By CarolROI

"...As for our star, Miss Christine Daaé, no doubt she'll do her best. It's true, her voice is good, she knows though, should she wish to excel, she has much still to learn, if pride would let her return to me, her teacher...her teacher..."

The emotion blazing in those deep-set emerald eyes behind the sharp planes of the skull mask softened then, going from the cold menace with which he had stared down the managers and Carlotta to a tenderness that Christine could almost feel caressing her. Joy bubbled in her chest. He still cared; he hadn't forgotten her, hadn't abandoned her as she had feared in the long weeks without him.

It was all she could do to keep from racing up the stairs and into his arms. Then he was descending toward her, mouth slightly open and lips trembling as he breathed heavily, all his attention on her. Her feet moved of their own accord, carrying her up the staircase to meet him.

He stopped one stair above her, his eyes telling her more than words ever could. He was overjoyed to see her, they said, he had missed her, and wondered if she had missed him, too. His gaze dropped lower than her face for a brief second. When he looked back up, she gasped at the anger and pain that turned his irises nearly black.

His gloved fingers brushed over the bare skin of her chest, and Christine thought she would burst into flames at that slight touch. Her desire turned to confusion as pain flared at the nape of her neck, the Phantom ripping the gold chain holding Raoul's ring from her throat. Shaking his fist in her face, his teeth bared in a snarl, he hissed "Your chains are still mine; you belong to me!"

Wide-eyed in shock, she watched him leap up the stairs to the landing. He whirled to face her once more, flinging the end of his cape over his arm. A blinding flash of light, a billow of smoke and the Phantom dropped through the trapdoor that opened beneath his feet to the shouts and gasps of the frightened party-goers.

No! He was not going to leave her again! Without hesitation, Christine raced up the stairs and jumped after him. The door closed as she fell and she plunged through darkness, only her training kept her fear from overwhelming her. All players at the opera house knew how to fall through a trap, and Christine landed on her feet, her knees bent to absorb the shock. The myriad of petticoats and hoops she wore under her huge skirt were a hindrance, though, and she pitched forward onto her hands in an ungraceful sprawl.

Light flared in the blackness and Christine rose, her palms stinging from their impact on the stone floor, but otherwise she was uninjured. She found she was surrounded by her own reflection multiplied many times over. "A hall of mirrors," she murmured, remembering the story about the carnival that she had pried out of Madame Giry when her Angel had disappeared after the disastrous performance of Il Muto.

At first she thought he had been angry with her for allowing Buquet to trap her, to put his hands on her. Then she told herself that the reason he had not come to her was because he was frightened of what he had done. He had killed a man for her and she knew it must weigh as heavily on his heart as it did on hers. But when two weeks had passed with no sign of him, Christine became frightened that he was ill or injured. She had gone to the only person she knew beside herself who had ever had contact with him, Cecilié Giry.

She had wanted the ballet mistress to take her to his home in the cellars, but the older woman had refused, saying it was far too dangerous for them to be wandering his domain without his guidance. Then she had explained about the traps designed to dissuade visitors, and when Christine begged for more about her Angel, Cecilié had told her of his time with the gypsies. Nightmares had plagued her for days afterwards, horrible dreams of a young Angel being abused and tortured.

Shaking off the memories, Christine spun around slowly, gazing at her reflections. Was this one of his traps? There had to be a way out, obviously, but where? Suddenly he appeared in the mirror with her, standing behind her, his eyes gleaming brightly in the dark hollows of the skull mask. She turned quickly, but discovered he was not in the round room with her, but only in the glass. "Angel?" she called softly.

No answer, save for his gaze burning into her from every direction. Christine closed her eyes against the sting of tears. What had she done? Why was he so angry with her? It was he who had ignored her the past months; she had spent every night until curfew in the chapel waiting for him. Anger flared in her breast. "Erik!" she yelled.

His gasp of surprise came from behind her and to the left. Eyes still closed, she whirled toward the sound, hand outstretched. Only when her fingers closed on the velvet of his sleeve did she open her eyes.

He stared down at her, his eyes cold and dark, all the love and warmth she had thought she'd seen earlier gone. "Clever girl," he growled. "Is this what you came for?" He raised his fist between them, the chain with the ring dangling from his fingers. "Your Vicomte's expensive little gift?"

Christine snatched the necklace from him and flung it away into the darkness. Opening her mouth to snap at him, to berate him for the hell he had put her through, she was stopped by the complete and utter shock in his eyes. In that instant, she realized he had stayed way for so long because he thought she didn't love him.

She would have to do something about that. Grasping him by his lapels, Christine raised up on her toes and gently touched her lips to his. For several moments he remained stiff and unyielding, in anger or in disbelief, Christine didn't know, but she deepened the kiss, her arms winding around his neck. "Please," she whispered against his lips, "oh, please...."

She felt something crack in him then, and his arms went around her waist, pulling her tightly against him. He was the one to finally break the kiss, breathing her name as he took her face in his hands. There was wonder in his eyes and love. No one had ever looked at her like that before, like she was everything good and beautiful about the world. She hoped he could see the same emotion in her eyes. "Erik," she whispered, "Erik, I--"

Shouts and the sound of fists beating against wood interrupted her. He closed his eyes for a second then kissed her forehead. "I must go, Christine." He released her, reaching behind him with one hand and pressing on the corner of one of the mirrors. It sprang open at his touch, a dim hallway now visible behind it. He stepped through the narrow doorway and disappeared into the gloom.

Christine glanced toward the source of the commotion, hearing Raoul's voice exhorting someone to get an ax. The mirror door was slowly swinging shut. Christine pushed it open again and went through, closing it securely behind her. "Erik," she called, "Angel, wait!" Gathering up her skirts, she ran after him.

It didn't take Christine long to realize the dress had to go. The hoops and layers of petticoats simply made her too wide for the rat's nest of small tunnels that ran below the stage area. She would gladly have stripped out of the undergarments there in the hallway but she couldn't maneuver enough to even reach the bloody things.

After checking the next intersection to make sure it was clear, Erik returned to where she struggled with her dress. He looked her up and down and made a small noise, his eyes quite clearly twinkling-- twinkling--at her plight.

Christine pushed a sweaty strand of hair from her face. "Was that a snigger I just heard?" she growled. "Are you laughing at me?"

He wisely shook his head no, but she could see him biting his lower lip in an obvious attempt to stifle his amusement. He took hold of her hands and yanked her free of the particularly narrow section. "It's not my fault," she muttered as she stalked after him. "I didn't even want to come to the damn party, and if I'd known I was going to be spending my evening running around down here I would have worn something else!"

Erik stopped so suddenly Christine ran into his back. Turning around to face her, he planted his hands firmly on her shoulders and kissed her mouth quite soundly. When he finally released her, she had her arms about his waist and leaned her head against his chest, sighing.

"I, for one, am very glad you came to the damn party," he whispered into her hair. Then he stepped back and opened the door on their left. "The solution to your problem lies within, mam'selle."

Christine would have stridden boldly into the room except she needed a push from him to get through the doorway. Once inside, she waited in the dark while he found a candle and went to light it from one of the gas jets in the hallway. Upon his return, he used the candle to light a lantern that hung from the ceiling, and Christine could finally see that Erik had led her to one of the many costume storage areas within the opera house.

She squeezed his arm. "You are brilliant!"

He gave her a smirk. "I try."

Christine kissed his chin as the heavy skull mask covered most of his face. Stepping away from him, she worked the buttons undone on her gloves and peeled them off, setting them down on the workbench to one side of the room. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him trying hard to keep his back to her and not watch as she fought with the hooks and ties holding her skirt fastened. "Can you find me something to wear?" she asked. "Preferably something slightly smaller than the boat I'm wearing now."

He laughed, a deep rich chuckle that sent a shiver down her spine, then began looking through the racks of clothing.

The more Christine tried to get out of her clothing, the more difficult the task became. She had the overskirt unfastened, but could not lift it over her head by herself and could not simply step out of it because of the hoops in her underskirt. "Angel," she finally said, "I'm in need of your assistance."

He moved to her side and helped her out of the skirt then with the ties to her petticoats. She let out a sigh of relief when they dropped to the floor and she stepped out of them, kicking them to one side. Clad now in only her undergarments and the bodice portion of the dress, she looked at him over her shoulder. Even in the low light, she could tell he was blushing. "You saw me in less than this the night you first took me to your home," she teased gently.

He shifted uncomfortably on his feet and said, "I wasn't undressing you then."

Catching his hand in hers, she tugged off his glove, then did the same for the other hand. "I'm afraid I have further need of these talented fingers," she told him, daring to kiss his fingertips. His hands were large and square, with strong, blunt fingers, completely the opposite of what one thought of when envisioning an artist's hands. Yet they could coax the most beautiful music from a keyboard or the strings of a violin. Or her...

Christine turned her back to him and pulled her mass of hair over her left shoulder. "Will you undo the buttons and then my corset laces?" He complied, and she closed her eyes as the warm touch of his fingertips against her spine sent sparks flying along her nerve endings. She let the unfastened bodice slide down her arms to join the skirt on the floor as he began loosening her corset laces. Noisily, she inhaled the first full breath she'd taken in hours. The corset fell away, and now she stood before him in only her chemise, bloomers and stockings.

Her mouth suddenly dry, Christine licked her lips and swallowed. Erik was still standing behind her; she could feel the heat of him against her back even though he wasn't touching her. "Kiss me," she breathed.


Reaching up with her right hand, she touched her fingers to the nape of her neck. "Right here. Kiss me." For a moment, she was afraid he would turn tail and bolt. Then she felt the warm, soft caress of his lips against her skin. More...she wasn't certain if she had said it out loud or if he had read her mind, but he kissed her shoulder, the side of her neck, the secret spot behind her ear--"Ow!"

He jerked back in reaction to her cry, causing more pain. "Ow! Ow! Stop! My hair's caught in your mask!"

He stilled. "I'm sorry, Christine." She could feel him trying to untangle the caught section of hair.

She sighed. "Take the mask off, then get it loose," she suggested. She reached up to support the porcelain skull as he removed it then freed her hair. Before he could take the mask back from her, Christine turned to face him.

Automatically, Erik's right hand flew up to cover his face. Christine felt the burn of tears starting and she blinked them back. She set the mask down on the workbench behind her and reached out to touch his chest, curling her fingers around the lapel of his red jacket in case he had ideas of fleeing. "Oh, Erik..."

He scowled at her. "How is it you know my name?" he asked in what she knew was an attempt at ignoring the desire arcing between them.

"I asked Madame Giry," she told him. "Why did you leave me?" Taking hold of his wrist, she managed to pry his hand away from his face. "Was it because of this?" she whispered. He closed his eyes and tried to turn his head away from her, but she hooked an arm around his neck and bent him down enough so that she could brush her lips against the rough skin of his damaged cheek. He made a noise somewhere between a moan and a sob and slid his arms around her waist, pulling her tightly against him.

"I thought you wanted him," he finally choked out.

She kissed his temple and his missing eyebrow. "I thought so too." She placed a butterfly kiss on his damaged eyelid. "I was wrong," she breathed against his lips. "I tried so hard to let you know. I spent every night in the chapel waiting for you."

His hands stroked up and down her back as he kissed her throat. "Then why did you accept his ring?" he growled, nipping at her earlobe.

Christine's hands were working on the buttons of his coat as she kissed his jaw. "I ran out of ways to say no." Her fingers removed the skull stickpin from his cravat. "And I thought you were dead."

He stopped what he was doing and held her at arms length, his gaze boring into her. "Dead?"

She nodded. "I could think of no other reason why you had not come to see me. You had always been there for me. I do not think we had gone a day without speaking to each other in years." Christine ran her fingertips slowly over his cheek, willing her tears not to fall. "I imagined only a catastrophe could keep you from me."

"You grieved for me?" he asked in surprise.

Giving him a sad smile, she said, "More than was good for me. In the first week without you, I realized you were the light in my world." She took his face in her hands. "Please…don't leave me alone in the darkness again."

"Never," he rasped, kissing her fiercely.

She pressed her lips to the underside of his jaw as she tangled her fingers in his hair. "Give me all of you and I will give you all of me, never to part again," Christine whispered in his ear.

His arms tightened around her. Burying his face in the curve of her shoulder, he said in a quietly desperate voice, "Do you know what you're asking?"

She hugged him for the span of several heartbeats before pushing him back to look him in the eyes. She traced the planes of his face with her fingertips, watching the play of the flickering lamplight on his skin. "Yes," she said.

Christine pulled his cravat from his neck then eased her hand inside his unbuttoned jacket. The lawn shirt he wore gaped open over his chest and she slipped her hand beneath the cloth to lay her palm against his skin, her gaze on his face. Erik was warm, his flesh damp with sweat. His heart pounded under her fingers.

His eyes went very wide as he sucked in a breath. "Christine..." he moaned.

She placed a kiss at the base of his throat, boldly flicking her tongue out for a taste of him. A long shudder went through him, but he made no move to return her touch. Keeping her right hand firmly planted on his chest, she reached up with the other and untied the ribbon holding the front of her chemise closed. Sensing what she was about to do, Erik made a noise that might have been desire, or fear.

Grasping his right hand with her left, Christine pried his clenched fingers open and placed his hand on the slight swell of her breast. He shivered. Her gaze searched his face for some kind of emotion. His eyes were closed, but slowly opened as he hesitantly stroked her skin. "Oh...Christine..." he breathed. "You're so...soft. I never imagined...."

She let out a gasp as her nipple tightened under his touch, sending a rush of heat to pool low in her belly. His thumb brushed over it again and Christine thought her legs would go out from under her. Then his hands were at her waist, lifting her up and setting her on the workbench so they were at the same height. Her hands scrabbled at his coat, shoving it off his shoulders as he devoured her lips, her face, her neck. There was a clatter as she unbuckled his sword belt and let it drop to the floor. She gripped his shoulder tightly as he took the tip of her breast into his mouth.

The sound of fabric tearing brought them out of their mad frenzy.

Erik stepped back from her, a strip of her silk chemise hanging from his hand. He studied it for a moment, as if he did not recognize it, then his face crumpled and he looked up at her, tears glistening in his eyes. "Christine, I--I do not know what came over me," he said, horrified. "Please believe me, I would never, never defile you in such a manner."

Swallowing, Christine held up the cummerbund she had stripped from round his waist. "I don't believe it is defilement when the desire is mutual."

" desire me?"

"Yes," she answered, drawing the word out into a long, soft hiss.

He looked at the pile of their mingled clothing pooled around his feet then back at her. "I would not make you my mistress, Christine. You deserve more than that."

Grasping his wrist, she tugged him toward her until she could lean her forehead against his. "I love you. It does not matter to me."

"It does to me," he said, his voice a tight whisper. "I dreamed of this for so long, but not this way. I dreamed of coming to you as your husband."

Closing her eyes, Christine rubbed her cheek against his. She wanted Erik more than she had wanted anything in her life. She wanted to bind him to her with invisible, silken cords so he could never leave her again. She wanted to become a part of him, to crawl inside his soul, to live in his heart so she would always be with him. She looked him in the eye. "Then marry me."

His mouth opened and closed several times before words came out. "I--I--we must go find a priest then. We must have witnesses--clothes, we must have clothes--" He handed her the piece of her chemise he still held. Christine had to hold back her laughter at the look of utter bewilderment on his face.

She touched his chest gently. "Erik." She had to repeat his name several times before he focused on her. "We don't need a priest. A marriage is between two people, between a man and a woman and God." He nodded slowly. "That's all we need. We're here. God is always here." She smiled at him.

He sighed, considering her words. Then he nodded and took both of her hands in his. "Do you--" his voice cracked and he started again. "Do you, Christine, take your devoted Erik, to be your husband in the eyes of God and man, to lead me from my darkness into your light, to love me as I have never been loved? Do you promise to allow me to cherish you for the rest of our days, to join your heart and soul with mine for all eternity?"

She kissed his knuckles. "I do. Do you, Erik, take your undeserving Christine to be your wife in the eyes of God and man, to share with me your darkness and your light, to love me as I have dreamed of being loved? Do you promise to allow me to stay by your side through whatever may come, to join your heart and soul with mine for all eternity?"

"I do," he answered in a soft, awed tone.

"Then you may kiss the bride," she whispered as she wrapped her arms around his neck and melted into his kiss.

He cupped her face in his hands tenderly, planting gentle kisses on her brow and cheeks, her eyelids and temples. Finally his warm, soft lips brushed over her own. He tasted her hesitantly, his tongue tracing the line of her lips but going no further until she opened to him, allowing him entrance. Her tongue stroked his timidly then more boldly as the action sent a flurry of sensation rushing through her. She longed to touch him, but he held her by the arms as he kissed her mouth, her throat, her breasts...oh, God, her breasts. She thrust them wantonly at him, crying out as he took first one then the other in turn between his lips.

Letting go of her arms, Erik touched her quivering stomach, stroking his hands along her ribs then up her back to remove the remnants of her chemise as he sucked at the side of her throat. Hands finally free, Christine slid them inside his open shirt and around his back, pulling him between her spread knees, locking her legs around his hips. He gasped and bucked against her. She could feel his desire for her hard against the inside of her thigh. The thought occurred to her that they were still wearing far too many clothes.

It must have occurred to Erik as well, because his fingers went to the waistband of her bloomers. She wrapped her arms around his neck, lifting herself high enough from the top of the workbench that he could slide them down over her hips. She released the grip her legs had on his waist, and he pushed the undergarment to the floor, then took a half step back.

Christine shivered under the fire of his gaze. His eyes held a mixture of desire and awe, his lips slightly parted, his shoulders moving with each shuddering breath. There had been a time in her life when Christine had been skinny and gawky, all elbows and knees and untamable hair. In many ways, she still saw herself as that awkward girl when she looked in the mirror, no matter what finery she might be wearing. But now, clad only in her silk stockings and the skin she was born in, she felt a woman for the first time--beautiful, sensual, mysterious...and she would die if he did not touch her again.

Erik moved to stand between her legs once more, his mouth descending on hers, his hands coming to rest on her thighs. His fingertips swept slowly back and forth over the exposed flesh at the top of her stockings then stroked along the inside of her legs from her knee to just shy of the place she truly needed his touch.

One long finger traced the contours of her secret place, but his gaze stayed locked to her face, watching her eyes half close and her lips part in pleasure. He rubbed his cheek against hers, nibbling her earlobe. "Oh, Christine," he whispered, "you're like liquid fire..." He brought his finger to his lips and licked it. "And you taste like heaven...."

His wonderful finger delved inside her and Christine lolled her head back, a breathy moan issuing from her throat. "Please, Angel, I need you...." Arching her back, she ground her hips against his hand and his arousal. His fingers stopped their tantalizing movement and withdrew, allowing Christine the ability to think once more. She grabbed hold of the waist of his trousers; her fingers found the buttons along the right hip that held them closed. Together they shoved both pants and undergarment down his thighs.

It was her turn to explore now, and she touched him gently, gliding her fingers from root to tip of his erection while his hands clenched her shoulders. She smiled up at him. "You're velvet over steel..."

Erik gave a croaking laugh, then grasped her inquisitive hand. "Stop, Christine, I won't last if you don't."

Nodding, she moved her arms to around his neck and wrapped her legs about his hips once again. He stared into her eyes, his expression suddenly uncertain. "I...Christine, I don't want to hurt you, but I'm afraid I shall, at least this once. If you don't want me to go on, I'll understand."

She could feel him trembling under the effort it was taking for him to hold back, to offer her a way out, and she loved him all the more for it. Christine stroked his face, pressing her forehead against his. "I need you," she whispered. "I need you inside me. I want to be one with you." She tightened her legs, forcing him closer so his arousal rubbed against her waiting heat. They both moaned, and she said, "Madame...Madame says sometimes it is not so bad for dancers, that we may have already broken our virgin barrier in pursuit of our art."

"I did not know that," Erik managed between clenched teeth, and Christine fought not to giggle. Instead, she gripped him lightly, guiding him to her. She closed her eyes as he pushed into her, breathing through her body's urge to clamp down and deny him entrance. There was no horrible pain, just several very long seconds of an uncomfortably stretched kind of feeling. She felt the heat of him and opened her eyes to find him looking at her. His eyes were huge and dark and so full of love for her that Christine couldn't breathe for the intensity of it.

Then the pressure within her became too much and she had to move. She flexed her hips and arched her back, feeling him slide deeper inside her. Erik let out a startled cry, and Christine sensed a rush of warmth within her. He shuddered against her, burying his face in the curve of her shoulder. "I knew I wouldn't last long, but that was...disheartening." He lifted his head, and even in the dim light she could see the flush of shame creeping up his cheeks.

She kissed him and said, "We shall have to practice often then, to build up your stamina."

He stared at her, his eyes tear-bright. "Christine, I love you," he breathed, then his lips captured hers. It didn't take long before Christine felt him grow firm within her once more.

He pushed her back so that she was lying down atop the workbench, her legs still wrapped around his waist. She wasn't certain she liked this position as he was too far away now for her to touch. Then he trailed his fingers down her chest, stroking her breasts and lightly pinching her nipples. Christine fisted her hands in the pile of fabric beneath her, her hips rising to meet him as he began to move within her. He bent low over her to kiss her, and she ran her hands over the shifting muscles of his back and around to brush her fingertips over his flat nipples. His breathing hitched and his slow, steady rhythm was broken by a deep, hard thrust that made Christine call out his name.

Grasping her hands, Erik lifted them away from him. "Christine, when you touch me it is too much." He kissed the palm of each hand. "Let me please you." A light came into his eyes. "Show me how to please you."

Christine brought his hands to her mouth, kissing and licking each finger and his palms. Then she guided his right hand down to where they were joined, showing him how to stroke the little pearl of flesh there. He watched her eyes close half-way as his touch sent tremors racing through her, sensations she knew he could feel through his connection with her. Groaning, Erik began to move again, faster now and with far less control. She lifted her knees, crossing her ankles higher on his back, and felt his thrusts hitting a place inside her that sent fire shooting along her limbs.

He bent over her, and Christine locked her elbow around his neck, devouring his mouth as pressure rose inside her. It built and built until she thought she would explode, and then she did, shattering into a million shining, sparkling pieces. From a distance, she heard his cry of completion, felt the heat and his shudder. Then he was collapsed atop her with his face pressed against her neck, his tears hot on her skin.

Her hands stroked his hair and rubbed gentle circles on his back until he recovered enough to rise up on his elbows. The look on his face was--a single word could not describe it. It was joy, hope, and love all mixed together with adoration and gratitude. "Christine, oh, Christine, I love you, my wife, my heart, my life...."

Smiling at him, Christine kissed him then sat up, steadying him as he swayed on his feet. There was a brief sense of loss as his body slipped free of hers, but she knew now Erik would always be hers, and that neither of them would ever be alone again.

She slid off the edge of the workbench to stand in front of him, her arms winding about his waist as she found her own legs to be somewhat wobbly. It felt incredibly good just to remain in his embrace, feeling his hands stroking her back and finally coming to rest on her bottom. He gave it an affectionate squeeze and kissed her before letting go of her to pull his trousers up over his hips.

Christine kissed his shoulder then moved away to select a simple peasant's blouse and skirt from one of the clothing racks lining the room. She put them on, not bothering with undergarments, and turned around to find Erik staring at her with a hungry look in his eyes. Warmth spread from her belly through the rest of her, and she smiled as she picked up the remains of her ball gown and petticoats and hid them amongst the other costumes.

She bent to put on her shoes and when she straightened, Erik was in front of her, jacket on over his open shirt and his sword belt slung over his shoulder. He handed Christine her bloomers and the pieces of her chemise, then wrapped his long red cloak around her. His hand brushed her breast in the process, and she let out a little sigh. The smile he gave her was full of promises.

Crossing the room to the back wall, Erik moved a garment rack out of the way and pushed on one of the boards of the wall. A small door swung open. Moving back to the center of the room, he took down the lantern and gestured for Christine to proceed him. She started through the doorway then realized there was something they had left behind.

Walking back to the workbench, she picked up the mask of the Red Death and, wrapping it in her undergarments, tucked it under her arm. As she moved back to Erik's side, he touched the deformed half of his face almost in wonder. "I had completely forgotten," he said. "I have never forgotten."

Christine rose on tiptoe to kiss his right cheek. "Forgotten what, my love? I see nothing that needs hiding here, only my handsome husband." His eyes sparkled with unshed tears and he hugged her tightly.

Then, lifting the lantern, he led her across the threshold into their new life.

Continue to In The Garden Of Eden

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