Hello, all! I have an oldie for you today! A dear friend of mine was asking for an amnesia story, and I happened to have one in my library of older stories. She was the one who eagerly convinced me to post it so this is dedicated to Nemessy! Thank you, sweetie!
I know the amnesia storyline is done time and again, but here is my twist on it. It's a little bit different; this Christine has a lot of gumption I admire. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it! And anyone looking for summer reading, (and if you are anywhere where it is 100 like here, you might want some activities to do in the AC) my Phantom collection, Manifestations of a Phantom's Soul, is out and available on amazon and Createspace. I might be doing a second volume this fall! We'll see!
SUMMARY: An accident causes Christine to lose her memory, and Erik seeks to rewrite their story for her.
"Forget Me Not"
Erik scaled the wall around the de Chagny estate with ease, landing on his feet soundlessly within those private grounds only seconds after the Vicomte de Chagny left on horseback. No one had seen him enter, and no one would see him leave again. For him, it was just that simple.
As if he had been there a hundred times, he walked the path to the gatehouse. It was a small, two-story building behind the stables that was often used for guests. At present, it housed the only one who he wanted to see.
Christine. It had been nearly a week since she had walked out of his life, and rarely a second went by when she was not the subject of his every thought. How could he have ever let her go? He could only blame his actions on a momentary lapse of sanity. To allow her to leave with the Vicomte so simply, severing all ties and ending their sordid relationship… It was completely out of character for him. He attributed it to that kiss, that one blissful moment in a lifetime of agonizing ones that had stolen his better judgment. And now… The announcement of her engagement to the Vicomte had appeared in the newspaper within days. The Vicomte was obviously wasting no time in establishing his claim. Since then, Erik had been lurking outside the de Chagny home, biding his time until Raoul finally dared to leave Christine alone. At last, his patience had been rewarded.
With all the grace of a jungle cat, Erik climbed the trellis alongside the pretty, little gatehouse and swung onto the balcony of her bedroom. It had been a relief for his jealous heart to see that the Vicomte was living in the main house and Christine alone in the gatehouse. If the situation had been any other way, Erik knew that he would not have been so patient.
The balcony door was open, allowing the fresh, early spring breeze to filter inside, and keeping to the shadowed corners, he peered in and sought out his beloved.
Christine stared at her reflection in her vanity mirror as she lifted her loose, dark curls off her neck in an attempted arrangement. A gust of wind blew in and ruffled tresses around her face, destroying her endeavors as with a sigh, she let the heavy weight of locks fall back over her shoulders. Her hands moved to smooth her pale purple skirt, admiring its fit in the mirror's glass. It was among the wardrobe Raoul had provided her with upon her arrival. He had been so eager to please her and make her forget the traumatic events they had survived. What he didn't know was that forgetting was an impossible task. She would never be able to bury the details and would certainly never fully be past that last fated night below the opera house. It would hang like a darkness on her soul for the rest of her life.
Reluctantly turning from the mirror, she ran her eyes over her bedchamber. It was lovely and bright, full of windows that let the sunlight pour in, …the opposite of that hidden lair underground. All the furniture was white wood with ornate carved bases, and the canopy of her bed was a beaming yellow. In her memory flashed images of another bedchamber with cherry wood and peachy pink canopy drapings, warm colors despite its eternal lack of sunlight so far from the earth's surface. Silently scolding herself, she pushed the vision away, suffocating it beneath layers of emotion and pain. She was determined not to consider it again.
"Such gloomy thoughts for a bride-to-be."
Christine's entire body went numb, her frame rigid as her wide eyes lifted to her open balcony doorway with astonishment. He was the very image from her dreams, the dark phantom with his long cape and fedora whose brim made shadows on the stark whiteness of his mask. Intensity and power radiated from the stance of his body and his penetrating mismatched eyes, stealing her breath away.
Erik ran his gaze languidly over her from head to foot, taking in subtle changes since their last meeting. Ordinary people would be oblivious to such miniscule alterations, but he was so attuned to everything that was her that they screamed out for his attention. Under her eyes were the hints of shadows, evidence that she wasn't sleeping much or well. Her stature was frailer, more in spirit than anything, and yet the light in her eyes still glowed with incandescent brilliance. It was a light that he had put there for a young girl who had been so hopelessly lost after her father's passing. That look, that fire, belonged to him.
"Why…why are you here?" she stammered, wringing her hands in front of her.
"Is that an appropriate greeting? I truly believed you had better manners than that." He was toying with her purposely, searching for the woman he had said goodbye to. "Aren't you happy to see me, ange?"
"You…you shouldn't be here." How difficult it was to form a coherent thought! "You let us leave. That was to be the end of it."
"But it wasn't the end of it; it wasn't the end at all."
Her eyes flashed fire at him. It astounded him how different she was from the innocent girl who had first come to the opera house; it was yet another product of his influence on her. She was stronger, but she also had an anger within that could rival his own if lit by the right spark. She had grown confident that in spite of his murdering ways, he would never hurt her, and that had made her unafraid.
"Leave," she ordered coldly, her features set in firm lines. "You are not welcome here."
"Not welcome? Your balcony door was wide open, inviting me inside. Door open, fiancé gone, I think my presence was anticipated and is quite welcome, though you will never admit to it." Once again, he studied her, this time in appreciation. "You are beautiful as always. …It seems an eternity since I last looked upon you."
"Stop." Her voice was laced with bitterness.
"Why? You used to enjoy when I would fall at your feet with sweet words. You would smile and blush. Oh, but that was before this ugliness existed between us."
Christine was shaking her head. "What are you doing here? You know I am to marry Raoul. You gave us leave of your nightmare."
Leaning nonchalantly against the balcony's window frame, Erik crossed his arms over his chest and replied calmly, "And what if I have decided to hold you to your choice? You chose me, and if you are honorable, you will follow through on your word."
Staring aghast, she could only manage to mutter, "No, …no, get out of here. Go back to your darkness, and leave me be!"
A laugh escaped him and only infuriated her all the more. "Why, you naïve, little thing! If you truly think I am leaving here without you, then you are a fool indeed."
"I am not going anywhere with you! I love Raoul, and I am going to be his wife. You gave up any right you had when you let us leave." She threw her hands to her sides in exasperation. "Why won't you understand that I don't want you?"
"You said otherwise from your very own lips in that kiss you gave me."
"That was not a kiss! It was an act of desperation!"
His rage flared to life with her comment. He had spent days dwelling on that kiss and the impetus behind it, sure even as his own mind had been skeptical, that there were underlying emotions tied to it. No, he would not let her take away what he knew as truth to preserve the integrity of her relationship with the Vicomte.
"Watch your words, Christine," he warned tersely. "Lies from you will only make me more determined."
"I am not lying," she insisted with an arrogant lift of her chin. "I kissed you only to save Raoul's life."
"The selfless martyr, are we now? Your fiancé obviously thought different to so quickly mark you as his with an engagement announcement in the paper. It would seem that a kiss you so adamantly proclaim to have meant nothing bruised the ego of our dear Vicomte."
Hands clenched in tight fists, she snapped back, "It meant nothing. It was a lie, Erik, every bit of it. How could you truly believe that I would willingly kiss you with anything but revulsion in my heart?"
"Do not tempt me to hurt you." His eyes burned in a way that would terrify anyone else, but to both his anger and amusement, she stood her ground with equaled fortitude.
"You won't dare. You will only carry me off as you do with endearments of love on your lips. I don't want them, and I don't want you. And I will be damned if I am going to let you steal me away from my life again."
Oh, how he adored a challenge, especially one with her as both his competitor and his prize. "You are already damned, my love, and were from the moment you let me into your heart. I own it and your soul, and I will die before I let the Vicomte own your body. It will belong to me as well."
Though she was trying to hide it, he still caught a glimpse of how his comment shook her. No, he wouldn't kill her, but rape was a very realistic option and he could see that she knew it.
Christine was immediately on guard, her body rigid in its poise and ready for a strike. "I…I am not going with you." Fighting to retain dwindling courage, she suddenly strode to the door with him half a step in her wake.
Erik followed, intrigued that she did not try to run, only kept up an angered pace onto the landing, glancing over her shoulder at him as she went.
"Where do you think you're going?" he demanded as she reached the top of the staircase. "The Vicomte is gone, and there is no hero to save you this time."
"I don't need a hero," she retorted. She was almost there, just down the stairs and the door was so near. If she screamed once outside, she was sure that someone in the main house would hear. "Leave me be!"
"No, you are coming with me."
With an abrupt turn at the top of the landing, she faced him and held up the hand that bore her diamond engagement ring. "Here is your proof that I am not yours. This ring symbolizes that I belong to Raoul, heart, soul, and body. I am his; I have always been his."
"You are lying to both of us. That is only a gaudy piece of jewelry; it doesn't determine who holds your heart."
As she turned back to the stairs, Erik caught her arm and held her fast with a tight grip, preventing retreat.
"Let go of me!" she shouted, desperately fighting to break free.
"Not until you admit the truth."
"That you love me!" he yelled with utter frustration. "That you have always loved me!"
"I don't!" She pulled fiercely against his hold, but it would not budge.
"You are so stubborn!" Holding her eye furiously, he exclaimed, "And I love you so much that it is killing me inside!"
"Don't what? Love you? As if it is so easy not to!" With a jerk, he yanked her hard against him, clutching her in his arms. "Do you truly think that I want this? This constant agonizing pain! This consuming need to be with you!"
Struggling against him, she cried out, "Let go! How dare you put your hands on me?"
"I will dare far more than that if you continue with this game," he threatened, grasping her squirming body. "Admit you love me, Christine."
"Say it, damn you!" One arm clutched around her waist, and the other dug into her loose curls with firm, taut fingers. "Say that you are mine!"
She fought until she was out of breath, punching fists against his shoulders but to no avail. Then exhausted, she ceased and met his eye with defiance, unwilling to yield.
Holding her so near, he could not keep his eyes from drifting to her full, trembling lips. A memory assaulted his senses of their last kiss, the one and only of his life. It had happened so fast that much of it was a blur to him now, leaving only a yearning to experience it again and this time take pause to acknowledge each and every sensation.
Christine could vividly conclude the train of his thoughts and wondered if he would indeed kiss her. To her horror, the thought wasn't entirely unpleasant. In her head flashed a fleeting memory of the pressure of his lips, the way he tasted, the strange texture of his misshapen mouth against hers, and though she wanted to remain unmoved, she shivered.
As he leaned in, tempted to succumb and kiss her, his grip loosened, and in the split second where she wondered if she should try to escape or not, her sense of rationality won out. With adamancy on her side, she struggled free of his embrace, sidestepping his attempt to grab her again.
Everything suddenly seemed to move in slow motion. As she dodged his grasp, she lost her footing. A cry of terror resounded through the gatehouse as in a tumble of purple skirts and dark curls, she fell down the steep staircase. Every thud of struck flesh resounded deafeningly until her small body landed in a pile at the bottom.
Erik went numb, frozen in place with wide, horrified eyes that stared at a motionless mass of limbs and curls and could hardly fathom what he'd just witnessed. His heart stopped in his chest, breath held in his lungs, his hands still extended before him in their intention to catch her.
"No," he gasped. "Christine!"
With a sob, he raced down the stairs to her side, crouching beside her with tears streaming down his face. His hands were shaking violently. Had they ever trembled so hard? They gathered her limp body and drew her close, one hand sliding into her silken curls to cup her head gently.
"Oh God, Christine, no," he whispered through his tears, his lips forming kisses to her brow and the crown of her head. He nearly shouted for joy when he felt the shallow breaths being taken into her lungs. She was alive!
Cradling her close, he told her unconscious form, "You are going to be all right. I'll take care of you as I always have." His fingers moved gently over her scalp, and he immediately found the knot beginning to form on one side.
He considered his options, but the answer seemed an obvious one. He wouldn't leave her again. With the gentlest touch, Erik lifted her into his arms as if she were a delicate china doll, brushing the curls back from her face to reveal the features he so adored in their peaceful sense of slumber.
A sweep of his long cloak concealed her beneath folds of material where no one would see her, and with stealth on his side, he carried her out of the gatehouse and off the de Chagny grounds. Avoiding roads and every streak of sunlight that threatened to illuminate his presence, he rushed past the city limits and took the rural path to his new home.
The lair had been destroyed by the mob that last night and was left in shambles beyond repair. It had been a cruel reality to face when everything he had considered his life was gone forever. All that remained of the place he had once called home was Christine's room and the belongings he had purchased for her and only due to the room's hidden entranceway. Everything else was a mess of broken bits and shattered dreams.
As he'd fought despair and mourning for a worthless existence that suddenly seemed to matter, Erik had purchased a small house secluded in the woods. His motivation had been an idea of convincing Christine to return to him, for without such a plan, all hope would have been lost. The house had a great deal of potential, and in time, he was certain it would feel like home, already envisioning years spent in its rooms full of a new semblance of happiness and bliss. And with such ideals in mind, he had begun the transformation of his new residence, but beyond a good cleaning and buying a few pieces of necessary furniture, little had been done so far.
The journey through long spans of sheltered woods seemed never-ending with his dire need to care for Christine and make her comfortable. When at last the thick mass of budding brush parted and the house came into sight, he sighed relief and quickened his pace. From outside, it bore an aura of coziness, of warmth and peace created by its cream-colored porch and detailed trim. Spiraled spindles led up the few stairs to the wooden porch and front door, and with determined strides, Erik carried his treasure inside, locking the door behind him, a move he had rarely made in these past days alone. With Christine as his responsibility, he felt he couldn't be too careful preserving her welfare, especially considering that unlike his lair, he hadn't had the time to set traps in the woods for intruders.
His pace did not slow as he headed up to the second floor and down the small hallway to the master bedroom, one of the few furnished rooms in the house. He brought her to the bed, and drawing back his cloak to reveal her comatose features to his concerned gaze, he laid her on the mattress.
Erik leaned back on his heels and stared at her for a long time. He had not considered in his rashness what would happen when she awoke and realized what he had done. Would she blame him for her fall? It had been an accident, but he did feel accountable for putting her in the situation to begin with. When she awoke… If she awoke… No, he wouldn't consider pessimistic musings now. It had just been a tumble down the stairs. He knew that head injuries were an unpredictable sort, but when the alternative to recovery was an unbearable thought, he couldn't even fathom it.
He knew that he had to check her for other injuries, but he hesitated, unsure how to begin when she had rarely allowed his touch on her skin. But this was for her own good, or so his mind argued. It had to be done.
Tentative and unsure, Erik dared to reach for the buttons down the front of her gown. One by one, he opened them and revealed the white silk garments beneath. Hesitant and yet unable to squelch the bit of anticipation in his stomach, he peeled off her gown, following it with her petticoat, shoes, and stockings and with much effort, her corset. Despite the adamant justifications he made to his sense of morality that he wanted to make her comfortable as well as inspect her injuries, it still felt like an indiscretion.
She wore only her chemise and pantaloons, and as the late day sunlight streamed in from the large balcony windows, he could catch glimpses of what lay beneath. His ragged breaths echoed in his ears. But what was also revealed to his gaze was a splattering of new bruises scattered about. With shaky hands, he lifted the edge of her chemise and was greeted with a large purpling mark on her hipbone. A muttered curse fell from his lips that such perfection had to be marked in such a way. Even if impermanent, it was a degradation skin so perfect should never know. Moving on, he inspected her arms and legs, following the paths of bones with a delicate touch and much care, but nothing seemed broken. …He knew things could have been so much worse.
Muttering a silent prayer, Erik lifted the covers, bundling her to her throat. In some part of his mind, he couldn't help but dwell on the fact that he had only just slept in that bed the previous night, and now here she was, his love, his obsession, half-dressed and laying on his pillow. A ridiculous thought to consider, but he couldn't help himself. It was almost beautiful in its illusion.
Erik sat on the edge of the bed beside her and watched with a studious eye. He knew there was little he could do but wait for her to awaken. He wouldn't seek a doctor, refusing to put any faith in modern medicine. It all seemed like a torturous guessing game. He would not trust anyone but himself with Christine's care, but as time ticked by, agonizing minute by minute, he grew anxious.
Daylight gave way to night, and watching the streaks of orange sunlight disappear from the covers of the bed reminded him how foreign such occurrences were to a man who had spent the majority of his life underground. What wonders the world held, and yet to Erik, the greatest wonder was the one laying on the bed in a deep slumber.
With a hint of trepidation, he slowly climbed onto the other side of the mattress, studying her with hesitant eyes, half-expecting her to start awake in terror at his improper behavior. He stayed atop the covers, never daring to be beneath with her, but gazing at her peaceful face, he laid back on the opposite pillow. He could almost pretend that his presence was wanted and he was simply going to sleep beside the woman he loved who loved him in return. As the night sky dimmed completely and only the dying glow of the fireplace cast any sort of light in the room, he began to drift to sleep, wondering if when he awoke, she would be gone and all of this would be a dream.
It was near daybreak, the sky just starting to lighten, when with a start, Christine awoke. Her blue eyes stared at the canopy above her head as the fuzziness at the corners of her vision cleared and sight adjusted. The only thought that entered her head was that she had no idea where she was, the bed unfamiliar, and as she let her eyes slowly wander her surroundings, a gasp escaped as she observed the masked man lying asleep beside her.
Somewhere in a dream, Erik heard her, half-focused on her every nuance even in the world of the subconscious, and with a rush of fright, he lifted his mismatched eyes to her stare. He was prepared for anger, for sharp words and bitter resentment, but to his surprise, the only emotion he glimpsed within her was fear.
"Who…who are you?" she stammered as though it took such great effort to form words.
His brow furrowed, but he shoved confusion aside and instead asked with concern, "How do you feel?"
With awkwardness saturating her every movement, she sat up beneath the covers, but almost immediately, dizziness swam through her, racking her limbs and striking her head with a dull thud. She lifted her hand, her fingers dipping into her tangled hair and locating a large bump beneath their silken coating. "My head… It is throbbing so hard."
Erik sat up with her, and gently daring to touch her shoulders, he guided her back to the pillows. "Lay back."
She conceded, too weak to offer valid protest, but as a chill overtook and tingled her skin, she glanced down only to find herself in her underclothes. With another gasp, she yanked the covers modestly to her throat. "Where are my clothes?"
Holding up defenseless hands, he explained, "I had to check for any other injuries."
"What happened to me?" she demanded, and yet he caught the edge of tears in her voice.
"You don't remember?"
"No," she replied miserably. "No, …and if you don't tell me who you are, I swear I will scream for help."
Confusion once again overwhelmed as he saw that she truly did not recognize him. How could that be? Hesitating yet to give her an answer, he asked instead, "Do you know who you are?"
"Christine," she answered dutifully. "Christine Daaé."
He still sat on the bed, leaning over her in a manner that he could tell made her uncomfortable, but he was too astounded to move away. "What is the last thing you remember?"
Christine thought hard, closing her eyes against the pounding of her head as she stuttered, "The opera house. My father had arranged an audition for me before he died to dance in the ballet. I remember receiving a letter to say that I had been accepted."
The ballet? Dear Lord, was it possible that she had forgotten everything else? "Christine, tell me when your father died."
As she regarded him, somber tears filled her eyes. "Two weeks ago."
Two weeks! "No, Christine, not two weeks. That was two years ago."
"What…? What do you mean? That can't be. It…isn't possible…" Her brows knit into a line. "Two weeks ago, I sat at his bedside and held his hand as he took his last breath. I remember it so vividly." Shaking her aching head, she asked, "How could I have forgotten two years of my life?"
He didn't know how to answer. It was obviously due to her accident and the fact that, for her, the last two years had held an amount of trauma, pushed into such a category by his own hands. What he couldn't say for certain was if the memory loss was temporary or if it was permanent.
"You still haven't told me who you are," Christine pushed. She scanned his mask with a wave of curiosity that ignited questions why he would wear such a thing. She felt like she should know. Did she know…?
Hesitant to reply, he softly answered, "Erik." Her expression remained blank. "You don't remember me." It was a statement of fact, not another unneeded question.
"I'm sorry." She was trying so hard, searching to the farthest crevices of her mind, but no answer would come as if every one was locked behind some unbreakable door. "What…what happened? Why can't I remember?"
"You fell," he told her after a pause. "You fell down the stairs and hit your head. And from what I can tell, the accident must have caused some memory loss… You truly remember nothing of the last two years?"
She shook her head. "Nothing… Do we know each other well?"
Erik pondered the ramifications of what he was about to do. It could only end badly, but at the moment, all he could consider was how much he wanted it to be true. "I…am your husband."
"Oh…" Her fingers unconsciously curled tighter into the blankets as she inspected him with this new information in her head. Husband… She was married and to this masked man? It had to be a mistake, and yet strangely, she felt like she could trust him, as if she knew somewhere in the gaps of her memory that he wouldn't hurt her.
"You should rest," he suddenly insisted.
She wanted to argue, to push him to explain what the past two years of her life had held, but the throbbing of her head made her comply instead, shifting beneath the covers with a modicum of shyness. She felt awkward under his penetrating stare, and as if sensing her nervousness, he abruptly stood and backed timid steps away.
"Sleep, Christine," he bid in a tender tone, and she shivered at that golden voice. "We will talk in the morning."
She simply nodded and watched with attentive eyes until he left the room. Her husband… And she had no recollection of how such a monumental event had come to pass. Her gaze drifted and was caught by the glimmering stone on her finger, and lifting her hand before her, she inspected the telling ring and was doubtless what it meant. She was indeed a married woman. Though she fought for memories, they were gone, vanished away to nothing with only feelings to remain in hazy wisps. They insisted her husband would protect her…like a guardian angel. Only with that thought as her comfort and solace did she dare give in to the inviting arms of sleep, confident she was safe and home.
Erik wandered down to the living room in the darkened house. There was yet no furniture and too much wide open floor, but still he went to stand by the unlit hearth, lost in his head.
What was he doing? What in God's name was he hoping to gain by lying to her this way? Eventually, the truth would come out, and what then? If she didn't hate him already, she certainly would soon enough.
He had to get out of the house, to formulate plans and ponder his best course. His only excuse for his rash impulsiveness was the need to share something, anything with her even if it wasn't real. It wouldn't save his soul in the end, but it assuaged the sharp knife of guilt and reminded him that beneath every other horror in between, he loved her. That would always be his impetus. Drawing on his cloak, he strode out into the night, locking the door; should she awaken, she couldn't get out. Without her memories, she was vulnerable, and his first priority as always was to keep her protected.
Wife, she was his wife. Maybe it was a lie, but he was determined to savor it for as long as it lasted because once the truth was told, he knew he had already lost her.
When Christine awoke again, her eyes squinted to the bright sunlight pouring in from the balcony doorway. Her hand flew to the knot beneath her hair, gently examining it as her head gave a dull throb in reply. So it hadn't been a dream…
Taking great care, she lifted herself to a seated position, and her gaze wandered the room with surprise. She could have sworn that the previous night the room had been nearly empty, but now there were furnishings lining every bit of floor space. And beyond the furniture's surprising appearance, the room seemed to have been decorated as she slept with peach brocade curtains on the windows and draped around the canopy bed. Atop a lovely whitewood bedside table was a vase filled with large red roses whose perfumed scent wafted her senses in a strangely familiar way. She had inhaled exactly their scent before; she was sure of it, though the details were still an empty hole in her mind.
She did not have long to dwell on her thoughts as the door suddenly opened, and Erik, …her husband, entered with a tray in hand.
"Good morning or rather afternoon," he greeted with a brilliant smile.
"Is…is it late?" she stammered, searching for words like a flustered child.
"Yes, but you are entitled to sleep the day away if you so choose. It is part of your recovery." Setting the tray on the bed before her, he offered, "A late breakfast for the lady. Your favorite croissants from the little bakery on the corner near the opera house."
"Oh… I…I don't remember it."
As her eyes surveyed the pastries skeptically, Erik watched with avid fascination. It was still astonishing to him that she had no recollection of even the mundane things that had been a part of her daily life over the past two years. "Your memory hasn't returned, I see," he dared to state.
"No, it hasn't." Her fingers idly tore a piece from one of the croissants. "Where did all the things in this room come from? Wasn't it bare last night?"
"I brought some of your things here, hoping they might aid you in remembering." It wasn't entirely a lie. He had gone to her locked bedroom deep below the opera house in search of some items to make the room more like a home for her. He had carted back some odds and ends, bits of furniture, as well as a selection of clothing from her armoire. It had been a wise decision to go when he had, for likely by daybreak, the underground home, abandoned to ruin as it was, would have been swarming with guards courtesy of the Vicomte in a search for Christine. For as much of an imbecile as the Vicomte was, he would be right in assuming his fiancée's likely whereabouts.
"It is all very lovely," she replied, glancing about the room again. "But if this is our home, why were these things not here to begin with?"
Erik had anticipated such questions from the inquisitive mind of the Christine he had first encountered two years before. Curiosity had always been her weakness and ally first and foremost. Since then, she had learned to assume and always the worst when it came to him.
Smooth as any experienced liar, he answered, "We only recently purchased this house and have been in the process of making it the home we always dreamed of. That is also how you came to fall yesterday. You were busy decorating and moving things around; you so stubbornly wanted to do it all yourself. Now I wish that I had insisted against it."
"Will you tell me of the past two years? I feel as if I have a large void in my mind."
"Soon. Right now I want you to concentrate on getting well." As if it were the most casual of acts, he broke a piece from her half-eaten croissant for himself, pleased when she drew no attention to it as if they had been that comfortable for years.
Erik studied her out of the corner of his eye as he chewed. He could practically read the thoughts rotating through her brain; it had always been that way between them, another fact that had made him so certain they were meant to be together. Of course, this Christine was a completely different person than her counterpart. Her thoughts were different; the very aura surrounding her was different. But still he could deduce the very questions that plagued her pensive meditation, and one in particular concerned him.
After a moment of silence, he said, "There is one thing that you must promise me, something more important than anything else you can imagine."
"What is it?" she asked, her eyes holding his with attentive intrigue.
"I will be straightforward with you, though it is very difficult." Taking a calming breath, he reluctantly revealed, "Beneath this mask, my face is horribly disfigured and scarred. You know this, or rather you knew it, and it didn't bother you. You loved me anyway. I ask you to promise that you will not for any reason touch my mask until I am prepared and feel that you are ready to see for yourself. My face is my curse in life, and I am terrified that if you see it too soon, before you allow yourself to know me again, it will frighten you and push you away from me."
Disfigured, her mind twirled the concept around over and over again. She wanted to insist that if he were her husband, he should show her his face without fear, but there was something unsettling about the vulnerable look in his eyes. It was as if he had just shared his deepest secret and only sought compassion in return.
"I promise," she agreed after a moment. "I will not touch your mask."
Erik trusted her vow. In retrospect, he should have informed her of his truth all those years ago before she'd deceived him and learned it on her own. Perhaps knowing might have lessened her avid curiosity and saved them from a painful future.
"And now, Madame," he continued with a gentle smile, "if you are feeling well enough, would you care for a tour of your house?"
She smiled back, and it delighted his deepest soul. How long had it been since he had caused any sort of pleasant emotion within her? Too much pain and too many tears. And now due to a lie, he was getting the chance to relive their relationship, to rewrite it the way it should have been. Perhaps it was immoral, but after a lifetime of suffering and bitterness, didn't he deserve some form of happiness even if it must be doomed to a tragic end?
With a pink blush, Christine glanced at the blankets she had tucked beneath her arms. "I am not dressed."
He held up a finger to wait a moment and went to the wardrobe. Opening the doors, he gave her a glimpse of the rainbow of fabrics within and withdrew a lovely white wrap.
"May I?" he offered, holding it up, and still pink, she relinquished her hold on the covers and rose from the bed on unsteady knees.
Erik could not stop his eyes from wandering her half-dressed form with a flash of desire, but as she came near, he simply draped the wrap over her shoulders and watched her pull the soft material close to her trembling body.
"Th…thank you," she stuttered, lowering shy eyes. She knew that she must seem ridiculous to be so modest in front of the man who was her husband, but she couldn't control her emotions or the flush of heat beneath her skin to betray her.
He nodded and gentlemanly held out his arm. Without another attempted word, she took it and allowed him to lead her through the house.
It was just as Erik had imagined it would be, showing her the beautiful home he had purchased for her and watching the delight play over her features. Falling headfirst into the dream, he excitedly explained the plans he had for improving and decorating, and when she timidly added details that complimented, his heart swelled with adoration and happiness. This home would be their home now.
As he guided her out onto the front porch, she closed her eyes to relish the warm spring air as it encircled her, spiraling beneath her wrap to tickle her skin.
"The house is lovely," she told him, leaning her arms on the spindled railing.
"I am so pleased that you like it. It is for you, …only for you." It thrilled him when she smiled. How he prayed her memory would never return!
"I used to wish for a home like this," she told him, gazing out at the trees before them. "My father and I spent so much time traveling that we never had a real home to call our own. It was my greatest wish." She shyly shifted her eyes to his observance. "Perhaps I already told you that."
He gave a single nod. "Something in that vein. It inspired me to do this for you." That was not a lie. When he had been a bodiless angel, she had revealed her yearning for a home, a wish he had always wanted to grant her. …She had spoken of many things before she had learned that he was merely a man, and then walls had been built and he hadn't been allowed to peek over their impenetrable construction. And this girl before him had become nothing more than a fantasy.
"Thank you," she softly breathed.
Without a reply, Erik gazed at her in silent adoration as the sunlight made strawberry colors in her dark curls. "You are so beautiful."
Shifting from foot to foot with a modicum of discomfort, she smoothed her tangled hair with trembling hands. "I must look a fright," she insisted instead, working through a knot with fingers that wouldn't cease their quivers.
"You are the most beautiful creature I've ever seen."
Christine could feel her cheeks redden and chided her foolishness for acting like a head over heels schoolgirl. Considering how well he knew her, he must think that she was silly and childish. "We…we should go inside. There is still a light chill in the air."
Erik allowed her escape, but he found himself delighting in playing these flirtatious games. Never before had he made her blush; it was so new and intoxicating.
At Erik's insistence, Christine retired to her room to rest, exhausted far more than she wanted to let on. When she awoke again, the sun was low in the sky, throwing warm hues and orange streaks through the windows. With a peculiar lightness in her chest, she took a hot bath in the attached bath chamber, washing her long curls in the heated water and ignoring bruises that told the story of her fall. Then she chose a light blue gown from the armoire and took great care to dress and prepare to meet her husband.
With a final glance in the mirror, she hurried from the room and downstairs in search of him.
"Erik?" she called, her voice trembling ever so slightly.
With a beaming smile on his lips, Erik came from the living room to join her utterly entranced by her happy demeanor. It was a blessing, especially considering how long it had actually been since she had last been happy.
He had prepared a lavish meal for her, which they ate with pleasant conversation floating in the air between them. Then afterward, they retired to the living room where he lit a fire in the hearth, glad that he had taken the time to add a few pieces of furniture to the room. Now they had a couch, a chair, and a small table, a meager start but more would come.
As they sat together, he entertained her with exaggerated stories of his youth, turning every trauma of his lifetime into a comedy. It wasn't the first time he had told her these stories, and just as before, lost in the spell of his storytelling, she hung on his every word. It amazed him; this was the Christine he had first fallen in love with, the one he had been sure would love him, too.
As she recovered from fits of giggles, leaning on the arm of the couch to be nearer to where he sat in his chair, she suddenly asked, "Will you tell me how we came to meet each other? I wish I could remember."
Erik hesitated to answer, his smile fading on his lips. "How we met… You were a part of the ballet. One night after rehearsal ended, you stayed behind after everyone else had left. You were so lovely, like a lost little lamb, and you stood on the stage with the moonlight pouring in all around you. And you sang. The moment I heard you sing I fell in love with you. I became your teacher, and I taught you to be the leading soprano, the diva…" The sad, reminiscent glow in his eyes was as real as his story; it was more difficult to turn the joys of his life into comedies, especially when they'd slipped out of his grasp and left such agony behind.
"I sang at the opera?" she asked with wide eyes.
"You starred in some of the major productions of the season." Pride swelled within him for that, knowing he was the cause of her greatness.
She shook her head incredulously. "My father always yearned for me to sing, but I never believed I was good enough. The diva…"
Erik remembered those stars in her eyes; they had been there the night of her gala performance when the future had only seemed a bright path ahead of her. Pushing away the ghosts of their past, he stood up and extended a hand. "Come with me. I have something to show you."
She set her hand in his and allowed him to lead her down the hall to what he had named his music room. A grand piano sat in its center. It had been the first thing he had brought to the house. His beautiful pipe organ had been destroyed by the mob, and so, in compensation, he had purchased the lovely piano. It couldn't entirely make up for his loss, but it did sound wonderful.
Erik released her hand to leave her standing in the bow of the piano and went to take a seat before the ivory keys. Beating out a few chords, he told her, "I want you to sing Marguerite's jewel aria from Faust. You know it by heart; it was the first song your father taught you to sing."
In another time, another life, she had revealed such intimate facts, and it was strangely comforting to hear him recall them now. It only confirmed to her the depth of their previous relationship.
He gave her a chord, and without hesitation, she began to sing. After her first line, she suddenly stopped, wide-eyed. It was just as Erik had suspected it would be. Her mind might have forgotten, but her body was well versed in proper singing and took over with technique Erik had taught her, giving her the full tones he was accustomed to hearing, not the unconfident ones she had begun with two years ago.
"My…voice," she stammered, her hands pressing against her throat. "I…I've never sounded like that before."
"You have. You just don't remember it." Adoring her with his eyes, he instructed, "Start again. Don't be afraid of the sound; just let it go. Trust it. Trust that your body knows what to do."
The chord of her entrance sounded again, and taking a deep breath, she did just as he said, releasing any hold she wanted to have on the sound and letting it be what her subconscious willed. The power surprised her, the rich colors she produced. A vision flashed behind her eyes of a crowded theatre before her, the faces in the audience a blur, but the emotions real. It was only there for a blink of an eye, and then it vanished. Was it a memory? Something forgotten but lingering in the backdrop… She did not dwell on the thought, too overcome with the music.
When she finished with a brilliant high note that bounced all around them, a pleased grin lit her lips.
"Beautiful," he remarked, unsure if he meant her voice or her smiling face.
"And now, ange, will you play something for me?"
Ange… His body went numb. And yet her smile never faltered. The word had slipped out so naturally that she did not seem to realize that it was a repressed memory.
Feigning his previous countenance, he replied, "Of course." Pausing to consider the perfect tune, he glanced at her patiently awaiting eyes and then began to play a Chopin etude.
Christine stared at him, mesmerized. The piece was virtuosic, and yet he played as if it were the simplest, little trifle. Leaning on the bow of the piano, she watched the dexterous motion of his long fingers, moving with grace and ease over each perfect note. His body seemed to follow the motion, the music pouring through him until his movements were a dance all their own.
The intimate beauty of watching him create combined with the delicate melody of the piece and filtered into her body until tears slipped unnoticed down her cheeks.
As he ended the piece, closing his eyes and allowing the final notes to ring, she whispered, "You play, and the world is beautiful. I've never felt that before, like everything is suddenly so bright and exuding light from every direction."
She wandered around the piano as she spoke until she stood next to where he sat on the piano bench gazing up at her and unable to conceal his heart from his eyes. With a trepidation that he was sure he would always feel, he reached up to her and brushed the tears from her cheeks.
"You feel music," he told her tenderly. "You don't just listen and appreciate as so many others do. You let it seep into your soul."
"Like you do." She couldn't stop herself from daring to cup his one bare cheek in her hesitant palm. "Watching you play is just as beautiful as the music itself. You have such passion in you."
He was humbled by her compliments, unused to kindness of any sort, and yet a bitter taste tainted the back of his throat with guilt's incessant waves. In some ways, this was the most awful torture he had ever inflicted on himself, masochism disguised as bliss.
Slowly rising from the piano bench and drawing away, he suddenly asked, "Are you tired? Perhaps we should retire for the night."
We… Her heart fluttered nervously in her chest. They were married after all, and the bedroom was clearly shared by them both. It was rather foolish to hesitate, wasn't it?
With the hint of a nod, Christine silently watched as he put out the fire in the hearth, her knees trembling beneath the concealing barrier of her skirt. They kept their subtle quiver as she followed him up the staircase and to their bedchamber, giving her trepidations away even as she knew she should be strong and unafraid.
Erik cast furtive glances at her as he strode to her wardrobe and drew forth her white nightdress. Bringing it close, he offered, "May I help you change?"
She nodded consent, and even laden in an apprehension he could vividly read in her blue gaze, she turned her back to him, revealing the buttons on her gown. His fingers shook, and he hated the inexperience they told as he awkwardly worked the clasps until they opened to his eager gaze. To his surprise, she took the lead and pushed the gown from her body, letting it pool at her feet. Facing him again, she discarded her petticoat and corset, holding his wide eyes as anxious anticipation hung like a curtain about them.
His body reacted immediately to the vision of her, so beautifully placed before him, but he fought to ignore its true potency as he lifted the nightdress over her head and gracefully let it tumble into place. There was a pause, a moment where he simply stared at her so near in her frozen pose as unwilling to break the flawless second as he was. He wanted to kiss her; every impulse in his body begged him to, but with an inaudible sigh, he reluctantly moved away.
"I do not expect anything from you," he said, cringing at the husky tone of his voice. "With your permission, all that I would like is to hold you while you sleep."
"I…I would like that, too."
Moving slow and timid, he got beneath the covers, watching as she imitated his motion on the of opposite side of the bed and hesitantly scooted nearer to him.
Erik lay back on his pillow, and swallowing hard against the nerves twisting in his belly, he opened his arms to her, hoping she would not note his incessant tremble.
With a soundless inhalation, she cuddled against him, resting her cheek timidly against his chest. She felt so safe and warm that it surprised her. …Perhaps it was a memory of how he made her feel, flickering in the background. Well, surely the heart never forgot.
Brushing his fingertips through her hair, he dared to press a feather light kiss to the crown of her head.
"Erik," she suddenly breathed in hushed tones, "we…we've kissed before, …haven't we?" It seemed ridiculous to ask such a question, and she cringed as soon as she asked it. Of course, they must have. "I…I mean-"
"Yes," he answered, remembering their one and only kiss sadly. She had called it "an act of desperation" only to save her precious Vicomte from his unpleasant demise, and though he felt sure in his heart that she must have been lying, his head was quick to second guess. "I won't kiss you now unless you truly want me to, not because you feel it is your duty as my wife but because your heart wants it." In the end, it was all a lie, but it was the closest to the truth he could ever know.
Fighting back her shyness, Christine lifted her head to meet his eye, her loose curls tumbling over her shoulders. "Will you…kiss me goodnight?"
Shaking, he knew he could not deny her innocent request, and deliberately unhurried, he closed the distance between them and pressed his lips to hers.
Christine felt a tingle race through her body along with the certainty that she had felt this sensation before. Shivering, she mirrored the gentle motion of his lips, leaning in closer, her chest pressed to his.
Erik was overcome with fire that immediately raced through his veins. He had to taste her; he couldn't hold back as his tongue slipped between lips that parted in a welcoming invitation. So sweet! So delicious! He explored the contours of her mouth and coated his taste buds in her flavor, lingering to circle her willing tongue and tingle as she imitated the motion.
One kiss became another and another, passion intensifying until he was nearly devouring as she arched her body against his, aching to be closer. Closer, closer, she couldn't seem to get close enough. She wanted to be inside his skin.
With self-control and denial in his determined rein of restraint, he drew away, adding only a final grazing of his lips to hers, his hands holding her face between them.
"Goodnight, Christine," he bid in desirous colors.
Shyly lowering her eyes, she replied, "Goodnight," and lay back down next to him.
For a long time, Erik lay awake, and though he did not speak a single word to pierce the silence, he knew Christine was awake as well. He could only imagine the thoughts spinning insomnia in her head, but his own were torturous and laden in a guilt he could not share. Sleep didn't come until much later, and in spite of every regret welling within, he harbored an unacceptable anticipation for the day to come.
Christine awoke the next morning alone in bed. Lifting her head with a quick smoothing of her unruly curls, she saw that on the pillow next to her where Erik had laid, a red rose had taken his place. With a smile, she picked it up and brought it close to inhale its perfumed scent with a sigh of delight.
In her head as she dressed were images of the previous night's kisses, bringing a blush as she recalled her wanton behavior. She had to continuously chide her immaturity. He was her husband! Such intimacies were expected and previously shared…even if she couldn't remember them.
Still, pinkness tinged her cheeks as she hurried down the stairs to find Erik awaiting her in the foyer with an exuberant smile on his lips.
"Get your cloak," he instructed excitedly. "We are going out."
"That is not to be divulged just yet." At her little pout, he added, "It is a surprise. I am allowed my secrets, you know."
"Not many," she teased.
"All right, not many." On an impulse, he set a quick kiss to her cheek as if it were the most natural thing as he bid, "Now hurry along."
She did as commanded, returning a moment later with a light cloak over her shoulders. Without hesitation, he led her outside to the horse and open buggy awaiting, reading the delight in her eyes.
And then they were off in a steady pace, sitting close in the small buggy. The day was brilliant, the sky a sapphire blue and lacking any clouds to dim its beauty. Birds chirped a glorious spring serenade and flew from tree to tree over their heads.
It took them an hour to get to their destination, and as they neared, Erik said, "Close your eyes, Christine."
She obeyed without question and felt the buggy slow to a gentle stroll as it turned onto a new path. She didn't know what to expect, and when he bid her to open her eyes again, she gasped.
Lining the road on either side of them were cherry blossom and magnolia trees, their branches filled beyond excess with white flowers. As the light breeze stirred them, petals fell in haphazard tumbles all around like a shower of flowers.
"This is beautiful," she breathed, her wide blue eyes taking in every detail as the buggy crawled the pathway.
"I knew you would like it."
They arrived at the end of the tree-lined path, and Erik halted the horse beneath the shade of the trees, watching the flower petals dance to the ground. One landed in Christine's hair, and without a thought, he reached for it, intending to pull it free. Midway in his task, he changed his mind and instead let his fingers entwine in her loose dark curls, fascinated by the way they twisted and spiraled.
Christine watched him through half-closed eyes, affected immediately by his touch. In a soft voice, she bid, "Will you tell me our story? Were we happy?"
He wanted to lie; it was on the tip of his tongue, but with a sigh, he revealed, "Not always. We tended to hurt each other often. I daresay that we broke each other's hearts dozens of times, and yet for all the pain, there was such bliss. Everything we did, we did with passion whether it was adoring each other or hating each other."
Her brow furrowed with deep creases as she attempted to understand. It astounded her because she felt so strangely happy now. She couldn't imagine the pain he spoke of so desolately, but she caught glimpses of its magnitude in his reminiscent eyes and it struck her with its echo.
Erik could have spun beautiful tales of love and bliss, happy endings and sweet days of joy, but they would have been only sugarcoated dreams. It felt more dishonest than dubbing her as his wife. "I want you to understand," he said somberly. "With you, every emotion was worth enduring. I savored the pain as much as the pleasure because the pain was what always brought you back to me again. The pain of separation was far greater than the pains of the heart we caused one another."
Christine lifted her hand to his cheek with a tender caress. "Everything within my being tells me that what you say is true, that I know it somewhere deep inside, and…that no matter what pain existed in our story, I don't ever want to be without you. It's something I know with such certainty, more than I've ever known anything."
His fingers weaved in her hair. "You will never be without me. I promise."
"And I promise never to hurt you again."
Erik shook his head at the adamancy in her gaze. "No, don't make promises like that. It will kill me when it is broken."
"It won't be broken," she assured, wholehearted. "It will never be broken."
Arguments fluttered through his guilt-ridden mind, but he mercifully buried them and only leaned close to find her lips with his. Her promise could only end up shattered to fragments of letters, but for now, he would pretend that it was a true vow.
As he kissed her, passion grew and shrouded reason, and it thrilled him as she wrapped her arms around him and pressed herself against him, as if familiar with the feel of his body and the desire his kisses brought. He could only recall a girl so inhibited by her fears that she'd made every sensation between them into a sin. This girl was willing to feel and to love, and he deemed it a blessing he never wanted to lose.
Drawing back with hovering lips only a breath from his, she whispered, "For everything I can't remember about our story, I do know I loved you. I can feel it in my soul."
"Yes!" he declared passionately. "Yes, yes, you love me to the deepest recesses of your heart and your soul." It was the truth; if he wasn't sure of it before a fall and a trauma, he was now.
Her blue eyes were hazy with the desire spinning within her as they locked on his lips as though mesmerized by them. "And did you love me that much?"
"More, so much more. I would have died for you, killed for you. You were my everything… You are my everything." These were the proclamations he had made so often before, devoted and pouring adoration like salt on wounds he himself had caused as she had turned a blind eye, unwilling to listen when sin had been his instrument. But not now. Now she was the Christine he had always known she could be, savoring his declarations and the power of the emotions behind them.
"I can feel every word you say," she admitted, holding his eye so close to her own. "I don't remember you, but my heart remembers what it felt, …what it feels now."
"Say it," he commanded urgently. "Tell me what you feel. Say the words. I beg of you."
"I love you," she replied, and as soon as she spoke, he captured her lips in a hungry kiss, clasping her tightly and drawing her onto his lap. She accepted all of this eagerly, willingly, surrendering to everything he yearned to give.
When he ended the kiss, the need in his eyes told her what he wanted, scripted so plainly that she was awed by its construction, but he abruptly composed himself, drawing away from her and taking the heart she'd felt beating in time with her own with him. She felt cold everywhere his body had made her warm, wondering what was causing such sadness to overtake his eyes.
"We should get back," he told her with a measure of apathy, and it hurt her to her core.
Silence stretched like a chasm between them. When they returned to the house, he avoided her presence, locking himself away in his music room with his piano. She busied her unsteady hands with cleaning tasks, compelled to do anything that would keep her head clear, and yet every few minutes, she walked past the closed music room door, debating entering or not as she pondered what could be said. She didn't know if he would let her understand, …if he would only draw her in to push her away again.
And so, she spent the remainder of the day alone, missing his company. It wasn't until quite late that she heard the click of the doorknob as he finally exited the room. She had bathed and dressed for bed, sitting idly in the living room, trying to read but unable to concentrate. She wanted to go to him, but forced herself to wait, to allow him to seek her out if he wished.
A few minutes later, Erik entered the room, his eyes drawn to her. With urgent steps, he came to stand before her and suddenly slid to his knees at her feet.
"I am not a good man," he said with a seriousness that made her uneasy. "I have done terrible things in my life, unforgivable things… I don't deserve your love even though it is all I have ever wanted." He caught her hands in his, holding them atop her knees as his lips formed solemn kisses against her palms.
She closed her eyes at the rush of heat that shot through her like lightning from a summer storm. In a whisper, she begged, "Kiss me please, Erik."
He lifted onto his knees and eagerly obeyed, groaning low in his chest when without reservation, she slid her tongue into his mouth, tempting him. She was letting passion guide her, forgetting all but the need and the moment. As her hands wandered the broadness of his shoulders and began a path down his chest, he caught them in his and pulled back.
"Christine," he warned, fighting to catch his breath.
Part of her wanted to shy away, but she refused to give in to it. She had supposedly conquered the stage of the Paris opera as a diva. Of course she couldn't remember it, but the strength must be rooted somewhere inside of her. She was not about to become timid with the man she loved.
"I have no memory of our wedding," she told him sincerely. "I don't remember our first kiss or the first time we made love. But if I can have this now, then I can have something to remember as mine. You are my husband, Erik; don't push me away."
He was torn in two. Any sense of morality he still possessed bid him not to dare give in and commit such a heinous crime. How could it be anything but a sin? Manipulating her mind was bad enough, but taking her innocence under this lie was a damning act. And yet as she held his eye with such fiery intensity in her stare, he was overwhelmed with his need to claim her.
Damn his weak soul! With a growl of desire, he captured her lips again, swallowing her in desperate kisses that she met without pause. When he had to stop or perish from lack of breath, he swept her into his arms and carried her up the stairs to the bedroom, pressing feather light kisses to her features as he went.
Arriving before their bed, he laid her gently on the mattress, studying at her all the while. As his fingers worked to unbraid her curls, he urged, "You do not have to consent to this. I would never force you. It is entirely your choice."
"I want this," she whispered in return, lifting herself to kneel on the mattress before where he stood. She found the buttons of his shirt and opened them with nimble fingers until his white chest was revealed to her curious gaze.
Erik closed his eyes as she trailed her quivering fingertips down and back up his chest before pressing her palms flat to that expanse of flesh. How he burned for her! Hurriedly, he pushed his shirt off his shoulders so that it fell messily to the carpet and reached for the ribbon at the neckline of her nightdress, untying with a deliberate laziness.
Christine was trying so hard not to appear nervous even as her stomach knotted in anxious fear. She kept insisting to herself that she had done this before. It shouldn't be so monumental, but…she still felt clumsy and uncertain, as if the body of her husband was a mystery she had yet to solve.
Reading her emotions in a set gaze, he asked, "Are you afraid of me?"
"Not of you," she replied, her voice wavering in spite of herself. "I…I want to please you so much, but…I'm not sure what you would have me do."
Of course she wasn't, his mind insisted, piercing him with blaming regret. She was a virgin, and he had her believing otherwise.
"You already please me far more than you could ever know," he told her tenderly. "Just knowing that you desire me pleases me."
Studying his reactions intently, she suddenly lifted off her nightdress, revealing flimsy underclothes. He swallowed hard, trying to remember how to breathe, and as he watched, transfixed by every detail, she stripped off her undergarments with fingers that trembled and quaked until she was bared to him.
Erik felt his body harden and throb with an excruciating ache. "May I…touch you?"
As an answer, she captured his hand in hers and brought it to her breast, gasping at the first contact of skin to skin. He allowed her to guide his fingers in no rush as she delicately led his fingertip around her nipple. It hardened in response, and she whimpered so desperately that it burned his ears.
Chewing her bottom lip in her effort to be brave, she sought his other hand, and holding his eye as his gaze only urged her to continue, she brought it down to the heated wetness between her legs.
Erik moaned, his body throbbing when he found the softness of her velvet folds and the enticing wetness that surrounded his fingertips. He did not pull free of her grip and let her direct his movements. She'd believe she was giving permission for his touch; he took it as teaching him what would please her. Guiding his hand with muffled cries of her delight, she drew his fingertips to a spot that made her shudder and cry out, her wide, surprised eyes holding his as she moved his succumbing fingers in a gentle circle. She was obviously as astounded as he was by how simple touches could overwhelm.
He was burning from her passionate display. After a few moments, her quivering fingers released him, and he happily continued with his caresses, confident that he was pleasing her. As her cries echoed in his ears, he grew more daring and slid one of his fingers deep within her.
Christine lost a desperate shout and arched eagerly to his touch as the need built within her. Higher and higher until she clutched his shoulders to keep upright, and she desperately breathed, "Don't stop," as her explosion washed through her with pleasure so intense that it made her dizzy. "Erik," she whispered as her senses returned and pressed her mouth to his.
Erik smiled against her lips, pleased with himself for giving her such ecstasy but equally victim to his own passion.
"Christine," he nearly begged. "I need… I need you now."
She nodded. "Anything."
Hardly breathing, he finished undressing under her curious gaze, watching her eyes widen as they landed on his erect manhood.
"May I…may I touch you?" she asked his earlier question with a tremble in her voice. And as if eager for just that, he imitated her game, seeking her hand and leading it to his aching body. She was intrigued by the texture of him, allowing him to move her hand gently up and down the shaft as his ragged breaths echoed in her ears and encouraged when he released her hand and let her continue on her own.
For long moments, he delighted in the bliss of her touch, but before he could find completion as it dangled within his grasp, he gently drew her hand away and commanded in a husky voice, "Lie down."
She did so willingly, eagerly, and gave a muffled cry as he climbed atop her soft body, positioning himself between her legs. He was deliberately gentle, holding her eye reassuringly as he entered her. Just as he knew he would, he met the barrier of her virginity, and keeping her gaze in his, he broke through it with a deep thrust. She gave a surprised cry, tears immediately filling her blue eyes.
How it hurt him to hurt her! Desperate to calm her, he began to sing a soft, wordless melody, knowing the effect his voice had on her. Past or present, it would always be the same.
Christine was encircled in those golden tones, soothed to her very soul, the voice so familiar as if it sang to her this way in her every dream. He was moving gently in and out of her, but she knew only the solace and warmth of his song, rushing like tender heat through her limbs and weaving about her core.
As passion grew within him, she ran her hands down the length of his arms until she could entwine her fingers with his, palm to palm. Even as his release approached, he kept singing softly against her ear, stopping only with the delicious crescendo within his body as instead, he gasped her name in fervent abandon, the most beautiful song in existence.
Riding the dulling waves of his desire, he pressed kisses to her forehead, cheek, shoulder, clinging still to her hands as if he would never let go.
"I love you," he whispered against her hairline, adding a sacred kiss. "Forgive me for hurting you."
The pain was hardly a memory to her now, the power of his spell creating wispy clouds in her eyes. His voice played in her head in every lyrical line he'd sung, and with a delicious sigh, she bid, "Sing for me again."
He did not deny her; he never could. In a tone laden in emotion, he sang until lulled by the sound, she drifted to sleep. For a long time after, he kept the music as their ally and gazed at her with eyes that reflected only sorrow.
The next morning, Christine awoke to find another rose left on Erik's pillow for her. A secretive smile lit her lips with the vivid memories of the previous night, leaving her with the intense need to see him.
Pulling on a soft robe and tying it securely at the waist, she hurried out of the bedroom in search of him and found him working on his music at the piano.
"Good morning," she called sweetly as she entered the room. With a skip in her step, she came behind and wrapped her arms around him, leaning down to press her bare cheek to his.
Erik covered her hands with his, lifting one to kiss her palm lovingly. "Good morning, my love. Did you sleep well?"
"Exceedingly, but I missed you when I woke up."
"I'm up with the sun," he told her, smiling over his shoulder at her. But as his eyes trailed her face, his expression suddenly dimmed. "Are you…all right? After last night, I mean?"
She nodded with her secretive smile undeterred, kissing his cheek tenderly. "More than all right, I'd say."
Relieved for reasons he did not share, he abruptly changed the subject. "So what would you like to do today?"
Standing upright, she walked around the bench to face him. "Actually, I thought that perhaps we could go shopping in the city. I would love to buy a few things for this house to truly make it our home."
The city… Erik knew what danger that posed. The Vicomte likely had people all over searching for Christine. "You…are still recovering. A trip into the city may be too much for you yet."
"Oh, please, Erik. I feel fine, wonderful even. I just want to create the home I always envisioned for us."
"Please, Erik. I already have so many ideas in my mind. I don't want to wait a moment longer." Her eyes were pleading with equaled fervor, and though he was disinclined to agree to her plan, he yearned to keep her happiness as his.
"All right," he conceded and was rewarded with her brilliant smile. "But we cannot stay long."
She clapped her hands with excitement. "Not long at all. Let me just get ready." Pressing a quick kiss to his cheek, she ran from the room as he worriedly stared after her.
Within the hour, they were en route to Paris in the horse and buggy. Erik was determined to stay off the main streets, instead taking byways and alleys to one of the fancier boutiques in the city. As they arrived, he sent her in alone and stayed guard outside, casting suspicious glances at every corner and shadow. He was not giving Christine up now, no matter what he had to do to keep her.
Making sure that Christine was busily shopping in the store, he dared to wander the length of the block to check around the corner. It didn't surprise him when he saw a carriage with the de Chagny crest parked to one side and a group of soldiers walking the street. Well, of course! The fiancée of a noble aristocrat was kidnapped by a disfigured monster and murderer! It was practically a national tragedy!
Ducking into the shadows, he hurried back to the boutique just as Christine was rushing to meet him.
"Wait until you see what I bought!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. "The shop attendants are bringing my things to the buggy."
Without hesitation, Erik caught her hand in his and drew her into the darkness with him.
"Is…something wrong?" she asked, worry fringing her voice.
"Of course not," he replied and feigned a reassuring smile. "You found some things?"
Her exuberance won over her concern as she gushed, "Lovely, lovely things! I cannot wait to show you!"
He was silent a long moment, gazing around them with nerves building in his gut. He had to keep her unseen… Withdrawing some coins from his pocket, he offered them to her. "The bakery is across the street. Why don't you go and buy some of those croissants you like or some pastries? Whatever you wish."
Lifting her hand to his cheek, she demanded, "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Fine," he replied, guiding her toward the path to the bakery. "I will await your purchases and get them loaded into the buggy. I only hope there will be room for us as well."
"It will be quite full," she agreed with a grin. "All right then. I will return shortly."
With a quick kiss, she scurried off as Erik kept a close watch on her every movement. He reasoned that she was far safer indoors than out on the street until the buggy was loaded. In his head, he said a prayer that they would get away unnoticed, but he knew that it was a pointless gesture; for his sins, God had cursed him long ago, and He certainly would not aid him in committing another one, especially when one of His precious lambs was a victim.
At last as Erik cast suspicious glances all around, they were in the buggy, and he was steering them out of the city at a flustered speed.
"Can we drive past the opera house?" she asked in a singsong tone.
"No," he abruptly replied. "No, …I mean there was an accident a few weeks ago, and it is closed until repairs are complete." He left out that he himself was the cause of the accident during his desperate attempt to have her.
"An accident! I hope no one was hurt."
"No, there was just some damage. It will reopen soon enough."
She nodded. "And then will you take me to see a performance?"
The very idea made his heart leap in his chest in warning. Too many people would recognize her; he couldn't take such a chance, and yet he was loathe to tell her so. "Maybe… Or maybe we should take a trip to see the operas of Milan. We haven't had a honeymoon, and Italy is a beautiful country. You would adore it."
"Italy," she breathed in anticipation. "Oh, that would be divine!"
"Yes, it will. It will…" Sliding an arm around her shoulders, he drew her close as they rode home.
Erik could not deny how lovely the things Christine had purchased were. They were just so utterly Christine, so warmly feminine, silly little details like rose-painted vases and beaded lamps. She took great care to arrange each and every object, smiling proudly at her accomplishments, and with adoration gleaming in his eyes, he watched her. Every graceful movement of her body drew his eye and recalled a heated memory of the previous night until he could feel himself aching with the potency of desire.
Lifting her eyes to him as she placed a small half-table against a wall, she raised one dark brow at his expression. "And what, may I ask, are you thinking about?"
"Kissing every inch of your body."
She blushed beneath a shy smile. "Indeed?"
He nodded confidently, letting his eyes wander her once again with a certain languidness that doted on every feature. "Will you deny me?"
"No." Her voice was a passionate whisper, her desire igniting simply with his hungry perusal.
"Come to me," he bid, and she immediately complied, wandering to stand before his chair. Without hesitation, she climbed onto his lap and weaved her arms around his neck.
Her lips were willing and eager when his found them, parting to invite his tongue to slip inside, and as he hungrily deepened the kiss, she arched her body against his without inhibition.
One minute more and then she suddenly rose and disentangled from him to his disappointed groan.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked, reaching for her even as she avoided his hand.
"I feel like a bath." She strode to the doorway and then called over her shoulder temptingly, "Would you care to join me?"
Erik leapt out of his chair and hurried after her as she walked to the bath chamber, trembling with the idea alone.
As water began to fill the tub, he undressed her with careful attention, growing dizzy on passion's intoxication as it swept within him. It was like an drug that stole away everything but this moment. Even guilt faded into its background. When she was bare, he neglected touches beyond ushering her into the tub, kneeling beside to watch her lower herself into the fragrant bubbled water.
Like she was his greatest and most fragile treasure, he tenderly washed her hair, working his fingers into the silken tresses and out again. And then as his body ached and throbbed a delirious yearning, he gently washed her skin, running the towel sensuously over her body as she closed her eyes and gave small whimpers that echoed the room and tickled his ears.
Erik ran the washcloth over her nipple, and unable to keep control, he leaned across the edge of the tub to take it between his lips. Moaning delight, she tangled her wet fingers in his hair, clasping his mouth to her breast as his tongue circled the hardened peak and made her shiver.
"Christine," he breathed, drawing his mouth away. "I am aching for you."
She nodded her consent and rose, water dripping from her wet body. Offering a towel, he helped her climb out of the tub and wrapped her in its warmth, rubbing it against her shoulders.
"Erik," she whispered desperately, and reveling in her need, he swept her body into his arms and carried her to the bedroom, laying her, wet towel and all, on the mattress.
True to his word, he took his time and kissed her everywhere, burning when he found her wetness with his tongue. She cried out, burrowing her damp locks into her pillow as she arched off the mattress. All she could do was surrender and suffer as victim to his amorous attentions as he teased and tempted her, and with a delirious shout, the pleasure overcame her.
Erik lightened the caresses his tongue bestowed on her heated womanhood as she rode out her explosion, reluctant to cease when she was so beautiful and so decisively his. When, at last, he made a path of kisses up to her eager mouth, he was eager to have her.
He entered her with a swift thrust that caused her to moan and arch up to him, clinging to him with trembling arms. Unrushed, he savored every motion, moving in and out as his lips formed gentle kisses against her temple. The very thought that he could have lost her today made him all the more determined to surrender all that he was to her and cherish every moment he had.
Ecstasy was slow to build, and as he found fulfillment with a guttural cry, she, too, succumbed to pleasure once again.
"I want more," he whispered near her ear. "I want forever."
"You have forever," she replied, kissing his jaw. "Beyond life and death, I am yours."
Dear God, how he yearned for it to be true! He would give everything for it, and yet he knew that it could never be enough. He was undeserving…
Christine awoke in an unfamiliar bed, stretching and yawning with the faint sound of music playing in her mind. She sat up slowly and let her eyes roam her surroundings. It was so dark and cold, the walls made of stone, the ceiling the same. Where was she? …She couldn't remember.
The sound of a gentle melody played on a pipe organ resounded through the room, drawing her attention and curiosity. She knew the source of the music, and yet at the same time, she didn't know it at all. Rising on shaky knees, she wandered entranced toward the music, drawn to it inexplicably as if it called to her soul.
She saw his shape, sitting with his back to her at his brilliant pipe organ. The man… He had been there the previous night, singing to her, telling her that he was the Angel of Music… Her angel, her teacher. Approaching him with hesitant awe, she felt unworthy to be in his presence. …And yet he remained concealed behind a mask, hiding the beauty she knew he possessed. She needed to see his face, to show him that she was devoted to him, that she would not cower in his beauteous aura.
Creeping behind him, she sought the mask with determined fingers, grasping its manmade material and pulling it away in one quick jerk.
He flipped around to face her with fire burning in his eyes, and the mask fell with a deafening whoosh to the ground. Dear God, no…
With a terrified gasp, Christine shot up beneath the covers of her bed. She was gulping breaths of air as if she had been suffocated, her entire body covered in a thin sheen of sweat and shaking violently.
"Oh God," she moaned pitifully, drawing her knees to her chest.
Outside, lightning flashed, brightening the dark sky before it was distantly followed by a far off rumble. Glancing to the other side of the bed, she was relieved to find herself alone. He wasn't there, …and yet she caught the faint sound of chords from the piano downstairs. How familiar…
Rising from the bed on shaking legs, she dressed quickly with a look at the clock that told her that it was too early for the sun to rise and the day to begin. Thunder rumbled again, closer this time as the storm approached.
Christine ran her fingers through her loose curls to untangle them, casting one more glance at the mussed sheets of the bed. There, he had taken her, and she had been willing, eager, loving, crying out that she wanted forever. Every letter hung heavy on her soul as she reluctantly turned away and left the room, following the sound of the gentle melody down the stairs to the music room. On feet that barely made a whisper along the carpet, she came up behind him and rested her shaking hands on his shoulders.
Erik had felt her presence the instant she entered the room and delighted in her nearness. Halting his fingers on the keys, he set his palm atop her hand and gently bid, "Couldn't sleep, my love?"
"No," she replied softly.
"Did the impending storm wake you?"
"I… Yes, the storm."
Lifting his eyes, Erik studied her with concern, noticing the faint sparkle of tears in her eyes. "Christine, …what is it? Are you all right?"
She feigned a smile and replied, "Just…happy." Leaning in close to press her cheek to his bare one, she gently asked, "Will you play something for me?"
Without hesitation, his fingers grazed the keys again, and he fell into a Mozart adagio, relishing her nearness as he created for her alone.
Her tears fell faster, wetting his cheek on their descent, but she knew he would assume they were a product of the music as her trembling hand lifted to his mask. Closing her eyes so she would not see her own deception, she stole the mask and drew back, holding it in her hands as she waited for him to face her.
Erik stopped mid-chord, his fingers poised in the air above the keys that would go un-played. The cold air swept over his scars, but he hardly noticed over to the cold chill that entered his heart. What had she done? Why…?
"Turn around," she commanded in a voice that shook as much as her body.
Pain and anger were intermingled, each one fighting for supremacy as he obeyed, turning to face her. His eyes were accusing and bitter, but as she suddenly burst into tears, he knew only a dull ache in his heart.
"No…no," she whispered. With the vision of that twisted face came her memories in a rush of emotion that took her breath away. One hand rose to cover her mouth and muffle the gut-wrenching sob, but as it racked her small frame, it rocked her body on her feet like an earthquake.
Erik didn't have to ask; he knew she remembered everything. Her eyes suddenly lost their innocence; it was engulfed in a wave of a thousand pains and injustices. He did not replace his mask, did not bother to shield his disfigurement. Why should he when its ugliness had stared at her in a life before?
"How…how could you?" she demanded in a broken voice, the tears unceasing in their weaving paths over her pale cheeks. When his only response was a seemingly apathetic shrug, she snapped in a bitter shout, "How dare you? How dare you do this to me! I knew you were a monster, but this is far beyond anything I thought you would do to hurt me. This was… My God, you twisted me around and toyed with my feelings as if they meant nothing at all, as if I was not even a human being."
His gaze grew cold as he replied, "A familiar situation, isn't it? How does it feel?"
Gaping at him, she almost couldn't speak with a rush of rage within her as it swallowed words and speech in its swell. Finally, she softly hissed, "So that was it then. This was about revenge? About repaying me all the pain I caused you?"
He cringed and shook his head. "No, that wasn't it at all."
"Then tell me why. Why did you do this?"
Erik's eyes trailed over her, taking in her desperate need for some explanation, as though she was mercifully giving him a chance to justify himself. …And yet how could he? "You wouldn't understand."
Throwing his mask across the room with a great heave, she shouted with a sob, "Tell me! I want to know what you could have possibly been thinking to do this! To use me like a whore and steal every bit of my soul in your wake!"
"I didn't steal what you so willingly gave," he retorted. How it enraged him to hear her write everything off as if it meant nothing! "And I daresay that the lie was more real and true than anything else has ever been. Only under it were you able to let yourself feel what your heart already knows."
"My heart only feels hatred! That is all it can ever feel!" Her arms wrapped securely around her waist, desperate for solace when all she could feel was lost and vulnerable, hollowed out of her essence. "You stole my innocence; you had no right… It was never yours to take, and yet you did. How can you be so heartless when you claim that you love me?"
"I do love you," he passionately declared, rising to approach, but she recoiled, shrinking out of his reach.
"Don't you dare touch me!" she screamed. "You are a monster! I hate you! I'll only ever hate you until my dying breath! Bastard!"
"Christine." The sorrow in his voice was abysmal as were the tears in his eyes. "Don't…"
Shaking her head, her sobs beyond words, she turned and fled the room, leaving him to stare after her. As soon as he heard the creak of the front door and an exit he knew must be eternal, his senses returned, and he hurried after her.
The sky outside was dark, lit only by passing streaks of lightning, and as a deep rumble shook the ground beneath her, Christine stumbled, falling to the ground. Shoving her disheveled hair out of her eyes, she staggered back to her feet as driving drops of rain began to soak her. She didn't care about anything but escaping this horrible nightmare.
Erik pursued frantically, knowing the dangers out in the storm so far from civilization of any kind. The wind was quickly picking up, bringing a burst of hard rain to beat his unmasked face and make him wince. As lightning flashed again and illuminated the dark, he caught sight of her cream colored shape.
She ran even as her chest heaved, pushing wet curls out of her face as every gust of wind tangled them anew. The wetness seeped to the skin, leaving her chilled and shaking, but undeterred in her course.
And then he was there, grabbing her wet arm and yanking her back.
"No!" she screamed over the deafening sound of nature. "Let me go! No!"
"Stop this, Christine!" he shouted back. "Have some sense! You'll die out here!"
"I'd rather die than be in your presence for one more minute!"
She was twisting and struggling against his viselike grip, and without hesitation, Erik dragged her against himself and tossed her wet body over his shoulder as she screamed. He wasn't about to let her go. Carrying her effortlessly through the woods back to the house, he was relieved by the light coming from the open front door. Light, safety, shelter from the storm that raged all around them. …Inside and out.
Erik brought her to the living room and only then set her on her feet, blocking her path back to the door. She was soaked, her hair a dripping mass down her back; he knew he was the same.
"You need to dry off," he said, grabbing a blanket from the back of the couch and offering it to her.
"Don't act like my well-being suddenly means something to you!"
"But it does-"
"It doesn't!" she interrupted, flaring her arms passionately. "It never has! You care only about yourself and what you want!"
He could tolerate no more. Lunging at her, he caught her arms in a tight grip and yelled back. "You wanted me just as much! Don't forget that I felt it; I heard you crying out my name when you were beneath me and begging me for more. Whatever the pretext, your body was aching for me. Desire does not lie."
She quit struggling and stared at him with fierce eyes as water dripped down her face. Suddenly, anger seemed to melt into a fresh wave of tears. "You lied to me," she whispered desolately. "You manipulated my thoughts, my mind, my heart. I can't forgive that; I can't ever forgive that or what you've stolen from me."
"I know," he replied, somber.
Her brow creased with lines of such intense thoughts, such soul-consuming uncertainty. Her fingers quivered, and slowly, she brought them up to lightly brush over his disfigurement. Closing his eyes, he shuddered at the heat that immediately flooded him. No matter her mind, her memories, his body simply recognized the touch as hers.
Crying softly, she told him, "I want to hate you and curse your soul, …but I can't…"
Erik was crying as well, cupping her face in his palms as he whispered, "Christine…"
In the midst of a sob, she struck his chest with her fists. "How could you do this to me? How could you…?" A few more strikes as the anger poured out of her, and he stood still, enduring every bit. As she sobbed, she suddenly pressed her palms flat to his chest, curling her fingers in the wet material of his shirt. "I love you! Lord help me, I do!"
Dragging her close, he abruptly met her mouth with his. It was passionate, fervent, voracious, and she was just as lost to its spell as he was. His hands grasped at her wet locks, his body arching against her to let her feel the aching hardness of his desire.
There were no words, only raw emotions. Clutching her tightly, he guided them both to the floor, his hands ripping at wet clothes. She was just as frantic, desperate to find his skin.
When he finally entered her, it was rough and hard, more than ever before. Desire was so acute, so real, that it was a tangible thing between them. Making love was necessary as much as breathing; it spoke every sin and equally every underlying beat of hearts. They held each other as close as they could, as if they could mold into one being that would never be separated again, and for one instant, everything fell into its correct place, a puzzle fitted to precision with impermanent pieces.
And when it was over, he held her in his arms, not speaking or thinking, only feeling.
Eventually, sleep came, bringing a blissful, numbing release from emotion and pain. She was curled in his arms, warm and safe, beneath a blanket on the floor, and that was enough.
When Erik awoke the next morning, he was alone. With a wave of dread, his memories of the previous night returned, and he knew even without a glance at the dead rose lying where she had been that she was gone; she would not return. Her voice echoed in his head with her grief-stricken words. She could never forgive him; he would never forgive himself. It was bitter reality that offered no solace. His heart was broken into sharp-edged shards, each one slicing into him to pierce his soul. He felt empty. The rest of his life would be a meaningless waste, for hope was as dead as the rose he crushed in a fisted palm, deafened by the crunch of splitting petals into thousands of pieces.
He considered going after her, stealing her away again until she realized that she was just as broken without him. But he couldn't; he wouldn't. The other Christine, the one she had once been, could have loved him and been happy, but this one, the one he himself had created, was doomed to a harsh life of sorrow. The past had shaped her, and she could never let it go, condemning them both to solitude.
Rising on shaky knees, he wandered to the window and peered out to the sunlit day, yet all he saw was darkness. Darkness was his life and would be his death as well.
"Darkness in my soul, darkness in my world," he muttered softly. "And she will bring the light, and when she leaves, only darkness…"