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An Angel for my Angel

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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.

Chapter Text

The days leading up to Christmas Eve were a source of increasing anxiety for Erik. Any familiarity of his home, a place that hadn't changed since it was built, had been overrun with pine branches, gold, silver, and red ribbon, candles, and other holiday-themed knick-knacks. Christine had even convinced him to set up and decorate a Christmas tree in their parlor of all places. To be honest, there was nothing wrong with the decorations. He had to admit that his wife and her friend had good taste, easily picking what would match the aesthetic he'd carefully crafted for the house. 

His attempts to avoid the tree had nearly succeeded, the question of how they could get it below the opera house almost proving too difficult for Christine to answer. The answer she found was Nadir who would do anything to help Christine, peeve Erik, or in the case of the Christmas tree, both, even if it meant finding a way to drag an evergreen under the Opera Garnier without being seen. And so, a mere day and a half after the conversation, a tree had appeared outside the front door with a signed note bearing Nadir’s signature.

Alone in the room that used to be his bedroom, Erik growled and slammed his hands down on the organ keys. They let out a discordant sound, echoing through the room. For the past week, he had been attempting to compose something to serve as his Christmas gift to Christine but nothing sounded right. Engulfed in anger and frustration he wrenched the mask from his face and threw it against the ground, cursing his face, his lack of inspiration, and Christine’s insistence on holiday traditions. He fell to his knees, realizing what he’d done and hoping that the mask had survived the fall in one piece. With a shuddering breath, he refixed it to his face and left the room, slamming the door behind him.

“Erik,” Christine’s soft voice asked, coming from the kitchen. “What’s bothering you, darling?” Erk scowled, refusing to answer, instead storming into the parlor. He pulled a book from one of the many shelves at random, forcing his yellow eyes to focus directly on the words and not on any decorations that adorned the room. They only served as a reminder of the approaching holiday and the nonexistent gift for his wife. He settled on the couch, his body as taught as a tightly coiled spring.

He didn’t hear her enter the room, lost within the thoughts in his head. He did, however, feel the soft touch of her hand scratching between his shoulder blades. Startled, he flinched, earning a tender kiss to the top of his head. His scalp burned through his dark wig, just under the place where Christine’s soft lips had pressed against the hair. She slipped around the edge of the couch and came to sit beside him, snuggling into his side as she often did, her head on his boney shoulder and one hand caressing the side of his mask as if it were his skin. One long-fingered pale hand reached up and pulled the hand away.

“Please love,” she whispered, looking up into his face. “You can’t pretend it’s nothing. I heard the door slam and you look a mess. Your hair is wild, your shirtsleeves are rolled up, and you’re wearing your mask.” He turned his head and clenched his jaw, pride getting the better of him. If it could be helped he would not confront his problems so openly.

“Erik is fine ,” he snapped, eyes flashing. “He is in his own home and can act how he pleases which includes slamming doors and wearing a mask to protect his Christine from his godforsaken face. Just because Erik does something doesn’t mean anything is wrong.” Christine hummed a little tune, seeming to ignore his words. Instead of rising to his bait, she rubbed an increasingly distracting hand up and down his spine. He stiffened even more under her touch. Flustered but unwilling to admit it Erik attempted to argue his point. “Erik… Erik… he…”

“Take your time love.” He scowled. She knew as well as he did that she was the reason for his inability to formulate complete sentences. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the faint smile playing at her lips.

“He is not frustrated. He is simply…” One hand gestured wildly as if attempting to pull the missing word from the air. “Tired. Your Erik is simply a little tired and needs time away from his compositions to rest.”

“I see.” Her tone was dry, a perfect foil to her actions. “And I will believe you as long as you admit there is nothing to protect me from and that people do not take to slamming doors unless they are upset over something.”

“I suppose,” Erik said, leaning into her touch like a cat. Christine smiled, glad to have won. “Whatever would I do without you, my dear? Who would take care of Erik and force him to relax if you were not here?”

“I’m sure Nadir would still check in once in a while. If you asked nicely I’m sure he would stroke your hair for you. Maybe he would even give you a kiss if you behaved.” She laughed as she watched Erik physically recoil at the suggestion.

“Absolutely not,” he ground out, looking horrified. “Erik would rather die than let that happen!” 

“Oh no. You look rather tense again love. Perhaps I need to find an idea of how to relax you again. You do have an awful tendency to overwork yourself, dearest.” Erik closed his eyes, head leaning back and hands rising to her shoulders of their own accord as Christine carefully climbed onto his lap and pressed her lips to his. It was manipulation of the sweetest kind, easy to recognize but hard to resist.

Much to Erik's misfortune, Nadir had chosen that exact moment for his attempt to brave the tunnels leading to the shore of the underground lake and consequently find himself in one of the less damaging traps. The alarm, attached to a pit trap, sounded prompting Erik to rise, set Christine to the side, and apologize before leaving to investigate.

“So glad you could make it,” Nadir said from the bottom of the hole. “I particularly loved the bit when you left me in the cold dark for twenty minutes. Are you still in a sour mood over the Christmas decorations?”

“Kindly shut up Daroga, you great booby," Erik tutted as he begrudgingly helped his friend from the pit the trapdoor had activated. "You’ve already interrupted what was about to be an extremely pleasant afternoon. How many times has Erik told you not to come down here to look for him by yourself? Someday he will be out and about and you'll be stuck here in a trap for hours."

"The only place you go out to is box five," the Persian said. He grimaced as he put weight on his left foot. "It's easy enough to find you there and if I had, there would be no reason for me to be down here. And I'm getting old, you know. Next time I fall I'll surely break my ankle!"

"Perhaps that would teach you something," Erik retorted, turning away with a dramatic flip of his cape. He set off back the way he'd come from, Nadir hobbling behind on his sore ankle. "Erik is always expected to listen to the Daroga, but the Daroga never has to listen to Erik!" 

When the pair arrived back at Erik’s home they found Christine sitting rigid in a chair, face pale and hands gripping the book she was reading as if it were a lifeline. Upon seeing her husband back, alive and well other than a bit disgruntled at the interruption she let out a sigh of relief. Every time he returned after an unexpected alarm they were reminded that he was still a wanted criminal in the city above.

“Thank God you’re alright! I was afraid someone-” She broke off with a shudder, unable to continue. “Well, nevermind what I thought. I… I’m just glad you’re safe.” She placed the book down but continued to take long slow breaths. Erik, ignoring Nadir’s look, crossed the room and knelt in front of her, taking her in his arms.

“I’m here, love. Erik never would have left if it were not for some imbecile.” Christine giggled through her unshed tears.

“Be kind. I’m sure Nadir only wanted to be helpful.”

“Indeed I did Christine,” Nadir said, grinning from his place opposite the couple. “I simply wanted to check in on my old friend. Is it too much for me to want to ensure that the decorations didn’t stop his heart?” Erik glared from behind his mask. He had sworn off additional murder on numerous recent occasions, but one exception surely couldn’t hurt. Squaring his shoulders, Erik stood, folding his hands behind his back to avoid the temptation to strangle the man in front of him.

 

“Is there a reason for this visit or is this your poor excuse for a social call? Erik may avoid the company of others like the plague, but at least he knows not to show up when he isn’t wanted.” Both Christine and Nadir decided not to comment.

“Yes, actually,” Nadir said, lifting his glasses from his face and wiping them on his sleeve. “Could we speak in another room please?” Erik lifted an unseen eyebrow under his mask. Without realizing it, one hand tightened around Christine’s. Nadir must have noticed because he was quick to reassure the pair.

“No, no. Nothing… nothing about the two of you. Just a private matter of mine that isn’t quite suited to a lady’s ears.” Christine relaxed, her shoulder loosening and Erik felt himself calm a little as well. After all the lies told in Persia it was easy to tell when his old friend was lying. There was nothing to fear. The message probably was nothing of importance and likely wasn’t even unpleasant.

“If we must. But do hurry. Erik is a busy man you know and he enjoys spending time alone . With his wife . And most definitely without you...” Nadir rolled his green eyes and followed Erik into the dark music room. The door closed behind the two men with a faint click.

“I do hope you weren’t implying what I think you might have been implying,” Nadir hissed red-faced, elbowing his friend’s skinny ribs. “What the two of you do with your free time is not something I want to hear about!” Erik grinned under his mask.

The information Nadir, the ever unwanted visitor, had come to deliver was, as Erik expected nothing dangerous or worrisome. However, it did little to ease his fears about the gift for Christine. Instead, he left him sitting on the organ bench with his head in his hands after an hour-long ‘conversation’ in which Erik said very little. His boney fingers tightened around the edges of his mask in an attempt to ground himself. How very like Nadir to wait until the final days before the wretched holiday to tell him that a simple song wouldn’t be enough. He cursed the Persian man a thousand times over in five different languages as distressed thoughts bounced around his head.

“I have never been one to celebrate Christmas seeing as it is not a holiday within my religion, but I know enough to tell you that part of the point is to give the ones you love something out of the ordinary,” the man had said, squinting in the dark in an attempt to locate his companion’s lanky frame. Erik had refused to provide any lighting. “And since I know you compose for Christine all the time, I thought I ought to encourage you to find her something else.”

According to Christine holidays were supposed to be a time to relax and show your loved ones how much you cared about them. The way Erik saw it they were a time of stress, strange requirements, and multiple mental breakdowns. A scream ripped from his throat and he had the sudden urge to punch the wall. He was able to restrain himself from hitting anything, but he would be lying if he said it wasn't the first time he was glad he had soundproofed the room. Screaming in the middle of the night was sure to upset Christine and that was one thing Erik couldn’t bear.

A soft knock sounded at the door. As usual, Christine announced her presence before entering, giving Erik just enough warning to roll his shirtsleeves down over scarred forearms, run a hand through the messy strands of his wig, and compose himself into what he hoped looked semi put-together.

“Come in,” he replied, his long fingers tapping a restless pattern against his thigh. Blinding light flooded the room as the door opened. Erik squinted his eyes shut and hissed.

“Would you like to come out Erik?” Christine stood in the doorway, illuminated from behind like an angel. “Nadir is gone and you look like you could use some company.” Awed by how beautiful she looked he could feel the stress melting away, tension leaking from his jaw and shoulders. “Besides,” she grinned, going a little pink. “I do think we were rudely interrupted, and if you have no objections I wouldn’t mind picking up where we left off.” 

Nothing, not even his annoyance at Nadir, could have stopped him from crossing the room and taking Christine in his arms. He buried his face in her hair and inhaled the flowery scent of her shampoo, a smile crossing his face for the first time in hours. Pulling back he cupped her cheek with one hand. Christmas wasn’t for a few days. Preparation would just have to wait.

Waiting lasted until the middle of the next afternoon when Christine had gone above to spend the day helping Meg pack for a trip with her suitor. Erik paced the house, debating whether or not he would be capable of going out. He had done it before, far more often in recent months than the past ten years or so but it was still unpleasant and it would be more dangerous now that everyone in the city was on the lookout for any sign of a masked man. Avoiding that thought at all cost and repeating that he would be back by the time Christine returned Erik strode to their bedroom to collect his cape and hat. A scribbled note was left on the table where Christine was sure to see it. Erik took a deep breath and stepped out the front door, concentrating on his footsteps instead of his fear of the world above.

Cold wind and even colder light bit into Erik as he walked deliberately down the street, collar flipped up around his jaw and hat pulled low over his eyes. His gloved hands fisted themselves in his trousers in an attempt to keep a grasp on any sanity he had left. Paris was unforgiving and being out too long tired him. Being spotted and having to evade, kill, or otherwise incapacitate someone would do nothing to help the fear building inside him or shorten the amount of time spent above ground. Bodies do take time to hide after all.

Determined not to be spotted, Erik stuck to side roads and back allies where the people were few and far between or of questionable origin themselves. A majority of stores in the area were all inconveniently along the same busy street, crowded with people. It would be an easy place to blend in, Erik knew, but he couldn’t help but consider it a good place to result in a panic attack as well.

The first of the shops, a small rundown building positioned on the outskirts of the shopping hub caught his eye, indicating his location. The sign was faded and imperfect handcrafted goods were placed in the front window. Erik scoffed as he passed, turning down the road that would lead him to the other buildings and the dangerous crush of humans. A gift for Christine would have to be meaningful, beautiful, and flawlessly manufactured, something perfect to match the woman herself. In short, it had to be everything that a family-run enterprise could never supply. He passed by, casting a disdainful glare in the direction of a blond teenage boy who was outside sweeping the front steps. The boy flinched, clearly startled by Erik’s appearance, but waved anyway. Erik turned away in disgust.

A bell chimed to his right and he whipped his head around, drawing his attention to a jewelry store packed full of people. Sweat began building under his mask and gloves, his stomach tossed and turned, and his vision blurred. One hand shot out to grasp the edge of the building in an attempt to steady himself. It nearly missed, sending Erik pitching forward, almost to the ground.

“For Christine, Erik,” he murmured as he waited for the sensation to pass. “Do it for her, you useless creature. You’ve written god damn operas! You’ve designed a palace for the fucking Shah of Persa. Finding a gift for her shouldn’t be too difficult.”

Hours later Erik found himself back outside the same shop, thin arms filled with gifts, none of which were quite right. He had scoured every store that looked like it would interest his wife, spent hundreds of francs, and suffered no less than seven minor panic attacks (there had been more, but eventually he’d lost count) only to be disappointed with every purchase. Voices and shoulders pressed in from every direction, forcing him to push through the crowd and come in undesired physical contact with others.

With a sigh of relief, Erik pushed himself through the crowd to an empty side street, coincidentally the one he had arrived from. The little shop was still there, open and inviting. Thoughts warred against each other in Erik’s head, a part of him wanting to see if this minuscule excuse of a store had anything worthwhile and the other looking upon it with disdain. In the end, his curiosity won out and before he knew it Erik was inside.

The room was hot and smelled strongly of peppermint. The blond boy from before sat behind the counter and looked up when the bell rang.

“Um… Hullo sir,” he said, with a nod. “Feel free to look around. If you find anything you like I’d be happy to ring it up for you.” Erik grunted in response, beginning to peruse the aisles only stopping to glare menacingly at the boy every once in a while to make sure he didn’t get too comfortable. If one of them had to be miserable, Erik would make sure that both of them were.

Nothing caught his eye in the first few rows and he contemplated leaving. Perhaps, he thought,  the best idea is to ignore Nadir’s advice altogether and go back to working on a song. It wouldn’t be anything more special or unexpected than usual, but if Christine loved listening to his music all year round what would make Christmastime any different. As soon as the thought occurred to him, a terrifying one replaced it. Maybe Christine had never truly enjoyed anything he’d composed at all! She was an actress, a good one. Maybe after all this time she had been pretending; pretending to enjoy his music, his presence, and even his love.

He pushed the thought from his mind, tears filling his eyes. One gloved hand swiped across the front of his mask in an attempt to get rid of them. Now was not the time to dwell in such thoughts, not when Christine was nowhere to reassure him. He swallowed hard and ducked down to see the lower shelves. Sitting there was a small wooden angel. He sucked in a sharp breath at the sight. It was perfect.

The rough appearance and cheap materials weren’t up to his previous standards, the ones met by the jewelry, dresses, and books purchased at other stores, but there was something perfect about it nonetheless. Its long hair was faintly curled in a weak imitation of Christine’s and its face was flat and featureless so unlike her own beautiful one but at the same time, it was so perfectly Christine . As soon as he noticed the music notes carved around the bottom of the robe he felt as if his heart would stop. Whoever had crafted the small imperfect angel had somehow captured the essence of his perfect, beautiful little wife.

“Just this,” he said, as he placed the figurine on the counter in front of the startled teen. 

“This… My angel? I’m surprised. She was supposed to be in a pair, but a young woman bought her partner a while ago.” Erik glowered at the boy, wishing that he would just shut up. “That’ll be eleven francs, sir. Thank you for stopping in!” The coins thumped on the worn wooden counter as Erik snatched the angel and set off for the opera house, arms laden with packages.

Late that night he smiled, warm in his armchair next to the fire. It was so much easier to smile in his own home with only his wife for company, so far away from the rest of humanity. His mask was off, removed in their bedroom when he had hidden his gifts after his return from above and Christine was humming softly from her place on the couch as she read the novel she’d started the previous night. Her hair shone in the light, entrancing Erik as he tried to concentrate on his sketch. At least once a week, but usually more, he pulled out a drawing pad he’d reserved for architectural designs and drew his wife. Dozens of images of her hung in the music room but nothing could stop him from adding one after another.

“What’s got you staring over there,” she teased, snapping Erik from his daze. He hadn’t even noticed her look up from her book. “For someone who prides himself on his stealth, you’re looking rather openly.”

“You look stunning,” he whispered, fingers loosening and dropping his pencil onto the carpeted floor. “And Erik can’t believe you’re really his. He loves you so very much.” Christine flushed with a smile.

“How long will it take to convince you that I’m yours forever,” she asked, her expression tinged with sadness. The book sat beside her now.

“Mine forever,” he repeated, savoring the idea. “My Christine. Until the end of time.” Silence washed over them for a few seconds before he shook his head with a deep sigh. “Erik… Erik does not think he will never be fully convinced. Not after everything that has happened to him.”

“My poor Erik,” Christine said, getting up from her seat and walking over to him. “I guess I’ll just have to tell you every day.” Her lips pressed lightly to his forehead, rendering him unable to think properly for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

Christine woke early Christmas morning curled in Erik’s warm embrace. Her cheek rested up against his silk-clad chest that rose and fell evenly, evidence that for once her husband was actually asleep. She smiled sleepily and cuddled closer, relishing how relaxed he felt. It really was a Christmas miracle, not only that he was sleeping, but that he was sleeping peacefully without his mask. Not once in the night had she felt him stir beside her.

Carefully she attempted to extract herself from his grasp so she could prepare for the day without waking him. Erik shifted as she moved and she waited with bated breath to see if he would wake. For a moment she was sure he would, but when she placed a hand on his arm with all the gentleness in the world he relaxed again.

She sang softly as she changed, sparing a glance at the bed every few minutes to see if Erik was still asleep. He looked so soft, all his hard bony edges and straight lines smoothed out. The cold air of their underground nipped at her bare skin as she slipped her clothes on. It took every ounce of self-restraint to stop herself from abandoning her day clothes and crawling back in bed beside him. She turned her back to remove the temptation.

“Good morning my Christine,” Erik said quietly, his voice thick with sleep. Christine jumped a little, surprised at the unexpected noise. “Oh. Did I startle you?”

“Only a little, darling. I’m alright.” Despite her reassurance, he reached over to the bedside table, one skeletal hand scrambling for his mask. Christine sighed. Together they were making progress, slowly overcoming his need to wear the mask when they were alone together. It pained her to see him revert to his old habits so quickly but she kept her tone neutral as she crossed the room to sit beside her husband.

“Oh, Erik. Don’t put that on please. I simply thought you were still asleep and didn’t expect your words. Did you sleep well, love?”

“Yes. Erik did,” he answered, propping himself up on one elbow. “Otherwise how else would Père Noël have come to bring your gifts?” Christine giggled.

“I’m surprised a grump like you would even know who he is!” He chuckled warmly, reaching one hand out to play with her curls.

“Ah, Christine. Erik may make poor decisions right and left, but surely after all these years he can behave well enough some of the time to warrant a gift?” He said it as a jest, but like anything he said a little bitterness tainted the words. Still, Christine smiled and planted a soft kiss on his mangled cheek.

“Of course! How could I have thought otherwise? There is no one more deserving of a gift than you Erik.”

“How easily you forget yourself, my love,” Erik replied. “An angel deserves the world. A man such as myself deserves far, far less.”

"How long will it take you to stop saying that? No matter what your past or your face has led you to believe, you are worthy of good things. " Erik pretended to contemplate the statement for a moment before shaking his head.

"Erik fears it will take an eternity of you by his side and then some to change that. Although," he added with a sly hopeful grin. "A kiss can temporarily purchase my silence." Christine obliged him, pressing her warm lips to his cold ones. Erik closed his eyes and sighed, a smile playing at his lips.

The two stayed that way for nearly a half-hour, tangled in their warm embrace. Neither wanted to be the first to leave, but it was Christine who detached herself from Erik first. He made a soft noise in protest, reaching out to grab her slender wrist. She smiled kindly but extracted herself nonetheless.

“We can’t lay here all day, love. It’s Christmas! We need to celebrate!” Erik groaned and muttered something that sounded like ‘Erik has no time for Christmas! He’s gone years without it,” but she wasn’t entirely sure. He complained when she dragged him out from under the dark bed sheets, yelping as his bare feet touched the stone floor. The resistance slowed to a stop, as did all of his bodily functions but breathing, when Christine’s fingers unbuttoned the buttons of his nightshirt.

“Ah… oh… Christine, what are you…”

“None of that ,” she whispered, blushing. Though she had been successfully bedded on numerous occasions the subject still was strange to talk about. “Not now anyway. But you obviously aren’t changing, and we mustn't have our celebration in our nightclothes. It wouldn’t be proper.”  Erik swallowed, his face falling a little. “There… there will be plenty of time for that later though. If we… If we happen to be… inclined to partake in such activities. ” He nodded in response, a little too eagerly. Christine stepped back and let him change the rest of the way in peace.

When he had finished, dressed to the nines as usual in the same dark suit and tails he always wore, Christine crossed the room to her bedside table and pulled a little holly leaf and a pin from one of the draws. He raised one eyebrow when she approached and stood on her tiptoes to fiddle with his lapel. A few seconds later she pulled back, smiling at her handiwork. Erik glanced down, looking slightly taken aback at the bright green attached to his jacket. He didn’t remove it. His darling wife had pinned it there for a reason and no matter what that reason might be, he was determined to leave it in place.

Everything was finally in place. Excitedly she grabbed Erik’s wrist and dragged him from the bedroom, out into the sitting room where she had decorated for the holiday. He smiled at his young wife and her child-like enthusiasm. It was difficult to stay stony-faced when she was so tangibly energetic, and as always when Christine was involved he could deny her nothing, including his excitement.

Christine’s excitement peaked then fell when she noticed the number of presents arranged around the tree in the corner of the room, similar to the way her father used to place them when she was small and they could afford a tree. While it was exciting to be on the receiving end of so many gifts (because she was sure Erik had not purchased any for himself) a sinking feeling rose in her stomach. Erik, never one to do anything by half measures, had surely gone all out with the expenses and chose as many of the most expensive gifts he could find. She on the other hand, only had a small hand-carved angel to offer. With a sigh, Christine resigned herself to her mistake and rose to collect her sorry excuse for a gift.

“Wait right here,” Christine ordered, pointing to the chair in front of the fire. Erik frowned, one eyebrow quirking up in a silent question. “I need to get something. I’ll be right back.” On light feet, she crossed the parlor, entered their bedroom, and stole over to the box hiding Erik’s gift. She lifted the lid gently and took out the wooden figure, now placed in a smaller box and wrapped in brightly colored paper. Setting it down gently so not to hurt her husband’s gift, she laid the smaller box on the bed and placed the one containing her keepsakes back where it belonged.

In the other room, Erik had taken to pacing. There was nothing to be worried about. That he was almost sure about. Christine would enjoy her gifts. They were all expensive except for the angel, and there were enough that if she wasn’t fond of a few the others would make up for it. Even if she didn’t particularly enjoy the gifts she would at least use them and pretend to love them for his sake.

He would have been more confident if he had been giving her a piece of music, but thanks to Nadir, that meddling old fool, he found his hands shaking at the thought of giving his wife a gift. That wooden angel he had been idiotic enough to purchase laid heavily on his mind. It took every ounce of his strange form of self-restraint to keep him from walking to the tree, taking the small box from its hiding place at the bottom of the stack, and throwing it into the roaring flames. Forcing himself to stop pacing, he gripped the edge of the mantle until his pale knuckles went entirely white. If only he hadn’t left his mask in the bedroom. Perhaps if he had left it on he could have convinced Christine to stay in bed with him, an outcome he would have preferred.

The sound of the door opening behind him startled Erik who flinched noticeably. Christine slipped out, her hands clearly holding something behind her back. He paid no mind as his anxiety spiked.

“Are these all for me,” Christine asked, placing the little box under the chair and gesturing to the packages surrounding the tree. Erik nodded. “You didn’t need to get me so much, Erik. I appreciate it though,” she added, not wanting him to think she was upset with him for it.

“Is Christine going to open them? Do you… do you want to open them?”

“Oh yes!” She sat herself on the couch, sinking into the cushions and patting the spot beside her, motioning for her husband to join her. “Is there any specific order that I should open them in?”

“Order? No. It does not matter. Erik will hand you whichever one you would like to open first.” One gift at a time, Erik handed her gift after gift. Custom-tailored dresses, interesting novels, intricate pieces of the finest jewelry, and boxes of sweets piled up near her feet as she unwrapped. Erik had thought to remove all evidence of pricing from each item, knowing that Christine, modest young woman that she was, disapproved of the amount he often spent on her. His confidence grew as she oohed and ahhed over his selections, even demanding that he try some of the candy he had purchased her. On several occasions, she leaped from her seat to throw her arms around him or kiss him, many things that made him feel inclined to celebrate Christmas for years to come.

They reached the bottom of the pile in less time than either of them had expected. Soon only the damaged brown box the young man had packaged the angel in was left, hidden behind the trunk of the tree where Erik hoped Christine couldn’t see it. He had decided to dispose of it later after Christine had gone to bed for the night.

“You know, I’m very surprised that you didn’t compose anything for me. I was rather looking forward to what you might be writing,” Christine commented, laying her head on his shoulder as Erik ran his fingers through her curls. “Of course you write for me so often that I suppose I shouldn’t have presumed…” Erik’s hand went slack. He wanted nothing more than to throttle Nadir.

“Christine? You… you wanted me to write you a song?”He ran his hands through his wig in exasperation. “The Daroga, that incompetent old man! Of course, he would be wrong! He told me… he told me that you wouldn’t want a song for Christmas! He told Erik that the point of the holiday is to give the people you love something you normally wouldn’t!” Christine groaned.

“Oh, my love! Why would you listen to a man who doesn’t even celebrate Christmas?”

“Erik is sorry,” Erik said, panicking a little. He stood up quickly and started his way over to the door to the music room. “He will write you something right away. It will be done before the day is over.” Christine jumped to her feet, following after him.

“I wasn’t saying you had to, dearest. I only… Ugh.” She groaned. As much as she loved Erik, his bizarre thought process and infallible ability to jump to the strangest conclusions grated on her nerves. One small hand reached up and grabbed his shoulder as Christine dug her heels into the rug on the floor. “Come back here Erik! I still need to give you your gift!” He froze, one spindly hand resting on the golden doorknob.

“My… my what?” His head whipped around, golden eyes wide and disbelieving. Christine’s heart broke a little at the amount of surprise caused by a simple Christmas present.

“Your present,” Christine whispered, leading him back to the sofa. The dazed expression on his ravaged face never wavered. She kept one hand nestled in his as she retrieved the brightly wrapped box that contained the angel. Perhaps, she wondered, were all my worries over whether he would like it for nothing? I should have realized that he would just be grateful to be given a gift.

Erik’s hands shook as he gently detached the paper from the box. Every few seconds he looked up to see Christine watching him, tears in her eyes. Each time she nodded, encouraging him to keep going. 

At last, all the paper had been peeled away and deposited on the floor. Erik sat there staring blankly at the uncovered box, hands hovering over the edges but refusing to touch it. He sniffled, wiping the back of his hand across his face and ducking his head. Christine knelt in front of him, prying his hands away from his face and kissing him on the forehead with all the love she could muster into one display of affection.

“This is… this is the first… This is the first gift someone has given Erik. The first one with nothing expected in return. I had never expected such an honor.”

“Please Erik,” Christine pleaded. “Please don’t cry. If I had known how much this would… would break you up, I never would have bought you something.” Erik set the box to the side and took Christine in his arms, letting out a sob. She held just as tightly to him as he did to her, wrapping her arms around his neck as he cried, a few silent tears slipping down her own cheeks as well. They stayed that way for what seemed like hours, clinging to each other. Finally, when Erik’s tears slowed and stopped Christine deposited the box back into his lap. “Will you open it,” she whispered, attempting to meet his eyes.

“Yes… Yes of course. Anything you wish, my love.” With the lightest fingers, he lifted the lid and extracted the carved figure. He nearly burst into tears again.

“Oh! Oh no! What is it now Erik? Do you not like it? I’m so sorry. I only bought it because it reminded me of you. You, my husband and my angel of music.”

“It’s perfect,” Erik sighed, placing the angel off to one side and kissing the tips of Christine’s fingers. “But I’m afraid I have one gift left for you.” Before Christine could get a word in edgewise he crawled behind the Christmas tree (looking a foolish sight as he scrambled around, tear tracks staining his face) and pulled out a box identical to the one he had opened.

“Erik, you really didn’t need to go out of your way to get me so much! Whatever possessed you to save this for-”

“I… I was afraid,” he stuttered, interrupting. “I was afraid you would hate it. It’s not as grand as the other things and Erik… Erik was going to burn it so that you would never know, but now…” He gestured wildly with one hand, waiting for the words to come to him. He floundered for a moment, overcome by emotion until he shook his head and guided Christine’s small hands to the box with his own.

Christine gasped when she opened it. Nestled inside was the female angel that had sat beside the one she had purchased for Erik. They matched perfectly, united once more in the warm little house by the lake, hidden deep beneath the Opera Garnier.

“Merry Christmas, angel,” Christine whispered wrapping her arms around her husband’s waist and leaning her head on his chest. “I’m glad you enjoyed your gift, as humble as it may be.”

“Merry Christmas to you as well my love. Erik will treasure this carving for the rest of his days. He is… I am… I am pleased to know that you are happy with your gifts as well.”

“Especially the last one,” she murmured against his tailcoat, one hand coming to the back of his head and pulling it gently down. Her breath ghosted over his lips. “I gifted an angel for my angel, and received one in return.” He closed the gap, initiating his favorite Christmas gift of all.