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Burying Ghosts

Chapter Text

“You try my patience. Make your choice.”

Christine trembled, looking at the man in front of her with wide eyes. His face, his eyes. Pulling herself to her feet, she breathed deeply to calm herself as she walked the few steps separating them. Her Angel’s back to her, she placed her small hand on his shoulder. Her pulse beating wildly, she could faintly hear Raoul’s cries and a distant mob chanting in the background. She then began to sing softly, words and a melody that she was coming up with on the spot, trying to get to him lest he push her away again.

She felt him relax under her touch and voice, his head bowing, then she made him turn around and took his face between her hands. The Phantom made to move back, but Christine kissed him firmly before he could; his eyes opened wide, his arms remaining rigidly at his sides as his whole body tensed. It was Christine who pulled away after a few seconds, catching her breath. She touched his face; the Phantom’s eyes welled up as he recognized the real tenderness in her look. Then, she surprised both men further by kissing him yet again, silently wrapping his hand around the ring he had given her on the stage of Don Juan.

He moved away, staring in shock before walking towards the candles nearest to his precious organ. He grabbed the first one he reached and began to tread his way towards the boy. With one quick movement, ignoring Christine’s shout, he burnt a part of the lasso, letting the Vicomte free after a moment. His mind began to wander away as the woman ran to her betrothed, helping him remove the rope he was tied with.

The Phantom heard his own voice, shouting at them, yet he could not register his words. She stayed behind for a moment, which he used to sing his love for her for the first and last time until she turned and ran back towards the Vicomte, sobbing. He did not have the strength to look on as she left. He knew the mob hunting him down was close, but he chose to walk towards the discarded veil he had forced his Christine into. He sat on his organ’s bench, holding the white lace between his hands as he slipped the black ring in his hand to its place on his small finger. His tears stained the garment as he pressed it to his face, kissing it. He could hear the soft chiming of his music box, echoing across the cave.

-

“Wait, Raoul! Please, listen to me!”

“Christine, we have no time! We must go, now,” he insisted, pulling at her hand. She had stopped in her tracks just after they exit the cursed man’s lair, just before the boat, and his patience was growing thin. He looked forward, attempting to walk as she remained rooted to her spot. “It would be wise to avoid the mob, let them deal with the monster on their own -“

“He’s no monster!” She suddenly wailed, tears spilling from her with renewed fervor. “You don’t understand, Raoul, he’s nothing but a man!”

“Christine, please, he has you under his dark charm still. Come with me, my love, escape his clutches at last. Don’t you see? You are free now.”

“You can go, but I cannot leave him.” The woman snatched her hand away, turning. He caught her wrist, staring in disbelief. She fought against him, though she was too weak to free herself from his firm hold.

“You want to stay with him? For God’s sake, Christine, he’s a murderer! A demon that has you under his spell, don’t you realize?”

“He is human, Raoul! I cannot leave him behind!”

He stepped away from her in shock, letting her wrist fall. “You… want to help him? After all he’s done to you, to us?”

“Yes, I do!” she cried. “Please, you must understand. I can’t do it, Raoul. I cannot go on with you as if he didn’t exist, as if he didn’t need someone – didn’t need me - and we, this, isn’t right. I’m sorry, I really am, just…” She took the chain and engagement ring he had given her off her neck, handing it to him. Raoul, stunned, took it dumbly. She turned and ran.

“Wait, Christine! Christine!” He called.

She didn’t stop running.

-

The Phantom heard hurried steps behind him. It seemed his death had reached him minutes earlier than he expected. He closed his eyes, bracing for the vengeful cries of his pursuers.

“Angel!”

He sighed. I should have known it wouldn’t be so easy. He was hallucinating that his Christine was here now; perhaps he was dying already and was simply unaware of it, thinking of her in his last breath, listening to her sweet voice one last time...

“Please, Angel of Music, we must go!” A hand touched his shoulder and he froze. “It’s me, Christine! We have to flee! It won’t be long before they finally get here!”

He turned, and she was there. He blinked once, twice, begging the illusion to disappear. She remained, beautiful as he had seen her just minutes ago, though her face was fearful and tear-stricken. He could not bear to see her like this, knowing her pain was caused by him. The man reached out to her, confident that trying to touch her face would make her disappear.

Instead, he was met with her soft, real complexion. She had truly come back and was now grasping at his hand, her eyes begging and pitiful. He couldn’t leave her here, not when she had braved coming back alone – not when a group of revenge-driven men were well on their way to find them. He sprung to his feet, discarding the veil he had held.

“Come!”

She followed him as he went towards a wall, one that had a heavy, dark curtain covering an object fixed to it, and watched as he tore it off and revealed both of their disheveled reflections. Her angel pushed a tiny button in the mirror’s frame, making the section of the wall move open like a door and reveal a secret entrance to pitch black darkness. Before they went through, however, he let go of her hand, cursing, and went quickly to what she assumed were his private chambers. She trembled and whimpered, fearing the mob’s chanting as it got nearer and nearer and she was left alone. Her eyes caught sight of a white mask sitting on a table, and she took it in her hands, pressing it to her chest desperately as she prayed.

He reappeared, carrying a bag with him, and immediately dashed to her side. Christine clung to his hand as they stepped into the darkness, with he being her only guide. The mirror closed behind them just as the sloshing of water and the multitude’s voices became apparent.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, Christine.”

She looked at him, confused. They had walked for long enough to tire her, but they finally arrived at a small cave with nothing but an unlit lantern in it. She was sitting on a smooth rock next to this very lantern, now aflame, and her Angel had taken to huddling in a corner far from her. She could barely see his face, being so far from the light, and his state saddened her.

“What for?”

“Everything.”

Christine remained silent, pressing her lips into a firm line. She stood slowly, making her way to him. She didn’t miss how her Angel seemed to make himself smaller as she neared, and so she sat down with a few feet between them, not wanting to make him more uncomfortable. They remained in silence, the Phantom not even looking at her. No, not the Phantom -

“What is your name?”

He half-turned his head to her in surprise, careful to only let her see his left side. He mumbled something, turning away again. She sighed, slipping a little closer to him.

“I’m sorry, my Angel, but I couldn’t catch that.”
“Please, don’t call me an Angel… I have no real name. My mother couldn’t be bothered to baptize me.”

Her heart sunk, and how she wished she could have misheard that. “But surely you must have been named sometime in your life. Were you?”

“The only name I have ever known is Erik.”

Erik. Such a simple, yet beautiful answer to a seemingly ages-old question.

Something deep within Christine compelled her to be closer to him, but she couldn’t make herself move. It was Erik who broke the awkward silence, much to her surprise.

“Christine… why are you here?” He said.

“What do you mean?”

“You left, with the Vicomte. I let you go. Why come back?”

She hesitated to answer, thinking her words through. “It felt wrong to leave you behind.”

He snickered. “Pity, then.”

“No, not pity,” she insisted. She looked away as she looked for the words that fit what she meant to say. “Everything felt wrong, so suddenly, not just leaving you for dead. My engagement to Raoul was complicated, as I knew his family wouldn’t ever truly accept me as part of them. An actress with no wealth, marrying into one of France’s oldest and most powerful families? It would’ve been scandalous.”

Erik studied her carefully, replying after a long moment. “You were never one to pay attention to rumors.”

“But the gossip would not be about me, would it? I’ve grown used to it; working in the Opera, not one person who knows who you are thinks you’re an honest woman. It is part of what we must live with in this business, no matter how wrong they are in believing so,” she explained. Then, she closed her eyes, bringing her knees closer to herself. “It grew especially worse when the rumor became that I was involved with a patron. He would’ve been forced to choose between his honorable family and myself, I would have to choose between my career or the life of a Vicomtesse. I do love him as he does me - but I don’t think we are meant to be husband and wife. It was fear that pushed me towards him.”

“That… doesn’t answer why you are here.” His voice was tight with his next words. “If he asked for your hand, then he was willing to choose you.”

“I didn’t want to be alone, and I didn’t wish for you to be alone, either.” He didn’t miss how she blatantly ignored his last few words. “Perhaps it gives me purpose to think I’ll be of some help to you.”

“Help with what?”

“Finding forgiveness.”

“What makes you think that I, the one who caused you so much grief, will be of good company to you?” He inquired. “Why would you place yourself in such a self-imposed obligation… like I am worthy of it?”

“It is not my duty and I don’t believe it is,” Christine replied firmly. “It is something I wish to do.”

He shook his head in disbelief, but said nothing else. He was still huddled into himself and then the woman realized what she was holding. Speaking his name softly, sensing déjà vu, she leaned forward and stretched her hand to give him his mask, thinking perhaps it’d give him some of his confidence back. It did, seemingly, as he sighed in relief when he slipped it on but he was still very quiet, only sparing the occasional glance towards her, as if expecting that she’d suddenly disappear. The memories of what had transpired not even an hour ago were still too fresh, and though she had meant her words and wished to stay with him, part of her thought it was best to leave the speaking for the next day – both of them needed time for themselves.

When Erik next looked over to peek at Christine, she had fallen fast asleep against the wall behind her. His eyes unknowingly softened as he gazed at her and so he decided to leave her be. Still, he couldn’t help but feel powerless. This girl had shown him love, even after he’d turned into a monster that anyone else would have loathed for the rest of their life. In fact, hadn’t she yelled that she hated him? Yes, that was the moment he realized he had lost control, that that wasn’t the way to win her heart and instead had instigated the opposite, but he stubbornly continued his mad, jealous rampage.

He truly was the Devil, he realized, looking at Christine as she slept. He could see the tear tracks that stained her face, the way her arms were around herself, how she had a slight frown when she should be at her most peaceful. He ripped his eyes away and turned his back as he felt himself crumble with guilt – an emotion he had thought he’d never feel again.

Chapter Text

Christine awoke laying on the floor, with a soft pillow beneath her head and a blanket covering her. Disoriented, she sat up, stretching her slightly pained muscles. Why had she slept on the floor, fully clothed? Where…?

Oh, she realized, glancing around herself.

“My apologies, Christine. There wasn’t much left behind in an appropriate state to offer you some comfort as you slept.”

She was startled by his, Erik’s, voice. Looking up at him, blinking away her remaining drowsiness, she realized he wore one of his wigs and the impeccable state of his clothing had returned, his stark white mask on his face as usual. He held a neat pile of clothing, which he placed beside her. Erik spoke once more as he straightened his posture.

“I… also thought you would like to wear another dress. I took the clothing meant to be worn after the performance as you left it in your dressing room, a room which was gracefully spared by the fire. I apologize for the invasion.”

“I appreciate the gesture, Erik. Thank you,” she smiled carefully. As soon as she took the clothes and stood, he turned his back to her and began to walk away to give her privacy.

“Wait!” He stopped, not risking a look at her. She stuttered as she spoke, her face warm. “I will need your help with my corset, could you stay? It will not be for long, I promise.”

“But, Christine, it would not be appropriate of me - “

“Please, Erik, I hate to ask this of you but I really need your help.”

“Fine,” he agreed, lacing his hands behind his back, standing still as a statue. She could see how tense he was, especially as she began to undress, her own back turned to his. The silence was deafening, the only sound being the rustle of clothing as Christine changed. A few minutes passed before she moved towards him, tapping him on the shoulder. She was bright red as he turned to her, as she wore nothing but her chemise, stockings, and untied corset. His gaze, however, remained respectfully at her face. She bit her lip and turned; it was alien to her, having a man help her dress, and it felt strange. Erik, much to her surprise, laced her corset much quicker than she had expected.

“Thank you,” she mumbled, and she could have sworn she saw him blush as well in the short second it took for him to turn away again. Christine went back to the pile of clothing and finished changing on her own with no problem, stuffing the old outfit in a bag Erik gave to her. “I’m done,” she announced, and Erik looked at her again. He eyed her for the slightest moment before speaking.

“I went back to my home while you slept. It’s safe enough, though it’s beyond repair.” He spoke curtly and tightly. “I’m aware that you may not want to go back there, but it is the only way to access a safe exit to the above. Shall we go?” She nodded, hesitantly offering him her hand as the other held the bag she carried. He took her right hand in his left after a moment, and they began their journey.

Erik’s home was much brighter than she expected, being this deep underground, and the light hurt her eyes as the wall opened at Erik’s push of a button. He allowed Christine to step out of the narrow hallway before him and he was directly behind her as she gasped and very nearly jumped back. The sight hurt her deeply; everything was absolutely trashed, as sheet music was ripped apart on the floor (his compositions, his beautiful music!), and tables were turned. What made tears fall down her cheeks and onto the paper beneath her feet was the message the mob had left in their rage at not being able to find him, written in red and black ink on the wall. Monster.

She backed away, only stopped by feeling Erik’s body behind her. Then, she simply turned and placed her head against his chest, arms around his waist, and he tensed in her embrace. She whimpered, a sound that hurt as he realized she cried for him, her good heart unable to take the insults and threats he’d heard for decades splattered on the wall. Erik was lost on how to make her stop crying. He put his hand on her face and pushed it away from his chest, his trembling hand caressing in an attempt to comfort her. Christine wiped her tears away with the back of her own hand and smiled sadly up at him.

His breath caught in his throat and he staggered back and to the side before he fell into the darkness of the hall behind them. He turned his head, unable to look at her kindness as she saw him, but a small hand rested against his uncovered cheek. Mismatched eyes met Christine’s compassionate look as she stood on her tiptoes and hesitantly kissed the corner of his lips before he pulled away. Her big, puffy eyes stared straight into his own.

“What am I to do, Christine?” he whispered, clutching her hands. “I meant it last night and I mean it now. You can leave, I will never seek you again, I swear, just go.”

She stepped back, broken glass crunching beneath her feet, and snatched her hands away, staring at him in surprise. “Erik… do you not want me here anymore?”

“Of course I do,” he said, his voice breaking. “But I cannot bear the thought of you pretending to want me, like all the things I did that harmed you were nothing but a bad dream, being unhappy by my side out of pity for your Erik. Are you not engaged to another man?”

“No, Erik, remember what I said last night; look.” She lifted her left hand in front of her face. There was no ring to be seen on her fingers or around her neck. “I called it off before Raoul took the boat.”

“Why? Why would you, after I set you free?” he choked out. Christine breathed deeply.

“How could I, knowing I had left you behind? I would have been consumed by guilt, and... I truly do mean it when I say I want to be with you. I would have run away already if I didn’t, don’t you think?”

“I thought…”

“What, Erik? Did you think me so cruel as to lie so coldly?” she paused, anger flaring inside her. “Or enough of a harlot to play with you while in love with another?”

“Christine!”

“No, Erik! This is a decision I made on my own, and I truly do not appreciate you thinking I have malicious intent behind it!” She turned her back to him, clenching her fists.

He had been completely silent and still as she spoke back, his cold façade only cracking as she spoke those last words. He stepped tentatively towards her as she finished, having never witnessed such a temper in her. He must have truly made a mistake - and God forbid he wouldn’t be able to fix it.

“Forgive me, Christine. I should not have doubted you.” Erik tread lightly. “Don’t ever believe I think of you in that way. You are not cruel, much less a...” His insides turned at the word harlot and he was unable to say it out loud.

She sighed and turned slowly to him. “I should not have spoken to you like that. Your doubt is all but unjustified, but… we must learn to trust each other, and it will never happen if we don’t both try to.”

Silence fell and they could not look at each other. He knows very little of kind human contact, Christine reminded herself, and she could not lose herself every single time he doubted her, something that would most likely happen many times. As she glanced at him, she realized just how vulnerable he looked at that moment, more than likely still thinking of her angry words. His gaze turned forward and his usual collected behavior came back just as quickly.

“Come. We should not stay down here much longer.”

Chapter Text

As Christine had wished to take some necessary things from her dressing room, they exit the underground lair through a hidden entrance in the Rue Scribe and went back into the Opera House through a side door. Christine had been cautious enough to apply her make-up in an attempt to make her look a few years older and Erik, who had warned her about the more-than-likely manhunt against him, had switched to a mask the color of his skin before leaving, one that was slightly more tightly-fit to his face, with dark sheer cloth masking his amber eye. From far away enough, he’d look like any other man. They walked together as quickly and inconspicuously as they could after leaving the otherwise empty building.

“Christine, you look frightened,” Erik whispered, noticing how tight she held his arm. It seemed like she was scared he’d disappear if she were to loosen her grip. She released a shaky breath, giving him a sweet smile, though her eyes told him everything: she was terribly anxious. “We’re playing a part, my dear, this is no different to your acting on-stage. We will be safe as soon as we get out of Paris, when we reach the train station.”

His eyes caught sight of a small bakery, one that had a window showcasing their products; all of which, Christine noticed, looked delicious. Beside it, a tailor’s shop stood, which had its own glass pane allowing visitors to look at the clothes inside. They made for these stores, but Christine grew nervous again as two uniformed policemen sat on the edge of the sidewalk in front of the establishments. Erik and Christine still walked near them without skipping a beat, but their subject of conversation, which was loud and easy to listen to, quirked both of their interests.

“What are we looking for, again?”

“A ghost! Can you believe it, Gerard? The ghost of the Opera Populaire!” one of them laughed, while the younger one, Gerard, only scoffed. Christine felt herself pale at the mention of said ghost, the very same one her arm was linked to. They stopped just behind the policemen, feigning interest in the clothing shown in the store as their voices became slightly more silent.

“Do we even know what this ghost looks like, Maurice?”

“If we believe the rumors running around with the ballet girls, his face is sunken and horrible, like looking at Death in the eye. He tries to cover himself with some kind of mask, apparently, every bit like a corpse,” Maurice spoke, by his tone revealing he believed nothing of his own words. “The people in the audience who supposedly witnessed everything couldn’t describe him properly; the most we could get is that he is horrifyingly deformed.”

“Great, so all we know is that he wears a mask. Any news on the stolen soprano?” Christine’s breath caught in her throat, a sound she covered with a small cough.
“Gerard, you fool, is it so hard for you to listen to what you’re told?” he replied. “The Vicomte de Chagny himself went to the station already. Said that it was all a big confusion; the ghost never actually took the girl. According to the Vicomte, her alleged kidnapper only took her from the stage and left her in a room somewhere backstage before fleeing, meaning to trick us all to think she was gone, in revenge. That, or she was left to die in the fire that broke out.”

“If she truly is not missing, why won’t she just come forward and declare with us?”

Maurice shrugged. “De Chagny was asked the same thing. He brushed it off as her being too shaken by the event to give a coherent testimony when he found her, even stating she may have escaped the city already after it all proved too much to bear here. He said she refused any asylum he offered at his Estate. Anyway, the case on the singer is closed, she hasn’t been seen since and there is no evidence to show that it is a bad sign.”

“It’s almost too convenient that every loose end was tied by this Vicomte, isn’t it?” The younger policeman snorted a laugh. Erik’s eyes narrowed as he said this; he hoped this man wouldn’t give them trouble.

“Convenient for us, you mean. That shortens our search by one person, meaning less work and less questioning. Mlle. Daaé and De Chagny had a personal connection, as well, so he has no foreseeable reason to lie.”

They began to speak of other things, and relief flooded Christine as she leaned into Erik for support.

“Oh, Raoul,” she breathed, tears stinging at her eyes. Thank you, she thought.

“He has done us a great favor,” Erik said shortly. She nodded, blinking back the unshed tears before they spilled; it was the most amicable thing he had said about her childhood friend in their time together. “I’m sorry, but we must keep walking. We need to catch a train.”

He led the way through the busy streets, thankful that the mask he’d designed served its purpose. Not one person had spared a curious glance at him as they normally would, the few times he’d ever been in public and in daylight. In these dire circumstances, going unnoticed, even though the mask’s close fit was certainly annoying, was an advantage.

They got to the train station after walking for nearly thirty minutes. Christine sat down as he went to buy their tickets, and her brief expression of relief made his soul twist with guilt. The shoes she wore were not for walking very long distances, her feet were most likely in pain, and, in fear of being recognized by a cab driver, he had neglected to think of that as they walked for so many blocks.

He got their tickets and, thankfully, their train would depart in only thirty minutes, thanks to a stroke of well-needed luck as a couple had cancelled their reservations very last-minute. Erik had bought their places at once and returned to Christine, who was eyeing a booklet offered to her by a young boy. She set it aside as soon as she saw him approaching, looking expectantly at him.   

“Thirty minutes. They were selling late tickets, to Rouen.”

She nodded, breathing shakily. Christine had not been prepared to leave Paris that soon, the city that had seen her dreams come true, her debut as an actress - but then again, it had also seen much suffering for both of them. As she glanced at the masked man standing to her left while leaning on her chair, she knew, deep inside, that perhaps leaving the city and its memories behind would not be that bad. At least, she wouldn’t be alone again, like when her Papa died. He, Erik, will not be alone again, either. The conflict inside her settled just so, but her mind betrayed her for a second. It is not too late to turn back if I were to regret this…

“Christine?”

She was evidently startled out of her thoughts, gazing up at him. “Yes?”

“Are your feet still hurting?”

“I should have known better than to think you wouldn’t notice,” she smiled, just a tiny, amused turn of lips. “You needn’t worry.”
“There is no need to hide your discomfort from me.” The way he spoke made her frown. Smooth, nonchalant, but why had he suddenly sounded so strict? Like he was chastising her, as if he were still… Her next words were quiet, but the challenging beneath them was clear as she straightened and looked away. “Forgive me, Angel of Music. I am not in pain.”

His hand, still gripping the chair she was sitting on, became much tighter for a mere second.

Chapter Text

It was time, Erik told her. She stood on trembling legs, attempting to stay collected, and immediately latched onto his arm. He carried their bags with no problem, not looking at her as they began to walk towards the area where they would board the train. Christine moved closer as the space lessened and the crowd seemed to grow and he could feel just how anxious she was. Stealing a look at her, through the disguising make-up, he realized just how young she truly was, how scared she looked at the moment. He couldn’t wait until -

He cursed softly as soon as he saw the policemen checking the passengers before boarding, replacing what would normally be a train crew member who would only take their tickets without a second glance. They were monitoring first class, too, much to their misfortune. With a slight look, they agreed to act unbothered as Erik led her to the boarding area.

And so they did, at least until the rough-looking policeman stretched his arm between them and the train door, eyeing their tickets before looking at Erik harshly. Damn him.

“We’re lookin’ for the masked gentleman that burned down the Populaire,” he began, shamelessly scoffing at Erik’s discrete mask, his fingers slowly going towards the pistol in his pocket as he leaned forward and close to the other man’s face. Christine’s grip on her companion’s arm grew tighter. “Would you happen to know a ghost, monsieur? Or did I get lucky and catch the specter himself?”

In a second, Christine snapped from her shock to help Erik. In what he could call a surprisingly good act, she was audibly scandalized, her expression a grimace of anger and disgust, and she stepped forward and between them.

“How dare you!” She gasped. Reeling for an acceptable excuse, she exclaimed the first one that came to mind. “My husband was injured while serving our country as a soldier, and he uses a mask to avoid being judged because of his scars. He is not this… madman you speak of! You should be ashamed to imply such a thing; as an officer, you should know better than to point fingers with no proof!”

The significantly bigger man in front of her fell back, noticing the short woman for the first time, his arm going limp and back to his side. He pursued his lips at the word husband and soldier. He could not think of any reason a wanted criminal would travel with another, much less have a wife, and so he stood down.

“I apologize, madame, monsieur,” He choked out. He glanced at their tickets in his hands – he saw nothing out of the ordinary and he moved from their way. “Please, go on.”

Christine huffed, linked her arm to Erik’s once more and, in an exit worthy of a certain spoiled diva, boarded the train with her chin up. They were taken to their cabin by a young man visibly on-edge, having witnessed Christine’s acted temper. They were finally left on their own five minutes after the incident. It was Erik who broke the silence that fell upon them after the boy left.

“You must be hungry. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll bring you something to eat. I’ll be gone for only a few minutes.” Without waiting for an answer, he was out of the room. Christine sat, uneasy, in the small table in their cabin. It was a luxurious space, and she marveled at its size in comparison to other more asphyxiating places on this same train. She was ashamed to wonder how much the tickets must have cost.

The train, thankfully, began to move when she was still sitting, reading a newspaper left on top of the table before their arrival. Notes about the Opera House incident filled it, some reporting on Raoul’s witness account, others speculating, but none close enough to the truth to worry her. She breathed deeply as Erik came back, as promised, with a tray of food in his hands. Her stomach growled rudely, though Erik, surely having heard with his sharp senses, made no comment about it as he placed the food in front of her.

“Thank you,” She said. He made to exit the room. “Wait, where are you going?”

He blinked, surprised, turning to look at her. “I assumed you’d want some privacy.”

“Nonsense. Please, sit down. I… actually dislike eating on my own.”

He obeyed silently. Christine began to eat, thinking about something to spark a conversation. She looked up, and for the briefest of moments she saw him adjust the mask he wore, touching the darkened, nearly transparent piece of cloth to cover his mismatched right eye. She cringed as she thought of the discomfort such a tight fit must cause on his scarring.

“Erik,” she began, politely cleaning her mouth with her napkin before continuing. “Does the mask hurt your face?”
“You shouldn’t be wasting your worries on me. I’m doing well.”

She smiled teasingly, recalling their last conversation. “Why should you get to ask, then?”
His face hardened slightly, gaze lowering so it no longer met hers. “It does cause discomfort, to an extent.”
“Then it could cause some irritation. Why don’t you take it off?” She suggested. He then proceeded to stare as if she’d grown a second head. “I won’t force you, of course, but your face no longer bothers me, Erik. You are not under obligation to wear the mask when it’s just us.”
He mumbled something else, words she couldn’t catch, making her ask him to repeat himself. He was visibly upset as he spoke up, louder this time.

“I’ve neglected you enough today, Christine.”

“Neglected me?” She asked softly. “No, you have been kind to me, no matter how much of an obstacle I’ve been.”

“You’re never an obstacle!” He assured her, his tone uncharacteristically almost child-like. “You’re good, too good.”

“Forget what I said, then, about your mask. Do keep in mind that I truly am not bothered by your face… whenever you do wish to take it off.”

He didn’t reply, nor did he move to remove the offending garment, though his posture straightened after a few minutes as he sprung out of his previous state. She sighed worriedly and went to finish her meal, thinking of what had just happened; how quickly he managed to hide his emotions and how it seemed many things sent him into such despair with no warning. It’d be best not to press him about the matter, however. The man sitting across from her waited patiently, looking as she set aside her plates and cutlery. She opened her mouth, before closing it and blushing bright red. Raising an eyebrow, Erik looked at her expectantly; though what she was about to ask was embarrassing, she was glad to see his normal demeanor back.

“Erik,” she shifted, staring at her hands before daring to look at him. “How… old are you?”
After a moment of understanding, he laughed genuinely for the first time in her presence. It was a rich, beautiful sound; something, in her opinion, that fairly rivalled his warm voice. In the current context, however, his laugh only added to her embarrassment - she could only join in his amusement, comforted by the fact that it wasn’t a cruel joke at her expense. When he sobered quickly, he stared off to his right, a hand reaching to touch the left corner of his lips.

“Age is no concern when you live in the dark. I stopped counting many, many years ago,” he stated. Her face fell slightly. “Christine, how old are you?”

“Twenty.”

“Twenty,” he repeated. He was silent for a moment, then - “I could not have been older than that just after you were born. I may be incorrect, but I must be around my late thirties.”

She knew he would look at her reaction carefully, but her only thought was to smile kindly. “Thank you.”
It was his turn to be stunned. She had just been with a young man perhaps a two or three years her senior, but their age difference of one-and-a-half decades or more didn’t seem to bother her at all. How could anyone be so kind, so overwhelmingly understanding? How was she cracking down, piece by piece, the walls he built to shield himself with just soft smiles and kind words in nothing but a day? He needed time to think, he needed to get out before the room closed in on him. Erik fled, the door snapping shut behind him, without a single word.

The room went cold without his presence, she realized. Did I do something wrong? Did I ask too much?

She needed to know and perhaps she could find him, as she didn’t want him to be alone like this. There was nothing wrong with trying. If he wanted to absolutely avoid her, he’d never be seen. Christine set her mind to it and she left the room herself.

 

Chapter Text

He had chosen the very end of the train as a place to think. There was nobody around, neither was there anyone who would dare take a step there, no matter how safe it was meant to be, what with the sun’s rays shining through the clouds. Erik ran his hands over his face, looking at the receding landscape of Paris in front of him. He was glad he had left that wretched hole of a place people called a city; just how he left is his concern. He should have left her behind. He should have made her realize her mistake, the error of the choice she so mentioned.

What was he doing here, with her? Why did he go along with her thoughts of possible redemption? Why had he let himself believe her? He leaned heavily on the safety rail, wind hitting his face and blowing his orderly clothes and wig slightly. Erik could feel his scars throbbing beneath the mask and his vision was much darker than usual on his right eye, all because she had come back and they had to flee and mix in with crowds. No, he couldn’t blame her for his discomfort, yet… he had been ready to stay beneath the Opera House, to finally let her go and simply cease to exist.

Fate had different plans, he reasoned bitterly. She could have been a happy, normal woman for the rest of her life, but instead she stayed with the monster and not the knight. Her soft heart had been too compassionate and kind, and she pitied the demon that fell in love with the angel. He thought he had finally understood what it meant to love her, the moment she showed him what real affection felt like through her kiss, but now he was baffled by the emotion all over again.

He was ranting within himself as he felt completely at loss. Christine had accepted him back somehow, but what if she only stayed with him as… a student? What if she only wanted some form of friendship and his music? He knew she had to at least care for him in some way - otherwise, she wouldn’t be here, she wouldn’t have planted a kiss on his lips twice. The loving hug, his very first, would’ve had the same moving effect on him, maybe even the look in her eyes would’ve sufficed and she must’ve known that.

He was sure he would die without her. He would break once more at the feelings she couldn’t ever return but, this time around, simply wither away. He fiddled with the ring in his small finger. How he wished it was she wearing it, but he couldn’t risk this, the small, frail companionship they had built in a day, with yet another marriage proposal. Erik would have to wait until she was ready - until they both were, and he would make do with whatever she wished to offer as a relationship. It certainly hadn’t helped to hear her calling him husband as she stood up to the meddling officer that had nearly ruined their escape, knowing it was all a foolish act to cover up their suspicious circumstances.

Having her as a student, he thought sadly. Is still good compared to not having her at all.

The door behind him slid open, making him straighten and simply look ahead. He knew Christine’s presence well enough; he needn’t look to know who it was. “Erik, are you alright?”

He turned his head to look at her, still leaning on the rail, and he could see the worry in her eyes. She was incredibly uneasy, glued to the door. “Of course. Did something happen?”

“You left,” she said simply. She eyed the metal he had his hands on. “That moves rather dangerously, doesn’t it?”

“I needed to think for a moment, Christine. Why don’t you step outside? It mustn’t be good to stay inside for so long.”

“I’d rather not.”
“Are you scared?” He questioned, turning towards her fully and extending a hand out for her to take. She did with a little hesitation, her left hand in his right, and stepped forward, sliding the door shut. It was after pulling her lightly towards him that she finally stood next to him, viewing the receding horizon in front of them. “It is perfectly safe, though you might want to keep off the railing to make sure of that.”

She was silent, still not letting go of his hand. “You truly don’t have to act like this around me, Erik.”
“Come again?”
“You know what I mean,” she said, turning towards him. They stood facing each other, Christine’s head turned upwards to look him in the eye. “I saw you before I opened the door. You looked miserable as you were enveloped in thought, but as soon as I stepped in here, your whole demeanor changed. I truly want to be with you, to trust you, but it will never happen if you flee from me.”

“You say flee like I am scared of you,” he said, dropping her hand as if it was hot metal. His hands came to grip the railing tightly. “Wasn’t it you who was always afraid of being near me?”

“Not anymore and you know that. I meant that you’re afraid of sharing emotions, of breaking down the walls you erected around yourself.”
“Those shields were built for a reason, Christine.”

“I know,” the woman insisted. She touched his hand, knuckles white from clutching the metal, speaking nearly urgently. “All I want is for you to see that… that I am not trying to hurt you.”

“You will not like anything of what is inside.”

She thought, sadly, of the words she’d spat at him in pure anger when he had forced the bouquet of flowers into her hands. “I don’t believe it to be all bad, but even then I will learn. No matter how hard, be it by sheer force of will or not, I will learn to accept it just like I have accepted your appearance. You’ve lived for too long being reduced to just some monster and I’m the only one willing to try to get you to see your own humanity.”   

“You will never be happy that way. Even if you – we - break the walls down, what about you? What am I to give you in return, what could I possibly offer as a man?”

Now she thought of what to say. “Just stay by my side and be the good man I know you can be, show me what tenderness you gave me as a girl, when you listened to me and helped me when no one else would.”

“You want my music,” he said, his mind turning back to what he had thought of before. She wanted a musical companion and he felt ice fill his soul, but her hand only gripped his tighter.

“No, don’t say it like that.”

“Then how, Christine? What am I supposed to give you in return? Friendship? Training? It’s driving me mad not knowing,” he near begged. Tears slipped from her eyes, silently dripping onto the floor as they dragged the heavy makeup she wore down with it. Her right hand was on his uncovered cheek now and she pulled him down to her.

It was a short, sweet kiss, and she could only hope he’d be able to get what her words couldn’t describe: he’d given her his heart and she wanted him to have all of hers someday. The tears that sprang to his own eyes as she embraced him resulted from mixed emotions as comfort and dread both coursed through him. It was too late for him to turn back; he now knew what loving meant, and he was intent on showing it for as long as he could. He had a lot to make up for.

“Let’s go back, Erik. You should remove that mask for whatever time remains until Rouen.” She pulled back, looking at him. Gently, he brushed his fingers against her face to wipe away the remaining tears in the corner of her eyes. And so they made their way back, with her holding his hand weakly and leading the way.

Though he gave her permission, Erik still flinched when Christine removed his mask and wig, the coolness of the room hitting his deformity. She had been kind enough to lock the compartment door behind them and pull all curtains just nearly shut, arguing that it would be too dark to see if completely closed. He moved away as her fingers touched the scars, still sensitive from the mask, but he stayed still when she tried again, seeing her eyes wide with kindness like he’d never seen before. She studied the deformed half, memorizing everything, from the engorged lips to the amber-like right eye, back to the dip where his right nostril should have mirrored his left and up to the uneven tufts of hair on his scalp. The way his nose is shaped… I wonder if it causes him any trouble with his breathing.

When she had satisfied her curiosity, she began to look at his normal side, realizing how cruel fate had been towards him; the deformity was all that kept him from being a very handsome man to most ideals, and it showed on the half of his face it had left untouched. His left, dark brown eye, his sharper-with-age face, and the elegant yet weary features of his face would have made him stand out among men at the Opera.

He burst into tears at the onslaught of acceptance and she could do nothing but hold him through it, both of them sinking to the seats as they clung to each other. Erik had never cried like this, with heart-wrenchingly quiet sobs and whimpers that left him emotionally bare to her eyes, finally letting out for once what he had hidden within himself for what seemed like an eternity. Christine prayed, prayed for strength for both of them as she shushed him. There was still about an hour left until their destination and so much had happened already; she continued to pray silently.

Chapter Text

“Christine.”

It had been silent for a while now. Perhaps fifteen minutes? Neither had said anything since Erik regained his composure and untangled from her embrace, leaving respectful space between them. She sighed when he put his hand up to his deformity, trying to hide it, but she didn’t comment on it. It was enough of an achievement to have gotten him to remove the mask altogether.

“Yes?”
He shifted in his seat, not meeting her gaze. “I wished to ask you something.”

“Go ahead, Erik.”

“Would you wear the ring I gave you before?”

The question hit her like heavy bricks. Not this again, not when they had such a good start to their new relationship. How could she deny him without driving him away?  

“Let me explain!” He gasped at her reaction, sliding the ring off his smallest finger. “It’s not an engagement ring, what I meant is… please, Christine, forget I said anything. It was not my intention to worry you.” With that he stood and began to pace through the small space frantically, ring cast onto the table.

“Erik,” she tried, voice trembling. He didn’t stop his antics. “Why do you want me to wear it, then, if it is not for marriage?”

He mumbled, then, nearly inaudible. She managed to hear “…reassurance, and I wish for you to have it,” and that was all she needed. He meant for the ring to be a symbol of their relationship, something physical for both and anyone else around them. Christine thought for a moment, before breathing deeply and standing.

“If it is what you want, I’ll wear it,” she announced. He immediately stopped in his tracks and looked incredulously at her. “But, if this marks the beginning of official courtship, then I would like a compromise.”

In disbelief of what she had just answered, he approached her, with the clearest look of curiosity in his mismatched eyes as he waited for her reply.

“You will tell me more about yourself, be it of your past, your preferences, anything, but you must remain true. Only then can I permit us to court.”

His gaze darkened at the mention of his past, and he frowned as he considered what she had just said.

“If it is what you want,” he relented after, echoing her past words. “But you will not like what you hear about my past whether I tell you now or… whenever. There is a reason I have lied about it countless times.”

She nodded. “No more lies. No more deception.”

He was quiet as he picked up the ring from the surface it sat on. Christine stood fully facing Erik then, prying away the hand that had been glued to his face with her own left one, then directing his gaze back to meet hers after he turned away. At that moment, as he took her right hand in his left and slid the ring on her finger, she wondered how she had been afraid of the face behind the mask that night beneath the Opera House.

It didn’t matter now, anyway, as they held each other freely in the privacy of the room. He was still flustered at the contact, unable to understand how she could bear it; she was still afraid of what their still frail, out of the ordinary relationship could mean for one another, knowing they were alike in so many aspects but polar opposites in others. Both were willing to try, at least, and it meant they were stepping forward and in the right direction to whatever it was that the future held for them.  

“In Rouen,” he muttered shyly against her mass of hair, “I should buy you a new ring. That one is stained with old and bad memories.”

“No need,” she countered softly, breathing for a moment. “Let’s keep it as a reminder of what we went through, to rewrite its meaning. In time, if you still want to… a new ring can be bought for another occasion.”

He liked her reasoning better, though he wouldn’t admit it. An old ring that will also leave its bad history behind, like he did; a new one when the time for a new present and future story is to be written. If she ever accepted to marry me, he thought vaguely, I will cross every ocean if it means I will find the perfect ring for her.

“Madame, Monsieur,” rang the voice of a crew member as he knocked at their door. They sprang apart, even if the man didn’t dare try the door. “Ten minutes until we arrive to Rouen. Are you in need of assistance with your luggage?”

Christine looked at Erik quickly, and he shook his head. “No, thank you,” she called out in reply. The man’s footsteps wandered away deeper into the hall. She glanced at herself in the mirror on the wall and gasped, diving for her bag, retrieving some items before moving quickly to the mirror adorning just above their seats and the small surface beneath it.

“Is something wrong?”

“My makeup, Erik, it’s a disaster! I cannot go out like this, I must fix it.”

He frowned. “That makeup ages you badly.”

“It is so people don’t recognize me, like before. I’ll remove it as soon as I can, then reapply it as I always do since we’re already out of Paris,” she explained, looking at him through the mirror. He was looking somewhere else, blatantly avoiding his reflection, but he still addressed her directly.

“Yet you are so young, why must you wear it at all? You are lovely without it.” He said nonchalantly. Christine wore a tiny smile at the unintentional compliment, though he was clearly ignorant to what his own words meant to her as her eyes sparkled happily.

“It is the norm, a very feminine thing like long hair,” she answered, touching one of her pinned curls fondly. “In fact, I quite like wearing it and applying it. I used to do little Meg’s makeup sometimes. Not to bore you with specifics, of course.”

He nodded, understanding her explanation. He dug his hand into his pocket, then began to pat around the others before sighing, barely loud enough for her to hear. She turned to look at him, having finished her task and already putting away everything. She was about to ask him what was wrong when he said it out loud for her.

“My pocket watch; it seems I have left it behind in the opera house by mistake, but no worries. I don’t think I’ll be in dire need of it, anyway.”

“I’m sorry about that, Erik. Maybe we could get you another one?”

“No, no. It isn’t a necessity, now that I am not underground, and it bore no special meaning for me. If you’re ready, we should begin to take our leave.”

It was a cloudy day in Rouen, though it was not nearly as gloomy as Paris. Though considerably smaller than the capital, it was a beautiful place, and it didn’t assault her senses with the many scents that filled Paris. Christine couldn’t help being homesick, though she knew – and kept repeating so to herself – that this was for the best. Still, leaving behind the Opera House, her friends…

Her friends! Oh, Meg will be worried sick. What about Madame Giry? How could she be so insensitive to her loved ones? Perhaps they had heard about Raoul’s declaration and they would know she was safe, that she was with Erik by her own will. The last thing she needed was for her little blonde friend and her mother to think she’d been kidnapped again. Even then, it would be a miracle if they believed she wasn’t being coerced, or worse; the situation was, to be fair, incredibly complicated. Glancing at her right hand, she thought of Raoul again… she had ended their relationship not a whole day before, yet here she was with another’s ring on her finger. Guilt plagued her heart, but she did her best to will it off; as a free woman, it was no one’s business but her own, and even then no one but she and Erik knew about it. Yet he had always been so sweetly devoted to her, and now she had probably hurt him so…

Erik and Christine boarded a carriage, one she hadn’t even noticed had been waved over, directed to the nearest hotel. She was solemn the whole way, thinking of the people she’d left behind. It was her sad eyes and silence that pricked uneasiness into Erik’s soul once more.

Chapter Text

Posing as a married couple during their travel meant that they could only reserve one room to avoid suspicions. Christine made no comment as Erik gave the innkeeper a fake last name – Montesque - for both of them, trying not to show her face so she could remove the horrible make-up she wore, and awkward silence fell upon them as they were left alone, door shut safely behind them. Their room was beautifully decorated and spacious, with a balcony through which the sun’s rays came in as it slowly went down. There were three separate areas in total; a bedroom, the living place where they stood now, and a washroom connected to both spaces.

“You’ll have the bed to yourself, of course,” Erik said suddenly. “I apologize for pushing the limits of properness.”
“I understand.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No,” she answered too quickly. He raised an eyebrow as she tried to come up with something to say, but she sighed and took a seat. “I am just tired from travelling, that’s all.”
“Perhaps then we should stay all day tomorrow, so you can rest and we could discuss options of where to go next. I am afraid you may not like any of them,” he stated carefully, his left hand quirking at the word discuss. He must not be used to travelling with company.

“Alright,” she relented. “Thank you… for not keeping me in the dark about our next destination.”

He said nothing. Then, “It is about time for dinner, isn’t it?”

Christine glanced at the sky outside the balcony. Indeed, it was nearly sunset. “Time has surely flown.”

“Would you like to go to the restaurant downstairs?”

“I’d rather not. We could always eat here; you will be able to take that horrible mask off then,” she replied, eyeing said garment with worry. She stood from her chair, smoothing out the rich blue dress she wore; it oddly reminded her of the one she had used when visiting her Papa’s grave. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go ask for food to be brought here for us.”

She began to walk towards the door, but Erik was beside her in seconds, moving an arm in front of her to stop her. “No,” he said, voice edging on frantic. “I can go. Stay here and rest.”

Christine frowned deeply, attempting to keep walking, but he didn’t back away. “I’m fine, Erik. I will not be gone for even five minutes.” 

“No,” he repeated forcefully, moving his hand forward as to make her step away from the entrance. His eyes burned into her own, anger radiating off of him heavily. “I will go.”

“Erik -“

“Stay here and rest,” he finished, nearly growling the last word. Too stunned by his words to further argue, she stepped back in slight fear as he left the room, door shutting loudly behind him. Tears pricked into her eyes as her own temper flared up. She was doing a simple favor, attempting to stop his babying her; what could have provoked his volatile temper?

Christine walked to the balcony, blinking away her emotions as they threatened to spill. The view was comforting, at least, the fresh air filling her lungs, but now her heart ached for Paris. She had not let herself truly doubt the decision she made of, quite literally, running away with Erik, but he had never lashed out like this before, as the last time he’d seemingly been this angry at her was when she tore off his mask.

How she wished she could turn back to that moment, to explain that it was not simply the sight of his face that made her run, but his anger, his chasing, forcing her to stare at something she could only have called demonic. She was ashamed to say her perception of him had also changed so much because of his face the moment she saw it, but it was mostly that horrible fury. Her idea of him was, most likely, still confused between the Angel, the Phantom, and just Erik. Would she still be haunted by the Opera Ghost and those he killed, no matter how much time passed? What if he wasn’t the sad, tender man she had finally seen clearly as he softly sang how he loved her before she fled?

She pressed at her neck, wincing slightly as, beneath the makeup, lay small, purplish bruises the Phantom’s hand had left in his furious wake. It was madness, to be here with him as her fingers touched marks he had left on her. Erik was not aware of them, though. Had he meant to hurt her? Even if he hadn’t, they’re there, a physical sign of how cruel his demons could be to others, not just himself.

The closest thing Christine could think of was an abused pet, even though she regretted the unfortunate comparison; when a dog has been met with cruelty its whole life, it will expect everyone around to be the same way, evil and abusive, and defend itself mechanically - by biting, isolating itself from others to survive, and humans were that same way when met with continuous harm. In a way, it was Erik’s behavior. Though he is a genius like no other, his own mother’s hate and being shunned by society shaped him into what he was now: a conflicted, complicated man. He knew only violence, and so he expressed everything negative with it, his jealousy, his anger, his sadness.

Her resolve to help him only became stronger with these thoughts, but, as she once again grazed her neck, she set herself to one thing: to show him what every human deserved and to make him act true to his promise of honesty, but if he dared raise a hand at her, she would walk away. No matter how her heart may break, she would not let herself love a man who harmed her with malicious, full intent.

The door clicked and a soft, female voice muttered a polite “excuse me” as food was brought to the living room table by a maid, who walked out shortly after, though Christine didn’t want to look behind at what was most likely a single plate and an empty room. Knowing Erik, he had told the girl to let herself in and place the food before leaving for God-knows-where in his anger -

“Your food will go cold, Christine.”

She whirled around in surprise, looking at Erik as he casually stood beside a chair, looking at her expectantly. “I thought I was alone.”

“Do you wish to be alone?”

“No, not really, but I thought, after what happened earlier, that you would…”

“Come sit, Christine. Please.”

Breathing the outside air of the balcony once more, she walked back, stopping to close the glass doors quietly. Erik showed no sign of his previous anger as he politely helped her sit before he did so himself, though he didn’t appear to be interested in eating, simply keeping her company.

“You should take your meal,” she remarked, not taking a bite herself. “Have you eaten today at all?”

“I don’t require as many meals as the majority of people do.”

“I insist. That mustn’t be healthy for you.”

“Please, just eat, Christine.”

“Not until you remove that mask that irritates your skin so badly and join me. You are human and require sustenance,” she said, crossing her arms; it seemed she had not let go of her grudge yet, and her patience was wearing thin. He looked at her – then huffed, took the mask off, and reached to grab the remaining cutlery. Not a single word was spoken in the next few minutes, and it was after they both finished eating that she finally decided to speak her mind.

Chapter Text

“Erik, are we going to ignore what happened?”

“I am willing to do so,” he replied. A hand moved to his face, much to her irritation. Taking a deep breath, Christine continued.

“I am not. We will go nowhere like this, putting up an act of ignorance every time. If not now, when?”

“There is no need for such future thinking, I’m afraid. I saw it in your eyes from the moment we left that train.”

“What?” She asked, bewildered. “What on earth do you mean?”

“So much sadness. You regret coming here,” he spoke, voice heavy with emotion as he refused to look her in the eye. She shook her head vigorously, her injury making her breath hitch with the pain of the sudden, rough movement. Erik’s head snapped in her direction at the sound, his eyes wide with shock as he scanned her with his gaze for a sign of hurt. “Are those bruises? Did you cover them with makeup?”

She must have smudged it and made them visible when she had touched her neck just minutes before. Instinctively, she went to cover them with her hand. “I didn’t mean to alarm you, I’m truly fine, it’s just that -“

“I took you by the neck after I forced you into that wretched wedding dress, when the boy arrived.”

“Yes,” she conceded quietly. “Your grip was… unforgiving.”

He stood, shaking his head, stumbling back and a few feet away, Christine following as she reached towards him gently. “You should have left with that boy after I freed you both, married him and lived in peace for the rest of your days. How could I lay a hand on my Christine? I left marks on you like a brute! I should’ve let you slip away when you nearly did.”

“Erik, look at me. When did I nearly leave? When did you think I wished to do so?” She tried to get him to calm down, to touch his shoulder, but he shrunk away with a gasp.

“I knew why you insisted on going outside the room without me; it was to walk out and leave as you should, but I was selfish and made you stay. I love you too much.”

Christine whimpered at his words, now understanding his burst of anger. “I don’t plan to leave you, Erik. It was the Phantom who put these marks on me, not you -“

He wailed, covering his face with his hands. “It’s me, Christine! I put those marks on you, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise! What kind of scum hurts a woman he loves?”

“The bruises will fade away, the memory of them will not,” she insisted, grabbing his arm and hand boldly and not letting him pull away again. Her voice grew harsher as she realized he wouldn’t listen until she was as firm as possible. “We will not forget, but we will move on and prevent marks like this from appearing again, on either of us, not just me. Do you wish to go back beneath the opera house and the shadows, all alone? Does it please you to see me hurt by your actions as the Ghost? Will you attempt to strangle me, with your hands around my neck again?”

“God, no!” He said in sheer horror. “I would rather die!”

“Then,” she continued, trembling. “Let it go and look forward, with me, for I have forgiven you already.”

Erik went limp, his shoulders dropping; he was gazing at her with terrible sadness. His right hand rose through his stupor, reaching towards her, but he moved it away before it touched her. Breathing shakily still, Christine grabbed his hand, moving it to where it was before, silently giving him permission to touch her. He gently traced his fingers over the injury, pushing hard against the thoughts that invaded his mind of the night he put those on her.

“I’m sorry and there is nothing else I can say. I haven’t the slightest idea how I can…”

“You never did tell me something about yourself, as you promised,” she replied kindly, putting her own hand over his. “Perhaps it can be an appropriate beginning.”

“Indeed, I didn’t.” He was still touching her neck absentmindedly.

“It doesn’t have to be anything that will hurt to remember. One of your preferences will do.”

“Alright, then.” He continued thinking, a slight frown to his features, then seemingly realized something as he spoke again. “Perhaps this is too trivial, but I’m fond of cats, something I discovered in my years in Persia.”

“Cats?” she said, imagining Erik with a pet. It was rather mundane for him in her mind but, as a tiny quirk showed on his irregular lips, she appreciated the normality of it as he continued to speak.

“They’re incredibly intelligent and mostly like to be left alone; only some of them want constant attention like dogs do. Their unconventional places of laying down are bothersome at times, but overall they are great animals.”

“How can their sleeping places be bothersome?” Christine giggled, trying to keep conversation going; he seemed to stabilize by the minute, still coming back to her.

“Once while entering through the Rue Scribe, one of the little creatures I had fed nearby followed me into the Opera House, meowing at me the whole way down, not once losing her way behind me all the way to the underground lake. It was after she refused to do anything but demand my attention no matter how much I tried to make her leave that I decided to keep her. Her favorite pastime was to nap atop my instruments and music sheets, and scratch me whenever I tried to move her so I could continue composing, as she did have quite an attitude,” he told, chuckling softly at the memory. “She was a beautiful Siamese cat I named Ayesha.”

“If I may ask, did she…?”

“After some years with me, perhaps five, Ayesha became weaker and eventually sick. I gave her something that would make her pass away in her sleep when her condition worsened. There was nothing I could have done and she would have gone through terrible pain as time passed.”

“I’m very sorry, Erik,” Christine responded, touching his face gently.

“Don’t be. My dear little lady lived a spoiled life and left painlessly; she was my one beloved companion in that time.”

“How long ago was this?” She asked. He frowned again, taking a few moments to answer.

“Three years, I believe, since she died. I apologize, I never cared much about strict time-tracking, as you know.”

“Thank you for telling me about her, Erik,” she said, slightly emotional as she looked at him. Christine silently led him to sit with her, where they spoke for perhaps two more hours. She spoke of her father, Sweden, how she had insisted on learning to play the violin like her father did before she realized singing was her true talent. While Erik mostly listened, he promised he would teach her the violin if she still wanted to and nearly wept with joy as her eyes went wide with excitement, giving him one of her most beautiful grins. When it was time for her to retire to bed, she easily hugged him when they stood, as she bid him a good night. Gingerly, his own arms moved around her before whispering.

“May I?”

She didn’t need to hear more. “Of course.”

He pressed an awkward, short kiss to her brown curls after a second, as if he had expected her to suddenly change her mind. It was after she walked away and the bedroom door clicked behind her that he realized his face was not covered. Never before had he not been painfully aware of when he lacked a mask.

Chapter Text

Christine sat on the bed, the only light in the room coming through the shut curtains and the moonlight outside. Alone in the dark with just her thoughts for company, one very particular one was slipping through as she stared at the door in front of her, eyes wide and fearful. She had heard the warnings from Madame Giry, even from her Papa when she was a child; she had refused to let the other girls leave alone at night for this very reason.

She knew she could trust Erik, of course, but to what extent? He was nothing but a man underneath it all; stronger and older than she was, he could easily overpower her if he so desired. She shook her head though no one could see her. No - he would never and she should know better than to doubt him in this way. Her breath caught in her throat as she heard his soft footsteps in the other room; of course, they weren't heading anywhere near her, but her heart still threatened to pound out of her chest.

He has hurt you before, a voice inside her whispered.

But never this way, nor is there a reason he would try to. He is unable to hug me without asking me first, and even then he expects me to deny him, she fought back. Besides, didn't I fall asleep nearly at his side yesterday? Nothing happened then and never before that, nor will it ever happen.

You don't truly know him yet. Lock the door.

Shaking with inner turmoil, she pulled the sheets over herself as she laid down, head on her pillows. Though Christine's mind raced with all that men had hollered at her through the years as she walked through the city, all the times a stranger had touched her arm or shoulder purposely, when patrons had observed her and the other girls too closely, she left the door unlocked as it was. Locked doors destroy us. I trust him.

Those three words were all she repeated to herself as her eyes closed and she heard his occasional footsteps or the turning of pages as he presumably read one of the books she had seen around the room. She fell into uneasy sleep after some time, forcing her eyes to remain shut and begging her body to relax.

It was still dark outside when her eyes wrenched open and her body became frozen in fear, having bolted into a sitting position as she awoke in cold sweat. Christine's breathing was quick and loud as she gulped air in an attempt to focus on her surroundings and move to stand on wobbly legs. She had a nightmare, for sure, but she had no memory of just what she saw in her tormented dream; she could only feel the terror and adrenaline it had left in its torturous wake. Her hands managed to open the door to the living area and she stepped out, somehow remembering to grab her robe to wear over her chemise-turned-nightgown. In the moonlight that shone through the glass balcony door, she found a candle that finally allowed her to see the whole room with its light. Erik was nowhere to be found and, in fact, everything was orderly and neat as if he had never been there. Barefoot, Christine walked towards the door, wanting to prove a sudden thought.

Her breath caught in surprise as her hand easily turned the doorknob and the door opened just slightly before she pulled it back towards her, shutting it quietly. As soon as she stepped back, her head whipped towards the balcony due to a sudden noise, startling her fully awake; a dark figure was visible outside the glass door, but just as she opened her mouth to scream, the man's head glanced up and she saw a single yellow eye in the darkness. Relief quickly replaced the stress in her as she realized who the figure was.

"Erik!"

"It is much too early for you to be up, isn't it?" He said, coming in through the balcony door, taking off his cape with his signature flourish. He wore one of his usual white masks.

"Where were you?"

"I asked you something first, Christine," he muttered. She hesitated, but decided against keeping the truth to herself - they had promised no more lies, after all.

"I woke up in fear from a nightmare I can't remember, and I… wished to see if you locked the door, after I noticed you were gone."

"Why?"

"I have always disliked feeling trapped," she spoke, treading carefully with her words. "Though I may not want to exit the room at the moment, the last thing I would want is to feel captured, like I'm forced to stay anyway." Again.

Erik took a deep breath, sitting on the couch near her. She quickly joined him, placing her light on the nearest surface, awkwardness hanging between them. Christine turned to look at him as he spoke again.

"I considered it," he continued softly, his voice taking a bitter tint with the last phrase. "But I refused to do so. How uncharacteristic of me, isn't it? Like I haven't locked you in before against your will."

Christine's green eyes filled with tears. Even in the meager lighting, he noticed.

"Christine, why are you crying?"

She quickly wiped the tears. "I'm sorry. I'm being silly."

"Silliness alone does not make one cry. Is it your nightmare again?
"Maybe. It's more about… how happy I am that you chose against locking me in again." She smiled softly. Her next words were rushed and not very well-thought. "In fact, I thought about locking my own door, but I couldn't break what trust we've put together. Perhaps we have a similar way of thinking."

His face was grim as he looked at her meaningfully. "I've done little to earn your trust, my dear. It isn't something you should give so freely."

"You may be right about my trusting others, but I know you will never try and hurt me now. I do not fear you," she said. "May I ask where did you go just now?"

Erik ran his hands over his face, thinking of how to approach this gently. If he didn't choose his words rightly, he could slip up and make a comment she thought confirmed her recently-admitted fears.

"I thought it best to leave as you slept, though I wasn't far enough to not realize you had woken up. I know exactly of the reasons you thought to lock your door with me around, perhaps too well…" he trailed off darkly, and she dared not ask what he thought of, but a gentle touch of his hand brought him back to the matter of their conversation. "I just wished for you to rest peacefully, without having such thoughts plaguing you. Speaking of rest, you should go back to bed, Christine. There are still some hours before the sun rises, and you should sleep."

"What about you? Do you insist on not sleeping, as you do with taking basic human sustenance?"

He chuckled. "I am the prime example of a night owl, my Christine, and I am not tired. I can leave again if you wish so."

"No, there is no need," she answered immediately. "I'll see you in the morning, Erik. At least try to rest for a little while, yes?"

They both stood, Christine going quickly to hug him goodbye once more. Still not used to the ease with which she let him hold her, he breathed deeply. "If it pleases you… the door will remain unlocked, unless you have it otherwise. No more cages."

"Very well," she said, separating from his embrace and looking him in the eye. "Then you will know that whenever I do walk out, I shall always come back."

With a weary smile, she walked away.

Chapter Text

When she next awoke, rays of sunlight shone through the curtained windows and into her room. Stretching pleasantly, Christine rose from the bed, allowing herself to take her precious time in readying herself for the day, knowing they had a full day before travelling again. No sound came out of her as she laid out her only other dress, a beautiful green one she had chosen hastily from her dressing room, and the undergarments to go with it; then she walked towards the only other door in the room. When entering, she noticed the washroom was slightly changed from the last time she had been inside it - objects had been moved and reorganized, surely after Erik used them as she slept soundly in the bedroom. She shut the door behind herself, concluding her observations, and began to undress.

After her bath, as she clothed herself, she remembered one of Sorelli's well-known tips for the rest of the dancers. If her memory wasn't failing…

Ha! She thought triumphantly, some minutes later. Never before had she needed to tie her own corset, and it was embarrassingly easier than she had thought it out to be, but she was still proud of herself. Looking in the full-body mirror, she was pleased with how it looked and the sense of independence it gave her – with this new skill, there was now no need to repeat the previous day's ordeal of asking her companion for help ever again.

As she exit the bedroom, now fully clothed, she was surprised to have caught Erik in the midst of leaving the room. Christine smiled brightly and approached him.

"Good morning," she greeted joyfully, earning an amused stare from him.

"Good morning. Is there a reason for your particularly good mood today?"

"Must there be one?" She would definitely not explain why she felt so accomplished.

"I suppose not," he said. "I was just about to ask for breakfast to be brought up here."

"Please, don't let me stop you. If you wish, I could go myself," she offered kindly. She winced internally, realizing they had already gone through this same situation before, but this time he simply shook his head passively.

"Thank you, but I was just on my way. Excuse me."

This time, the door was shut quietly. Christine went to the balcony, breathing in the fresh air from the outside as she thought, looking out to the bustling streets of Rouen.

It hadn't even been two whole days since the incident at the Opera House; everything seemed to be going both so slowly and so quickly. She had expected him to have put up more of a fight to her loving advances - the Erik she knew before would have reacted aggressively, snapping pushing her away immediately. This version of him, however, seemed resigned and somewhat sad around her, like all of his lonely years had suddenly fallen on his shoulders heavily the moment she first kissed him. He complied with nearly all she said, but there were moments, some nearly invisible if she wasn't paying attention, that seemed like he was fighting for control. She shuddered when remembering one particular time where he'd looked at her, gaze fleeting yet haunting, before he shut his eyes and shook his head in earnest, as if flicking away all invading thoughts.

Perhaps he wished for such a load to be taken off him, though he didn't want to admit it; the trace of anger she had seen when he stopped her from leaving previously showed that, even though he was considerably less violent and definitely changed by that night, the fight within him was not over. She could only hope her actions and presence were a pillar to his strength.

She jumped visibly when he cleared his throat.

"Are you alright, Christine?"

"Yes, of course," she laughed, blushing. Erik stood a few feet behind her. "I've been thinking a lot, lately, and you caught me in the midst of it."

"I understand, but your meal is here."

They sat across from each other but, much to her disappointment, she was the only one with breakfast in front of her. She did not comment on it, however. They chatted lightly as she ate, but it was as she finished that Erik decided to speak of more pressing matters.

"I assume you don't have enough clothing with you, Christine."

"I don't," she agreed timidly. "I only had the bare minimum for one day and my money in my dressing room."

"That will not do if we are to travel more," he said, touching his chin as he glanced to the right. "There are some shops here. Would it be alright with you to buy some new clothes?"

"Yes," she replied in relief. "Will you be accompanying me?"

"Of course. Unless - you wish to go alone?"

"No, not at all," she replied quickly. "I just thought you'd be bored watching me shop."

"You're hardly a boring person, my Christine. I would like to visit an acquaintance after, if you're not too tired - I did have the chance to bring sufficient personal luggage until we've settled, so we will not be wasting time on myself."

"Very well."

-

Walking store to store with Christine on his arm was the most normality Erik had ever felt. Minus the occasional stare, they casually blended into the crowds, everyone blissfully ignorant of their identities, much to his relief. She happily dragged him along, asking his opinion occasionally when choosing hats and bodices and skirts to match, though she did quietly protest whenever he took over paying. The only time he chose to wait outside was when she required undergarments and she, of course, didn't say otherwise. After leaving her purchases at the hotel, they walked through smaller streets together, though they weren't linked at the arm like before.

"Thank you, Erik. Truly," she said, breaking their comfortable silence. He looked at her, then forward again.

"You need not thank me. It was… a pleasure."

She was silent once again as they turned to another street. He continued -

"If I remember well, his house is on this block."

"His? Who is he, Erik?" she questioned curiously. He breathed deeply before answering tightly.

"A man I met many years ago, during my days in Persia. I left with him some things I wanted kept safely out of Paris and my Opera House," he said. They stopped in front of a good-sized home, which Erik eyed for a second, then turned to face her. "We're here. Now, Christine, this man has always disapproved of my actions while living at the Opera, beginning with the fact that I even had a home there, though some time ago he relocated here from Paris. Though we have not spoken since he gave me this address, he will probably know all about the… incident. He may not be happy to see me."

"He wouldn't put you in jail, would he?" She asked. He chuckled dryly.

"No, I don't think so. He will most definitely believe I've forced you to become my bride, however."

"I shouldn't have come here, then. I could have saved you the trouble by staying back in the hotel -"

"No, it's better for him to know the truth now or else he might feel the need to track us down in the future -"

"Track us down?!"

"Hush, Christine; he was once a policeman," he sighed, taking on an annoyed tone with his next words. "And he is a good man who would be very worried about your wellbeing, should he hear that you are with me or otherwise missing. It wouldn't do well for you to be nervous; remain calm, for there is nothing to fear, and I will handle this."

"Fine," she agreed with a huff. They walked together and Erik knocked too forcefully for her liking, especially after a young woman, a maid, opened the door.

"Good evening, sir, madame," she greeted shyly.

"I've come to see the Daroga," Erik replied with slight impatience, making Christine frown. Who is this man? Why does meeting him make Erik's mood fall so quickly?

The girl nodded quickly after a curious look and asked for a moment before shutting the door. Erik snickered and Christine reached to touch his hand lightly. He sighed, but still seemed on edge. As soon as the maid opened the door once more, she moved back and told them directions to the Daroga's office. They stepped into the house and begun making their way there; Christine never let go of Erik's right hand.

Chapter Text

Another forceful knock from Erik filled Christine’s ears. There was quick silence, then a short phrase from inside the room was spoken in a language she did not understand. He twisted the door handle open and let her enter before him, along with the maid, who had followed behind them closely. It was an office, with a desk and bookshelves and nothing out of the ordinary except for the man who acted as their host. His skin was dark, hair jet black with streaks of gray as was visible beneath the cap he wore, and his eyes were a deep green – those were the most striking features she could make out, as he was sat near the other extreme of the room and behind his desk. Persian? Christine wondered, though she did not dare speak yet, frozen at Erik’s side. It was this man, Daroga, who spoke first.

“I am surprised to see you,” he greeted shortly, in perfect French. Then, he looked directly at her, eyes narrowed just barely, head tilting. “Ah, who is this?”
“Christine, monsieur. Christine Daaé,” she introduced herself, not wanting Erik to respond on her behalf. He answered kindly, but carefully.

“My name is Nadir Khan, mlle. Daaé. A pleasure to finally meet you.” With the word finally, he looked at Erik coldly. “I thought of you as a man of your word. Exactly what have you done to this girl?”

“I kept my promise, Daroga. The Angel of Music is no more.”

“If you’ve truly kept your promise to me, if you haven’t bewitched her, then why is she here?”

“I’ve come willingly, monsieur Khan,” she interjected. Both turned to look at her, but she didn’t back down. “Erik speaks the truth.”

Nadir moaned, rubbing his face tiredly. “You’ve driven the poor girl mad.”

“With all due respect, monsieur,” she interrupted again. “I am standing right here. Mad as I may be, I do not appreciate your words.” Erik couldn’t help but smirk at the Daroga’s reaction, as he was now blushing in embarrassment, clearly taken aback.

“Well,” he began awkwardly, clearing his throat. “I apologize, mademoiselle, but you must understand… in the years I’ve known Erik, I would be a fool to not suspect such a thing.”

“I know,” she said, further surprising him. “I know of some things he’s done, but it -”

“Christine, dear.” This time it was Erik who interrupted. “Perhaps it’d be best if the Daroga and I spoke alone. This is something he should hear from me.”

“Yes,” Nadir agreed in relief. “Daphne could prepare something for you if you’re hungry. I suspect we will not be long.”

At the mention of her name, the maid’s head perked up and she went quickly to the other woman’s side. Christine pressed her lips into a thin line, glancing at them both, yet decided against arguing. She politely muttered an excuse me as she left the room, door shutting behind her and Daphne as she walked at her heels.

As soon as they left, Erik let go of a breath he didn’t even realize he had been holding.

“Her tenacity,” Nadir continued. “could potentially rival yours, my friend. That is no easy feat.”

“This is serious, Daroga. No matter what I do or say, she won’t leave.” Erik began pacing around the room, speaking as he did so. “I freed her and her fiancé, but she came back. The door is unlocked at all times, but she never leaves. What if I truly cursed her? What if I truly drove her mad?”

“You said you didn’t break your promise, and part of it was to never use your voice against her.”

“And I haven’t!” he exclaimed. “Never more than to lull her to sleep when she was restless, to calm her nerves before a lesson or a performance. What good would it do to charm her forever? A breathing-yet-dead bride stripped of her autonomy is all she would be, and I don’t want a woman like that as my wife.”

Nadir frowned. “I thought you had already married her, when I first saw her at your side, but I suppose not. How is it you’ve cursed her, then?”

“She kisses me, shows me physical affection!” Erik said in exasperation. The Persian pulled back in his seat in slight confused shock. “Not even my own mother showed me such loving kindness, yet that night beneath the Opera House, she did so twice; in front of her fiancé, no less! Even now, she kisses me each day, like half of my face isn’t that of a rotting corpse - tell me, Nadir, what woman would do so with such normality. It was my kiss that tainted her.”

“What of the Vicomte?”

“She called it off that same night and we left Paris yesterday. She insists it was fear that pushed her into their engagement, that it was a mistake that would have greatly harmed her… and the boy.”

“Is she aware of the murders?”

“Of course she is. She insists I am not defined by them and I can become so much more, that through regret and her aid I will earn forgiveness. Worst of all,” he breathed, stopping his pacing as his gaze lowered. “I’ve let her slip such hope into my soul. I thought I was decades of hate past all thought of forgiveness.”

“A kiss, Erik, cannot curse a person, whoever it may come from. As of what kind of woman would kiss you so, I can only think of one answer: one who is in love,” he said. Erik snickered.

“Just minutes ago you thought I had hypnotized her into being my wife.”

“I said so before, I am not enough of an idiot to not suspect your intentions at first,” he agreed. “You’ve never felt like this for a woman, how could I know to what lengths you wouldn’t go to in order to have her? You’ve proven to be a jealous, possessive man.”

Before Erik could interrupt, he continued. “But now that I’ve seen you together in the flesh and you’ve explained what happened, there is no doubt there is, at the very least, some kind of sentiment existing within her. Mlle. Daaé gripped your hand like a lifeline, she was reluctant to leave you though she showed that you kept your vow to me of revealing the truth someday. She has become used to your real presence and, if what you tell me of that night is the truth, only love could break off an engagement to the rich, young Vicomte, a marriage where she would be sure to never want for anything for the rest of her days. I am a widowed man, Erik; I have confidence when I speak of this matter.”

“She insists on moving on, letting go of the past. How can I allow her to… love me, when I’ve murdered, stolen, even deceived her? What must I do?”

“Exactly as you said. Let her forgive and love you,” Nadir stated. His calm look was met with a sharp, incredulous one. “It is the chance of your lifetime, Erik. You ached for love and acceptance, though you would never fully admit it, and she is offering it all to you. It is time you let the wounds heal, for all of those memories you’ve kept to yourself to be set free, don’t you think?”

“She deserves more than a man she has to piece back together.”

“Maybe she does, but she chooses you as an adult woman that can fend and think for herself, after all.” Nadir sighed. “I’ve known you for a long time, Erik, and though we’ve had… considerable differences between us, I still consider you a friend and want what’s best for you. Mlle. Daaé and I can only help you if you’re willing to help yourself.”  

A heavy pause darkened the atmosphere as Nadir went silent in the wake of Erik’s soundless tears. Wiping them away harshly, he spoke again, though all traces of emotion were gone from his voice.

“We cannot stay in France, as I am still a wanted man and the risks are too great. I thought to take her to my London house, then sell anything that used to belong to Mother, for extra funds. I wish to be rid of them anyway and Christine will have all the money she could ever need to live off of should anything happen to me.”
“Very well. I’ve kept all of the things you gave me safely. Follow me.”

-

Ten minutes after, Erik had retrieved what he had initially come for. It was not much, mostly old jewels and documents, all fitting within a box that Nadir had graciously locked in a safe. Said Persian man led him and Christine, who had chatted calmly with the maid during their discussion, to the door. After the young woman bid him a polite goodbye with some words of thanks, she was the first to step out of the house. Standing at the doorway, the Daroga shook Erik’s hand and wished him luck, offering his help should he be needed some time.

“You know where my London house is, Nadir, should you require anything of me,” Erik said briefly. He let his voice drop so only the other man would hear his next words. “I am in your debt… my friend.”

He then left, Christine at his side, with no further words.

Chapter Text

They arrived to the hotel near sunset. Christine had eaten while chatting with Daphne, and it was a relief to know there would be no more interruptions; that was until she asked Erik if he himself had eaten at all through the day. She was thoroughly displeased with his truthful answer of no, which she showed with a shake of her head, and so she forced him to sit and wait for her in their room as she went to fetch food for him.

“Then,” she had said, her chin up. “we can speak about whatever you wish.”

True to her word, she accompanied him as he ate, even asking him to remove his wig as well. Though he denied her request, not once was her gentle manner gone, perhaps only a little disappointed by his refusal. After he finished, Christine insisting on moving away his remaining food herself, Erik cleared his throat before speaking. She listened intently as she swiftly went back to her seat across from him, simply leaving the tray on another surface until a hotel maid came to take it back.

“I own a house in the outskirts of London. I thought it wise to leave the country.”

Christine looked clearly upset by this. She spoke quietly before he said anything else.

“Am I to retire from the stage, then?”

“No, of course not,” he sprung out, appalled by the insinuation of that happening any time soon. “It’d be best to wait some time before you continue, yes, but I’m sure you could easily make your international debut at the London Opera.”

Her small smile came back. “I’m glad you think so.”

Erik paused for a moment to think of what to say, then continued. “If we take a ship tomorrow, we will reach England in about seven days. Christine, you don’t look well. Do you feel ill?”

“I’m fine,” she said immediately, her eyes fleeting from watching him to looking around the room.

“No, you’re not. What troubles you, my dear?”

She opened and closed her mouth several times, not managing to put her thoughts into words. Before he could ask her what was wrong once again she burst into tears, unable to hold back any more, having given up hopes of voicing her worries. Her sobs, muted just barely by her hands on her face, tore through him painfully. What have I done?

“Christine… is this because of what happened with the Daroga?”

“I…” she hiccupped, looking at him helplessly. “I can’t speak English! I can’t live in England if I can’t speak the language!”

He was stunned, lost for words for a long moment as he looked on helplessly at her sorrow.

“I do know how,” he offered carefully. She sniffled and looked at him; he could only hope his words would offer her some comfort. “I will teach you, during our travel, the very basics. You are a clever woman who already speaks two languages, and a quick learner above all. Don’t let yourself be tormented by -“

“It’s not just that,” she continued shakily, making him nod. “Yesterday, you mentioned that I looked troubled after leaving the train, just before we… argued. I’m worried, not just about you and me, but Madame Giry, my friend Meg, even Raoul. What if they think you’ve hurt me, like the man we met today? I have caused them great pain, no doubt of it, and I can’t bear the feeling that they think I might be in danger.”

Oh.

“The Girys know you are here, with me,” he said, though straining to hide his disdain at the mention of her ex-fiancé’s name. Her eyes went wide as she listened to him. “It had slipped my mind to tell you before, and I apologize for it; as you gathered your belongings at the Opera House, I left Antoinette - Madame Giry - a note. It is hidden in the place where I used to leave her salary for her assistance, somewhere out of anyone else’s reach since it is a hidden compartment only she and I have a key to.”

“So they know where we’re going? That I’m with you and safe?”

“In theory, if Giry found my note; they should very well be able to find us if they wish so. Though, I cannot say… in regards to your other friend.

Christine slowly stopped sniffling. She laughed despite herself after a little, once again wiping away the traces of her crying.

“I’m sorry.”

“Please, don’t.” He shifted slightly, unsure what to do with himself. Unable to meet her eyes, he continued. “I suppose such sudden changes would take a toll on your emotions.”

She didn’t know what to reply, and so that conversation ended awkwardly. They were silent for a minute, each one deep within their own thoughts. Glancing towards the balcony, Christine realized it was shy of being time to retire to bed, as they did have to wake early to board a train. Even so, she decided to wait for a little while longer; in fact, there was still something pending between them.

“Erik?”

“Yes?”

“What will you tell me about yourself for today?”
He sighed and murmured something among the lines of I nearly forgot. The woman waited patiently as he thought some more, but in the end he just asked her.

“Is there something you’d like to know about?”

She replied the first thing on her mind. “About what monsieur - Khan, was it? - said. Can you truly hypnotize others, with your voice?”

His jaw set, and he leaned back slightly. He looked her in the eye as he spoke. “You will not like my answer.”

“I am the one asking for it; even if it may be a bad thing, in the worst of cases I will simply have to learn to accept it and move on.”

He studied her silently before answering. “Very well,” he huffed. “It is a skill I developed as a child, along with my illusions. I perfected it during my time with gypsies, simply enchanting crowds during performances, but I eventually discovered I could bend people’s will to my bidding.”

His wording sent a chill down her spine. “How?” she asked anyway.

“Think of it as incredibly effective persuasion on most minds.”

“Have - have you -?” she stuttered. He didn’t wish to answer, yet he knew silence would be taken the wrong way.

“If I had done any harm to you this way, you would remember it.”

The Angel’s voice, she remembered suddenly. Of course, it was only a magic trick coming from behind her mirror, not an otherworldly occurrence as she had thought of it in her sheltered ignorance. Frustration swelled inside her against her will, and she stood quickly. Christine forcefully bid him goodnight and rushed away to her room.

Erik hung his head and made no attempt to stop her.

-

Angry tears fell before her as she hastily packed what she had, readying for travel all but her morning necessities for the next day. She didn’t know exactly who she was angry at – herself, for all the times she had insisted to believe her Angel was real, or Erik, for adopting the title and not letting her know the truth for years. It was as she looked at the wet, tiny stains on the dress she was holding that Christine truly realized all that Erik had insisted on ever since she came to his side. What was she doing here?

Her heart suddenly ached for Raoul, for the simplicity of him and those few months he had shared with her. Sweet, boyish Raoul, who was all light and warmth and so dear to her heart. Then, she thought of Erik - adoring, broken Erik, who was most fascinating and unknowingly kind when showed himself from within, something she suspected he had only ever tried to show her. Her distracted fingers slowly traced a pattern on a maroon dress he bought for her today, her gaze softening as she remembered the moment she came out of the dressing room while trying it on.

“What do you think, Erik?”

He had answered as she turned to a mirror, fixing a crease in her skirts she had noted just then.

“I doubt my opinions would be of much use to you.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you should know I always think you look beautiful, Christine.”

The saleswoman assisting her had cooed adoringly at his comment, but Erik didn’t seem to have heard or acknowledged it. She was sure she had continued blushing for the better part of the next thirty minutes, with him looking at her curiously as if he didn’t know why she was tinted pink, and she wouldn’t put it past him that he was truly unaware of it. As her tiny smile formed and the memory shed her sadness away, she finished putting everything in place and listened intently; he was moving around in the other room, very quietly as was his usual. Christine glanced at the door then. All the troubles were worth it for each of his rare, genuine smiles, for kissing him every day and having him look at her with so much love and disbelief every time; because no matter how many things happened between them, she simply couldn’t see herself without him, it seemed.

She left the bedroom and apologized for her sudden outburst; as he always did, Erik asked her not to apologize, even saying that he understood her reasons. Yes, it is worth it, she thought, as his face first turned from sad worry to relief at her lack of anger. Christine insisted on him holding her for a moment before leaving once more.

Chapter Text

They arrived to London fairly unrecognized. There had only been a few close calls, simple fleeting remarks of familiarity with the Opera incident from the Parisians aboard the ship, but nothing serious enough to concern further action. It had been an eventful week, however – along with the awkward moments that sharing one room entailed, they had had their arguments as Erik acted true on his promise of teaching Christine English before they arrived to England. She was a most attentive student, but she outright refused to engage in even the simplest conversations in order to practice.

On their penultimate day, Erik only spoke English to her from the moment she awoke. He had intended to keep it up all day to try and get her to leave the comfort of her other two languages behind, but that was only until she finally gave up after a few hours of broken phrases and hand gestures, with a crimson tint to her face from the mortifying ordeal. He only realized how soft of a teacher she had truly made him when he immediately dropped the act upon seeing her sadness, instead sighing and switching back to French as he asked her to please let herself practice pronunciation; she laughed quite a few times about the whole situation, in the end, and he was glad to see she took it humorously.

She was mostly silent as Erik got them through customs after stepping onto land – however, she had to hide her surprise at hearing he was a British citizen. It was a piece of data she had no knowledge of beforehand, but that fact got them into the country with no problems.

Christine was mesmerized by the beauty of the house upon their arrival, hours later, and even more by the time she stepped inside. It was evidently unkempt, what with the sheets covering the furniture and the coat of dust above it all, but still, the air of sophistication was not taken away from it. The downstairs had a kitchen, a dining room, a living room and, most wonderfully, an office space with a piano and what seemed like hundreds of books, lined over the walls in bookshelves. The floorboards creaked every now and then as she went up the stairs to the second floor, where she found three separate bedrooms, with an adjacent washroom for two of them; the first room seemed to be a guest bedroom, with simple décor, while the other two, one slightly bigger than the other, had more elaborate and elegant styles.  Much to her surprise, the last door down the hall was yet another bathroom, most likely for guests.

This was certainly not a home built for a single person.

Walking back to what she assumed to be the master bedroom, she frowned at the considerable lack of light as soon as she entered once more; while every other curtain on this floor was slightly parted to let some of the sun’s lighting in, this one’s was completely shut, even tied together. Christine stepped forward, reaching towards the knot keeping the window coverings unmoving and untied it with some difficulty. She huffed in annoyance as the years had made the cloth harder to pull back. Come on.

The curtain then gave way to her insistent struggling, and she, with much more ease, finally let the sunlight in, changing the room’s vibe instantly. As she turned her head around, inspecting, a glint caught her eye. It was coming from the few inches between the sheet covering the bed and the floor. She knelt down and carefully reached her hand towards it, grabbing a silver, square object from beneath the bed. She stood, swiping away any remnants of dust on her skirts, and turned it around.

It was a framed photograph, though the glass protecting it was shattered beyond repair and covered in the same dirt as the rest of this old house was. Wiping it quickly, careful not to cut herself, Christine realized it was a portrait of a couple. Albert & Sylvie, read a tiny note on the lower part. The woman was young, most likely just a few years older than Christine was, with a slightly sour look on her pretty, sharp face as she stood next to her husband, who sat on a chair and looked to be in his thirties at the time the portrait was taken. In direct contrast to his wife, he had a kind and less grim expression, with dark hair and eyes, oddly reminding her of Erik. Her finger traced the remaining glass. The woman’s defined features… the man’s jaw and eyes…

“Christine, what are you doing?”

She felt her blood run cold as a gasp was torn from her. It was a miracle she didn’t drop what she held in her hands in her terror. “Goodness, Erik! I am still not used to how quietly you seem to move around.”

He chose not to comment. “What is that you’re holding?”

“I found this under the bed after I pulled back the curtain, it was sparkling in the light so I had to see what it was -“

“Give it to me,” he choked out suddenly, having taken a step closer to her. His words only made her pull the item closer to herself, however.

“Why? Is something wrong?”

“I thought I had destroyed it last time I was here, but it seems I was terribly wrong. For the love of God, Christine, give it to me.”

“Not until you explain what’s got you so furious,” she stated. He strode forward, but instead of yanking it out of her hand, he simply turned it towards himself so he could see it clearly. In visible disgust, Erik continued as calmly as he could, reminding himself he was not angry at Christine.

“That is the horrible woman I am cursed to call Mother, with her late husband on their wedding day. You surely understand why I want this thing destroyed.”
Of course. She had been right to think that there was some resemblance between the man in the picture and the one beside her; they were father and son, after all. She was quiet in her understanding, before glancing at him calmly, then back at the picture. “You look like him.”

“I am certainly not in the mood for joking, Christine.”

“Neither am I, Erik. You do resemble your father. Did he ever tell you that?”

“No.” While not visibly angry anymore, he still tugged for the frame, which she finally let go of. He looked down at it as he spoke. “He died after a year of marriage, two months after they found out about my existence within Mother. After widowing, she went back to France, her home country.”

“Your father seems gentle, while she looks…”

“Like she’s smelling something rotten. She was a spoiled brat who never had to work for anything in her life and instead took from others – like she tried to do with this house, the only inheritance for me from my late father as was stated in his will. Now that I think of it, perhaps it’s part of the reason she hated me so.”

“What is?”

“This resemblance to him you mentioned. I once heard that she had wanted to name me after him, but after she gave birth…” He snickered. “Not only did she lose her beloved husband, but she was left with a child with only half his face.”

“I cannot even fathom to think how a person can be so cruel.”

“Such cruelty, Christine, is not something you truly think of unless you’ve experienced it firsthand. Though I know little of her life after I left, I’m sure she rejoiced when she realized I had run away from home.”

“Well, if she did,” It was she who spoke coldly now, gazing at the woman in the picture. “I hope she is being punished by God for the sins she committed against you. Never had I thought of hating a person I have never met.”

“Your soul is too good for hating, after all, so do not poison your heart with my experiences with her. What I’ve told you is not even remotely close to the worse things she ever did or said, anyway, but that is not a topic I will discuss now.”

“As you wish.” Ending the conversation, Christine rolled up the sleeves of her dress and, in one swift motion, tore off the white sheet covering the bed. A cloud of dust was immediately released into the air, making them both cough and sputter until the dust settled once again. Erik looked at her in bewilderment, his words slightly muffled by the hand covering his mouth and nose over the mask.

“Christine, what on earth? A warning beforehand wouldn’t have been too much trouble.”

“If we want to clean the house before nighttime,” she said confidently. “We’ll have to begin now.”

“But - “

“It will do us no good to stand around, and I definitely cannot tidy all of this by myself – I assume there is no issue with that. If we divide the rooms between us and clean the more critical ones first, we will be able to actually live here. If you’ll excuse me, I think I saw an apron in a drawer downstairs.”

He watched as she left the room. A low, amused smirk silently formed on his lips at his Christine’s antics – but he had a job to finish before being able to help her. Erik remembered the day he’d tossed the frame onto the floor, blind with rage at seeing the image of the one he most hated. Now, as he looked at it, he felt nothing in comparison to that time all those years ago; piece by piece, he pried off the remnants of the frame until the picture was free.

He ripped it down the middle into two pieces, holding them separately in each of his hands. The left half he tossed into the fireplace, where it would eventually be consumed by its flames whenever it was lit in the near future. The right piece, however, the one of the father he never got to meet, was placed atop the bed.

He’d find a new frame for it someday.

Chapter Text

By their second week in England, both had already grown comfortable with their living arrangement – Erik took the master bedroom while Christine moved into the second bedroom. Being unable to work as an actress for the time being, she made use of her time in whatever way she could; she made a passing remark of attending mass in the nearby church she had seen whenever they ventured outside, for this very reason. She had just recently started working on growing their own vegetables in a garden, aided by one of the seemingly endless quantity of books in the house, and was washing the dirt off her hands as she spoke about it to Erik.

“If it is what you want, you should attend,” he replied. “Your fame only extends significantly within France - for now - so being recognized should not be an issue.”
“Would you accompany me?” she added hopefully, but Erik looked up from the newspaper he was reading and at her, raising an eyebrow. He proceeded to fold it while he continued nonchalantly.

“I’ve had many disputes with faith, Christine. I find that being religious is not something I personally desire.”
“Alright,” she replied with a sigh, now drying her hands. “Would you at least walk with me there this Sunday?”

“It’s almost like you want to charm me into attending.”
She chuckled. “Of course not, I just… want you to at least consider it, that is all.”

“I do not see myself in a church.”

“I must admit that neither do I. It was foolish of me to bring this up, wasn’t it?”

“Not at all. It is only natural for you to want to share your beliefs with me.” He stood and motioned for her to follow him. “Come, I have a surprise for you.”

He instructed her to close her eyes when they reached the office door, just before he opened it. She complied quickly and a hand guided her lightly into the room before she felt him move away, and heard his voice.

“Stay there, do not open your eyes.”

Christine waited patiently. A quick sound made her head perk up, though she still was unseeing; a light laugh from him preceded a wonderful stream of more sounds that made her heart ache and burst at the same time. A joyful laugh escaped her as Erik played Elissa’s Think of Me aria. Her eyes finally opened as he played the final chords and she spoke as she came up behind him.

“You fixed it - you fixed the piano,” she marveled as soon as the song ended. He had previously said its state could be beyond his abilities, but she now suspects his words were simply to avoid spoiling the surprise. “Thank you. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed music.”

“Don’t thank me, as it is my pleasure,” he replied, his hands abandoning the keys in front of him.

Timidly, Christine stepped beside his seat and in front of the piano, feeling his piercing gaze as she slowly played a melody that she hummed along to softly. Though her playing was simple, it was hearing her voice again that made him feel weak beside her.

“That is the only song I can play,” she said, bashful, after her hand fell back to her side. “My talents have never included instruments.”

“A Swedish song, I suppose? I don’t believe I know that one.”

“Just a lullaby my father taught me. Violin was his forte, but he was… proficient at piano; he knew some songs, but not many.”

“I have missed your voice,” he braved quietly. She smiled sadly as she replied.

“I suppose I just have not had the will to sing lately.”
He frowned. “Now that I finally fixed the piano, perhaps it’s time to steal it back?”

“Perhaps,” she spoke again, glancing down at the keys in front of him. “Would you play for me, please? Whatever comes to mind.” 

That he did, but even as she closed her eyes and smiled just barely, Erik knew something was not right with her. She had immediately faltered at the prospect of singing, something that worried him right away. He improvised his playing, attempting to concentrate...

Christine jumped and opened her eyes when he played an odd chord suddenly, his hands jumping off the keys like they’d been burned by them.

“Erik?”

“It seems I am too unfocused,” he said calmly. “I apologize.”

With that, he simply stood and left the room.

-

In the end, he did walk her to church that Sunday, but still thoroughly refused entering and actually attending service. In fact, even though he had Christine at his side, just thinking of and seeing the amount of people there irritated him - thankfully, all the women and their husbands were too enthralled in their conversations to notice them, their children either running around playing or staying by their sides.

“Mass is normally an hour long,” Christine said to him quietly as they reached the gates together.

“I’ll be waiting for you here after. Is there anything you need from the market?”

“No, thank you. I’ll see you in an hour, then.”

The church bells began to ring, signaling the beginning of the service. She squeezed his hand before rushing off behind the rest of the people entering the building.

-

As promised, he stood by the church gates a few minutes before the hour. Erik didn’t have to wait long, as soon after the doors opened and out came the same obnoxious crowd of people he had seen beforehand. Men, women, children passed next to him, but he saw no sign of Christine as he quickly studied everyone leaving the place. Then, a little touch to his arm brought him to his senses, and his gaze snapped back to find her already standing in front of him.

“I’m sorry for the delay,” she greeted. “I stayed behind to pray for my father.”

“I understand. I’ve only been here for a few minutes, so there is no need for you to worry.”

Before she could continue, she noticed his attention wandered off to a group of women to their right, just a few feet next to the other side of the outer church gate they stood in front of. Just looking at them briefly as she had found her seat before mass, Christine could already tell they were the unpleasant kind of people to be around; they had whispered among themselves through the hour, casting unashamed, judging looks at more working-class-looking families also in attendance. Now, it seemed they were turning their chatter to her and Erik, as they frequently turned to them, even giggled lightly at times – she could only hope it was a coincidence, yet…

She laced their arms together and began walking them both away before they noticed Erik’s disdainful glare.

The women’s gossiping had been enough to give a sour turn to her companion’s mood as he remained eerily quiet during their walk home. By the time they had returned, it had turned into silent fury that had him fuming beside her; a family had passed beside them on the street and, though a shadow was cast over his face from his hat and the pleasant sun above them, a woman had noticed Erik’s mask and pulled the infant she carried closer to herself, moving towards the man Christine assumed to be her husband. Erik, of course, took notice and his previous annoyance slipped into anger; his step sped up just so as he took Christine with him.

He shut himself within the piano room without so much as a word, an aggressive and dark tune that sent chills down her spine being his only presence around the rest of the house. She spent the next hour in their backyard, reading a book distractedly until she could no longer hear the song product of his emotions – she supposed it meant Erik had already blown off some steam by himself and thought it wise to check in on him. Silently bracing herself, she went back inside and knocked on his door.

Chapter Text

She knocked twice, the familiar pattern she always used. There was no response, and so she did it again; silence was all she was met with. Christine pressed her head to the door softly, thinking perhaps he’d gone already - the light sound of paper being turned and the scratch of writing proved her wrong.

“Erik?”

No sound again and she let herself into the room. He was, as she had suspected, completely absorbed into his work, his back to her. She didn’t even get to speak before he straightened and half-glanced at her in what seemed like surprise. He calmly spoke to her.
“Forgive me, Christine, I didn’t hear you come in. Am I late for supper again?”

“No,” she replied, walking towards him, coming to stand to his right beside the piano. “I would’ve come fetch you like I always do.”

“I never wanted to cause you shame,” he said, suddenly, a hint of his blazing anger coming through his voice. Christine blinked in surprise – he knew what she wished to speak of, then.

“You have never made me feel embarrassed or ashamed. Surely you understand what kind of women they were.”

“I truly don’t.”

“I couldn’t understand much of what they were saying, but they chewed out other families all throughout service. Their chuckles and whispers never stopped.”

“Then what of the other woman?” He challenged, placing a hand on his face. “What of the way she clutched her child like I would swipe him away?”
“She doesn’t know you,” she reminded him. “Ignorance causes fear and she is ignorant to why you wear the mask.”

He huffed, and she sighed in return, speaking again. “Erik, something has been bothering you lately.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You’re going back to your old self slowly, have you not noticed? You keep me at arm’s length again and you play until even higher hours of the night.”

“I… wasn’t aware of that. It must be nothing, so you needn’t worry -“

“But I do,” she protested. “I don’t want you to shut yourself away again. All I ask is for you to trust me enough to tell what’s wrong. Was it something I did?”

“You’ve done me no wrong, dear. I am simply distracted by my compositions now that I have the instrument to truly refine them.”

“If it wasn’t me, then why won’t you let me kiss you?” She said it without thinking, and her cheeks reddened visibly as soon as she realized what had burst out of her mouth. His expression mirrored hers in confusion, but Christine went on after a second of shock. “You seem to always move away with an excuse or bid me goodnight from a distance, if I even see you before going to bed. It began a few days ago after… I refused to practice with you.”

“Christine,” he said, panicked, as her eyes suddenly filled with tears after trailing off.

“You’re like this because I don’t want to sing,” she accused. “Am I right, Erik? Is that why you’re so upset?”

“What? No, of course not. I would never -“

She was angrier and much more stubborn by the second as she looked at him, boldly interrupting. “What if I don’t ever sing again?”

Erik felt lightheaded, but he stood anyway. “You could never. You thrive with music as much as I do; it would kill you.”

“If a few weeks were enough for you to pull away… you would be gone the second I ever lost my voice.” The words hit him hard, and he was rendered speechless for a moment too long, his lack of response serving as a confirmation in her eyes. “I am not some instrument that plays to your liking, Erik!”  

Christine stormed off towards the door, but he was swift enough to block her path with his body. After she tried to reach behind him to open the door anyway, he also caught her wrist. He let go as soon as she began to struggle, but still didn’t let her through. Her breaths were weighted as she looked down and away from him, scowling.

“It is about your voice,” he finally relented. She huffed. “But not as you say, or what you think. I thought you had been wrong and that distancing myself from you would fix the problem.”

“What is that supposed to mean? What was I wrong about?”

“I thought you had been wrong about being alright with all of this, that… my presence had ruined the thought of singing for you, as it reminded you of the disaster I made at the Opera. I didn’t want your talent and your soul lost because of my mistakes - so I pulled away, tried to establish some neutral ground, thinking perhaps it’d grant some relief from your singing block.”

“Erik.” She sobbed openly now.

“I didn’t realize I was crawling back to the way I was before you and I did you more harm than good. I’m… sorry.”

“I was afraid I was losing you,” she hiccupped, her head down. “That you’d grown bored of me, that you’d be stolen away by another muse and I’d be left alone.”

He touched her face lightly and slowly, as he always did. ”You fret over the impossible, my dear.”

“You love my voice.”

“I saw mere potential when you were a girl and it was well into your adulthood that I realized I had finally submitted to the emotions of men. Now, I get to see the whole picture of you, and it is that which I love, Christine. Not the voice, but the woman who owns it.” She finally broke with a tiny smile, but he continued before she could muster a response. “You fear me even now.”

“Fear you?” Her head perked up in surprise.

“Now is the first time you’ve looked me in the eye today.”

She felt herself pale and wrenched her gaze away again. “I truly am not afraid of you, Erik. I haven’t been since the Phantom disappeared.”

“Then what changed, for you to be like this?”

The pressure of what she knew was crashing around her now as he mentioned her behavior. Perhaps it was the right time to say it, now that she’d been reassured nothing happened to warrant a negative response; he wouldn’t ever leave her. She needed to say it - he needed to hear it. Her head came to rest on his chest, right over where his heart was. It sped up at the contact, along with the deep, shaky breath that accompanied the arms that went to hold her in reflex.

“Erik, I love you.”

A gasp caught in his throat, sounding more like a choked breath, and his whole body tensed up as he pushed her slightly away by the shoulders. He had no words, but none were needed. She said it again, a laugh bubbling in her throat. Then, Christine reached up and placed her fingers underneath the white mask, feeling the scarred flesh. Again, she said it.

For the first time, it was he who crashed their lips together in a kiss.

 

Chapter Text

Christine held Erik for a long time, as he gasped and shook with sobs, equally clinging to her as she did him. It broke her heart, seeing him fall apart like this because of three words, but it went to show that he actually believed her; at least, she could only hope he had. Nonetheless, she was there, tearing up with him. He stepped back just so, though he couldn’t find the strength to let her go just yet.

“Christine, I…”

“I know,” she shushed him, grabbing his face between her hands. “I know.”

“No one has ever loved me before.”

“That was in the past; now you have me and I’m not going anywhere.”

“Oh, God,” he sobbed again, embracing her tightly enough for her to feel the rise and fall of his chest and shoulders as he breathed.  “I love you, Christine.”

“And I love you, Erik.”

-

It was with joint effort with which they both managed to calm down enough to form more coherent thought. Though they had both been quiet for a few minutes, their hearts only slowed as they separated from their embrace. Christine couldn’t help but laugh again, as she wiped her own tears with the back of her hand.

“I had no idea how much I needed to say that,” she spoke. “It was tearing me up inside and I had no clue about it; it felt so liberating.”

“Do you feel happy?”

She gave him one of her beloved grins. “I do now, much more than before. What about you, Erik? Are you happy?”

He thought long and hard about his answer. There had been an emotion living within him recently - it was giddy and overwhelming, even more so when his Christine was around, and it had baffled him from the moment it arrived. Right now, as his mind kept reeling back to what she had recently confessed, it was as if his heart was bursting with light that had never been there before. Being content, happy…

“I don’t know,” he replied truthfully. “I suppose so.”

Her joyous expression didn’t falter. “That is enough for me. Someday you’ll be sure.”

“You’ve already given me more than I could ever dream of receiving, Christine.”

“I give gladly, Erik. It was only time which I needed to reciprocate your feelings.”

“I will never take that for granted,” he swore quickly, kissing her fingers. “Had you not returned…”

“You’d be here, alone again,” she finished for him. His grimace made her, in turn, frown. “Well, then, where would you be? Do you have a home somewhere else?”

“Actually, I would have stayed in Paris, most likely.”

“You… There was a manhunt against you.”

“I know.”

She was speechless for a minute, with the heavy implication of his words falling atop her, nearly crushing her like not telling him about her feelings had almost done. “You would’ve let them find you so easily? They - they would have had you killed the moment you were found out.”

Again, silence, and Erik’s head bowed. She leaned back in disbelief; Christine felt sick as she realized he knew exactly of what she spoke and she covered her face in grief. Had she not come back…

“How could you?” she whispered. “Jag kan inte tro på det här. How dare you even think -“

“How could I?” he interrupted. For all of his knowledge, Erik didn’t understand what she had just said in her native language. “You were supposed to leave, to forget what had happened and to live happily for the rest of your life. As for me… what else could I have done? One of my careless tricks burnt down part of one of my greatest works, and you were gone for what I thought would be forever; I was shattered. It felt only natural for me to meet my end then and there, knowing that you were safe and free was enough for me.”

“Oh, God. Please, please don’t ever think your life is worth so little.”

“You gave me back my life,” he replied quietly. “You gave me purpose once more, that moment when you were back and you were real.”

“I shouldn’t have shunned you, from the beginning,” she replied suddenly. Guilt now filled her soul. “When I removed your mask without your permission just to cry and run away like a child.”

“You were curious, like many before you, and I made no attempt to control my temper. It is not your fault.”

“Still, I violated your trust,” She reached up again, touching the mask as she would his cheek. “I was so shallow as to not see through appearance and I can only feel shame at my reaction now.” Then her fingers were beneath the white material and her eyes held an unspoken question. With a nod of consent, she pulled it off along with his wig. Her hand came up to touch the thick-yet-sparse strands of hair atop his head.

“You’ve already done so much,” he choked out. “Simply by being the only one who accepts me like this.”

“It is not a mask which I love, Erik. If it were my way you’d never wear it.”

He could only smile; though it was barely there, she could see it was sincere and it pleased her greatly. With a deep breath, she continued speaking. “I was thinking… there’s still some time left before supper. Are you very busy?”

He had taken up an architectural job - though they didn’t need the money, according to him - which permitted him to work from home and simply turn in his design with Mr. Gale, the loud older man who acted as his boss stationed further into the city. His strict and impeccable work quickly earned him a spot of favor with his kind employer. In fact, he had met his most recent deadline just today and he answered her question pleasantly. “Not at all. I am not to receive a new work assignment until tomorrow or the day after.”

Her eyes immediately brightened. “Would you help me with my English, then? There is still so much for me to learn, I’ve been reading quite often and new words seem to be endless.”

“If you wish so,” he replied. A tentative hand caressed her cheek. “Christine…”

She knew that tone well now and she responded as she always did. “Of course.”

Lips pressed to the top of her head in a chaste kiss, a hand smoothing her curls while the other went to her shoulder and she relished the contact. With a smile, she laced their fingers together and led him towards their living room.

Chapter Text

Christine had never seen as much rain as she had in her time in England. While she wasn’t much of an outdoor person, the few days of sun she had seen this April made her eagerly await summer. However, the weather outside was quite enjoyable when she was in her current position; a book on her lap, sitting on the windowsill as the fireplace warmed the room, she felt at peace, more so after what happened the past Sunday and there was no weight bringing her down as her words had finally ran free. Were it not so early, she would have surely fallen asleep like this, lost in thought and utterly relaxed by the sounds of the shower outside. Her eyelids were beginning to feel heavy already, however…

“Dinner is ready, Christine.”

The open book that had been neglected for a few minutes now clattered to the floor as she jumped in her place. A smirk was the only answer to her flustered glare as she stood, bending to retrieve the novel and place it where she once was seated. She followed Erik into the kitchen, where she quickly set the table and let him help her sit before he served them both.

It was always she who began their conversations and this time was no different.

“Have you ever thought of how unusual our way of life is, Erik?”

He looked at her, an eyebrow raised. “We are hardly ever normal with me around, my dear.” He emphasized it with a slight touch to his uncovered flesh, since eating (which he did at least twice a day unlike before, now with a concerned woman fretting over his habits and set on changing them) with a mask on was either uncomfortable or impossible to do. It was all she could not to roll her eyes.

“You know what I mean, such as… meals like these,” she explained. He continued to look at her strangely. “Most men would rather starve than cook, with a woman around.”

“Why?”

She hummed. “It is the norm. Anyone else might think of a man cooking as degrading, dishonorable, even laughable. You always insist on cooking at least once a week, when you’re not busy - and you’re better at it than I am!”

He chuckled at the playful indignity with which she said it. “You do everything here already – there is no denying it. It does not bother me to help you this way and my pride isn’t frail enough to be scandalized by that notion. I guess the men who fit this… norm you mentioned always had someone at their beck and call to cater to them in one way or another. I had to learn for myself and I might as well put it to use.”

Ignoring the twinge of sadness that ran through her at his last words, she held his hand as it lay on the table. “You are rather unique in that way; I thought I was alone in thinking… that things don’t have to always be the way they are now.” He nodded, which made her pleasantly surprised that he even understood what she meant; he was a traditional man in every other aspect, and any mention of such opinions with any other man were immediately ridiculed. Even Madame Giry, a woman herself, would harshly chastise any girl she overheard questioning society as it stood.

“Such thoughts,” she said. “Are not for proper ladies. Ballerinas and actresses are already believed to be less than other women – do not give them reasons to reaffirm those beliefs.”

“It is a good thing to think of the future as opportunity for change. Unfortunately, as the world is now, many will doubt our sanities, so perhaps it isn’t wise to say so until another time altogether.”

She giggled before continuing. “I agree. Going back to the subject of meals, perhaps I could make some Swedish food for you sometime. I certainly miss it; it’s been so long since I’ve cooked it, since before coming to the Opera House for the first time, that it is quite a miracle I still have some recipes in mind...”

“Sweden is one of the few places I’ve never visited. The way you’ve spoken of it, I assume I am missing out on a wonderful place.”

She nodded and sighed dreamily, a haze coming to her eyes as she remembered her homeland. “It is strange to think about it after so many years, especially now that my Papa is gone, but I will always cherish it as my first home. I do love France and England is growing on me, but...”

“Nothing compares to where you were born,” he finished for her, kindly. She smiled. “Did you have a good childhood there, Christine?”

Her answer was without hesitation. “Of course. We may not have had much, but we made it work and we were very happy.”

“Then, how did you end up living in France?”

“Ah, it is a rather long story, Erik -“

“I’d like to know,” he said suddenly. She blinked. “If you wouldn’t mind telling me all of it.”

“No, of course not,” she reassured him. Her cheeks tinted pink. “My life is not the most interesting tale, that is all. I’m afraid it may not be what you expect.”

“I expect nothing,” he replied simply. “It is your tale.”

It was such a simple request which he had made, one that wouldn’t cost her anything to provide. In fact, perhaps it’d be beneficial for her to tell him about her life - a simple show of trust like her earlier confession, because she did trust him. Christine finally sighed.

“Very well, then. After dinner?”

“If you so desire.”

The rest of their meal was eaten in silence, though she held Erik’s hand perhaps a bit tighter, thinking of how exactly she would narrate her life. She supposed there was no need to breach into the years he was part of it, and so she was left with a childhood and teenage years to remember and put to words. Conversation between them flowed easily at this point in time, awkward silences slowly becoming less frequent, and Christine was glad for it.

She was certain this particular chat would be no exception.  

Chapter Text

I was born in Sweden, two years after my parents’ marriage. Being married quite young, with a job that required them to move about often, they waited until things settled before they did, too, with a child. My Papa was a violinist who met my mother, a singer, when they were both looking into a music festival for a job; they were placed together and thus began their friendship. They remained together long after that, finding that two musicians attracted a bigger crowd when they worked together as well as they did, before eventually falling in love. We were happy, all three of us, for six wonderful years.

Suddenly, Mother collapsed in the midst of a song they were practicing at home, even though she had been the picture of health the day before according to Papa. I don’t remember much about her after that incident, except that she died mere months after. I never found out what illness took her life; Father couldn’t speak of it without being hurt by her loss all over again and so I stopped asking soon enough. I only have few precious memories of her, sadly, but I knew I loved - still love - her dearly.  

Even though I was very young, I learned how to manage some household tasks to help him now that we were on our own. He worked hard to earn money as a musician, but without a singer many of those who had previously employed him began to let him go. During my seventh year, Papa realized I had inherited my mother’s talent for singing and he trained me with what he could remember of the basics she used. Part of the revenue both of my parents had seen came back when I joined him and, somehow, word of us reached all the way to France. Professor Valerius went personally to Sweden to see us – he said a former colleague, native to Sweden as we were, suggested he travel to us. He approached my father and offered us a place in his household in exchange for us being musical entertainment in the parties he and his wife held, along with a salary in francs.

Through the Valerius’ kindness, we arrived to France when I was eight. They did so much for us in exchange for so little - they educated me, taught us both French, and treated us like family. Two years into this agreement, Mamma Valerius - as she insisted I call her instead of Madame - became bedridden and the professor passed away, marking the end of their frequent reunions with others. Still, she took us in like she would a son and a granddaughter even though our musical services were not needed; if I recall correctly, it was around this time that Papa fell ill, just before I turned eleven-years-old. I now believe the deep sadness of losing his wife took a permanent toll on him, as his health hadn’t been the same since Mother passed away and he was vulnerable to the aftermath of the rough work and odd jobs he had taken every now and then. During that period, I could only see him once a day – they didn’t want me to have the risk of becoming sick as well.

It was Mamma who told me, before I went to visit him after one of my lessons, that my Papa had gone to Heaven. The day before that, when I saw him for the last time, he had spoken deliriously of the Angel of Music, of how much he would miss me and how much he missed my mother. I was innocent to how true his words were, as Mamma had explained to me before that sometimes, when he had a fever, he’d say nonsense and that I shouldn’t be afraid; it simply was that he was feeling poorly and couldn’t think of what he said. I… didn’t ever think he was truly saying goodbye, and I simply waved him off thinking I’d be able to see him the next day.

I was destroyed. I shut myself in my room for days, grieving, and became a difficult child to deal with; I encased myself in a shell away from anyone and begged Papa to come back. Mamma knew Madame Giry from the many times she and her husband had attended the Opera and she asked for her help to get me out of my bad state, and so it was Madame’s turn to take me in. I was trained in ballet, living at the Populaire with the other girls in the chorus.

Still, I felt hopeless. I knew I had started too old to ever be a principal dancer like the rest of the girls would be one day and when my voice matured I had no idea how to resume the singing I had carelessly abandoned without a proper teacher. This particular thought plagued me even more when Meg, my only friend, asked time and time again to hear me sing a solo, not just in the chorus where my voice mixed in with the others’. I finally gave in when I was fourteen and I was horrified by the sound. Though she clapped and cheered for me, I wept in earnest for hours. I held hope on my father’s promise and, in a moment of confusion, that night I prayed for him to send me the Angel he promised so I could make him proud.

I believe you know the rest of the story.

-

Christine wiped her tears with the back of her hand, having forgotten to bring a handkerchief. Glancing at Erik as he sat in his usual chair in their living room, only a few feet away, she couldn’t help but feel embarrassed at how unknowingly curious and intense his look was; his gaze was focused solely on her, head turned slightly as he had listened to her speak, nodding along occasionally. Christine gave a light laugh. “Excuse me, I tend to be… overemotional, when remembering some things.”

“Had I known it would make you cry, I wouldn’t have asked this of you,” he said, shifting, as he did whenever he felt guilt.

“Well, what’s done is done now, isn’t it? I truly do not mind, Erik, nor do I blame you for asking. I agreed to tell, after all.”

“I… thank you. It has been enlightening - I didn’t realize just how ignorant I was of many aspects of your life.”

She smiled sweetly. She stood and approached him slowly. “Perhaps it is best I retire now. I wish to tend to my garden when the rain lets up early tomorrow.”

He nodded and so she leaned down and kissed him goodnight, remaining there for a second longer than he was used to and made his head spin. She was nearly out the room when he sprung up from his seat and spoke without second thought.

“Tomorrow -“

She turned to him with intrigue. He exhaled shakily before continuing.

“Tomorrow, if you’d like… I could tell you about my own life.”

Her eyes went wide. “You mustn’t feel obligated to do as I did, Erik, really. I did so because you asked and I wished to do it.”

“You’ve asked me many times,” he replied, the pit in his stomach growing as he ignored it with a passion. “I think it is time I finally answered. You are the first person to…”

“Accept you,” she said, approaching him again. He felt a palm on his uncovered cheek and a weight on his mask as she held his face. “I know, and I truly do. If you’re sure, then I will listen to your story as you did mine.”

“I… trust you, I do.”

“Tomorrow night, then, so you will know if you’re still ready. If you change your mind, do not hesitate to say so. Do promise me that, Erik.”

“I promise.”

As he watched her walk away, Erik thought about what he had just said. This was a step he was going to take, he decided - better have her know what he’s lived and done now than dread it every day for the rest of their time together and poison what they had. Now… he feared to know if her unrelenting, kind compassion was enough for what he would tell.

Chapter Text

I’ve told you this before, but I never did meet my father. If I remember well, it was a hunting accident which killed him when his wife was five months with child. Grieving him, she moved back to her home country of France, leaving this house and everything in it behind. That is where I was born – in her moments of anger she used to say the midwife screamed as soon as she saw my face upon holding me. My mother didn’t understand at first, thinking I had been stillborn because of my silence; she cried out too when realizing her fate - and mine - was much worse as I was passed on to her. Had it not been for the priest who took pity on me and condemned all of my mother’s thoughts of ending my life as an infant, perhaps she would have gone through with it. Even so, she refused to have me baptized by him, to ever give me a real name; she had planned to name me after my own father, after all, but could never do so after looking at my face.

I only know of this because, during my childhood, she’d curse at me and say it again and again to make me understand I was unwanted and that life had been unfair on her to take away her husband and give her such a horrible child instead. Her sister, my aunt Marie, was the only one to make an effort to treat me kindly even though I can now tell she still felt disgusted by my face. In fact, it was she who named me Erik, though her pleading to my mother for her to finally baptize me, at least with that name which was unrelated to my father’s, always fell on deaf ears.

I asked my mother for a single kiss on one of my birthdays; exactly which I cannot recall, but I do know I couldn’t have been older than seven at the time. In exchange, I offered, I’d sing for her - she had never heard me do so and her sister had always loved my voice, so I assumed she would too. She struck me and forced my aunt to leave forever, since it was she who acted as my tutor for basic education and taught me what was expected of normal childhoods and celebrations. I left that same day, too, unable to handle once again her blatant rejection to what should be a simple request, with only the clothes and mask I wore. That was the last time I ever saw her.

-

Christine already had tears in her eyes. She could see the pain in his as she moved closer, holding his hand tightly. He glanced down after pausing, seeing his dark ring on her right hand. It gave him comfort along with her soft words.

“You can stop if you wish so.”

“Please, do not pity me,” he replied weakly.

“I do not. I simply know it’s hard to remember and seeing you hurt, hurts me as well.”

He sighed. “I think it’d be best to continue. For both our sakes, I must do this.”

-

I was found by travelling gypsies weeks after, when I was on the brink of starvation. They brought me to their boss, who laughed as soon as he forced my mask off. Locked in a cage, I became a part of their fair as they’d beat me, mask me, and unmask me continuously for the pleasure of their audience, living in worse conditions than the ones I had with my mother. However, I continued to train my own voice whenever I could muster the strength, and I reached heights I never knew possible. After perhaps four years as a show freak, the fair leader finally admitted I had talents that could earn him more money than The Devil’s Face ever would. I was young yet terrorizing and thrilling others with hypnosis and puppetry, earning a more dignified place for myself among them.

Another three years passed and the man I told you about, the boss, he… tried to cross a line, one day – I will leave it at that. He was the first man I ever killed, when I was barely out of childhood. He was drunk and I was lucky to be quick and light on my feet, and so I could slip out of his grasp and defend myself. No one ever knew I was guilty of his murder and I remained there until my teenage years, when I must have been about sixteen or so; then I met a Persian man sent by the Shah himself, having heard of my talents and thinking I’d make for an interesting architect and entertainer. It took some convincing, but I finally went with the Daroga – Nadir - to his country. There I remained for the next… six years, designing grand structures for the ruler and progressively more grotesque ways of providing the fun he desired from me… through blood of human beings. It was gruesome and I thoroughly disliked it, but I could not refuse without handing myself over to death. He was the reason I became numb to the capital sin, killing for his sick pleasure instead of for saving my integrity like I had done once before. He eventually grew bored, as he did with everything, and to ensure I would never serve anyone like I did he, he sent his troops against me, framing me for a crime punishable by execution. I escaped the country with help from the Daroga and fled here, to Britain, knowing full well I will never be able to set foot in Persia again.

A while later is when I heard of the contest to build the Paris Opera and I entered my own design, hidden by a pseudonym; it won and I was called to France to oversee its construction. That I did, adding a home and passages for myself with my own funds and efforts - the minimal help I needed was payed off into silence. The year it would be completed, I decided to visit my mother. She was already dead, an infected injury having claimed her life just weeks before I found her location in Rouen. All I did then was take this house into my possession and slip into the darkness of the Populaire. There I lived a longer part of my life, with only music as my companion.

-

“I only heard you, Christine, as a mere coincidence. I was taking one of the secret paths late at night, the one that so happened to run next to the chorus girls’ rooms, and your pleadings for an angel made me stop in my tracks. My heart ached for the first time in many years as your voice broke with tears.”

She nodded at his explanation, then added. “I thought I had dreamt it, at first, when I heard your voice. It was when you came back soon after, offering me what I wanted, that I finally realized you were real. I never thought I would be… held so dear by such a voice.”

“Christine…” he said meekly. “You were just a young girl in need of comfort when I first met you and you were perfect for me to train in anonymity. Never think, for one moment, that I felt back then what I feel now and that is why I approached you. Not once did I think of you… romantically, until you were a grown woman.”

“I never thought anything of that sort, Erik,” she uttered, taken aback by the implication of his last words. “You are not that kind of man.”

He sighed in slight relief, then froze as he saw the distracted, far-off look Christine had, her eyes studying the room around them. Dear God… what she must think of him now.  

Chapter Text

Christine didn't know what to say now; she had known of his mother's cruelty, of course, but the rest… She was shaken to her core, recalling every detail he'd told. She was not sure if anyone else, in his place, would've lived to tell.

So it was not just Piangi and Bouquet his hands had killed; no, it had all started with a gypsy man when he was but a boy. Then he killed so many more when he couldn't have been older than she was now, for a ruler equally as mad as the audiences his suffering had once amused. He had mentioned the line the gypsy man had crossed once before, and she could only pray with all her being that what she could infer from the full story wasn't what had nearly happened. Oh, what she couldn't bear to think of – Erik, a little boy, locked in a cage, beaten on the daily while being ridiculed by sick souls who paid for such twisted entertainment.

She had sworn to herself to be strong before he had begun speaking, and so she breathed deeply to maintain herself collected. He had not sounded willing to commit murder, when he had narrated his adolescence and subsequent years in Persia, yet at the Populaire…

"Why did you kill them?" she asked, shattering the silence. "Piangi and Buquet."

Erik glanced down and away, as he often did when he didn't want to meet her eyes. "I did not think of anything but myself in those moments. In fact… I hardly believe I was thinking at all. I only realized what I had done when it was far too late to turn back."

A shaky sigh was her answer. She was not used to speaking of murder as he was and, dearest God, she hoped she would never be, but she couldn't help but think: what could have been of him, had his father lived - had he been born with a face like anyone else's? His talent, his genius, both outstanding qualities not taken into account as soon as he was looked in the eye, all because half of his face was found to be unpleasant to look at.

"Christine," he said, and she turned to see him looking at her. He looked broken again, terribly so, and it reminded her of the night of Don Juan; she loathed to see that look in his eyes. "I don't know what to say. My actions have no excuse."

"You needn't say anything." She took his hand, extending hers slowly. "They're in the past now, and it is a good thing that you recognize them as bad. Most in your place would have given up long ago, but you haven't. Would you?"

"No, I could never… for you." His words weren't all-too clear, but his message was. Her characteristic soft smile came back.

"Then it truly does not change anything. Circumstance alone does not make your past crimes right, because they weren't, after all, but you recognize those misdeeds. Neither of us are excusing or forgetting your actions. I believe in forgiveness for the right heart; do you, Erik?"

"I don't know, Christine." Not the answer her hopeful soul had expected, but a truthful one nonetheless.

"You have finally let yourself become human, which shows you do have the right heart to find that forgiveness," she spoke tenderly. Her arms were now around him in a similar fashion. "I love you."

Those words, freely given to him whenever either one pleased, still felt surreal. "I love you," he echoed.

Christine separated from him, then continued. "What of your aunt, Erik?"
"I don't know. I never saw her again, and I suppose she must have perished quite a while ago – I can remember she used to be a sickly woman." She sighed and then he continued with a question of his own.

"I never did ask… what of Madame Valerius, Christine? Were you still in contact with her?"

Erik knew he had upset her as soon as her grip on his hand faltered and she looked down to her lap. "No. She passed away last year, two months after Il Muto."

He froze and managed to get an apology out, but she dismissed it immediately. "Please, don't worry about it. I mourned her for longer than she would have liked, already, and she prepared me thoroughly for her death. Mamma was elderly, bedridden, and never could stop missing Professor Valerius; it was only a matter of time. She left in her sleep, fortunately. It was hard at the time, but I have found peace with her passing."
"Did… did she know of your engagement?"

"When I last saw her, I was only in courtship. Mamma knew Raoul's family and he once accompanied me as I visited her, yet I wouldn't doubt that just with that single instance she knew his plan to marry me - she was incredibly perceptive. Though," the hint of a laugh came to her. "I cannot help but think she would have liked you; she would have surely given me an earful, had she learned of the way I ran to and away with you, but after that..."

He doubted it.

"Don't look so grim, Erik," she smiled. The strong, steady grip on his hand came back. "I truly mean it. She also had a talent to see through hard exteriors. Now I do wish things had been different and she could've met you."

Ah, if only things had been different indeed. Every passing minute with her made him regret his rash choices more than he did before. Perhaps if he had been destined to be a normal man, their story would have been one without any kind of fear and darkness. Perhaps then it would've been he beside her as she saw her Mamma for the last time, getting her blessing to continue their relationship.

"Thank you, for telling me what I was missing." Her eyes, so full of life and warmth, held no pity in them. He didn't answer, seeing as his words felt unnecessary and underwhelming. "I believe I should retire now, if there is nothing else you would like to speak of. Goodnight, Erik."

A kiss and she was gone, his mismatched eyes following her every move. The last hour had been draining, and there had been a hollowness in his chest all day before that, yet he found himself bursting with the need to create. This time, however, it was not music he yearned for, and he was sure of what he had been considering lately when pondering Christine and himself; what he had only wanted before to grasp at a sense of normality was now something he truly desired, more than anything.

If he begun now, he'd have the design by morning and what he desired in about a month. He went to his work room, grabbed paper, and began to sketch the night away.

Chapter Text

“Extraordinary as always, Mr. Lowell. I shall give these to the client for final confirmation and you’ll receive your due before the week’s end.” Ed Gale shook his hand, but spoke again before Erik went to leave. “Do indulge in a drink with me, sir. Out of all those I work with, you are the only one I haven’t had the pleasure to truly chat with - outside our craft, that is.”

Erik glanced at the clock; he had about an hour left before Christine would expect him back. With a slight sigh, he took off his cape, draping it over the back of a chair as he sat. The heavyset man in front of him grinned, showing the wrinkles that formed around his eyes, and poured him a drink. Erik felt himself being studied for a moment before the silence was broken again.

“If I may, who was it that taught you architecture? Your talent is unmatched by any other.”

“One could say I was self-trained, Mr. Gale. I learned through practice and books at a young age.”

The man hummed, taking a swig of his drink; Erik mirrored his movement lightly, though he didn’t particularly enjoy the kind of alcohol he was served. “You’re a man of extraordinary intellect, then. Terribly quiet, though.”

He was not fazed by the comment as Gale could be quite blunt with his truths. “I am not one for speaking often, sir.”

“It only adds to your mysterious ways,” he replied good-naturedly. “You said you were a Frenchman, didn’t you? I’ve heard Paris is a beautiful city. Would it be too much of an intrusion to ask why you’d move here, to London?”

What could he answer, without giving away too much? “I, ah, was looking for a place to settle. I’ve lived here on my own before and I find this country more appealing than France.”

“Are you not on your own, then, this time around? I don’t recall you ever mentioning a family.”

Erik hadn’t thought much of his wording, yet it seemed the older man could be as observant as he himself was. His boss laughed knowingly at his silence. “Come on, my friend, I’d like to know. Who is the lucky girl?”

He should’ve refused his offer and left when he had the chance – he found that speaking to Mr. Gale of matters such as these mortified him.

“She… was once my student,” he settled. “I am mainly a man of the arts, sir, and I trained her in singing. She decided to come with me when I wished to be rid of the monotony of Paris.”

“A wonderful woman she must be, to follow you in such a big change.”

“She is.”

“Do cherish her, then, as love like that comes only once in a lifetime.” He sighed, sadly, and Erik’s mind wandered back to what little he had heard of Gale before meeting him. He was widowed fairly recently. “Very well, then, I shan’t keep you from going home for much longer. It is my pleasure to work with you, Mr. Lowell - do send my regards to your lady.”

“I will. Thank you, sir.”

-

The carriage he had taken stopped at the church, as he always asked the driver to do. He handed said man his fare and tip, walking away after hearing the gruff thank you. Erik began to walk home, mostly ignoring his surroundings as he let himself go deep within his thoughts. Gale’s words resonated long after he had left the man’s office. Cherish her… did he not, already? Yet she always gave him so much…

A block before he arrived home, a young girl and her mother sat on a corner, surrounded by a modest post of flowers they had set up. He had never seen them before; they most likely changed locations every day, he realized, since their flower showcase closely resembled a cart. As he neared them, he recognized them as one of the small families that frequented Sunday service as Christine did.

“Flowers, mister?” The little girl called, jumping up from her place. The woman beside her smiled, evidently tired, as he stopped. The child gazed at him excitedly as he pointed out his choices, ignoring his mask altogether with the prospect of a customer. He may have handed her a bit too-many coins, but he left without speaking more than a few, short phrases.

-

Anxiety filled him as he entered their home, though he couldn’t understand why. He had given her such small gifts before - the only striking difference was that now he had to actually hand them to her directly, no mirrors between them. She was outside, which he noticed as he braved into the kitchen. In fact, he had arrived at the right moment, as she was now walking towards the house with her head down, distracted with removing the gloves she had bought especially for her gardening. The smile that broke through her features as she entered and saw him only added to his idiotic nerves.  

“Good afternoon, Erik,” Christine said in greeting, moving to wash her hands. “I was about to get started on making our supper.”

“I, ah…”

A fool, that’s what he was, or at least what he was making himself be at the moment. She turned to him fully as she finished rinsing her hands, and he finally showed clearly what it was that he held in his own. It was a bouquet of flowers, mostly light, beautiful colors he knew she’d like, with a single rose in the middle, all tied with ribbon as he had requested. He, rather gracelessly, extended them to her with one hand, the other behind his back as he straightened.

“Flowers,” he said lamely. “For you. I bought them for you.”

Christine noticed his stiffness, which she correctly attributed to his shyness about giving her a gift; she kept the fact that she knew to herself, however. She took the bouquet, gazing at him with bright green eyes and a smile, pink dusting her cheeks.  “You didn’t have to… thank you, dear. They are beautiful.”

Though he hadn’t said anything, he had noticed she was restless in their day-to-day; while not seemingly bored or low-spirited, he knew she’d much rather be working on a stage and not at home. She knew and understood why she couldn’t do so as of right now, but perhaps this gift would rid her of the routine they had established, just for today.

“I was thinking,” she said out loud, arranging the flowers into a vase with water; she hoped it would preserve them for longer. “That I’d like to continue my voice lessons after all. I feel like this time has served me to settle and feel better, but it’d be best to not put them off anymore.”

It was now he who perked up at her words, his previous awkwardness gone. “Of course.”

She laughed. Her thumb softly caressed the rose as she thought back to what she had said before. Dear. The word had flowed out of her so naturally, without a second thought until now. Christine looked at Erik - yes, he had definitely noticed it too, as he was idly looking at his own fingers, drumming lightly on the table with a thoughtful, covertly expression of awe. His head turned to her, catching her staring at him for a moment, and she snapped her gaze back to the flowers sheepishly.   

Christine thought she was long over excessive blushing and the fluttering of wings within her. 

Chapter Text

It was during their second singing lesson, the last one for the week after Christine decided she wished to continue, that the air between them began to turn sour. Now that she knew that Erik was nothing but human, she was no longer afraid to speak back every now and then, whenever she felt his instructions were perhaps too harshly or unreasonably strict. She sung beautifully, that she always did, but every now and then she’d slip, causing him to stop playing and correct her. For every mistake, the piece would begin again, so it would only play through to its end when she sung it perfectly.

“Emotion, Christine,” he said, hands coming off the keys after what couldn’t have been a full minute of song. She sighed, hiding her frustration. “The beauty of your voice does not shine when there is no passion behind it. Again.”

This time around, he didn’t stop her midway, seemingly pleased, and she finally finished this particular aria. Christine turned to him fully to see his reaction, a hint of dread filling her as she caught sight of his frown.

“Erik?”

“You did well,” he finally said. “Yet you must be more careful with your pronunciation. That particular word you had trouble with before, in the last line…”

One word. A single word. “Is that it?”

“Ah… do be careful not to slouch your shoulders, too. Your posture must be straight throughout the piece, as that can affect your voice in the long run.“

“I understand,” she replied. Erik observed her for a second.

“Is everything alright, Christine?”

“Yes.” She had lied immediately and he noticed so.

“If you’d like to stop for today now - “

She interrupted. “Would you consider my mistakes this week as critical?”

Silence, then - “There is no perfect singer, Christine.”

“What do you mean by that?”

He pursued his lips. “What I mean, is that you’ve been without constant practice for weeks, so no, I would not consider them critical.”

She sighed again, her face between her hands briefly. He continued to speak. “Consistency with your lessons again will get you back to where we were before. If you let self-doubt into your mind, it will eventually slip into your voice.”

“I know. I apologize, I should not have let my frustration out on you.”

“It is all but unjustified, my dear. Do… keep practicing, if you please, even when I am not with you. It could do you well to not have me point out your errors and instead notice them yourself.”

“Alright,” she replied once more. Part of her couldn’t believe the same man who was now cheering her up used to be her praise-less, distant Angel.

“Warm up beforehand. I will not permit any strain or unhealthy technique even when I am not there to supervise.” Never mind her last thought; they were very much one and the same every now and then. There was a sudden sound, floating into the room through the barely-open door. Exactly three knocks at the front door, followed by a pause, before repeating. Erik stood immediately, but didn’t walk out of the room at the sight of Christine’s raised, open palm.

“Stay,” she muttered. “I’ll go, just in case.”

They had no reason to think the worst – still, she disliked taking unnecessary chances, and regularly answered herself when he was home. She left the room with one last glance back and he focused on hearing, standing at the doorway. He easily recognized the weight of her footsteps in the silence and he went very still at the sound of the front door opening.

There was a muted thud, a sharp gasp from Christine, and he took off towards her as adrenaline coursed through him at potential danger.

The scene he was met with was not one he expected, at all. It was she, in the arms of another woman her height, pale yellow curls in stark contrast to Christine’s pinned-up brown ones. The odd sound had been caused by a suitcase the blonde girl carried, presumably dropped to the floor at the sight of her friend.

“But… how? Oh, Meg, I’ve missed you so! Madame!”

He froze and relaxed in equal measures at the sound of both names. Erik stood silently behind them, unwilling to interrupt.

“Mother found this address and…” Meg sniffled, holding Christine’s hands. “We had to come, we had to see if you were alright.”

“Of course I am - but where are my manners? Come in, please.” She motioned them both in, stopping to embrace Madame Giry quickly before shutting the front entrance. Meg went quiet and stood, nervous, as she saw Erik there. Antoinette, however, went straight towards him and they stared each other down.

“Madame,” he broke the silence. “This is… a surprise.”

“We didn’t wish to risk a warning beforehand.”

“Mother!” Meg hissed, clutching her case as Christine’s head turned in confusion, but Erik only smirked.

“Meg,” Giry countered easily. “I’m sure you and Christine have a lot to catch up on. Perhaps it’d be best if I spoke with… Erik, alone, before I join you two.”

Said man answered instead of her daughter. “If you wish so.”

“Yes,” Christine joined in, sensing the tension. “You both should take the living room, then. Meg and I can speak in my room.” She walked towards Erik on her way upstairs, her friend in tow; they shared a quiet, meaningful look - he nodded slightly and Christine took his hand briefly, squeezing it in comfort, before heading up. He led Madame Giry towards where they’d be sitting, waiting for her to do so before doing it himself.

There was another full minute of simply looking at each other, before…

“I’m sure you’re aware I don’t approve of this.”

He hummed. “I suspected as much. I can hardly blame you for it.”

She studied him briefly before glancing around the room and continuing. “There’s already talks for repairing the Populaire, back in Paris, since the fire’s damage could have been much worse than it really was. My daughter and I are working elsewhere as ballet instructors until the owners get everything as it was before, but at least they’ve promised us all our old jobs back, whenever it happens. We haven’t heard of La Carlotta, however; the rumor goes that she’s gone back to Italy.”

He didn’t reply and so she continued. “The girls are all on a month’s break at the academy, and so we decided to take the ship here. I was worried sick for Christine, Meg too, and I found the note you left for me. Now, I ask of you… what have you done to her?”

“She is not my prisoner, if that is what you think,” he said, letting some irritation tint his voice. “I’ve done her no harm.”

“I don’t believe it,” she replied, straightforward. “After all that happened, I have no reason to believe she is here by her own will.”

He told her everything. From the moment he dragged Christine to his lair, up to the moment they stepped into this same house. Antoinette was silent, listening intently, keeping her senses keen to any possible lie. She detected none, and she spoke after, her voice no more than a whisper.

“You do know he is looking for her, don’t you, Erik?”

Chapter Text

“I cannot believe we’re together again, Christine. I’ve missed you so much, it’s been nearly two months since I saw you last.” Meg took both her hands. “Look at you, with your hair pinned up - where is the girl I knew?”

Christine laughed heartily, blushing. “I am twenty, dear Meg; I cannot act like a child forever – and I actually like it this way, mind you. You’re only two years younger than I am, and there’ll come a time where you will do your hair up all the time, too!”

“None of that, please. Now turn around so I can get those out for you and I’ll be able to look at you.”

Rolling her eyes playfully, she turned her back to Meg, who reached up as she sat on the bed with her and slowly began to let Christine’s curls free. She continued speaking without stopping her actions. “You must tell me everything – don’t, actually, let’s wait for Mother to hear it too. Have you been alright?”

“Of course. What about you?”

“Would you believe me if I told you I am now a teacher?”

“Really?” Christine gushed in reply. She could see how happy her friend was.

“Well, I'm more of a teacher's assistant, but yes, really. Mother and I train girls in ballet - fortunately, I get the young, sweet girls while she trains the older ones by herself. I loved working at the Populaire, very much so, but since there is much to be done before it can reopen, this job fits me well I think.”

“More experience for your record,” she agreed. “You were always great at handling children.”

“Yes, and maybe this is the final push I need to become principal soloist!” Meg plucked out the last of the pins, combing Christine’s hair with her fingers to tidy it as she turned back to face her. “There, isn’t that much better?”

“Thank you, Meg.” She suddenly glanced at the briefcase at her side. “Oh! I should’ve asked, do you need a place to stay? Perhaps -“

“No, please, don’t worry about that. We’re already staying at an inn further into the city. In fact,” She slid it closer and between them, popping it open. Her next words were spoken as she turned it to face Christine. “These are all yours. I thought you might like them back from your room at the Opera, since you took so little before… you left. Everything else seemed of little importance.”

Inside the trunk was the picture of her father she kept with her in Paris and a small box of jewelry that had been a gift from Mamma. Beneath them was, folded neatly, her red scarf from childhood and a book of Swedish stories Erik - as the Angel - had once gifted her, a pink flower pressed and preserved within it. Tears came to her eyes as she picked up and set down each of the items on the bed, finding her old vocal scores at the very bottom. All such precious objects she had, much to her guilt and embarrassment, forgotten of after she only took her money and some clothes in their rush out of the city.

“Oh, Meg, this means the world to me… thank you,” she cried, causing her friend to embrace her. “Thank you so much.”

-

“The Vicomte has asked me and Meg many times about your whereabouts, though I’ve kept a façade of ignorance. At first, I thought it was incredibly strange since it was he who misled the police and closed the case, but then I realized he is looking for Christine himself. Perhaps he thought you’d see the police coming from a mile away and that you’d escape again.”

“The only reason I even left Paris was because Christine came back,” he said, pinching the bridge of his masked nose. He should have known De Chagny’s help would come at a cost. “I had no plans of escaping beforehand. Do not give me that look, Madame, I tell no lies. The fact we are here is for Christine’s safety.”

“How so?”

“Because, at first, we hid right there, beneath the Opera House, in case some fool thought her my accomplice and not a victim. She insisted on being with me thereafter no matter how much I attempted to convince her otherwise, and she successfully tipped off a policeman at a train station, convincing him I was her scarred-from-war husband and not the Opera Ghost he looked for. At that moment, she became, in the eyes of the law, a woman who purposely hid a wanted criminal should I be associated with the Phantom and she with me. Is that enough explanation, Antoinette?” He finished in irritation.

“What would you do, then, should said thing happen?” She asked. “Let us say they find out you’re both here, and you get caught.”

“That will not happen.”

“Then simply imagine it and enlighten me with an answer.”

“I would say that I’ve forced her to help me, conditioned her to say it is by free will,” Erik said evenly, disgusted by his own words. To think that not too long ago he could’ve actually done such a thing without a second thought… “I’d lie and take the blame at whatever cost, so long as she remains unharmed.”

She nodded gravely, before speaking again. “You love her.”

“Of course I do.”

“Does Christine love you?”

“She told me so about two weeks ago,” he replied weakly. “And… quite regularly after that.”

“Then it is safe to assume you’re officially courting. Though I rather dislike the idea of you two living alone,” Madame stated. He sighed.

“We have separate rooms, if that is what you’re implying. We are a couple as you say, but…” he hesitated. Should he tell her? He respected Madame Giry and knew Christine loved her. Maybe she’d appreciate if he asked her first; after all, she was the closest to a parent his Christine had left. She was looking at him with polite interest, raising an eyebrow, obviously expecting him to continue. “I plan to ask her to marry me.”

“Ah. As it went so well when you did so before.”

“Properly, this time,” he bit out. He didn’t take too kindly to being reminded of his mistakes, but he knew better than to lash out now, and so he let her words go. “She… listened to my story, Antoinette, and she didn’t feel pity or disgust at what I’ve seen and done, she simply tried to understand my reasons. Christine has done what no one else would ever have and I want for nothing more than to spend the rest of my days with her if she will have me as her husband.”

“I can see it,” she replied. “She has already changed you, Erik. If it suits you, I’d like to see for myself that she is as content with you as you seemingly are.”

He nodded briefly and she went on. “Meg and I leave for Paris in two more days, as our free time is limited and the trip is long. I’ll ask Christine myself if she wishes to go back with us when the right time comes. If she agrees, it is only fair that you do not follow or try to convince her against doing so, but if she chooses to stay… for what little it may mean to you, you’ll have my blessing to ask for her hand and I will not insist otherwise. Only that we are made aware of her well-being in the future, of course.”

A hand of ice gripped his heart but he spoke anyways. “Very well.”

 

 

Chapter Text

The Girys remained with them until after dinner, insisting on leaving for their hotel room before it got too dark. Christine got to speak with them both for hours, overjoyed to be seeing them again, ending with the suggestion that they walk around the nearby park the next day; they agreed immediately. Now that she was alone again, she went ahead and stood in front of Erik’s door, smoothing down the skirts of her dress quickly with one hand before knocking.  

She went in and shut the door behind herself as soon as he answered. Erik was sitting behind the desk he used for work, something she rarely ever saw - she often didn’t disturb him when she knew he was working on anything other than music. Even then, she was hesitant to step into the office lest she interrupt a bout of inspiration.

“I simply wanted to tell you that they’ve left now.” She bit her lip lightly. He was writing something down. “I noticed you didn’t come for dinner.”

“I thought I’d leave you alone with them - for their sake. I am not hungry, anyway.”

“Their visit was rather sudden, so I wished to ask you… what was it that Madame Giry meant when she said warning us beforehand was a risk?”

He stopped his work and finally glanced up at her fully. Her hair was down. She had always put her hair up ever since they left France, only ever permitting some curls to fall to her neck stylishly on certain days - and now he was gaping at her for more than a few moments too long like a fool instead of answering. The young woman definitely noticed, but remained awaiting his reply.

“What she meant,” he finally said.  “To put it bluntly, she thought we’d run away if we knew of their visit, Christine. Perhaps more accurately would be that I’d run away with you in tow.”

She sighed, upset. “I had thought about it. So it seems no one could ever believe I am here in my own free will.”

His mind wandered back to the Vicomte and Mme. Giry’s words. You do know he is looking for her, don’t you, Erik?

“Thank you for telling me.” Her words sent him back to the present. Her long hair bobbed around her as she moved her head slightly and she gasped, a hand coming up to touch a loose strand. “I completely forgot, I apologize…”

“No need,” he said softly. “You haven’t worn it like that in a long time, Christine.”

She smiled bashfully - did he really notice how she wore her hair? “Meg insisted that I put it down and I simply couldn’t deny her.”

Erik had to agree with little Giry, but he kept quiet. Neither tried to inquire what they had discussed alone with each of the women.

-

It was a bright, pleasant day as the three of them chatted as they strolled through the park. Christine loved this; her and the Girys, just like before, outside and carefree even if it was only for a few hours. She especially loved when Madame shed her strict persona in these private moments and became every bit as warm as her daughter.

“Well then,” Madame said. Her sly grin made her daughter’s eyes narrow. “Did Meg tell you she’s hiding a young man from me?”

Maman!” She blushed scarlet and Christine laughed.

“Oh, she tells me nothing of him, but a mother has her ways. Perhaps now with you here she’ll finally deign herself to admit it.”

Meg pouted, thinking hard. She threw her hands up in defeat, plopping down onto a bench they had neared. “Fine! I met him at the Masquerade Ball.”

“Is that all you’re going to tell us?” Christine teased after a moment.

“He was very insistent,” she giggled, swinging her legs as she sat. “Always kind, but I’ve run out of ways to say no to his advances, so of course I had to accept out of pure politeness. Do not give me that look, mother, I tell the truth.”

“Again, you do not fool me. I’ve heard the whispers of how ‘dreamy’ this gentleman is – even Sorelli seems to approve, and she can be as protective as a mother with all of you girls. If you are to be the wife of a Baron, have grace and composure when you sit, Marguerite Giry. Are you not a dancer?”

Meg stilled and visibly reddened again at the word ‘wife.’ Her voice dropped to a resigned whisper at her last phrase as she replied once more. “We are not even actually together in that way. I wasn’t going to tell you about him until we were... how did you even know I was speaking of Victor?”

“I’m truly happy for you, Meg,” Christine grinned again, looking down at her friend. “Oh! Speaking of men, Erik will be accompanying us home, since I told him that we’d be simply walking around here and he was heading to town anyway. I trust that is alright with you both?”

Antoinette and Meg looked at each other strangely and Christine frowned. Perhaps she should have told Erik otherwise…

“Christine,” Madame said evenly. From her pocket, she produced an envelope which she handed to her. Christine’s name was written neatly on it and it was sealed with a wax crest she was most familiar with. Raoul! “I wished to give you this, in private. Before you worry, know that he has not been made aware we are here - he trusted I’d see you sometime before he did, but we’ve kept quiet.”

“He is looking for me,” she replied. It was not a question. Madame nodded.

“I do not know what it is the Vicomte wrote. I only ask for you to read it and consider whatever he says. It is not too late for you to come back to Paris, to your old life; when we leave, you are more than welcome to join us.”

Christine glanced down at the letter in her hands. Oh, God, she didn’t want to leave, but how could she reassure Raoul without jeopardizing her newfound life? The older woman was looking at her directly.

“I appreciate your concern, but I am staying, Madame,” she said with what confidence she could muster. “I have no doubt of that. I am truly happy here, and - I love Erik. I understand it is hard to believe, but I wholeheartedly know I’ll never be as content with anyone else, not even Raoul.”

“She is telling the truth, mother,” Meg intervened quietly, after another shared look between the two women. Christine’s eyes widened. “Before she and I left for her room yesterday, I saw them as they passed each other. He looked troubled, but just holding Christine’s hand for a moment made it seem like he was suddenly grounded. That’s when I realized he truly is another man with her, since neither knew I noticed.”

The brown-haired girl blushed, and Meg continued lightheartedly. “Besides, whenever she mentioned him as we chatted, she’d grow as shy and pink as she is now. That speaks of real affection to me.”

“You can convince me, Christine,” Giry spoke, a sad look to her eyes. “But I suspect the Vicomte will not be at peace until he hears of your safety in your own words.”

“Then I’ll write to him!” Christine suddenly said, clutching the thin envelope to her chest. “I’ll read what he has to say and reply to him myself. Please, Madame, if I do, would you give the letter to him in my place?”

“What if he asks how I came to have such a letter?”

“Let him know you visited me, gave me the opportunity to come back to him with you,” she settled. With the right wording… “Yet I made you swear not to tell anyone of my and Erik’s whereabouts; I received and read his writing and wished to reply. He’d trust your judgment, I’m sure of it.”

Madame sighed and nodded in response. A dark figure approached the three of them steadily - the note was quickly hidden from view, safe in the pockets of Christine’s dress.

Chapter Text

Dearest Lotte,

I am to give this letter to Mme. Giry for safekeeping, hoping that someday she’ll give it to you. I am aware she knows where you are but it seems her loyalty - or fear, perhaps - to the ghost prevents her from answering my pleadings for her assistance in finding you. The least I could do was get the police off of any possible trail he left behind lest you suffer harm, standing between them and that criminal.

I deeply regret the weakness I showed that night, Christine. I thought I would be the one to save you from him, but it was you who got us both out of there - or so it seemed. I should not have trusted it would be that easy to escape with both our lives. You were terrified at that moment you gave me back your ring, it was clear as day, and now I understand that his words were meaningless and you gave up your freedom for my life anyway; I stayed behind like a fool instead of aiding you somehow. I am filled with disgust thinking of the way he took advantage of your kindness after you showed him compassion he is unworthy of. However it was that he did it, Lotte, know that you are not bound to him no matter what he may think or say to you.  

Rest assured that I am taking matters into my own hands and that I have not stopped searching for you. It is only a matter of time before I see you again, love, and this time we will move on together; somewhere far away, where he will never find or harm you again, I promise you that. Find a way to contact me, I beg of you, and I will make everything right again. Do not be afraid, Christine, for I love you and know you do too.

Yours,

Raoul.

-

She was crying by the end of the letter, her fingers touching over and over the way he’d signed his name. Her heart broke with every word at the confusion and pain she had caused him. ‘Do not be afraid, Christine, for I love you and know you do too,’ he had written, and never had she felt as terrible as she did at that moment. The sound of the piano downstairs comforted her and, strangely, also added to her guilt. She had become so used to the sound of the instrument, to being with Erik, that now that she was affronted with the reality of the one she left behind, it hurt her deeply. She should have known it wouldn’t be easy for him to understand.

Thankfully, she had fetched all she needed for her own letter beforehand and didn’t have to confront Erik just yet by going downstairs; Christine wanted to solve what happened between Raoul and herself all alone - but they had promised, hadn’t they? No secrets, no half-truths, and both had complied for the past few months. The last thing she wanted was to break his trust now that she had earned it.

-

Dear Raoul,

My heart is heavy as I write this letter for you. I know words aren’t enough to apologize for all the hurt I’ve caused you, but I can only hope you’ll understand and perhaps find some closure from this. He has done nothing to make me his prisoner, Raoul, in fact, quite the contrary. I cannot count the times he insisted I go back to you – the times I have refused to do so. I speak to you now as a free woman, and it was with this same liberty with which I chose to go with him that fateful night, with which I gave your ring back and ended our relationship.

Please know that I did not lie, for one second, when I said I loved you, as I still do, very much. But I knew, deep within me, that I wouldn’t ever be complete again without my Angel. He inspired me to take back control of my talents, he was there when I was no one to most. Even after, I would have been driven mad thinking of what could have happened to him had I not come back. Yes, I was afraid of him when I was at your side – but what most terrified and confused me of the Opera disaster was the fact that I couldn’t stop loving him through it all. I still do now, much more strongly and confidently since we’ve begun to leave the past behind.

You only ever saw hurt at his hand, and I understand this is hard, perhaps impossible, to believe. This is not me staying with him because I think I owe him for all he gave me as the Angel of Music. I came and stayed because I chose to, even, in hindsight, with the rashness that led to such a decision. I know it was the right one. I was scared, but not for my life or my freedom, but because of the importance of what I was doing, knowing that I would have to leave everyone and everything behind to be with him. I think of it as anything but a sacrifice, however, for I found my own happiness here. I love him, Raoul.

I have no right to ask anything of you anymore, but I wish for you to move on. Forget me if you must; please, do not let the memory of what we thought we had keep you from finding true love. It hurts me deeply to say, but had I become your bride, we would’ve eventually suffered very much, the both of us. Think of it, really think of it. Don’t let yourself be consumed by denial.

Thank you for what you did, with tipping off the police. It truly made a difference for us and I am nothing but grateful. Once again I insist that I am happy and safe here, you can ask Mme. Giry if you don’t believe my word. Ask her whatever you must to find your peace and I hope you’ll trust the both of us enough to call off this investigation you spoke of - I am in no need of saving and, for now, it is best that we remain as hidden as possible. Goodbye, Raoul.

Wishing you the best,

Christine D.

-

She cried herself to sleep that night for the first time in many, many years. This time, the music that drifted through the air from the office below, whether thunderous or sweet, offered her little comfort.

Chapter Text

"Raoul sent me a letter," she said. It was much too quick, but she had done it. "Madame Giry gave it to me and I've already written a response for him. Tonight, when the Girys leave, I'll give it to them so they deliver it in my place."

"What?" Erik replied, dropping the pen he held and smearing ink over his notes, making Christine wince slightly. He paid it no mind as he rose, coming around the desk to approach her. "What do you mean, he sent you a letter?"

Christine looked directly at him as he towered over her. "Yesterday, at the park, Madame told me everything that happened after we left. Raoul has been looking for us by his own means and knew we'd only ever confide in her with our location. So he wrote me a note and asked, finding that she wouldn't tell him anything, for her to deliver it to me herself."

He muttered something in a language that made no sense to her, hands running through his fake hair. "He knows where we are."

"What?" It was her turn to say it, incredulous. "No, of course not. Madame and Meg, they -"

"Christine!" he cut off impatiently. "If the Vicomte truly didn't know, then how is it he is so sure Antoinette would give you his writing?"

"Do you think they would betray us so easily?"

"Anyone could, especially if they knew the circumstances behind our escape like she does. Even if it wasn't them who told him, it would serve the same purpose. He'd give it to her and simply wait to be told they've travelled out of Paris. It takes little effort for a competent investigator to find out exactly where they've been."

"What's done is done," she said firmly. "I've opened it, read it, and I must respond. He'll know that I am fine and that I am not running back to him. Even Madame Giry has offered me, so many times, a place with them and back to Paris, like they know better than I do! I am sick of it and I will put an end to it."

"Send it, and what he may or may not know already will be confirmed anyway. Again, Christine, if he knows we met with the Girys, that they visited us, it will take no effort to find where they – we - travelled." Christine pulled out her own letter from her pocket, holding it in her hand as she argued back.

"He will read it and I've made myself completely clear- I am not in need of rescue and I do not want anyone looking for my location. Where he will not listen to Madame or Meg, he will listen to me."

"Antoinette saw you in person and she did not believe you, how could you possibly think -"

"I told him to ask her if he didn't believe my word, Erik. She has no reason to lie, quite the contrary, in fact. She wants me back with him like he does."

"No," he growled out. "Sending this through Madame will jeopardize everything we've both done to be here and I will not have it."

"I will not hurt Raoul for much longer!" She broke. "It's been two months, Erik, and he knows absolutely nothing about me. He thinks I'm your prisoner or your unwilling mistress, perhaps something worse than that. Sit in the shadows as you will, uncaring of anyone but us. I, however, will not keep him worried for my integrity and hurting forever."

"I cannot allow you -"

"Allow me? Åh, snälla!" she laughed bitterly. She was fuming as she spat out her final words, pointing directly at his chest with the envelope. "Whatever chance I have to right this is one I will not hesitate to take. I am not asking for your permission. I just wished to tell you beforehand; would you rather I had lied or kept the secret from you? I'm sending it either way and that is final. Excuse me."

-

During their last hours before leaving, Antoinette and Meg pretended not to notice the way in which Christine actively ignored Erik whenever he happened to be around them. Later, in the evening, the four of them were subjected to the most awkward cab ride of their life - the man had come along to give them a proper goodbye as well as help with whatever luggage they had, building suffocating tension in the confined space; Meg had sighed dramatically, in pure relief, as soon as they stepped out of it and onto the pier, earning a quick elbow jab from her mother. Seeing as they already had their tickets, they had about thirty minutes to spare before departing. Erik went to hand their things over to the young man who'd take them to the Girys' room on the ship, giving Madame enough time to look meaningfully at Christine and ask.

"I assume you will be staying then?"

"Yes, Madame," Christine replied. No matter how hardheaded that man can be. She handed the envelope to Meg, glancing between them both as she spoke. "Please, if you see him, give this to Raoul. I trust you will deliver it when possible."

"Do we tell him that you're in England?" Meg said, but Christine shook her head quickly, taking her hands.

"Not a single word, I beg you. I did my best to make my wellbeing clear in the letter. Hopefully it is enough for him. I apologize for any trouble he may have caused you."

They were back to mindless chatter once Erik was back, but that changed when they saw the people who began rushing around to board the ship.

"Well, then, Madame, mlle. Giry…" He said, tense. "Have a safe trip."

"Farewell, Erik." The older woman studied him briefly before sticking her hand out, which he shook. "It seems you did prove me wrong."

He made no comment, but dipped his head quickly at Meg as a goodbye, a polite movement she mirrored – neither felt sufficiently at ease with the other for a grander goodbye. He looked at Christine, not looking quite as incensed as he had the previous hours, but still cold in his words. "I will be waiting over there."

A nod from her, a flourish of cape as he turned, and he was gone.

"I'm going to miss you both," Christine finally said, tears stinging at her eyes. "I can only hope to see you again soon enough. Perhaps I can find a way to write you letters safely."

"Oh, Christine!" Meg cried, launching herself at her friend. They hugged each other close for a few seconds, making the blonde girl laugh despite her tears. "Let's try not to make a scene, but I will miss you so much, too!"

"Yes," Madame agreed quietly, a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "We will. Now come here, child."

They embraced in a manner that Christine could only describe as maternal. She was surprised to see a small, amused smile on her former tutor's face as soon as they parted.

"Take my advice, Christine. Arguments are normal - you must be prepared to let go of petty anger when it is time to do so, as should he."

She responded with a smile of her own, sheepish in nature as she flushed. She had thought hers was a most convincing act of normality, but nothing ever escaped the wise woman. Two more brief hugs and they were off, glancing back even as they went up the ramp towards the deck.

As Christine looked around, having waved and wept until they were too far away to see, she realized she wasn't the only one in the crowd crying as their goodbyes were said. It was a comforting thought. Pondering Madame's words again, she turned and walked towards where Erik was.

Chapter Text

Erik was once again in the music room, where he frequently holed up during nights. It was particularly common in times such as these, when he was deep in thought and unable to even consider the prospect of rest.

The carriage ride to the place the Girys would be departing from had been eerily quiet as both of them still felt angered by the previous night's quarrel; the two women with them had noticed but chose not to break the deafening silence. He had seen when Christine handed over that damnable letter – he acted unbothered, however, and couldn't find it in himself to argue further. Both furious, now silently sulking, he was shocked to see it was she who was currently taking longer to cool off, when it would normally be him in any other situation or time. They'd gone through their day with no 'good morning's or 'goodbye's, simply moving mechanically to fulfill their pre-set roles like nothing and everything were wrong at the same time, and he loathed it. Mirroring her, he simply ignored her presence whenever he could, but that had changed in their ride back home.

The air had no longer been plagued with horrible, thick tension. She hadn't said a word to him, still, but it was a far cry from the unspoken hostility that warned him to stay away at every moment like before. When they arrived, both simply went their separate ways – neither stormed off.

She had sent the letter and, though it annoyed him to admit, she had been right in the sense that the Vicomte would know the Girys had been in physical contact with them as soon as she had even opened what he wrote; Erik's ignorance to the existence of his message had stopped him from any protesting before it was too late. What's done is done.

The truth was that he had considered himself a beast - or at least half so - for so long that he barely regarded thinking about others the way she did. It had been part of what had confused him so much when he grew to care for her, all those years ago; it was the fact that he did, when he had stuck to only ever looking out for his own hide for so long. He couldn't care less for the Vicomte's feelings, but she was much unlike him in that regard. Besides the Daroga, there was no one else in the world who would so easily stand up to Erik; she was an equal to argue with, not someone he could - or wished - to intimidate to get his way.

It was very dangerous, the idea of having anyone know they'd given the Girys information of their location, and he wouldn't deny it. In the end, though, he decided it was best to swallow his pride and give her reason – Christine knew both women best, and they had been her surrogate mother and sister for nearly a decade. For all he knew, the Vicomte would actually listen and not come looking for them, or perhaps at least put off their search until he thought well about what she said. It was all Erik could think of instead of the worst case scenario.

He sighed, looking at the music sheets he had filled out already as he thought, sprawled in front of him. They had no particular order, all melodies he had managed to hear and put onto paper in hopes to find one that struck more inspiration and became something else. He began to focus on one that held potential…

-

It was just after midnight when he decided to rise from his place and retire. While not as late as other times when he had emerged from the room after being consumed by his need to create, he knew it'd be best to continue composing tomorrow when he wouldn't be risking disturbing Christine after such a hard day; not like he had any more notes to jot down, anyway. He was naturally quiet as he went for the stairs, but he stopped as he saw a light coming from the living room. Was Christine really awake at this hour? It was very unusual for her.

He froze at the archway that served as an entrance to said room.

She was there, a closed book on the table nearest to her, next to the candle that produced the illumination he had seen. She was laying across a chair as she usually did when she read, but she was curled into herself, eyes closed. Fast asleep, it seemed, as Erik approached and he was met with nothing but a gentle movement and a sigh. He glanced at the table - it was the book he had left in her room years ago, one of Swedish stories he had thought would remind her of home even in Paris. A pressed flower poked out from between its pages, showing that she had also kept that small gift even he had forgotten about. Wishful thinking… had she missed him through the day, too?

He couldn't leave her there, knowing the discomfort she'd be in when she awoke. Gathering all his courage, he extinguished the little flame, plunging them into darkness. Christine was light to carry as he gathered her into his arms, one supporting her back as the other went to the crook of her knees. He walked carefully, back to where he had previously been, and began the ascent to the second floor. Erik had to stop when he felt her stir again in the darkness, this time feeling her head move gently and closer to his neck, hands resting on his chest.

How he loved her, even when they were both so terribly difficult.

When he felt no more movement, he soldiered on, ignoring the heating of his face at holding her so close. His eyes had adjusted quickly to the dark and he saw the way she opened her own eyes, blinked, then closed them again.

"I dislike fighting," a soft, sleep-roughened voice said suddenly. He chuckled.

"I find that I can agree with that."

"Good. Let's never argue again."

He laughed once again as she settled against him. The door to her room was slightly opened and he pushed it with his foot. As gently as he could, Erik left her on the bed as she broke the comfortable silence.

"Goodnight, Erik."

"Goodnight, my Christine."

Chapter Text

Everything was back to the ordinary some weeks later. They lived together as they did before the argument and the Girys’ unexpected visit. Christine was now very close to turning back the effects of her lack of singing, once again fully confident and a shining star - she only wished she could share it with the world, though she loved the intimacy of music for them both. Erik, on the other hand, wished for nothing.

Actually, one thing. The very same thing that made him get caught by a downpour as he came home.

“Erik!” Christine cried out, as soon as he entered. He was utterly drenched, droplets of water sliding down his mask and his suit clinging to his skin. “I was worried sick; why did you not take an umbrella with you?”

“A… miscalculation,” he settled. “I thought I would be back before it was needed.”

She shook her head in exasperation, then she was gone. When she walked back to him, she had a dry towel in her hands, which she handed to him. Erik thanked her briefly, staring at it in thought for a moment. He sighed and took off his mask and wig, drying himself. He was thankful Christine made no comment about it.

It was after a full minute of them both standing by the fireplace in silence that she decided to speak. “You should go change.”

“I don’t need to. I’d rather -”

“Don’t need to?” she repeated, surprised. “But, Erik, you’ll catch your death; you’re soaked to the bone!”

“I don’t…” he trailed off. “I don’t ever get sick. It’s fine, Christine, I’ll simply dry by the fire as I work.”

She frowned. “Do you not get sick, or do you just ignore it?”

“I don’t get sick,” he said again, stubborn.

“Please, Erik. You’re no longer in that wretched basement all alone.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“That I wish you would not disregard your health so easily. I will not have you wearing those wet clothes for another minute. For goodness’ sake, just take them off!”

Silence. Heavy, very awkward silence. Christine immediately reddened, a shade of crimson he never thought anyone’s face could ever turn, and she looked away.

“I - I mean,” she stuttered. She suddenly felt incredibly small. “What I meant…”

“I know,” he said flatly. “I’ll change into some fresh clothes like you asked, then. I apologize for worrying you.”

She fell into the seat near her as soon as he left, face burrowed in her hands. She hadn’t meant for her words to sound so inappropriate, or to raise her voice like that. They weren’t married and she – both, really - had to keep a certain level of modesty, which was easy. As memories of certain kisses invaded her mind, however… Christine blushed once more and let out a slight squeak of embarrassment, thankful she didn’t have these fleeting thoughts when he was near.

-

There it was, taunting him. Erik had felt the little box’s weight in his vest pocket all the way home, keeping him oblivious to the rainfall around him, and even now that he had carefully put it on top of his bedside table up in his chambers. It had taken nearly a whole month to make, but here it was now - the ring he’d designed for his Christine. It was a pretty, intricate thing, tailored to what he knew of her tastes. He’d made sure to have it made with no expenses spared; made of white gold with a sapphire at its center, it had small diamonds framing the blue, bigger gem, though it was hardly bulky or too dazzling, meant to fit her personality as perfectly as it would her hand.

If she even accepted it, that is. That thought filled him with horrible fear every time he glanced at its small, velvet container. He’d gather his courage and attempt to ask soon enough; he knew they’d be the hardest words he’d ever have to say. The one question - and if he’d proved himself worthy enough for her - could either become or destroy his whole life. For now, he slipped the last part of his suit on and placed the box securely inside his pocket again.

-

Christine’s day was not a very good one. She had been in a bad mood before having to nearly force Erik to do better at taking care of himself, but it had progressively spiraled into something worse even if their day was like any other. He had done nothing wrong (other than being terribly obstinate over something she thought common sense,) neither had she, yet it seemed she was the opposite to how she was on the daily; on-edge, tired, and it all came down to the voice lesson of that afternoon.

One particular weary sigh made Erik hit a sharp, odd chord on the piano. He composed himself quickly, easily responding.

“Ah, Christine,” he said. “If you’re to be beat down by my critique there is no point in practicing. I intend to make you a world-star diva, not a spoiled-rotten one.”

“Of course,” she said meekly, rubbing her eyes. “Let’s resume this tomorrow – I’d quite like to be alone for some time.”

“As you wish. Should you need anything…”

He listened to her steps all the way until he also heard her door shut. He sighed and continued playing idly on his own.

In her room, Christine flopped gracelessly onto her bed, burying her face in her pillow. It was beyond her as to why her day had played out so badly for no reason.  It was in her best interests to remedy her foul mood, however, and she knew the simplest fix was some hours of quiet time to herself to boost her spirits back up; who was she to deny the comfort of her own sheets, knowing that Erik would be making dinner that night and she had no more obligations? She pulled herself up long enough to shrug out of her many layers of clothing and into her soft nightgown.

Christine was much more content in the evening.

 

Chapter Text

"This is horrible. Are you truly sure -"

"No, you're not dying, I'm certain of it." She sighed for what must have been the third time in the past hour. It was currently the day after he'd come home wet from the rain, and it had all begun with a simple but persistent cough. She'd paid no mind to it, like he did, but she had eventually gotten to ask him what was wrong when he stopped in the middle of playing the piano for her to sneeze multiple times in a row.

"You've caught a cold!" she had said, a smile cracking through at the deeply offended look cast her way. Erik shook his head adamantly.

"Nonsense. I do not get sick." Quirking an eyebrow, she strode to his side and pressed a hand to the uncovered side of his face.

"Tell me, then, why it is you're burning up if you're so sure you're not sick."

She grabbed his hand between both of her smaller ones, letting him feel how cool her own skin was in comparison to his. He'd only run out of arguments when he coughed again, this time sounding worse than what she'd heard before - though he tried to muffle it. Eventually, she got her way and sent him up to his own room to rest while she prepared something to help soothe his throat. Though the tea she made certainly helped him, he soon began to shiver as his fever began to settle in.

Christine found out, shortly after stepping out of his chambers to give him privacy to change into lighter clothes, that it was true that he was not sick as often as anyone else; he was handling it incredibly poorly, having very little energy and the high temperature making him strangely more talkative than usual. He now wore his sleeping clothes and a robe as he sat in bed with her on a chair beside him, and didn't even argue when she asked for the mask and wig to be taken off.

This was the situation they were currently in; his fever had kept insistent, though the damp towels she pressed on his bare forehead had cooled him off.

"It's nothing but the common cold," she reassured him once again. "I promise there is nothing lethal to it, Erik, and that you'll feel better as soon as your fever breaks."

"I dislike this," he groaned. She giggled in response. "I feel so… burdening, more than usual."

"You're never a burden, dear. The world will not collapse if you let yourself be taken care of for a change."

Again, he complained. "I don't think I've felt like this in decades. Since before I lived at the Opera, at the least."

"You would've caught pneumonia, or worse, in those damp basements if your body ever let itself get sick," she said. She suddenly took his free hand, observing it closely. His eyes narrowed at the smile that broke out.

"What is it?"

"You've gained weight." She said it so bluntly; had she not sounded so satisfied it could have been easily taken as an insult. "Your hands, they're not quite as bony as they were before."

"Is that… a good thing?"

"Considering how thin you looked, yes, it is. I do wish you'd rest more, though."

He huffed. Christine smiled even more at such uncharacteristic playfulness. Was it the fever, still, or was he allowing himself to be more relaxed around her?

"Daylight has changed me," he confessed. "How many times before have I been drenched and playing for hours in such a state, with no repercussion?"

"Oh, I'd rather not know. I'm glad you were not carrying any of your works with you, that would've been disastrous."

"I'd already turned it in two days ago. I had to fetch something before coming home."

Now it was her eyes that narrowed for a moment. Erik had told her that he had been stopped by Mr. Gale and unable to leave at his usual hour, not that he had an errand to run. She had to wonder again if it was the fever speaking for him; Christine chose not to comment, instead setting herself to ask if he mentioned whatever it was he had to fetch, after he recovered. Thankfully, it seemed they'd gotten through the worst of his illness already, as she now felt his temperature normalizing.

"I believe you should sleep, that might get rid of the last traces of your discomfort. I'll be downstairs, should you need something." She squeezed his hand and he simply nodded, sinking back onto his bed begrudgingly.

Christine leaned slightly against the door behind her as soon as she exit the room. Seeing Erik sick reminded her of the last time she'd nursed someone back to health, about a decade before; if only her Papa saw her now – he'd once joked that, had she not dreamed of the stage from such an early age, she would have been a wonderful nurse, seeing as she loved taking care of those around her. It was a trait that had survived into her adulthood, and she was glad for it.

It would always bring her joy to help the one dearest to her heart.

There was a drizzle outside, she noticed, as she looked through the kitchen window and into the yard. The raindrops fell onto the glass rhythmically and it was in moments such as these where she didn't miss Paris as much as she thought she would. It was a quiet, comforting life so far; with its share of difficulties, still, especially the circumstances that had tied her so strongly to the man upstairs.

She saw something outside. It had been brief, a flash of gray darting towards the house from the outer part of the yard. She squinted her eyes, scanning through the space in search of what it had been; glancing at the meal boiling near her, she took the umbrella next to the door that led to the outside and braved the rain to look for the mysterious thing she'd seen.

Christine didn't need to look far. To her right, curled in upon itself in the little shelter the roof provided, was the most beautiful cat she had ever seen; it was a smoky-gray, fluffy little thing. A tiny noise escaped her lips, intending to grab its attention, and it worked. The kitten looked at her with curiosity, but stayed put. She went back inside and grabbed bits of food and a dry cloth.

When she next entered her home, she had the quivering blue-eyed animal in her arms.

Chapter Text

True to Christine’s word, Erik was up and recovered the next day. The ring went with him everywhere - to Mr. Gale’s office to explain why he had been missing for a full day, to the market, to the flower shop (as he felt rather guilty about keeping Christine fussing over him all those hours he was ill), and back home. He felt as if the box would soon burn a hole through his pocket even though he had received it merely two days ago.

As always, his love grinned when he handed her the flowers. Tonight. He needed to ask her tonight.

-

Christine hushed the meowing animal when she entered the guest bedroom. The gray kitten looked so much better than the day before; she had, during her free time, tended to it, trimming and brushing its fur to the best of her ability. The cat – a she, Christine had discovered - had an adorable flat-looking face and piercing blue eyes that gave her a regal look.

The young woman was afraid to tell Erik; she knew he wouldn’t simply throw it back out onto the streets, yet she hesitated because she had noticed a limp as the cat moved around. What most worried her was that she had seen no injuries – nothing she could disinfect and bandage or just about any sign of ailment. There was the possibility that it was nothing, but… she remembered how sadly Erik recalled losing his previous cat. Would she truly risk causing them both pain?     

She was chirping at Christine again, demanding the food she had in her hands. She chuckled and left it where she usually did, on the floor, scratching behind the animal’s ears before running her hand all the way through her tail. Christine sighed. She knew she’d have to tell Erik eventually, as she had been very lucky with how quiet and obedient the cat was most of the time and that surely wouldn’t last for long, with how comfortable she was growing to her surroundings by the hour. Maybe he’d be able to determine why the cat’s front paw seemed to ail it and whether or not she’d recover. Tonight. She’d tell him tonight.

-

According to what little plan Erik had, everything was going right. Christine’s spirits had lifted considerably during their lesson, as she was now as effortless in her singing as she’d been months ago. She hit beautiful, healthy highs and reached full lows with passion, as though she were still on-stage and less than a day had passed since she last acted. She chatted happily at the dinner table, but his mind seemed to betray him and wander away from her words.

“Erik?”

“…Yes?”

“I asked if you were alright. You seem… distracted.”

“Of course,” he said. “I’m simply thinking.”

“About what?” It begins now.

“If you’d accept to go out with me, after we finish our meal.” She looked at him, brow furrowed in confusion.

“But, Erik, it’s quite late,” she protested lightly. He said nothing, which made her somewhat suspicious. She agreed anyway when he asked again, though he still didn’t explain his intentions as to going out at this hour. He didn’t even say where they’d be going.

Christine put on her coat and exit her room, then checked on the cat one last time. Opening the door just so, she peered into the room to see her asleep on the bed, stretched out comfortably over the blanket Christine had placed for her on the otherwise empty bed. She smiled and shut the door, moving quickly back downstairs where Erik waited patiently for her at the entrance.

There was very little light outside, some of it reflecting on Erik’s stark white mask as they walked. He was taking her in an entirely new direction she’d never been in, sometimes through shadowy places that made her move closer to him subconsciously.

“You’re safe, my dear,” he told her. “It is not very far.”

He was taking her to another park she’d never visited, she realized. She could only imagine how it looked during daytime, as now it was completely empty except for the two of them. Together they sat on a bench, her fingers laced through his lightly, and she looked all around them.

“Why have you brought us here?” She asked. In the dark, a yellow eye landed on her as it came down from looking at the sky. A silent gazing was the answer she got and she decided to look upwards as well - how fitting, she thought, for us both to be admiring the beauty of the night sky. Christine just so happened to lean closer to his side as she studied the sky in fascination, and the intimacy of the moment broke him.

“When I lived here on my own, in a flat nearby, I came here on nights where I had no inspiration,” he began. The woman beside him gazed at him in interest as he spoke. “I simply sat and looked all around in silence, jealous of those who could stand in the place I was, beneath the sun instead of the moon, with no shame. It turned into a habit, until eventually one day I understood the freedom there is in darkness and I embraced it.”

“How can one live free, in the dark?” Christine replied.

“You’re liberated from the ones in the light,” he replied simply. He gazed at the single streetlamp that had been lit where the park reached its edge. “You and I could burst out and perform a whole opera right here, right now. We are by ourselves, with no one’s pleasures to think of but ours. If we did so during the day, we’d be another case of insanity for the doctors’ books.”

She laughed, covering her mouth with one hand, before smiling sadly. “I think it’d be rather lonely to live in shadows as if one were nothing but part of them.”

“It is.” It was a confirmation taken from experience. “I now know that. That is why I brought you here, Christine, because you are light; you’ve created balance so neither sun nor moon are overwhelming.”

She stood suddenly, pulling him with her by the hand as she guided him to a more open plain of grass where trees didn’t spot their view of the sky. They remained there, closer than they could ever be in public, and now she understood too; for so long she’d been afraid of night as he had been of day, polar opposites, but here they stood now in the middle. She let shadows love her as he let sunlight warm him to her. As she had done so frequently during their first days together, she thought of what the Christine of last year would have thought if faced with the possibility of ever being so in love with the Phantom himself. She closed her eyes - this was her reality.

“Christine…” Erik’s voice trembled. Once again she turned towards him, about to ask him what was wrong, but his hands now held both of hers, silently studying them. She was stunned into further silence when he reached into his pocket with one hand, retrieving a small, dark box. Her eyes had already adjusted to the darkness, but she thought perhaps her eyes were playing tricks on her as she thought of what it could be.

Shaky fingers opened said container and her breath hitched.

“Christine,” he said again. Now he dropped to one knee before her, head bowed slightly. “You’ve given me all I thought I would only ever dream about. Love, understanding, reason of living - all when I believed I was cursed to be alone forever, to have ruined my one chance to be by your side with violence and jealousy. It was your kindness and compassion that built me from ruins I could’ve never fixed by myself. I lay my life down at your feet tonight, and ask you to be my wife.”

The moment of silence that followed was the longest he had ever lived. A hand came down to touch his chin, pulling his head up to look her in the eyes. She was crying and he felt himself tense with fear, but then she started nodding frantically, covering her face with her hands.

“Yes,” he heard her whisper. “Yes.”

Erik immediately rose and held her tightly, face buried in her neck and his arms circled tightly around her, afraid she would suddenly disappear. His right hand still had the box clutched within his palm and behind Christine’s back as they embraced. When they could wrench away from their hug, she immediately raised her left hand and he slid the ring on her finger. It was during the long kiss that followed that he felt himself relax and, curse his weakness, weep as she now did. He cried in earnest when he felt the cold metal of the ring on his sensitive cheek, as she slipped beneath the mask to caress his scarred half.

In that moment, he felt nothing but joy.

Chapter Text

With both their happy hazes on the way home and throughout the next day, Christine had put off telling Erik - her fiancé! - about the little secret she was hiding in the spare bedroom. She’d fed her, of course, but her mind was so entranced by the new ring adorning her finger - the onyx one that had once been on her right hand now safe in her jewelry box - that she was very distracted, to the point where she had sat with the cat for a few minutes before rushing downstairs at the urgent whistle of the kettle she’d completely forgotten about.

When she stepped into the office to offer Erik the cup she’d made for him, she nearly dropped it in shock. He was currently directly looking at the small ball of fur she’d taken in, silent and still, as the cat sat atop his piano right in front of him, swishing her tail back and forth with her head cocked to the side in curiosity. Christine gasped, realizing she had not shut the door behind herself all the way when she had hurried to the kitchen, and the small animal had managed to wander downstairs and into Erik’s office. She panicked and left the tea on the first clear surface she stumbled upon and gathered the cat into her arms.

It was he who spoke first, after an awkward pause.

“Is… it yours?”

“I took her in, from the rain, when you were ill,” she confessed. Erik looked towards them both. “I intended to tell you last night that I’d kept her these past days, but then…” You asked me to marry you.

“I see,” he said simply. He eyed the cat, comfortable and purring in Christine’s hold. “She’s very trusting for a stray.”

She frowned lightly, letting the kitten down to the floor, where she happily strutted around the room. “Is that a bad thing?”
“It means she’s used to people, and she seems to be from a rather beautiful breed, definitely not born on the streets.” He hummed as he studied the animal. “She limps.”

“I have no idea what is causing it. She seems perfect other than being rather… small.”

“If I were to guess, she’s certainly a fine Persian, much like the ones the Shah adored.” Erik stood and lifted the cat, nonchalantly looking at her as she meowed indignantly, squirming some. “She can’t be older than a few months, though.”

“Does that mean she’s lost, then? Perhaps one of the neighbors -“

“No,” he disagreed immediately. “She would have a collar around her neck, or some kind of sign that she’s got an owner. I believe she was the runt of her litter, as that would explain her size and perhaps her limp. It could also explain why she was out on the streets; she was kicked out as soon as she could be independent from her mother for that same reason, as she would have been undesirable for any potential new owners.”

“Poor thing!” Christine said. She suddenly grew nervous. “I’d like to keep her, if that’s alright with you.”

He thought deeply, once again placing the cat on the floor. She sat, looking at him as if she knew what he was pondering at the moment. In the end, he sighed and nodded.

“She seems like she already trusts you, anyway.”

“Thank you, Erik.” Christine’s eyes sparkled. She then spoke idly to the kitten as it limped about. “What are we to name you…?”

“Sasha,” he suggested. She looked at him in surprise, but he waved her off and sat back on the piano bench. “It is a name I considered for my Ayesha.”

She smiled. “Sasha it is, then.”

-

“Good morning.”

Christine jumped a little, startled. She had just stood from praying for her father after mass, like she did every now-and-then to speak to him like she would at his grave, when a female voice had scared her out of her headspace. She gave a glance to her right and found the origin of said voice. It was a woman, not much older than she herself was, with striking red hair and brown eyes. She gave a small laugh at Christine’s surprise.

“Do excuse me, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I just noticed you so happen to live just a house or two before mine and I’ve never introduced myself.” She stuck her hand out politely, with a smile. “My name is Alice Scott.”

“Christine Daaé,” she introduced herself. Alice’s eyes suddenly sparked with interest.

“Is that a French accent I hear, miss Daaé?”

She blushed. “I moved here from Paris, miss Scott, but I am Swedish.” She suddenly glanced at Alice’s left hand and saw a wedding band on her finger.

“Mrs. Scott,” Christine corrected herself, after a long moment of remembering the appropriate title. “Forgive me, my English is not very good still.”

She waved her off good-naturedly. “You’re perfectly understood, miss, don’t worry about it. I should be apologizing, as I’ve been, quite unfortunately, much too forward with you, but I thought you and I could both use some company. My husband is not… a very religious man, you see.”

“I come here alone, too,” the other woman replied. They chatted for a few minutes of rather unimportant things, but then she looked towards the outside of the church through the open door – just in time to see a familiar cloaked figure approach the gate. “I’m sorry, but I must go now. It was… lovely meeting you, Mrs. Scott.”

Alice kindly bid her farewell, saying she hoped to speak with her next Sunday as well. Her curious gaze followed Christine all the way until she exit the building and linked arms with a masked stranger.  

-

Erik listened intently as Christine spoke of the woman she’d met just now. He was, as always, wary of meeting new people, but was even more wary of discouraging her from making friends. While he was content with just her, their music, and the occasional chat with Mr. Gale, he knew better than to assume she’d be happy as well with just himself. So long as she was careful - and he told her so. Her reply was cheerful, excited in a way he couldn’t understand.

“It seems we’re finally settling down, Erik.” Her eyes suddenly widened, gazing to her right, where they’d turn if heading to the shops more into the city. “I nearly forgot! Do you mind if we stop to buy something?”

“Not at all,” he replied.

Christine made him stay behind, back turned, as she went into one of the shops (which, she wouldn’t say) and promised she would only need about fifteen minutes. As he waited idly, glancing at the people around him from beneath his hat, he felt the urge to turn around and seek whatever place Christine had gone into. He’d given his word, though, and so he stayed still - the only amusement he got was the occasional cold stare at anyone who rudely bumped into him.

A voice rang out over the noise and he shifted his gaze to a small boy, standing on the edge of the sidewalk, as he narrated current news. He froze in shock at what he heard next coming from the child.

“Madman of Paris found dead!” he cried. “The search for the mythical ghost of the Opera has ended!”

Erik numbly bought the paper - a different one from the one he was used to reading, he realized - and quickly searched for the article he desired as he walked back to his spot, finding it in the very middle of the pages. It was true, exactly as the newsboy had announced; the Paris police force had found a corpse or, more accurately, a skeleton in the lowest basements, which they quickly associated to be the Phantom they’d been looking for.

As he kept reading, he couldn’t help but wonder exactly who it was they’d found. He was never desperate enough to murder for twisted fun - as if he’d ever keep anyone so near his lair, to begin with! – but knew how treacherous those passages could be if one didn’t know their way around; he could only assume someone, maybe one of the drunkards who somehow secured a job backstage, had wandered in and gotten so lost even Erik hadn’t found him before his escape months ago. Yes, it made sense, for it was reported that it had been the last, most thorough search of the lowest floors of the Populaire in hopes of finding him, and the only one to ever actually find something.

He flinched slightly when a hand touched his arm. It was Christine, who was now looking at him in confusion as she slipped the bag with her money into her pocket, holding a small box within her hands.

“Let’s go home,” he managed, with a reassuring pat to her hand. Christine frowned but nodded nonetheless - he didn’t even make a fuss about paying her back whatever she tried to spend of her own funds, and that had never happened before. There was suddenly a pit to her stomach as her letter to Raoul came to mind.

Chapter Text

When they got home, she immediately led him to their living room. Christine sat down, placing her small box at her side, and Sasha jumped onto her lap, purring and rubbing against her hand; she complied with a little chuckle, scratching behind the cat's ears. She waited patiently for Erik to explain what had happened as he settled beside her and she allowed Sasha to nibble at her fingers.

"Look here, Christine," he said, quietly, pointing at the article he'd read. She took the newspaper from his hands and started looking over it. Her eyes went wide and she finally gasped as she finished reading. There was a silent, hard question on her face, but he shook his head. "I give you my word that I was not that man's killer. I never went into the lowest cellars, he must've taken one of the passages and died of dehydration a long time ago."

"You would've known, right?"

"I didn't. I swear to you, Christine - I didn't kill for amusement, and the cellars are a deadly maze if one isn't careful. Even I couldn't possibly be aware of everything that happens down there, so this was beyond my control or knowledge."

She cast her eyes downwards. "Poor man."

He couldn't help but agree. Sasha jumped from Christine's lap onto Erik's, rubbing herself against his hand insistently, but he ignored her as he spoke. "I know it isn't right to let them think that man's corpse is mine, but there is no possible way for me to say otherwise without being caught. I'd either be handing myself over or giving them a reason to double their efforts. I'm sorry, Christine, but it's better that they think me dead."

The woman nodded in grave understanding. "If he wasn't identified, then it seems he was never reported missing. He must not have a wife or family to claim his body, anyway."

"He will be given a proper burial after the investigation, at least," he stated, recalling what he had read. "It is the one benefit of his skeleton being found by the police and not just anyone else."

Again, Christine nodded. No news from Raoul, then. I suppose it is a good thing.

"Perhaps now, we – you - could begin to look for casting calls at the London Opera."

Christine froze, mouth hanging slightly open in surprise. "Are you serious, Erik?"

"Of course I am. For all the world knows, rising star Christine Daaé has been waiting for the Phantom to be caught, should he attempt to get to her again while she rebuilds her life outside Paris. Now that he's dead… she's safe to return to the stage."

All seriousness was gone from her features then, joy dawning upon her slowly as she processed his words. She threw her arms around him in excitement, with Sasha letting out an undignified cry between them and moving elsewhere when he managed to return the embrace. When they separated she began to wonder aloud about a great many things - would they actually cast her? What production will be her first here in London?

She broke off her ramblings with a giggle when the cat came back to them, perching herself on Erik's lap once more and looking at him pointedly. With a raised eyebrow, he slowly lifted his hand after a moment and petted her awkwardly. She plopped fully down, moving her head against his ministrations, and he continued with a sigh.

"Will we be married by then, Erik?" Christine asked. "By the time I return to the stage, I mean."

"However you wish," he said softly. She thought for a moment.

"I think I'd like that. I'm keeping my maiden name for the stage, however; it could offer us some privacy."

"You'd take my surname?" He asked in wonder. She smiled.

"Do I have any reason not to?" She replied. "I suppose I'd be Christine Lowell, then, since you've taken your father's name."

"Indeed, though it would have enraged my mother to know."

"It's your right, after all, nothing can ever change that." It brought them both comfort to think Albert Lowell probably would have loved the son his wife could never accept, had he not died before they could meet. She forced the thoughts out of her head to speak of a more pressing matter. "Do you think it'd be alright if we married in a month's time?"

"Yes," he said immediately. Then, he confessed. "I got rid of… the wedding dress I gave you before, back in Rouen." More appropriately, he thought bitterly, the dress I forced you into.

"It was a beautiful dress, yet I'd rather be wed in something else, anyway; it would bring back too many horrible memories for both of us."

"If we are to marry in a month, then we must get to preparing. If we hurry, it can be enough time for a new dress, to gather witnesses -"
"No need," Christine said meekly. "I've already spoken with Father Harris a few times, and mentioned some of our situation. He told me of how he's married eloping couples before, with little to no warning beforehand. Any nuns or church members are perfectly capable of acting as witnesses."

"What?" Erik questioned incredulously. Though he had stopped scratching her, Sasha was still rubbing up against him. Christine gaze trailed from his eyes to the cat.

"All of our possible witnesses are in France, and I'd rather not risk anyone following our loved ones here in order to find where we are. As for a white dress," she continued. "I don't want one. I'd rather not fuss excessively over the wedding itself instead of enjoying it and our engagement."

"But, Christine, you - you deserve a real wedding."

She took his hand. "I'd marry with less, so long as we are honest and happy. I hope you'll understand that the idea of wearing white and a veil has been… soured for me."

Erik nodded darkly, looking down. How he wished he could say he didn't understand why. She breathed deeply and her hand accidentally nudged the box that sat beside her, her eyes widening.

"We can discuss this some other time," she finished. Christine took the box and held it towards Erik, and he eyed it warily. "Go on. Take it."

When he did, he simply held it in his hands, making her laugh lightly. She kindly instructed him to open it and he obeyed, placing one hand at the bottom of the box and picking the cover off with the other. Inside was a silver pocket watch, its chain arranged neatly around it, with an engraved, elegant design.

"Christine, what…"

"It's for you," she replied enthusiastically. "Do you remember, back in France? You mentioned you'd misplaced your watch and I haven't seen you get a new one. I thought I'd get it for you - an engagement gift, if you will."

He took it gently from its box and opened it with a pressing of his thumb. Numbly, Erik stared at the seconds as they ticked by, making Christine's brow furrow with concern.

"If you don't like it," she said, discouraged. "I could -"

"No, it's not that," he replied, sounding rougher than he would have liked.

"What is it, then?"

"I have never received such a gift," he said simply. Her heart broke as his voice wavered, but he steeled himself and took her hand to keep his control. "The closest thing would be the new masks my mother would make, whenever I outgrew the last one. This is something… strange to me."

She sighed, looking at him gently. He pushed the device closed and placed it in his pocket after giving it one more lingering look.

"I will cherish it forever." It was a promise. "Thank you, Christine."

Chapter Text

Days bled into weeks and, as promised, they were married one quiet July afternoon, exactly one month before Christine’s twenty-first birthday. Banns had been posted, the date had been set, and so they were ready from the moment they stepped into the church. It all seemed surreal even as the priest asked him to make his vows in front of the altar, with Erik holding his Christine’s hands in the very private ceremony. He simply spoke his mind, promising to be at her side forever, thanking her once more for saving what once was his miserable life. He had no idea, as he talked, if his words were even any good, but they had been enough to move Christine to tears.

“I never thought I’d see the day where I got to stand here before you, like this; you are my one happiness.”

The priest had to kindly remind her it was her turn for vows, making them both chuckle and the woman blush. She moved Erik to tears as well, but he managed to keep himself composed through to the end as holy water was sprinkled on them.

“How blessed we both are,” she had said. “To have found each other in the darkest of times – and to have created such love from it all.”

Erik took a small glance at their still joined hands, at the silvery bands adorning both, analyzing them. Their rings were both made of white gold, hers thinner than his, made for the occasion just as Christine’s engagement ring had been. If he hadn’t been so shocked by the reality of their union as he was given permission to kiss his bride, he might have fallen to his knees in front of her. He swiftly came to, however, when said bride cleared her throat amusedly and he gladly did as he was asked. It was all another haze as they signed the papers legally binding them to one another, sharing another soft kiss as Father Harris declared their matrimony official in the eyes of both God and the law. Erik and Christine both thanked him, as well as those who had served as their witnesses - an elderly nun and an acolyte.

“You could always ask your friend, Mrs. Scott, to be our witness,” Erik had said. He cared very little about who would fulfill that role; he simply hoped she wasn’t insisting otherwise for his sake - and his aversion to most other people.

“I know, and I do trust her,” she had answered, every time the subject arose. “But I don’t want anyone else there. Only us.”

Afterwards, they both boarded the coach he’d waved over, with instructions to take them directly home instead of two blocks before like their usual. Both sat in silence, at least until Christine said a single word.

“Husband,” she whispered in awe, looking at their intertwined hands. There was a genuine smile on his face, one that was just for her, and his irregular lips pressed to the rings on her hand.

-

“Look, Sasha,” Christine said, jokingly, showing the cat her left hand as she chirped at their feet in demand of attention. She was bigger than when she’d been first taken in, a leather collar around her neck and her fluffy fur slowly regulating itself as it grew, with her owner’s constant care so it wouldn’t be matted again. “Isn’t it marvelous?”

Sasha seemed to agree with another loud meow.

The meaning of this night fell on Erik suddenly, causing him to choke and cough against his glass of wine as they dined, earning a bewildered look from Christine. She didn’t pay much more attention to the incident after being reassured he was fine, only noticing how uncomfortable her new spouse seemed after they’d finished their meal. Her words died down in her mouth before she spoke of retiring to bed. She now understood why he was acting so strangely, but she tried to speak again, against the uneasy knot that rose in her throat.

“It is getting late, isn’t it?” She spoke. Their wedding night and what it entailed was the one conversation subject neither had ever attempted to bring up.

“I suppose it is.” He made no comment of the elephant in the room.

They silently settled for going into their respective rooms. About half an hour later, Christine sat on her bed, blushing and conflicted with her pillow on her lap. Sasha had already fallen asleep on her own bed where it was tucked in a corner, a basket made comfortable with quilts they had no need for. Raising her head in determination, she gave one last look at her room, shrugging on a robe over her nightgown before walking towards Erik’s door and knocking, lighting her way with a candle in her hand. It was she who spoke first when he opened his door, after a moment of just gazing at each other.

“I wouldn’t want to spend our wedding night alone,” she said softly, then nodded when his eyes seemed to ask for further confirmation. He offered her his hand, and she took it confidently. The entrance was shut behind them with a click.

Afterwards, when they settled to sleep, Christine thought deeply as they clung to each other in the dark, still catching their breath. She could barely see anything, yet she could feel the way his shoulders shook as he cried silently and it made her own eyes fill with tears for the second time that day.

Her fingers traced the vaguely triangular scarring on his bare lower back, much like the markings that afflicted his face. Her heart had been broken and mended many, many times now that she had him in her arms with no barriers between them - finding his deformity had also afflicted the base of his spine hadn’t hurt her as much as the numerous scars on his arms and chest that spoke of many old injuries from foreign places and painful times, fading away at his stomach.

“I would’ve never thought… after that man…”

“You’re alright, Erik,” she hushed. “I promise.”

She felt rather than saw his nod.

As her eyes slowly adjusted to the lack of light, the hand on his back now moved to caress the uneven ridges of his face as he touched her own perfect one. Both fell asleep in their embrace, after another brief exchange of ‘I love you’s.

He awoke first the next morning, instinctively freezing as he felt a weight next to him, particularly heavy on his arm. Erik nearly choked on his own breath as he glanced to see Christine, comfortably snuggled at his side and deeply asleep. Shame crept up his body as he realized he was completely bare beneath the sheets, his right hand hovering over the sleeping woman as he was afraid to disturb her.

“I can barely see anything,” she had breathed in the dark, after sensing his hesitance at her request for the mask and wig to be rid of. “Even so, I would like to look at your face as we do this. All of it.”

He let out a shaky breath, unintentionally loud enough to alert Christine to his presence. Slowly, she stirred as he stilled completely - he then felt the pressure of green eyes on him. There was a slight beat before she spoke, voice rough with the remaining traces of unconsciousness.

“Good morning.”

-

It was now the week after the ceremony, a time of discovery and adjustment for both even with all the joy it brought along; Alice, who had quickly become Christine’s one friend in the past month, was her trusted guide on marriage after being informed of their very private wedding. It was she who answered Christine’s questions – save for the few, incredibly embarrassing ones she didn’t dare ask – and offered what advice she could based on her own experience with Thomas, her husband.   

“It is something you must discuss,” Alice had said, as they sat together during her second visit to their household. Erik was not home at the time, and only then did she dare approach a certain topic Christine had said nothing about. Said woman only shifted once she said it, slightly pink, making the redhead laugh lightheartedly. “Oh, I know. It may be tricky to do so for many different reasons, but it is of utmost importance and something to think about - as soon as you think the time is right, of course.”

“I had not even thought of it,” Christine answered truthfully. Her friend only nodded in understanding.

“It is because of your confidence in me that I talk of something so personal to you and your husband,” Alice noted. “I noticed we are very much alike in some ways, from our childhoods to our sometimes difficult connections with others. If I were to overstep any boundaries…”

“Not at all,” Christine replied, touching Alice’s hand. It made her dark-eyed gaze move from her lap to meet Christine’s. “I believe your presence – and friendship – have come at just the right time.”

“Erik?” she began. Christine had been staring blankly at the words in the book in her hands for minutes now, remembering the conversation, and decided on a whim that it would be a good time to speak. She was currently sitting on the windowsill – now a custom for her – while her husband sat just some distance away, organizing and sometimes discarding old designs and unfinished tunes he had no need for.      

“Yes?”

“What do you think… about children?”

She heard the way his breath caught and the shuffling of paper stopped, and she moved her head to look at his masked face. His frown was deep, confused, but he remained still.

“Do you mean…”

“If you’d like to have any,” she said bluntly.

“Christine, I’m afraid I don’t know.” He looked away, straightening and continuing his work perhaps slightly faster now. “I’ve never considered a family of my own a possibility. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I…”

“I’ve always wanted to be a mother,” she replied softly. She decided to address his concerns before they came. “You know I’d love any child of ours no matter what.”

“I don’t know,” he repeated, a sad tone to his words. She sighed.

“Could we consider the possibility again, in time? We’re very much not ready, but it was something we had to… establish, now that we’ve married. Before anything happened.”

“In time,” he agreed, and she only nodded in response. It was a few minutes in silence before she spoke once more – another thought had suddenly invaded her.

“Oh, Erik?”
“Yes, my dear?”

“Could we find a way to correspond with Paris safely? I’d like to tell Madame and Meg about our marriage, how we’ve been since their visit.”

He hummed and thought briefly. “I’ll see what I can do. I make no promises, however.”

Again, she smiled and settled back into her unconventional seat, opening her book once more. She thought of her next words carefully as she began to read. “Thank you, my love.”

Chapter Text

It was early October when both received word of the London Opera’s new production, Faust, and the subsequent cast change; Christine was one among the flock of performers who attended the casting call. While he was not permitted to go in with her -  something she knew was inevitable, but insisted for his company nonetheless - she had felt her husband’s presence all around her and it had inspired her to do her best. Do not hold back. Straighten your posture. She had been asked for her contact information after she sung, confident and proud at how her voice had pleased those in attendance. Christine met Erik outside right after and told him all that happened in the room.

“You’ll be their new diva,” he replied, pressing a quick, affectionate kiss to her hand as they headed home.

In about a week, there was a letter delivered to their home. She had expected it to be from Meg - as Erik had found a way, through a third-party (with specifics she was not aware of, but had been reassured were completely legal), to privately write back and forth with she and her mother - but she realized, with a gasp, that it was from the London Opera.

“Erik?” she called, excitedly knocking at the office door. The music stopped and she took it as her cue to come in. “I apologize for barging in like this.”

“Are you alright, Christine?”

“More than just alright,” she announced, perching herself on the space he gave her on the piano bench. She showed the letter. “It’s from monsieur - I mean, mister - Hargrave.”

Christine quickly opened the envelope, but walked away from Erik as she read the letter, teasingly avoiding spoiling the surprise for him. He watched her every reaction, and he felt her triumph as her eyes reached the end of the writing.

“They’re offering me a contract!”

“Congratulations, my dear,” he said, warmly. “What about -“

“Siebel,” she replied, before he could finish his question. “If I am to accept their terms, I will be cast as Siebel in the next production.”

It was a moment of silent realization for Erik, before speaking evenly. “Not Marguerite?”

She shook her head. There was no sadness in her voice as she continued. “They probably already have a principal soprano.”

“I thought that was the part you auditioned for.”

“It was. It doesn’t mean it is the only role I’m considered for,” she stated matter-of-factly. “I am very happy, though, Siebel is marvelous for my first international role.”

“You’ve the skill to be the lead.” She sighed, placing her hands on his shoulders as he moved to stand in front of her.

“They need star power to sell, darling, my voice alone -“

“You were principal numerous times in Paris!” he cried. “How can you settle for less, my Christine? Did they not recognize your name?”

“They did. It was probably the reason they even cast me at all, but you must remember that we are no longer at the Populaire.” She took a deep breath. “And this is not Firmin and André we are talking about.”

“What do you mean by that? Is there any difference?”

“There is. Here, I must earn any starring roles. In Paris, I got them through blackmail I didn’t even agree to.” Her words were sad, cold, and she sighed. “I am quite satisfied with what I got. Why can’t you?”

She left the room before he could think of what to answer. Sasha was still sitting on his desk. He settled back onto the piano bench with a sigh and looked her way - her blue eyes felt judgmental, as if the cat understood that he’d hurt his wife with his overly-ambitious thoughts. She hopped down to the floor and followed Christine through the slightly-opened door.

-

She took the contract the very next day. She would have a place among the London company for six months and would also understudy the role of Marguerite as Hargrave - a young, blond man with a grim countenance - was pleasantly surprised to hear she already knew most of the songs and had some degree of practice with them. She’d have to tell Erik about that; he had apologized after leaving her on her own for a few hours yesterday, reassuring that he was indeed very proud of her and simply let said pride get the better of him. She suspected he’d noticed her saddened as he had made no attempt to convince her to fight for the lead again.

“Something the matter, miss Daaé?”

She shook her head with a smile, and spoke without thinking. “It’s madame, actually, Mr. Hargrave.”

The manager glanced at the file he was filling in, as they had to complete the information mandated by the records her new employer kept. “Do forgive me. The man whose name you gave as an emergency contact is your husband, I assume?”

“Yes. I’m sure you’ll understand that, after all that happened in Paris…” she trailed off. “For privacy reasons, I’ll be using Daaé publicly. Anywhere else, my surname is Lowell.”

“Ah, of course,” he replied thoughtfully. “I’ll be sure to note your naming request, but I must still keep your current name written down to avoid any discrepancies with your legal data. Is there any issue with that?”

“Of course not. Thank you, Mr. Hargrave.”

-

Dearest Meg,

By the time you get this letter, I’m sure that the new cast of Faust will have been announced to the world - I really cannot contain my excitement at returning to the stage once more, though I wish I was sharing the news with you in person.

My husband and I are well. Since you asked… yes, being married does feel different to how our lives used to be. It gave us much more freedom even within our own home – it took some getting used to, as all big changes do, but for good reasons. It lets you see a side of a person, and yourself, that is otherwise always hidden. For example, never before had I realized how unfortunately messy I can be with my clothes until I shared a room with someone else. Imagine my surprise when my husband, always serious and sometimes grim, turned out to be fond of teasing me for it. Aside from the occasional joke, I would’ve never guessed he had such a sense of humor. I am glad that he trusts me to see it.

I can only hope my words aren’t confusing; I am still getting used to all of this myself. Does your question about married life hint towards any certain proposals from Baron Leberoux? Though I’ve never spoken to him, knowing Madame approved of him courting her daughter is more than enough proof for me that he is a good man. Meg, you’ll know your answer the moment he asks for your hand. Believe me: whether you accept or not, you’ll simply know. Maybe next time we meet, my sister, I’ll have to address you as Baroness.

Please send your mother my regards, and thank her for looking out for news on Raoul on my behalf. Perhaps the lack of said news means he has abandoned his search and moved on, but I cannot help but worry about him.

With love,

Christine L.

Chapter Text

Christine was brushing her hair gently one morning the week after her casting, taking her time to get ready for rehearsal while humming sweetly, the only sound other than Erik getting dressed; when she was finished pinning her hair up, her gaze fell to the jewelry box atop the dresser, just below the mirror they had uncovered at her request as she was properly moved into the master bedroom with him. Within it she found the pearl earrings Erik had given her for her birthday and their one-month anniversary, easily putting them on to match her blue dress. It was as she put on make-up - knowing full well that she'd have to apply more for work, anyway - that she stopped her tune and asked something out loud, looking at the man in the room with her through his reflection.

"When's your birthday, Erik?"

He had been sitting on their bed, gingerly patting down his sparse natural hair before stopping his motions at her question. His eyes came up, then down again as he was met with his own unmasked image. "I don't know. Why do you ask?"

"Everyone has a birthday," she said kindly. "And they should be a cause for celebration. You already spoiled me on my birthday, it is only fair that I get to do the same."

"I don't remember when it is," he replied shortly. He put on his wig, smoothed it down, and placed his white mask at its usual place over his face.

"Well…" She paused. "You surely must remember something about it. It could be a start."

Erik shrugged. "It's been about thirty years since it was a date of importance, Christine." After a short look from her, he sighed and thought for a moment. "It was during fall - and that is all I can recall."

"Well," she repeated. She moved quickly towards him, finally ready for the day, and took his hands. "It is fall now. What if we make your birthday… today?"

"What? No, Christine, that's…"

"It's not ridiculous. I love you, and I don't want your last memory of what should be a joyous day be that of your evil mother." Her words were fond, firm and sincere; she gave him another moment to think. Though not fully convinced, he eventually gave a wary nod. "After my rehearsal, then; we can celebrate with a meal and a walk."

"A walk? In broad daylight?"

The few times they'd gone on strolls together, it was dark outside, safely hiding them from nearly everyone else. Christine, however, was proud of the way her husband had abandoned his isolation and reclusiveness - and wanted him at her side in public. She smiled and kissed him, and it was the only answer he got to his question.

-

She got home with a frustrated huff as she placed her coat on the rack next to the door. She had had her first full run as Marguerite today, as Dayna, the leading soprano, had been suddenly put on vocal rest by her physician. The show was riddled with mistakes, from props breaking, costumes being misplaced, all the way to a lighting failure that had plunged the stage in darkness mid-scene.

If she hadn't known better, perhaps Christine would have blamed it on some specter haunting the production.

The whole cast and crew pulled through however they could, with tensions running high between everyone, but what made the day bearable for Christine had been one fellow cast member. At the manager's request, since she was quite experienced with Faust from previous seasons, Dayna had still attended the rehearsal, communicating her observations through various notes – still used to working with Carlotta back in Paris, Christine had fully expected for her presence to be seen as problematic by the older soprano. She was most pleasantly surprised when she read a piece of paper passed to her by the brown-eyed, beautiful woman as she finally began to head home. You did well today – Hargrave's just in an awful mood. I trust my dear Marguerite will be in capable hands even when I am not present.

It was the most any other cast or crew member had spoken to her, outside any short, fully work-related chats. Those brief words and her elder's demeanor dearly reminded Christine of the sometimes motherly Sorelli, back when she was part of the ballet chorus. She made her gratitude known with a heartfelt smile and thank you.

The slam of an object to the floor – an accidentally-dropped book, she guessed - and the muffled muttering of words made her jump, but she chuckled as she could distantly hear Erik voicing his complaints to the cat. It had taken time, full weeks of silent encouraging and insistence from the little animal, but the limping kitten they had taken in had earned his affections. In fact, Christine sometimes thought Sasha now favored Erik over herself. She shook the fleeting thoughts out of her head, suddenly remembering - it was his birthday and she was wasting precious time.

She moved towards their kitchen, where she thought quickly of what to make. Humming, Christine began preparing their food after settling on the one Swedish recipe she knew he had particularly liked; she lightly laughed as the cat approached her, having abandoned Erik in favor of the sounds she associated with her other owner moving about in the kitchen.

"Erik already fed you while I was gone," she chastised, as Sasha meowed and chirped in demand of a bit of the fish she was cooking, even jumping up onto the counter. Christine shooed her off quickly with a chuckle. The gray cat settled for looking at her from a few feet away, tail swishing back and forth and eyes narrowed. Another amused glance from the woman, and Sasha turned her little head away and strutted back in direction of the music room.

Chopping vegetables after - which she could proudly say she had grown herself - to prepare their side dishes, Christine looked up briefly and out the window, through the closed-but-sheer curtains.

She flinched, startled, when she saw distinct movement in the deeper reaches of the yard. She cried out when the knife she held made a cut across the back of her left thumb, tinting it crimson with the blood that came from her wound. Hissing in pain, she dropped the sharp object and it clattered to the floor as she held her injured hand closer to her chest, reaching for a clean rag to press against it. Christine heard a door open and quick footsteps that rushed towards her, and she looked on in tears as Erik's voice filled the room.

"My God, Christine, what happened? Let me see."

She gave a whimper as his hands pulled the cloth away and she turned her head away from her own injury, suddenly dizzy. He noticed and gently led her to sit, kneeling beside her to assess her.

"You don't need stitches," he reassured quickly, focused. "But I will need to clean and bandage it. Stay here."

Christine obeyed and attempted to compose herself in the meantime. When he was back, he had the necessary materials and he worked swiftly - the alcohol disinfecting the wound stung, but by the time her hand was wrapped in white material, she was quiet, her head hung.

"You frightened me, Christine," he admitted quietly. "What happened?"

"I saw something outside and it scared me as I cooked. I suppose that, when I flinched, I moved my hand and accidentally cut myself. I'm sorry."

He sighed. "You're alright, my dear. I can finish for you."

"Wait, no, Erik, I -"

"Please, Christine, I insist. You can guide me through it, if you wish so."

She nodded guiltily and he got to work. She remained silent after directing him on what to do, save for the few moments where he'd request her opinion on his progress. So much for preparing fried herring.

Chapter Text

Every time she gazed at her injured hand, Christine’s mood fell. She had, quite literally, singlehandedly ruined what was supposed to be her love’s first birthday celebration in decades. They ate together and he shook his head adamantly whenever she attempted to apologize for her clumsiness.

“You are safe. That is all that matters to me.”

Both completely forgot about the promised outing and instead headed for their music room. After some warm-up scales, Christine’s lingering sadness was replaced by anxiety as she excused herself for a moment. She walked upstairs and into what had once been her own room, reaching beneath the bed for the folder she knew would be there. Flipping through the sheets within it, she found the ones she was looking for and headed back to her husband.

“Meg brought me some of the things I left behind when she and her mother visited,” she begun. She shyly handed him the score. “I never did get to sing this one for you.”

Don Juan Triumphant,” he said, reading his own red handwriting at the top. “I thought it was sealed forever within the Populaire.”

“Not Aminta’s aria, as that was safe in my dressing room, then with the Girys. I didn’t know… if you’d still want it, but this piece of your opera is my gift to you. Did you keep any of it?”

“None. The mob looking for me tore apart most, if not all, of my work. Aboveground, the copies that the fire didn’t touch were all ripped to shreds by the rest of the cast. I saw all the pieces littering what remained of the building before we left – nothing salvageable.” He slowly placed the sheets atop the piano. “It was my life’s work, a product made of darkness.”

His hands, by memory, began to play the same melody she had once heard in Paris from the piano seemingly playing on its own. It made her shudder - it truly was beautifully haunting, obscure music. Abruptly, Erik stopped, and she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. The way he jumped, as if startled, made her wince slightly.

“I apologize.” Her voice was soft, and she treaded carefully with her words. “We can get rid of it, if it is what you wish.”

“No, not yet,” he muttered. “I must hear you sing it. Take the sheet music - I do not need it.”

She gulped as she quickly read through the lyrics, face reddening. She remembered how suggestive the songs were; though she was now married and knew about what the aria and their duet had only - rather directly - hinted at, part of her couldn’t help but blush just as she had the first moment she had practiced the song. Before Erik’s Don Juan, she had never heard of anything that explored lust so scandalously, and it made her face heat to-date. Compose yourself, Christine. You’re not a child.

Again, he played by memory, never missing a note. It had been so long since she’d sung it, but here, with the sheet music in her hands, everything about the piece came back to her as she went on.

When it ended, Christine closed her eyes, a hand on the piano for support. Erik abruptly stood, looking at his own hands on the keys, then walked the short distance to her in two strides and kissed her. The piece, Don Juan, and their haunted pasts were forgotten for the hours that followed.

-

Christine woke up with her arms outstretched over the place her husband should have been in, cold and alone. Through the haze of sleep, she sat up on their bed, clutching the sheets to her chest subconsciously as she attempted to adjust to the pitch black darkness of the bedroom. It was nighttime, but she didn’t feel rested enough to know many hours had passed since her eyes had closed. She swung her feet to the side of the bed and quietly put on her slippers, then lit the candle on the bedside table. In the glow of the new light, she spotted her robe and slipped it on before taking the candle and going in search of Erik, her lace train treading behind her every step.

Of course, she found him at his desk, the fireplace lit to warm against the night chill – more often than not, he neglected tending to the fire, and she was surprised to find the room at a non-freezing temperature. Christine walked until she was right beside him, placing the candle on the surface before him, then her left hand on his arm, tenderly. Words were her only acknowledgment.

“You need your rest, Christine.”

“I’ll leave, then…” She smiled. “But only if you come back with me.”

He shook his head. She glanced at the papers he held, moving so she was fully behind him and grasping his shoulders, then gave a sigh as she realized what he read. “Haunted by ghosts, dear?”

He said nothing. Suddenly, he grasped the music sheets tightly, moving as if he were to rip them in half. His head fell after a moment and so did the score in his hands. “This… it’s a reminder of the Opera’s monster, when I completely lost control. I can’t bear to look at it anymore.”

“I’m sorry for causing you so much grief,” his wife said. “I shouldn’t have given -“

“No, do not apologize,” he interrupted. “I think it’s better this way, then I know this music didn’t fall in the wrong hands. And it never will.”

He stood and walked towards the fire, Christine at his heels. Erik and stretched his hand towards the flame, the papers in his hand dangerously near it, but recoiled at the last second. She grasped it as well, right next to him, and slowly guided it back. Both let go at the same time and watched Aminta’s aria be reduced to ashes, the sheets curling and darkening, destroying Erik’s handwritten music and annotations.

“The Phantom,” Erik said. “Is no more.”

They held hands as the last of Don Juan Triumphant disappeared and Christine glanced at the clock. “It’s not quite tomorrow yet. Happy birthday, my love.”

“You really intend to make this a yearly thing.”

“I do. Now, tell me - from what number are we counting from?”

He laughed, something that was becoming more and more common as days passed. She touched his cheek fondly. “I am already much too old.”

Christine bit her lip. “You know that doesn’t matter to me.”

“You already gave me this date. What do you think is my age?”

“From what you told me…” She started recalling the day they’d left Paris, when they were aboard the train. Hadn’t he said he must be around his late thirties? “I believe you are, give or take, about thirty-nine – from today, of course.”

Erik thought to make another witty, self-deprecating remark about their eighteen-year gap, but he realized the significance of her efforts and abstained. He now had a real birthday, a real age; a real, living, loving bride. Just like any other man.

Instead, he simply kissed said wife’s bandaged hand.

Chapter Text

Following Christine’s return to acting, time spent with her one close friend had become that much more precious to her. Alice had happily obliged when she was invited to join her and Erik - though he had already shut himself away after a polite hello - to drink some tea and chat during the afternoon of one of Christine’s days off. Both women sat together in the living room, Sasha laying happily on the lap of their redhead guest.

“Forgive my curiosity… tell me, Christine, what is it like to be an actress?”

She thought for a second. “Well, I believe it to be one of my biggest passions. Though it can be quite challenging, I could not ever dedicate myself to another job, even if I am no longer in France.”

Alice hummed. Then, her eyes widened. “Oh, I just remembered! Thomas mentioned he had been to the premiere of… Hannibal – if I’m not mistaken - last year when he visited his brother in Paris.”

The other woman smiled gently. Quite the coincidence – if Alice had in-laws in Paris, there was no doubt she knew of the events at the Populaire; she never asked, however. “That was me who your husband saw, then. The original actress for Elissa refused to play the part days before the opening, I was cast very last minute.”

“I’m sure Tom would be ecstatic to see you perform once more, and I would very much love to see it too. I’ll talk him into purchasing tickets for Faust as soon as it opens.

“It would be lovely to see you both there.”

In the pause that followed, music wafted into the room as Erik played one of his more recent compositions. Alice gazed in wonder towards the source of the sound.
“You never mentioned your husband is a musician as well!”

“He is,” Christine replied proudly, then laughed. “He could spend all day and night playing if he had his way.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard that song before,” Alice noted. “Let me guess, is it an original?”

“Yes, that is right. He only ever sings for me, however, he is not one for the crowds like I am.”

“Oh, you two are the perfect fit,” she marveled. Christine couldn’t help but blush. If she only knew… “We are very lucky, Christine, to have found such happiness in our marriages. Not everyone has such luck.”

She nodded in agreement. Alice gave Sasha one last scratch before standing, with her host immediately matching the movement. “Tom will be home soon and it’d be best to not intrude on your hospitality much longer. Goodbye, dear, I’ll be sure to invite you and Erik over one of these days. Give him my regards.”

Alice was gone after giving her one last wish for a speedy recovery on her injury. Alone again, Christine started picking up their plates and cups with a smile, moving them to the kitchen. It had been an afternoon well-spent, she decided, since the rest of her day had been quite ordinary - excluding the fact that she had not been needed at the Opera today. She had grown used to the commune from home to her workplace and back; resting was not something she took for granted, nonetheless, and she was ready to have some quiet time with a certain clingy pet for the few hours before she was to prepare dinner.

Christine was about to do just that, already going up the stairs while attempting to get Sasha to follow her to the bedroom, when there was a knock at the door. Erik’s music stopped, meaning he heard it too, and she went back down to answer. Alice must have forgotten something here…

With one last glance at the cat, to make sure she would not dash out of the house, Christine opened the door.

Her blood ran cold and she felt near fainting as soon as she realized who was at the other side.

“Raoul,” she stuttered. When he moved slightly forward, she instinctively took a step backwards, gripping the door tightly. “What – how -“

“Christine,” he breathed. “I cannot believe it. I would have never thought you’d be in London.”

“How did you find me?” She hadn’t meant for it to sound so fearful. He slowly put his hands out, slow in his movements, his voice calm as if he spoke with a child.

“Word of your casting reached Paris.”

“Of course it did, but how did you find this place?”

He bit his lip. “I believe I mentioned in my letter that I had a private investigator working for me.”

Christine only looked at him, numb, for what seemed like full minutes. She quietly glanced at the people passing by on the sidewalk, sending curious looks at them. With a heavy sigh, she asked him to come inside. Raoul glanced curiously all around the house, his eyes especially settling on the gray animal sitting in the archway to the living room, her blue eyes narrowed suspiciously at the strange man. Sasha permitted his touch when he knelt to pet her fluffy head, just before escaping to her basket upstairs.

“We can speak in the living room. This way.”

“He is not here.” It was a statement, not a question. Christine immediately shook her head, not risking her voice betraying the lie and the young man instantly looked relieved. “Oh, Christine, look at you. You’re terrified, your hand is wounded. What has he done to you…?”

“He has done nothing,” she bit back. He gently grabbed her arms, as if he intended to pull her into a hug. “It is not he who I am afraid of.”

Raoul chose to ignore her last few words, or perhaps he didn’t hear them. “I have missed you so, Lotte. I feared you’d be dead, or worse. I came as soon as I heard about Faust, I had to see you.”

“I have missed you too, Raoul. Please, let me go, it isn’t proper for us to be so close.”

“Proper?” he asked, surprised. “But we…”

“There is no we, Raoul, I gave you back your ring and I meant it. I also meant what I said in my letter. The way I love you is not the same as -”

He shook his head and suddenly kissed her, hands holding her cheeks desperately. Christine’s eyes went wide in shock, and she was simply still. He pulled back after a few seconds, locking their gazes with a hopeful look in his face. There was a beat before the woman finally retaliated with a slap with her healthy hand; it sent the young man back a few steps as he held his cheek incredulously, especially after she quickly moved away and toward the masked figure that had now appeared at the entrance of the room.

“Vicomte. I knew it couldn’t have been much longer before you came.”

Chapter Text

“You!”

Christine placed herself in front of Erik at that moment, cutting off Raoul before he thought – or attempted - to strike him. It was on instinct that she did so, and it seemed her senses had been right, as at that same moment Raoul had stalked forward and in their direction. He stopped just short of a few inches away from her, and she saw as his face reddened in embarrassment, but he made no further move.

“You are a guest here, Raoul,” she said after a moment, firmly. “If you wish for us to speak, then we shall. I expect civility between the both of you, otherwise I will not refrain from asking you to leave. Now, could we sit?”

The two men locked eyes coldly and Erik was the one to take the lead, walking and sitting at his usual chair just a few feet away. Christine showed a calming Raoul to the couch and chose to stand next to her husband, hand at his shoulder. The Vicomte began with a simple question.

“What happened, Christine? Back in Paris?”

“I was very afraid,” she confessed. She knew he didn’t mean for her to explain the actual events. “I was unwilling to leave him; I was unwilling to leave you. I went with Erik -“

“Erik?”

“My name, monsieur,” said man spoke. “You’ll surely understand that I have not been the Phantom all my life.”

Raoul snickered, but Christine continued. “Because although I did love you, Raoul, and I could have been your wife, something felt… off. Call it a gut feeling, but it was as if part of me knew it’d be best to break our engagement. I didn’t have - I still don’t - what it takes to be a Vicomtesse and we both needed something more, not just… love.”

“You weren’t happy,” he said. She shook her head insistently.

“I was,” She bit her lip. How could she possibly explain what she felt? “But simple love was all there was between us. What about all else that romance entails? I felt no… spark, no intimate connection. We were adults playing childhood sweethearts, smitten with one another – unwilling to admit that was all it was.”

He ran his hands over his face, catching a glimpse of her hand as he did so, which reminded him of something he had been meaning to ask. “Why are you injured?”

“No one did this to me,” she stated, knowing that was what Raoul was thinking. Slowly, she unwrapped the bandages around her hand to show him the now-scarring slash. “It was a kitchen accident; I was startled and I injured myself while cooking some days ago.”

“How did you get this address, monsieur le Vicomte? If I may be so bold,” Erik asked, suddenly breaking his silence.

“It was the man I hired,” Raoul replied, dismissive. “I, however, am not aware of his methods.”

Erik hummed, thought for a moment, then looked at Christine. “That must have been what you saw outside that day. You were followed home.”

“What?” Both asked at the same time; Christine’s tone was afraid, Raoul’s incredulous.

“It is a common, although tasteless, tactic. If your investigator knew of Christine’s job at the Opera, the easiest way to provide you the information you asked for – her residence – would be to wait outside for her to leave rehearsal, then follow her from a distance. Perhaps he thought he might see me, if he were to sneak into the back yard? I cannot be completely sure, since I did not see him personally, but considering the time frame between that incident and your arrival, with your resources, Vicomte

“He told me he’d do nothing illegal,” the blond blurted out, enraged. “I never asked him to trespass or endanger Christine in any way.”

The masked man simply snickered, and he saw as the Vicomte’s gaze flickered from looking at him and back to Christine. “He had to do his job however he could, I suppose.”

Raoul no longer payed him mind. Instead, he was transfixed on the rings on Christine’s hand, glinting in the light as she moved while re-bandaging herself. His heart dropped when he saw the matching one on the other man’s finger.

“You - you are married.”

Christine glanced at Erik for a second. “We are.”

“How long?” Raoul’s mouth dried. How had he missed such an important detail?

“A couple of months now,” Erik replied. “It was a rather short courtship.”

“What did you do to her?” He suddenly roared, jumping to his feet. Christine’s eyes went wide with shock as he began to speak again – she had never heard him raise his voice like this. “I refuse to believe she’d so easily go back to your arms after all she suffered at your hand! It was your damnable voice, wasn’t it? Did you manipulate her once again to believe in the Angel of Music?”

“Stop, Raoul,” she managed out. “I chose him, don’t you understand? I chose to be his wife when he asked me and I chose to run away with him and out of Paris. The Angel is not real and it is not he who I married.”

“I thought murder disqualified anyone for a happy ending,” he spat. “Or did you forget his crimes, just because you were so intent on loving him?”

“No, I did not,” she said. “You don’t know what you speak of. He is now an honest man, who works and loves and repents. Erik wasn’t amused by his crimes, nor has he ever hurt me during our time together.”

Raoul was about to say something, but Erik had now stood as well, causing them both to look at him. Walking away from them both and towards the unlit fireplace, his voice was controlled and even as he spoke.

“While I cannot ask you not to be concerned for Christine, monsieur, I can ask you to calm yourself as you are upsetting her. It’d be best if you took your leave now.”

“Since when are you the one who knows best about her well-being?” He countered.

Erik answered, still not looking back. “The moment we were married, she placed that trust on me.”

Raoul softened at that, guilt visibly shown in his blue eyes. He looked at Christine once more, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry, Christine. I meant you no harm – I… I simply do not understand, at all.”

“I know you don’t,” she replied. She took a deep breath. “But I agree that it’d be best for you to leave for now. Please, come back tomorrow, and we can discuss everything. Tell no one what you know, I beg you.”

Raoul only hung his head with a sigh and walked alone towards the door, showing himself out. As he tread towards the sidewalk, he stopped and looked behind himself. He wished he could see through the curtains of the window, get a glimpse to how Christine and that man were like when he was gone. With a heavy heart and a shake of his head no one but he saw, he continued walking.

-

Christine had fallen into a chair the moment he was gone, a hand to her forehead.

“I feel like I’m going to be sick,” she moaned. Erik said nothing as he stood, unmoving, his back still to her. Her nausea increased the moment a horrible thought invaded her, but she managed to voice it fearfully. “He wouldn’t alert the police, would he? Erik?”

There was a suffocating, eerie silence in the room. She shuddered - it reminded her of the moment she had removed his dark, heavy cloak, breaking the spell that kept the audience of Don Juan in ignorance to his true identity. She called Erik’s name again; he turned his head to the side in a jerky movement, placing his hand over his mask. Christine remained quiet, then, hearing his shaky breathing and seeing him twitch.

Her stomach dropped; she recognized that behavior. It was the same movements she saw in his underground lair when he spoke of his mother, the same movements from whenever something reminded him too much of anything that made him suffer, especially in those days, six months ago, when the incident at the Opera had been recent. It had been such a long time since Christine had last seen Erik fight for control like this – only in their nightmares was such darkness still so present.

This time, however, she knew she could help, and wanted nothing more than to do so; she shoved her own feelings aside for the moment, swallowing the knot that had formed in her throat. She approached slowly - he was beginning to relax, and she carefully took his hand, bringing it down from where it constantly bumped his mask, as if he were to hit himself if it weren’t there, and laced their fingers together. She then simply stood by him.

“I felt like killing him, Christine,” he forced out. “It would have been so easy.”

“But you didn’t, my darling, and you won’t,” she said. She left no room for doubt in her words. “You’re so much better than that now.”

It took a few minutes for him to move as he collected himself, reassured by her presence as she tenderly led him to sit beside her. Erik closed his eyes briefly and shook his head as he finally came back to her. “Forgive me, Christine. I didn’t even ask if you were alright.”

“I… no,” she managed out in a whimper, finally breaking. She began to sob, crying in earnest. “I’m so afraid, Erik, he could singlehandedly bring our life here down if he wishes so. For all we know, it is already over.”

“He will not separate us if it’s not what you want,” he promised softly, now his turn to set aside his own conflict to comfort her; she moved even closer and on top of his lap, as she had taken to do when she needed him most. She let her eyes flutter shut and simply be surrounded by his presence, his voice. “No one has a bigger heart than you, my wife, and it makes you both suffer and shine in ways I could never understand. I love you, my Christine, and nothing could ever change that.”

She continued crying in his arms for a long time as she sought to be as close to him as possible, afraid that Raoul would bring the end to their story that same night – lest she forget what she felt as Erik held her if that were to happen. Not even Sasha, who had limped downstairs and towards them, now meowing and laying by their side, had any success in comforting the poor woman.

Chapter Text

Raoul arrived once more to their home nearly twenty-four hours after his past visit. Christine had been expecting him, much more calm than she had been yesterday; the wardrobe and makeup mistress of the Opera had chewed at her ear all before and after rehearsal, for she didn't care of her reasons behind them but her red, puffy eyes had been unseemly for a performer. That had contributed to her efforts to remain composed.

Raoul stepped into the house awkwardly after a polite greeting, taking his hat off and holding it in his hands. "Is your… husband…"

"Out, at work," she replied. His eyes narrowed slightly and she sighed. "I apologize for lying yesterday, but now I tell the truth."

She was, indeed. Christine had asked Erik to leave her and Raoul alone, reasoning that it'd help to dissuade his thinking that she was being controlled at all times. They had discussed it and in the end he chose to listen to her, though she could tell that, even as he left the house, he was not happy with doing so.

"Tea?" she continued, motioning for him to sit. He obeyed, placing his hat at his side; he then shook his head in response to her question and gestured silently for her to join him, which she did. "What would you like to -"

"Has he ever hurt you, Christine?" he asked abruptly. "You say he is not here right now, so please be truthful with me."

"No, never," she said firmly. "He has been nothing but kind."

"Yet last time I saw you both, he had his hand around your neck."

She breathed deeply. "I know."

"There is no excuse for that."

"I know," she repeated. "And I have made none. I swear to you on my beloved father's grave – that was the only time he has ever been so violent towards me."

"And yet you've forgiven him?"

"I have." She gave a sigh. "He only realized he had hurt me a day or two after he did. I tried to hide it from him with make-up – a decision I regret now – but he eventually noticed some movements pained me, and that I'd unknowingly uncovered my bruises after touching my neck. You weren't there, Raoul, and believe me when I say I had never seen anyone look as broken as he did at that moment. He wept, called himself a monster, he insisted for me to walk away; he wanted me to go back as much as you did, and refused to believe he deserved the forgiveness I offered. Only then did I understand he had truly changed."

"I'm sure there were a great many chances for the Phantom to escape," Raoul began. "Why didn't he slip away on his own instead of complying with your wish to leave with him? If he so wished for you to come back."

"His name is Erik, Raoul. Not the Phantom." she replied. The Vicomte offered her a sympathetic grimace at that; Christine supposed that meant he wasn't quite keen – or ready – to think of her husband with that name. "I don't know why he didn't leave. It is quite miraculous, now that I think of it, but I cannot tell you of his reasoning behind it."
"He wanted you to be the one to reject him, not the other way around," Raoul offered after a moment of awkward silence. At her surprised look, he simply shrugged. "I can't know either, but it is the only logical answer I see."

"That… does make sense." The more she thought about it, it seemed more like perfectly sound reasoning. Erik had always expected her to be suddenly disgusted by him – yet he always seemed to yearn for her contact, even when he had seemed almost afraid of it. He was never the one to say no.

They spoke for a while longer, all tension melting away by the minute. Save for a few details she'd rather keep to herself, Christine answered all his questions however she could, even asking some of her own in return; she was happy to hear his brother the Comte was one of the main donors to restore the Opera House. Just after sharing a laugh over a particular childhood memory, Raoul looked down at his hands as they rested on his lap, speaking calmly. "I still love you, Christine, but it is clear that my feelings are no longer returned or otherwise welcomed."

"I do -"

"Not as you once did or, in other words, how you thought you did a year ago." He took a deep breath. She couldn't help but touch his hand in sympathy. "I'm afraid my presence has only soured your life."

"Please understand, Raoul," she pleaded. "I haven't seen you in so long and so much has changed for the both of us since then. I didn't know, yesterday, if you'd be going straight to the police without listening to me and tearing my Erik away from me. You have the power to ruin my life with all that you know."

"Six months ago, I wouldn't have hesitated," he replied. His hand took hers and she got a weary smile. "Though now I know that if I had done it, if I had whisked you away thinking I was doing the right thing, I'd have torn you away from happiness forever. It has offered me comfort to find you, to know you are safe and loved, even if it is not by my side. I am glad that we weren't married – this way… we both get our chance. Only by going our separate ways."

"Thank you, Raoul," she said sincerely. "Thank you for believing me, and for remaining the most wonderful boy I have ever loved."

He pressed a kiss to her forehead, taking her into a hug. "I am forever at your disposal, Christine, though I think -"

They heard the front door open and both wrenched themselves away from one another. Had it already been more than an hour? In came Erik, who looked genuinely surprised at finding the Vicomte still there. She was happy to see that he didn't seem distressed by his presence, like he had been yesterday, and there was only a moment of silence before he spoke nonchalantly.

"Forgive me. Am I interrupting?"

"Not at all," Raoul said, calmly responding before Christine did. "I was just about to leave."

"Raoul -"

"No, Lotte, I insist. I have concluded my business here." He stood, placing his hat atop his head, and walked to Erik, sharing a tense, somber look with him. "She loves you fiercely, though I will not pretend to understand what she sees in you. If I were to hear any kind of harm came to her at your hand…"

"Understood," Erik replied simply, knowing full well what his vague words implied. Raoul then stuck a hand out and after a firm, short handshake that had nearly made Christine weep with joy, he stepped out of the room. She followed swiftly after a quick glance at her husband, calling the Vicomte's name before he kept walking away from the house.

"I could always write," she said breathlessly as soon as he stopped. Raoul looked away; the shadow cast by his hat and the sun above obscured his face nearly completely. "This doesn't have to be the last time we ever speak."

"I know, Christine, but I believe it'd be best not to." Her face fell. "You mean well, but I have to move on and sending you letters each week will never let me do so. Someday we could, but not now; unless you need me to help you somehow - that I will never refuse, no matter what."

"This is goodbye, then."

He nodded, then walked back the short distance between them in order to press a kiss to her hand. "It is, at least for some time. There is much for me to think about – perhaps I will take Philippe's offer on that expedition up north. Farewell, Little Lotte."

She gave a small smile at his words; the fond nickname, his still-present childhood love for the sea. "Farewell, Raoul. Thank you."

Christine went inside soon after – the click of the door shutting behind her gave her a sense of finality she couldn't quite explain. Scooping Sasha into her arms, hearing her contented sounds, Christine went to find Erik. As she expected him to be, he was up in their chambers, dressing down into more comfortable clothing. As soon as the cat saw him, she wiggled free from Christine and landed on the floor, scurrying off to him. She herself remained at the doorway, leaning into it as she simply smiled and watched him move around. He had already shed his cape and his tailcoat, now silently removing his cravat and vest.

On came his robe over his shirtsleeves and she appreciated how naturally he moved - it had taken weeks after their wedding for him to be comfortable enough not to wait around for her to leave to change clothes, too self-conscious to entertain the chance of her catching sight of any of his scars. She blushed as she remembered how bold she had been to show she had no problem with it; though she had been changing immediately after her baths and coming out of their bathroom fully dressed just as he did - the one habit he has refused to change until now - one day she simply didn't. Her smile grew as she recalled how torn he was between looking at her and turning away as she walked around carelessly, removing her missing clothes from her dresser, all while only dressed in her chemise and undergarments.

"Staring isn't very polite, my dear."

That made her laugh. "I apologize, my love. Now, Sasha, please move."

As she moved the cat off the bed and to her basket, it was Erik's turn to observe her. She seemed completely normal, perhaps a bit more carefree than usual. It made a smile slip into his face though he tried to fight it. Christine then sat next to him, taking his hand - there was a question on her face as she looked at his own. With his free hand, he took off the mask and wig, fully knowing her unspoken request.

"What a day it was," she admitted softly. He scanned her face quickly.

"Did the Vicomte try anything without your permission again?" Erik simply had to know. He had made a mostly unspoken truce with the boy, but he was still livid that he had gone to such measures as to kiss her, especially since he had been just a few feet away and had to quietly witness it all. It was the first time in months he had felt such anger, and it took every inch of his fairly new self-control to restrain himself of acting upon it.

"No, he did not," she replied swiftly, forcing him out of his thoughts. "It is quite ironic that you ask that. I lost count of the many times he pleaded for me to tell him if you ever harmed me."

He hummed. "I assume you've cleared things up."

"We did. Thank you for accepting to shake his hand, you've no idea how much that means to me."

"It's for the best, although it doesn't mean I like him." She nodded; that was more than enough for her. "He more than deserved to be slapped by you yesterday, however. In all honesty, that is something I particularly enjoyed."

"Erik!" She turned scarlet, feeling her face heating up. "I had never hit anyone like that in my whole life."

"Of course not. You wouldn't hurt a fly if you could help it," he remarked, amused. "But he and I have both earned your wrath at different times. You would have had to knock some sense into either one eventually."

"Raoul is a very good man, though a bit rash at times," she admitted, with a sad sigh. "I hope he finds a woman who'll love him as he deserves to be loved."

Silence fell upon them. Christine smoothed down his stray, thin locks of hair with her hand; was it just her imagination, or was there now a hint of black to them? She'd have to ask what color his hair had been before stress had made it indiscernible and nearly non-existent.

"Today was my last rehearsal," she said. "Will you be attending the opening night?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," he promised. "But we must go through the score one final time. Your London debut must be nothing short of perfect and showcase your new abilities since you first appeared as principal in Hannibal."

She giggled, making him look at her with a deep frown. "I am not joking, my dear. You -"

"I know you are not," she replied matter-of-factly. "It seems that you'll always be my Angel of Music, watching over me and my career forever."

At that he gave her a chaste kiss to the dark curls at her temple. "Not an Angel, Christine. Just Erik."

"Just Erik," she echoed. "And I wouldn't have you any other way."

She ran her fingers gently over the exposed, scarred flesh of his face, feeling his restrained shiver – this part of him was always so sensitive. Pressing a soft kiss to one of the twists of his deformed cheek, she promised herself she would make sure he always felt as loved as she did at that moment.

Chapter Text

The setting sun’s rays shone above them as they walked. It seemed as if with each passing year, the day of their anniversary became hotter than the last, especially when they took their traditional walk all the way to the park where he had asked for her hand. They sat together on the same bench as that night, and Christine sweetly moved some stray hairs from her husband’s face after a few moments of silence between them.

“You’re going gray, my love.” It was true. What had once been hair so sparse and thin that it had nearly no color to its strands had become a head full of black and sometimes silvery hair, growing slowly since their second year together. Erik once told her that it resembled how it had once been during his childhood - it warmed her heart to see his excitement. The scarring that separated onto his head was easily covered now with his natural, dark waves, wigs now forgotten.

“I’ll be turning forty-nine this year,” he replied humorously. “You needn’t remind me of it, Christine.”

She laughed, then sighed in quiet awe. “And I’m thirty-one in a month. I cannot believe it’s been ten years since our wedding.”

He kissed her temple, making her move away playfully; they were in public, after all, although it was mostly children around them, with all of them making the most of the last hours of sunlight and paying them no mind. Christine laced their fingers together instead and took a glance at him. Erik observed the children, amused, and her left hand went to touch her own visibly enlarged abdomen.

“Our son,” she began confidently, her voice taking a mischievous tone with her next words. “Will be named Erik.”

He gave a heavy sigh and shook his head. “Of all possible names... How can you know the child will be a boy, anyway, if it isn’t to be born for another four months?”

“Meg and Victor have had four children, and she guessed correctly for all of them while carrying,” she noted, lovingly patting her middle to calm the kicking she felt within. “It’s a mother’s instinct.”

“It’s a one-in-two chance of being right for each one, my dear. The Baroness was simply lucky.”

She waved him off, smile growing at his annoyance. “Our other two are boys, Erik. Don’t you think that fits a pattern?”

Thinking back on Christine’s first pregnancy, the memories only brought back the horrible morning they had just a week before their second Christmas together. He had noticed certain oddities in his wife many days beforehand, but nothing prepared him for the morning he awoke to hear her crying inside their bathroom; his panic turned to sorrow when she let him into the room, just to see her leaning over their bath, painfully trying to explain that something was wrong.

“I was supposed to tell you on Christmas day.”

Both had mourned in their own ways, each blaming themselves for one reason or another, and their very sudden loss had driven them apart in their grief. It pained him to this day to think how hopeless he’d felt in trying to comfort Christine during that time, with he being unable to feel the physical pain and her despair – however, it had been a turning point in how he regarded his wife’s friend, Alice. She had been Christine’s biggest support and confidant during her healing process, with Erik only being there for whatever he could; though he stayed away from their private conversations to respect that, in one particular occasion he had been walking about their home for reasons he couldn’t remember and had accidentally caught a piece of one of them when Alice gave his wife a visit to check upon her wellbeing.

“I’ve lost four of them, myself.” Alice had spoken so quietly he had thought that what little he heard while passing by had been his imagination. “For me, and my husband, it meant seeing the doctor who would eventually tell us we were most likely to remain childless. Sometimes… sometimes it simply isn’t destined to be. It was neither mine nor Tom’s fault, as your loss isn’t yours or Erik’s. I can only speak for myself, tell my own tale – if you wish to be a mother, all you can do is try again.”

It took them a few months to discuss the matter of children again. While the pregnancy they lost had occurred completely naturally, perhaps in an instance where they hadn’t been careful enough, now Christine knew she was ready to really try to conceive, and that it was the right time for them. Erik took more convincing, however; his biggest issue was the possibility of passing along his deformity, but with Christine’s gentle support he found a doctor trustworthy enough to pose the question – was it possible for his child to be born with a face like his?

“It seems to me that yours is a most unique situation,” the man had answered, going over his notes quickly as Erik placed the mask over his face once again. “It is a combination of circumstances and, if I may, sir, of very unfortunate coincidences. Without knowing your family’s medical history, I’m afraid I cannot give you a specific set of causes for your… affliction.”

“Does that mean…”

“I do not believe it is likely for any child you father to have the same birth defects as you do,” the doctor said, bluntly. “Again, your circumstances happened to be incredibly unique, unlike any I’ve seen before – unless your wife carries those same characteristics from somewhere within her own bloodline, which I highly doubt, the chances of history repeating itself seem impossible. The only thing I wouldn’t confidently rule out would be some birthmarks, perhaps even your mismatched eye colors, but that is it. It would not be severe enough to require something like the mask you wear.”

Christine had been anxiously waiting for him at home, and had instantly thought the worst when he began to weep as soon as he saw her.

“What is it, Erik? What did he say?”

Much to her confusion, he looked at her – then pressed a kiss to her forehead and pulled her into a tight embrace. She tried to ask once again, her voice muffled by his body, but he answered before she could finish speaking.

“He called it nearly impossible for my curse to be inherited,” he finally revealed. He held her face tenderly, looking her in the eye – she had never seen such unbridled happiness in him.

It wasn’t long after that before he agreed to the idea of having a family of their own.

Then, weeks later, Christine was invited to Paris by a fellow soprano to a week of gala performances with other performers in benefit of local charities. If she were to accept, she would be away in France for the whole month of September, alone, as it would be too much of a risk for her husband to accompany her. Though she had been hesitant to leave him behind, he did nothing but encourage her to accept as soon as possible, and she did.

She came back with the slightest roundness to her belly and a confirmation from a physician, back in Paris, that she was with child. They had written letters once or twice to keep in contact before she was to return home, but she had made no allusion to this vital piece of knowledge she had kept from her husband. Christine hadn’t wanted to get her, or Erik’s, hopes up, just in case, but last time she had been a couple of months along as well and not showing at all; only she and Erik (and Meg, who was further along her pregnancy with her first child, and had accompanied her to the doctor’s and caught the first signs before even Christine herself did,) noticed so early on, but it meant that, at least, this pregnancy was coming along well. Only after telling Erik after her return to London did Christine write a letter for the now-retired Madame Giry in order to announce the news – she was delighted, according to her reply, but also quite cross that she and Meg had kept the secret from her nearly the whole time Christine had been in France. It was quite miraculous the wise older woman hadn’t guessed with just one look at Christine; she couldn’t remember a time where she hadn’t immediately known the two girls were hiding something.

While he hadn’t ever changed his mind after agreeing to her desire to have children, as the months passed and her due date got nearer he was a thousand times more afraid than she was. He fretted over her every need, worried himself sick over the chances of the birth harming her or their baby; he could recall, with a shudder, his nightly visions of his perfect wife with a cadaverous-looking child in her arms as he awoke in cold sweat, even when he had the knowledge that such a thing occurring was close to impossible. Her mood swings sometimes made her snap at him and, rather shamefully, he realized only a few weeks before her due date that what he thought was nothing but concern was actually bordering on paranoia. Erik mulled over that thought for many hours and apologized for already being a bad parent, voicing his fears one last time. She only shook her head at what she called silliness and kissed him and such a simple act made him calm for the time remaining.

Their firstborn, fondly named Charles Gustaf after Charlotte Valerius and Christine’s father, Gustaf Daaé, was born one late April night in 1892. When Erik was finally allowed into the room after many hours of restless pacing, he found her pale yet crying with joy, their swaddled child held against her breast. Her heart never felt as full as it did when he hesitantly agreed to hold their boy. Becoming parents wasn’t easy for them - her husband had issues with bonding with him for their son’s first month, but he eventually fell head over heels for Gustaf, who grew easily accustomed to seeing him both masked and unmasked, and seemed to notice no difference when it came to his Papa’s face and others’. The boy grew to be a perfect combination of both, with black curls and his father’s intellect and fondness for cats, as well as his mother’s green eyes, gentle kindness and insatiable curiosity.

Nadir Khan, with whom they had established regular contact some time before, visited them for the first time soon after he heard of Gustaf’s birth, and from there on he had become a constant presence in their lives. Though Erik would never admit it, Christine knew the Daroga would always be his truest friend – and she had grown very fond of him for it.

It was during this time that Christine finally heard news about Raoul; Meg’s husband’s family had always had close ties with the De Chagny’s, and it was through them that Christine got word that he was to marry soon. She didn’t know many of the details – but apparently his bride was a good woman and very beautiful, from a social standing high enough for his brother to approve, and they seemed to genuinely care for each other, according to what Meg saw. It made Christine smile as she read her letter; she had been hoping to hear he’d found happiness somewhere, and it seemed her hopes had been in the right place.

Felix Albert was their second, born three years after his older brother. He was, in turn, named after Christine’s mother Felicia and Erik’s father. Even while unborn, he seemed to show the same sense of mischief he now had, frequently keeping his mother up at night, kicking and squirming within her womb. Both his parents frequently joked that it was his restlessness that caused him to be born a month earlier than foreseen, in October, as if he simply hadn’t wanted to wait for his mother’s due date before his arrival. Felix was nearly identical to Christine, unlike his brother; from brown, untamable curls, all the way to his soft, pretty features, but he had his father’s dark eyes… and the same rough scarring on his lower back, faintly triangular in shape as it sat just beside his spine.

Seeing that mark on his newborn son for the first time had filled him with despair; Erik would spend many nights of those first few months by the baby’s side as he slept, quietly pleading for his forgiveness at having tainted his beauty with such an ugly scar - as if the child could even understand what it was that he apologized for. Christine saw no fault with their child’s body, however, something she frequently made known; feeling her unconditional love for the both of them had eventually allowed Erik to forgive himself. He even grew to see the mark as part of Felix’s perfection, not a stain on it, just as she did – and he had never looked back since then.     

Back in the present, Erik opened his old pocket watch and glanced at the hour. “I believe it’s time for us to fetch said boys. A seven-year-old with a three-year-old partner-in-crime are sure to cause trouble if left to their own devices for too long.”

“Though they adore Alice, we shouldn’t overstay their welcome,” Christine replied, moving to stand with his help. “They must be banging away at Tom’s piano - I wonder from whom they got that from.”  

He laughed, offering his arm. Together, observing the sky as the sun fell, they walked home. Christine thought to appeal to her husband once more about their unborn son’s name - it was the one argument both had remained eternally stubborn about in the past decade.

-

A few months after, Alice and Tom took the children again as, for the third time, Erik paced about their home as Christine gave birth. He had been building his family a new house for the past few months, but with such a delicate, important event happening upstairs he couldn’t concentrate on finishing what few loose ends he had to tie before they’d be able to move in. He rose from his seat when he heard the distant, shrill wails of an infant and waited anxiously for the midwife.

When he went into the bedroom, he took off his mask without a thought. His wife sat there, transfixed at the little one in her arms.

“You were right, my darling,” she whispered as he came up beside her, sitting on the bed by her side, then showed the child more clearly to him. “Meet your daughter.”

He felt tears prickle at his eyes and he studied her: like their other two children, she was absolutely beautiful, and he could see what hair she had was dark, perhaps black like his. A daughter. The little girl held his finger in her tiny fist when he reached towards her, presumably already asleep.

“What do we name her?” He asked, voice quiet as to not wake her. “We only ever thought about another boy.”

Christine had never strayed from her desire to name their next son after him, and they had also decided that, if they could help it, this would be their last child as they were very much content with having three of them. Erik couldn’t help but feel triumphant at that, knowing no son of theirs would bear his name; there were far worthier people in their lives to be named after. With that, perhaps he might suggest his wife’s own name for the child – but that thought was quickly forgotten when he realized she might feel the same way as he did with her suggestion. He could use that to tease her about it sometime soon, however… 

“Marguerite,” he offered after a moment. Christine looked at him in surprise. “Baroness Leberoux is like a sister to you – all our children’s names have been related to both our families. And… it is quite a beautiful name.”

“I love that. Her middle name after her aunt Meg,” she agreed. Erik rose an eyebrow at that. Did she already have a first name picked...?  Then, she cooed as the baby whimpered, again looking down at their daughter. “There isn’t much left to discuss after that, now, is there? She’s my little Erika.”

It took him a few seconds to realize she was being completely serious. Of course his clever wife would find a way to get what she wanted – to name a child after him – even when he had thought it impossible, seeing as said next child had turned out to be a girl. When they next locked eyes, there was a spark in Christine’s green ones; she knew full well what he was thinking. In the end, Erik gave a sigh and an amused shake of his head, signaling his defeat, and leaned forward to press a kiss to her cheek. She simply grinned and whispered a thank you.

Perhaps he should have suggested Christine’s name after all.