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


Re: Symphony in the Twilight - new update- 1/28/16

Postby honeyphan » Tue Mar 15, 2016 7:31 pm

Definition of "soon" - any time after now. Image

Here's the next... (good news is that since it's been awhile, I have since posted another chapter, so this is not the last as it was when I said it.) :angel2:

Inside my mind

Chapter LXIII


.

"Christine, are you alright? You've barely said a word since we arrived."

She did not respond, and Meg eyed her in concern. Ever since they entered the flat and the Vicomte laid a fire, Christine stood near the hearth, clutching her cloak around her and staring into the flames.

"Raoul left to find something for us to eat," Meg tried once more to gain a reply from her friend. "I don't know about you, but I'm famished. I barely touched lunch."

The slightest tilt of Christine's lips could almost be construed as a smile.

"So, it's Raoul now."

"No," Meg said with force, taken aback, then blushed. "I don't know. Maybe." She shook her head. "We have yet to speak of whatever it is he wished to tell me, though I cannot imagine there's anything of significance to talk about. Anything between us is impossible…"

Aware she had again lost Christine's listening ear, Meg sighed, disappointed but not upset. She only spoke of such matters in a vain attempt to have Christine focus on anything but the past several hours. Another pall of silence broken only by the crackle of flames filled the room. Meg never once took her eyes off Christine, who stood in profile to where Meg sat on the edge of the bed. She refused to speak of the incident when Meg gently brought it up, refused to speak at all, and Meg still had no idea why Christine left her husband. Once, she would have been relieved by Christine's choice to cut ties with the Opera Ghost, but she had since adapted her opinion where he was concerned. That they loved each other deeply could no longer be disputed, and Meg's heart ached when she recalled the tremendous suffering her friend endured and the desolate look in the Phantom's eyes as he had held his unconscious bride in his arms.

"I should tell you, Maman mentioned that she does not expect you at practice tomorrow. We were discussing…"

What happened in the costume room? No! She couldn't say that.

"…matters at the opera," she supplied weakly. "She would have told you – or, or your husband – but I'm certain she would expect me to relay the information since I'm here and she's not…"

Meg wondered if her presence was helping at all. She had no idea how to reach Christine with compassion or comfort when every bumbling attempt had her remain silent or withdraw further into herself, as if into an invisible shell.

A sharp rap at the door made both women look that way. Alarm darkened Christine's eyes.

"It's just the Vicomte," Meg said, hoping it was so. She felt she knew the Phantom well enough that a barred door would never keep him from his wife if he desired to see her. While she failed to understand Christine's curious change of heart in putting distance between them, she would do her utmost to respect her friend's wishes. She lifted the bar and opened the door a crack, a relieved breath escaping along with a rush of words she could not contain.

"It is you."

Raoul's eyebrows sailed high beneath the brown wig. "I hope I'm still welcome? I bring provisions." He slightly hoisted the wooden crate he carried in both arms to show her, and she opened the door wide, letting him in. "Coffee – sorry, no milk," he related. "And it's rather stout. Been in the pot all day, I would think. A loaf of bread. Cheese. Apples…" He looked over at Christine, who continued to stare into the fire and had yet to acknowledge him. "I remember how you enjoyed the occasional apple on a stick that the vendor sold at the seaside. These don't have sticks, but they look just as appetizing…"

When her friend gave no response, Meg took the carafe from the box and one of three tin mugs. She pried off the lid and poured a cup, taking it to Christine. "This will help warm you."

At first Christine did not respond but at last she reached out and took the cup.

"Thank you, Meg." Her voice was so soft as to barely be discernable.

"Would you like something to eat?"

"No…thank you."

"I'll be just outside if you ladies need anything else," Raoul said quietly, clearly discomfited by her stiff politeness.

Behind Meg, the door opened and shut.

"Christine, we've always confided in one another. You know you can talk to me. About anything."

Christine drew her brows together as if at a troublesome thought. "I think you have someone else you should speak to at the moment."

"Who – Raoul?"

"You did say you had unfinished business with him."

So, she had been listening.

"It can wait. I don't want to leave you here alone."

Christine turned fully to look at her. "I'll be fine. You'll only be outside the flat, after all, and really, I would prefer a moment to myself."

"Oh." Meg felt awkward, like a stranger desiring to help without any true knowledge of what to do or say. Christine had been so cold and detached since she appeared in Maman's office, but that was no true surprise. Meg recalled de Sade's illicit book and the horrible atrocities inflicted upon the all-too-trusting heroines, sadly aware that Christine could now be counted among their number. "Well then. If you're sure, I'll just be a moment."

Christine barely acknowledged her with another nod.

Outside, Meg walked to where Raoul sat on the driver's seat of the carriage, blowing on his coffee to cool it. The night air was frigid for April, and she longed for the days of summer. The street was quiet, nothing like the busy traffic on the Rue Scribe, which had carriages and pedestrians traveling its wide bricked thoroughfare all hours of the day and night – at least, until the curfew enacted by revolutionists put a damper on evening activities.

"May I join you?"

"Of course." Upon seeing her standing on the opposite side of the carriage, he set his mug on the bench and moved to step down on his side, come around, and assist her.

"Don't be silly," she scoffed, the short ascent hardly difficult for a dancer. She grabbed the carriage and hoisted herself up, however did accept his hand for balance when the carriage jounced from her efforts. Once seated she gave him her full attention, watching as he retrieved his mug from the bench seat. She wished she would have thought to pour her own steaming cup before joining him.

"You really don't have to stay."

"I wouldn't dream of leaving you ladies alone and unprotected."

"It's kind of you, but I cannot imagine it would be comfortable sitting in this carriage all night and keeping watch."

"I've managed worse."

Somehow, given his status as a vicomte, Meg doubted it. She briskly rubbed her hands together in an attempt to warm them.

Raoul noticed her glance twice at his mug and offered it to her. "Would you care for some?"

Meg's face heated with embarrassment. Drinking out of the same tin seemed such an intimate act.

"No, that's alright. I can always go inside for a cup." Recalling Christine's lack of desire for company, her words came without enthusiasm.

"I insist," he held his mug toward her. "With how you're shivering, you're more in need of it than I. Go on," he urged. "Take the rest. I had a cup in the kitchens before I left."

"The kitchens?" she asked in surprise, unable to resist the lure of the hot beverage any longer, grateful for the press of hot metal against her chilled fingers. "You mean the opera house?" At his nod, she inquired, "Were you not concerned that you might be seen and caught? That wig helps, but really, it seems you would make yourself scarce when possible." She took a sip, preferring it doused with milk on the rare occasion she drank it. But she did not shun his kindness, grateful the acrid bite produced the heat needed.

"The Phantom isn't the only one who has learned to practice stealth," he said, somewhat mysteriously. At her raised brows, he explained, "As an only child in my father's home, I was taught never to be seen or heard, unless my presence was required."

"That seems a miserable childhood," she commiserated. "Christine and I had Maman as a disciplinarian, of course. She's very strict, especially with anything to do with the opera, but except for bedtime, she never enforced absence or silence. I suppose that would have been rather impossible for children learning to sing and dance with aspirations to join the chorus. But to be honest, we didn't always follow the rules for bedtime either. We often chose nighttime for our most confidential chats."

Meg fondly thought of those days when the height of their troubles was arriving to practice on time or learning a difficult ballet movement. Childhood was so blissfully simple.

"Christine is fortunate to have you for her friend," he said softly.

His unanticipated compliment brought another flush of warmth through her blood, not entirely unwelcome, but making her feel awkward since she had so dismally failed Christine.

"I've tried to do all I can for her, but nothing helps," she found herself confiding in him. "I get the impression that she would prefer me to return to the opera house and leave her be."

"I think it's enough to know you're there, even if she doesn't say it."

Meg tilted her head in confusion. "Why would you think that? You saw how she's been."

He considered a moment. "When I was a lad in boarding school, a friend received word that his parents and sister had been killed in a tragic accident, their home burned to the ground. In his grief, he withdrew into himself and spoke to no one, though I and other friends of our group made certain one of us was always near should he need us. On the day he left to live with his grandfather, when we said our farewells, he admitted that it helped him in those dark weeks, simply knowing we were there. Christine may wish for solitude at the moment, but I am fairly certain she is grateful to have you near."

Meg smiled pensively, heartened by his words. Each time she met with him, Raoul proved to be benevolent and thoughtful – not the overbearing, arrogant vicomte she had thought he might be when she first heard of his arrival to the theater.

"You are so different than what I imagined…" She put voice to her musings, her face again going hot when she realized her impulsiveness, and took a sip of coffee to hide her expression. "But you still belong to a world so far removed from mine."

There. She had laid out the foundation of the difficulty that stood like a wall of brick between them. Their social classes sprung from two polar opposites. She, a thespian, ridiculed by those of his breeding, however much those same messieurs and mesdammes enjoyed a night of entertainment at the opera. He, a vicomte who received his education at a prestigious boarding school, where his fathers had likely gone before him, to train their sons to be lords over their servants – and never have anything to do with a lowly thespian. Anything proper, that is.

As though he heard her thoughts, he shook his head. "It is a different France than that of my grandfather's day, Meg. The nobility is but the shadow of a memory, a title now only window dressing to a bygone lifestyle. Should the revolution end soon, as undoubtedly it will, I sincerely doubt the old ways will be restored."

"Window dressing?"

"The shoppes put their best wares on artistic display in the windows – their best foot forward, so to speak. It entices those who stop and stare to perceive the store's contents to be much more than what they are."

A cynical outlook, but with the intrusion of the revolution, understandable for a nobleman to make. She wondered if all titled Frenchmen felt the same way, or if because he had been given an inside view while in poor man's disguise he saw to the heart of the matter.

"Our worlds are not so very different, not anymore," he said quietly, and she was hard pressed not to let out a burst of disbelieving laughter.

"How can you say that? No matter the pretense, you can never be a Tristan, lowly born and lacking of any breeding. You are Raoul de Chagny, raised as a vicomte to take over your father's estate one day. And even if the nobility won't again be restored to its imposing grandeur as you seem to think, your family does still preside over the theater where I work as a dancer, having sent you as a patron. You may not be in charge at present, but who's to say you won't gain the right again some day?"

"Is that truly so important?"

She was taken aback by his indifference, afraid to assume too much.

"Isn't it?"

"Not to me."

"But to your family it would mean a great deal. They would not be pleased if you should… act against their wishes." She just prevented herself from blurting her feelings and making this personal, instead, keeping the conversation vague.

"Once, I might have cared what they think," he said somberly. "Recent developments have since altered my stance on their opinions."

"The Revolution?" she asked, puzzled.

"No, an incident that happened long before the Revolution …" He stared ahead at the empty street, his words distant, his manner guarded, making her wonder. "Every family has its share of secrets, I suppose. The de Chagnys are no different, with secrets I was recently made privy to. We are a noble and esteemed family, our title going back centuries, but there are dark corners that have been shielded from the light of public knowledge." He shook his head in regret then turned to look at her. "One day, I should like to share with you the truth of who we are, to reveal those dark corners, and hope you would still want to remain ... a friend."

Meg looked at him, a little anxious by his ominous words, her heart picking up pace by what this could mean and the odd way he said the last, as if he wished to consider her in a different way.

"What are you saying exactly, Raoul?"

He sighed and looked down at his hands bracing his knees. "At present, I have no right to speak. I have nothing substantial to offer – my livelihood is at risk from being seized by revolutionists, my family having fled and myself in hiding to prevent that. I cannot even return home at this point, for fear that they are lying in wait to capture and use me as bait. I have no way of knowing how or when the tide will turn, and once this debacle ends, if I will be a pauper or if I will retain our holdings. Perhaps I'm selfish to say this, in light of present circumstances …" He looked at her then and laid his hand over hers. "But I find it impossible to keep silent any longer. I care for you, Meg, a great deal…"

Her heart had sped up with each sentence aired. At the profession of his feelings, it seemed to jump to her throat and lodge there. The pressure of his hand stirred her senses. She could not form a reply, her brain suddenly turned to mush, her limbs stiff, though she felt light as air, as if she sat on clouds and not wood.

"One day, when I have the right to ask," he went on, "when I can offer more than these two empty hands, I hope you will grant me the answer I seek." He seemed suddenly uncertain, endearingly so. "Am I wrong to hope that you return my feelings?"

"No, Raoul," she practically whispered. "You're not wrong."

And turning over her hand that lay beneath his palm, she interlaced her fingers with his.

xXx

Christine sat on the floor before the hearth and stared into the fire, half lulled into a stupor by its sinuous dance. She concentrated on the performance, giving the inanimate life and weaving foolish tales within her mind of the flames being slaves to the wood, forced to dance for its pleasure, the occasional sparks shooting upward the sweat and the blood and the tears. The flames continued their hypnotic dance, slowly turning on their gluttonous captors and overpowering the wood until it was no more than ash. And the flames, with nothing more to support them, also dwindled out of existence, the only memory of their captivating beauty the orange embers that lay dormant from within piles of gray ash…

The door opened, stirring the ash with a sudden gust of wind.

"Brrr. It's freezing in here."

Meg closed and barred the door, then went straight to the hearth. She added more wood, poking at embers – and soon the fire dance of slavery began anew.

"You should lie down and rest, Christine. It's quite late."

She had heard the distant bells of Notre Dame and knew it had gone past midnight.

"I'm not sleepy. You go ahead."

Meg hesitated, the cloak she had just doffed lying over her arm.

"I can stay up, if you want to talk or just want the company."

"No. Go to bed. Dawn will be here before you know it, and you have an early practice."

"Well…alright then. I am rather tired." Meg slid into bed and pulled one of the spare blankets she had brought up to her neck. "Goodnight."

Hardly that…

Christine could not sleep. Sleep brought dreams, and dreams nightmares. So she continued to stare into the fire, weaving her dark whimsical tales and determinedly drinking the stout coffee that tasted as though something abhorrent like tar had been ground in with the beans. It kept her awake; it served its purpose.

x

The next morning, relieved of the duty of appearing at the theater and grateful she needed no excuse for her absence, Christine remained behind while Raoul drove Meg to practice. He offered to return, again to act as a guard, but Christine's insistence that it would look suspicious for the newly hired Tristan also to be missing from the theater along with her firm reassurance that she would bar the door and not open it for anyone finally persuaded him.

Once alone, the solitude turned on Christine and acted as her enemy. No longer able to escape unwanted thoughts with the fire's mesmeric dance, everywhere she looked in the light of day, she was reminded of her husband and their blissful night together in this cramped room.

She missed him, missed his strength and his comfort. At the door he had trapped her body with his in a desperate and exasperating effort to teach her to protect herself. Here, by the hearth, in front of a fire much like the one she stared into, they had fed each other cheese and fruit and then fed the need to express their love as they shared the blanket she now held loosely around her shoulders. In the narrow bed, they had laid wrapped in intimate embrace. The morning sun had revealed facets of his countenance in ways she had never seen, lending to her fascination…

…while the next afternoon she had looked into the depths of his soul, into dark corners never expected, and learned all he had fearfully hidden. She was furious with his deceit and hurt by his mistrust of her in holding onto his wretched secrets and lies. She feared him and the darkness he was capable of creating.

Immediately, she vanquished the thought. No. She did not fear the man she married. Only the dark deeds of his past. And so dark they were – could there be anything more dark or malevolent than taking human life?

The Angel he was, the man she'd come to know over the past months – over the years – did not fit the mold of the villain he so acerbically described to her. He confessed he had killed, countless times. Had engaged in the cold-blooded murder of innocents.

How could she ever reconcile such harsh truths with the sensitive gentleman she knew? Erik was violent at times, yes, but never with her.

She was not God. She had no right to judge. Indeed, she would make a pitiful deity…

But, perhaps, had he entrusted her with the full story of his time in Persia at some point these past weeks, she might not now be soiled. How could she forget what his deceit had cost her?

Christine drew her lips together, wishing to quench the terrifying memory, and brutally stirred the dying embers with a poker, commanding them again to dance. A flame shot high, crackling angry sparks that showered down, one hitting the tender patch of skin below her thumb.

With a gasp, she dropped the poker and withdrew her hand, clutching it to her bosom. Tears filmed her eyes. Had Erik been here, he would have rushed to her side, insisting to see what injury she caused, perhaps retrieving his box of potions to treat the burn. He would have tended the scrapes and bruises still felt. He always took such good care of her, always protected her…

No. No. No – it just didn't fit!

She should have stayed, should have asked him why he left. He vacated Persia for a crucial reason, she was sure of it. How could an assassin with a heart so black as he'd told her then come to the Opera House and become Angel to a grieving child who was no more than a stranger? That had been no lie. Yes, he had adopted a masquerade in his pretense as the Angel of Music, and in that sense had lied – but all of what he taught her, all of what he shared of himself – that had been genuine and from his heart, which she knew was kind and generous and tender.

In a burst of frustration, she rose and walked to the small table where she'd set her mug. She wrinkled her nose at the first cold, bitter taste and again wished for its warmth. More than that, she wished for his arms to hold her, his solid warmth to surround her trembling limbs … even while she did not think she could stand being touched.

She was a mass of confusion, knowing what she needed and wanted but unable and unwilling to take it.

Whatever his sins, they were his past, a past she was not part of to understand in full. Since the night of the Spirits, he had striven to improve his deportment in every capacity – for her. When she recalled all of what she read in his mother's journals and the little he told her of his past – shunned, abused, locked away from the world by his family, caged and beaten by gypsies, as if he was an animal – and later as a man, choosing a cage to present himself to the world as The Living Corpse – was it any wonder he possessed a strong hatred for humankind?

Strong enough to kill and kill again.

She shook her head briskly, to dispel the horrid thought, but it would not depart, branded into her soul.

Why had he done it, any of it? And what brought him to demean himself as a spectacle for the gawking crowds with their stony hearts? Did he think himself beyond redemption? The spirits obviously had not thought so, to visit and warn him. A warning implied a choice could be made, to heed what was right and refuse to do evil. Many times, she herself assured Erik he was a good man at heart and anything could be forgiven –

Yet when he confessed his crimes, she had run away, her disgusting cowardice surely cementing his belief that he was past all hope.

No! She was not at fault and refused to feel guilty. She only needed time away from the source of pain…surely she should be allowed some brief respite? Nonetheless, bitter tears of self loathing and regret stung her eyes, and she dropped her face into her hands and wept.

As the morning progressed, the battle between her heart and mind never faltered.

Christine questioned how she could love a murderer – but love him she did. Numerous times she questioned why he would make a vocation out of killing, not entirely certain he told the full truth. He had lied to her before, had spoken in wounded rage, as if he wanted her to run. She recalled the tears in his eyes, the catch in his velvet voice when he so caustically laid out his many sins before her. She forced herself to recall every dark and brutal word he had pierced into her shattered soul.

He spoke of a girl intended for sacrifice and his refusal to bed her – surely if he was so wicked he would have harmed the child as they anticipated and taken her virginity? To her knowledge, he had never once harmed a child, only helped those who crossed his path. Besides her own experiences with her Angel, she thought of the crippled Tina and his furtive efforts to help ease the burdens that were the girl's cross to bear. Even the pauper boy that Meg befriended - Erik had helped him by giving the lad a task for payment, so he would not starve.

The man she had shared a home with these past months did not resemble the monster in Persia. She recalled his fear of allowing his written opera to see the light of the stage, of committing murder to the stagehand and to Piangi and then losing her as the future shadows warned. And though he had killed her attacker – it was to save her life. He had changed his motives, changed his plan to destroy the opera and the lives within – for her.

She had run, yes – but not forever.

Whatever his character a decade ago, he was not the same person now.

Weary to the point of exhaustion after her silent battle, Christine finally laid down to rest, unaware she slept until a nightmare of the attack woke her. Gasping for breath, she bolted upright in bed. Her dim surroundings told her where she was and with a heavy sigh she dropped her head to her upraised knees, clutching her legs tightly against her chest. She felt her husband's absence more strongly than before and wondered how long she'd been away. She wished she had brought the pocket watch, to have some knowledge of the hour. She did not even have a book to lose herself in, and was weary of composing her dark tales of the fire dance.

The minutes progressed in a din of quiet, the silence seeming to roar within her mind as time in its emptiness crept along the boundary of impatience. The distant bells had long tolled eight by the time Meg arrived, full of apologies for her tardiness.

Christine hurriedly stood from where she'd been seated at the edge of the bed, wringing her hands in her lap and staring anxious holes into the door.

"Did Raoul not come with you?"

"He's outside. Keeping guard."

"Oh good. Come along, then."

"We're leaving?" Meg stood at the entrance and stared, dumbfounded, watching as Christine shrugged into her cloak. "Maman said to tell you that you don't have to return for another week. She told those in charge that you had an accident when a heavy prop fell on you. The physician that attended you has aided us in the ruse. He came forward to say that you hurt your back and cannot possibly return to the stage for at least a week. That you must remain in bed for that time. The managers had no reason to disbelieve him, so, you needn't feel as if you're under obligation."

Christine managed a tight smile. "I'm grateful for that, but I must return, Meg. Not to the stage, but to my husband."

"Are you certain?" Meg asked hesitantly, a curious light in her eyes.

Christine never told her why she left in such haste, but some things she just could not share.

"Yes, of course," she replied, determined and not at all certain.

She should never have departed without telling him of her plans in person; Erik was surely angry or hurt - likely both. She failed to understand the choices made in Persia; perhaps she never would. But as she told him countless times, they did not live in the shadows of the past or the future. They lived in the present, and it was only in the here and now she wished to dwell, with the man she had come to know - shadows be damned!

Yet even that did not prevent her from wanting a full disclosure to the questions that mystified her.

As the carriage approached the Opera House her tenuous burst of courage began to falter. With Madame's explanation of her absence, she must avoid being seen by the cast and certainly the managers, though they might have already gone home for the evening.

Once Raoul opened the door, Meg stepped out first into the dark night. "I'll clear the way if anyone should be near. Leave it to me."

Christine nodded and thanked her, slipping her hood over her head as Raoul came up beside her.

"I'll see you to Madame Giry's office. I assume that's where you're headed?"

"It's not necessary, Raoul."

"Please, Christine," he said quietly once Meg hurried ahead. "Allow me to do this for you. You're family – I'm acting as a big brother would."

Wishing only to find swift safety beneath the earth, Christine did not persist in discouraging him, and allowed him to lead her into the theater through the delivery entrance. The passage thankfully was clear. From her glimpse of the distant stage as she turned a corner, Christine noticed that Meg had diverted attention by gathering the chorus girls there around her, likely regaling them with a snippet of juicy gossip. Meg did seem to relish the little secrets uncovered about those in the theater…whereas Christine wished only to forget them.

In his short time as Tristan the stagehand, Raoul learned shortcuts through the dark areas backstage and behind scenery. He now led Christine through a cramped walk-through, avoiding the populated corridor. She violently shuddered, nearly crying out when a cobweb ghosted across her face. Holding a curtain back, he allowed her to precede him. After skirting stacked wooden crates, along with a few haphazardly discarded beams and tools and stepping over an abandoned saw, they turned a corner. Christine was relieved to see Madame Giry's office in sight.

"Do you wish me to come with you?" Raoul asked.

"Oh no – that would be too awkward." Now that they had returned to the theater, she despaired of Erik witnessing her in Raoul's company and getting the wrong impression – past experience of similar encounters never turning out well. "I need to speak with Madame privately before I take the journey home."

He winced at her use of the word, but did not address it. "Be careful, Christine."

At his solemn directive, she nodded. "If I have learned nothing else, I know that much. Thank you for your help, Raoul."

She slipped into Madame's office, relieved to see her former guardian seated behind her desk. She looked up from her paperwork as the door opened, gratitude smoothing the lines of worry on her fine-boned face. It wasn't difficult to see where Meg got her sweet, porcelain doll features, though Madame's countenance was often stern. At the moment, however, she looked happy to see her.

"Christine, my dear…" Madame rose and hurried to where she stood. "Are you well? You should be resting. The doctor said –"

"I am fine." Christine took a small step back before Madame could touch her shoulder. "I could not stay there another night."

Madame thinly smiled. "I assume Meg told you that I was able to secure you a week to rest? The doctor supported our story of an injury, the managers have been made aware and are not demanding your appearance to the stage any time soon. Josette will be attending practices as your understudy."

Christine drew her lips into a tight line. "Josette was in on the plan to waylay me. It's what I came to tell you. Chantel was there, waiting. We fought and she stole my rings – for the revolutionists. Josette and Lysette helped her. Chantel arranged … for him to be there."

Christine could not bring herself to speak her attacker's name, it made the horror more real. Nor could she speak of what happened any further. It was too difficult.

"That is all," she ended weakly. "I thought you should know what happened."

Madame shook her head in consternation. "As much as I wish I could discharge them, there is little to be done. We work for new managers of a new regime, and those girls are part of their circle. That Chantel has been granted admittance into the theater though she was previously warned by the old managers never again to set foot inside proves that. But it is always helpful to know who our true enemies are."

"No, you're right. It's best not to say anything."

Christine had not expected any form of justice from the revolutionist monsters that now ran the theater. She certainly did not want them to know what happened to her, did not want anyone to know. She moved toward the secret door then hesitated.

"Did you have a chance to speak with Erik? I assume he came to look for me?"

"He was very upset to learn you had gone."

"Did you not give him my note?" Christine nervously clutched her high neckline.

"I did, but when he learned the Vicomte was with you, he was not pleased."

Christine's heart pounded. She had hoped he would never learn the identity of her driver.

"But – you didn't tell him we left together?" she asked in dread.

"I wanted him to be aware that you were protected…"

Christine waited to hear no more. "I must go to him."

"My dear, be careful." Madame Giry's voice stopped her before she could slip through the secret panel. "Do you wish me to accompany you?"

"I am well accustomed to the path and know where all the traps are located."

"I do not speak of the traps."

"What then?"

"Something he said directly before he left gives me reason for concern."

Christine clenched her hands at her sides, her hard won calm beginning to frazzle.

"What did he say?"

"I did not understand all of it, he spoke as if to himself, but he mentioned that the shadows must always have their way. He seemed hopeless with despair, a characteristic I've not seen him display for a long time – but also resigned to it, as if he had at last surrendered his will and given up. That is a side of him I have never seen."

Madame's explanation sent shivers of unease down Christine's spine.

"He did read my letter?"

"Yes," Madame said softly. "I just wanted you to be aware of his state of mind."

x


The talk with Madame did nothing to encourage. Once Christine entered the secret passage and lit the lantern she'd left there, on the ground near her feet she noticed a tightly crumpled ball of paper. She knew it was her note before she retrieved and smoothed it – and read over her words again –

I need time away. Please don't come after me. I will speak with you soon.

~C


After what Madame said – the very appearance of this discarded note – proved that he was enraged and miserable, even if she had informed him of her plans. That knowledge did not bolster her courage for their imminent encounter, though she would not flee to seek solitude a second time.

Throughout the endless day, she had come to a realization more than a decision – her life was deeply connected to his, her heart knew his every beat for it was her own. Every hour, every minute separate from him, immersed her soul in a well of emptiness and sorrow.

As Christine approached the lair she experienced equal parts of exhilaration and dread. She embraced her need to see him and shook off the fear of what might transpire.

"Erik? Erik – are you here? Erik…!"

She called out his name repeatedly, discouragement all that was there to greet her when she found the lair depressingly empty. She was not surprised to see the disorder. Her true shock came in the knowledge that the main chamber was not as cluttered as she expected to find it after one of his outbursts. A table was overturned, papers from his opus littered the floor around the organ, but nothing else was disturbed, his rant dying out as quickly as it started. Or perhaps, he had gained control over his wounded rage.

With a sigh, she entered their bedchamber and sank to the edge of the bed. She still felt filthy, in more ways than one after her impromptu night at the flat, and decided to bathe. She made quick work of shedding her clothes and slipped into the velvet wrapper. Her fingertips trailed the shimmering folds of the mate to his robe, a sad little smile tilting her lips when she thought of the many luxuries he'd given her. He always saw to it that she never lacked for anything.

She stopped abruptly on the path to the springs.

What if he was there?

She glanced down at her scantily clad form, hesitant to join him and bare her body. But the alternative to return to the bedchamber and change back into soiled clothing held no appeal. Even a fresh change of clothes would not suffice; her skin felt clammy and dirty.

Clenching her hands at her sides, Christine forced herself to continue. The tears that wet her eyes were of relief mingled with dejection when she found the bathing chamber also empty.

She let out a heavy sigh and shed her robe, taking the stairs down to the pool. The heated water frothed against her perspiring skin and she inhaled deeply, letting it's magic soothe her bruised flesh. Closing her eyes, she dipped her head below the water, allowing its silkiness to buffet her entirely and ease her mind and body. Only when her lungs burned for air, did she reluctantly break the surface.

Her short time in the springs made her feel more human, her skin tingling all over with warmth and not aching as badly as before. She padded back down the corridor on slppered feet, intending to return to the bedchamber, but as she came abreast of the black hanging that covered the storage room, she stopped and stared.

It was the only room she had not checked.

Surely he would have heard her call out to him if he was within and would have answered...?

Her hand lifted to grip a dark fold before she realized it and pulled aside the long drape to peer inside the chamber.

What she saw made her blood freeze, the pleasant warmth from her bath a fading memory, and she tore the curtain all the way back in alarm. A lone candle shed its dim glow over the table absent of the dark shroud that once covered it, and she could now see what had been concealed there.

A long coffin of black wood sat atop the long table.

Horrified, unable to quell an urgent rise of curiosity, Christine blinked in confusion and inched closer to the polished casket. Within its dark recess, she could barely make out the profile of a man, the faint candlelight not reaching its interior.

"Erik…?"

Her mind refused to believe what her eyes told her. Her foot knocked against something small and solid – sending it to roll several inches across the ground. With a hasty glance downward, she noticed one of the vials Erik kept in his box of remedies and potions – empty. The implication of its existence filled her with dizzying terror and she felt as if her heart had been rent in two.

"NO!"

Swiftly she covered the remaining distance, a small part of her panicked mind noting how still he lay within the casket. His eyes closed, his face maskless and pale …

"Erik!" She grabbed tight handfuls of his shirt and shook him hard. "Oh God, what have you done?! Why did you leave me?!"

His eyelashes flickered, his eyes suddenly flying open in panic. She gave a garbled gasp and retreated a step in numbed shock, grabbing the edge of the shallow box with both hands.

"Christine…?"

He blinked rapidly and sat slowly up, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs from inside. The truth of her presence in his chambers where he thought never to see her again clicked into his bleary mind.

"Christine!"

He grabbed the casket edge, using it as a brace to awkwardly scramble from its close confines and stagger to the ground and to his feet. She took an uncertain step back. His entire body trembled as he wearily moved the short distance to the wall and leaned over, placing a palm against the rock for support.

Seeing him in such a weakened state triggered the collapse of her emotions. With one mighty shove that tore through her shoulders, she transferred all of her terrified anger of the past twenty four hours to the horrid receptacle of death, sending it to drop on its bottom edge, then shoved the wretched box again so it fell entirely over. Had she an axe she would have chopped it to pieces.

She whirled to where he stood gaping at her.

"What have you done?" she cried, rushing forward, her palms striking his chest and pushing him back, her balance of both mind and body precarious.

Already unsteady, he lost what scant equilibrium he possessed and grabbed her above the elbows, the momentum of her attack sending them both flying to the ground. The back of his head came scarce inches from striking the bookcase, as he wound up flat on the ground with Christine sprawled on top of him. The graceless change in position did nothing to alter her objective or dampen her alarm. Instead, she propped herself up by grabbing fistfuls of his loose shirt.

"Why have you done this?" she demanded an answer.

Fully awake now, his irritation to be woken so fiercely was also aroused.

"What in blazes are you on about, woman?"

"The poison – why Erik?" Tears she could not stem leaked from her eyes and dripped onto his cheeks.

"What poison – Christine, you're making no sense –"

"I saw the empty vial, and you – you were lying in a coffin – as if already dead!" She gripped his shirt harder. "You would leave me behind? Alone in this life? What kind of life is that?!"

It suddenly occurred to Christine that she was touching him and being touched – pressed chest to chest, hip to hip, leg to leg, her robe in disarray and not entirely covering her – but she felt none of the helpless fear that had risen from the attack. Relief dwindled in light of the current situation.

"How could you, Erik?" she asked in a plaintive whisper.

"It was not poison."

"I saw the vial on the ground."

"It was not poison," he repeated darkly. "I drank something that I might sleep, similar to what the physician gave you."

"I…" Christine blinked as she tried to understand, then obstinately shook her head. "The coffin. You were lying in that awful coffin."

His eyes briefly closed as he struggled with his next words. The shock and anger of her unexpected ambush seeped away with the full realization of her return – that she had come back to him! – leaving him more than a little stunned and somberly resigned to what he would now tell her. He had shared nearly every secret of his wretched life. To tell her this one revelation seemed trivial in comparison and hardly mattered anymore…

"It is not the first time I have used it. Until we were wed, the casket is where I slept."

Her eyes widened in shock. "The casket was your bed? But - the bird shell bed…"

"I told you, I made it for us … but especially I made it for you."

Speechless, she stared at him a long, breathless moment. He released one of her arms to gently brush back the damp strands of hair that hung in her eyes. The icy chill of the ground soaked through his backside to his bones and he could only imagine what it was doing to Christine, who clearly had just visited the bathing pool.

"We should take this elsewhere," he insisted, "before you freeze to death."

Pressed entirely to his hard form Christine experienced the familiar warmth such intimacy with her husband aroused, feeling very little of the chill, but she gave no protest as Erik helped her off him and rose to his feet. He extended his hand toward her.

"Come…"

Christine stared at his large hand, at his long tapered fingers and the lines of his open palm, reminded of the morning when he first brought her to his lair. Then as now, she had been crouched on the ground at his feet, looking up to where he stood with his hand outstretched to help her rise, both of them emotionally distraught. On that day, she evaded his touch, partly because she did not wish to go back above and lose the magic of the previous night, the music and closeness shared, but also she had been upset and hurt from his wounded rant when she removed his mask.

Now he looked down at her, every expression of love and apprehension visible on his naked face. The thought to deny his touch did not even cross her mind as she took his warm hand and he led her out of the cold chamber.

xXx
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated- 3/15/16

Postby Godzuki » Fri Mar 18, 2016 7:02 pm

What a treat!!!!! I have missed you and to come back and see your posts and get a new chapter!!!! :hearts:

Raoul noticed her glance twice at his mug and offered it to her. "Would you care for some?"

Meg's face heated with embarrassment. Drinking out of the same tin seemed such an intimate act.

What a great detail, no one in this day/age would think twice about that! Well except for germs….but that’s “modern” thinking too LOL

"Once, I might have cared what they think," he said somberly. "Recent developments have since altered my stance on their opinions."

Oooo interesting development! :mrgreen:

And turning over her hand that lay beneath his palm, she interlaced her fingers with his.

Awww (and sharing that mug doesn’t seem so bad now does it :P )

Christine sat on the floor before the hearth and stared into the fire, half lulled into a stupor by its sinuous dance. She concentrated on the performance, giving the inanimate life and weaving foolish tales within her mind of the flames being slaves to the wood, forced to dance for its pleasure, the occasional sparks shooting upward the sweat and the blood and the tears. The flames continued their hypnotic dance, slowly turning on their gluttonous captors and overpowering the wood until it was no more than ash. And the flames, with nothing more to support them, also dwindled out of existence, the only memory of their captivating beauty the orange embers that lay dormant from within piles of gray ash…

Wow Honey, I’m in awe of your writing. So beautifully and poetically said

You did such a great job capturing C’s struggle within herself as she worked through her doubts and fears and with how worried she was when she was searching for E

Now he looked down at her, every expression of love and apprehension visible on his naked face. The thought to deny his touch did not even cross her mind as she took his warm hand and he led her out of the cold chamber.

YES!!!!!!!! :banana: :yay:
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated- 3/15/16

Postby honeyphan » Sat Mar 19, 2016 4:39 pm

Godzuki wrote:What a treat!!!!! I have missed you and to come back and see your posts and get a new chapter!!!! :hearts:

Raoul noticed her glance twice at his mug and offered it to her. "Would you care for some?"

Meg's face heated with embarrassment. Drinking out of the same tin seemed such an intimate act.

What a great detail, no one in this day/age would think twice about that! Well except for germs….but that’s “modern” thinking too LOL

"Once, I might have cared what they think," he said somberly. "Recent developments have since altered my stance on their opinions."

Oooo interesting development! :mrgreen:

And turning over her hand that lay beneath his palm, she interlaced her fingers with his.

Awww (and sharing that mug doesn’t seem so bad now does it :P )

Christine sat on the floor before the hearth and stared into the fire, half lulled into a stupor by its sinuous dance. She concentrated on the performance, giving the inanimate life and weaving foolish tales within her mind of the flames being slaves to the wood, forced to dance for its pleasure, the occasional sparks shooting upward the sweat and the blood and the tears. The flames continued their hypnotic dance, slowly turning on their gluttonous captors and overpowering the wood until it was no more than ash. And the flames, with nothing more to support them, also dwindled out of existence, the only memory of their captivating beauty the orange embers that lay dormant from within piles of gray ash…

Wow Honey, I’m in awe of your writing. So beautifully and poetically said

You did such a great job capturing C’s struggle within herself as she worked through her doubts and fears and with how worried she was when she was searching for E

Now he looked down at her, every expression of love and apprehension visible on his naked face. The thought to deny his touch did not even cross her mind as she took his warm hand and he led her out of the cold chamber.

YES!!!!!!!! :banana: :yay:



Thank, you Godzuki! :hearts:
I'll try to put the next one up tomorrow...
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - updated- 3/15/16

Postby honeyphan » Tue Mar 29, 2016 3:27 am

Honey's interpretation of "tomorrow" - a really, really long day.
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Anyway, here's the next (and we are now caught up on this one. I might go ahead and post the first chapter of my new PotO Outlander inspired story here soon too. :))

Echo in this Whisper

Chapter LXIV


.

Christine's body tensed with the wild urge to flee.

Erik led her to their bedchamber, her small hand buried within his large one. Lean and powerful, with his customary seductive grace, even just the sight of his broad back as she followed him seized her breath. She felt cold and clammy all over, heart fluttering madly against her ribs like a trapped winged creature. This, followed closely by a contradictory flush of disappointed warmth - when after seating her on the bed, Erik turned and walked to the chamber's exit.

"You're leaving?" she asked, mystified by his sudden retreat.

"I'll return shortly."

Left adrift in an ocean of feeling, she watched him go. Relieved that he had, upset for the same reason.

Christine inhaled a deep breath, willing herself to calm down. This was foolish. He was her husband, she was his wife. They had shared intimacy dozens, perhaps hundreds of times. He had never made her feel anything less than beautiful and cherished…

But that was before.

At the persistent reminder, Christine closed her eyes.

She had no bed gown, he'd made sure of that, but she felt entirely too vulnerable without her wrapper. So she climbed into bed as she was and pulled the plush coverlet up to her neck, her eyes again going to the entrance. Wishing for his return. Dreading it. Awash with so many questions that begged answers while fearing the ones he would surely ask.

What seemed an eternity but was no more than minutes later, he returned. Her apprehensive gaze dropped to the familiar carved box he held. She felt a blush rise all over her body but said nothing as she watched him move toward the table and pour red wine into a bowl, diluting it with water from a ewer.

"In these damp environs you must tend to your wounds, as you have not yet done…"

She stared at his broad velvet-clothed shoulders, baffled that he would know of her neglect to seek aid. The woven décor of emeralds outlined a phoenix in the plush ebony of his robe, winking in the strong candlelight. A majestic bird risen from the ashes of its former life, reborn…

As he had managed. So, too, could she.

Somehow.

Erik wrung out the soaked towel then went unexpectedly still, clutching the strained cloth in tight fists while staring at the cave wall.

"You came back."

His words were low, a silken thread barely there and teeming with disbelief, as if the realization of her presence had only just begun to sink into his awareness.

"Where else would I have gone?" she asked, genuinely confused. He had admitted to taking a potion to sleep. Perhaps he was still in the throes of fragmented slumber and not fully awake…

"You need ask, after all I've told you? All I've shared?" His laugh was short, devoid of humor. "What conclusion should I have reached, my dear? We fought, you learned the darkest of my secrets. I came home, you were gone."

"I left you a note," she insisted, pushing back a small wave of guilt. "I made sure you would get it."

Tension crackled up and down his motionless form. She could see the muscles of his back and upper arms contract inside the long swathe of clinging dark velvet.

"You left with him. You turned to that boy in your distress. Always, him…"

The words came flat, resentful, and instantly Christine understood. His mind was not in the here and now but embroiled within the future the spirits had shown him. The dratted shadows in which Erik had invested the full sum of his belief, no matter how she argued against it, and suddenly she knew how to use that misplaced faith to her advantage.

"What else was I to think but that you were truly gone?" he added more softly then heaved a great sigh as if weary of the subject.

He pivoted and moved to sit on the edge of the bed, his movements abrupt yet somehow ever graceful. His hand with the cloth lifted then paused in mid-air a few uncertain heartbeats, before he gently dabbed at her bruised cheek, her split lip then lower, along a scratch on her neck. Again hesitant, he pulled his hand back and went very still.

Her heart pounded at the somber determination burning in his storm green eyes.

Please don't ask me, please
, she silently beseeched and hurried to speak before he could say another word.

"In the shadows of that awful future you said that I ran from you once you…once you killed the stagehand. That in my despair I sought out Raoul for aid…"

A muscle jumped above his clenched jaw but he did not answer. Angry patches of white rimmed his compressed lips, and she knew he was thinking about what happened after that, about how her shadow image married the Vicomte. A notion still difficult for her to grasp, that she would go to such extremes.

"You have lamented that no matter how you try to prevent it, moments from that future have come to pass," she went on, "though warped in their presentation – as if some moments are destined to be and nothing can stop them."

His eyes narrowed. A curt nod was her response.

"Well then, it's done. Finished. That future shadow is completed. I ran from you, I left for a time, and yes, I sought Raoul's help to do so. But now I'm back."

"In that shadow realm, you never returned."

"And we were never married," she countered softly.

He looked as if he was struggling, his mind at war to accept so simple a concept. His countenance was no less grim, absent of the relief she'd been sure her explanation would bring him.

"I must see to the rest of your wounds," he said the words she had tried to prevent.

The blood drained from her face. "It's not that bad. I'm fine."

"Show me."

"Really, Erik, I -"

"Show me, Christine."

His words remained quiet but steady in their resolve. She had known this moment would come, that she could not evade it forever. Known too that his will was unshakable. Still, she felt unprepared and it was with trembling fingers Christine did as ordered, closing her eyes to block out his expression as she let the wrapper fall from her shoulders and pool at her waist.

Not a breath passed to stir the air, not a scuffle of his shoe on the stones. Nothing.

A small eternity of dread silence filled her lungs and thoughts, making it difficult to breathe or think, before the wine-soaked cloth was pressed lightly to her scraped shoulder. The shock of the chill made her flinch but otherwise she remained immobile and as lifeless as the mannequin he had made in her image. She felt her hair pushed aside, the cloth dropping to her shoulder blade and down her spine before returning to her front, her collarbone, her breast above the nipple, her stomach above the hip. Each impersonal and hurried press of cloth to wound felt like a brand uncovered, revealing her as a weak and foolish and soiled creature.

"Chantel also fought me," she blurted, forcing her mind from reliving the worst. "Though I tried to give as good as I got."

Another eternal silence elapsed. The pats with the cloth came slower.

"Did he …"

The strain of his voice, the question he could not finish made clear what he feared to ask, and Christine forced herself to speak those details never once uttered.

"He did not do as he wished, did not rape me as he wished," she said in a small, tight voice. "B-but his hands…" Those horrible, grasping, brutal hands. Her words trailed off into oblivion, unnecessary to speak, difficult to say.

The sudden removal of the material at her hips made her tense all over, and this time she heard the hiss of his harsh, indrawn breath. Squeezing her eyes more tightly shut, Christine imagined what he saw, the angry red scratches along her thighs, near her thatch of curls, and those he could not see, hidden within. The press of wine-soaked cloth moved swiftly over the harsh tokens of her utter desolation.

The cloth discarded, she soon felt an icy salve quickly dabbed on all her wounds, then the give of the bed as he stood to his feet.

"You must be weary. The hour is late." His words came tight, almost cold. "I will leave you to rest."

In surprise she heard his footsteps retreat and opened her eyes in despair to see him go.

It was as she feared. He could not bear to look at her or be with her any longer than he must.

Christine hastily pulled her wrapper back around herself, belting it so that the velvet strap dug painfully beneath her ribs, and lay on her side, numb and forlorn. From without, the enraged chords of the organ pealed through the lake chamber.

But it was a second sound barely heard within the discordant cacophony of notes that startled her tears into ceasing and had her sit up with eyes wide open as she stared into the adjacent chamber.

.

xXx

.

The Phantom's hands came crashing down on the spread of keys in rapid sweeps that spanned octaves, the raucous chords a poor semblance of a Faust opera. He did not play to create music, but to drown out the roar of grave distress that burst unhindered from his throat and rose to the high cavern ceiling, his feral cries concealed by the violent outpouring of notes.

'Not that bad,' she had said hastily to deter him.

No, it was worse…

And the pain of it was a fire threatening to explode inside his chest. He had maintained essential distance to tend her wounds then fled, fearing he would do in her presence exactly what he was doing now.

He had done this to her. He was to blame. Another man's hands and teeth marked her hitherto unblemished, snowy skin – may the cur writhe and burn in the most blistering depths of Hades – but it was the Phantom's lies and deceit that put the attack in motion. Had he only told her of his past and been honest with her from the start, she could have evaded this horrible fate. Had he only bent his iron will to allow the trust she had many times proven she deserved – and told her. Only a few minutes more of silence to remain hidden, that was all she had required – a few mere damned minutes! – until he would have arrived and put an end to the fiend in a future where she would never have suffered.

But he could not undo the past. Only tamper with the future, and not very well.

The salty and bitter tears seeped from his tightly closed lids and rained down his cheeks, dripping into his mouth.

Persia. The killings. All of it. It had not mattered in the end, despite all he had cynically confessed in his heartbreak and rage – she had returned to him. In this future, she had returned

He, who did not deserve to crawl in her shadow.

His hands moved furiously over the keys for an untold time, moving from one gloomy composition to the next, until in his heightened emotion and utter exhaustion he could scarce think any longer. It would be a blessing to be scoured of thought, of the memory. If he lived to be a thousand, he could never wipe away the image of her sitting before him, battered and bruised. Naked and trembling. Eyes closed in silent humiliation, unable to endure his gaze. Himself, barely able to look…

The muscles of his tautly held arms and neck ached, the pads of his fingers throbbed and burned with the pounding he gave them until at last he ended his fierce, dark recital. His hands clashed on a harsh note then went still, his fingers trembling on the keys.

She should hate him – hate him. By God, how could she not hate him?

But she had returned.

And the bond that coiled them so strongly together told him she was near…

The Phantom did not turn, did not speak, only sat rigidly erect and stared at the pipes that stood beyond the organ. Nor did he bother brushing away the salty moisture that coated his cheeks and dripped past his clenched jaw.

She made not a sound, not a whisper of voice or a rustle of cloth.

At the tentative touch of her hand on his shoulder, a harsh sob escaped his lungs…

And as though a taut cord that bound movement had been severed, he spun around on the bench and grabbed her fiercely to him.

She let out a little shocked cry, and a distant part of his mind feared he might have hurt her. But her arms clung as tightly to his shoulders as his that wrapped around her back.

Burying his face in her loose, silken curls, he drew her down to his lap, cherishing the feel of her softness against him. It seemed as if a century had elapsed since they last held one another.

"I thought you thought me ruined," Christine whispered into his neck, "that you were disgusted and could no longer bear the sight of me…"

Her timid words cut into his already bleeding heart.

"Hush," he whispered, kissing her head, stroking tousled ringlets from her damp cheeks. "Never could I look on you with anything less than the deepest measure of affection and love. You are and always will be my beautiful angel."

She sniffled and hiccuped a little sob, pressing herself to him more closely, and he maintained the strength of his hold. If it caused discomfort, she did not show it, and he kept her tightly held in his embrace, never wishing to let go.

The sleeping potion he had taken to help him forget, in the hope that prolonged slumber would erase all memory and longing for his wife, if only for a time. But she had not been far from the truth to suspect him of planning his demise. When he thought he'd lost her forever, the idea to forego a useless potion and end his miserable existence had sorely tempted. But to depart from this world while Christine yet lived in it, the very thought was a blasphemy. Always, he would watch over her, his love a shield to guard her, whether near or from afar.

Unwilling to let her go, even for a moment, the Phantom rose from his bench, holding her tightly against him and walked the short distance to the sofa, sinking to the cushions. She rearranged her position, snuggling more comfortably into his lap, and gave a contented sigh. The Phantom brushed his lips against the top of her head in continual little kisses while staring into the dark hearth.

"Would you like me to light a fire?" he asked quietly.

Her hold on him marginally tightened. "No…but I do have questions."

"Anything, Christine. You have only to ask. I can scarcely believe you have returned and are sitting here with me. I feel I must be dreaming."

She pensively studied his chest as if she could see past the layers of fiber and flesh and bone into his heart. "Tell me truthfully, did you give me a chance?"

"What?"

He looked at her in confusion and her solemn eyes lifted to his.

"Did you ever once give me a chance? In that awful shadow world, before I ran from you, or even afterward – did you once try to seek me out to explain your fears or seek to know mine? Did you ever try to bridge the distance between us by clearing up the mysteries as you've done, somewhat, in these past weeks since we were wed? By giving me a chance to listen and try to understand. Because no matter what you've done in the past, with how I've always felt about you, I know, Erik – I know – that had you given me the chance then, to discover all there is to know, I would have never run away."

Her words kindled within him a horrified fascination. He had done none of those things.

He had been so fixated on learning the reason for her stripping away his mask, then and now, and had blinded himself to all else. He had hidden himself from her. Deceived her. Abducted her. Bullied and begged her. Shadowed and seduced her. But not once had he attempted to trust her. Until the end, in that future realm, in the span of one brief moment during his desperate attempt to make her understand, when he lamented the barbarity of the world, the cruelty of his mother's rejection, before he slammed the veil on her head. He had demanded what she could not give, having bound her timid heart with shackles of misgiving. He had seized her, tried to claim her. Even threatened her. The choice he demanded no more than a cruel travesty with no one the winner and everyone the loser. The Phantom had never given her the opportunity to understand or even to decide, thinly masking a manipulation she would not possibly refuse into a choice he had already made for her. In so doing, he had made himself a stranger, a ghost and a villain. And even then, even when he deserved no more from her than absolute disgust and hatred - she had kissed him.

"Forgive me, Christine." The words came out in a rush of remorse. "You once asked for my trust. I now give it to you, unreservedly and completely, if it's not too late."

With a gentle, sad smile, she pressed her palm to his cheek. "Then trust me in this – no matter what you tell me, no matter how horrible it may be, I will never leave your side."

Fresh tears wet his eyes. "I vow never again to withhold the truth from you."

She leaned in to touch her lips lightly, briefly to his, as if sealing a pact, then laid her head back on his shoulder.

"There is something I need to know, something that has troubled me. I want to know why you became an assassin in Persia…and I want to know why you quit."

Her questions hardly surprised him. Of course she would want to know the details of his pithy confession. It was no simple task, each answer inviting a litany of more questions, but he had promised. Now secure in the knowledge that she would never leave him, he would see those wishes fulfilled.

He told her of the harsh misunderstanding with Antoinette Giry that led him to flee the Opera House to find what he hoped would be a better world. He spoke of his travels and his arrival in Persia as a young man of eighteen, his almost immediate arrest and entrance to the Palace, and the Khunam's unhealthy interest in him. He spoke of the magic tricks she had learned he could perform and her debaucherous gifts to break his spirit and bend his will to hers, including the incident with the terrified little slave girl who had seized his name and been killed for his refusal to accept her as a sacrifice. Now and then, she asked a question for clarification and he gave her that too.

"It was then I took a new name – the Mask of Death – and agreed to be court assassin. Some called me Angel of Death others, The Black Death, for the mask I wore. I grew hard, bitter, despising all mankind. I learned more of the Dark Arts, becoming a master magician and devised intricate chambers of punishment to torture the Shah's enemies. The Khanum's amusements were just as morbid, and I found my work and my entertainment composed of the same fibers – death and darkness. For me, there was no respite. Death was all I breathed. When I was not torturing the unfortunate with my voice through magic and manipulation, leading to their demise if it so pleased the Khanum, I drew up plans for the concealment of hidden weaponry in macabre rooms to catch their enemies unaware. My soul had grown black and empty. Nightly, I sat in the Shah's court and watched the evenings' entertainment, which I helped to create. It was required of me. To refuse would be an insult. I was expected to obey the least command without fail, but I had gone beyond caring, to even think to refuse. After the little slave girl was killed for my failure to obey, I lost the will to care. Her pointless death hardened my resolve to stay alive in the hellish land in which I found myself a captive."

"So you were forced to remain?" Christine asked quietly.

"The times I tried to walk away in those first weeks, the palace guards always appeared to block my path," he acknowledged in dark reminisce. "I was appointed luxurious rooms, clothed in expensive robes. The Khanum's puppet and Master Magician. The Shah's deadly architect, and Mask of Death. My preference for titles in place of a name, the frightful mask I chose to wear, my silence and habit of distancing myself from others – all of this evoked a terrified respect. I knew more power than I'd ever realized. The slave girls sent to attend me trembled head to toe with fear each time they entered my private chambers…"

Her brows drew together in a frown. "Slave girls?"

The slightest quirk flickered at his lips at the trace of jealousy in her tone.

"They took care of my basic needs, but never my physical ones," he said candidly and was rewarded by the slight blush that touched her cheeks. "This new power was tremendous, addicting, but beneath it, I was a hostile servant and, as always, I was alone. Despite the fearful reverence I gained, word leaked that there was a demon behind the mask, more frightful than the painted appearance of the mask itself. Some thought me a cruel demigod. Only one in the palace spoke to me as to a man – the Daroga, a sort of constable of gendarmes. I helped his deathly ill son to die a gentle death, as he beseeched of me, and he was grateful for it, indebted to me. But no matter my favored status in the palace, a windfall I had never known, I was still slave to the Shah and the Khanum's every wish."

"Then you had no choice," Christine said softly after a moment, almost to herself. "Had you not obeyed their demands, they would have killed you."

"Do not attempt to sweeten the bitter dregs of a blood-drenched past, Christine. I made the choice to become the master of execution. No matter the duress to submit, I cannot pretend a remorse I did not feel."

She sighed, running the edge of his robe between her fingers and thumb, ending in a slight tug.

"Alright, tell me then. What made you decide to end your service to them and leave Persia? And how did you manage it, since you were always so heavily guarded?"

The remorse he was so swift to deny clouded his eyes. For a moment he did not speak, uncertain that he could, but at last gave a curt nod.

"A servant offended the Shah and was due to be executed. He took his own life and cheated the Shah of the usual pomp in observing his grisly death, so the Shah ordered that his wife and children die in his place. The youngest child was no more than five." His words held the taste of bile, as acrid now as the pitiless monarch's decree had been then. "He had them placed in a torture chamber that I devised, there for all to watch, and I did the unforgivable. I stood and walked away from the observers gathered. I could no longer be a party to the bloodshed. To see men punished, I never once flinched. But children who had done no wrong, forced to die for the sins of their fathers, I could not stomach it. For some months, I'd known my time in Persia was drawing to a close. I was privy to information the Shah wished to keep guarded, and having constructed many chambers for his torture, with no ideas for another, my usefulness was at an end. I had become a liability. The Daroga told me of a plot he overheard to end my life. Even warned, I narrowly escaped being poisoned and, with his help, returned to France."

She ghosted the tips of her fingers beneath a tear that had stubbornly surfaced and clung to his lashes, then touched those fingers to her lips, as if to share his pain.

"It is as I have always said, Erik, you're a good man with a gentle heart."

He studied her in incredulous wonder, noting the sincerity in her large brown eyes. After all he had confessed, that she could still regard him with any amount of esteem humbled and confused him, a matter he must ponder later. But of two things he was most deeply aware. The feel of her soft curves pressed against him with only the thin layer of velvet in between had roused another beast that must be tamed until his wife could heal. And he cursed the hardness that pushed against his trousers, resolved to stoically ignore its existence. The second thing he noticed was the heaviness of his sweet Angel's lids, the sudden downward brush of her lashes, as she fought to keep her eyes open.

He kissed her forehead and with a little shifting stood. Keeping her closely held in his arms, he paid no heed to her murmured complaints that she wished to stay up a little while longer, that there was much more she wished to say and wanted to know.

He laid her in bed, pulling the coverlet over her. "There is time for further discussion tomorrow, Mon Ange…" His velvety words soothed her and her eyes closed, remaining still. "We shall always have tomorrow."

And at long last, he believed it.

.

xXx

.

It was the fourth day since her return. Things had settled into an easy, if at times awkward routine, though nothing that couldn't be managed, and life was a great deal more serene than either would have believed possible a week ago.

From out of nowhere, Christine would suddenly ask a question, no matter what each of them were doing at the time, and ever faithful to answer her, Erik complied.

She'd set her scone down that she'd just heaped with raspberry preserves. "Did you ever learn who tried to poison you? Are you in danger now?"

He had set his glass of wine on the table, looking at it thoughtfully as he played with the stem. "It was by the Khanum's orders. I learned that the serving girl who delivered the honeyed mead with poison to my chambers was forced to drink it, for failing in that I had not touched it. When last the Daroga visited, he told me that the Khanum died of natural causes, so from her, I am no longer at risk."

Christine frowned at the thought of such a vicious woman and the son she had borne who was no better. "And the Shah?"

"Let's just say, I will never step foot inside Persia again."

On the third day, as she lay on their bed and Erik straddled her, his weight on his knees as he massaged her entire backside, from shoulder to ankle to toe with the most aromatic of spiced oils that made her pleasantly drowsy, she asked, "What happened to your friend, the Daroga? Where is he now?"

"Unfortunately I learned he passed away."

"Oh! I'm sorry."

"I learned it from his own lips."

She heard the hint of amusement laced with regret in his words and turned her head to look over her shoulder at him. "How is that possible?"

His strong, skilled hands kneaded the oil along the sides and back of her thighs and up her buttocks, smoothing along her spine and higher to spread to her shoulders. He kissed her nape and she shivered.

"He was one of the four Spirits at the Yuletide who visited and warned me."

She blinked in wonder at the revelation. "I should have liked to meet him."

"You did. He spoke to you after he heard you sing, when you were twelve. You told him you had a secret. An Angel of Music that visited you every night in the chapel…"

Embarrassed heat suffused her face as her eyes grew wide. "I did not!"

"You did." He rubbed his hands in firm, gentle circles along her back. "He complimented you on your lovely voice, and you told him how you came by such a voice. You then grew shy and mentioned that you probably shouldn't have spoken."

Vaguely, Christine remembered a bearded little man, not much taller than herself, with merry dark eyes, a funny black hat, and strange colorful clothing. She remembered, because besides him, she had only told Meg her secret. "Oh. I think I do remember. I'm sorry, Erik. I never meant to tell…"

He shushed her apology with a gentle brush of his lips to the corner of her mouth. "The Daroga was quite taken with you. In him, you had a champion. He scolded me for deceiving one so innocent and sweet."

Christine could not imagine anyone scolding the mighty Phantom of the Opera and knew they must have been close for Erik even to allow it. She hoped he might find another friend, one as close as she and Meg were. It was her last thought before she slipped into slumber, lulled by his soothing massage.

The fourth night she approached him as he readied for bed. He had taken to wearing black silk trousers and to her shock had brought her a beautiful bed gown of ivory silk the second night following her return. The neckline edged in lace revealed a generous portion of her bosom, but it covered those areas that made her self conscious, and she was touched by his gift, more so since she knew he held a grudge against her bed gowns.

The first evening of her return, she had clasped his hand, preventing him from leaving once he tucked her into bed. He had laid atop the covers, fully dressed, and held her as she slept. The second night, after he gifted her with the gown, he shared the bed and coverlet with her and they slept side by side, her front to his back. But since her return, he had not once attempted to make love to her.

At first, she'd been relieved, much too sore to stand being touched, apprehensive of how she would feel when he did. Four days of the heated pool, the soothing back massages, and the healing salves all worked together to comfort, her skin mostly healed. She no longer feared his disgust, the heated look in his eyes that she would suddenly catch from across the room proof he still desired her. And since that first night, once his strong arms finally enveloped her and she again felt protected and loved in his warm embrace, she marveled that she had ever shied away.

"Why did you join that horrid gypsy carnival on your return from Persia?" she asked as she crawled into bed. "Why would you even do such a thing?"

He slid in on the other half of the bed and brought the coverlet over them. Instantly she scooted to fit herself against his side and laid her hand on his arm. He rested his hand over hers, their heads propped on the pillows.

"It was, for me, a place to hide while I made my way back to Paris. I could not be sure that the Khanum had not sent spies or assassins after me. They would search for word of a demon or a Mask of Death terrorizing the cities, but I gambled that The Living Corpse, a skeleton in a freak show of a small traveling carnival would evade their knowledge."

"And those tattered rags and vials of paint in the storage room were all part of your disguise?"

He looked at her with approval for having guessed. "I had gained muscle at the palace, no longer the gangly youth upon my arrival. The paint when applied well can trick the eye into believing the skin is quite sparse, skeletal, and the coffin helped."

She raised her brow. "About that coffin…a coffin, Erik?"

A grin played at the corners of his mouth. "It is only a box, Christine. Padded and confined, but a box nonetheless. It never housed any body but my own."

She was only mildly reassured. A coffin was still a symbol of death, was it not? And she did not want him to think of himself as anything but alive, certainly no longer the horrid Living Corpse! But before she could interject that very small demand he moved his head and kissed her. A light brush of his lips against hers in goodnight, as he had done for the past three nights.

"No more questions, love," he whispered against her mouth. "We'll talk more on this tomorrow."

Before he could move away and roll over, she curled her fingers into the back of his hair and pressed her lips firmly to his. Had she not seen the spark of longing in his smoky green eyes – twice since they retired to their bedchamber and countless more times throughout the day – she might not have had the courage to show him what she wanted, what she needed. What she knew he needed, having noticed the thick bulge in his trousers more than once and the discomfort he tried so valiantly not to show.

Drawing his hand into hers, she lifted it to cover her breast.

He gave a startled inhalation of breath and looked into her eyes.

"Christine, are you certain?"

She had never been more certain and gave him her answer with lips and tongue, rejoicing when with a soft sound between a sob and a growl, he slanted his mouth over hers, his tongue gliding deep as he thoroughly kissed her for long moments more. The first he had truly, passionately kissed her since that awful day, almost a full week ago, and her toes curled from the sheer heat of it, the beauty.

He pulled back, his thumbs brushing her parted lips, and again looked at her, this time the love in his eyes coming off in waves so intense it threatened to drown her soul. He lowered his head and gently suckled her neck, her throat, her shoulders, slipping the gown down one arm and covering the skin in a trail of damp kisses. She watched him, needing to watch him, to curb any unwanted memory that might try to disrupt this anticipated moment, and did not cease watching him when he tugged her bodice lower, freeing her breast.

She gasped as his lips took her nipple, his teeth gently edging the rosy peak and sending dozens of little shocks to her core. He cupped the swollen globe in his palm, scattering slow open-mouthed kisses around the ivory curve, interspersing these with tender little bites and suckles to her hardened nipple. Dragging his tongue slowly to the other side he showered the same affection to its twin.

Spellbound, Christine watched his wickedly sensuous mouth make love to her, the full wet lips, the flash of white teeth, and dear God that tongue … watched and felt his hand seize the filmy bodice in a tight fist. Lifting herself slightly to gain his attention, she stopped him, eager to be rid of the bedgown so as to feel his mouth on all her skin. But not wishing this gown to go the way of the other ruins, she slowly pulled up her skirt. He did not rip it from her but carefully helped her remove it, bringing it up over her head. Then tossing the gown aside and bracing his palms on either side of her on the bed, instantly he sought her mouth with his.

Only when she was dizzy and barely had breath did Erik resume his passionate journey down her body, first giving each tight nipple another slow suckle, kissing the underside of her breast and all along her stomach. Each faded bruise he gave the gentlest of kisses; the rest of her skin he laved and nibbled until Christine thought she would go mad…

At the apex of her thighs, he pressed a kiss to the soft skin of her inner leg. Softly panting, Christine pushed herself up on her elbows to see, not wishing to lose sight of her Erik touching her with his mouth and his hands, loving her so sweetly, so passionately. Needing to see… to see him.

He dipped his head, and lifted his eyes, the darkened orbs catching and holding hers above the little tufts of her curls. His palms cupped her bottom, lifting her a little higher toward him, and he spread her with his thumbs. His long velvety tongue swept out, liberally coating her moist recesses, then slipped inside her and departed again, again to lave then to delve. Over and over in a seductive dance, and all the while he never looked away from her stunned gaze. To simply watch and take was so erotic, and her reason for not looking away shifted into pure, lustful want. The moist tip of his pink tongue flickered at the tiny little nub that gave off so much sensation and she swallowed a little cry. His lips, wet with her juices, sucked and pulled and teased and with little sobs she came, staring heavy-lidded into his eyes.

Through a hot, pleasurable haze she watched as he lapped and nipped and suckled, bringing her tumbling over the brink twice more. Her body a mass of tingling sensation, she reached for him, but he resisted, pulling back.

"Erik – please!" She was not beyond begging, the need to be one with him all that governed her numbed mind and throbbing body.

He stood and shed his trousers then again knelt on the bed between her bent legs bringing them up against his sides. She licked her lips at the sight of his toned, muscled flesh, gleaming like polished white marble, and watched as he positioned himself against her – watched the full width and length of his pulsating shaft – wondered again how this was even possible, though he had proven many times over that indeed it was very possible. Deliciously possible.

The memory of how he felt taunted and she wiggled her hips in impatience, trying to press into him, succeeding in capturing only his tip between her folds. It wasn't enough.

Why was he taking this so wretchedly slow?!

"My sweet Christine…" The husky purr of his velvety rich voice caressed her ears and brought another wave of damp warmth to where they were so very nearly joined. She whimpered.

"You deserve to be tenderly ravished and adored," he said. "And I do. I adore you. I love you unto infinity and endeavor to spend the rest of my days fulfilling your every need and beyond that which you do not yet realize."

Unexplainable tears wet her eyes at the stark beauty of his words, touching a part of her soul where the wounds had gone deep. "Make me whole again, my love," she whispered the core of her need. "Make us whole…"

And she gasped as he pushed forward, inch by slow inch, as if he'd been waiting for those precise words. She watched with fascinated eyes and labored breaths the hard column of his flesh disappear steadily inside her body until their curls met and his heavy ballocks brushed the cleft of her bottom. She reveled in the extreme fullness that throbbed and spread through her core, then watched as he withdrew, his passion-darkened skin now drenched and glistening with her juices. Mesmerized, she could not take her eyes from their act of intimacy as he repeatedly filled her body with his, the sight so primitive, so raw and beautiful, it stirred within Christine a hunger to give and take, magnifying the desire that already pulsed richly through her blood.

How she ached to press her hands to his skin! To again know the coveted feel of his rock hard body against her yielding one. She lifted her attention up his lean, chiseled chest and to his face. His focus was where hers had been, and she felt a little jolt of heated awareness to realize they had been watching their joining together. His eyes lifted to hers, storm dark and sultry, and her racing heart pounded a little faster.

"Erik…"

Her plea was no more than a whisper barely uttered, before she felt herself blissfully trapped beneath his solid body even as she tightened her muscles around him and held him captive within hers. Her arms and legs wrapped around her beautiful Phantom, her hands stroking the long scars on his damp flesh. His kisses were thorough and deep, his strokes sensual. Powerful. Slow. Each an expression of the deepest feeling, and fervently she rose up to meet each one, returning his adoration twofold. She soared to the heavens then toppled over the stars, Erik with her, pouring the seed of his love into her…

And Christine at last was complete.

xXx

A/N: We're nearing that final curve – perhaps 8 more chapters to go of story (That's just a guess based on my rough outline of what needs to happen yet).
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - new chapter- 3/29/16

Postby Godzuki » Thu Mar 31, 2016 9:26 am

I might go ahead and post the first chapter of my new PotO Outlander inspired story here soon too
“might”???? :foot: How ‘bout changing “I might” to “I’m gonna”?!? :pray:

Erik led her to their bedchamber, her small hand buried within his large one.

See this is what I'm talking about! This would make the BEST spoiler/teaser, but NOOOOO you insist on torturing me!! :nono: :ahno:

It was as she feared. He could not bear to look at her or be with her any longer than he must.

Nooooo!!!!!! :(

"I thought you thought me ruined," Christine whispered into his neck, "that you were disgusted and could no longer bear the sight of me…"

Her timid words cut into his already bleeding heart.

"Hush," he whispered, kissing her head, stroking tousled ringlets from her damp cheeks. "Never could I look on you with anything less than the deepest measure of affection and love. You are and always will be my beautiful angel."

She sniffled and hiccuped a little sob, pressing herself to him more closely, and he maintained the strength of his hold. If it caused discomfort, she did not show it, and he kept her tightly held in his embrace, never wishing to let go.
:hearts: I love this - and what happens next :love:
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - new chapter- 3/29/16

Postby honeyphan » Thu Mar 31, 2016 3:34 pm

Godzuki wrote:
I might go ahead and post the first chapter of my new PotO Outlander inspired story here soon too
“might”???? :foot: How ‘bout changing “I might” to “I’m gonna”?!? :pray:


Image

Okay- I'll post it. And I'll also go back to Come to Me and post more of that, since it will be awhile for the next chapter of Symphony (if you want to read more of that one too)

Godzuki wrote:
Erik led her to their bedchamber, her small hand buried within his large one.

See this is what I'm talking about! This would make the BEST spoiler/teaser, but NOOOOO you insist on torturing me!! :nono: :ahno:


*blinks innocently.... who, me?
:angel2:

Glad you enjoyed the chapter, Godzuki! :hearts:
When I post anything of the others, I'll leave a note in the main chat. I *might* try to post the first chapter of the new story this week...

;-)
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - new chapter- 3/29/16

Postby honeyphan » Wed Aug 03, 2016 11:14 am

I am sooo sorry - I forgot to post the last chapter here when I did there! Anyway- good news is that I'm working on the next chapter now (and Chapter10 of A Phantom's Blood- the Outlander/K.M. Moning -inspired story), so I'll be posting the next chapter sooner than later. :)

Here's the next of this -


Chapter LXV

To Guard You


.

The Phantom sat at his table of drawings, carefully studying the sole set of blueprints belonging to the opera house and comparing it with a rough diagram he long ago made of the caverns beneath. There, west of the catacombs where he'd left Buquet's bloated body, appeared to be a second entrance that led to the other side of the wall where the revolutionists kept their torture chamber. He would access it soon, to determine if it was a threat or not…or perhaps a means of escape.

Feeling her presence behind, he turned to look at his wife.

She had resorted to the habit of wearing her velvet dressing gown alone, the convenience of which made treating those wounds that remained an easy task. Her hair rested in shimmering ripples around her shoulders, dangling to her waist, and in one uplifted hand she held a wicked looking dagger.

He looked from the weapon, with its lethal blade pointed at the rock ceiling, to the somber expression on her face.

"Christine…?" he asked in wary regard.

"I want you to teach me to use this."

The Phantom studied the sharp steel, the size of the blade spanning in length the tip of her longest finger to midway up her elbow. Slowly he rose from his chair while taking her arm in a gentle grip and removing the dagger from her fist with the other.

"Erik," she complained. "Why will you not let me…?"

"Not this," he said gently. "Come."

The Phantom sensed her puzzlement, but she did not question and followed him to the storage chamber. He barely glanced at the lopsided casket, though he did not fail to notice her piqued stare toward his former bed. He strode to the opposite side of the chamber and the small valise of weapons she'd found during her cleaning spree and had relegated to this area. Opening the lid of deadly contents, he carefully lifted a partition of mounted blades to select one from the hidden cache beneath. Never used, and just as deadly as its mates, a short dagger, the blade nearly the size of her small hand. It could be easily concealed and would meet Christine's needs well.

He looked up, noting her attention fastened to the rope of golden fibers.

"Buquet used to sing a dark little ditty about the Phantom's golden lasso, to frighten us," she said quietly and met his eyes. "I suppose all of it was true."

She knew it was, from all he'd told her, and he sensed she simply needed to say the words aloud and let the facts sink in. It was also the first time Christine had spoken of her vile attacker by name. The Phantom took hope from such knowledge, that she was regaining her strength of mind and releasing some of the fear that had beset her.

"A gift, from the Shah," he explained. "As many of these are. The supreme ruler thought the Mask of Death should have weapons befitting the title of royal executioner."

Her eyes fell shut a moment, as if overcome by his dark words, but she opened them again and nodded for him to go on.

"This," he said, holding the dagger for her to take by the handle, "is yours. I will teach you to use it with accuracy."

Christine took the weapon, turning it over in her hands. "It's really quite beautiful..."

Topped with a carved ivory handle inlaid with delicate swirls of gold, the slightly curved silver blade was both decorative and deadly. The weapon was light, easy for a woman to manage, the hilt fitting well to her small hand.

"So, when may we begin the lessons?" she asked quietly.

Erik studied her solemn features, aware of how difficult this was for her. She had always hated any living creature coming to harm, and to be the possible wielder of wounds inflicted would go against her gentle nature. Yet she was determined to return above, fearing for the Girys' lives if she were to remain hidden and shirk what she had come to think of as her responsibility, to see that they remained safe. He could not argue against her belief of the women in danger, since in all probability she was correct.

The men who currently ruled the theater were monsters, and the Phantom, better than anyone else who opposed them, knew the mind of true villainy. If Christine must go through with her return to the theater, he was in favor of teaching her to defend herself, in fact, insisted on it, having attempted to do so before without a weapon. He was pleased she had approached him to learn to wield a dagger. He would watch over her and protect her as long as he drew breath, but as they both had harshly learned, there were occasions that could not be helped, when he might not be there.

For what happened to her, he would never forgive himself.

"We shall start now, if you wish," he answered her. "Do you want to change first?"

"Must I?" She looked down at her dressing gown.

"It's not necessary. You won't be able to wear the blade beneath some of your costumes, especially when you dance, but I will fashion a sheath for you to strap around your leg the remainder of the time."

She nodded, her brows drawn together in a troubled frown as she stared at the dagger in her hand. "I never thought I'd be doing anything like this."

"Have you changed your mind?" He observed her intently.

"No," she said with a deep breath of resolve. "Teach me."

For the next quarter hour, he did exactly that, instructing her about the dagger and how to wield it, showing her the vital points to aim for and how to swing her arm to give the most benefit. He then ordered her to come at him with dagger raised. She stared at him with wide incredulous eyes, as if he were daft.

"I am not coming at you with a dagger," she said. "Especially when I'm not yet trained to use it!"

"Then how do you expect to go about learning?"

"The mannequin – I can use that."

"The mannequin I crafted in your likeness?" The idea seemed like sacrilege. "Never."

"Well, I certainly won't use you as a sparring partner. At least the mannequin is made of cloth and not flesh and blood and bone."

"You do realize that if you were in a situation where you must defend yourself, your attacker would be a moving target, not standing immobile and waiting to feel your blade."

She frowned at his sardonic words. "I will not be the cause of you being harmed. My God, Erik, if I were to cut you by accident, I wouldn't be able to live with myself…"

Touched by her consideration of his well being, of which he'd known very little since his existence, and such a great depth of loving concern only from her, he relented, letting out a terse breath of frustration. As a trained assassin, he was well able to deflect any attack she could make but wearied of arguing the point and knew her well enough that she would not concede.

"Very well. Give me an hour to prepare." He took the dagger from her, setting it on a nearby table.

She smiled and kissed him before moving toward the library. There, she selected a book and nestled into the pillows of the sofa to read. Before she reached the fifth chapter, her Maestro of the Blades announced that all was ready. She approached the cleared area where he stood near a roughly assembled mannequin of tied pillows. Her brow lifted in incredulity when she saw what passed for the head.

"Really, Erik?" She struggled not to laugh in groaning resignation and remain serious.

He shrugged, the gleam in his eyes hardly innocent.

"Is there a problem?"

She shook her head with a long-suffering grin. "Does the cut, color, and length of that wig not remind you of anyone?"

He looked to where she did, at the wheat-colored locks with a slight curl at the ends that fell to the pillowed shoulders. "Ah, I see. Purely coincidence."

"Mm-hmm." She stifled a laugh, not fooled by his seeming ignorance in the least. "Oh, very well. Teach me, Maestro. Show me what I need to know…"

Throughout the next hour he taught her to respect the dagger, to handle it, and slowly walked her through several moves of offense and defense. When she actually attacked the pillowed mannequin and the blade effortlessly sliced through the layers of thick cloth like a knife through soft cheese, she stepped back in shock to see the damage so easily rendered.

"Christine?" he asked worriedly, noting how her face had paled.

"I'm, I'm all right."

"You're trembling." He drew her into his arms. She kept hers down at her sides, her hand still holding the dagger. He stroked her hair, holding her head against his shoulder. "That's enough for one day, My Angel. You should rest…"

"No," she said suddenly pulling back from his loose hold. "No. I'm all right. I want to continue." She stood a little straighter. "I go back to rehearsals day after tomorrow. I realize I can't soak in everything you have to teach me before then, but I want to learn as much as possible."

He nodded. "As you wish."

She cocked her head, eying him strangely.

"There is a problem?"

"I'm frankly surprised that you're not going to try to talk me out of going back above."

His laugh was tense and bore little humor. "I have learned that just as moments of the future cannot be changed as we would wish to see them, you will also endeavor to do as you please when your heart is what leads you. I cannot fight that, but I will do my utmost to ensure your safety – this time."

Even at the sacrifice of his own life, though he did not air the words aloud.

At the soft emphasis of his declaration, she looked at him more intently, but he turned away.

"Erik." Her hand went to his back. "Mon Ange…"

He tensed all over and just as suddenly, the strength rushed from him. He always found it astounding that her gentle touch and voice were the sole combination of weapons that could so completely disarm him.

"I don't blame you for what happened."

"That's not what you said before."

She winced. "No…I know, and I'm sorry. I was angry when I said what I did."

"You have no cause to apologize, Christine." He turned to look at her, as if appalled by the idea of her feeling remorse.

"But I do, and I must. You were only protecting me, with what you did. To him, to his brother. You have always only ever protected me. What happened that day – that wasn't your fault. He was to blame, Chantel was to blame, but not you."

His gaze dropped slowly from her face, to stare at the lake beyond, a pained look in his eyes as of memory coming to mind.

The passage of days into a week had not eased the difficulty to speak about the events that occurred. The first few nights she had awakened from nightmares and sought solace in her husband's comforting arms, but had not realized he blamed himself, and so strongly, until now.

"You should never have withheld the truth of the past from me, but I can understand why you did it. Now, that I've had time to think on it."

He gave no response and she firmed her lips in grim resolve to make him understand.

"I know your heart, Erik. You would never wish to hurt me. Chantel had that day planned, devising a way for me to be alone by sending one of her lackeys to lie and tell me Madame wanted me in the costume department. It was all for the revolution – to seize my rings for their wretched cause – and for revenge for what I did to her onstage the day I slapped her. She arranged for Buquet to be there, then left me to my fate."

Her last words came out faint, but at least she could talk about the horrid incident now without feeling as if her soul was being flayed.

"She never did like me, and the feeling was mutual."

Erik's eyes burned like twin flames at the former chorus girl's name and his mouth thinned, but when he turned his attention back to Christine, there was an emotion of suppressed disbelief and beneath that, a strange underlying eagerness such words should not produce.

"Come, my love." Giving her no chance to question, he removed the dagger from her hand and set it down then took hold of her empty palm to lead her swiftly back to his table with the mini stage. "With all that has happened…" He released her hand to open a small carved box there, "With all that has plagued my mind…" He drew something from within and took her left hand in his. "Even so, I cannot believe I forgot this."

She gasped and tears flooded her eyes as he gently slid her two precious rings onto her wedding finger.

"B-but how…?"

"I found the fool, Chantel. Before you ask, no, I did not end her worthless life, though I did frighten her, hopefully never to return. It is through her admission of guilt that I was able to find you."

He bent to kiss her finger and the placement of rings, and she brought her hand up to see the familiar tokens of his love, also bestowing a welcome kiss upon the smooth stone and metal. Looking up at Erik, she smiled – the most beatific smile he'd seen since her return to him – and she threw her arms around his neck, crushing her mouth to his.

"Thank you, thank you, oh, thank you," she whispered against his mouth between kisses. "You have turned my world upright again…you truly are my Angel."

He relished the feel of her in his arms, her sweet full lips on his a moment longer before he gently broke away and lowered her to the chair. She stared up at him in confusion.

"Here in our home, below ground, you may wear the rings, but above…"

She closed her eyes and nodded. "It is no longer safe to do so, even on a chain."

Surprised and relieved she succumbed without a fight, he knelt before her, taking her hand and kissing the fingers loosely wrapped around his. "They will be waiting in this box, kept safe for your return each night. It truly is for the best, my love, but will not be forever."

"I look forward to the day when I'll never have to take them off," she agreed, "but above they're not safe. I know that now. I won't take the risk again, you have my word."

"Je t'aime, mon amour…" He kissed her hand again then lifted his lips to hers.

"Always," she whispered.

He smiled, feeling at last they approached the sea of harmony, since secrets were no longer kept between them.

"Why don't you read in your novel while I make supper?" he suggested.

"I could help…"

"You need to rest in this short time you have before your return above."

She eyed him somewhat ruefully. "You think I'm making a big mistake, don't you?"

He considered before answering. "I think your heart is often much bigger than your judgment. You truly care for others, especially those dearest to you, but that is what makes you the captivating, lovely woman you are."

After another tender kiss to her upturned lips, the Phantom strode to the kitchen area, his own words bringing him to a monumental decision. A precipice he thought never to cross. Another secret, not his own, still hidden…

And though he never reckoned it so, he now believed he could build that bridge too.

.

xXx

.

She almost slipped away undetected, when her mother's familiar voice stopped her.

"Meg, a word with you…"

Meg barely curbed a groan. "I was just going to have luncheon, Maman…" She did not add that she was to meet the Vicomte and share sandwiches in the flies above stage.

"You have half an hour. I shall take only five minutes."

Meg stifled the urge to make excuses, hoping Raoul wouldn't think she decided not to show and that he would wait…

At her mother's unwavering expression, Meg submitted.

"Oh, very well."

She preceded her into the office, and her mother closed the door and moved to her desk, taking a seat behind it. Staring at Meg, she thumped the black walking cane she still held a few times on the floorboards beside her.

When Maman sat down in such a business-like manner before speaking it was always serious. When she wielded her cane, the recipient of her probable disfavor knew to exercise extreme caution. That she did both caused Meg to hold her breath in apprehension, not wondering for the first time if the Phantom had given her mother lessons in intimidation.

"Christine will be returning to practice day after tomorrow."

"Oh!" Meg smiled in relieved but puzzled delight, confused by her mother's sober manner. "But, that's a good thing, right?"

"Oui, of course…" She glanced beyond Meg as though distracted. "The Maestro has given instructions that while Christine is above, she is never to be left alone. With all that has happened in this theater, I quite agree."

Meg nodded solemnly. "You need not even ask, Maman. I shall keep her company."

Her mother's eyes narrowed in speculation. "You are friends, of course, but it will mean never letting her out of your sight until and unless the Maestro is there. Would you be willing to do that, Meg?"

"Friends, yes, bosom friends. She's like a sister – why would you even ask me that?"

Her mother eyed her intently but gave no answer. "With regard to the child that has taken up residence in Christine's dressing room these past several weeks…" At Meg's acknowledging nod, her mother went on, "She has been moved. There are members of the cast and crew that have left, unhappy with the decree of the new management, and a cot became available in the same dorm as her mother's. The child has been given a menial task of sewing on small buttons and fasteners. Her mother assures me that though her legs are useless, her tiny fingers are gifted with a needle and she will be of great help to her. I thought you'd want to know, since you played a part in keeping her hidden…"

At the disapproving tone of her mother's voice, Meg rushed to say, "I had nothing to do with bringing Tina to the Opera House –"

Her mother waved a hand in dismissal of her words. "I know that her appearance was entirely the Maestro's doing, he has told me."

"Oh." Meg cleared her throat when her mother said no more. "Well then, if that's all…"

"It has come to my knowledge that you've been keeping company with of one of the new stagehands." Her mother straightened in her chair, arriving to the true reason for the little meeting. "Have I not warned you about their kind?"

Meg's heart slowly began to hammer against her ribs and she wondered which of the catty dancers was the tale bearer. One of Chantel's lackeys, no doubt, seeking to bring more misery.

"He's different than the others, Maman. And certainly nothing like that vile and loathsome Buquet! May I be absolved from speaking ill of the dead – but he deserves all of what he got and a good deal more. You have my word I'll watch out for Christine."

Her mother gave a sharp nod, not so easily deterred as Meg had hoped. "This stagehand – has he a name?" She raised a slightly derisive brow.

"Of course." Meg curled her fingers into sweaty palms. "It's Tristan," she whispered, hoping against hope her mother had never heard of him and had no knowledge of his masquerade. "He's a true gentleman," she said, tongue in cheek, "more so than any of the other cast or crew."

She hoped also that her mother would not discover that his character reference could also describe his title, and that the man was none other than the Vicomte de Chagny. Ever since the purely accidental and embarrassing encounter of him catching Meg au naturel in the bath, her mother had been quite ridiculous, forbidding Meg even to speak to him.

Assigned to oversee the chorus, Maman scarcely paid heed to those who ran the production behind the scenes, only when necessary to the dance, to issue a curt order during rehearsal to the unseen men in the flies, or when one of those men trespassed into the ballet rats' territory, as Buquet had done a number of times. The last time, Maman caught him in Meg's own dormitory room, unaware, and surprised him in the midst of his mad ditty of the Opera Ghost to the fearful delight of the squealing girls Meg shared the chamber with. Meg had watched, stunned, as Maman wrapped a noose around the husky stagehand's neck – while warning him to keep silent and never return, to keep his hand at the level of his eyes.

Meg shivered at the memory of what had become a prophetic omen, though she doubted her mother would exert the same warning to their ex-patron.

She once feared the Phantom for the frightful tales such as those Buquet had spread with a perverse thrill. But now, having seen the once-dreaded Opera Ghost in the flesh, having known him and come to the understanding that he was only a man, Meg felt admiration that he would save the woman he loved with his lasso. Nor did she forget he once slipped through the cracks of the walls only he knew existed, and had saved her life as well…

"I won't forbid you to see him. Heaven knows you're deserving of what happiness can be found in this purgatory in which we now live…Only be careful, Meg." The set of her mother's grim lips lifted in a distressed smile. "But then, I no longer need to issue such warnings, do I?" She sighed. "Go. Take your lunch, and do not be late for afternoon practice."

Thoroughly stunned by Maman's uncharacteristic compliance, unnerved by her words, and now feeling more than a little guilty for omitting the identity of her beau, Meg left her mother's office, her mind replaying their entire conversation.

A small cyclone nearly bowled her over as she turned a corner.

"Pardon, miss," the whirlwind said and she recognized the scarecrow of a boy Marcel, whom she had first shared her meal with that long ago day outside the diner.

Christine had shared all of what happened on her outing with her husband to the slums of Paris, how the Phantom has procured this boy's services, and Meg lifted a critical brow to see the bottle of expensive wine in the lad's hands.

"Late to a party?" she said in light scorn.

Marcel looked at the bottle in his hand. "Oh, this isn't for me, ma'amselle. It's for the managers…"

All ease vanished. "You work for them now?"

"A lad's gotta eat," he defended arrogantly then smiled. "You needn't worry, I can keep a secret. I won't tell the Phantom's…or yours."

"Mine?" Meg asked warily.

"Oui, I see and hear a great deal and have seen you, ma'amselle, with the Vicomte you keep time with -"

"Hush!" Meg hastily looked around, to assure they weren't overheard.

"You needn't worry," he said again, somewhat smugly. "I won't tell a soul."

She crossed her arms over her breasts. "And what do you want in return?" she asked suspiciously.

He looked offended. "For you, ma'amselle, I ask nothing. You gave me a meal out of kindness. I owe you the debt of silence."

Somewhat pacified she nodded then found herself speaking for the Phantom. "And you best not spread tales of the Opera Ghost either, especially that you've seen him. Guard his secrets well."

The boy shrugged as if not concerned. "I have said I would."

"See that you do - you had better not turn traitor…" She'd had enough of those in her life. "Or the Phantom will find and catch you, with his magical lasso. They also call him the Angel of Death, did you know…?" She couldn't resist a few lines of the ghostly tale, and felt satisfied to see the boy's eyes widen in slight apprehension, all arrogance gone.

"Go on, then," she jerked her head behind her. "And have a care – he is always watching."

The boy scampered away and Meg smiled darkly. She really shouldn't have enjoyed that as much as she did.

All wicked pleasure vanished as she suddenly came upon the traitor who'd hurt her the most. She stared, eye to eye, at the young man whose path she crossed, then moved to walk swiftly past him.

"Meg…"

"Leave me alone," she snapped.

"Wait." He grabbed her arm and she whirled and slapped him, again thankful no one was nearby to witness the incident.

"I trusted you, Charles," she said bitterly. "I thought we were friends. I trusted you, and you deceived me."

"How, Meg?" he said, his usual joviality absent as he rubbed the bright red mark on his jaw.

"You admitted that you spy for them."

"I never kept from you how I felt about our country's politics. I even invited you to attend one of the secret meetings…"

It was true, he had. "Because of your cousin, because of that cruel bitch, Chantel, Christine…" She caught herself in time from revealing what he had no right to know. "…Christine could have been hurt!"

"I know that – I was the one to warn you of what could happen – to prevent it from taking place!" He rubbed a tense hand through his shock of red curls. "When I suspected Chantel was up to no good, I hurried to find and tell you. We've been friends a long time, Meg, since we were both wee ones struggling to learn the dance. I would never hurt you or Christine – have I ever …?"

It was true, he had not. Yet it was also true that he and his cousin were close, and Meg dared no longer trust him, since he sided with the enemy. Chantel, yes, but also the revolutionist leaders who had threatened her and Maman, and with whom both cousins kept frequent company. Even without meaning to be, her old friend was a danger.

"It's a different world than it was then," she said softly. "Your cousin is pure evil for the horrid things she's done to Christine, and I cannot betray my friend by remaining yours."

The cold words hurt more than she thought they would, and she saw the reflection of that pain in his eyes. "You would judge me for my cousin's actions? Meg! Have a heart. Is that what you call fair?"

"Fair or not, I have no choice," Meg whispered. "From now on, keep your distance."

"Fine," he gritted between clenched teeth, his green eyes suddenly hard. "Be that way." She had never seen the boy she had grown up with, whom the chorus mockingly labeled "the jester," quite so angry, and she took a hasty step back. He saw her fear and a sudden wetness shone in his eyes.

"One day, Meg. You'll see. One day..."

He did not finish his cryptic remark, abruptly walking past her in the narrow corridor, their shoulders brushing in a firm knock, and a strong shiver coursed through her. She had no idea if his parting words were meant as a threat of violence or a promise of hope.

The moment she finally approached the disguised Raoul, who politely scrambled up from where he sat on a wide landing above the backstage area, it was to walk into his arms and whisper to him to hold her tightly.

xXx

Christine lounged in bed against a stack of pillows, trying to concentrate on the printed words on the pages. The works of Dickens usually captured her mind but now she wondered if her expectations were too great, like those of the poor Miss Havisham.

The days with Erik in their lovely solitude had eased into life as she had known it before. Almost.

They conversed easily, her husband being open and honest in everything she asked him, and while she was eager to learn his past and grateful he omitted nothing, she often sensed a dread in his eyes, as if he was certain she would again leave him. Words had little impact, but paired with actions they helped, and she strengthened her reassurances with kisses and embraces. She made her home with a fearful legend told to her in childhood tales meant to frighten, and of late, she learned he had taken men's lives, the number of which he could never be certain. She had learned her Angel's blackest secrets, and still she remained by his side. Indeed, she could not imagine leaving him; certainly there was nothing he could say or do that would prompt her exit from his life. She had at least succeeded in proving her loyalty in that.

In the last week, they spent many an evening before the fire, or sitting side by side at the pipe organ, in conversation or in song, and she loved when they sang duets together. Her lessons had not yet resumed, but he hinted they would be forthcoming. The long nights and chill mornings were spent intimately in each other's arms, and she felt breathless, even now, when recalling the adoration he showered upon her. He was so gentle, so tender, and she delighted in such expressions of their love.

But he was not being Erik. At least, not in full…

Her husband was a highly passionate man of great sensitivity and never disappointed. Since the night of their marriage, on those rare occasions he had fallen short, "too aroused by her beauty" as he explained away the moment in disgusted self chastisement, he had always seen to her satisfaction, wishing her to find fulfillment. Since they reunited, she could feel his restraint, the tender, loving husband sharing his body – but no sign of the passionate, wild beast she also yearned to mate with. There were times, when in a fever of passion, that she ached for him to pound his lust into her and fulfill her darkest desires, but he seemed deafened to her pleas.

And though she knew great pleasure in his arms…she was left wanting. She had experienced that part of him to know of its existence, and she missed it.

A shadow fell over her and Christine looked up from her book in surprise, feeling the warmth of a blush betray her wicked thoughts.

"Erik…" Only minutes had passed since she picked up the novel, certainly not enough time to make supper. "Is everything alright?"

Slowly he approached, and her heart jumped in shock to see what he carried in his hand.

He looked at her a moment, then at the bundle tied with black ribbon before offering it to her.

Christine's hands trembled as she accepted the leather volumes, setting them on her lap, then looked up at him in question.

He nodded slightly, as if answering a question yet to be posed, and turned to go.

"Erik...! Wait." Once he again faced her she shook her head. "I don't understand."

"I told you that you have my unreserved trust without measure. Those were not idle words, mon amour. If anyone has earned the privilege to know the unvarnished truth of my existence, it is you." He inclined his head in a small nod and made as if to walk away, then hesitated and barely looked over his shoulder at her. "I ask one thing only: keep all of what you learn to yourself. I have no wish to know any of it."

She sensed his words were false, that deep down, even without knowing, he desired to understand, his echo of a silent "why?" resounding softly inside her head. Like Erik, she had no answer if the truth as it was written was a blessing or curse, and she had no wish to hurt him further.

"Of course," she said with a little nod and watched him go, his form as erect and poised as always, but Christine ached for the wounded child trapped within his soul, who'd been denied so much because of a flawed patch of skin.

Carefully, nervously, almost afraid of what she would find but unable to delay gaining further knowledge, she undid the ribbon that bound the three books together. Picking up the third and last one, she opened to where she had left off in his mother's journals…

xXx
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - new chapter- 8/3/16

Postby Godzuki » Fri Aug 05, 2016 1:29 pm

This is not specific to this chapter, but hit me as I read today: As difficult a topic (re: rape/attempted rape) this is to deal with, I’m glad you are addressing a woman’s inherent value. I have never understood blaming the woman or why she is considered “used” and irredeemable. I will never understand “honor killings” and how on earth they can be considered as a solution instead of a vile horror. WHY do people blame the victim?

You are showing how C feared that she had lost her love forever through no fault of her own, yet E ( a victim of abuse himself) understood and held her blameless and gave her time to heal, showing true character comes from within. I love that you are dealing with this, the more it is talked about, the more light shone on it, the more the healing and justice will come :clap:
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - new chapter- 8/3/16

Postby honeyphan » Sat Aug 06, 2016 11:20 am

Godzuki wrote:This is not specific to this chapter, but hit me as I read today: As difficult a topic (re: rape/attempted rape) this is to deal with, I’m glad you are addressing a woman’s inherent value. I have never understood blaming the woman or why she is considered “used” and irredeemable. I will never understand “honor killings” and how on earth they can be considered as a solution instead of a vile horror. WHY do people blame the victim?

You are showing how C feared that she had lost her love forever through no fault of her own, yet E ( a victim of abuse himself) understood and held her blameless and gave her time to heal, showing true character comes from within. I love that you are dealing with this, the more it is talked about, the more light shone on it, the more the healing and justice will come :clap:



Thank you, G. :hearts:
Having been a victim, I tend to include that conflict in my stories (or variations of it) and try to bring/show the healing, right way to do things (even though of course, the characters - victims and loved ones of victims - being human, mess up there too). The world is a messy place, but I like to show how it is possible to survive, heal, and even to thrive again no matter what tragedies might have occurred.

btw- I plan to post the first chapter of my Outlander-inspired story this weekend. Maybe today. :)
You mentioned you were interested, so this is the heads- up. lol
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Re: Symphony in the Twilight - new chapter- 1/8/17

Postby honeyphan » Sun Jan 08, 2017 6:07 pm

As promised- sorry for the delay- here's the next chapter. I'll post the next one when you're ready for it. :)

Chapter LXVI

That Our Passions May Fuse and Merge

.

The Phantom sat stiffly on the sofa and stared into the dying fire, the last log snapping its complaint as it crackled and broke into a shower of thousands of gold sparks. In one hand he held a snifter of brandy, one of many libations he had lifted from the managers' stash over the years. He swirled it mindlessly, now and then sipping the liquid yet barely tasting it. His other hand sporadically clenched his knee and released it in nervous frustration. On occasion he would break such mindless routine and look over his shoulder toward the maddeningly silent bedchamber.

Exhaling a long, weary breath, he rolled his head slowly from side to side in the vain attempt to relieve cords of tension ready to snap. Surely she had been in there no more than an hour, though it felt like a multitude of them had trudged through the periphery of time to torment his mind. A glance toward the clock confirmed the hand had barely swung past a revolution.

This was pathetic.

Setting down his brandy, he quickly stood in the forced attempt once more to lose himself through his music, immediately changed his mind, and paced the chamber a third time, idly prodding the decomposed log into renewed flame, before once more finding himself seated and staring blindly into the fire.

He wished he had never given her the foul things. His trust she now had in full measure, yes, he did not speak falsely to her of that. Yet why initiate what could only amount to pity – he certainly did not want her horror – worse yet, disgust.

Trust, he reminded himself, leaning his elbows on his knees and dropping his head into his hands, thinking of how his beautiful wife accepted every bit of the wretched man he was, even the ruthless murderer he no longer wished to be, a fact that still astonished and humbled him. Thinking of how she withheld nothing of herself to please him. Her body, her voice, her heart – she had given all freely. Even after he deserved no more than her hatred and censure, she had willingly taken him back into her arms and into her bed. Certainly, after all that, she would not despise the discarded, deformed child that had been a blight upon his family and sold to gypsies for that reason.

His lips flickered in a grim smile at the memory of her horrified outrage to find him asleep in his casket.

It was simply a box of black mahogany, as he'd told her, a discarded prop he improved to resemble the coffin from the traveling fair, where he found it a necessity to work for a hideaway after his mad escape from Persia. Padded in blood red satin instead of black, it was not without comfort, if a trifle confined, and at the time, all he felt an Angel of Death deserved. Once he shared the bed he designed for her, and that she had graciously allowed him back into, he harbored no desire to return to the lonely receptacle of his solitude. Recalling the angry fire in her eyes, he would not have been surprised had she grabbed a torch and sent his harmless little bed up in a fiery conflagration of smoke, was grateful she had not, though when they spoke of it since, he glimpsed a spark of that same fire in her eyes. The container still had its use, perhaps to store things. Maybe he should hide it.

He sensed her before he heard her step on the stones, and tensing, slowly lifted his head.

Christine quietly came to stand before him. It did not escape his notice that she clutched the wretched journals against her breasts. She appeared calm, though her creamy skin was blotchy, her eyes red from crying. She frowned when she noticed the black silk mask, and he averted his eyes back to the fire, feeling oddly defensive though she'd done nothing to warrant such behavior. He knew not what to say or ask and watched her arm come into view as she set the journals on the table in front of him…

Frowning, he stared, his vision blocked suddenly by gray velvet. He flicked his eyes upward as she drew close to stand between his legs and place her hands on his shoulders.

"Mon Ange, do you trust me?"

Her gentle question puzzled him in light of the past seven days.

"I have told you so."

"Yes." She smiled. "And you know that you mean everything to me, that I would never say or do anything that could hurt you?"

His tension eased a fraction in his relief that she treated him no differently than before she read the detestable accounts of his pathetic beginnings.

"I have come to that knowledge, yes."

"Then please don't be angry with me, and trust me when I say that I think you should read the last entry of your mother's journals."

His teeth clenched at the thought. "I told you, I want nothing to do with them."

"I know, my love…" She lifted her hands to cradle his jaw, "I only think, having read them, you should know what the last one contains." She leaned in to brush her lips lightly to his, keeping them there a blissful moment before straightening. "I'm going to the pool to bathe. I'll make supper when I return. Something simple to go with the baguette we made earlier?"

He nodded and turned his head to watch Christine go, never taking his eyes off her. Once she disappeared down the far corridor, he turned his attention to the journals. Glaring at them, he rose to his feet and walked away, to stand before the fire.

.

xXx

.

Christine took her leisure soaking in the heated spring, wishing to give Erik time alone to read and ponder. At least she hoped he would take the opportunity.

Slowly she worked the fragrant oil through her hair, running her fingers through the locks, thinking on all she'd read.

Exhausted with the emotional upheaval of the day, her mind had not caught everything the first night she took the journals, as it did with a second reading. That explosive evening in the chapel before Erik's violent unmasking, when Erik spoke of his mother and her first gift of clothing to him, a mask, Christine bitterly despised the former Comtesse. After reading the first two journals, hatred turned to pity, and now, after having read all of the third…she actually felt a grudging respect for the woman who called herself weak but had shown a strength Erik never knew existed.

Battered not by fists but by words and with threats, Lady Helena de Chagny struggled to be the wife the Comte demanded, at the same time she defended her only son with what little power she possessed. It was because of his mother's pleas that Erik spent his first years hidden away in the western wing of the chateau and was not disinherited and sent off as an outcast at once. Lady Helena blamed herself for Erik's deformity, the Comte often stating it was entirely her fault due to her rebellion, that God's punishment had been visited upon them. She cringed to see her child, often unable to look at him, her own guilt stirring such feelings. It was fear of the Comte's reaction to their son's deformity that necessitated the mask, not his mother's hatred of him or his face, as Erik thought.

Rarely would the Comte go near his son, and when he did inhabit a room with Erik there, usually after caving in to his wife's incessant pleading, he maintained a scornful distance. Lady Helena endeavored to spend an hour each day with Erik the first two years of his life, detailing a few of those "bittersweet visits," but all too often was prevented by the Comte and his demands on her time. For one, she was faithfully to attend her duties as Comtesse, a heavily laden schedule. For another, he made it clear she owed him a suitable heir and again got her with child a short time after Erik was born, a child she soon miscarried. The next child arrived stillborn. The Comte then forbade Lady Helena to have anything to do with Erik, preferring to forget his existence. Kept hidden in the west wing, not a soul outside the chateau knew of the small child, so the order was easily obeyed, the doctor who delivered him and the priest who baptized him both having been sworn to secrecy.

When Lady Helena nearly lost their unborn babe in the third month and the Comte learned she secretly visited Erik in his room that day, he threatened to send Erik away for good to a monastery, "to let them deal with the demon that cursed their family with his very presence." It was Helena's beseeching and her promise never to visit the western wing again that stayed his iron hand. Forced to remain abed for the remainder of her pregnancy while under the watchful eye of the servants who reported back to the Comte, Helena listened to the music her son played with the zither she secretly acquired for him and delighted in his musical genius, his sweet songs echoing through the empty corridors and reaching through the open windows to her bedchamber. While the Comte went out for his morning ride, Helena instructed the nanny to take Erik to the courtyard to play beneath her window, eager to hear his angelic voice, especially when he would sing, and took what comfort she could from that. A very difficult birth resulted in a tiny daughter who barely lived a week. Lady Helena, knowing she would die too, spurned the Comte's orders and asked for Erik to be brought to her chambers, to see him one last time.

Tears leaked from Christine's eyes, to recall his mother's poignant and regretful words for having distanced herself, heartbroken when her son shied away, as if she was a stranger. Her last words to write had been a plea for forgiveness directly to Erik, the words shaky and rambling, her fever-laden brain crying out in remorse for her timidity and selfishness, for the first time, declaring her love for her son. She ended the last entry stating she tried to make amends to right a horrible wrong, and hoped all would not be in vain. What that meant exactly, Christine had no clue but it was that final entry she wished Erik to see.

Her eyes popped open wide with a dreadful thought. Her husband preferred things in their entirety or not at all. How could she have forgotten that, even for a minute? If he did yield to her persuasion, surely he would start from the beginning and read all of what was there, which was well within his right…but…

"Oh, God – what have I done?"

Hurriedly she rinsed the oil from her head and body, ducking beneath the waters, before taking the stairs and briskly toweling her skin dry. She shoved her feet into slippers and threw her wrapper around her shoulders, tying the sash as she exited the chamber.

She never wanted to inflict more pain into his life that had been battered with every sort of torment! Most surely the full knowledge of those years would rip open old scars in his heart if remembered and tear new wounds if uncovered. Those horrid names his father called him, echoes of what Erik said when referring to himself, was it any wonder that her poor husband thought himself a monster and a demon? And if his own father said such vicious things, what might others just as wicked tell a child? At last Christine could better understand why it was so difficult for Erik to see himself as anything else and determined twice as hard to show him he was so much more than the lies told him …

Upon entering the lake chamber, her gaze immediately went to the sofa and her dear Phantom, sitting where she'd left him. He looked straight ahead into the fire, a closed book in his hands.

The burst of resolve that prompted her hurried trek unexpectedly fizzled. Was she too late? Certainly he could not have read more than a third of one in the short time she was gone. Could he?

Now feeling incredibly foolish but ill-prepared with exactly how to approach and retract her words without arousing his suspicion, she darted to the other side of the standing bookcase before he could discern her presence.

She needed a moment to think, but what could she say, really, after beseeching him for his trust in this – to suddenly change direction and discourage the idea? She should have used logic and thought it over, not relied on the urging of her heart, no matter her good intentions …

Hearing his footsteps, she blindly grabbed a book from the shelf and opened it in the pretense of being immersed. Groaning to see what it contained – that of all the hundreds of books he owned she should grab that one – she slammed the book shut and promptly lost her grip, the book tumbling from her fingers just as he walked around the corner.

She sank to her heels to retrieve it at the same moment he stepped forward and extended his hand.

"Allow me…"

"No, that's alright…" she blurted.

Too late, he claimed the reprehensible book, this time, the victor. At least this time, Christine dryly thought, they did not knock heads as they had in her dressing room over his fallen glove.

He straightened to stand and held his hand out to help her up. Once upright, she watched him carefully, trying to gauge his mood as he slipped the journals, one by one, into an empty slot on a shelf high above.

She pulled in her bottom lip with her teeth. "Did you read them?"

"Only part of the first. I had no desire to read further into the scribblings of Lady Helena's privileged life."

At his disgusted tone, Christine tried not to show her relief and nodded. The first journal detailed his mother's youth, blithe and uncomplicated, a beauty sought after by many beaus, in the years before her arranged marriage to the Comte.

"Yes, I think that's wise," she said quietly.

Erik turned from shelving the books in surprise, clearly curious about her change of heart. He studied her a moment then handed her back the rescued book.

The betraying heat washed over her face in a blush. "No, I don't want it. I didn't really intend to choose that book."

His brow lifted. "Didn't intend to?"

"I only grabbed it because…" Drat it all, she expected nothing but honesty from him, so she could do no less. "…I was hiding. In a sense."

"Hiding?"

At least he sounded more amused than angry.

She sighed. "I didn't want you to know that I was watching you or that I…"

"Yes…?" he prompted when she stalled.

"That I came to advise you not to read what I asked you to. I had second thoughts, but the courage stupidly left me and I wound up here. There you have it. It all worked out, so it doesn't really matter."

She smiled tightly and sidestepped him, moving across the room to the sofa, a little surprised when he made no move to stop her. Noticing his snifter still contained brandy, Christine gratefully plucked it up and eyed the rich amber liquid with curiosity before tilting it to her lips. Fumes burned down her throat spreading into her nose and deep down to her belly, prompting her to cough. She had not expected it to be so acrid, though there was a hint of grape about it, like wine. A very strong wine. On his breath it seemed sweet.

"Christine…"

He came up behind and moved to stand before her. "I sense there's more that troubles you." He looked to the glass in her hand but did not take it from her. "Is it this?"

Her eyes went to the book he held up. She gave no reply.

"I told you, all I have is yours, mon amour. Nor should you feel the need to hide your activities from me. Your curiosity is understandable, an intrinsic part of your nature …"

"It's not that," she said before he could finish.

She moved away to sit on the sofa and stared at the glass in her hands she cradled between her knees. He approached and sat beside her.

"They are simple pen and ink drawings." He set the book on his lap and opened it. "Works of art, somewhat inferior in presentation, but the exhibition of a vivid imagination. Certainly nothing of which to feel ashamed."

She laughed shortly at that. "Heavens, I'm not ashamed, Erik." After more than two months of marriage, she had moved well beyond unease to feel embarrassment at crude line drawings of nude couples in embrace. And yet, she could feel her face warming. She hoped it was only the brandy.

"What then?"

"It's all a bit…strange," she admitted.

"The different conceptions of the act?"

Were they truly going to engage in this conversation? Still, this might be the perfect gateway to approach him with what did trouble her. She took another sip of his brandy, finding it every bit as fiery, but it helped her relax. Curling her legs up beside her she leaned against him, and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

"That, for instance," she pointed to one drawing that appeared to defy gravity. "I am a dancer and can tell you the position of the woman would be highly uncomfortable not to mention nearly impossible, to stretch the limbs in such an odd formation for an extended period – how can there be any pleasure in that?" She wrinkled her nose. "Some of those poses remind me of the punishments at the barre that Madame doles out for those who do badly in class. It all seems so…forced."

His lips lifted at the corners and he turned another page. She leaned her head on his shoulder and watched. Now and then she added a disparaging comment, sometimes a giggle, other times shaking her head in disbelief as he leafed through the book.

"Oh my…" she whispered.

Well that was certainly different.

Glancing into her husband's eyes, Christine caught a gleam of interest as he looked at the page. This then might be the key to unleash the tiger since all else had failed.

x

The Phantom never intended to visit this book with Christine, as he had with so many of the literary novels in his library. His intention tonight was to help her over the hurdle of any fears she might yet possess. Hearing her giggle when he turned the page, he knew relief that she did not seem intimidated by any of it, that whatever fears of the act were fostered by the brutal assault seemed to have well and truly vanished, just as her bruises had faded to almost nothing.

Since her return to him a week ago, she had changed. A grave maturity now haunted her expressive brown eyes and lent a mysterious quality that only enhanced her beauty. The sweet, naive child had completely vanished, and a woman of astounding strength emerged. She still had nightmares, but he was always there to console her, with his voice, in song, often with the touch of his body, extending toward her every adoration and bringing her to a feverish state for other, more pleasant dreams to occur. With all that she suffered, he made a concentrated effort always to be careful with her, restraining the hungry beast inside that wanted to break forth and fully claim its mate in violent passion. Never doing anything that might cause her to withdraw from him in fear or provoke memories of the horrors she had endured.

The feat of restraint grew more difficult each time they made love, and in looking at some of the sketches that did appeal, he imagined himself and Christine fused together in those positions…

Perhaps this was not a good idea after all.

He moved to close the book. Her hand stopped him, spreading across the page.

"You want to look at more?" he asked in surprise.

She gave a mild shrug. "We've covered half of it. There's no reason not to." She smiled sweetly, the light in her eyes warning him of imminent mischief, and she ducked her head and took another sip of his brandy.

Ah, yes, the brandy.

He considered reminding her of the champagne aftermath, but decided against it. There wasn't enough left in the glass to do real damage, only to provide a pleasurable warmth, and he certainly would never deny her any measure of comfort.

"Very well."

Still, he hesitated in turning the page. He had not opened this book in well over a year, perhaps longer, and had forgotten much of what it contained. After that last sketch, he needed a moment to compose himself and oust all desirous visions of his lovely wife in just such a position.

Christine held the glass beneath his chin.

"Would you like a taste?" she asked.

The Phantom found it amusing that she offered him brandy from his glass, which she had abducted as her own. He allowed her to serve him, grateful the liquid found its way into his mouth and not splashing down his shirt and robe, as when she offered him champagne.

He resumed turning the pages, entertained by her brief critiques and giggles, strongly aware she had sidled closer, her breath warm at his neck.

Again he turned the page and froze, the blood thrumming through his veins as imagination went wild and tore through the bars he had put there to confine him. She softly inhaled a gasp then drained what little remained of the brandy.

This was a mistake, a huge mistake…

He felt her hand slip to his jaw. She turned his head, pressing her mouth to his, the touch of her tongue against his lower lip as fleeting as her kiss. He watched her set down the glass, gracefully rise and move to stand before the fire…could not take his eyes off her…his breath catching in stunned awareness when she undid her sash and slowly turned to face him, the fall of her velvet robe puddling to the ground as she regarded him in all her naked splendor.

"Shall we make the attempt?"

The book fell unheeded to the ground and in a few swift strides, he joined her, clutching her to him and kissing her fiercely. She mewled in delight, tearing away his silk mask then grabbing the lapels of his robe and pulling them away. He helped, tearing his robe off his shoulders, followed by his shirt while her fingers unfastened the ties of his black silk trousers and tugged them to his ankles. Quickly he stepped out of them, and she looked up from where she knelt with the smile of a temptress on her lovely, full lips.

"If memory serves me correctly, you're supposed to lie here." She patted the rug. "On your back, my dark, delicious Phantom."

He sank to his knees before her, pressing his hands to her head. "Christine, are you certain?"

"I'm no stranger to choreography."

"No, not that. The idea." He spread his hand toward the book. "Of this. Perhaps it's only the brandy."

"I'm not tipsy, Erik. Did I not convince you of my desire when I last made the attempt?"

"Oh, much more than an attempt to be sure," he growled.

She blushed prettily and smiled then pushed his chest with both hands, forcefully enough for him to fall backward onto the thick pile rug. He caught himself, bracing his arms against the ground.

"Better," she whispered and bent toward him. Her lips and tongue at once made swirls of designs on his skin. Her teeth gently tugged a nipple, and he hissed, feeling her smile as her attentions traveled lower, over stomach and thigh, her long damp ringlets causing trickles of shocks against his flesh. He groaned, falling completely to his shoulder blades. She braced one hand on the other side of his hip. "That's it, my love, lie back and take your pleasure," she whispered in the moment before those sweet lips and tongue blessed his throbbing shaft.

He caught his breath on a groan, fully releasing it as her wet, warm mouth encased him.

"As you shall take yours," he vowed and grabbed her thighs, positioning her to straddle him, looking to the vision of her feminine secrets above, wide and open to him. Venus in all her beauty, his Christine. Reveling in the immense pleasure she gave him, he took a moment to appreciate her perfection, the lovely toned bottom, the dark curls that peeked between, glistening from the fragrant moisture that seeped along silken pink lips…

With a low growl, he grabbed her to him, burying his mouth against her sweet flesh.

Christine groaned. Her mouth stilled around his swollen manhood as Erik's tongue laved and delved deep, the pleasure so intense it grew difficult to focus. She redoubled her efforts, taking him inside until she felt him to the back of her throat, exultant when through the haze that had become her mind, she heard him gasp her name. A few more slides of her mouth, a few swirls of her tongue, and she felt his thighs tremble. Gently she ran her nails beneath them.

Suddenly he pulled her even lower, latching onto her with a fierceness that left her breathless, suckling hard, soon finding the crest of her desire. Mercilessly teasing and tugging. Torturing her mind and body, until overcome, her mouth broke free of him. She cried out as waves of release pulled her under, crashing inside and leaving her trembling. He carried her through and beyond, but when she lifted her cheek from his groin to resume with her mouth what she had continued with her hand, he firmly squeezed her thighs, lifting her.

"Enough," he whispered, and she shivered from the sensation of his breath on her aroused flesh. "I want to bury myself deep within you."

He helped her move away and sat up, their lips joining in brief hungered kisses as he began to push her back to where he had lain, but she stopped him with a hand to his chest and a shake of her head. "I noticed another page that held your interest," she said huskily, and with a siren smile she turned on hands and knees, facing the fire.

Stunned, he stared at her, at that lovely snow white derriere poised and waiting, much as his mind envisioned it when staring at the picture. Only the reality was much more enticing.

"Erik," she urged in mild complaint, looking over her shoulder and gracefully wiggling her hips.

He needed no further invitation. Crawling toward her, he knelt behind and guided himself to the entrance of her womanhood. They both gasped as he pushed in deep. His hands spread wide against the satin skin of her taut buttocks as he grabbed her hips, bringing her to him with each slow, delectable plunge. All too soon the desire to pound into her overcame him, and his fingers unconsciously tightened as he struggled to suppress the urge.

Her body shaking, Christine clutched hard fistfuls of the rug, overwhelmed by yet another sensation of her beloved so deep inside her, the only disadvantage to this approach, the inability to touch him as she so desperately wanted. His own hands were not likewise bound and he reached around with one to stroke her breast and belly in a wide gentle sweep, his fingertip soon finding her most sensitive area as he leaned his trembling torso against her back, his lips against her spine. The creamy sounds of their joining, slow and intense, accompanied the crackle of flames, the heat of which warmed her face and vied for the inferno surging through her body.

It was exquisite, it was sublime…

But she wanted more.

"Fire," she whispered, briefly lifting her head to look into the dancing blaze. "Dark…hungry…fire."

Erik stilled a moment later, as if just aware of her soft, throaty command. Then, with a hungered growl, he straightened and grabbed her hips, pounding fiercely into her, the slaps of flesh against flesh adding to the erotic music of their night. At first long, his strokes became shorter, deeper, more rapid until he was pushing into her with such force, scarcely pulling back. Christine struggled to remain upright – but could not stop smiling through her moans of pleasure for her triumph to have uncaged her tiger at last.

Her arms trembled weakly and she lost balance, falling to her forearms and dropping her head to the rug. A moment more, and he broke through his passionate haze and left her. Swiftly brought her to lie on her back, the apology dying in his throat when he saw the delight on her damp face and in her eyes, half closed and glazed with want.

"I did not hurt you?" he panted, wishing to be sure.

She shook her head, grabbing him violently to her, her lips finding his as he lifted her thigh against him and again plunged deep. Their bodies rubbed together, slick with the sweat of their desire as he drove with merciless abandon into her, her hips meeting his violent rocking, ever seeking more, as he pushed and pushed until he brought them both hurtling over the edge into mindless oblivion.

Their delirious panting drowned out the sounds of the fire. Wearily he dropped his flawed cheek to rest on her silken breast, then after a moment gathered the globe to his mouth, slightly moving his head to give a gentle suckle. She shuddered beneath him, even as her creamy inner walls continued to tighten in swift little shocks around his shaft.

He dropped one last kiss to her rosy nipple and again lay his head against the soft cushion of her breast. With closed eyes, he lifted his hand to cup her jaw and brushed his thumb against her parted lips.

"That was unexpected," he said when he could talk.

He felt her smile against his thumb, which she slipped inside her mouth. He growled a little at the pleasurable sensation that caused, his imagination running free with the idea to find with his tongue every heretofore unknown point of pleasure on her body. Another time. Perhaps later this night, when he could move again…

They lay together in the ease of contentment for some time. When he had the presence of mind to recall what unbridled passion he exerted, his fingers having dug hard, he lifted himself from her in concern to look. Frowning to see the evidence he had feared, he smoothed gentle fingertips over the marks left on her hips.

"Erik, stop." She covered his hand with hers, pressing his palm fully to her skin. "I'm not made of spun glass. It's alright."

"I never meant to hurt you, never wanted to see you bruised again."

A momentary flash of remembered pain clouded her eyes, thankfully brief, but enough to make him rue bringing up the foul incident.

"And I wanted perfection."

Curiously he regarded her as he moved to stretch out beside her, the fire warm on his back. Instantly she turned to him, draping herself against his body, and he slipped his arm around her waist.

"I covet the tender moments with you," she explained, "so intense and sweet, and when we share our love, slow and gentle, at times that is enough to satisfy, especially when I am still dreamy with sleep and not yet fully awake." She smiled with the delightful memories and drew her fingertips down his damp chest. "But there are times I crave the dark passion, and sometimes only that. The breathless fire and ardent fury that you taught me to need and is so much a part of you. If absent too long, one without the other does not feel complete. And together they are perfection."

At the reminder of his lesson toward her, a light of understanding dawned in his beautiful eyes that now glowed like precious jade. He lifted her fingertips to his lips and kissed them.

"Any marks you may leave from your fingers or mouth are wielded with the desire to give me pleasure. I cherish them, Mon Ange, because they are created from love, not hate, so do not distress yourself any further with fears that are simply not true…"

As she spoke, he moved to kiss the pale column of her neck and tenderly sucked in the flesh there, relishing her gasp. In recalling her return to the theater above, the appointed time looming over their heads, he moved his mouth lower, where any costume would cover, to leave his mark there instead.

"Oh, yes," she breathed, her hands weaving into his hair. "Exactly that…"

Supper long forgotten, they soon revisited passion, tender and slow, all that each of them required in the moment. Holding her closely in his arms, they slept the night before the fire with his cloak to cover them, each falling into slumber and dreams of sweet perfection.

.

xXx

.

Seeing Raoul motion toward her from the end of the corridor, Meg looked over her shoulder to make sure no one watched then hurried forward, ducking behind the curtain into the alcove where he waited.

He took her hands in his. "Meg, are you alright?"

Surely, he could see that she was, but it was the first question asked every time they found a stolen moment to meet, ever since she told him of Charles and the threat made that she wasn't quite sure was a threat.

"Nothing troublesome has happened, not today at least." Temporarily diverted, she lifted one hand briefly to touch his chin with her fingertips. "This is new."

"I thought it would better enhance the disguise," he explained the beginnings of mustache and goatee that spread above his upper lip and along his chin. "Is it too horribly strange?"

"A bit." She smiled. "But I like it."

She felt suddenly awkward – was she being too bold? –and slipped her other hand from his as well.

"Christine returns today."

"Meg, be careful."

"Then you heard?"

He drew his brows together in confusion. "Heard what?"

"I don't know if you know this, but they arrested several priests weeks ago for their loyalties to the former regime, and Maman learned yesterday that one of them was Father Dupres. He married Christine to her husband."

"This damned revolution," Raoul hissed, and Meg pressed her fingers to his lips in alarm.

"Don't say such things – not where you can be so easily overheard! Really, Tristan, you tell me to be careful, but you're the one constantly inviting capture with your presence here, and now your insistence to shadow Charles!" She lowered her voice to a mere whisper. "What if he recognizes you? What if he tells? The boy Marcel knows who you are."

He lifted his brows in surprise.

She nodded, though she did not move her fingers, finding his lips warm and soft and nice to touch.

"He told me, but he seems to be on our side. He swore he would never tell."

"And you trust him?"

His breath against her skin made her give a little gasp. This time she lowered her fingers as if burned.

"I think so," she whispered, riveted by the intent look that had entered his eyes.

She had never thought their first kiss would be shared in between rehearsals, hidden away in little more than a closet, but when his mouth covered hers, suddenly such things failed to matter.

His lips were as tender as the manner in which he cradled her cheeks with his fingertips. He pulled back to look, searching her eyes, then kissed her again, more ardently, pressing his hands to her spine. When she felt the brush of his tongue against her lips, she opened to him with a gasp, allowing him access to her mouth.

Heat washed through Meg, much like she felt after giving herself to the dance, only coupled with a lightheadedness and the need to reciprocate in full. Dear God! This is what true passion felt like? No wonder Christine had been so eager to embrace it with her husband!

Meg's arms wound around Raoul's neck, her body pressing closer, as she followed his lead, her tongue shyly but eagerly meeting his.

The sound of her mother's voice calling to one of the girls, asking if she'd seen Meg, broke through the warm daze that had begun to wrap around her mind, and she broke free.

"I have to go."

"I'll find you later, after the evening rehearsal."

Strangely shy after having thrown herself at him, she nodded and hurried away, hoping her face did not betray her. Putting her fingers to heated cheeks, she wished away flushed skin and quickly straightened her costume and the ribbon in her hair.

"Maman?" She said as calmly as she could manage. "You were looking for me?"

Her mother turned in relief. "Yes, my dear. Christine should be here at any moment."

"I'll go wait for her in the dressing room."

"You'll need this." Her mother handed her the keys from the belt at her waist. "Monsieur LeStrange is absent for the next several days so she need not worry about his unwanted attention, thank heavens for that, but I don't want her alone."

Meg sobered. "You think she's still in danger?"

"I won't take the risk."

Meg agreed but when she slipped the key in the dressing room lock and opened the door to wait for her friend, she saw she was too late. The room was occupied, the couple who stood in front of the tall mirror door in passionate embrace, reminding Meg of the one she'd just experienced.

Caught up in each other, they did not hear her entrance, and Meg blushed at how fiercely they kissed and clung to one another. She did not wish to be a voyeur, but at the same time, had no desire to disturb their goodbyes, aware of how much both of them recently suffered.

Christine pulled her lips from his. "I'll be alright, my love. With you there to watch over me, I'll be safe."

"I will never make the mistake to let you out of my sight again, not even for a moment."

"Shhh…" Christine pressed her lips to his in the tenderest of kisses. "I love you."

"And I, you."

They kept their hands held to each other's sides, but Meg did not think a more opportune time would arrive to make her entrance. Noisily she pulled the door wider and swept inside, swiftly turning to close and lock it, giving them time to separate.

"Hello, Meg." Christine was all smiles.

"Meg." The Phantom nodded to her in calm greeting. "I trust your mother has spoken with you?"

"Oui, monsieur. I won't leave Christine's side even if she sickens of my company and demands that I go."

"See that you don't."

"Erik," Christine softly chided in amusement.

Neither had released the other and the Phantom bent to kiss her one last time.

Meg wondered if that would be her and Raoul one day then blushed to think it.

When the two lovers parted, and the Phantom whisked away, back through the mirror door, Meg cautiously approached her friend. On the last occasion they were together, Christine shied away from her touch and companionship, behaving as if she wanted nothing to do with her, and she wasn't sure how she would be received.

"Meg," Christine swiftly moved toward her and hugged her close. Meg blinked away tears of relief as she slipped her arms around her dearest friend.

"I'm so glad you're well," Meg whispered, "I was so frightened for you."

Christine pulled back, reaching for her hands to hold them, a trace of sorrow in her eyes. "I treated everyone abominably and I am so sorry."

Meg shook her head. "Don't apologize. You shouldn't have to. What happened to you was terrible…" She trailed away when Christine winced. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought it up, but, Christine…" She hesitated. "You do know that Lysette and Josette are both still here, in the chorus and on stage as we speak?"

Christine nodded grimly. "I expected it. I spoke with your mother upon my return to Erik."

"Are you going to be alright, going back?"

"I have to be."

"Christine…" She hesitated. "Why are you doing this? You should take as much time as you need to recover. It's because of the threats, isn't it?" She answered her own question. "Against Maman and myself. Please, don't worry. They were likely empty ones designed only to force you into an appearance. If you're not ready, you shouldn't go out there yet. Maman can ask the doctor to tell the managers you need more time to recover."

"And what then? At some point I'll need to make an entrance, Meg."

"Perhaps things will have calmed down in another week or so," she said, not believing it herself. "Perhaps there will no longer be a need to worry. Raoul seems to think this revolution cannot last much longer."

Christine smiled grimly. "Tell me, Meg, if you were in my place and I in yours, would you heed such advice?"

Meg went silent, accepting the argument as lost, and squeezed her hands once before releasing them.

"Then, if you're sure, we should go or we'll be late."

"One more thing." A look of remorseful determination entered Christine's eyes, as if about to say something she wished she didn't have to. "Once we near the stage, I'll need to speak a lie, as if in confidence to you, but so as to be overheard. And I'll need you to play along."

"What lie?"

"That the Phantom is the one responsible for my accident."

xXx

A/N: Muahahaha – well, hope you enjoyed the fluff and fun while it lasted…things are about to go dark. Very, very dark…
;-)
Image E/C manip made by me
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