"In sleep he sang to me, in dreams he came, that voice which calls to me, and speaks my name."
Christine sat in the back of the open carriage, her eyes on the snowy landscape, the wind pressing her thin scarf to her face like a mask. She saw and felt none of it, her thoughts traveling through the past with him.
Last night's masquerade was foremost in her mind. His appearance at the ball had shocked her to the core. It was all she could think about, unable even to sleep for the images swirling through her head. Her Angel had been gone so long she had felt abandoned. She knew she had behaved badly at their first meeting and she longed to make amends. She thought they had been friends far too long for him to hold her childish behavior against her forever, but perhaps she had been wrong in her assumption about the depth of his feelings for her. What was she to do, though, when he would not come to her? She had no way of going to him to apologize; Madame had expressly forbidden it. She had filled Christine's head with stories of the dangers lying in wait in the cellars, dangers he had put in place to keep visitors out. If he truly wished to be with Christine, Madame Giry said, he would come for her.
But he never had. Christine grieved for her loss but eventually she realized that her life had to continue.
She allowed Raoul to court her, though she never imagined anything would come of it. After all, she was a dancer and a chorus girl, which was not that far up from a fille de joie, and he was a Vicomte. He proposed to her the afternoon of the ball, and for a few hours, she allowed herself to dream what a life among the nobility would be like.
Then her Angel appeared at the top of the staircase and all other thoughts had fled. When he turned his attentions to her, she felt her soul come alive under his hopeful gaze. It was when he tore the ring from her neck that she realized he had always held her heart. What she had offered Raoul had only been a poor substitute.
Her Angel disappeared and Raoul had followed him. When the Vicomte returned, he had some ridiculous notion that the Phantom would try to kidnap Christine. He wanted to whisk Christine off to his country estate for her protection. She adamantly refused, and Madame Giry surprisingly agreed with her. Raoul had to be content with standing guard outside the ballet dormitories.
She tossed and turned all night, hoping beyond hope to hear her Angel's voice as she lay in her bed. He had never appeared, and with the dawn's coming light, Christine made up her mind. She would go to the only place she knew no one would bother her, her father's grave, and try to make sense of everything that had happened to her.
The carriage came to a stop outside the cemetery gates. Christine climbed down carefully, her mind still on her problems. It was as she passed through the gate that she realized she had left the bouquet of roses for her father on the carriage seat. Looking back, she cried, "Wait!"
The driver turned his head toward her. Beneath the shadow of his hood, Christine caught a glimpse of white. Her heart leapt. "Angel?" It came out a choked whisper.
He pulled the horses to a halt, then jumped down to tie them to the hitching rail. Christine waited anxiously as he rounded the carriage and walked through the gates, her heart dancing in her chest.
Hood still low over his face, he came toward her then dropped to his knees in the snow before her, holding the roses out to her. She took them from his gloved hand. Hesitantly, she reached out to him and gently pushed the hood back. He looked up at her slowly, his eyes bright.
"Angel...oh, Angel, you're really here." She laid her hand along his uncovered cheek and he turned his face into the caress, his eyes closing.
"Christine," he murmured. With what felt like her first genuine smile in months on her lips, Christine took hold of the collar of his cloak and tugged gently. He rose to his feet and she threw her arms about his waist, hugging him tightly. His surprise was evident in the way he stiffened, but as she leaned her head against his shoulder, she felt his stance soften and his arms come around her. He held her loosely, as if he was afraid she would break if he applied too much pressure.
When she finally took a step back to gaze up at him, the expression on his face dazzled her, so bright was the joy in his eyes. Christine hooked her arm through his. "Walk with me to my father's grave?" she asked.
Nodding, he laid his left hand over hers where it rested on his arm and went with her.
There was silence between them for a time, not an awkward silence as she so often felt with Raoul, but a comfortable quiet broken only by the crunch of their footsteps on the newly fallen snow. The air was crisp and cold, and Christine smiled as her breath mingled with her Angel's to form a feathery cloud.
She was the first to speak. "Why did you leave me? I missed you terribly."
The rhythm of his footsteps faltered for a moment and his grip on her arm tightened. "I thought--I thought you no longer had a need for your angel," he answered, his voice low.
She moved in front of him, her hand on his chest bringing him to a stop. "Why would you think that?"
Unable to look her in the eye, his gaze wandered to a statue of a praying angel, the muscle in his cheek twitching. "I heard you," he said at last, "I heard you tell that boy that you were frightened of me, that you wanted no more of me, or my world of eternal night."
The pain in his voice brought tears to Christine's eyes. "Oh..." she breathed, "oh...." Not knowing what else to do, she flung her arms around him in a tight embrace, suddenly afraid that if she did not hold on to him he would disappear again. "I am so sorry. I--that whole night is a muddled blur. I said many things then that I have come to deeply regret."
One of his hands came to rest at the small of her back, the other she could feel tenderly stroking her hair. So softly she could barely hear him, he asked, "Then there is still a chance for me? For us?"
Lifting her head from his shoulder, Christine met his gaze. "When you took the ring from my neck last night, it was as if I could breathe again. I finally knew what I had felt the night you first came to me was real, and it was what I have been yearning for ever since." She laid her hand on his chest and he brought his own up to cover it.
"You do not love the boy?" he asked, astonished.
She shook her head. "He was my childhood friend, and because of that will always be dear to me, but he thinks of me as Little Lotte still. He does not see me for who I truly am, while you have been there for me for over half my life. You are my best friend, Angel. We have known each other's hearts and minds for so many years, if not each other's faces. There is a world between us that no one else could ever possibly share. I cannot imagine a life without you."
Bringing their joined hands up to his lips, he kissed the back of her fingers. "I think I would die without you," he whispered.
"Then I will never leave you," she answered, kissing his cheek tenderly. For the first time, Christine saw him smile. It was not a big smile, just a gentle lifting of the corners of his mouth, but she thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
He took her arm again and they walked the rest of the way to her father's tomb, their hearts silently speaking the words their voices could not. They stopped at the foot of the steps leading up to the mausoleum and he released her, saying, "Go on. I'll wait for you here."
Christine grasped his hand. "I would like you to come with me. In a strange and round about way, my father brought us together, after all." Again, he gave her that tiny smile, and she felt a pleasant fluttering in her stomach at the sight of it.
They ascended to the gates of the crypt, and he tugged them open, both of them wincing at the shriek made by the seldom-used hinges. Entering the mausoleum, Christine laid the bouquet of roses on her father's sepulchre then stepped back. She crossed herself and bowed her head to say a silent prayer.
When she looked up again, her Angel was beside her, his hand on her back. She moved into the warmth of his embrace. "I'm glad you're here. I think you and my father would have been kindred spirits."
His arm tightened around her. "I heard him play once," he told her. She turned toward him, her face lighting up. "It was before you were born. He came to the opera house to play at a special performance." His eyes closed for a moment as he reminisced. "He played simple folk tunes with such passion as to make an angry, embittered, outcast young man cry."
There was such pain and longing in his voice that Christine felt compelled to take his hand in empathy, her gaze never leaving his face. He looked down at her, his eyes a liquid green in the gray light filtering into the mausoleum. "His young bride was with him, and she joined him on several songs. Her voice was not a soprano, as yours is, but a low, rich alto that could imbue a single note with the warmth of a fire in a hearth, or the colors of autumn."
Christine felt her lower lip begin to tremble. "My mother...you saw my mother?"
He touched her face, his fingers tracing the sweep of her eyebrow and the curve of her ear before coming to rest against her cheek. "You are very much like her, Christine. You have her fair coloring, her dark curls and her beautiful smile. Your eyes, though, they are the eyes of your father. Your mother's eyes were the palest blue, like the sky on a bright, clear winter's day." His thumb brushed over her quivering lips. "She loved your father very much, and he her. One could see it in the way they looked at each other, as if they saw the world in each other's eyes."
Emotion flickered across his face and it was several seconds before he spoke again. "For the first time I understood what that indefinable thing called love was...and I realized I would give my very soul to have a woman look at me the way your mother did your father."
"I--I never knew my mother," Christine whispered. "She died when I was born."
He opened his arms at her words and she fell into them, pressing her tear-streaked face against his chest. "I'm sorry, Christine. I did not mean to upset you." He produced a handkerchief, handing it to her.
She dabbed at her eyes with it as she said, "You did nothing wrong. I'm very glad you told me. But why have you never spoken to me of this before?"
His chin resting against her curls, he said sadly, "It is not a story a man pretending to be an angel would tell a child--"
"--but one a man would tell the woman he loves...." Christine finished. She stepped back to look at him.
He seemed suddenly fragile to her in that moment, his shoulders slumped, the sparkle gone from his eyes. He looked away from her, out toward the cemetery grounds. "We should go," he said. "The snow is coming down harder."
It didn't look like the snow was any worse to Christine, but she nodded and left her father's tomb. As she waited for him to close the gates once more, she stuck out her tongue and turned her face up to the sky, reveling in the sensation of snowflakes striking her skin.
"What are you doing, Christine?" he asked.
She looked at him. "Catching snowflakes on my tongue. Haven't you ever--" As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized he had probably not ever romped in the snow as a child. She clasped his hands. "Try it." At his arched eyebrow, she said, "Just lean your head back and stick out your tongue. It won't hurt you." She demonstrated.
When she looked back at him, he had his face tilted up and tongue stuck out. He somehow managed to look quite solemn in that position. A fat flake landed on the end of his tongue. He let it melt then looked down at her, that tiny smile on his lips again. "An interesting sensation," he told her. "A brief instant of cold becomes a drop of liquid that has no taste."
Her heart soaring, Christine put her hand on the back of his neck, her gaze locking with his. "Do you have a name other than Angel?" she asked.
He looked somewhat startled by the question but answered, "I cannot remember the name I was born with, but I chose a name when I came to live at the opera house. I have never told it to anyone. I am Erik."
She smiled. "Erik," she said, trying the name on her tongue. It felt...right, somehow.
The gray-green eyes gazing so steadily into hers filled with tears. "No one's--no one's ever said my name before," he whispered.
Christine hugged him. "Erik. Erik, Erik, Erik," she breathed in his ear. "I love you, Erik."
He squeezed her so tightly she couldn't breathe for a moment then he released her, moving away and turning the masked side of his face to her.
What had she done wrong? "Erik?"
His hand clenched into a fist as he said hoarsely, "Do not tempt me, Christine, with dreams that can never come true."
Being able to see only the "blank" side of his face was disconcerting. "You're talking in riddles. I meant what I said. I love you."
"Do not say that again!" he snapped, rounding on her. Fury blazed in his eyes, but she could see it was fed by pain. "I will not be made a fool of! You are still betrothed to that boy! Your love is not yours to give!"
Now she understood his anger. What good was her offer of love if she could not follow through on her words? "Raoul and I are no longer engaged, Erik." It was the first time she had ever seen him truly stunned. His eyes widened, his mouth opened but no words came out. "I made it plain to him last night, after he returned from hunting you, that I could not marry him."
Tears filled Christine's eyes at those two simple words. He truly could not comprehend everything she had said to him since they had arrived at the cemetery. He had thought her to be toying with him, giving him pretty words to console him before she went back to Raoul. She wanted to be angry with him at his lack of trust, but she had made enough mistakes, caused him enough pain, for him to be wary of trusting her. Silently she cursed herself and the world that had taught him to think words of love were only a prelude to injury and abandonment.
There was a small puddle of water near the corner of the wall that surrounded her father's mausoleum. Grasping Erik by the sleeve, Christine led him over to it. She stared into its shallow depths, forcing him to do the same. "There," she said, pointing down at the reflection in the smooth surface. "That is the reason I will not be marrying the Vicomte."
His gaze followed her finger, and she felt his shock roll through him in a long shudder as he understood. She tightened her grip on his arm. "There is the man I love. Strange how he bears no resemblance at all to the Vicomte de Chagny."
A drop of water struck the surface of the puddle, concentric ripples spreading out from it and dissolving their images. Christine looked at Erik. He was crying silently, tears dripping from his chin into the puddle, his lower lip caught in his teeth.
Sensing her gaze upon him, Erik turned his face toward her. "Christine," he whispered, "Christine, I love you."
She brushed her hand over his cheek, wiping away his tears. "I love you," she whispered back. She touched her lips to his in a soft kiss, feeling his arms go around her waist. Her fingers slid into his hair as he returned her kiss. Her left hand came up to touch his face and knocked his mask askew. Without breaking their kiss, he simply pulled it off and let it drop to the ground.
Christine laid her palm against the reddened flesh, her thumb stroking his temple as her lips slid over to his cheek. He was hot where the leather mask had covered him, and he tasted of tears and sweat. It was ambrosia to Christine.
Finally, Erik caught her hands in his and leaned his forehead against hers. They stood there breathing heavily, for a moment both too winded to speak. "Christine," he began, "Christine, will you--"
The thud of pounding hooves interrupted him. They turned toward the sound. A large white horse approached them at a gallop, Raoul on its back. Leaping from the steed before it came to a halt, the Vicomte drew his sword. "Christine! Get away from that monster!"
She felt Erik go deathly still next to her. "Erik, no," she murmured. "His words have no sway with me any longer." Turning her gaze to Raoul, she said in a loud, clear voice, "Go away, Raoul. You're not wanted here."
Raoul ignored her, pointing his sword at Erik, but not advancing up the steps toward them. "What have you done to her? You've bewitched her! I can only imagine what manner of vile things you had planned if I had not shown up!"
Erik turned his face fully toward the Vicomte, letting him see the deformed side for the first time. Raoul's gasp of horror was clearly audible. Christine clutched at Erik's sleeve as he drew his sword from its sheath. "He's not worth it!" She moved to block his path to the steps. "I won't lose you!"
He glanced down at her, his eyes the color of stormy seas. "I'll not kill him, Christine, though I doubt he will grant me that courtesy." Moving past her, Erik leapt down the stairs, his cape flowing like great black wings behind him.
Taking advantage of his forward momentum, Erik swung first, his sword coming down heavily on Raoul's. The younger man staggered back under the force of the blow, nearly falling. Christine gasped.
The Vicomte recovered quickly with a lunge Erik narrowly avoided. Christine clenched her fists so tightly her fingernails dug into her palms. She had seen Raoul fence before. She had been present for several of his fencing lessons when they had been courting, and she feared more for Erik than for him.
Descending from her father's mausoleum, she followed the two men as the fight traveled through the cemetery. Erik moved like a panther, with a dangerous flowing grace, but a fencer he was not. He fought with a brute strength more suited to a broadsword or a Viking ax than a rapier. Raoul reminded Christine of a bear dog, darting in and out with speed, nipping at his prey, no single blow meant to disable but the sum designed to wear Erik down.
As Christine drew closer to the pair, she could hear Raoul taunting Erik. "Christine could never love you! You are a horror, a spawn of evil! It is only out of pity she can stand to look upon you at all!" Erik parried each of Raoul's advances as if he did not hear the Vicomte's words, but Christine could see the pain and doubt in his eyes.
"Give up, beast. You belong in a cage! What will happen when Christine wakes from your spell and sees you as you truly are? She will leave you, you know she will!"
Anger surged through Christine. "How dare you! You blackguard! You know nothing of my love, nothing!"
Erik's gaze flicked to her for the briefest of moments, but it was nearly his undoing. Raoul's sword slashed through the air and her Angel cried out. He stepped back, shaking his head, and Christine could see blood pouring from a cut on his deformed cheek.
Raoul didn't hesitate, lunging at the injured man. Erik barely got his sword up in time to deflect the blow. He stumbled backwards, his feet slipping on the snow. "Stop it!" Christine yelled, but neither man seemed to hear her. Tripping over a grave marker, Erik fell to his knees, nearly blinded by blood and pain. Raoul stepped on his rapier, disarming him.
He was raising his sword for the fatal blow when Christine struck him across the back with a dead branch. "Christine, what--?" he began as he turned toward her. She hit him again, rage giving her strength she never imagined she was capable of, and Raoul crumpled to the ground. She stared down at him, her chest heaving, the branch dropping from her suddenly lax fingers. Picking up his sword, she hurled it across the cemetery then crouched next to Erik.
He stared at her, his hand over his wound. Christine touched his good cheek and burst into tears. "I was so frightened he would kill you," she sobbed, hating herself for falling apart. She pulled her scarf from around her neck and wet it with snow then carefully wiped at the blood on his face. He winced. "Sorry," she murmured, her tears fading as she busied herself with taking care of him. "I don't think it's too bad. The bleeding's nearly stopped." Letting him hold the scarf in place, she sat back on her heels and chewed her lower lip, her gaze straying to where Raoul still lay unmoving. "I've killed him..."
Erik shook his head. "No, he's still breathing. Look." At his words, Christine could see the Vicomte's chest rising and falling slowly. Getting to his feet, Erik helped her up.
"Now what?" she asked him.
Walking over to where his sword lay, he sheathed it then said, "I don't know. When I took the stableman's place this morning, all I wanted was the opportunity to speak with you alone. I never anticipated this."
Christine wound her fingers in the edges of her cape. "Yet you came armed."
His eyes were sad as he looked up from the form of the Vicomte. "I am always armed, Christine. The world is not a safe place for me to be, especially in the daylight."
She felt the prickle of tears again. "Not everyone is like Raoul, Erik."
Picking up the unconscious man, Erik slung him over his shoulder. "I know, Christine, but I have learned to be prepared for the worst." She followed him back toward her father's mausoleum. Erik started toward the horse Raoul had arrived on, but the Vicomte made a noise and stirred. "Damn it. I was hoping he would be out long enough for us to decide what to do with him. Any suggestions?"
"Lock him in the crypt? I don't have a key but maybe we can bar the door with something." She ran up the steps and opened the gate. Erik carried Raoul into the mausoleum and set him down on the floor. "He doesn't have a coat," Christine said.
Erik gave her a look. "That's hardly my fault he went running out in the cold without one." Still, he removed his cape and draped it over the semi-conscious man. Exiting the crypt, he shut the gates then used the belt from his sword to tie them shut. "It won't hold him for long, but perhaps it will delay him enough that we can get away."
Until that moment, Christine hadn't given much thought to what they should do next, and she could see he hadn't either. She looked over at the white horse. "Take the horse with us?"
Erik frowned. "Perhaps as far as the gate." Taking hold of the animal's bridle, he began to walk toward the front of the cemetery.
Christine picked up his mask from where he had dropped it what seemed like a lifetime ago. She had to run a couple of steps to catch up with him. "Your cheek is bleeding again. There's a physician's not far from here. He looked at my foot that time I twisted it on a visit to my father's grave two years ago. I'm sure he would help us. He was very kind."
Halting the horse, Erik turned to look at her. "Christine, I--"
She interrupted him as she remembered they had left something unfinished. "What was it you were going to ask me before Raoul showed up?"
He sighed and started walking again. "Now is not really the time--"
"My answer is yes, of course, but a girl still likes to hear the question," she said, linking her arm with his and smiling at him.
Shaking his head, Erik managed a small laugh. "You are impossible...and I love you more than I ever thought was possible. Christine, will you marry me?"
"Yes," she answered then stopped both him and the horse so she could kiss him. When she finally stepped back to look into his eyes, the love she saw shining there eased her worries about the future. Cast out into the world for the first time in both their lives, together they would survive, and they would never be alone again.
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