A/N: I am sorry for the wait between updates. I wish I had a valid excuse besides "I've been busy" but unfortunately, I don't…my sincere apologies.
As I rose, I noticed he had placed his cloak over me for added warmth, and I couldn't contain my smile. I removed the borrowed one I had been wearing in favor of his, knowing I would need it due to the constant chill down here, and knowing he wouldn't due to the extravagant number of back ups in his wardrobe. It smelled very faintly of roses, a scent I would probably always associate with him.
I could hear voices as I made to leave the washroom, nothing distinct, just garbled bits of conversation. I had to tear my eyes away from his tub and its vast network of pipes and spigots. It was unbelievably large, and I couldn't help imagining myself soaking away the chill in it. As I neared the organ though, I recognized the sharp voice of Mme. Giry.
"Tread carefully there; he is important to us all – even if you're not able to see that right now." I was all too familiar with the reprimanding tone, but I had to grin at her using it on him. She was probably the only one who could walk away from that unscathed, and his stern gaze didn't seem to affect her as much as it did me.
I cleared my throat softly, not wanting to walk in on their conversation unannounced. I was very curious, but I didn't want her reprimanding me for bad manners, especially in front of him. They both looked up at the sound. She smiled warmly at me, and though it was genuine, I could see the tension behind it. He, on the other hand, looked at me nervously and slightly…flushed? Could that be possible?
"Good morning," his voice was an octave higher than usual, now I was really curious what they were talking about. I smiled in response and bowed my head slightly at them both. He walked over and offered his hand to help me down the steps from the dais where the organ was located. I couldn't help but notice he was wearing gloves.
"How is your hand?" I asked, rather more shyly than I meant to, but remembering our talk last night. I looked anxiously to the small table, unwilling to get too near the repulsive smell of the absinth bottle, but all of the paraphernalia from his injury was gone now. In its place sat a satchel with two baguettes poking out the end.
"On the mend," He replied, flexing and releasing his hand a few times to prove his point. His voice was better, but not what I knew it could be. Then he turned back to her and they exchanged a knowing glance. Curiosity was now flaring; I had to bite my lip to keep from asking what they knew that I didn't.
Distantly I wondered how long he planned for me to stay here…or for him to keep me here. I didn't mind, but I remembered only too well how strange and lonely it had felt to be here without him yesterday, and how embarrassingly my mind had wandered. I had touched his things, things that seemed part of a museum collection for their variety, beauty and sheer neatness and precise placement of everything. Today, though, he had provided me with company, and I wanted to put that time to good use, hopefully glean some knowledge about him by asking her things I would never be able to ask him.
He approached me again, buckling his sword at his side. "I am not sure how long I will be away," taking my hand and turning it over to lightly kiss my palm. It was so much more intimate a gesture than the traditional kissing of the fingers or back of the hand. I fought a smile, and a blush, but the fact that he was taking a weapon made me a little uneasy.
There were a few things I wanted to ask…where are you going, exactly?… Why do you need a sword? …Will you promise to be careful? …Do you really need to go? … What are your feelings about the kiss we shared? But they were questions that would never find voice and I would have to be content with that.
Madame Giry seemed sure that would be the end of his goodbye speech. "Come, child, let's get you something to eat." She said in her mothering tone, grabbing the satchel from the table. I didn't turn to follow, not ready to walk away from him quite yet. It was almost easier to talk to him when he was angry, at least then I knew what to expect…snide or not, he would speak the truth about how he felt. Or, more likely, I felt a little braver when I was a little angry myself. Right now we both seemed a bit too shy and embarrassed to say much of anything important.
I wanted to talk more as we had last night, and I wanted to know if the kiss had any effect other than bringing him back to reality. I didn't want polite conversation and another goodbye so soon.
He was leaving though, that much was obvious and somehow, I knew, inevitable. This relationship had always been complicated, even when I was a girl and he was my angel, my teacher, nothing was simple with him. He was demanding to a fault, a perfectionist in all things and only as I grew did I realize there was a passion to every single thing that he did and said. He was intense in a way that even Mme. Giry could never be, but his compassion was as unmatched as his passion at times. And even though our entire history was based upon a lie, his lie, I was now greatly inclined to take everything he said as truth. I only wished that he had more to say. Well, I was sure he had more to say, I just wished that he would actually say them. I felt like I could sit and talk with him for days about everything that had happened between us.
"Hurry back," was all I could manage as he stepped into the gondola. His answering smile was small and weary, and he seemed uncertain, but the looked vanished quickly, replaced by something entirely more stoic.
"All that is mine is yours Christine…please endeavor to make yourself at home here." He called, pushing the boat off the shore. I blushed, knowing he was remembering yesterday. I stayed there at the water's edge until the portcullis began to descend, and then turned to find Mme. Giry.
"I know you have questions for me, but I will not give you one single answer until you have eaten." She called over her shoulder even before I entered the kitchen. This wasn't entirely surprising; she had practically raised me, and certainly knew me better than anyone except maybe for Meg.
Dutifully, I took a seat at the table and poured the tea she had already set out. Moments later she joined me with a plate of bread, croissants, a few small pastries a wedge of cheese, and an assortment of cold meats. I wasn't particularly hungry, but I was eager to speak with her, so selected a few items from the plate and started to eat. I wanted to retrieve the apricot jam from last night, I had seen where he kept it, but that would just waste time and I was willing to make the concession of eating my bread without it today.
After what I considered enough bites of food, I asked my first question, knowing she expected nothing less. "Last night he…well, he seemed to be…struggling with himself…his temperament was…" I wasn't sure how to phrase what I was trying to say, but thankfully, she did.
"There is so much brilliance trapped in his mind, and so many horrors in his past that sometimes it all becomes too much for him." She explained sadly, but as though she had expected the question. "His emotions are exaggerated, he has had an excess of physical and emotional pain and has since spent his life in near solitude." She sighed heavily and lowered her gaze before continuing. "He has never had another person's feelings or needs to consider, he takes what he wants, and does what he wants regardless of the consequences." She said this warily, but there was an unmistakable undercurrent of pride there as well.
She looked up at me, then down at my plate, clearly indicating I needed to eat more for her to continue. I nibbled on a croissant as I cast an expectant gaze at her. After three small bites she took another deep breath and continued.
"Deep down he knows the concepts of right and wrong, but he has been shunned from society all his life and as a result he refuses to bow to society's conventions. This has lead to a sort of madness that he battles with." She paused to look directly at me, catching my eyes and refusing to let them go. "He is my…friend, but do not misunderstand that. He is dangerous Christine." She didn't look away and she didn't speak again, as if she was waiting to make sure that I understood what she was telling me. I nodded to show that I had heard her words and fully understood her warning.
"He is obsessive to a fault," Her voice had a hard edge to it, something new for her this morning. "He has lain at your feet this immense and tragic love*, and I do not want to see you destroyed by it." I could tell it hurt her to say this, as if it was a betrayal to him.
I felt the tell tale heat on my face at her mention of his "immense love". The heat slowly spread from my face through the rest of my body at the thought of him having those feelings for me, but I wanted to put her mind at ease, this was not easy for her, having to tell me these things about him. "It may be immense, but I'm the one who has made it tragic, not him." I told her truthfully, unaware of how much she knew about the past week.
I didn't really want to talk about that with her, tell her of my poor choices and betrayals. I had already hurt two people close to me, and had no desire to fall in the eyes of another.
"Tell me more about his past," I said more than asked, but very much wanting to change the direction of the conversation. "He called himself the devil's child…do you know what he meant by that?"
She went on to tell me more about his time with the gypsies, elaborating on the details from the story she had told me after that night on the roof. It was so much sadder hearing it now, heart wrenchingly sad, but I wasn't sure if that was because she was telling me differently, with more detail, or because now I cared more than I had then. I felt the heat again, but this was a different heat, not a blush, but the flush of shame.
"…and because of the years he spent in filthy cages and so many horrible conditions he now has an intense and very severe dislike of being unclean, of anything dirty." I had been too engrossed in my own shame to hear the entire thread of conversation, but this last bit of information caught my attention. It would explain why he needed to change his shirt so soon after we had kissed, it would certainly explain the massive tub, and it would explain the meticulous state of these caverns.
We talked like this until it was almost lunchtime. She told me about how she helped him come to the opera house, of the music he had composed, of some of his more outlandish pranks over the years before I was old enough to know of the opera ghost and finally about him becoming my angel of music. That still didn't sit quite right, the years of lies from them both, but I felt I had a better understanding of it now at least.
We had stayed at the table the entire time, picking at the remnants from breakfast, and neither of us needed lunch now. She rose from her chair, and I felt uneasy as I realized she was preparing to leave.
"I can only leave Meg in charge for so long, I must return to rehearsals now child." I was easier when she called me that, much more endearing from her than from him. I knew she was right; her absence would be questioned if she remained here any longer. I did have one last question though.
"Do you know if I will be returning to rehearsals soon?" I didn't want to sound like I was anxious to leave, but in a way I was. I felt like my fate wasn't my own at the moment and it was unsettling.
"I should think tomorrow or the next day," she smiled sadly as she answered.
Why was I constantly running away from her now? Was I so afraid that she would again betray me after what she had seen? I would make it up to her, I would be quick about checking on the viscount and then I would return to spend the afternoon with her. The memory of her kiss came back to me, the feel of her lips as soft and as sweet as the petals of a flower. I couldn't help but want more of that, more of her beautiful hands caressing my face. I stopped myself before I thought of the feel of her body against mine last night… no good could come of that right now.
Where would I find the traitorous spurned lover? Could he possibly still be by her room? Is there any chance that I would be that lucky and that he was actually that stupid?
"Ghost! I'm waiting for you… I know you're here!" The drone was coming from inside her room.
Yes, he actually was that stupid. Had he seriously been waiting for me since he woke and found my… gift? He was inside her room… how is such ignorance from him even possible? I had to stop to consider that.
He is the second son, not really in succession for the title which would fall to his brother, the count's son when he was man enough to finally produce one, a legitimate one. So, maybe the viscount was slow, mentally, and his family just didn't want to lock him away. That was the only fitting possibility, because either he didn't fear me or he didn't care…either one was the thought of a complete moron.
I, on the other hand, was not dumb enough to enter a small room with only one means of escape. Though I doubted he had the intelligence to have a trap waiting for me in there, I would not take that chance. He would never catch me unprepared again. He had made it easy enough for me to find him, but where did I want to confront him?
Certainly not the roof; I had seen enough misery there to last a lifetime, and the thought of throwing him off the roof was far too tempting today. The diva's dressing room was probably the best place, either she was at rehearsal or he would have to make up some excuse to get her to leave the room. I actually hoped she was there because then he would have to listen to her squawking and complaining in that grating, jarring, awful voice. I had to cover my mouth to stifle the chuckle.
It took a few moments for me to recover enough from the humor of that vision to adequately control myself to the degree I needed to throw my voice. I breathed deeply and whispered very softly, "Carlotta's dressing room…ten minutes." I wasn't sure where he was standing inside the room, but it was small enough that I was certain the sound of my whisper would be somewhere very close to him. I repressed a chuckle again at the thought of him swatting the air around himself and checking the shadows for the source of the voice. Even he, it seems couldn't ruin my good mood today.
I arrived first, and peered into the room through the mirror. It was empty, well devoid of people anyways. I originally thought to just speak with him from here instead of entering the room, but upon second thought I decided to face him in person. He already must suspect something was odd about this room, not only because it was my choice of meeting places today, but also because he had heard Christine and I in here the night she disappeared. I didn't mind that he was suspicious, but why give him any more indication that I could enter or view the room from another location? Or that it was a possible entrance to my lair? I wasn't sure if he was clever enough to work that out on his own, but decided against taking the chance.
I entered the room and blew out most of the candles, leaving the space with many welcome shadows, and moved to stand near a hideous and ridiculously large vase of flowers that was particularly deep in the gloomy half light. I expected he would be punctual, most of the elite seemed to pride themselves on that, considering it part of their bragging rights. What I didn't expect was for him to come into the room, sword sheathed and hands far away from it, and say amicably, "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me."
His look was earnest, and only slightly guarded. That was until he glanced around and became seemingly embarrassed that he was talking to himself. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, then stilled as if he had come to some sort of resignation. Without opening his eyes, he started to speak again.
"I think you're probably already here." If he thought that, why would he be standing there, no weapon handy and eyes closed? This couldn't be outright stupidity; even a village half-wit wouldn't display such a complete lack of self preservation.
"I wanted to explain why you saw me outside of Christine's room-" He paused, opened his eyes, and waited a further moment before adding "—face to face." This seemed to be a gesture of trust, good will of sorts, between gentlemen. I had no intention of playing along.
"So, explain." I offered wryly, though without revealing myself. At the sound, he looked around in anticipation, and when I didn't appear he frowned. Unbelievably, he took my lasso from somewhere behind his back and his sword and placed them on the floor directly in front of the door. Then he walked several paces forward, and away from the weapons. It was so odd a gesture that I was momentarily stunned…and people referred to me as mad?
I was not prepared for that, it was entirely unforeseen, and downright astonishing. I had expected this meeting to be tediously uninteresting. I had further expected him to be ill tempered and belligerent, unable to concede. I actually felt almost…cowardly for remaining hidden.
"Well, I agreed that if Christine appeared well, I would not seek you out, but I have to actually see her to judge for myself." He stated, glancing into various corners on the other side of the room. "And you were injured when we last spoke, I didn't know if you were able to get to her." His usual tone of superiority was still absent from his voice, all I could detect was sincerity.
"Your concern is touching," I said with as much malice as I could muster in this slightly bewildered state. "I assure you, she is fine." I wasn't sure why I even added that, especially without any sarcasm. Maybe the genuine interest on his face was a trick of the light, but I had to know. I decided to reveal myself, after fixing a murderous glare in place.
"Thank you," he said simply as I came out from behind the vase. I wasn't sure exactly how to respond to that, so I bowed my head slightly. He looked at me quizzically, perhaps waiting for another response or maybe just sizing me up as competition still.
"She has made her choice, Viscount…you lost." It was only habit that made me say it in such a smug way. He was being nothing less that a gentleman, for perhaps the first time, and it was so unfamiliar to me that I just relied on what I knew well. I didn't trust him, but there was still no need to antagonize him just yet. I wanted to believe he had an ulterior motive for his behavior, something sinister in mind, but he wasn't that good an actor, and I was left feeling he was indeed sincere.
"That is a fact I am well aware of," he looked away, a sort of noble defeat visible in his features. "There is no need for arrogance, I accept her choice. And I apologize for…for earlier…with the mask." Now there was nothing left of the noble set of his features, only concession, and possibly exhaustion.
Hearing those two things together was too much. I couldn't process both at the same time. First, he was calling me arrogant…me. There was no condescension, no accusation; it was simply said as a statement, as if talking about the weather. Then there was the apology, repentant and, in the midst of this bizarre exchange, believable. I had no idea what brought on this sudden change in his behavior, maybe it was the unspoken threat of the lasso, maybe not, but I had no desire to respond to his previous statements.
"Why the sudden change of heart, Viscount?" I made sure just the right amount of sarcasm was present this time. It affected him, more than he was willing to let show, but he couldn't hide the tight creases that formed between his brow or the slight widening of his eyes.
"I told you, I accept her choice." Some of his natural haughtiness crept into his voice, but then he bowed his head again, and ran his fingers through his hair. Was it frustration? Resignation?
"You didn't accept it so easily last night, in fact you acted rather like a spoiled child." The fact that it was true didn't mean I wasn't trying to bait him intentionally. I wanted him to get angry or at least petulant. This was the boy who had almost ruined everything, the person I had wanted so badly to kill, now he seemed…broken. There was no fun in tormenting someone who was already conquered. I would be lying to myself if I said I didn't relate, at least somewhat. Her betrayal had stung deeply, and now the tables were turned and he was the victim. I would be lying further still if I didn't admit that he was handling it much better than I had.
My words had the opposite effect of my intent. He looked even further dejected. "I know." There was no explanation, no defending his words or actions, none of the things I expected from him. He ran his fingers roughly through his hair again, leaving it messy and disheveled and completely out of character for him. He took a shallow breath and let it out shakily before continuing. "I lost control, I know it. I honestly didn't know she had feelings for you, she always seemed so afraid."
He looked away, casting his eyes around the room, but not letting them settle on anything in particular. I wasn't sure if that was the end of his confession or if there was more. I was sure that this was harder for him than he wanted me to know. I watched him closely for a few moments, and when the silence was so awkward I was ready to speak despite having nothing really to say, he took another deep breath and turned back to face me, opening his mouth to speak again.
"It was tearing her apart—having to choose—you saw what it did to her, I know you did. She is the saint here and we are the sinners for putting her through this." He finished softly, looking away again.
Could he really forgive her that easily? Could he put aside his love for her and his anger… his hatred for me because he thought it was the right thing to do, this selfless act of being the bigger man?
I felt completely outside the control of this entire exchange. He had not uttered a single predictable word and what he had offered had been unabashedly honest and true. I couldn't accept the thought that I had misjudged him from the start, but maybe this unexpected behavior came as a result of losing Christine. It seemed I wasn't the only man she had this kind of power over, though again, he found a way to be much more mature about it than I was.
Not that his…blessing, for lack of a better word, was important to me, but I suddenly wanted nothing more than to be with her right now. I wanted to begin again, with the recent past forgotten, or at least stowed away some place where it wouldn't affect our life together. I wanted to end this exchange, as eye opening as it had been.
"You need not worry; I will treat her well, as promised." I was going for a cool and offhand tone, but even I heard the note of gratitude woven in. It is possible he isn't quite as stupid as I originally thought, but if he noticed the unintended thank you in my voice, he hid it well.
"See that you do; I will be checking…and," he looked away for a moment then turned back, but looked at a spot somewhere over my shoulder instead of looking directly at me, "make her happy, she deserves that."
"You have my word on it, viscount." There was nothing left to say, and neither Christine nor Antoinette could fault me for the surprising turn of events. The opera patron and I were certainly not friends, but it seemed we were no longer enemies.
* Quote from the original Leroux text.
A/N I suspect there is only one chapter left, and a few people have asked if the rating would be changed to M. I'm not opposed to that, so if anyone has an opinion about it, please let me know.