Symphony in the Twilight - new update- 1/12/17


Symphony in the Twilight - new update- 1/12/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:46 am

First I'll post what was there, then I'll add the next chapter. 0-:-) (I can only do three chapters at a time in each post because of the size limit allotted, so I'll just have a continuous stream. lol) All usual disclaimers apply- I don't own the Phantom, though I sure would like too.
; - ) lol


SYMPHONY in the TWILIGHT

Image

(from Thomas Jonas Phantom collection - a print I have and scanned- called "Imagine"- and fits a scene in this story to a T. ; - ))

Part II (the sequel)
Angel of Music, Hide no longer! Come to me strange angel…


To That Moment Where Words Run Dry
I


Within a breath of time, everything had changed and nothing had changed; and it was that ill-defined change that the Phantom now dreaded.

It seemed a lifetime ago, not mere days, that three spirits from the netherworld visited him on the eve of Christmas and warned of a dire future for Christine should he proceed with his plans of retribution. He had not mentioned the horrific experience to her; indeed, she had been excited and talkative throughout most of the evening ...once he agreed to remain her teacher.

A foolish mistake!
cold logic had vehemently insisted.

His bleak soul refused to listen.

Her voice ... her presence was what inspired his heart to beat.

God, could he not have at least that?

As they returned to the mirror door, she remained unusually quiet. He wondered if she now regretted her impulsive words and his subsequent choice. Remembering the sincerity that glowed in her eyes when she spoke her piece, as well as her brave but foolish trek through his dark dungeons to seek him out, he did not believe a sudden case of misgiving to be the reason for her silence ...

Periodically he glanced over his shoulder, to ensure she was well; he needed no such assurance with regard to her continued presence. He sensed her … he felt her. Though he didn't guide her by the hand - didn't trust himself to touch her after her desperate embrace of earlier when she begged him to resume his role as her teacher - she held fast to the folds of his cloak and walked so close he could feel the faint brush of her curls each time she craned to peer ahead or glanced behind.

He drew a steadying breath when her curls again whispered across his neck. Somehow, he would, must begin afresh and extinguish the growing ardor he felt at the mere thought of her; must forget his desire to be with her and for her to become his. It was enough that she desired his companionship.

It had to be enough.

To keep her with him, as he once planned, after all that transpired … he could not allow it. Could not link her name to scandal as he nearly had done on the night she disappeared from her locked dressing room. Then, such worldly concerns hadn’t troubled him; he had resolved that she would become his bride and gave no consideration how others might construe her mysterious disappearance. At that time, Madame Giry doused the managers’ suspicion of her student’s nocturnal activities, telling the prying men she’d found Christine sound asleep in a corner of the dressing room behind the screen. But now matters were different; he must exercise discretion to keep her reputation intact.

Their evening lessons would continue, these early hours beneficial; few within the opera house would know of Christine's whereabouts, most of them sleeping in ignorance or absorbed elsewhere in their lewd activities, and he wished to use his organ for accompaniment, something he hadn't been able to do when visiting with her in the chapel for their lessons. Still, the Phantom didn’t wish to soil his rising starlet’s reputation in this theater where gossip and speculation ran amok, and as freely as the wine of Bacchus. Therefore he deemed it necessary that she be found in her dormitory bed with the dawn of each new morning. He also realized, after tonight’s embarrassing farce, she would daily require sleep before her lessons began, an arrangement he needed to work out with Madame Giry.

He walked more slowly as they approached the last corridor, knowing she should hurry to her dormitory but conversely not wanting her to leave his side. At the mirror door, he turned. Her pert features were drawn, uncertain, as if she struggled with a challenging decision.

“We’re here already?” she asked in surprise. She glanced at the dank walls of rock on either side. “I didn’t recognize it. When you took me through this corridor after my debut, there were candles all around, and Madame carried a torch …”

He cursed himself for a fool. No wonder she’d been silent. She was terrified of the darkness, a childhood dread she had yet to overcome. With his night vision honed from two decades of living beneath the earth, he’d grown accustomed to prowling the gloomy inner corridors, unlit or lit as they were now by the scarcest amount of candles, and preferred utter darkness, to hinder discovery by any who might trespass. Several hidden entrances led to the shadowy depths of the theater other than the mirror door. With his mind teeming by all that had surfaced between himself and Christine, and with the endless questions instigated but not yet posed, all of them whirling like a dervish inside his head, he’d given no thought to bringing a torch or that she would prefer as much light as possible.

He lifted his hand in command. Instantly a candle’s flame flickered and grew steady in the iron holder between them. In the soft glow, her eyes widened and sparkled with relief and wonder.

“I am a magician, Christine,” he explained in some amusement.

“So Madame Giry told me. Is that how you were able to sing into my mind? And to throw your voice in the chapel so that it seemed you were standing right beside me?”

“That was ventriloquism. Another skill I learned during my long years of solitude. Pardon my oversight in not lighting the way for you as I did on that first night. You should have spoken sooner and told me you were afraid.”

“When I am with you, I’m not as afraid.” She tilted her head in curious regard. “But now I wish to know, why did you pretend to be my angel these many years?"

He kept silent but she continued, unwilling to let the matter go. "When I was a child, I think I understand. I was hurting and lonely and distrustful - and frightfully timid around strangers, something I’ve never completely outgrown. Your pretense as my angel might have been the only way I would have listened then. Since Father promised me he would send an angel of music and you are so musically talented. Your voice, from the moment I heard it, comforted me." She faintly smiled. "But once I grew into a woman, why didn’t you tell me the truth? Why did you wait until my debut to reveal your mortality?”

She seemed as hesitant to return as he was to let her go, but he wasn’t yet ready to disclose such a personal confession. “Another time, Christine. It is late,” he added gently at seeing her dissatisfied little pout. “You must slip inside your room before anyone should notice you missing.”

She nodded, reluctant, and made as if to pull back the mirror, then dropped her arm back to her side, again looking up at him. The strained look revisited her features as she pulled her brows slightly together.

He sighed. “What is it, Christine?”

“The Bal Masque will take place at the end of this week.”

“Will it?” In striving to rectify his offenses, the days slipped by him unaware.

“Yes, it will.” She moistened her bottom lip and pulled at it with her small, perfect teeth, clearly nervous. “What you said, about my life being my own and that I may share the hours that I am not immersed in my training with whomever I choose - did you mean that?”

His heart seemed a sudden deadweight, but he forced the words to surface without inflection. “You are free to do as you please, Christine. I will no longer hinder you in that regard.”

“I should like to attend the ball, now that I am of age to do so. It would be my first ball to take part in and not merely observe from a distance.”

When she should have been fast asleep, he thought drolly. As children, Meg had often persuaded Christine to tiptoe from their beds and eavesdrop to view the gaiety. He had always stood nearby, in the shadows, watching over his Angel and her little friend.

“I shall no longer restrict you from engaging in such affairs,” he said wearily.

“I am told it will last until the early hours of morning. Until dawn, even.”

“It is nearing dawn now,” he replied dryly. “Though I do not recommend you make a routine of these late nights, or any future outings. To do so would not be constructive to your voice.” His explanation sounded pathetic, however true, considering his plans for the timing of her lessons. Yet, no matter that he had resolved to let her go and allow her to live her life, he couldn’t abide the idea of a string of handsome suitors vying for her companionship to each and every thrice-damned social function Paris held. Even the thought of one suitor was difficult to stomach. One suitor in particular.

“And if I should desire an escort to accompany me?” she queried as if reading his mind.

“Has someone asked you?”

“Well … yes.” She fidgeted. “But I refused him, since you didn’t allow me to attend social engagements at the time.”

The Vicomte. Of course. Who else.

“Do as you wish, Christine.” Despite his best effort to remain unaffected, his reply came out terser than he intended. He flicked the lever of the door. The mirror slid open with a determined push of his hand.

Her smile wavered, her eyes suddenly uncertain. She entered the dressing room then turned, putting her warm hand to his at the edge of the mirror so he couldn’t close it. He stood paralyzed by her light touch.

When she spoke, her words came out as a whisper. “In that case … what I wish … is that you would take me to the ball, Maestro. I should like for you to be my escort.”

His mouth parted in disbelief as he drew a swift rush of air into his lungs. Still he could not seem to breathe.

At his reaction, she hurried to say, “Is it inappropriate for a lady to issue an invitation? I sadly lack in areas of deportment involving such matters, as you doubtless must know since I have never attended any social gatherings. I have only other girls of the chorus as my example, and they are often bold in their advances with men.” When he still didn’t answer, she looked worried. “I hope you’re not angry with me?”

“Angry?” He regarded her in amazement, at last finding his voice. “How could I be angry with the bearer of such a sweet request …? You want me to take you to the ball?” Her words struck him fully.

“I understand you may not be willing to share in others’ company, yet, but all the guests will be masked so you should feel at ease,” she said hurriedly, as if anticipating his refusal. He didn’t tell her he had planned to attend for weeks. “Such an affair shouldn’t cause you undue discomfort. And I think you should meet the performers you have watched from afar, in an effort to show your goodwill. I would love to introduce you to everyone, since I spoke of my great teacher on the day of Hannibal’s opening.” She stopped to inhale a breath. “You've proven to be a man of your word, and this further act on your behalf might help convince the managers that you no longer wish anyone harm, that you also desire peace and an end to the discord among you.”

Strangely the idea of being in one accord no longer rankled since his meeting with the two owners, though he still didn’t think they had any business running an opera.

“You truly wouldn’t mind being seen with me?”

“Of course not.” She looked utterly confused. “I would be delighted to have you by my side.”

Delighted! Her soft, wondering words brought to mind another evening, as he’d held her close against him when he first brought her to his inner sanctum. He looked at her glowing face now, so full of expectation. By the gentleness in her eyes and the manner in which her lips softly parted, did he dare hope she entertained similar thoughts?

He closed his eyes. This was much too dangerous. Less than one hour into his reluctant agreement to initiate a new association with his student and he strongly entertained former plans to make her his bride. He pulled his hand from beneath hers and took a slight step back, realizing such futile longings clouded his resolve the more time he spent in her presence.

Her face fell. And with it, all of his practical reasons and worthy intentions disintegrated to dust; he couldn’t deny her this one last request. Nor did he wish to, even though she desired his company only as her teacher.

“If you are certain—”

She nodded before he could finish. “Yes,” she whispered.

“Very well, Christine. I will take you to the ball.” The words seemed illusory, a figment of a dream, certainly not real and belonging to the disfigured Phantom of the Opera.

She smiled brightly as if he had done her an enormous favor. Already beautiful, her changed countenance made her a vision to behold.

Baffled by her response, he quickly lifted the candle from the holder and handed it to her. “You must go, before the others awaken. The corridors will be dark.”

“Thank you,” she breathed, her finger brushing the edge of his as she took hold of the slim taper. A shock traveled between them, a tiny spark that made his heart quicken. She gasped softly. “G-goodnight.”

Still in a daze, Erik watched as she slipped through the dark room and the door that stood opposite. He should not have let her go alone, not at such a late hour.
Silently he followed her flickering candle through the network of corridors, keeping far enough behind to avoid detection, wanting only to make certain she arrived at her destination safely.

Near the winding staircase leading to the dormitories, he spotted a flash of red and noticed Joseph Buquet loiter in the dark corridor adjacent, his evident interest fastened high above, on the doorway of Christine’s room through which she had just disappeared.

A cold fury surged through the Phantom’s veins. The stagehand was rarely where he should be and often crept to the women’s dormitories on the sly, to visit with one of the more promiscuous dancers. Yet if the fiend should so much as lay a finger on his innocent Christine, he would rue that day. For on that day the Opera Ghost would make a fearsome comeback. Peace or no peace, spirits or no spirits, he would do what he must to keep his Angel safe.

With his eyes never leaving Buquet, who moved to the staircase and placed his boot on the first step, the Phantom scowled and prepared to act. His hands clenched at his sides, itching for the feel of taut catgut between his fingers. The Punjab no longer presented a viable option, however, even for such scum as the vile monsieur. But other methods existed beyond murder, ones that would ensure an end to the animal’s depraved schemes and keep the managers unaware that the Phantom of the Opera had returned.

If such a day should occur.

Buquet suddenly tensed and looked around. “Bonjour? … I-is someone there?” he stuttered nervously.

The Phantom remained silent.

Ill at ease, the miscreant swaggered away from the staircase and retraced his steps to the corridor. A half empty bottle of liquor dangled from his shaking hand.

The shadows acting as his concealment, the Phantom followed.

[hr][/hr]

Orders, Warnings, Lunatic Demands
II



“Mademoiselle Daae, one moment. We would like a word with you.”

Christine flinched uneasily at hearing Monsieur Firmin’s patronizing tone and turned to see Monsieur Andre’s lascivious eyes skim her form as the two managers approached the empty corridor she’d taken. She wished she were not so scantily clad though she wore the same costume as all the other dancers. Yet the manner in which they stared made her feel as if she wore nothing but skin! Ever since the morning they arrived at the Opera Populaire, when she danced in her harem costume and sensed them ogle her as if she were a prime cut of beef fit for their consumption, Christine employed any excuse never to be alone in a room with them. They may be the new owners of the theater, but they did not own her!

She barely curbed an audible groan. The day had started out so well, too. Though her Angel had yet to visit her dreams again with his song, she had persuaded him to continue her lessons. And, though she felt she must pinch herself to acknowledge the truth, he was actually taking her to the Bal Masque! Surely even the managers, with their double-edged words and furtive expressions couldn’t deflate her happiness.

She was mistaken.

“Messieurs, excusez moi, I am late for my ballet practice.”

“Has Madame Giry not told you of your advantageous change in circumstances?” Monsieur Firmin’s smile below his twitching mustache seemed disparaging. “We have decided with the next opera we produce to feature you as the lead.”

“Due to your acclaimed success in Hannibal, of course. And other laudable assets you clearly possess.” Again, Monsieur Andre’s gaze swept from her white clinging corset and voile tutu, down to her stockinged legs and ballet slippers.

She swallowed over her unease, not failing to notice they made no mention of her teacher or his part in her triumph. “Yes, Madame has informed me. I am very grateful for the opportunity, gentlemen, but I really must be going …”

“There is no need for you to engage in further dance instruction,” Andre stopped her, blocking her exit with his black walking stick before she could successfully make her escape. “You are no longer to take part in the chorus. With your newly acquired role, you must further develop your voice in training.”

No more ballet? Troubled, she frowned. She had always enjoyed those hours with her best friend, Meg, and would miss taking part in the classes, rigorous though Madame Giry made them. “My teacher is well aware of my change in status …”

She didn’t add, “Since he alone orchestrated this rise in my career,” though she wished to. Instead she managed what she hoped passed for a pleasant but remote smile.

“… And our lessons are continuing as planned, as they always have,” she finished aloud. “Please address my teacher through Madame Giry with any concerns or instructions you may have for me.”

“Your teacher,” Andre sputtered, “You don’t mean the Opera Ghost?!

“He does have a name.” She hesitated revealing it, at once realizing that had Erik wished them to know, he would have told them. They regarded her oddly and she realized it wasn’t so many weeks ago when she informed these same managers that she had no knowledge of his name. “You may call him Maestro," she finished weakly, "as he is certainly a great teacher. A true genius.”

“But we understood he had retired his services to you,” Firmin said, his tone mystified, at the same time, disgruntled.

“It was only a misunderstanding, which has since been resolved.” She shrugged the matter off as inconsequential. “He is very much my teacher and will remain so as long as I’m here.” Hearing the words expressed brought a faint smile to her lips and a warm glow to her heart.

The managers wasted no time in robbing her of both.

They shared a look she couldn’t define, and Firmin staunchly cleared his throat, again turning to her. “Be that as it may, there is another issue we feel it imperative to discuss. It has come to our attention that the Vicomte de Chagny has shown an avid interest in your, ah … career.”

“Yes,” Andre smiled ingratiatingly. “A most avid interest.”

Their coarse manner insinuated more lay beneath their smooth words. She uncomfortably recalled how Erik had come to similar conclusions and spoke before she thought. “Any interest you presume the Vicomte to have in me is in my voice alone. Before my operatic debut, he never once recognized me.”

“So you two have met before?” Firmin stated as if he’d long considered the possibility.

She felt trapped into an admission and curled her fingers into her moist palms. “The Vicomte and I were childhood friends. His family took their holiday near my father’s seaside cottage one summer, where we met. That was the year before my father died and I came to live here.”

Again they shared a covert look, and she wished to know what messages passed between them. Or perhaps she would rather not know. She didn’t have long to learn her answer.

“Then, as you two are formerly acquainted, you will have no reservations spending time in his company, should he express the desire,” Firmin declared rather than requested. “He is our most esteemed patron …”

“Our sole patron,” Andre added.

“And we wish to keep the Vicomte happy.”

“You do understand what we’re telling you, Miss Daae?”

Confused, she looked back and forth between the managers. “You wish me to spend time in the Vicomte’s company?” She thought back to the secret confessions she’d overheard a few of the more wanton chorus girls relate of the men they’d entertained. “His private company?”

“Nothing clandestine,” Firmin lifted his hand in a placating manner. “Don’t look so shocked. You did work in a chorus line, for God’s sake. Though if you were to change your mind and he asked it of you, we wouldn’t begrudge you the opportunity. Many women find him handsome, I am told. And his family is very wealthy. Such an arrangement could prove rewarding to you.”

"Quite a coup, my dear," Andre added conspiratorially.

She stood, her mouth agape, her face aflame, certain she must have misunderstood. Hoping she had. Surely they were not suggesting that she share with Raoul moments of an intimate nature to guarantee their continued financial success! Illicit activities of which Madame Giry sternly disapproved to the exclusion from the ballet chorus for those whom she discovered defied her rule; activities Christine had only an inkling of knowing. Her meager education into such forbidden topics she’d also overheard from smatterings of personal confidences the other ballet rats shared with one another. Of all of them, only Meg befriended her, and like herself, Meg was an innocent.

“We understand the Vicomte has asked you to the ball,” Andre hurried to say as if sensing her offended withdrawal. “And you refused.”

“I need no escort. I already have one.” She felt more grateful than ever that Erik accepted her invitation. True, his agreement to take her followed her refusal to Raoul, but the managers didn’t need to know the order of events.

Another gallingly disturbing look of secrecy passed between the two men.

“It would be wise if you gave your apologies to your present escort, fabricate whatever reason you wish—tell the man your managers ordered it if you so desire—and accept the Vicomte’s invitation.” Firmin’s false smile hardened to steel. His small dark eyes brooked no refusal.

“Surely you cannot be serious. That would be horribly rude, not to mention heartless!” Nor did she wish to attend the ball with anyone but her Angel.

“It wouldn’t do to displease our new patron either.” Firmin’s voice was grim, a chilling match to Andre’s expression. “Consider well your future here, Miss Daae. Due to our decision, you will be the new diva. A lucrative career in the opera is well within your grasp. However, without the funds to operate this theater, we wouldn’t be able to open our doors to the public. No crowds mean no revenue, and no revenue means no career. Without the backing we need, we would have to sell. And if no buyer comes along this time, you could find yourself out on the streets, without the convenience of the free room and board you have so long enjoyed. Do I make myself clear?”

She blinked at his cruel inference. “Perfectly, monsieur” she whispered, her voice shaky, the hot rush of tears stinging her eyes. She forced them back and clenched her teeth. She would not cry in front of these cruel, insensitive men. It was no surprise to her that they once dealt in junk. Their minds seemed composed of it.

“Most excellent. Then at last we understand each other. We will now bid you adieu.” Their oily smiles returned, sickening her.

“As there is no longer need for you to attend ballet instruction,” Andre suggested, “You might go to the theater. I recall seeing the Vicomte looking things over there. A visit from our lovely young new diva would be most welcome, I daresay.”

Christine remained stock-still and rigid as they left the way they'd come. At last, she also moved away – in the opposite direction of the theater. With her arms crossed over her churning stomach, feeling as helpless and expendable as a wooden puppet on their strings, she hurried to the dressing room and slammed the door shut behind her, leaning her back against it, disbelieving of her fate. How could they make such demands? Just when everything had begun to go so smoothly! Just when she had her Angel back.

He would never understand. Nor should he have to be made to.

Giving vent to her utter helplessness and angry frustration, she grabbed the first object her hand met with, a tall vase of day-old pink mums, and hurled it at the closest wall, envisioning the managers’ heads as she did. Porcelain shattered, splattering the papered wall with dark spots of water. Flowers, their stems broken, their petals crushed, dropped to the striped rug.

Open-mouthed, she stared to realize what she’d done. Her outrage dissolved as quickly as it erupted, and oddly her stomach also settled into a strange, frozen calm, her pulse easing into its regular steady beat. Blinking, she slowly turned her head and caught sight of her reflection. Moisture filmed the cheerless eyes of the lost girl staring back at her from the looking glass, as trapped as she felt.

“Mon Ange …” she whispered, wishing for his counsel. If she called out, would he hear? He often told her she had only to call his name and he would come to her.

She moved to the mirror. Her fingers brushed its edge. It was then that she noticed the dark crevice - which meant the lever on the opposite side had not been locked! Giving in to her urgent need to see him, she went so far as to slide the mirror on its track, retrieve a burning candle, and step inside the corridor. The chill, musty air hit her face, bringing with it the unwelcome return to reason.

What was she doing? She couldn’t do this, not when she so desperately was trying to earn back his trust. She had promised never again to venture through the long, winding passageway to his hidden rooms unaccompanied; she shouldn’t disobey his direct order. And yet, she acknowledged sadly, her need to refrain from seeking him out came from an even deeper reason.

To trouble him with her quandary now, when he worked with such diligence to make amends, could only lead to sure devastation. If he learned of the managers’ threats to her (she wasn’t so naive not to recognize when she was being bullied) he might revert to a fresh wave of terrorization; might he not? And she couldn’t be the cause for that to happen.

Miserable, she retreated and closed the mirror door. Her limp fingers traced idly down the cold glass of her forlorn image as she sank in a huddle to the carpet and set the candle next to her.

Why must life be so difficult?

Calmer if not encouraged, she considered her dilemma. It wasn’t that she disliked Raoul; she really didn’t know him well enough to form an opinion. She told Meg they were childhood sweethearts, but she supposed that was a bit of a stretch for a girl then barely seven. Perhaps, in a sense, he had been her first love those three months, but he was quite altered from the boy who’d splashed into the ocean to retrieve her flyaway scarf and built flimsy castles with her in the sand. The few times they briefly conversed since his arrival at the opera house he seemed more of a stranger. Kind and polite, if a little overbearing; unable to take “no” for an answer. Nor had she forgotten how he recognized her only after he heard her sing; before that he just brushed past as if she were a useless stage prop. His unintentional slight had injured her pride, but only slightly. Still, with his presumed interest in her rekindled, she had no wish to embellish their youthful acquaintance, and certainly not as the managers insinuated!

Cheeks burning red, she studied her huge eyes that seemed to take up most of her thin face. “Haunted eyes, bland and colorless as dirt,” she’d heard one of the chorus girls cattily remark to another. Pursing her lips in curious scrutiny, she noticed nothing spectacular about her mouth either. It was too wide and full, her skin too pale, her form too skinny, her hair too wild. She was neither plain nor stunning. Nor did she care either way. As long as her Angel was pleased by her appearance, (and surely he must think her somewhat attractive to draw so many flattering pictures of her to cover his walls), as long as she possessed an extraordinary voice that interested him … that was all that mattered. Outward beauty wasn’t important. Her mother had been plain and reserved, and that hadn’t prevented her father from seeing beneath to her exquisite spirit and taking her as his wife, loving her unto death.

Christine frowned at the shallow ideals of those she had grown up with in this theater. Just because the Vicomte was handsome why must everyone think she should swoon at his feet? Even her dearest friend Meg, equally enamored, couldn’t understand her reticence to seek his company. She tried to explain that she didn’t really know him anymore; she kept silent on how much better she knew her Angel. He was still very much a mystery to her. But a loathsome gargoyle he was not. Despite his physical imperfection, what little she'd seen of it, she thought him quite striking.

She let out a hopeless, frustrated little breath, recalling their recent disagreement on the subject.

Outward appearances aside, with Raoul she shared one childish wish, to become Little Lotte, during their many games of pretense ages ago. With her Angel she’d entrusted her deepest, darkest secrets throughout nearly all of one decade, though of course, she’d thought him a true angel at the time of her remorseful confessions. Her skin heated from the inside to remember what other confidences she’d shared. Some of them quite personal: romantic meanderings of a girlish heart eager to experience the novel taste of true love. Such confessions, both in the chapel and in her bed, had often dwindled into daydreams aired. Daydreams he had heard … daydreams shyly spoken to a man.

Not an angel.

The reflection of her eyes widened with shocked unease. Had she said anything about him? Surely not! He never responded with discomfort, which he most assuredly would have done had she made such admissions to her Angel of Music.

To … Erik.

The mere thought of his name, still so new to her, brought a hopeful smile to her lips and a fresh flush to her cheeks. Memory of their recent encounter when she acted so confident, demanding that he listen to what she desired, put the sparkle back in her eyes and she stiffened her spine, lifting her chin, again determined.

A child does not know her own mind to rally in successful opposition, while a woman must often make momentous decisions and remain steadfast, no matter the odds against her.

Her former words to him, words he once told her, became a mantra that rallied her dwindling courage. She had faced down the legendary Phantom of the Opera and prevailed; what were two pompous managers in comparison?

Her Angel - Erik - had never betrayed her trust; she could always rely on his guidance. But she was considered of age now, a woman. No longer a mindless child living in a world of fantasies. This was as momentous a decision as ever she’d made, the odds not in her favor, but confront them, she must.

Alone, this time.

If she were honest, she had made her choice years ago, in shamed ignorance. Now understanding, no longer ashamed, she would faithfully guard her decision and find a way to see it through to the end.

[hr][/hr]


Night-time Sharpens, Heightens Each Sensation
III


The Phantom arrived promptly at ten for his protégé and found the dressing room … empty.

He stared, mouth parted in disbelief. Never one to meekly endure waiting when it came to matters of the opera, he grasped his wrist behind him, beneath his cloak, and paced the corridor like a caged beast. With curt frequency, he glanced through the mirror into the darkened room.

What matter had been so important to dismiss punctuality? She knew he did not like to be kept waiting!

The minutes passed; with each one, his irritation increased.

What must have been well beyond a quarter hour later the dressing room door opened, and Christine appeared, her cloak concealing her from throat to ankle, her thick ringlets mussed and wild. Beyond her, Madame Giry looked toward the mirror, frowning reprovingly while she pulled the door closed as she left, though he knew she couldn’t see his image. Christine turned the key in the lock and approached the mirror as the Phantom slid it open.

“Where have you been?” he snapped. “It is long past the hour you were due to arrive.”

“Forgive me, Maestro. I won’t be late again.”

“See that you remember your promise.” At her downcast face and heavy-lidded eyes, he relented, his tone softer. “This is unlike you, Christine. Are you not feeling well? Perhaps we should postpone tonight’s lesson.”

“No, I’m fine,” she said quickly, as if afraid he would command her to return to her bed. “It has only been a long and trying day.”

He nodded distantly and moved aside, still unhappy with her sudden disregard for promptness, and hoped her tardy arrival had nothing to do with the Vicomte. He couldn’t insist she shun the irksome boy when he alone had verbally surrendered his claim on her and made his own promise never to interfere in her social activities.

She stepped into the corridor. With his magic the Phantom lit the torch he’d brought. Her eyes shimmered in gratitude and she smiled for the first time. Hesitating momentarily, he held out his hand for hers and she placed her fingers in his gloved palm.

Their trek through gloomy corridors and winding stairwells was as silent as before, but when he looked over his shoulder, he saw none of the anxious strain on her features evident the previous night. Indeed, her face lit up when they approached the fifth cellar and she again saw the horse from the opera house stables, waiting. Her eyes shining like a child’s at the break of yuletide, she put her hands to the Phantom’s shoulders as he lifted her onto Cesar’s back.

Once they reached the lair in his gondola, he helped her step onto the stone bank. She wobbled, unsteady, and he held her against him a careless moment, before firmly setting her a step away and retreating the same distance.

“Are you ready to proceed with your lesson?” he asked quietly, pulling off his gloves and doffing his cape. “Or would you prefer to partake of a light meal first? An apple perhaps?”

Her eyes didn’t twinkle as they so often did, but she faintly smiled, understanding his wry offer to be in jest. He strictly forbade her to dine one hour before a practice or performance to maintain the crystal perfection of her voice.

He led her up the steps to the pipe organ and took his place on the bench. Keeping her cloak on, she took a stance close to him, her hand resting atop the glossy instrument, and assumed position. First, he took her through a series of scales.

The minutes passed. Or perhaps they fled for their lives.

His forbearance again dwindling, until he could take no more, he slammed his hands down on the last chord. “You try my patience, and only waste my time and yours if you do not wish to take your instruction seriously.”

Tears of frustration glittered in her eyes. “I am taking it seriously.”

“If that was an attempt, it was poor indeed. No clarity to your tone, whatsoever. Unless perhaps you were wishing to emulate a nightingale underwater?” he dryly observed then spoke more firmly. “Did you eat before you came? Is that why you were tardy?”

“No,” she pouted. “I only took the lemon in water that Madame Giry brought me. I came straight from my bed.”

He regarded her somberly as she seemed to melt into the side of the instrument. Had he a feather, he could topple her. Yet if he conceded and wasn’t so strict, she would never be ready in time for the next opera. He let out a world-weary sigh.

“Stand taller, do not slouch. Again!”

He resumed where they left off, but all too soon ended the notes with another wild flourish of his hands and spun on the bench to glower at her.

“That was worse than poor, it was atrocious. And tell me, my dear, why you persist in lagging behind like a puttering caboose?”

She heaved a great sigh. “It’s only that I’m so tired!”

“I understood that you came from your bed.”

“I did.”

“And so? Did Madame not allow you several hours of sleep as I instructed?”

“Sleep? Ha! I tried but couldn’t sleep. It’s so noisy in the late afternoons! Outside and inside both, and my bed is right next to a window. The stagehands must be building something; hammers were forever pounding in the distance.”

She straightened her spine, at last, and calmly observed him with a hint of curious suspicion, every trace of the indolent student swiftly vanishing before his eyes.

“Two of the chorus girls came into the room while I tried to sleep, chattering between themselves about Monsieur Buquet. They said he was petrified with fear all morning, unable to do his work well. He claims a hooded specter visited him in the night, in his room, and made threats. The managers found a half empty bottle of absinthe near his bed, though he swears he has no idea how it got there or that he even drank a drop, insisting the ghost was no hallucination.” She closely peered at him. “Do you know of this ghost he speaks of, Ange?

Letting his eyes fall shut in what he hoped passed for weary indifference, the Phantom shielded his nose and mouth, bowing his head into his hands. With his fingertips pressed together he hid an involuntary smirk of satisfaction. He hoped his one ounce of persuasion along with a generous dose of illusion administered to the wretched Bouquet would produce a pound of cure—and the licentious beast would forever remember to steer far from Christine.

Rubbing his hands slowly down his jaw, he affected a sober countenance. “This will not do at all,” he said, avoiding her question. “To have you stand there as listless as a mannequin. I would likely get similar results if I should put the doll in your place.”

“I cannot help feeling this way!”

“I know, Christine.” His anger evaporated as quickly as it flared. He sighed in calm resignation. “I do not blame you. Nor do I expect you to continue in this manner. It would be wise if you were to lie down for a few hours. We can continue with the lesson after you have rested.”

“Oh, yes. Thank you, Mon Ange.” Relief made her sag against the organ before she moved up the stairs leading to his bedroom. He watched her sluggish departure until she disappeared from view.

Weighing this new quandary he doubted any room of the opera house would provide the environment needed for restful slumber. Nowhere, but five levels beneath the earth in a tomblike chamber could impart an atmosphere of hushed solitude, day or night. Evidently, as she could find no rest in her dormitory, she would need to come here and sleep before their lessons.

The thought produced a swift stirring of warmth in his veins. How in blazes was he supposed to maintain any sort of distance with Christine sleeping in his bed each night, or rather, the bed he crafted for her when he’d planned to make her his bride? And yet, what other option did he have but to allow it?

x

Needing to put his hands to some task that required no thought, the Phantom played one of the mellow pieces from the next opera he intended to present to his managers, but softly. Soon the melody worked its own magic, soothing his tormented mind, and he became a part of the music just as it was a part of his soul.

The hours fell away unnoticed. He grew absorbed in his compositions, forgetting time and place.

The notes shifted into another arrangement, until a familiar tune rose from the pipes and he soon realized he played his prized aria without conscious thought. Seeing her image in his mind, behind closed eyelids, he sadly and quietly began to sing the words of longing inscribed within the miserable walls of his heart.

“You have come here in pursuit of your deepest urge, in pursuit of that wish, which till now has been silent, silent … I have brought you, that our passions may fuse and merge … in your mind you’ve already succumbed to me - dropped all defenses - ”

Just as last time, he sensed her.

And just as last time, he halted mid-chord in frustrated distress.

The steady notes reverberated and dissolved into the airless chamber. Silence answered, so deep, it seemed eternal.

“Why did you stop?” Her voice, barely heard, came low, unsteady.

“I did not mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t wake me … Your song … you wrote it for me, didn’t you?”

He snorted weakly, staring at his hands still poised on the keys. “Such a grand impression you foster, dreaming child.”

His intended slight did not deter her, did not distract her as he’d hoped.

“I don’t think so. You always stop when you know I’m in the room.” He heard the whisper of her skirts as she moved closer. “And you once told me that you write all your operas with me in mind.”

“Yes, as the lead. For the story I wish to present. It is all make believe, Christine.”

“Then why did you stop?”

“It is a song I have decided will no longer benefit the opera.”

“I like it.”

“You’ve not heard all of it,” he countered in rising exasperation. “You couldn’t possibly know if you would like it or not.”

“I recognize the melody. You sang it on the night you first brought me here, when you sang of your Music of the Night.” She sounded a little breathless. “The melody is the same, but what little I heard of the words is different … they make me feel … different.”

He dared not respond.

“Play it for me, Erik.” He heard the brush of her gown as she drew closer. “I want to hear all of it. Teach your music to me.”

Her innocent words regarding his passionate lyrics, the extent of which she could not begin to imagine, brought all manner of temptations to mind. Slowly, against his better judgment, he turned to look at her.

And froze.

She stood so close he could reach out and grab her. Instead, he sat motionless and gaped at the sight of her standing in her white nightdress, the backdrop of glowing candles softly illumining the gentle outline of her slender form. Every appealing, unconcealed curve she possessed.

A hot rush of longing almost made him follow through with his first instinct and reach for her. Instead, he broke from his wishful stupor to spring up from the bench and collect his robe from a nearby chair where he’d tossed it that morning. Approaching her, he brought it around her shoulders in haste. “You must be cold,” he used as an excuse.

“I’m not cold,” she countered, a catch in her throat. “Actually, I’m quite warm.”

Keep it on, ” he ordered when she moved to take it off.

Her arms fell back to her sides. But the sight of her slight body swallowed in his black velvet robe did nothing to help cool his blood. The sleeves hung past her fingertips, the hem brushing the floor in folds. She looked endearing, vulnerable, and oh so desirable …

“Erik?” she questioned, his name a breath on her lips.

Such full pink lips … beautiful lips. They appeared as soft as the petals of a rose. Her impossibly thick lashes brushed halfway down, and she looked up at him in a coy manner that made his heart pound harder than it already did.

“Christine, where are your clothes?”

“I decided it best not to wear them.”

“You decided it best not to …” At her quietly decisive words, he stammered out the echo of a reply then shook his head in incredulity. “ Why not for pity’s sake?”

He presumed her remark to be innocent; nor did he believe she realized how the candlelight from behind unerringly brought into focus her unquestionable perfection. She was accustomed to wearing insubstantial, oftentimes semi-transparent costumes while dancing before hundreds of people. Her harem costume in Hannibal left little to the mind's eye, and the attire she’d worn when he first brought her to his inner sanctum had been stimulating. But to have her stand before him, as she did now, with those damned lyrics reverberating inside his mind …

“Once I return to my room, there will be no one to help me disrobe, unless I wake Meg,” she explained with a little shrug. “But she doesn’t know I’ve resumed my lessons with you. Only Madame does, and she said it would be best to tell no one at this time, not even Meg. Though I did tell the managers, but I assumed they already knew. I cannot unlace the back of my corset. It is too tightly strung and knotted. And I cannot sleep in it with any comfort.”

“And you cannot walk about the corridors in your nightdress.”

“I wore my cloak.”

In frustration he plowed a hand through his hair, momentarily forgetting he wore a wig. Her eyes briefly lifted higher, and he froze, hoping she had not witnessed the blasted hairpiece move.

Turning from her, he surreptitiously smoothed the necessary encumbrance the fraction needed back into place. He inhaled a breath for calm and directed his attention toward her again. “If we are to continue these lessons, you must arrive fully dressed, no exceptions.”

“If?”

“If.”

She pouted at his adamant reply; it served to make her look even more enchanting.

“Perhaps then, if that is the way you feel about it, I should come in the mornings or the afternoons. At least until rehearsals for the new opera start.”

“And what of the current opera - Il Muto? And your ballet classes with Madame?”

“The managers informed me only this morning that I no longer shall take part in the classes, or dance in the chorus. And La Carlotta remains in the lead until I am ready to take the stage.”

He scowled at this news. “What of Act III?”

“I no longer sing the aria.”

What?! ”Anger at the two meddling incompetents sharpened his tone. He had purposely refrained from attending the operas, unable to tolerate the wavering screeches the unskilled diva tried to pass off for sopranic notes. But he had thought the sweet chimes of his Angel’s voice would have at least given some reprieve to the audience, not that he cared for their comfort. But without an audience, the opera house would not operate.

“Why would they do such a thing?” he asked, keeping a short rein on his temper. The desire to create more mischief rose strong inside him, and he clenched his hands at his sides, thinking of the tainted throat spray.

“They said I must use those hours to further train my voice.” She looked briefly away. “They did tell me I would lead in the new opera, but no more than that. For now.”

“The fools,” he bitterly snapped then eyed her, considering. “It is true that you are not yet ready in many areas. You have much still to learn. But they had no right to address you in such a supercilious manner, or to take the aria in Act III away from you. Were they struck both deaf and blind on the night of your great triumph? When has the whining toad La Carlotta ever received a standing ovation?” He watched his once again meek student, noticing how she averted her gaze to the Persian tapestry spread over the stones. “Is there something more you’re not telling me?”

“No,” she said too quickly, the belying flush in her cheeks confirming her untruth.

“Christine …” he said low in warning. “I would know what is troubling you.”

In clear agitation, she wrung her hands in front of her beneath the folds of his robe. “I understand you are displeased with these state of affairs, but I must ask a favor.”

Taken aback by her response of an appeal, he eyed her intently, his voice quiet. “What favor?”

“I would like to request that the Opera Ghost does not make a return.”

He stared at her in bewilderment. How had she read him so well?

“Please, Mon Ange,” her liquid brown eyes beseeched him. “I do not wish for trouble to visit again on my account. Everything has gone so well – except of course for the little incident with Monsieur Buquet, but I feel his lesson was well taught, even deserved.” Her lips curved up knowingly, and he couldn’t resist answering with a grudging smile in return. “But it is enough now.”

He released a soft extended breath. The tricks would be difficult to abandon completely; he enjoyed them so well. “How have you passed the time, if you no longer attend classes or rehearsals?”

“Doing very little,” she admitted. “I am La Carlotta’s understudy.”

“Are you satisfied with such a menial undertaking?”

“Truthfully … no,” her words came hesitant. “I wish to do more. I’m not accustomed to such inactivity.” She twisted her hands again, barely seen within the folds of his robe. Her helpless act instilled within him the strong urge to protect. “I would like to take part in the ballet,” she admitted. “At least until rehearsals for the next opera begin.”

He felt assured of her answer, but asked the question, regardless. “Do you feel you can do both? Engage in the ballet and excel in your lessons with me?”

“I’ve had no problems in doing so before,” she said eagerly, her expression hopeful. “I’ve always enjoyed sharing in the ballet with Meg; even though Madame puts us through such strenuous routines. Afterward I do feel stronger and more alert. I know tonight’s performance I gave you was wretched, but I truly was so sleepy and couldn’t concentrate as you’d taught me.”

He gave a slight nod of pardon. “You should not be forced to relinquish what gives you pleasure.” The irony of his words didn’t escape him. Though to give up the magnitude of his plans for himself and his Angel hurt much worse than the idea of surrendering his pranks. “I will speak with the managers regarding the continuance of your dance.”

“As the gifted composer, Erik?” she asked carefully. “Or through another note from the notorious O.G.?”

“The Opera Ghost will make no visitation,” he conceded reluctantly, his mouth twisting up at the corners in sardonic amusement. “Though if those two clowns who run my … the theater betray their word to me, I cannot promise a lack of just reprisal.”

“Thank you, Mon Ange.”

Her beatific smile was all the thanks he required. He didn’t expect her to throw herself into his arms, and stood momentarily shocked into stillness. Tentatively he raised his hands to press against her back, returning her embrace. He still felt unaccustomed to physical contact, to being so tightly held, to being held at all. With his present struggle concerning her, he didn’t dare linger in such closeness. Gently he put her from him.

“As to the other matter, I have decided,” he said quietly, hoping he wasn’t pounding nails of sweet temptation into his coffin of self-sacrifice. “You will sleep here each night before we begin your lessons.”

Her eyes widened in surprise, but she showed no hesitance as she nodded.

“Come fully clothed and bring your nightdress. And surely you can find some contraption to wear that requires no lacing in the back? Something that you will need no assistance to remove?”

“I’ll look in the costume area and the racks there.”

“Excellent. And now, shall we proceed? We still have a few hours before dawn breaks.”

Smiling, her eyes sparkling with life, she took her place beside the pipe organ. He resumed the practice scales, pleased to note the quality of her voice and stance greatly improved. Perhaps this nightly routine of her spending a few hours of rest in his home wouldn’t prove a disaster in the making, and all would turn out well.

Only later would he miserably recall his naïve, foolish thought and laugh.

xXx
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated 9/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:54 am

Darkness Stirs, and Wakes Imagination
IV



Twice more Christine visited the lair for her lessons, with the legendary Phantom, once her Angel, now but a man to guide her beyond the mirror. Such moments were golden and their world of make-believe seemed to achieve a perfect reality.

Yet gold didn’t always glitter, and reality when scrutinized could crack.

Just as her disposition fluctuated from that of a girl’s to a woman’s and back again, within scant minutes at times, a pattern became apparent with her behavior in how she chose to address him. When she seemed uncertain, nervous, or even respectful, she used the term Maestro. When she became excited or wanted to soothe or attempt to bend him gently to her will, she called him Mon Ange. And when she grew bold and confident, even demanding, treating him as her equal, not as her teacher, not as her guardian - it was Erik.

Lately he noticed his given name leave her lips more often. And in one manner, she seemed determined not only to bend his will, but to break it.

The previous night, the moment she entered his lair, she began her gentle ambush.

“The song you played, Erik, the one you wouldn’t finish, will you please play it as I sleep? It seemed quite,” she floundered for an adequate word, “soothing.”

“It is hardly a lullaby,” he refused her quietly.

“Then you will not play it?”

“No. I will not play it.”

She frowned in disappointment and went to bed. Once she arose, hours later, she again drew near to him, where he sat beside his miniature theater replete with tiny dolls he’d carved, and sketched an idea for an arabesque costume for the new opera.

“Before we begin this evening’s lesson, I would like to hear your song,” she pleaded softly. “Perhaps, the pace will help stimulate my blood and fully waken me.”

At her incongruous choice of words, more fitting than she realized, he made a slight choking sound, hiding his expression from her as he stood and laid his sketchbook in the chair he vacated. “It carries no swift rhythm and hardly will serve any beneficial purpose with regard to your lessons.”

Her brow furrowed in dismayed confusion. “It has neither a gentle melody nor carries a swift rhythm? What style of music is it then?”

“I told you, it is nothing. A mistake. Too insignificant to mention.”

“A mistake?”

“Yes, a mistake,” he reiterated firmly. “Even the idea of the male lead sporting a mask was foolish.”

She didn’t look convinced. “I would like to hear what you consider a mistake, Erik.”

“No.”

“What little I heard didn’t sound like a mistake,” she petulantly argued. “Why will you not play it for me?”

“Enough, Christine. Let us begin your lesson.” He walked to his pipe organ and took a seat, flicking the long tails of his waistcoat free of the bench, thus avoiding her question. “Start with the scale in C major, if you please.”

She pouted, but followed him up the stairs and obeyed, and the rest of the night ensued, if not smoothly, at least peaceably as far as lack of further interrogation went.

This evening, she had changed her approach.

Avoiding his bedroom and sleep, she explained she wished only to begin her lesson. He looked at her oddly, but agreed.

Once she finished her scales to his approval, and touched his heart with all she had learned of her aria from his new opera, he praised her success.

"Your music touches the very depths of my soul, Mon Ange, I can think of nothing that affects me so deeply.” Her words were sincere, her smile sweet, her eyes shining. “Please, play your beautiful song for me. The one I have not fully heard.”

“You should rest,” he said, heaving a weary sigh.

“I told you, I’m not sleepy.”

“In that case, we should continue with your lesson.”

He was horrified to see a glint of moisture in her eyes. Dear God, was she about to cry?

“Why will you not play for me, Mon Ange? You never have refused me my requests before. Is it that you no longer trust me?”

“Trust?” he looked at her baffled. “This has nothing to do with trust.”

“No, it must,” she sadly decided. “Ever since I … did what I did.” She couldn’t bring herself to say the words that would resurrect the hurtful memory of removing his mask. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be so quick to stop playing when I come near.”

“My choice to refrain has nothing to do with trust, Christine,” he repeated irritably.

“Are you worried I won’t like it?”

He uttered a humorless laugh, briefly closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. “Whether you like it or not is of little consequence.”

“Then you’ll play it for me?” she asked, again hopeful.

“No,” he growled under his breath.

“I would never scorn your music or criticize it—”

“No. And let this be an end to the matter.”

“I adore your music, Erik, all of your music—”

“No, Christine!”

“But I don’t understand!” Her words quivered. “If it’s a song of little significance, as you said, why should it matter whether you give into my desire to play it or not?”

“No!”

She let out a little sigh of despair. “One day I hope to restore your faith in me, Mon Ange.” Her lower lip trembled. “I swear I never meant to hurt you—”

“Very well!” he roared, making her jump. “I’ll play the damned song!”

He glared at her, but his scorching eyes produced a worthless effect as she bestowed on him a most euphoric smile.

Enraged at her intolerable persistence, even more so at his foolish capitulation, he looked away from her glowing face and watched his long fingers follow the familiar path along the keys. The composition sat propped before him, but he had no need to refer to the written notes; they were embedded in his soul.

He played the prelude much too rapidly, taking his annoyance out on the keyboard; but soon the passion of the aria united with his tempestuous spirit and he closed his mind to all else but the music, letting his hands revert to the original, slower pace. His anger melted away, and without at first realizing he’d done so, he began to sing the haunting words.

His heart pounded when she moved close and looked over his shoulder at the lyrics he had written. On her cue, as though the music dwelled deep within her as well, her crystalline soprano gifted the air and joined with his strong tenor in perfect accord, stunning him, elating him. Passion and fire blazed to life in their spontaneous duet. His eyes fell closed as he struggled with his desire to make her his, pouring feelings into lyrics of pretense so she might never suspect their connection to reality. As their final notes rang triumphant then stilled, he slowly withdrew his hands from the keyboard, vaguely noticing how they trembled, and dropped them to his sides.

Before he quite understood what happened, her slight form fell awkwardly into his lap and she wound her slender arms around his neck in a spontaneous hug of girlish delight, her laughter almost giddy. The shock of his wish now manifested by her soft warmth pressed against him rendered him speechless. He couldn’t even think to lift his hands to steady her. His arms hung frozen at his sides.

“Oh, Mon Ange, thank you!” she breathed, her eyes aglow, her face rosier than before. She was ebullient with her praise. “That was stupendous! Simply magnifica! I adored it, and it was certainly no mistake …”

He stared, still without words, as she glorified his tainted music with her praise. Ever since the night he agreed to continue as her teacher, her sweet but platonic displays of affection both astounded and delighted him, stripping from Erik a layer of his bitter arrogance and unearthing a tender, beating heart of a man. Perhaps fear had not turned to love, for her, but she had searched and found the man beneath the monster as he’d always hoped.

And yet, though her newfound audacity staggered him, at times amused him, even exasperated him, it alarmed him as well; the latter on which he refused to speculate, bringing with it visions of that ghostly night. Yet, it seemed, even that blessed morsel of ignorance was to be denied him.

Despite his fervent desire not to think on them, the shadows of the future he hoped never would come persisted. In this present existence, ever since she first persuaded him to continue with her lessons, he had seen her mature into the same astonishing boldness she exhibited in the future. But the future vision of Il Muto had not occurred; he had seen to that. The screeching diva still headlined the opera and the insufferable Buquet still lived and breathed … Yet here his Angel sat on his lap – on his lap of all places – and bolder than ever. As bold as she’d been to brave his lair to renew their acquaintance. As bold as the future image of her had appeared.

“You simply must include this Point of No Return in your opera,” she enthused. “This cannot go unnoticed and unappreciated by all but me …”

He looked into her wide, hopeful brown eyes sparkling so close to his and remained silent. This opera had been intended as a weapon to wield vengeance, nothing more. A trap laid to ensnare his Angel, who now smiled at him with such trust.

The shadows of the future had shown him this opera, and though he zealously endeavored to alter the course of such an abysmal fate, he feared somehow those shadows might attain reality if he were to allow the production to be performed. How, he did not know. Or why. The future shown to him had been too scattered for calculable logic. But his ghostly visions had done more than forewarn him; the fear of such a future, of losing Christine, now relentlessly haunted him.

“Please, Mon Ange,” she begged, “I will be your Aminta …”

He inhaled a swift breath at the shy but flirtatious sweep of her lashes. He had never planned for any other woman to play the lead; she had been correct to say that every opera he composed was for her alone. But this could never be!

“And you,” she went on, oblivious to his inner struggle as she ghosted his cheek with a light kiss – which caused his heart to skip another erratic beat, “will be my Don Juan.”

Giving rise to sudden panic that she’d so innocently aired his malicious intent for the opera, he pushed her away and off his lap. “No, Christine!”

She stood to her feet, turning to look at him in hurt confusion.

He tempered the swift fear that strangled his words, thought how oddly cold his lap now felt, but only reached for her hand, tentatively taking her slim fingers in his. “No,” he said more softly. “You alone will hear this music. No one else.”

“But why? The notes and the lyrics are so … stirring. No one will see your face if that’s what concerns you. You told me the lead is masked.”

He cursed himself for the slip of telling her even that much, a weak excuse he'd given for his decision not to perform the composition. “Only for that one song.”

“Perhaps then you could rewrite the opera?” she naively suggested. “To include such a requirement in all the songs?”

He stifled the insane urge to laugh and concentrated on her hand in his. Such a soft hand; so pale, small. Gentle. But that same delicate hand had ripped away his masks, leaving him torn - once in reality, and once in illusion. He never understood her purpose the second time. And that is what prevented him from professing his love for her, and even, (though he was a fool to dwell on such an impossibility), asking for that same delicate hand in marriage as he intended the night he first brought her to his hidden abode. That time she had pulled away his mask out of curiosity, she had said, and her long-held desire of years to see what he looked like. Her act had wounded him, but he came to understand her reasoning.

The snippets from his visitation to the future before Don Juan Triumphant appeared disjointed, moving from the swordfight with the boy, to the moment he strangled Piangi. From what little he’d witnessed, she didn’t know of the murder when she pulled away his mask a second time and betrayed him. Not until later had she discovered the truth. So why, why had she done it? Had she felt trapped? Afraid? Angry? He would never know her reason, never could. He could never allow the future to reach that point.

Despite her tender affections, much as a doting ward to her guardian, he decided, an underlying sense that she might yet reject him kept him silent from speaking his heart. He had sworn never again to enslave her in chains to him. To permit her to do as she pleased and, though it galled him, to see whom she pleased.

“Christine …”

“At least say you’ll consider it.”

He sighed and looked up into her eyes, so innocent yet beguiling. “There is something I never told you, about what happened during the Yuletide.” He hesitated, the memory almost as difficult as the experience.

“From the tone of your voice it doesn’t sound pleasant.”

His laugh was devoid of mirth. “Pleasant? No, my dear. It was a living nightmare. One I both experienced and created.”

Her brows drew together in worry at his grave tone. “Then perhaps you shouldn’t recall it, Erik. Whatever you’ve done or think you’ve done, it doesn’t matter. It’s in the past.”

“Doesn’t matter?” He arched his brow.

“We’ve gone beyond all that and have begun anew.”

“‘Beyond all that.’” He looked at her incredulously. “And how does one go beyond murder, Christine?”

Her mouth slowly parted in horror. “The gypsy?” she asked, her tone almost hopeful.

“Much worse than the gypsy.” His somber eyes compelled her not to look away. She gave a slight tug of her hand, to free it, but he held fast.

“Another accident?” she whispered.

“No accident, not this time. Two ruthless murders. Perhaps more.” He thought of the plummeting chandelier and the fire it produced as it struck the orchestra pit and the row of seats beyond. Nor had he told her of Persia.

She regarded him with a measure of disbelief and uncertainty. “Are you trying to frighten me away?”

Was he? “Would you run?”

Her hesitation belied her next words. “No. But you must tell me what you mean, Erik. I cannot believe you would kill a man in cold blood, not without just cause as you had when you were a child.”

He closed his eyes. How little she knew of him. “I have told you I am a dangerous man, Christine. And I am doing all within my power to see to it that such frightening events do not take place. Therefore this opera can never see the light of the stage. Do you understand?”

“No. You’re confusing me.” She frowned. “If you haven’t murdered anyone why speak as though you have?”

It was time to tell her. Yet, he hesitated. Besides their music lessons, he had taught her literature, poetry, and the arts, engaging in lengthy discussions with her about all three subjects, pleased to learn she shared his interests. She had unburdened herself to him of her personal joys and sorrows involving her strict ballet mistress, other members of the opera, and even her own deep feelings; but not once had he confided in her or anyone else. The novel idea to share his fears with this woman he adored both appealed and terrified him.

“You will think me mad,” he began, hesitant. “At times, I question my own sanity.” If not for the blackened rose he kept near his mini stage atop a drawing of Christine as Aminta, he would think his ghostly experience all a bizarre delusion brought on by exhaustion.

“Never,” she reassured softly. Her other hand moved to cover his. “For years I have told you my problems. Now let me share the burden you carry. Tell me, Erik, what makes you doubt your integrity so strongly?”

Integrity? He almost laughed. Had she not remembered his affliction? Such a grotesque mark of distinction could hardly belong to a creature of merit. Nor could the wicked mischief of the Opera Ghost be deemed laudable by any stretch of the imagination.

Instead of answering, he regarded her curiously. “How is it that you possess any faith in me? I deceived you into believing I was something I’m not.”

“Yes, you did.” She became reflective. “You have been strict with me, at times quite angry, but never have I known you to deliberately hurt me. You must have had good reason to pretend to be an immortal for so long, and one day I wish to know it. But at present I hope you will share with me the cause of your current distress. Perhaps in some small way I can help, if only to listen.”

He regarded her, amazed. How had this happened? He told Madame Giry that Christine no longer inhabited the body of a child, and in such a few short weeks he’d begun to see the compassionate heart of a woman. He remained her teacher, but exactly who was giving guidance to whom?

He decided to confide in her and tell her of his nightmare experience, without revealing her dismal future in it. Nor did he tell her of his true birthright, a troubling matter he had yet to accept or consider.

Knowing such revelations would take a great amount of time and her legs would soon weary, he slowly pulled her back down to his lap, finding he liked her there. Platonic or not, she didn’t seem to mind (was it too much to hope she even seemed a trifle pleased?) and he allowed himself this small pleasure. Her arm slipped around his shoulders, her hand resting at his nape, as if it were the most natural thing for her to do.

While he spoke and the minutes lengthened, a myriad of emotions colored her bright eyes. Shock. Horror. Curiosity. Wonderment - they ran the gamut. He completed his recounting with the tragic night of the Don Juan opera and awaited her response. She focused on the green lake, her mind as distant as the mist that curled toward the shore.

“Have you nothing to say?” he asked a bit impatiently.

“After seeing the many candles rise from the water, all ablaze, it’s not so difficult to believe the fanciful can happen in this place.”

Her smile did the opposite of reassuring him, though he did feel relief that she believed his story, as fantastic as it sounded. “A magician’s trick. All make-believe. This was different. A portent of what would come.”

“What could come, surely? But won't. Since you saw what might have happened and changed all that with your decision to let Il Muto proceed as planned, surely it’s as though it never was?”

“I have no way of knowing,” he answered, thinking of her new stubborn boldness that once never existed either, except in the future realm. “But I will take no chances.”

She sighed. “Then I suppose I must content myself with these private performances between us. At least for now.”

He looked at her sharply. The manner in which she spoke left a great deal unsaid, and suddenly Erik felt the sensations of her closeness more intensely, the softness of her fingers against his skin, the warmth of her breath escaping her parted lips. He had the strongest impulse to learn the fullness of those lips. To press his mouth to hers and taste her, but he held back. His heart held no such reserve and fiercely pounded out his desire; he wondered if she felt its bold overtures as his eyes again flicked up to hers.

Her lashes lifted slightly higher, the look she gave one of nervous uncertainty, and a hint of rose tinged her skin, reminding him of what he must not forget. She wanted him to continue in the capacity of her teacher and guardian. Nothing more. Nothing less. And he must learn to content himself with that.

He pulled her hand from the back of his neck and gently pushed her from his lap. “Tonight’s lesson is over.”

“But …” she regarded him in bewildered dismay. “We have barely begun! It’s been scarcely an hour. A long time yet until dawn.”

“We have covered the purpose for today.”

“You’re angry with me,” she decided sadly.

He shook his head. “No, I'm not angry. Tomorrow we will continue.”

“But - have you forgotten? Tomorrow night is the Bal Masque.”

He had forgotten. Not the incredible knowledge that she would be on his arm and he would accompany her to the ball, but the time that had slipped so stealthily away from him.

“Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve?” He gathered the pages of the dangerous opera and shoved them into a folder, then tossed it onto a table atop his drawings.

The slightest amount of hesitation preceded her answer. “You do still intend to be my escort? You haven’t changed your mind?”

For a moment he wondered if she wished he had but didn’t air his misgivings. “I will meet you at the mirror door at eight o’clock sharp.”

“So late?” she mused. “The ball begins at seven.”

“I prefer to arrive after all other guests have made an appearance. Does that displease you?” He lifted his brow as he took her arm, escorting her to his boat.

“Oh, no, not as long as you’re there with me. I shall be so pleased to introduce you to Meg and a few others.” She paused as he helped her into the boat and she took a seat on the bench, looking up at him. “I felt so silly telling the managers, with the entire cast listening that I have a great teacher but didn’t even know his name.” Her brow clouded in realization. “I still don’t know it. Not all of it. What is your surname? I cannot introduce you by your Christian name. Madame told me that is not proper.” She blushed. Evidently Madame had also informed her that women didn’t invite men to balls.

Erik cringed inside though he kept his expression carefully blank. Up until a few weeks ago, he’d never known the truth of his heritage and wished to. Now, he wished ignorance again afforded him the ambiguity, which in retrospect had been bliss.

“You may introduce me as Monsieur Erik,” he instructed. “That is perfectly acceptable.”

He noticed a flicker of disappointment in the slight downturn of her mouth, a sign it was not acceptable to her, but he wasn’t yet ready to divulge the truth of his birthright; nor did he know if he ever would be. No matter that he was Vicomte, no matter that he should be afforded the privileges due to one of such stature, he had been denied by his father, the Comte, and forced to live in squalor and fear of his face being seen by the public.

Had anything really changed?

The journey back to the mirror was quiet. He led her through the last corridor, pulling the lever that released the mechanism on the door, allowing it to slide open. Only from his side could the lever be tripped. Anyone from the other side without knowledge of the entrance would never know that a secret corridor twisted behind to a labyrinth of cellars. He pushed the mirror door wide, stepping aside to allow her to pass. She looked up at him as she brushed close.

“What do you plan to wear?” she whispered, as though the question were one of reverence.

Being in such close proximity to her and in such a confined space addled his mind. “Wear?” he repeated, dazed. Though no part of their bodies touched, he could feel her with every fiber of his being.

“To the ball,” she explained. “I know the code of dress calls for black, white, silver and gold, so color isn’t really a concern. And I know this is late notice, but I had hoped to know your disguise. So that our costumes might, perhaps, complement one another in some way?” she ended shyly.

He had chosen his outfit a month earlier. “My costume is red.”

“Red?” Her eyes opened a little wider in surprise.

“I have never been one to practice conformity,” he said with an amused quirk of his lips.

Her answering smile came slow, admiring. “No, I never expected you would. Red,” she said thoughtfully and gave a decisive nod, asking no further questions and moving through the gap in the mirror. “Until tomorrow night then … Monsieur Erik.” Her manner was teasing, even flirtatious, the brief caress of her lips she pressed to his cheek light and innocent as the first one, before, timid again, she swept toward the dressing room door without another word.

Long after he closed the mirror behind her and she exited the room, he stood and stared into the empty chamber where he’d last seen her, his palms sweating, his body trembling. Shaken by the simplicity of an angel’s kiss.

xXx

[hr][/hr]

Curl of Lip, Swirl of Gown
V



With vicious resolve the Phantom brought his fingers crashing down on the keys, creating a discordance of sound meant not to soothe but to release: The burn of regret, the pang of guilt, the ache of longing. Even the tiniest flicker of hope, pathetic though hope was to cling to; what had that vain emotion ever brought him except the curse of ultimate disappointment? The churning inside built into a maelstrom of festering emotion that filmed his eyes with moisture and threatened to eat away like acid the walls he’d long ago erected to protect his foolish heart.

With his back to the portcullis, he could not see. With the notes reverberating off the cavern walls he could not hear. But he sensed his expected visitor.

His splayed fingers hovered, trembling above the next chords though he put no pressure to them. “Madame.” He continued to stare at the network of organ pipes as echoes of his last booming chords reverberated throughout the chamber.

“Maestro?” Her greeting came weak, a little fearful and uncertain. “Did Christine’s lesson not go well? She returned so soon.”

He had no wish to dwell on the past hours. “Atop the small table closest to the boat you will find a black leather folio. Take it to the managers in the morning. I wish them to have it before the ball.”

He sensed her hesitance and steeled himself for the inevitable questions.

“Did you tell her the truth?”

He remained silent.

“She deserves to know,” she added, her voice a little bolder.

He took in a lengthy breath for restraint and slowly exhaled it. “I have told her enough.”

“But have you told her why you deceived her into believing—”

“I have told her enough!” He slammed his fingertips down on the chords, issuing a terrifying roar. A shattering crash followed from behind. He turned to look over his shoulder.

His black-clad assistant had backed into the table, knocking a masked statue of Nero off the edge and onto the flagstones, almost into the water. He glanced at the shards of plaster amid a litter of strewn pages that had also fallen then raised his solemn gaze to hers.

She averted hers quickly, brushing pieces of the broken statue away, and pulled a handful of pages up with her as she rose, stiffening her spine. “She deserves to know why you prolonged the pretense.”

“I have no wish to quarrel over the matter, nor do I wish to discuss it further.”

“So, you refuse to tell her?” she persisted a trace of anger mingling with her disbelief. “When I agreed to aid you in this pretense of yours, it was under the assumption that on her sixteenth birthday you would reveal yourself and the entirety of your aspirations for her. Yet here it is nearing the eve of her seventeenth year, and still you’ve not told her? She doesn’t yet know how you truly feel?”

“Leave it be, Madame!” he bellowed, whirling around on the bench. “Do not presume to tell me the extent of my feelings! You cannot possibly understand.”

“Oh, I understand only too well, Monsieur.” She frowned as she smoothed the pages against the folio she held. “You were long denied what you most wanted in life, and now, when you are finally given opportunity to claim all you desire, you will deny her instead.”

He narrowed his eyes in annoyance, his mouth dropping open in surprise that she should so challenge him. Had a new vintage of wine emboldened the two women of his acquaintance? Or had his visit with the spirits softened his disposition?

He knew he should demand she go, and mind her own business, but curiosity compelled him to bark, “Deny her? What rubbish do you speak now?”

“Not rubbish.” She gave him glare for glare. “You forget; I brought you here, Erik. On that night, twenty-two years ago, I looked into the haunting eyes of a forgotten child, broken and without hope. But you struggled and rose above those ashes of ruin. And now you wish to take from her what was stolen from you, by depriving her of all hope she’s attained?”

“I have deprived her of nothing,” he snapped, uncomfortable and annoyed she should bring up the past he worked so hard to expunge. “I am still her teacher.”

“Oui. Her teacher.” The title sounded accusatory. “And what does that entail, Maestro? You brought her here, into your inner sanctum throughout all of one night, sending the managers and the Vicomte into an uproar with your note that she was ‘safe under your wing.’ Almost defiling what little reputation a chorus girl can possess, and for what purpose? If you will not speak the truth to her, if you choose to continue these nocturnal secret meetings and have her sleep each night in your bed, what do you think will happen—”

“Enough!” he roared, standing up so swiftly, he knocked the bench back into the organ. The blaze in his eyes condemned further words.

She flinched, but didn’t falter. “I brought Christine here to live, just as I brought you,” she said more quietly. “She too was a vulnerable child, lonesome for companionship. I made a promise to her father, who was like a brother to me when he lived and worked among us here at the opera house. I arranged the meeting between you and heard you make the same promise. Never to do anything that might bring Christine harm. To be a safeguard to her. To teach her your music. You alone decided to make yourself into her invisible angel, and it is to my great shame I allowed the ruse to linger long past her girlhood. At last she now understands you are but a man. Yet the damage is done, Monsieur. You have entranced her, even bewitched her. She would do anything you ask. Indeed, I fear she has little self-discipline when it comes to you.”

He sadly smirked. How little she knew. “Do you question my honor? I assure you, Madame, what little honor a murderer and a ghost can possess is well intact, as is her virtue.”

“I am relieved to hear it.”

He snorted, pacing away. “If I require a pound of flesh, I could find a desperate streetwalker and cross her palm with enough gold to have me in her bed.” He had accrued much wealth through the managers over the years, though he had yet to experience the joys of the flesh to which he so indifferently boasted. Such intimacies he desired to share only with Christine, though he chose not to reveal that to this intrusive woman who divulged his secrets to others once too often and dared to presume she could order the events of his life.

He spun around to pin her with his angry gaze. “You truly think me so depraved that I would bring a beautiful young virgin to my lair for the sole purpose of igniting her sleeping bud to flame? Deflowering her,” he spelled out curtly when she stared at him with vacant eyes regarding the lyrics within his aria. “A monster I may be, but to her I wish only to remain what I have been. Her teacher and guardian, as I can no longer be her angel.”

“That is not all you wish for her.”

He frowned at her persistence. “She is but sixteen.”

“Again, you contradict yourself, Monsieur. Was it only little more than a fortnight ago that you stood where you stand now and informed me that Christine was a woman fully grown? Why should you suddenly claim otherwise? Your argument is weak, in your heart you know the truth. I was sixteen when I married Meg’s father, a man twelve years older than I, and sixteen when Meg was born.” Her steady gaze left no doubt to her meaning. “Christine is a woman, soon to be seventeen, of an age to wed. As you planned to do.” She waved her hand to the mannequin in the wedding gown.

“Plans diminish, they change,” he said tersely, wishing he’d had the forethought to move the doll out of sight.

“Yet deep love will always flourish.” Her words shocked him into silence. “At times it may falter or seem or even fade, but one stoke of a tender word, an ember of a caress, and it is fully rekindled. I speak of the deepest kind of love there is, Maestro. The love I shared with my husband and still bear for him, even after his death of five years. The same love I know you have for Christine and, if I am not mistaken, she returns for you. A bond so strong it can never be broken even should you attempt to break it.”

Her words needled him. “You are mistaken, Madame. This conversation is finished. Go now; leave me in peace.” He strode off in the direction of his bedroom.

“Peace? You speak of peace?” she called after him. “There is no rest for the wicked, Maestro, a truth perhaps you should keep in mind.”

Greatly startled, he swung around at the top of the landing to look at her, her grim words taking him back to the night of the spirits’ visitations. The night her doppelganger had uttered the same message, standing almost in the spot where she now stood.

“Maestro? Are you well? You look deathly white, as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

The absurdity of her comment had him blankly stare. His mouth curled into a disbelieving parody of a grin and an inane chuckle burst from his lips. It set off a wave of laughter he couldn’t curb, nor did he try. At first soft and sporadic, his sardonic mirth rapidly grew in frequency and timbre until he threw back his head in an uncontrollable, wild madness that thundered off the walls.

She backed away, kneeling to snatch up more papers, hugging the portfolio and mess of other papers close.

“GO!” he demanded, amid another burst of insanity. “Yes, go if you know what’s good for you …”

She wasted no time scurrying to the boat. He stood near his throne and watched her amid another titanic roll of crazed laughter.

Once she poled far past the raised portcullis and out of sight, the Phantom doubled over, heavily dropping to his knees, arms crossed against his burning sides. The raucous laughter abated and a chilling somberness gripped his heart, making him want to weep. It was then that he noticed the dampness on his cheeks, and his last bizarre chortle ended in a despairing groan.

“Perhaps we are all mad,” he whispered to the stones. “Madame for attempting to reform a demon … Christine for believing an admirable man lurks beneath her dark angel’s disguise … and I, most of all, for thinking I could live within this damnable world of make-believe I’ve created for the two of us to share, and remain impassive and sane.”

Half draped over his throne, he dropped the unblemished side of his forehead to the scrolled armrest, pressing hard against the gold, wishing to crush every traitorous thought and picturesque image of her sweetness and beauty from his mind.

“Oh, Christine … Christine … what have you done to this wretched beast?” His wail came out a plea, barely heard. “And what have I done to myself, to you, in allowing it?”

He had scorned the fates and ignored the spirits’ warning. He could have refused, but instead surrendered, crossing the line of restraint many times over. All just to be with her, just to have her near. One day, he feared, he wouldn't be able to retreat, would mire them both too deep, never to return. The obsession would grow until he again bound her in chains to him. No ... he could not. He must resume his despicable plan and end this, now, before it was too late.

With grim resolve, he pushed himself up from the ground and moved to his writing desk. Carefully he took a piece of parchment from the blotter, unstopped the jar of ink, and reached for his feather quill, his hands shaking all the while. He dipped the nib in the jar.

My dear Christine,

He stared at the words until they blurred into one long black mass.

I humbly beg pardon, but must excuse myself from being your escort … I can no longer see you … I do not wish to upset you, but find to my great distress I am unable to attend the Bal Masque … there is an urgent matter which has arisen that precludes my presence at the ball …

I regret to inform you that I have been called away on a matter of utmost importance

With an angry slash of his pen, he boldly crossed out the excuse, the sole one he’d written among those revolving inside his head, and flung his pen down on the miniature stage. With one hand, he crumpled the paper in a ball. Why should she believe he would leave the opera house for any length of time when he’d imprisoned himself beneath it over two decades? She would see through such a feeble lie.

Two more attempts yielded the same pathetic results. With his elbows on the table and clutching his head between his hands, he bemoaned the wretched state of affairs he’d put into motion.

It was already too late.

His mind echoed the recent visit. Was Madame correct to say Christine felt bewitched by him, even … entranced? By her Angel, he reminded himself bitterly, the untouchable paragon of pretense you wrongfully instilled in her mind, not the pitiful creature that exists and longs to share a life with her. And what are you really, what could you possibly have to offer? A ghost of a scarred man living five levels beneath the earth, exiled into the darkness from which you created an imaginary existence devoid of all humanity.

He snorted in disgust, staring at the blank page. Words of another nature entered his mind, and an idea he formerly toyed with now compelled him to write. Before he balked a second time, he picked up his quill and scratched out a missive to the solicitor of Monsieur Lefevre, recently retired manager of the opera house.

xXx

Backstage, the corridors thrummed in a hive of activity; even the dancers’ gold and black costumes reminded Christine of darting bumblebees. Other members who would partake of the event wore silver, black or a mixture of the four hues. The opera wouldn’t play this night, the theater closed and the vestibule open to admit the crème de la crème to the Bal Masque for the bright new year.

Everywhere, members of cast and crew rushed hither and yon, preparing for the spectacular event. The dancers took special care: a mime applied white paste to his skin. A girl on the opposite side of another mirror carefully applied lip rouge. In a nearby corridor, a set of men and women flipped their gold-and-black lacy fans to and fro in unison to their steps as they practiced the choreographed dance they would perform for the distinguished guests.

The ballet dormitories and communal dressings rooms were impossibly crowded, squealing ballerinas struggling into tight, lavish costumes, arranging hair into impossible styles, powdering bosoms with fluffy puffs and painting cheeks and eyes with bold face paint. Christine caught sight of Meg enter the area, looking serenely beautiful in her sparkling white costume, and grabbed her hand, hurrying her out of the confined room. Meg barely missed getting her wings crushed by a corpulent man in Arabian costume who fretfully swore under his breath about being late to meet the diva as he lumbered past, and both girls raised their brows at each other, recognizing Senor Piangi, then burst into helpless giggles.

“Christine, aren’t you going to wear a costume?” Meg regarded her friend’s dark blue day dress in mild disapproval. “Tell me you are going to the ball?” Her tone held a hint of frustrated admonishment, and she took a deep breath, as if preparing for Christine to decline so she could demand her attendance.

Christine laughed and squeezed Meg’s hand. “Yes, I’m going to the ball, and you look perfect by the way. Now you, my dearest friend, are going to help me.” Christine couldn’t keep the excitement out of her voice. “Come along, hurry, the room should be vacant by this time!”

She gave Meg no chance to reply as, like eager schoolgirls on the advent of a much-awaited holiday, she darted down the corridor, pulling her friend along behind her.

They passed three stagehands sitting in a circle on the floor, throwing dice and taking swigs from green bottles in their own private revelry. Nearby, a beanstalk of a man tuned his violin. Christine keenly remembered observing former balls, her avid eyes having missed nothing. While cast members and the noblesse elegantly waltzed in the grand foyer, the crew and other workers gave in to their own boisterous jigs. She loved the pageantry, but a wild passion beat within her breast that desired the spirited nature of such uninhibited music as well. Perhaps because her father had been a traveling musician, and Christine often danced to his fiddle and sang for the gathering crowds as a child.

“Hello, pretty mademoiselles, would you like to share?” One of the men raised his bottle to them. By the florid wash of red on his face, it wasn’t his first.

“And I have a lap you can share as well,” an acrobatic called out, slapping his brawny thighs, to the boisterous laughter of his companions. “One leg for each of you to sit on.”

“Thank you - no,” Meg replied stiffly. Christine ignored the men, knowing if Meg’s stern mother were present, they would never behave so crudely. And if her Angel had been near, they wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Though he’d not admitted it, she knew Erik must have instigated Monsieur Buquet’s sudden taciturn and blessed distance. She had been chilled on more than one occasion to turn and find his lewd eyes watching her.

Christine pulled Meg into the dressing room, locked the door, and began to disrobe as she hurried to the dressing screen.

“Won’t 'The great La Carlotta' be upset if she finds you here?” Meg asked derisively, rolling her eyes as she stressed the title Carlotta had taken upon herself.

“She’s come and gone,” Christine said through the screen, noticing the redheaded diva’s pink clothes lying in scattered piles her maid must have hurried to remove before rushing to fulfill yet another order from her mistress. “We share the dressing room, though never at the same time.” She almost added it had been a stipulation of Erik’s to the managers, before remembering she was to keep silent regarding her continued lessons with him, though why, she didn’t fully understand.

In a flurry, she pulled on her corset and fresh stockings, her hands shaking so in her eagerness, she fumbled twice before she brought one over her foot and up her leg attaching it to her garter. She managed the second with little problem. “I’ll need help lacing this,” she murmured, coming from behind the screen, her head down as she smoothed the ribbons at the low, ruffed bodice.

Meg gaped. “But, Christine - it’s red!

“Yes, isn’t it lovely?”

“Bright scarlet red!”

“I found it on a rack in the costume area.”

“But – I understood you were wearing a white gown!”

“I am,” Christine sighed with a trace of disappointment. “I wanted to wear the scarlet dress I wore at the Yuletide celebration, but it was soiled from the wine a man accidentally spilled on it when he bumped into me. So I’m wearing the undergarments that went with it instead.”

“But Christine, such a bold color will show through the filmy material of that dress. And red isn’t in the color protocol for the Bal Masque!”

“I know.” She grinned wickedly. “Now help me with this or I shall be even later than he plans to be.”

“He? The Vicomte?” Meg sounded utterly confused as she dutifully tugged on the strong laces while Christine held tightly to a table.

“No,” she gasped on a stifled breath as Meg yanked and pulled again, “My Angel - I mean Erik.”

Shocked, Meg halted her torture with the satin-covered whalebone. “Your teacher?

“Yes, isn’t it wonderful?” Christine giggled, the sound quickly muffled into an “oof!” as Meg gave another harsh yank and pull.

“I thought you weren’t having anything more to do with him, Christine. I thought he released you as his student.”

Despite that she was only following Madame’s orders to tell no one, Christine felt a pang of guilt that she’d never once confided in her dearest friend. “There’s so much I wish to tell you, Meg, and I will. Someday. But yes, I did ask him, and yes, he is taking me to the ball!”

You asked your teacher to accompany you?”

Meg finished with the corset, tying the laces into a strong, knotted bow, and Christine turned, suddenly uncertain. “Was that horridly bold of me? I knew he would never ask, so I did.”

“Maman says a lady must wait for a gentleman to act.” Meg’s words came vague as she regarded Christine. “Though sometimes I fear if I do that, I’ll be an old maid,” she let out on a little huff of disgust, and Christine wondered if her friend fancied one of the men. Before she could ask, Meg spoke, “What of the Vicomte, Christine?”

She gave an indifferent shrug of her shoulders. “I’m certain many young ladies will be in attendance, eager for an opportunity to catch his eye.”

“But he wanted to take you!” Meg chided. “He has everything. Good looks, wealth, stature. Really, Christine, I don’t understand why you would refuse him.”

“Meg, don’t scold. Please, be happy for me,” she softly begged, grasping Meg above her elbows. “I don’t wish for anything to ruin this grand night! Think of it – our first ball!”

Christine’s eyes sparkled with stars, her face aglow, and Meg gave a grudging nod and smile. “Yes, and I am delighted that one of us will have an escort, even if he has been something of a ghost.” There was no reproach in her teasing words though concern still touched her eyes.

Christine gave a little shriek as she glimpsed the mantel clock. “Oh! The time!” Her fretful enthusiasm returning, she hurried back to the dressing screen. “I’ll need help with the gown too. It fastens in the back.” She donned matching petticoats and pulled her gown from a padded hanger.

Meg’s eyebrows sailed high when she caught sight of the shimmering underskirt, but she said nothing as she fastened the endless row of tiny carved buttons, her fingers nimble and quick from much practice. At the looking glass Christine turned, and even Meg let out a soft murmur of approval. The bold red satin shimmered like the palest ruby through thin layers of silk tulle, giving it the cast of a pale rose and matching the high color in Christine’s cheeks.

Meg fluffed the many flounces in her voluminous skirts as Christine turned this way and that, pirouetting in front of the mirror. A flush of heat warmed her face at the thought of him standing behind, watching; but no, he wasn’t there. She would sense him. Somehow, she always did.

“It needs something more.” Her eyes went to a ceramic vase nearby and she gasped in delight. “Of course!” Carefully, she withdrew the fragrant blossoms from their holder. “Help me twine these so I may wear them.”

The girls worked frantically, giggling in comradeship, hurrying one another along, in a craze of ribbons, pins, and shears. Once finished, Meg helped Christine weave the buds into the ringlets of her hair she had carefully coiffed. After some time, she again stood before the mirror, surveying their handiwork.

“Oh, Christine …” Meg sighed. “You look beautiful.”

Christine smiled in satisfaction. “It is perfect, isn’t it? Exactly what I hoped for.” Suddenly aware of how much time had elapsed, she turned to her friend. “Meg, you should go! The ball has already started.”

“What of your escort?” Meg asked when she also noted the time. “You are certain he’s coming, Christine?”

“Yes, of course, I’m supposed to meet him. Please go on, and thank you for your help. I’ll see you there.”

It took another few minutes of coaxing, but at last Meg left along with her firm promise to return if Christine didn’t appear within the half hour.

Christine pulled on her long white gloves and moved about the room, in a nervous excitement of ill-contained energy. She didn’t use paint except onstage, and wondered if she should make an exception for this one occasion. Deciding against it, there was so little time, she noticed as she glanced in the mirror that her lips were already red from biting them in her anxiety. And her cheeks blazed with rosy color.

Another few turns about the small room, and she began to fear Meg was correct. Erik wasn’t coming. Since she had known him, he avoided crowds like a plague; why had she hoped he might make this one exception for her? Her emotions taut as strung wire, she couldn’t curb a swift rush of tears and impatiently wiped them away with her fingertips.

Stop it, Christine, you’re being utterly ridiculous. He never said he wouldn’t come, never told you he changed his mind. He wouldn't hurt you with his unexplained absence a second time, not when you told him how those weeks without him discouraged you so.

Would he?


She cast yet another glance at the porcelain timepiece. Straight up 8 o’clock. He was always so adamant about her punctuality that she didn’t presume he would ever be tardy.

Lightly wringing her hands in her skirts, she drifted away from the mirror and took a deep, steadying breath, which lodged in her throat as the air around her seemed to stir. The sensation not unlike the mood before an impending storm, charged with a vibrant silence that made her skin prickle with expectation; and she knew she was no longer alone.

Her Angel had arrived.


continued next post...
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated 9/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:57 am

Let the Spectacle Astound You!
VI


She heard no sound of the mirror opening, heard no step on the stones. It failed to matter. She sensed him near.

With her heart fluttering in nervous anticipation, Christine slowly turned; her eyes grew wide.

Resplendent in crimson red, he stood at the threshold to the dressing room, dangerously alluring, and so unlike any angel. His tunic and breeches hugged his tall, sinewy form and displayed it to an extent of superlative masculinity Christine had never before seen; he literally robbed her of breath. An ankle-length cape of matching red he wore indolently draped over one shoulder. His feet were shod in tall black boots, and a sword hung in its sheath at his side. His mask, which covered him mid-cheek to forehead, bore the appearance of a skull, and his eyes ... they shimmered brilliant emerald amid the black he’d painted around them.

Her face flushed hot, and she remembered again to inhale. The entire time she stared, his eyes took her in from head to toe, from the delicate crimson roses Meg had entwined in her long, thick curls, to the pale ruby shimmer of her gown and the spray of similar roses adorning her waist. He appeared as stunned as she felt, which oddly calmed her enough to glide forward to greet him.

“I wore this for you.” A shy note crept into her voice. “Do you like it?”

“You are … exquisite. As magnificent as a rose in bloom, in a barren winter.”

Her smile grew radiant. “And you are?” At his puzzled look, she clarified, “Your costume.”

His full lips tilted at one corner in a manner she had come to associate as endearingly rakish. “I, dear lady, am the Red Death.”

“The Red Death?” Her brow puzzled in a frown. “As in Hades, King of the Underworld? Wearing red … perhaps a parallel to the fires of hell?”

He chuckled. “If it pleases you.”

She remembered one evening a year ago, as she rested after a vocal lesson and he entertained her with stories of the Greek gods. Entranced, she begged him to continue, and he honored her request long into the night. She should have realized then the oddity of an angel recounting pagan myths in a sacred chapel. Yet she’d been raised in a world where fantasy reigned extreme: first with her father and his nightly recounting of incredible tales he led her to believe true; from the time she’d been old enough to listen, to his last and her favorite of all stories - when for the final time he spoke of the Angel of Music he promised to send her. Once she arrived at the opera house to live, every facet of her existence was created around the fictional operas; even the relationship she most cherished was based on her beloved fable. Such a world of fascination had become her sole reality, involving tale after tale of make-believe.

She frowned suddenly. “But Hades had no roses in his Underworld, did he?”

“I would think they might be difficult to grow there,” he agreed wryly.

“Yes … roses do need daylight to live, I suppose,” she mused softly. “He ascended from beneath the earth and abducted a young maiden while she was collecting flowers. Roses perhaps?” She fingered the petals of the velvety corsage at her waist and furrowed her brow in thought, seeking a name. Her face cleared. “Persephone! She, the beautiful young maiden Hades took to his underground dwelling and there made his wife, because he loved her dearly, and he kept her with him to stay. But her father Zeus sent the warrior Hermes far below the earth to Hades’ Underworld to demand he release her. Hades sadly let her go, but first gave her a pomegranate, and when she ate of its rosy fruit, it bound her heart to Hades and his Underworld forever. She was forced to stay above ground for two-thirds of each year, with her mother, but come winter, she always returned to Hades and became Queen of his Underworld.”

His shoulders had tensed during her glorified recounting but he nodded. “You remember the story well.”

“I have a great teacher.”

An awkward moment elapsed, before he stepped away from the mirror, slid it closed behind him, and courteously offered his arm. “Shall we proceed, Fair Winter Rose?”

She eagerly linked her arm through his. “For the ball, as you are my escort, should I not be Persephone since you are dressed as Hades? To fit better as a match to our costumes,” she added when his eyes glittered in surprise.

“No, Christine,” he said carefully after a long moment. Tentatively he covered her hand that held his arm with his black glove and looked down at it as he did. “I think it best if you remain simply a Sweet Winter Rose in bloom.”

She wasn’t pleased by his answer. “Then you should be the Phoenix, if I’m to be the Rose.”

“What?” His eyes quickly lifted to hers.

“Surely you must have heard the poem?” She was surprised when he continued to look at her vaguely, thinking of the many lines of poetry he’d cited to her on occasion over the years, much of it mysterious, even sinister, always intriguing. “I read it recently in a book of tales belonging to my father.” At his grudging nod, she elaborated, “‘In the Garden of Paradise, beneath the Tree of Knowledge, bloomed a rose bush. Here, in the first rose, a bird was born. His flight was like the flashing of light, his plumage was beauteous, and his song ravishing ... The Phoenix bird, dost thou not know him? The Bird of Paradise, the holy swan of song!’”

His eyes again glittered strangely, and she wished she could read his expression beyond the mask. “I am reminded of another tale, The Nightingale and the Rose, though in that tale, from the nightingale a red rose was born.”

“Oh, do tell it to me!” she urged, gazing up at him and soaking in his every word. She loved tales that bore romance and knew her Angel to be a masterful storyteller, like her father.

“Perhaps, instead, we should go to the ball? Since we are dressed for the occasion.” His smile came slight and she sensed his sudden distance, though he didn’t stir from her side.

“All right.” She didn’t allow her resolve to crumble. “Then I shall be your Rose, and you will be my Phoenix.”

His eyes flared briefly with an emotion she’d glimpsed before, and made her heart skip a beat now as it did then.

“We must match as a set,” she insisted. “All couples do at these masked balls. Other guests may ask who we represent. I wish to give an answer if the occasion should arise. You hardly look like a nightingale, though your voice is as beautiful as the angel you pretended to be. And the Phoenix is quite impressive according to the rest of the poem. Magnificent and royal; his plumage fiery red.”

Again he stared as though he’d never seen her before.

“Erik?”

“Very well.” Clearly reluctant to submit to their game of make-believe, his breath came out soft, disturbed. “Since I wear no bird’s beak but a skull of death, and wish it to remain so, for these few hours, until the ball’s end, I will be the Lord of Death and you may play the role of the maiden Persephone. Does that please you, Christine?”

“Oh, yes!” she exclaimed. “Very much.”

He smiled in tolerant amusement. “It takes so little to please you. You bubble over like effervescent champagne at the least kindness extended toward you.”

“If I am happy, it’s because you came.”

“I told you I would.”

“I know, but I worried that you might have changed your mind.”

“I almost did.”

A thread of her previous worry coiled around her pleasure at his unexpected admission. She glanced away a moment then smiled again, deciding she didn’t wish to know his reason. He was there and that’s all that mattered. She wanted nothing to ruin this night at her first ball with her angel, who was no angel.

Moving her hands to link around his arm, she turned and glided in retreat a few steps, leading him. “Come, Hades, come with me and let me show you the majestic realm that lies above your dark Underworld. I cannot wait to introduce you to the spectacular lights and sounds. It will be quite the masquerade!”

xXx


The music grew stronger the closer they drew to the grand foyer used for the ballroom, and Erik tensed, ill at ease. To stand in the shadows and observe those same guests, and, when the situation warranted, address them in his deep, resonant voice had been his sole participation in events of this nature. Tonight would be different; he would be one of them. How could he ever be one of them, with his excuse for a face ...?

Christine’s hand tightened on his sleeve and he directed his focus toward her.
“No one knows you are the Phantom, save for Madame and Meg. And, of course, the managers. I told no one in the chorus or elsewhere that my teacher is also the great Phantom of the Opera they have all feared. So unless you wish anyone to know, it shall remain a mystery.”

Her quiet words, the steady look in her warm brown eyes, gave him a measure of reassurance. She was correct in that regard; he wanted no one to realize who he was – either his true identity or his contrived one. An irony, since before the spirits’ visitation his original plan had been to descend this same staircase, alone, and with a twisted agenda in mind. He designed his Red Death costume to stand out among the monotonous tones of the other attendees, so as to be remembered and feared. He still wished for the latter, even toyed with the idea of introducing himself as the Opera Ghost to a select few. But only to those whom he wished to know it. After all, anonymity did merit its own rewards.

“Very well,” he said with the closest he could come to a smile at the moment. “Lead on, Fair Rose of Winter.”

“Persephone,” she staunchly reminded, though he needed no such reminder of her desire to be called by a name that once would have delighted him but now gave him strong unease. When he first told her the story of Hades and his Queen, he had every intention of fulfilling the mythological tale and making Christine his bride of his underworld. But all plans were now destined to change. How often he had reminded himself of that perturbing detail!

“Oh, look! There’s Meg. I know she’ll want to meet you.” She tugged slightly on his arm as they moved to the entrance of the steps angling downward to the second level dais.

He looked two levels below, past clusters of monochromatic dancing couples, to where Meg stood, alone, near a stone column. “You mentioned she knows the truth about me,” he said pensively. He didn’t know why he bothered to inquire; he had heard from Christine’s own lips her confession to Meg, when he’d moved through the shadows of the present world with that spirit, who’d also been Meg’s double.

“She does. But she won’t tell a soul.” Christine’s eyes shone with her plea. “I really would like for you to meet her.”

“As you wish.” His polite response and smile came stiff, but she seemed not to notice as she again surveyed the ballroom. He knew of Meg, of course, had observed her with Christine from a distance, and always understood his young protégé felt a kindred spirit with the fair-haired daughter of Madame Giry. For that reason alone, he decided to make an attempt to exert his best persona in this fleeting role of sociable guest, whatever exertion of courtesy that entailed. He found himself half wishing the night were over and done with.

The ever so slight tensing of Christine’s fingertips against his arm belied her assumed calm and he, too, realized they’d been spotted.

At the top of the stairs, costumed attendees in silver and gold parted in glittering waves to the left and right, clearing the wide staircase the moment they captured sight of The Red Death and his lovely companion.

Behind their sequined and feathered masks, hordes of women eyed Christine’s soft shimmering gown of pale ruby with disapproval, their choice of costumes pitifully deficient as far as the Phantom was concerned, then fastened their eyes with curious interest to his own bold attire. The dim-witted gentlemen in attendance gaped in an appalled stupor of uncertainty while high above, the musicians missed a note, their instruments wavering on an unsteady drone that almost led to dead silence as the dancers whirled to a stop and looked up in confusion. Monsieur Reyer tapped his baton on the podium in stern command and the music again pulsated to vivid life, mid stanza. As if the blast of notes gave a decree to all within the foyer, the dancers resumed their waltze à trois temps, albeit tensely, and those on the sidelines again continued in a ritual of quiet gossip, as many eyes strayed to the couple who had yet to descend the stairs.

“Do you wish to proceed?” the Phantom asked in sardonic amusement.

“Of course.” Christine lifted her chin as they moved into the ballroom, smiling politely as she nodded to a few pompous guests who stood at the edge of the staircase and continued to stare rudely with utter disregard for her feelings. Only by the increased pressure on his arm did The Phantom discern her nervousness. They strode down the center staircase with the same response, past a row of dancing couples and alongside the fringes of the ballroom floor, those standing in their path giving them a wide berth.

“Meg,” she said in some relief once they reached the youngest Giry dressed from head to toe in pristine white covered in feathers of the same. “I would like to introduce you to my escort. This is Monsieur Erik,” her voice fairly bubbled. “My great teacher.”

Meg clearly did not share Christine’s enthusiasm. She regarded him with the barest of nods, her eyes warily uncertain through the holes of the bright mask she held on a stick. “Monsieur.” Her gaze fixed on his death mask with intent, as if trying to see what horrors lay beyond. Her avid interest irritated him, taking him back to when he was put on exhibit in an animal’s cage, to be ridiculed and gawked at, and he reminded himself with some difficulty of his decision to be polite.

“Mademoiselle.” He inclined his head and shoulders in a slight bow. His attention went to the gauze wings that stuck out at the back of her outfit and he attempted the tedious act of exchanging inane pleasantries. “Your costume is that of a swan I presume?”

“No, monsieur, I am an ang—” She curbed her instant response mid-syllable, her mouth slightly puckered like a fish.

“An angel,” he finished for her dryly.

“Oui,” she whispered in a clipped tone and shot a nervous glance toward Christine.

“A most judicious choice.” He kept his tone pleasant, though his expression was grim. “Better an angel than a demon. Or a phantom.” He quirked his chin a fraction higher. “Although beneath the mask who knows what one may find?”

She inhaled a swift rush of air. “Are you a phantom tonight, monsieur?”

“Do you not recognize a devil when you see one, mademoiselle?”

The mask in her hand trembled slightly.

“My teacher is Hades, King of the Underworld, and I am Persephone, His Queen,” Christine hurried to say, her fingers tightening around his arm in gentle warning.

Her explanation only served to make Meg’s eyes pop open like round saucers beyond the sequined mask. She was saved any form of an adequate reply as a scrawny young man Erik recognized as one of the chorus, from the red thatch of hair poking out from behind his clown mask, approached and asked Meg to dance. She complied most hurriedly without an additional word for either of them.

With regard to those in attendance, the Phantom didn’t care who he offended, though he’d never held aught against little Giry. There were many among the cast and crew whose presence annoyed him far greater. What gave him a pang of lament was the troubled expression crossing Christine’s face, her pinched brows and slight frown as she watched Meg float quickly away to the dance floor on the arm of the male clown.

“That did not go well, did it?” The question was rhetorical; he needed no answer. “I fear when it comes to social decorum for such gatherings I am sorely lacking.”

She turned her startled attention his way. “I’m not upset with you. I know you’re not accustomed to attending balls or being in the company of others; I’m thankful that you agreed to come at all. It’s Meg.” She shook her head in disbelief as she looked toward her friend. “She isn’t usually so abrupt or. . ..” She let her sentence trail away, giving a little shrug as she gave him a sidelong glance. “Impolite.”

“I gave her just cause. The Phantom has attained quite a reputation in this opera house. Not all are as forgiving as you are, my dear.”

Her features relaxed. “I suppose that’s true, though Meg really is quite kind. Perhaps, in time, she’ll come around once she realizes the troubles here have ended.” A smile instantly brightened her face as the musicians moved into the next number. “Oh, I adore this piece! I should so love to dance.” She turned fully toward him, her features freezing with concern as she realized what she said. “That is, I have danced to this tune before. With Meg. When we were children watching the galas. I don’t really care to dance.”

He tilted his head forward and regarded her somberly. “Is that the truth, Christine? You came to the ball with no intention to dance? Your first ball, as you have often stated?”

She blinked a few times, moistening her lower lip self-consciously. “I-I gave no consideration to my words before I spoke them, Maestro. A horrid habit, though of course you know my faults. I am quite content to stand and watch the others.”

He lifted his brow. “Are you? Only to watch when you dance so divinely?” At her clear desire not to injure his feelings, he felt moved and gently took her hand into his gloved one. “I think not.” Laying her hand on his bent arm, covering her fingers with his glove, he moved with her to the dance floor. With a deft motion, he whipped his long train over his arm, thus capturing his sword against the material so its sheath did not stick out.

Before she could question, his hand went to her waist, his other finding and clasping hers, and he twirled them around in a graceful arc, his actions fluid and without pause; she gasped in shocked delight. They made several smooth turns before he smiled. “I believe this is how it’s done?”

She clutched his shoulder, her eyes shining up at him in amazement. “But, how did you learn?”

“I watched,” he said in some amusement. “I have attended every ball, hidden in the shadows, since I was a boy. As that foolish boy, I would mimic the dancers’ steps in my lair once the ball ended. I have a great capacity for learning things quickly.”

“I don’t think you were foolish,” she replied, not sure if he could hear her whisper over the music, but overcome by the sensations dancing with Erik aroused. The exciting feel of his firm touch at her waist brought every nerve ending into startling awareness; his leather glove was cool against her hand, but Christine felt flushed with warmth, her head swimming with it. His steps were lithe, elegant; the inborn finesse with which he made every move into an art form magnified in his dance as he spun her around the fringes of the ballroom floor. Breathless, she followed his lead without trying, one with him, lost in his mastery. . .floating. . .falling. . .soaring.

His hand slid to the small of her back, bringing her nearer. His eyes, intense, never drifted from hers. The heat of his body, so close, not close enough, too close, warmed her. Thrilled her. Frightened her. Unfamiliar with such deep-seated urges still so new to her innocent mind and how to respond to them, longing both to surrender and feeling she should retreat, she wished the music would play on forever at the same time she hoped it might draw to a close.

The music did suddenly stop, as did Erik after whirling them around one last time with perfect elegance. He held her frozen for the span of several erratic beats of her heart, before he abruptly released his hold. Dropping his arms to his sides, he retreated a step, and gave a slight bow. “Mademoiselle, it has been a pleasure.”

“Oui.” She struggled over her spiraling emotions to find appropriate words, barely managing the smallest curtsy. “Indeed, monsieur. A true pleasure.”

She stared up into his eyes that gleamed like twin gemstones in the brilliant candlelight, and her prior hesitation fled. She wished only that the music might resume so he would again take her in his arms.

A line of dancers with costume fans hurried past to take the center stairs. The music did start up once more though the floor remained empty, as those who’d been dancing watched the scheduled performers go into their rehearsed number and sing about a masquerade. Though disappointed that the general dancing had momentarily ended, Christine admired their talent in their execution of the intricate steps they’d practiced backstage all morning.

Erik never drifted from her side but seemed to have distanced himself again in emotion. She refused to give in to a wave of melancholy. At least he was with her, she reasoned. And she had danced with him, something she never would have dreamed possible. Her first formal dance with a gentleman, and it had been with her Angel. When she invited him to the ball, she had resigned herself to sacrifice dancing if only he would be her escort. Yet, as he’d so often done, he surprised her once again with a skill she had not known he possessed. She smiled at the thought as she watched the gay distraction on the stairwell, even laughing softly when a talented mime again took center stage to entertain with his agile wit.

The tolerable performance of the masqueraders ended and Erik looked from them to Christine, the corners of his mouth lifting in a smile. Not one laced with sarcasm or irony, but a true expression of delight to hear her laugh. To hold her in his arms and waltz with her had been a taste of heaven but had tested him to the limits of endurance. His sole desire, to whisk her from the ballroom into the shadows and away from all eyes, had risen fiercely inside him, surprising in its intensity. He had initially asked her to dance, not wanting to disappoint when he understood how she longed to partake in the festivities. But he dared not ask a second time. His resolve had not altered; he would not bind her in chains to him when she clearly did not wish it, the shadows of the distressing present and future too heartrending to recall. Should he again dance with her he could not be held accountable for his actions. For as Hades did with Persephone, so he might again be tempted to do with Christine, whose sparkling, hopeful eyes conveyed the message of just how much she wished to dance again, as the music resumed and couples took the floor.

It was with mixed feelings of respite and regret the Phantom noticed the managers’ approach.

“Miss Daae,” Firmin greeted, “how lovely you look tonight.”

“Monsieur Firmin.” She inclined her head in polite response.

“Is this not a grand success?” Andre smiled, baring his teeth in parody of a chimpanzee, as with a sweep of one arm he took in the dancers then turned his attention to Erik, as did Firmin. Andre drank from his champagne glass.

“I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure?” Firmin greeted with a hint of disdain as he took in his bright red costume and sniffed.

“Au contraire, Gentlemen, I believe we have. Though you might not consider it a pleasure.”

At recognition of the Phantom’s deep voice champagne spewed from Andre’s mouth, the stream barely finding its way back inside his crystal flute as he went into a sudden coughing fit. Firmin’s eyes bulged in shocked horror.

“Did you miss me, good messieurs?” Erik dryly smiled. “How fortunate that our paths should so soon cross,” he went on, his tone mockingly pleasant, laced with an undercurrent of steel. He sensed Christine step closer. “It has come to my knowledge that you’ve seen fit to strip my talented ingénue of her desired place in the chorus.”

“B-but surely the ballet would conflict with her singing—” Firmin began.

“It was not in our arrangement,” Erik interrupted smoothly, his tone brooking no dispute. Christine gently slipped her hands around his arm, bringing herself slightly against him. The intimate act momentarily set him off balance before he continued in the same vein. “Taking away from Miss Daae the aria of Act III was also not in our arrangement.”

“But, that is, we only thought—”Andre blinked rapidly, looking from Christine to the Phantom.

“I also do not appreciate the condescension you and others have shown toward our new star. That, too, will cease, as of this night. If you cannot keep your cast in line, then I suggest you employ methods to do so, since you call yourself managers.”

Madame Giry suddenly walked into view. “Gentlemen.” She abruptly nodded to the two distraught men then looked the Phantom’s way. “ Maestro. I am pleased you could take time from writing your compositions to join us at the gala.” Her eyes spoke volumes of what she did not say. “Christine.” She nodded to her in acknowledgement, her brow quirking as she took note of the manner in which Christine clung to him. She seemed suddenly to take note of Christine’s rebellious costume, then his, and again met his gaze.

She would do anything for you, her eyes seemed to accuse. You have enchanted her with your ruse, bewitched her . . .

Galled that she would again so challenge him, even silently, he narrowed his eyes. Quickly, she averted her gaze. “Come, Christine. I believe these gentlemen have matters of business to discuss.”

“Oh, but . . .” she faltered, looking to Erik for help as Madame firmly tugged on her arm and she released his.

Realizing perhaps she should not hear what more he had to say to the two inept fools who massacred the opera with their bungling decisions, he gentled his expression and gave her a slight nod. “It is all right. I will find you.”

She gave him a nod, her smile uncertain, clearly not wishing to leave as Madame Giry practically pulled her away. As Erik watched, Meg joined the two women.

Wishing to address and dispense with the matter at hand with the utmost haste, over the next few minutes he expressed his displeasure at being crossed, at their poor treatment of Christine, and warned both managers that he would not be made a fool of, promising swift retribution if they should impede or harm her career.

“You would not wish another visit from the Opera Ghost, would you, gentlemen?” he ended his admonishment. “This time a note may not precede his return.”

Andre visibly paled, pulling a kerchief from his pocket and dabbing the beads of perspiration from his forehead. Firmin opened and closed his mouth repeatedly, as if his mind had lost the capability of functioning with his tongue. “I assure you, we have always only had Miss Daae’s best interests in mind,” he finally spluttered, “but as you are now her manager, we will of course discuss with you any future changes first.”

Erik doubted his claim as to their best interests for Christine and listened with little patience as Firmin explained their prior reasoning. He remained firm in the matter. “She wishes to dance, so she shall dance. Her desire to do so will not affect her lessons with me. However,” he paused, and they slightly leaned forward, hanging on his every word. “As she is to star in my opera—of which I expect preparations to be underway soon ...?” Both Andre and Firmin nodded rapidly. “I do not wish to exhaust her unnecessarily, so will concede to her continued absence from the solo in Act III.” With three weeks remaining for Il Muto, it was a small sacrifice to make.

Emboldened by his concurrence, the two managers spoke of his opera, assuring him that though they were at first hesitant of how it would be received by the public, due to its “unique nature,” they’d reconsidered and now thought it a masterpiece. He wondered what about arabesque clowns was so unique and might give them pause to reconsider, but did not wish to speak at great length, while Christine waited for him.

“Such matters we will discuss at a later date. I will give Madame Giry the details.”
“But—”

“I have no wish to go over the fine points of the opera at this time. I have other matters that await my attention. Gentlemen,” he said in dismissal, ignoring their telling glances toward one another at the mention of his plans.

He left them to their foul little minds, weary of their presence. As he scanned the dancers for Christine, he noticed La Carlotta standing against a wall near one of the wide entrances, alone, and looking in another direction with a superior expression.

The Phantom smiled, wanting to play after his tiresome talk with the blundering managers, and couldn’t resist a little mischief.

Drawing his sword, he pretended interest in its thin blade, holding the tip of it in his gloved hand. “Madame,” he said, slowing as he walked past the soon-to-be-retired diva, “A word of counsel to start off the New Year well: Keep your mouth firmly shut while on stage these few weeks you have remaining.” He glanced her way. With satisfaction he noted her painted eyes burst open in shocked horror while her hand gripped her throat in sudden recognition of his voice. “I fear it is the sole way to correct the travesty you erroneously pass off as a song.”

He barely resisted the urge to ruffle the ridiculous feathers that loomed atop her hat with the tip of his sword in parting. Her round eyes dropped to the weapon he casually held then flew back to his eyes beyond the mask.

It was enough.

“Bonsoir.” He smiled wickedly and continued his course, melting into the shadows of the dim corridor.

His enjoyment in his little ploy at fun soon dissipated, however, as he searched the rest of the ballroom and connecting corridors for Christine’s angelic face and realized with mounting concern she was nowhere to be found.

Seal My Fate Tonight
Chapter VII



“Where are you taking me?” Winded, Christine hurried to keep up with their respected patron as she was pulled up yet another flight of winding stairs. “To the roof?” she asked in mounting realization. “What on earth ... could you possibly have to show me … up there?”

“We must hurry.” Not reducing his swift pace, Raoul looked over his shoulder with a smile. “Trust me, Little Lotte. I think you’ll be pleased.”

Pleased? Christine already wished she hadn’t agreed to Raoul’s unexpected request. Everything had happened so fast, too fast, and she’d had no time to think through any of her actions.

In the ballroom, Meg had joined them as Madame shared with Christine her concerns that she not do anything foolish with regard to her tutor. Before Christine could inquire as to her meaning, one of the performers came up, urgently needing to speak to Madame, and she gave her apologies and left. Meg then took the opportunity to draw Christine aside, also sharing her reservations about her association with Erik, irritating Christine, who was still angry by Meg’s cold reception of him – when Raoul suddenly appeared at her side. The three exchanged brief greetings, before Meg suddenly came up with a flimsy excuse to seek refreshment, leaving Christine and Raoul alone. With the managers’ warnings buzzing inside her mind, she had stood nervous and less than conversant. Raoul, clearly puzzled, asked her to leave the ballroom with him for a few minutes, telling her he had something of import he wished to share.

He’d been so polite, his expression hopeful, reminding her of the boy she once knew. She had looked across the ballroom at Erik, seeing he was still in deep discussion with the managers before agreeing to give Raoul those few minutes so he could talk, (or so she thought), in a room less noisy. She reasoned Raoul could not be blamed that the managers possessed wicked minds; he had no idea of the depraved alliance they’d all but insisted she share with him. Had he known, she had a feeling he would be as outraged as Erik would be, if she’d told him. The words of agreement had no more than left her lips, and Raoul was pulling her out of the ballroom, saying they must hurry.

Now, as they took the last of the stairs, she recalled recent conversations with her teacher and felt he wouldn’t approve of this either. Though he brusquely told her she could see whom she pleased, that her life was her own and he would no longer interfere, she noticed how he scowled at each mention of the Vicomte’s name, and hoped he would never find out about her leaving with him for this brief interlude.

Raoul opened the door to the roof with a flourish, letting her precede him. She stepped outside, pressing her hand to her bosom as she inhaled great gasps of the icy-cold air.

“What ...” she gasped, panting for breath and turning to face him. “What could you possibly have to say to me up here ... that you couldn’t say down there?”

He walked over the snow toward her, laying his hands lightly on her shoulders. “It’s what I want to show you.” He smiled and turned her around, back to his chest, keeping his hands on her bare arms; she felt grateful for their warmth. Her dress provided scant protection to her upper body from the wintry night and she pulled up the shoulders of it higher in a vain effort to further cover herself.

“What, Raoul? I see nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Anytime now. Watch the sky,” he said low, near her ear, and in that instant a huge bright red sun exploded high above, shattering through the darkness; then another starburst of gold and a smaller burst of bronze followed, lighting the dark heavens.

“Ohhh,” she gasped in stunned delight.

“My parents ordered the fireworks for the gala. A perfect addition to the extravaganza and to celebrate the start of 1871, don’t you agree? What I hope will be a most promising year. These will be going on and off all night.”

“They’re beautiful,” she murmured in appreciation.

“You’re beautiful.”

The sudden warm change in his tone alarmed her and she took a few steps from him, lowering her gaze from the skies. “Raoul, don’t.”

She felt him come up behind her. “Why not?” Slowly he turned her around. “I should like very much to renew our acquaintance, Christine.”

“Raoul, no, please don’t. I cherished the friendship we had as children. But now I feel you want more than I can give you.” Her eyes pleaded with him to understand. “I tried to tell you the reason I couldn’t go to dinner with you on the night of my debut, but you walked out before I could fully explain.”

“You said your Angel of Music was very strict, and I assured you that I wouldn’t keep you out late. But when I returned, the door was locked and I heard voices.”

“I was with my teacher.”

“I see.” His eyes grew a bit distant and he lowered his hands from her shoulders.

“Do you? I hope so. Things have changed, Raoul. I have changed. I’m a woman now, not a girl of six.” She quirked her head and shoulders in a sympathetic little motion. “I loved our summer together by the sea, but summer is over and has been for a long time. It’s a new season now.” As she spoke, a faint snow began to sprinkle from the skies and float down to dust their heads. “I’m not Little Lotte anymore, though my love for music has only increased. Perhaps my desire for it is the only thing about me that has remained the same.”

“You’re telling me that I don’t have a chance.” His eyes were sad, making her feel horrid but she reasoned it best to speak now before his feelings could mature.

“I’m sorry, Raoul. No.”

“There’s someone else?”

She thought of her Angel and her face warmed.

“Never mind,” he said quietly. “I see the answer written in your eyes. It’s your teacher, isn’t it? That’s why you refused my invitation to escort you to the ball. To go with him.”

“I cannot help the way I feel. I never wanted to hurt you. Please, tell me I haven’t.”

The fireworks ended. The semi-darkness of evening returned, the dusky light of the skies and snow on the rooftop providing a soft, quiet glow.

“No, Christine.” He gave her a resigned smile after a moment. “I shall survive this.” He took hold of her gloved hands and brought them up between them. “And I shall always treasure our days by the sea, when we played games of pirate hunts and make believe.”

“That seems to be the composition of my entire life. Games of make believe.” She sighed a little in discontent, thinking of her Angel and their own unending game. Diverse characters, but the same rules, again and again.

Raoul moved his hand to her chin, tilting her head back and studying her eyes. “You seem so sad. I hate to see you like this. Are you certain there’s no chance for us? I could make you happy ...”

“No, Raoul.” She kept her voice very soft, as he did.

He nodded, reconciled. “Then may I kiss you one last time, in remembrance of those days by the sea? A last goodbye if you will. You may not know this but those three months helped me through a difficult point in my childhood. You helped me, Little Lotte. Your enthusiasm for life cheered me and gave me hope again. I’ll never forget that.”

His request startled her, and she thought back to the sweet kisses he’d given her on the cheek and holding hands, the sum total of their expressions toward one another as childhood sweethearts.

“I suppose it would be all right.”

To her surprise, he lowered his cool lips to hers, keeping them lightly resting there for what seemed a little longer than propriety allowed. When he began to press in a little harder, she pulled back, ill at ease. “Raoul ...”

“My apologies.” He shrugged, his expression sheepish, reminding her of the boy he’d been, and she couldn’t help but smile, easily forgiving him.

“It’s all right, but we really must return now. They’ll wonder where I am.”

“Of course. After you, dear Lotte,” he said while opening the door for her.

She laughed and looked over her shoulder at him, rolling her eyes heavenward. “Must you call me that?”

“It’s how I will always think of you.”

xXx

Once the young lovers vanished into the building, the Phantom slowly emerged from beyond the statue of a winged horse. He stood and stared in stinging disbelief at the two sets of footprints so close together in the snow. A rosebud from her costume had fallen free. He walked over to it and knelt to gently lift the bruised blossom into his glove then raised his despondent eyes to the closed door.

“How could you?” he whispered.

He had searched for her in vain, at last overhearing two ballet rats gossip of her disappearance with the Vicomte to the roof. Knowing every shortcut and secret passage in the opera house, the Phantom arrived through one of the circular windows rimming the rooftop and silently dropped into the shadows, behind the tall dark statue. They had been so attentive to the fireworks and each other they took no notice of his entrance. He had remained silent in his distress, unable to believe that despite his sacrificial attempts to change the miserable order of events the future shadows had shown him, they were nonetheless coming horribly true in a twisted irony of this present life. Numb, his heart frozen, for surely the heavy lump in his chest had turned to ice, he watched them, hoping she would push the blasted boy away, hoping she would refuse his advances, hoping she would run back into the building. But she had done none of those things.

“Oh, Christine,” he whispered, raising the petals of the broken rose to ghost against his lips as he recalled with misery what came afterward.

The fireworks presentation had drowned out their hushed words, which grew even more muted after the explosions of light and sound ended. He strained to hear what they said, but they stood too far away … but not far enough away to avoid becoming the tortured witness to their shocking kiss that lingered. Their kiss: that drove the stake of despair plummeting through his heart; for surely the block of ice within his chest had shattered, thrusting jagged fragments into every part of him.

Nothing had changed with regard to his feelings toward her, nothing; and he knew now they never would, pathetic creature that he was.

No matter that he told Christine she could see whom she wanted; no matter that he had resolved to give her back her life and sever all bonds that linked her to him, so the future he'd seen could never transpire—still her betrayal cut so deep, he wanted to die.

Once they left together, laughing and smiling, the Phantom began to weep.

“Damn him!” he roared to the now silent skies and moved swiftly to the looming statue at the corner of the roof. With fisted gloves he pushed the snow off the ledge, leaning into the low balustrade. “Damn them both!”

He could well imagine the dark pleasure of the Punjab wrapped around the boy’s throat. Could imagine his perfect face mottled red, his body gasping for its last breath. Could imagine the horror in her pleading eyes, her haunting, beseeching eyes …

The shadows accusing him, he wanted to fall.

With his weight balanced on his fists, he wretchedly stared at the snow-covered street far below, absent of revelers. How easy it would be to give up, to surrender this miserable existence, to lean a little farther over and be done with it, the wretched opera of his life at an end. Months ago, even weeks, he would have plotted out an elaborate revenge to teach them both, to capture Christine and make her his bride, as he’d planned to do in the Don Juan. And though she wounded him beyond what he could bear, he would not retaliate. Would never do anything to cause her pain and suffering. Her grief. Her death. As he had caused her death in the shadows of the desolate future.

For him, any outcome of a future was meant to be bleak.

He would always be alone.

Without Christine, his Angel … who had murdered his fledgling hope with one betraying kiss.

“Damn the future and damn you spirits for showing it to me!” he raged at the skies. “Curse you!” his voice trembled and cracked. “Damn you,” he whispered, a tear splashing to disappear forever into the snow.

Broken, he fell hard to his knees against one of the hooded angels and bowed his head against the cold, unfeeling stone.

xXx

Impatient to reunite with her escort, hoping he was still in conversation with the managers and wouldn’t have missed her absence, Christine hurried back to the main level with Raoul. The orchestra grew louder the closer they came to the ballroom, and her heart began to race. She told him her teacher might get the wrong impression should they be seen together, and to please her, he agreed to remain in the corridor to talk with one of the guests, who hailed him, inquiring after his father. “I would never do anything to cause you distress, Little Lotte,” he whispered in parting. “If at any time you should need me, you have only to ask.”

She nodded with a smile of gratitude, relieved he wasn’t the depraved cad she had begun to wonder if he might be, owing to the managers’ crass remarks. It pleased her to know that her admirable childhood friend still resided within the important nobleman.

Moving through the same entrance she had exited, she scanned the ballroom. Her escort should be easy to find, dressed all in red … but he wasn’t. She walked along the fringe of the dancing couples, ignoring the whispered remarks behind fans and gloves and the overt glances to herself and her gown from the women who stood against the wall she moved past. After searching the entire ballroom, she tried the corridor that ran along its edges, again without success.

“Meg,” she called out, grateful to see her friend standing near one of the entrances.

Meg’s eyes sparkled with secret amusement. “Did you have a good time with the Vicomte, Christine?”

“What?” Taken aback, she blinked.

Meg laughed. “Don’t look so shocked. Surely you know nothing escapes the eyes of the chorus. Two of the girls saw you run up to the roof with him. The whole ballroom must know of your secret rendezvous by now.”

Panicked, she pressed a hand to her stomach. “My teacher … have you seen him?”

“He left shortly after you did. I understand he gave La Carlotta quite the scare.”

He left? That didn’t sound like Erik; he wouldn’t leave her alone at the ball, not when he told her he would find her.

He would find her!

She inhaled a sharp breath in troubled awareness, as a thick pall of dread swept over her heart.

Paying no further attention to Meg, she retraced her steps to the roof. Holding up the hem of her gown with one hand and using the other to pull herself up along the rail, she hurried as fast as was feasible in the tight lacings that bit into her with every hurtful breath. At the top, she threw open the door.

“Erik?” she called, seeing no one. “Are you out here?”

The roof appeared empty, nor did she sense his presence, but still she searched. The fireworks had begun anew, and in their colorful lighting she looked beyond one of the corner statues, startled to see fresh footprints there and in the snow beneath a round window; the snow was absent from its rim as if it had been recently opened.

Her blood ran cold in her veins with grave understanding, as cold as the winter night. “No,” she whispered, hoping she misconstrued the signs. Hoping someone else had visited ... and ... dropped from the window ...

She closed her eyes, desperately trying to refuse what was apparent.

The large footprints led to a statue of angels perched on the opposite corner of the building, where she and Raoul did not walk. On the ground at the base of the monument she spotted something dark. Moving toward it, she found one of her roses, crushed.

“Oh, Mon Ange,” she gasped, reeling from the shock. She put her hand to the statue to steady herself.

He had been there. There was no question. But … did he come after she and Raoul visited the roof, perhaps catching only a glimpse of them leaving, or ... her eyes widened in horror.

“My God, no!” Her whisper was hoarse, tragic. Grabbing her skirts she raced back to the stairs.

She should have known he would come after her. He’d always been near, always watching over her. She should have known he would have kept his talk brief with the managers to return to her side as soon as possible. Oh, why? Why had she done it? Why had she allowed it? Why?

She took all three flights down at a frantic pace, praying she would find Madame, but most of all Erik.

Providence answered one of her petitions.

“Madame Giry!” she called out, catching sight of her black gown rimmed in gold and her braided hair. She hurried toward her ballet instructor, barely stopping to pause or collect a breath. “Please—you must take me to him—I must see him now—tonight.”

“Calm yourself, child! Mon Dieu, what is this all about?” The woman put her hands to Christine’s shoulders and looked steadily into her eyes.

“It’s Erik, I—I think he thinks I. . .” Christine inhaled a deep shaky breath, trying to make sense. “There—was a misunderstanding. Please, Madame, you must take me to him!”

“Tonight?” She looked aghast. “I cannot possibly take you anywhere tonight, Christine. As I am in charge of the entertainment I must be on hand should any emergencies arise.” Her expression softened. “There, there. Do not trouble yourself so, child. Things will look better tomorrow.”

Christine scoffed in her misery. “Knowing my teacher, do you honestly believe that, Madame?”

She returned Christine’s grave stare. “Perhaps, then, whatever has happened is for the best.”

“What?” She backed a sudden step away, regarding Madame in hurt disbelief. “How can you say that?”

“You have become too dependent on him, Christine. He is not your angel. He is a man, a tortured man with a tortured soul. He can no longer be to you what you wish him to be and you should not ask it of him.” Madame relaxed her tone. “You need time to distance yourself from one another, to think matters over. Perhaps, for the present, it would be best if you found another voice instructor as he originally told you in his letter ...”

Christine numbly shook her head, slowly backing up another step, disbelieving of what she was hearing. “Another instructor? Dependent on him? You don’t understand, Madame! You never have. I—” She curbed her words, noticing Madame’s eyes flicker in sudden insight.

She could bear to hear no more. The sympathy she craved harshly absent and realizing she wouldn’t receive Madame’s help this time, Christine whirled away from the woman she once thought so wise. Desperate to find him, she hurried past clusters of guests, all who stared at her in curious arrogance. She gave them no heed as with one objective in mind, she ran to the backstage corridor and threw open the door of the dressing room.

Thankful to find it empty of La Carlotta and anyone else who might deter her, she swiftly closed the door and turned the key. She rushed toward the mirror and felt for the crevice, hoping to find the door slightly ajar, that the latch hadn’t caught, as had happened once before.

The mirror wouldn’t budge.

“No!” she cried, hitting her gloved fist against the cold glass, wishing to break through the unyielding wall of reflection. “Mon Ange! Are you in there? Please come back to me. You don’t understand – no one understands. It’s not what you think. I’m a wretched, childish fool who should have known better … please don’t leave me again … please come back …” The sobs that had been burning in her chest since she realized her mistake tore hoarsely through her throat. In despair she sank to the ground, tears of agonized remorse streaming down her cheeks.

“Dear God,” she bowed her head against the glass. “What have I done?”

But she knew exactly what she’d done. In one cherished night, she had attained what she most wanted; and with one thoughtless act, she had thrown it all away.

xXx

continued next post...
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honeyphan
 
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated 9/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:00 am

Wandering Child, So Lost, So Helpless
Chapter VIII
.

Morning broke, stark and cold, and as unforgiving as the night.

Christine arose from her bed at the first glimmer of dawn, before the rest of the cast awakened. Madame had found her huddled in a disheveled heap in front of the locked mirror door, spent from her tears. She had helped her up from the rug and to her dormitory, soothing her with calm assurances that all would be well while Christine remained silent in her despair. Unable to sleep, she tossed and turned all night, playing over and over in her mind the events of the evening. The delights. The distress. Wondering how she could rectify the latter and return to the former. Or if she even could.

Since the time she was a child, no matter where she went in the opera house she sensed him with her, as if he were watching over and guarding her as the Angel he’d pretended to be. The knowledge of his presence had made her feel safe. But now she felt desperately alone.

She could sense him nowhere.

Making a decision, she withdrew a pouch from her box, wrapped a shawl around herself and hurried down the staircase and to the stables before any of those in the ballet woke. Pulling out a few coins she placed them in the coachman’s hand. “To the cemetery.”

Ignoring his raised brows at her whispered directive, she hurried inside to the costume room, found and donned a black dress befitting of her mood, and turned to go. Noticing a bouquet of forgotten red roses, half of them fading to black, tears rimmed her eyes, and she hurried away from the depressing sight. She hoped the visit to her father’s grave might give her a sense of peace and much-needed direction. She despaired of making another foolish decision; one that could destroy whatever chance still existed, if indeed any remained.

Once the carriage trundled from the opera house, the resulting wind caused the long transparent scarf she wore to press cold against her face, like a mask. She closed her eyes sadly, reminiscing of her Angel and dancing in his arms, until she felt the carriage jerk to a stop, pulling her from her wistful thoughts.

Seeing that they had reached her destination, she instructed the driver to wait. She moved through the gates and took the path she’d not visited in almost a year, since the day she turned sixteen. In less than a month, she would be seventeen, but she didn’t wish to delay the visit. Though others thought her morbid, for nine years she sought out her father’s grave on the anniversary of her birth, reminded of how he’d made those days special for her, no matter how busy and famous his career made him. It was the one time of year she went to his grave, to revisit those special memories, but this year she’d come early and for a different purpose.
Taking the winding path between the monuments of stone, tributes to those lost and loved, she approached her father’s grand mausoleum.

“Father, I feel so lost,” she whispered, “so helpless, and I don’t know what to do. I’ve hurt someone I care about dearly, and I don’t know how to make it right or even if he’ll allow me near to attempt it. I wish you were somehow here again, to help and advise me … oh, why can’t the past just die!”

Forlorn, she lowered her head against the sharp breeze, aching to feel her Angel’s presence. If only he would come to her now! Each birthday she visited the cemetery she had sensed him, knowing he followed. But he had not come today; he was not with her. She would know it. She always did.

Oh, God, would this hollow ache of loneliness never ease?

She had never been entirely alone, until now. First, she had her father, who had gone to live with the angels. Then she had her Angel, who had become to her a man. The most exciting, alluring, dangerous man she had known. Though he posed no threat to her. Only to others … “accidents,” the cast called them. But such accidents seemed harmless enough at the time. Most of them were pranks directed toward the reigning diva, which, though uncharitable it may be to think it, La Carlotta often brought on herself with her outrageous demands and supercilious attitude to those she felt were peons beneath her.

A tortured man, a tortured soul. Madame’s words made her close her eyes in compassionate sorrow. Why did he live so far beneath the earth, thinking himself a beast and undeserving of love?

I’m a dangerous man, Christine, as dangerous as they have forewarned; capable of brutal acts that would make you shrink from me in horror. His words, so full of sadness, of regret … her words, in reply, had contradicted his wretched admission.

But what brutal acts?

At the time she thought he referred to the minor accidents and foolish gossip, much of it untrue … He did have a nose, and beautiful eyes, green jewel-like eyes, not burning yellow ones. And she’d certainly never seen any “magical lasso” such as the nasty Monsieur Buquet had warned about in his frightful little song. But now she wished to know more. Did her Angel hide beneath the earth, to flee from his past and not his present?

Would he ever again come to her? Ever sing to her? Ever sing with her?

She would not live without him again!

Her resolve strengthened, she rose from the ground, knowing the decision she must make if he would not heed her pleas to return. He would be furious, but there was no other way than to assume the lead in this, their strange duet, no more meekly to follow.

He had guided her by the hand through a mirror, and she had stepped past the fringes of her timid girlhood to learn the image of his captivating world. Now Christine Daae must walk alone and bid adieu to her childish fears in order to step back into that world, and become the reflection of the woman they both wanted.

x

For the remainder of the afternoon, Christine mechanically went through her routines in her practice of song and dance. She often noticed Madame’s keen eyes on her and attempted a convincing pretense, one that would seem realistic enough to suggest she had almost recovered from the incident the night before. She smiled but not often and made a quiet effort to converse with those around her, instead of drifting alone to the empty wings to brood, as she was tempted. Madame seemed convinced, and Meg none the wiser to Christine’s sham.

Once twilight descended, his usual time of the evening to come for her, she slipped through the dressing room, locked the door, and silently waited. She was dismayed but not surprised when he didn’t appear that night.

Nor did he come the next.

Nor the next.

By the fourth day, her dismay had weakened against a fervent purpose to follow through with her plan.

She told no one, certain they would try to talk her out of her decision, or worse, prevent her involvement. None of them understood. And, though she tried to deny it, deep in her heart she knew that if she didn’t act, he never would.

After twilight, when all within the opera house lay sleeping, and still he remained absent, she lit a small torch and slipped into the great theater, taking the stairs and corridor to Box Five. He had told her other secret passageways existed besides the mirror door, and always managed to slip in and out of his private box without being seen; so she reasoned there must be a secret entrance into the cellars from there.

Inside the box, she pushed her fingertips against every crevice and scroll in both columns and walls. The minutes passed without success. She almost gave up in disappointment, pondering what to do next, when a glance through the curtain and into the corridor through which she’d come made her pause. She stared at the wall.

Could it be so simple?

Retracing her steps, she ran her torch along the wall nearest Box Five, examining the frescoed mirrors along the top and the gold wallpaper beneath that. Her pulse thrummed a little faster to find two faint cracks wide apart and running parallel to the floor. A perfect match to the edges of the mirrors above them. Certain she had found the entrance, she pressed her short fingernails along the crevices, with no result. Her brow furrowed.

Perhaps, not so simple.

In frustration she pushed against the mirror and wall with her palm, then with her shoulder, her fingers at the same time sliding against the ledge that separated mirror and wall. They located a slight upraised bump, and her heart soared a beat in anxious expectation as she pressed in hard and the bump moved.

The wall against which she was leaning swiftly gave way. She gasped in shock, falling into a dark chamber, just managing to find her balance as the secret door rapidly swung shut behind her, closing her inside. Holding the torch high she stared at the wall of stone on this side of the mirror door in horrified fascination, blinking hard, before she continued along what she now saw was a dank, damp corridor.
In this cave-like dwelling, where time seemed to stand still, she lost sense of how far she traveled or how long she walked. The oppressive darkness closed in. The ominous silence threatened, save for a taunting drip of water hitting stones and echoing somewhere in the distance. Grateful she had her torch, small though it was, she gripped it harder.

“No matter the odds,” she breathed, summoning up the necessary courage to proceed, reminding herself of all she could lose if she surrendered to fear.
She kept close to the wall, careful to watch for anything resembling a trap. Erik once told her, during one of their treks from the mirror door, that he placed the majority in the middle of the corridor and carved a symbol in stone on the left, not noticeable unless one looked for it. He had long memorized the location of each trap, after so many years dwelling below the earth, and no longer needed the warnings he’d made to himself. She was thankful he never removed them as she came across the carving of a music note on the wall, no bigger than her thumb, and skirted the center of the path, even taking a long step sideways while holding to the wall, to put her mind at greater ease.

The corridor soon branched off into two tunnels. She hesitated, recalling the layout of the building and direction of his lair. Taking the path to the right, she walked for some distance, skirting each section of ground where she saw the music note, so small she would have missed it had she not been looking for it. At last she came to a long spiral staircase cut in stone that led downward along one wall. Cautiously she took the steps, evading another music note and staying to the wall, furthest from the chasm, relieved when she reached the next level and the path grew wider with unlit sconces lining both walls.

She must be getting closer!

Gaining confidence she moved through the corridor, coming to another set of winding stairs and then another. She took them downward and found herself facing two corridors with both sconces and statues carved into the facing of rock. Uncertain, she took the one to the left, again thinking of the layout and hoping she’d not made a mistake. Halfway down, she heard the gentle lap of water against rocks.

The lake! It must be!

She moved forward in anticipation, sure she was getting near her goal when suddenly a current of ice-cold air blew into the corridor. The flame from her torch wavered. Horrified, she watched the tongue of fire fight for life before it extinguished completely and she was cast into absolute darkness.

“No!” she softly cried in horror.

Fighting back tears of fright, with no choice but to continue forward, she moved with her back along the wall. She hoped she might soon run across a lit corridor, a sign she was at least heading in the right direction; but he preferred the darkness of the tunnels and the chances of finding one alight were slim.

The scratches of numerous claws scuttling over stone petrified her. The weighted feel of those sharp claws running across her slippers made her scream in terror and she ran ahead in a blind panic, heedless that she couldn’t see where she was going. Her foot caught something solid, unbalancing her. She cried out his name as she fell forward and struck her head against something hard, while the world exploded in a thousand bright lights …

... and then just as suddenly vanished.

xXx

The Bridge is Crossed ... Now Watch it Burn
Chapter IX

.

In the still breath of darkness, Christine dimly became aware of someone carrying her. Her weighted eyelids flickered open for an instant, but all remained black ...
silent ...

forgotten ...

She should fear, but fear was absent. The arms that carried her were strong and protective … she knew these arms, knew the broad slope of his shoulder against which her head rested. The warm scents of candle wax and ink also served to reassure, and weary, her head throbbing, she again succumbed to the thick veil that draped over all conscious thought ...

The next time Christine came to, her mind was still a blur, her scalp tender. Beneath her, the ground felt soft as feathers. While above, light teased her closed eyelids. Quiet draped like a dense curtain, shutting out all sound, the whispers of her breathing all she heard.

In wary curiosity of what she might find, she opened her eyes.

She stared at a canopy of transparent black silk. Hopeful, she turned on a pillow, relieved when she saw the crimson and violet sheeting of velvet and realized that she lay within the wings of his majestic carved bed ...

And she remembered.

He had found her. She had not seen him but had felt him. Again, he had come to her when she needed him most.

Encouraged, she did not tarry in seeking him out, though her limbs were weak and it took almost every ounce of strength to sit up. When she did, the world swam at a bizarre angle. She clutched a side of the black veil lowered around her and took several deep breaths.

She must do this ... she had to do this ...

Once she again felt stable – her urgent need to speak with him burning away the remaining dizziness – she tripped the lever that lifted the curtain and gingerly brought her legs around to climb out of bed. Her feet were clad only in stockings, but after a cursory glance around the empty stone floor, she didn’t bother to search for her slippers. Her body trembled, both with relief to be alive and because of the impending encounter for which she had long waited … and dreaded.

At the entrance to the main room, she stopped and clutched the curtain there, her eyes widening in shock at the sight.

Candlesticks had been hurled to the ground. Sheaves of paper littered the stones as if a huge windstorm had swept through the entire chamber of rock. Fewer candles were lit than during her last visit, and on the far side of the cavern, in the golden pool cast by one candelabrum, she spotted Erik, sitting slumped in a chair near the lake with his back to her.

The coveted sight of him made her inhale a soft breath and her legs weaken even more.

Swallowing over her nervousness, she quietly moved his way, her hand using the wall as a brace, so as not to fall. She still felt unsteady and her head ached, but not for a little physical discomfort would she turn back now.

She took the first set of stairs downward, noticing the closed curtain over the chamber with the mannequin, then stepped over a fallen candlestick. Cautiously, this area darker, she made it up the next short flight of stairs and to his pipe organ.

He turned suddenly at the rustle of paper beneath her feet.

She stopped, almost afraid to continue.

The part of his face that she could see appeared to be carved in pale marble, as unyielding as his half mask. His jaw went rigid, his stance foreboding as he rose from his chair and glared up at where she stood. With his dark hair mussed and his shirt untied, hanging open almost to the waist, he looked as disheveled as his surroundings and darkly alluring.

“You dim-witted little fool,” he rasped quietly. “Have you a death wish? I warned you never to come through those tunnels alone!”

Not the greeting she had hoped for but the one she expected.

“I had to see you.” She moved to the edge of the stairs.

Why?

Why? Her heart tripped in disbelief that he should ask such a question and she spoke without thinking. “I needed no pomegranate to return to you. Does that tell you nothing?”

“You are not Persephone,” he bellowed, “and this is no fairy tale!”

“No, it’s not. It’s very real.”

Her soft, adamant reply gave him pause, but all too soon he clenched his jaw again and narrowed his stormy eyes. “Shall I tell you about the god Hades, my dear?” His words dripped venom. “He was ruthless, nothing like I led you to believe. He kidnapped Persephone from those she loved and forced her to stay with him in his dark underworld to become his bride. Before she returned with Hermes to her family he tricked her into eating the pomegranate to bind her forever to him. A curse.” He smiled cruelly. “That is all he was to her.”

She gasped. “Why tell me this now?”

“You are no longer bound to me, Christine. Do you see a pomegranate anywhere?” He waved his arm around the disorderly room. “Go back to your precious boy. I don't want you here!”

His cold menacing words cut her heart to the quick though she knew he spoke from his own deep pain. She could see the despair darken his hollow eyes as she carefully moved down the last set of stairs. She had done this to him. She wanted to cry for her foolishness but forced a quiet calm.

“He’s not my boy. He’s not my anything.”

“Do you treat all those who mean nothing to you with a kiss?”

His terse reply told her all she needed to know, and she ached inside for what he had seen and not understood.

“If you wanted to be with him, why did you ask me to take you?”

She moved closer. “Because I wanted you to be my escort, Mon Ange—”

“So you have said! Though I find it difficult to believe. It is considered highly bad form to exit the ball with anyone other than the escort who brought you, my dear. Even if that escort is only your teacher.

His sardonic words did the opposite of discouraging her; they filled her with hope.

“And what do my actions in coming here tell you now?”

“You swore to me you would never do so. Another promise you did not see fit to keep!”

“You promised you would come to me. But you didn’t! I waited at the mirror each night—”

It’s ALWAYS about the damnable lessons, isn’t it? ” he growled with rage, flinging his arms back. One hand connected with a gold statuette on a table and sent it hurtling to the stones. In the ringing stillness, he fiercely continued, “I told you I would establish your career! That has not changed, whether I remain your instructor or not.”

“This has nothing to do with my lessons,” she whispered, moving closer.

He spun on his heel as if he’d not heard her and pressed his palms to the sides of his head, as if wishing to squeeze out the images there. “Woman, why do you take pleasure in this torment!”

Horrified, she stopped her advance. “Is that what you believe?” she asked loudly enough so he was sure to hear. “That I wish to hurt you?”

Slowly he drew himself up and dropped his arms back to his sides. His carriage tall, regal, in command again, he turned to spear her with his steely gaze.

“You make it very clear, mademoiselle.” His manner became reserved, detached. “My eyes do not deceive me. I know what I saw on the roof. But it no longer matters.”

“Really?” She steadily regarded him, his wretched stubbornness setting off her own angry frustration and making her blood boil. “Well, I don’t believe you. Sometimes I wonder if you can see anything at all! Or if this endless darkness you choose to inhabit has blinded you to the truth."

“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?” All pretense of formality vanished as he bridged the remaining distance between them and towered over her - dangerous, dark, imposing. “What truth?” His voice came deadly soft.

She blinked up at him, instantly weak to have him so close, to feel the heat radiate from his body. She felt no fear of him, though others did and perhaps she should. But instead his enraged behavior ignited the fire in her own spirit and she didn’t retreat from his challenge or his presence.

“Sometimes I think you see only what you wish to see. Or what you feel you need to see. Though for what reasons I cannot begin to comprehend. Look at me, Erik. Look at me and see what I truly feel ...

Silence stretched, expectant and tense. His breathing grew more rapid, and he glanced away.

No! Look at me!

Her voice quaking with intense emotion, she grabbed his head and forced him to stare into her upturned eyes. They glowed as with hidden flames. Bold. Demanding ...The sudden feel of her soft palms against his tight jaw made him start but otherwise he didn’t move.

“I broke one rule of convention with my invitation to you.” Her voice trembled soft but strong. “And you assume me guilty of yet another fault, though I never wanted to be with Raoul. Forgive me, or don’t, if I feel no remorse in breaking a third rule. I am truly beyond caring anymore.”

She pulled his head down, while reaching up, and pressed her lips to his. The urgent need to force him to understand eclipsed all else.

Her unexpected act staggered him, rendering him immobile.

For a breathless moment, neither did she move.

The firm contact of his soft lips on hers sent sparks of awareness rippling through Christine’s blood that she hadn’t expected, had never felt with the only other kiss she ever received. That kiss meant little to her, but it had been the needed catalyst to bring about this kiss … which now meant everything in her world.

The unfolding desire to learn the contours of his mouth with her own enticed her to brush her lips slowly across his parted ones, her swift breaths warmly dispensing their chill.

Shaken to her core, she pulled away to look at him.

He had yet to respond, his chest rising and falling with each labored breath. Her heart pounded from both anticipation and pain.

“Let there be no further games of make-believe between us,” she whispered, staring at his mouth that now trembled. Her eyes lifted to his dazed ones. “This is not about Persephone and Hades, or Roses and Phoenixes, or Don Juan and Aminta. This is entirely us.

Still, he did not move.

“Tell me you don’t want this, Erik ...”

Her words quietly intense, she caressed his cheek with her fingertips and he drew a low, unsteady hiss of breath.

“Tell me I’m wrong and you don’t care ...”

He closed his eyes, his head turning slightly from her touch.

She lifted her other hand to stroke his jaw beneath the mask. “Tell me I mean nothing more to you than a pupil … Tell me if you wish it. But I won’t believ—”

With a low growl he lunged forward, pressing his palms against her smooth, flushed cheeks to hold her fixed – while his mouth hungrily bore down hard on hers. She whimpered with the same need as her hands clutched his shoulders.

Something broke inside and unchained his soul at the sound. She melted into him, her lips opening in a sigh beneath his, her tongue brushing his lip in invitation. He groaned, needing no further enticement.

Their kiss bore little semblance to a lovers’ first kiss of awkward curiosity as his long-held, explosive longing for her brought him to test the full limits of human endurance. Nothing else mattered to Erik but blissful touch, the sweet savor of his mouth on hers, her silken hair and cool skin beneath his hands. His arms moved to embrace her. He tasted the salt of her tears … or were they his own? From afar, he had viewed future shadows of their kisses but never dreamt their reality could affect him with such shattering force.

Christine clutched handfuls of his shirt, struggling to remain upright, his passion beyond anything she had dreamed. His kisses, deep and searching, ignited her blood so that she feared she would be consumed. Her mind spinning, she felt her knees give way. He caught her against him.

His mouth broke contact with hers, his eyes dark with both desire and concern as they looked into her own.

“My God, Christine,” he whispered hoarsely. He pulled his brow toward his mask a little in confusion. “You are still hurt?”

Hurt …?

Why should he think that, when every nerve ending tingled warm, not from pain but with pleasure? But she couldn’t think, couldn’t speak. She could only stare up at him through heavy-lidded, stunned eyes.

What he saw in them she didn’t know, but suddenly he lifted one hand to part her curls near her forehead. She winced when his fingertips brushed through her thick hair and found the knot on her scalp. She wished to tell him her lightheadedness was as much from his kiss as her fall but, breathless, she could do nothing.

Softly Erik swore and swept her up into his arms. Nestling her head beneath his jaw, she held fast to his strong shoulders. He walked with her to his bedchamber and carefully laid her on his bed. When he pulled away, she kept her arm around him, also bringing her other one up to prevent his retreat, needing him close.

“Don’t go …”

With gentle purpose, he broke her hold from around his neck. “I did not realize the extent of your injury.” He straightened to stand and looked down at her, his darkened eyes a glittering mask she could not read. “You must have struck your head on the wall … I found you lying insensible on the ground.”

His words were hollow, still a little breathless as hers, and she reached out to clasp his hand at his side, flushing at the thought of what they just shared.

“I knew you would come.”

“You should not have traveled through those tunnels,” a harsh note crept into his voice. “That route has more traps than the pathway from the mirror in your dressing room. You are fortunate you made it as far as you did.”

“The mirror was locked, and I could no longer bear the thought of not seeing you another night … I remembered what you said about the music notes you carved. I’ve grown accustomed to the cellars and what to be aware of when traveling through them … Had my torch not gone out, I would have made it. Perhaps I did act foolishly to walk without a guide, but I would have been more foolish to do nothing at all.”

“We will speak of this later. You must rest.”

He moved to go.

She did feel weary, but his abrupt distance after their newfound intimacy alarmed her.

“Erik,” she softly called to him. He hesitated then turned to look at her. “Promise me that all our make believe and pretenses are at an end?”

“We will speak of this later.” His tone came more quietly but still seemed cold.

Again he moved toward the entrance.

“I didn’t kiss him. He kissed me.”

He froze, standing motionless for eternal seconds, then turned. His ever-changing eyes now glowed feral green, probing hers, demanding answers, answers she had waited days to give.

“He asked to kiss me goodbye. I thought he would kiss my cheek like he did when we were children, but he didn’t. It came as a surprise but meant nothing to me except a token of friendship.” Christine fumbled over the words in her desperate need to reveal the truth of what happened, to make him understand, then took a calming breath.

“I told him I couldn’t see him,” she said more slowly. “He guessed there was someone else. What you saw was us reminiscing of our childhood together and saying goodbye to those days. He left so suddenly then, when I was six. His family left without warning, and we never said goodbye. It may sound silly, but I think he needed to say it, since he now realizes there could never be anything else for us.”

He stared for the longest time as if turned to a pillar of stone, like one of his many statues.

“Mon Ange, tell me you believe me.” Her eyes beseeched him to understand.

“I have never known you to lie,” he whispered.

“I would never lie to you.”

He nodded distantly.

“Tell me you are no longer angry with me?”

“For your reckless venture in coming here, though you were warned of the dangers?” His voice slightly increased in volume, proving just how angry he still was.

“For the night of the ball.”

His breath escaped in a weary sigh and he closed his eyes.

“And for tonight too.”

His lips turned up the slightest bit, encouraging her, and she smiled hopefully.

He opened his eyes, regarding her with mild exasperation. “Christine, Christine ... so much a woman, yet still so much a child.”

His answer wasn’t exactly what she wished to hear, but at least he had calmed and no longer seemed rigid with detachment or unapproachable in his fury.

“We will talk later. For now, you must rest. And so you do not seek me out if you should awaken and not find me – and this time, end up toppling over into the freezing lake – I am going above to fetch Madame.”

She grimaced at his mild dry tone, wondering if he now thought her incompetent, always needing led by the hand. He had called her a child ... but he had also called her a woman ...

“That’s not necessary—”

“Nonetheless, she should be informed of your whereabouts so they do not send search parties looking for you. I cannot risk them finding my home. You will be safe while I am gone, Christine, if you remain in that bed.

She reluctantly nodded.

“I will return soon; you will not even notice my absence.”

She doubted that strongly but didn’t persist. Her volatile emotions and the strain of past days, not to mention her frightening encounter in the darkness of the tunnels had all taken their toll, and her head had begun to throb again. No matter; she had accomplished what she’d set out to do and that gave her a sense of victorious relief. Somehow she would work through this new wretched distance he seemed determined to create.

Why was he again pulling away from her? She didn't understand. She had seen the hunger in his eyes and felt it in his kiss. He had wanted it as much as she did, and his uninhibited response made her breath catch even now. Perhaps she was wicked to think such things, but her heart had wanted this for so long!

Closing her eyes, she faintly smiled with the memory of being held in his arms. And as she drifted into slumber she hoped that this time would be the first of many more to come.

xXx

continued next post...
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated 9/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:27 am

Sometimes it seemed, if I just dreamed
Chapter X


Within scant days, hours, the entirety of the Phantom’s existence had both collided with the cruel hand of calamity and been knocked off its axis by an unforeseen surge of ... dare he even dream it?

Hope.

Acceptance …

Love …?

Gripped in the throes of utter bewilderment, his eyes barely seeing, he sat sprawled in a chair by his mini theater, as he’d been sitting for the past half hour, and stared numbly into space.

He had bitterly resigned himself to a lifetime of solitude writing his operas while managing Christine’s career in secret and finding her another teacher. He’d even composed a letter to that effect. And then, she had come gliding back into his harsh dungeon with her quiet logic and dazzling confidence. And with one gentle kiss had shaken him to the depths of his black, unworthy soul.

He recalled only minutes before she’d made her appearance hearing her scream his name in terror deep within the cellars. Before that, he sensed her near though he had not believed it, certain his wretched longing for her was torturing and would forever torture his mind. Her sharp cry of his name – he had felt as a blow and understood with horror, and he had raced from his lair through the tunnel beyond his bedchamber, to find her lying prone in the next cellar, on the stones and chillingly close to a trapdoor.

At first he feared she was dead and in that excruciating moment relived the dark anguish of future shadows, made all the more horrible because the present could never be undone. He too felt as if he had perished. Five feet more and she would have been forever lost to an infinite chasm beneath the trap. To hear her moan had been a balm of music to his agonized heart.

It was with feelings of rage for her childish ignorance in courting danger and her betrayal on the roof that he’d confronted her so harshly. It was with equal feelings of intense concern when he couldn’t rouse her and his great relief to see her awake that he’d not attempted to shake sense into her foolish head. But all of that paled in comparison to the upheaval he now felt, and for a far different reason. A reason he could scarcely comprehend.

Could not yet even dare to believe …

He approached the past hour with tentative wonder, afraid to consider something so impossible, that Christine should desire him, not only as her teacher, but as her lover, her lover, could indeed be true. He, the resident ghost with the face of a monster, the one beauty had chosen, even foolishly braving the depths of his dark dungeons without precise knowledge of where to go in her desperate attempt to reach him ...

Could this night truly be real?

Their embrace he lived over and over and still felt as astounded now as he had been then. Her sweet kisses were the sole expression of true intimacy he had ever received. In one instant they shattered every barrier, every safeguard he’d erected around his heart, at the same time flooding its empty chambers with elation and awe. He’d been powerless to move, never having experienced anything so utterly devastating and wholly exhilarating in his entire existence.

Her earnest words of no more make believe or pretenses lilted as a gentle melody in his mind, a rippling stream that soothed and revived the edges of his awareness.

All this time she had cared for him? For him?!

Her tender insistence to know the truth of his feelings had unleashed a swell of passion and need that surpassed Erik’s frozen shock and burst from the confines beyond which he’d long trapped such heretofore useless emotions.
He had shown no restraint in giving her all she asked.

And what of her? Could she possibly have enjoyed his pathetic expressions when he was as inexperienced as she? Had he not overheard a vile member of the chorus say that women preferred men with great knowledge of corporeal matters?

Erik considered her reaction to his kiss. She had not regarded him with disgust, but there had been an unfocused look in her eyes, which had darkened considerably, the pupils large with ... pain? He had written songs that were a seducing litany of his desire to know her, to woo her, to love her, but when it came to the actual expression of his intimate feelings, he’d been clumsy and forceful and he feared he had hurt her worse.

He groaned. He was a fool for not realizing she’d wounded herself in the cellars!
Once he’d found her there and laid her on his bed, he had been quick to leave the chamber. Her soft murmurings in her unconscious state assured him she was alive. But his rage and relief at her folly had been so great he knew he must put distance between them, not wanting to cause her further harm and fearing in his anxious fury he very well could ... He resumed that distance when he laid her on his bed a second time. Yet he had stayed, as she again slept, and moments later had laid a damp cloth across her brow, brushing his lips there first.

His love for her encompassed every good thing about him. At the same time its intensity threatened his very sanity. Could she possibly return such feelings in some small measure? Had her expressions of desire stemmed from more than mere mutual attraction?

God, was he mad to think such thoughts?! No less mad than to believe she could be attracted to him, surely.

He clutched his wig and felt it slip. Growling, he ripped the damned thing off and hurled it to the ground. His mind became entrenched in darker thoughts …

He still suffered the nightmares. If she should hear, she would know, and then she would despise him. For surely she would flee when she learned what a beast her Angel truly was. He had seen the horror in her eyes when he spoke of the murders in the shadow world, murders never committed …

This was so much worse. Those murders of pretense couldn’t begin to compare to the horrible slayings of reality.

He clutched his head in his hands, his elbows digging into his knees. Better to tell her all of it, now, before fate once more acted with merciless intent and robbed him of everything precious, robbed him of his Angel. Better she should know the truth, now, before he allowed his withered heart she had brought to life to continue on this fragile course.

She would leave him, yes. These past days without her he had reconciled himself to a wretched life of solitude. Better for her to go at this time, than to say nothing and allow the astounding possibility of his dream to unfold, to have her become his bride and she leave him then, if she should learn of his duplicity. How much sharper the pain would be to bear!

But howHOW could he tell her, when he knew that to hear
the truth could destroy every dream she believed in? Everything good. Everything noble ... no matter that at its foundation coiled a lie.

Madame’s brisk step on the stones alerted him to the invasion of his bitter soliloquy. He rose abruptly, taking an uncertain step forward.

“She is all right.” He phrased the words as a statement, not a question. They must be true.

“I am no doctor, Maestro, but I have seen head injuries of this nature before.” Her words were soft, her eyes severe. “She shouldn’t attempt the long trek to the opera house. She must remain quiet. By Monday she ought to be well enough for you to bring her back. If she’s not improved, then you must tell me and I will send for a doctor. I have given her a tonic for the pain and will leave the bottle here. Give it to her no more than twice a day. She sleeps now.”

He nodded wearily, having suspected she would need to remain in his chambers.

“I told her she was a fool.” Her words grew stiff. “And you are a fool for letting it come to this.”

He scowled at her attack. “You blame ME for her accident? I warned her never to act so childishly as to come here alone.” He lifted his hand in vexed agitation. “I WILL NOT defend myself to you!”

Childishly, monsieur?” she scoffed. “She acted with the heart of a woman who will not be denied. Recklessly, yes. But not as a child.”

Her words momentarily stripped him of speech and she secretly smiled, though her eyes remained hard. “At last. The look on your face tells me the blinders have fallen. You know it too.”

He stared at the stones, unsure of exactly what he knew. So much had happened so quickly; he’d had little time to sort it out. That she cared for him, yes, incredible as it was. But to what extent? Would her affection be strong enough to weather the severity of what he must tell her?

“As her guardian, I wish to know what you intend to do about it?”

He stared at the woman in black as if he’d never before seen her.

Do about it?”

He repeated the words as if they made no sense.

“You should know, Maestro, I advised her against continuing her association with you when she came to me at the ball and begged my guidance in bringing her here. This incident proves what I have long feared and warned you of once before. You have entranced her mind and captured her soul. She will not be stopped. After speaking with her tonight I am sure of this. She will always find her way back to you, to keep you in her life no matter the cost to herself, now that she knows you are a living, breathing man and not an untouchable celestial being. So I ask you once more, what do you intend to do about it?”

Still he stared, unable to shape an answer, much less comprehend her question.

She huffed a breath in exasperation, walked over to the chamber with the mannequin and grabbed the tapestry. With one wrench of her hands, she pulled it down.

This, monsieur.” She looked at him. “This dream you have long desired is well within reach. Will you take it? The choice is yours.”

He looked at the mannequin in the wedding gown and veil, a sad replica of Christine he had attempted to craft. No artist’s tool could capture her pure, gentle beauty, her spirit and fire.

“Keep this in mind during the upcoming days alone with her. Do not cast aside your true aspirations for what could only amount to certain sorrow if you both were to choose unwisely. With plans for your new opera underway, I won’t be able to come down and check on her progress. But I trust I leave her beneath the wings of the Angel and not under the spell of the Phantom? And that she will return with everything … intact?”

Her meaning painfully clear, he snapped out of his stupor, heat crawling up his neck. “She shall return to you as pure as the night she left the dormitory.” His words came mocking to cover his embarrassment. “You must make an excuse to the managers for her disappearance, one that will raise no further questions.”

“Very well.” She hesitated, clearly not yet satisfied. “I needn’t remind you that her reputation is vital to her career, especially now. She already receives snubs from many of the cast, and your plan to replace the present diva with Christine has stirred numerous jealousies. Should any sort of … scandal be linked with her character so close to her debut as the lead, it may well cast a dark shadow on her triumph as a rising operatic star.”

“Madame,” he growled, “you try my patience.”

“I do not fear you, Maestro. I never have. If I did, I would not have brought you here to live on that night twenty-two years ago, and I certainly never would have assisted you during the entirety of that time. I’m accustomed to your bark and bluster and your volatile mood swings. Usually I bear them and remain silent. You have been treated unjustly and I do not fault your need to vent your frustrations from time to time. But tonight I will say my piece.” She drew herself up. “We spoke of this once before, but the situation has changed between the pair of you. I see it in your eyes. I see it in hers.”

“You have made your point ad infinitum,” he said wearily. “I am not dull-witted. You may go now.”

“Oui, I will go.” She hesitated and her voice grew softer. “I only speak because I want you both to realize your dreams. You are not dull of wit, monsieur, quite the contrary. But regrettably you are both passionate in nature and rush headlong into areas where MOST angels fear to tread. There. It is done. I have said my piece.”

At last.

“Just make certain she remains in your bed, and you stay far from it,” she added in parting as she moved to the boat.

The Phantom could have cheerfully drowned her.

Instead he turned his back on the meddlesome woman and moved toward his pipe organ. Where music had always beckoned him before, acting as an outlet to his rage or fear, now he found he couldn’t concentrate, though losing himself in the notes required little to no concentration. Tonight, however, his mind remained on one subject alone, one moment, one episode, and he doubted even his music could calm the steady, persistent beat.

Christine.

Desiring to assure himself of her well being, or that is what he told himself, he moved to the entrance of his bedchamber. His eyes immediately went to her slight form, buried beneath the thick eiderdown. She lay still, her breathing even and calm as she slept, and he again knew relief that her near-death experience left her with no more than a tender lump on the head. He walked closer, to the edge of the bed, and looked down at the woman he’d always thought of as his own dear angel, just as she’d thought him one.

Never mind that he understood all the warnings Madame emphasized and those she refrained from speaking. One kiss from his angel’s lips had both shattered his being and restored his heart. He couldn’t imagine how it would affect him if he should dare to partake of those unspoken pleasures that might follow another kiss ...

Another kiss!

His breathing grew ragged at the thought of recreating such bliss. Against all logic, the long-held dream he buried after the spirits’ visitation flickered to life, a small flame of hope he still couldn’t risk to nurture, but neither could he yet extinguish.
Pulling the lever that brought the curtain down he watched it descend around her.

“My beautiful Angel of Music,” he whispered. “Dare I allow the dream to begin ...?”

He must tell her the truth and do it soon. For having looked into her eyes, shining for him, he could no longer bear the lie.

xXx

Christine awoke, feeling less groggy, though her head still ached. But unaccustomed to idleness, she couldn’t lie in bed, hour after hour. Except for a trip to relieve nature’s tendencies, beyond the bedchamber in a small room made for that purpose which Madame had earlier shown her, Christine remained inert in her Angel’s bed. She felt grateful that Madame had brought her loose nightdress, relieved to have dispensed with the dratted corset and able to breathe much easier.

Though Madame’s harsh rebuke had given her cause for another discomfort.

Christine shook any flickering qualms aside, confident that she’d done what she must. Except for the bump to her head, she wasn’t the least bit sorry or displeased with the results. Well ... almost. There was still the perturbing matter of his distance he stubbornly created, and yet, before he returned with Madame, she had stirred to find a cold compress against her brow and a thicker coverlet of the same luxurious velvet as the sheets to warm her. Surely, if he were still angry he wouldn’t have seen to her comfort?

She pulled up the curtain again enclosing her in transparent black silk and carefully swung her legs around, bracing her hands on the soft, spongy mattress for leverage.

“Must I tie you to that bed?”

Startled to hear his deep, rich voice that never failed to send tingles dancing along her spine, she looked up to where Erik stood in the entrance. His arms were crossed, his stance rigid, his appearance as attractively disheveled as before.

“Hello,” she said with a hopeful smile. “Is it morning yet?”

“Regardless of whether it is or is not – you are not to leave that bed.”

She gave a little pout. “How long am I to be subjected to complete bed rest?”

“Until I say you are able to rise.”

She let out a little sigh of restless discontent. “Oh, very well.” She pulled her legs back up, bringing them beside her. “I understand I’m to stay here for the next few days?”

“Yes.”

She hesitated. “I hope I won’t be an imposition, since I wasn’t invited.”

“An imposition, Christine?” he lifted his visible brow.

She blushed and motioned to the coverlet. “In taking your bed.”

He said nothing.

“I know you’re not accustomed to having company for so long. And I’m also sorry I won’t be able to attend practices or engage in my lessons.”

“We shall have to make up for the lost days, and you will need to work harder.”

She nodded distantly then lifted her eyes to his. “Will you talk with me?”

“Is that not what we’re doing?”

“In a sense, yes, but … not as I wish.” She hesitated. “Will you come and sit beside me? You make me nervous standing there with your arms crossed like that, as if I’ve been a naughty child.”

“Should I be pleased with your recent conduct?”

“I had hoped you might like it. You seemed to, before I swooned.”

Her shy words struck him with fierce awareness. He had been speaking of the tunnels; she had been speaking of their kiss. The knowledge made his heart pound a little harder, and her cheeks had gone rosier. She looked both innocent and desirable, with the covers clutched to her chest, her hair wild and flowing all around her. Heat flamed his own face, and he turned it aside, feeling grateful for the mask, which hid the part she could see.

“Please, come talk with me, Mon Ange.”

His first inclination was to refuse, to reprimand her for using a term that clearly did not suit him, what with the sudden wicked images running through his mind of just what he would like to do to her … He felt the need to make ANY excuse to leave, to again catch his breath and steady his nerves. He noticed the wistful sparkle in her eyes that softly beckoned him.

“Perhaps, only for a moment,” he allowed reluctantly, unable to refuse. She only wanted to talk, after all.

Cautiously he moved to the foot of the bed and took a seat, managing somehow to affect a cool detachment. “What do you wish to discuss, Christine? The opera? The ballet? The lessons?”

“Us.”

One word, delivered so softly, had the power to rob him of thought and speech.

“I want to talk about us, Erik, and what happened. I meant every word I said.” Her eyes glowed in earnest, her manner both timid and determined. “And I … I should like to know how you feel ... about me.”

He should have gone while he had the chance. He still could go. Nothing held him here. Nothing …

Except the plea of an Angel.

Unaccustomed to discussing his emotions with anyone, much less the woman around whom they all revolved, he faltered with how to answer. Since their kiss, he lived within a paradox of dreams and confusion. Yet in her expression he recognized the fervent need to know more and found he couldn’t disappoint her.

“You have seen my drawings,” he said very quietly. “You have heard my songs. I wrote them for you, and not only for the role to be played. You were accurate in that regard.”

She gave a relieved little smile, but her eyes glistened in confusion. “Then why … why are you still so distant toward me?” she finished after an uncertain little pause.

He closed his eyes. “Christine, we do have matters to discuss, but now is not the time.”

“Why not?”

“At this moment you are unable to leave that bed. Should I tell you what you wish to hear now, you will have no choice but to stay here, in my cellars. Therefore, we should postpone further conversation on this matter until you again have a choice.”

“A choice?” She pulled her brows together. “I don’t understand. Why should you think I’d wish to leave your home? For any reason?”

He shook his head wearily.

“No, don’t do that. Please, Erik, tell me. Tell me now. If you don’t, I will only worry about what horrid thing you might have to say to me over the next few days, and surely that will hamper my recovery if I lay here anxious the entire time. Yes?” She lifted her brows in persuasion, her manner both hopeful and childlike.

His heart twisted within him. When she looked at him so sweetly, as if he weren't a beast, but a man, he fought the mad inclination to give her anything for which she asked.

Quickly, he turned away before she could break his resolve. “No. We will speak of this in three days. For now, I will bring you something to eat. You must be famished.”

He left before she could convince him to reconsider. Yet with his recent experience of her unrelenting determination to hear his song, he feared that his silence would not be long lasting.

xXx

[color=#400080]Under His Wing
Chapter XI


Christine lay on her back and stared with annoyed frustration at the transparent dome of ebony silk enclosing her. Trapped within the luxury of his majestic bed, she wished for Erik to return and sit by her side to keep her company. To talk to her, perhaps read to her, hopefully sing to her. At this point, she would even gladly endure one of his dour tantrums, often brought on as a result of someone, usually La Carlotta, "murdering the opera." To hear his voice and have him offer companionship again, she would suffer through anything!

Instead, he kept to himself, silent and distant as the Opera Ghost of his stature.

Was he still upset with her for taking the underground journey to his lair alone?

Angry with her for breaking through the wall of his false disregard in demand that he show his true feelings, and at last recognize hers?

Enraged with her for her ill-conceived kiss with Raoul above the rooftop during the Bal Masque?

Was what Erik had to tell her so horrendous that he felt he must put off speaking entirely until the final night of her stay, in his certainty that she would leave him and never return? Did he not hear a word she'd said?Did he not realize all she'd endured to be with him and that his silence only made matters worse?

She was beyond weary of people telling her how she must act or what she must feel: The managers with their arrogant bullying; Raoul with his forceful persuasions; Meg with her foolish reasoning. Erik spoke of giving Christine choices, but she chose to hear what he would say now.

And he would have none of it.

He had been to her an angel, and she revered him as supreme authority in her childhood. She had always obeyed her teacher and still respected him as her Maestro. But each time Christine visited Erik, as the woman she'd become, she grew more comfortable seeing him as the man he truly was. Still imposing and powerful, yes, but she experienced an ease she'd never completely felt with the nameless entity of his pretense. For a moment she thought about that, her face growing warm with the wicked secret she'd carried for so long, in believing his. Now that she knew the truth, much of her insecurity and awkwardness had vanished. And she simply would no longer tolerate being treated as an ignorant child! She had made her choice, she had almost died for that choice; but Erik still refused to see it.

Her head began to throb. With distaste, she reached for the bottle that sat beside the musical box with the Persian monkey, also taking the silver cup Erik had provided, three times the size of a thimble. She poured her evening dose of tonic for the pain and drank the foul potion down with a grimace.

She was certainly no stranger to seclusion. In the world above his lair, when not sharing time with Meg or engaging in practices, Christine often kept her own company. But her solitude had never gone on for such long stretches and without the ability to move at will. She couldn't remember ever being confined to her bed.

She understood Erik had not asked for her ongoing presence in his home. Still, she hadn't believed he would so utterly ignore her and had been surprised when he refused her softly beseeching plea for an explanation and walked away, with the swift excuse of seeing to her meal. Within minutes, he'd brought her a plate of cheese and fruit. Then, after a curt nod to her smiling thanks, he turned on his heel and left before she could utter another word. That had been what surely must amount to several hours ago, though it felt ten times that.

"Oh, bother the Maestro Angel—more like Phantom Fiend," she bit out under her breath in disgusted frustration, sick to death of being ordered to bed and forgotten, put away and secluded in a pretty little chamber, like his mannequin doll.

She had thought after their forthright discussion, which had ended in the whirlwind kiss, that at last they might put all misunderstandings behind them. Obviously that was not to be.

At the sound of brisk footsteps, she lifted herself up on her elbows, watching the entrance intently, hoping he might soon appear. Once again her expectations were dashed, as the ring of his steps grew distant, moving to the other side of the lake room. She sighed in annoyance and flopped back to the pillow.

She had difficulty connecting the exciting man of uninhibited passion who'd held her so fiercely and kissed her so desperately with the cold, aloof ... ghost of a being who preferred to keep residence in the adjoining room.

Warmth tingled through her veins at the memory of his mouth searing hers, of his cool hands on her equally cool skin, both which soon warmed in their shared passion, as if two empty souls were coming to life again. And that was exactly how she'd felt.

She didn't regret kissing him, even if it had been a shocking thing to do for a girl her age, with no experience. She'd dreamt of his kiss for some time, ever since the night he first brought her here, no … even before that. And if she could live the moment over, she would do it again. Though she might have chosen a better method of reaching his lair, or at least thought to bring matches. She'd done well enough until her torch blew out.

Granted, he had accustomed himself to a life of seclusion in his strange pretense to become both Angel and Phantom. But they were hardly strangers. She had shared many nights with him in this lair, in taking her lessons. So why did he snub her now, treating her with such a confounding lack of interest?

Frowning, Christine sat up, the need to remain in bed no longer a directive she could acknowledge. She tipped the lever to raise the slightly lifted curtain the entire way and swung her legs over the bed. A dizzying sense of displacement had her clutch the scalloped edge, its sharp outline pricking her fingers, and she wrinkled her brow in confusion, for the first time noting the variation of silver metal compared to golden bird. The foundation for the mattress looked like ... a shell? Whoever heard of a bird with a shell? Was there such a bird? Christine shook her head trying to clear it. Whatever drug the potion contained made it difficult to think.

Once out of the covers, the brisk air chilled her flesh and she gathered Erik's black velvet robe around her, tying the long sash, thankful he'd left at least something of himself behind. The hem trailed the floor by several inches. Yet her train wasn't what made her stagger, and she slapped her hand to the cave wall so as not to fall. She couldn't seem to walk properly and assumed the potion caused the weakness in her limbs as well.

"What are you doing out of that bed?"

His curt question made her start – how had she not heard his footsteps this time? She frowned, looking over her shoulder at the formidable stance of her Phantasmal dark angel.

"What does it look like I'm doing?"

At her equally abrupt rejoinder, his eyes widened in evident astonishment that she would speak to him so brusquely.

"I told you to stay in bed and rest."

She narrowed her eyes. "Forgive me, Maestro, but sometimes your orders cannot be followed to the letter." She resumed her sluggish walk, using the wall for support.

"Stop acting like an impudent child and get back in that bed before your legs give out beneath you. Or you step on that absurd sash and stumble."

"I can't go back! Not yet." Her face flushed hot and she looked away, wishing he would just go. Of all times to finally make an appearance, he couldn't have picked a worse moment.

"What do you mean? Why can you not …" His voice trailed away as he suddenly must have noted the direction she headed. "Oh."

"Now will you go and leave me be?" She felt her entire body flush in mortification and wished for one of his trap doors to open beneath her feet and swallow her whole.

Instead, his steady footsteps approached seconds before she felt his strong arms slip around her. In the next instant she found herself hoisted into the air and held against the hard wall of his chest.

She kept her lashes lowered, unable to look at him. Whereas before she anticipated his presence, now she lay rigid in his arms, wishing only to evade his company. At the same time his strength left her feeling weak and flustered.

"I can walk," she insisted, despite knowing she couldn't.

"Don't be ridiculous."

He carried her down the narrow corridor to the entrance of the small chamber and set her on her feet. She pulled the edges of his robe tightly together under her throat in self-conscious unease, still unable to look at him.

"Do you wish me to wai—"

"No!" she hurried to say before he could finish and whirled away through the entrance, thankful when she heard his footsteps swiftly retreat into the distance.

She tended to necessity quickly, but lingered at the edge of the chamber until her legs could barely hold her yet she felt certain he'd gone. She'd taken no more than a few awkward steps, when he reappeared in the entrance.

Resigned, she watched his approach.

This time no words passed between them as he carefully picked her up and carried her back to bed. He came to a stop beside it. Her embarrassment for him to catch her in the awkward situation had lessened to a degree, but still she couldn't meet his eyes.

"You're trembling." His voice came low, almost gentle. "Do you fear me?"

"Of course not. I'm only cold." She had removed her stockings earlier and the stones had chilled the soles of her feet, but that wasn't what really made her shiver. Nor would she admit it was due to the heat of his skin that warmed every point of contact where her body touched his …

"Christine …"

"Tell me." She looked at him at last. "Tell me what you wouldn't say before."

He released a weary sigh. "Tomorrow."

He laid her down in the plush bedding with extreme tenderness, as if she were breakable, and pulled the coverlet over her, up to her neck. In light of his sudden consideration, she could almost forgive him for his remote treatment of the entire day.

"When you no longer need the tonic and can again think clearly I will tell you," he said. "What I have to relate, you will need to be coherent to understand."

"Promise you'll tell me?" She hated that her words had begun to slur. She could barely keep her eyes open.

A wry smile tilted his lips. "Yes. Did you take another dose of the tonic?"

She nodded groggily against the pillow.

"I told you to take it only when I give it to you. Must I take it away?"

"Must you treat me like a child?"

His brow lifted in curious surprise at her clipped answer. "I merely do not wish you to become confused under its potency and take too much."

Instantly she felt bad for snapping at him. She supposed her disposition could also use improvement. Lowering her eyes, she barely nodded her thanks.

He straightened to his full height.

"Erik?" She spoke quickly, not wanting him to go yet.

He turned to look at her.

"Why is your shell a bed and a bird?"

"What?" His features slackened in stunned confusion, and she realized then what she'd said.

"Your bed. A seashell ... a bird … why?" Her words came lethargic. Drat the strong tonic and what it did to her.

He seemed amused. "Someday, perhaps, I will tell you."

"Not now?" she pouted.

"No, not now."

"Will you say nothing to me?" She yawned, with just enough strength to slip her hand up to cover her mouth with her fingertips.

"Yes, Christine … sleep."

His calm smile seemed oddly sad before she closed heavy eyelids, unable to keep them open any longer.

The last fleeting memory before deep slumber overtook her was the whisper-soft touch of his fingers running along her cheek.

X

Christine awoke to the most beautiful music. Without opening her eyes, she smiled dreamily as his haunting aria seeped richly into her senses. Oh, how she had missed hearing him play and sing! She took such pleasure in his expertise and her spirit soared with his stirring voice as blissfully she listened from the comfort of her Angel's bed.

Tomorrow she must leave his home and return above ground. She wished she didn't have to go, but of course she couldn't stay. Or, was it tomorrow already …?

How strange that she rested five levels beneath the earth, where there was no sun or moon or stars. Yet the moment she heard the resonant timbre of his dark lyrical voice and heard the masterful strains of his captivating music, she floated higher than when she stood on the opera house rooftop, able to touch the heavens.

What thrilling hold did he possess over her? What mesmeric power that enabled him to reach so deeply into her senses, as if controlling them? She didn't understand it, she couldn't explain it, but never did she wish to lose it. It had become a part of her, ever since she was a child.

The music continued, its sweet enchantment along with the effects of the mind-numbing potion lulling her back into deep slumber, taking her to a place where she floated amidst the clouds …

The next time she awakened, he had exchanged the mystique of his pipe organ for the poignant strains of his violin.

This time she opened her eyes, noticing he'd left one candle flickering near the entrance of his bedchamber, its pale light enough to reassure without disturbing her slumber. She wondered if he composed another concerto or worked further on his Don Juan masterpiece.

The memory of their duet encouraged the recent memory of their kiss and she clutched one of the pillows close with a sudden strange breathlessness. Indeed, the tantalizing music he now played brought those two momentous events and all manner of scandalous thoughts to mind. She had no idea how much time passed as she laid there, her body almost feverish with a strange tingling … longing. But when the music ended she felt both saddened at the abrupt silence and relieved as her heart calmed its rapid pace.

She heard him move about for some time afterward, the rustling of papers and thumps of objects being moved and coming from different areas of the main room making her wonder what task he engaged in. Perhaps he cleaned what earlier he'd scattered. She found her mind picturing him at work, his form lithe and tall and trim … which led her wandering down the intriguing path of their long association, taking her to her debut night and their wondrous meeting when she first took his hand and he brought her through the mirror door ...

The most heavenly aroma tantalized her senses, and her stomach lurched in its desire to be filled, as he had fed the deepest pockets of her soul.

Erik's tread on the stone steps leading to the bedchamber made Christine sit up in expectation. Suddenly filling the entrance, the sight of him she'd been envisioning fairly took her breath away.

He came forward, setting a plate on the table by her bed, then took the candle already lit and touched its wick to a nearby candelabrum of four to shed more light, though the effect remained pleasantly subdued.

With shock, she eyed the meal he brought her of Coq au vin, one of her favorite seasoned dishes of chicken, lardons, mushrooms, carrots, celery, and onions cooked in a thick flavorful sauce rich with wine and brandy.

She blinked and looked up at him. "You made this?" Before he had given her apples, cheese, and bread. She had not expected so elaborate a meal.

He chuckled at her amazement. "Do you see a chef lurking in the passageway?"

His music seemed to have improved his temperament and she smiled with relief, also feeling more at ease, especially now that he'd joined her.

"There are numerous skills I've needed to learn to dwell in my solitary existence," he went on to explain.
"Madame brings the provisions I need from the surplus in the kitchens but she does not stay to prepare them. She has no such skills."

"But how did you learn?"

"I was fortunate that the opera house cook wrote down his creations in a book that mysteriously … went missing." He gave a careless little magician's wave of his long, graceful fingers as he said the last.

Christine grinned, certain by the cavalier tilt to Erik's lips that the lost book was one of many stacked on his shelves. She took a bite of the aromatic dish. Her eyes rounded in pleasure. "It's very good. Better than Pierre's." Eagerly she tasted more.

"Merci." He inclined his head in gratitude and watched her eat, his eyes sparkling in amusement.

She felt relieved that he no longer seemed angry. When he'd been so furious with her, his eyes had blazed a stormy green. Later, when he kissed her so passionately, they had darkened to polished obsidian, until almost the entirety of green had disappeared, something she'd never seen them do before. But this evening, they glowed as clear as pure jade.

"Will you not dine with me?" she asked hopefully.

"I dined earlier, while you were sleeping. How does your head feel?"

She touched it. "Only a little sore. At least I no longer feel as if I had one too many glasses of wine with dinner and then was forced to perform a tours chaînés déboulés. " The series of continuous twirls made her dizzy even without wine.

He thinned his mouth in disapproval at her light remark, and she assumed he recalled her nocturnal trek to find him. She set down her fork, regarding him just as somberly.

"Erik, if I had not come to you, would you have returned to me?"

"No."

"Never?" she whispered, helpless tears of shock clouding her eyes.

"I couldn't assume the risk."

She shook her head in hurt disbelief. "What risk?"

His mesmerizing eyes regarded hers with steady resolve.

"If I would have come to you, Christine, if I would have dared, I would have taken you. And I would have never let you go."


xXx
.
Our Games of Make Believe Are at an End
XII


.
[size=150]The Phantom watched her lips part in shock. Her chest rose and fell a little faster.

"Never?" Her query came, a breathless wisp of air.

He hadn't meant to tell her like this, had wished to wait until the day of her return to the theater. But the die had been cast and he pushed blindly forward.

"Never. I would have made you mine, Christine. Completely. This was not the first occasion I'd planned to do so. I told you of my elaborate plot of vengeance for the opera. What I did not tell you was that I would have abducted you and kept you here with me. Forever, as my captive."

She stared at him a long moment, unflinching, the expression in her wide, luminous eyes difficult to read. "What stopped you?" Her words had gained strength but still came barely above a whisper.

"The spirits' visitation. They showed me events. Horrible, tragic events." He winced with the memory, still so fresh, and glanced down at her small, pale hands now still against the blanket. Slowly he sat on the bed and reached for one of her hands, tentatively covering it with his own, knowing what he would say would shock her, likely terrify her. She didn't pull away from him or his touch, which encouraged and surprised him after his blunt admission. At last he lifted his eyes to hers and spoke the thing he most feared.

"I saw your death, Christine."

Her eyes grew even wider, her face lost all color, but she said nothing.

"And I was to blame. I had bound you in chains of control to me during our time together, here, at the opera house. You died, never able to escape those bonds to me, while having the boy's child –"

"Raoul's child? " she uttered in stunned disbelief.

He couldn't help but feel a rush of satisfaction at the abject horror in her voice. "Yes, Christine. My obsession to make you mine pushed you into his arms, running from me in fear of all I'd done. Yet never able to break free of the chains I held over you due to our long association." He looked away from the confusion in her huge eyes. "I have determined that will never happen. Now you see why I could not again come to you."

"No, I don't see. By what cause should any of it happen? I don't belong to Raoul. I never will." When he didn't respond, she insisted, "You changed all of what might have happened with your decision to abandon your plans for Il Muto, did you not? That's when you told me it began. In this strange nightmare world you visited."

He nodded, his eyes helplessly drawn to her once more, lured to her beauty. "In the future shadows of Il Muto I killed Monsieur Buquet. That is when it all began. Your fear of me, of what I'd done."

She appeared overwhelmed, but shook her head as if coming to a swift conclusion. "But Il Muto has premiered and Joseph Buquet isn't dead. You didn't kill him, Mon Ange. So why are you still anxious for the outcome of our future — the true future? Not the one of shadows that doesn't exist."

He decided to tell her. "In the shadows foretold to me, you achieved a daring I've never known you to possess. I have seen the same in these past weeks, since the night you came to me and insisted I remain your teacher. With each day, this bold new nature steadily increases. Do you not see, Christine?" He shook his head, his heart leaden with the knowledge. "Those shadows of your boldness have come to pass, ever since I allowed the shackles of my influence to continue to hold you here. In light of that, how can I be certain the other shadows will not take place, if I allow this bond I created between us to persist? I cannot take that risk. I must set you free."

"Set me free? " She regarded him with incredulity, her gaze then growing steady as she pulled herself up to sit straighter. "Only someone in a prison would wish to be set free, Erik. If I acted with boldness it was because you constantly distanced yourself from my company in every way conceivable. The night you first brought me here, you captured my soul with your music and my heart with your presence. It wasn't shackles that held me against my will, as you seem to think. Or ... perhaps it was ..."

She smiled wistfully, her face undergoing a change as it softened and seemed to glow. "Invisible chains that bound me to you, but not against my will. You showed me how wondrous our life together could be; I had never experienced anything like that night. Then I … I pulled away your mask. And you grew detached, becoming only my teacher again. I was confused, but I knew what I wanted, what you offered me. And … and I had hoped if I was patient, one day you might do so again."

He could scarcely draw breath. "You fainted in horror when you saw the gown," he whispered. "After you returned my mask, you refused my hand."

She drew her brows together in slight confusion and shook her head. "I fainted when I saw myself in the wedding gown – but certainly not with horror. In my mind the doll ceased to exist and I saw a mirror image looking back at me – I was overwhelmed. And I didn't take your hand or immediately rise to my feet because you said we must return and I ... I didn't wish to go." Her lashes swept over her cheeks shyly before she again lifted her eyes to him. "Could you really not tell? I wanted to stay with you, to somehow make matters right between us again and reclaim the happiness of the night before. But I was afraid to speak and upset you further. You were so cold and distant toward me after I gave you back your mask."

At the extent of her solemn revelations, wonders he never dreamed might transpire, he could only gape in stunned disbelief.

Breathless moments elapsed as they stared at one another in dawning realization.

She set the plate on the coverlet and leaned toward him, covering his hand with her other one.

"Kiss me, Erik, " she implored softly. Her face tinged with rose in girlish embarrassment but her eyes shone steady with womanly demand. "Prove to me that this is real and I'm not imagining it … that
you are here with me … that you are real …"

It baffled his mind that she struggled with the same fear of living inside a dream. But, while her quiet request echoed the plea of his wildly beating heart, he nevertheless resisted.

"I've not yet finished with what needs to be said." He swallowed hard. "I would have abducted you ..."

"I'm troubled that you felt you must go to such great lengths to have me, but am relieved to know you still wanted me, and I think that hasn't changed. Despite all you've said. The future shadows are irrelevant. They haven't come to pass. They never will."

"But the past, itself, cannot be erased. The past that has been lived –"

"No, don't tell me more. Not now." She whispered the last as she moved closer. In tentative exploration her unsteady hands slid up his shirt to grip his shoulders and her gaze lowered to his parted mouth. "Only kiss me …"

"Christine …" He groaned her name on a plea, drawing back in half-hearted retreat. Every fiber of his body screamed to relive the enthralling sensation of taking her in his arms, but still he feared the shadowy future.

"Please, Erik …" Her whisper trembled, as if she feared his rejection. "I need to feel your lips on mine again. I need to know this is no dream …"

His mind reeled in a haze of awed disbelief that his Angel now begged for what he'd always desired, despite all he'd told her, despite the monster he was. And he could no longer withstand her innocent allure. Awkwardly he lowered his head to hers, giving her one last chance to pull back. She closed her eyes and leaned in to him.

The moment his lips faintly descended on her upturned ones, she mewled the softest of sighs, a sweet warm breath inside his mouth – unleashing a tempest of mad longing inside him. His hands, shaking from pent-up emotion, firmly cradled her face, like velvet against his skin. He did what came instinctively; the intense need to learn her lips as she earnestly sought to know his, the force that guided him.

Surrendering to his hunger for her, he kissed her repeatedly, until they both struggled for breath, though he could happily die in such blissful suffocation. With gentler intent, he brushed his mouth over hers once more in parting and at a sudden wicked urge that taunted, grazed her full lower lip between his teeth, nibbling the soft flesh as he pulled away, gentling any sting with his tongue.

Her body violently quivered and she moaned as if in anguish. Digging her fingers into his shoulder, her other hand clutching the back of his head, she surged forward and brought her mouth hard against his again.

His senses spinning in a vortex of raw emotion, Erik pressed his fingers against the ridges of her spine, crushing her to him. His robe she still wore had come undone and the press of her full curves against the heat of his own trembling body made him realize with a hot wave of shock that she wore nothing beneath the bed gown.

Christine moaned in blissful need. She felt as if she might weep for joy as Erik's heated kisses scorched her skin and inflamed her senses. At last! At last! His questing hands captured her soul, and she clung to him, now knowing for certain her injury had nothing to do with her swoon, the night he first kissed her.

Desire burned inhibition away as their tongues danced around each other, coaxing, demanding. An empty ache spread deep inside Christine, a chasm of thirst that wouldn't be quenched and somehow she knew only Erik could fill.

His lips left hers to press against her jaw, to nibble at the side of her neck and tentatively he sucked in the flesh there, as if wanting to taste her. She clung frantically to him, wishing to crawl inside him, trembling to feel the solid heat of his chest where it pressed against hers, with only the single layer of her gown as a barrier. She wanted to remove that barrier, to feel his skin against hers, and knew she should be scandalized, as innocent as she was. But all modesty turned to ash, swirling away as refuse in the blaze of their passion and she ached to be nearer to him still. To her Angel … her Phantom … her Teacher … her …

"Erik ..."

His name escaped her lips in a throaty whisper of longing, and he captured her lingering breath with another urgent kiss. From a distance, she heard the crash of plate and utensils hit stone as he swept them from the bed. His arm like a band of steel securing her back, he lowered her to the plush coverlet, never taking his mouth from hers until long moments after her head sank into the pillow.

His lips forged a tingling course down her throat along her collarbone to her shoulder. He savored her succulent skin, anywhere and everywhere his mouth could explore above the gown's loose neckline, his actions growing more decisive as his desire for her burned hotter and he gained more confidence.

She arched against him with a need she couldn't define, a rich relentless warmth that spread low to her belly, demanding more. This time no impersonal glove blocked the heat of his touch that singed her flesh through the loose bed gown. His hand trembled as it followed the contours of her thigh, sliding to her hip and up her long waist. Their chests heaved against each other, their breathing becoming more labored, and Christine held fast to him wanting more, so much more, though vague as to what ...

His long fingers brushed over the swell of her breast and the peak that hardened further at his touch. She whimpered softly from the surge of hot, lustful pleasure and he growled low in desire, kneading her flesh as she squirmed beneath him. The warmth intensified, pooling to the secret womanly place between her legs. Aching to touch him, she clutched handfuls of his shirt away from the back of his trousers, until her palms pressed flat against the hot skin of his lower back.

He groaned her name low against her ear, his fingers spreading over her damp skin, edging the neckline of her gown away, as he moved his long body partly over her. The strong evidence of his desire came immense and shocking as his leg slipped between hers that had unconsciously parted. She gasped at the unfamiliar hardness against her thigh, her body instinctively going rigid.

At her sudden withdrawal, Erik pulled back to look at her. Anxiety and uncertainty filled her dazed eyes, momentarily confusing him. At the same time, he realized that had she not reacted he never would have stopped. In bitter remorse to think of what he'd almost done to her, he began to pull away, though the ache to claim her remained relentless and he clenched the coverlet on either side of her body to prevent himself from ripping away her gown and ravaging all the joys of her flesh. Her hands tightened on his back.

"Why did you stop?" she panted.

"We cannot do this, Christine."

"But, I was only …" She nibbled at her lip he had just done the same to, rosy, swollen, and glistening from his kisses. "It's all new to me … and it, it frightened me … Only for a moment ... I don't want to stop,
Erik …"

Her glowing eyes, darkened with the glazed look he'd seen before (and now knew had nothing to do with pain), beseeched him and battered at the feeble restraint he desperately tried to suppress. He frantically reminded himself of why they should not continue. Madame only stated what he already knew. Had known from the beginning. Heedless of that truth, he couldn't take Christine like a mere trollop, like the perverse managers and drunken stagehands took the chorus girls. Like the vicious shah exploited his harem. Christine was special. She was his Angel, an innocent. She deserved much more than this …

Gently he pulled the rest of the way from her and sat up, putting distance between them. Her sweet face glowed in confusion as she immediately rose to follow, but before she could again wrap her arms around his neck he caught them and shook his head in warning, then slid his hands to enclose around hers. They trembled as much as his did.

"Do you know where this would have taken us, Mon Ange?" he asked when he felt he could speak.

"I have heard your song. I sang it with you." A darker flush colored her dewy skin. "Past the point of no return."

"And do you know the full extent of what that entails?" His voice came husky.

"I have heard the chorus girls talk. I-I know something of it."

Her words faltered, and he knew she possessed only a glimmer of such knowledge.

"One day …" His voice was gruff, his emotions in turmoil. He closed his eyes and squeezed her hands. "One day I hope you will let me take you far past that point, Christine. But this is not that day."

Her lips parted in bashful wonder, her eyes shone bright from their passion, and her curls hung in wild disarray over her loosened bed gown he had pulled free of one shoulder – he felt hard-pressed to remember exactly why he must leave this bed.

Before he gave in to the urge to do something they might both later regret, he stroked her jaw once in parting and stood. He ignored the broken dishes, needing immediate distance to collect himself before he could return and clean the mess.

Somehow he managed to descend the stairs outside the bedchamber without his shaky legs folding beneath him. His ears rang, his senses swam. He felt dizzy, disbelieving, of all that had occurred. It was inconceivable … beyond incredible … she wanted him … despite all he'd told her …

She WANTED him!

Despite all she knew about him …

She desired HIS touch! To SHARE in HIS music of the night!

To make it THEIR music of the night …


Her initial kiss to him had not been a reckless fluke, a moment of sacrificial pity or a fleeting impulse later regretted. It had been the bright culmination of all his hopes, once diminished.

And that changed everything.

The Phantom realized he'd gone too far past a different point, that of telling her of his grisly crimes in Persia. He could no longer speak of that wretched episode of his life. Not now. Not ever. After all they'd shared, after she, with her pure, sweet devotion, had touched him to the core of his contemptible soul, he could never bear to lose her. Could never say the words that would ensure her flight, and hoped she would never discover the truth: that her protecting angel was a murdering devil, to be loathed, hunted and feared.

By her own admission, her chains, coveted though she might think them, did belong to him. Would ALWAYS belong to him. To tell her the truth now might destroy them both with the outcome of those deadly words …

And he could never take that risk.

continued next post...
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated 9/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:38 am

XIII

Say You Want Me, Now and Always …


The remainder of her visit passed all too quickly.

With the many candles he had lit, his hideout didn’t seem so dark, and with Erik near, it never felt dreary. There lingered a hint of mystery, of excitement to be secreted alone with him far beneath the earth, with no one having knowledge of her whereabouts. Except for Madame, of course, but thankfully, other than her tongue-lashing after Christine's accident, she never appeared again to interfere.

Christine was sorry to bid farewell to Erik's home, though she told herself she would visit again, since their lessons must resume. And certainly, their relationship had altered … into what, she didn't know.

After their … she didn't know what to call it, though it certainly was much more than a kiss! Such discoveries with Erik had awakened her to more than she'd ever dreamed possible, had ever known existed. It still left her weak to think of those close moments, of his fierce passion for her and hers for him. But afterward he again became almost … remote. And she grew shy and nervous as the untried girl she was, the searing memory of their newfound intimacy an ever-present reminder – whenever they did both happen to glance one another's way and their eyes then met.

Christine could not help but look at him – once her Angel, always her teacher, and now … her lover? And with Erik – why did he glance at her so often then just as quickly look away? Did not his parting words to her once he ended their embrace make clear his awed expectancy of such feelings now shared – no longer being the desolate fear of old desires unrequited? Did he not wish to take their relationship further? He had implied it.

Oh, if only she could know what he was thinking! If only she could think of something, anything suitable to say to break through this wretched new distance perversely brought about by an all too brief encounter that brought them closer than any moment they had yet lived …

At least, despite his novel return to awkwardness, he chose not to ignore her again. He even inhabited the same room with her on occasion and treated her with wary consideration, as if he still wasn't sure what to believe or what feelings to trust.

Christine understood his hesitance in that regard, for she felt the same. He had not touched her again, had not ventured to move more than a few feet near the bed, and she was a miserable conflict of confusion.

With faint relief she valued his slim distance, the feelings he had awakened inside too strange and shocking and frightening in their intensity. With strong regret, she wished he would now span that miserable breach he'd erected, since once experienced, she now ached for his touch and the recurrence of those feelings he had aroused.

She wished to stay …

She wished to go …

Though she wasn't afraid.

She could never be afraid of this creative, sensitive, exciting man who was once only her Angel and maestro. Perhaps, if there was any fear to be had it was within herself. In his presence she found herself saying and doing the most shameless and shocking things, and apart from him she acted reckless in her desire to be reunited with him again. He thought her bold new daring a mirror of foretold shadows to a ghostly future?

As they journeyed to the mirror door, she almost laughed, but stifled the sound.

In hearing his wretched account of her death and seeing what it cost him to say the words, her heart had gone out to him, her desire to console him stronger than any burgeoning dread. At first his admission had terrified her, his entire experience in the spirit world so bizarre, so fantastic, that she didn't doubt his claim that he lived through all of it. Only something so terrifying could have altered his plans so drastically, to the point that he did the complete opposite of his desires – his action of "setting her free" testimony to that. Once he told her the reason for his distance of past weeks, Christine firmly discarded any possible occurrence of her demise. What that spirit had shown Erik could never come to pass – she would see to that! Marry Raoul? She couldn't conceive such an event. And to think, all this time Erik assumed she had been horrified when she'd seen the wedding gown he had made for her?

She giggled nervously, unable to quench it this time, disrupting the silence of the tomblike corridor through which he now led her. He glanced over his shoulder, his visible brow lifted in question. She shrugged a bit self-consciously but didn't explain.

Perhaps it was because she had grown accustomed to the path from the fifth cellar to the mirror door; perhaps it was because they'd at last reconciled, no matter the temporary new awkwardness they currently struggled with; or perhaps because the future offered a glimmer of hope where it never had – the walk to the world above didn't oppress her. She still disliked the darkness and creatures that came with it, more so after her frightening experience of three nights ago, but with Erik near, she sensed no manifestation, if they were present. Her hand in his glove was a physical reminder of his continual protection, even if he did feel so far away. Realizing that within moments they would again part, their separation becoming more distant, all earlier doubts scattered to reveal one potent certainty:

She did not wish him to go. Did not wish to leave his side!

She felt suddenly apprehensive and desperate to try and resolve whatever had happened between them, if only she could determine what it was ... or perhaps … perhaps he still didn't fully understand. Her eyes opened wide at the new possibility.

She was so infantile when it came to matters of the heart and naïve at baring her feelings. Numerous times she had gone over her words before and after their last embrace, trying to find a logical conclusion for the return of his detached manner.

He opened the latch to the mirror and pulled it aside, allowing her to walk through. She did so and pivoted, pulling him by his gloved hand to join her.

"Someone may enter," he said, tensing as if to draw back.

"Everyone will be rising and soon gathering for breakfast. No one comes here this early." She hesitated, uncertain of what to say but determined not to let him leave. "Will you come for me tonight?"

"No, Christine, not tonight."

"But—"

Her hold on his glove remaining firm, he settled the lit torch in a holder on the corridor's rock wall and allowed her to pull him through, afterward slipping his hand from hers. "I want you to take another day to rest. Tomorrow we shall resume your lessons."

"Then at twilight I'll be waiting for you … only … only hold me a moment, Mon Ange – since I'll not see you until tomorrow evening. Will you grant me that one request?"

He stood in wary shock, unmoving. She couldn't bear the thought that they'd come so far only to discover they'd not come far at all – and she closed the slim distance between them.

Timidly, she wrapped her arms around his slim waist and pressed her head against his firm shoulder, feeling his heart beat, unsteady but strong against her. Her great inner conflicts faded when at last he embraced her, at first as hesitant as she'd been, then his arms pressed against her back tightly, and a little sigh of happiness escaped her lips. Wrapped within his cape in the haven of his arms, she felt protected and cherished.

Often, in the past, she confided to him her deepest and most personal thoughts when she thought him an angel. Now, in her need to make him understand, she realized it was time he knew the truth that lay hidden behind such disclosures. Though deceptions and make-believe could be entertaining as a light diversion every once in awhile, Christine felt weary of their lengthy span throughout the course of her life and resolved that no further secrets would remain between them. Hoping she wasn't making another dreadful mistake, hoping at last to make him comprehend the extent of her heart, she began to speak of its hidden mysteries she had secreted deep within its chambers.

"This is what I dreamed of, even before you made my soul soar when you offered me your music of the night," she admitted in a shy whisper.

His body went rigid against her, but she didn't let go, didn't dare look up into his eyes, afraid of what she might find there but knowing she could no longer refrain from hiding the truth. Grateful his hold around her didn’t falter, she pressed her cheek against his linen shirt warmed by his body, breathing in the familiar scent of him, and gained the courage to continue, to disclose the entirety of her secret she had told no one else:

"You may have pretended to be no more than my Angel, and you shouldn't have deceived me; one day you must tell me why. But I was so thankful to discover I desired a man and not a true being from heaven that I forgave you instantly. The shame I felt was immense. I tried to curb such feelings when I thought of you. But it became … impossible." She noted how his heartbeats quickened against her bodice and cautiously went on. "You would sing such beautiful music into my mind, night after night … You were to me a comfort, a friend. Even before you became my teacher. Then I grew into a woman, and the feelings I had for you … matured."

Her cheeks went hot with the memory of how often she longed to see him, to touch him, to be with him…how his rich, seductive voice floating through the walls had not only caressed her soul but reached beyond that, quickening her breath and her heart. How it did still …

"Do you know why I went so often to the chapel to pray? You thought it was so I could feel near to my father. And at first it was. But later …" She took a deep, steadying breath. "I went there to light candles, to seek absolution, knowing I was wicked to dwell on such forbidden thoughts of you. Each time I shared my dreams when we spoke, I was afraid you would know I spoke of you. I couldn't bring myself to admit the extent of my transgressions, thinking you an angel, my angel, afraid you would want nothing more to do with me if you knew what a wretched girl I truly was. I couldn't stop thinking of you or wanting you – however much I tried – even hoping you might come out of hiding and become – real to me." She gave a choked little laugh, unconsciously digging her fingers into his waistcoat as if afraid he might suddenly vanish. "Then, on that night – to see you in the mirror and take your hand – to touch you and learn you were real – flesh and blood – a man … I was overwhelmed. And when you sang to me of your dreams for us and your Music of the Night, I loved you even more –"

His muscles jumped beneath her though he remained fixed, as if turned to a solid block of stone. Christine also tensed, fearing she'd said too much. Or perhaps – and she trembled at the thought – she shouldn’t have spoken at all.

She had hoped, been certain he felt the same depth of affection for her. The drawings, the songs, the wedding gown, the wistful manner in which she would often catch him stare at her during lessons, long before their first kiss, when he would then abruptly avert his gaze. And then – later – those breathless moments in his arms … surely he wouldn't have responded with such passion if he didn't share her feelings?

Yes, she first challenged him, later begged for his kiss, but on the second occasion he had gone far beyond what little she asked … or… perhaps …

Perhaps he now thought her terribly wicked and depraved to hear she helplessly loved him, desired him, when she thought him an angel, with no concept that he was a man …

She pulled back in question, anxiously looking into his startled eyes, praying to see what she needed there. He remained silent, the maskless side of his face pale, almost as white as the leather covering his defect. His breaths were rapid, shallow. Was it shock that froze him, concern or, God help her – pity?

The long desired closeness suddenly felt a trap, and she backed away from him, her eyes unfocused with tears and growing wider with mounting horror. She shook her head in distress, sure she had now ruined everything … everything …

"Christine," he whispered miserably.

The sound of the door's handle jiggled, startling them both.

"Drat," she heard Meg mutter as the door began to swing open.

x

Christine could no longer bear his hurtful lack of response, now ashamed and remorseful for having divulged her dreadful secret, and she welcomed the intrusion.

Whirling around she dashed the tears from her eyes and hurried to bar her friend's entrance to the room. Within seconds the door swung open halfway at the same time Meg straightened, having picked up a lint brush from the floor. She carried a costume in her arms. Christine blocked her entrance.

"Christine! I didn't know you'd returned. Maman said you went to visit relations." Meg tried to look past her but Christine took a small step sideways. "Who were you talking to? I heard voices."

"No one. That is, myself."

"Really?" Clearly she disbelieved her. "Who are you hiding behind closed doors, mon ami? The Vicomte?" Meg again peered curiously beyond her shoulder, this time pushing past to step inside.

Christine felt a little thrill of fear that her furtive meetings with Erik would now be uncovered, thankful it was Meg and not one of the other dancers who'd caught her, or worse, La Carlotta. Had she endured the misfortune of any of those women seeing her and Erik alone together, the entire opera house would be buzzing of her secret tryst with the Phantom of the Opera come nightfall. Only Meg knew the Phantom was her teacher, but for her to see them together at daybreak implied a great deal more than the clandestine lessons, which Erik also didn't wish anyone to discover.

"I can explain," Christine quickly said to Meg while turning to look at Erik.

The room stood empty of all but herself and her friend. The mirror door was closed.

Christine blinked in stunned disappointment. Mere seconds had elapsed. How had he left so quickly?

"Explain what?" Meg's brows gathered in suspicion.

"Nothing," she said, distracted, then thought better of her reply. "That is, I can explain why I'm here."

"You certainly are acting strange today. Why should you need an excuse to visit your own dressing room?" Meg tilted her head to the side in curious regard. "Did you have a nice time visiting relations?"

"What?" Christine blinked then recognized the lie Madame must have told to cover for her disappearance.
"Oh, yes. Lovely."

"I thought you had no family."

"Distant cousins." Christine shrugged, looking back to the mirror. "In town for a visit. They invited me to stay with them."

"Really...? I must say, I'm amazed that the managers allowed you to take the time off, but I suppose since the new opera isn't yet underway that's why they allowed the reprieve. You'll be kept quite busy once the new show begins." She smiled uncertainly. "Are you excited to play the lead, Christine? It's a dream come true for you, is it not?"

Christine distantly nodded, in her mind reliving those last troublesome moments with Erik while trying to follow Meg's wandering line of merry conversation.

"The stagehands have been busy with the set for days. I hear it's quite elaborate, so they needed to start early. A curtain will hide it until Il Muto is finished. Speaking of that horror – only two weeks left to bear the overbearing diva!" She gave a little roll of her eyes. "If La Carlotta says one more time that she hates her hat, I am well tempted to stuff it down her warbling throat."

Meg giggled, not seeming to notice Christine's silence, accompanied by vague smiles in reply and furtive glances toward the mirror.

"Isn't the dress lovely? Maman said it will be what you're to wear in the final scene. She asked me to bring it here. It isn't finished, of course, alterations will likely be made, but I think it will look lovely on you."

"Yes. Lovely …"

In confusion, Christine eyed the beautiful voile skirt of gold and the white peasant blouse. The costume seemed odd for a royal nightdress, but Meg did say it wasn't finished. Erik told her the final role she would play in the light farce, with its tragic touch, would be the conflicted princess awakening to discover her room full of arabesque clowns, all of whom had taunted her in her dream, with her prince being one of the clowns in disguise. She could well imagine Piangi as a clown, though Erik wasn't pleased with the current male lead and wanted another man to sing the role. She wished that he would take the stage with her; their voices were a flawless blend. But the prince wasn't always in disguise and Erik would need a covering for his face throughout. Without it, he wouldn't be able to keep his defect hidden from the populace, as he had always done and still seemed determined to do.

Meg disappeared to hang the dress on the opposite side of the screen. "I suppose we should be off to eat and then to practice," she said as she emerged, setting the brush on the table. "Are you coming, Christine?"

"I—I think I need to reacquaint myself with things, now that I'm back. I'd also like to try on that costume, even unfinished. I'm curious to see how it will look." In truth, she needed time alone to calm her fractured feelings before facing the usual chaos of a day at the opera.

"Do you want help?"

"No, that's alright. The gown I'm wearing beneath my cape is gypsy in style and has a corset that laces in front." Ever since Erik's curt order when he'd first seen her in her bed gown, she had worn the same peasant costume on each occasion she visited his underground home.

"Hmm …" Meg regarded her oddly, and Christine realized her mistake to have mentioned such a gown, clearly an odd choice to wear to go visiting relations. "I … thought it quite strange when you left without word, and in the middle of the night …."

Christine didn’t answer, again staring into the mirror.

"Stranger still – is that you didn't wake me and tell me you were leaving, that an emergency had arisen. I thought we shared everything, Christine." She frowned sadly. "You're not still cross about what happened at the Bal Masque, are you?"

An emergency? That is what Madame had said? Christine then realized her explanation hadn't matched Madame's either. Guilt ate into her conscience for telling so many lies to her dearest friend.

"It all happened so quickly, Meg. And I do have a great deal to tell you…but I can't, not yet. When I can, I will."

"Does it involve him? Your … Angel?" She faltered over the word.

She felt the blush rise to her cheeks. "Please, Meg! I'll tell you everything. When I can."

"My, that does sound clandestine ...." Her eyes widened. "Christine! You're not having an affair with him? You weren't with relations at all, were you –"

"Meg!" Heat flashed through her face at how close to the truth her friend was getting and she barked her name in an urgent need to stop her before she said too much.

"Oh, very well." Meg quirked her mouth in discontent. "But you must tell me soon. All of it, Christine. Promise?"

Christine nodded, her eyes darting to the mirror again.

Meg let out a sigh. "Before I go, I ..." Her face underwent a transformation; she looked ashamed and awkward as she lowered her head. "I want to apologize. I acted unkindly at the ball, and you were right to tell me so. When he walked up with you, and you introduced us, please don't be offended, but I felt … intimidated. Knowing who he really is, I mean. I didn't intend to injure your feelings. Or his. And perhaps …"

She glanced down briefly. "Perhaps I shouldn't have been so hasty to warn you away from your lessons with him either. Or to help the Vicomte gain those few moments to speak with you alone, as he asked of me. I'm still not certain your association with your teacher is … suitable for you. He did frighten La Carlotta at the ball, something she hasn't stopped haranguing the managers about. Though I doubt he intended to flay her with his sword as she claimed. I ask only that you be careful, Christine. I don't want to see you hurt, and your … Angel is very unpredictable."

"I'll be careful." Relieved that Meg had begun to relent about her association with Erik, Christine gave her first genuine smile since her friend had entered the room, even if it did come faint. The two hugged one another in forgiveness.

"I'm not very hungry this morning, but I'll be at practice."

Meg left with a relieved nod, and Christine closed the door, releasing a troubled sigh. Keeping her palm pressed to the panel, she bowed her head.

Life had become unpredictable and oh so very complicated, not that she wasn't accustomed to the way things were. It was the life of the opera, and it was the life of her Angel, who'd become to her both Phantom and man in one unforgettable night. Her thoughts went to him, as they so often did, and she recalled her hasty disclosure, certain now she'd said too much. If she didn't martyr social conventions due to her lack of understanding, she abolished prudence with her choice of rash words.

Oh, why had she spoken at all!

The room remained silent, hollow, and then the air shifted…the electricity that rendered her breathless …

And she knew he was there.

She could sense the heat of his body warm her back, though physically he did not touch her. Her heart quickened and she slowly lifted her head, her gaze fixed to the smooth panel painted with twining roses, afraid to move further, afraid to breathe lest he move away. Nothing happened, and for an unbearable moment she wondered if her forlorn heart had imagined his return.

She inhaled a soft trembling gasp as his black glove moved into sight, brushing past her skirts, turning the key in the lock, moving back in retreat …

Before she understood his intent, his hands rested atop the curve of her shoulders and she released her breath in a shuddering whisper of apprehension, of relief, of need…

Slowly, so slowly, he turned her to face him. His hands slid down a short distance to clasp her arms, the cool leather of his gloves brushing her sensitive skin. At last she gained the courage to look up ... into his eyes that now shone a brilliant emerald.

"Christine," he whispered. "I love you …"

Her lips parted in stunned elation to hear the hoarse but sincere words that wavered on his breath, as if he'd held them in for a very long time and feared to say them.

"And I want to share a life with you, always. Our Music of the Night."

"Yes – oh yes—" Before she could gasp out more, his lips took hers in a strong kiss that stirred Christine to the core of her soul, proving all of what he'd truly concealed within his complicated, beautiful, renaissance heart.

Warmth, uncomplicated and gentle, coursed through her veins. His kiss grew softer but no less intense, and she never wanted the moment to end. Wanted to stay with him … like this … forever.

She whimpered in protest when his mouth lifted from hers and he stepped back. She lifted her hands to his jaw and moved forward, raising up on tiptoe to seek more of the same. He allowed it for several blissful seconds, before he grasped her wrists and pulled her hands away while lifting his head.

"Go, My Angel. You must go now before someone comes looking for you and hears us together, as your friend did."

"But why must our secret always remain a secret?" She wished for the pure delight of walking anywhere in the opera house on his arm, as she had done with him at the Bal Masque. "Especially now." Her lips softly tilted in an exultant smile.

He stared at her mouth a moment before returning his tender gaze to hers. "For now, it must. At this time your name should not be linked to this terrible Phantom who has caused so much trouble within the opera house."

She pouted at his mocking words. "Surely, that will only draw the crowds? To see the beloved singer of the notorious Phantom of the Opera perform on stage?" She didn't care about the crowds so much; she just wanted him with her in secret and in public and sought for a solution to experience both.

"Few within Paris know of my deeds outside these walls, Christine. To speak of ... us … will not gain you favor with the cast and crew, and I've seen how they treat you." His voice hardened in his displeasure with the others. "Now that the diva is caterwauling her grievances, it is even more imperative that your name not be linked to mine."

"Did you really threaten to flay her?"

"Mon Ange! Would I suggest such a wicked thing?" A devilish twinkle lit his eyes. In the low flame of the torch behind him they had deepened to a mysterious jade.

Despite the weighty subject matter, Christine felt lighter than she had in months. "I don't believe you would do her bodily harm, no. But I do believe you would allow her to think that you might. As you did with Monsieur Buquet."

He chuckled, his mouth quirking at the memory. "I didn't say those exact words to her, no, but the opportunity did present itself to … speak with her, and I could never resist a challenge. I clearly underestimated her feminine sensibilities. Little did I know she would take a charitable word of … advice … so harshly."

"Charitable?" She lifted her brow in suspicion. "Advice? Just what did you say to her?"

He related the incident and she shook her head, both amused and exasperated with his mischief. "Oh, Erik. How are we ever to realize our dream of me singing your beautiful operas if you continually give the managers reason to end the truce between you?"

He sobered. Her words came blithe and teasing, but he recognized the truth in them and gave a short, reluctant nod.

"As much as it pains me to surrender such gratifying theatrics, for you I will dispense with the little tricks and hauntings of the O.G. Now you understand, at least in part, why it is vital that our association remains secret, even more so now that…we have…"

"Declared our love for one another," she finished shyly when he hesitated, and her breath caught at the sudden spark in his eyes. The look he gave her made her heart pound.

"Yes." His reply came in a whisper, as if he still fluctuated between dreams and reality. "I will not let my epic history as the Phantom harm your career now that our dreams for your triumph are at hand."

"I suppose you're right." She gave in, resigned, but couldn't prevent a small smile at hearing him agree to their love. "But please, Mon Ange, may I tell Meg about us? She is my oldest and dearest friend, and I feel horrible lying to her day after day."

"I heard her apology." His brow lifted, his manner grimly amused. "And her interrogation."

Christine smiled in embarrassment, recalling all Meg had said and asked. "She really is kind. She would never spread gossip about us, never tell a soul our secret. She wouldn't do anything to hurt me. She's never once breathed a word that the Phantom and my teacher are one and the same, ever since I confided in her during the Yuletide celebration."

"It means that much to you?"

She nodded, hopeful.

He cradled her chin with his gloved hand. "Then tell her." He pressed his lips to her forehead, drew back then hesitated, as though he might drop another sweet caress to her lips. Closing her eyes, she tilted her face up to him and heard his sudden indrawn breath.

"Go, Mon Bel Ange. Go now, before I cannot let you go." He let his hand fall away from her face.

His deep, emotional words sent a shiver of longing down her spine. She thought about asking him to let her stay with him, just this once, and parted her lips to suggest it. But he shook his head slightly as though anticipating her request.

Giving him a reluctant smile, she did as he asked. At the door, before she turned the key, she looked over her shoulder to watch as he strode through the mirror opening, his black cloak whipping and fluttering about his tall, masculine build in such a way it made her catch her breath.

As he closed the mirror, their eyes again met. His lips curled the slightest bit in that reckless smile that warmed her insides and almost had her running back into his arms. But she resisted, knowing he was right and the time had come that she must return to the others. Knowing if she did not make an appearance soon, someone would undoubtedly come looking for her.

She would give him anything, anything, to receive the full bounty of his trust. Her love had always been his to claim.

And to think … she couldn't help another smile as she drifted through the door … I truly have his love in return.

As she walked down the dimly lit corridor backstage, she had the sudden sense that she was being watched. Hoping he had changed his mind and returned for her, she expectantly looked over her shoulder, twirling around to greet him.

"Erik?"

Her soft eager query sounded unnaturally loud in the empty, still passage. All stood eerily silent, and her breathless anticipation swept away, replaced by a sudden shiver of apprehension. Had it been Erik there, after all that had transpired between them, she knew he would not have remained silent.

Feeling suddenly vulnerable, she hurried to the security of the brightly lit stage and the reassurance of losing herself among the rest of the chorus.

xXx

continued next post...
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated 9/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:44 am

warning- a bit of vulgar language and adult situations to follow...
And now...


Daylight dissolves into darkness
XIV


"Christine Daae!"

Madame's stern voice rapidly followed the rapping of her black walking stick and brought Christine to an abrupt halt in the staggered line of dancers. She looked at her instructor in confusion.

"To float like a swan is preferred. To float with your head in the clouds, so that you are not connected to this earth, is not."

"Madame?" she blinked, shaking her head in uncertainty.

"Your timing is off and you've not followed one instruction given."

"My apologies. I suppose I wasn't thinking clearly. I'll do better." Christine tried to look penitent but couldn't help the soft smile that tilted her lips. She had caught herself smiling on more than one occasion all throughout the previous day and this one as well, often when the situation didn't warrant it. Others in the chorus had noticed and looked at her strangely. Some of the girls frowned, whispering among themselves, but she didn't care. She felt too happy to let their little barbs affect her. Why shouldn't she smile, when life was so delightfully, gloriously beautiful to behold!

"See that you do." Madame sighed in weary resignation and clapped her hands. "That's enough for now. Felicity, Gillian, you will both remain and work on your appalling excuse for a Pas de chat until you achieve the leap with feline grace and not give us the depiction of clumsy toads. The rest of you are dismissed for luncheon. Christine, I will see you in my office."

Christine shared a curious glance with Meg, who stood a short distance across the stage. Meg shrugged delicately, mouthing "Good luck," and Christine nodded, girding herself for a further scolding. She had yet to tell her dear friend her wonderful secret, unable to find a moment alone to do so, and had hoped to confide in her at the midday meal. But clearly that was not to be.

Stifling a disgruntled sigh, so Madame wouldn't have more to complain about, Christine followed her teacher to her small office. The cramped room was filled with mementos of her short-lived career as a prima ballerina. Faded flyers, curled at the edges, hung plastered on the walls from operas of days gone by. A pair of toe shoes, just as faded, sat on one corner of her desk. Christine stood, waiting for her instructor to speak, her eyes falling in curiosity to what little she could see of a child's drawing beside the toe shoes.

Madame moved around her desk and took a chair, motioning Christine to do the same. "How is your head feeling? Have you had any further occasions of dizziness?"

"No, I'm quite well. Thank you." Christine lifted her shoulders in a brief, puzzled shrug as she sat down. She had told her teacher earlier that she felt able to continue with the dance, also agreeing she would quit if such symptoms were to recur.

"Your time with the Maestro was satisfactory?"

"Oh, yes, quite!" The betraying stain of red she felt rise to her cheeks made her hurry to say, "He's a most courteous host."

"Really," Madame said with doubt, peering at her closely.

"Oh, yes. He makes the most delightful Coq au vin." Christine giggled softly, thinking of all his other delightful qualities he had shown her.

Madame sighed in weary impatience. "I'm not a simpleton, Christine. You have not ceased to smile and giggle since your return from his home. You behave like a silly, besotted schoolgirl. And I would know, has he made any … requests known to you?"

"Requests?"

"Of his position with regard to you."

"In his continued role as my teacher?" Christine did not fail to understand her meaning. Nor did she forget Madame's cutting words the night of the ball.

As if sensing her sudden wariness and the cause for it, Madame's countenance softened. "I'll not attempt to prevent your private meetings with him, if that is what you're concerned about. After the other night's absurd experience and your entirely reckless behavior I presume such an endeavor to be useless. You love him, don't you?"

Taken aback by her candor, Christine could only stare. Madame had never been so forthright about something so personal. But the relief and delight to at last share her feelings made Christine nod. "I have loved him ever since I understood what the word meant."

"And has he spoken to you with regard to his feelings?"

A smile warmed her face. "He asked me to share a life with him." Her eyes fell closed in dreamy remembrance. "He loves me, Madame. He told me so."

"Thank God for that!"

Her abrupt exclamation startled Christine. "Madame?"

"I have long known of his adoration for you, which I fear, was becoming quite the obsession. If it has not become so already. Living with a man like your Maestro will not be easy, child; it will be quite the opposite. You know of his pretense as the Opera Ghost, but he has many ghosts not of the opera that continue to torment him. Perhaps they always will ... Consider your decision very carefully, Christine. Take care in the answer you give him."

"I have already given him my answer. I told him I would share his life and his home."

The look she gave Christine was not pleased. "Not his present home?"

"Yes, of course. What other home would he have?"

Madame blew out her breath in frustration. "I had hoped …" She broke off, muttering words to herself, then regarded Christine. "And how do you mean to live such a life?"

Christine hadn't given the details much thought. "I suppose as I've been doing for weeks. I shall come above ground for lessons and to practice and, of course, to sing his beautiful operas, and in the evenings I shall go to him." Another flush of warmth washed through her at the thought of what that would entail, or at least what little knowledge she now possessed of it.

"You live within yet another fantasy, Christine. You cannot live beneath the earth, without air or daylight …"

She giggled. "The sun doesn't shine at night, and his home is filled with a good deal of air. You know that. You've been there."

Her instructor regarded her sternly. "Do not be impertinent."

Christine lowered her lashes but didn't feel the least bit sorry.

Madame sighed. "You simply cannot dwell in a cave. It's not beneficial to your health. I highly doubt the damp air will help your voice. I would think it might endanger it."

Christine drew her brows together. "I fail to understand why you would have such reservations. He doesn't appear ill for having lived his life down there for over two decades. Quite the contrary. And his voice is more beautiful than any I've ever heard, angelic even…" Otherwise he might not have been able to trick her so easily, and she resolved to get to the heart of the matter and learn the reasons for his pretense soon. "As to the rest, when I desire sun or fresh air there are no locks on the doors of the opera house to keep me inside. And if I desire an outing, he will take me."

"Take you? He hides his face from the world!"

Christine lowered her gaze to her lap, troubled. "Yes, but in time, I could help him to see there's no longer a need for that." She hesitated. "There is no need, is there, Madame?"

"You ask why he wears a mask?"

"I've seen his face without it." She didn't add that he'd again hidden himself from her view before she had a chance to see clearly, but did notice the surprise in Madame's eyes at her calm admission. "I was referring to his past."

"I know nothing of his life before he came here, nor of the brief years that he disappeared before you came to the dormitories to live."

"He left the opera house? Why?" She had always assumed this was his home from the time he was a child. The revelation came as a shock.

Madame seemed to consider then shook her head. "That is something you must ask him."

Christine sighed and nodded.

"You are living in an idyllic dream, child." Madame's voice softened. "You allow your feelings for him to cloud your judgment. When the novelty wears thin, tell me, do you truly think you could be happy living in a cave five levels beneath the earth, where neither day or night can reach?"

Weary of the pointless conversation when she'd made her feelings plain and angry with her instructor for attempting to change her views, Christine rose from her chair. Her resolve now strengthened, she lifted her chin. Madame regarded her in curious surprise, but then, she'd never really understood. Christine never discussed her deepest personal feelings with anyone, not even Meg.

It was time to attempt an explanation.

"Erik is the other half of my soul, and where he is, I want to be also. When I'm with him, I don't notice things like the darkness or the cold like I do when he's not there. I feel safe with him near. I now know him as a man, but he still is and always will be my angel. Yes, I wish he would come out of hiding and feel worthy to live in the world above. My heart bleeds for his pain!"

"Christine –"

"Don't you see, Madame? I want to be there for him, to love him as he always should have been loved. His soul and heart possess true beauty—his music, his art, his very person. And if to love him means I must live my life beneath the earth each night, then so be it! And if I must live there, day and night, for the rest of my days, I shall gladly do that too. Above ground, without him, is true death to me. That is the lifetime I cannot bear."

Madame regarded Christine in wonder. The giggling, besotted girl had disappeared, and a quiet woman of spirit, determination and strength stood in her place. She had never seen this side to Christine and recognized the earnest fight in her soul, recognized too, how deeply her feelings ran for the Maestro. Recognized it because little more than sixteen years ago she had just as earnestly defended her love for the man who would become her husband.

This spark in Christine she had not expected to see. It honed the sharp edge off her qualms though it didn't eliminate them completely. That wouldn't happen until Erik abandoned his dreary dungeon and came up into the world to live and breathe. The murder of the despicable gypsy vagabond happened twenty-two long years ago. No one in Paris would equate the scrawny abused boy who once killed for his freedom with the talented young maestro of today. Indeed, a true genius. Now if he would only use that sharp mind of his to construe the truth involving matters not related to music and the arts …

For the first time, Madame smiled.

"Perhaps … yes, perhaps, I was wrong. If anyone can ..." she searched for a word, "domesticate a Phantom, I believe you are the one to do so." To tame him was asking too much. She sensed there would always exist within Erik a wildness tempered with a thin veneer of the urbane that made him dangerous on so many levels. She could understand Christine's attraction. At one time, briefly, she too had been fascinated with his presence. To a degree he still mesmerized her. But fascination had not led to love, as it clearly had with her headstrong ward.

"Madame?" Christine blinked, at a loss regarding her complete turnabout.

"Go and have your lunch while there's yet time. I have work to accomplish." She busied herself at her desk.

Christine remained fixed a moment, blinking in bemusement, then retraced her steps to the door.

"One final matter," Madame said, stopping her exit. "Soon you will leave the chorus to embellish on your operatic career and enter a new life, such as it is, with the man who will be your husband. My influence as your guardian and teacher naturally will draw to a close. However, if anything ever … troubles you, concerning what we've discussed, it is my hope that you would feel comfortable enough to come to me. For many years I have offered my assistance to the Maestro. I extend that same courtesy to you, as his wife."

Christine smiled at hearing the cherished title. It made her blood tingle, and in that moment she forgave her ballet teacher any previous slight. "Thank you, Madame. You are most kind."

"Pah! Go on with you. Or perhaps you have forgotten I witnessed your atrocious practice today. I expect better in tonight's performance. If you continue to dance in the chorus, until your debut, then you will give your best at all times ..."

Christine suppressed a smile. Beneath the rigid exterior of her stern dance instructor she had often suspected there might exist the beating of a soft and gentle heart. Who else but a person of infinite compassion would take in a lost child – two lost children – in their time of need?

Perhaps, Madame truly did understand.
.
xXx
.
The Phantom moved swiftly and silently through the rafters of the opera house, away from any curious eyes, intent on finishing his business quickly.

The hour to meet Christine drew nearer, and his heart quickened at the thought of being reunited with her. It was still inconceivable to him how the events had altered so dramatically in one night ... she desired him, wanted to be with him! She always had! He still could not perceive such a phenomenon. But her shame-filled admission to secretly loving her Angel, to loving him, had at last loosened the ties around his heart and his tongue, once the shock dissipated enough that he could speak.

And now, he could never conceive a life without her.

Spirits be damned – she loved him … loved HIM! Surely she was the angel sent from above to the monster who dwelt deep below the cellars, though what he'd done to deserve such a gift he would never understand.

Christine must be right, he would not allow himself to think otherwise. The events in future shadows had transpired only with Joseph Buquet's death being the catalyst to such horrific tragedies. The lecher yet lived and breathed, so the future Erik had seen would never come to pass. And he would do all within his power to protect his innocent betrothed from any imminent evil, real or perceived.

His betrothed …?

Upon realizing the enormity of once impossible thoughts that now seemed indeed possible, his heart jumped at the intimate title his mind supplied for her.

He reached one of many windows etched with turtledoves and rimming the top inside walls of the theater. The dome of the edifice ironically resembled heaven, its walls painted blue with white clouds, and golden harps circled the crystal tiers of the great chandelier—the closest to heaven he'd ever come and an ironic contrast to the hell of his dark chambers beneath the earth. But surely, now, even that could change? Now that he had his Angel? With her dwelling in his home, by his side, in his bed, life would never again be bleak.
God, was it true? Was this really happening to him?

A hot rush of longing surged through his blood at his recollection of Christine, soft and willing in his arms, and he worked to control his breathing. The present need to remain detached was of paramount importance. He could not afford to be distracted.

He pushed the pane and slipped through the opening, dropping down into the belfry that held the mechanisms controlling the chandelier. Glancing at the red rope and heavy chain, he grimaced to remember the shadows of the future, the screams of panic, the terrible fire, now appalled that he would have gone so far as to destroy what would always be his opera house. For over two decades, long before the new managers arrived, it had been his home and playground, soon becoming his haunting grounds and place of business, his refuge of music, his opera. His LIFE! He had helped to shape and fashion it, had lived and breathed it, and no one had the right to take ownership away from him.

The previous managers had honored his requests in past years, though perhaps his notes had been a bit too ... persuasive. But his adamant suggestions had proven their excellence and brought in revenue. Then they hired the idiot Carlotta, whose warbling attempts at coloratura notes would make the hounds howl in pain, and he'd been furious, the O.G. surfacing and playing tricks in an attempt to force the stubborn diva to go. For all the troubles of the past, the other managers, Lefevre included, had not been such utter fools as the two junk men who now played at operating the Opera Populaire.

He could never consider the opera house as belonging to another and certainly not to those men. Or to the boy, who called himself patron. He sneered, considering it ironic that in a twisted sense of parody, he likely had more legal claim to this theater than any of them realized. Soon, very soon, he would know for sure.

He hurried through another door, along a narrow corridor, and slid down a rope to a level beneath, taking him to a second corridor. At the wall, he clicked open the secret passage. Halfway to his destination, the sudden sight of the vile Buquet speaking with a stranger in a dimly lit, empty passageway caused Erik to hesitate and blend back into the shadows. He knew everyone who lived within the opera house, as well as those faces of peddlers, deliverymen, and merchants who brought their goods. This man he had never before seen.

Short and stocky, his build was not graceful enough for the chorus. Wearing a workman's clothes, he was no member of the noblesse either, yet he wore authority like a shield. His beard was clipped short, his brows were thick, and his square face looked sharp and angular, like a rodent. Erik took careful note of details, emblazoning them in his memory, in the event he should need such information in the future. For now he had other business to attend. He waited until the two men parted ways, then continued on his course.

His summoned guest had already arrived and nervously looked around the dark chamber the Phantom had chosen for their meeting. As a general rule, he preferred Madame to attend to consorting with others, usually through his notes, but in this instance he must act alone. She did not suspect, and he had no intention of telling her his plans. She might take it upon herself to act without his knowledge as he'd witnessed in the present shadows the spirit had shown him. Even if those circumstances had worked out for his and Christine's benefit, he disliked the idea of his aide acting on her own initiative in matters solely concerning him. He could not afford any mistakes with regard to this current situation.

As yet unobserved, the Phantom watched the newcomer through narrowed eyes. Had Firmin's lawyer not recommended him so highly through written correspondence, he would never have sent him a letter. His appearance alone was a disappointment. Wiry and tall, but shorter than Erik, the man's waistcoat was frayed, his trousers rumpled and worn, his hat from the previous decade. But then, Erik knew the folly of judging on appearance alone. Was that not a major factor for the reason he'd found it imperative to seek sanctuary in a home far beneath the floor on which he stood?

The man turned suddenly, his thin face going pale … and regarded the sight before him with absolute shock.

The Phantom approached, his cloak billowing out behind him, the white half mask seeming to glow on his face in the darkened room ringed with mirrors that made his image multiply, until numerous Phantoms surrounded the man. The old ballet practice room never was used any longer, since the floor had warped. Idiocy on behalf of the new management in their decision not to replace it and instead force the chorus to practice in the backstage wings. Perhaps had they ample room and usage of the barre, their dancing would not suffer so disgracefully. Now the room was used for storage purposes and rarely visited.

"Monsieur Lasalle," the Phantom stated, his voice no-nonsense.

"Oui." The detective trembled. Perhaps he, too, had heard the blend of genuine and imagined tales involving the elusive Opera Ghost. The thought pleased Erik that such history would provide the necessary intimidation and he would not have to resort to present means of mild coercion to induce his directives.

From within his cloak, he withdrew a thick envelope. "I have outlined what I desire in my letter. Inside are the details of the services I require. You will deliver all information to me, here. Leave your findings in writing and slip them through this crack in the paneling ..." With his gloved hand, he motioned to the split in the wall between lintel and paper.

"There ... you want me to put it there? " The man's eyes bugged beyond his spectacles as if he'd been asked to take part in a séance to rouse the dead and not simply shown where to drop off a letter. His clear spinelessness was beginning to wear on Erik's patience.

"There is a problem with your hearing, monsieur?" he growled. "You do not feel competent enough to follow my instructions?"

"N-n-non. It is only that … it, it is most … unusual ... to conduct business in this manner."

"You will find that I am not your usual client."

The man's forehead beaded with sweat. "N-non. Non, of course not."

"One thousand francs are inside the envelope. You will receive another thousand if you retrieve all of the information for which I have asked and deliver it to me before this week is through."

"Ah-ah-ah-ah …" The man stuttered at the price, which was more than generous, and the timeline, which was considerably outrageous. But Erik must know the truth before he could proceed with his greater plans, and he did not like to be kept waiting. From the appearance of his clothing and gaunt form, the detective had come into hard times. The Phantom had accrued much wealth from his stipend of twenty thousand francs per month, collecting the money for three years from the managers, and did not mind padding the poor fool's pockets if it would ensure him the desired results.

"Let us hope your skills at investigative procedures are more practiced than your attempts to communicate," the Phantom mused with a sardonic smile.

The detective at last snapped to attention. "I promise, monsieur, you will not be disappointed with my services."

"Let us hope not. I do not take disappointments well." The man shivered under his steady gaze. "We will not meet again."

The Phantom flicked his cloak back as he whirled around, again entering the shadows, leaving Detective Lasalle to gape after him.

He gave the man no further thought for the moment. With twilight soon approaching, he wished only to return to the dressing room and be reunited with his Christine.
.
xXx
.
Determined to find Meg, Christine hurried down the corridor to the dormitory they shared. Barbette, a member of the chorus, had told Christine that Meg mentioned she was going to their room before the afternoon practice. With all the interruptions the day held so far, Christine decided to take this opportunity to share her precious secret with her dearest friend. This may well be her last chance before nightfall.

She hesitated on the threshold of the dormitory, immediately spotting Meg with her head lowered and sitting on her legs in a kneeling position in front of one of eight cots the room held. Only it wasn't her cot. The cot belonged to Chantel, one of the most promiscuous members of the chorus, who fancied herself a leader among the girls and possessed one of the nastiest dispositions.

"Meg?" Christine whispered, but she didn't hear or turn.

Her ballet slippers making no noise on the stone floor, Christine quietly moved to join her friend. Standing behind her, she looked over Meg's bowed head to the open book on her lap. Heat flamed her face, her entire body, and she gasped aloud in stunned discomfiture.

"Meg!"

Meg slapped the book shut and whirled around, almost toppling over in her haste. "Christine! What are you doing sneaking up behind me?"

"I didn't sneak. I spoke, but you were too engrossed in, in … that." Christine darted a glance toward the door, certain they would be caught in the act at any moment. "Where did you get it? Is it yours?"

"Of course not!" Meg also darted a look behind her to the doorway. "Keep your voice down – do you want someone to hear and come in?"

"Where did you get it?" Christine insisted in a loud whisper, the penned drawing of a naked man and woman entwined in passionate embrace still vivid in her mind.

"It's Chantel's. I came to find the stockings she took from me. Mine went missing and she came up with a new pair the next day."

"But … that's not stockings!" In her agitation, Christine stated the obvious. Thinking of Chantel's waspish attitude, Christine worried her friend might get caught.

"No, I found it under her cot, the stockings were on top. And, well …" Meg's eyes gleamed with wicked intent. "Have you never been curious to know those things we are forbidden to speak of? Maman certainly would never tell us should we brave the courage to ask, since she gave the orders for such silence. Yet how else are we ever to know if we don't investigate the truth for ourselves?"

Christine didn't ask her to clarify. Throughout the theater stood naked statuary of women; she knew what the human body of her gender looked like, since she, herself, was a woman. But she had never seen a man in a state of full undress, as the picture had shown … what little it did show. Such brooding made her think of Erik and their recent embrace in his bed. Nothing of true merit to garner Madame's disapproval had occurred, nothing for which she should be ashamed, but soon, she hoped, that would change. They had made their feelings known to one another, and though he never proposed a wedding, stating those exact words, she felt that must be the inevitable conclusion to her spending a lifetime with him and sharing in his Music of the Night. The mannequin carved in her image and wearing the wedding finery was testimony to that.

She didn't wish to experience future moments of intimacy with him unprepared. It was her foolish naïveté, once she felt the hard swelling between his hips press against her leg, that had led to the abrupt end of such pleasurable sensations he had birthed inside her. She never again wanted him to think of her as a frightened, pathetic child. Never wanted him to think of her as a child at all.

"What's inside it?" Christine sank to her knees beside her friend.

Meg gave her a conspiratorial smile and again opened the thick book.

Christine's eyes grew large, her heart pumping harder with each page Meg turned. Intricate pen and ink drawings filled the areas above the tiny text of the illicit picture book. They vividly displayed physical acts between couples, and she felt her face steam with embarrassed color, though she was just as eager as Meg to continue with the forbidden discovery. Some of what was revealed she had deduced, recalling her heated encounter with Erik. Some of the startling poses she gaped at, stunned to realize, and though she giggled self-consciously with Meg over their wicked find, her thoughts inadvertently transformed the lurid images on paper to vague fantasies of what awaited her with Erik. Despite the tawdriness of some of the operas they performed and the general atmosphere of decadence throughout the theater, Madame would never have allowed such a scandalous book to be owned by a member of her ballet chorus. It must belong to one of the managers'— Christine wouldn't know how else Chantel could have gotten it; she'd heard the dancer slip from her bed late at night to visit someone for secret trysts.

"What's that?" Christine whispered, noticing loose leaf pages lay secreted at the back of the book. Eagerly she pulled the book closer and flipped to them.

The first one showed a charcoal sketch of a nude man and woman in violent embrace, similar to a drawing in the book, though the faces and hairstyles had been changed to resemble a stagehand and a seamstress who Christine had presumed met on the sly. Clearly Chantel was also an artist. She wondered if she was a voyeur too.

"What the hell are you two doing near my cot?"

Chantel's footsteps rapidly shuffled toward them, her voice low but livid with rage.

Meg blinked and scrambled around to face her, rising to her feet. Without thinking, Christine closed and picked up the book, holding it against her chest, and hurriedly did the same.

"We didn't mean any harm –"

Meg's explanation was cut off as the tall redhead dropped her gaze to what Christine held.

"You nosy little bitch!" Viciously she pulled the large book from her faint grasp. The corner edge caught Christine in the jaw. She gasped at the fiery pain that made her eyes water and her cheek sting and cupped the injured area with one hand. The loose sketches fluttered to the floor. She followed their advance there with her eyes.

"You're nothing but a prying, wheedling little trollop, " Chantel sneered, lowering her voice. "You think you can always get your way with your sickly sweet smiles, pretending to be the picture of all innocence – but likely you pull up your skirts like the rest of us and spread your legs to anyone who will secure you a better role. You certainly have no great talent to speak of to win you the lead. Who did you fuck to get it, Christine? The Vicomte? That's what they're all saying."

"Don't talk to her like that," Meg bit out. "It was my fault, not hers. I found the book. Leave her be. "

"What are you, her guardian? " Chantel scoffed. "Can't the little porcelain doll speak for herself?" She whipped her spiteful gaze back to Christine. "So tell me, little diva, is that why you had to have your own private dressing room? So you could grant favors to the Vicomte to secure your new role? Why won't you answer me? "

"I said leave her alone!"

Christine couldn't answer if she wanted to. She felt numb all over, her heart weighted like stone. Their cross words blended into the background, a strange buzzing noise barely noticeable, as her eyes remained fixed on a sketch that lay face-up near her foot. It was all she could see, all she could concentrate on, the only thing that existed in a stark world that suddenly shifted and toppled and went very dark … She felt sick to her stomach, felt as if the blood might rush from her head and she might pass out.

"Christine? "

She barely noticed Meg's arm wrapping around her back in support, her other hand going to her shoulder. Meg must have followed her gaze because Christine heard her gasp with the same shock that traveled through her in painful little prickles.

"Come on, let's get out of here." Meg quickly turned her away from the appalling sight and to the door.

"Never touch my things again," Chantel's order followed them into the corridor. "Or you'll be sorry. One day you'll get yours, Christine Daae – and that's the truth of it! "

"Don't pay heed to anything she said," Meg muttered, "She only said what she did because that's what she would do, tramp that she is …"

Christine remained silent, dazed, lost to all sound and feeling as her friend led her through the busy corridor and to the first empty alcove she could find. Grabbing her upper arms, Meg helped seat her on a bench there. She remained standing, eyeing her in concern.

"Christine, we have to go back soon or we'll risk being late again and Maman will be angry. Perhaps punish us with extra exercises or even exclude us from tonight's performance. Are you …" She hesitated. "Are you going to be all right?"

The inane words trembled within Christine's mind, breaking her stunned detachment. She let out a mangled sound between a laugh and a sob. "All right? How can I be, Meg?" she whispered. "How can I be after seeing … that? "

The horrible image wouldn't go away, cruelly recreating inside her mind yet at odds with those things he'd told her, and she felt as if she might shatter to pieces inside from the sheer torment of her discovery.

The penned sketch, similar to one in the book, had revealed the frontal view of a trim, well built man standing with his legs a short distance apart, clearly naked save for the long cloak he wore and partly draped around a nude woman who knelt before him. Her face had been at his groin, her hands clinging to his bare muscled thighs. His hands had clutched the back of her head, while his head had been tilted slightly backward, his eyes closed, his mouth parted in dark pleasure.

The woman had Chantel's frizzed, shoulder-length, bushy hair.

The man wore a large mask on the right side of his face.

Feeling her stomach again churn with the wave of horror that ripped through her, Christine clapped a hand over her mouth, pushing Meg aside, and rushed from the room.
.
xXx
.
Erik arrived a few minutes early to the dressing room, eager to see his angelic betrothed. His endearment for her whispered sweetly in his mind, causing him to pause wistfully and lay his gloved hand against the panel of glass through which he had last seen her beautiful face.

Would he ever acknowledge what he once thought impossible as truly being achievable? Would his dreams at last come to completion and Christine willingly become his bride? Even yet the harsh voice of rationale mocked him. How could someone so pure and perfect desire someone so sullied and deformed?

One again, he grimly reminded himself that by her admission she had not clearly seen the grotesque part of his countenance that he hid from the world. If circumstances were to unfold as he longed for, her continued ignorance in that regard would become unavoidable. No ... He could not allow that to happen, must not think beyond this present moment and create problems before they had a chance to exist. Though his gross abnormality was certainly more than a mere "problem" and he winced at the thought of her likely reaction were she to see it in full.

If he were the noble sort, he would reveal the cause of his bitter disgrace to her before they were wed and risk the likelihood of losing her forever. But he was no prince, and he certainly was no angel. His selfish desires to claim her encouraged him to keep the truth hidden, for as long as was physically tolerable, and somehow he must make that evolve into forever. After all she had shared with him – her shy avowal of love, the sincere depth of her heart, the intimate warmth of her embrace – he could not bear to lose her now. He would do all he must to see to it that such a wretched day never dawned.

At last the door to the dressing room opened and he put his hand to the edge of the mirror door in expectation. He frowned when he saw the sole occupant who entered the room. Once she closed the door, he quickly slid the mirror on its track.

"Where is Christine?"

Madame Giry regarded him with an unflappable air of calm, though her eyes seemed a trifle concerned. "She is not well, Monsieur, and asked me to convey her regrets. She will not be joining you this evening."

Not joining him? He narrowed his eyes. Something was wrong. Christine was never sick a day in her life. A blow to the head certainly hadn't dulled her stubborn spirit or her clear desire to be with him. He knew her well enough that if she were struggling with an infirmity, she would drag herself to the appointed spot to meet with him.

"What has happened?" he demanded between clenched teeth.

"Happened?" Madame lifted her brows. "Perhaps her extended stay in your dank and drafty dark dungeon has brought about this ailment. You cannot seriously expect her to live in that gloomy hovel with you once the two of you are wed." At his clear surprise, she nodded. "Yes, she told me. I would give you my blessing and offer my happiness on your behalf, but with such a prospect before her, I feel I should refrain and offer her my condolences instead."

"She was in fine health when she left my home," he growled.

"Was she? Then why does she lie abed now, complaining of a headache and refusing to speak to anyone?"
Her words gave him pause. Perhaps she hadn't fully recovered from her accident. Yet something still didn't seem quite right. When she thought him her angel, she would rush to seek his presence and confide in him regarding anything that troubled her. Since she had learned he was mortal, that habit had not changed, and he could not conceive that she would refrain from coming to him now, no matter her condition. Yet to quarrel with Madame about the issue was pointless, since she seemed inclined only to harp on his living arrangements and blame them for Christine's condition.

Yes, his home was cold and damp – he did live beside a lake for pity's sake! Still, his health had fared well for over a score of years, and Christine had seemed to thrive during her stay, given the circumstances.

"Very well." He turned with a flick of his cape. "I shall inquire after her at dawn tomorrow. Be here."

He did not wait for her response to the affirmative but whisked through the mirror door, shutting it firmly behind him and locking it. Once down in his lair, he couldn't shake the certainty that there was more Madame had not told him, perhaps what she herself failed to realize. Like Erik, Christine preferred to implement a strong amount of reserve when it came to sharing her feelings with others in their theater world.

The path to Christine's dormitory he had not taken in months, but he knew the way through the utter darkness as easily as he knew every stone in his lair. Once he arrived at the part of the wall where her cot rested, he looked through the crack he'd made in the stones there, deliberating if he should sing into her mind or speak softly to her in greeting. Loud snores from one of the ballet rats offended his ears, making clear his choice, but Christine's bed lay disturbingly empty.

Puzzled for the brief span of no more than a moment, as long as it took him to discern just how troubled her heart must be, he hurried to the corridor leading to the serene chamber where they first met.

As he suspected the soft glow of candlelight dimly illuminated part of the stairwell winding down to the peaceful abode where she sought consolation. Silently, he closed and barred the door at the top of the stairs, the likelihood of anyone seeing him remote at this time of the evening, but he wished to take no chances.

His descent quiet, he took the stairs down and stood at the entrance, his relief great when he saw her. His eyes took in her huddled form in front of the tiers of candles, where she always knelt. With her back to him, she stared up at the angel in dark oils that graced the center arch.

He continued to gaze at her without speaking, without moving, able to tell by the defeated slope of her small shoulders that she battled with some hurtful grievance. As he watched, she brought her fingertips to her face and made a whisking motion of wiping tears away. The pitiful gesture wrenched his heart but before he could speak, she straightened her spine as if suddenly alerted to his presence, her gaze lowering to the area directly in front of her.

Slowly, as if fighting the desire but failing, she turned her head to look over her shoulder and steadily met his eyes.

The lit candles illuminated her face, and he gasped in dismay. Anger quickly replaced concern, and he moved swiftly toward her.

xXx

continued next post...
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honeyphan
 
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated 9/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:46 am

Touch Me, Trust Me
Chapter XV
xXx

.
The Phantom stared down in horror at his beautiful fiancée. His thumb and fingers moved to clasp her chin and turn her face to the candlelight to better see the small bruise that covered the left side of her jaw near his slight hold. A faint red abrasion ran up to the bottom of her cheekbone.

"Who did this to you?" He barely kept his tone civil, the rage that boiled within making him want to tear the ignoble fiend from limb to limb. "Was it the insufferable Buquet? Or that irksome boy?"

She shook her head, her expression desolate, her lashes clumped and wet with recent tears. "N-no. It was … an accident."

"An accident."

The Phantom dropped his hand to his side. He knew enough of so-called "accidents" from those he initiated to question the validity of hers. He studied her solemn upturned face, unable to tell if she was lying to protect the scoundrel from his certain wrath or if she spoke the truth and another matter upset her. He took in a slow breath to steady his frenetic emotions and reached down, clutching her by the upper arms to help her stand. "Come, the stones are too cold for that. You'll catch your death sitting on the floor."

She quivered within his grasp, her gaze fixed to his waistcoat. The moment she stood aright, she turned from him. She walked a few steps toward the stained glass window and stopped.

Mystified, he stared at her stiff back, remaining where she'd left him. "Christine, what troubles you?"

She shook her head the slightest bit as if she didn't want to speak of it, which only fueled his resolve to know more.

"Come now," he persuaded in a gentle voice and moved toward her. "Since when have you not been able to confide in your Angel?" He laid his gloved hand on her shoulder, surprised when she shrugged it off and whirled to face him.

Her eloquent eyes sparked in hurt defiance. "Are you, Erik? Are you truly my Angel?"

"What manner of question is that?"

"Have you always been my Angel?"

At a loss for words and perplexed by her angry use of them, he narrowed his eyes. "If you choose not to enlighten me as to the root of this arcane inquisition, how can I find it possible to give you a satisfactory response?"

"It is a simple query and deserves an honest reply. Are you only my Angel?"

Exasperated by her perplexing behavior, he felt his patience begin to wear to a frazzled cord. "What absurdity initiated this confrontation? You know I am no angel, Christine, and never have I been one. I am only a man." A deformed and pathetic excuse for a man, but still, a man, he added the last in his mind in acerbic silence.

"Have there been others?" She retorted in a clipped voice.

"Others …? What 'others'?"

"Besides me." She lifted her chin and moved a step toward him. "Have there been others in the theater whom you have … been with?" She struggled to say the last as tears again filled her eyes. She blinked them away and averted her gaze sideways, to the ground.

Her line of questioning made no clear sense. He felt as frustrated with her infantile behavior as he was beginning to grow infuriated with her willful spirit.

"What 'others' would I have kept company with, Christine? Forced to dwell in a cave far beneath the earth? Treated as an outcast because of my face? In all of these two decades, there was only Madame Giry I summoned to meet with me –"

Her tormented eyes flew to him, her mouth dropping open in horror. "You were with Madame Giry?"

"Of course. How else was I to have my wishes carried out but to meet with her in private when the need became imperative? I fail to understand why that should be of concern to you? You know she's my aide and assists me in whatever manner I require."

"OH!" Her eyes going round in dismay, she clapped her fingers to her lips and whirled around, again presenting him with her rigid back.

Utterly bewildered by her bizarre behavior, he resorted to becoming her Maestro. "Christine, get hold of yourself. You are acting childishly and behaving in a manner most inappropriate."

"INAPPROPRIATE?" A second time she whirled to face him. "What I fail to understand, Monsieur Phantom, is how you could have treated me with such cutting distance and harsh scorn for the farewell kiss that Raoul dropped to my lips. But you think nothing of receiving sexual favors from any woman who –"

"WHAT?"

Her face flamed rose-red in embarrassment but she held her ground, her eyes defying him to deny her claim. He stared at her as if he'd never before seen her, at last beginning to realize that they'd been holding two entirely different conversations, and very ill at ease when he realized how noticeably she had misconstrued his harmless remarks.

"Christine, sit down."

"I'd prefer to stand, thank you."

"SIT DOWN!"

She jumped a little at his brusque command, the deep timbre of his voice reverberating throughout the hollow room, and lifted her chin in high dudgeon as she clasped the edges of her nightdress. Lifting the hem a fraction, she gracefully and slowly sank to the bench beneath the stained glass window. She crossed her arms and waited, glaring at him.

It was then that he noticed again she wore no wrapper, the soft candlelight outlining the slim silhouette of her legs through the diaphanous gown. Her rapid breathing from her outburst caused her high breasts to constrict against the ivory cloth that her arms pulled tight against her, bringing into focus her darker areolas and rigid nipples that poked against the thin material, as if pushing to be freed from their restraint with her every incensed breath.

He closed his eyes against the arousing sight she made. Dear God, she would be the death of him yet.

Looking into her burning eyes, he forced his focus to remain there and moved the short distance to stand before her. She tilted her face upward as he came nearer, keeping her eyes locked with his, then rebelliously dropped her focus to stare straight ahead once he came to a stop, the act causing her eyes to fall to his trousers. He wondered at the second sudden flush of high color that stained her cheekbones and the manner in which she swiftly looked askance.

"Christine, look at me."

She pulled at her bottom lip with her teeth, but not until he cupped the underside of her chin did she startle a look his way.

"I have no idea what you heard or think you know, but I assure you most strongly I have had no relations with other women. In the past or in the present. There has only been you. There will only ever be you." It baffled him that she could think otherwise.

"But I saw the sketch!" As soon as the words rushed from her mouth, she pressed her lips together hard – her mouth a thin line as if she bit down on the inside of them to prevent further explanation – and glanced away again.

"What sketch, Christine?"

She gave a little shake of her head, refusing to answer.

The Phantom pivoted from her in frustration, pacing several steps forward, several steps back, uncertain of how to break through her stubborn, mule-headed manner. With her recent spiral into boldness, her assertive, fighting spirit had also augmented. Yet he was far from conquered, and if anyone knew how to stand his ground, it was the intractable Opera Ghost.

He flicked his cloak to the side with a snap and again moved to stand before her. Her posture was still rigid, her gaze remaining fixed on the candles. He crossed his arms over his chest.

"Will you speak, Christine?"

No answer.

"If need be, we will remain here all night until I get at the truth of the matter. You're not leaving this chamber until you explain the reason for your bizarre behavior and tell me of this mysterious sketch!"

The silence thickened and crawled, suffocating in its length. After several minutes of this, she hissed through her teeth in aggravation then tried to dart off the bench to the side, but he moved just as swiftly to block her attempted escape, without touching her. Another pathetic try awarded the same results. When she realized he would give no quarter, she sank back down and sulked, still not looking at him. He remained fixed, again not moving a muscle.

"A sketch of you," she said at last in curt reluctance. "And one of the ballet rats. I saw it."

"Where?"

"In the dormitory."

"Who showed it to you?"

"No one. I found it." Still she would not look at him.

"And what composed this sketch that gives you reason to doubt my integrity?" he said the last with a mocking bite. He was hardly honorable, but he would not be condemned for an act never committed.

"It …" She grew flustered again. "It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me! If I'm to be tried and convicted as you for my judge, at least do me the common courtesy of informing me of my crime."

"You were both … n-naked." Her last word came whisper-soft, her insolent childlike manner unexpectedly crumbling away into womanly despair. "She knelt in front of you, and you stood in front of her –"

"Enough." He sank beside her on the bench, grabbing hold of her hands that fidgeted in her lap, to still them. Putting a swift end to her words, he saw what it cost her to say them. He didn't need her to elaborate and felt a flush of livid embarrassment warm his face. "What makes you think it was me?" he asked much more quietly.

She turned fully to face him then, a frown marring the smooth skin between her brows. "The man wore only a cloak and mask, and only on one side of his face. The same side as you wear yours."

He clenched his teeth, his ire again rising. "Who dared to pen such a sketch?"

"I … don't know."

"Christine," he warned, "is that the truth?"

"No." Her chin lifted, her eyes steady with the return of her self-confidence. "But I won't have you seeking vengeance against her and putting an end to the truce you made with the managers. I know you too well to believe you would let the matter drop."

He sighed in frustration, reconciled to let it go. But only for the moment. "Is she the one who did that to your face?" He kept his voice soft, though he would like to throttle this unknown fool of a woman until she begged for mercy, and then kick her out of the theater door for the torment she had caused his Angel.

"It really was an accident. She was angry but with just cause. She grabbed the book from me and it knocked me in the jaw."

"What book?"

"I ..." She grew unsettled again. "It doesn't matter. I just want to know – why would she sketch something like that if it weren't true? Why, Erik? And how did she know about your mask? It wasn't the one you wore to the ball."

"I don't know, Christine." He smoothed his gloved hand over her slim fingers, looking at them before lifting his eyes to hers. "But I assure you I did not partake in any corporal act that this depraved woman penned. Perhaps she did it to indulge in some sick, twisted fantasy, as many of the chorus is inclined to do. The lecher Buquet has spied me before during his intrusive haunts of the flies when he should have been at his post, though his accounts of my visage are entirely preposterous. With a gaping black hole in the midst of my face and possessing eyes that glow yellow in the night!" He scoffed at the ludicrous assessment. His defect was enough of a tale of horror without adding to it a layer of the absurd. "Perhaps, for once, he shared the truth, or perhaps she has spied me from afar, as well."

"Perhaps …"

The far-off quality of her manner made him tense with worry. "Will you put your faith in me, Christine, despite all else? Will you cast from your mind the deception you saw and believe in the truth I speak?"

She searched his eyes for a long moment. "You have always had my trust." She hesitated then pulled one of her hands from his to cup the maskless side of his face. "And you always will. Forgive me for doubting you, Mon Ange. It was just so … distressing to see."

Her warm touch and return to her endearment for him soothed his fractured emotions. "How can I lay blame when I have judged you for far less, as you have reminded me?"

She winced. "And I'm sorry for that too." She leaned in to him, pressing her lips to his, shocking him with her swift kiss. Her cheek awkwardly bumped against the bottom edge of his mask, and he heard her faint gasp of pain.

She pulled away to look at him, touching her fingertips to the cut on her smooth face. He put his hand to his mask and pressed against it to reassure himself, though it could not have moved.

They stared at one another at length before she quietly broke the silence.

"What makes it stay in place?"

"The mask?"

She nodded. "It has no strings to tie it."

"I use a paste I created from various plant ingredients."

Her eyes grew round. "You don't mean … you – you glue it directly to your face?"

He hesitated, feeling somewhat awkward in discussing what shielded the crux of his shame. "Yes, of course. It is the only way for a mask of this type to remain on my skin. No different than the bonding material used in theatrical performances to apply hair to the face. Only stronger, due to the weight of the mask and the need of prolonged wear." He grew ill at ease by her stunned silence. "The adhesive is made to last the entirety of the day, but it loses its potency as the hours wear on, and in the night it grows looser. I have to reapply it, as I did tonight, if I leave my lair. Or I exchange it for a different mask that ties."

As he spoke he noted how her face paled and her lips softly parted in horror. "And when you take it off?"

"I have a mixture I use to loosen the paste."

Moisture suddenly flooded her anguished eyes in a heartrending facsimile of minutes ago. Only sorrow composed her expression now, the anger long gone.

He took gentle hold of her arms, peering at her intently. "Christine …? What is the matter now?"

"I pulled that mask away …" – her self-condemning words barely came to him on a trembling breath as her dark eyes fastened to the white porcelain mold – "…from your face …It … it was morning …"

He sobered. "Yes."

"You had just applied it? The paste, was it still wet?"

He didn't answer, his silence saying much, and her features crumbled.

"I-I didn't know. It-it must have caused you such pain."

His flesh had stung, the deformity raw where skin had peeled away in places, but it had been nothing compared to the agony his heart had borne to think he had forever lost any prospect of a future with her.

"That moment is behind us," he reassured. She barely nodded, the tears spilling over her lashes and onto her cheeks. The sight twisted his heart. "Come here."

Tugging on her hand, his other glove going to her waist, he pulled her toward him and onto his lap. She came to him unreservedly.

It felt wonderful to hold her again, her soft warmth pressed so close. He thought of those first evenings she had come to his lair for lessons and the distance he had forced between them, now calling himself ten times a fool for those lost moments... She relaxed against his chest, the slightest of smiles lifting her lips, her arm resting along his shoulder, her fingers at his neck. She moved them to lightly trace the smooth front of his mask in a caress. He could not prevent his instinctive flinch. Her smile disappeared and she sighed, dropping her hand back to his shoulder.

"Do you wear one all the time, even when you're alone?"

"Christine, I would rather not speak of this further. It is a necessary evil, but meek in comparison to what lies beneath. Let us leave it at that."

"You don't have to, you know."

He deeply sighed, realizing she would not give in so easily. "Don't have to what?"

"Wear it. Surely it cannot be comfortable to wear for so many hours, as you described to me. Even the one with the strings must chafe if worn too long, with no air against your skin. There is no reason you should suffer so."

He took in a swift breath, his wariness growing with her words. The masks did chafe, the one he now wore even to the point of making his skin raw and bringing blood in the more tender areas if he left it on too long or dislodged it. And it had bled then, when she pulled it away.

"Mon Ange, you don't have to wear it with me."

"You will never see me without it."

Her expressive eyes widened in incredulity. "Surely you cannot expect to keep wearing it all the time we are together?"

"I will do what I must."

"But that's just it, Erik. You don't have to –"

"Enough, Christine. The matter is closed."

Her eyes again grew very sad. "I wish you would put your faith in me."

Her soft, desolate words, an echo of what he had just asked of her, pierced him to the marrow of his soul. He could not bear to see her distressed again and made a decision he had been struggling with for days.

x

Briefly closing his eyes, he took in a deep, nervous breath and began, "You asked me earlier if I was always your Angel."

Christine parted her mouth in surprise, her manner growing intent with the knowledge that he was about to share something of great import.

"Not long after your father told Madame Giry and I about your earnest childhood dream, that you desired the Angel of Music to come to be with you, I made the decision to become that Angel."

Her eyes widened in amazement. "How did you know my father?"

"I spoke with him twice, in a meeting arranged by Madame. He and Madame's husband were close friends when he lived at the theater. Once Monsieur Giry died, not long after your mother did, your father and Madame grew as close as two friends could become without the romantic involvements. The first time he spoke of you, he expressed his desire for you to come live at the theater under Madame's tutelage. But he said you had a voice to rival the cherubim, even at such a young age, and wished for you to sing. Then I heard you, when he brought you during one of his visits to Madame. You did not see me, but I followed you to the chapel, where I heard your earnest prayer for the Angel of Music to come visit you. You sang a little hymn afterward, and your sweet voice touched my heart. The last time your father came to the theater, he was ill, knowing he would die. He asked me to train you, to watch over you. He knew of my ability to remain hidden within the shadows and asked me to give you protection."

She stared at him, open-mouthed, and he shifted, uncomfortable to go on, but aware the time had come to tell her what she had longed to understand.

"He never knew that I would become your Angel. I never shared my decision with him; indeed, it did not occur to me to trick you into thinking I was an actual angel until after his death months later. You were so young, so frightened and wary of everyone and everything. So much different than the animated child I had seen once before. I reasoned I could only gain your trust by becoming the angel for which you had dreamed. From the moment I spoke to you in the chapel, you reverted into the happy child you'd been. Your eyes would light up whenever I spoke or sang to you. I watched you through a crack in the wall." He vaguely motioned to the center archway with the angel painted in oils.

Her eyes wide with that same childlike, wondering awe, she followed his motion to the angel, then slowly looked back at him, her lips parted softly in recollection.

"As the weeks progressed, you became more than just my charge. I began to feel a deep fondness for you, Christine, even then. The years passed, and you grew out of girlhood and into womanhood. By that time, my heart was hopelessly bound to yours. If you left me, I knew it would break from the loss and I would wither and die. So I told you that you were not to give your attention to any potential suitors. I used the excuse of your music, telling you that you must concentrate solely on your voice, but my underlying purpose was self-seeking. I did not want to risk losing you before I'd had a chance to claim you. Yet I had reached an impasse of my own creation. You thought me a true angel, and I knew I must quit the ruse if I wished to entice you to become mine."

She blinked, trying to take it all in. "But you kept up the ruse for so long!" Her voice came whisper-soft in astonishment. "Why did you not tell me that you were a man before the night of my opening debut? You gave those instructions for me to refrain from all personal involvement on my fifteenth birthday. That was almost two years ago!"

"I feared if I did I would lose you then, as well," he said simply, though she would never understand what it cost him to say the words, to make his heart vulnerable to her, even now.

She shook her head a little in confusion. He inhaled another tense breath.

"You knew me as your Angel, and I had grown comfortable with the deception, however dissatisfying the prospect, since it meant I could not touch you and hold you as I longed to do." He lifted his hand to faintly trace her cheek. "I could not bear for you to see me as I am – no longer your Guardian Angel who dwelled in heavenly realms, but a feared beast who had long ago been cast into a pit of outer darkness. Once you knew, I feared you would run from me. As a child you might have done so. After you became a woman, I was uncertain if our long association was enough to keep you with me. And then the Vicomte came," his voice grew harder, "a man with whom you shared a past as children. How could I compete with that? With someone so damnably handsome and well admired? I knew that whatever fate would bring, the time had come to reveal my true nature or resign myself to die from the missed opportunity."

"You kept up the pretense because you … you loved me all this time and were afraid to lose me?" she whispered.

He nodded somberly. "And every time I force myself to look in a mirror, every time, Christine, I fear the prospect afresh. How could an angel like you love a beast that lives in a cave when you could have a prince who lives in a palace? That is why you will never see the blasphemy of my face, which belongs to no angel, but to a devil in disguise!" He could not tell her that his former actions in Persia also warranted him that title. It was enough that she must bear this.

She continued to stare at him in transfixed wonder, as if trying to soak in all he told her. At last she moved, her fingertips this time faintly brushing along his mouth. "My dear Erik … in answer, I will tell you a story. Months before he died, Father told it to me. He told it to me often. La belle et la bête – do you know it?"

He shook his head in astonishment, his heart turning over at the tenderness of her endearment and the unexpectedness of her touch.

She dropped her hand to clasp the side of his neck lightly, draping her arm across his front. Holding him thus, she tilted her head to rest against his, looking at the flickering candlelight while he stared into the darkness ahead.

"There was once a beautiful girl named Belle," she began, "one of twelve children. Her father, a wealthy merchant, came into hard times and his family suffered greatly. His children, save for Belle, were selfish and arrogant, spoiled from a life of luxury. Belle was different, considered an outcast by her siblings, but kind and loving, the only ray of sunshine in her father's miserable life. He heard that one of his ships survived, but to his distress found it to be untrue. Most of the goods were ruined, the creditors taking what was left. In despair, he made the journey home and was caught in a blizzard. He found a castle, which stood empty, but a meal magically appeared for him and he stayed the night. When he woke, the storm had passed and he spotted the most beautiful rose growing on the grounds, such as he'd never seen before. The sweetness of it reminded him of Belle, who, unlike his other children, had asked nothing from him but his good health and safe return. But upon picking the rose, a horrible beast appeared, demanding that he give him one of his daughters or die for his crime of thievery. For the palace belonged to the beast, you see."

Erik narrowed his eyes warily, nonetheless curious where she was taking her tale.

"When their father spoke of his encounter, Belle insisted on taking the punishment, since it was because of her he took the rose. Her father at last agreed, and she went to live at the beast's palace. She was fed and entertained, the beast never doing anything to harm her, though at first he remained absent and never appeared to her. The days passed into weeks, then months. In her dreams, she was warned by a strange woman not to be deceived by appearances. Later the woman told her that her father was ill. The beast permitted her return to her father's home, and she stayed there, tending to him. Later she had a dream that the beast was ill. She found him dying in a cave, resigned to die without her. Heartbroken, she expressed her love for him, having learned that many men are far more beastly than her beast, who was kind and gentle to her, and he rallied, asking her to marry him. She agreed, wanting no one but him, and her beast was suddenly changed into a prince, the spell a witch put on him broken."

She took a deep, wistful breath. "But the queen didn't wish the prince to marry a lowly merchant's daughter. The prince vowed that he would rather be a beast again and have his sweet Belle, than to marry any other girl in the kingdom. Belle then learned the woman in her dreams was a fairy, who stepped forward and told them that Belle was really the daughter of the fairy's sister, who was also the Queen of the Isle, and as a baby Belle was hidden away with the merchant for her own safety from another fairy, a jealous one ..."

Erik shook his head in weary disdain. "It is only a tale of magic, Christine. A world of pretense, which you had said you no longer wish any part of."

She lifted her head to look into his eyes. "Only if that meant we would continue to hide the truth of our feelings for each other behind such stories. That is no longer the case – and such tales do have merit. From them we can discern what is real."

"You wish for what is real? The reality is that the curse of my face can never be broken. I will never turn into a prince, and you will not discover that you are the long-lost daughter of a fairy's royal sister." A hint of wry amusement touched his words.

Her fingers moved lower to trace over his heart, which skipped a beat at her loving gesture. "You think yourself a beast, this opera house your palace. But I think of you as my prince, My Princely Phantom Angel." She smiled shyly. "And I want no other man to fill that place. I would much rather spend a lifetime with you in a cave than to spend one day above ground on the arm of any other suitor."

Her attitude of misery had entirely dissolved, happiness now shining in her eyes still moist from her earlier tears.

"No more pretenses, my love, but only and especially when truth is so much more important," she whispered. "Thank you for confiding in me the truth of why you pretended to be my Angel. Though such an extended pretense was entirely unnecessary. The truth is you have always had my heart."

She pressed her lips gently to his, again astonishing him with the suddenness of her act, the sweetness of her words. Her mouth was soft, full, her kiss uncomplicated and warm. She pulled away slowly to look deep into his eyes …

And a spark of longing ignited between them, surging to breathless life.

They came together as one, their lips crashing against each other, his hand lifting to the back of her hair. He grabbed a handful of her long curls and tilted her head while moving his the opposite direction, gaining complete access to the honeyed ambrosia of her mouth.

His tongue tangled with her eager one, and she whimpered, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. He smoothed his gloved hand down her arm, then to her hip, grasping it and pulling her closer, frustrated that his leather-encased hand could not feel her form to his satisfaction, could not feel her warmth. Never taking his mouth from hers, he rid himself of his gloves, letting them drop to the ground. He again clutched her nape, reveling in the silkiness of her curls, while he smoothed his other hand down her leg until his fingertips brushed her bare calf where her gown had ridden up. Her skin was so incredibly soft and he ached to touch more of it. His hand made a slow caress, bringing the gown slowly up with him, past the inside of her knee, and she gasped into his mouth, her breath warm.

He continued to ravage her mouth with his tongue, his fingers tracing upward, until he stopped in startling, mind-numbing realization. Clamping his hand to her slender thigh, he pulled away from her mouth in shock to look into her drowsy-lidded eyes, now glassy with desire.

"Christine, wh –" his words came out a shaky breath. "Where are your undergarments?"

"I don't wear them to sleep in at night." Her face flushed at her shy whispered admission, but surely not as warm as the lightning bolt of heat that flashed through his entire midsection. He hardened further at the thought of how close he had come to touching her … there … how far he still could go …

Fighting the battle he had almost lost when she was in his home, unable to move his hand from the periphery of sweet temptation, he closed his eyes and lowered his head – a mistake – for when he again opened them her succulent breasts enticed him, only inches away. High and firm, pressing wickedly against her gown. Full and ripe, begging for his attentions. The moonlight now streamed in on her through the panes of light colored glass, bringing into sharp relief any detail Erik might have missed before. Stifling a groan of pure need, he dropped his gaze again, his blurring vision landing at the apex of her slim thighs, where at this short distance, he could just discern a darker triangle through the ivory linen.

His entire body trembled with barely held restraint. Blast it all, he was entirely flesh and blood mortal, NO part of him angel! How much could one man take? She might as well be sitting on his lap entirely naked! And yet, he could not move to push her away. Could not break their connection.

God, he wanted her! But he could not yet have her …

Christine apparently had no idea of the war he waged within himself. She gently cradled his head, lifting his gaze to hers, and again bent to press her mouth to his parted lips.

The groan building inside his throat came to tortured life and his fingers dug hard into her thigh to keep them from traveling higher. She gasped short in surprised pain, then let out a long sigh of stunned pleasure when his other hand moved as of its own volition to just below the globe of one breast. He could feel the weight of it against the spread of his thumb and fingers then realized with a start his hand had moved higher to embrace her.

"Erik," she panted against his mouth, her word a plea he could not fight. Fully spreading his hand he covered her breast, her nipple hard against his palm. Again he moved, brushing his thumb over the rigid peak. His tight hold with his other hand gentled and he began to massage her thigh.

She moaned in soft agony, unconsciously parting her legs more and plunging her tongue into his mouth. He kissed her long and deep, beginning to gently knead her breast. Her hands, which had at some point traveled to the tops of his shoulders, clutched him hard. He broke their kiss to press his mouth to her chin, moving down her throat to her collarbone, continuing a downward course and kissing her body through the material of the nightdress. His lips made contact with her nipple and she gasped sharply, tightening her hold.

Beyond hesitation, he brought his lips around the stiff peak, grazing it between teeth and tongue, testing her reaction. With a staggered breath, she threw her head back, pushing her chest forward. He took the unspoken invitation and suckled her gently through the gown.

Christine clung, trembling, to her Phantom Angel, struggling to stay upright, feeling as if she were being drawn into a bath of fire. The long desired feel of his mouth at her breast was strange, exciting, erotic, sending tingles of heat and moisture to the center of her core … achingly close to where his fingers massaged the bare skin of her inner thigh in wide gentle circles. She wished the neckline of her gown weren't so near to her throat so that she could feel his soft lips and hot tongue directly on her aroused flesh, wished also that he would move his hand higher, and cared not that her mind should yield so readily to such shameless and wicked thoughts. Earlier, when she softly parted her legs at his touch, she had felt the bulge straining at his trousers but this time did not withdraw in shock when the hard evidence of his desire pressed against the outside of her thigh.

She wanted him …

He lifted his mouth from her breast, the soaked material now transparent, revealing part of her snowy mound that bore an erect rosy nipple, and he groaned at the alluring sight. He wanted to strip her of her bed gown, pin her to the bench seat and make love to her right there. He settled for pushing the flat of his hand to her shoulder blades and bringing her other breast to his mouth swiftly, eliciting from her another sharp, startled gasp.

Christine was fast being sucked into a vortex of her dark Angel's making, and another rush of moisture dampened her secret curls. With each suckle he gave, she felt herself growing wetter inside. Instinctively she wriggled her hips in need and took in a shuddering breath when she felt his warm hand trace higher. She had seen the pictures to know what would happen next.

She should stop him …

But she had no intention of doing so …

God, how she wanted this to happen!

A sweet fragrance emanated from her body, one Erik had experienced during their initial embrace of what seemed a lifetime of days ago. He inhaled deeply of her scent, the need to touch her in intimate discovery long beyond his power to control.

The moment his trembling fingertips brushed her damp curls, grazing her dripping center, they both drew in shaky gasps of stunned pleasure.

From above, the stairwell door rattled, someone clearly trying to get in.

Erik's hand instantly stilled, his hand against the inside of her thigh, his fingertips barely touching her. He pulled his mouth away from her breast, and their eyes met in shocked confusion.

"Who could that be?" she whispered distantly, her words a bare thread, hungry for him to continue, to forget the intruder ...

He did not respond, did not move, the current that bound them close electrifying in the stillness. All fell silent, only their rapid breathing discernible in the small, private chamber. Urgently they continued to stare into each others' eyes … motionless … lost in the explosive silence. She gave a sobbing little gasp as he again moved his hand, closer, his fingertips gently pressing into her folds. He stroked her ever so slightly and her eyelids fluttered shut at the ecstasy of his touch.

His intent gaze never strayed from her flushed face, awed by her intense reaction to him, awed by the silky, wet feel of her. He pulled in a deep, shattering breath, knowing he should stop … knowing he could not.

The rattling of the doors came again, this time with a vengeance, sounding if they might fly off their hinges.

Her eyes flew open, meeting his. "Erik …?" she whispered, this time in fear.

He barely nodded, loath to retreat but resigned to do so. Removing his hand from her warm body, he slid his fingers down her leg without haste in his desire to let them linger upon her skin, and pulled his hand from beneath her gown. Gently, he helped her off his lap onto the bench seat, aware that she trembled as much as he did from their intimate embrace.

"Stay here," he rasped, his mind caught in a whirlpool of longing, his body faring no better.

He waited until she gave a slight nod before he somehow managed to move away from her and toward the entrance. Turning right, he hurried down the little used passage that held within it a secret door to a tunnel that would give him a clear view of what went on directly outside the corridor branching to the chapel. Upon reaching the wall and looking through the crack in the stones, the passageway appeared dark, empty and quiet, as if no mortal had ever trodden over the cold flagstones.

Had the enraged ghost of Monsieur Daae disrupted their passionate interlude by shaking the chapel doors to save his daughter's virtue?

Months before, The Phantom would have considered such a farcical explanation the result of too much bad wine. Now, he wouldn't blink an eye to see the ghostly Monsieur's spectral form sweep toward him in warning. Four spirits had, after all, visited him not one month before, putting him through his version of hell with their unwanted tutelage.

It wasn't Monsieur Daae's vapid form he spotted before turning away to return to Christine, but the sight of two others who stealthily approached the chapel. The Phantom hesitated in narrow-eyed speculation, and upon recognizing their faces a warning signal swiftly rose in his mind.

xXx

A/N: Credits: La belle et la bête – published in 1740 by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Gallon de Villeneuve… Other versions of the famous classic we know today as Beauty and the Beast were published since this time, but this French adaptation is the one I chose for my story, and which I figured could have been passed down through generations of storytelling, eventually told to Christine by her father, who could have heard it while living in France.

I have always seen strong similarities between PotO and Beauty and the Beast, and had to include it somehow, but naturally wanted it to fit the time frame of the story and be the adaptation they might have known in 1871.


Note- my chapters got so long at this point, it is no longer allowing 3, not even 2 chapters at a time. So I guess I'll just put one chapter in each post...that said -

continued next post...
Image E/C manip made by me
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated 9/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:57 am

Let Your Fantasies Unwind
Chapter XVI



Christine sat still as a dormouse on the bench seat and shivered in the awful silence. The cold seeped through her nightdress, while dread chilled its way through her bones.

With her feet drawn against her beneath the gown's hem, her soles flat on the smooth stone bench, she wrapped her arms tightly around her drawn up legs and stared into the steady candlelight. She refused to look past the glowing flames into the unforgiving murky darkness beyond.

Erik still had not returned.

Again Christine thought about the reason for his swift absence.

When it came to who had tried to break down the doors, her apprehension was slight as to their identity, though considerable with the fear that she and Erik might have been caught. Anyone in the theater could have caused trouble for her upon seeing her there in his arms.

Minutes had passed since their explosive encounter, minutes that caused the strange breathless giddiness she felt when he kissed her, when he had touched her, to melt away. In its place stark awareness had filtered back into her mind, slowly but with a vengeance.

She stared at her surroundings in a daze of unease. In his embrace, she forgot everything: The sense of time … the sense of place … the sense of right …

The sense of wrong …

He had kissed her so passionately, touched her so intimately, in a manner she had only fantasized about since the all too brief moment they had lain together on his bed. Even then in her naiveté her dreams were uncertain, the forbidden pictures in the book helping her better to understand. But never, never had she dreamt that the reality of his warm, wet mouth and eager hands on her skin could have such a precarious impact on her senses, to the point that she would have given herself to him then and there, forgetting all else. A flash of heat flooded her body, unwelcome due to its origin of pleasurable memory. Again she looked around with a sense of utter shock, troubled at the realization of where their indiscreet moment had taken place.

In the chapel.

In the chapel!

She closed her eyes in concerned dismay.

Would her soul now be damned throughout eternity for engaging in forbidden pleasures in a holy chamber set aside for earnest prayer to God? The chamber where, since childhood, she had often knelt before her father's plaque in solemn reflection? This chamber where she first met what she thought was her true heavenly angel?

Her Angel …

He was still her Angel. Kind and gentle… And he had become her Phantom. Inscrutable and dark … And always he had been a man, though she had not known it, with a passion that set her soul on fire …

She closed her eyes, the memory of their heated encounter from the moment he found her tonight making her tremble again, only this time not with dwindling desire … but in building anger.

His earnest explanation had scattered her confusion and put her mind at ease. How the horrid Chantel learned of his half mask no longer interested Christine. She had faith in Erik and should have exercised that faith from the start. The lurid drawing knocked her off balance, making it impossible to think clearly at first, making her behave like a wayward child. It took his quiet, distressed plea for her to trust him to make her realize what a silly little goose she'd been. But Meg was right. Christine may have been a fool, but Chantel was a vindictive, vulgar little tramp, who should be kicked to the cobbles without further delay and with Christine's footprint on her fanny!

Once more anxious, Christine bit down hard on her lip and cast a worried glance to the ceiling shrouded in darkness. Now she was thinking unholy thoughts in a place of reverent worship? It wasn't wicked enough that she had yearned for – wordlessly begged – her dark Angel to take her right where she sat, in this sacred place, beneath the stained glass window, and do whatever he wished with her – now she was thinking evil thoughts of retribution in her boiling resentment of Chantel's interest in Christine's Phantom-lover?

Her father would be disappointed at her momentary lack of charity.

Madame and Papa both would be horrified at her complete lack of inhibition.

Christine assessed the past several minutes, comprising the extent of her emotion.

If Erik had not barred those doors ...

She shuddered at the worrisome thought and closed her eyes.

Had word gotten back to Madame of her late night indiscretion, Christine could have been discharged from the chorus. When Marie, a sweet dancer one year older, was found to be with child, at the previous manager's insistence Madame fired her, giving no regard to her tears and pleas to stay in any capacity until she found other work. Christine had been quietly horrified, sympathetic to the girl's plight, as had the other ballet rats. And for a time, she had overheard no whispered confessions of secret trysts from anyone, each night, as she lay in her dormitory bed.

Her cheeks and forehead bloomed with heat at the thought of one day carrying Erik's child. While the idea wasn't displeasing, in fact something she would hope for, it made her more strongly consider her current position at the theater as the forthcoming and inexperienced lead, her new role therefore precarious and conditional.

The new managers were licentious, much worse than Lefevere, but like all business owners they preferred to avoid a scandal that could threaten their position and profit. An irony considering their duplicitous lifestyle. Their desire not to let knowledge of the O. G.'s threats or activities leak to the press confirmed their fear of public ridicule, and many of their audience were members of the high-minded noblesse whose favor they curried. Which made it even stranger that they would encourage her to initiate a clandestine involvement with a vicomte – their patron – Raoul … oh, it was all too much to sort out at the moment. There was so much she didn't understand about the covert workings of this theater!

She heard a soft, scratching noise and her eyes flew to the entrance and the darkness there. When the scratching stopped and nothing more happened, she shivered.

Why had Erik not returned? He was too clever to be caught. Perhaps Madame had been the one to try to gain entrance, looking for her, and now she and Erik were in heated discussion involving his presence there with Christine …

But … that made no sense either. Madame had expressed grave displeasure at Christine's earlier refusal to see him. She doubted her ballet teacher would be upset to know that Christine and Erik were together now. With the new schedule her Maestro initiated, Madame also knew that Christine kept company with Erik in his lair the entire night, sleeping in his bed. If not for her foolishness to so quickly believe a lie, tonight would have been no different.

Why Madame had never approached Christine with questions or tried to put an end to their arrangement, Christine often wondered. Of course, her Phantom Angel was daunting to many, insisting on his way, and Madame was his aide. Still, Christine felt curious why Madame never said anything to her, except to ask if he'd "made his requests known."

Pondering a possible explanation, Christine dropped her chin to her knees. Perhaps… perhaps the reason for her turning a blind eye was because Christine was soon to become his wife. At least she hoped so, though to her disappointment he never stated those exact words, instead only strongly insinuating marriage was to be the outcome of their profession of love. If that were true … then those shared moments of blinding passion could not be considered scandalous. Could they?

Whether or not that was the case, such stimulating trysts with her fiery dark Angel were most definitely not appropriate in a consecrated chapel!

In frustration, Christine shook her head at her unintentional audacity. She wished she had someone to question about her uncertainties … but who? Madame knew she went to Erik's lair, but not how intimate their relationship had become, and she would rather endure five practice sessions, end to end, than to speak to her stern ballet instructor of such things. Meg was also untried, and Father was dead, though on a matter so delicate, she likely would have been much too timid to seek his counsel.

In the past, Christine might have confided in her Angel – but he was no true angel and as much a part of the situation as she. From his actions tonight, he certainly found nothing improper with engaging in intimacy absent from the sanctified union of wedlock. And Madame condoned Christine's presence in his lair. So perhaps … perhaps no logical reason existed for them to wait to learn of those unspoken secrets …
Or to wait for him to take her to his bed.

The sudden thought made her heart beat a little faster and her breath catch in her throat. When immersed in such intense passion as Erik made her feel, she welcomed the idea, actually had no lucid thought whatsoever, desiring only to be as close to him as possible. But when her mind was ruthlessly clear, as now, the uncertainty of what was to come, and the mysterious pain she'd heard some ballet rats somberly whisper about, made her view the prospect with a strange mix of determined curiosity and … hesitant unease. Not wanting to avoid crossing that threshold altogether, of course, but a timid part of her wanting to wait as long as possible until she did.

Christine scowled at her exasperating childishness. Afraid of the darkness without Erik. Afraid of physical intimacy with him – yet so often wanting her exciting Phantom to kiss and touch and hold her, which twice now might have led to that inevitable conclusion.

Oh! She was such a pathetic mess of contradictions!

At the sound of a step on the stones, she swung her gaze to the entrance, both relieved and nervous to see him approach. His stature loomed tall, dark, and impressive, like a mythical god, his black cloak fluttering in graceful obeisance behind him. His ever-changing eyes expressed concern as he neared.

"Christine? You're trembling." The rich timbre of his voice came deep and lyrical, even so few words able to weave a spell around her soul, just as he wrapped part of his cloak around her shoulders. "Come, we need to leave this place and get you into a warm bed."

"All is well then?" She swallowed hard, peering up at him. "Will I … will I be coming with you to your home?"
Something dark flashed in his eyes, but he shook his head. "Not tonight. No."

"But …" She hesitated. His answer gave her the escape needed after such troublesome reflection, yet adversely she was not pleased. Their time together had been brief and now in his company again, she did not want to wait another full day and night to spend with him. Especially after all that had happened, she wished to remain in his presence.

Would she ever understand her contrary heart and mind?

"I wish to go with you, Erik. Have you forgotten about the lessons and the opening week after next?"

Her quiet words sounded foolish and she wondered what he must think of her when his visible dark eyebrow arched high. He of all people would not have forgotten, since he, alone, had orchestrated her musical triumph. But she wished only to be with him and said whatever came to mind to help bring that conclusion.
"The lessons will have to wait," he insisted softly. "A matter has arisen that I must attend to."

His inscrutable gaze dropped to her bare toes peeking from beneath the edge of her gown and he shook his head, his lips curling in a sardonic twist of amusement. "We cannot leave by way of the corridor. There are two men outside those doors and I believe they have every intention of coming inside. One of them is the fiend Buquet. Nor can you walk through the tunnel leading to your dormitory with no shoes. Water stands thickly on the ground …"

Her Angel let out a sigh of tolerant exasperation, her guardian once again, then gently pulled her to stand before him, his hands clasping her beneath the shoulders. He leaned down to bring his fascinating eyes to a level with hers. In the dim lighting they now burned smoky-green.

"Christine, listen to me. In the past I know you thought nothing of leaving your room in your nightdress so late in the night, but times have changed. There is a new danger in the opera house. You must desist with this custom of running about half-dressed."

Christine meekly nodded, her act entirely innocent. She hadn't thought anyone would still be awake, and she'd been too upset to think clearly to remember to put on a wrapper or her slippers.

"I meant no harm."

He gave her a tight smile and nod then bent to retrieve his gloves from the flagstones, pulling them on his long, slender hands with two quick snaps.

She pulled her attention away from his action, noting how even something so ordinary he carried out with fluid elegance – and the rest of what he said came clear. Her eyes widened as she searched his face now partly turned away from her. "What danger?"

"That I am unsure of, but I sense it exists. And you must always be on your guard."

She drew her brows together in worry. "You're going to investigate, aren't you? That's why I can't come with you to the lair."

He briefly closed his eyes at the sudden return of strength to her voice then moved to kiss her forehead, cradling her face in his gloved hands. "I will do what I must to protect what belongs to me. That includes you," he added softly, lifting her chin when she looked down, unhappy with his reply. But he was the Phantom of the Opera, this was his domain, and she knew there was no stopping him.

"Erik, be careful."

He smiled in heedless indifference. "You need not fear for my safety. But we must leave this chamber before those fools find they cannot open the doors and go seek help."

"Was it not them who tried before?"

"They approached the corridor afterward."

She drew her brows together in confusion and shook her head. "Then … who?"

"If I told you my assumptions, you would not believe me."

"Of course I would – oh! "

Her words ended in a startled gasp as he swung her off the ground and into his arms. She blinked up at him in bewilderment.

"As I said, you cannot traverse the damp corridors without shoes, and the secret passage is our only way out. The sole option left open is to carry you."

Shyly Christine smiled up at him and wrapped her arm around his neck. She could think of no better option. Pressed against the solid warmth of his chest held in his strong arms, she again felt safe, though the air where he did not touch her made her shiver. Or perhaps her shivering had nothing to do with the cold but everything to do with the man who held her so close.

"Wrap the edge of my cloak around you," he instructed her quietly.

She reached across him and pulled the generous thick fold over her body, encasing them both within the cloak's warm refuge. The stir of the material released a strong wave of the pleasant aroma of candle smoke, sweet ink, and musk that was all his. He moved to the entrance where the lamp stand glowed dimly then turned.

The bend of her legs rested across his arm, and she felt the quick jarring motion of his hand flick upward. Instantly, the candles blew out in the chapel as if by an unseen breath, casting the chamber in complete darkness. Her eyes widened further as she heard the bar lift away and fall from the doors high above them then clatter to the stones.

"Erik …?" she whispered in wondering curiosity.

"Trust me. There is nothing to fear." She could hear the smile coat his low voice as he moved down the dead-end corridor. "To their knowledge … it is only a ghost."

She nodded against him and resolved he would never again need to doubt her trust. Even as they moved away from the open flames of the lamp stand and into a world of thick darkness, she was not afraid. She was with her Angel, who Father had trusted enough to ask to be her guardian. He would always protect her.
Erik pushed his back to the wall. Christine wasn't surprised when the stone moved and gave way to a black cavern of emptiness, which he then stepped through. As the stone closed, concealing them in the secret passageway, she heard the door leading down to the chapel creak open from above. She wondered what an evil man like Joseph Buquet would want in a sacred place and so late at night. Had he arrived earlier he would have been the one to find her there, alone, instead of her Angel. The alarming thought made her shiver and she snuggled closer to Erik.

Pitch darkness surrounded them, but Christine didn't close her eyes to block it out. It failed to matter since she could see nothing, and she experienced the oddest sensation of being uncertain if her eyes were indeed open or in fact shut. Erik, however, must have been born with the eyes of a wildcat, an equivalent to his leonine grace. He moved without hesitation, sure of where he was going, the length of their progress marked by the steady splashes his shoes made as he walked through the long, winding tunnel. Her eyes slowly adjusted to her dim surroundings, patches of slate gray standing out amid the endless black, and she realized light must be coming from some source for her to distinguish colors. Still, she found it surprising he could navigate so well.

Content to be in his arms, she barely noticed when he stopped.

"Christine?"

"Mmm?" She lifted her head from where it had burrowed against his neck.

"Reach to your right. There is a lever. Push it down."

Her hand searched in the darkness, soon meeting with a protrusion in the stone – and suddenly part of the wall disappeared beside her outstretched arm. She gasped softly when she noticed they were only a few feet from the stairs leading up to her dormitory.

He moved through, pressing against one of the painted shells on the papered wall, and the entrance again became hidden, blending with the wall to appear as if it never existed. The corridor stood empty, a sole torch flickering in the gloom to light the way. She could see the strain on his face from carrying her so great a distance.

"Erik, you can put me down. The floor isn't wet here."

Instead, he moved up the staircase with her. To her stunned alarm, he swept with her through the door of her dormitory. She felt grateful that none of the other girls appeared to be awake to know that the Phantom of the Opera had walked into their midst.

He moved directly to her cot, fronted by lengthy wisps of fluttering curtains, and set her on the mattress carefully. She felt mild surprise that he knew where she slept. But then, it was the only empty cot in the room and she supposed that's how he must have known.

"You will be careful?" she whispered, now worried by what he might undertake and wondering if he would again resort to becoming a phantasmal specter to scare the men away.

His smile was mysterious. "I am always careful."

His response produced within her a tiny shiver of longing to remain with him and a niggling of fear that despite his great genius he might be caught. For all his magician's tricks and ease of slipping into shadows, he was not immortal. "You will come for me tomorrow night at the mirror?" she asked suddenly, needing to hear him say the words.

"Yes. Tomorrow we will resume your lessons."

He started to move away, but she clung to his arm. "I don't want to let you go."

He bent to cradle her face in his gloved hands. "Soon, Ma Cheѓie, very soon, the day will come when you will not have to."

Startled by the significance of his deep, velvet words she stared into his eyes, motionless, her heart skipping a rapid beat. He pressed his lips to hers, but briefly, and was gone, his cloak billowing gracefully behind him. A true phantom in the night.

Christine sucked in a slow breath, the chill returning with his absence. She slid between the sheets and stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, thinking of his parting promise to her, of what it would mean. Away from the sacred chapel and again in her warm bed, she allowed the memories to return and linger. Beneath the coverlet, her fingertips slowly traced down the front of her gown barely touching where he had touched as she replayed every moment of his heated mouth kindling hers, his hands scorching her flesh, her Phantom lover igniting a low flame of need that burned deep within her soul … and even now remained lit.

Flushing hotly, Christine curled onto her side and drew her arm against her chest, pressing her fist beneath her chin … fantasizing of becoming one with Erik and learning the full bounty of his impassioned music of the night …

Her mind, an unceasing nuisance, took up the trail of thought it had abandoned in the chapel.

But what will really happen? logic whispered malevolently. Beyond that point of no return …

It doesn't matter. I will be with him,
her heart answered in stubborn loyalty. That's all that counts.

If it doesn't matter, then why continue to question ...?


She closed her eyes in reluctant defeat – why would her mind not let her be! – but allowed reason to have its methodical say.

The ultimate conclusion must be satisfying, with as many forms of prose and plays written involving the act, Erik's own fiery composition among them. Words of fire and passion and buds bursting into bloom, though the latter did sound painful. She had tasted of the fire, experienced the building ache, and wondered how it would feel to be "consumed" by that fire. Would that hurt as well? It was amazing that he could write so descriptively without experiencing such knowledge firsthand. Some of his lyrics must be meant not to be taken literally, surely only as prose and poetry. The drawings had helped to clarify some unspoken questions but not all of them … and what remained undisclosed disturbed her.

But he's my Angel, her heart valiantly argued against logic's cold, pragmatic view that seemed never would give her peace. He once sacrificed his desire to be with me, in his fear that I would come to harm. He was ready to embrace a future of loneliness and heartache, for my sake, if that meant I would be safe. Surely, I can endure whatever suffering is necessary to show him my love?

For once, the voice of reason had no reply.

She remembered how gently he held her, how he insisted on carrying her, how he always protected her. He would never hurt her, if he could help it. Reassured in that knowledge, at last she relaxed, unwanted logic blissfully fading away as her dreams chased it far into the darkness.

.
xXx
.
The Phantom swiftly returned to the black darkness of the corridor behind the chapel and with furtive ease took his place behind the wall with the fresco of the angel. The same place where he had stood night after night and coached Christine, reassured her and consoled her, criticized and scolded her. How their relationship had altered since those stirring moments when his sole gratification had been to catch a glimpse of her sweet face and hear the crystalline purity of her voice!

He still carried out traits of both teacher and friend, but never again could he consider her anything remotely like a child. Even when she behaved like one, it had been a woman of fire and spirit who confronted him tonight in this chapel… a woman of passion and grace he had held in his arms …

Casting from his mind the incredible memory of their encounter lest he forget why he was there, he relinquished all of his fantasies and relied on shrewd reason as he watched through a crack as thick and long as his index finger, cleverly disguised as a crease in the angel's flowing sleeve.

The two miscreants stood in shadows near the lamp stand and entrance of the chapel, murmuring too low for Erik to hear them. To his maddened frustration, he only caught snatches of their exchange, as they would frequently move their heads to view the murky chamber, of whose design they seemed to show keen interest.

"Another passage for it … to arouse suspicion … three weeks … the chamber will suit… Chagny? Laurent? Dubois, yes, definitely. During the new opera … no one will refuse … arrangements for meeting … will contact the others …"

The bearded stranger he'd glimpsed at the opera house once before did most of the talking, Buquet nodding in agreement. Both men turned and took the twisting stairs exiting the chapel. The Phantom quickly moved to the tunnel and a shorter passage that branched off from the one through which he had carried Christine. From this advantageous point and a hole in the wall, he watched the two men part, the stranger leaving the opera house through a back door.

The narrow network of forgotten passages within these main walls of the opera house bore a slight resemblance to the labyrinth of tunnels in the cellars beneath. He assumed these corridors had been blocked off long before he'd taken residence there, remembering the night over two decades ago when the young Antoinette Giry grabbed his hand and ran with him to a hidden door few knew about and since had been forgotten. He later walled the entry with stone, to match what flanked it, ensuring his own private access and the public's exclusion. For what purpose the narrow passages had first been created, then later walled up remained a mystery. But their existence had appealed to his boyhood thirst for dark adventure and later proved beneficial to his menacing role as the Opera Ghost. Along with trapdoors for protection, he had crafted other entrances and spy holes to aid him in his ruse. A few of the passages led down below, such as the one behind the mirror door he'd built and the entrance Christine found near Box Five. The one closest to him led to the rear exit of the theater, where deliveries were made, and he took it with due haste.
Within moments, he spotted the intruder and followed him along the wide empty street of the Rue Scribe, careful to keep his distance. Scattered lampposts cast an infrequent glow over the cobblestones, wet from the melting snow. An occasional lantern's light attached to a carriage coming into view joggled in the mist. Other than that, the night was dark, just how the Phantom liked it.

He avoided the lampposts and kept to the shadows, stepping back into the shallow alcove of a doorway when the man stopped at a corner to speak with another man dressed as shabbily as he. A light drizzle began to fall and Erik glowered at the dismal sky. His home may be cold and damp, but at least, there, no icy moisture fell on his head! He wished for his fedora he wore on the rare occasion he sauntered outside the opera house, but there had been no time to hasten to the lair to retrieve his hat.

The bearded intruder suddenly stuffed his fists in coat pockets and hurried down another street. The Phantom wasted no time in following. The stranger soon headed into the poor district of the city, where the streets lay narrow and the buildings crowded close. At last, he approached the door of one and knocked in a series of sharp raps. An immodestly dressed woman with rouged lips and thick paint on her face opened the door to the man, smiled in welcome, and proceeded to grab his lapels, pulling him inside. Before the door closed, Erik noticed other women behind her, as shoddily dressed in scanty attire and draped around other men.

He scowled when he realized he stood across the street from a brothel. A night wasted! A night he could have spent with Christine …

With an irritated snap of his cloak he moved away, again blending into the darkness, as was his custom, though there was no one there to see. Few traversed the streets so late and in such foul weather.

During the endless walk home, his mind careened on an unswerving return to those forbidden moments with Christine in the chapel. Forbidden … YES… forbidden. How often must he remind himself of that? She was young, pure, untried. He was inexperienced in body but possessed a wealth of knowledge in his mind. What he had not gleaned through illicit texts, he had witnessed of the impure rabble that lived and worked at the theater. The men were no better than rutting dogs taking whatever bitch was in heat – the women acting as if they were previous residents of a common brothel like the one he'd just left. He did not mean to watch, though in his youth he'd been curious and had stared from the shadows of the theater.

After Persia and the revolting incidents he was forced to witness and create involving the perverted insanities of the shah and his malicious mother, once he escaped to France and returned to the opera house, if he would happen to come across a couple in the throes of carnal lust, he only scowled, turned and left. Though sometimes, in his aversion, the occasional torch would abruptly fall from its bracket on the wall and roll in their direction or blow out by his silent command. To his acerbic delight this put a swift end to their raucous grunts as they would then fearfully question each other in the sudden darkness if a ghost could be in their midst. The first time he overheard, the germ of the idea developed in his mind: The Opera Ghost. How wickedly delightful, how cunningly clever and diabolical. Yet not until the toad La Carlotta's unsavory entrance into the theater did he embellish on the idea … and with increasing frequency. Thus, the Phantom of the Opera was born.

Then came Christine, a simple child whose rich voice washed away the bleak emptiness that had become his soul. A gentle angel, whose sweetness and beauty made the depravity and blind self-indulgence of those who lived in the theater a little easier to bear.

He would not betray her innocence.

Or had he done so already?

He clenched his teeth at the disquieting thought while he swept through the fringes of shadows. He did not compare himself to those animals of the O.P. who sought any willing body to gratify their base desires – he loved Christine utterly, wanted to spend his lifetime only with her. Yet moments such as those in the chapel were fast growing beyond his ability to control, though he tried. By all that was sacred, he had tried! He had no damn control when he was with her. The unexpected knowledge of her love and the transcendent gentleness of her touch had blown wide apart the gate he had slammed down in the chambers of his heart where he had dammed up all feeling. Now loosed, the surge overwhelmed him, and in her presence, he wasn't certain how much longer he could keep the volatile swell of emotions from drowning them both.

He was pliant clay in her small hands, though God help him if she ever discovered it. And she was putty in his eager grasp, the desire to touch her growing continual, to bring her to life under his hands that ached to stroke all of her smooth, porcelain skin and mold her supple flesh completely to his …

God! This was insanity!

Even in creating distance, he could not stop thinking of her, could not stop wanting her … and to dwell on as yet unattainable fantasies only sharpened his torment.

At last reaching the opera house, he entered through the stables, stopping only briefly to check on Cesar before taking the secret entrance near the stairwell down to his lair. Until that day, that blessed, elusive hour, he had much to accomplish, and her absence tonight would give him additional time.

In weeks past, he would have never dared linger on such evocative fantasies that burned like molten lava within, would have never dared dream that he would possess all he ever wanted. Immersed moment by blissful moment in the bounty of Christine's affections, he had long since moved beyond his customary excuse of "unattainable" and "implausible" to the extraordinary and heartening "hopeful" and "credible" – and now was impatient to seize that hour, cursing each day for its slow unraveling into the next.

The passage of time would bring that hour into existence. It must. And when it did, Erik would rely on the wealth of twenty-two years' of knowledge he retained to illustrate to Christine, entirely and unreservedly, the hidden mysteries of the flesh. To teach her the evocative melody of the night … his music, his greatest composition … at last to become theirs.

If only that day would arrive …

Casting aside such heated fantasies, he strode with determination to his lair, returning to cool, pragmatic logic and the need to continue with his plans.

xXx

continued next post...
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated 9/17

Postby honeyphan » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:58 am


A Dream and Nothing More
Chapter XVII


.
Christine set out on a seemingly endless trek. She searched the warren of backstage corridors, ignoring the patently curious and mildly hostile glances she received from cast members and crew alike as she quickly swept past them.

This time she would not be stopped.

"Meg!" she called in relief, seeing her friend's straight fair hair hanging down almost to the waist of her satin ballet costume. Meg turned from talking to someone and Christine hastened her approach with a smile. As she walked, Raoul's tall, lean form came into view, where the jutting wall had concealed it, and she stopped in sudden shock.

"Hello, Christine."

"Raoul."

Embarrassed heat washed over her face. She looked away from his curious blue eyes and to the wall, troubled by the memory of what the troublemaker Chantel had said. Of what this entire theater now thought. She had few friends and many enemies, for whatever reason. But that these people she had lived among for years would spread such vicious lies with regard to her and Raoul's nonexistent association stung, and she found it difficult to speak with him, even in greeting. Any time spent in his company, even while among others, would no doubt be misconstrued.

The tension grew palpable as the silence thickened and Christine looked anywhere but at him. She heard him clear his throat.

"Well, ladies, I must be off. I have a few matters I need to discuss with the managers. Miss Giry, it was a pleasure. Christine …" he spoke her name as if uncertain he should, "I bid you adieu."

Christine faintly nodded and swung a curious glance to Meg as he walked away, wondering if by the high color in her friend's cheeks Raoul had meant more to his parting statement than a simple farewell for her friend. It certainly would solve her problem if he took an interest in Meg. Though it would be to her misfortune if the gossipmongers concluded that he was seeing them both behind closed doors. With the way Providence seemed to be leading for her of late, that would likely be the ultimate conclusion.

Meg turned on her suddenly. "Did you have to be so rude? He was only trying to be kind. Honestly, I thought he was once your friend." She pivoted on her heel and whisked away.

Christine stared after her, stung by Meg's words, then hurried to catch up. She put a hand to Meg's arm to stop her. "Please, don't be cross. I wasn't trying to be unkind. When I saw him I just couldn't help but think – well, what the chorus is saying – about what Chantel said …"

Meg looked at her then. "I told you not to pay attention to any of her jealous ramblings. Honestly, Christine, that's all this is about. She's jealous of you. Of your quick rise to fame and the Vicomte's interest – everyone saw that at the ball. She wants him to take notice of her, as so many do …"

Then why would she pen such a drawing of Erik? Christine thought with a twinge of bitter jealousy. Unless what Meg said was true and Chantel had seen her attraction to him. She did also see them together at the ball ... At the wistful close to Meg's words, Christine also suspected her assumption was correct and Meg included herself among those who wished for Raoul to notice them.

"The little guttersnipe should have been shown to the door when she first came here two months ago!" Meg fumed.

"Never mind about her." Christine looped her arm through her friend's, walking with her in the direction of their dormitory. "I have something I want to share with you. I've been wanting to tell you for days!"

Meg looked at her. "A secret?" Her eyes gleamed and Christine thought of just how many secrets were wrapped up in her dark Angel. "A" secret sounded so banal when describing the captivating man of mystery who was hers alone to discover.

"Oh yes, Meg, the most wonderful secret I've ever shared," she said with a dreamy little sigh.

"I hope it's the one you promised to share with me that day in your dressing room."

"Yes, Meg, that's it exactly!"

Like two eager schoolgirls, they stopped, looked at each other and grinned, then in a fit of light giggles hastened up the flight of stairs leading to their dorm. Once there, Christine fell upon her bed to sit, and Meg dropped down beside her.

"Well - well …?"

Christine twisted sideways, grabbing her friend's hands. "You must promise on your honor never to tell a soul, Meg."

"Never – and if I do, may the Opera Ghost haunt me 'til all my teeth fall out and my bones grow crooked."

Christine's eyes widened at hearing their childish solemn motto, and Meg's face turned bright peony red.

"Oh, Christine, I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking –"

Christine dissolved into another fit of bubbling giggles. As a young girl, she had never known the identity of the terrible phantom that caused such havoc within the theater. Now she thought it exceedingly delightful and wickedly funny to hear her friend say such words.

"No, Meg, I don't wish that for you." A sparkle lit her voice, matching her air of cheerful mischief. "But may he be with me for twice that long. Though I do hope all my teeth don't fall out." She wrinkled her nose at the thought.

Meg gaped at her in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"That's my secret! Erik – my teacher – he loves me. He told me so. And I feel the same about him. We resumed our association and I've been seeing him almost every night for weeks. For my lessons, of course." She hoped the blush warming her skin didn't give the other moments away, lessons to be learned most certainly, but delightful ones she would never share. Not even with her dearest friend. Some things, after all, were meant to be kept secret.

Meg blinked as if trying to absorb what Christine said. "But I thought, after what happened yesterday –"

"That was all a lie," Christine interrupted curtly, not wanting the ugly memory to spoil the happy occasion. "I spoke with him. And I believe him. It was Chantel's twisted fantasy, nothing more."

"The little bitch."

Christine's mouth dropped open to hear Meg speak so crudely. Her friend didn't look the least bit ashamed. "Well, she is. She's nothing more than a nasty little Irish strumpet, and she deserves whatever she gets." She hesitated, squeezing Christine's hands. "But, Christine, are you sure you should become so … involved with your teacher and so fast?"

"I'm going to marry him, Meg." She spoke with conviction but still that slim thread of annoying doubt wound around her certainty, cutting into her complete happiness. She shook off such thoughts, remembering the wedding gown he had made for her, proof of his feelings. "And I want you to stand with me when I do. Like we promised each other when we were children."

Meg looked torn, clearly not at peace with the idea, but she gave a faint nod and smile. "Of course. I'll always be here for you, Christine. You have only to ask. When …" she cleared her throat awkwardly. "When will the wedding take place?"

Christine looked briefly askance, trying to hide the tension in her answer. "We haven't discussed dates yet. But I hope it will be soon."

Meg's smile softened, becoming genuine. "You really do love him, don't you?"

"Oh, yes. My whole lifetime, I think."

"Then I'm happy for you, truly. I just wish …"

Startled, Christine tightened her hands around Meg's, her voice lowering to a faint whisper. "Shh. Wait!" She darted a look toward the entrance, then around the room, her eyes alert.

"Christine, what's wrong?"

She didn't answer, only pulled her hands from Meg's and stood up, staring along the low ceiling, making a slow pivot, lowering her gaze to the stone walls. That same unpleasant prickling sensation she'd felt earlier in the week, when she'd left Erik to go to practice, caused chill bumps to rise on her flesh.

"I think we're being watched," she whispered.

"What? By who?" Meg's reply came just as quiet.

"I … don't know …" Christine couldn't shake her unease. She moved toward the corridor and looked out.

"Well?"

"Empty."

"Maybe it's your Angel?"

"No. It's not him." This fearful vulnerability she had experienced only once, and never when she knew Erik had entered her presence. "This has happened before, early one morning, I felt as if someone was following me, watching me …"

Meg suddenly broke into a gay smile. "Christine, you must have been dreaming, or perhaps you were only spooked by a harmless noise. This opera house certainly creaks and groans enough when the wood settles. There's no one outside, and unless the walls have eyes as well as ears, we're alone. Besides, what would you have to be concerned about, with the Opera Ghost as your personal protector?"

Christine attempted a smile at her friend's gentle teasing but couldn't quench her apprehension. Erik had warned her of a new danger. She should speak to him about her concerns, of what just occurred and the first time she'd sensed someone watching. He would know what to do. And she should warn her friend.

Christine returned to her cot and solemnly sank back down beside her. "Meg, there is something else you should know …"

.

xXx

.

Erik blinked his eyes a few times to try to dispel a peculiar faint haze from his mind, one that had clung with persistence during his entire journey to this appointed spot. He watched Christine enter the room and his shoulders sagged in a deep sigh of relief. After his previous arrival to these doors and what had then ensued, he had not known what to expect.

Christine's mood could be as changeable as the weather and just as erratic, and he felt in no way disposed to tolerate another fit of temperament. Though after what she'd seen in that preposterous drawing, he could not blame her initial reaction and instantly forgave her impudence to him. Then …

Her boldness was reaching new heights even he had not foreseen. While on one level it stirred his blood to a dangerous warmth that she no longer displayed any sign of childish reserve or reverential fear, it also maddened him that she spoke to him with such angry confidence. For the first time in his lifehe had felt a strange parallel to another mortal – close to the cutting banter he had shared with the Daroga, the former chief of police at the Shah's palace who rarely feared Erik's reactions, knowing when not too push him too far. But he had been a man. With Christine, he felt at times they spoke as equals – with no formidable mask or title of mad ghost to inhibit her – with no girlish naïveté or dewy-eyed awe to restrain him. Gone was the meek child who once dropped her gaze to the floor at his outbursts and trembled in the face of his rage. Nor did she seem to fear pushing him too far. Such novel moments exasperated him, confounded him, and – deep at the core of all that – they darkly excited him, causing Erik to want to run his hands all over her body and bend her will completely to his. To possess her, overpower her, but more than that, to command to the surface the fullness of the woman that blossomed within.

As Christine locked the dressing room door, he pushed all thoughts of ravishing her firmly aside and slid the mirror open on its track. Her eyes brightened when she turned and saw him. The coveted sight of her and her delighted reaction made his heart turn over with tenderness and gratitude that all had returned to the proper order and this evening would proceed as planned. He didn't think he could endure another arousing altercation at the moment.

"Good evening, Christine."

Without hesitation, she glided forward and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. Moved, he lifted his arms to hold her close a short time then reluctantly set her from him, eager to return to the cool, dim quiet of his lair. He held out his gloved hand. "Come." At his soft command, she readily placed her fingers against his glove and they began their long, winding trek through the dark cellars down to his home. Once he helped her from the gondola and she stepped foot on the shore of his work area, she looked around the hollow chamber of rock as if welcoming a dear old friend. He regarded her with curious surprise. "You seem happy to be here."

"I am. This is where my Angel lives. And with all the beautiful candlelight and your heavenly music, it has become a peaceful haven for me." She smiled shyly at him, then untied the strings of her cloak and let it fall from her shoulders, setting it over his Red Death cape on the back of the chair by the mini theater. "Shall we begin?" Her brown eyes were alight as she lightly clasped her fingers around her dark, shining curls, quickly running her hands down the long clusters of ringlets to smooth them.

His heart caved in at the sight. He thought her the sweetest and loveliest creature in existence. She had spoken of fairies in her tale…perhaps she was indeed a misplaced fairy princess hidden away at the opera house, and he had been the most fortunate ogre to find her. "You do not wish to rest first?"

"I am quite alert and eager to resume my lessons. I can sleep afterward."

Her enthusiasm buoyed his shared delight to begin anew, to hear the sublime excellence of her voice. He nodded in approval, removed his gloves and his own cloak, laying it gently over hers, and followed her toward his pipe organ. He took a seat and put his fingertips to the keys. A sudden wash of dizziness made his upper body sway the slightest fraction, and he impatiently waited for the trifling hindrance to subside.

"Maestro?"

The gentle worry in her voice made him blink. He realized that though his fingers had instinctively located the correct chords, he had yet to begin the scales to introduce her practice. He cleared his throat. "Let us begin."

He took her through the scales and the warm ups then into a simple aria, halfway through closing his eyes against the strange heaviness that seemed to insist on cloaking his mind. His arms felt leaden, though he forced his hands to strike the proper chords. He winced when his little finger conversely slid over to the next key, making a discordant slide into the wrong note.

"Erik."

He heard the gentle command in her voice and her quiet approach but didn't look at her. The effort to turn his head seemed too great.

"What is the matter?" She laid her hand on his shoulder. "My pathetic attempt at those last notes was beyond disastrous, something you usually wouldn't have failed to point out to me."

He smiled in weary amusement. "It seems you no longer need the benefit of my instruction. You have become worthy of your own just criticisms."

"I will always need your instruction," she countered quietly. Her soft hand moved to touch his jaw and seeking relief he pressed his face into her cool fingers.

"Erik!" She turned his head toward her and looked with concern into his eyes. "Your face is like a flame. Don't you feel well?" Her other hand came up to press against his opposite jaw then flew to touch his forehead. "I think you are feverish."

"Rubbish. The Phantom of the Opera never gets ill."

She shook her head at his stubbornness. "Well, that may be. But it appears that the very special man who is my Angel needs care, and I'm here to give it."

Her words moved him, but he refused to give in to such foolish weakness. "We must continue with your lessons. The opening draws near, as well you know, and we have lost too much time already."

"We cannot continue with my lessons if you can barely sit at the organ to play."

He tried to draw in a deep breath for patience, but it made his chest hurt and he allowed the air to lodge in his throat, letting it out softly. "I'm fine, Christine."

She put her hands to her hips. "No, you're not. You're acting just like Meg when she's caught a case of the influenza. I should have realized it earlier. You've been moving slower than usual, as if you're in a haze. And your eyes look dull, as if they're in a fog."

For his normally vigorous condition to be linked with one of the petite ballet rats and found lacking felt like an assault to his character. The insult raised his ire, helping him think a little clearer. "If I've been moving slowly and my eyes are unfocused it's due to a lack of sleep and not the infectious inability to execute the most basic of tasks. NOW, let us continue." He whirled back to face the organ, a mistake, for the room spun with him and he clutched the keys in a discordant clash.

She let out a soft cry of alarm. He heard the swish of her clothing as her arm flew forward to steady him. His dignity injured, he stiffened his back and shoulders like a wall of stone before she could make contact. She hesitated then dropped her hand to her side.

"Play then, if you wish to destroy your health." Her voice came petulant and determined. "But I will not sing."

"Do not be difficult, Christine. Of course you will sing! It is why I brought you here."

"You are one to speak of being difficult, Monsieur Phantom!"

He glared at the notes of the aria before him, many of which strangely began melding together into indiscernible dark blots.

Instantly changing tactics, she placed her arm around his rigid shoulders. For an instant he vaguely wondered why he had fought off her gentle touch.

"Please, Mon Ange, let me take care of you. We can return to the lessons later, when you've rested for a few minutes. Have you tea? Brandy? Clover honey perhaps?"

His first inclination to refuse and insist on the practice fell to the wayside when he tried to make sense of her inane questions. He had difficulty sorting out their possible logic in his mind and looked at her in hopeless confusion.

"For a hot toddy," she explained with a winsome smile. "Madame Giry always made them for Meg, and I watched. They are wonderful for such ailments."

He waved away her concern. "I have no ailments."

"Of course not." She pulled on his arms in an effort to get him to rise. "Come along, darling. Would it really be so dreadful to lie down for a short time?"

At the tender endearment she had never before used, he felt his tenacity fold in weak surrender like a deflated accordion. He let out a quiet, frustrated breath, realizing she would never desist with this tiring foolishness, and he was weary of arguing. Weary in mind and limb and spirit. "Only a few minutes then."

She attempted again to help him rise but he resisted her coddling. "I'm not infirm," he groused between clenched teeth, holding to the edge of the organ as he pushed himself to his feet in determination. Unfortunately, he must have stood too quickly. His eyes again lost focus, another wave of heated dizziness threatening to make him fall back to the bench. Leaning over, he barely clung on for balance, detesting his once sturdy legs for their despicable weakness.

He felt her small shoulder lodge under his, her slim arm wrapping around his back for support. "Just hold fast to me, my love."

Her voice was sweetness incarnate and he found he could offer no further refusal as he held on to her and she helped him walk toward the stairs leading to the bedchamber. Confused, he opened his mouth to tell her she was going the wrong way, but almost tripped, then wondered how, since no stray stone jutted from the ground to mar his path. It was a wonder he didn't fall down the bloody stairs! She held more tightly to him, wrapping her other arm around his front at his waist as he used his other hand for balance against the wall. Grudgingly, he marveled at her strength, knowing as tall as he was and as solidly built it could not be easy to guide him, though he detested the reason for the emergence of such a trait.

At the bed, she sat down with him on its edge. "Lay back, Mon Ange. Rest." She untangled herself from him and he decided to give in, having had no sleep in three nights, when the pressure of her hands suddenly came to his shoulders to stop him.

"No … wait."

"Make up your mind, Christine," he growled, looking at her through half-slitted eyes, disgusted that his failed attempt at a harsh command came out as weak as a newborn cub's.

"You can't rest with any comfort in your waistcoat and this." He felt her fingers go to the cravat knotted at his throat, pulling at the material until it was free and she whisked it from around his neck. He sensed her hesitation then heard the swish of her skirts as she knelt before him and her fingers went to the buttons of his waistcoat. With slow deliberation she began to unfasten them. He wasn't sure if the trembling he felt was coming from her small hands brushing against his chest or if his suddenly useless body shook from the strange chills that shivered through him. Even useless, his flesh was strongly aware of her nearness, his mind aware that she was undressing him.

"Christine, stop …"

"Hush," she admonished gently and suddenly pulled his waistcoat away from his shoulders, freeing him of one sleeve then the other. She laid the coat over a nearby chest then knelt again, her hands going to his shoes. She had unfastened them and removed them before he could collect enough energy to tell her he could manage. The truth was, he could not manage, and he failed to understand how such a feeling of complete listlessness, as though the very marrow was being sucked from his bones, could so swiftly overcome him. It was heinous, pathetic, the height of all insult, other than the revulsion of his face, that his body would give in to any contemptible form of such physical weakness …

"Now, lie down." She helped him to recline against the softness of the velvet sheet, and he had to admit the experience soothed away some of the strange dull ache inside his head. He felt her unfasten the top buttons of his shirt then pull the blanket over him. "Rest, mon amour. I'll be back with your hot toddy soon."

"Mon Ange ... de la ... Musique …" He wanted to express his love for her, but his whispered endearment were the only words he could manage before his mind became mired with the lassitude of his body, and his eyes joined in the betrayal, wearily falling shut.

xXx

Christine tenderly looked upon his lean, supine form, his body so long that his feet nearly reached the end of the bed. She squelched a tiny bubble of a giggle, pressing her fingers to her mouth. Had she truly just told her strict Maestro and powerful Angel Guardian, the most notorious Phantom of the Opera to "hush"?

Her amazement at her bullying to force him to get bed rest – even more, that he had succumbed! – changed once again to concern as he groaned and mumbled in his sleep. She eyed the porcelain half mask, wondering if it caused him discomfort. She wished he would agree to remove it, wished also that she had not promised never again to try. Remembering his account of how the mask stayed on, she feared the damage it might do if he were bedridden for more than a few minutes, which seemed likely, and the pain it might cause if he lay there for hours … it was evening. The paste would be loose.

Undecided, she twisted her fingers in her skirts to stop them from reaching forward, until she finally stilled them, resigned. It felt like an assault against his privacy to try to remove his mask when he was oblivious to everything around him. She could not do that to him, even to aid in his comfort. She had hurt him enough the first time when shameful curiosity had been the snare to tempt her hand.

Did he ever take it off and keep it off?

With a little sigh of discontent, she left the bedroom and walked across the lair to his kitchen. Erik's cooking area consisted of a pitifully small corner where bags and boxes of produce sat stacked on the ground and on one narrow shelf. A small stove sat above an oven with a pipe that led through the cavern ceiling. A tall cupboard held a scant amount of dishes and cutlery for the vast space it provided, and a table as small as the oven stood pushed against the wall, where one chair sat facing the expanse of cavern stone.

The pitiful scene brought tears to her eyes when she thought of the twenty-two years of solitude her Angel had lived in this cave beneath the earth, thinking himself an outcast, no better than an animal. Well, he would never be alone again. Marriage or no, she would never leave him.

The revelation came to her swiftly, scattering her earlier misgiving with regard to his puzzling silence of a proposal. After forced into a life of complete solitude, though she still didn't understand his reasons, perhaps he yet needed time to accustom himself to the idea of sharing his life with another individual in the lasting bond of marriage. Perhaps he never would. No matter, her heart was eternally bound to his and there, in that moment, as she stood looking at that one chair in his tiny kitchen, she knew she would always go to him, in whatever capacity he asked. He was right – he had shackled her with his exquisite music, his mesmeric voice, his very presence long years ago. Each year the fetters had tightened and she welcomed their restraint. She was forever bound to Erik and she never wanted to be set free.

Her decision felt liberating, as if a burden had rolled away from her heart, and she made quick work of finding tea and brandy. Seeing no long matchsticks, she took a lit candle from a nearby candelabrum to light the stove. She set the kettle to boil, relieved to find water in it, unsure where Erik kept a fresh supply.

Christine found several beautiful goblets but no teacups. She deliberated, then took two silver goblets, both of them tall and wide-lipped. A second search yielded a jar of honey. Liberally lining the bottoms of both goblets with the golden-brown goo, she then poured brandy into each, filling them halfway. She found what could pass for a cup – made of tin – and spooned tea leaves inside. While waiting for the kettle to boil, she sliced a lemon in half. Once the steam sang through the spout, she poured water over the tea leaves, stirred, then added the tea to the brandy and squeezed half of the lemon into both goblets. She stirred them, took a sip of one, and smiled at the pleasant warmth that soothed her insides. Though she didn't know how to cook, Madame had at least taught her how to make a good hot toddy.

She approached the bedroom and the bed, at once noticing that Erik had kicked off the thick velvet coverlet. His hair was tousled on the pillow, his shirt had come the rest of the way undone – had he ripped at it in his fretful slumber? – and now she could perfectly see the soft tufts of hair that dusted his glistening chest and gathered midway in a thin trail to disappear into the waistband of his trousers.

She barely managed not to drop the goblets.

Taking in a deep shaky breath, she set the toddies on the bedside table and returned her attention to him, couldn't take her eyes off him. His skin shimmered as pale as alabaster from a life spent indoors, the muscles beneath not bulky like some men's in the chorus – but solid and very well defined. She had never seen him so utterly disheveled, so entirely male. Never had seen so much of his flesh – his build trim and firm, not an ounce of spare – and the sight made her catch her breath in a sudden warm rush of longing so strong that she clenched her fists until her nails bit into her palms and she wondered if they bled. Dazed, she wondered what other mysteries his clothing concealed. The drawings had not told all. What was surprising, her wicked rumination didn't shock her, as it would have before.

The need to gather her unsteady thoughts back into alignment caused her to remember why she was there. She sank down to the edge of the mattress.

"Erik?"

He slept, but not peacefully, his lips softly forming words she couldn't hear. If not for the toddy he must drink to help him, she would let him sleep. She moved closer, putting her hand to his shoulder. His words still came faint but were now discernible.

"Persia … not tell her …"

Christine's brow grew troubled when she realized he was having a nightmare.

"You cannot make me – no … Daroga … damn you… away …"

"Erik!" She gently shook his arm, then harder when he didn't awaken.

"I cannot … lose her …"

Moving her body close, she leaned over him, the fevered heat from his bared chest radiating in waves that scorched her exposed skin, and she wrapped her hands around solid muscle and shook him by both arms.

"ERIK!"

His eyes flew open, for an instant exhibiting startled terror, his body flinching backward in the bedding by instinct, before realizing it was Christine who leaned above him.

"I was asleep?" he questioned after a moment, his voice a low rumble that undulated through her, making her feel weaker than she already did.

"Y-you were dreaming." Shaky to be so close to him in such a state and after her most recent thoughts, she released his arms and straightened to sit beside him. "It didn't sound like a nice one."

"No …" He grew distant, the shutters falling over his fever-glazed eyes.

"I brought you the hot toddy." She hesitated. "Do you need help sitting up to drink it?"

"I am not an invalid."

His arms shook badly as he used them for leverage, and twice she barely refrained from reaching over and giving him aid, knowing he wouldn't take the gesture well, but at last he sat with his back against the shell frame. He took the goblet from her, looked into it then took a sip. She tried not to look at what his open shirt revealed but found it impossible, her eyes straying to his bared skin more than once. The warmth staining her cheeks – she feared permanently – she cleared her throat.

"Do you like it?"

"Yes." His eyes lifted to hers. "But you should not be here."

She frowned in hurt puzzlement. "You brought me here."

"An unfortunate mistake. You should not be here. Should not be near me. Like this …"

Her brow cleared in relief that he only thought of her health. "I've helped tend to Meg on occasion. I never get ill."

"Neither do I," he retorted dryly.

She looked down into her toddy. "You need not concern yourself over me, Erik. I also made myself one of these, as a precaution."

He said nothing, only took another long drink and pulled the cup away from his mouth, staring straight ahead toward the foot of the bird-shaped bed.

She hesitated, uncertain if she should speak, then looked at him. "What's in Persia?"

He grew very still. His face seemed to grow even paler, but in the dim light of one distant candelabrum and against the ivory porcelain of his mask, she couldn't be sure. "Why do you ask?" He didn't look at her.

"You spoke of Persia. In your sleep."

He flinched. "It was a dream. Nothing more."

He took another drink of the toddy, clearly upset by her persistence. When the silence became uncomfortable, she sighed and concentrated on finishing her own drink. She felt it must have been more than just a dream for it to affect him so strongly, but it had been a trying day of never-ending practice and stern tongue-lashing and she had no desire to initiate another argument. Relaxing warmth soothed the chill from her bones and made her pleasantly drowsy. She looked with longing at the empty space beside him.

"Erik?" She waited for his response. When he failed to answer, she went ahead. "Do you sleep in it too?"

He turned to look at her, his eyes half-closed. Though the warning that flickered in the murky storm of their gray-green depths made it clear he understood the question.

"Why do you ask, Christine?"

If she told him that he didn't have to, he would only become angrier and likely cite a litany of explanations about being a beast, a monster, a demon – or all three. She had no wish to hear any of that again, nor did she desire to see him upset. But she didn't wish to see him suffer either.

"If you would like," she started carefully, "that is, if you have a more … comfortable mask, I will retrieve it for you. And the solution to remove the paste for that one."

He stared at her, his expression indefinable and she squirmed.

"I know that regardless of what I say you still wish to continue wearing a mask when I'm with you, and I don't want it to adversely affect you … your face. That is," she floundered over her words hoping he wouldn't misconstrue her intent. "Your skin. I don't wish you to endure any unnecessary suffering because of my presence here."

For a moment she didn't think he would answer, and she sighed, looking into her empty goblet.

"Near the mini stage, the table with the mirror, there is a blue jar of solvent and a small artist's spatula, thin, white …" His eyes flickered closed and he opened them again as if with force, clearly fighting off sleep. "Also a black mask. Bring them to me."

Relieved he would comply, she set her goblet down and went to retrieve the items. She wondered how he intended to treat the entirety of their life together. Would he always feel the need to wear a mask, always sleep in one? She frowned at the thought as she gathered the materials. The masks he fashioned did give him an aura of mystique, his full appearance utterly captivating, but she wished for him to feel comfortable in her presence without one. That he didn't, and she was the cause, fell like a double blow to her heart.

She returned and handed him the materials, noticing he had finished his toddy. She took his goblet and hers, leaving the bedroom to give him the privacy she knew he would demand. She set both goblets on the small table as a quiet statement, moved the chair around with its back to the wall and facing the lake, found another chair nearby, brought it to sit beside the other one, sat down, plucked an apple from a bowl and ate it, before she felt enough time had passed. For all her newborn confidence, at the foot of the stairwell to the bedchamber, she hesitated like a lost child.

He must have heard her steps come to an abrupt halt on the stones for he called out, "It is alright, Christine. You may enter." His voice came groggy but still held the rich nuance that caused tiny shivers to tingle along her spine every time she first heard it.

Once inside the bedroom, she stared. His new choice of the black mask with a slight shimmer to it covered both sides of his face stopping midway at his cheekbones, but was made of what appeared to be a soft satin or silk and for that she was glad. It, along with his current state of undress, gave him the look of a dangerous, indolent bandit, and she caught an unsteady breath.

"Thank you, Mon Ange," he reached for her hand hanging at her side and barely squeezed her fingers. "I am a boor."

Whether it was the brandy that loosed his tongue or a penitent heart, she didn't know, but before she could answer what resembled his form of an apology, his eyes again fell closed.

Christine stared at him long after his breathing grew even and peaceful. She found it enthralling to watch Erik sleep, noting how his mouth softly parted and relaxed, the faint lines of anger and bitterness faded from their corners. He had been to her a Guardian Angel and now, in a twist of fate, she had become his, to watch over and care for him. She wondered if anyone ever cared for him in his past and a great sorrow clenched her heart that he'd never known his mother's love. At least she had childhood memories, faint though they were, but he had nothing.

Her eyelids began to droop. She looked down at the snug gypsy costume she wore for their twilight meetings then thought longingly of the bundle she had brought with her. The dress would hardly be comfortable to sleep in. He had seen her in her nightdress before, and, given his condition, she would probably wake long before he did.

With her decision made, Christine retrieved her bundle and modestly went behind the bed to a small alcove that stood out of sight. She did not want to run the risk of him opening his eyes and catching her in the middle of changing – though the probability was doubtful when she remembered how difficult it had been to wake him. Once ready for bed, she crawled in beside Erik, keeping distance between them, and pulled the covers to her chin. She braved a look in his direction.

He did not stir, did not even know she was there. She began to relax and rolled to her side to watch him as he slept. Her Angel … With a soft smile, she reached across the velvet sheeting, resting her fingers against his sleeve at the bend of his arm. Weariness overtaking her, at last she closed her eyes.

xXx

continued next post...
Image E/C manip made by me
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honeyphan
 
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