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"You try my patience. Make your choice." He almost spat at her, his voice raspy and full of hate. It was so unlike her Angel, even after all she'd seen him do. She barely recognised this monster before her who was blackmailing her like this. He was possessive and jealous, this she knew, but never evil towards her. This wasn't who he was. She had to get him back from whatever abyss he'd fallen into. 

"Pitiful creature of darkness. What kind of life have you known? God give me courage to show you, you are not alone!" 

She grabbed his shoulders and pulled him towards her and he went willingly. The fight was leaving him, she realised. He was too tall, so she stood on her tiptoes in a perfect ballet stance and reached his face where her lips touched his. His lips were chilled, but softer than she'd ever expected. She'd meant it to be a chaste kiss, but the spark - the one she'd always felt when they sang and later when they finally met and touched - struck her immediately and she couldn't pull away just yet. She told herself that it was for him. He had to believe that she'd stay with him, so he'd spare Raoul's life. But deep inside the urge to share intimacy had lingered for so long and she finally let it out. 

His lips were tense, actually his whole body seemed tense, but he didn't pull away. A wicked impulse prompted her to nibble at his lips lightly and it seemed to unwind the tension in him. When she ran her tongue over his swollen bottom lip, he parted his lips slightly and she took the opportunity to let her tongue explore his mouth. The action drew a moan from his throat and it spurred her on.

With modest hesitation he began to meet her tongue with his own, creating a sensual dance that filled her stomach with heat. He bit lightly at her upper lip and she gasped at the sublime sensation. He must've gotten the wrong idea of her reaction because he started to pull away. She grabbed the back of his head to stop him and pulled him closer until he held still. She marvelled at the touch of his real hair which was thin, but much softer than the wig he normally wore. She couldn't help but grip it hard when she felt him explore her mouth on his own. This time it was she who moaned and he swallowed it greedily. His hesitance was slipping away and the passion she felt in his music was thrust into their kiss.

She'd kissed Raoul a few times by now, even with tongue, but it'd never felt like this. Her body was coming alive from this kiss, her knees going weak and pleasure pooling in her stomach and much lower. 

She let the hand in his hair gently run over his deformity. He twitched at her touch, briefly pausing in their kiss and drew in a breath before continuing. The grotesque tightly stretched skin felt like smooth leather with a few bumps where his veins surfaced, but she was surprised to feel how warm his skin felt and how little she cared that it was a part of him. She only cared that he had suffered because of it. A soft whimper escaped him and tears from them both dropped and mingled between them. Her other hand travelled lovingly from his shoulder down to his chest where she felt his heart beat rapidly against her hand. She carefully dug her nails into his shirt, like she could reach in and heal the pain in his heart.

She noticed his hands hovering around her as if he was not allowing himself to touch her and she pushed herself further against him, so he had to grab her to steady them both.

***

Erik had never felt another's lips on him before. Not even as a child did he remember his mother kissing him on the forehead or anywhere at all. It was a sensation like no other. Christine's lips were firm, but molded perfectly against his own lips, making it seem like she was made to kiss him. The heat from her warmed him and the warmth spread throughout his body. It was like he was burning from the inside, but not with hell fire as in his dreams. It was more like the fire of the sun, of his sun, Christine. 

To say that he was shocked was an understatement. Even though he'd planned to marry her, he'd never imagined that she would willingly touch him such a way, it had been a hope too dangerous to consider. Now that it was happening, the sensations flooded him and he didn't know how to react. Instead he stood completely still like a statue. A harsh voice, probably his conscience, told him that she only this to save the boy, that it was a kiss of pity. The only time the voice didn't crowd his mind was when music consumed him or he had an anger spell. But suddenly he felt her lips move, toying with his lips several times, killing the voice instantly. Christine's ministrations absorbed it. Her tongue ran over his bottom lip and created a tingle that made him lose his breath. He parted his lips by reflex. A desirous shiver ran through him as Christine swiftly slipped her tongue into his mouth. The intrusion was exquisite and a sound escaped him that he'd never made before. Her movements created a longing in him. He tentatively met her tongue with his own, careful not to do anything she wouldn't want. But she seemed to welcome him, swaying with him in their embrace.

He lost himself in the feel of her, his whole body responding and he felt parts of him react that he was ashamed of. His simple, deplorable lust was disrespectful to her innocence, but despite of it he grew confident. Too confident he discovered as he bit her bottom lip softly which drew a gasp from her. He was quick to pull back, appalled by his behavior, but was stopped by her small hand that promptly held him in place against her lips. She'd liked it. The realisation was extraordinary. She was like a beautiful instrument to be played and he was a willing student.

Her hand at his neck started to drift up through his hair, his real hair. He hated his hair, so thin and weak compared to her beautiful brown curls. But as he felt her fingers run through it he relaxed and a shiver travelled from where her hand went and down his back. Had anyone ever touched his hair before? He ached to touch her hair too and wondered if it would create such a shiver in her. He wanted to make her feel like he felt. He let his tongue enter her mouth, feeling her responding to him as she gripped his hair and moaned. The sound made him lose control and he let go, kissing her with every feeling that tore through his heart and mind. She was everywhere around him, a light in his darkness, a note on the keys of his organ and suddenly he played and music filled him. 

He felt her hand slowly move down to his deformed side and it made him pause at her lips. He knew that she wouldn't hurt him, but no one had ever dared to touch him there. He barely did it himself as he couldn't bear it. As her hand slid over the awful skin he pushed into her lips again, pouring everything she made him feel into their kiss. Tears squeezed their way through his closed eyes and he hoped that she wouldn't notice. She continued her journey over his disgusting scars and he couldn't help but whine, feeling embarrassed by it. It was quickly forgotten when he felt her other hand slide down over his chest, the sensual feeling awakening his body even more and he was worried that he would burst at the sensation. Her hand stopped over his heart and he felt her nails softly through his shirt. If she wondered if his heart was hers, there was never any doubt in his mind. She would always hold it. 

He wanted to touch her like she touched him, but he fought against his body's desires. It wasn't something he was allowed to do. But when she pushed herself hard against him, he had to stop them both from falling backwards, so he caught her arms to steady them both. They gained their balance and he knew he should let her go, but instead he dared to run his crude hands up her arms, then down her swaying back. 

"Get your hands off her, beast!" A voice boomed behind them and echoed through the cave. He instantly backed away from Christine, mortified at what he'd done. 

The Vicomte struggled against his restraints, outraged by the loathsome action that had happened before his very eyes. "Get away from this... that monster, Christine! Let me die, just don't give up your life. It's not too late." A look of disgust marred his youthful features.

Erik dared a glance at the beauty a few feet away from him. She wasn't looking at the Vicomte though, she was looking at him. Her eyes were wide, her plump cheeks blushed and her lips were swollen from their kiss. Her breathing was as fast as his own. He turned his eyes away in shame. She'd shown him true compassion and he'd taken advantage of that. He didn't deserve her and though the Vicomte didn't either, it was her own choice. He had to let her go.

He heard the mob coming for him in the tunnels beneath the Opera and they were getting closer. They screamed for revenge for Piangi and Buquet, looking for the creature hiding in the catacombs. That was what he was. In his desperate search for love he'd ended up a murderer, a monster. He was not a man, just a creature. The half of his face that looked like a man was the real deformity. The horrific side was his true face.

Some of the people in the mob would fall in his traps, ultimately dying because of him. It was an impossible burden to bear, he realised, and he wished then for the mob to kill him. Without her there was no point to his life anyway.

"Go," he said to Christine, at first a whisper to prepare himself for the loss of the only light in his life. She looked confused at him, frozen a few feet from him. It was too close. He turned and louder he urged the boy instead. "Take her, forget me, forget all of this..." He pulled out a dagger and cut the noose around the Vicomte's neck, releasing him. 

He turned to Christine, but didn't dare to meet her eyes. "Leave me alone. Forget all you've seen..." The lump in his throat grew as he felt her eyes on him and he turned away. "Go now, don't let them find you! Take the boat, leave me, forget all of this." He sensed the Vicomte taking Christine away towards the boat, but they weren't fast enough and the mob was nearing. He turned to see what was keeping the lovers from leaving and saw Christine struggle against the Vicomte's grip. She seemed reluctant to leave, but she must. There was nothing for her here. 

"Go now! Go now and leave me!" He desperately waved her away, turning from her before his resolve crumbled. He couldn't bear to see her leave. He heard Christine cry and felt the shame once again because of the distress he'd caused her. He let the dagger drop from his grip. The pain in his chest was unbearable and the lump in his throat had grown to a lasso around his neck. It seemed like a justified way to die considering how many he'd strangled with his own lasso. He felt his music dying slowly inside. He was dying with it, he knew that. He fumbled with the thin cord in his sleeve. The number of times he'd contemplated suicide were impossible to count, but he was too much of a coward. Instead he waited for the mob to come and finally end the misery that was his life. If only someone had done it before he'd started to hurt and murder in the first place.

He barely heard the scrape of steel against stone before a sharp pain pierced his back and continued through his body. He managed to look down and notice the slow reddening of his shirt near his navel before he fell to his knees. The movement caused the steel to slip out of his body again with a sickening noise, telling him that his murderer was still holding the dagger behind him. He let himself roll onto his back, so he could see the boy in the eyes, Erik's own dagger in hand. It surprised him that the Vicomte had it in him, but he couldn't blame him. 

A scream penetrated the sound of his own heavy breathing and he was sad to realise that he almost knew Christine's scream as well as he knew her speaking voice. He'd made her suffer too much. A tingle down his back told him that she was coming nearer. His soul had always been in perfect tune to her and even as he lay dying, he felt the music rising in him, but this time it was a requiem, one last melody. He'd been stabbed a few times before, but this was different. He could feel his very essence pouring out of his body with his blood.

The pain in his abdomen faded when she knelt next to him and touched his shoulder. "No, no, you can't die!" She cried. Why waste more tears on him, he wondered as the salty water dropped down on his bloody shirt.

"Christine," the Vicomte gnarled, "Get away from that monster. We're leaving now!" He threw the dagger into the lake and grabbed Christine's arm to pull her up. She winced and anger filled him at the boy's rough grip, even though he knew that he'd hurt her the same way when he'd taken her to his lair a few hours ago. His actions tonight had been those of a madman and he couldn't blame the Vicomte for acting harshly out of desperation. Christine shouldn't either.

"Why did you stab him?" She cried. "He let us go! We should just have left." She struggled in her lover's grip, trying to reach the wounded creature on the ground.

"He would've come after us. He always has. You think he can't escape the mob? Silly little Lottie." The nickname sounded more like an insult than an endearment. It had always seemed berating to Christine, Erik thought. "He's not going anywhere now. Let's leave." The coldness in the boy's voice was unanticipated.

"Raoul, we can't leave him like this!" She very nearly yelled at him and shook her arm away from him. The sound of a slap resonated through the cave and Christine landed in the pool of Erik's blood, her eyes a sudden river of pain and shock. Erik lightly ran a hand over the red cheek where a small cut from the Vicomte's ring had formed, a growl running through his throat. He tried to get up, but he was incapacitated. There was too much blood and his vision was blackening.

She looked at him softly. "Don't die, Angel." She whispered. "Don't leave me."

"Christine," he nearly sang to her, the last music of his life. "Erik is dying." She stared at him, not understanding what he meant. He realised that he'd never told her his name before. He'd been obsessed with speaking correctly and acting like a sofisticated gentleman - being the Angel of Music she'd wanted. In all that time he'd forgotten to tell her the simplest things. "I am Erik." He rasped.

"Nice to meet you, Erik." She smiled sadly. "I'm Christine." He chuckled, though it may have sounded like the cough of a dying man. Maybe he should've introduced himself properly when they met for real, but he'd never done any proper things anyway. "Erik, please stay awake." 

He swallowed with more effort than he had left. He wanted to make every wish of hers come true, but he couldn't. "Erik has to leave, Angel. But my love for you will never die." She gripped his hand and held it tightly, tears falling in a steady stream. He wanted to close his eyes, but couldn't, not yet. Suddenly her hand was ripped from his and she yelped. 

"I didn't want it to come to this, Little Lottie, but I must save you from his spell. If you won't follow me, I will bring you with me by force." The Vicomte hauled Christine up from the ground, then threw her over his shoulder. She kicked and screamed, but he was stronger than he looked. 

"Put me down, Raoul! He cannot die alone!" But he ignored her and walked towards the boat. Erik wanted to stop him after the boy had hit his Christine, but his body was not strong enough to fight against the killing wound. It seemed appropriate that he died alone as he had lived and finally he let his heavy eyes close. He hoped that the Vicomte would look out for Christine when he couldn't anymore. She deserved the world, a world Erik'd never been able to give her. The Vicomte could do that. Even as Erik heard her scream for him in the distance he felt peace in the fact that no one could keep her away from the light she'd longed for. She would forget the awful monster in the catacombs and soon he'd be no more than a bad memory.

The distant song made him open his eyes one last time.

Angel of Music
I denied you
Turning from true beauty
Angel of music
My protector
Stay by me, strange angel

The words flowed through him, her pained voice finishing his song. A sense of closure filled him and he breathed out one last time as his eyes closed.

Chapter Text

Christine didn't look back again. The lair was out of sight and the only thing that greeted her behind her was Raoul's hard stare and the blood on his shoulder from where he'd thrown her over his shoulder. It'd stained his shirtsleeves. Her own gown was soaked through after she had landed in the large pool of blood and now she felt it drying on her skin. She couldn't think of whose blood it was or how much of it there had been, for she didn't have any more strength to cry. So she looked away from Raoul and watched as he tried to guide them through the catacombs. She didn't know what time it was, but it felt like they'd been sailing all night. None of them knew the way. Every time they rounded a corner she both hoped and feared that they would end back at the lair. 

Raoul's anger rolled off him, a strange emotion on the gentle man she'd known for so long. She didn't blame him of course. He'd been through so much because of her and this very night he'd almost died at the hands of a madman obsessed with her. But her cheek still stung and she felt it swell. When he'd seen her touch the sore spot earlier, he'd told her to tell everyone that the Phantom had hit her. He was ashamed of his action and she wanted to forgive him this once because he wouldn't do it again. But she couldn't lie and say that her Ange... That Erik had hurt her like that. So she didn't say anything to Raoul's comment, not ready to face any consequences yet. She hadn't spoken to him at all since they'd left the lair. At first she'd been angry that he'd stabbed Erik and made her leave him to die alone. She knew that wrath was still inside her. But in this moment she felt separated from herself, from the whole situation. It was like a daze had settled over her mind and it felt easier to stay there than face reality.

She had a feeling that Raoul's rage was about more than being close to death because of her. He surely felt as if she'd betrayed him. First by kissing Erik and then by wanting to stay by Erik's side as he lay dying rather than follow her fiancee who'd risked his life to save her. She tried to justify her actions by telling herself that the kiss was the only way to spare Raoul's life and that her deep compassion was the only reason she wouldn't leave Erik alone to die. But it was much more than that and Raoul seemed to have realised that. But she couldn't bear to question that dark part of herself just yet.

They hadn't heard the mob in a while and Christine wondered if it was a good thing or not. Raoul had mumbled something about following their voices, but that possibility had vanished with the mob. Maybe they'd given up. Maybe they'd found the body. She choked back a sob. No reason to go there. As long as they sailed through the catacombs she didn't have to resurface from the safe bobble she'd found herself in.

Her bobble started to burst when they drifted through a tight passage and saw light streaming through a narrow opening at the other end. Raoul sighed loudly of relief and began to row faster. She wondered how sore he'd be after having been nearly strangled and then rowing through the mazes for God knows how long.

She thought of God's intentions with this. She'd always been a firm believer and never even thought to question God. It was probably the reason why she'd never questioned the existence of the Angel of Music and had been shocked to meet a man instead of an angel when he finally showed himself to her. Later he'd told her that the actual Angel of Music in her religion was Lucifer, the angel who'd fallen and become the Devil. It had shocked her and tarnished the memory of the stories her Father had told her of the Angel. Erik had tried to make it better by saying that she shouldn't listen to him because he wasn't in God's favor anyway and that he'd meet Lucifer soon enough. That had shocked her even more and she'd cried for his soul. Now she wondered if Erik really was in Hell and found the thought unbearable. Why would God create Erik and let him be born to a mother who couldn't love him? Why had God let Erik meet hatred from the moment he was born? How different would his life have been if he had been cared for and loved?

They reached the platform near the light and Raoul threw the oar in the boat and jumped off. He grabbed Christine and hauled her up. She followed him willingly without a thought, fighting against reality crashing through to her. Tears formed in her eyes again and when they reached a door with a ray of sunlight betraying its hiding place, the tears fell once again. Raoul tried to open the door, but as it was one of the Phantom's making he couldn't. Instead he went back after the oar in the boat and used it to pry the door open. The light blinded her as the door opened and the irony wasn't lost on her when Raoul pulled her into the sun after drifting through the eternal night. It was what she'd asked of him. She felt reluctant in his grip. If she left the catacombs, she knew that she could never go back. Never see Erik again. Who would bury his body? Who would mourn him? But Raoul was stronger than her and it didn't take much for him to get her out of the dank darkness.

She gasped at the sight that met her. They emerged from the side of the Opera, but from there it was easy to see the chaos in front. In the morning light the street was filled with gendarmes and fire carriages. Dark smoke was coming out of the large doors, one of which was broken down with an axe. Raoul led her closer to the chaos though she'd rather go back into the catacombs. She heard a shriek that she recognised as Carlotta's and soon her shoulders was gripped hard by the older woman. 

"You!" Carlotta screamed. "You did this! You and your Phantom lover! He killed my beloved!" Her scream turned into a sob and her grip loosened a bit. Raoul took the opportunity to push her away from Christine. "I demand revenge!" Carlotta cried through her sobs.

"And you have it, Madame," Raoul said firmly. "The Phantom is dead." He dared to gesture to Christine's gown that had become more red than white, though the blood was beginning to blacken. Christine felt her chest pound and fought the urge to strip herself of the proof of the Phantom's demise. All around her people gasped at the sight of her stained gown, the dried blood on her arms and in her hair. Murmurs followed the wave of gasps. She couldn't handle their stares and she felt her knees weakening. Raoul held her up and all she wanted was to push him away and hide from them all.

A friendly voice called her name and her legs found strength again. She left Raoul's grasp and moved through the crowds towards Meg's voice. It was Madame Giry she found first as the crowd separated around her. Meg stood next to her mother, but ran into Christine's arms when she appeared. "Oh Christine, we were so worried." Meg's concern felt genuine and comforting. Madame Giry came up and hugged Christine next. 

"My dear girl, what has happened to you?" the Madame didn't mean her ruined gown, but instead touched Christine's swollen cheek lightly. Christine hissed. 

"The Phantom hit her." Raoul had somehow found them and tugged Christine up against him. She looked away from the three pair of eyes staring at her. He would tell the story and she wouldn't confirm or deny it. It would be enough for everyone and she wouldn't betray Erik's memory by lying.

"Is that so, Christine?" Madame Giry sounded doubtful and she remembered that the ballet instructor knew Erik better than Christine did. Did she even know his name perhaps? Suddenly Christine felt the need to question the Madame about everything and tell Meg it all. She needed them to hear what had happened, but this wasn't the place for it. She looked up again and found that they were still looking at her. She wasn't going to make Raoul a liar, but she wouldn't support his statement. The look in the older woman's eyes told her that she suspected Raoul was less than truthful.

"Christine, the gendarmes want our statements and then we can go home." Raoul broke the silence. "While the Opera still stands, the inside is burnt beyond recognition."

She panicked then. Her home, everything she owned was gone. Where would she live? Where would the Girys live? They were the closest thing she had to a family and she needed them to be safe. "What about you? Where will you go?" She asked them and found herself pleading the Madame to take her with them, where ever they went. She had to talk to someone or she would surely go mad.

Madame Giry smiled calmly. "An acquaintance of mine is currently traveling and will be gone for some time. I have the key as I take care of his apartment while he's away. We'll stay there for now. You're welcome to join us, my dear." Christine felt the love of her former guardian in her kind offering and nodded.

"Nonsense!" Raoul huffed. "Christine is coming with me. I can protect her." His disregard for her own wishes annoyed her slightly, but before she was able to object, the former ballet teacher interfered.

"But you say the Phantom is dead, no? Then there's nothing to fear." Raoul opened his mouth to protest, but the Madame continued. "And it would seem quite unseemly for a Vicomte to take his fiancee to stay overnight at his house before marriage. Though I am just Christine's former guardian, I do not find it appropriate. Especially not as Christine is facing enough rumors as it is." Christine's chest tightened at the thought of the rumors about the recent happenings. After their performance on stage the rumors about the intimate relationship between her and the Opera Ghost would be even worse. She wasn't sure she could handle any more outraged stares and whispers about her laying with both the Opera's patron and the Opera Ghost. She swayed slightly on her feet, before Raoul got to her, Meg had already caught Christine's weight on her shoulder. Meg might be small, but her core strength was fierce. It had to be when the ballet instructor was her mother. The Madame had always been harder on Meg and even Christine, but it had paid off. Christine hugged her almost-sister tightly.

"Very well," Raoul said politely. He was reluctant, but his tight smile reminded her of when his mother put him in his place. His mother who didn't like Christine and would probably take offense if she came to stay at the de Chagny villa, married or not. It was no secret after all that she wasn't worthy of their son. The rejection still hurt, even though Raoul had told her to pay them no mind. Once again she was sure that she needed to go with the Girys who accepted her.

"Vicomte, will you be so kind to tell the gendarmes that Christine will give her statement at the station tomorrow? She surely needs rest, as do you." Meg spoke with a confidence so like her mother it was uncanny. "We will make sure to write to you with our address of course." Raoul seemed just as astonished of Meg's confidence as Christine. He nodded, gave a curt bow to both Girys and then turned to her. He went to kiss her left cheek, but as it was swollen, he awkwardly kissed the other.

"I will see you tomorrow then, Little Lottie. Please rest and be safe. The nightmare is over and soon, you'll see, it will be summertime."

She smiled weakly as he went through the crowd towards the gendarmes. He would take good care of her, of that she was sure. But she still felt the wrath in the pit of her stomach at his cowardly action of stabbing Erik in the back when he'd let them go. It wasn't right. She knew that he'd only it to protect her of course because Erik could in theory escape and begin stalking her anew. Of that she had no doubt. But she doubted that he would've. And though Raoul had been the one to end Erik's life, the blood was still on her own hands, both literally and figuratively.

She found that she still leaned heavily on Meg's shoulder when she heard her friend sigh with strain and she did her best to pull herself up. The Madame took her other arm to support her.

"You look like you need a bath and a good rest, my child. Let's get you away from here." The kind words from the older woman calmed her and she let them lead her away from the Opera house and away from Erik.

Chapter Text

Antoinette Giry had mourned many men in her life: Her beloved grandfather when she was but a babe; her father when she was still a child. Then her brother in a war that was neither won or lost which made it seem even more pointless. She'd thought the toughest death would be that of her stillborn son, but later found that her husband's passing left an even bigger hole in her life as well as her daughter's. Which was why she still wore a mourning gown ten years after his death. She'd promised Meg that she'd wear something else for her wedding and now as Christine was to be wed, it seemed only reasonable that she would do it for her wedding as well. Christine had always been a second daughter to her, even before Gustave had died. Yes, she remembered, Gustave was another man she'd loved and lost even though she was only 37 years of age.

When she discovered Erik to be dead, proof plainly evidenced by Christine's bloody gown, she was glad to have mastered the ability to hide her emotions and put on a brave face. An ability that she'd used many times after her husband's death to spare Meg of her mother's grief. So when Christine found her and Meg in the crowd, only a stoic face met the distraught young girl. The truth was that the display of Erik's blood on the white silk and lace shook Antoinette more than she'd expected. She knew the danger when she'd led the Vicomte down to the catacombs, but she'd had Christine's welfare as a priority and she'd feared what Erik might do. 

Deep down Erik had been a good man, in many ways still just a boy. But he'd met so much cruelty and hatred in his life instead of simple human interaction. Therefore he lacked many basic social skilles and wasn't able to handle emotions in a reasonable fashion. The real danger however was the rage that burned deep inside of him and sometimes spurted like a volcano. It was impossible to predict and she'd hoped that Erik would've calmed down by the time the Vicomte had reached his lair. But it was clear by Christine's gown (which looked suspiciously much like a wedding gown) that it had ended in violence.

That is how she found herself mourning a man in a different way. A man she'd known since they were just children and she'd hid him from the cruel world under the Opera. A building his genius mind had begun to alter, so it could become his playground. It  had fascinated Antoinette, yet annoyed her too. He often created turmoil for the cast and crew and bothered her with many notes to deliver to the management. It had truly been a relief when he'd chosen to leave the Opera to travel, as worried as it made her. She'd been sure to never see him again and yet after ten years he was been back. He'd changed and not for the better. The rage was more serious than before and his genius ways had evolved to a fanatic and obsessive way of living. She'd almost been relieved to receive new notes from him to deliver as it showed her that he was still a silly prankster.

Relieved was the strongest feeling she had after learning of Erik's demise. She was mostly relieved that his sufferings were over, but she could also admit to herself that she was relieved that he'd never hurt or kill anyone again. However she also found herself mourning the loss of his genius and his kind ways. Because kind is what he mostly was. She'd never liked the way he'd made Christine to believe that he was the Angel of Music sent by her father, but she also knew that much of it was Christine's own assumptions. He'd just never denied it. And the change he'd caused in the sad little orphan had been remarkable. She'd barely eaten or slept the first week she'd stayed with Antoinette at the Opera, but after Erik had sung to her, she lit up like the resilient girl that she was. For most part Erik's influence had been good for her. 

He hadn't understood the emotions Christine created in him, having obviously never allowed himself to be in love. He'd admitted to care for her, but as she grew, his love had grown from the kind you feel for a child to the kind you feel for a woman. It was only when he'd discovered his desire for her that he'd realised what had happened to him. Even so he'd insisted that he would never act on this desire which Antoinette believed. Erik found himself so revolting that he barely dared to look at himself while washing and even slept with his mask on until the rash it created got too painful. He'd never subject Christine to his indecent desires, but he wanted her by his side nonetheless. Which made it unsurprising when he'd taken her from stage only the night before. The wedding gown she was wearing when she returned from the catacombs was a bit strange though. How had he imagined them to be wed? 

She knew Erik's life would end by his own doing. He'd contemplated suicide many times and from what she'd heard, he'd encountered many dangers in his travels. And then he came between a Vicomte and the woman the Vicomte loved. It was bound to happen. But the prediction of Erik's death didn't change the sorrow she felt when she learned that it had happened.

 

***

It was clear to Antoinette that Christine needed to come with her and Meg instead of with the Vicomte. She was in shock and she needed a safe place to get better. From what Meg had told her, the Vicomte's family wasn't welcoming Christine with open arms and a unfriendly home was everything Christine did not need at this moment. So she persuaded the young man to let Christine go with them. When she heard her daughter tell him that Christine wouldn't be able to make a statement to the gendarmes, she felt her heart swell with pride. Meg was becoming a strong woman who dared to stand up for those she cared for. It was an admirable trait.

They brought Christine with them to the apartment they were going to reside in until finding a more permanent place. Meg had already run through the Opera before the fire had spread and packed the most important of their things, including the few valuables Christine owned, and they'd brought it to the apartment before returning to the Opera to look after signs of Christine.

The first thing they did was draw a bath for her. She was covered in dried blood which would be difficult to wash off her skin, but they would manage. The gown however was stiff as a board with the dried thick substance and they couldn't unlace it to get it off her. When Antoinette made Meg fetch a scissor to cut it off, Christine broke down in sobs, begging them to save it. She wasn't clear in her mind as the gown would be impossible to save no matter if they cut it or not. It wasn't until Christine noticed the ring on her finger that she'd quieted. Antoinette knew well that it wasn't a new ring from the Vicomte, but rather the one Erik had put on Christine's finger the night before which the young woman now was reminded of. It certainly didn't help matters, but at least they got the gown peeled off her.

It almost took an hour to scrub her clean and they had to wash her thick curls three times. Even now they weren't sure if all the blood was out of her hair, but Christine didn't need to know that. She hadn't spoken since she'd stopped crying upon seeing the ring which still sat on her finger. Her features were marred with fatigue and so they dressed her in a night gown and laid her to sleep. Hopefully she would awake from the shock after a good nap. Meg chose to rest beside Christine in the large bed as she'd been up all night too.

Antoinette found herself to be too restless to nap. Instead she unpacked their few belongings. In a drawer in the sitting room she was not surprised to find a large pouch with money marked for her for "emergencies". There was no doubt that this was an emergency. In the upcoming days she'd need to buy new clothes for them all as most of it had burned with the Opera.

She wrote letters to several people to let them know that she and her family were alright. She also wrote their address to the Vicomte as Meg had promised. The last letter was for the Persian, somewhat of a friend of Erik's, whom Antoinette had met only a few times. She briefly explained what she knew to have happened and that someone had to bury Erik in hope that the Persian would take care of it. When she finished, she went down to the nearest courier boy and gave him a coin to deliver them.

Finally she felt calm enough to find sleep.

***

When she woke, she found that she'd slept almost six hours and at first she didn't recognise where she was. It took a moment for her to remember the tragic events that had brought them to this place and the sorrow gripped her once again, even as she tried to push it down. It was for the better.

The apartment seemed quiet at first until she heard a weak weeping. Having a hunch who could be making that sound, she crawled out of bed and left her room. On the small table in the hall she found a note from Meg. Her obliging daughter had left to buy something to eat. It was a good idea because Antoinette was feeling quite hungry and Christine would be even more so, not having had anything since the night before.

She expected to find Christine in the room, she'd slept in, but she wasn't there. She followed the weeping to the bathroom where the young woman was leaning against the mirror, tears streaming down her left cheek which was still very swollen. The Vicomte had insisted that Erik had struck her, but Christine hadn't confirmed it. It was also suspicious that the punch had left a small cut behind as if a ring had been on the striking hand. Erik didn't wear a ring on his right hand while the Vicomte did. But she wouldn't press the issue. 

She went to Christine's side and drew her in her arms to comfort her. She stroked the tight curls and wiped away tears before new ones followed. She hadn't seen Christine like this since the loss of her father and it made sense. Erik had been a father figure of sorts to her. Christine began to relax against her former guardian, then hissed when she leaned too much on her hurt cheek. When she looked up for a moment Antoinette held her chin up to take a better look at it. The skin had turned a dark blue color and it looked extremely vicious, but it wasn't why she held onto Christine's chin. The small cut leaked yellow fluid which meant it was becoming infected. 

"Christine, the cut on your cheek seems to be infected. We'll need to sterilise it." The silent woman nodded and followed obediently when Antoinette went into the kitchen to look for alcohol. It should've been cleaned before seeing as the catacombs weren't the cleanest place, but hopefully it would help a bit to do it now. She finally found a variety of liquor in a small cabinet in the sitting room and grabbed the first thing in sight.

She was dabbing the wound lightly, making Christine hiss, when Meg came back with several bags of bread, vegetables and even meat. Meg going shopping alone could be a dangerous thing, but luckily they wouldn't lack money in the foreseeable future with what was in the pouch she'd found in the sitting room drawer. Antoinette grabbed a steak wrapped in paper from the butcher and put it on Christine's cheek to ease the swelling. It was all there could be done right now. But she was honestly more concerned with Christine's silence than anything else. While Meg raved on about the gossip she'd heard in town, Christine sat with a distant stare out the kitchen window. Meg shared a look with her mother who shrugged. They had to give her time. Perhaps a meal would help the troubled woman.

***

The next morning found Christine with a high fever. She'd barely eaten the night before and had fallen into a fitful sleep afterwards. When the Vicomte came to the apartment to escort her to the station, he was upset to find that she was ill. He insisted that he see her, but haltered in his rapid steps when he entered Christine's room and saw the angry-looking inflamed wound on her cheek. Antoinette wasn't convinced that the small infection was the true cause of the fever, no matter how grim it looked, but she didn't tell the Vicomte that. He went down to his carriage to order the valet to call a doctor, then asked for privacy to sit by his fiancee's bedside. They heard the young man calm her when she spoke of daggers and blood. He hushed her and sang to her, but she begged him not to sing. When she started to speak in Swedish, he became distraught and asked Antoinette if they had any sedatives and was disappointed when she said no.

After a few hours the valet arrived with a doctor. Doctor Francis Auclair turned out to be the de Chagny family doctor which shouldn't be surprising as the Vicomte wanted the best for his young bride. But Antoinette was frustrated when he ordered laudanum for Christine's recuperation. Her father had been drugged with laudanum and later morphine for the short remainder of his life to ease his suffering after he became sick. It meant that she'd barely spoken with him in the last months of his life because he wasn't coherent. It wasn't sedatives the young woman needed, but rest and care. The Vicomte thanked the doctor and sent him on his way before taking his leave too, excusing himself as the gendarmes were waiting for his statement in the station.

It was a relief when the men left. Meg took the seat next to Christine while Antoinette poured the laudanum down the drain. It didn't belong in her home. Shortly after she heard a knock on the door. She feared it was the Vicomte who had returned, but when she opened the door, she was greeted by M. Nadir Khan with his strange hat in hand and a grave look on his face. The Persian.

Chapter Text

When Christine finally awoke, it was like she'd managed to dream a thousand dreams in a single night. Many of them had been of Raoul by her side while others had taken place underneath Opera house as the Phantom's living bride. Some had been ghastly while others had been wondrous. There had even been domestic and plain dreams and she'd enjoyed them the most.

But as she slipped further into consciousness she began to realise that she hadn't only slept a night, but rather many nights. Looking out the window of the unfamiliar room she was in, she discovered that it was actually still nighttime. Rain was banging loudly against the window, drowning out the silence of the large room. She tried to remember what had happened before falling asleep, but all she could conjure from her memory was an image of sitting in Madame Giry's arms next to a mirror. She sat up in the oversized bed and looked around. The room was sparsely decorated with only a closet, a small table and the bed. A beautiful rug with a perhaps oriental pattern stood out and created a calming atmosphere. Or perhaps it was the rain pouring down outside, a sound Christine had always found soothing. Looking to her right she discovered a vacant chair next to her bed. She also noticed small nightstand that she didn't see before. On it was a glass of water and her beloved tin figurine of a ballerina - a gift from her father - and her silver comb.

She'd thought them to be lost, she suddenly remembered. Lost in the fire. Instantly her memories like the rain outsider came pouring down over her with what had happened before she came here: Don Juan Triumphant, the wedding dress, the kiss, the blood, her despair. Erik. Before she could compose herself, she doubled over with sickness. She managed to pull out the chamber pot from underneath the bed before retching with the few contents that filled her stomach. It quickly turned to dry heaving. The door sprung open with Madame Giry only dressed in her nightgown. Christine barely cast a glance on her before the dry heaving continued. Tears ran down her face and though she didn't care to look into the chamber pot, she couldn't close her eyes without seeing Erik's lifeless body. After a few minutes where nothing more had left her stomach, the Madame took her chamber pot and Meg brought her a towel instead. Finally her stomach began to settle and she allowed herself to drink a small sip of the water Meg offered her. 

"How long have I been asleep?" She rasped. She tried to get up from the floor where she'd ended up with the chamber pot, but the room was spinning too much. She chose to lean against the bed instead. Meg looked worried while the older Giry held her well known stoic expression.

"You've been lucid a few short times, but it has been four whole days." The older woman answered. Christine nodded bleakly.

"And how long since...?" She couldn't say it, it was too difficult to bear. But she knew she had to get over this hurdle.

"It has been six days since... the fire in the Opera house. Do you remember?" The Madame was reluctant to answer, but Christine was grateful that she did. She had to speak to someone and though she'd been asleep, it had been long enough. But the dark outside let her remember that the two other women hadn't slept like her.

"I am sorry to have woken you both." She murmured sheepishly. She felt very awake and even after having emptied her stomach, she actually felt well. A touch of her cheek told her that the wound had closed and the swelling was completely gone too. 

"It doesn't matter, I'd just now gone to bed." Meg winked at her with a smile. "I've missed you." It felt good to have been missed.

"Yes," the Madame continued. "I don't think we need to sleep just now. I'm going to find my dressing gown and make us a cup of tea. Then we can talk for a bit." She left the room. Meg found a dressing gown for Christine, a new one she'd never seen before, and helped her tie it. Then Meg led Christine to the bathroom to relieve herself and wash her face. She found her own way to the kitchen by following the other women's voices, bickering over Meg's squander with sugar for Christine's tea. Her friend knew her too well. Despite what her Angel of Music thought to be acceptable, she preferred a lot of tea in her sugar. She snickered at the joke she'd made while having tea with him, then felt a hole in her chest when she remembered what had happened to him. She took a deep breath. She needed to talk to someone, hopefully her family would listen.

She settled at the small dining table with a Giry on each side and thanked Meg for the sugary tea with a wink. She was about to speak when Meg cracked. "What happened in the catacombs, Christine?" Her outburst caused her mother to throw daggers with her eyes and Meg chastised herself. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to push."

Christine shook her head and touched her friend's hand. "It's alright. I actually need to talk about it, but I fear it is too late tonight. I better spare you the tale until tomorrow."

"Nonsense." The older Giry said. "We do not have jobs to wake up to early. Please enlighten us, my child, and do remember that we do not judge." 

Her words warmed Christine's heart and she felt a true sense of belonging with the two women by her side. So she told them how Erik had brought her to his lair once again, how they had argued and he'd told her to wear a wedding gown because he intended to marry her. She'd told him no, not because he was disfigured, but because of his actions. And for a moment it had seemed like his anger had faded, like he accepted her rejection, but then Raoul had come to rescue her. She noticed the Madame cringing, but she'd already worked out that she had led Raoul to the catacombs. She explained how Erik made her choose if she would spend her life with him or send Raoul to his grave. An impossible ultimatum. She didn't dare to look the other women in the eyes when she explained the next part.

"I felt shattered. Not just because of the ultimatum between freedom and Raoul's life, but because I'd turned my Angel of Music into a madman. I knew him to be so gentle and intelligent, but the man in that lair was nothing but a monster who claimed to love me. He'd never known love, not even from his own mother, so how could he know how to love me?"

She took a deep breath before continuing. It was difficult to explain why it had been so right at the time - why it still felt so right. "I kissed him. I hoped to repair whatever was broken - in him, in me, with us. And I think it worked. I felt him return to the Angel I knew. But then he made me leave. He cut Raoul loose and told him to take me. They gave me no choice when the choice a moment ago had rested on my shoulders! I didn't understand. Raoul took me to the boat to leave, but suddenly he was gone. I went back and that's when I saw it..." She started to cry again, the image in her memory was impossible to erase. "Raoul stood with a bloody dagger over Erik on the ground. There was so much blood." She started to sob, no longer able to push the feelings away that flooded her soul. She felt so betrayed. By her Angel who turned malicious and threatened her and her fiancee. By Raoul murdering Erik when he'd just let them go. And by herself because she'd led them all into that situation.

"But Christine," Meg cooed in a comforting voice. "Raoul only thought to keep you safe. It's all he cares about. You should've seen him. He's been by your side every day while you were sick and he's sure to be here tomorr-"

"I can't bear to see him!" she cried, interrupting her friend. All she could think of was Raoul with that dagger in hand, sneering at the broken man beneath him. He'd not cared for anything but to beat his adversary.

"Christine..." Madame Giry warned and Christine bowed her head in a small defeat.

"I know, I must. He is still the man I pledged to marry." She looked up again to the kitchen window where the rain had grown stronger and thunder clapped nearby. She looked back at Meg who she knew to be afraid of lighting. 

"Yes, you just need to get past this traumatic event." Meg smiled nervously and took Christine's hand in her own trembling hand. She was trying to calm herself while comforting Christine. "I'm sure when everything is back to normal, you'll be happy again." A stroke of lighting lit up the apartment, making Meg whelp and tighten her grip on Christine's hand, though she paid it no mind. In the brief flash of light she'd noticed the sitting room across the hall.

As in a daze she let her friend's hand go and rose from the chair to cross the hall and enter the large room. It held a sizeable extravagant sofa and two reclining chairs. A bookcase to the right filled an entire wall and there was a beautiful desk with different sized drawers which made it look like it belonged in a study. On the walls hung paintings of exotic places Christine could only dream of. But what had caught her eye was the beautiful piano in the right corner of the room. She ran her hands over the different volumes in the bookcase, as she walked, noticing the titles were in different languages. She ended at the piano and ran her fingers lightly across the dark surface. She sat down on the bench in front of the piano, but didn't dare to touch the ivory keys. Madame Giry stood in the door watching Christine explore the room in interest. It seemed warm and somehow familiar, much due to the exotic decor. Like in the room she'd woken up in, this one had a similar rug on the floor and she realised that it wasn't oriental at all. It was Persian.

"This is Erik's apartment, isn't it?"

***

The next day Raoul returned as Meg had said. He had been happy to see Christine awake and well and had apologised profusely for being later than the other days.

"The streets are flooded and it was near impossible for the carriage to make the distance across town. I was even tempted to untie a horse and ride it in my day clothes." Raoul laughed like it was a ridiculous idea to ride without riding gear. Christine sat on the piano bench once again, distracted, while Raoul chatted happily beside her on the bench. Madame Giry had confirmed that it was indeed Erik's apartment that was at their disposal and since then Christine had longed to get out. She needed distance from what had happened. 

"I have something for you." Raoul smiled and dug into his coat pocket, emerging with a small jewelry box and opened it. It was a new engagement ring, grander than the last one, delicate white gold with a large round diamond in the middle, surrounded by smaller diamonds. It looked too big on her small hand. Meg and Madame Giry had convinced her to take off Erik's black stoned ring this morning, explaining that Raoul might not appreciate that she still wore another man's ring. It seemed they were right. 

"I was wondering," Raoul asked somewhat nervously. "if you might be interested in a little outing tomorrow with me? Provided that the doctor approves and the streets are safe for carriages and not boats." He chuckled at his joke.

Christine felt a relief. "Yes, I'd love to get out of this place, if even for just an afternoon." She replied instantly. Maybe a little sunshine and some peaceful time with Raoul was just what she needed.

"Okay, but I must warn you: My brother will join us with the woman he's... courting." Christine sighed. So much for peace. The Comte Philippe de Chagny was not a peaceful person and often galloped around with a new trollop on his arm every time she'd met him. He was nice enough and didn't look down on her because she was a singer, but she'd also heard Philippe promise their mother that Raoul's time with Christine would be a phase. No, he didn't look down on her occupation, he just didn't respect his brother's claim of wishing to marry her. However she looked forward to leaving the apartment.

***

The next morning the doctor gave Christine an all clear to go out. "Short outings at first." he'd said and Raoul had nodded compliantly, but Christine had already planned that she wouldn't be back before the sun set. 

Raoul led her to his carriage and together they rode in comfortable silence out of the city. Christine saw how the flooding had damaged the streets, many store fronts and vendor stands had been ruined. Stray cats roamed the street, finding dead fish that hadn't returned to the rivers when they settled. Near a sewer opening she saw a pack of drowned rats and she had to look away. When the city blocks began to disperse she saw fewer signs of the flood. Instead bright green fields greeted them with dazzling sunlight from above. A light breeze followed them as the horses' strength carried them to the de Chagny summer house.

To call it a summer house seemed inaccurate, but it was nonetheless what the family called it. To Christine it was more of a mansion or even a castle. She knew that Raoul was wealthy, even as a child she was well aware, but she was never exposed to it back then. So when she'd accepted his proposal and he had brought her to the de Chagny home, she'd been overwhelmed. There were only a few who lived in the house as Raoul's father had passed several years ago and his older sisters had settled in England. Philippe still lived in the house with Raoul and their mother, but he was rarely there. Therefore it seemed preposterous that they lived in a villa with 32 rooms. They also had eighteen servants.

The summer house was currently only maintained by five servants and held measly fifteen rooms, according to Raoul. When it was high summer, their mother stay and would entertain her guests there and bring many of their regular servants with her. Christine was glad it was only spring and she relaxed quite a bit when she heard that their mother wouldn't be there.

When they arrived, they were greeted by a butler who led them to the back garden. There Philippe was lying on a blanket in the wet grass and fed grapes by a beautiful woman - so stereotypical and so Philippe. Christine wasn't the least surprised. Raoul called his brother's name and the latter got up to greet them while the woman stayed on the blanket, looking a bit obtuse.

"The tiny Chagny!" Philippe grinned at Raoul who he knew hated to be called that. "And Christine Daaé, finally back on her feet after so many days spent in a strange bed." Philippe winked, his innuendo obvious and it made Christine blush bright red with embarrassment. Philippe wasn't discreet about his many romances and for some reasons he expected everyone to be as promiscuous as himself. But she knew that she was getting the worst of it because she was a singer and a former ballet rat. Ballet rats and opera casts in general were looked down upon and she knew Philippe had known a few of the ballet rats in a very shameless way. He was also teasing her because of the rumours about her bedding the Opera Ghost. It flustered her beyond words.

Her fiancee didn't seem to understand it, instead he answered politely. "Yes, Christine is finally free of her fever."

"And of her abductor, I understand. Tiny Chagny, is it true that you killed the Opera Ghost?" Philippe asked dramatically. His smug eyes slipped for a moment to Christine who was shocked by the change of topic. She'd not wished to speak of this and felt tears fill her eyes. She looked around the garden like she wasn't paying attention to the subject, so the men wouldn't notice her tears. It would be suspicious to leave, otherwise she would've stormed out of there.

"Indeed I did." Raoul bragged without noticing how his fiancee reacted. "Left him to bleed out in that ghastly place. I had to save Christine of course." He sounded proudly and it left her with a bitter taste in her mouth, but she still let him draw his hand around her waist and pull her closer. She held back a sob and looked down as if she was watching her engagement ring. Raoul seemed completely ignorant of her distress.

"You know I saw something interesting in this morning paper," Philippe said as if suddenly remembering and walked over to the patio table to fetch a paper. "It says here that the floods brought many awful things out of the rivers and the sewers - you can only imagine!" Christine didn't have to imagine. She saw the dead rats earlier. "By Palais Garnier they found a dead body," Philippe continued and Christine's blood froze. "I apologise for the horrific topic, Mademoiselle, but it is very relevant to your situation. It says that the body seemed to have drifted up from the sewer under the Opera." Christine gasped and couldn't help but look up at Philippe. He was acting like he was reading, but she could see in his eyes that he was trying to watch her reaction. "Yes, it says here that they believe it to be the infamous Phantom of the Opera, killed by Vicomte Raoul de Chagny when he came to rescue his fiancee after the disaster at the Opera. They couldn't identify him completely as rats had seemed to have eaten much of him."

Christine bent over and dry heaved, glad that she hadn't gained her appetite. Raoul tried to grip her shoulders and pull her up, but instead she fled his touch. "Excuse me." She managed to utter before running into the house to find a powder room. The butler saw her looking unwell and hurried to follow her to the bathroom and told her to call if she needed something. She dry heaved a few more times before she sat up against a wall. Across from her was a tall mirror, much like the one in her old dressing room where her Angel had appeared for the first time. But there was no Angel of Music in this mirror, only a small woman drenched in cold sweat and alone. She was at fault. He had been killed by her fiancee because of her and now had been eaten by rats. She broke down in sobs, a hollowness like no other filling her.

It must've taken ten minutes before Raoul came to find her. He knocked politely on the door. "Christine, I am sorry for what Philippe said. It was insensitive to describe such horrifying things to a woman. I've reprimanded him and he wishes to apologise for it was not his intentions to scare you. How are you feeling?" 

Christine didn't want to answer. She knew that Philippe had said these things out of pure malice, even if they were true. The de Chagny family often talked of his shenanigans with a laugh, but the truth was that he could be vicious to everyone around him if he felt like it. Once he'd almost let one of their sisters drown and yet it was told as an amusing anecdote. She didn't want to be his next victim and yet it seemed that she already was. She got up and washed her face to freshen up. She wouldn't let him win, no. Instead she would walk out with her head held high. 

She opened the door to Raoul who had been pacing outside. "Christine!" He almost yelled happily. "I'm glad you're alright!" She walked right past him and out to the garden where Philippe was laughing loudly with his latest Jezebel. He smiled mischievously as she neared with Raoul right behind her.

"Christine, I'm so sorry for my insensitivity," he began as he rose from his chair, but she wasn't letting him continue. She walked right up to him with a finger pointing at his chest.

"I will not listen to you speak of such things again. You are a pompous Comte who is the laughing stock of the entire Parisian region and only those in need of money want your company." She looked briefly at the woman by Philippe's side with a grimace. "In fact the company in the catacombs was much to prefer to yours. Therefore I'm taking my leave."

She turned and left without a word, leaving a for once silent Comte to his own. She walked through the front garden down to the gates with every intent of walking home or at least until she could find someone that could take her to Paris. She heard Raoul behind her, but she didn't stop until he said something.

"Christine, please, wait!" He finally spoke and she turned around calmly though a storm was brewing in her. But she would let him have his say, she owed him that. So she waited for him to speak. He seemed at a loss, then gathered his thoughts at last. "I understand your anger. Philippe can be cruel and I know you think he was taunting you on purpose. But I need you to come back with me. You'll hear many awful things as a Vicomtess, but it's just words. What matters is our love and that you are by my side."

Christine faltered. How naive Raoul was. He saw the best in nearly everyone, even in his own brother. He'd swore to protect her which he'd done by killing her friend and teacher, but when his own brother was despicable and unkind to her, he wouldn't even stand up for her honor. He said it mattered that she was by his side, but when was he by her side? Certainly not when she'd first told him about the Phantom and how scared she'd been. And not he wanted her to take the stage while baiting the Phantom. And then when he'd killed Erik, he'd hit her and not listened as she wanted to stay by her dying Angel. He'd promised to be her shelter, yet she felt like he'd only let her further into the storm.

She'd been swept away by childhood memories and promises of love and laughter in the sun, but the reality was never that bright. It reminded her of the night Erik had taken her to his home and sung of the beautiful music they would make together. But then reality hit her when she'd been foolish enough to take off his mask. Had she not done that, would things have been different? 

She wondered who else wore masks, only invisible ones. Philippe did, his handsome face hiding the monster inside. She'd thought that Raoul was good and kind until he'd plunged a dagger in the back of another man. And her... Did she wear a mask of innocence when she was anything but that? 

The thoughts were many and she needed time to think. 

"Raoul, I wish to leave. Whether or not you will follow me is up to you. But I'm leaving."

He sighed, sounding resigned. "I'll order my horses now. Then we can go." He said and walked back towards the house. Christine was glad that he at least had decided to stay by her side. 

Chapter Text

The silence on the way back to Paris was anything but comfortable. Raoul had helped Christine into the carriage, but otherwise not acknowledged her presence. He seemed to be in deep thought which was actually pretty unusual for him. He had a tendency to chatter away and if not, he often sat with a smile on his face like he had no care in the world. She knew that he was in a predicament. He was loyal as a dog and right now he was unsure if he should be loyal to his family or to her. She could play along with Philippe, she knew that. But only if Raoul stood by her side and today he'd shown her that he didn't, not when it came to his family at least.

On the way back they rode past the Opera. Raoul must've requested that the driver avoid it on their way out of the city, but forgot it on the way back. He didn't seem to notice it, but Christine couldn't look away. Even in the bright sunlight the Opera looked cold and abandoned. Scorch marks marred the shattered windows and the beautiful posters with Carlotta and Piangi were ripped and torn of the walls. It had only been a week ago since Don Juan Triumphant had been sold out and excited guests had waited outside all afternoon for the doors to open. She saw a sewer opening on the right side of the building where a pile of garbage had gathered. Had it been where they had found him? Instantly she felt the thought numb her body completely. 

Outside the apartment building she lived in, a large crowd had gathered. Raoul helped her out of the carriage as the gentleman he was and took her hand to lead her through the group. She didn't recognise any of them and wondered what they were doing here. That is until she saw Madame Giry stand at the entrance to the building with Carlotta Giudicelli. Besides her regular entourage, she'd also seemed to have brought two gendarmes. Christine swallowed a hard lump. The managers had once talked about arresting Madame Giry for working with the Phantom. Surely it hadn't come to this. Her guardian's face looked stoic as always, but Christine had learned to look beneath the facade and there she found the older woman to be upset. She had to do something about this!

When they reached the entrance Carlotta smirked wickedly for a moment as she laid eyes on Christine who she'd claimed to be her rival. Then her expression turned to terror. "There she is!" She shrieked and pointed to Christine. "That's the girl who had my dear Ubaldo killed!" She fell against her entourage as if she'd fainted and they were ready to catch her.

The two gendarmes approached a confused Christine, but Raoul stepped in front of them. "My fiancee has done nothing of that sort." He said firmly and Christine felt her heart swell as he finally came to her rescue for the first time today. "I am Vicomte fe Chagny and I can testify that Christine Daaé wasn't involved in the murder of Ubaldo Piangi. Hundreds of people can vouch for her presence on the stage."

Carlotta had apparently come to and she actually snorted. "Please. Everyone knew she was working with the Phantom. He did everything to help her career. She knew what he was going to do to Ubaldo!" She started sobbing. Christine noticed that she and Madame Giry rolled their eyes at the same time at Carlotta's overdramatic display. "And everyone could see the distress on her face when she emerged after the Phantom's death. She was grieving, mourning his death, not his victims."

Carlotta's observation made Raoul turn to look at Christine in question, but she tried not to react. 

"We apologise, M. Vicomte, but several witnesses say that Mlle Daaé was conspiring with the criminal known as the Phantom. We have to arrest her for accessory to murder." The tallest gendarme said politely to Raoul, though looking at Christine too. She gasped. Could they really do this? She hadn't known any of Erik's plans, but how could she prove that? She leaned up against Raoul's shoulder and held his arm tightly. "Mlle Daaé will of course be free to leave immediately if a judge determines that she's innocent."

Raoul turned around to face her with a rueful expression on his face and her stomach dropped. He was going to let them arrest her. "Christine, I will get you freed." She shook her head, not letting him say what he was about to see. She closed her eyes as if the darkness would help her escape this. "You have to go with them. I'll come down to the station with the best attorney today and make sure that you are freed. You have my word." She refused to open her eyes, even when she felt Raoul's hands drop from her arms and his kiss on her forehead. Gloved hands took each of her arms to lead her away. The crowd around them murmured in excitement as she felt the gendarmes lead her past them.

"Messieurs, wait!" She heard a familiar voice call and the gendarmes stopped. She opened her eyes to see Madame Giry approach them. "Can I speak a few words alone with Christine? I was her guardian until she turned 18." They nodded at her request, but stood where they were. The older woman turned her back to the men to shield their conversation and looked sternly into Christine's eyes. It made her feel like she was being chastened as when she'd been disobedient as a child. The Madame seemed to notice the look in Christine's eyes because her expression softened. "Christine, my dear, everyone knows that you didn't do anything. Carlotta is looking for blame now that the Phantom is no more. But listen to me carefully: The Angel of Music, even if it was only a man, didn't choose you for your voice alone. It was your inner strength and compassion that drew him to you. And though it seems like a curse now, it is a blessing. One that you shared with your father." Christine shared a smile with the Madame at the mention of her father. "Don't let this break you." 

Christine nodded decisively. She would be strong like her father. She hugged Madame Giry and let the gendarmes lead her to the carriage with bars on the windows, ignoring the stares of the crowd. 

***

It was worse than she'd imagined. When she'd exited the carriage that brought her to the station, they had put on restraints even though she promised to behave. They asked her a lot of demeaning questions about her relationships with Raoul, Erik and even Piangi and the managers! They questioned her intentions as a singer and outright asked if she'd sold her services to other men. Then they had led her to the jailhouse where she'd been forced to remove her jewelry before being put in a prison cell. Thankfully she hadn't been locked in with any men, but they had seen her when she walked past their cells and now they called out to her with offending words.

However the worst was the cell itself. She shared it with two other women who looked to be harlots dragged right off the streets. One of them was passed out on a madras (Christine looked carefully to ensure that the woman was breathing) and the other was sitting in a corner, staring blankly into space. There were six madrasses on the floor, but they were stained yellow and brown and she was almost sure she could see the lice bouncing off them. A chamber pot stood out in the open with a water basin next to it. The water in the basin was the same color as the chamber pot contents. 

Christine stayed by the bars instead of going further into the cell. She couldn't handle this. Tears escaped her eyes, no matter how much she fought them and she cried for someone to save her. She leaned against the iron bars, trying to ignore thoughts of what might else had touched them before her. Everything here was filthy.

When was Raoul coming? She couldn't understand how he could let them take her or why he at the very least didn't go with her. Had her Angel been alive and heard where she was, he would've found a way inside and freed her already. He wouldn't have let the gendarmes take her away in the first place..

She knew she shouldn't compare the two men who'd fought for their place in her life. They were like night and day and yet she felt drawn to them both. She wanted to live in the sun, but felt herself long for the night. But eternal darkness? It wasn't for her. 

Raoul did the best he could. He followed the law as one should, but as Christine stood in the dirty cell she understood why Erik had felt that laws sometimes had to be broken. Life wasn't always fair. His life had been awful, but if he hadn't taken control of it, he might've ended up rotting in a prison cell for his entire life. His genius mind would've gone to waste. Perhaps illegal actions could be justified in some cases. If only he hadn't put it all on the line because of his obsession with her. There was no excuse for killing either. And she shouldn't forget that he was the reason for her being in that cell in the first place. He'd made her a victim in so many ways and she was getting quite disgusted with it.

Madame Giry was right. Christine was strong. She might look weak and innocent, but she was more than that. She needed to takr control of her life. Soon she would be called before a judge where she could state her case and she'd be let go. Then she'd find another job, whatever it might be, and a place to live that didn't remind her of the past. Right after she had gotten a good scrub and perhaps burned this dress.

***

Nadir had sent his maid Ines out shopping for supplies. It was the first peaceful moment he'd had all day and he had just sat down to finally finish the last few chapters of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea when a knock came to the door. He sighed loudly and perhaps a bit dramatically as if anyone could hear him. He'd never finish the book with all these interruptions. At the second knock he finally found the will to rise from the comfortable lounger and put the book on the side table.

He was pleasantly surprised to see Antoinette on his doorstep, though it pleased him a bit less when he saw the look of worry on her face. Of course, he shouldn't expect a social call from her. Still he never complained about seeing a pretty face. "My dear Madame Giry, what brings you here?" He smiled endearingly, but she hardly noticed.

"Can I come in? It's a rather delicate subject." She went right to the point as always and when he stepped back to make way for her entrance, she brushed past him without a nod or a smile. She found a spot on his sofa and sat down gracefully. An air of respect gathered around her as if she commanded the space to bend to her will. It fascinated him greatly. Not many had that kind of presence and he always found himself drawn to those who did. It was the main reason why he'd been forced to flee Persia.

"Is your maid here?" She asked before he'd even sat down. He was still by the door to the sitting room. She looked for Ines who she'd met once and seemed to dislike. Nadir couldn't blame her. Ines wasn't very likable, but she was efficient and that's what mattered most. He shook his head and saw Antoinette relax instantly.

"Christine has been arrested." He was quick to shorten the few meters between them and sat down across from her.

"How?"

"The former Prima Donna claims her to be accessory to murder because of her... connection to the Phantom. She's been led to the jailhouse where she will remain until her innocence has been confirmed." Antoinette looked overcome with worry. Nadir had never seen anything as such on the otherwise stoic woman, besides the day he'd visited her in Erik's apartment. "Monsieur Khan, she has been through so much. The loss of him is taking its toll on her, her relationship with the Vicomte is strained and she's just been severely ill." Nadir nodded gravely. It was a lot for a young woman who had already been through many misfortunes. "I know you were once a police chief. I hoped that you could perhaps help with this matter?" Antoinette sounded hopeful and he'd do anything to keep that hope alive. It wasn't like her to sound so worried.

"I will come with you to the station and see what I can do to help. If you will wait while I make myself more presentable." He gestured with a chuckle to his lounge trousers and shirtsleeves. She nodded with a small smile and leaned back on the couch. She picked up the book he was reading. "Please, don't spoil the ending!" He hurried to say and she looked confused at him. "For once I'd like to find out for myself how it ends." He took his leave to find something more official to wear.

***

A few hours must have passed before a guard came to unlock the cell and bring Christine with him. It was a great relief as the woman who'd been unconscious on the madras had awoken and begun to touch Christine in an intrusive way.

Once again the catcalling of the men in the other cells began, but luckily she wasn't going back. The cavalry had arrived: Raoul stood calmly and looked every bit as esteemed as a Vicomte should. It made her proud and she greeted him with a wide smile which softened his eyes. He introduced her to attorney Louis Travert who would be speaking on her behalf. He was around his 40's, not much taller than her and probably carried twice the weight of her on his stomach alone. His hair was filled with dandruff and she felt sweat from his hand when he greeted her. He must be good if the de Chagny uses him despite his appearance. She was surprised to find Doctor Auclair had come too, the doctor who had seen to her when she was ill. The men led her into a small office where they could speak privately.

"Mlle Daaé," M. Travert began, "After the notorious Phantom of the Opera was found dead, those affected by his crimes are looking for a scapegoat. It seems that you are it." Christine nodded gravely. Madame Giry had told her that Carlotta just wanted to blame someone. The attorney continued. "Many witnesses have testified that you had interacted with the Phantom personally, something Vicomte de Chagny confirms." Raoul nodded with a small smile. Of course, there was no reason to deny that she had met the Phantom. It wasn't a crime. Travert suddenly looked sternly at her. "But the Phantom seems to have worked towards making you Prima Donna by illegal means. It is therefore reasonable to consider that you were working with him."

"But I wasn't! I had no idea of his intentions!" Christine protested desperately.

"We know." Raoul said and went to take her hand gently. She felt frantic, even with him by her side. Several witnesses' words against hers. How could she win? He ran his thumb over her knuckles and she felt herself relax slightly.

M. Travert cleared his throat and she looked back at him. "The best course of action would be to pledge guilty by reasons of insanity." 

Christine just looked at him. She tried to make sense of what he said, but she couldn't. It wouldn't make sense to pledge guilty when she was anything but. She wasn't insane either. She was about to respond when Raoul spoke first. "I agree, Christine. This is the fastest way to get you out of here. Doctor Auclair has a degree in psychiatry. He can examine you, testify before a judge that you acted in a moment of insanity and then you can leave with him to go to his clinic where you will be treated a few days until he clears you to be sane."

"But I wasn't insane. And I'm not guilty." She still didn't understand why she should lie. It was illegal to lie to the court. Yet again her thoughts drifted to her earlier realisation that sometimes unlawful actions could be justified. 

"We are trying to help you the best we can." M. Travert said. "Let us do what we do best."

And somehow Christine ended up in a situation where others decided what she was going to do. Raoul and the attorney left her with Doctor Auclair who was going to determine if she had been right in her mind when the Phantom had murdered.

"Can you tell me how you met this Phantom?" He asked and though she was still in a slight haze after somehow having lost all rights to make her own decision, she decided to answer him honestly.

"I met him last year at the premiere of Hannibal in the Opera. But I'd talked to him many times before when he was my Angel of Music."

The doctor lifted an eyebrow. "Why did you call him your Angel of Music?"

"Before my father died he promised to send the Angel of Music to me to care for me. When I came to the Opera I was distraught because the angel never came. Until one night in the chapel where I heard him for the first time. He comforted me, sang to me and then started giving me voice lessons."

"So you believe him to be an angel?" The doctor asked doubtingly and Christine laughed.

"Of course not. When I met him I could see very well that he was a man, strange as he was."

"So until less than a year ago you thought him to be a real angel that had been sent by your father?" She nodded hesitantly. She could see how dumb it sounded. As if she truly believed in having her own angel until she was almost 20, but in reality she hadn't been that deluded. She'd always known that he was a man, yet a strange mystery. But it wasn't decent to let a strange man sing lullabies to you in your bed or to follow him through a mirror in your private dressing room. It had been easier to call him an angel and after all he'd never claimed to being anything at all, besides her tutor.

"Very well." The doctor replied and rose from his chair. He pulled out Christine's chair and opened the door for her. Outside Raoul and his attorney was speaking in low voices, but stopped when they saw her return with Doctor Auclair. They looked expectantly at the third man. "It will be surprisingly easy to claim insanity." He said. Christine gaped at him while Raoul and the attorney smiled and shook hands with the doctor. 

"But I am not insane!" She protested loudly. "And I am definitely not guilty!" M. Travert hushed her and took her by her arm, even as she went stiff at his touch. Raoul took her other arm.

"Little Lottie, we know you aren't." Raoul said as if he talked to a child. "But it's the best chance at getting you home today. Otherwise you have to stay in this ghastly place. I know ghouls and goblins fascinated you as a child, but surely not this kind." He gestured to a drunken man restrained to a chair in the corner of the building. He was covered in what appeared to be excrement. Christine cringed. It wasn't a place for any sane human.

"Surely it's enough that I am innocent! I will not lie." She crossed her arms across her chest defiantly, then realised something. "Raoul, if I'm found guilty, you cannot marry me, can you?" Raoul shifted uncomfortably on his feet, then dragged her away from the other men.

"Christine, I care for you deeply, therefore it is my priority first to get you out of here. However I can." 

"If you wanted to break off the engagement, you could just tell me." She was getting angry. How much worse could this day get?

"I want to marry you, you must believe me!" He pulled her into his arms, but she felt deprived of all sensation right now. "It just seems as if the whole world is against us." She couldn't disagree, so she didn't. Instead she let him hold her in his arms as tears fell down her cheeks.

If she pledged guilty by reasons of insanity, she would be out of the jailhouse and stay at a clinic for a few days according to the men. But she would lose Raoul, lie to the court and be forever seen as guilty and insane. If she pledged innocent, she'd probably have to stay longer at the jailhouse until more witnesses came forward or they could somehow prove that she was unaware of the Phantom's plans. She wasn't sure how long that would be and Raoul's family would probably use that as an excuse to pressure him to call off the engagement.

This ultimatum seemed worse than the one Erik had presented her with in the catacombs. She hadn't had much of a choice because both she and Erik knew that she wasn't going to let Raoul die. It had just been another way to manipulate her to think that she had a choice in the matter. 

Did she have much of a choice in this matter? Either way she'd lose Raoul and as much as she had felt her affection for him falter, she still loved him dearly. 

She realised then that she had a third choice: Stand up for herself as she had originally decided on in the cell. She was well spoken and an honest person. The judge would surely see this and dismiss the case. She pulled away from Raoul and looked up at his handsome face. "I'm breaking off the engagement." He looked completely bewildered and she held back a small laugh at his confused puppy dog eyes. "Hopefully we can find a way back to each other, but right now everything is working against us." She caressed his cheek for a brief moment while he tried to proces her words. He'd never been the brightest, but she loved him anyway. "The ring you gave me is being held by the guards in the jailhouse. You can get it there." He was about to object, but she turned and walked over to the attorney. "Can you get me a meeting with a judge today?" He nodded, taken aback by her sudden brashness. "Then do it now. I'm going to free myself from this place."

***

It didn't take long to find a judge and before she knew it, she was led into a large, dark courtroom. She sat down with the attorney next to her while Raoul and the doctor sat down behind them. The tall gendarme that had arrested her took his place on the other side of the room. So few people would bear witness to her statement that could get her freed or locked up for even longer.

Everyone turned as the door behind them open. She was ecstatic to see Madame Giry and Meg entering and she sighed in relief. They'd be on her side in this! Behind them followed a strange man with a dark complexion. She'd seen him somewhere, but only in passing. He was fairly short with a mustache and was wearing a fine suit, though with a peculiar red hat on his head. His eyes were mild. She felt a frown on her face despite her joy at seeing the Girys.

"Christine!" Meg hugged her tightly. "I'm so glad to see you're okay. You are, right?" Her friend looked her over. 

She smile, touches by Meg's worry. "Yes, Meg. I'm just exhausted after this long day and upset by this accusation." Meg nodded. Christine looked over at Raoul who seemed to hide himself a bit from the two newly arrived women. It was understandable. Both Giry women would be angry when they heard that he'd asked her to pledge guilty by reasons of insanity. But she wouldn't start that discussion now. Madame Giry placed herself by her daughter's side and looked kindly at Christine.

"My dear, I've brought an acquaintance to help speak your case. Monsieur Nadir Khan." She said and stepped aside to let the unknown man greet her. He took her hand and placed a light kiss on her knuckles.

"Mademoiselle Daaé, it's an honor to finally meet you. I've seen you perform many times at the Opera. A true enjoyment." M. Khan said. She smiled shyly. She must have seen him in the audience then. "I was a police chief in my home country and I hope to assist you in this case if you'll let me."

She straightened her back and nodded once. "Will you let me say my piece and accept that I'm innocent in this matter?"

His eyes widened slightly in response to her question. "Of course, Mademoiselle. I would never suggest anything else." 

Christine looked at the three men behind her who'd tried to make her pledge guilty. "Messieurs, I'd like you to leave the courtroom, please." She said politely, but firmly. "There's only room here for those who believe in me." The three men were confused by her requests and Raoul started to argue until both Giry women threw daggers at him with their eyes. How perceptive they were, having already figured out that Raoul wasn't welcome. He exited the courtroom with the other two men, looking back at Christine with a begging expression. She wasn't having it though. He'd made her a victim and that would be over now.

"I must say I admire your spirit, Mlle Daaé." M. Khan spoke again after the door closed. "And your tenacity. But I think I know where it came from." He gestured to Madame Giry and chucked.

"Thank you, Monsieur, but Madame Giry has told me that the trait also stems from my father." She answered proudly. He was about to reply when a door up front opened and the Judge stepped out. The Judge took his seat above them and though it was meant to cause intimidation, Christine felt calm when she looked into the older man's kind eyes. He reminded her of an older version of her own father, even with the formal grey aristocratic wig on his head. The Judge looked down at the papers in front of him. 

"Mademoiselle Christine Daaé?" She hurried to stand up straight and look her best. "You have been arrested on the counts of accessory to the murder of Ubaldo Piangi. How do you plea?"

"Not guilty, Your Honor." She answered clearly with all her sincerity.

"Very well. I see that seven witnesses have stepped forward to accuse you of plotting with the 'Opera Ghost'?" He looked up from his papers as if seeing her for the first time. "So you are the infamous singer who was abducted by the one and only Phantom of the Opera?" She nodded uncomfortably and looked down at her hands. She held back the urge to twist her skirt in nervousness. "I see. Well, then I'm surprised by these accusations, but as I read these witness reports, they are very consistent. They all explain that the Opera Ghost was working at bettering your career and that you had contact with them. Many of them also tell of a intimate relationship." He sounded intrigued and Christine cringed.

"I did not!" She hurried to answer and one of the Judge's eyebrows raised in disbelief. Had she spoken out of turn or was it because he didn't believe her?

"Your Honor," M. Khan rose from his chair next to Christine. "I am Nadir Khan, a former police chief in Persia." Christine's eyes widened at the name of the man's country. She looked behind her to silently question Madame Giry who answered with a serious confirmation. This man knew Erik! Ignoring her obvious reaction, M. Khan continued beside her. "Mlle Daaé wants to speak on her own behalf, but I am here to support her claims. The only contact Mlle Daaé had was on the Phantom's terms. She had no way to contact him and only met him twice before he abducted her. She was on the stage the whole night before Monsieur Piangi was murdered."

The Judge nodded, then seemed to consider something. Christine felt her heart race. "Mlle Daaé, do you have anything to add to Monsieur Khan's statement?"

"I do, Your Honor." She thought carefully before she spoke. "What Monsieur Khan said is all true. But it is not the whole truth. When I was just a child, my father died. I was brought to the Opera with my guardian Madame Antoinette Giry who sits behind me. I was in deep sorrow over my father's death, but a voice that seemed to come from the walls sang to me and comforted me. I foolishly believed him to be an Angel of Music, but a year ago I learned that it was a man who hid in the walls of the Opera and terrorised the cast and the management. I was manipulated. He seemed to care for me and wanted me to be lead soprano. But I never wanted him to. I didn't know what his plans were and I despise the wrongdoings he committed. Especially the murders of Joseph Buquet and Ubaldo Piangi. It frightened me. I was lucky to escape the catacombs with my fiancee who killed the Phantom. But I still feel trapped by the Phantom as I stand here because his actions still poison my life. I do not wish to be his victim anymore, but instead find my own path in the light. I hope that you will see that I speak honestly. Thank you for listening to me."

She sat back down, relieved to have had the chance to speak for herself. The Judge sat silently on his high seat and contemplated. The silence filled the room as everyone waited for his next words. Monsieur Khan smiled fondly at her, but she still felt upset that this man was in some way connected to Erik. Had he come from Persia to arrest him? Then why stay after Erik's death? However the strange man's expression told her that his intentions were good and she knew that she could trust her instinct. Except with Erik, it seemed. And perhaps Raoul too. Maybe her instinct wasn't that great after all.

"I've reached a decision." The Judge proclaimed and the silent gendarme and M. Khan rose from their seat. The women followed them. Her nervousness returned and magnified in Christine's body. "Mlle Daaé, I believe your statement. You are honest and have clearly been through much in your short life." Christine began to sigh in relief until the Judge continued. "Unfortunately I have to take these witness statements seriously. This case is of a serious nature and because of the high publicity around the Phantom of the Opera, the press will learn of this soon. I can't act rashly. Therefore you will be held in custody until you can be judged by a jury of your peers."

Christine gasped, as did the Girys. Monsieur Khan looked solemnly and shook his head at the verdict. Christine started to panic. She had to stay in the jailhouse until her trial. How would she survive? She'd never be exposed to the harsh realities of the streets and she knew that she should feel grateful for that. But all she could think of was how much it would damage her. She turned to her friends, sobbing. 

"I cannot stay in that jailhouse! I just cannot!" She cried. The gendarme came to her side to lead her away. "Please, help me!" She cried. The women embraced her tightly, just as upset and lost as she.

"I might know of a better place than the jailhouse where you can stay until your trial." The Judge suddenly said loudly, surprising everyone in the room. "I have a chamber in this building near the jailhouse. It can be locked from the outside and has a lock on the window. It can therefore used as a cell." He smiled kindly, but Christine didn't quite like the look in his eyes. But she couldn't turn it down.

The gendarme approached the Judge who descended from his high seat. Monsieur Khan did the same. "Your Honor, this is highly irregular." The gendarme murmured. 

"I agree, this seems quite inappropriate." M. Khan said with a strong voice laced with doubt.

"Gentlemen, this is the Christine Daaé. She doesn't belong in a jailhouse and it was clear by her statement that she is innocent. As I have to keep her in custody, I don't want her to suffer more than necessary." The Judge explained. Christine was relieved by his kindness. How considerate of him to think of her innocence, though he couldn't let her go free.

"I accept, Your Honor." She said and walked over to the three men. "Can I say goodbye to my family?" The Judge nodded and Christine went back to the Girys. Meg cried silently while the Madame wasn't completely unaffected either. M. Khan followed behind her like a shadow.

"Oh Christine, I'm so sorry that you have to stay here." Madame Giry said. "We will visit you every day and push the gendarmes for a quick court date." Christine nodded and hugged both women tightly.

She turned to walk back to the Judge and the gendarme, but M. Khan stopped her. "Mlle Daaé, I do not like this arrangement. Be careful." He said seriously and bowed as she nodded. She walked past him and followed the Judge who led her and the gendarme through the door up front. Behind her she felt the despair of her friends, not unlike her own.

Chapter Text

The Judge led her through a chamber where the aristocratic wigs and ropes were stored. It was sparse with dressing screen, a desk and a chair. A wall was covered by a bookcase filled with law books. It reminded her a lot of Erik. The Judge kept going through another door to a staircase. They climbed two sets of stairs and walked through a doorway, entering a long hallway. Her sense of direction told her that they were almost over the jailhouse and though they were on the second floor and he'd said that the room was close to the jailhouse, she still felt a shiver by thinking of returning to that place.

They reached the end of the hall where he unlocked a door to the right and gestured for her to enter. The gendarme who had followed them stopped outside in the hall and settled with looking into the room from the doorway. 

The room was the small size of her old dressing room which she really found comforting. The walls were dressed in a dark green wallpaper with cherry wood panels that reached her hips. There was a small table with two chairs, a dresser, a small bookcase with worn books and a bed by a small window. She looked out the window which was covered by one set of bars. She could see a tiny garden on the ground level, surrounded by a fence which led out to a minor street. The warm evening sun shone through the window and bathed the room in a gentle light.

To the right was another door. "Bathroom, but with no lock." The Judge said when he followed her gaze. "Don't worry. You don't have to share it with anyone." Christine felt her whole body ease with a tension she'd carried for hours.

The tall gendarme hummed slightly. "It looks alright. Provide me with the keys and she can stay here for the time being."

"I'll fetch a copy in my study." The Judge replied. "I believe the young Mlle Daaé must be hungry. So am I. Can you bring us some dinner and wine? From the personel quarters of course." He smiled kindly to Christine and winked. She blushed a bit. The gendarme muttered a "yes, Your Honor" before walking away. He didn't seem satisfied with the special treatment she was getting.

"Your Honor, I don't know how to thank you." Christine said gratefully. "It's a miracle that you spare me from that awful cell!"

The older man neared her, though still kept a respectable distant. "Please, call me Hugo. Can I perhaps call you Christine?". She nodded, suddenly realising that she didn't even know the Judge's last name. Had it even been mentioned? It surely must have. "Christine, I must admit that it's more than sympathy that leads me to help you. I'm very interested in mysteries and the mystery of the Opera Ghost is fascinating. I'm hoping that you will tell me some more about this mysterious man while we have dinner." She felt her eyes widen even though she tried to keep calm at his request. He was only helping her because he had a strange fascination with Erik. It didn't feel right. "Of course you're allowed to say no. You'll still be able to stay here until your trial."

She calmed immensely at his words. The fact that she had a choice in the matter meant a lot to her. "You can ask questions and if they're decent, I'll answer them if I know the answer." She replied. She didn't want to turn him completely down because he was so kind to her. No harm could come from sharing a few things about Erik, though she wouldn't share anything too private.

"That means a lot to me. Thank you, Christine." He bowed his head a bit. "I will go back and change out of these clothes as I want to dine with you as an equal, not a judge. I have to lock the door unfortunately, though I know you won't escape. I am sorry for that." He seemed sincerely apologetic, but he needn't worry. She knew that she was still a prisoner which she told him. He took his leave and Christine looked around the room. She had to stay here for a few days at least, but she was so happy to have a clean bed and a bathroom that she wouldn't complain in the lest.

***

Dinner arrived at the same time as the Judge, Hugo. It was fish with potatoes and carrots along with a bottle of red wine. Christine wasn't used to drinking wine, but she liked it well enough. She was very thirsty and hungry, so her dinner went down fast and so did several glasses of wine. She didn't realise that she was affected by the alcohol until she found herself telling a bit too much about the Phantom.

"So the previous owner had actually paid him 20.000 francs a month in all his time there?" Hugo laughed and Christine laughed with him.

"Yes! But he was worth it. And the new managers ended up doing the same after Carlotta's accident before the premiere of Hannibal. People said that he only did it to get me to play Elisa, but honestly I think it was more about saving himself from Carlotta's shrieking." She giggled, remembering Erik's hatred of the diva. 

"And that's when you met him in person?" He seemed more serious and Christine felt his intense stare bore through her alcohol-induced daze. "How did he appear to you? Surely he didn't just walk through the door like everyone else." Hugo eased his excitement as he moved to fill their glasses once more and she forgot why she'd paused. But she tried to keep her wits and not turn into a spluttering mess, spilling all Erik's secrets, so she decided to stop drinking any more wine.

"He appeared in my mirror. Somehow he'd created a doorway there. The mirror opened as if by his will and he led me through the tunnels."

Hugo's eyebrows lifted. "So he really did have secret passageways in the Opera! That's amazing! Did he build them himself?" The man was clearly fascinated by Erik's existence and Christine admitted in hindsight that it was incredible how Erik had managed to live like that. But also incredibly sad and surely lonely. Maybe he hadn't come to her to comfort her when she was crying in the chapel as a child. Maybe he'd come because he himself was lonely and found a kindred spirit in her - a child who could not harm him and would not judge him. She'd called him an angel and he hadn't denied her. Later he'd called her his angel, maybe because he found her to save him from his solitude.

She'd never thought about it in such a way. They had both been in need of a friend and they had found each other. He became her teacher because he found her voice beautiful and full of potential, he'd said so himself. And though they never met, they grew closer and talked about much more than just music. Had he frightened her when he finally appeared to her, before she removed his mask and ignited his anger? She didn't think so. She had instead felt drawn to him and had even tried to avoid dinner with Raoul after the premiere of Hannibal because she wanted to talk to her Angel about her performance. She'd loved him, she realised. Perhaps not in the way he wanted, but she had loved him. She also admitted to herself that she'd felt attracted to him. His voice alone was addicting, but when she'd met him, she'd felt sparks fly between them in a way she never experienced with Raoul.

If he had asked to court her when they finally met, she would've said yes without a doubt. It could've been so simple if they had done things the normal way. But of course Erik knew nothing of normality, so she couldn't blame him for not knowing how to act or even how to love. At that moment she let herself dream of the way things might've ended if his mask or Raoul hadn't come between them.

"Christine?" Hugo asked and waved a hand in front of her face. She blinked and discovered that he'd asked her something.

"I'm sorry, I missed that. You were saying?"

Hugo smiled forgiving. "You must be tired. I'll let you retire for the night in a moment. But I do wish to ask you a last question if you don't mind?" He looked imploring at her and as she was feeling bad that she hadn't listened to him before, she nodded in agreement. He rose from his chair and gathered the dishes from their dinner, finishing his own glass of wine. "Was there any truth to the rumours about your relationship with the Phantom?"

Christine swallowed a lump in her throat. It wasn't something she was interested in sharing, but he'd been so nice to her and it wouldn't harm much to tell something. "It depends on what you've heard about our relationship." She muttered. She wasn't even quite sure herself. He'd never made any indication of wanting to share more than companionship. He wanted her to marry him, but when she asked if she would be be the one to satisfy his lust for flesh, he'd just told her that he had not known the joys of the flesh. He hadn't made any comment about their wedding night or mentioned an interest in her sexually. She did have a clear feeling that he would never harm her physically. 

Hugo moved behind her with the dishes, leaving them on the dresser. She felt him move to stand right behind her. He leaned down and whispered in her ear. "Christine, I've heard about the performance at the Don Juan Triumphant premiere where you sang on stage with him. It was supposed to have been intense." Something about the way he breathed the last word made her stand up and push away from the proximity of the older man, moving to the other side of the table. She looked back at him and found him with a peculiar smile and hooded eyes.

"I wasn't romantically involved with him." She said, yet realised that she was lying. She locked eyes with Hugo briefly, but hurried to look down when she felt a sense of alarm by his stare. He chuckled and began moving forward, going around the table, towards her. She instinctively started to back away, then realised that the bed was right behind her. Perhaps it would be better to be nearer the door and so she started circling the opposite side of the table slowly. She felt threatened and though it might be her imagination, it seemed reasonable to have a way out if she wasn't wrong.

"Oh Christine," he grinned. "I think even the dumb-witted Vicomte knows that's a lie. But you know, the Phantom's dead now. I however am right here." He lunged forward at her, but she avoided him by stepping aside and moved quickly all the way over to the door. She gripped the handle, but it was locked. She started banging on the door. Surely someone would come. Hugo laughed behind her. "Sorry, but no one will come. Have you thought about the perks of being on my good side? I might be able to grease the wheels in the system if I get to try those pipes the Phantom broke in." His eyes ran exploring over her body and nausea flooded her in a wave. He couldn't mean...?

Suddenly he rushed to her and caught her by the wrists before she could react. He managed to keep a hold on both her wrist with one hand, then lifted her arms over her head. She struggled with her whole body against his hold, but stopped as he stepped flush against her and she accidentally rubbed against something hard in his trousers, making a groan emerge from his mouth. "Oh, Madame Phantom, do that again." He moaned and she froze.

His other hand went to her jaw and held her chin up while his tongue dragged down her throat. "I heard he kissed your throat on stage. I can almost taste it." She gagged at the sensation. The hand at her jaw ran firmly down her chest and roughly took hold of her left breast, then the right. She found her voice at last and began to scream, to draw someone's attention. He laughed and grabbed her bosom harder before clawing at the fabric of her gown. She felt fabric rip from her chest down over her hips. Luckily she had several layers of clothes on, but sooner or later it wouldn't be of any help.

His hand travelled lower to find the space between her thighs, but the several layers of skirts were in the way. He started ripping her skirts apart, leaving more of her legs exposed. Her screams almost seemed to spur him on and she realised that it wasn't the best way to use her voice. She felt his hand grib her left thigh roughly and she whimpered at the pain, but quickly recovered and breathed in deeply. Erik had once called her voice a weapon sent from God. She knew that he hadn't meant it literally, but now she'd test that statement. She emitted the highest note she could reach directly into Hugo's ear and let it resonate profoundly. Hugo let her go, screaming in shock while gripping his ears.

While keeping the high pitch as long as she could, she ran over to the dishes on the dresser and grabbed a knife. It was sharp enough to cut through flesh, but she would have to do it severely enough to be able to take the keys and get out without him hurting her or going after her. How much would she need cut him then? She didn't want to kill him. The thoughts flew through her head in a split second, but it wasn't fast enough because she had to take a breath and as soon as the sound came to a halt, Hugo began to recover.

She remembered then Meg calling her curls tiny ropes. The rope. Once again she took a deep breath and grabbed a handful of curls from the back of her head. She used all her strength as she cut it, throwing the knife behind her and wrapping each end of her cut off hair around her hands.

Hugo got up and walked forward, but she dodged him and came up behind him. Needing more leverage against him, she kicked firmly into his groin. He felt to his knees, a perfect height for her as she used her long rope of hair to strangle him. Despite the pain in his groin his hands automatically came up to fight her hands away, but she held on firmly and he began to falter and then stop.

She started to release him a bit when suddenly he started fighting again and she shoved a knee into his spine to gain the upper hand again. He didn't fight very long this time, but when he stopped completely, she held on a little while longer to make sure.

When she released after he hadn't moved for a minute or so, she was surprised to find that he was still breathing. She slapped him a few times, but he was definitely unconscious. It was a comfort that she actually hadn't killed a man. Thinking quickly, she split her rope of hair in two and used them to tie his hands and feet. He'd be able to get out of the restraints, but it would take him a little while.

She searched his pockets for keys and found them. She ran to the door, but stopped. She could run down to the gendarmes and tell what had happened, but they would likely believe the Judge's story instead of hers. And she was guilty of hurting him, even though it was in self defense, but she couldn't prove that. They would argue that she'd ripped the gown on her own. She would only dig a bigger grave for herself. 

The only other choice was to flee. From the law. Could she really do that? Erik had done it and look what happened to him. Once again she found herself in a situation where the choices given to her weren't fair in the least. 

A small cough from a still unconscious Hugo forced her to decide fast. It would be difficult to escape through the station with so many gendarmes which meant that the window was the only way out. She ran to the window and tried different keys for the lock until she found the right one. She opened it as much as she could and began squeezing through the small opening, not daring to think about how far from the ground she was. A few bushes were right beneath her and hopefully they would ease her fall, but she knew that there was a real risk that she would break several bones. 

She managed to get the right side of her body out of the window where she could step onto a tiny ledge. She followed with her left side while using her hands on the window frame to stabilise herself. If she wanted to land in the bushes, she had to look down, so she gathered the courage before lowering her eyes. The sun had set and it was difficult to see very much in the dark, but she could clearly see the small area with bushes. And how far down it was. The view made her dizzy. It was farther than she'd imagined, but it was the only way. There was nothing to climb down. She just had to take a step into the air and let go.

Swallowing a thick lump in her throat she closed her eyes and prayed to the God she believed were looking out for her. Then she let go of the window frame and took a step into the air, letting her weight follow.

She had the distinct sense of falling in a rush, but just for a moment. Something grabbed her waist and held on, making her yell out in shock. She opened her eyes and saw a figure in the dark holding onto her with one arm around her while the other hand held onto a rope. They glided down the rope until they hit the ground where the figure let her go. She lost her balance for a moment, the short experience taking her breath away and she bent over to gather her wits. Suddenly she felt solid, yet gentle hands lifting her shoulders up until she stood upright and she found the courage to look at her knight in shining armor. 

There was no shining armor of course and surely no knight. It was a tall, lean man covered in a cloak with a scarf hiding his jaw and a fedora obscuring the rest of his face. But she didn't need to see his face because she knew the sensation of being in his proximity. Surely it could not be. She reached up and pulled his fedora off, revealing his familiar lime-colored eyes.

"Angel."

Chapter Text

"Angel." She whispered.

She could barely breathe. The man before her was half angel - half demon and seemed so unreal in the dark. The left side was handsome with a strong jaw, a high cheekbone and one finely shaped eyebrow framing the intense eye.

But the right side was distorted. That side of the nose was caved in, leaving a hole where his right nostril should've been. His lower lip seemed swollen and sore, though she blushed when she thought of how soft it had felt against her lips. The scarred skin looked like dried leather stretched tightly across the cheek and up his forehead and veins bulged out clearly, even in the dark. His cheekbone was misshaped and his striking eye seemed sunken into his skull, creating the illusion of looking at a death's-head.

She was unsettled by seeing him without his mask, not because his face disgusted her anymore, but because she knew he felt bare without the mask and wouldn't willingly expose his face to anyone. His wig was gone too, she realised, his distorted cranium and thin hair on display.

Both his eyes looked a bit fogged, but it was still clear to see tenderness there. She lifted her hand to his right cheek and ran it gently over the smooth scarring. He twitched at her touch, but didn't pull away. 

"Erik. You're here."

He closed his eyes while leaning into her touch and let out a deep breath he'd been holding.

"Christine is safe." He whispered and fell to the ground by her feet.

***

 

8 days before...

When Nadir saw the unmasked Erik escape the gendarmes, dragging Christine with him, the Persian was on his feet before the rest of the audience. But he was on the balcony and he found the audience from the floor seats blocking the way to the front doors before he  had even descended the stairs.

He'd known it to be Erik the moment he'd heard his voice on the stage. The regular tenor was good, but his voice couldn't match that of Erik's strong, sublime vocals, even though Erik tried to use a faint Italian accent. Nadir had looked around, but everyone had seemed none the wiser. It had been obvious when young Mlle Daaé became aware as her whole body tense, seemingly after touching his mask in an intimate embrace, but it had been unexpected to see that she didn't leave the stage at that point. By the end of the song people had been on the edge of their seats - Nadir included - and gasped as Christine had pushed the hood off his head. The audience appeared to think that it was part of the performance, that is until the mask came off and Erik's piercing scream filled the room.

Erik's anger alone was dangerous enough, but the pain and despair Nadir had recognised in his voice were what got him on his feet so quickly. He needed to get to the catacombs. He'd seen gendarmes following the escaping ghost, but it would take them a while to find an entrance which was why Nadir wanted to use the entrance to the catacombs from Le Rue Scribe. If he only could get past the hysteric crowd.

45 minutes later he finally breathed the fresh air. A fire had somehow erupted inside and smoke began spreading when he got closer to the exit.

He only took a moment to breathe before hurrying to Le Rue Scribe where he found the small window he usually used. No one noticed him, even when he struggled to slip in through the tiny opening. His weight had perhaps changed a bit since he'd last visited the lair, but he managed to enter anyway. He felt along the inner wall of the dark basement with old props before finding the right stone and pushed to open the secret passageway, setting foot in the hidden tunnels. When the door closed behind him, he expected the usual silence, but instead he heard echos of people calling out for justice for someone called Buquet and Piangi.

He remembered the name Piangi. Wasn't he the tenor who'd played Don Juan? Nadir muttered a curse in Farsi. His friend was in a bad place if he'd dared to break the promise he'd made Nadir so long ago. It was doubtful that the overweight tenor had caused any danger to Erik. His rage ignited, but faltered again. His wrath wouldn't help Erik nor the young Mlle Daaé.

He continued tracking through the tunnels while avoiding various traps. When he heard a scream from a woman he began to run. It took him longer than he wanted to admit, but finally he came through to the lair. He instantly noticed how quiet it was, then saw a familiar figure in a large pool of blood on the stone floor by the house.

Quickly he pulled off his jacket while running towards the unconscious Erik. As he came up to him, he didn't think twice about kneeling in the blood of his friend, nor did he notice the missing mask. He pushed his jacket against the wound in Erik's stomach, but realised then that the blood mainly flowed from a hole in his back.

Someone had stabbed in the back. Christine? He would be able to forgive a woman doing that if she felt like she was in danger. The mob still shouted in the tunnels, so it could not be any of them. 

Trying to gather his straying thoughts, he shook his head and removed his jacket from Erik's stomach and put under the wound in his back instead. The weight of him would keep pressure on that wound. He ripped a piece of Erik's shirt sleeves, folded it and stuffed it in the small hole in his stomach to halt the blood. The unpleasant feeling of sticking cloth under a man's skin was to familiar which is why he paused when he didn't hear a pained groan from Erik. Even unconscious men made a sound when such a thing happened to their body. But Erik didn't. Was he even alive or had Nadir been too late? 

It was only now that he really looked at Erik. Not as a wounded body, but as his friend. His skin had always been naturally pale, even in the burning Persian sun, but now it looked white as snow and Nadir felt a crippling fear that Death had finally come to claim this poor soul. He put his head to the other's man's chest and listened. 

Lub dub..... Lub dub. 

His heart still beat impossibly in its cave and Nadir then felt a small rising of the chest. He had to act fast if he wanted to keep Erik alive. Since there wasn't any odour coming from the wound, he assumed that the bowels had been spared, so hopefully it would be enough to close it. If the weapon had hit something vital in there, there was nothing he could do.

Not giving it too much thought, he ran to the house and found a sewing kit, whiskey, a glass, towels and a bucket of water. He turned Erik carefully around to his stomach and poured whiskey onto the wound in the back, ignoring the disturbing lack of reaction and dabbed it with a towel. He began stitching the wound efficiantly, glad that it was a clean cut, making his work much easier. When he finished, he poured whiskey on it once more, laid down a clean towel and turned Erik again to lie on his back. He made quick work of the smaller wound. 

After the wounds were stitched up, he checked on Erik's heartbeat and breathing once again. It was still too slow, but he didn't have much else he could do when in this place. He filled the glass with water and pulled Erik's head up to try and make him drink. Most of it poured out of his mouth, but Nadir was pleased to hear a small gag and then saw his throat swallow slightly. 

Noticing that the mob had silenced, he hoped that they had given up. He'd rather not move Erik anymore than he already had. He went inside to find pillows and blankets to cover the poor sod on the ground. Looking around for things to help start a fire, he came across a wedding veil. Glancing questioningly back at his friend without an answer, he decided to burn it. It would help get the fire started and hopefully cleanse this place of the bad spirits there might be. He grabbed a pot in the kitchen, filled it with firewood and the veil, added a bit of whiskey and put it on the ground near Erik before lighting a match. The small fire should be enough to warm them through the night.

Lastly he pulled an armchair out for himself to settle in, along with a book from Erik's impressive bookcase to entertain himself while he prayed to Allah that his odd friend would live long enough to see his own redemption. 

***

He was halfway through the book when he heard a mild groan and saw Erik move. He'd checked up on him every half hour and had found that his breathing had stabilised a few hours ago. Now there was actually signs of life. His watch told him it was 4.15 am. If he was fast, he could get a message to his servant Darius to come and help get Erik out of the catacombs before the sun rose. He scribbled a note in Arab to avoid anyone intercepting the message and hurried through the tunnels where he crawled out of the small window to Le Rue Scribe. Hoping no one would notice his bloody clothes, he stayed in the shadows. Fire carriages were packed in front of the Opera and he saw several gendarmes, but all the commotion was a good thing because it meant a lot of messenger boys had gathered to watch the show. He made eye contact with one and persuaded him to come. For two coins the messenger left with the note to Darius.

He went back through the tunnels once again, wishing Erik had designed an easier way to get to his home. He certainly had the talent for it! But now Nadir had to be creative. How would they get the unconscious man through the damn tunnels and narrow passageways? A stretcher would be the best way to carry him, but it wasn't possible to get it around the corners. Well, at least he could build a stretcher to begin with. He found two oars from the extra boat behind the house and a sheet, binding it tightly to each oar. 

Getting an idea, he found a rolling pin in the kitchen and bound each end of it to the bottom of the oars. If they put Erik on the stretcher and tied him tightly to it, they could lift him vertically through the sharp corners of the tunnels and otherwise drive hun around like a wheel barrel. He chuckled at the image in his head, but the idea wasn't bad. He might actually be able to do it himself, so he didn't have to walk the long way back and forth more than necessary. Looking at his watch he still had half an hour before Darius would be there with a carriage.

He resolved that it was worth a try and started dragging Erik's body over on the stretcher. He tied the thin man tightly to the stretcher, then pushed the stretcher up to rest on the rolling pin that he used as a wheel. Pushing the stretcher forward in a 45 degree angle was no problem and a laughter of relief escaped him. This would work as long as the rolling pin and Erik stayed firmly bound.

Getting him up the stairs into the tunnels proved to be difficult. He had to step up the stair first and pull Erik after him. If he'd just been 10 years younger, this would've been a piece of cake. At least Erik wasn't heavy compared to his height. When he'd gotten into the tunnel, it turned out to be pretty easy to move forward. Some of the sharp corners demanded that he pushed the stretcher into an almost 90 degree angle, but otherwise they reached the props room only five minutes after he'd asked Darius to be by the window on Le Rue Scribe.

He put the stretcher with Erik down and cringed as the rolling pin broke off in that exact moment. He thanked Allah that he'd managed to get so far before it happened. He ran to the window and called Darius' name, briefly explaining the situation. Darius crawled through the window and together they carried the stretcher to the window where Darius inched out backwards holding the stretcher while Nadir pushed. He felt lucky that Le Rue Scribe was so quiet right now at the crack of dawn and knew it was because of the tumult in front of the Opera. The carriage also obstructed the view as they untied Erik and hauled him into the carriage.

Remembering Erik's beloved horse, Nadir sent Darius back to the house on the carriage with Erik while he went to the stables to get Cesar. The stallion recognised him, but it took some persuasion before he was allowed to ride him back to his house. He got Cesar situated in his own stable, far away from his mares. The stallion was known to be fond of the ladies

They carried Erik to the guestroom where they made sure that he was still breathing steadily. A few of Erik's stitches on his back had been pulled, so Nadir had to redo them and was pretty glad to hear pained whimpers from the wounded man, even though he remained unconscious.

He told Darius to keep Ines out of the guestroom before going to visit doctor Andersen who was known to handle discreet emergencies. It was only 6.30 am, but the good doctor was ready to take patients all hours of the week, except during the Shabbat. Another good thing about doctor Andersen was that Nadir only had to walk two streets. He was getting tired, having been up all night and exhausted himself by dragging Erik around, along with the worry of losing his friend and what said friend might had done. 

Camille Andersen opened the door at the first knock. "Monsieur Khan," she smiled. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" She was already dressed for the day in her daydress with a white coat over it, hiding the ample bosom, a fairly narrow waist and broad hips that clearly had birthed at least one child, though Nadir knew that no children lived with her. Her straight dark brown hair had been swept up in a ponytail as to hide the fact that she was a woman, but her full naturally red lips and feminine features betrayed her. He knew that many people did not believe a woman could be a proper doctor, but Nadir trusted her completely. She'd been educated in Scandinavia in a university at least as good as the ones in France. It was hard to tell how old she was. She looked to be in her late thirties, but he had a feeling that she was closer to his age of 51.

"Doctor, I hope you are well. I have a friend in need of your care and as you can guess by this early hour, it's quite urgent. Are you available?"

"I am. Let me get my medical bag, then we'll go." She said and disappeared for only a moment before returning and locking the door behind her. She followed Nadir silently. 

It wasn't until he'd bid her inside his home that she said anything. "I take it by your silence that it's a delicate matter." She stated rather than asked, but he answered anyway.

"It is. What do you know of the Phantom of the Opera Populaire?"

"A ghost who haunts the cast and crew of the Opera. It's typical for actors to believe in superstition like when they think it brings bad luck to say Macbeth. Why?" She smiled curiously and Nadir was quite amazed by her relaxed attitude, even alone in a man's house and talking about myths.

"Well, this is something else as it happens to be true." She laughed until she noticed the expression on his face. 

"You're telling me that the Phantom of the Opera exists? A ghost?" She lifted an eyebrow at him, not believing a word of what he was saying.

He shook his head. "Of course not a ghost. Just a man. And he's the one who needs your help." He said seriously.

"Well, why didn't you just say that?" She smiled and waited for him to lead her to 'the ghost'.

Nadir led her to the guestroom where Erik looked unchanged. He noticed Camille eyeing the obvious deformity, but she didn't mention it. Instead she asked how he'd been stabbed, how long he'd been unconscious and a few other things Nadir didn't know the answer to. So she asked him to just tell her what he knew and what he'd done. She examined the stitches Nadir had made, took blood pressure, looked into Erik's eyes with a sharp light and other things Nadir couldn't explain the reason for. When she was finished with her examination, she brought out a bottle of mixture and gauze of her medical bag.

"The stitching is well done and he seems to be stabil. However I'm worried about his blood loss and how long he'd been unconscious before you arrived. Perhaps his brain has lacked oxygen which could lead to brain damage. I can't see any signs of internal damage, but it is a real risk. It would be too dangerous to open the wounds to check, so let's pray that it won't be the case." She pointed to the mixture. "This medicine is something I usually give patients who are at risk of getting an infection and one tablespoon of this two times a day will prevent it. When I leave, you must remove the dirty clothes, clean him with soap and bind the wounded area in gauze. Don't bother dressing him in more than drawers and a nightshirt at most. Just keep him warm under blankets."

Nadir was extremely impressed by her and caught himself staring after she'd finished talking. A small smile shone in her eyes. "Thank you, doctor. I must say that I'm quite dazzled by your expertice. How much do I owe you?" He began leading her back down the stairs. 

"Oh, it's too early for that. I'll be back to check on him tomorrow and then we'll see if I can name a price, depending on his health. But I promise you it will be quite expensive." She winked and he chuckled. He had no doubt that Erik could afford it. 

"But I have to ask," Camille continued with a shy smile and Nadir knew it would be about the deformity. "Why did he reside in the catacombs of an opera?" 

Nadir's eyebrows raised automtically. "Surely you saw his deformity?" 

The doctor rolled her eyes. "Well, compared to the men at the veteran's pension, it ain't that bad. He should just wear a mask." This time it was Nadir who raised a single eyebrow. She didn't know much about the Opera Ghost myth then. "If he needs a realistic mask, I know a man who custom makes, even in skin color."

Nadir bid her farewell. Then he called Darius. They had a ghost to clean.

***

It was almost midday when a messenger came by with a letter. They had just finished cleaning Erik and Nadir had planned to finally go to sleep. But the messenger boy interrupted that plan. When he saw the letter from Antoinette, he forgot all about sleeping and instead opened it right away to hopefully learn what had happened to Christine. 

Antoinette's letter didn't help him in finding out what had happened in the catacombs. She wrote that they were alright, but that Raoul had proclaimed the Phantom to be dead and that Christine was still in shock, not only from the experience, but from loss too. She mentioned that they would need to bury their mutual friend without mentioning who it was.

Luckily Erik wasn't ready to be buried just yet, but he wouldn't tell Antoinette anything before he knew for sure that Erik would survive. 

Nadir asked Darius to check on Erik every hour while he slept and not to wake Nadir unless there was a change in Erik's condition or when Darius retired for the night. 

***

He was startled awake by a voice and wondered for a moment where he was. Chair, guestroom, Erik. He'd been awaken by Darius earlier when the servant's work was finished for the day. After eating a light meal, he'd gone to sit by Erik's bed while continuing the book he'd started reading in the catacombs the night before. He must've fallen asleep in the chair. 

Looking to the bed he found Erik's body to be unmoving, but his piercing eyes stared right at Nadir.

"You're al... awake." Nadir said incredulously. "Sorry, did you say something before?" He added when he noticed Erik's expectant expression. 

"The monster," he glanced down to the book in Nadir's lap. "ends up alone because of his awful actions and drifts off into nothingless."

Nadir groaned. "I have told you time and time again not to spoil the ending of the books I'm reading!" Though Nadir was annoyed by Erik's tendency to reveal the ending, he mostly castigated him now because it didn't escape him how similar the Creature's fate seemed to Erik's. Their banter usually lightened the mood. 

It didn't seem to work tonight. "So it appears that I'm alive." Erik muttered. "It's only in your hell that I spoil endings and it's certainly not heaven as you wouldn't be there. Neither of us would. How did I survive?"

"By sheer luck or perhaps because you have a true friend who cares too much. Maybe both." Nadir replied.

"I'd have preferred to have died. But the Vicomte couldn't even do that right." Erik fisted his hands in the sheet.

"The Vicomte stabbed you in the back?" Nadir was disgusted that a supposedly man of honor would do such a thing. "Tell me what happened." He asked curiously.

Erik laughed hoarsely, but the joy wasn't present in the sound. "You're such a gossip, Daroga, but I'll indulge you."

Nadir finally learned what had happened before arriving at the lair. He couldn't say that he was surprised to learn that Erik had threatened the Vicomte to get Christine to choose him, but it was unexpected to hear that she'd kissed him and even more so that it had led Erik to free them both. Somehow Christine's kiss had tamed the beast that was his rage. The Vicomte had then taken the opportunity to kill the Phantom as he'd vowed to do, yet such a cowardly way to do it. And then to strike a woman!

"Erik, I heard that the lead tenor was killed." Nadir needed to know if Erik had broken the one promise, he'd made. He saw Erik frown uncomfortably. "You took his role. Did you murder him for it?"

"I did." Nadir felt anger rise inside him. "I hadn't planned to." Erik added. "Piangi was high on opium. He couldn't perform and I needed to have my play performed! So I put a noose around his neck and tied him a hook, so he wouldn't interrupt the show. But he must've fainted because they'd found him strangled on the wall. His feet could reach the ground for Christ's sake and yet he got strangled!" Erik put his head in his hands and Nadir felt for him. He actually felt sorry for Piangi.

"I believe you, my friend. But what about this other guy? Buquet?"

This time Erik scoffed and looked up at Nadir. "It was self defense. And honestly it served everyone else at the Opera. He was a drunk who assaulted the ballet rats and kept making mistakes. He only had a job there because he was Carlotta's stepbrother - something she doesn't want shared with the world." He looked directly at Nadir. "He tried to stab me after I had stopped him from attacking Mlle Rousseau, one of Madame Giry's girls." Nadir nodded, happy that his friend hadn't quite broken his promise after all.

Nadir then explained how he'd found Erik and gotten him out of the catacombs. They laughed heartily at the image of him pushing Erik on a stretcher like it was a wheel barrel.

"So what happens now?" Nadir asked his oldest living friend and saw his face fall.

"I do not know. Without Christine I have nothing to live for. The music she inspired in me was the only thing keeping me alive after Persia. Now..." He looked out the window to the dark sky, frowning. "At least she's happy."

Nadir contemplated if he should tell Erik what Antoinette had written, but decided against it. "So you think the Vicomte will behave?"

It caught Erik's attention. "Surely a man of his stature won't strike his wife!" It was obvious that he didn't believe his own statement.

"No matter what, you need to get well before you decide what to do, my friend. I will bring you something to eat and drink to help you recuperate." Nadir said and left Erik alone with his thoughts.

When he returned, they talked much of the night while Erik ate a small portion of soup, straying away from the serious topics. Nadir talked of the performances he'd seen at the Opera and the horses he was breeding while Erik mostly commented instead of adding to the conversation. It was how they usually did, so Nadir was fine with that.

Around 5 o'clock Erik started to get heavy-eyed and Nadir left him to get some sleep. He might as well get a few hours of his own now that Erik was alright.

Only an hour later a knock on his bedroom door woke him up.

"Master, I'm afraid that your visitor has gotten worse. He's having a seizure." Darius called through the door.

Nadir hurried out of bed, still wearing his trousers and shirt sleeves, and ran out the door. "Run over to doctor Andersen's house and get her over here now!" He ran to the guestroom and sure enough, Erik was having a seizure. Nadir struggled to hold him down before he hurt himself and a few minutes passed before the seizure stopped.

Finally Camille arrived with Darius and began examining him. After checking the blood pressure she sent a pained look over to Nadir and unwrapped Erik's stomach. It had gone completely purple around the wounds.

"Pokkers!" Camille said in a different language, but it was obviously a curse. "Internal bleeding." Camille stated gravely and Nadir knew that Erik's chance of survival had just plummeted.

"But he was awake and fine just a few hours ago." He argued.

"It often happens fast. I have to operate. It's his best chance at survival." She paused, sensing Nadir's distress. "Should we procede with that?" She wanted him to take a decision and he detested it. Erik would say no, would want to die in peace, but Nadir had always been selfish. If there was a chance that his friend could live, he couldn't say no.

Resolved, he nodded to Camille. "I'll call for a nurse then." She said and smile reasuringly.

 

Chapter Text

Erik woke up in a dark room. Some sound had made him wake, but he wasn't quite sure what. He sat up in bed, whining a bit by the pain in his stomach. Oh right, he'd been stabbed and was now stuck as the Daroga's patient.

He heard something again. It sounded like someone saying Christine. Of course it could be his imagination, but he had to investigate. Raising carefully from the bed, he went to the door and opened it silently as he always did. He instantly recognised Antoinette's voice from the sitting room. 

"... been through so much. The loss of him is taking its toll on her, her relationship with the Vicomte is strained and she's just been severely ill. I know you were once a police chief. I hoped that you could perhaps help with this matter?"

They must be talking about Christine. Who had she lost? Why was she having trouble with the boy? And when had she been severely ill? He'd seen her only two days ago. And what did Nadir's former profession have to do with anything?

He heard Nadir reply: "I will come with you to the station and see what I can do to help. If you will wait while I make myself more presentable."

He muttered something else, but Erik hurried back to bed. Something had happened with Christine and it involved the gendarmes. Nadir wouldn't let him help in his condition, but even though Erik'd let her go, he still loved her. He had to do something. So when his Persian friend looked into the guestroom, Erik pretended to be asleep.

When he heard Antoinette and Nadir leave, he was on his feet immediatly, ignoring the sharp pain in his abdomen. He began searching for any personal items or just anything to wear, but it seemed that the Daroga hadn't thought that far ahead. All Erik had was the drawers he was wearing and shirt sleeves that was clearly not his own.

He crept into Nadir's bedroom to find something to wear. The servants might be in the house, so he was stealth like he'd been in the Opera. In the bedroom he managed to find trousers that only were a few inches too small which he could hide with black socks, a decent enough tailcoat and a scarf. Knowing Nadir, his cloaks would be in the closer by the entrance, but he probably wouldn't have a fedora or any normal hat of any kind. Erik would have to steal one in the streets.

Listening carefully he discovered Darius to be in the stables while he couldn't hear any sign of the maid. He sneaked into the kitchen and quickly grabbed some bread before taking a cloak and gloves in the downstairs closet where he also noticed a pair of boots roughly his size. It had to be Darius' as Nadir had relatively small feet.

He went out through the back door to avoid getting noticed in the street.

Now he just had to wait in the shadows for Darius to finish in the stables. Erik missed Cesar and looked forward to riding him again. He was glad that Nadir had remembered to bring his beloved horse. As he waited for Darius he began to slump against the wall. He was exhausted. He took a few bites of the bread, but felt his stomach turn when he swallowed. Eating would have to wait. Christine was his priority.

***

He sat up suddenly. When had the sun set? Surely he couldn't have fallen asleep? 

Sounds from the stables alerted him. "Well, he can't have gone far." Erik recognised Nadir's flustered voice. "Cesar is still here." From the crook he was hiding in, he watched as his friend stormed out of the stables with Darius at his tail. When he heard the backdoor slam, he hurried to the stables and quickly found Cesar who greeted him cheerfully. He found a rope hanging on the wall and slipped it inside the cloak. It wasn't his Punjab lasso, but it'd have to do.

He led Cesar out of the stables, glad that his horse was as stealth as himself. Covering himself in the hood of the cloak he walked to the small street behind Nadir's house where he climbed Cesar and set course for the station. Perhaps Nadir had taken care of the situation, but he had a feeling that wasn't the case.

He had to take a few detours to avoid the larger streets and it had gone completely dark by the time he arrived at the station. But it was to his advantage because the night was his time. He tied Cesar to a tree behind the station, found a hole in the fence that was big enough to slip through, crept inside by a side entrance and into a room that seemed to be a study and changing room for the judges. Relieved to find a fedora on a hanger, he slipped off the hood which obscured his vision too much.

He left the study by another door, but halted when he heard footsteps walking down the stairs right outside the room.

"Why did Judge Gameau detain her if she was innocent?" a man mumbled.

"Well, you know how obsessed he's been with the story of Opera Ghost from Opera Populaire?" another man replied. "They claim she's been working with the Ghost." Erik heard the other man laugh disbelievingly, but he wasn't going to stay. He had to find Christine! They must've put her in the jailhouse. He ran out the door he'd entered by and towards the part of the station that held the jailhouse. Luckily the cells were on ground level, so if he could find the right cell, he would just have to break in. It should be doable. 

When he neared the cells, he heard screams from a window on the first or second floor. Screams from the station weren't uncommon, but it seemed familiar. Then the screams faltered and instead a perfect pitched high C enriched the calm evening, leaving Erik no doubt that Christine was behind the illuminated window on the second floor. He found himself closing his eyes in a haze and enjoyed the sound until it died out. Feeling bewildered, he tried shaking it off as he ran down to the vines running up the walls of the building 50 feet away from the window. He felt his body protest as he climbed up, but he had to save her. When he reached the roof, he began inching his way towards the window.

Suddenly the window opened and he saw a small woman with brown curls crawl out on the tiny ledge. He crossed the rest of the distance in no time and tied the rope to a small vent just in time to see Christine leap from the window. Dammit! He jumped from the roof, swung down past the window and managed to grip her tightly and let them both glide down the rope to land safely on the ground.

Christine almost fell when he let her go and bent over, breathing heavily. Was she alright? He felt adrenaline rush through his veins and he was staggering a bit. He held on to her shoulders and felt her raise to meet his gaze.

Her eyes was a startling shade of blue which bordered on black in the darkness. It was clear that even in disguise she recognised his presence, though she couldn't see him behind his clothes. He saw different emotions filter through her: Fear, confusion, relief and something more he couldn't interpret. Feeling her hand coming before he even saw it, he braced himself for her wrath as she swept his fedora off his head.

"Angel." She whispered, the disbelief ringing undeniably in his ears. She took in his face and it was only then he realised that his mask was missing. He felt naked, especially when her eyes lifted to his thin hair. His hands fisted, struggling against the urge to hide his hideousness. She'd seen it all before of course, but it didn't quell the shame in him. It worsened when she put her hand on his disfigurement and slowly ran her perfect palm over the disgusting flesh that was his cheek.

"Erik. You're here."

The calmness and perhaps even joy in her voice put him at ease and he felt the tension in his body fade as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the trace of her hand on his skin. Everything was going to be alright. "Christine is safe." he thought and let himself be overwhelmed by her touch. He might have heard her swear, but he couldn't find the will to reprimand her as he felt the waves take him away.

Chapter Text

"Jävla!" Christine yelped as Erik collapsed on the ground before her. "Nej nej nej, please don't die!" She sat down and shook him, then tried to pull him up, but he was extremely heavy in his dead weight. His breathing told her that he was alive though and she sighed in relief. She found courage and slapped him a few times to wake him up, but he didn't react. Was this some cruel joke?

How could he even be alive? He might not have breathed his last breath in her arms, but she saw him in an incredibly huge pool of blood, barely able to whisper. It was hard to believe that he could survive that. And then there was the body they had found in the flood... Had someone killed a man to fake Erik's death? She had so many questions and the only one to answer them was lying insentient on the ground. The answers had to wait until later.

But what was she supposed to do? She needed to get away from the station and find a safe place to hide, but she couldn't leave him there to be found. "För käften!" She cursed once again and looked around. She could probably have gotten over the fence by herself, but not with him - if she could even drag him over there. And what would she do then? She noticed a small opening in the fence to the right and realised that she didn't have any choice as there was no way she'd leave him to get caught - or worse - to die alone again.

So she grabbed Erik from behind by the armpits and began hauling him backwards towards the fence. It proved to be possible which she honestly hadn't expected, but it still took a lot of effort and time. While she still had the strong legs of a ballet rat, her upper body lacked muscles. However her great lung capacity made sure that she could keep going without breaks, even as her arms began to shake with the effort. She dragged him right up to the hole in the fence, then slightly embarrassed crawled over his body and his head get through the small opening. Her skirt was so ripped that he would've been able to see her drawers, but thankfully he was still unconscious, so no one would know how indecent she'd been. She pulled him through the fence and a bit to the left, so they couldn't be seen from the station.

Sitting back against the fence she wondered what to do now. They were by a small deserted street, but at some point someone would walk by. She didn't dare to leave him here to get help. Maybe she should've left him in the bushes by the station then. She groaned. Why hadn't she thought of that before!

She looked down at her ripped dress with her ankles exposed and tried to pull the skirt further down without much luck. Erik looked perfectly fine, except for being unconscious and without a mask. However she noticed that his trousers were too short and stopped before his ankles. What a pair they were! She laughed at the absurdity of the situation, but quickly stopped when she heard a noise by a tree across the street. A large black stallion suddenly appeared out of the shadows, neighing at her. She knew Erik had a black horse, Cesar, though she'd never met him. It was one of the few things she'd learned about him in their lessons. It seemed so long ago. Could this be it? It would explain how he'd gotten there since he was evidently not well.

The horse wouldn't know Christine, but perhaps it would help Erik if she let it. She had to try, she realised, and rose to walk over to the large horse. She held her hand out to it carefully and let it sniff her scent. It bowed its head to let her run her hand over its mane. Perhaps it recognised Erik's scent. She had after all been dragging him by his armpits.

It had been well kept and was obviously trained. She reached for the rein and untied the horse. It wasn't wearing a saddle, but somehow it didn't surprise her if Erik was the kind of savage man who rode without saddle.

Slowly walking, it followed her over to Erik on the ground, sniffing and huffing around his head. It bowed its head completely down to the ground close to Erik's body and it took her a moment before she noticed its grunt and realised what it was doing. She ran around Erik and started pulling him up as high as she could close to the horse's head. Suddenly Cesar pushed forward until it hit Erik's stomach, making him groan, then lifted its head with him on it while Christine helped pushing him up. Erik slid down Cesar's mane and ended up lying on his stomach on the horse's back with his head near the tail and one leg on either side of its body. It was an amusing sight and Christine couldn't help laughing at it, though she tried to stay as silent as she could. But she was quite astounded by the horse's actions.

The horse huffed again and nudged her shoulder lightly with its muzzle. It wanted her to follow them? She took the rein and began walking, but Cesar stopped and turned its side to her. What a remarkable creature! She knew that horses are intelligent, but this one seemed to ask her to ride it. How was that possible?

Not sure how to find room on the tall stallion, she started to climb it which turned out to be harder than expected. She noticed a tree stump on the other side of the road and lead them over there. Standing on the stump, she was able to climb Cesar and she discovered that if she sat as far back as she could, almost on the horse's rump, then there would be room for her. But she couldn't ride sidesaddle as it was custom. The only way was to sit astride the horse and she also had to keep Erik's head in her lap.

Once again she found lack of any alternative, so she climbed onto Cesar's back, rein in hand, with a leg on either side of its body and lifted Erik's head into her lap. The absurdity bobbled into a laugh again, but it was strangled in her throat when she heard a bell from the station and yelling. They must've discovered that she'd escaped.

Carefully kicking Cesar lightly with her heels they began to move. She didn't feel quite well seated without a saddle and for the first time astride a horse (not that she'd ridden many horses), but she managed, even when Cesar began to galop. The way it moved - fast, but carefully - with Erik on its back led her to believe that it wasn't the first time it had carried an unconscious Erik.

She tried to lead it towards the apartment that she stayed in with the Girys, but the horse seemed to have decided where to go. Feeling the adrenaline wearing off, she chose to trust the stallion as it appeared to be more intelligent than most of the people she'd worked with at the Opera. It chose side streets and parks without much light which worked in their favor since they probably looked both suspicious and ridiculous.

She looked down at Erik in her lap. He seemed rather young in this moment though she knew him to be at least the same age as Madame Giry, probably older. But his features were relaxed which smoothed out the worry-wrinkles on his forehead and around his left eye. It was hard to see signs of wrinkles on his right side. She became aware that grotesque as his face was, she found it much less intimidating than the stark white mask. But she suspected that it was on purpose. He was, if nothing else, pretty melodramatic. Just the way he had revealed himself that first time in her mirror screamed drama. She'd had enough drama for a lifetime. Looking down at the man in her lap she found that she even preferred this to her Angel of Music.

And yet she feared what would happen now. Would he begin to stalk her again? Demand that she becomes his? He'd let her go in the catacombs, showing her that her freedom was more important than his happiness, but maybe that would've change. Though he'd seemingly come to rescue her, he'd still been aware of her whereabouts. Had he been following her? 

Her errant thoughts ceased when Cesar began slowing down, then turned left and stopped outside a stable behind a small house. Christine climbed down while trying to keep Erik steady on the horse's back. Where had Cesar taken them? She looked into the stables where several black horses slept. Then she heard a door open behind her. 

"Mon Dieu!" 

***

Of all the things Antoinette had imagined when she'd heard that Erik was missing, a weary Christine arriving at M. Khan's house with an unconscious Erik lying on Cesar's back was definitely not on the list.

"Madame Giry, what are you doing here?" Christine whispered, her voice hoarse and bewildered. She held on tightly to Cesar's rein as though she couldn't find the courage to let go. "He's alive." She said softly and Antoinette saw her starting to tear up.

"Khan, get out here!" She yelled inside, then ran over to grip the young woman as she fell to the ground in a heap of sobs. She noticed now that Christine's gown was ripped in several places and she saw slight bruises on her wrists. Did Erik do this or did it happen at the station? Anger rose in her at the thought of someone hurting Christine.

Nadir came running out with Darius on his heels. Both men stopped in the doorway and looked as shocked as she was. But they all should've known that Erik would've gone to Christine. He must've overheard her talking with Nadir this afternoon and followed them to the station. Had he kidnapped her from the jailhouse? Would they have to bring her back there? She felt the reluctance to even think about that as she sat and tried to soothe the poor woman. She must have had such a shock to see Erik there when she believed him to be dead. Perhaps they should've told her, but it hadn't felt right. They wanted her to move forward and mend her life along with her relationship to the Vicomte.

Feeling the young girl's sobbing ease, Antoinette got her to stand up, tugged her into her arms and brought her inside. She noticed that the men had already taken Erik inside and Darius was now leading Cesar into the stable, feeding the fatigued horse. Christine was leaning heavily against her and Antoinette realised that she must be very tired. It didn't look like she'd gotten any sleep since they'd last seen each other in the courtroom. She took Christine into the sitting room and let her lie on the couch, stroking her soft curls away from her face as she sat down beside her. 

"Christine, I know you're tired, but I need to know what happened and then you can sleep." She said softly and Christine nodded with heavy eyes. She looked towards the stairs where Nadir was descending and Antoinette knew that she was thinking about Erik being up there. "Whatever happened with Erik, you can tell me, it's alright." Nadir sat down on the armchair across from the couch, but didn't say a word. His face showed serious concern for the young woman.

"I... He..." Christine struggled to find the words, but none of them pressed her. It had to come from her. Christine suddenly looked directly at her former guardian with an intense expression, taking Antoinette by surprise. "Did you know that he was alive?"

Christine had thought Erik to be dead and had blamed the Vicomte and even herself and while Antoinette hadn't liked keeping it secret from her, fact of the matter was that it would've been more painful if they had told her the truth. "I did." Christine turned her eyes away as if betrayed. Maybe she had been. "When M. Khan informed me of this, Erik was bleeding internally and on the brick of death. You were ill with a high fever. I didn't want to say anything until we knew for sure..."

"Would you even have told me at any point?" Christine whispered doubtingly. Antoinette and Nadir had discussed this already and had agreed that Christine didn't have to know of Erik's survival. That both of them probably were better off away from each other. Before she could answer, Christine posed another question. "Did you leave a body for the gendarmes to find?"

This time Nadir spoke up. "I read about it. We had nothing to do with it. It must've been a homeless man caught in the flood." Christine nodded slightly, but tears ran down her cheeks. The older man continued. "Mlle Daaé, I'm sorry for the distress, but we need to know what happened. Erik has been in a coma for seven days and suddenly he disappeared. We need to know before we can let you rest which you so clearly need." Once again the young woman nodded, looking to the stairs once more. 

"The Judge brought me to a room where I could be kept instead of the jailhouse. I was grateful. He brought me dinner and wine, but requested to ask questions about the Opera Ghost. I discovered that he was obsessed with him. He attacked me and said that he would... violate me because I had given myself to the Phantom. He ripped my gown to get it off." She looked down at the ruined gown and Antoinette perceived it as a fitting metaphor for Christine's mind after this past week's events. Still the soprano continued.

"I fought him off and managed to incapacitate him long enough to escape. I didn't think the gendarmes would believe my words over a judge's, so I decided to escape by the second floor window in hope that I would manage to get away." She paused, swallowing several times and gathering her thoughts before she continued and Antoinette knew what was to come.

"As I jumped, I suddenly felt someone catch me and bring me safely down to the ground. Before I saw..." She tried to hold back a sob. "I knew it was him. He was alive. I was so confused, but also so very relieved. And then he collapsed in front of me!" Christine began to cry again, holding her head in her hands. "I just couldn't leave him and I couldn't stay either." Her energy was running out, but she kept going. "Cesar led us here, I have no idea where I am. I just fear what happens now. My engagement is over and I'm wanted by the gendarmes, now with some more substantial charges than before. And Erik is... What happens now?"

She looked tear-faced at Antoinette who wished she had an answer for the poor woman. But she had no idea what to answer. Luckily Nadir came to her rescue. "I know what to do. You need to rest. I'll arrange for you to sleep in the bedroom. This is my house and you're safe here. While I make the guestroom ready for you, you will have something to restore your energy and take a bath - I'm sure Madame Giry will be of assistance." Antoinette looked from Nadir to Christine with a affirmative smile. "I have asked Darius to fetch my doctor. She will examine you to make sure that you're alright and then you can sleep."

"What about Erik?" Christine asked urgently, yet nervous.

"I'll watch over Erik, make sure that he won't bother you if he wakes up." Nadir answered.

"That's not what worries me." She said. "Is he going to be alright? Is he dying?" The anxiousness and fear in her voice was hard to miss. 

"He pulled some stitches with his stunt. Doctor Andersen will take care of him, I promise. Now that he has been conscious, he must be getting better." The ambiguous tone in Nadir's voice didn't escape Antoinette. "Please, Mademoiselle, think of yourself. Tomorrow we will discuss what to do next." He reached over and touched Christine's hand lightly and she seemed comforted by Nadir's odd serenity. Antoinette thought herself as the mistress of stoicism, but Nadir was clearly the master of calmness.

***

Christine relaxed into the warm water. She'd asked the Madame not to wash her since she'd bathed that very morning before going to the summer house with Raoul. Instead the ballet instructor poured some kind of salt, she'd called it, from Persia into the bath that M. Khan had said to be good for the body. It felt spectacular and if it wasn't for her dreary fatigue she'd have indulged for longer. She only soaked for 15 minutes before she decided to step out. Madame Giry helped drying her off and covered her with a too large robe that smelled like an exotic cologne. It didn't bother her though. 

She was led into M. Khan's bedroom where he'd put on fresh sheets. As she sat down on the soft bed a bizarre animal jumped up beside her. She realised that it was a cat, but it had no hair. It was quite ugly actually. It sniffed her thoroughly, then started purring and rubbing against her. M. Khan ran to the cat and tried to grab it, but it scratched after his hands and he retracted them. The cat walked into Christine's lap and began massaging her thighs. She looked perplexed at M. Khan.

"I apologise, Mademoiselle. He's used to sleep in here. I forgot. He can be very moody and stubborn. I'll find a pair of gloves and remove him." 

"No, it's alright. He doesn't seem to mind me and I like cats, though I've never seen one looking like this before." She said and rubbed the cat's head which made it purr even louder. "What's his name?" 

M. Kahn's eyes widened and he started twisting his hands. "I'd rather not say. You can just call him Kitty."

Christine chuckled. "Now I'm curious! Please, tell me. Is it something indecent?" She fake gasped. 

He shook his head, then embarrassed replied. "His name is Erik." 

Christine looked incredulously at him, then burst into laughter. M. Khan and Madame Giry joined her. "It's really fitting." She said as she looked at the unsightly, yet sweet cat in her lap. Then she looked at the large bed, feeling intrusive all of sudden. "I don't feel right making you leave your bedroom, M. Khan." She said, but he just smiled and shook his head lightly. 

"You do not make me do anything. It's my pleasure to help you in your time of need, Mlle Daaé. I'll help which ever way I can." A door opened downstairs. "Now, the good doctor is here. Can I send her in?"

Christine nodded. She'd never met a female in France before, only in Sweden. 

"Goddag, frøken Daaé," an older, beautiful woman in a white coat greeted her. "Eller skal jeg sige godaften?" So the doctor was Scandinavian. That explained how she could be a doctor then. Christine smiled. 

"God kväll. Bara kall mig Christine." She replied in Swedish. "Är du från Danmark eller Norge?" She asked if the doctor was from Denmark or Norway as she obviously wasn't from Sweden like Christine. The Scandinavian countries had different languages, but they were so similar that they could understand each other. 

"Danmark." The doctor replied. "However I think we have to wait until we're alone to indulge in our native languages." She winked and gestured to M. Khan and Madame Giry who didn't understand a word of what they were saying. Christine let out a brief laugh and nodded. She liked this doctor compared to the one Raoul had brought her.

"Christine, I'm Doctor Camille Andersen and don't worry, I don't treat and tell. I know it has been a long day from what I've been told. I'd like to look you over to see that you're alright and then you can rest. I've brought you a nightgown and clothes for tomorrow that should fit you well enough. Darius said that it might be necessary."

Christine felt tears fill her eyes, but she couldn't bare to cry anymore. "I can't tell you how grateful I am. For all of you." She looked to Giry and M. Khan.

"Don't mention it. Now, M. Khan, leave us, please." She said pointedly before closing the door behind him. She asked Christine if she could look at her body for injures and she accepted and shed the robe. Christine hadn't noticed the bruises on her body. Some must've been from the assault while others could be after she dragged Erik around. The Doctor applied a smelly creme to her bruises and told her to get plenty of rest. Then she asked if she could hear of how the bruises had been acquired.

Both of the older women were astonished by the tale of how she defended herself against the judge and managed to get Erik back with her. "Christine, you're truly a remarkable woman. Not many could fend off a man with only her hair and wits. Now, I would really like to stay and chat, but there's a foolish man we thought to be comatose who needs stitches. And you need rest. I hope to see you again soon." The Doctor gave Christine's hand a tight squeeze before leaving them.

Christine crawled under the covers while her former guardian sat by her side and held her hand like on those lonely nights a child where she'd missed her father so much. That was before the Angel of Music had appeared and started sing to her at night. That Angel was in the room across the hall right now, still unconscious it seemed. "Madame Giry," she whispered. The older woman looked down at her. "I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I'm so thankful that Erik's alive. Is that very wrong of me?"

The Madame was quiet for some time and Christine waited patiently. Finally she answered: "We never want those we care about to suffer. It was the reason Erik came for you tonight. There's nothing wrong with caring about someone. As I told you earlier today: Your strength and compassion is extraordinary and you should never be ashamed of that." With those kind words Christine finally felt like she could rest and it was only moments before she was fast asleep. 

Chapter Text

Erik woke up as something sharp pierced his lower back. He pulled his arms and knees up under him and tried to lift his upper body, but someone held him down. He started to panic until he heard Nadir's deep voice.

"Easy, Erik. The good doctor is just stitching you back together." He slumped back down on the bed. His limps felt quite store, he noticed as he tried ignoring the pain in his back. "It was quite a stunt you pulled, leaving your sickbed after seven days in a coma to run off and save Mlle Daaé." Nadir grumbled, but Erik's mind only focused on one thing.

"Is she alright? I need to see her." He was about to get up when he felt the sharp pain by the doctor's needle again.

"Sorry." A woman said, not sounding apologetic at all. "I was told that you're a morphine addict and we thought you were comatose again, so I didn't want to use anesthetics."

"It's fine, I've done it before." He muttered. "Christine, Daroga?" His tone was sharp and unyielding despite his enervation.

"She's safe." Nadir said and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Though not much thanks to you. You collapsed outside the station, leaving her to escape while dragging you along. She's in shock. She thought you were dead. And so did we." The tone in his voice had turned angry and Erik admitted that he felt bad. He hadn't realised that he had fainted and left Christine without aid.

"I didn't know I was that unwell. She should've left me." He said with a shrug. "How did she get away? And why was she arrested? I heard Antoinette say she was ill. When was this? I need to know these things, Daroga!"

"M. Erik, relax." The woman behind him said with a firm tone while she was putting gauze over his wound. "You have been unconscious for a week and a lot has happened. M. Khan will tell you everything, but right now we need to make sure that you don't pass out again." He perceived immediately that there was no arguing with that woman. Who was she? "You can turn around now, so we can be properly introduced." The woman said as if she read his mind. 

He turned around, covering his deformity with his hand without thinking about it. His eyes met a woman in a white coat and realised who it was. "You're doctor Andersen." The doctor raised her eyebrows in question. "Your reputation reaches far, even into the catacombs." She smirked at his comment.

"Well, I'm glad even ghosts know of my practice." Her comment made Erik chuckle, as did Nadir. "Now that you're finally conscious, you need to drink and eat to recover your energy. No more scuttling around before you've healed properly. Your stitches shouldn't even have been able to tear so many days after your surgery, but lack of nutrients and physical activity appear to have halted your healing. Your body can't handle anymore strain."

"As you might've noticed by the scars marring my skin, I've been through much worse."

"But you're not that young anymore." The doctor smiled kindly. "How old are you even? And please, don't cover up your face on my account. I've grown used to it by now."

Erik scoffed at her comment. "This face is not something one can grow accustomed to. My mother's consistant lack of love was proof of that." His words were nonchalant, but Doctor Andersen's gasp affected him anyhow. "As to my age, I do not know. I'm older than Madame Giry, but clearly younger than the Daroga." He smirked at Nadir and hoped that the doctor wouldn't ask any more questions about his past.

She didn't. Instead she pulled out her medical bag again and rummaged through it. "I've brought you something that a friend of mine makes for war veterans. It seems that you prefer wearing masks." She looked to his hand still covering his misshaped half. Her hand emerged from the bag with a mask. It was made to cover the entire face and had the pale color of his skin, something he could easily have created himself. But when he touched the mask, he realised that this was quite different. It was somehow softer and flexible, not quite unlike human skin. "It's produced from india rubber, something that is extracted from a tree. He can make one fitting the shape of your face, but until then you can use this. You can even cut some of it off with a simple scissor if you don't want it to cover your whole face."

Erik was intrigued by the material of the mask, not quite listening to what the doctor said anymore. "As to your hair, your scalp is covered in cradle cap. It was probably never dealt with if your mother didn't... take care of you." She swallowed at the thought. "It must be very sore, especially if you wear a wig which worsen the condition, but it can be treated with oils and a comb. Though it'll probably need several treatments" Erik's hand lifted to his scalp which had always been sore. He'd wished for a full head of hair his whole life. Could his mother's neglect be the cause of the stray patches of thin hair? No, there was not room for hope anymore when it concerned his looks. It wouldn't get any better. 

He looked down to look at the mask once again, then turned around for a moment to try it on. It felt smooth against his skin, so different from the many masks he'd worn before. Cloth, leather, paper and then porcelain - always just a cover for his deformity. This, however, felt like a second skin. He turned back to Nadir and the doctor to gauge their reaction. Doctor Andersen smiled approvingly while Nadir was stunned. 

"It's rather becoming, Erik." The older man said hesitantly, but honestly. "If you can shape it like your regular masks, one almost wouldn't notice that it was a mask." Erik almost felt himself smile at the unusual compliment from his friend. "Of course it needs a good scowl if it is to resemble you." He added and Erik chuckled.

"I thank you, doctor. I'd possibly like the address to your friend who made this." Erik kept feeling for a flaw within the mask, but could not. He wondered what Christine would say, then remembered that he'd let her go. Even though he'd tried to save her, rather poorly, she was still free of him. Yet he felt the pull of her, making him certain that she was just across the hall from him.

"I'll send a note tomorrow with the details then. Now I'll take my leave. Please, do eat and rest. M. Khan, find some food and water for him." She rose from the chair by the bed and smiled kindly. Erik nodded and thanked her as Nadir followed her out. 

Once again he touched the mask he was wearing, but barely noticed. It bothered him around his mouth though and he didn't have a need to cover up that part of his face. Defying the doctor's orders he got off the bed - carefully - and searched the drawers for scissors. When he found them, he sat back down on the bed and started cutting attentively through the peculiar material. He'd perfected his memory of how to shape his mask, having made nearly all of them himself, and soon he'd cut an ideal half mask. Putting it on, he felt almost like he was bare and when he looked in the mirror in the dim candlelight, it was hard to see that it was indeed a mask. He almost looked normal. 

His eyes felt wet and he fought against his tears as he looked at the man in the mirror. Not a monster, but a man. Of course the monster still lurked behind the mask and in his soul, yet the chance to pretend that he was an ordinary man was irresistible. Again he felt the longing to share it with Christine. He was sure that she was just across the hall. She was probably sleeping now, but would it be so terrible to just look at her and make sure that she was alright? He'd heard Antoinette walk down the stairs a while ago, so she was all alone in there. The thought of it bothered him and it was only moments before he found himself outside Nadir's bedroom without noticing that he'd left his own room. At least he'd put his shirt back on.

He opened the door slightly to peek inside. He could see the shape of her in the dark, but then he heard her, whimpering, caught in a nightmare. She tossed and turned in the sheets, reminding him of the time when she'd been a little child who needed comfort and guidance. He instinctively went to her side like he'd done so many years ago and started singing a sweet lullaby. He'd barely finished the first verse before she'd settled back into a peaceful sleep. He touched her cheek lightly and heard her whisper "angel", making his heart bloom inside his chest.

He heard a purring and caught sight of Nadir's ugly cat by the headboard over Christine's head. He liked the cat, but hated that Nadir had named it after him, claiming that it reminded him of Erik. But it was hard to deny since it was as ugly as him, though Nadir insisted that it was the cat's behavior that reminded of him, not its awful appearance. And Erik did enjoy it when the cat scratched the old man. He rubbed the cat's hairless head and it leaned into his palm. 

The tranquility of the setting was interrupted by the front door slamming downstairs and a yell. He hurried out of the room, peeking one last time at the beautiful woman on the bed before closing the door. He heard crying in the sitting room, along with upset voices and chose to defy the doctor's advice once again. He walked down the stairs and into the sitting room where Meg was sitting with her mother's arms around her and cried profusely. Nadir sat on the chair across from them, looking worried until he noticed that Erik had appeared. His expression turned annoyed.

"Erik, what are you doing up? You were to stay in bed!"

"I heard voices and became worried." He lied. "I promise to be careful of my movements. Please, tell me what happened." He was genuinely concerned for Meg, even if it wasn't the reason for leaving his bed.

Antoinette finally looked up at him to answer him, but a strange expression occurred on her face. "Erik, are you wearing a mask? You look... different." She said with doubt in her voice. His lips twitched, almost into a smile. She'd been close to call him normal. Mlle Giry looked shyly up at him. She must know now who he was, but she didn't look frightened at all like he would've expected. Was it the mask?

"Doctor Andersen brought Erik a new mask in new material." Nadir answered for him and looked to Erik again. "It looks perfect as a half mask. Well done. Now, let's get back to the more pressing issue. Mlle Giry, will you tell us a bit more of what happened?"

Meg nodded, drying her eyes with a handkerchief. Antoinette smiled lovingly at her and smoothed her daughter's hair. Tough as she was, she could still be a real mother hen. "A whole carriage full of gendarmes came to our apartment. And a judge. He said that they were looking for Christine because she'd attacked him and escaped. They searched the whole apartment, turning furniture and going through our private drawers. They didn't believe me when I said that I hadn't seen her since this morning. Then they asked for you, maman. I lied in fear that they would come here and find the Phan..." She paused and looked at Erik. "M. Erik, I mean. I said that you had gone to speak with the Vicomte about Christine. But they will surely find out that I lied. I'm sorry, maman!" She started crying again. Erik wondered if she felt ashamed of her actions because she'd without a doubt acted the best way possible for them all. It gave them time.

"Mlle Giry," Erik spoke with a soft voice to avoid frightening her. "I'm sure I speak for all of us when I tell you that we're grateful for your white lies to the corrupt officials. It buys us time." Nadir and Antoinette both nodded.

"I assure you that Christine's alright, my dear." The girl's mother continued. "The Judge assaulted her and she fought back. Which is why she fled from the jailhouse." 

Erik's hands fisted and flames erupted in him when he heard what had happened to Christine. They had kept this from him. The Judge needed to be punished. Without a word he walked to the closet by the door, pulled out a cloak and another pair of Darius' shoes, but before he could put them on, Nadir grabbed his arm. "Where are you going, Erik?" His teeth almost ground the words out.

"I'm going to find that Judge and make him pay for what he did to Christine and now to Mlle Giry!" He yelled, pulling his arm out of Nadir's grip. "You're not stopping me, Daroga!" The older man shushed him, inflaming Erik's rage even more. How dare he!

"Be quiet or you'll wake her!" Nadir whispered in Arab with a harsh voice which made Erik quiet down. The man was right, he shouldn't wake Christine. She needed her rest. But he would still avenge her. "Erik, you're still hurt. You'll pass out again like you did earlier and there'll be no one to help you. Will you be of much help to Christine if you're in jail or worse: the cemetery? We'll make sure that the Judge is punished, but not tonight. Let's plan this properly like you do best rather than storm in and end up dead." He was right of course. Erik nodded reluctantly and followed Nadir back to the sitting room and sat down. Antoinette and Meg eyed them both. 

"Alright, we better rest before the sun is up." The ballet instructor said, looking at the clock on the wall. It was well past midnight. "Erik, you will eat and drink what Darius has prepared for you. It is in the kitchen. Then we'll need to discuss sleeping arrangements now that the house is filled."

"I will find a comfortable chair to sleep in." Nadir said. "Then you can sleep on the couch, Madame Giry, which is comfortable enough, I promise you. Perhaps Mlle Giry can share Christine's bed?"

Erik scoffed from his own armchair next to Nadir. "Please. I don't need a bed." He held up a hand before Nadir could argue. "I'll make sure to rest and not leave the house, but I have slept enough. The Girys can have my bed and you sleep on the couch, old man. I'll alert you if any visitors appear." Erik didn't leave any room for arguments and luckily no one chose to question his decision.

"Very well," Antoinette said wary. "Let's change the sheets in the guestroom then and go to sleep. I know that I need it after this day."

Erik went to the kitchen to devour what food Darius had prepared for him. He really was starving and after finishing the plate, he rummaged the pantry for more. "Stealing my food, are we?" Nadir mussed as Erik exited the pantry with cheese and bread. Rolling his eyes, he went past the Persian man. "I'm glad you're gathering your strength, Erik. You'll need it." Erik didn't answer. "You know Christine is going to need your help, don't you?"

Erik dropped the knife on the table. He hadn't expected the change of topic. His lips thinned. How he wished it to be true. His mind hummed to him to go to her, but he knew it was wrong. He'd let her go. "I'll punish her attacker, Daroga. That is what I can do for her."

Nadir sat down next to him, trying to catch his eye without luck. "She has to flee the city. Even if the charges against her are dropped which seems unlikely, her reputation is ruined. There's nothing for her here anymore." Nadir looked behind him before continuing. "Madame Giry and I don't agree on this matter, protective as she is of Christine, but you can get her safely out of the city and help her get relocated somewhere else."

Erik shook his head, frustrated by Nadir's insistence. "She has the Vicomte to help her. His rich friends can help her and he'll follow her where ever she goes. He's enough." His hand gripped the knife hard as he cut through the cheese. "There's no need for me in her life and I've let her go."

"Then why did you go to the station after her?" Nadir asked, but didn't wait for an answer. "I guess you haven't realised that she isn't wearing a ring. The engagement with the Vicomte is canceled."

"Why?" Erik asked, not believing what he was hearing.

"Apparently the Vicomte was willing to defend her against a deranged ghost in the Opera's catacombs, but not in front of his family. He was also trying to make her pledge guilty to the accusations by reasons of insanity." Erik's hand slammed into the table, but Nadir didn't stop talking. "However according to Madame Giry things have been strained between the two since they returned from the catacombs, covered in your blood. She refused his assistance and instead hurried away with the Girys."

Erik didn't look up. The boy had sworn to protect her and Erik had trusted him to do it. Otherwise he wouldn't have let the weakling leave with her. Had the Vicomte's strive to save Christine really just been about besting the Phantom? No! It didn't matter.

"She doesn't want anything to do with me. Who can blame her? I manipulated her, kidnapped her and threatened to kill her fiancee if she didn't stay with me. I'm a murderer for Christ's sake, Daroga! A monster!" He looked down to the food, but he'd lost all appetite. 

"You've only known suffering all your life. She's aware of this now and would surely accept your help. I think you underestimate her. Madame Giry tells me that Mlle Daaé took down a man with only her hair and her voice as weapons." Erik looked up at the old man, not able to hide his surprise. He'd heard Christine's voice, that was how he'd found where she'd been held. How had she done it? He was strangely intrigued. "I can see you're wondering. Have you not realised that she's a strong-willed woman with a compassion great enough to handle even you?".

Nadir rose from the table without waiting for a reply. He would leave Erik with his thoughts of what he'd just been told. It had worked well on criminals in Persia when he wanted them to confess, Erik knew, so it was only natural that the old police chief would use the same trick on a murderer like him.

Erik sat for a long time at the table and thought about what Nadir had said. If Christine had stopped the Judge from assaulting her with no real weapons, then she was definitely capable of more than he knew. He'd always known that she was a strong woman with a gentle heart. Too gentle since she'd let him use her because of her deep compassion for the broken and their shared passion for music. He hadn't realised how badly he'd acted before it was too late. He didn't know what love truly was before her and he hadn't handled it very well. He wasn't worthy of her.

But did she need him? It was true that she probably had to flee the city, if not the country, and he was a master of escaping the authorities and whoever that might be after him. He could help her, yet it meant that she had to put her trust in him and he was fairly certain that she wouldn't be able to do that. And it was too dangerous for them both to let him be near her again. He'd set her free, but if he helped her flee, the time would come where he had to say goodbye again. He knew that he wouldn't be able to do that. He didn't even know how he would handle it when she left this house, but at least he'd have Nadir to restrain him. If they fled the city, no one could stop him from whatever insane things he'd undoubtedly end up doing.

However she might be able to stop him. She'd proved that she could stop a Judge.  Maybe he could set up precautions to help her if he became unhinged again. It might work. He couldn't trust himself around Christine, he knew that. But he couldn't let leave her without help.

He suddenly found himself outside the bedroom door. He put his ear to the door and heard her whimpering again. Like before he carefully opened the door and entered to see that she was having a nightmare. He closed the door behind him and in a few steps he was by her side, hushing her lightly before he started to sing to her again. She quieted down once more and he settled on the chair next to the bed as he continued the song. 

When he'd finished, he was startled by her voice. "Angel?" She whispered. At first he thought that she was dreaming again, then she spoke again. "Erik, it is you, isn't it?" He stayed quiet, not knowing how to respond. He hadn't meant to wake her. "Don't tell me that this is a dream." She sounded like she was close to tears.

"No, Christine, it's not. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you. I'll leave you." He said as comforting as he could and rose from the chair. Her hand on his wrist stopped him and he was bewildered. 

"Please stay." She said gently. "I don't want you to leave me. I've dreamed of your death so many times and to know you're alive will fend off the nightmares." He didn't know what to say, so he just sat back down, unable to deny her request. She moved her hand from his wrist to his hand and held it tightly. He tensed at first, but began to relax as he often did in her presence.

"I'm sorry for all the pain I've caused you, Christine." He finally spoke up. "It was never my intention to ruin your life."

"I know." She smiled sadly to him, a smile he could see even in the dark. It pained him. "But at least you tried to make it better by sparing Raoul's life and letting me go.

"I couldn't keep you captive. You're an nightingale who needs to fly free. Yet now my actions have made you a captive once again. The gendarmes are searching for you. I'm sorry."

She shrugged, then yawned which she barely managed to hide with the hand not holding his. It was quite endearing, he thought. "I know. But I'm beginning to realise that perhaps it's for the best. There's not much left for me here. I'll find a new place to live. I just need to leave the city without being arrested." She looked at him imploringly and he wondered if she had the same idea as Nadir. But surely she wouldn't want his help. "Erik, I can't forgive you. At least not yet." He shrunk inadvertently in his seat. "But for some inexplicable reason I still feel safe in your company. Would you mind staying here a bit while I try to sleep?"

Once again he couldn't deny her request. He nodded and saw her smile, this time with less sorrow in her eyes. She laid back down, but didn't let go of his hand, not even when she drifted off. He should've left, but instead he watched as she slept, a small smile appearing on her lips now and again. Her soft curls fell over her face and he itched to brush them away, but held back. He noticed that some of her hair had been cut off a few inches from the scalp and reached out to look at it. An inner layer of hair was missing, so it was mostly hidden behind the outer layers of curls. Nadir had said that she had defended herself with her hair. By cutting it off? He didn't understand.

He spent a long time sitting and pondering how she'd done it while watching her sleep. It wasn't until he heard a hard knock on the door downstairs that he realised the sun had risen. The house was still quiet as everyone had been up late, so he reluctantly left Christine's side and wandered down the stairs to open the front door just before a third knock came to the wood. He'd expected the milk man or today's bread delivery, but it was none of those things. 

His eyes narrowed and he gripped the knob tightly when he looked upon the man before him. "Vicomte de Chagny."

Chapter Text

Christine was woken by yelling and commotion downstairs. Taking a brief moment to remember where she was, she grabbed the robe she'd worn last night and draped it over her nightgown before running down the stairs. There she found two men in a struggle, both yelling and almost growling at each other savagely, making it impossible to understand what they were saying, but she could guess. 

"Erik! Raoul! What are you doing?" She ran over to them and started prying them apart, barely managing. Raoul was trying to gain access to Erik's throat to strangle him while Erik was pushing at Raoul's waist and arms to gain the upper hand. Suddenly Erik moved his hand towards Raoul's face and accidentally brushed against Christine's shoulder. Startled by the contact he pulled as far away from her as possible, leaving her to only deal with Raoul and she succeeded in shoving him away when he finally noticed her presence.

"Christine, run! You have to get away from him!" He said out of breath and tried to pull her behind him, but she stood her ground.

"Raoul, I know he's here and he won't hurt us." She said sternly. She felt Erik's stare behind her, but she would deal with Raoul first. "Why are you even here?"

"Of course he's dangerous. He tried to kill us less than two weeks ago! How is he even alive?" 

Christine wondered about that too, but it had to wait. "No, he threatened to kill you, then let us both go. And then you stabbed him in the back. Like a coward!" Raoul stepped back as if burned. It was one of the worst things you could call a man who considered himself a gentleman, but it was what he was. Christine noticed that they had gathered an audience. Nadir stood by the door to the sitting room while the Girys looked down from the stairs. Even the servant had appeared and stood by the kitchen door.

"Why are you here?" she sighed.

He straightened himself a bit. "I came looking for answers. The gendarmes came to my villa late last night. Our butler turned them away, but I'm sure that they're over there now. They said that you had escaped and that they were looking for you and Madame Giry who was supposed to be at my villa." He looked at Madame Giry questioningly and Meg hid behind her mother. "When I found your apartment empty and overturned, I came to see if Madame Giry was with M. Khan who she'd brought to the court yesterday. And then I find him here!" He pointed to Erik, but Christine didn't turn to him, instead focusing on Raoul. "What is going on? Have you really attacked a judge, Little Lottie?"

Christine resisted grinding her teeth at the nickname. It felt degrading, like she was still just a child. 

"Don't call her that!" Erik yelled from behind her. "Her name is Christine. She was assaulted by that bastard! She defended herself. Which you failed to do!" She looked back at Erik with a grateful look because he tried to defend her. She held a hand up to make him quiet and he nodded. He understood that she'd deal with Raoul which the other people in the room seemed to do too. However Raoul's eyes widened at Erik's words.

"You were assaulted?" He looked her over. "You must report him then, not flee! It makes you look guilty."

Christine rolled her eyes at him, not even bothering to hide it, though she knew that Raoul found it extremely impolite. "Do you think they'll believe my words over a judge's? I was already arrested and before that my reputation was already suffering after what happened at the Opera. Also, this judge was obsessed with the Opera Ghost! It was the only reason that he kept me jailed!"

"Well then, let's give him the Opera Ghost and I'm sure he'll let you go." Raoul pointed behind her to Erik. "He deserves prison at the very least unlike you."

This time M. Khan stepped in. "And you, Monsieur Vicomte, what do you deserve after killing a man who wasn't threatening your life, yet you stabbed him without a fair trial?" Raoul halted at the words from the Persian, suddenly anxious. He turned to face the dark skinned man.

"You can't prove that it wasn't self defense." He nearly whispered. "Whatever Christine says, they'll believe my word over hers." Christine seethed. He'd make her sound like a liar to save himself. Raoul's family could even make an accusation like that go away, but it didn't matter to Raoul. He wouldn't want a word of such things out in public. It ruined his reputation as a good-natured gentleman.

M. Khan smiled sinister at the poor Vicomte who backed away slightly as he continued his threat. "But I was the one to save him. Have you thought about how fast I must've been to save him in time, how much I might have seen? And I'm a former police chief, along with a respected private detective here in Paris. I think they'll believe me." Christine saw Raoul's face pale and he stepped completely back and leaned against the front door. He looked to her.

"Christine, if you don't turn yourself and him in, it will make things worse for you. I don't want to see you hurt." He sounded sincerely sympathetic and she knew that he truly cared. "They'll come here next, like I did." He said worried. 

"Then we'll hide you." M. Khan spoke decisively. "Now, M. Vicomte, if you truly wish to help Mlle Daaé, I suggest that you forget about your earlier disagreements with any of my guests and instead speak to me about arranging a way out of the city."

Raoul looked back to Christine. "You're fleeing the city." It wasn't a question, but she nodded anyway. "You can't! What about us and our life together?"

"There's no 'us' anymore, Raoul. Surely you know that. We can't marry after this." She whispered, not wanting everyone to hear. The others got the message and stepped away, leaving to get dressed perhaps, but she knew Erik was still standing behind her. 

"But I love you. We could figure something out. I can even flee with you." He sounded so innocent and hopeful. She didn't want to crush his hopes, but he shouldn't risk anything for her. She wasn't as sure about her love for him anymore and she knew that he'd never dare to run away - he could barely say no to his brother.

"I think it's best if we part ways completely. Things have changed." She said softly as she looked into his eyes and saw something break. His nostrils twitched as he sucked in a deep breath.

"This is about him, isn't it?" He roared, walking towards her or rather Erik who was behind her. It made Christine take a step back and she felt Erik's hands touch her shoulder blades briefly. Raoul looked over her shoulder in pure hatred to the man behind him. He was ready to attack again and she wouldn't have any of this. It had become tiresome. 

"This is about using me as bait because you so badly wanted to catch the man you saw as your rival." She stepped towards Raoul with a finger pointed to him. "This is about you stabbing a man in the back when he posed no danger!" He stepped backwards again, probably feeling her become more aggravated. "This is about you hitting me!" He reached the door again and leaned against it. "And this is about you not standing up for me when your family torment me." Her finger poked his chest. "Stop blaming Erik for everything. We are each guilty of our own sins." She saw the dismay in his eyes and backed away from him and sighed. "I'd appreciate any help from you, Raoul. I still love you, even though we're not right for each other. I just don't need you to judge my choices. Most of them were taken because I lacked a better alternative."

Raoul stood in silence for a moment before nodding slightly. "I will do everything in my power to help you. But how will you escape? A woman travelling alone is suspicious enough and now they're looking for you." Christine hadn't thought that far ahead to be honest. She hadn't had the time and like the evening before she started to feel an exhaustion that seemed to reach into her very bones.

"I've discussed the issue with Erik," M. Khan came down the stairs, dressed for the day. "I've suggested that he accompany you as he is quite an expert in the matter." Christine looked surprised at the Persian man. She wasn't sure how she liked the idea, though she trusted that Erik was good at evading the authorities. They just had so much history between them. 

"Absolutely not!" Raoul spoke up once again, getting on Christine's last nerve. "Who will protect her from him?"

"I will!"

"She will!"

She answered simultaneously with Erik and she finally turned around to look at him in surprise. "I will?" He stepped back when her eyes landed on him. She noticed now that he seemed to be wearing a strange mask. It felt like so long ago since she'd seen him with the white mask, but she remembered clearly how stark it stood out on his face and how intimidating it was.

This however looked more like his skin. It was still obvious that it was a mask when she looked at him in the morning light, but at a distance you probably wouldn't notice, except for the lack of an eyebrow. She stepped closer to reach up to touch the mask, but he immediately stepped back and held his hands up defensively.

"Sorry." She murmured, ashamed of her insensitive action. Once burned, twice shy.  She'd betrayed his trust twice by pulling his mask off. She stepped further away, close enough for Raoul to put his hands on her shoulders and she shrugged him off.

"Erik, M. Khan, can we speak in private?" She asked as she didn't want anymore interruptions from her former fiancee.

"I will join you too." Madame Giry said, walking down the stairs with Meg, both dressed properly. Christine registered fleetingly that she was still wearing her nightgown and robe, but it had to wait. She nodded distracted, still looking at Erik and not daring to argue with the older Giry anyway.

"Please, let's converse in my study." M. Khan gestured to a door in the sitting room. "Darius," He called and waited a moment until the Persian servant came out of the kitchen. "Will you be so kind to prepare breakfast and perhaps offer the Vicomte and Mlle Giry some tea while we converse?" Darius nodded. Meg took the arm of a displeased Raoul and dragged him towards the kitchen.

M. Khan gestured for Christine to enter the study where Madame Giry already had taken a seat. Erik and M. Khan followed behind Christine. After shutting the door M. Khan held out a chair for Christine, then took seat at his desk. Erik stood in the corner with his arms crossed and a guarded expression on his face.

"Very well." M. Khan smiled kindly to her. "Mlle Daaé, what did you want to discuss?" He folded his hands on the desk. She looked over to Madame Giry who as always looked stoic, not giving anything away.

"I wanted to discuss what my options are. I have to flee the city, but haven't had the time to figure out how. It seems that you have already discussed it." She looked between M. Khan and Erik behind her. His eyes avoided hers and she couldn't help but frown.

"Yes, we have, briefly. I believe your best option is to have Erik to assist you. He's avoided capture many times and has to flee himself. However I think I'm the only one who supports this plan." He looked to Madame Giry next to Christine, then back at Erik who now stared into the ground. He definitely didn't like the plan and she wondered if he'd rather be free of her. She couldn't blame him. They did seem to only cause each other pain.

"I didn't think it was good idea," Madame Giry said. "But now that the gendarmes have ransacked our home and attempted to gain access to the de Chagny villa, I realise that this is more serious than I initially believed." She looked apologetic at Christine. "It seems like this judge will pursue you by any means necessary. It won't be easy to leave the city." She turned back to look at Erik who stood like a statue, yet the tension on him was palpable. "Erik will be your best option."

Christine nodded. "I'll listen to your advice. However it's not up to me." She looked back to Erik, her eyes briefly connected to his before he turned to look out the colored windows of the study. "If you don't want to, I understand. I know I've failed your trust several times."

He looked back at her with a unreadable expression. "I believe it is I who has failed you. And I fear that it won't be the last time. I don't trust my own actions anymore." Christine wasn't sure she understood. Yes, he'd been acting like a madman, but it seemed to have changed. Did he think he would behave as such again?

"However I realise that you're capable at more than I thought. You stopped the Judge unaided, escaped and even manage to drag me along with you when I failed to rescue you. If you can trust me enough to follow my lead, I can get us out of the city and the country if necessary. But I need you to be ready to stop me if I become unhinged again." He looked intensely at her with glistening lime colored eyes and though it felt like he was looking right through her, she couldn't look away.

She'd never heard him say that much, except before they met, when he gave her singing lessons through the walls. She paused, thinking about his words carefully. It had always felt natural to follow to his instructions which could be contributed to years of grooming and manipulation. It made her angry to think about. Had he done it on purpose? It had also been one of the reasons that she hadn't been able to disobey him when he'd called to her in the graveyard. If he used it against her when they fled, she wouldn't be able to fight against it.

But it wasn't the only reason. The truth was that she cared immensely for him and it made her vulnerable in a very different way. She didn't want to hurt him, but it was clearly what he wanted her to do if he turned deranged again.

However her choices were limited, something they'd seemed to be ever since Don Juan. Perhaps even before. She trusted Erik to keep her safe, but she didn't trust herself to go against him if needed. Yet the only other choices was to escape alone or trust Raoul to get her out. She realised then that she didn't trust Raoul to do it. But she did trust Erik to. Completely. 

"Then I choose you." She said, almost adding 'again'. The words hung between them, the magnitude of them impossible to ignore.

A few moments passed in silence. Then they heard Meg knock on the door frantically. "They're here! The gendarmes!" 

Chapter Text

Christine's eyes tore away from Erik's to Madame Giry by her side and then to M. Khan.

The gendarme, the Judge. They were here for her and she was putting everyone in danger, especially Erik who was wanted for several murders. He was guilty and she should want him in prison, but she felt like he had just come back from the dead - like she had just gotten him back in her life. The world thought him to be dead right now like she had. That made him relatively safe because no one was looking for him. If they found him while looking for her, he would be sentenced to death. Because of her.

"Come, Mlle Daaé, Erik. We'll find a place to hide you." M. Khan rose from his seat and took her arm, leading her towards the door. "I thought we had more time, but it seems that we have to find a place for you both right now."

"No!" She pulled away from him. "I can't keep putting everyone in danger. I'll go with them."

"Christine, the Judge could push for a death sentence." Madame Giry's fear was blatant and it scared Christine more than her words.

Suddenly Erik grabbed her arm, pushed a wall lamp upwards and the bookcase by the wall opened. He led her inside. It was like a small closet, just barely room to move her arms. "Stay quiet." He held a finger to her lips, making her heart beat faster.

"You put a trapdoor in my home?" M. Khan's incredulous voice resounded anger.

"Easy, Daroga, just the one."

He was about to pull the lamp down to close it when she stopped him by holding his arm. "Erik, where will you hide?"

"I'll find somewhere safe." He said, but his eyes betrayed him. He didn't believe there was any other place safe enough and he wanted her to stay in the only place he trusted. She pulled him to her.

"Stay here. There's room for us both."

He scoffed, pulling away a bit. "Hardly." Christine nodded behind him to M. Khan who unmistakably agreed with her. He pulled the lamp down as Christine tugged at Erik's shirt until he was completely up against her. The door shut silently behind him.

"Christine," he breathed, his temper flaming. "This is a bad idea." He was whispering, yet his anger might as well have been a shout.

She looked up at him even though she couldn't see him in the utter darkness. "I'm not letting you get caught." She hissed. "Surely my company isn't so revolting that you prefer death."

She felt his chest twitch with laughter, but the atmosphere around him made it apparent that it wasn't joyful laughter. "It's more the other way around, Angel." He growled into her ear, making her heart race and a shiver ran down her back. He withdrew his mouth from her ear and said casually: "And have you even thought to think that I might want to get caught?"

She gasped. "But you'll be executed."

"Because I deserve it. Don't pretend otherwise." He whispered softly. Her body began to tremble as she absorbed his words. He was going to turn himself in and die. He placed his hands on her shoulders to steady her. She reacted by wrapping her arms around his waist, careful to stay around from the gauze under his shirt. She held him tight to make the tremors in her body stop and to hide the tears he probably could see even in the dark. 

"I don't want you to die." She whispered into his chest, fighting to hold back the sobs threatening to wreck her body and expose them both.

"It's the right thing to do." He answered, wrapping his own arms around her. She shook her head repeatedly against him, holding him tighter.

"Then how will I get out of the city?" She asked. He didn't answer for several minutes, the only hushed sound in the tiny closet was her repressed sobs and the beat of his heart against her ear. They could hear loud voices in another room, though not the study. M. Khan was yelling something. Then it stopped and then they heard the steps of several people walking up the stairs. Christine realised that their hiding place must be right under the staircase. 

"I'll get you out first." He whispered, trembling slightly too now. He was scared. But not for himself. For them. 

"Thank you." She answered and for some reason placed her lips on his chest, hitting the bare skin that peeked out where his shirt was unbuttoned. His breath hitched and she was about to apologise for the unwanted action when she heard the door to the study burst open. 

"You can search everywhere, but don't read the papers in the file drawers. They involve my clients and are confidential." M. Khan said authoritatively. They heard drawers being opened, closet opened and they knocked different places on the floor to listen for hollow spaces.

"You'll find that I can read anything I want, M. Khan." A calm voice spoke as the Judge walked into the room. "I have the law on my side."

Christine felt her body begin to shake when she heard his voice. She didn't think she'd react so violently to his presence, but she suddenly relived every frightening moment from the evening before: His words about taking her body against her will; his laughter when she screamed; the sound of her gown ripping; his hands on her legs. She felt nauseous. Erik began rubbing tiny circles on her back as he held her tight, calming her down. He'd protect her.

"I do not know what happened yesterday, but I don't believe that Mlle Daaé would attack anyone, unless it was self defense." M. Khan hissed at the Judge. He would protect her too. He'll also protect the Girys. "And it doesn't excuse these frenzied searches you're conducting. I will contact the police chief the moment you leave."

"Do what you like. He's my brother-in-law. And the precious songbird did this... One does not strangle a person in self defense." The Judge must've shown M. Khan marks from her hair rope. It wasn't helping her case. Erik touched her hair where she'd cut it off. He knew. He held her tighter against him, stroking her hair.

"Fine, then the supreme court." M. Khan sounded sure of himself.

"I'll find her first. Just wait and see." Christine could see the ominous grin of the Judge in her head, no matter how much she fought against it.

Whoever had been the room, besides the Judge and M. Khan, left with the two men. It went completely quiet outside their tiny hiding place. Erik's right hand left her hair and she felt it lightly on her jaw, urging her to look up. She looked up at the place she knew Erik's face was.

"He won't." He whispered, his breath only inches from her. It felt warm on her face and held a light scent of tea with lemon, along with something that seemed to inherently belong to Erik. It reminded her of their kiss in the catacombs.

Suddenly the atmosphere began to shift, making Christine very aware that Erik's body was flush up against hers. She was only wearing her nightgown and a robe, she realised, and it was so very few layers. He was only in a shirt that was unbuttoned on the top. She'd felt his skin on her lips. Her breath grew heavier though she tried to keep it under control and so did his. The hand he held under her jaw slowly descended over her skin and stopped above her left breast, over her heart. She felt it beat furiously in her chest and wondered if he could feel it.

"Are you still frightened, Christine?" He whispered against her lips. She heard his breath quiver and he swallowed so hard that his chest lifted. Every line of his body was molded against her, which had meant safety just a moment before, but now felt like something entirely different. Her nipples hardened even though she wasn't cold. She actually felt quite warm. 

"No," she answered softly and closed her eyes. He was so close, yet a longing in her begged him closer. Her feet rose to her toes by reflex and she felt her lips meet his.

She'd imagined a tender moment like in the catacombs, but quickly discovered that it was something completely different. The moment their lips touched, Erik groaned deeply in his throat and pinned her against the wall. The shock made her gasp and he used the opportunity to enter her mouth with his tongue. He explored her tongue with his own and she struggled to quiet the moan that left her.

His hand by her heart travelled down and squeezed her breast. She should stop him, a proper woman would stop him. But a proper woman wouldn't be wanted by the gendarmes or cut her hair to stop a rapist or lust after a murderer. She was no proper woman and right now she had no desire to be. She only felt a desire for him. 

He pushed his hips against her, grinding into her and she felt him hard against her stomach. It made something clench deliciously between her legs. She pushed back against him and he groaned.

"Oh, Christine, my Christine!" He groaned into her mouth and she felt no shame as she bit his bottom lip.

Suddenly footsteps of several people sounded in the study outside. They both froze, breathing each other's air. A lever was pulled and the bookcase opened, letting sharp sunlight into their dark hiding place. Erik pushed away from her and left immediately in a rush.

M. Khan, Madame Giry and Raoul watched as he bolted out of the room, then they all turned and looked confused at her. She'd no idea how she must look, but she didn't dare to look any of them in the eyes. 

Raoul looked completely baffled to her, then back the way Erik went. "Did you two have a fight?" 

Chapter Text

Brute! What a savage brute he was! Debasing her to his simple needs, his burning desire for her sullying her chaste kiss.

He paced the floor in the stables. He'd come to take Cesar for a ride, needing the air and acceleration of riding his great stallion and with his new mask he could ride in daytime without being discovered, but then he remembered his wound. If he was to help Christine out of this damned city, he needed to be healed. So instead he tried to exorcise his demons by pacing the floor, a habit that offered no comfort, but nonetheless he did it.

She shouldn't have kissed him. Of course she'd just meant it to be of gratitude for helping her, probably thinking that she was going to kiss the mask - a safe place. But she should've known that he couldn't handle it. Even the slightest touch of her burned him in his core, aching for any contact that she would give. He'd known it would be dangerous to hide in that crammed space with her. 

He was glad that he could comfort her when the Judge arrived. The man obviously stirred some awful emotions in her and created fear in her like no other Erik had seen. Not even her fear of him was anywhere near close to her fear of the Judge. He wondered what exactly had transpired, but he dared not ask because he worried that she would relive it. Something he would never want her to.

His hand twitched. The urge to use his Punjab lasso on the Judge was great. However he didn't have it. It had been left in the catacombs, his ruined home. And it wouldn't be self defense, though he had the feeling that Nadir would forgive him this once. He seemed to detest the Judge just as much since he'd taken Christine under his protective wing like he'd done with Erik so long ago.

Erik's thoughts led unwillingly to Christine again. She was so compassionate which made everyone want to protect her, himself included. It was why he'd been drawn to her as a child. When she'd grown into a young woman, he'd continued to see their relationship as platonic. Until one evening two years ago after a lesson where Erik had been leaving down the small corridor when Christine began to sing to herself. He should've left, but her song like always had drawn him to her.

Angel of Music, guide and guard me
Grant me to your glory

Angel of Music, hide no longer
Come to me, strange Angel

She'd been undressing before his very eyes, though she did not know. Her song had spoken of a yearning as she looked into mirror and let her gown drop to the floor. In only her corset, chemise, drawers and stockings she'd run her hand over her body and then the mirror as she sang softly. He'd realised then that his love for her ran much deeper and he'd run away in shame of himself and his desire. He'd skipped several lessons after that event until he'd felt somewhat in control of himself again. Because of her song a small part of him had thought that she might had felt the same way, even though he knew that he was kidding himself.

But since that moment his love and desire had grown and made him dangerous and deranged. That madman still lurked in him and he felt it whenever in her presence. Yet he was drawn to her beauty, inner strength and compassion. All of those things were something he did not possess himself.

How dare he defile her newly given trust with his deplorable lust? He pressed a palm against his arousal that wouldn't seem to leave him. The very palm that had caressed her breast. He could still feel Christine's soft curves against him, her moan against his lips. How dare she spur him on? No, the fault had only been his own. He had held her against the wall, he had touched her breast and he had pushed his groin against her softness. He was despicable. He touched his lip where she'd bitten him, so he'd tasted blood briefly. At the time he'd thought her bite to be of passion, but it must've been to fend him off. If he hadn't already earned a place in hell, this had been enough to condemn him.

He heard steps from the house and hurried to grab a brush to groom Cesar. He was an embarrassment. At least it was obvious that Cesar needed grooming. He found dirt and leaves in his mane, as well as a piece of cloth. It was from the ripped gown Christine had worn yesterday when he'd caught her as she jumped from the window. She must've gotten back to Nadir's house with the help of Cesar. Of course. Christine probably hadn't known the way, but Cesar had. Was this how she'd gotten him back here too?

Erik suppressed the urge to smell the piece of cloth from her gown. It would be an odd thing to do. Someone cleared his throat behind Erik, but he'd really guessed who it was by the footsteps.

"Hello to you too, Daroga." He mumbled, busy with brushing Cesar's mane.

"What happened with Mlle Daaé?" He sounded stiff, possibly annoyed.

"Why would you think something happened, other than us hiding?" Erik acted nonchalant, moving to the other side of Cesar. 

"You rushing red-faced out on the room and the contrite look on Mlle Daaé's face were pretty good clues." Nadir's voice had become authoritative, but he should know that it didn't work on Erik who just shrugged at him.

"If you've come to question me about the complex nature of women's expressions, I cannot help you. I left because I prefer to be on my own which wasn't possible in that tight space." He lied. Nadir sighed and sat down on a bucket, exasperated by Erik once again. It made Erik smirk. He'd always loved to keep the Daroga on his toes.

"And the trapdoor? When did you add that?"

"You asked me to take care of your horses a few years back when you and Darius were out of town. I thought it was a nice addition." Erik murmured, now lifting each of Cesar's hooves to remove sticks and dirt from his shoes.

"That was 10 years ago! And you didn't think to tell me?" Nadir fumed.

"It never came up." Erik shrugged again and saw Nadir's lips thin. "But you're not here for these silly questions. Why are you bothering me?"

Nadir rose from the bucket and walked closer to Erik and Cesar. "I came because I need to tell you that this business with the Judge is much worse than expected. The papers about him I ordered from my source arrived after he left with the gendarmes. This Judge has friends in high places and have been accused of murder and rape many times. Each time the victims or accusers have disappeared. He seems to hold a grudge on Christine, probably because she got away. Erik, he won't stop until he finds her. And when he does, he will hurt her." Erik felt rage burning in his chest, yet the threat of fear also rose in him. Anger was easier to deal with, not fear. "He has blocked every road leading out of the city."

"The men blocking them will only be on high alert the next few days." Erik pondered. "That will give me time to heal and us time to think of a plan. When we flee, their guards will be down." For the first time in this conversation Erik looked Nadir straight in the eyes. His friend nodded, then turned to leave, but halted and looked back at him.

"We've finished eating breakfast, not bothering to wait for you as I thought you might be hiding away again." Nadir's light teasing didn't help with Erik's frustration over the event from this morning. "Darius will bring something out for you. Don't share it all with the horse. It's not good for him." Nadir walked out the stable, Erik now set on sharing his breakfast with Cesar. "Oh and Mlle Daaé is on a rampage. Right now she's dealing with the poor Vicomte, but she's coming for you next." He laughed in the distant.

Merde! He didn't dare to face her anymore today.

 

***

The back door burst open while Erik was sharing the rest of his fruit with Cesar. The horse was grateful, huffing into Erik's face when he was taking a piece for himself.

He wasn't sure if he was surprised to see the Vicomte running to the stables for his horse, but he was definitely surprised by the look on the other man's face. The boy was flustered and shamefaced like he'd never seen him before. He stopped in the stable door when he saw Erik sitting on a bucket with a plate of fruit in one hand and feeding his horse an apple in the other.

It wasn't hard to admit that the Vicomte wouldn't have been exposed to such a scene two weeks ago. Erik rose from his seat and put the plate on the ground in front of Cesar to let him finish the rest. He didn't have any weapon available while he now noticed that the Vicomte was wearing his official attire, complete with the rapier by his hip. He'd probably chosen to dress like this for the Judge, but Erik doubted that it had helped if the Judge had friends in higher places. 

The other man put his right hand on the hilt of the rapier and walked closer. Erik stood still, though ready, should he attack. 

"Phantom." He greeted.

"Boy." Erik answered.

Cesar huffed in response to the tension in the room. The Vicomte removed his eyes briefly from Erik to the stallion.

"A mighty fine animal. What's his name?" 

"Cesar." Erik responded, not knowing where the boy was going with this small talk.

"Cesar." He repeated. "A strong name. Good thing that Cesar and Christine were there to help you when you passed out yesterday." The insult was plain, but Erik wasn't bothered.

"Well, even with a deadly wound a gentleman must try his best to help a woman in need. Tell me, where were you wounded yesterday when Christine needed you?" He smirked when his own insult hit home.

"You are many things, Phantom, but not a gentleman. What gentleman manipulates and kidnaps a young woman?" The boy snarled, gripping the hilt on the rapier tighter.

"What gentleman hits the woman he's supposed to love?" Erik growled back, not fearing the boy's blade, only his own dark urges to continue the murder and mayhem he'd created before. His hand twitched once again for his lasso. Tonight he'd get it back.

The back door opened again, but the men's eyes didn't leave each other. "Erik?" A soft voice called, steps nearing and they finally both turned to find Christine staring at them in disbelief. At least she had dressed now. The few layers that had been between them would haunt him till the day he died.

"What is going on here?" Her eyes narrowed as a frown appeared on her face. "Raoul, weren't you going home?"

"Yes, of course. I was just... having a chat with this," he wasn't going to say 'man' nor 'gentleman' and certainly not Erik's name, "... monsieur about his fine looking horse." Raoul smiled to Christine. "I'll be on my way now." He walked into the stable and untied a white steed. Of course it was white. The irony of their horses was not lost on Erik.

The Vicomte stopped next to Erik and Cesar for a moment and he whispered: "If you hurt her, I will find you."

"I will not lay a hand on her like others here have." 

The other man shook his head and looked straight into Erik's eyes with a serious expression. "I did not mean physically." This got Erik's attention and guilt filled his heart again. The Vicomte smirked when he saw that he'd affected Erik with these words. A little louder, though still only for Erik's ears, he spoke again. "One day, Phantom, we will have a real duel. With only one man leaving." With that he walked out of the stables, bowing courteously before Christine and rode away.

Christine came closer to Erik, but the words about hurting Christine had struck him. It was true that he would never hurt her physically, but mentally he'd already hurt her many times. And this very day he'd taken advantage of her kindness and used her body for his atrocious carnal desires. If he stayed in her life, it would only be worse.

He felt her hand on his arm and he yanked it away from her. She looked distraught by his reaction for a moment, then her expression hardened. "Erik, about what happene-"

"-is not to happen again, I assure you." He interrupted, though he found it extremely rude. "It was a mistake and I apologise profoundly. I've decided that it'll be best if I do not aid you out of Paris, however I will secure a path for you." He didn't look her in the eyes because he knew he would be swallowed by their depths. He picked up the plates from his and Cesar's breakfast and walked towards the door. She followed him like he knew she would because she wasn't a quitter like him. She moved into his path, so he couldn't continue.

"Erik, please, let us talk." She insisted, pleading with him. He'd once told her that he had a power over her, but the truth was that it was she who held all the power between them.

"Christine, I..." He put the plates down and ran a hand over his face in desperation to find the right words. She waited patiently and he actually wished for her to just talk, so he didn't have to. Instead she put her hands on his chest and he withdrew quickly. "I don't think you understand what your touch does to me." He hurried to say, holding his hands up in warning. Her eyes widened, but he continued. "This repulsive body aches for your touch, so much that it turns me insane. Just being near you pains me and I cannot keep control. We're no good for each other, Christine, it's time we realise that."

She stood silent with her doe eyes on his with an indefinable expression, yet her body language showed no signs of fear or disgust. She nodded slightly. "You're right. We're not good for each other. Then why are we drawn together?" She whispered, moving closer to him. He backed away until he stood near the wall. "Is it fate?" She looked at his lips, then back to his eyes. He swallowed a lump and pressed his hands against the wall behind him.

"It might be. Which proves to how sinister it can be." He murmured, still fixated on her eyes. "Fate has never been kind to me." 

She stopped a few feet away from him. "I do need your help, Erik." He wasn't sure if he was glad for the slight change of subject or discouraged.

"Yes and I will provide it to you whichever way I best can. Then we'll part ways."

She looked away for a few moments and when her eyes returned to his, they were filled with tears. "I'm not sure how to live without you. I don't want to." He longed to go to her and comfort her, but it had proven to be the wrong thing to do earlier today. So he stood and watched as she cried. "The week I thought you dead, even when I was unconscious with fever, was the worst week of my life. You don't know how it was."

"Then tell me." He said kindly. He actually wanted to know. Before he had revealed himself as a man instead of an angel, he had talked to her almost every day where she often recounted what had happened and her thoughts about the opera, the music and the books she read. It was something he missed a lot. "Perhaps it will help." He reached for her hand, then thought better of it and gestured for the bench at the end of the stables. She walked down there and he followed, grabbing the bucket to sit on. She sat down on the bench and he sat on the bucket across from her. He gathered courage and took her hands in his. "Tell me, Christine. I want to hear how strong you've been because I know that you have. And I want to hear the incredible tale of how you stopped the Judge because I cannot comprehend how you used your hair and voice as weapons. It makes me curious."

In spite of her tears she smiled down at him. "I'm glad you don't find me as fragile as everyone else." She said, though her voice held a tinge of sadness. "Just don't look down on my choices. I had a lack of good choices to choose from." He nodded and dared to wipe a tear away from her jaw as she began the tale of what had happened since he was stabbed.

Chapter Text

Erik had sat patiently and listened to the story of the worst week of her life. And he had been attentive and considerate. Until she told him about what happened at the de Chagny summer house where Raoul belittled her reaction to Philippe's crude remarks. His hands had tightened around hers and she'd felt the rage boil inside him. However his reaction worsened when she'd told him about Raoul sending her away with the gendarmes to the station. He'd risen from his seat and started pacing, his fists and jaw grinding when he heard that Raoul had wanted her to pledge guilty by reasons of insanity. 

"Please, Erik, it's in the past." She said as he paced the floor so fast that he might make tracks in the concrete. 

"It's not in the past. It was only yesterday! And I let that fool leave here without a scratch!" He roared. It was probably good that she'd talked to Raoul first, so he was out of Erik's range for this conversation.

"Erik, the next part is really awful for me. Will you please sit down?" She asked softly and it was only a moment before he sat down on the bucket again and took her hands in his. She liked it. It made her feel safe. She gathered up her strength and told him what had happened the night before. About how kind the Judge had been, of how he'd brought her to a nice room compared to the filthy jail cell, how he'd asked questions about the Opera Ghost and finally how he'd suddenly turned into a monster. It helped to talk about it, she discovered. It was nothing like how she had relieved it earlier when she heard his voice from their hideout.

At first she saw Erik fight against his rage, a fire burning behind his eyes. But when she told him how she'd fought back with her voice, the look in his eyes transformed. He looked almost proud of her and lovingly. His face got strangely serious for a moment when she told him about using her hair as rope, but he quickly hid it until she told him about seeing him again and how she'd gotten them out of there with the help of Cesar. He seemed grave, yet spoke anyway. "It's true, he has carried me unconscious before, though I'd climbed himself that time." 

"You have to tell me some day." She replied and noticed a small smile on his lips. 

"It says a lot about you that he would let you ride him. That he would even follow you across the street. It even takes a lot of persuasion from the Daroga and he's the one who started training him." 

"Well, I probably smelled like you after dragging you across the lawn." She mumbled.

"No, I don't believe it's that. I think it's you." He said, taking a seat next to her on the bench. She leaned her head against him and he wrapped an arm around her shoulder protectively. "Oh Christine, I am in awe of you." He whispered sincerely and she blushed, glad that he couldn't see it. No one had ever said that to her. But she could hear in his voice that he meant it.

They sat in comfortable silence. Erik started to hum, then sing lightly and she closed her eyes while she enjoyed their quiet moment together in the sunlit stable. Why did he believe that he could only exist in the darkness when they could sit like this in sun?

 

***

When she opened her eyes, she was lying in bed alone. It was dark outside, the whole day had gone by. Erik, the cat, was lying on the pillow to hers, purring. She must've fallen asleep and Erik, the man, had carried her inside.

She stretched her body, feeling completely refreshed. She couldn't remember when she'd last felt like this. It must've been before the rehearsals of Don Juan. Then came the premiere, Erik dying, her fever and the whole business of being arrested and assaulted. It had taken its toll on her body and mind. She enjoyed the quiet moment with the cat's purring, simply lying in bed.

Until her stomach rumbled. The cat looked up from its resting place and stared at her. "Yeah, I might be hungry. Do you want some food too?" The cat must've understood the word 'food' because it immediately rose to its feet, jumped off the bed and walked to the door. She did the same, finding that she was still dressed, except for her shoes that Erik must've removed. She was glad it was all he had removed, then blushed as the thought of him removing more entered her mind.

Walking into the hall she noticed that the house was completely quiet. The door to the guestroom was slightly ajar, so she peeked in, but no one was there. She followed the cat downstairs and looked at the grandfather clock. It was 10.20 pm. She'd gone to the stables before lunch time, so she must've slept almost ten hours. 

She heard the cat meow and run into the kitchen where a deep familiar voice greeted it. Following the same path as the cat she entered the kitchen where M. Khan was opening a can of tuna before pouring it into a bowl and setting it down on the floor next to the backdoor. "Mlle Daaé, glad to see you have awoken." He smiled kindly.

"Thank you. I was surprised to see how long I'd slept." She returned his smile. "I apologise for not being present all day." He chuckled.

"I'm positive that it was much needed. No one was surprised when Erik carried you inside, sleeping as a kitten. Are you hungry?" She nodded. "Of course you are! Sit down, let me prepare you a meal." He pulled out a chair for her, then went into the pantry and returned to the kitchen table with the items. She noticed cheese, bread and carrots in his hands, but couldn't see more from her chair. "I hope your conversation with him went well." He said almost like it was a question. 

"Hmm." She answered affirmative, not sure if Erik had said anything. "But with Erik I never know." The Persian man chuckled again and turned around to look at her.

"I always feel the same way with Erik. Madame Giry does too." He placed a plate in front of her with fish, a baguette, cheese, carrots and leeks. It was a simple meal, but compared to what they had lived off in the Opera, it was more than enough. She mumbled her thanks and dug in while M. Khan continued to talk. "Erik is like an onion. You can keep picking off layers and still never get to the center. That's just how Erik is, it seems." He shrugged.

"But at least you've history together. You know most of his past, don't you?"

The older man touched his beard in contemplation. "I know of the past that we have spent together. But he hasn't told me much about what happened before Persia. Or after we left. I do believe you know him best."

She scoffed, very unladylike. "You can't mean that. I know almost nothing about him. I hadn't even seen his face a year ago." She finished the last of her baguette. 

"Then let me ask you this: Before he appeared to you as a man, did you consider him as a friend when you believed him to be an angel?" He looked earnestly curious.

"I didn't actually believe him to be an angel for so long. It was just easier not to acknowledge that he was a real man." She said self-consciously, taking a sip of water.

"Why was it easier?"

"Because it would be immoral to have a man unchaperoned give me singing lessons from the walls or a mirror in an old dressing room every day. Or sing me lullabies in the evening when I couldn't sleep. When I said it was an angel, it was allowed." Though she couldn't get in trouble for it now, it still felt shameful to admit it. 

"So you didn't reveal your knowledge to anyone, not even him?"

"No, he's very obsessed with doing the ethical thing. It sounds strange, but it's true. When he kidnapped me, he'd even planned that we were getting married. He'd made a dress and everything." She giggled at the absurdity. "I don't think he'd even thought about how we could have a ceremony." M. Khan chuckled as her giggle turned into laughter. It had seemed insane at the time, but now it was obvious that it had been a desperate man's attempt to avoid losing her. The thought made her a little sad and her laughter died in her throat.

M. Khan seemed to pick up the change of her mood quickly. "So you didn't say anything because you wanted to keep him as a friend?"

She thought about his question, having avoided the question about being friends before. They'd had lessons nearly every day for years, but often those lessons involved talking about everyday things like what happened around the Opera, about music and about books she'd read, often ones he'd recommended. Even with Meg there she would've been lonely without her angel to talk too. So yes, he had been a friend. When they had finally met, nothing about him beyond the physical aspects surprised her. The intimidating mask and the attraction to him had been the only baffling things. And his lair of course. 

"Exactly. We could talk about everything and I didn't want to lose that." She admitted and pushed the empty plate away from her. "Even when he finally revealed himself to me, I still knew who he was."

"So while you hadn't seen him or knew anything about his past and daily life, you knew his personality enough to consider him an important friend." It was more of a statement than a question, but she nodded anyway. "Then you know him better than me." He winked at her and went back to the kitchen table to pour them some tea.

His questions puzzled her. He seemed genuinely curious about the nature of her relationship with Erik, she just couldn't figure out why. "You're a private investigator, M. Khan?" She asked as he brought the tea cups down to the table. 

"I am." He smiled and passed her the sugar, apparently having noticed already how she took her tea. 

"So I'm guessing that you've investigated Erik's past?" He seemed surprised by her question. She liked to be the one questioning instead of the other way around.

He shifted uncomfortably. "I have. But I will not share anything without Erik's permission." 

"So he knows you have researched him?" M. Khan's eyes flew to hers. Her question had worried him and taken him off guard.

"I'm sure he does." He mumbled, drinking a large gulp of tea. 

"So why are you asking me about him? Another piece of the unsolvable onion-puzzle of Erik?" 

He chuckled. "No, not at all. I gave up on that years ago." He seemed relieved which made her wonder if she'd been close to something he wanted to keep secret. But she didn't know how to find out, so she kept to the subject.

"Then why does my... relationship with him interest you such?"

He straightened a bit in his chair and took a more formal posture. "Because it intriges me why he's so fascinated by you. Do not mistake my meaning, you're a lovely, intelligent woman, but he has never been like this before. Yours is quite a bewitching love story." He smiled to her, but she was almost spilling her tea after absorbing his words.

"Love story? My relation to Erik is many things, but a love story it is not."

"What would you call it then?" He asked with interest and a smug smile on his face.

"Drama, mystery, horror?"

"Forgive me, mademoiselle, but if it was horror, surely you wouldn't have locked yourself in a small hideout with the monster of the story?" She blushed when she thought about what happened that morning and she was horrified now as she saw M. Khan noticing her reaction. "I do not judge, Mlle Daaé. I'm an eager admirer of love and I do not wish for it to go to waste. I wasted too much time before I declared my love for the woman who became my wife and we ended up only getting a few years together. Had I not waited, we would've had longer time together." He sighed deeply. "I hope that you will not make the same mistake."

Christine was baffled by his very personal admission. Of course he'd asked her personal questions, but this was intimate and private. Not that she minded. It gave a new dimension to his character which made her like him even more. "My condolences, M. Khan. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a partner." She dared to reach over and squeezed his hand briefly and he smiled kindly.

"My dear, I think you might already have this past week, at least in some sense." The implication of his words struck her. He surely couldn't imply that the pain she'd felt when she thought Erik was dead could compare to losing his wife. "Every loss is different like every person is. Just remember that love isn't something to take for granted."

"I will, M. Khan. Right now I just need to get out of this city alive." She hid her head in her hands, the fear of what to come rising in her.

"In times like these you really learn who will protect you and who to trust." He contemplated as he leaned back in his chair and looked into the ceiling in thought. Christine suddenly remembered her friends. Their serious conversation had made her forget about everyone who'd been in the house earlier.

"Where is everyone else?" She asked.

"Oh right. Madame Giry and her little mademoiselle went home. My servant Darius followed them home and will stay with them until they're settled and feel safe." He chuckled. "I imagine Madame Giry will have kicked him out by morning." Christine giggled. It sounded like her. The Madame had never been one for protection which Christine admired a lot. "Erik is in the guestroom, hopefully asleep." M. Khan mumbled.

Christine looked up from her nearly empty cup of tea. "No, he's not. The guestroom was empty when I woke up." M. Khan rose so quickly that his chair almost tipped behind him. He muttered something in a foreign language and ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He returned a moment later, but rushed out the backdoor instead. Probably to the stables, Christine speculated. When he returned a short time after, he almost dragged his feet.

"Cesar's still there. Where ever Erik is, he's on foot. That fool! What if he passes out like he did only yesterday?" M. Khan plummeted down on his chair again. Christine worried too, but found it easier when she was doing something. She took their tea cups to the kitchen and began washing the few dishes. "Mademoiselle, don't. I will take care of it." He objected, but she shook her head.

"Your hospitality is too much. I insist on doing this small task. Now, didn't the doctor say that Erik would recover faster if he made sure to eat?" She asked, having overheard a conversation between M. Khan and Raoul this morning about when they should attempt to flee. It would be in three to four days, depending on Erik's recovery and how many gendarmes the Judge had placed by each road out of the city. 

"Yes, it's true. Let's hope that the last 24 hours have been enough time for him to go where ever he's going and back again." He sounded pessimistic. Christine just hoped that Erik would return at all.

She finished the dishes and turned around. The actress in her decided to try the role of Madame Giry, so she made her face as stoic as possible and held herself posed. "M. Khan, you seem tired. Please, go to bed. I know that I've been occupying your bedroom and I implore you to take it back. I have but a few things that I will remove." When he was about to argue, she held a hand up like the ballet instructor would do. "I will move into the guestroom since Erik isn't here anyway. If... When he gets back, he can have the couch... Or the stables." She mumbled the last part, but M. Khan heard her anyway and laughed.

"I will not disagree on the latter. I will also yield to your first proposal. I must say you young women have learned something from Madame Giry. I heard Mlle Giry give Darius an earful earlier and made her mother proud." He chuckled. 

They went upstairs to change the sheets and Christine gathered the few clothing items doctor Anderson had brought her. When Erik, the cat, followed her inside the guestroom instead of taking its usual place on M. Khan's bed, he laughed and simply said: "Seems about right."

They bid each other goodnight. Christine still felt refreshed, so she went downstairs to find a book to read until she feels tired enough to sleep. Perhaps she would hear Erik come in. She snorted in her head at the thought. No one would hear Erik if he didn't want to be heard. She walked back upstairs with the book she'd chosen and sat down on the bed with the cat and started to read.

It was a ghastly story about a man who tranforms into a monster by using chemicals, so he can live out his desires without detention. Despite the subject she wasn't able to put the book down. Until she saw a dark shadow in the door.

She yelped and jumped off the bed, away from the shadow. As she turned her full attention to the figure, all she could see was a stark white mask.

"In the end he discovers that he will permanently become the monster."

Chapter Text

"Ang... Erik." She breathed, still shook up after his sudden appearance in the door. She'd almost called him Angel because he looked like he had as her Angel. She noticed that she was kneeling behind the bed, she'd jumped from, so she rose and brushed off her gown. 

"I apologise. I didn't mean to frighten you." He murmured. "I didn't realise you would be here." She took in his attire which seemed to be exactly what he'd worn while living under the Opera House. And that mask.

"I told M. Khan that he could have his bedroom back and I would take the guestroom as you had gone. He... no, we were very worried about you. What if you had passed out again?" She saw a few carpet bags behind him. "You've been to the catacombs, haven't you?"

Her anger didn't seem to faze him much. "I have." He said with an impassive face, though he seemed to move slightly in front of the bags to hide them.

"Why are you wearing your old mask?"

"Because I don't want yo... anyone to forget what I am." His calm voice held a bit of provocation towards her which made her even more angry. The mask didn't scare her, but it unnerved her a bit. She walked around the bed to stand in front of him to show him that it didn't have the effect on her that he might had hoped.

"And what is that?" She dared him to say it.

"A monster of course." He growled low in his throat.

She rolled her eyes. This again. "I don't believe that. I think it's easier for you to be the monster than having to be a man." This made him snap and in a split second he had her pinned against the wall with his hands on each side of her head, but not touching her at all. She breathed hard, affected by their close proximity and the intense look in his eyes.

"Was it not a monster who kidnapped you? Who killed and hurt people? Who threatened your precious fiancee?" His whisper was soft, despite the words, and his voice as always enchanting. His eyes resembled burning amber in the dim light and she couldn't look away from his fiery gaze. But she wasn't afraid.

"Just a deranged man who is more sane now. Since I left the catacombs I've met real monsters hiding behind the masks of men who felt that their actions were justified. You hide behind the mask of a monster, but at least you know what you did was wrong."

"What makes you think I won't become deranged again?" He seemed more uncertain after her answer. "I feel the madness in me just by thinking about you near another man! I can't stand the thought of you leaving me again." He turned away from her, gripping his wig, so it almost lifted from his head.

"I didn't leave! You pushed me into the arms of another by scaring me with your rage and your threats. From the moment you appeared to me in the mirror, you expected me to run away, but was you who pushed me away until I didn't know who you were anymore. And you're pushing me away again because you expect me to run. But I haven't run yet. I would've stayed in the catacombs with you, but you told Raoul to 'take me' away. You gave me a choice, then decided you knew better."

He turned around to look at her again in anger and hurt. "I gave you freedom!"

"Just not the freedom to choose you." The words hung heavy in the air between them. 

"You really would've chosen me?" He asked disbelievingly.

"I don't know." She answered honestly. "But I wouldn't have left you down there. Never." They looked at each other in silence for a long time. Though his eyes connected with hers, it was obvious that a hundred thoughts were occupying him. She remembered that M. Khan was in the room just across the hall and must've heard them, but he probably thought it best not to disturb. What had he said? Don't take love for granted.

"Erik, you don't have to be the monster. I know the man you are-"

"You don't know me!" He spat, not even let her finish the sentence. His words hurt. "You don't know what I've done, the life I've lived." Yesterday she might've agreed, but not after the conversation with M. Khan earlier.

"I know you better than anyone!" He was about to interrupt, but she didn't let him. She walked towards him with purpose and stopped only a few feet from him. "I've known you since I was 11 years old. I might not have known where you lived or how you spent your day, but I knew you showed compassion for an orphaned child. So much that you spent time with me every day, sang to me every night and patiently taught me, even when I defied you. I knew how you'd react to the things I told you and that you always had an answer for the stupid questions I asked. I know you are a genius who educated me and when I got older, I knew you weren't an angel, but I knew that would make you leave. I know you loved me and that I loved you."

She looked away from him as the tears that had gathered in her eyes started to fall. Her heart was racing and she tried to calm down. She noticed the book she'd been reading on the bed and laughed quietly in exasperation. "And now I know that you ruin the endings of books I'm reading." She heard a poorly withheld burst of laughter and looked at him. He was quite a sight: Dressed in the fine clothes with a white mask that covered some of the tears that had fallen on his cheeks. And now he was trying to hold back laughter.

"The Daroga already knew that." He spluttered and she laughed with him. How wonderful it was to be laughing with him.

As their laughter died out and turned to silence, he closed the small distance between them and hugged her tightly. "You really didn't believe I was an angel until you were 19?" She shook her head, laughing a bit at the absurdity. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because your moral code would've made you run away. You thought it was alright to spend the time with me as angel, but not as a man." She replied into his chest. His clothes smelled mildly of mildew from his lair. They would really need washing.

He chuckled and kissed the top of her head. "Perhaps it is you who knows me best." He mumbled. They stood for a long time in the warm embrace. Christine didn't want to let go. She didn't know what her relationship with Erik was, but she knew that she couldn't bear to lose him again. She felt him begin to sag a bit against her and he stifled a yawn. He'd been sitting in her room last night, so he probably hadn't slept at all since the day before and that had more been unconsciousness than actual sleep. She knew that he often went days without sleep, but she had never liked it. Who knew if it was why he came deranged? He needed to rest like everyone else.

"Erik, go to bed. I've slept all day, so I don't need to. You sleep here while I'll read downstairs." She felt him take a breath to argue, but she added: "You need rest to heal, so you can help me." He drew back to look at her, but before he say anything, he was yawning again.

"Excuse me." He said as he barely managed to hide it. "Perhaps you're right. But I'd rather not have you to be downstairs alone." She understood his worry of course, but there wasn't any more rooms upstairs. Only a bedroom and a guestroom which both had en suite bathrooms and then a small linen closet. In theory she could stay in the servant quarters, but it was downstairs too and she had a feeling that it was Darius' private space.

"Well, you stayed in my room last night," she said hesitantly. He'd probably be uncomfortable with it, especially after the day they'd had with revelations and their tryst in the hideout. And his words about being near her... It was like he didn't want to be near her and yet didn't want her to stay away. It was difficult, but right now she was trying to meet his need to sleep and his worry about her being alone downstairs. "Then I could stay here while you slept. In the chair in the corner of course." She pointed to the armchair in the other end of the room, farthest away from the bed.

He nodded uneasy. "I suppose it's the best course of action. After all who cares about decency when in a situation like this." He didn't elaborate and as they locked eyes for a moment, she wondered if he meant her situation with the Judge or their situation of their dubious relationship. 

"Good. I'll just go downstairs after a book, now that I know how the other one ends." She smiled lightly as though it didn't bother her. It kind of did.

"Let me do it. Maybe I can find one I haven't read, so there isn't a risk of me revealing the ending. No matter what the Daroga says, I don't do it on purpose." His statement made her glance at him curiously. Then why do it? "I think I just like to talk to others about it." He answered her unspoken question before going downstairs. He returned only a moment later with another book called The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. "Have you read this?" 

"No, I don't believe so."

"I'll think you'll appreciate it. I promise not to reveal anything. The Daroga didn't have anything I haven't read except a few, but I don't think you can read Farsi." He smiled in jest.

"No, my Angel of Music forgot to teach me that." She giggled and his small answering smile was so sweet that her chest bloomed.

"A grave overlook on his part." He walked into the bathroom while she settled in the armchair with a candle next to her. He emerged shortly after wearing only his shirt and trousers, but still wore the mask and wig. As if she hadn't seen him without both since she took them off him at the Don Juan premiere. He hesitated, looking worried between the bed and her.

"Good night, Erik. Sleep well." She said, hoping that he would just lie down already. Something told her that he had the habit of overthinking, except when he was crazed where he did the exact opposite. 

"Yes... yes, Christine, uhm.. enjoy the book." He finally lied down and though he tossed and turned several times it wasn't before long he was sleeping soundly. She stayed as quiet as possible since he probably wasn't used to any sounds when sleeping in the catacombs.

He was right that she'd like the book. It was an interesting story about a woman being shamed and jailed after an affair with a man which led to a child. The man she'd had the affair with didn't get punished because she wouldn't reveal his name. Her husband, who'd returned after thought to be lost at sea, swore to revenge her.

While this would never happen in this modern age, she could relate. As a woman from the Opera she was often looked upon like a wanton women while the men there weren't frowned upon. It was also expected that women were virgins until marriage while the men could sleep with whoever they wanted. Raoul's brother Philippe was a good example of that.

The problem was that women could become pregnant while the men never had to worry about it. It would surely be possible to keep an affair a secret if there wasn't any proof like a child. Sadly it was hard to avoid. She'd heard other women from the Opera using something called French letters to avoid pregnancy or making the man not finish in them, but there were still a lot of women who left the Opera House because they became pregnant in spite of those repercussions. Both options were also sinful according to the Catholic church, even if you were married. Christine was raised Lutheran, but when she came to live with the Girys, she'd only been to Catholic mass. She wasn't sure what she believed anymore.

How much easier it would be if one could just follow one's desires without fear of judgement or pregnancy, she thought. She looked at the man in the bed across the room. He'd been shamed from birth which was surely much worse. Like the children who were born out of marriage, he'd been judged for being born. But unlike other children who could escape judgement, who could walk and play in the street without being noticed, he would never have a chance of normalcy. How unfair life could be.

After finishing the book she sat for awhile, watching the first sun rays start to appear in the horisont. She hadn't felt peace like this in so long, sitting in a warm room, safe and comfortable.

The peace was suddenly disrupted when a hard knocking sounded from downstairs. She barely managed to rise to her feet before she heard the door being burst open and a horrifying familiar voice ordered someone to overturn the house. "Look everywhere! She'd here somewhere! " The Judge shouted.

Chapter Text

He had felt himself wake shortly before the knock. He might've heard a noise from outside, a sigh from Christine or perhaps it had been his instincts. Whatever it had been, it had made him sit up right before the knock came. He'd seen Christine sitting so quietly while watching the sunrise and it had been a joy to wake up to. Until a rapid knocking pulled them both out of their tranquil.

He was on his feet instantly, but then he heard pieces of the front door splinter and knew it would be too dangerous to leave Christine alone. Especially when he heard the commanding voice that entered the house.

He looked to the woman by the window. Her face spoke of an overwhelming fear and it seemed like she was so shocked that she hadn't even noticed that he was awake and standing by the door with his jacket on, lasso in his sleeve.

Nadir was already on his way down the stairs, complaining about breaking and entering. He could hear the Judge mention a warrant which probably meant that he had the law on his side. Nadir kept talking, but it was obvious to Erik that he was stalling. There was nothing his friend could do. They were in danger. Christine was in danger.

He ran to the bed, grabbed the sheets he'd slept in and walked over to the frightened woman who hadn't moved since she rose from the armchair. "Come, you need to leave. They'll be here in a minute." He said and kept her behind him for a moment as he looked out the window to the stables, but no one seemed to be there. It was their safest bet. "You'll slip down the sheets to the stables where you take Cesar and ride to the Opera. Hide there until someone comes for you." He thrust one of the carpet bags in her hands. It had money and clothes for her. She looked at him like he'd gone mad.

"I'm not going without you!" She finally spoke, a bit too loudly in this dire situation which she seemed to understand too as she lowered her voice. "Erik, if you're not coming with me, you'll walk into your death. I'm not leaving this place without you." 

He was about to argue when he heard Nadir's voice grow louder and then commotion erupted. He groaned in frustration, then ran over to lock the door and grab another carpet bag. She had already opened the window and was tying the sheets to the armchair, then gestured for him to go. He was about to insist that she went first when they heard the sound of steps on the stairs. Her eyes widened, yet she did not leave, probably because she correctly assumed that he wasn't going to follow.

Briefly scowling at her, he jumped out the window with both bags in one hand and using his other to slid down the sheet to the stables. He was glad to see that she followed him the moment he let go of the sheet. She wasn't as fast, never having done it before, but it was alright. No one was near the back door and it would take the gendarmes a moment to break down the sturdy door to the guestroom.

He noticed Christine's eyes widen as she looked behind him on her way down and he had already turned when she shouted. "Erik, look out!" Behind him was a gendarme, no more than the age of twenty. He wasn't as fast as Erik, even with the element of surprise. A blink of the eye later and the Punjab lasso was around the poor boy's neck. Erik was just about to pull and break his neck when a hand touched his shoulder. "Let him live, please." He turned to look at her. Her brown doe eyes spoke of exhaustion, fear and yet compassion. "Let's go."

He nodded, then pulled only to let the boy fall to the ground. He removed his red noose from the dazed boy's throat and tucked it away. Meanwhile Christine had untied Cesar. 

"I'm guessing neither of you uses a saddle?" She asked, presumably rhetorically as she gave him the rein. He climbed up and she handed him the carpet bags which he moved to his other hand with the rein. Then he offered her his hand and pulled her up to sit behind him. He barely noticed her arms slip around his waist to hold on because the backdoor burst open and an older grey haired man with an enraged expression ran towards them. From the way Christine suddenly started to tremble, he guessed that this was the Judge and his voice confirmed it.

"Stop, Chris-" The man stopped and gasped as he took in the sight before him. "The Opera Ghost. He's alive!"

Erik didn't waste any time. Noticing Nadir behind the Judge, he yelled "Atabie alkhuta! Al'ahad" to him before kicking his heels against Cesar. They galloped out of the courtyard, yet without a destination. 

 

***

Most of Christine's actions had been made by pure reflex, except her insistence that Erik went with her. And thank God for that or else she would've been stopped by the young gendarme whose life Erik spared at her request. The young man had done nothing but follow the Judge's order and she was relieved when Erik let him go.

But now the Judge knew that Erik was alive. She was sure that Erik would become the Judge's taget now and she worried what each man might do. Would Judge Hugo now be even more consumed by this pursuit? Would Erik try and strike a bargain to let Christine go? 

She was barely aware of the streets they passed or how they avoided the general public, even in the early morning light. When they'd ridden across the city, she noticed with disinterest that Erik had brought them to Île de la Cité - the island in the city. From their vantage point the sun rose between the twin towers of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, creating a sense of safety, a solidness she'd missed since she lost her home in the Opera.

But she was surprised to discover that Erik headed for the old cathedral. He stopped Cesar and carefully pried Christine's arms from his waist where she had apparently held them in a steel grip. He jumped down from the horse and set the carpet bags on the ground. Then he held his arms out to help her down, gripping her waist while she held onto his shoulders and he carried her weight for a moment before setting her on the ground. She hesitated for a moment with her hands still on his shoulders. She was trembling, she realised, and Erik noticed it too.

"Are you well, Christine?" His voice was laced with worry, but for once it was her who didn't look at him. She might fall apart if she did. Instead she nodded and removed her hands from his shoulders. "Come with me." He said softly, then grabbed the bags and Cesar's rein and walked to the stables of the cathedral where he got Cesar settled while Christine waited, feeling strangely numb. Erik looked at her with concern a few times, but none of them said a word.

When he'd finished, he picked up the carpet bags once more and took her hand. It felt so small in his large hand and it was all she could think about as Erik led her inside the back of the large cathedral. 

She'd been inside a few times before, attending Mass once with Madame Giry and Meg, but she'd never been behind the altar which was where Erik led her. The colored windows at the end were even more heavenly in the morning sun, but she barely saw anything else as Erik scurried them across to the other side where he opened a smaller door, hidden behind a pillar. When he closed it behind them without a sound, she halted.

"We're not going to the towers, are we?" She thought about The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, a book he'd suggested for her when she was younger. It had made her so sad and she'd begged her Angel to say that no one had to suffer in real life like Quasimodo, but he never would. He had only promised that the story was made up, including the Hunchback. She realised that Erik and Quasimodo had more in common than imagined. The thought burned in her chest.

"No, we're going to the Spire. The towers aren't suitable to stay in for more than an hour at a time." He muttered, pulling her lightly with him again. So they were staying here then. Probably without permission. But surely it was alright as the Catholic church offered sanctuary to everyone, even deformed men with fear of being seen and opera singers hunted by the law. 

They climbed so many stairs that Christine lost track of how far up they were. Finally Erik stopped on a platform with a door and stairs leading further upwards. He tried the door handle, finding it locked, so he reached for a little leather pouch in his inner pocket. Inside the pouch were several small tools. He chose a thin steel rod that was slightly bent at the end and slid it into the lock. After a few seconds the lock clicked and this time the door opened when he tried the handle. He gestured her to go inside.

She couldn't see much in the room. There were no windows and the only light was what little that shone in from the toned windows in the staircase. Erik walked in behind her with the carpet bags and closed the door, leaving them in complete darkness, but only a moment passed before she heard the strike of a match and light flooded the room as Erik lit several candles around the small room.

The room wasn't actually that small, but it was spare. There was a table, a chair and a decent sized cot. Underneath the cot she noticed a chamber pot and a water basin. The walls were bare, except for a small painting. She walked closer and saw it was of the Opera Populaire. It made her feel a little calmer inside. At least this place was clean and warm and presumably safe. 

She turned around to look at Erik whose figure seemed impossibly big in the room. And he looked uneasy. "I know it isn't much, but I think it's the safest place to stay for now." His voice was uncertain and she gathered that it wasn't because he didn't believe his own words, but because he worried about her reaction. "There's a bathroom a few floors down and I'll sleep on the floor of course." Christine looked at the floor. It was clean, but it was bare stone and too hard on his back. 

"What is this place?"

"A place for pilgrims or for those seeking sanctuary. I figured that we could fall into that category." He shifted a bit in his spot. "I'll venture for something to eat after this morning's Mass if that's alright." She crossed the few feet to him and wrapped her arms around him. She knew it made him uncomfortable because he wasn't used to being touched, but she wanted to reassure him. And herself.

"Thank you." She whispered. "I cannot express how much it means to me that you're here to help me." He sagged a little against her, possibly relieved that she wasn't repelled by the idea of staying in this room. She really wasn't, but she worried how long it would take before they were found. Even with sanctuary there were ways for the Judge to capture them. 

"What did you say to M. Khan before we left?" She remembered the strange language he'd spoken, figuring that he must've learned it in Persia. 

"That we follow the plan. We're leaving in four days, on Sunday."

"Oh." She pulled back and he let her go. She hadn't been informed of the plan or when they were leaving. But she had been sleeping most of the day before, so it wasn't such a wonder. She knew that Raoul would provide them with a carriage and a coach, but M. Khan had told him that they would be sure to be stopped by the gendarmes in a carriage. "What is the plan?"

Erik seemed surprised by her question, like she didn't have any role in it. That couldn't be right. "Let's discuss it later. We'll have plenty of time for the next few days." He turned around and bent down to pull the water basin from under the bed. "I'll clean up and fill some fresh water in this. Meanwhile you can change if you wish to. I've brought clothes for you too." He pointed to the carpet bags on the floor by the door.

"When did you get my clothes from the Girys'?"

"I didn't. It would've seemed suspicious if someone had sneaked clothes out of there. I just brought the ones from my house." He said nonchalantly. 

"What clothes?" She raised an eyebrow and he seemed to realise something because his eyes widened for a moment.

He went to the door, mumbling "It's unimportant."

"You had clothes for me in your lair?" She asked in clear disbelief.

"Well, in my house in my lair." He clarified when he turned back to look at her. Like it was an important fact. 

"Why did you have clothes for me there?" She was pretty sure that she wouldn't like the answer, but felt that she needed to know anyway.

"I don't know... I think it was part of a dream my mind made me live out. I thought that if you became my living wife, you would need a complete wardrobe." He muttered, at least knowing that it wasn't really a normal thing to do. "I liked the idea of having a woman living with me, I guess. If you don't want them, if it's too weird, it's alright." He was actually ashamed which had to be a good sign. She was beginning to realise that there were probably a lot of things she wouldn't want to hear about his past life, especially his obsession with her, but she tried to focus on the fact that he wasn't in the same place anymore.

"Well, if they fit me, I guess I'm grateful for having clean clothes." She said, trying to sound lighthearted. He nodded and turned his back again as he left the room, closing the door silently behind him.

She walked over to the carpet bags. The first one was filled with dark wool clothing and the skin colored mask he'd gotten from the doctor. Well, at least he'd kept it then. It might even become useful if they had to blend in. The white mask wasn't exactly inconspicuous and it intimidated people, including her. 

The other bag held several colorful gowns in very expensive fabric. Had he really bought these for her? She noticed silk underwear too and blushed profusely when she thought about him buying this for her. He'd never asked her to wear anything though or even told her about it. It was so strange to think about and she wasn't quite sure about wearing it. But the gown she was in was filthy. She had worn it since yesterday morning, had slept in it and ridden in it. So she picked out the most modest things from the bag and hurried to change before Erik returned.

When she searched for a fresh pair of stockings she came across a thick envelope with her name on it. She opened it, finding a large stack of 100 francs bills. Where did all this money come from? Had it been stolen? Why had he left these for her?

She panicked as she realised that he'd been gone for a while now. How long had he been gone? She didn't have a sense of the time, but it could've been half an hour. Perhaps more. Maybe he'd gone to turn himself in like he'd talked about several times. He'd promised to help her the best way he could. What if he thought that it meant getting himself arrested?

She couldn't imagine what she would do if he'd left. One thing was that she was stuck in the cathedral without knowing when she could leave, but it was worse when she thought about the fate that awaited him if he let himself get arrested. She had no idea what the Judge would do to him, but she knew that it wouldn't be pleasant and it would end with his death. She wouldn't survive losing him one more time.

Suddenly she heard a knock on the door. She was completely silent. It was the Judge to arrest her. Or M. Khan who came to tell her that Erik had gotten arrested. Her blood pounded in her ears. If she didn't open the door, nothing would happen. At least that's what she told herself.

Until the door opened by itself and she saw Erik's large frame appear. She ran to him, nearly choking on the sobs that had escaped her when she thought him to be gone. Without thinking she pulled his face to hers and kissed him briefly before embracing him tightly and sobbing against him. Erik stood frozen, entirely bemused with the water basin in one hand and a paper bag in the other. 

"Christine, can I...?" He asked, gesturing to the things he was holding. She let him go and watched as he put the basin and bag on the table, then hugged him again. "What's wrong, Christine?" He was concerned and anxiously returned her hug in a protective manner. She sighed, finally relaxing. His velvet voice speaking her name was one of her favourite things in life.

Then she registered that she'd kissed him, the chilled feeling on her lips still lingering. Embarrassment hit her as she remembered what he'd told her about his desire for her touch. A sudden shiver went through her as she realised that she felt the same way. How she yearned for his touch! She wasn't just trying to save herself and Raoul when she'd kissed him in the catacombs. And she hadn't been caught up in the moment when they had passionately tumbled in the hiding place in M. Khan's house. Her body was longing for Erik and her mind followed, no matter how much she knew that it was wrong.

This whole situation was wrong. He was a murderer, a terrorist and yet she was hiding from the gendarmes with him. But she didn't have a choice. It hadn't been an option to let the Judge assault her and stopping him had led her to this moment. It had been the right thing to do without a doubt. Did Erik's murders have the same reasoning? He held a great amount of guilt, a lot of it because of his actions towards her, but what else promoted this guilt? Whatever it was, it was enough to make him want to get arrested, possibly punished and hanged. 

Se couldn't let him do that. She couldn't let him die and the sudden recognition of why she couldn't staggered her, yet explained everything.

She loved him deeply. 

Chapter Text

Erik was worried about Christine. She'd finally seemed to come out of her shock when he went downstairs, but when he returned, she was frenzied. She clutched his head and pulled him down to her until her lips brushed over his. It was only a second before she pulled away and wrapped her arms firmly around his waist.

She had kissed him! Briefly, yet enough to start a fire in his blood and a frantic thumbing in his chest. He wanted to chastise her for leading him on, but he couldn't gather his wits.

Whatever had happened to her, it was serious. He wanted to comfort her, but instead he stood uncomfortably with the water basin in one hand and in the other he held the bag with a bottle of milk and a few of the croissants he'd discovered in the church's kitchen. 

"Christine, can I...?" She reluctantly let him go, but only until he'd put the things on the table. This time he returned her hug, still dazed by her kiss and her sudden distress. "What's wrong, my dear?" He kept his voice soft, though he almost wanted to shake it out of her. He hated when she cried and especially when he had caused it. He wasn't sure if it was because of him this time, but it wouldn't surprise him. She was in this mess in the first place because of him and his conscience cursed him for allowing such a thing to happen.

He wanted to make it right, but both Madame Giry, Nadir and even Christine had been certain that this Judge Gameau would come after Christine, even if Erik gave himself up. So instead he had to secure her freedom while bearing the guilt of being responsible for making her leave her home and her friends, for ruining her engagement to the boy, being arrested and nearly being raped. The list of the pain he'd caused her was endless.

So he'd help her out of this situation and find her a safe place to live. Until then he would have to suffer through the agony of being close and intimate with her without giving into his desires. She needed the comfort and was used to friendly touches. It wasn't her fault that he reacted with lust and love instead of perceiving it as normal human behavior.

It was several minutes before she answered and he'd almost forgotten his own question. "I thought you had left me." She mewled softly against him. She was clearly overwhelmed and exhausted after being up all night and then fleeing Nadir's house.

He pulled enough back from her embrace to look down at her tear-stricken face, her eyes wide and uncertain. He pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She was so beautiful and he felt the urge to tell her. "I..." His words faltered. She didn't need his affections, only his protection. "I brought you some pastries and milk. You need something to eat and then rest." She smiled up at him in response, but it was tinged with sadness. He felt himself sway a bit and a dizzying feeling in his head when she pulled completely away from him.

When she sat down at the table, he went to the bed and sat down, moving away her discarded clothes and finally learning the reason for her distress. On the bed under her dirty gown was the carpet bag with clothes and on top the pouch with money. She'd literally thought that he would leave her here without a word, leading her to believe that he would come back shortly after. Of course it wasn't so strange that she would think that after he had tried to get her to escape alone only a few hours ago, but he would never walk out the door with a promise of returning.

At least he couldn't imagine that he would. The more he thought about it, the less sure he became. How would she trust him enough to help her out of the city when he wasn't even sure which course of action he would take? He was always good at reasoning and weighing his options carefully, except when he had to act spontaneously around her. Then it often ended in rash and, frankly, bad decisions. 

It had never been an issue before, it had actually been an asset that he'd been able to act quickly, but that had somehow seemed to change when he met Christine. In all likelihood because he acted with his heart rather than with his brain.

The instinct to avoid capture and punishment that he'd had all his life was now overshadowed by the need to protect her, to have her near. He just had to remember that she wanted him out of this alive too.

But why? He found it impossible understand. It must be his manipulation and influence in all those years. It meant that he couldn't trust her feelings, though she would likely find them real enough, perhaps even to the point of putting herself in danger. It just proved that his decision to part ways with her when she was safe was the only solution for their situation.

Until then the best course of action was to stay away from her these next few days as much as possible.

Resolved to leave with an excuse about finding something to read, he rose from the bed. He must've moved too fast because he felt his knees buckle and the world began to blacken before his eyes. He heard Christine call his name and her heavenly hands reaching for him before he hit the cold, stone floor.

 

***

When Erik opened his eyes again he was met with the most magnificent sight: Christine was looking down on him with a tender smile. He felt her soft hands cradling his head and he realised that he was in her lap. A few drops of water hit his face, dripping from Christine's warm eyes. 

"Sorry!" She chuckled hoarsely and wiped the tears away from his face, then her own. "I'm just glad that you're alright. You suddenly fell and I barely managed to stop your head from hitting the floor." He knew that he should care about fainting and putting her in a difficult position - again - but he was struck by the fondness in her mesmerising eyes and he couldn't look away. He thought that he'd seen her eyes in every light possible, even in sunlight now, but in the dim light from the candles and encased by her hair as curtains around them, her eyes were the darkest blue he'd ever seen, like the deep Indian ocean.

"Erik, can you say something?" 

"Yes. I.. I don't know what happened. I must've risen too fast. It's better now, I think." He reluctantly lifted himself from her lap and sat back against the bed. His head was spinning and Christine narrowed her eyes, clearly aware of his ill state. She got up from her place on the floor and held out her hand.

"Let me help you to the bed. We need to check your wound." When he didn't react, she reached down to take his hand and started to pull. Though he didn't want to, he instinctively let her help him to his feet and followed her gesture to sit on the bed. He shrugged off his jacket and began unbuttoning his waistcoat while she moved the carpet bag with her things off the bed and put the water basin on the chair which she pulled up next to the bed.

"There's gauze in the first-aid kit in the other bag, but I'm afraid there's no towels." He muttered, slightly uncomfortable with not being able to take care of it himself. He couldn't see how bad it was nor reach the wound properly, so he had to accept her assistance.

She found the first-aid kit in the bag with his things where she found gauze and scissors. Then she took him by surprise as she pulled out a skirt from her bag and cut it until she had several pieces of fabric that would do well as towels. She must've seen the astonished look on his face as she shrugged and said "I don't need that many skirts." 

He'd removed his waistcoat, but still had his shirt on. He really hadn't thought about how intimate this was before she sat down behind him and hesitated to pull up his shirt to see the wound. He felt her hands hover around the place where his shirt was tucked into his trousers and to make it easier for her, he untucked the shirt and tried to lift it, but stopped when the skin around the wound ached and stretched with the movement.

"I'll just... you know, look at it." She mumbled before taking a deep breath and finally grabbingå a hold of the shirt, briefly touching his bare back. He fought to keep still. He was stuck in a place between wanting to flee her touch and lean into it. The thoughts were halted by her gasp as she removed the gauze from the wound. A foul stench spread in the small room which was a very bad sign.

"Erik, I need you to... take off this shirt and lie down. This isn't normal." She sounded distraught. He struggled with the shirt as he felt the wound stretch and she moved to help him. He hurried to lie down on his stomach. Her presence made him feel very exposed in a way he hadn't with doctor Andersen or Madame Giry who redressed his wound yesterday and he was well aware that it was his feelings getting in the way again.

"I'm going to clean it now. It might sting." She said softly as he heard water dripping from the cloth that was being lifted from the water basin. A cold sensation spread across his lower back as the cloth touched him, but he couldn't feel any pain or stinging. He actually couldn't feel anything. 

"Christine, can you try and touch the stitching?" 

She stopped moving the cloth. "Why?" 

"I think it's numb." 

"Oh." She replied and began moving her hand again across his skin. "Do you feel that?" He shook his head. She touched again and he felt a straining prickling. 

"I feel that." 

"It's the skin around the wound. It seems it's only the wound that's numb, but it's not surprising the way it looks." She showed him the now used water from the basin. It was orange with blood and pus. 

"There's a mixture to apply to the area in the first-aid kit. Brown bottle. It's from doctor Andersen." He heard her find the bottle and removing the cork before cloth touched his skin again. It was curious to feel the cloth move across his back except for the place he'd gone numb. "I'm sorry you have to do this, Christine. Words can't describe how much I despise the position I've put you in."

She hummed slightly before discarding the cloth on the floor along with the ones with blood and pus. "I don't blame you, Erik." He was about to say something when her hand glided over the rest of his back, more precisely over the deep scars on his upper back. The panic in him, as he realised that she was seeing the marks on his skin and touching them, was settled by the tenderness of her soft fingers. A shiver ran through him and goosebumps covered his skin. He closed his eyes to struggle against the contrasting impulses her touch roused in him.

"What happened?" She whispered, running a finger over a particular deep scar. 

"A whip." He heard her withhold a gasp.

"How old were you?" It was agony to hear the sympathy in her voice. It didn't sound like pity as he'd been afraid of.

"Between 6 to 12 years old, I think. I was there for many years and I lost count." She didn't say anything more, but started to dab his wound lightly with a dry cloth and then she applied the gauze.

"You can sit up now. And I want you to drink and eat something now." He sat up and saw her move a croissant and the bottle of milk onto the chair by the bed before picking up the water basin and dirty cloths. "Where is the bathroom?"

"Please, let me, Christine." She shook her head at him with a firm look. He sighed in acceptance. "Two floors down, a small door to the left of the stairs." She nodded and left him to eat like she'd told him to. It was probably best not to argue with her, but he had to force it down. 

Some time went by before she came back. He wasn't worried about her getting caught since almost no one came into the spire, but he hoped that she didn't get lost.

When she finally stepped through the door, she stopped in the opening, looking at him in a strange way. He looked down at himself and noticed that he still didn't have a shirt on. He was no fool. His body wasn't exactly pleasant to look at. He was too thin which made his clavicle and ribs protude. His entire torso was covered in scars from various lacerations he'd suffered in the 40 something years he'd lived. 

Her face blushed bright red as she took in the ghastly sight and he hurried to struggle into his shirt again. "I apologise." He mumbled which seemed to break her out of her embarrassment. 

"I..." She paused for a moment before thinking over her words. "You should rest, Erik. I think we can agree that you have to heal properly now, so this won't happen when we're leaving the city."

He agreed reluctantly. "But you haven't slept all night, Christine. Please, take the bed. I'll rest on the floor." He moved to stand up, but staggered a bit as his vision swan. She ran to him and tugged him down on the bed again.

"I'll take the floor." 

"No, I can not allow that." His head was swimming, but he couldn't agree to it. He'd rather sleep on the table than let her sleep on the floor which he told her.

She mused for a moment. "I guess there's room for us both on the bed. If you don't mind..." He wasn't happy about her suggestion and he was sure that the expression on his face made her aware of this. It was not decent. His mind scoffed at his thoughts. Nothing they'd been doing was anywhere near decent. But the truth was that he didn't trust himself with her so close. Why would she even suggest this? He'd told her how he reacted to her vicinity.

However he felt his body and will weaken as his mind became unfocused, so he barely noticed when she nudged him down on the bed nor when she moved to lie down beside him. Not even when she pulled the blanket over them and she sighed softly. Instead he actually turned to her since he couldn't sleep on his back anyway and stared into her warm eyes.

He lifted a hand to move a curl from her face and lightly stroke her cheek before his heavy eyelids fell closed.

Chapter Text

When Christine slowly woke up, she wondered for a moment where she was, but it quickly came back to her. She should've felt distraught, but all she could think about was the man behind her. She wasn't sure what she had been expecting when she turned around, but it wasn't the sight that met her.

The big scary Phantom was lying on his stomach, his mask and wig had fallen off and he was drooling into the pillow. A small laugh escaped her. How calm and innocent he looked. Even with his deformed side turned to her, the other cheek buried in the pillow, he didn't look frightening or revolting. She wondered how his mother could've been repulsed by a newborn with such a face. 

She noticed his eyelashes for the first time. Of course he had eyelashes, but she never really noticed them before. His eyes were so intense that everything around them seemed unneccesary to look at. His eyelashes were long, thin and a light brown like his hair.

She touched his hair to feel its softness and traced it to the roots at his scalp, where she felt some weird scaly material on the surface. A odd impulse made her want to pick at it, but maybe it was something he put on his scalp to grow more hair. She knew that several men at the Opera had tried using ointments when they had started to lose their hair.

It was strange to think how obsessed Erik was with appearance. It did make sense in a way that he wanted to control his appearance as much as he could, but he had so much hatred of himself that he couldn't understand how his looks didn't bother others.

She longed to touch the distorted flesh, but she knew that he would wake up and react with anger. It was surprising that he hadn't woken up yet. She didn't know what time it was, only that he usually was a light sleeper and normally didn't sleep so soundly. She touched his forehead carefully to check if he had a fever, but he didn't feel too warm. His body probably just needed the rest, especially with the ghastly wound on his back. 

She slid out of the bed and searched his tailcoat to find his watch. Almost 4 o'clock. Based on the fact that they must've fallen asleep around late morning, she guessed that it was in the afternoon, but she couldn't be sure without leaving the room. She was hungry and they'd eaten all the croissants.

Erik was sleeping so peacefully that she couldn't bear to wake him. Instead she decided to venture out of the room and go downstairs. The first thing she did was go to the small bathroom to freshen up before she continued descending the stairs. She counted the stairs that their room must be around the 6th floor, a dizzying thought and she wondered if she could see all of Paris if it was possible to see anything out of the small windows of the spire. 

She finally reached the last floor. She didn't dare go through the small door that led into the main room of the cathedral, but instead chose a second door to the right. It wasn't locked and she pulled the handle down carefully as she opened it slightly and peeked inside. It was a small kitchen and thankfully empty. There was fruit in a bowl on a little dining table to the right with two chairs and she noticed bread on the kitchen table to the left. A large cabinet at the far end of the room was probably a small pantry.

She realised how hungry she really was, but hesitated. She couldn't steal this food, especially not from a church! It was probably what Erik had done when he'd brought them pastries and milk which she now felt ashamed about accepting from him. It was one thing that she was condemned by the law, but she wouldn't be condemned by God. 

She was proud of having kept her sense of morals after living so long in the Opera where the temptation of sin often overpowered virtue. She and Meg were the only women of age who were still maidens. But as she stood in that kitchen, hungry and hiding from the law, she cursed her strong morals.

She was so caught up in her thoughts that it was too late when she heard the door behind her open. In a desperate attempt to cover, she pressed herself against the wall behind the open door with a hope that the person entering wouldn't close the door and find her. But it was too much to hope for and instead she came face to face with a sacristan. He was older, not very tall, but lean, with dark blonde short hair and kind, brown eyes. He seemed confused for a moment before smiling kindly.

"Oh, you must be the young woman, Erik is hiding." Christine didn't react, but stood frozen against the wall. How did he know? Would he throw her out or call the gendarmes? Surely he couldn't be accepting of their situation. "Do not worry," he continued when he must've noticed her fear. "I offered Erik sanctuary since I first met him. I knew he would need it some day and I'm glad that he chose this place to hide you. You will be safe here."

Christine relaxed a little. The sacristan seemed sincere. "You know Erik?" The man nodded. "And you approve of us hiding here from the law?"

"I do because Erik assures me that your intentions are good. He told me that his actions and his failure to protect led you to fend for your own when met with unkind people. I trust Erik's word and now that I've met you, I can see the purity in your eyes." He gestured for her to take a seat at the small table and she accepted hesitantly, eyeing the man. Judge Hugo had seemed kind too at first, then he'd turned into a beast. 

"How do you know Erik?" She tried to act nonchalant, but she was dying to know. Erik didn't seem too fond of religion which was ironic since he'd taken the role of her Angel for so long.

"He had hidden in the stables of the church one night. It must've been 10 years ago or so. Some men from Persia were looking for him and I found him hiding with the horses when I came out to feed them. I offered him sanctuary, but he refused, saying that God wouldn't want him here. I disagrees, but let him be. Instead I visited him each day and brought him food and company. I don't think he appreciated any of it very much because he didn't feel like he deserved it, but I did it anyway. I could see that he hadn't felt much kindness in his life."

Christine nodded. It was surely clear to most. When she'd first met him, he'd seemed so confident and composed until she had unmasked him. Hiding in a stables from men who were there to kill them... It would've been difficult to hide the hardship of his life, even for Erik.

"One day after perhaps a week in the stables, he was gone and I didn't expect him to see him again. But then he showed up a month later with plans to restore the building inside. You see, many years back when the book The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was published - you've read it?" Christine nodded. "Well, it sparked an interest in this old building and it was restored completely. That is the places the public might go. The main room and the outside were made as new, but the backrooms, like this kitchen, or the living quarters for employees such as myself were still in decay. I'd mentioned this to Erik when I talked to him in the stables and he'd decided to better it. Though he didn't say it, he wanted to repay my kindness."

Christine wasn't sure if she was surprised by this. Erik didn't want to owe anyone anything, so it made sense. But to repair so much seemed like more than retribution for the sacristan's help.

"I told him that he would always find sanctuary here, should he need it. I think he appreciated the opportunity to use the organ here. I managed to pry out of him that he owned an organ himself, though not a large one. He has always been welcome here, but I hadn't seen him for years until I found him helping himself to our food this morning and informed me that he had brought a woman who needed to hide."

"And you didn't question it?" Christine found it hard to believe.

"Erik told me enough and I trust his word like I told you before." She didn't dare say anything more. The man mustn't know about the happenings at the Opera house since he was so calm about Erik. One would have to be stupid to not connect the masked Opera Ghost to the masked man who'd been coming here. The sacristan somehow read her mind. "I know that Erik is the infamous Phantom of the Opera Populaire. Like I know that you are Christine Daaé who he was supposed to have kidnapped and who now is wanted for conspiring to murder and attacking a judge." 

The man's easy manner was unbelievable and now Christine seriously questioned his motives. Even a man of the church couldn't be this forgiving. She wanted to get out of this room, tell Erik that they had to flee, but she wouldn't get to him before the sacristan could catch her. So she sat perfectly still without saying a word. 

"I always knew there was more to the story. I was especially relieved that Erik wasn't dead as the newspapers claimed. It proves that you can't trust everything you read." The man rose from his chair and walked over to the kitchen table. "I'm sure you're hungry. Let me prepare something for you and Erik." He turned around for a moment and looked into her eyes. "I'm Tomas by the way. I imagine Erik is resting. He looked pale when he was down here."

Christine still sat nervously in her chair while Tomas cut out several pieces of bread, then found cheese and butter in the pantry. Christine barely noticed his actions. She was awaiting the door to burst open and the Judge walking in and grabbing her.

Tomas brought a plate to her and a glass of milk. "Help yourself to some fruit, please. We don't have much, but we will share it with you."

"Thank you." She said meekly. "I don't deserve this, you know. God cannot be very pleased with me. I've always striven to do right by the law and by God, but I've found myself in a position where I've had to break the law." Christine felt tears in her eyes, but she was so tired of crying. She's cried so much the last year. 

"God doesn't love you less because you don't follow the laws of man. It's your intentions that needs to be pure. I have seen thieves who steals to eat, and young women who have given into desire because of their strong love for a man. I've seen countless people repent their unlawful actions even when they were only protecting themselves from the cruel world. None of these things are approved by society nor by the church, but God will forgive it all if the intentions were pure."

Christine thought about the sacristan's wise words. It was as if he knew more about her that he had indicated and it made her uncomfortable. But she found him sincere and his words did give her solace. 

"Mlle Daaé, don't fear God because of your actions. He knows the circumstances that have led you to that path. Perhaps He was the one who put you there. Your soul is pure and you're filled with compassion and love. You're a strong spirit and God would want you to follow your instincts."

"Thank you for your kindness, Tomas. I wish I could repay you somehow."

"You don't have to. Be true to yourself as God wishes and never compromise your nature. Personally I hope that you continue to show Erik the compassion he has lacked since childhood, but not more than you have room to give. Erik is a complicated soul and you alone cannot help him."

Tomas' thoughtful eyes seemed to implore her and she understood. Erik's issues were plenty and she couldn't save him. Only he could do that. She wanted to be the one to heal him, but she wouldn't be able to do that alone. But now that she'd realised what her feelings for him were, she knew that she would do her best to make sure that he would get help. Even if he doesn't want to be near her anymore after this. 

She told Tomas about how they had ended here, though starting after she resurfaced from the catacombs with Raoul almost two weeks ago. She wouldn't share what had happened before. He listened attentively and added thoughtful comments where he explained how her actions could be perceived in the eyes of the Lord. He asked further questions to clarify her intentions and explained his thoughts in such a way that it didn't feel like he was just saying what she wanted to hear. She appreciated it immensely because she had felt so much doubt about her actions, but to hear someone, who didn't know her, understand and accept her actions meant a lot. Of course he wasn't a priest and couldn't offer forgiveness, but his words offered her peace. 

After finishing her meal, Tomas helped her gather supplies to keep Erik's wound clean. He showed her the small library and the shelter for unfortunate in the back of the church. Since it was spring, there was rarely anyone. They mostly stayed in the winter, he told her. The church also had spare clothing that had been donated by the wealthy if she needed it. He assured her that it was clean, though it had been used. She told him that she'd brought some herself, not mentioning that it was actually Erik. 

Tomas showed her where his quarters were. He was the only one living in the church which he explained that he had for many years. The bishop was rarely there and the other employees had homes of their own, so Tomas tended to the church when no one else was there. 

He asked her if she would like a room to herself, but when she replied nervously but honestly that she was afraid to be too far away from Erik after this morning and that he respected her privacy, Tomas just smiled in understanding.

"Is it wrong for a woman to sleep in a bed with a man outside of marriage?" She asked him. Tomas could probably arrange for a mattress or at least blankets to make a bed on the floor, but she didn't want either of them to lie there and she hadn't minded sharing a bed with Erik. 

"Let me ask you this - Can I call you Christine?" He asked politely and she nodded. She was calling him Tomas after all and he had given her no indication of his last name. "Let me ask you this, Christine: If you didn't think about the morals of church and society, would you in your heart find it wrong?" 

"No. It wasn't uncommon to sleep with others in Sweden in the cold winters. Things were very different there." She'd even spent nights in strangers' beds with her father, whole families holed up together with them to stay warm. 

"I can imagine." Tomas grinned and suddenly looked almost young. She'd estimated that he was around the age of 50, but suddenly he looked much younger. "Trust your instincts, Christine, like I said. You're in a difficult position and it's natural to find yourself in situations where you have to do things you wouldn't do otherwise. But I can tell that you are an intelligent and reflective woman who strives to do right. Trust that."

Christine thanked Tomas profoundly before going back up stairs of the spire with the supplies for Erik, along with a few books to read. Tomas had assured her that it was safe to come down outside of the daily Mass, but she wasn't sure if she dared to. She wasn't as good at avoiding people as Erik and a lot of people would be able to recognise her from the papers. 

***

When she returned to their room, she was surprised to find Erik still sleeping, but at the same time she was glad. He needed the rest. She put the supplies on the table with the books and then wondered what to do. She was tired, but the bells of the cathedral told her that it was only 8 o'clock.

She looked through the supplies Tomas had given her. Among them was the honey they'd taken in their tea. Honey was good for healing wounds, so she'd asked if she could bring it with her and Tomas was kind enough to let her. She decided that she had to check Erik's wound anyway, so she carefully lifted his shirt and removed the gauze. Luckily it didn't look any worse. There was only a little pus and no blood this time. She washed it gently with a wet cloth, then dried it and applied the honey. Erik whimpered in his sleep, but didn't move. The whole room started to smell like honey instead of the bad odor from Erik's wound that still hung in the air.

She decided to leave the wound uncovered to let it air for a while. She placed his mask and wig on the table, then sat down with a book. The church didn't have the most exciting choices, so she just picked a few she didn't know. 

After 10 o'clock she finally allowed herself to go to bed, so she checked on Erik's wound and bandaged it before getting ready for bed. She didn't want to sleep in her dress again, especially not with the constricting corset, but she didn't want to bother with going all the way down to the bathroom when she could avoid it. A wicked thought struck her: She could just change to her nightgown in here. Erik was asleep anyway and wouldn't know the difference. She decided that she would do it, but stood at the foot of the bed, so he wouldn't see her right away if he woke up.

Suddenly it was different to lie down to sleep beside him. She was practically wearing nothing with only her nightdress, chemise, drawers and stockings and he was so close. But he was warm and nuzzled against her when she settled in beside him and suddenly she couldn't imagine a place she'd rather be. She hadn't slept in the same bed with anyone since her father died and it had left her nights empty, so she'd felt alone and exposed. Her Angel of Music saved her from that. And now where she was on the run, he helped her again.

Her heart pounded in her chest as the feelings in her fluttered around. She wanted to hug him and kiss him and never let him go. She wanted him to do what he'd done in the hiding place that made her so... pleasant, yet yearning. But she wasn't sure it was a good idea for so many reasons. He was a murderer and pretty much the reason she was in this mess. She didn't blame him for that, but it was the truth. Then there was the fact that he'd manipulated and kidnapped her, forcing her to make a decision, then deciding for her. However it was true when she'd told him that he wasn't that deranged man anymore.

What held her back was the fact that he had decided that they would part when all this was over. And she didn't know how to deal with that loss. 

Chapter Text

Erik woke up as the last candle was burning low. Christine was lying turned to him on her side, her head on her hands and her lips so close to his own that it pained him. She smelled like honey and he ached; to breathe her in, to touch her, to kiss her. Whatever fate threw at him, he could handle, but the torment of being so close to her, yet not have her was unbearable. 

She didn't do it on purpose, he knew, she just wanted them both to have a bed. But the proximity was killing him. It wasn't his heart's sorrow killing him like when she'd accepted the Vicomte's courtship. Instead it felt like a vicious burning in his veins and it was only a matter of time before he would consumed by the flames and end as ashes.

He carefully slid out of bed, wincing as his shirt brushed over the gauze on his wound. But he could actually feel the wound which surely was better than the numbness. Sleeping had probably been good for him after all, along with Christine cleaning the area. It was kind of her to do. He knew that she felt guilty because her fiancee had stabbed him, but he didn't blame her. He certainly didn't blame the Vicomte either since he would have done the same, were the roles reversed.

Erik noticed that Christine had brought several things into the room: A milk bottle with water, some fruit and bread, more gauze and towels, along with a few books. She'd been downstairs, but he doubted that she would take all this without permission. So she had either replaced these things with some of the money he'd left in her carpet bag or she had met Tomas. The latter seemed most likely since the man was curious to see the woman Erik had brought here to hide. He had probably been lurking around.

Erik shrugged on his tailcoat, not bothering with the waistcoat. Then he noticed his mask and wig on the table and winced. Christine being exposed to his face was an unpleasant thought. It was also very intimate to have slept beside her without a mask which was practically like being naked in front of her for him. The thought heated his blood and with one last glance at the sleeping beauty, he slipped out of the room.

 

***

It was in the middle of the night and Erik was grateful for it. His fingers had itched for several days and since arriving at the cathedral yesterday morning, he'd fought the urge to go straight there. But now he had the chance.

The instant he reached the second floor, he passed through to the library and silently slid through the quarters where Tomas slept. He wouldn't want to wake the man now. He would without a doubt be questioned.

He felt its pull as he got closer and when he opened the door, he went directly for the bench. The organ in Notre-Dame was magnificent, a true masterpiece. Viollet-le-Duc had done a wonderful job of restoring it with all existing material reused as much as possible. The large main organ case was brought forward in order to gain depth and to layout windchests on separate floors and all voices of the instrument could produce a tutti where every sound could blend with each other, be powerful and fill the large church. By choosing the use of separate wind and different pressures between tonal divisions and between the bass and treble in the same division, an ascending harmony was made possible. He had also installed pneumatic lever machines in order to alleviate the mechanical action.

The result was as close to perfect as Erik had ever seen. If he was to change anything it would be replacing the clarinette and the dulciane from the Récit with an 8' Diapason, a 4' Octave and most importantly a fourniture IV. Of course the harmonic lower notes from the bombarde and trompette in the Récit division should be replaced with full-length pipes too if he wanted to reach the best potential of the sounds produced. 

But he'd promised Tomas to leave the organ be as it was to avoid suspicion and it was fine. Compared to his modified, but small organ in Erik's own house, this was definitely a step up. He hadn't played since the night of Don Juan, but luckily he had been in a coma most of the time. Otherwise he wasn't sure he could've handled it. Nadir didn't have a single instrument in his house which always frustrated Erik, but he knew that Nadir didn't have a musical bone in his body, so it would probably be a waste to keep an instrument near the old man anyway.

His fingers found a melody on their own like they usually did. It was a hymn that he'd sung for Christine in the chapel many times, very fitting for this setting. It quickly changed into another hymn, then another. Though he wasn't religious, having been abandoned by God before birth, he'd always enjoyed the beautiful hymns and was often inspired by them in his work. Therefore it was natural when his fingers began finding a new path from variaty of hymns he'd been playing.

He felt the music rise from the tall pipes, music that seemed to tell a story of a single kiss that turned into more and a wish that became a craving. The melody wove and danced in spirit, but grew tangled and desperate, his aching given a voice. Then the sounds from the organ reshaped themselves with his hands into something darker, a tale of a monster obsessed with a song bird. He caged it until it sung no more and he realised that he had to set it free. But he made the mistake of setting it free in the dark forest filled with more monsters.

"I liked the other one better." He turned his head slightly to see Christine next to him. She was in a fragile blue dress which he realised was a daydress. It was without a bustle and he could clearly see her curves, despite the fact that it covered a lot of her skin. Though it was plainer than her usual gowns, it somehow looked more intimate. It also highlighted her blue orbs that looked at him with interest.

His fingers kept playing, but changing to a softer melody. He took notice of the first rays of sun that had begun to flood through the windows of the cathedral. He had played longer than expected. 

"Can I?" She gestured to the space on the bench beside him and he moved a little to indicate that she could sit. 

His music had ventured into known territory again with a hymn about the rising sun and Christine leaned her head on his shoulder, humming along with the melody.

The soft sound struck him in his gut like the very first time he'd heard her so long ago. How he longed to hear her voice singing like only she could! He hadn't heard it since the night he was left to die in the catacombs, the echo of her still clear in his mind. Of course he'd heard her hold a high pitch when she had escaped from the jailhouse, but it was nothing compared to the melody that could only be completed with her voice.

It was as if he suddenly felt the dangling syringe with morphine hanging in front of him in the middle of a withdrawal. She was right next to him and he could have none of her. But her voice! If he could only hear it... His fingers faltered a little and she lifted her head to look at him. For the first time since he sat down, his fingers paused on the keys. They sat without looking at each other for a short time before Christine broke the silence.

"I haven't practiced since... the Opera. I'm probably rusty."

"We can practice if you would like it." He mumbled carefully. She wouldn't be persuaded if he pressured her, no matter how much he wanted to.

"I don't feel like it right now." She sounded hesitant. How easy it would be to use his voice to coax her to do it, his demanding 'Angel' voice. With a single word he could make her song fill the cathedral and how glorious it would sound with the acoustics in there. She would shine brighter than the sun and bathe him in her light.

But he wouldn't do it to her. He had set her free and even if they were forced to be by each other's side again, she was still free of his command.

So he fought against the yearning for her song, for her, and began to play again. He wasn't aware of what he was playing until Christine's hand landed on his and squeezed, stopping his movement over the keyboards. 

"Please, not that one." He looked down at their hands and wondered what he'd played. Something she didn't want to be reminded of. He lifted his gaze and found her looking at him with a meaningful gaze. "Erik." She whispered and reached for his uncovered cheek.

Footsteps sounded on the stone floor below them and she moved her hand back and turned around to look over the edge to find the source. "We're opening for Mass soon." Tomas' voice was clear and echoed in the large room. "It's probably best that you're not here."

Erik didn't hesitate, wishing to get away from the potent situation. He rose from the bench, aching in his legs and his lower back after sitting still most of the night. He left in long strides. Christine was behind him, but he didn't walk slower to let her catch up. Instead he took two steps up the stairs, easy for his long legs while she must've struggled. But it was only seconds after he entered their room that she closed the door behind them.

"Are you running from me?" She stood right behind him, but he didn't turn around. He was rummaging through his bag, not looking for anything in particular, just avoiding her imploring eyes.

"Not more than usually." He mumbled as a non-response. It wouldn't accomplish anything to discuss with her now, but he was leading himself into it anyway.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means that even though we're currently stuck in this predicament, my attitude to being in your vicinity hasn't changed. It's not good for either of us. So I think it's better if we spend as much time apart as possible." He still hadn't turned to face her, but apparently she was satisfied with rounding the table to catch his eyes. 

"And what if I want to be near you?"

He laughed without mirth. "Then that attests to the efficiency of my manipulation of you."

He barely noticed her hand before the stinging from her palm registered on his uncovered cheek. He blinked several times, completely confounded, before he once more focused on the woman in front of him. Her eyes were colder than he'd ever seen them except in the catacombs when he had given her the choice between staying with him or killing the boy. The look in those blue eyes hurt more than a slap ever could. Even more than the whip or the knife in his back.

He tried to fight against the stagger in his legs by sitting calmly down on the chair by the bed. "I apologise." He whispered. "I shouldn't have said that."

"But you meant it."

He didn't answer since it was a statement and honestly he would rather not discuss this with her. He could lie to her, but he tried his best to avoid exactly that for the time being. He wondered briefly if it was worth getting caught by the gendarmes to evade this conversation, but surely she'd find a way to get the answers out of him anyway. Now that she didn't seem frightened of him anymore, she was actually quite intimidating at times.

However he hadn't expected her to just grab a book from the table, walk past him to sit down on the bed and begin reading without another word. It bewildered him and he was nervous to do anything now. This was the kind of thing he could see himself doing, but not her. What was he supposed to do now? Did she want him to talk to her or was it better that he stayed silent?

He shifted in the chair, not sure what to do now. His fingers still itched for the organ he could hear playing downstairs, sounding atrocious compared to the majestic sounds he'd coaxed from it. But the tension in the tiny room was worse than the torture of the organ. 

Needing something to do, he fuddled with the pockets in his tailcoat to find his watch or something else to occupy him. He found a box of matches, but Christine had already lit new candles in there earlier. Then he came upon a map in an inner pocket of his tailcoat, the one he'd used to map out their escape route for Sunday.

"Do you want to know the plan for Sunday?" He asked her. It was a way of offering an olive branch and avoiding the uncomfortable subject they had talked about before. 

Christine looked up from her book and nodded, sliding closer to the edge of the bed. He pulled the table up to the bed, so she could see as he unfolded his old map of Paris. It was only when he noticed her squinting that he realised the map was covered in his scribbles and was possibly quite impossible to read. Their location was obvious enough because it was surrounded by the Seine and the Opera Populaire was highlighted by red ink as it was his style when he'd spent his time there, but otherwise he might be able to see how Christine would struggle with deciphering this.

"I'll point to the important places." He mumbled and she looked briefly at him and answered with a single nod. He wasn't sure if her silence was disquieting, but he chose to focus on the map for now. It was easier.

"Originally it was the plan to leave the Daroga's house together and meet with the Girys and your Vicomte here at the Colonne de Juillet," he pointed to old site of the Bastille, lifting his eyes to hers long enough to see Christine looking dissatisfied at him. He paused for a moment to let her speak whatever was on her mind, but when she didn't, he decided to ignore the uncomfortable atmosphere and continue.   

"However we'll go there alone with Cesar. We meet the others an hour before dawn where you will travel in the Vicomte's carriage with the Girys until you reach Place de la Nation. Mlle Giry will dress as you while Madame Giry will hide her face like I do. It will look like the Vicomte is sneaking us out of Paris and while the gendarmes are distracted by them, we slip past the barriers. At Vincennes we meet again with the others to take our horses. From there we ride to Meaux where Nadir has an acquaintance who will accommodate us until we know where to go next."

She listened with intent and without interruptions, but he could see her mild irritation while she pondered over several things as he spoke. 

"Where will you be while I travel in the carriage through Paris?" Her voice gave no clue away, but she'd caught on the one thing he didn't want to discuss. He had already been through the dangers with Nadir.

"I'll travel by the sewer." 

"Then surely I should too. There's too big a risk of being caught in Raoul's carriage, especially if we stop at Place de la Nation." He heard the anger in her voice this time, though she tried to hide it. "And it makes no sense to leave the city that way. If we head north to Pantin, the gendarmes will be focused on the railroad as well as Raoul's carriage and we can easily slip through if we cross Canal de l'Ourcq in the park. Perhaps we can even board the train at Bondy." 

Erik looked over the map while barely digesting her ideas, not interested in making changes and especially not in having her down in the sewers. 

"It's unsuitable for a woman to journey through the sewers and unachievable in a gown. We didn't choose Pantin because the boy usually travels this road to his grand summer house where they're heading according to the story they'll tell when they're stopped by the gendarmes. And that you actually think that I can board a train without being noticed is absolutely absurd." He babbled on, but it was obvious that she wasn't giving in and he knew that she was right about all of this. 

"This matter has been discussed and this is the plan we'll follow!" He used his commanding voice to settle the argument and hopefully ease her mind, but he was ashamed when he saw how it worked. She wasn't even considering arguing anymore, looking away in fear or anger. He wasn't sure which.

The silence filled the small space. He felt suffocated and took off his tailcoat and drank the bottle of lukewarm water. There was no room for pacing in here! 

All of a sudden Christine rose from her seat on the bed and walked over to stand directly in front of him. The top of her head only reached his upper chest, but she managed to command the room with her attitude. "Are your rage about my comments to the plan or is it really about my reluctance to sing?" 

He hadn't expected that she would broach that subject. Truly, he did want to hear her voice and had felt on edge since she had refused to sing, but it wasn't why he had snapped at her. And yet he doubted if that was true. 

"You feel that my interest in being near you is because you have somehow groomed me. Well, I feel that your interest is only in my voice." He was about to protest, but she continued. "You expect me to be the timid little bird who listens to you and follow your instructions, whose only purpose is to sing the songs you choose for me. You claim to admire my strength and tenacity until it's directed towards you. But I choose my own songs now and while I wish for your guidance and support, I also wish to be heard."

Her request was very reasonable. He remembered hating that the Vicomte hadn't listened to her ideas and objections when Erik had been the enemy. She hadn't wanted to perform Don Juan, but he had ignored her doubts and decided for her. Was Erik doing the same thing? 

While he pondered she lowered her gaze slowly, her eyes wandering over his face, his throat and lower. He became very aware of the small room they were in and how the air seemed to thicken around them. Her hands lifted to height of his chest, only covered by his shirt, but she hesitated and hovered an inch over his skin. When she finally lay her hands on him, he realised that he had been holding his breath and he exhaled loudly. 

She must've felt his heart pounding frantically under his shirt and skin. He was pretty sure he could hear it. Her eyes wandered up to his lips and her tongue brushed out over her bottom lip to wet it. He watched it, completely mesmerised, and it wasn't until his eyes reached hers that he understood that she was anticipating something from him. But what?  

He must've hesitated too long because she backed away from him and let her hands fall from his chest, leaving him cold and bereft. Feeling unsteady he sat down on the room's only chair and put his face in his hands, supporting his elbows on his knees.

After a while with only silence he finally spoke. "I'm sorry, Christine. You're right. Your ideas have value and I may have been too pigheaded to acknowledge it." He felt her appreciated gaze on him. "Your addition to the plan make more strategic sense and would afford us greater ease." 

"Thank you, Erik." He looked up to see her pleased and he wondered if he should hold back saying what was on his mind. But Christine would want him to say it. She wanted to be equal in the decision-making and while none of the others had listened to him concerning this, she might. 

"However I don't believe fleeing is the right choice."

If she was surprised, her calm appearance didn't give it away. She walked over to the small painting of the Opera Populaire and studied it, tracing her fingers over the lines without touching it directly.

"Have I ever told you what I've always wished for, Erik?" She asked him quietly, changing the subject completely. She turned around to hear his answer. 

"To be a Prima Donna, to show the world your voice."

She smiled slyly, then turned back to the painting. "That was my dream, something I never thought I would actually obtain. But I've always wished to have a home. I loved to travel with my father and I would like to go on tours in the future, but travelling feel meaningless if you don't have a place to go home to. So I've always wished for a home."

He understood this better than she could imagine. He had been all over the world, but he'd never felt safe anywhere. Not until he built his home beneath the Opera. Perhaps she felt the same way. Of course they could both find another place to live, to call home, but it wasn't as simple for him.

And for the first time he realised that it might not be simple for her either when she'd lived one half of her life on the road and the other half in the Opera. He hadn't just made himself homeless. He'd made her homeless too and undoubtedly many more. 

"You're right." She spoke again, once again facing him with her back to the painting. "Fleeing is not the right choice. Not for me and certainly not for anyone else. I overheard M. Khan talk to Raoul about previous cases of rape and disappearances that connect to the Judge. If we flee, he won't pay for his crimes. He must be stopped and we can do that."

"Christine, I'm here to help you and make sure that you are safe. It's the least I can do after the way I ruined your life and took the only home you've ever known from you. Even though I don't think it's best to escape, it is the safest option. I can't guarantee your safety if we stay in Paris."

"The best way to help me is to free me from the charges made against me. The surest way for us to stay safe is to stop the man who's after us." She walked over to him and sat down in front of him. She took his hands in hers and without a thought he started to stroke her knuckles with his thumbs. 

"Erik, you've already freed me once. Will you help free me from a bigger threat?" 

How could he deny her this simple request?

Chapter Text

It was impossible to describe how relieved Christine was to hear that Erik didn't think it was the best solution to leave Paris and perhaps France behind. She knew that if she fled, she would never be able to travel freely, never rest easy in one place and her whole life would be weighed down by this situation. 

She also hated the thought of letting Judge Hugo get away with the awful things he had done to others, long before assaulting her. If they could manage to exonerate her and prevent the Judge from hurting any more, it would be ideal. 

Of course Erik would never be exonerated for his crimes. And though she didn't want to see him hanged for what he had done, she still felt that he should repent for his sins. But how could he? How did one repent for murder of all things? Perhaps Tomas as a sacristan would have the answer. 

After Erik agreed to help her, he conjured up a notebook, ink and a pen from his carpet bag to work on a plan. It wasn't surprising to Christine that he'd carry those things with him and she wondered if he had bare music sheets with him too. At least he carried black ink instead of red. He started writing, scribbling fast over the small pages of the notebook and she decided that she wouldn't disturb him further. 

"I'll just go up and see the view from the Spire if that's alright?" She asked him, but he was  engrossed in his thoughts, so she decided to leave him to his planning without an answer, left the room and headed further up the stairs of the Spire. She only ascended two more floors before the stairs stopped. Instead there was a hatch. She turned the handle and pushed against it until it sprung open. She crawled up and realised that she was at the very top of the Spire, out in the open with Paris at her feet.

She leaned over the railing to feel the fresh spring breeze on her face. The Spire was taller than the roof of the Opera Populaire and she could see it in the distance, seeming so small compared to the rest of the city. While her whole world broke down after Don Juan, the city continued to buzz and others' lives didn't change like her own. Her existence was so tiny in the grand scheme of things. While she should've been overwhelmed by the fact, it was comforting to know that the world was so much more than the Opera and even Paris.

However there were plenty of women down there who could end up in a situation similar to hers. Of course she was hopefully the only soprano who had been stalked by the Opera Ghost, but the Judge had hurt others before and would do it again when he was finished with her. Stopping the Judge could save several others. If she was going to do anything meaningful in her life, it would be this.

Suddenly she felt a presence behind her, even though she hadn't heard the hatch being opened, but she didn't have to turn around to know that presence. Her soul reacted to it and in quiet air it was completely attuned to his.

"Erik." She acknowledged without turning to greet him. They were past the need for formalities after all. He came up behind her, almost touching her and she resisted the temptation to lean back against him. A moment later he stood next to her with his hands gripping the railing tightly. She felt his stare on her, but didn't turn to him.

"I hadn't registered that you had gone up here." He said quietly, his voice rough. "You have been gone for hours." Christine had noticed that the sun had moved over the sky, but hadn't realised that she had been up there for hours. She could easily get lost in her thoughts like he could in his papers.

"I told you where I went. It wasn't my intention to anger you." She'd barely said the words before he gripped her upper arms and pulled her against his chest.

"Anger me? I was frightened." He breathed into her hair, his breath a warm gush of wind in their chilled surroundings. She leaned into his chest and heard the steady beat of his heart against her ear. It began to beat faster, possibly because of their closeness at the moment. Though he claimed that her touch was too much for him, she wasn't the only one who initiated it.

She felt complete in his arms. They had so much to deal with, yet she found that many of her thoughts were occupied with him. Since she'd accepted that she loved him, the feeling had only grown stronger and laced itself with her desire for him. She wanted to give into it, but it was wrong. After Raoul had fought to free her from the Phantom, was it then fair that she gave herself to him willingly?

Except he wasn't the Phantom anymore. Though he dressed as the Phantom again, she saw very little of the terrorising Opera Ghost and more of the Angel of Music she'd first known. He had even shown her that he was somewhat able to be among other people and mostly talked to her as an equal, not as a child - something Raoul still had the tendency to do.

What had made Erik lose his sanity in the Opera House, she didn't know, but it seemed like he had left most of his madness and obsession behind.

However the obsession with her voice was still in him. She'd seen it when he'd asked her to sing this morning by the organ. His eyes had glinted dangerously in a way that reminded her that he had been the Phantom only a few weeks ago. When she had said no, the expression on his face had turned dark. He hadn't said a word. Instead he'd played a shadowy melody she had heard the moment he had appeared at the Masquerade dressed as the Red Death.

Could she trust to give her heart to someone who might only be interested in her voice? Perhaps he hadn't killed for her in his madness. No, he'd killed for her voice and the obsession was still there, though tamed for now. She saw him for who he was, behind the Phantom, behind the mask, but did he even see the rest of her?

Abruptly he let her go and backed a few steps. "I apologise. It wasn't my intent to disregard what you said. I have a tendency to get absorbed when I work." Christine knew this was true, but it only enforced the notion that he didn't have any interest in her, other than her singing. She nodded to accept his apology, but didn't say anything further. Instead she turned to the view of Paris again, hoping to be left with her thoughts again.

There were no more words, no more sounds except for the wind, but he hadn't left. Several minutes past where she felt his eyes on her back and she breathed deeply to resist the urge to turn around and look at him. 

"What will you do if you once more are safe to stay in Paris?" He finally spoke, asking a question she hadn't expected from him. But maybe it could help her get some answers from him.

"I'm not sure. But I won't take the stage again." She answered convincingly. He moved closer to her. 

"Why ever not? Are you marrying the Vicomte after all?" His whisper held the tone of a sneer.

"No, my love for Raoul isn't what I thought it was. But I've realised that I don't want to sing anymore. I'll find another place in the world." She heard him suck in a breath, but no release came.

"Don't deny the world your voice, Christine." It was nearly a command and it made her shiver, but she fought against it and turned around to face him.

"The world? Or you?" She dared him to answer, to say what she suspected all along. "I'm nothing but a voice in your eyes, attached to a troublesome woman that you would have no use if you could only harvest my voice! Isn't that the truth?" She felt an impassioned anger and a terrifying fear of loving someone who didn't love all of her. It had been hard enough to deal with Raoul's shallow love, but with Erik...

He gripped her upper arms again for a moment, then let his hands fall to his sides in restraint. "Your voice is the window to your soul, Christine! That is why I fell for it. When you sing, I hear all that is you, feel it inside my very being and I feel warmth inside my dead beating heart. I experience your strength, your love and your compassion, wishing that I could have all of it. I spend every waking moment near you fighting to control the longing to touch you, kiss you, take you and only your song can appease that longing."

His passionate words crept under her skin, making her blood race, and she felt the heat between them expand. She couldn't stop the words in her mind from leaving her mouth: "And if you could have my body, would you then need my voice?" His eyes seemed to flash yellow at her words and he moved closer to her in an almost predatory way, but she stood her ground as he closed in on her.

"Do not say things, you don't mean. My restraint is not endless." He closed his eyes briefly to gather himself. "I want you, Christine, so help me God. But I cannot settle with your body alone. I need more from you and I think you know that it isn't your voice." She did know what he needed from her, but she wasn't sure that she could give her heart to him. There was too many variables, too many ways that her heart could be broken.

They were both breathing hard and though her heart hesitated, her body didn't. Abandon thought and let the dream descend it sang to her, the words burned into her with his voice.

Erik awaited her reaction with a fiery and desperate gaze, his hands fisting at his sides. His body was long, lean and graceful, yet always on edge. She hadn't forgotten how it felt when it was pressed up against her, how his mismatched lips moved over hers or how his hands burned her skin, even through clothing. Even right now without touching her, she felt him everywhere around her. There was no use resisting.

"I want you." 

She didn't hear the words leave her mouth. Immediately his lips was upon hers. The force of his kiss pressed her against a pillar, his lips relentless in their fervor and it took her breath and sense away. His hands were on each side of her on the stone pillar, but all she wanted was to feel them on her.

She returned his kiss with eagerness, drawing the swollen right side of his bottom lip into her mouth and sucking lightly. It made him push his whole body into hers and she welcomed the intoxicating pressure from his hard shape. "Christine," he groaned and kissed down her jaw, heading for her throat.

There was something exhilarating in the way he kissed; maybe it was his deformed lips or his transparent adoration or maybe it was the scorching fire that seemed to always burn between them, but she craved each touch of his lips. She pulled his mouth back to hers and deepened their kiss, a moan escaping her when his tongue danced over her own. 

Finally his hands were on her, feeling her curves through the thin day dress she was wearing. He roamed over her hips, her waist and briefly grazing her breasts which made her long for more. Her breasts felt taut and heavy, aching for his hands. Her own hands moved under his thick tailcoat to feel the strong muscles of his back.

Suddenly he jerked and broke apart their kiss. She'd accidentally touched his wound and when she looked at him, it was clear that the spell was broken. His walls of control were back up. He straightened his clothes without looking at her, then turned away from her.

"I apologise, Christine. It wasn't my intention to act so... crass towards you." His breathing was still hard like her own, though he tried to hide it. "But I meant what I said: Your voice is just a part of all that is you. I only yearn for it because it's the closest I'll ever get to having all of you."

She wanted to scream at him that she was ready to give him all of her, but she knew that he wanted her heart and though she knew that he already had it, he had no idea. He didn't even believe that her attraction to him was real, that it was only caused by his manipulation of her since her childhood. She didn't know how to convince him otherwise. 

But her desire was impossible to control. She had expected that he of all people would seize any opportunity to experience intimicy. He was such a sensual being in his movements, his voice and especially in his music. And he lived so long devoid of human contact. But maybe that was exactly why he needed it to be about more than the pleasures of flesh. He feared that he would finally achieve what he desired, only to have it ripped away from him. She could relate to that because that was the very reason why she didn't tell him that she loved him right now. 

He slid down the opened hatch, presumably to return to their room. She tried to rub the creases out of her dress, but gave up quickly. It wouldn't matter anyway while they were living this way. She cast one last glance over the Parisian rooftops and the now empty Opera Populaire caught her eyes immediately again. It gave her an idea and she hurried down after Erik to tell him.

 

***

It was madness to expose himself to that kind of torture. His body was brimming with lust to the point of overflowing, but he would doom them both if he gave into it. Why she wanted him, he did not know, but it seemed that he had beguiled her in the worst way possible. The more alone they were, the more she reacted to him. It would be easy to exploit this situation, to have with her what he hadn't even dared to ask of a harlot in fear that she might turn him down. But it would never be enough for him. He wanted more than physical pleasure, he wanted love. And no matter how much he'd entrapped her mind, her heart would not be deceived. 

He blamed none of this on her. Though it pained him when she made these advances and suggestions, she never did it out of ill will. She didn't know the reasons for her interest in him nor would she ever understand. So he blamed himself instead and hoped that she one day would forgive him when she realised the truth.

He had gone back to their room, but he knew that it was only a matter of time before she would follow, so he left the door open. 

When he had noticed earlier that she had left, he'd been down to look for her in the cathedral where he had inquired Tomas if he had seen her. He was surprised to learn that Christine had spent much of the afternoon yesterday in Tomas' company. The latter was clearly smitten with her, as much as a eunuch could be, and had been joyous to hear that they were working towards exonerating her.

Erik trusted Tomas, despite his better judgement. The sacristan had never revealed Erik's presence or relation to the cathedral to anyone. Though Tomas seemed to believe that Erik had renovated the inner rooms of the cathedral to repay him for his kindness when Erik was a dire situation, the truth was that Erik wanted to help preserve the beautiful masterpiece that was Notre-Dame. He wasn't religious, but the architecture was magnificent and it should be preserved. Any part he could play in that, he was happy to fill.

Had he known that he would come to reside here for a brief period with a woman like Christine, he would've added another bed to this particular room. Tomas had told him that she had turned down his offer to have a room of her own, saying that she felt safer near Erik. She was anything but safe near him, but she didn't perceive it as such.

Christine entered the room a few minutes after Erik and her demeanor was cheerful in a peculiarly confident manner. Though he usually would find it irritating, he couldn't help but feel warm when she smiled at him. She was life, music, purity and strength in a beautiful package and despite the hardship she'd met in life, she had only grown more breathtaking in her nature.

"Have you made any progress in the plan to expose the Judge for what he is?" Her question threw him a bit because it didn't fit her easy manner right now, but he hid his surprise well and answered her honestly.

"No, not any ideal plan. I know you won't approve of murder and it won't help your case anyway. We will need to make him confess his crimes to someone of great importance who aren't associated with you and thereby can't be deemed as compromised. I'm not sure how that will be possible."

"I see." Christine's smile grew bigger and Erik knew that she had come up with something, probably something outrageous and impossible since he hadn't already thought of it. "I have found a possible solution. It does involve certain risks, but I think it's realistic to accomplish, so hear me out. The Opera Populaire still stands, a daily reminder for the people of Paris of the scandal involving... well, us."

"But it's burned beyond recognition." He commented, ignoring the extra beat of his heart when she said 'us'.

"That's what I thought. Until Raoul admitted that it was actually only the lobby and the auditorium that went up in flames." Erik was surprised by this. Nadir had told him otherwise. Erik had only entered the catacombs by Rue Scribe when he went to retrieve things from his house, so he hadn't actually seen it. However he didn't see where Christine was going with this, so he nodded for her to continue.

"The Judge is obsessed with the story about the Opera Ghost, so why not just give it to him? You offer him a meeting at the Opera House where you will disclose all of your secrets. In turn he has to stop the hunt for me. While you talk, you'll question him about his activities - discreetly which I know you will be able to do. Meanwhile I'll make sure that several impartial officials will be there to hear it all. When this is all over, you will escape while the Judge is arrested."

Erik sat in silence while thinking it over. The plan was actually quite good. He would easily be able to get the Judge to reveal his illegal activities and his assault on Christine. At the same time Erik would have the chance to free her from the charges of being an accomplish to murder by asserting her innocence while others heard it. But there was one thing he wasn't comfortable with.

"This would mean that several people, not counting the Judge, would hear about my secret passageways at the Opera and how I pulled off some of the tricks?" 

"Yes, but it's not like you're planning to return to live under the Opera." She must've seen something in his eyes because her eyes widened and her next words were a whisper. "Are you?" 

To be honest he hadn't really thought about it, but he couldn't deny that it had its appeal. It was the closest thing he had to a home and even if the building above would be demolished or turned into something else, he could still reside below ground. There was a comfort in that. 

"It isn't my intention, but I admit that it would be easier. I've lived there so long and the very idea of uprooting myself is exhausting. I may be a hunted man again, now the Judge knows I'm alive, but it would be difficult for anyone to venture down there without a knowledge of the passageways." He wasn't sure what else to say, so he said nothing more. Christine walked over to where he was seated and sat down on her knees in front of his legs, looking up at him with her doe eyes.

"I beg of you, Erik. Don't return to the catacombs. It steals your sanity and you deserve so much more." He laughed at her words and rose from the chair, walking away from her. The innocent and trusting look in her eyes was too good for him.

"You know nothing of what I deserve! You think Buquet and Piangi are the only murders I've committed? Hundreds have died at my hands, perhaps thousands, and I've felt nothing for them. Nothing!" He heard her gasp and when he turned around, he regretted his words. The fear in her eyes pained him. She was now sitting completely on the floor, her body leaned backwards as if to escape him.

"You lie." She whispered in a voice that pleaded him to confirm that it was in fact a lie. He slid down the wall across from her and shook his head.

"I do not."

"Tell me why." She wanted a reason for his killings, but there was so many and none of them really mattered.

"It doesn't matter. It won't bring any of them back."

"Tell me." She insisted and he saw her tears glisten in the candlelight. He couldn't say no when she cried, not even when her years fell in mourning of those he'd killed.

"The first time I was but a child. Javert, the man who held the whip. He had assaulted me before, but that night I fought back and I discovered what power I had with a rope." He didn't dare to look in her eyes. "When you told me of how you had stopped the Judge, I was shocked, frightened that I might had tainted you. But luckily you didn't go that far. You were pure enough to stop before you had taken a life. I was never that pure, something my mother knew from the moment she saw my face."

He took a deep breath because he might as well continue. "I took another life by mistake. A young woman, well, more of a girl really, became terrified when she saw my face and in an attempt to flee the sight, she fell over the edge of a crumbling stone railing. After that I travelled to India where I was taught how to kill with the Punjab lasso. From there I was contacted by the Daroga to work for the Persian Shah as a contractor. He wanted me to build a palace with secret hidden corridors and traps. I did as he requested, but I ended up as a provider of entertainment for the Shah's mother. She was a sadist. She wanted me to build torture devices, enjoying my imagination that could produce a thousand ways to torture. I continued this without regard for the victims of my creations. The Khanum was insane and I knew that if I didn't provide the entertainment, I would become her next victim."

It wasn't an excuse. He had feared what the Khanum might do, but it didn't change the fact that he had felt no remorse for the victims of his contraptions.

"After an attempt on my life, the Daroga gave up his life in Persia to save me. In return he made me promise never to kill without reason again."

"Then what about Joseph Buquet and Piangi?" She asked in a cracked voice. Erik sighed because he didn't want her to think that his actions were in any way justified, but he was trying to avoid lying to her. 

"Buquet attacked me, but I could've let him live. He was too much of a nuisance though and I didn't like the way he acted around the ballet rats. Piangi was... not supposed to die. He was about to ruin the opera, MY opera, and I detained him. I misjudged his impairment which led directly to his death. The Daroga deems these deaths acceptable, however I do not. I don't pull a noose around a man's neck by a mistake."

He peeked up to look at Christine, but she was staring with widened eyes at the floor a meter away from him, lost in thought. He wondered if he had broken her spirit with all his talk of killing. It was for the best that she knew and perhaps it could break the pull she felt to him, but he never wanted to tarnish her soul. It pained him to no end to see her sitting there with a blank stare and tears on her cheeks. He had to leave her for now.

"Now that you know what kind of monster that lives in me, I understand if you wish to be rid of me." He rose from the wall he'd been leaning against and moved to the door when three little words halted him. 

"I forgive you."

He turned around to look at her incredulously. It wasn't the three words he longed to hear from her, yet they warmed him nonetheless after all the things he'd confessed to her. 

"It's not your place to forgive me. I do not deserve it." She surprised him once again by rising to her feet and walking over to him, taking his hands in her own. 

"You acted under duress. I may never understand how it must've been like, but it is clear that if you had not acted like you did, you wouldn't be here today." She willed him to believe her as her blue eyes stared into his yellow ones. "Only God can absolve you of these sins, but I forgive you for them."

Suddenly he felt something inside him crack. Or perhaps he heard it. A pain in his chest brought him to his knees and he wrapped his arms around her legs and clung to her tightly while the crack inside him broke wide open. He heard sobbing and was embarrassed to realise that it came from him. Tears damped Christine's dress, but she said nothing. Instead she stroked his head, so he felt it, even under the wig. 

He didn't know how long they stayed like this, but he felt like he cried forever. He couldn't understand why, only that her words had opened an old wound inside him, a wound that hadn't healed properly. It was painful, but it quelled something in him. There was no reason for him to let go if she only would let him stay like this forever. But when his sobbing had ended, she helped him up from the floor. He felt slightly dazed and leaned a little forward against her until the uncovered part of his forehead rested on hers. 

"Thank you." He whispered because he didn't know what else to say. He had no other words, none to express what she meant to him. She was a true angel, repelling every hardship he had made her endure. He would never be able to repay her.

"Come. I need to redress your wound. And then I think we both need to eat." She broke away from him and he nearly whimpered. He followed her to sit down on the bed again, removing his outer clothing. This time she lifted up his shirt without hesitation and removed the gauze. It stung. He must've made some movement to alert her of this because she promised to be careful.

It seemed that she had found towels downstairs or Tomas had provided them for her. She began washing the wound carefully, then dabbed it with a dry towel. To his surprise she took a jar of honey from the table.

"Honey is good at fending off infektions." She answered a question he was about to ask before she smeared honey over his laceration. It hurt, but only briefly before it warmed his skin and the smell of honey was lovely in the small room. When she was about to apply the gauze, she hesitated. He looked over his shoulder to see what stopped her. 

"It looks much better. We might even be able to remove the stitches in a day or two... But I think it needs to breathe. The gauze isn't helping now that it isn't leaking fluid anymore." He nodded at her assessment and saw no reason why it would be an issue. "The shirt can't be in the way either." She clarified.

"Ah. Do you perhaps have a safety pin?" She shook her head. "So I need to take off my shirt." He asserted and she nodded, then blushed profusely. "Will it bother you? Because it can wait." He didn't want to make this whole arrangement more uncomfortable than it already was. He could try and secure his shirt, so it only left the wound free of cloth, but it wouldn't hold unless he had a safety pin.

"It won't bother me. It's just skin, really." She said with a timid blush. It suited her with the pink color on her pale skin and the thought made his chest tighten.

"Maybe you can go downstairs and look for something to eat and a safety pin?" He asked and she nodded eagerly.

"I'll do that! Just stay here then and don't let the shirt touch the wound." She said, grabbing the dirty towels and the water basin before leaving quickly.

Erik held onto his shirt as he let himself fall on his stomach down on the bed. The last hour had been emotionally draining. He wasn't sure if he could handle any more revelations and he definitely couldn't think about what had been revealed. Instead he contemplated Christine's plan to stop the Judge. If he played his part, it could work without a doubt. It was the least he could do for Christine.

What was difficult to acknowledge was that she would be able to stay in Paris while he still was forced to leave. He knew that it had been the plan from the beginning to separate when she was safe, but now that she'd kissed him several times, claiming to want him (even if it was sheer infatuation), the thought of leaving her was breaking his heart.

But what other choice was there? 

Chapter Text

The day went by in a blur. Besides food Christine had found a safety pin which now held up Erik's shirt to let his wound breathe, but she sometimes saw more than the wounded patch of skin, making her blush. Her body was still in a stir after what had happened between them earlier, though Erik didn't seem to be affected.

They discussed how to approach the Judge with the offer to let him know of all the Opera Ghost's secrets and how they would make sure that he didn't bring anyone with him. They agreed that the Judge would be told to meet Erik by Musée du Louvre, take him down into the sewers and lead him to the Opera where he would show him around. That way they wouldn't need to worry about someone following them and the Opera Populaire could be prepared without the fear of having gendarmes searching the place beforehand. 

Christine hadn't expected that they would make any final decision before they had talked to M. Khan, Raoul and the Girys on Sunday when they were supposed to be fleeing the city, but Erik told her that it would difficult to convince them to go along with this plan because they believed that it was safest to escape. He found it best to alert the Judge as soon as possible which would also grant them more leisure to move around the city since the Judge would be focused on the meeting and possibly searching the Louvre. 

Erik spent the night between Friday and Saturday on reconnaissance, making sure that the Opera was safe and the sewers free. Christine didn't sleep most of that night, partly because she feared for his life and partly because she still remembered how the Judge had burst through the door at M. Khan's house. When Erik arrived back in the early morning she finally fell into a fitful sleep.

When she woke up, Erik showed her a letter he had written to the Judge. 

Your Honor, Judge Hugo Gameau

I will offer you the chance to learn firsthand all secrets concerning Le Fantôme de l'opera from the source itself.

My only request is that you in return give Mademoiselle Christine Daaé a complete pardon and never contact her again. 

If you wish to take this opportunity, meet me Sunday the 15th of April at Musée du Louvre by 6 o'clock after closing. 

Make sure to come alone or the offer will lapse immediately. 

I trust you to make the right choice. 

O.G.

Erik had even written it in red ink to keep it in the spirit of the Phantom. The writing and signature had made Christine shudder, but the Judge would be intrigued. 

Tomas had found a messenger boy at the local market who was sent along with the letter, so they avoided any risks of having their location discovered. Erik praised Christine's plan and it made her proud to know that the Opera Ghost himself was impressed by her plan. 

Saturday afternoon found Erik restless and on edge. He had played the organ before the Bishop had arrived Saturday morning before Mass, but it wasn't enough to keep him at ease all day. In the end Christine had gone down to the shelter for the unfortunate which was empty at the moment and found something to occupy them both: A game of cards. They played several rounds of Marjolet, then Piquet and Christine was surprised to discover that she actually won a couple of times. Afterwards he entertained her with card tricks. It felt so normal and she really enjoyed his company without the drama and tension that seemed to follow him everywhere. 

After the evening Mass they joined Tomas for a late dinner which he was grateful for. Christine wondered how often he dined with others. His life seemed quite lonely and she decided that if she was freed of these charges against her, she would visit him often. He was a kind man. He chatted away with Christine while Erik just listened and only spoke if he was addressed. Christine noticed that he didn't eat anything either, only sipping a glass of wine occasionally. It annoyed her to no end. She knew that he'd slept and eaten sparsely when he lived under the Opera, but had hoped that it would change now. Apparently old habits do die hard.

Tomas offered them both a real bath in the employee's quarters. Christine was relieved since she hadn't had a bath since the day before they left M. Khan's house and even Erik took the offer, provided that Christine got the opportunity first if there wasn't enough  hot water for two baths. She hurried up to their room to find clean clothes to wear and followed Tomas into the bathroom where the tub was already filling. The room was very luxurious and she wasn't surprised to learn that Erik had built it too. Tomas showed her where the towels were and apologised for having only a few selections of soaps. He didn't seem to realise that Christine didn't care. She just needed to feel clean after these last days.

Finally he left her alone and she wasted no time to rid herself of her clothing and sink into the water. The only times she'd felt such a need for a bath was when she was a child and she had been on the road for weeks with her father. Not counting that one bath where she'd been covered in Erik's blood... A cold shiver ran down her back as she remembered the dark pink color of the water in the bathtub. No, he was alive, it was only a memory to be forgotten now.

She tried focusing on the soothing effect of the warm water as it surrounded her like a enveloping blanket. It was easy to get lost in her own world like this, but she shouldn't stay in too long. Erik was waiting for his turn.

Unforbidden her mind drifted to an image of Erik's long frame sinking into this tub with her. It was a shameful thing to think about, but she found it difficult to let go of that image after it had appeared in her mind, especially after having felt Erik's body against her own the day before. Her body reacted to the mental pictures and heat pooled in her lower stomach, followed by a distinct ache between her thighs. 

The urge to explore that ache was impossible to ignore and soon she had closed her eyes and imagined a man's broad hand with calloused fingers tracing down her throat and kneading her breasts before continuing down her stomach. A low voice rumbled behind her and suddenly she was in the catacombs with him behind her, caressing her body while music embraced her senses. And his voice - oh, his voice! - sang to her, begging her to give in.

Her hand was just about to reach the place that throbbed when a hard knock came to the door. She sat up abruptly, so water splashed over the edge of the tub. 

"Christine, are you alright?" Erik's voice resonated clearly through the door and into the empty bathroom. "You've been in there for almost an hour."

"Ye-yes," she said, still shaken from the interruption. "I'm just finishing up." She hurried to wash her skin and her hair, then drained the tub with the nearly cold water. She dressed in record time, combing through her hair the best she could before she opened the door. Erik was right outside in the hall and they nearly bumped into each other.

"Forgive me. I was worried." He muttered, looking her over with wide eyes. She must look flushed, she realised. She nodded and left swiftly.

As she sat in the small room and pondered over her fantasy, she realised that she understood what Erik had said about her voice being a window to her soul. His voice was the same. And his soul was truly beautiful, yet lonely and yearning to connect to someone.

The connection they had was impossible to deny. She felt it in her very being when he was near and she wanted to trust that connection she felt. And why should she deny it? Her reputation was already sullied, even if they managed to stop the Judge and free her of all accusations. It was torture to keep him at arm's length and after everything she was sure that he wouldn't use her again for his own selfish reasons.

She would tell him how she felt when he returned and then pray that none of them would get their heart broken. 

 

***

Sinister eyes stalked her as she backed away. At a leisure pace he followed her, well aware that she couldn't get away. She looked around to find a weapon, a way of defending herself, but the room was suddenly empty, save for him.

His laugh brought her eyes back to him and he launched for her. He ripped at her clothes until she was barely covered.  He grabbed her hair tightly in a fist and forced her to the ground.

Something thick and warm touched her bare knees and she looked down to find herself in a pool of blood. Fear gripped her as she scanned the room for the source of the blood and when she found him, she screamed. 

Erik was lying on his stomach with a dagger in his back. "Christine, I love you." He sang with his last breath, then closed his eyes. She screamed again, fighting to reach him, but a hand gripped her throat and held her steady. She was turned to him, her face met with his clothed erection.

"Now sing for me like you sang for the dead Opera Ghost!" His laughter surrounded her as he reached for his belt.

 

"Christine!" It was Erik and he was alive. She reached for him, but could see nothing but the undoing of a belt. "Christine, wake up!" 

She gasped when she felt strong, long arms around her, dragging her to safety. Erik was alive and here and she whimpered into his chest. 

She looked up to confirm that it was him, touching his face and his mask while searching his eyes. He scrutinised her face to make sure that she was alright. Even his masked features could not hide his emotions; worry and love shimmering in his lime green eyes. He was here and he loved her and would keep her safe. 

She pulled him to her again and fell back on the bed in exhaustion. He needed to shield her from her nightmares and he followed her reluctantly. "Christine." Her name came out as a warning, but she needed this. He sank down on top of her and kissed the top of her head before he tugged her under his chin, holding her close in his arms while keeping most of his weight off her.

Slowly she became very aware of how close they were. He was lying flush against her small frame and she felt every rise and dip of his body, especially a hard swell against her abdomen. The realisation sent a sharp heat into her groin. 

She must've moved against his arousal because he paused and she distinctly felt his body tense when the moment he realised that she had noticed. They both held their breath, unsure of what the other person would do. She lifted her head and tried to move up to see his face and read his expression. Her movement caused her leg to slide against his hardness. He inhaled sharply and her blood inflamed.

She pushed up to meet his bloated lips. He tensed even more, his lips yielding but still. However his body seemed to react in spite of his mind and forced itself harder upon her. She relished the pressure and moaned low in her throat. 

Finally he gave into her and he nudged her lips open to deepen the kiss. It sent shivers of heat down to her center. After she had moved, his hardness were at her thigh and he pushed it against her, creating small lighting strikes in that heat. She moaned unembarrassed by this unearthly feeling and without thinking she moved slightly lower again and let her knees part. This time when he thrust against her, his length hit her right where she ached and they both gasped loudly.

He opened his eyes to look down at her, but his eyes were barely the green color, she knew so well. His pupils were blown by pure lust and she wondered if hers were too. Because that's what she felt: Lust. She wanted him, badly.

"Christine," he growled low in his throat, a question and a plea in the sound of her name.

"Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation" She sang and met his eyes, begging him.

"Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in" He responded as his hand neared her breasts and she whispered a yes, lifting her chest a little to show him that she wanted it. He started to knead the tender flesh of her breast and she cooed. Their lips met in an urgent kiss once more as he thrust his hips to meet hers with every beat, letting her softness feel his hardness as they'd been made to complement each other.

His mouth travelled down her jaw in a sensual dance with distorted lips and his warm tongue sucking and licking against her heated flesh. She wanted him to continue this everywhere on her body and began clutching her night gown up. She needed to remove some of the layers between them.

There was a void between her thighs, a place that felt so empty and she needed him there too. She moaned when he started grinding his clothed arousal against her bloomers as her heat pushed her higher. 

Suddenly Erik pushed away from her, leaving her cold and panting. "Christine, I..." He swallowed hard as he took in her bare legs, then hurried to look up. "I'm not worthy of this gift." He sat back on his knees and looked constricted at her face, obviously resisting to urge to lower his gaze. 

Christine sat up too, ready to pull him back down. "It's not a gift. Please, Erik, I want you." Her body agreed wholeheartedly, the throb between her legs too powerful to ignore.

"How could you want this from me? I'm abhorrent to look at and my soul is as distorted as my face. You said so yourself!" The hurt in his eyes reminded her of the moment she'd said it, not so long ago. He'd always experienced how people despised him because of his face, but nothing hurt him like the knowledge that it was his character that drove her away.

"You've shown me so much more of yourself now. I've seen almost nothing of the deranged creature in the catacombs. Instead I've seen the man you are and you are beautiful." She put her hand on his mask, fighting the urge to remove it. He wouldn't like it. He shook his head, so she raised her other hand to his smooth cheek to hold him steady and pulled him forward to share a kiss. "Make love to me." He skirted farther down the bed as if burned.

"Love? I know nothing about love nor the act of love. I have no perception of love. For God's sake, I made an opera where the main character basically rapes a woman by leading her to believe he was someone else. And worse, I kidnapped you and wanted to bend you to my will, to fulfill my twisted, obsessively notion of love." He looked away in shame and she knew that he was about to leave. She couldn't let him do that, so she grabbed his hands and held them in hers. Their fingers weaved together intuitively.

"Do you not believe your love for me was real?" She looked down at their entwined fingers instead of looking at him. The answer suddenly felt too dangerous to know.

"Not as real as it is today." He whispered and when she looked up at him, she was met with his sincere lime green eyes that seemed powerful, yet vulnerable all at once. Only his eyes could hold such contradiction in them. She wanted to tell him how she felt, but hesitated. How was she to get the words out? Would they still part after all this was over? Was it fair to hold her love from him?

"Erik, I-"

"Christine, I know that you can't feel the same way and it's fine." His interruption frustrated her to no end. 

"Let me talk! Don't presume to know what I feel. You know how I hate that." She sighed when she noticed his startled expression. "These last few days have made me realise something what I should've understood long ago. I thought of you as a friend, but the truth is that we haven't been friends since the moment we stood face to face. Perhaps even before. I've fought against my feelings for so long, listening to what everyone else said: That I had been manipulated or bewitched. That what I felt was pity for my tormentor."

She paused, trying to find the right words. He didn't give his thoughts away as he waited for her to continue. "I've finally stopped listening to others. They don't know anything about you or me. They don't know the loss I felt when you were gone in all those months after Il Mute. They can't feel how our souls entwine when we create music. They can't understand how my spirit shattered when you were dying in the catacombs. And they can never feel what I felt when the man, I thought dead, came back to life." 

Her voice broke, the feeling still very raw in her, and her eyes suddenly brimmed with tears. She inhaled sharply to gather strength to say what she wanted. "They have only seen a monster in you, but I have seen the man. And I love him." He gasped at her words, disbelief and hope fighting for power in his expression, and she gripped his hands tighter to make him believe.

"I love you, Erik."

Chapter Text

"Oh, Christine!" His voice was nearly a choke as he crushed her to his chest. His embrace was unyielding and desperate and she gave into it fully. He wept into her hair, his breath hitching in his chest, while her own tears fell silently onto his shoulder. They stayed in each other's arms until they both had calmed down. He pulled back a little without letting her look into his eyes.

"No one has ever loved me." He whispered achingly, the words stabbing in her heart. How could she not have shared this with him before? Surely he deserved to be loved like any other man.

"That time is over now. You're loved. By me." She heard a small whimper in the back of his throat and she kissed him tenderly, pouring her love into him. He closed his eyes and returned it with adoration and gratitude. His strong hold around her waist slackened as he lifted a hand to cup her cheek. He could be so careful and affectionate while still making her blood race with his touch.

Soon the kiss deepened and their hands wandered, eager to feel the other. Christine's hands slid under Erik's shirt, this time consciously avoiding the wound on his back. No more interruptions. She felt his chilled skin being warmed by her hands and his hidden muscles twitch under her touch.

He wrung a hand in her messy brown coils while the other hand touched her breast again, kneading it gently. His thumb brushed over her hardened nipple under her nightgown and she shivered. Suddenly she was glad that she had foregone her chemise.

But they were both wearing too much clothes. She pulled the hem of his shirt up to remove it and he lifted his arms and let her pull it off. His skin was pale, even in candle light, and pebbled with rough scars that were raised, so she could trace them, even with her eyes closed. He shivered under her fingertips. He was very lean, despite his broad shoulders, but she knew his strength. Looks can be deceiving, something she knew better than anyone after she'd met Erik. 

She pulled her own nightgown off and lay back on the bed in only her drawers. His heated eyes gazed down at her body in awe and she tried to relax under his stare. She focused instead on his torso, though she had seen it before. But everything was different now that they were both so bare. 

"You are so beautiful." He said in sheer wonderment and leaned forward to put his hands on her stomach, gliding up to massage her breasts while he kissed her passionately. His mouth continued down her her throat until his misshaped lips reached her bosom. She gasped when he took a nipple in his hot mouth and she clawed at his back. He bit lightly while pinching the other nipple and she bucked against him.

The edge of his mask scratched the thin skin on her chest when she moved. "Erik, your mask." He looked up at her in question. "Can you take it off? Please."

He frowned, touching his covered cheek. "I can blow out the candle and remove it."

"I want to see you. All of you."

"I rather not have you look at that when we..." He trailed off.

"Erik, I've seen it before. When I picture you in my mind, it's always without the mask. And I love you, remember? All of you." She repeated and reached for his mask, pleasantly surprised when he didn't pull away. He let her remove it, along with the wig, setting it aside on the chair that currently worked as a night stand.

She held his face between her hands and pulled him into a kiss. He moaned against her mouth and whimpered when her lips travelled over his distorted cheek and the collapsed side of his nose. Her hand traced over his missing eyebrow, then continued into his sparse hair. This was a part of him and she loved it too.

His lips found hers again, desperate and begging as he pushed her further into the mattress. She tasted his tears and held him tightly to her. His hands roamed her body, touching every spot of exposed skin, drawing all sorts of sounds from her which he swallowed greedily in his kiss. 

His uneven lips began to wander like his hands. All of a sudden a hand sneaked into her drawers where she throbbed almost painfully. She gasped as a finger slid down to where she was soaking. He looked at her and their eyes locked. Slowly his finger carefully slid up her inner lips. When he touched her blooming bud, she cried out at the overwhelming pleasure. He watched her intensely as he circled the hard bud and she moaned in abandon.

His gaze was fervent, bordering on unnerving, but he looked at her with such awe and she couldn't look away. 

His finger dipped into her wetness again, but this time she felt it invade her. She felt a moment of alarm before submitting to the strange sensation. His finger filled the void in her and as he began to move it inside her, she threw her head back and arched into his hand. She was definitely abandoning all defenses, giving up control to him. 

He curled the finger inside her, making her keen, then brushed his thumb over her nub which made her scream. His eyes were on her as he continued until she was panting, almost overcome with pleasure. Suddenly another finger pierced her opening and he pushed harder into her until the pleasure crept up her spine and exploded in her entire body. She moaned and whimpered as she rode out the pleasure on his hand. 

When the room had stopped spinning, she pulled his lips to hers and devoured his mouth in appreciation. He groaned and gripped her buttocks to grind her into his groin. Feeling him hard against her instantly caused her arousal to return and she cooed his name in his ear before biting it. 

He left her momentarily to remove his shoes, socks and trousers, then his drawers. She held in a gasp when she saw his full length and for the first time she became anxious about what was to come. She knew that it would hurt at first, but surely it wouldn't even fit. 

He crawled over her legs to untie her drawers; slowly, probably because of the nervousness in her eyes. But she wanted this with him. There was no one else for her. Somehow it seemed that there never had been anyone else for her. So she lifted her hips and held his gaze as her drawers glided down her legs. He took a long glance of her body before kissing his way up until he reached her lips again. She felt his manhood against her lower curls, adding pressure to her already aching bud.

"Are you sure?" He whispered, both desire and worry obvious in his low voice. She nodded and parted her thighs to make room for him. Her opening clenched in anticipation when he guided himself there. They were both breathing hard and trembling. His adoring eyes shone with everything he felt and she knew that this was right. 

"Make me yours." She breathed and gasped when he slowly thrust forward. 

"Christine, oh Angel!" Erik choked, but she was barely listening. There was pain, but instead of a elastic band snapping like she had heard others say, it was more of a sharp sting that seemed to be everywhere in her lower body. He stopped instantly as he noticed her pain and he moved to pull out, but she dug her nails in his back and held him firmly. 

"Just give me a moment." She stammered. He was uneasy and clearly struggled to hold back, but she couldn't be bothered to think about it. He started kissing away her tears, then licked down her neck and sucking at the pulsepoint near her shoulder. It distracted and aroused her until the stinging was diminished to a dull smarting.

She unwillingly clenched inside and he moaned, pushing further into her and she lifted her hips to let him fill her completely. 

"Angel!" He cried out, trembling inside of her. The sting was gone, replaced by a wild throbbing and she wasn't sure if it was from him or her. This wasn't their bodies entwining, it was their souls completing each other. Their eyes connected again and she saw the same understanding in his eyes.

He started to move leisurely, filling her again and again. She met him with every thrust and wrapped her legs around his waist. The angle enhanced each stroke and her body began to quiver as it climbed towards the edge. His eyes were filled with love and worship. 

"Erik, don't stop. I don't want this to end. I don't want to feel what it's like without you. I don't want to part from you." She blinked the traitorous tears away as she spoke of her fear. His thrusts grew frantic and harder, consuming her. 

"I'll never leave you. Christine, I'm yours." His eyes showed her nothing but sincerity and finally she could give in and belong to him. 

"Erik!" She cried as she went soaring, feeling nothing but the man she loved around her. 

He groaned her name, thrusting hard into her, then moaned as he shuddered. He held her close while their bodies calmed again. 

"Run away with me." She opened her eyes to see him staring intensely at her.

"What?"

"Christine, I can't live without you. I was empty before I met you and you have made me whole. You have given me everything and more. My heart beats only for you. Let's follow the original plan to leave Paris and find a place where we can live in peace together. I'll give you the world, Christine, I'll live in the light. For you."

His beseeching words filled her with hope. Could they live together in the light? She could have the darkness, the light and most importantly their music. Erik made her feel exceptional and powerful, drawing the best qualities out in her like he drew out the potential in her song. Being near him made her better, stronger and braver. She wouldn't be able to live without it, she realised. It would haunt her the rest of her life.

"Yes." She said quietly, then louder. "Yes, I'll go with you." The way his eyes lit up at her words was enough to confirm that her choice was the right one. She even saw him smile briefly before his crooked lips peppered her with tender kisses. She giggled, then gasped when her movements caused his soft manhood to leave her body, suddenly feeling an odd emptiness after having felt so complete. She had even forgotten the invasion of her body. 

He winced, then scrambled when he looked down. 

"You'r... You're bleeding." He stammered in shock and hurried to the table for a towel. She looked down, then looked away in embarrassment when she saw the small spot, mixed with other fluids. She put a hand on his shaking arm to calm him down. 

"Erik, it's okay. It's normal. The first time." She blushed when she said it. He suddenly comprehended her words. It was a bit amusing that he knew so much, yet didn't think of this as a result of their coupling. He cleaned her carefully with a wet look in his eyes. The significance of their union was hitting him hard. She sat up, wincing a bit, and tugged him into the bed again, kissing him with the love she felt for him while his tears fell on her skin. Soon they would leave together and never part. 

It wasn't long before they fell asleep in each other's arms, completely bare in body and spirit. 

Chapter Text

Raoul paced the square by Colonne de Juillet. He feared for Christine. No one had seen her since the Phantom had left with her four days ago and there was no word of where they were. Had he abducted her again, forced her to marry him and used her body for his own lust? The thought nauseated him. Though he never wanted Christine to stay in the jailhouse, he wondered if it was better than the alternative. How could it be remotely preferable to trust a murderer, her own abductor, to trusting the gendarmes? 

M. Khan, his servant and the Girys waited patiently for them to arrive, but they were late. The feeling of unease grew in his stomach with every tick of the pocket watch in his hands. If they weren't coming, what could he do? There was no way of knowing where they had hidden. The Judge was searching the city without luck and it led Raoul to believe that they might've left Paris already, but M. Khan had assured him that they were still there. There was nothing to do, but trust the strange Persian man who he admittedly had come to like. 

Finally he saw the Phantom's black stallion, Cesar, galloping towards them from Rue Saint-Antoine with two dark cloaked figures. The smaller figure had her arms wrapped tightly around the tall figure with a stark white half mask and Raoul felt a stab of jealousy. A ridiculous notion really, considering that Christine was only with the Phantom because he was the only one skilled enough to avoid the gendarmes. Raoul had no reason to believe that Christine was anything but innocent, but it felt wrong to him that she had to trust a murderer, her abductor, to save her life.

The horse stopped a few meters away from them and the Phantom jumped down, then reached for Christine to help her down. His hands took hold of her small waist while she held onto his shoulders as he lifted her off the tall black of Cesar. Raoul noticed how the Phantom's hands slid sensually over her waist before he let her go and Raoul's hands clenched into angry fists. 

When the two walked towards them, he really noticed Christine. She was mostly covered by her blue cloak, but it was obvious that she was wearing a pair of trousers. It was scandalous and yet he couldn't help but stare at the curves of her shins, thighs and hips that were in plain sight in such tight fitting clothes. His body stirred at the sight and he was glad that he couldn't see her from behind. 

But why on earth would she wear men's trousers? Was it the Phantom who had demanded this indecent thing? While Madame Giry and little Meg ran over and hugged Christine, Raoul walked directly up to the other man, if one could call him such, and sneered at him.

"What the meaning of this? Why is Christine dressed so... obscene? What have you done to her?" He stared the Phantom down as much as possible considering that the Phantom was taller than Raoul.

"Raoul." Christine was the one to speak, the Phantom just silent at her side. "I've decided to travel by the sewers until we have left the city. I cannot do that in a skirt and bustle." His eyes hadn't left the man beside her, even as she spoke. He didn't trust her words when the man who had manipulated her stood right beside her, so he took her arm and moved several meters away. Christine sent a nod to the others to let her 

"Christine, this isn't you. Tell me what he has done. I'll protect you." He heard the Phantom talk to the others, but he still felt the sinister amber eyes on his back.

She sighed. "You clearly don't know who I am. I'm not a fragile thing, Raoul and it's time you recognise that. I don't need your protection anymore, especially not when you're trying to decide things for me. You need to trust my instincts. If you can't do that, we can't be friends."

He saw the strength in her eyes and it reminded him of the night he'd seen her as the lead soprano in Hannibal. She had lost that strength along the way which had made him determined to stop the Phantom who had caused her to lose that quality. So determined that he had sent her on stage to bait the Phantom. But when he looked at her now, after four days with that monster, she looked stronger than ever. 

She returned to the others. They were discussing a revised plan that Christine apparently had come up with. Darius would ride out with M. Khan who took Cesar out of the city while Raoul would drive with the Girys who would be dressed to look like Christine and the Phantom in a cloak. They would cross the gendarmes' roadblock at Pantin 7.20 o'clock, distracting the gendarmes while Christine and the Phantom could sneak past. When the wanted pair reached Bondy, they would take the horses from Darius and M. Khan and head to Meaux.

Christine's changes to the plan made sense and Raoul felt somewhat proud, though he knew that he had no right to be. But he was sure that her father would've liked the woman she was becoming, even with the Phantom near her.

The Girys had brought some of her treasured items, a little trinket from her father and a silver comb from her father. He also noticed that Madame Giry gave the Phantom a ring, probably the one he'd forced on Christine's finger at the Don Juan premiere.

Raoul hated the memory of what had happened that night. The immoral song Christine had sung with the hooded man who everyone had thought to be Piangi, except she had acted so nervous, yet enticed at that performance, something he hadn't seen her do at rehearsals. It was his own fault that she had ended up on that stage with the madman and so was everything that followed.

But he knew the real moment he had lost Christine: When she had kissed the Phantom. At first it seemed like a desperate attempt to quell the monster, but she gave herself over to him in a way she'd never done with Raoul. It had angered him so much that even when they were let go, he had to go back and stab the other man, ensuring that he wouldn't come between them ever again. In his wrath he had also hit Christine, something that haunted him every day.

He looked over at her. She was standing next to the Phantom while talking to the Girys, not unnerved at all. Then he saw something that hit him like a punch in the gut. Christine's gaze briefly met the Phantom's and her eyes shone with love and passion. 

That was when he comprehended that while it was his own fault that he had lost Christine, but perhaps she had never been his at all.

 

***

After tedious small talk and Nadir pulling him aside to tell him what had happened after they had left, along with questioning Erik about the last few days, Erik was ready to leave. He wanted to be alone with Christine again. 

This morning he had awoken, naked as the day he was born. But this time the woman, who held him in her arms, had kissed him and told him that she loved him. He had truly been reborn. 

Last night had been the greatest night of his life. She had told him that she loved him. Despite everything he had done to her, every sin he had committed which she now knew, she loved him. He no longer feared that she was ensnared after having been manipulated by him. She had looked into his eyes and seen him for what he was. And loved him for it. 

She had given herself to him, body and soul, everything she had and she had even given him her future. They would find another place, another city where they could be together. He wouldn't fear the judgement of others because she accepted him as he was. He would live a normal life with her. They would run away because it was the only way they could be together.

They had to leave now if they had to be at the roadblock at the agreed time. So he said his goodbyes to the Girys, Nadir, Darius and even the Vicomte got a nod from him.

Christine surprised Nadir by hugging him tightly and whispering something in his ear that made the old Persian blush and smile adoringly down at her. He even saw the impassive Darius smile with affection. Her spirit enchanted everyone, a light even in the darkest times and Erik felt like he was robbing Paris of its brightest star. He finally had her, his only dream had come true and yet he felt guilty. He was dragging her away from everything she loved.

Then Christine moved on to the boy and Erik felt a pang of jealousy when she hugged the younger man. The Vicomte had so much that Erik could never give her. While he had plenty of money, he couldn't walk unnoticed in the park with her nor take her to the grandest balls. He didn't even have many years of life left compared to the Vicomte. While he would live in the light with her to some degree, he could never give her everything she deserved.

Did she want children? He wasn't sure that he could give her any and he feared that any child of him would inherit his deformity. He couldn't risk anyone living a life like his. Did she want a big church wedding? No priest would wed a man with a mask and definitely not with a face as his. If they tried to be wed, the officiant would surely believe that she was forced into marriage. She would be seen as a freak if she walked in the light with him by her side. She didn't deserve it.

He watched her cry as she was saying goodbye to Madame Giry, the closest thing to a mother she'd ever had. Mlle Giry cried too as they hugged, struggling to let go. They were her family, the only family she'd known since her father died. And Paris was the only home she'd ever had. He couldn't take her away from this.

"Change of plans." The words were out of his mouth despite his unwillingness to utter them. He swallowed hard to hold back the tears in his eyes. He spoke to the whole group. "Christine isn't leaving Paris. It's not right. She came up with another plan, a better one and we're going to follow it." He tried to ignore the disbelieving look from the woman he loved more than anything. Enough to let her go once again.

"I have invited the Judge to meet me at the Louvre tonight where I will take him to the Opera Populaire and disclose the Opera Ghost's secrets if he agrees to free Christine of all charges. Since he's obsessed with my activities, he will doubtlessly agree. While I talk to the Judge, I will discreetly get him to reveal his crimes. You will gather as many impartial officials as possible in the auditorium to hear his confessions and when it's over, he will be arrested and Christine will be free."

He felt all eyes on him, but he only noticed hers. Christine was hurt. It was plain to see. There was no tears in her eyes anymore, but he saw the despair, disappointment and anger. Her bottom lip quivered, but she said nothing. He did his best to implore her to trust his decision, but she turned away from him. The boy ran after her and Erik wanted to follow them both, but Madame Giry and Nadir cornered him by the carriage.

"Erik, this plan might actually work. Christine wouldn't have to leave." Nadir said approvingly. "But what will you do?" 

"I'll escape like always. I can't stay here anyway, everyone knows what I look like." He tried to see where Christine had run off to, but he couldn't see her nor the Vicomte. Mlle Giry must've followed too because she was gone as well.

Madame Giry and Nadir shared a look. "And Christine? What will she do?" Madame Giry's eyes betrayed her. She was suspicious, though Erik wasn't sure of what.

"I'd like if she could stay with you and your daughter in the apartment you're currently residing in. I'll make sure that the ownership of it will be transferred to you. You will surely all be able to find work at the new Théâtre Lyrique until the Populaire is rebuilt." He assured her.

"I was more concerned about Christine in regards to you." He turned his eyes to hers again instead of scanning the area for Christine. He probably seemed obsessed with her again right now and he supposed that he was, but now in a different way. He had just told her that they would have to part after he promised that he would never leave her and he had even persuaded her to leave with him. But he was doing what was best for her.

"Madame, I want Christine to live a normal life and for that to happen I know I can't be near her. Now, she is upset right now because I changed our plans at the last minute, so I would like to talk to her." He moved past the only two people, he had  possibly ever been able to call friends, to find the only woman he'd ever loved. 

He knew something was wrong when the Vicomte came running towards them, a distraught look on the boy's face and Mlle Giry hurrying after him.

"Christine! She's gone."

Chapter Text

She was hurt. She'd given him her heart and her future and he had repaid her by pushing her away. Again. 

Deep inside she knew why he had done it. He felt undeserving. He probably thought that she would find someone better and leave him. Like she could possibly find someone who could give her what he gave her; make her feel like he did; fully complement her spirit. 

Before they had left Notre-Dame he had kissed her and promised that he would always put her happiness first. She had answered that she would be happy with him by her side. And she had seen the disbelief in his eyes, but she had ignored it because she thought that she would have plenty of time to reassure him that she meant it. 

But instead he had changed his mind and decided for her once again. It was definitely what hurt the most. He had taken her choice away and resolved to be the one to control her life, leaving her wounded and betrayed by the one man who had seemed to respect and understand her better than anyone else.

Raoul and then Meg had followed her when she had walked away from Erik. She had wanted to ask her friend and her former fiancee to take her out of the city, Erik's words be damned, but even if they could've helped her on their own, they wouldn't. They would want her here.

She'd faked a fainting spell and had first asked Raoul to fetch her something to drink and then asked Meg to get a cold cloth. There were several smaller streets around them and it had been easy to slip away undetected. She hadn't wanted to be near anyone and so at first she'd just run through the narrow streets to make sure that no one came after her. It was so easy to run in the trousers, giving her a freedom she had only felt when she had been the pageboy in Il Muto.

Then she had realised that she had nowhere to go. The sun wasn't up yet, but it wouldn't be long before the city would be buzzing with life and she would look very out of place in her blue cloak and black trousers. She kept an eye out for any gendarmes, but didn't see a single one, even as her feet by reflex led her to the Opera Populaire.

It looked like it had when she had last seen it: Scorch marks by the shattered windows, a broken door by the entrance and somehow the building itself seemed older than it used to. Squatters probably wouldn't dare to go in there in fear of the Opera Ghost. But Christine wasn't scared. In the last few weeks she had learned that there were worse things in life than the Phantom of the Opera and that said Phantom was merely a man driven insane. 

She crawled over the broken door and entered the building. The lobby's walls were blackened and smelled burnt while the floor was covered in trash and small filthy water puddles. She wandered into the auditorium where all the audience seats were charred. It was easy to see where fire had crawled up the walls before having been put out by the firemen. The stage hands had warned the managers that it would be dangerous to use live candles for the seduction scene and now it was clear that they should've listened. 

When she looked up, she couldn't help but chuckle. The new chandelier was completely intact and beautiful as ever, even in the dark, destroyed room.

Every hatch on the stage was open, probably to let the performers escape or perhaps because the gendarmes had wanted to find Erik's passageways. She only knew a few, but he had many in the building and surely one of those hatches would lead to the secret corridors. She was surprised to see that the stage curtain had mostly survived the fire.

She walked through the right wing, into the halls where she and Meg had run so many times. Besides the faint smell of something burnt, it was in perfect condition. She could still see Carlotta filling the space with her entourage catering to her every need. Christine had always sworn that if she became Prima Donna, she wouldn't end up like Carlotta. Now she wasn't even sure if she wanted to be Prima Donna.

She felt so uprooted and alone. So it wasn't a surprise when she suddenly found herself outside her old dressing room. She didn't hesitate to enter. This was her space, her sanctuary. The only time she hadn't felt safe here was when she'd feared the Phantom of the Opera. But he was gone now, well, mostly anyway.

She removed her cloak and lay down on her small divan and finally she let the tears fall. She cried until she had no more tears in her and when the tears on her cheeks started to dry, it was only a few moments before she fell asleep.

 

***

She woke up to shouting. More precisely Erik shouting at her so loud that she was forced into awareness, ready to run from what her mind perceived as extreme danger. It was the unmasking all over again. 

She barely heard what he yelled about. She jumped behind the divan, ran behind the vanity, edging along the mirror and almost reached the open door when a broad hand slammed the door shut in front of her. He was sweating, only in his trousers and shirt and of course his wig and bone white mask. 

"What were you thinking! Running alone around the streets, going the one place you shouldn't go! Have you no regard for yourself? Or for everyone who has searched the city for you!" He yelled at her as she tried to shrink into the wood of the door. He had cornered her with a hand on each side of her head. Only a few days ago they had stood the exact same way in the Spire of Notre-Dame, but then the air had been filled with desire. Now there was only anger. Anger of an Opera Ghost who wanted to control everything around him because he never had any control most of his life. 

Just like her. 

But she wasn't the timid little ballet rat with big dreams of being a lead sopran - not anymore. And she had seen worse things than this man who was struggling for control. He wasn't going to control her though. She straightened her back, taking the perfect posture as he had taught her to do and let herself be heard. When he didn't stop talking, she did something rash and stupid. 

She pulled off his mask. He went completely still, but the flames in his eyes turned into a bonfire. She wouldn't be scared of being burned again. 

"Be quiet, Erik! It's my turn to speak. I don't want you yelling at me anymore! You have no right to do that and you especially don't have a right to dictate what I should and should not do, though you so gladly do it." Her outburst had made him back slightly away, but she just followed him, so they now stood in the middle of the small room. "One moment you ask me to run away with you, expecting me to choose. And I chose you. Then you decide that my choice is wrong. It's as if these past few weeks never happened. Except they did and I'm done with letting others decide what's best for me. I speak for myself or else I will be forced into a life I don't want. Of all people you should understand that."

Her last sentence stung as it was supposed to. He stared at her in disbelief and utter despair, unsure of what to say. He was the first to look away. 

"That's what I'm trying to let you do, Christine." He mumbled, shame clear in his voice. 

"Then you have a funny way of showing it." She hissed. In spite of her remark he closed in on her again. 

He turned her around, so she could see them both in the reflection of the large mirror. It wasn't lost on her that it was the very mirror where she had seen him for the first time, the image of him with his imposing white mask and glamours clothing overshadowing her own reflection. Now he stood in the same room, this time behind her. Unmasked, only in a shirt and trousers. Humble, you might even say. 

She wore tight fitted trousers that put her curves on display. Since she hadn't been able to find a shirt that fit her properly in the cathedral's closet of donated clothes this morning, she'd opted to only wear her chemise and corset. It was indecent, but she hadn't expected to remove her cloak until they were safely in Meanx. It was clear that Erik appreciated her current appearance as his eyes swept over her body with a hungry expression, but his hands stayed on her shoulders.

"Look in the mirror, Christine." She looked at the two people in the mirror. Erik was much taller than her with broad shoulders. He towered over her, yet their reflections still reflected two equals. "You know what I see? I see a woman who has overcome every difficulty life has thrown her way and it is no small feat. You were left orphaned, then manipulated and abducted. You were arrested and assaulted, forced to hide from the law. And yet you stand here, looking stronger than ever. Despite everything you have been through, you have only grown stronger. And I could learn something from that.

"If you go with me, you can never be completely free. You will never accomplish the great things I know is in you." His eyes met hers in the mirror. 

"Have you ever thought that you were the one who brought out that strength in me?" He smiled sadly at her words and shook his head. 

"It's been in you the whole time. At most I just forced you to be strong when I was trying to control you."

"I'm not letting you go without me. Whatever happens with the Judge tonight, this..." She gestured to their reflections in the mirror. "is not over."

He lifted his left hand and she noticed that the black stoned ring was on his pinkie again, the one he had slid on her finger at Don Juan. The last time she saw it, Madame Giry had taken it from her, so it wouldn't upset Raoul. She had thought that Erik was dead, but now he was here with her.

He took off the ring and she expected him to take her left hand, but instead he took her right and slid the ring on her finger like it was made for her. She swallowed at the weight of it when he let go of her hand.

"This ring isn't an engagement ring or something that even comes close, so it has no purpose on your left hand. But I want you to promise me that you won't take this off unless this is over. When I come back, I will know by looking at your hand."

"You could just ask me when the time comes." She pointed out with a glare, though the notion of it was kind of sweet. He smiled sadly again, somehow a permanent fixture on his face at the moment. 

"You of all people should know that I would never be that bold, Christine."

"You basically asked me to marry you in front of a filled audience." She laughed at the memory, bittersweet as it was. 

"Back then I thought I had nothing to lose. Now I have everything to lose." His reflection's eyes shimmered with unshed tears. 

He let go of her hand where he had slipped on the ring and lightly grazed over her hip before it landed at his side. Erik wasn't the type to do something without meaning to and after having followed the movement closely, her eyes returned to his in the mirror. "Do it again." She whispered.

He lifted his right hand again, but this time he set it on her thigh and dragged it slowly up over her hip, following the line of her waist and stopped just before her breast where he held it still. His left hand came up and mirrored the position on the opposite side. Then both hands glided down over the sides of her body. When they reached her upper thighs, they moved behind her and lightly gripped her buttocks. She let out a hard breath and leaned back against him.

His broad hands moved to her front again and slid over the front of her thighs, briefly moving past her mound, up her stomach and over her breasts until they reached her throat. She was panting, the image of them in the mirror and his hands on her making her crave more from him.

A hand lightly grasped her throat while the other moved downwards, massaging along the way. Her head fell back against his shoulder, but her eyes never left his in the mirror. By her abdomen he pressed her back into him and she felt him hard against her bottom. She pushed further back and heard him hold back a groan. He was very much in control, but she wanted him to lose it.

"Christine..." He breathed into her ear and she shivered. She turned around in his arms and brought his bloated lips to her own, engaging him in a fiery kiss. She pulled at his shirt, not caring about the buttons flying away as she pried it open. Erik's hands were at her back deftly working at the laces of her corset without losing focus of their kiss.

She slid her hands over his exposed, thin chest, somewhat turned on by his scars. This was a man who had lived, had suffered and survived. There was something incredibly arousing about that.

Her hands landed on his belt, but she was interrupted by Erik pulling her chemise over her head after having removed her corset. When her chest was bare, he dropped to his knees and lavished her breasts with the attention of his hands and mouth, making her coo as she gave in to his ministrations. He kissed, licked and sucked like a man possessed while his hands travelled down to cup her bottom again through the thin trousers.

All of a sudden he stripped her of her trousers, quickly followed by her drawers. His mouth moved downwards and he gripped her bottom again to pull her completely flush against him. Before she could object, his mouth was between her inner lips, his tongue probing her and lapping up her desire. She pulled at his wig, threw it on the floor and gripped his sparse hair, eliciting a groan from him that vibrated through her body, making her whimper in response. 

He travelled further up to her little hard bud, teasing it with his breath and his tongue. She felt her knees weaken, but he held her firmly as he continued to pleasure her, as lost in this as she was. She noticed their reflection in the mirror: She naked with tumbled hair while he was on his knees, bringing her to completion. The sight was too much to bear and she fell over the edge, screaming his name as the waves hit her over and over.

He held her upright with his strong arms until she gained control over her body again, but he didn't let her stand on her own. Instead he carried her over to the divan and lay her down. She wanted to take over and sat up to finish what she had started with his belt.

Instead of moving quickly, this time she took her time, letting her fingers coyly slide over his covered arousal as she worked on removing the last clothing between them. He huffed and pushed into her hands which she took away. She was in control, no matter how it much pained him. When she finally freed his manhood, she kissed the tip. It was moist and her tongue darted out to lick it, surprised at the salty taste. Erik whimpered above her.

She gripped his length, testing what he seemed to like. When she pulled her hand over him back and forth, he hummed a "yes" and she continued this. She took him in her mouth and licked around him and he bucked against her, grippin her hair in a way that made her excited. 

"God, Christine!" He yelled. She sucked and he growled above her. Suddenly she was pushed down on the divan and Erik climbed on top of her. There wasn't much room for them both, but he managed to spread her legs enough to make room for him by pulling her legs around his waist.

In one swift thrust he entered her until she was completely filled. She gasped at the sudden intrusion, still sore after last night, but it melted away when he slowly started to thrust. He kissed her deeply and she tasted a sharp tinge of her own desire on his lips. It heated her blood. She was already climbing towards the edge, meeting him with every thrust as she panted his name.

"Christine, my true love, my goddess." He chanted as he caressed her face, looking deep into her eyes with pure wonder. His thrusts grew more powerful and desperate. She gripped his back, digging her nails into his skin as she neared her climax rapidly. His hands moved to her hips and guided her as he drove into her. His thumb reached out and stroked her bud, sending her into the blinding lights that consumed her entire body.

Erik stilled above her, hoarsely crying out her name before landing on top of her. They lay there gasping for breath. After they had both recovered he rose from her and picked up his ruined shirt. He kneeled beside her legs and looked at her questioningly until she nodded. Only then did he clean her carefully between her legs. She was sore, but he just seemed relieved to see no blood this time. 

"I'm sorry I ruined your shirt." She mumbled with a shy smile and his own lips turned slightly upwards.

"It's fine. I have brought all my things to prepare for my escape." The atmosphere suddenly turned somber when they both thought about parting. They had just found each other and now he would leave her. If only he wasn't a wanted man. Of course it was his own doing, but it didn't change the way her heart ached at the thought of not knowing when she would see his face again. Every mask would remind her of him, every note of music. 

Then an idea came to her. 

"You said you brought all your things?" 

 

Chapter Text

Erik had reluctantly left Christine's side. Though he knew that it was the right choice, that she belonged in Paris without having to look over her shoulder at every moment like she had done the last couple of weeks, it didn't make any of it easier. She was without a doubt the other half of his soul and soon they would part, not knowing when they would meet again. And Erik knew that it was only a matter of time before someone new would find a way into her heart and it would be too late for him. 

Christine had come up with a solution to his problem of being recognised and having to live in the shadows and though he promised that he would give it a chance, should the opportunity present itself, he knew it wasn't a real option for him. Some things just don't change and he was always destined to live away from the rest of humanity. Christine had already given him much more than he could ever hope for. Now he would give her a chance to live a normal life. And if she still wore his ring when he returned... Well, he didn't really have any hopes for that.

Erik didn't travel through the sewers to the Louvre where he was supposed to meet the Judge. Instead he used his vast knowledge of the city's alleyways to navigate through the busy streets, staying in the shadows. He noticed more gendarmes than usual down Avenue de l'Opéra and the streets around, but found that after Rue de Rivoli there was a clear absence of them. The Judge had obviously agreed to his terms of coming alone, though he had security nearby. Erik couldn't blame him for that, but the gendarmes would be useless when they went down to the sewers.

He approached the Judge, who was standing with his back to the front entrance, by going through the back entrance of the Louvre and coming out the front with the intent of catching the older man off guard. Erik moved his scarf and hat, so his white mask would be visible to the Judge. His mask chaffed more than usual and he wondered if it was because he'd been with Christine the whole afternoon without it. It had definitely been freeing.

When he caught sight of the Judge as he neared the front entrance, Erik was glad to see that the man seemed nervous. Good. He had reason to be. It had already taken considerable restraint on Erik's part to not track down the man who had assaulted Christine and kill him. It would even more difficult now when he would be face to face with this monster, but he would do it. Christine wanted justice.

"Judge Hugo Gameau, I presume." He said impassively and enjoyed the way the older man whipped around in shock. He resisted rolling his eyes; it couldn't have been that much of a surprise that the Opera Ghost wouldn't walk from the streets up to the front entrance. The Judge quickly pulled himself together, letting Erik see the way he could command a space - an ability a judge probably had to have. However the slight strain in his jaw betrayed his calm exterior.

"I trust you have the papers for a full pardon for Mlle Daaé?" Erik asked, wasting no time. The Judge pulled out a scroll. 

"I will sign it after we're finished. And your name, monsieur?" The Judge's voice was impassive as well and once again Erik saw too much of himself in the older man who might not look as a monster, but seemed to be as much of a monster as Erik himself.

"I have gone by many names, but seeing that your interest is in the Phantom of the Opera, let's keep with that."

"I am not only interested in the Phantom, but also in the man behind the Phantom." The Judge spoke a bit too eagerly. Erik moved with his remarkable speed up close to the Judge, staring down into cold, yet now frightened eyes.

"And what makes you believe there even is a man?" He hissed and saw his own yellow eyes reflected in the other's dull grey eyes. The Judge staggered backwards and Erik turned around to leave. He was done with this small talk. "Shall we go?" He asked in a impatient voice and didn't wait to hear clumsy footsteps following him. The Judge caught up to him by the stairs to the basement.

"Where are we going?" He asked uneasy.

"To my Opera of course. The way that all ghosts go." Erik let the dim light at the top of the basement staircase hit his eyes, knowing that it would appear as a supernatural glint emerging from his gaze. He knew too well how to frighten others, even without exposing his deformity.

They travelled in silence through the sewers. While Erik didn't need any light, the Judge did and held a small lantern in front of him as Erik led the way. He noticed in amusement that the Judge kept his hand at the level of his eyes. Like that could stop the Punjab Lasso when thrown from the right angle.

Besides the sloshing of water under the Judge's feet, the sound of rodents was the only thing that penetrated the silence. The Judge gasped a few times as rats passed by his ankles and Erik emitted a deep chuckle, using the acoustics of the dark tunnel to project his voice to come from all around them. The other man shuddered behind him, but said nothing.

They arrived half an hour later, as planned, by the underground lake. Erik refused to show the Judge his former living quarters on the other side of the lake, but mumbled that this place had been his home for almost 13 years. Then they walked up the stairs and narrow passageways while Erik told the Judge about the illusions he had created in his time at the Opera, simple parlour tricks really, that frightened the staff. The old man listened in fascination. 

They ended at the mirror in Christine's dressing room. Though he wasn't content with showing this place to the Judge, spoiling all the private memories of it, he knew that it would help gain the man's trust which was needed if he wanted the Judge to share his own crimes.

"This is the former dressing room of Mlle Daaé. I would stand behind this two-way mirror, watching her as I gave her singing lessons. Here and in the chapel at times. To avoid that she discovered this hiding place, I would use ventriloquism to throw my voice, making it appear as if I was in the walls. Of course, sometimes I was." He grinned without mirth to the awestruck man beside him.

"And she never discovered it?"

"It was here I first appeared to her in the flesh, making my secret passageway down to my lair known."

"Such things you must have seen." The Judge commented in a perverted voice as he gazed into the dressing room. Erik walked away in disgust. He had never betrayed Christine's trust in such a way, except by accident that one evening where she had sung to him, looking in the mirror while undressing herself. But he had still hurried away in shame before he had seen too much.

However Erik took the opportunity to establish a dialogue with the Judge as they ventured through the narrow passages behind the walls and panels. He had already planned their route, knowing exactly when their voices could be heard in the auditorium. 

"A judge of your statue must've seen many things as well." Erik commented as the Judge tried to keep up behind him, lacking the elegance to move quickly in the small space.

"Of course, but nothing like what goes on in an Opera House. Everyone knows that the virtues of performers are limited. Even the little Mlle Daaé had both the Vicomte and yourself for her carnal entertainment." In a flash Erik had the Judge pressed up a wall in a tight throat hold. A dusty cobweb entangled into his grey hair. 

"You question her honour?" He growled into the little man's face.

"Come on, Opera Ghost, what decent woman would follow a man willingly into these dark hallways? To stay in a dressing room where she knew that she could be seen? Don't tell me that you haven't had a taste of that." The strangled, deviant voice of the Judge made Erik nauseous and he closed his eyes to picture his beautiful Christine, pure and innocent. But then he remembered the taste of her this very afternoon and how he longed for her. He would leave her soon. Would she ever be his again after this evening? 

His emotions must've betrayed him and shown on his face because the Judge laughed at him. "I knew that you'd had her. I knew it when I saw the look on her face the night she attacked me. The loss in her eyes as I spoke of her dead Phantom. Such sorrow and anger." Erik loosened the grip on the Judge's throat, then let him go completely. He was talking about the assault on Christine, something that needed to be heard by others. Luckily they were close.

Erik walked in a quick pace to the end of the hall, then moved swiftly up the ladder to the place they were headed. The Judge managed to follow behind. They reached the small storage space above the stage where there was a perfect view of the stage, though it was now black and ruined after the fire.

"I'm guessing you were mad that Mlle Daaé got away from you?" Erik continued their conversation from before and the Judge walked right into the trap.

"It was definitely a new experience. She had spite in her. Usually it's easy to make a woman compliant. Some deeds are easily done and even easier to cover up as you know." He jeered at Erik who looked away, hiding his disgust. 

"I never debased a woman nor anything as such." He commented as detached as possible.

"Perhaps not, but kidnapping, distortion, murder..." Erik fisted his hands as the Judge named some of his most recent crimes. Comparing them to his own. "And yet no one ever caught the Opera Ghost. Let me tell you that it's even more simple in a position such as mine." It was time to goad the Judge into confessing.

"You tell me that a small, decent man as you have done things that even compare to the Opera Ghost's actions?" Erik forced himself to laugh in disbelief which clearly made the other man fume.

"I can assure you that while the Phantom of the Opera might be a great mystery, you have tonight confirmed to me that your trickery in this place holds no comparison to the things I've done. Perhaps I should let you see the trophies in my basements of every woman I've had and then disposed off. No one can touch me! And unless you finish providing me with the information you have promised me here tonight, I swear that Mlle Daaé will be next."

Every word of the Judge transported itself across the tiny space and Erik knew that it had been heard below. Satisfied with the result, he chose to let the Judge have what he wanted. The next trick was one of his most basic, but it had always worked wonders on the crew. The other man would definitely be glad to know how it was done. Though it was doubtful that he could learn the skill before he would be executed after this evening. 

"Very well." Erik said confidently. "This is the place where I would watch the performances."

"Not Box 5?" The Judge asked in surprise. Erik leered. 

"No, my demand to hold Box 5 available was purely to make sure that the managers would follow my instructions. This place has a better view of the stage and the acoustics are exceptional. By throwing my voice in a certain way up here, I can be heard from different places in the auditorium, making it seem like I'm everywhere at once. Observe." Erik lifted his face to the upper right corner of the space and laughed as sinister as ever. Below his laugh was heard in the lower left corner of the auditorium. The Judge looked on in astonishment.

"You're welcome to try, but it takes practice." Erik gestured with a hand that the Judge could make an attempt. The older man tried and failed of course miserably. The sound was heard all over the auditorium like everything else they had said.

Erik walked across the room and took a different ladder down until he reached the catwalk and waited patiently for the other to follow. From there they took the stage hands' path down to the stage where the curtain was drawn. It was time for the final.

In the middle of the stage, avoiding the obvious vulnerable parts of the floor, Erik turned around to face the Judge one last time. Soon he would be apprehended while Erik would make his escape, not knowing when he would be able to return. While Christine's plan was good, it had never been ideel. He took a last glance around the scorched stage. Hopefully someone would restore this Opera to its former glory.

"Your Honor, I have provided you with the details of my activities at the Opera Populaire. As part of our agreement I now expect the complete pardon to Mlle Daaé." The Judge nodded and reached into the inner pocket of his coat to retrieve the scroll of paper and quickly signed it. 

"It is done. But please, answer me this: Why her? Why the little Swedish orphan? Surely there are many other beautiful singers you could've chosen, who even would've been less... difficult." He seemed amused, but genuinely interested in Erik's opinion. Erik was struck by the sick realisation that this awful man admired the Opera Ghost.

How could the Judge not notice the sheer wonder of Christine? The compassion and strength in her that seemed to emanate from her, most clearly in her voice when she opened her soul for all to hear. The Judge himself had overturned the city to find Christine.  

"If you have to ask that, you have no understanding of love nor Mlle Christine Daae." Erik said, his calm exterior slipping. He reached out for the scroll in the Judge's hand and spoke more coolly: "Now the paper." The Judge finally handed over the scroll. Erik quickly looked it through, confirming that it indeed did give a full pardon to Christine. Then he took the Judge's hand and shook it, the cue to Darius to lift the curtain. He sent one final grin at the old man. 

Erik backed away as the Judge saw the people filling the first three rows, staring at him in disbelief. A few women gasped, one of them yelling "Hugo!" in an accusing voice. She looked somewhat like the Judge and must be a sister. Erik didn't recognise any of the others, except for the Comte de Chagny and a startled Carlotta, but everyone else were clearly officials and upper class. Of course Nadir, Darius, the Vicomte and the Girys stood on either side of the rows. They had brought this audience after all, securing this whole thing.

"Seize him" A broad man in his fifties shouted and rose from his seat in the first row. Two gendarmes ran up on the left side of the stage where the Judge stood, gripping his arms. "Judge Hugo Gameau, you're under arrest." The broad man spoke as he walked up on the stage.

"Wait!" The Judge interrupted, pointing towards Erik who had moved away. Christine was waiting in the wing for him with his things and one last goodbye. "The Opera Ghost! Don't let him get away." Erik cursed inward. If he wanted a chance to say goodbye to Christine, he couldn't just escape. He had to trust her plan.

"You really believed me to be the Opera Ghost?" Erik changed his voice slightly, making it softer and cheerful. "I am just a man in a mask, set up to trick you."

"If that is so," Carlotta's shrill voice pierced through the auditorium. "Take off the mask and show that you are in fact just a man." The rest of the crowd hummed in agreement, leaving Erik without much choice. He felt exposed on this stage in a way that reminded him of the time he spent with the gypsies.

Then he felt a hand touch his own from behind him. He looked around to see Christine's loving and reassuring eyes. Trust me, she implored him and he knew he had to. He reached for his white mask, closing his eyes to avoid the frightened looks of the crowd, and pulled off his mask.

The silence that met him was even more chilling that the usual screams he normally heard. He opened his eyes to see people stare in confusion and perhaps disappointment. Even Nadir and the others looked at him with a strange expression. La Carlotta turned with a huff to leave.

Underneath the white mask Christine had made him wear the rubber mask that he had received from Camille Andersen. Erik had argued that it would never fool anyone, but Christine had assured him that with heavy stage makeup to create the illusion of an eyebrow and natural lines on his face, no one would be the wiser, at least at a distance. And it seemed that she was right.

"It can't be. Your face!" Erik turned to the Judge who seemed outraged. But what struck him was the gun in the old man's hand that he had grabbed from one of the men holding him. "You will pay for this." 

Erik barely heard the shot go off and his name before he landed on the floor in agony. Suddenly the stage was filled with people around him, some of whom he recognised. He saw the horror in Madame Giry's eyes and tearful faces of Mlle Giry and for some reason the Vicomte. Why would the boy cry for his rival? That was when he realised that they weren't looking at him.

He rolled onto his side and saw Christine in a pool of blood. 

Chapter Text

Marguerite Yvette Giry had always feared the Opera Ghost. Ever since she had moved into the Opera House with her Maman after Papa's death, she had been sure that Le Fantome de l'Opera was real. Whether he was a man or a real ghost didn't matter. He could move through the Opera unseen like no one else and that scared Meg more than anything. Her Maman had always told her that there was no ghost, but Meg knew that it wasn't the whole truth. And though she had been frightened, a certain part of her found the whole thing fascinating.

After the fire at the Opera her Maman had finally told her the truth about Erik, the man in the walls, in the catacombs who had been obsessed with Christine to the point of committing murder. The man who had died and led Christine to be so distraught. Until the strange M. Khan had informed Maman that he was in fact not dead, only in a coma. And after the gendarmes came to search the apartment they were staying in, Meg had been forced to come face to face with the very Opera Ghost she had feared for so long.

But after having seen him in M. Khan's cozy home, even wearing a conceling mask that almost seemed like a second skin, she realised that he truly was just a man. An imposing man with intense eyes and her mind was definitely imagining all sorts of awful deformities that could be under the mask, but he was still a man. She even saw him interact with people at M. Khan's house and the loving glances he directed at Christine, glances that she clearly returned. Such a man couldn't frighten Meg Giry.

However she didn't trust him. He had deceived and kidnapped Christine. Meg had spend many nights comforting her poor friend whose Angel had turned into a strange, angry man. Her Maman sympathised with this Phantom, that was obvious, but the new knowledge of his past hadn't improved Meg’s opinion of him. He had murdered two people she knew and though she hadn't mourned the sleezy Buquet, she actually liked Piangi whose only vice was his fondness of La Carlotta. M. Khan had assured her Maman that Piangi’s murder had been an accident, but Meg had seen the body strangled with the infamous red noose. That was no accident and there was no excuse for murder.

That's what she had been convinced of until she saw her best friend bleed to death in front of her eyes. And she expected the Phantom to react, to kill that monster who had utterly ruined Christine's life, even more than the Phantom himself. But instead the tall, composed man crumbled before her eyes and sobbed as he desperately tried to stop the bleeding that was impossible find the source of, because there was blood everywhere. The painful sounds coming from him was more than Meg could take.

So when the Phantom removed his coat to stop the bleeding and Meg spotted the thin red string, she didn't hesitate. She gripped it and ran to the monster being led away by the gendarmes. In a swift movement she had the noose around his neck and pulled with all her might, almost enjoying the choking sound from her victim.

All too soon the gendarmes fought her off and led the Judge away, now with a red laceration across his neck. Meg hissed at her Maman and Raoul who tried to calm her down. She couldn't. No, she wouldn't. Christine was her best friend, almost a real sister and now she was dying.

She looked at the thin frame, the broken man who leaned over Christine. He was covered in her blood and his own tears. It was then Meg realised that she might be losing her only real friend, but the Phantom was losing the only one he'd ever loved. 

***

 

Christine felt an enormous weight on her chest and tried to push against it, but it was useless. Whatever it was, it wasn't moving and her arms seemed to be restrained. She panicked for a moment. Was she being held captive? She opened her eyes, but it was too dark to see anything. Should she call out or would it be too dangerous if someone discovered she was awake?

She tried to trace back her memory to what she last remembered, but she came up with nothing. She knew her name and where she worked, who her friends were, but nothing about what had happened. The only thing she was aware of right now was the weight on her chest and an inkling of safety. Could she trust that? 

Suddenly a door opened to the right, slightly behind her and someone carefully entered. She closed her eyes again and tried to relax as if she was sleeping while the person fumbled with something. Then she heard a sigh on her left side. Someone had been sitting next to her all along in the dark.

"Any change?" A female voice asked. It sounded slightly familiar, but she wasn't sure where she had heard it. The woman must've asked the person beside her, though she heard no answer. "Just don't give up hope yet. You were in a coma for almost a week." A coma? She knew that she had been unconscious because she would definitely remember ending up here otherwise if she had been sleeping. Who else had been in a coma?

Maybe she should just ask, but her face felt so tired. She tried to open her eyes again, but this time it seemed impossible. She was slipping into unconsciousness again, she realised, perhaps even a coma. Would she wake up again? She attempted to call out, but it was useless.

-

"Christine, you need to drink this." That voice was definitely familiar and safe. She moaned as someone lifted her back, pushing violently against the weight on her chest. She felt the rim of a glass against her lips and spluttered as something terrible flooded her mouth and down her throat, nearly choking her. She coughed and the weight on her chest increased, pushing her back down on the bed.

"You're hurting her!" Another voice she knew cried out and she felt a smile at her lips.

"Raoul," she managed to whisper in a hoarse voice. It hurt and she didn't want to say anything more. The room went completely silent. Then a door slammed and she felt a hand grip her right hand.

"I'm here, Christine. Can you hear me?" Raoul's voice was filled with concern and love, so safe. Yet the inkling of safety she had felt earlier was gone, she realised. Once again her eyelids struggled to lift, but it was useless.

Instead she gripped her fiancee's hand tightly and he squeezed back. It hurt her hand. Something was on her finger, a ring. But why was she wearing a ring on her right hand? It dawned her that Raoul wasn't her fiancee, not anymore. This wasn't his ring, it was Erik's. She wanted to call out to Erik, but she could feel that he wasn't there. Where was he?

Then she remembered what had happened: The gun. He had been shot. He was gone, this time for good. She started to cry, tears forcing themselves out of her eyes, though she couldn't open them. Her chest hurt as she breathed through her sobs. She heard Raoul's voice far away and felt his hand stroke her hair, but he couldn't help her.

This time when unconsciousness closed in on her, she let it.

-

A hand held hers and she felt her ring slide off. She fought with all her strength, flapping her arm to avoid the hand that tried to take the ring.

"Please, don't, it's all I have left." She cried, not quite sure of why.

The hand didn't attempt to remove the ring again and she relaxed. There was no reason to fight.

-

"... getting worried. Her conscious moments are further apart. Her pulse is weak. She's slipping away."

She heard Meg sob to her left, then was startled when she heard a loud crash on her right side.

"She moved, I saw it, her hand moved!" Meg yelled a little too loud right next to Christine's ear. Suddenly each of her hands were gripped; her left by Meg's slim hand and her right by a larger hand. Calloused fingers moved over the back of her hand. She knew those hands, but it couldn't be.

"Christine, kan du høre mig?" She was momentarily confused by the change in language that she barely realised that it was a question. Two fingers forced her eye open and she saw a bright light, then nothing else.

She gripped the large hand tightly and wanted to call out for him, if he was really there, but she couldn't. The weight on her chest was back and enveloped her in darkness again.

-

"It doesn't work that way, she's dying." Erik's velvet voice was unusually grating, almost as if there was a crack in the crystal that was his vocal cords.

"Her fever is gone. It's a good sign. Don't give up yet. Just try and talk to her." The other voice had a slight accent, but was warm and friendly. A man. 

"She doesn't want me anyway. She called out for the boy, you heard it yourself." She could hear the tears in his voice and realised how rejected he must feel. But she didn't care about Raoul.

"She probably just heard his voice at that moment. If you're going to stay here forever, you might as well talk to her." A door was opened, then closed, but she still felt Erik's presence there. She tried to open her eyes, to confirm that he was truly alive, but it seemed like an impossible feat.

She felt him grip her right hand again and for a moment she was panicked that he would remove her ring, but he just held her. She didn't need the ring anyway when he was there.

Silence filled the room and she wondered if she was slipping into unconsciousness again. Then she heard his voice in tender tone.

The day starts, the day ends
Time crawls by
Night steals in, pacing the floor
The moments creep,
Yet I can't bear to sleep
Till I hear you sing

And weeks pass, and months pass
Seasons fly
Still you don't walk through the door
And in a haze
I count the silent days
Till I hear you sing once more

And sometimes at night time
I dream that you are there
But wake holding nothing but the cold night air

And years come, and years go
Time runs dry
Still I ache down to the core
My broken soul
Can't be alive and whole
Till I hear you sing once more

And music, your music
It teases at my ear
I turn and it fades away and you're not here

Let hopes pass, let dreams pass
Let them die
Without you, what are they for?
I'll always feel
No more than halfway real
Till I hear you sing once more

His voice was filled with such sorrow and she longed to heal him. Fighting against the weight on her chest, she opened her mouth and whispered his name, unsure if it could even be heard. Why was it so hard? 

"Christine?" She felt his hand on her cheek and his breath on her face. Finally her eyes responded and she opened them to meet his worried eyes. He didn't look like himself and she reached out to pull off the rubber mask.

"There you are." She rasped and smiled. Relieved and tired eyes glistened down at her and he laughed disbelievingly, though he sounded a bit like a croak.

"You're awake." He pulled her into his embrace and though her chest hurt for a moment, it was gone when she felt his arms around her. "Don't leave me again." He whispered into her curls as he held her tightly. Her strength seemed to grow with him here. 

"I loved your song. Just don't tell me that I have slept for years."

"No, only eight days, but at a point it seemed like you would never wake up." He said solemnly and she reached up to put her hand on his chest where she felt his heart beat steady. It was like music on its own and she felt herself doze off again.

"I will wake up soon, okay? Just hold me." She murmured and snuggled against him.

"I love you, Christine" was the last thing she heard.

 

Chapter Text

- Epilogue - 

 

Erik whistled once to excuse the cast for the day, knowing that everyone would be able hear him from his usual place in the storage room above the stage. No one could see him when he was up there which was useful for the rehearsals when the cast thought he wasn't present. They had learned by now to be on their best behavior and be alert at all times because they never knew if he was watching. Admittedly he enjoyed to be unseen. Old habits die hard after all.

Though he had officially been the manager of Opera Populaire for over a year, he rarely spent any time in the office. He had hired Nadir for that, a position that his old friend complained about regularly, but nonetheless seemed to enjoy. Especially the time he got to spend with Madame Giry who he was now on first name basis with.

Most of Erik's time was divided between rehearsals and composing. After he had bought the Opera from the former managers at a very generous price, he had rebuilt the auditorium and the stage as he had always imagined it, throwing himself into the work to distract him from the past. Then he had rehired most of the cast and crew, compensating the ones he didn't want to rehire.

Now he acted as musical and artistic director, mostly from a certain distance, so no one would notice the rubber mask that hid his deformity. It allowed him to blend in, so very few suspected his real identity. He could even take walks through the city in the daylight without having to fear anyone's staring. It seemed that people never looked twice if they didn't see half of a nose missing

As promised to Christine he hadn't moved back into his underground house, though it would've been easier. At first he had stayed at the Opera, sleeping in her dressing room and working on finishing the reconstruction. Regrettably Madame Giry had noticed that he barely ate and slept and had insisted that he come and stay with her and her daughter in the apartment which had originally been his own. The women made sure that he ate somewhat regularly and the Madame proclaimed that it improved his mood. While it wasn't very decent for a widow and her young daughter to live with an unmarried man, most people assured that he was Madame Giry's brother because of his height and black hair resembling hers, a persona he quickly adopted.

It was nice sometimes to have company when he was feeling lonesome which was more often than when he had lived under the Opera. While he would mostly sit at the end of the table as the Girys talked, it was nice not to be alone. Sometimes they were joined by Nadir and even the Vicomte who seemed to miss Christine as well. The boy and Erik had put their rivalry aside to a certain point, but they would often have an intense around of chess or various card games where the Vicomte would struggle to keep up. Erik admitted that he had the poor boy win a few times in sympathy. He might have a pretty face, but he was still a complete fop.

However well the arrangement with the Girys went, he spent most of his spare time composing in the place where inspiration seemed to strike him. He had bought a small piano and set it up in the old dressing room, not changing anything else in fear that it would disrupt his memories of her there. He could easily sit there for hours, twisting the black stoned ring on his pinkie and wishing that it still was on her finger.

Christine had been gone a year. It seemed like a life time without her. He hadn't admitted to anyone how much each day pained him, but when they put on the new production with Erik's own music, it was clear that everyone heard it in his compositions. Luckily he had added a few music numbers that he had written long ago when she had been there with him and added them, otherwise it would be a hopeless opera to put on a stage.

After lunch today they had invited singers to audition. Without Christine they needed a lead soprano for the opera. They had a fine mezzo-soprano from the last production, but his own music called for one who could reach at least C6. Erik hated auditions with a fiery passion. Every singer thought that they were the next big Christine Daaé and stood on the stage butchering one aria after the other. He had been told by M. Reyer, Madame Giry and even Nadir that he had to settle for someone, but he just couldn't. 

He left his spot above the stage as M. Reyer returned from lunch. The old conductor had already noticed that Erik's face composed of a half mask and while Erik had wondered if he should apologise for dropping a chandelier on him, M. Reyer hadn't mentioned anything or expressed dissatisfaction. Madame Giry had even said that he liked Erik's ideas. It almost made him fond of the older man. 

"M. Reyer, as you are probably aware of, it will be best if I don't attend rehearsals today. I would like it if you could find a proper soprano. I trust your decision." He tried to sound sincere, though he wasn't quite. M. Reyer hadn't appreciated La Carlotta's moods, but he had liked her voice. However M. Reyer was the best choice when it came to finding a lead soprano when Erik couldn't. 

"I will do my very best, monsieur." The conductor gave him a small bow and passed by Erik without another word. Another reason why he liked the man: No need for small talk. 

Erik went straight her dressing room to lie down. While he didn't want to be at the auditions, he could still hear them from this space so close to the stage. Perhaps a miracle would happen.

He closed his eyes and allowed himself to dream of Christine, of the last time they had been in this very room. He had been angry over something that seemed so unimportant now and she had dared to set him straight. He couldn't remember a time where anyone had told him off like she dared to, not even Madame Giry. Then he had placed his ring on her finger and they had made love for the last time. 

It was a dream he indulged in often, so often that he barely remembered the feel of her on his skin, only his own hands that replaced hers as he pretended to be back at that time. Afterwards he would allow shame to fill the gaping hole in his chest when his eyes opened to an empty room. 

Today he did not pretend. He just closed his eyes and imagined her voice as she sang to him afterwards. Despite the stressful situation they had been in at the time, she had gently sung to him while he had brushed her hair and redressed her. Then he had donned the rubber mask and she had added stage makeup to make it realistic. He had frowned at the result back then, but now he would do it himself every day to make a life among others possible. And every day he would think of her and thank her for what she had done for him. 

A knock on the door interrupted the thoughts he'd had many times before. "Not now!" He yelled at whoever was on the other side. Only a few would ever dare to disturb him and he knew that none of them would go away, but at least they would know what mood they would find him in.

"Erik?" A soft voice called, muffled slightly by the heavy door, but it was a voice he would recognise anywhere. In a flash he was at the door and pulled it open so roughly that it hit the wall behind it and made an awful racket. But none of it mattered. Because in the doorway stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her curly chestnut hair was shorter, just below her shoulders, and her face had been in the sun long enough that freckles appeared across her nose, but it didn't make her look younger. Her sea blue eyes were filled with knowledge and experience. She looked mature, like the woman she was. She was simply breath-taking.

"Christine?" His voice was barely audible, but she smiled at him, the most magnificent smile he'd ever seen. Was he dreaming?

"I apologize for the disturbance. M. Khan told me I might find you here. Can I come in?" She asked nervously after a few moment where he had been staring at her. He nodded a bit too rapidly and stepped aside to let her in.

"I'm sorry that I've changed some things in here. I can have the piano removed again." He mumbled as she looked around. She went over to the piano where music sheets were scattered. He had to throw some of them out at some point. Most of them were rubbish.

"Why would you do that? It's your opera after all." She turned around and smiled gently at him. That's when he really saw all of her. She was wearing a simple day dress, blue as her eyes. It hugged her upper body tightly while flowing gracefully around her legs. She was lean, but she still had an ample bosom and wide hips that highlighted her slim waist. Her body was clearly strong in the way she held herself and he wondered briefly if her legs was as fine as he remembered. Tomas had told Erik that she had been riding a lot.

"I thought that you might want it back. Are you here for the audition?" He wasn't sure what to do with his hands and found himself twisting the pinkie ring again. She seemed to notice.

"No, I'm here for you. As I promised." It was true. When she had begun to recover from the gunshot and the following infection, he had bought the opera and announced that together they would make it the greatest opera in Europe. She hadn't been too happy that he once again had decided for her. As suggested by Camille Andersen, Christine had travelled with Tomas from Notre-Dame to Berlin to recover from the wound which had punctured her lung and left her breath weakened. She had asked Erik to stay behind and live a normal life until she returned, promising that she would. But after she had recovered, she and Tomas had travelled through Europe until the sacristan had returned without her.

"I just... I didn't think you'd be back. When Tomas returned from your travels, he said that you had decided to stay in Vienna. And when you didn't write..." He trailed off, not allowing himself to say that he had thought that she had found someone better.

"I stayed to regain my voice at the Wiener Musikverein in Vienna. To be honest I was quite embarrassed by the way I sounded after recovering. I worked with Anton Bruckner, a strange man with many talents." She smirked slyly. "Though not compared to you. But I didn't write because I needed you to allow me to make my decisions and accept them. It would've been difficult if I had corresponded with you because you have a way to induce your will. But I always planned on returning as I had promised." She looked down at his folded hands which he tried to keep motionless. "That is if you'll still have me here? I noticed your ring..." He had promised to wear it until she returned, a promise she had originally made to him.

"Oh, Christine, I'd like nothing more." He haltered, feeling the heartache of the past year. "I just can't bear it if you leave me again." She nodded in understanding and they stood in silence, none of them knowing what to say. Finally Christine spoke.

"I'm impressed with what you've done. You've made a whole life for yourself among the rest of humanity. In Vienna there was much talk about the innovative transformation of the Paris Opera and the revolutionary music performed. It was more than I had expected, but I should've known that you never do anything halfhearted." Her eyes sparkled and he chose to study the floor closely. He wasn't used to receive praise, so he was unsure of how to react.   

"Maybe I should audition. I'd love a chance to perform your opera." She continued.

"You don't have to audition. The part is yours if you want it." He objected. The role was created with her in mind after all. 

"No, I need to. You don't know how I sound after..." She faltered and Erik suddenly realised that there was another reason why she hadn't returned earlier: She feared that he would be disappointed with her voice. The very idea was preposterous. He crossed the last few feet between them and took her hands in his.

"Christine, I don't care. I truly don't. I just want you with me. That's more than I could ever ask for." He had just bared his feelings to her and instantly feared that she didn't return them anymore. So much had happened between them. His fear grew when tears formed in her eyes. His grip on her hands loosened and she flung her arms around his neck, embracing him with the same kind of desperation that he felt. Her proximity made his head rush as he breathed in the scent of rosewater in her soft curls and he gritted his teeth as desire surged through him. She pulled back a little and touched his rubber mask.

"Can I?" She whispered and though he hadn't seen her for a year and the fact that he never took it off, unless he needed to wash, he accepted her request. If it repulsed her now, it'd be better that she rejected him now rather than later. His eyes closed in fear of her reaction. It had been too long. She carefully removed it and put it on the piano while he tried to keep his breath calm. Suddenly he felt her breath against his lips and opened his eyes to meet her intense gaze. It was too much to bear.

He leaned forward and let his lips brush hers once, then again. Sparks surged through him. Her eyes fluttered shut, as did his own, and she held onto the lapels of his tailcoat as their lips met again. He wrapped an arm around her waist while his other hand cupped the back of her head as he tasted her for the first time since they said goodbye. How he craved her! Nothing compared to her.

Her lips parted to let out a soft sigh and he deepened their kiss, groaning as her tongue tentatively met his. Lust erupted in him and he forced it down. They had only just found each other again, he couldn't expect that she wanted this now.

But without him noticing it her fingers had unbuttoned his tailcoat and she gestured him to let go of her, so she could pull it off. Her hands slid over his chest and he cursed the remaining layers between her soft skin and his body. Heat raced through his veins and he struggled to keep control. When his hands reached her again, he lifted her on top of the piano and raised her skirt enough to step between her legs. She wrapped a leg around his waist to pull him closer, putting him flush against her. They both gasped as they felt each other, even through the layers that separated them.

She started on his waistcoat while he kissed down her neck as he unbuttoned her dress, exposing her silk chemise that barely covered her lush breasts. He cupped them, running his thumbs over her nipples to see them harden through the fabric at his touch.

She gripped his wig, throwing it away. He heard her surprise as her hands reached into his real hair. She hadn't seen him for a year and he had forgotten about his hair. He had taken the doctor's advice and used oils to soften up his scalp, then combed over the crusty surface there. Slowly but steadily his scalp had stopped hurting and more hair had begun to grow out. His hair was still quite weak and a lighter color than his wig, but he nearly had a full head of hair for the first time in his life. And how wonderful it felt as Christine's fingers combed through it. He almost felt like purring.

His mouth continued down her torso and he pulled at her chemise to bare her chest. Her breasts were softer than he could remember and as he put a nipple in his mouth, she pushed them further against him. He met the angry scar on her right upper breast where the bullet had pierced her skin; the bullet she had saved him from and almost died from. He kissed the scar softly. It would always be a reminder of how precious she is to him.

Feeling his solemn mood, she tugged at his hair to pull him up and kiss him again. Her fingers swiftly unbuttoned his shirt and pushed it off his shoulders, then ran her soft hands over his chest. It would never seize to amaze him how she could stand to touch his flawed body while allowing him to touch her own. His manhood throbbed almost painfully in longing for her heat. The animalistic desire to make her his again was overwhelming.

Her hands barely opened his belt before he lifted her out of her skirt and lay her down on the couch. She was only wearing her drawers and stockings now, her skin flushed and hair tousled. He'd never seen anything as beautiful and he felt his heart pound as desperately in his chest as the throb in his trousers. How could this be real?

"I love you, Christine." He whispered hoarsely and swallowed past a lump in his throat. For a moment he was struck by a memory of her lying pale and unconscious in his arms where he had sure that her life was over, along with his own. He forced the memory away.

"I love you too, Erik. And I want you to make love to me." Her voice was breathy and deeper than usual, filled with honey and desire. He couldn't hold back anymore and lifted her leg to roll down her stocking while fervently kissing the exposed skin, then doing the same when he divested her of the other stocking. Slowly he untied her drawers and slipped them off her legs. She was panting as she followed his every movement and cooed when he bent down to kiss the apex of her legs. She was soaking and smelled sweet of need.

"Please, Erik, I need you." She was breathless and her eyes begged him to be one with her. He returned to her mouth, kissing her deeply while her hands began to remove his trousers. As her small fingers touched his length, he sucked in a breath and struggled to stay controlled. Nervousness hit him like the night they had made love. He had dreamed of it many times and how perfect it had been, but now he wondered if he could even live up to it. Would he still satisfy her? He wanted nothing more than that.

She eased him down on top of her, her hot core luring him to settle between her legs. Their eyes locked once more and he was struck by the utter love that met him. He had never felt love and hers shone brighter than the sun, burning right down to his soul. She cupped his ruined cheek and kissed him tenderly like the first time in the catacombs where her kiss had set him free. She had found the man in him and let him have her heart and allowed him to love her in return. He would never fail her again.

Her hand led his length to her opening and he entered her carefully, letting her adjust to the invasion. She was burning inside, her core strong and wet with desire. Her inner muscles hugged him tightly and he choked back the urge to pound into her uncontrollably. They both gasped as they joined completely. It was as if she was a last missing piece of him, the one who mended his broken soul. It was with her, he belonged.

Slowly he began to move in her, allowing the music in their veins to guide him. With every thrust she met him, as a beat in a never-ending melody. The sounds that left her were pure music in his ears and he joined in with her. His hands roamed her body, learning of every place where she responded to his touch. He wanted her to feel as enthralled as him, so she would never leave him again.

The words spilled from his lips as he begged her to stay while his thrusts grew deeper and more frantic. She fought her moans back long enough to promise it and he swallowed her words to make them his. Her muscles started to contract around him and she gripped his back with her nails, no doubt leaving marks that he never wanted to be rid of. Her body arched and she cried out his name, gripping his length intensely as she convulsed in bliss and with a final thrust, he let go. He breathed her name as scalding pleasure struck him and shuddered at the way her body suckled at him when he released his desire in her. 

Afterwards he peppered her with feathery kisses, not believing how lucky he was. She hummed as she stretched beneath him, her core clutching around his flaccid length still inside her. His breath hitched and she chuckled, muttering an apology. He reluctantly rose from her, found a washcloth and sat on the floor in front of the couch as he gently cleaned her after their lovemaking. She looked tenderly down at him and he decided that he couldn't wait any longer. 

Taking a deep he reached into the drawer in the vanity, where he kept a red rose with a black velvet ribbon. It was dried up, but still beautiful and without any thorns. He took it out, got back on his knees in front of his beloved and presented it to her.

"Christine, I've lived a long life where I learned to accept that I was a demon; the Angel of Death; the villain. Then you came and showed me that I could be something else: A man. For the first time in my life I live without hate and fear, because of your influence, but I am only truly happy when you are by my side. Will you marry me?" She took the rose and noticed the ring hidden inside the flower head. Tears fell from her cheeks and onto the rose, reviving the color a bit. He prepared himself for rejection.

"Yes," she whispered and pulled out the ring, sliding it on her left ring finger. "Of course I will marry you, Erik." She threw herself into his arms and kissed him passionately.

Once a man had appeared to a young woman in the old dressing room. She had seen herself as nothing more than a child and had let others decide for her. He had hidden behind a mask, posing as an angel - a monster - a ghost.  Now they sat as equals, bare to each other, not hiding anymore.