Author's Note: I gave in. I was supposed to be working on NaNoWriMo, but I love the two of them too much. Enjoy my interpretation of Leroux's characters!
Christine could hardly help herself. She knew that Erik was occupied, and that he really should not be disturbed in this state, but she was too impatient. He had been playing violin all day, and it had left her with memories of her childhood and a nostalgic restlessness. It took her until three o'clock to finally break down, and she stood quietly in the doorway until Erik took notice of her. That took a long time in itself, as he was facing half away from her and absorbed as usual in his work. At last, though, he caught sight of her. "Christine?" he asked, bow dropping from the violin.
"Erik," she greeted, her hands clasped in front of her. He still had his mask on. Christine should not have been relieved at that, but she was—and felt guilty for it. It was true that she could manage the sight of his face, but she would still rather not. "I know you're busy… but I wondered whether you might take me up to the surface if you are finished?"
"Finished!" Erik jerked the bow across the strings a couple of times. "Hardly! I am not started—only one movement in—this will take time. You know I can work for days at a time on such things, my dear."
"Yes." She knew that well enough. Erik had erratic habits. At times like this, he hardly ate or slept, if he did so at all. "But once you are finished…"
He hesitated, but when he spoke, she could read nothing from his voice except some form of disquiet. "Then you would like to have an outing?"
"With you," she clarified hastily. She was not certain whether he still feared her trying to escape, but she certainly did not want to give him any reason to return to that mistrust. "Yes. I would very much like to go out."
He hummed pleasantly. "Shall we ride again?"
"I wanted to go swimming," Christine admitted. "It is still warm out, and there is a fine lake to the south…."
"You meant to go out to a lake?" And then his pitch, which had turned up at the end of the question, crashed back down into chiding sarcasm. "Out among the masses, exposed, where people could see. Really! Shall I get my swimming suit? I daresay I'll make a fine sight of a sea monster!"
Christine stepped back at his tone, frowning. "Erik, I'm sorry. I just thought…" She looked down. "Sorry."
"Oh, Christine!" In an instant, he was on his knees before her, grasping her hands lightly in his. "Don't be upset. You must forgive Erik his outbursts. Perhaps something else? We could go out for a walk, somewhere less crowded, or once it gets dark. Would that make you happy?"
It was moments like this that made Christine even happier that he was wearing a mask. His expression when he fell to pleading like this was unbearable. Even now, only subjected to his mournful voice and abject posture, she could not say no to him. "Of course." She smiled to show that it was all right. "After you finish your piece."
"Immediately after," Erik promised. He stood smoothly and returned to the violin. Christine remained where she was, listening to the notes dance and swirl about the room. Erik glanced over at her every so often, mostly when he had done something particularly impressive—which, as far as Christine was concerned, was frequently. Her mind was elsewhere, though. She could not rid herself of the idea of swimming. Eventually, while Erik was transcribing what he had played, she quietly excused herself.
Despite her outward acceptance, Christine could not silence her disappointment. She so wanted to get out in the water. Erik did live his work while he was composing. Even so, she had hoped—not expected, exactly, but hoped—that he would be willing to stop and take her up to the surface. True, it was possibly pushing it a bit to ask Erik to go out in the open, but she still found herself pacing the Louis-Philippe room in discontent. What was she to do now?
She had sat down on the bed in a huff of frustration before the idea occurred to her. She still could go out to a lake, and she would not have to bother Erik about it. She bit her lip. It would likely be all right; it was not as though she would have to navigate Erik's labyrinth of traps. The lake was right there.
Christine left herself no time to invent an argument against her chosen course of action, making her quiet way out of the house. It was hard to silence her steps when she felt so giddy. The faint sound of the violin followed her out.
The water was dark and cold—but Sweden had been cold, too, and after so much time down here she had adjusted somewhat to the dim light. After glancing back just to be sure, Christine stripped down to her smallclothes and folded her dress and petticoat so that they would remain dry on the shore. Finally, bouncing just a bit, she waded into the water.
The lake was verycold. Christine barely avoided letting out a squeal as it topped her knees. Her steps were short and her descent gradual after that. Eventually, though, she became accustomed to it and was nearly up to her shoulders in water. She twirled about experimentally, making small ripples in the inky surface around her. She smiled delightedly and paused one last time to be sure that she could still hear the music from the house behind her. Surely that had been the hardest of it. Now all she had to do was swim.
If she closed her eyes, it was almost like the summers long ago. She had so loved the water, though she had never quite managed to go entirely under, instead moving along with her head just above the surface. It had been one of her favorite things to do on warm days, and afterwards she would dry off and get dressed and eat something hot that her father made for her. However, all that stopped when they moved to France, and certainly she had had neither the time nor the inclination for such things since he had passed. Only now, enveloped in the cold lake water, did she realize how much she had missed it.
Christine took a deep breath and pushed forward with her toes, stretching her arms out before her. She bounced once on the bed of the lake before she was suspended entirely in water. Her arms made one good stroke and pulled her farther from shore. She kicked, but it was a little ineffectual. Still, for that one moment, she was ecstatic, swimming again just as she had done as a little girl. She could barely stop an elated laugh.
And then she tried to kick again, and realized it was not working.
She remembered swimming, the basic movements, and had assumed that would be enough. Surely she could still do it; it had once come to her so easily. But now she was slowly sinking under. No matter how she reached, she couldn't even brush the lake bed anymore. She slapped and scratched desperately at the surface of the water, tilting her head up to get air. She managed a ragged gasp and then "Erik!" before she was submerged entirely.
No matter how she struggled, Christine could not seem to get back to either the surface or the shore—back to air. Her breath escaped too quickly. She knew she should not try to inhale, but her lungs burned and jerked in frantic spasms, and she could not fight it for long.
Just as she was sure she was about to die, Christine felt herself being dragged through the water. Freezing air hit her face, and she had never been so glad of it. She gulped it in, shaking from the shock, the cold, and the terror that had not gone away yet. Her throat was raw, and she could not stop coughing. Even now that she had air, the panic was choking her, making her breaths ragged.
All of that faded when the voice began to speak. She latched onto it as though it could keep her from drowning all over again. It was gentle, soothing. "Christine, Christine! Why did you come out alone?" Presently, she calmed down enough to realize that Erik was carrying her inside. She could feel the rumble in his chest when he spoke. "The lake is dangerous—quite dangerous—especially when one does not know how to swim!"
Christine did not protest as she was bundled up in a robe and an afghan and placed in front of a fire. Erik vanished into the kitchen, and she was left to feel particularly dense on her own. Of course she would not remember how to swim after all this time. Just because it had once been natural did not mean it would be so now. Could she have been any more dimwitted?
By the time Erik returned with steaming hot tea, she had worked herself up into quite the mood of self-recrimination, and it only became worse when she realized that Erik was soaked to the bone. She gasped. "I'm sorry—your clothes!" He stared at her for a moment as though he had no idea of what she was talking about. Christine flushed and pressed onward as he handed her the cup of tea. "I'm sorry, Erik. I just did not want to bother you, and I thought I remembered how to swim, honest…."
Erik sank to his knees before her with a soft, high keening sound, and she could tell that he had likely not heard a word she had said. She knew this look all too well. "Erik should have listened," he moaned. "Should have listened! How could I be so careless?" He heaved a terrible, shuddering sigh. "Are you all right, Christine?"
"I am fine," she hastened to assure him. When his shoulders drew in even further, she insisted, "Perfectly fine, Erik." She was cold, but warming up, and though her throat was still sore, she could breathe normally. Most importantly, she had not drowned.
"I ignored you." The piteous way he said it made Christine regret having thought that very thing throughout the day. "You left and I did not notice. If you had not cried out…!" He groaned; he was crying. "Erik would never have known!"
"Erik, please, I am all right now." She clutched at the warm cup of tea, never certain of what to do when he fell to this. "It was not your fault! I should have known better than to go into the lake without… without telling you." She should have known better than to go into the lake at all.
Suddenly, Erik was looming over her, all blazing command. "Indeed you should have—foolish girl!"
She shrunk back at the sudden anger. "I…"
He stalked to the far side of the parlor, every motion stiff and sharp. "You know of the traps around—you know! Erik's home is very well protected, is it not?" He spun to face her and boomed out, "But the defenses could have caught Christine! Don't you know the siren lives in that lake?"
Christine could only stare at him with wide eyes and cling to the tea as if it were some kind of protection. After a moment, his fury passed and rushed out of him in a long exhalation. He seemed smaller for it. He groaned again, softly, and watched her sorrowfully for a moment before turning to leave.
Christine looked down at the cup of tea and the afghan for a moment, steadying herself. "Erik," she called. He stopped. "I'm sorry I frightened you." He turned toward her at that, and though she could not tell precisely what he was thinking, she knew she was right about that much. "And thank you for coming to save me."
Erik relaxed with a slightly affronted mutter. "Of course." He approached cautiously, as if she were a skittish deer. "I did not mean to be angry with you."
She nodded and offered a small, warm smile. It might have frightened her, but she did understand. She took a sip of the tea before venturing meekly, "I don't have much interest in going swimming anymore." He chuckled—not loudly, but at least it was real and not hysterical. Christine, encouraged, went on. "But could we still go out for a walk sometime?"
This time, when he dropped to a knee beside her chair, it was not to beg, but to get closer to her eye level. Erik was so tall that she still had to look up at him. "Truly?"
"Yes," she replied at once. "If you don't mind." She picked at the afghan and smiled again, something mildly teasing rather than her usual soothing, reassuring expression. "Perhaps at night, somewhere not so crowded."
There was no way to tell whether he was returning the smile, of course, and his tone was very solemn as he stated, "No lakes." Still, Christine sensed he was not being as serious as he pretended.
"No lakes," she agreed. Her mouth twisted down in concern as she looked down at his dripping suit again. "You must be freezing. You should change into something dry." However, Erik remained where he was, simply gazing at her, and though she could not see his expression, Christine bit her lip and looked down at her tea. "Erik?" she prompted after a few moments.
"Yes, yes," he sighed, as though getting dry and warm were some particularly tiresome chore. He rose and strode into his room. Christine remained, sipping on her tea. She was thoroughly thawed out by now, but it was very comfortable under all the cloth. She had finished drinking by the time Erik reemerged, clad in a clean, dry evening suit and a more cheerful air. He stood authoritatively before her, and Christine looked up attentively. "We shall take a walk out of doors tomorrow," he announced slowly, gauging her reaction.
"Tomorrow?" she repeated. It surprised her, and then she realized why. "What about your composition?"
He tilted his head innocently. "It seems my muse has been mysteriously interrupted," he informed her, tone hovering between airy and scolding in a way that only Erik could manage.
Christine truly beamed then, and mask or no, she was completely certain that Erik was smiling back at her.