“Does it hurt?” Christine asks, trying not to blink. The urge to wince is still there, but she hopes it will pass soon. She doesn’t know what to do with herself, actually: on one hand, she’s thrilled that Erik is letting her see his face without screaming or threatening her at the same time. When he’s calm and collected, when he’s not throwing temper tantrums and roaring with rage, he looks so much less terrifying.
She has seen that face before. It was ugly, twisted and bloated. That didn’t change.
But what she sees in his eyes – the love, the devotion, the utter bewilderment – makes it so much more pleasant to look at, now that she thinks about it.
She hasn’t chosen a handsome man, that much is certain. But, in some sick and twisted way, she does find him beautiful.
That’s quite possibly another proof she’s mad.
Still, Christine doesn’t know how to behave – should she look? Should she ignore it? Should she pretend it’s not fascinating and that she doesn’t want to spend hours on end just studying the swollen flesh, its texture and its colour? She isn’t sure. And she doesn’t want Erik to lash out on her again (which he might, come to think of it.)
“It does sometimes,” he whispers. “It’s quite itchy, and when I wear my mask for too long, the skin gets really angry. It’d probably be less of a bother if I took some care of it. But I truly try not to look upon it too often, let alone moisturise it, or whatever you ladies put onto your lovely faces.”
“Oh,” she breathes, nodding gently.
“You’re not screaming,” Erik states.
“Neither are you. So why should I?”
He chuckles. Christine notes quietly that he looks even more appealing when his eyes start to glow with amusement.
She could definitely get used to his deformity.
“Is that so? It’s a chain reaction, then? You only scream when I do, too?”
“Indeed,” Christine smiles at him. “And boy, if you ever scream at me again, I’m going to use my full potential on you. And you are going to be sorry.”
“Interesting. And duly noted. I’ll make sure never to scream at you.”
“Well, you may. But I’m going to fight back.”
“I know. You have before.”
“You sound... proud?”
“I am the Phantom of the Opera,” Erik exclaims. “Of course I’m proud to see the fire in you!”
“Fair enough,” Christine laughs. “Look at us! Teasing each other, with your mask on the floor, and with me basically asking you to court me. Would you believe it?”
“Not really, no,” Erik murmurs, looking at his feet. “I still don’t know what to do with you.”
“Just love me,” she answers, taking his hand in hers.
“No, you don’t understand, Christine!” He squeezes her palm and looks her in the eye. “I’ve got... I’ve got this... love. This overwhelming love that I feel for you, I’ve got it locked up.... Locked up in a wooden box, if you will, and you’ve got the key. And if you turn it, and you... and you open that box? Oh god, there will be no going back. I’m giving you the last chance to back away. Truly, Christine, if you don’t mean it... If you don’t want me... if it’s just your... whim or fancy... Just go.”
“I shan’t. I want you to love me. And I want you to teach me how to love you. The only reason why I’m not saying the words right now, is because I want to truly mean them when I say them. And I’m still not certain if what I’m feeling for you is love. I mean... I do know that I don’t want to live without you. I’ve tried that... and ended up going back to you. I want to spend every moment with you, and never to be parted from you ever again. I think... that’s love... But I’ll say it when I am sure.”
“I’ll love you enough for both of us.”
“You won’t need to. Soon, I’ll know. Trust me.”
“So, that’s it, then? You’re mine?”
“I’m mine. And I choose to be here with you.”
“I do not deserve this honour, Christine.”
“You do. And before it gets so sweet we both get sick, you, monsieur, was going to kiss me, I believe.”
Erik sighs, knitting his eyebrows. “It is going to be clumsy, though. I have never kissed anyone. Nor have I ever wanted to.”
“It will be ours, therefore it can’t be clumsy. It will be perfect.”
Erik laughs breathlessly, still not quite believing his luck. This beautiful, brilliant, impossible woman, who has finally proven to be strong and capable of just about anything, is standing in front of him, demanding that he kiss her.
And he’s been denying himself this pleasure for so long, it seems silly to prolong the inevitable. His lips ever so gently touch hers, and, of course, Christine was right.
It is, indeed, perfect.
“Christine you’ve got to stop kissing me now,” Erik mutters after Christine’s grown tired of nibbling his upper lip.
“Why would I do that?” She giggles, placing a wet kiss in the corner of his mouth.
“Your lips are going to get sore, for one.”
“Don’t care,” Christine murmurs, shrugging a little.
“My legs hurt from standing up for so long, for another.”
“That is probably the only disadvantage of relationships with a bigger age difference,” she nods, smiling at him.
“We’re in a relationship,” Erik breathes.
“Indeed. Are you going to adopt Horatio, then?”
“Why, obviously. We wouldn’t want your child not to have a father, would we?”
“Decidedly not! Speaking of, where is Lord Nelson?” Christine asks, stepping backwards and releasing Erik at last. “Oh my God, I’ve forgotten about him. He must be off, doing something mischievous!”
“He couldn’t have done anyth—“ Erik doesn’t finish himself, as they both gasp in horror upon seeing Christine’s tiny kitten sitting on the top shelf of Erik’s bookshelf, tearing music sheets apart.
“How the hell did he get there?” Christine cries out, trying to reach the cat and failing miserably. Erik laughs behind her.
“Now, I don’t know about that, but I have just discovered an advantage of relationships with significant height difference,” he states, shooing Christine away, and taking Horatio off the shelf. The cat meows loudly, clearly angry that he has been interrupted.
“You are the worst,” Christine laughs.
“Both of you!” She’s still laughing as she takes Lord Nelson in her arms and scratches him behind the ear. “Meet your daddy, Horatio! Oh, you’re getting so big, aren’t you? And now you’ve got us both, and no-one wants to get rid of you. You’re going to be the happiest kitty that’s ever lived on earth, believe you me!”
“You’re ridiculous, Christine.”
“You love it,” she fires back.
“That’s very true, yes.”
Finally, Horatio gets sick of his owner showering him with love, and scurries away.
“Did he destroy anything valuable?” Christine worries, trying to stand on her toes and reach the sheets her cat tore. “I’d hate for you to lose your music because of him.”
“I’m not really composing nowadays, so I doubt it was anything of importance.”
“But I’m back, Erik. Why has your music not returned to you yet?” She inquires, turning to him. “I thought it was back.”
“I don’t know, really. Perhaps Don Juan was the one opera I was supposed to finish, and leave my so-called career at that? Maybe I’m not going to create anything ever again.”
“Oh, but you must. The world deserves more of your brilliance!”
“Please,” he laughs. “Let us not talk about it. I’d rather not dwell on that. If it’s gone, so be it. I need your voice in my life, and I do have it. I don’t need my music.”
“You know you do. But yes, we’ll come back to it later. For now, we’ve got Christmas to organise!”
“Christmas? Here? Are you kidding me?”
“Not at all. Listen to me, and listen to me good. I shall go up now, and get us all that we need. Food, well, a tree? Yes? No? Maybe?”
“A tree? How do you think you’ll manage to get it in here?”
“Very true. It’s too late for it, anyway. Next year, then. Food, candy, candles, lots of candles! And something for Horatio, too.”
“Oh, God. Alright, then, let me give you some money.”
“No, no! I hav—“ Christine stops then, because, well, she doesn’t have money, actually.
“Do allow the Phantom to pay for our first Christmas together.”
“If he insists,” she tries to pretend to be nonchalant about it.
“I have never celebrated Christmas before,” Erik mutters, mostly to himself, looking around. Christine spent everything he’d given her, every last sou. He is quite in awe of her.
She did go a little bit overboard, he’s got to admit that, no matter how sickly in love he is with her. There are candles, chocolate, biscuits, croissants, some bows (he has no idea whatever for) and other Christmassy knick-knacks; she even bought a miniature Christmas tree, the little fool.
“That’s not a typical French Christmas Eve, I know. Nor a Swedish one. But it’s ours, right? It’s going to be incredible?” She looks up at him, putting her purchases on the table.
“I... I don’t know, Christine,” Erik answers truthfully. “I am not that familiar with present Christmas customs.”
“We will make our own! Who will forbid it? No one. There is only us in here, and we’re entitled to create our own Christmas traditions.”
“How are you that cheerful?” He inquires gently, a small smile playing on his lips.
“I don’t know! I guess sorting out your life, being honest with yourself, and finally moving on does that to oneself. It’s amazing, you know? I feel great. I haven’t been happier in a very, very long time.”
“I’m glad,” he says quietly.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Christine knits her eyebrows.
“Your mask is gone, you can’t lie that easily now that I can see your face. Did I do something to upset you?”
“No!” Erik shakes his head furiously. “It’s nothing, really. Nothing at all. I’m just wondering when I’ll finally wake up and how much it’s going to fucking hurt.”
“Watch your language in front of a lady!” Christine gasps in mock horror.
“It’s never bothered you before.”
“Nor does it now, I just wanted to be funny. All joking aside, Erik, you’re quite awake, let me assure you.” She stops making the table for a moment and takes his hand in hers. “I’m here, and I’m not leaving, and you love me. And we’re going to have the best Christmas together this year, we’re going to make plenty of new memories, and... doesn’t that just thrill you?”
“Oh, it does. It’s just quite difficult to comprehend.”
“Kiss me, then, and stop over-thinking things.”
“You’ve become quite bossy.”
“You’ve rubbed off on me.”
“Do you think there’s any hope for us, for our story, to have a happy ending?” Erik asks hours later, when they’ve already finished their festivities. Christine is laying on the settee, with her head placed upon his lap, his hand gently stroking her auburn curls.
“Of course there is.”
“I just don’t think I deserve it, you know?”
“Erik, of all the people that I know, I think it is you who deserves some happiness the most,” Christine tells him. “Everybody deserves to be loved. And I’ll try to make you the happiest man on earth.”
“I already am happy. Frighteningly so, in fact. I still can’t believe you’re here with me.”
“I am. And we will fight, and throw things at each other probably, and you’ll lash out on me, I’ll stubbornly refuse to talk to you for days and then get mad you didn’t try harder to reach me... We’re going to be a mess. And I am so ready for it.”
“You are? The picture you’re paining isn’t that optimistic.”
“Think of the times when we’re not mad at each other, though. The love, the fire... not many people are lucky enough to experience such raw passion. This is what I’ve always wanted, I think. My darker side needed you.”
“I love you. Irrecoverably and desperately.”
Christine closes her eyes, snuggling closer.
“And so will I.”