The Devil Never Sleeps
They didn't speak for some time. In fact, they stared at one another quite unabashedly, neither finding the other's gaze disconcerting in the slightest. It wasn't until they heard the door click down the hall, indicating that Christine and Raoul had secured a place to speak privately, that Erik stalked away from him without a word. Nadir, unsure of whether to follow, hesitated for a moment, but finally turned and followed him to what appeared to be a library.
Something inside told him that Erik would throw him out or begin shouting, but he didn't seem to object when he saw Nadir enter after him, though he didn't motion for the Persian to sit down. Nevertheless, Nadir made his way to the sitting area and lowered himself into a chair after Erik had sat down across from him, his face stony and unreadable. Again, they didn't speak, and resolved to merely look at each other, each trying to read the other, and each failing in their attempts.
"I did warn you, my friend," Nadir reasoned after a moment, clasping his hands in his lap as he tried to appear rational in the midst of this chaos. "I told you that if you did not reveal the truth to her soon, that I would reveal it for you."
Unexpectedly, Erik smiled grimly at this and shook his head almost imperceptibly, his gaze not quite on Nadir anymore. Nadir's brow furrowed as he observed this, not quite understanding his cynical expression, nor his eerie stillness. "You all call me deceptive. Manipulative. Monstrous." The words were slow and calculated, and Nadir felt his breath fall out of him grimly as he listened.
"And yet, here you are. Betraying a man. A friend. Taking away his happiness. Showing him that humanity is a myth, and that compassion is not to be expected, even from his closest companions." His smile grew in the saddest of ways as he let out a low and bleak laugh. "No, I believe your behavior is far more monstrous."
"Nobody deserves to be lied to," Nadir told him gently, hoping to ease whatever pain was tormenting him. But rather than accept his words, Erik suddenly looked at him with sharp eyes, his gaze seeming to reach deep into Nadir's mind.
"Don't you dare talk to me of what people deserve. Do you suggest that I somehow deserve this?" Erik hissed, and Nadir knew that he was treading on thin ice as they broached a subject that had always sent sparks of rage through his friend.
"The past catches up with us all, Erik," Nadir tried with as much ease and civility as he could manage, but Erik would not have it.
"The past!" he scoffed, throwing his hands up in the air as he shook his head. "What a word that is! It is the perfect excuse to hate me, surely! What other excuse does one need? It is the ideal word— vague enough so that you, my dear Daroga, need not lose any sleep over the consequences of your actions!" Of course, he was trying to turn the blame back on Nadir, as he always did, but the Daroga tried to stay peaceful as he responded.
"Consequences, Erik?" he asked, though he knew immediately that these cautionary words had not been taken well.
"Yes, malign me for that as well! I must pay for my actions, is that correct? Oh, how wise of you. How very astute!" Erik shouted, and Nadir began to realize that the man before him was not quite listening to him, and he licked his lips as he took a moment to regroup.
"There is no reason to be mocking," he murmured finally, looking away from Erik for a moment.
"Isn't there?" Erik challenged, cocking his head to the side as Nadir turned his focus back to him. "For it seems as if my wit is the only thing that may be granted to me! Everything else must be taken away from me, because I am such a fiend—!"
"You stole away a young girl!" Nadir yelled with a ferocity that was unlike him, and Erik became quiet all at once, sedated by Nadir's candidness. "You manipulated her mind and you made her believe that you were the only one in the world she could turn to—"
"Because I am!" Erik cried out in sudden defense, and Nadir could see his fingers twitching in fury as he evidently struggled to keep his emotions under control. "You behave as if you care, and that incompetent boy feigns concern, but it is all deceit and fabrication! The moment she is out of this house and away from my eyes, she will be forgotten and trampled by this uncaring world!"
Nadir shook his head at this, for it was clear that Erik could not be persuaded, and that his mind had been quite set for some time. "You think highly of yourself—perhaps she does not have as high esteem for you as you might imagine," he challenged, raising his eyebrows to Erik as he awaited his biting response.
"If you're trying to wound me, it won't work, Daroga," he replied, with more tranquility and effortlessness than had been expected. In fact, Erik seemed rather peaceful at this point, and Nadir let out a slow sigh as he attempted to regain his composure.
"That is not my intention, and you know it. I'm merely trying to show you that her affection for you might not be what you think—"
"She's loves me!" This time, Nadir became silent as Erik stood up with roar, his peace giving way to agitation in an instant as his expression turned to agony. "I know she does," he continued after a moment, though this statement was significantly weaker than the last. "No woman has ever loved me before—and no other woman will." He stopped for a beat and seemed to contemplate this, slowly sitting back down. "And do not think that my love for her stems from the fact that she is the only being in this world that does not despise me," he mused, shaking his head as he seemed to picture her before him.
"She is perfect, Nadir. Perfect. And I will die without her, I am quite sure of it."
They were silent at this, and Erik looked away as his breathing evened out and he seemed to calm down. Nadir hadn't the faintest clue whether Erik was about to murder somebody or break down in tears, but he remained on the edge of his seat, prepared for either. It was several minutes before emotion finally gave way in his friend's, and it was completely unexpected. He smiled—a genuine smile, this time, with no hint of wryness of resentment—and looked to Nadir with decidedly clear eyes.
"You think that my love makes me weak, but it does not," he told Nadir, his voice faint. "You think me forsaken, but I couldn't be more saved." He went quiet once again as he let out a laughing sigh, his eyes seeming to see something that Nadir could not. "I wish you could feel what I feel, my friend. If only for a moment."
Nadir had told himself that he would not fold, and that no matter what Erik said, he would not lose his convictions. He still knew that he was doing the right thing, but that look on Erik's face—that utter bliss that they both knew was about to be torn apart—made the familiar sting of guilt flood his veins. But there was no changing what was to happen, and they would all face it as it came.
They didn't hear the footsteps approaching the door, and so when it opened slowly to reveal Raoul and Christine, both men looked over in surprise. Erik stood up first, his eyes focused murderously on Raoul, and Nadir slowly rose as well as he waited for one of them to speak.
"The letter, Nadir?" Raoul finally said without preamble, and Erik's eyes flickered to Christine, a hint of torture escaping his eyes before he turned to look at Nadir slowly. "She would like to read it."
Nadir glanced to Christine as he pulled the letter out of his coat, stepping towards her hesitantly. She would not look at him, and he could easily read the shame that she was trying to conceal. When he handed it over, he could see that her hands were shaking violently, and he looked at her sadly as her eyes locked on the paper.
When she opened it, all three men knew precisely what she was reading. Indeed, she was learning something for the first time that the rest of them had been all too aware of for some time. The letter was line after line of threats, penned by Erik alone, detailing precisely why Raoul had to leave France, and what would become of their family should they disobey. Each word was calculated, and there were no misplaced sentiments. It was pure malevolence and pointed detestation on one single page.
When Christine finally looked up, her breathing had hitched and her entire body was trembling as tears filled her eyes. It was clear that she was struggling to blink them away, but the moment she met Erik's eyes, they spilled onto her cheeks unashamedly.
"Erik," she finally stammered, and Nadir watched as Raoul swiftly brought a hand to her shoulder, his other arm wrapping firmly around her waist in some empty display of protection. "Why would you do this?" Her voice cracked, and Nadir finally turned to look at Erik, who seemed to stare numbly at the three of them, all signs of loving affection having fled. It had been firmly replaced by that expressionless shield that he had so often adopted in order to protect himself, but that was doing nothing to calm Christine.
"You did not have to do this!" she cried out, a sudden sob escaping her mouth as she doubled over in emotion for a moment. The letter dropped out of her hand as Raoul began to whisper calming words in her ear, supporting her weight as another cry resounded through the room. "Would you have truly done all of this? Would you have hurt them?" she demanded as she righted herself momentarily, her eyes searching Erik's wildly for some kind of penance.
"Yes," was all that Erik said, firm and stolid as always. Nadir closed his eyes and sighed, cursing him for his damnable honesty. Christine let out a quick breath of air as she tried to stifle her sobs in spite of his words, but she was unable to maintain control.
She tried to catch her breath as that same regretful smile came to Erik's face, and he slowly walked towards her. Nadir saw Raoul's clutch on Christine tighten, but she didn't seem to notice as she looked up to see Erik there before her. "I told you that they would turn you against me, my dear."
Raoul nearly growled at this, and quickly turned Christine to face him before she could speak, a hand coming up to brush the hair out of her eyes. "Come—we needn't trouble ourselves with him anymore."
And before any of them could say another word, Raoul was ushering her out of the room, her weeping breaths echoing down the hall before the front door opened and closed in a mere moment. The faint sound of gravel could be heard from the library as the carriage rolled away, and they were gone.
And then it was silent. Erik still stood where he had when he spoke to Christine, his eyes riveted in the spot where she had stood. For a moment, Nadir longed to tell him that she was not there, but something in the way Erik stared, full of awareness, made Nadir believe that he knew. It was some time before either of them moved, though it seemed like a mere blink of an eye, for time had seemed to stop in that silence.
"Oh, Daroga," Erik murmured, shaking his head remorsefully. "He will crush her."
She couldn't calm herself down. Every time she thought that she had overcome her heaving breaths, a new wave of sobs came about and she was lost once again. After some time, her crying continued simply because she was angry at herself for her tears, and every time her mind yelled at her to stop, her tears overcame her once again.
And meanwhile, Raoul sat across from her, watching her wearily as she fought this internal battle, and somehow Christine felt no comfort from his presence. In fact, she felt utterly humiliated with every sob, and she wanted nothing more than to be away from this man's discerning gaze.
But things became worse as the ride continued. At a point, she had calmed herself down enough to only be shedding silent tears, her wild breaths having subsided. Her mind still shouted to itself, trying to convince itself to stop her histrionics, but she had resolved to accept this quieter, less disruptive form of grief. It did not seem to satisfy Raoul, though, and after a long spell of silence, he let out a noisy sigh and grasped her hands tightly.
"My dear, you mustn't cry over him." The words were meant to be genuine, but she could hear the subtle irritation in her voice. Of course, he had likely expected her to be rejoicing at their triumph, praising him for his gallant rescue, but she felt that such emotion was disingenuous.
And so she merely looked out the window, avoiding his eyes as he grasped her hands a bit tighter. "No more tears—you will forget him before you even know it."
At this, she turned back to Raoul with incredulous eyes, her sadness having fled for a fleeting moment. "You think that I could forget him so easily?" she asked him slowly, suddenly quite aware of her faculties as she watched his gaze turn down in embarrassment.
"I do not mean to discount your relationship," he assured her, the last word clearly distasteful on his tongue. "But we can look to the future now—a real future, and a promising one."
"I did not say I would marry you," Christine replied evenly, and he seemed taken aback at this as he pulled his hands away hesitantly. He tried to brush it off though, feigning a bright smile of confidence.
"I will convince you yet, Christine Daaé," he told her jovially, but she could easily recognize the counterfeit delight in his tone, delicately masking his wounded pride. "I am very fond of you, you know," he tried, hoping to bring some happiness to her eyes, but her expression fell numb at his words as she blinked dimly.
"Yes," she reflected almost inaudibly, her eyes drifting back to the window as all hint of her tears quickly disappeared. "Yes, I believe you are."
Oops. Well, good thing the story isn't over, right? That would be a depressing ending. I hope you all enjoyed it, though, because the tension is back with abundance! I hope to hear from you all once again—your reviews absolutely make my day, and they keep me writing as quick as my fingers will type! Thanks again for reading!
Until next time,