His apartment is in the eaves of a five-storey home peopled by two families of relative consequence. Like children avoiding their parents to keep their playtime world alive, we creak secretively past their entrances and up the narrow, wooden staircase.
Behind us, Erik closes the door and leans against it.
Our magical world is safe.
I remove my coat, glancing at him secretively as he removes his own. He’s so graceful, I admire, watching the shirt ripple across his broad back. Erik’s being in a room with me –any room – suddenly makes anything seems possible: the world is now open doors and desire paths; reachable horizons and brilliant, sunlit days that linger in the evenings, coating our shared life with gold.
He takes my bag and hangs my coat for me, humming when it’s done.
Our eyes meet.
I look around. His apartment is bare and simple, and though remnants of his old wealth feature here or there (his red satin sheets are on the bed, I note), it is furnished with only the necessary items. Living above ground hasn’t lessened the number of candles he uses, and their small buds of fire make the wooden walls glow like copper.
There are no silly vases; no endless number of dresses and shoes; no cold tidiness. It is warm. It is lived in. It is real.
Erik still stands by the door, watching me. “How odd it is, to see you here,” he observes. “I have thought of it, many times.”
“You have?” I raise an eyebrow. “You’re lucky. I didn’t know what room to imagine you in.”
Besides your dressing room, Christine.
He walks further into the room, arms aloft. “Will it do for a prima donna, do you think?”
“It’s perfect,” I tell him honestly. I drift towards a small desk, an open newspaper and used tea cup upon it. I turn the page; stroke the handle; touch all the things he has. “How long have you lived here?”
“Since my first day at the opera house. Stephan found it for me.”
“He has helped you a great deal, I think.”
Erik hums in agreement as he watches me wander around the room, touching his things.
“What do you do at the opera house?”
“I am composer and conductor.” He folds his arms, and leans against his well-stocked bookcase.
“A well-deserved position,” I comment, reaching his small piano. “And do you write as yourself?”
“I go by my own name.”
Goodness. Things have changed, I think. Scattered sheets of blank manuscript paper lie all around the instrument, empty bars and staves still waiting to be filled with his genius. I put my fingertips to my lips, kiss them, and lower them to the keys – this time in greeting, instead of goodbye. “It is a lovely home.”
When I raise my head to look at him, his eyes are boring into me.
“I am glad you think so.”
We stand in silence, unable to look away.
He suddenly shakes his head. “Have you eaten?”
“Are you hungry?”
… I don’t know how to answer that.
“… I will fetch us dinner.”
We have spiced sausages and sweet white wine, crunchy-crusted bread and cheese with holes in. Viennese food is quite good, I’m surprised to find, and smile to myself when he isn’t looking.
We make light conversation, avoiding any talk of emotions. Instead, Erik tells me of Stephan’s help in engineering our production’s tour, using his reputation to write to the major opera houses across Europe and ask them to invite us. Stephan, having lost a son who also hid from the world, seems to have become a father of sorts to Erik. Family.
I glow with the knowledge that, even when so unsure of my feelings, Erik found a way to bring me to him. As his stories continue, I grow more astonished of what he has achieved here with every humble sentence, until eventually, after some fresh coffee, a shy silence descends.
Our eyes meet again.
We smile again.
Finally, he sighs: “I fear your staying with me might be a terrible idea after all, my dear.”
I nearly drop my fork. “Why?”
“Ah, I only mean – I cannot imagine getting anything done.”
I bite my lip, and his eyes drop to it.
“To have you here,” he murmurs, fingers stroking the neck of his wine glass, “how can I bare to look upon anything else?” He says it so quietly that I wonder if it’s a real question, rather than flattery.
He takes one last gulp of wine, stands, and holds out his hand. I take it. He begins to lead me into the lounge, but instead, I make my way further into the apartment, and sit on the edge of his bed.
He watches me do it. He shifts his weight between his feet, as if making some sort of decision, before coming closer and stopping at the wardrobe, arms folded again.
I take a breath. “Your meaning escapes me, Sir.”
His eyes hood. “I mean,” he begins, “that if I am to write, Madame, and you are to sing, then we cannot have you sitting on my bed like that.”
“Is it not our bed, while I stay with you?”
He groans quietly, rubbing his top lip with the back of his hand, but I hear it.
“In what manner do I sit, for you to be troubled, so?”
He comes closer, and steps between my legs, resting his hands on my shoulders, their light pressure delicious. “In any manner at all, you vixen.”
It’s my turn to let out a small noise of gratification. I slowly reach out in front of me, take hold of his shirt and bunch it up in my fist.
His breath stops all together – I watch his stomach muscles tense.
“Hold my head between your hands, Erik.”
His eyes widen but he doesn’t question it. He does as I instruct.
“A little harder,” I moan, voice strained as I untie his trousers.
He complies. His fingertips dig a little into my skin, half-covering my ears and tugging at my hair. It’s a delicious, soft pain that makes my hands work faster.
Eventually, I have his trousers open. He is already hard, standing firmly out towards me, and I blink at it in greeting. “Hello,” I murmur, before kissing its tip.
“Oh,” my lover utters in surprise, hands clenching.
My lips come away a little wet, and I dab out my tongue to lick it away. It’s salty and a little thick.
I peak up at him. His eyes are wildfire; his breath coming hard from his deformed nose. He watches, fascinated, as I open my mouth and take him in.
He is large, and I don’t quite know what I’m doing, but soon Erik is hissing between his teeth, head thrown back in pleasure. I recall the whispered words and giggles of chorus girls in love, and try to emulate their stories by making a sucking motion with my cheeks. He gasps loudly and squeezes my head hard before releasing me entirely, flinging out a hand to his bedpost and leaning on it for support.
“Hmmm,” I hum around him, thinking that sucking must feel pleasurable – and when he slaps the bedpost again, I think humming must, too.
I bob my head faster, alternating between sucking and humming, and his hips join in at the rhythm I have set. Experimenting with a lick of my tongue, I seem to click a switch in him: he grasps my head once more, stilling me completely, and thrusts into my mouth with abandon.
Groaning at the lewdness of it, my breath cut short, I spur him on and he thrusts hard, making me gag. He groans out an apology and pulls back a little, resuming his movement only when I nod, and slap him lightly on the rump.
As I would a horse, I vaguely think. Get back on when you fall off.
I close my eyes to concentrate, and bring both hands to his buttocks, thrilling at the movement, the pressure, the sound. He’s riding me faster, holding my head harder as he reaches higher for the release he gallops towards – and suddenly he pulls out with a pop and leans on my shoulders once more, gasping hard at the floor.
“Darling?” I ask, timidly putting a hand on top of his. “Did I hurt you?”
He lets out a shaky laugh. “Oh, my angel...” he manages. “No. No, you did not.”
And he takes my hands, lifts me to standing. His wet hardness juts out against my legs.
“Turn around,” he whispers.
I do as bid. He begins to untie my laces.
“I can just –” I start, lifting my hem.
“No,” Erik rasps. “You and I are alone, beneath a roof with a bed, and without fear. I want to see all of you; taste all of you… at my leisure.”
The words make my legs tremble.
My skirts drop with a ‘whoosh’. He pulls my chemise over my head as I turn back to him, standing only in my bloomers. He steps back and takes me in so slowly that I almost grow shy. “Goddess,” he murmurs, and reaches for my bloomers.
Holding my gaze, he pulls them down to the floor. “Out you come,” he whispers, kissing my calf.
I step out and he kicks them away, straightens and pulls me in tight to his body, aligning every part of us that could possible touch. His hardness grazes my naked core and I have to resist wrapping my legs around him and taking him right there.
He waltzes us backwards until I feel the bed against my legs.
“That’s it,” he murmurs as I pull myself further back onto the mattress, climbing slowly on with me, his mouth hovering over mine. “Lie back.”
I do, my head against the pillow.
He stays on his knees near my feet, roaming over my body with his eyes. So desperate for his touch, I feel as if the air itself caresses me. “Erik,” I mumble.
“Open your legs.”
I comply, feeling my breath quicken.
He whistles out air. “God, look at you. Like ripe fruit for plucking.”
I murmur some blasphemous words as he presses a single finger lightly to my folds. Running it up between my legs he separates them, and gently pushes in, eyes firmly on my face.
“Hmmm,” he breathes as my back arcs into his touch. He pulls out, and licks his finger.
I groan out loud at the sight of it. How is it possible to desire someone so much? For all of this feeling to be contained in one body? He’s only just had me, I think, the roof was merely an hour or two ago; and yet here we are, doing it all again.
Doing it better.
“Do you desire me?” I breathe.
His eyebrows rise. His small smirk betrays his own memory of our garden rendezvous. “Yes,” he replies huskily, voice like dark honey.
I hold his gaze, running my fingernails lightly across my breasts. “Do you think of me?”
He follows my fingers with his eyes. “Constantly.”
“Do you touch yourself for me?”
He wraps his hand hard around his cock, and I have to bite my lip. “I’d rather touch you,” he growls.
“Well, then,” I whisper the invitation.
He exhales through his nose, and lifts his other hand to my breast. He traces my nipple in small circles, as light as a bird’s feather. I hum, my hips squirming among the covers.
Erik lowers, kisses the valley between my breasts and trails his hand down, down, down to stroke between my legs. I hear my wetness and shiver. “You are the work of artists divine,” he murmurs into my skin, fluttering kisses across my chest and moving down. “An unbelievable phenomenon. How did you fall to earth, Christine? What foolish angel let you go?”
“My angel is here,” I gasp as his mouth skims my folds. “Taking me to Heaven.”
“That’s right,” he answers roughly. “I will.” And he aligns himself above me, lowers his mouth to mine and pushes gently in. Curling his fingers into my hair, he begins our delicious dance, rocking his hips.
We gaze into the other’s eyes – try and comprehend how, after so much loneliness and loss, we have found one another again. And when I approach Heaven, he watches my face, spellbound, as it creases with amassed, mounting pleasure. “Yes,” he whispers above me, not quickening his hips, but moving steadily. “Yes, my angel. Cum for me.”
And I hear my whine pouring from my mouth like the cry of a wild animal, unrestrained by decorum or propriety, shame or embarrassment – hear it flood the room without care of who listens or wakens.
“Oh, Christine!” he moans loudly. “Fly!”
And the strength of this wave is too much for sound or whimpers. My body rises from the bed, every muscle contracting with pleasure – and only when I collapse, buzzing and tingling to the mattress, does Erik push his last push, and gasps quietly into my hair. “Mine.”
It is just after dawn. The birds wake with us, our fingers interlaced on the pillow as the room fills with morning light.
There is only peace and warmth and contentment in this new world. It feels as if winter never happened at all.
“Weren’t you tempted?” I ask, “to see us perform in Paris?”
“I read of your success in the papers,” he replies, idly stroking my arm. “I wanted to come.”
He sighs. “They also wrote quite endlessly of your blissful partnership and marriage. I thought that… perhaps you were happier, what with the opera house.”
“Oh, Erik,” I lament. “It was all an act! He wanted to protect his reputation, and I agreed so that I could sing, to reach you. After our fight we made a pact. I moved into the opera house. We lived apart.”
“Oh.” I turn red. “Yes, he… he smashed my mirror, and I called him a monster, though really it was me being a monster – and when he threatened to bring down the Palais Garnier with you still inside of it, I tried to warn you, and he… he locked me in my room.”
There’s a deathly silence. I dare to meet his eyes, and see the fire of fury in them.
“I know I have no right to disapprove,” he mutters darkly, “but I would kill him!”
I think he is joking. It’s still hard to tell. I pat his arm. “It’s alright,” I say lightly, “I escaped.”
His eyebrows shoot up. “How?”
“A hairpin in the lock and a vase out of the window.”
He bursts out laughing in his rich, melodic laugh, and the fury fire is gone. “How proud I am of you, my brave song bird. And what then?”
I hesitate, smile fading. I don’t want to spoil it. “I found your letter, and… went on holiday with the Giry’s.”
He hears what isn’t spoken, and gazes at me, waiting.
“We went to Sweden,” I add awkwardly.
“… your father.”
His voice is gentle. “Why did you go to Sweden, Christine?”
“For a change of –” I start, but he interrupts with a growled command: “Tell me.”
I huff, and then, the world starts to slow. In the quietness, my pain from that time reveals itself like ruins in a desert when the wind blows away the sand. It hasn’t vanished, then. “… It was after you left,” I begin, voice trembling. “I – I...” But I shake my head, unable to put something so vast and painful into useless words.
But he understands. He understands me. Erik pulls me close, and folds me tightly into his arms. “I’m sorry, my dove,” he whispers. After a pause, he adds: “It was the same for me.”
“A day didn’t go by when I didn’t regret leaving you... or regret throwing my masks into the river.”
I pull back, eyes wide as dinner plates. “All of them?”
“Most of them,” he concedes. “Some are quite valuable, you know. But once I left Paris, and the warmth of your arms... there were many days that made me want to crawl back underground. I was reminded quite quickly that with a face like mine, the world of light isn’t without its darkness.”
I hum, squeezing his torso. “So what did you do?”
“I went to the graves of the men I killed,” he says. “And I made penance.” He doesn’t look at me.
“Did it help?” But he stays silent, and it’s my turn to growl in command.
“Take care not to think too well of your Erik. It was all done selfishly.”
“I thought that by making amends, I might... be rewarded. With you.” He looks only at the ceiling.
I blink. "You already had me."
"I "had" you almost a dozen, glorious times, Christine, but that is not what I mean."
"Then.." I watch him take a deep breath. Exhale again. His body trembles. Something is coming. I wait.
“When I let you go – after Don Juan,” he begins, uncomfortable and slow, “I thought the little light that existed in my world would go out. But it didn’t. For the first time in my life, I had done something good – something selfless. And you,” he swallows, squeezing my waist, “you would be happy, because of something I had done. That was my one candle in the darkness.”
The apartment around us is quiet, as if it listens, too.
“I never presumed I’d see you again; I would exist alone, as I always had. But then,” his voice breaks a little, “you did come. You came back. And it was impossible not to think it! That the good I had done you was being rewarded.”
I recall his face – his sobbing into his elbow when I arrived at his lagoon two months after my marriage, unannounced.
“You were married, but broken,” he rasps. “A miserable Viscomtesse. The little good I’d done you hadn’t erased the harm. You hated me; I hated myself. And pathetically I threw that hatred at you, clinging to the belief of my ‘goodness.’ It - it was all I had.”
I swallow, remembering the cruelty with which he spoke to me that night.
“Yet – unbelievably – you felt something else for me, too. To discover that...” he trails off, blinking with wonderment at the ceiling. “It was unbelievable. I still cannot believe it!” He turns to look at my shyly. “Making love with you that night was sweeter than everything I had ever lived for. Sweeter than music itself.”
Tears prick my eyes and after a moment of revelling in the memory, his body hardens; I press my fingers into his chest harder, knowing what happened next.
“That morning – when you realised what we had done...” he closes his eyes, “your face... I was a fool: your return wasn’t a reward for my goodness! It was divine punishment, righteous punishment, for all the wrongs I had done! What is it they say?” he asks hoarsely. “‘Ignorance is bliss?’ Having only been haunted by your voice and piteous kisses, I now had the carnal knowledge of what it is to nestle between your willing thighs – of the sound you make when I take you. How you whimper my name and struggle against me, struggling to get closer… Such ghosts would haunt me far more than your singing Don Juan.”
I barely breathe, scared to break the silence, to stop him from speaking. Never before has Erik revealed himself to me so much in words; only in anger, music, or lust.
“When you left me then,” he says with finality, “my one light went out. I do not remember those days even passing. I believe I turned truly mad.”
I cup his face, and he accepts my comfort with eyes still closed. Having being unconscious during that aftermath was a blessing, I realise. My fever had protected me from facing a truth I wasn’t ready for; from admitting what I had done, and what I wanted to do again. It tried, and failed, to cleanse me: to undo my discovery of the lies that social propriety and marriage lean on.
Thank goodness it failed.
But then... Sweden. I know what he is speaking of. “I would have been, too,” I interject softly.
“You were busy dying, my dear,” he corrects me, “and the horror of living in a world that didn’t have you in it brought me back to my senses. At least, enough for me to stalk your garden,” he scoffs. “But I did not want to sin again. I did not threaten your staff or throttle your damnable husband, however much I needed to tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“That if only you lived, I would be there,” he says simply. “That if you lived, whatever you said, whatever you did, I would wait. You could leave me again and again – tread on me, use me – and still I would wait… endlessly, pathetically... for you to look at me.”
“But you didn’t,” I interrupt, voice harder than I mean it to be. “You left.”
“Did I?” he demands, and he sits up to meet my eyes. “Did I leave you, Christine?”
And I recall every moment of every day – the thought of him, somehow always there. “It was so cruel of you,” I whisper, “to be there without being there at all.” Just as he had been as the Angel of Music; as the Phantom of the Opera; as my ghost ever after: always there.
“You’ve never left me, either,” he returns softly. “Even when you did.”
Prisoners. I sigh, and he reclines again, shifting his head back to my neck. “It became quite evident, however, that with the number of people you had in that house, roses would have to do.”
We both half-smile, laying together for a while in silence.
“And then you came to my balcony,” I say softly. “And the world changed forever.”
“It did,” he mutters, “and I waited for the punishment to come, but it didn’t. Somehow, you wanted me, too. So you see… I was being rewarded for my good behaviour. And until you were naked on my piano, asking me what I wanted – seeing a future that had me in it – it never occurred to me that I could have anything more than your nocturnal visitations.” He shakes his head. “The thought was too delicious, too impossible... that perhaps you believed yourself starting to care for me. I dared to dream for more.
So you see... when I left Paris to atone for my sins – to become a better man – it was only so I could have you. All of you.”
I try to breathe calmly, the mounting feeling in my body threatening to over spill. “That is a better kind of selfishness than others,” I try to tease him, but my lip wobbles from the strength of feeling in his eyes. “What awful timing it was,” I whisper, “to lose you, as soon as I was free. To give myself to you, just as you left to find me. Perhaps that was my punishment," I stroke his hair back from his face, “for the wrongs I have done, too.”
“Perhaps,” he murmurs back. “But you did right.”
“Wanting and having a man I was not married to?” I ask, incredulous. “Was that right? Soon, we will say how we are only good people who do bad things.”
“Hmph.” He tugs me closer. “That is still an improvement, on my part.”
The church bells from the city square chime softly along our street and through the window. It is growing late, but we do not move.
“You did do right, Christine. I would have gladly lived on the scraps of your unfulfilled lust until the last, coming to you in secret and distracting your husband with petty games, if that was all I would be granted. You were better than that. You told him.”
“I didn’t have a choice. I was drowning.”
He looks at me, and strokes my face. “Why didn’t you tell me you planned to leave him?”
“Would you still have left, if I had?”
He exhales and slowly, nods. “I would have done it better, but... yes. Still living underground, still disgusted by my own reflection – how could I even think that anything I could offer you would be enough? If your husband and all his riches weren’t, how could a cavern underground, or a man afraid of the day?”
“I wanted none of that,” I argue.
“No,” he says softly. “I know you didn’t. But I would’ve destroyed you, Christine. Look at the way I live now! Can you not see?”
I swallow. I nod.
"It was your words that made me dare to try," he whispers, swallowing. "Your compassion. You freed me."
His stepping bare-faced into the world, face like a joyous child’s… it is one of my most precious memories.
“Your reaction...” He swallows, a silent tear leaving tracks on his cheek. “You did care. Perhaps – perhaps I could deserve you. Perhaps I could change.”
“And you did,” I whisper, wiping away his tears. “You brave man; my brave night bird. You did!”
He snaps his eyes to me, wide and wet.
“You wrote a beautiful opera that is adored by thousands across the world. You allow yourself to live as a man. You let them see you. I’m so proud of you, Erik,” I say, and kiss him on the forehead. "Just trust me next time," I demand. "Talk to me. Don't ever do that to me again."
His eyes widen further. He slowly lifts a hand to where I have kissed him, touching it as if to press it into his very skin, and closes his eyes. With a shaking breath, he says: “I won't. I couldn't. I love you.”
“And I love you.”
“... Will you let me?”
“... Are you asking me to stay?”
He keeps his eyes closed, his hand on his forehead, and I am reduced to lowering his arm and forcing him to look at me. “If you write me another opera to sing with you,” I say with a smile, “then yes, I will stay. I will let you love me. And I will let you finally take your well-deserved curtain call.”
In his tears, still he laughs, and I am engulfed in his limbs and skin, surrounded in a world of Erik. “Together we will write every opera you’ve ever dreamed of,” he growls in my hair, spanking me fondly on the rump. I squeal, and he chuckles warmly, his voice like the sunlit daylight that streams into our room. “My Christine,” he whispers, hands stroking, raking up my back. “My love.”
“Never leave me again,” I command, my eyes closed.
“Nor you, me," he whispers, before rolling me onto my back, and kissing me.
Together imprisoned; together free.
We have no more need for ghosts.