Christine," he said gently as if I were porcelain a touch away from shattering. "I love you."
An echo of those words resonated in my inner ear. Another voice, an angel's voice, confiding their letters like a deep, dark secret, and I carried the weight of their guilt on my shoulders. Love… Why did either of them love me? I was unworthy to have two hearts committed to me when mine was too weak to feel its own beat.
I did not reply, holding words upon a tied tongue, sure that if I spoke, all I would be able to say was 'farewell'. Intuition would answer for me, intuition I was no longer silencing. Intuition knew without doubt that this would be the last time I looked into those kind eyes and saw the reflection of what I wanted to want. It was safe in those blue depths, warm and peaceful, the perfect place to lay my head down and finally rest, …but it wasn't meant to be mine.
Tears I could not contain rimmed my eyes. He'd attribute them to the traumas we'd barely survived; I knew better. I didn't cry for the scars we now bore together; I cried for the new ones I would inflict and be unable to assuage. I was going to break poor Raoul's heart, and I could do nothing to stop a fate in motion. I'd hurt him, destroy his pure love, and grant more scars, and I hated the guilt that already arrived. Why was I so good at causing pain?
"Oh, Christine," Raoul crooned, and one smooth, elegant hand brushed tears from my cheek. Without a thought, I clasped that hand and held it in place against my face, wishing I could engrave memory into skin.
"Christine…" He attempted a fond smile, but perhaps he suspected something as well, something askew in our set plan of life because I saw the quickest shadow before he drew away and tenderly bid, "Go on up to bed, and in the morning, all will be right again. I promise it."
I nodded, dull and empty, my fingers missing the feel of his skin and curling instead in the crumpled material of a tarnished wedding gown. Erik's wedding gown, not Raoul's, and once again, intuition whispered that fact meant something.
One last look was given to my childhood dream. Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, beneath the title was a good man with a good heart that I prayed he'd give to someone else someday. Dear God, let him forget me; let him love again and be loved in return. He deserved it, especially after all I had put him through. He deserved love.
As I turned away and headed up the staircase, I felt alone and independent for the first time. I knew such uplifted strength would be short-lived, but for that brief abeyance, I had no one tied at my side. I straightened my shoulders and desperately tried to believe this could be me. Even when Erik came, as I was doubtless he would, this could be the girl he found. I didn't have to falter beneath any man ever again… I wanted this courage, but I was uncertain I could carry it. No, …once a mismatched gaze had me in its color scheme again, I felt sure I would crack and fall back to docile and meek. That girl couldn't love. She was too weak to love; if I wanted to love, I had to learn to be strong. Strength would be an asset for what was to come.
The wedding gown became a tattered pile of material on the carpet of my bedroom. I didn't bother to conceal it from maids who would eventually pry and gossip. Why bother? Those who worked at the de Chagny mansion weren't fond of me, calling me a usurper into the role of aristocrat. As far as they were concerned, I was below their stature, and an unexplained wedding gown, torn and smudged from a night of chasing ghosts in the dark was the least of my concerns.
As I prepared a hot bath, desperate to rid myself of the residual remnants I felt yet never saw upon my skin, I paused before the vanity mirror and stared in the haze of apathy.
There were marks. Bruises forming on my upper arms, ugly, purple, and stark against the pale pallor of my flesh. Bruises… And as I touched one with a tentative finger, I sought to recall their inception, fighting through layers of memories that were gelled in shock and numbness. How had this night gone so wrong…?
Erik singing his duet with me on the stage, my hand stealing his mask and revealing him to an audience full of leering stares, being carried off back to the depths, Raoul my rescuer hanging by a noose, an ultimatum laid at my feet, a kiss that surprised every person who witnessed it. As the images flashed in fragmented shards, tears filled my eyes again. I scolded their arrival because I was unsure why I was crying. Their shimmering paths along my cheeks stung and reminded me that I could feign strength as I liked, but I was still a coward.
Bruises… Erik had gripped me ferociously enough to leave bruises, and yet I did not dub them as repellent and heinous, further proof of a monster. I saw desperation in their design. He had fought to make me see reality, clutching me in his frustrated hands and penetrating my soul with his fierce stare. Bruises were the lingering consequence of denial; their presence reminded me how long I had chosen to live in a fairytale that didn't even exist. I had been the one to denounce reality at every turn. Mark me and make me remember the truth.
With a heavy heart and equally heavy thoughts, I soaked until I was pink and bruises were no longer a consideration. Then curling into my softest nightdress, I burrowed beneath blankets and prayed to sleep until the nightmare was over and the dream returned.
Perhaps God was listening…
I was so tired that my lids couldn't refrain from drooping, but one last view hinted at a shadow against my balcony's curtains, the faintest silhouette. I fell asleep certain that the dream had come to take me away. I never fought it. Why fight fate? And intuition whispered in my ear that it had been right just before sleep carried me away.
I don't remember dreaming that night, not the images floating through subconscious even though sense insisted they must have come and gone. I only remember feeling warm and safe, content in a strange way I hadn't known in months. Perhaps when one finally conceded and followed fate instead of struggling against it, the soul found its peace.
As sleep let me go and returned me to my body, I made no motion, only eyelids fluttering open to survey my surroundings and learn what my intuition already knew. I was no longer in my bedroom at the de Chagny estate, …but I wasn't in my bed in the house beneath the opera either.
Confusion creased my brow as I abruptly sat up and scanned the small quarters with my first twinge of apprehension. Wood-paneled walls on all sides, meager furnishings of the large bed, an armoire and trunk, and a table and chairs. Nothing recognized, nothing to give comfort, and my unease only intensified to feel a gentle sway and lack of stability beneath me. A boat?
"Good. You're finally awake."
A voice I expected and knew no surprise to hear. It was the one familiar detail in a sea of foreign novelty. I clung to it with urgency as I darted my fearful gaze to Erik's observing presence. He was a shadow crouched in the far corner, and I wondered how long he'd dallied in that spot watching me sleep. It was disconcerting, considering the table and chairs were feet away. He chose shadows and lurking like a phantom; I should have anticipated as much.
Unfurling from the corner's alcove as if blooming from the darkness, he transformed from silhouette to Opera Ghost in his masked glory. Formal attire; was he ever without such pristine precision from his perfectly-arranged tie to the starched lay of his collar and onward to the grace of motion in every limb and feature? He was the constant contradiction. Flawless in every detail he could control, and the opposite in the ones he couldn't as the mask taunted me and told secrets I already knew. I had never met a man so elegant and yet so damaged.
Shaking myself free of mismatched eyes that sucked me into their blue and green vortex, I stammered, "Where…where have you taken me?"
Arrogant, seemingly detached, he strode to my bedside, posture defiant and poised as he insisted, "We are on a boat, but I presumed that was obvious. …No surprise, Christine. I'd expected at least a mediocre battle of wills, but…you are relatively calm and unmoved. This is no dream, you know? This is reality."
I nodded as I continued to watch him. "I know that, Erik. I am not fool enough to confuse dream with reality, …not anymore."
He seemed intrigued by my lack of protest, and stepping about the foot of the bed with eyes that always gauged me in their spheres, he stated plainly what I'd already concluded, "I took you from the Vicomte's guarded presence, carried you off, abducted you from your innocent bed. Still no fear? …I have yet to see a single valid emotion. Or is that your new ploy? Play along and pray that will win your freedom? It won't work. We are far from the mainland and your Vicomte's loyal rescue. This time I took no chances."
Erik leaned across the foot of the bed, summing me up in his stare, but I gave away nothing. Perhaps strength could thrive if walls protected it this time. I showed no fear, no hesitation, nothing but acceptance. Erik's presence had been expected; perhaps being on the sea was unfathomed, but…one kiss had insisted our story couldn't culminate in the opera's catacombs. Erik wouldn't understand, but I knew a kiss had inspired hope in a man who had suffered his lifetime without it. Hope had kept our story from closing its cover, and hope had abducted me from the Vicomte. Hope breathed in this small room, and I couldn't fight against something so pure.
I noted Erik's frustration as he sought to decipher me and couldn't find a way within my chosen boundaries, and leaning nearer still, he set fisted hands upon the mattress, forcing us eye to eye. It always startled me how far his stare could extend, reaching beyond the limits of a mask and probing as if he sought a glimpse of my innermost soul. No one had ever looked so deep.
"What game are you playing?" he demanded with a sneer.
I refused to cower beneath his hinted temper, holding his gaze with never even a blink to break it. The omnipotent Opera Ghost, but I'd had him in my hands once before. I'd broken the epithet and found the vulnerable being beneath its shield. I knew what lay inside, and that knowledge kept me unwavering. Rage was a persona as much as phantom; it was a veneer to hide behind. Another truth learned in a kiss.
With a growl of annoyance, he gave up before I did, flipping about and stalking a fitful pace about the small quarters. "Well, let us see how you favor your new reality. We are on a voyage to America and a fresh start."
"America…?" Surprise finally granted him the satisfaction of an appearance, but I couldn't contain it. America was further than I'd anticipated.
With a smirk, he faced me again and flatly stated, "An ocean away seemed a suitable distance to escape our past. I sincerely doubt the Vicomte will pursue more than a country or two before he gives up and forgets about you. With so many eager for his affection and willing to console his broken heart, it won't take long for him to dub your replacement. He isn't the sort to mourn the loss of one woman when so many others exist. And if by some odd happenstance, he should come across us someday, I have faith that my loving wife will stand by my side."
"…Wife," I breathed the word but only to test it on my lips. Erik's intentions had been made with a wedding gown; surprise existed merely to speak the word aloud and seek to apply it to my sense of self. Wife… I was going to be Erik's wife.
"I can offer ultimatums again if I must," he pushed cruelly onward and made me forget that his description included 'loving' when love and ultimatums seemed opposites. "But I have a suspicion that if the Vicomte cannot accept defeat and seeks our destination, by the time he finds us, you as my devoted wife will be indisposed and swollen with my child. I cannot think he will still want you knowing that I have already taken liberties and laid eternal proof."
My breath caught in my lungs as reality struck cold and harsh. A husband, a child, a foreign country. It was too much to accept at one time and left me to rub aching temples and show the weakness I'd been seeking to abolish.
"Had you hoped I'd remain your pathetic, docile worshipper?" he taunted, but I heard pain beneath the mockery. Now I knew how to look for it and how to seek the truths he never wanted to display, and yet I gave him nothing to allay his hurt. "You made a choice, Christine, and I decided to hold you to it. You cannot expect to go about without consequences for your actions. You chose me, and I believed it was understood what that meant: a real marriage. I will no longer waste my time attempting to woo your heart and falling over myself to please you. It is futile when the things I cannot change are what keep you unwilling. My face, my sins. I could be your reverent slave, and such details would always stand between hearts. So I will take what you freely gave. Marriage makes you mine, undoubted and unquestioned. And the rest…well, perhaps in time, such blessings may come, and if not, it doesn't matter. Many marriages exist and thrive without love at their base. It is not a requirement."
I had a suspicion that he did not believe his own words. He wanted love; he'd settle for marriage because a kiss had given him hope. And I… Well, I had made the choice and trapped in a ship's cabin in a world of our own design, I knew I had to abide by it. There was no alternative.
"Get dressed," he suddenly snapped when I gave no reply and still would not meet his gaze. "I have arrangements made and awaiting fulfillment. The captain on this ship is licensed to perform marriage ceremonies. He is under the impression that we are eager to wed and escape on our honeymoon trip. I caution you not to speak otherwise. It is not proper for unwed individuals to inhabit a room together, and considering the rest of the crew are crude and vulgar sailors who would be more than willing for time alone with the sole female onboard, I urge your cooperation for your own welfare. It is a long journey to America, and without the protection of a legal marriage, it would not be very safe for you, my innocent, little bride."
I was tempted to ask what made it safe for a masked man, but bit my tongue and watched him leave, hearing the final click of a lock to insist trust was as unrealistic as escape. Trapped on a boat full of sailors in the middle of the ocean and about to let coercion become marriage.
With a concluding huff, I rose from the bed, testing my balance on a floor that refused to stay stable as I stumbled to the armoire. It was of little surprise that its cabinet was packed with my things from Erik's home: gowns, undergarments, accessories. Such revelations made it obvious that Erik had put this plan into motion no more than minutes after I'd abandoned him in the underground. …Or perhaps this had been his plan all along, and letting us go was not merciful so much as a need to rid us of the Vicomte's presence. I preferred to think a kiss sparked something within him, but…as he said, he was holding me to my choice. In that regard, the kiss was irrelevant.
A wedding gown was most likely still a haphazard pile at the Vicomte's mansion, so I chose the next best thing. One of the most beautiful gowns in the wardrobe, petal pink with eyelet trim. It hugged to the curves of my body as if it had been made just for me. I added a matching ribbon and tied half my curls back, smoothing their disheveled mass with fingers that would not quit their tremble. But…I was about to become a wife; trembling could not be controlled.
With nothing to do but wait, I paced anxiously along the wooden floor, learning with every step how to bear the undulation of unceasing waves. Weeks upon the sea… I had minimal experience on sailing vessels, barely recalling the journey I'd taken as a child from Sweden. I quickly realized I didn't like the feeling of being gently rocked back and forth. It didn't become less noticeable as I'd hoped, and though I grew accustomed to walking a straight path without being jostled, I was afraid that if I sat down, I'd forget and have to learn balance all over again. As such, I kept on my feet.
Minutes dragged by, and I felt each second crawling its way across my skin as my nerves twisted in my stomach. I couldn't help it. About to become a bride, and my groom was the former Opera Ghost. …A murderer, that was a fact I often chose to forget. Erik had taken lives; people who crossed him met their doom. I trusted him not to hurt me, but…then again, I did wear his bruises, didn't I?
Click. I nearly leapt out of my skin as the door was opened. Desperate for calm, I watched my about-to-be husband enter the room with two men, both dirty and haggard as if time spent at sea was more prevalent than time spent amongst people. They eyed Erik at every breath, and I admired Erik's stoicism, his persona in place and unshaken. But as they entered our small quarters, all attention shifted to me, and I suddenly felt ridiculous and exposed in my best gown.
Surprise went unhidden on tanned, unshaven faces, cold eyes leering and making me wrap protective arms about my waist. It was obvious they'd been expecting an unattractive woman, perhaps a street urchin or decrepit old lady desperate for male company, and I wondered what sort of conclusions had been drawn in regards to Erik's mask. Enough to insist he could not have a young and pretty girl eager to be his wife. If anything, their unqualified cruelty made me more adamant in my intentions.
Noticing the sailors' incessant ogling, Erik gave a growl, fierce enough to shake all three of us and darted between my silhouette and their presence. "Get on with the task I paid you for and get out! I will not stand to have my bride demeaned in this manner."
My mind flashed the number of times I'd worn far less layers onstage and the suggestive stares from patrons and even cast mates. Erik had never said a word against it, and I'd always believed it was because of the art, that he understood the sacrifices of performers, but now to feel the tension in the air and fix my gaze on the tightened muscles of his back, I wondered if it had been the same in my ballerina days. As far as he was concerned, I was his, and no man was allowed a glance.
I could not discredit his possessiveness when I was loath to endure the sailors' blatant lust. I had an impulse to curl tight to Erik's back and press my forehead to his shoulder, instincts I reluctantly denied and fought to stand firm on my own two feet.
"All right," one of the sailors called. "Let's get on with it."
As a ceremony, it was deficient. Not much beyond the basic vows, and though I stood before Erik and felt his eyes upon me, I fixed my focus to the wooden floor and gave no more than the required responses. In the back of my mind was flickering disappointment with a wedding in its broadest definition. Childhood fantasies had included a steepled church and bouquets of flowers, a special commemoration of love. Everything about this felt cold.
A ring to complete a vow, and I recognized the band as the same one Erik had presented me on the stage the night before. His ring. I took it then as I did now and slid it onto my finger beneath his attentive eye. I still trembled, and I knew he noticed.
As the bristly sailor announced us husband and wife, I cast a wary glance to all observing. The sailors were still taking every opportunity to regard my pink-encased curves, but as an uncomfortable moment dragged by, they looked between the two of us with expectant uncertainty.
Ah, a kiss. A kiss was tradition to solder vows into place; yet again, it all came down to a kiss. I lifted my trepidation to my unusually awkward groom, and I glimpsed fear where no one else would. They would look and see the pristine and polished Opera Ghost, apathetic to the idea of a kiss, perhaps considering himself above such mundane contact. I looked and saw a shy and timid heart and a man who could not bestow even that flippant token when a mask stood in the way and covered half his mouth.
But our audience was waiting and expecting said kiss, and so I adopted my own persona. Stage Christine, the girl who was unafraid and courageous, who blossomed brighter under attention. As the ideal actress, I managed a smile and picked up the spot of forgotten lines. I raised on tiptoe, and without a single hesitation, I pressed my lips to his one exposed cheek, holding them against chilled flesh and letting his cells taint me and leave their invisible brand. My husband… I couldn't run from fate anymore, and in a way, my soul was relieved.
As I slowly drew away and met mismatched eyes, I glimpsed gratitude in a hasty breath before he took up the arrogant guise again and flipped in rage to our inquisitive audience.
"Get out," he coldly commanded. "Your job is done, and you have sufficient compensation to leave us be. I expect no unplanned interruptions. My wife and I require privacy."
I ducked my head with his words, unsure what was acceptable to feel. I knew what privacy meant now that vows held us as one, but…was it wrong to have flickers of anticipation in the midst of trepidation? I'd spent so long afraid to be in this place, but now the choice was done and I had only the future spread before me. I could accept it or fight it, but the vow made it mine.
I felt the lingering glares of the sailors before Erik ushered them out, and as the lock clicked into place, I was finally able to draw a deep breath. …It was the only inhalation that managed to pass my lips.
Hands groped for me, catching my waist and pulling me to his body, his hoarse gasps echoing in the air between us. Did he mean to do this now and in such a rough manner? …I was afraid. I couldn't help it, but his fingertips dug into my hips, jerking firm until I could feel his hardness and its ache against me, insisting what it wanted.
His eyes blazed an inferno of fire, and while one hand kept me to him, the other quickly tore the mask away. I had no chance to look or contemplate that face. Misshapen lips were upon mine, kissing hard and bruising, their bloated arches tensed as if desperate to feel this kiss and be consumed.
I lost a whimper in the second I gulped a breath, the second before his tongue delved deep and tasted. Compared to the sweet kisses I'd granted in the catacombs, this was dark poison, and I felt its assault seep within me and attack with a power I could not fight.
Erik's grasping hands forced me back against one wooden wall and pinned me to its stability as my head swam as incessantly as the waves beneath the boat. I didn't know what to do or how to respond. Should I touch him? Should I be matching his aggressive fervency? Should I simply permit? I was as terrified as I was intrigued. This was…new. Every sensation pummeled in a brutal intensity that made my knees quake.
His mouth was devouring, demanding what I'd always refused to give, and his tongue probed and sought to speak desire in its desperation. I wanted to cry. It was too much at once, and I couldn't find sanity when my attention was fixed to every hard plane of his body against mine. Desire meant releasing sense and thought, and I was yet apprehensive to let go. Even as I felt shaken to my core and the resonating echoes through my inexperienced body, I held back and quivered with hands that splayed to the wall behind me and never touched, never held in return.
My eyes fluttered open, and I dared to look at the face against mine. Scars, damage, every discrepancy creased from more than ugliness. He wanted me; it was written upon every feature, and the ferocious motion of his bloated lips fascinated me.
A kiss ended as abruptly as it had begun, and as he forced his lips to my cheek and temple, a low moan escaped their seam and teased my ears like a melody. Words didn't exist; there was only feeling. He arched his body against mine, and I was trapped between its hard wall and the wooden one behind me, never allowed enough room to fill suffocated lungs. I managed shallow gasps and trembled violently as he thrust his erection firmly against my layers as if threatening to free it should I refuse. …I wasn't going to refuse.
A vicious growl tore from his angel's voice, and he suddenly jerked away, leaving me to sag and clutch the wall for support as I watched his aggression with wide eyes.
"Erik," I weakly called. I had never been equipped at calming his temper. The right words were never mine, and even now with a marriage between us, I couldn't find the letters and simply murmured, "What's wrong? I thought…"
"That I would take you?" he snapped, and flipping about, he glared at me and put the monstrosity of his face vividly on display. It was an ugly nightmare when anger marred its surface. I recalled its vision that last night underground when it had been full of sorrow and love. Then it had been almost beautiful.
"We…we're married, and now…," I awkwardly stammered, feeling my cheeks flame with a blush. "I mean…I'm yours."
"You are!" he agreed in a vicious hiss. "You're mine! Mine, Christine, by eyes of law and God, and every bone in my body is begging me to take you to my bed and finally extinguish the fire in my veins. You'd be willing; you have no choice. But…damn you! I could have you spread to my every whim right now, and it wouldn't be enough!"
I shuddered with his words and every crude implication, and my blush seared from the inside out and choked any reply I could have made. So I simply watched him with nervous eyes and saw him fist his hands and fight an internal battle for control. I didn't understand why.
Leaning so close that he left me nowhere to look but his distorted face with its every taut line, he hissed beneath his breath, "I will not take you until you learn to love me…and until I learn to forgive you."
His blame struck to my core with inspired guilt. …Forgive. And for the first time, I glimpsed the true damage I had spent months inflicting. Denying him at every chance, running from him as if he'd destroy me, cursing him in cruel insults to the Vicomte; I had made the broken creature before me and equally the madman who'd posed ultimatums that last night underground. I had shaped him into existence with every rejection and denial. He'd thought better of me, and I'd disappointed him and gave him reason for sins with my selfishness.
The regret twisted my heart and only stabbed deeper to watch him turn away and replace his mask, to watch him build walls and know he had every right. How foolish to think marriage would fix every mistake and mend broken places! I called myself naïve and slowly wandered to the bed, sitting numbly on its edge and looking anywhere but at my new husband. No, I let him return to the shadowed corner and live in his own regrets and turned away so he wouldn't see me cry silent tears.
If I concluded I'd found reality after a kiss in the catacombs, I was sorely wrong. Here was reality, in this small room with my damaged husband. Reality was consequences and penance. It was the punishment of being denied a heart I already knew was mine. As he said, he needed to learn to forgive me, but I was terrified forgiveness was impossible, that the destruction was permanent, that I'd squandered my own destiny with my selfish cruelty. Oh God, what had I done…?