Author's Note: I feel less satisfied about the way this one turned out, but at the same time, I am too fond of it to let it go.
"His eyes are so deep that you can hardly see the fixed pupils. You just see two big black holes, as in a dead man's skull."
It was difficult to tell precisely how often Erik took Christine on excursions to the surface. She could not tell time in his underground home, where day and night were part of one seamless passing, and so she could not have even said whether these trips happened with any regularity. She only knew that every so often, when she was beginning to feel restless in the confines of the house, he would take her up to the streets of Paris. Sometimes he would offer gallantly, and sometimes he would simply announce it, but in any case he would wait intently for her pleasant surprise before continuing.
Christine had not been particular about the setting of these outings since her near-drowning, and as such, things between them had remained relatively agreeable. They went out at night, often confined to the brougham, but sometimes venturing to less crowded areas for walks. Erik refused to disclose what the nature of their excursion would be tonight, merely evading any questions with a vague "Hmm!" or chiding her for tarrying when she was the one who so wanted to go out. Miffed but unable to properly counter this argument, Christine merely got dressed for the outdoors—something light, since it was not quite fall yet and therefore still tolerably warm out. So prepared, she followed Erik up the dark, winding tunnels to the Rue Scribe entrance. It was dark out, and the brougham was waiting as usual.
Christine was never certain what to expect when they rode together. At times he was solemn, at others desperately attentive, and once or twice he had been in such a sarcastic humor that she had spent the entire ride stifling laughter. Tonight was a quiet ride. Erik spoke little, and she could tell nothing of his mood through the mask—dull white and molded in the shape of a normal face—though he drummed his fingers on his knee and looked about the enclosed space brusquely. There was not much to look at; the curtains were always drawn tight.
However, after perhaps an hour in the carriage, Christine began to doubt that. Something seemed different. It took her a moment to realize that the curtains were the issue. Was that…? She reached out for one, but Erik took hold of her wrist—very gently, only aiming to stop her. "We are almost there," he told her, as though it explained everything.
Christine sighed in the most long-suffering way she could manage and sat back with her hands in her lap. Erik duly ignored her pouting. Though the rest of the journey took only minutes, it felt like another hour, and she spent the entire time eyeing the curtains. She could have sworn that the edges were glowing. Christine rose as soon as the brougham rattled to a halt. Erik sighed lightly and took his time getting to his feet and opening the door. When he did, Christine nearly cried out.
It was not night. It was day.
It was morning, to be specific. The sun was only just over the horizon, but the light it shed was bright and warm already. Christine took Erik's offered hand and all but jumped down to the ground. It had been some time since she had been in the sunlight, and, oh, it was wonderful!
"Are you pleased?" Erik asked. His tone indicated he already knew the answer. Christine merely laughed in childlike joy. Behind them, the brougham drove on out of sight. Erik offered his arm, and they began to walk, Erik accommodating her smaller stride. He spoke to her now, and though she answered a little distractedly, she was happy.
They were far out in the country, and though they walked along for several minutes, Christine saw no one around them—only fields and trees, open and fresh and illuminated by the beautiful, golden sunlight. It felt good on her skin, and she realized suddenly that Erik did not feel the same. He was covered from head to toe; he wore gloves and the collar of his coat was turned up so that only a few inches of space were left between it and his hat. He was clearly not here for his own sake. Christine bit her lip, cheeks warming strangely. She had not even asked.
Erik huffed, distracting her from her reverie. "We should rest," he declared, peering down at her. "You are already worked up—perhaps daylight is not such a marvelous thing, after all!"
A moment's consideration led her to believe that he was teasing her about that last, but he did lead her off the path to a grassy field. Erik noticing her inexplicable blush did even less to help it go away than did trying to work out the reasons behind it, and so she concentrated firmly on treading through the grass as Erik found a place for them to stop. Removing his hat, he folded into a sitting position with his knees drawn up, and Christine followed suit, tucking her legs neatly under her dress as she took the spot beside him. Her gaze lingered on the landscape around them, but after a moment, she turned to him, intending to express her gratitude for such an unlikely outing—and stopped when he tilted his head down to face her.
Christine gasped. Normally, she could not see much of Erik's eyes. They were almost completely shadowed in the half-light of his home. She had seen them shine like a cat's in near-darkness, but that was all. But now, in the sunlight…!
Erik was watching her warily as though he could already read her thoughts. However, even that made her smile; she could see so much more of his expression now. His guard lowered at her smile, and she sprung. "Erik, would you take off your mask?"
He shut down immediately, jerking back. "Why would you ask such a thing?" he hissed. "Is it not enough that I have brought you up here, during the day?"
Christine sat back on her heels. Certainly she had not expected him to agree immediately, but he had begun to become accustomed to that request of late. The more Erik wore his mask, the guiltier she felt about the fact that he was doing it for her comfort—and that it worked. And so eventually she had not been able to withstand it, and had started asking him to leave his mask off—not always, but often enough. After all, though his face was deformed, it was not so terrible to look upon once one got used to it. This new habit had, she thought, been good for the both of them. She had also thought he agreed, but he had not reacted like this since the first few times she had asked.
She looked around just to be sure before speaking. "There is no one else here," she implored. "We are alone, just like underground. I promise!"
"This is the outside—Erik must not take off his mask!" He took her wrists to prevent her from doing it herself, and she was grateful that he was careful even in his agitation.
"But why not?" She pulled halfheartedly at his grasp, but he only narrowed his eyes at her. "It is just the two of us. No one else will see." She turned a wide-eyed, pleading look on him.
His demeanor remained unyielding, but with the aid of the bright day, she could see him waver. "Why should Erik expose himself?" he asked harshly.
"Because I can almost see your eyes," she blurted.
He stared at her, nonplussed.
"I have never really seen your eyes before," Christine explained. "They… I cannot see them in your house, but out here it is so bright… oh, I'm certain I could see them if you took your mask off! Please?"
She tugged her wrists out of his grasp until he was holding her hands instead. Erik was briefly distracted by this new development, and then he gave a great harrumph. "Is that so important?"
"Yes." She nodded seriously to accentuate her point. He did not appear entirely convinced, so she rose to her knees and positioned herself directly in front of him. "Now no one behind me can see you," she informed him matter-of-factly, "and I can watch for anyone behind you. If there were anyone around, which there is not."
Erik stayed precisely where he was for a moment. She knew she had won when he sighed. "Christine…" His hands went to his mask and paused. "Only for a moment, Christine."
Slowly, he lifted the mask away. Christine was familiar enough with his face that she was no longer startled by it, but she did react—with another delighted gasp. Erik's mask concealed everything, leaving her only his voice and movements to judge his disposition by. Even without the mask, she felt she could only see half his expression, his eyes still shrouded in shadow. But now, she could see everything. He was watching her dubiously; the edge of one brow was quirked up, his mouth was set in a line, and his eyes were guarded and nervous.
His eyes! They were yellow, just as she had thought, but they were not pale or muted. They were such a vibrant, luminous yellow, and they displayed so much of what he felt. His features were still unquestionably malformed, but they were alive. Why, Erik did not look like a corpse at all!
Christine could not help beaming joyfully. Erik relaxed under her smile. She watched the worry drain away into wonder and something unreadable. "Christine cannot watch for strangers if she doesn't look away," he murmured, but he did not sound insistent, and Christine could see that he did not really mean it.
After a moment, he tensed, and Christine sheepishly realized she had been leaning forward, likely too close for his comfort. She straightened up and remained obediently in front of him, shielding him from the view of absolutely no one. "All right. You can put your mask back on… if you wish."
His brow furrowed as if he suspected it was a trick. It was not, precisely, but Christine was disappointed when he replaced his mask despite her best hopeful look. She returned to her seat beside him. For the rest of their stay, Erik was as withdrawn as he had been on the way there, though this time it was from thoughtfulness rather than anticipation. Christine gave up after a few hesitant questions gained her only scrutinizing looks and noncommittal responses. She simply enjoyed the warmth and clean air, looking about and humming, occasionally joined in the latter with sinuous harmonies.
After a time, Erik simply rose and helped her up. Christine sighed, but opted not to question his sudden decision. They walked back the way they came in silence, and eventually they the carriage waiting for them exactly where it had left them. As they approached, he looked down at her; Christine watched his eyes narrow and search hers. He must have spotted the fascination there, because he glanced away and began muttering. "Peculiar girl. You are a very nosy child…! What do you smile at poor Erik for?"
"Erik?" Christine prompted.
He met her eyes again, showing everything—irritation, hope, bafflement, fear—and made an odd, pained sound before asking her, "What is so very special about my eyes?"
Christine could not explain it to him. She could hardly explain it to herself. And so she simply squeezed his arm and looked up at him with a bright, warm smile that she hoped expressed it—the difference it made to be able to perceive his unfiltered emotions, the fact that it proved he was a living man, and the strange fondness she already had for it.
A few days later, upon entering the parlor, Christine found that the electric lights in the room had tripled, until it was as bright as anyone else's parlor in the middle of the day. Erik sat in an armchair, hands folded smugly in his lap. Christine was elated. After all, it was only thanks to the increased light that she could see the affection sparkling in his bright yellow eyes.