Raoul gently lifted Christine's hand to his lips as he helped her down from the carriage. He smiled up at her as he pressed a kiss against the delicate silk glove. "Until next time, Little Lottie." Christine smiled sweetly and slipped into the Opera Garnier side entrance. She followed the dim hallway back and back, and finally entered her dressing room.
The room had been her home since she was very young, but recently it had felt strange and unfamiliar. She felt that twinge of a chill, as if someone was always watching her. She had uncovered her angel's true identity only a week ago, and the image of his twisted features still burned behind her innocent smiles. She couldn't shake that image. How could such a thing be real? Sitting down at her dressing table and lighting the single lamp, she sighed, and rested her face in her hands. The ghost of a smile the Vicomte had offered her faded away into her weary expression. She wondered with ferocious bewilderment at why she felt so utterly empty; why on earth such evenings dining at the beautiful Cafe on the Rue Scribe only seemed to multiply her unhappiness. It was positively backward.
She slipped off her gloves and trailed slender fingers over the spinning figure on her music box. She pushed against it, feeling the gears scrape and grind. The box had been a gift from Madame Giry, and the dancing figure resembled Christine quite clearly. She twisted a bit more, unthinkingly, and the little mechanism snapped, and the figure broke off from the box with a crack. "Oh!" Christine cried out, seeming to break out of her trance. She tried to fit the piece back together, but the connection was severed; a clean cut. She stared dejectedly into the little porcelain face framed with curls of brunette. "Useless, now, aren't you?" She murmured. "What are you without your music box, to wind you and bring you to life?"
She dropped the dancer into a drawer and shut it with trembling fingers.
The light flickered and dimmed. Christine sat upright and her eyes flicked urgently around the room. Her heart raced; she felt the presence of her angel.
Angel, indeed. She chastised herself for this reaction. He was a monster, a fraud.
Faintly, almost inaudibly, a violin wept behind the walls. It's tenor moaned and gasped, hovered in suspension far above, and then sank into the bass of sorrow. Christine rose and drifted forward. Gradually, the melody unwound itself and curled into her senses. One great, desperate sigh exhaled through the humming strings. And between each porta-mento, a scratch and scrape of imperfect pain. She did not hear the music, no; she felt it snake through her. She felt it twine her limbs and imprison her in a web of pure emotion.
Approaching the mirror, Christine reached out with disobedient hands. They rested against the glass, and her pale cheek followed them. "Angel," she whispered. The song came to an slow, agonizing end.
Behind the two-way glass, Erik lowered his violin. He ran his skeleton fingers over the barrier where hers lay. Unseen, the darkest amber eyes were gazing wearily into her palest of blue. Lowering his gaze to the dirty stone floor, the angel melted back away into the shadows.
Christine felt her breath catch in her throat. Somehow, she knew he was gone. She no longer felt him, and it felt as though her ribs were compressing over her lungs. Each time he faded into the darkness, each time she felt an unexplained anxiety that his gruesome form would never reappear. She dragged her fingers down the mirror and slid to the floor, her mind a whirl of confusion concerning her very identity, her very existence as the girl she was, or the woman she felt clawing desperately from the inside.
How could she ever fuse the two?
And then, what was that? A switch, some mechanism…and then the mirror was opening. The glow of the lovely room gave way to a deep and gloomy hallway; Christine had never seen anything more inviting.
Bent over the worn ivory keys, Erik tried to catch his breath. He was far too exhausted to weep any longer. All his life had been spent in weeping or in anger, in some violent outpouring of emotions he could not tame through the same particular compulsion that drove all his other actions. A cold, familiar resignation seemed to circle around him like a vulture circles the nearly-dead. His left hand, bent and white, pressed affectionately down over arpeggios. His right hand lifted to his face and touched the places where mask met skin. Half, but not quite; no, more than half of him was wrong. His fist clenched and fell back to the keys, but before another sob could float from the organ pipes, the tiniest sound behind him made him spin suddenly around.
"Christine…" his lips formed the word but no sound seemed to escape. She moved forward, her eyes narrowed, intense. Closer and closer moved, her eyes moving all about him, as if trying to understand some foreign riddle. He was frozen on the organ bench.
Blinking, Christine seemed to possess her body once again. "The song was beautiful. It made me feel…" she struggled in vain.
"I am honored you enjoyed it," Erik's voice slid out like a velvet hum from his lips, shadowed from the mask. Strange shadows played over both of them in the candle light. He did not know what she could want from him now, now that she had seen him, and had fled. His chest ached and the ache pulled at his self-control. He wanted to be angry, he wanted to be overcome with it, withsomething.
"Angel…" Christine began.
"I am not your angel," Erik replied curtly.
"Erik." she simply said. It was like an understanding. Like an acceptance. "Would you play it again for me?"
"I will play you something different. Something much more suited. Perhaps a wedding march, for you and your betrothed? Or perhaps a requiem mass, for the Opera Ghost…" The beautiful voice cut like so many daggers.
"Please." Her voice was so much smaller. She went and sat beside him on the bench, softly, uncertain. Erik's posture became rigid and unwelcoming. How dare she play with him like this? This fragile creature, unaware of the fragility she caused beneath even his cold ungodly flesh.
He wanted so much to be angry. Instead, the music took control.
Christine had missed this.
The notes floated like ethereal moths, released from their soft prisons, drifting into a beckoning light. She swayed and closed her eyes, felt herself swooning, purring softly in harmony to the incredible sound. The melody rang out again, that same lyrical, reaching twine of notes that his violin had whispered into her confidence. Her muscles tensed. This melody, this music was Erik. It was Erik and Christine, spinning out into echoes together in answering themes, off into the farthest edges of the catacombs.
What kind of life had this man known? What sort of fatnastical experiences had been seen with those strange, back-lit eyes? She looked at them, through them. She longed to understand. Swiftly, she reached out her hands and ran them up and down, flittering out notes over the higher register, as Erik continued on, matching her notes in unison down the octave. And then, the resonance of bass faded, and he sat back, watching her. She smiled slightly, deep in concentration, as the melody trilled out again, in her sweet stuccato, like a tightly wound music box, smiling at him, taunting him.
A death's grip locked around Christine's waist and the music cut off with a jolt. Erik was grasping her against him with an inhuman force. She leaned back in protest, let out a little gasp, which only angered him more. Why did her tenderness, her delicacy inspire such deep rage within him? It was as if she could not understand the meaning of pain, of desperation, or suffering. Well, he would show her. Erik would show her how it truly felt to suffer.
He tilted her face violently to his own. "Look at me, Christine! Look at your angel! Are you glad to see me? To hear my music again? It is a shame you were not content to let me die in peace!"
"I had thought you would come for me…you didn't…" she whimpered stupidly.
"You had thought! Of course I could not come. Our days have ended, Christine. You have run away, fled from me! Fled with my very soul…" he shook her a bit and she stared back at him, terrified. The velvet dissonance of the voice chilled her through. A single strand of erratically curling hair fell over his eyes, and he was filled with a spasm of overwhelming rage. He stood suddenly, still gripping her body to his, and the bench clattered over backward. A tangle of legs tripped against the organ, and the small of Christine's back produced dissonant chords. He waited for her tears, but they did not come. "And yet still you haunt me!" he cried in broken tones, and wrapped her closer still, one hand clawing desperately along her shoulders and into her hair. She bent her face painfully upward; he was so much taller than her, especially this close, but still she refused to look away. In a defiant movement, she pulled an arm free from his chest and tore the mask from his face.
He pushed her back at arm's length, then covered his face as if by reflex. And then looked up at her, through his skeletal arms. He stared in disbelief and confusion. Christine held her expression very carefully, brushed her hair from her face with an eloquence she didn't know she had.
"What do you want from me?" Erik choked, and fell into her again. The full force of his distorted features came hazily into focus, and Christine narrowed her eyes in determination. She was not afraid. She was, all at once, not afraid. He was a broken, weeping, man. Yes, a man! He was a man with a particular kind of beauty in his angular, wicked lines. Her revelation shocked and appalled and thrilled her.
And then his lips were against her. Clinging desperately to her cheek, her eyes, her forehead. His corpse-like features were sliding over her trembling skin, his breath was hot and fell out in little gusts against her neck, her ear, her shoulder. She felt some part of herself turn to hot sealing wax and drip, melt into the angles of his body. Christine's perfect hand reached up, turned Erik's face to meet hers, and leaned into a full and breathless kiss. She felt a jolting shudder run through his body, felt his arms sprawl out in confusion and finally find a resting place around her back. She moved her lips in a frantic pull, gripped at his shirt and was overcome with the need to only be closer, to only be more with him. The asymmetry of his mouth felt strange and exciting. The press of his hands against her hips drove her mad. What was this beautiful sensation? This trance-like pull she felt to know Erik in every way he could be known?
Erik savoured the sweet softness of this fragile body he clung to. There was still so much, so much between them. He wanted to drown in her touch. Here, right here, he could die at last, having felt the first loving embrace of all his wretched life. The air in the room was crushing him, all the world was collapsing and compressing around his heavy chest.
A few notes sounded out from the organ Christine leaned against. Erik pulled back inches from her face, and they exhaled together. Reaching behind her, he played out the melody again, and the notes wept in aching passion. She drew her hands down his chest, his waist, his hips, and he shivered again.
Still the music lingered between them. It was too much, too much in the way.
His hands, on their own, reached down and tore up her dress so that his fingers could meet with bare thigh. "Christine…" he breathed, and she was shaking. With her name, she seemed to understand, and with wide eyes, she pulled away.
"Stop, please. I have to go. I have to go back." her voice trembled, and his hands never left her.
"No, you came here on your own, did you not? You came for me. And you will have me."
"Erik, please." It was hardly a whisper, which overwhelmed him again with that burn to feel, and to make her understand. He pulled up her leg and pressed her against the instrument. More dischoridng notes.
Christine became a trembling flower, helpless. His hands manipulated her against him, tearing off layers of clothing, ripping at laces, until he held her, disheveled, wilted, against him. She did not make a sound until his hand pushed up her thigh, made her cry out with sudden sensation.
"Look at my face, Christine. Do you see what you have come back for? I am death! All of me is death! Here is your corpse, to have as you will," his lovely voice slid out with ferocity. His anger was so great that his will was entirely guided by emotion. Christine felt his grasping hands, over her sides, across bones, tracing every curve they could find as he pressed ravenous lips back into her shoulder. His hands explored, pushed her away from him, and crawled inside her. And she was inviting. For him! The feeling of her, warm and wet, for him, let free a low moan from somewhere in his throat. "Yes…" he murmured, and the sound of her answering whimper was intoxicating. He lifted her, pushed her onto the organ and with one strong hand, pinned her wrists against the wall, over her head. He ran his other hand back up the curve of her body, and dragged his fingers over the line of her jaw. Her eyes flashed wildly at him.
He kissed her again. With a sudden, grandiose confidence, he tangled his lips with hers, and she did not melt away. Still, she did not weep. Her back arched at his touch once again found her, curled about with her like his hands were playing a most exquisite instrument. At the sound of her floating soprano, Erik gave way to all restraint, and freed himself, pulling into her with the force of a soul-shattering chord across the octaves, and again and again to the sound of her desperate gasps. What music, he though, what a perfect lyrical sound produced by such harmonious musicians. In his mind, symphonies composed themselves, all heaven opened up and invited him to feel, to feel, to feel…
Christine's hands were freed as Erik gripped hard against her. They moved, in the darkness, between the moving shadows. They echoed quietly against the stone. The musty dripping water listened; and none else head a sound above the ground. He felt her delicate hands clench tightly at his shirt, pull it open, trace the skin within. He pressed his lips to hers and she leaned into him, and the world spun away for a moment, before it was done. In all his rage, in all his violence and cruelty and distortion, still he held her with such tenderness, still his passion found triumph against her flushed lips, his forehead leaning against hers, his unworthy face gracing the angel's own. Christine pulled away and looked into him, behind mismatched, glowing amber eyes, behind it all, and saw such overwhelming beauty. Such honesty. Such purity of feeling. She understood.
"Stay," came the ghost's voice—slow, delicate, like the alto tone of an oboe, dying sweetly at the end of a gorgeous phrase. Christine obeyed.