Christmas was right around the corner, being blown in by the crisp cold December wind that no Parisian could escape, and only recently had Christine begun to enjoy it once more. It was, in fact, one of many things she'd just started to find pleasure in once again. The grief caused by the death of her father left the date full of painful bittersweet memories for years and later the stress of the situation with Raoul and Erik left little time to appreciate much of anything, including simple things like holidays. Yet now, not overly long after the fiasco, she found joy returning to her life one moment with Erik after another.
Deep below the opera house Christine smiled and tucked her feet under her. She hummed the melody of a new piece Erik had written as she sat on the couch in front of the fire, content in the living room of the little house she shared with him. In an attempt for some sense of normalcy, something difficult to come by these days, she'd coaxed her protesting husband into allowing her to decorate for the holiday. The feat took several hours due to one of Erik's unpredictable fits and was only accomplished due to a great number of kisses, compliments, and promises to sing whatever he liked later in the day. He'd grumbled and complained, pacing through the entire ordeal, even going so far as to mistakenly say he'd refuse to let her leave their little home to purchase any form of ornamentation.
“Absolutely not Christine! Erik has never celebrated Christmas before, and he does not intend to start now! Besides, he likes his house just the way it is.” A worried look crossed his face, lightning-fast. “Does… does Christine not like the house? If not Erik can redecorate however his Christine likes! He would even find a place far away from others but still near the opera to build her whatever house she wished for.”
“You’re being ridiculous Erik,” she’d sighed, placing one hand on his. “It has nothing to do with not liking the house. I’ve told you time and time again how much I love living in this beautiful house with you. I just thought we could celebrate our first Christmas together with some decorations as a way to make new happier memories instead of dwelling on our past.”
“Absolutely not,” he’d shouted, snatching his mask from the mantle and placing it on his face as if it could protect him from the idea. “I forbid you from going! Erik refuses to let you leave. He will lock the doors until the holidays are over if he must!”
"Erik," she'd cried crossing her arms and stomping one foot, scandalized and angry at the suggestion. The action was childish, but she felt as if it was less so than her husband's argument. "You will do no such thing! Need I call to mind how well it worked last time you tried to force me to do something?" She felt horrible any time the events under the opera house following her abduction were used against him, but it was a necessary evil; one that reminded him of how he'd sworn to be better for her, lest he return to his old ways and lose her affection. "Must I remind you of how you threatened to lock me away then as well?"
"No! No, of course not," he'd replied immediately, his slender pale hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. He'd swallowed hard, tears springing to his amber eyes beneath the mask he only occasionally wore. It was often placed to the side at her insistence, but on occasions he felt particularly uncomfortable he would put it back on. Christine, to her credit, had been able to stand her ground without rushing to his side and reassuring the poor man of her love. "Erik... he... he forgot himself. It was a poor slip of the tongue. He swears that he will never try to lock his Christine up again. Never!"
"I know you won't dearest," she'd said, her resolve slipping away. On quiet feet, she'd crossed the room, wrapped her arms around his thin waist, and rested her head against his bony chest. "You're a better man than you were then." A tentative feather-soft kiss from paper-thin lips was pressed with caution against her hairline and she'd let the subject of decorating drop for a few hours. Still, she'd persisted, making sure to stay gentle, avoiding anything that would truly harm or upset Erik. Decorating for their first Christmas since their wedding (and the first Christmas either had celebrated in years) would be nice and didn't seem unreasonable, but if it had started to make her anxiety-filled husband too uncomfortable Christine had been prepared to let it drop. He'd finally relented, unable to go too long without giving in to the woman he loved more than anything in the world aside from his own music (though he adamantly denied loving anything more than her every time it was brought up). But no victory came without a price. After agreeing he had spent most of the day in his former bedroom sulking and pounding away at the organ.
Christine's thoughts shifted from what she had previously done to the adventure she and Meg would embark on the next day. Their rehearsal was shortened meaning the dancer had half of the day off and would surely be thrilled to go on an outing with her dearest friend. It had been so long since they had last gone out together, Christine opting to spend much of her free time at home with Erik and Meg spending hers with the young man she had recently started courting. Wandering between stores hand in hand wrapped in scarves, coats, and mittens while giggling as they debated over which decorations would look in the house by the lake (a place Meg only visited on rare occasions when Erik was out and Christine needed company) seemed like a perfect way to start the Christmas season. Perhaps they would even have time to look for gifts for their partners.
Erik entered the room, drawing her gaze from the merrily flickering fire and her thoughts away from tomorrow's trip to focus on his lean form in the doorway. The dim light gleamed, bathing his pale skin and even lighter unmasked face, in a warm yellow glow. His golden eyes were downcast and his hands clasped behind his back, a sure sign that he wanted something he was too afraid to ask for. His jaw was tense and Christine longed to kiss him over and over again until the tension faded. Blushing a little, chose instead to simply acknowledge his presence. There was no reason to overwhelm the man, especially when he looked so stressed.
"Yes, love? Do you need something?" Erik hesitated. He always hesitated, or something very near to always. Despite the confidence projected by his persona as the Opera Ghost, it was something he struggled with often. It splintered a little piece of Christine’s heart every time and she vowed over and over that by the end of their time together he would never be afraid to talk to her about anything.
“I…” He paused again, needing a moment to gather his courage. “Erik was wondering if Christine would come sing for him like she promised earlier. He’s just written something new and… and would be so very pleased if he could hear her sing it.” Christine’s face lit up as it always did when he asked her if she would like to sing.
“Of course Erik,” she said as she rose from her seat on the couch, smoothing out her skirts. “You know the only reason I’d ever turn down singing for you is if I’m already busy.” She placed one hand on his shoulder to steady herself, rising onto her tiptoes and planting a kiss on his bare cheek. His eyes widened and he stopped breathing for a few seconds, still surprised by the affection he was shown, even after several months. “Shall we go,” Christine asked, knowing that if she didn't speak up he could spend minutes standing in the middle of the parlor with shock etched on his face. Erik nodded in earnest before grabbing her hand to walk her to their music room.
The next morning Christine woke alone, a common but disheartening occurrence. She knew, of course, that Erik rarely slept when they were in bed together anyway. He only stayed so he could feel the simple joys of being near her, choosing instead to sing her to sleep and read through the night. This morning, however, was more promising than most. The smell of freshly cooked pancakes wafted through the open door from the kitchen indicating that Erik was not composing like he often was. The food, she guessed, was probably to apologize for his outburst the previous day. Still, it was wonderful to be cooked for, something few husbands would ever do, and she wouldn't turn down Erik's cooking for anyone else's. In a matter of minutes she changed, wanting nothing more than to eat her breakfast in his arms.
“Good morning dearest,” she said snuggling up against his side. “Are you feeling any better today?” Erik shrugged, wrapping a tentative arm around her shoulders, and squeezed. It was as much a distraction technique as a sign of his affection.
“Perhaps.” At her questioning look, he retracted his statement. “Of course my dear. Your Erik is fine. You shouldn’t worry your pretty head over him so much. He does not deserve it.” Before Christine could get a word in otherwise to dispute his self-deprecating comment he forged onward, letting his arm drop from her shoulders as he started to set their small wooden table. “What time are you and Miss Giry planning on going out?” Christine bit her bottom lip the way she often did when thinking.
“I’m not sure," she confessed, sliding into one of the chairs and piling pancakes onto her plate. Erik watched her eat them, scanning her face for any sign of distaste. "These are marvelous darling," Christine commented, beaming. "But as I was saying, I still need to ask what time works best. Most likely during the late afternoon.”
“I see," her husband said, leaning his slender form up against the wall beside her. "Make sure you enjoy yourselves while you’re out. Erik would hate to see his Christine unhappy after her outing.”
“I'm sure we will, love. Are you sure you’ll be alright here by yourself?” Erik nodded.
“Erik will be fine. He may not like it, but he is used to being by himself. There is composing to be done after all. Perhaps I won't even notice your absence.” His words were spoken in jest, but Christine didn't doubt their truth. The pair sat in comfortable silence, enjoying the last of their time together before Christine went above for the day. Her singing career, though damaged by the events brought on by Raoul and Erik, was recovering quicker than anyone had expected it to.
She helped Erik clear away the dishes and stopped in their bedroom to collect the small money purse she kept in there for days she went out. Erik was waiting by the front door like an immaculately dressed sentry. His mask, a few shades lighter than his own skin was in place, a sharp contrast against his dark clothing and wig. One arm was extended, prepared for Christine to take. She smiled up at him as she gripped his forearm, walking by his side for the entirety of the short distances to the gondola tied by the dark lake.
"After you," he said, planting one foot in the boat to steady it as his wife boarded. Christine still held his arm as she stood in the boat. It rocked too much for her liking and the black water frightened her beyond belief. Erik had told her the depth once, a long time ago, but she could never recall the number and she didn't think it would reassure her of her safety in the least. However, clinging to him as he poled them across the great expanse did and now that they were married she could hold onto him as much as she wished without fear of being improper. On cold occasions like today when the draft wasn't the only source of frigid air he would even wrap his cape around her, enveloping her in warmth and safety.
The boat landed on the opposite bank with a rough scrape that grated on the nerves of both. They kissed before they parted, Erik standing in the boat and Christine on the edge of the shore. Water lapped at the very edges of her shoes as she took the lead once again, grasping his lapels to pull herself up to his face and pressing her lips to his thin malformed ones. He smiled against her mouth and ghosted his shaking hands down her upper arms.
"I love you Erik," she breathed, pulling back to look into his golden eyes shining with love for her. "Behave yourself while I'm gone won't you? And promise me that if you go up to box five you'll be extra careful not to be seen."
"Naturally Cristine," he responded, his silky voice as soft as hers. "Your Erik would never dream of anything else. He… I will always be here when you return as long as you wish it." Christine nodded and took a deep breath. As much as she loved being onstage, it did little to soften the tug she felt in her heart every time she left him there in the banks of the underground lake. He stood in the boat until she faded into the darkness in front of him and only then did he begin to pole his way back to the safety of their home.
Rehearsal passed in a music-filled blur and before she knew it Christine was on her way out the front doors with Meg. Each young woman was covered from head to toe in warm clothes to protect them from the frigid winter air. The two debated for some time over whether or not to hail a cab, eventually choosing to walk the short distance from the Opera Garnier to the street lined with all sorts of stores.
Money was no issue in Christine's case and she saw no problem spending it on a protesting Meg. Arms laden with packages containing pine scented candles, Christmas tree ornaments, ribbon in red, silver, and gold, the pair wove their way across the busy street and through every shop that looked like it might sell holiday cheer.
"There's one last place that might have something," Meg grunted, nearly dropping a box filled with an ornate nativity scene carved from a dark wood. Erik had little use for religion as Christine well knew, but perhaps he would find the craftsmanship suitability enough to display. "Not that we need any more. I'd hate to see Erik's face, metaphorically of course, when you come home with all this." Christine bit the inside of her cheek, agreeing. The decorations had gotten a bit out of hand, especially after her husband's initial expression of distaste toward the idea in the first place.
"We've gone this far, we may as well hit the last," she said, lengthening her stride. "We'll need a cab back to the opera house though. I'm surprised that we've made it this long without collapsing."
The last stop was a run down family owned business down a somewhat suspicious looking side road. Imperfect hand crafted goods sat on display in the grimy front window, prices marked on slips of paper beside them. Nothing caught her eye right away the way so many other things had in the previous stores. She exchanged a glance with Meg before shrugging and walking inside. Even if they didn't make any purchases, getting out of the cold for a while would do them good. Erik would never forgive himself if she ended up falling ill, finding himself at fault for allowing her to go out. Even Meg, who he was fond of to an extent, would face his wrath as the Opera Ghost rained hell on the performers for a matter outside of their control.
An elderly woman with long silver hair sat behind the counter, accompanied by a stocky blond boy most likely in his early teens who was counting out money on the countertop. The boy waved politely when he noticed them before going back to his work. No one else could be found within the quiet confines of the room.
Christine wandered up and down every row, scanning the shelves for anything of interest. Very little got her attention and most of what did was similar to something else the two had purchased. By the time the women reached the last row it was presumed that they would leave with nothing more than they'd entered with. As soon as the thought entered Christine's mind, however, a carved figurine caught her eye. On a low shelf, half hidden behind other knicknacks sat a pair of wooden angels.
They were small, so very small and each was roughly carved. There were no faces, only a blank semi smooth area on the front of each head. The one Christine's gaze lingered on was crafted to be a male. Hair was cropped short, the shoulders were broad, and the wings extended proudly, raised high for all to see. An uneven pattern of roughly hewn music notes curled the base of the angel's robe causing her breath to stick in her throat.
"Erik," she whispered, dropping to her knees, placing the packages in her arms onto the ground beside her. Her small hands plucked the angel from his shelf, holding it for inspection. At each previous location she had tried to find not only holiday decorations, but a gift for her husband as well. While the former had been an almost overwhelming success, the latter had proved impossible. Impossible until the little wooden angel, an angel with music notes on it and no face for her husband to compare himself to, found its way into her line of sight. "Meg," she called. "Meg come here! Oh, just look at what I've found! It's perfect for him."
Hours later, back at the house by the lake, Christine left Erik sitting on the couch in the newly decorated parlor for a few moments. She claimed to be retrieving something from their room, promising that she'd be back in a moment if he could only be patient. Closing the door behind her she retrieved the angel from the risky place she had stowed it upon her initial arrival back at the house, the drawer where she kept her cosmetics.
Making as little noise as possible she withdrew it and placed it on the bed. With gentle hands she placed the little box that houses her most prized possessions beside it. Erik refused to even hold it, much less go through it so there was no fear of his present being discovered. Whether the refusal was because he considered it an invasion of privacy or because letters from past correspondences with Roaul were amongst the contents she wasn't sure. She had a feeling it had more to do with the letters, but there was no way to prove it and it would be a foolish question to ask. The angel was deposited in the box which was shut with a swift movement. With nothing more to worry about Christine placed the box back where it belonged and left the room, padding in bare feet back to Erik's side.
He looked up when she entered the room, eyes full of awe and deformed mouth gone slack. She blushed, both embarrassed and pleased by the way he was openly staring as if she were the most beautiful creature on the Earth. From his perspective she was; a woman who was able to look upon his face with love, not fear, a woman who forgave and loved him in spite of his countless past failings.
Erik motioned for her to sit beside him and she obeyed, scooting close against him to bury her face in his shoulder. Strong thin arms wrapped around her with all the tenderness of a well-meaning child. He drew her closer still, wanting nothing more than to hold her close.
"Christine, my angel. Do you know how much your Erik loves you?" She smiled against the dark fabric of his tailcoat, nodding. "He loves you more than anything else in this world." Each word was emphasized by a light kiss.
"Even when she insists upon putting decorations all over your expertly designed home?"
"Of course, love. Erik loves you even then. And it… it is not truly so horrible. I even find it enjoyable, although that may be due to the happiness it brings you and nothing on my own part." He swallowed hard. 'Perhaps Erik… well… perhaps he overreacted for once." Christine removed her face from his shoulder and laughed.
"Only just this once," she asked, an innocently joking edge to her voice. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," he replied, cupping her cheek with one long fingered hand. His tone was serious, but his eyes and the faint smirk on his twisted lips revealed the joke. "Only ever this once. Erik has never been more sure of something in his life. Other than his love for Christine. And," he paused for dramatic effect, "the fact that Carlotta is a tone-deaf road with no singing talent whatsoever."
"Erik," Christine squeaked. "What an awful thing to say! You're absolutely impossible." She grinned and he kissed him again, delighted and amused by the love of her life.