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A Gypsy Caravan

Chapter Text

He pressed himself further into the corner of the cage, the metal bars pushing against his bruised back. Bringing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them, he tried to ignore the sounds that the crowd was making, encouraged by Javert who was enticing more people to enter the tent.

“Mesdames and messieurs, boys and girls, step right this way to see the Devil’s Child,” Javert’s voice boomed over the crowd. “The most hideous, horrible and terrifying child ever born and the only place you can see him is right here at this camp. Come closer and see why only the Devil himself could have sired such a child.” Spying a group of young girls walking past the tent he called out to them, “Mademoiselles, I can guarantee that you will have nightmares for weeks to come if you have just one glance at the Devil’s Child! Dare you come in?”

The girls giggled and whispered amongst themselves before turning to their guardian for permission. The thrill of seeing the Devil’s Child was too hard to resist, even with the promise of nightmares. She waved them off with a reminder that nightmares would not be considered a valid excuse for any poor performances in rehearsal the next day. Still giggling the girls all held hands tightly before following Javert into the Devil’s Child’s tent, dropping coins into his hand as they crossed the threshold of the tent.

Javert entered the cage and pulled the door shut with a loud clang that made the crowd jump. “Don’t want him escaping, do we?” he whispered to a small wide eyed boy standing near the front. Emboldened, the boy stepped closer to the cage.

“Let me start by assuring everyone that you are in no physical danger from the Devil’s Child. He will remain under my complete control,” Javert announced, flicking his rope in the direction of the Devil’s Child, “At all times. Your minds however, I cannot guarantee. You may be plagued by nightmares for months to come, suffer horrifying visions at any time. Therefore, may I suggest that anyone who has a more delicate disposition, leave the tent before I proceed.” He glanced around the tent. “No takers I see. Then let us begin.”

Javert paced the length of the cage twice, stumbling slightly only once, before turning to face the audience again. Speaking in a low voice so the crowd had to move closer to the cage to hear him he began, “He was abandoned just hours after his birth, for what mother could bare to nurse such a child. The Devil has outdone himself in creating such a monster, a hideous creature that would kill you without a second thought. A beast that can never be trusted.” He suddenly raised his voice so it boomed throughout the tent. “The Devil’s Child!”

Striding over to the corner he grabbed the boy by the arm and flung him into the centre of the cage. The child remained curled in a ball, his face looking down to the ground. “Get up,” Javert roared with a kick to the boy’s exposed shins. The child gave a small whimper but it couldn’t be heard over the noise that the already excited crowd was making. Javert gave another kick and the crowd started to jeer when the child didn’t respond. Fury rising fast Javert pulled out his rope, and brandishing it like a whip, struck the boy across the back. “Now!” he screamed, continuing to alternatively kick and whip the small body in front of him while the crowd laughed. Slowly, against the continuing assault of Javert, the child brought himself to his hands and knees. Realising that this was the moment, Javert discarded the rope and grabbed the sack that was covering the boy’s head. With one swift movement he pulled him into a sitting position and removed the sack, exposing the child’s head for the crowd to see.

The tent went quiet for a moment whilst everyone took in what they were seeing before seeming chaos erupted. The jeering and heckling of moments ago seemed to increase tenfold as the crowd took in the view. They jostled to get a closer look, scarcely believing that what they were seeing could be real. A rough looking teenage boy, wanting to appear braver than his friends, reached into to his pocket to withdraw some long forgotten food and promptly threw it into the cage. Javert gave a wicked grin to the crowd, this was exactly how he wanted things to proceed. “Who else wants a go?” The crowd started scrambling for things to throw into the cage, anything they could get their hands on. Half eaten food, the small stones and pebbles that littered the uncovered floor of the tent and coins from the wealthier members of the group were all thrown at the child.

Javert retrieved his rope and continued to whip the boy from a distance, hoping to provoke an explosion of temper to truly frighten the crowd, but the child didn’t react, only moving involuntarily when struck. Pushed onto his side and momentarily dazed when he was hit on the back of his head with a larger stone, the boy caught the stare of a thin, dark haired girl in the crowd. She was standing to the side of a group of girls all similarly attired, but unlike her friends she did not appear to be enjoying the spectacle. The two children held each other’s gaze until the boy was forced onto his back by Javert’s boot. The crowd was slowly starting to dissipate, having run out of items to throw and losing interest in simply staring at the Devil’s Child. With one last kick to ensure the boy stayed down, Javert started to gather the coins scattered throughout the cage.

The child gingerly stretched, testing his body after the abuse that had been inflicted on it, when his foot brushed over the rope that Javert had carelessly dropped in his haste to gather the coins. Gritting his teeth, he stretched his foot out further to secure the rope and pulled it towards his body. Reaching down he grabbed the rope and quickly pulled it under his body and out of sight.

Sweeping his eyes across the cage to ensure that he hadn’t missed any coins, Javert glanced down at the child still huddled on the floor amongst the food and stones. “Pathetic little bastard. At least you’re good for something,” he said, shaking his bag of coins. Exiting the cage, once again ensuring the gate was firmly closed behind him, he sat up against the cage facing the entrance to the tent to count the night’s takings, a bottle of drink at his side.

As he lay there listening to Javert count, the pain from the boy’s injuries slowly started to ease, only to be replaced by a boiling rage that needed an outlet. He started to recall the taunts and yelling of the crowd and looked around at the objects that had been tossed into the cage, at him. Oblivious to the remaining pain, he quietly got to his feet, keeping a tight grip on the rope. Creeping towards the edge of the cage, he fashioned the rope into a loop and reached between the bars to hang it over Javert’s head, outside of his line of sight. Taking a deep breath he suddenly lowered the rope over Javert’s head and pulled his hands back into the cage to secure it around his neck. Javert automatically jerked back, trying to escape the rope cutting into his neck, but the bars of the cage prevented him from moving backwards. Reaching up he tried to get his fingers under it, but in his already drunken state Javert was no match for the furious child behind him. The boy felt the moment the life left Javert’s body and he released the rope, letting the body fall to the side.

As the body hit the ground, there was a gasp from the entrance of the tent. Looking away from the back of the head, where his gaze had been fixed through the entire event, the boy looked up to see the dark haired girl he had shared a glance with earlier. He couldn’t read her expression as she stared down at the body. He knew she should be scared, terrified, of him, of what he had done, but he couldn’t see any fear in her expression. Suddenly remembering his face he dropped back down to his hands and knees and started frantically crawling towards the small sack that he used to cover his face when Javert wasn’t forcing him to be the Devil’s Child. Pulling it over his head he turned back to face the girl, who by this stage had crept further into the tent and pulled the flap shut behind her, to hide them from any prying eyes.

“Why...” she started, trailing off. “Is he dead?” she said more strongly.

“Yes.” His response was slightly muffled by the sack.

“Why?” she asked again, more certain this time that she wanted a response.

“He hurts me,” the boy replied simply.

“What are you going to do now?” she questioned, still staring at the body. When he didn’t respond she glanced up. She couldn’t see his eyes, despite the holes in the sack, and didn’t know if he was still paying any attention to her, but nonetheless she persisted. “You have to leave,” she exclaimed, a note of panic starting to enter her voice.

“Where would I go?” he asked. His attention was now squarely on the girl and she briefly wondered how she could have possibly thought that he was watching her previously, such was the intensity of his stare now.

“Does it matter? Anywhere. But you have to leave,” she replied incredulously. Moving towards the cage, she started pulling on the door in an attempt to open it.

“There’s a key. He always carries it,” the boy said looking back at the body.

The girl frantically stumbled towards the body and falling to her knees started to search for the key. “Is this it?” she asked holding up a key on an intricately woven piece of rope. Not waiting for an answer she hurried back to the cage to open the door. Reaching in she tried to grab the boy’s hand but he pulled away. Fearing that he wasn’t going to leave the cage, she begged, “Please come with me. I can help you but we have to leave now.” She could still hear the crowd outside the tent and feared that they would be discovered at any moment.

Moving his attention from the girl standing at the entrance to his cage to the body beside it, the boy suddenly seemed to realise his situation and moved quickly towards the girl. “We can’t go that way,” he said, indicating the entrance to the tent with a toss of his head and walking towards the back of the tent, searching for a place big enough for them to crawl through. “Here,” he grunted, levering a peg out of the ground to make the space large enough. He quickly pulled his body under and looked around to check that there were no gypsies nearby before lifting the tent to help the girl get through.

Silently, the pair crept through the camp, hiding in the shadows cast by the tents and caravans, trying to keep out of the sight of the gypsies as well as their visitors. But they weren’t quick enough and a gypsy standing near a campfire with a group of men caught sight of the boy’s sack as he pressed himself against the side of the tent. “You,” the gypsy said to one of the men, “Go find Javert. I think his little freak just escaped. The rest of you, fan out and find it. And keep it quiet. Danior will have our heads if the customers find out.” He then pointed them in the direction he had seen the boy heading.

“They’ve seen us,” the boy said as they stood against a tent on the perimeter of the camp. “We have to split up. They’ll have more trouble trying to chase two of us. If they catch you, do not let them know you were helping me, pretend I forced you.”

“Alright...” the girl said weakly. She didn’t like the idea of leaving this boy to fend for himself but she didn’t know what else to do.

“Good. Go,” he whispered fiercely, pushing her to the right before bolting to the left. Within seconds she had lost sight of him and she started running blindly through the outskirts of the wooded area behind the camp.

But the young boy didn’t realise that the gypsies chasing them knew exactly who he was, the sack over his head creating a unique silhouette. As soon as the children split the girl was quickly ignored and the men put all their effort into tracking the boy.

He ran deeper into the woods, trying to escape the light emanating from the camp which was only going to aid the men in their search for him. He didn’t need the light. He tried to run faster and ignore the burning in his lungs and his bare feet that were becoming more torn up with every step that he took. He didn’t think about where he was going to go or what he was going to do now that the girl was gone, he just ran.

As fast as he was he couldn’t outrun a group of grown men and he suddenly found himself face down in the dirt as he was tackled to the ground. A sharp blow to the back of his head left him reeling and he was suddenly very grateful that he was already on the ground. He could hear the men panting to catch their breath and felt the man on top on him push himself off. The man made sure to press his weight into the child’s shoulders when getting himself up.

“Pick it up.” The gypsy who had spotted the children escaping had arrived. “We’ll deal with it back at camp.”

His sack had twisted over his face when he had been pushed to the ground so the boy couldn’t see what was happening as he was slung over someone’s shoulder and carried back to camp. He knew that to try and escape now would only make matters worse. Briefly thinking about the girl who had helped him and hoping that she had escaped, he drifted into a few blissful minutes of unconsciousness.

He awoke as he was being lifted off the man’s shoulders, seconds before he was tossed to the ground. Turning himself over he reached up to straighten the sack covering his face but one of the gypsies beat him to it and once again the sack was brutally ripped off his head and thrown into a corner. He automatically brought his hands up to cover his face but a man kicked out to stop his hands reaching their destination. “Now, there’s no need to be hiding that pretty face. We’re all friends and we know exactly what you look like.” The man started to kick at the boy’s stomach and back to emphasis the last five words.

“Why would you want to run away?” another man sneered at him. “We feed you, give you somewhere to sleep. Javert even lets you keep that stupid sack over your head. And this is how you thank us?” Clearing his throat the man spat the contents on the child’s face.

“Javert!” The young boy who had been keeping guard outside the tent suddenly ran in. “They’ve just discovered him. He’s dead. The Devil’s Child killed him.”

The young boy on the ground could feel the anger and hatred that was infecting every man in the room and tried to make himself as small as possible in preparation for what he knew was about to happen. It felt like all the men attacked him at once, pulling, beating, scratching, kicking, punching and twisting. He could feel the dirt rubbing into open wounds as he rolled over the floor, blood, tears and spit running everywhere. All he wanted was for unconsciousness to claim him, but he wasn’t lucky enough for that to happen again. He heard a popping sound and suddenly his arm was on fire but he couldn’t move it.

“Stop,” a new voice commanded. The men immediately ceased their attack on the child and stood back, giving Danior a chance to survey the damage. “Well it’s still alive, barely. And you’ve dislocated its shoulder, that will have to be fixed, even if it does add to the illusion. There should be some good scars out of all this though.”

“Why should we even care?” a man boldly asked from the back. “It killed Javert. We should dump it and let it rot like the corpse it is.”

Danior stalked over to the man who had spoken out. “Do you know how much money the Devil’s Child brought in tonight? More than any other attraction we put on. We cannot afford to just let it die.” Moving closer to the child, he started to address the group again. “Javert was part of this family, just like any of you. But he was a drunken fool who got exactly what he deserved and what did for this clan, any one of you can do. The Devil’s Child however, is unique and I will not give it up to appease anyone’s sense of justice or morality. It is however getting older and as tonight has shown, stronger. The current method of exhibition is no longer appropriate; it will not be the Devil’s Child forever. I want a caravan to be specifically fitted out, with a cage at the far end. Our guests can then enter the cage to view it and we need not be worried about it escaping when the camp moves. In the meantime I want two men guarding it at all times. I do not want this to happen again.”

Chapter Text

Ten years later

The midday sun beat down on the father and daughter as they walked along the dirt road that led to the gypsy camp. “Let’s stop here for a moment,” Gustave said, pointing in the direction of a small cluster of trees to the side of the road. Putting their luggage to the side, he sat down on the grass and gestured to his daughter to sit on his lap. “I know you were sad to leave, but we will go back. Maybe one day we could return there for a holiday?” he said with an encouraging smile.

 

“Can we have lollies and go the sea?” Christine asked determinedly.

 

“Of course,” Gustave replied, giving her sides a small tickle.

 

“Papa! Stop!” she giggled, rolling off his lap onto the grass.

 

“This summer Christine, it’s going to change everything for us. Danior’s clan has one of the biggest shows that tours France. Your Papa is going to make lots of money and we’ll be able to start a new life. This will be the last travelling show,” he promised. “With the money I make this summer we’ll buy a house. We can go anywhere you want, we can move to Paris or Rome. We could even go back to Sweden if you want.”

 

“I don’t care where we live, as long as we’re together,” Christine said, looking up at her father with a smile. “We should go somewhere that has an orchestra you can join. And then you can be the most famous violinist in the entire country!”

 

“Maybe we should go to Paris then? I could join the opera house orchestra and when you grow up you can be the prima donna,” he replied indulgently.

 

Christine shook her head. “I can’t be a really good singer unless the Angel of Music visits me. Do you think that if we get a house the Angel will be able to find me? Maybe that’s why he hasn’t come to me yet, because we’re always moving.” 

 

“The Angel will come to you when the time is right,” Gustave responded, squinting at the sun. “Are you ready to keep going?” he said, turning back to Christine.

 

“Uh huh,” she nodded.

 

“Alright. Help me up,” he said, holding his hands up. Christine pretended to pull her father to his feet and walked back to the road as he gathered their bags and followed after her.

 

“We’re almost there Christine,” Gustave said, pointing into the distance. “Can you see the tents up ahead?”

 

Christine looked ahead to the gypsy camp that was becoming clearer with every step that they took. She could see tendrils of smoke rising high into the sky from the fires that were constantly burning. There were a mixture of caravans and different sized tents scattered throughout the clearing that the clan was using for the summer and brightly coloured flags were flying proudly outside many of the tents. Animals were roaming freely and children were darting amongst the tents and caravans, playing an exuberant game, despite the sweltering heat. As they got closer, Christine saw the carriages that belonged to the nobles who liked to frequent the camp for various amusements.

 

“It’s so big Papa,” Christine said in astonishment as she stared at the camp, trying to take it all in.

 

“It’s one of the biggest camps in all of France. There’s going to be so many exciting things for you to see and do. And you’ll be able to make lots of new friends,” Gustave responded. “Are you ready?” he continued, readjusting his grip on their bags.

 

“Yes,” Christine said firmly.

 

“Let’s go,” he said, leading his daughter into the mass of tents and caravans. Once they entered the camp Gustave approached a nearby gypsy, “Excuse me, could you please tell me where I could find Danior?”

 

The gypsy, who had been tightening the pegs on a tent, looked at Gustave and Christine suspiciously. “Red caravan, that way,” he said shortly, pointing towards the most elaborately decorated caravan in the clearing.

 

Reaching the caravan, Christine bounced up the stairs and knocked on the door. “What?” a voice barked from inside. Hearing the annoyance in the man’s voice she quickly jumped off the stairs and moved to stand behind her father.

 

A brief look of concern flashed across Gustave’s face before he looked down at Christine and quickly gave her a reassuring smile. “I’m sorry to disturb you; my name is Gustave Daae...”

 

Before he could finish explaining the door of the caravan swung open and a tall, broad shouldered man strode through the door, reaching out to shake Gustave’s hand in greeting. “Of course, Monsieur Daae, welcome,” he said with a charming smile. “We’ve been looking forward to you joining us for quite some time. I’ve heard that you’ve been quite the attraction in other camps. I assure you that by staying with us I will be able to make you the most famous violinist in the country.”

 

“That’s very kind of you to say Danior. And please call me Gustave.” Resting his hand on Christine’s back, he gently pushed her away from his side and towards Danior, “This is my daughter, Christine.”

 

“Welcome Mademoiselle. How do you like the camp so far?” Danior said, bending down to Christine’s height.

 

“It’s very nice Monsieur,” Christine responded warily, still shaken from his initial reaction to her knocking on his door.

 

“Christine here is a very good singer,” Gustave said proudly, hoping that a mention of music would encourage Christine.

 

“Really? Well, we’ll have to find an opportunity for you to sing whilst you are staying with us then,” Danior exclaimed, still smiling at Christine. She didn’t say anything but moved closer to Gustave again.

 

“So,” Danior said standing up. “Would you like a tour of the camp or are you tired from your journey?”

 

“A tour sounds wonderful, doesn’t it Christine?” Gustave took Christine’s hand and followed after Danior who had already walked away from the caravan.

 

For the next half an hour Danior showed Gustave and Christine around the camp. He showed them the essentials of the camp, the large tent where food was prepared and served, the caravans and tents that belonged to the families and the river that ran just behind the clearing that they used for washing and bathing. He introduced them to more people than they could possible hope to remember and it seemed that the gypsies were much friendlier to the small family once they were accompanied by Danior.

 

“Now,” Danior said turning to Gustave and Christine as they left one of the storage tents, “I’ve save the best for last. Our attractions! The things that everybody comes here to see.” Both Danior and Gustave were pleased to see that Christine’s face brightened at the mention of attractions. She remembered the attractions at the last camp and as this camp was so much bigger she assumed their attractions would be bigger and better as well.

 

Leading them through the part of the camp where the nightly festivities took place Danior explained, “My clan has the usual attractions, music, dancing, the mystical. But we also have attractions that truly set us apart. Like these.”

 

Christine looked up at the three caravans in front of her. A side wall had been removed from each one and replaced with metal bars so visitors could see what was inside. A small amount of dirty straw lined the floor of each caravan. Her gaze drifted across, taking in the bear, the wolf and the large cat she couldn’t identify. She could hardly believe it, she’d never been this close to anything like this.

 

“These are my newest attractions,” Danior said proudly. “I obtained these beasts less than three months ago from another clan. They’ve proven very popular.”

 

“I can imagine,” Gustave said admiringly.

 

“Come this way,” Danior was already moving on, again leaving Gustave and Christine to catch up. “There’s someone else I want you to meet.” He called out to a short man with dark skin who was standing in a circle that had been cleared of all grass, “Azir, come here for a moment.”

 

The man walked over to where Gustave, Christine and Danior were standing. “Azir, this is Gustave Daae and his daughter Christine, they’ll be working with us this summer. Gustave and Christine, may I present Azir, our fire-breather.” Danior made the introductions.

 

“How do you breathe fire?” Christine piped up, intrigued.

 

“That is a very old secret Mademoiselle Christine,” Azir answered with a grin. “Perhaps you will have to see my show and try to work it out.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see all of our attractions,” Danior said, eager to move on to the next attraction. This last attraction was his true obsession, especially as it continuously brought in more money than any other attraction. Dismissing Azir, he directed Gustave and Christine’s attention to a caravan that was painted entirely black. “That caravan, that is where our most valuable attraction resides.”

 

Walking closer to the caravan he continued, “I call it the Living Corpse. A hideous creature, barely human really. A face that will give you nightmares for weeks, and a temper to match. I’ve had it for over ten years now. It currently has two keepers...”

 

“Danior,” Gustave interrupted, knowing the sort of attraction he was talking about. “I would prefer that Christine not be exposed to these sorts of exhibits whilst we stay with you.”

 

“Of course, I do apologise. We rarely have children come to stay with us and the clan children are familiar with all of the attractions. But the attraction does not leave its caravan, so if Christine stays away from this area, especially at night, she should have no problems,” Danior said graciously.

 

“Good,” Gustave nodded. Turning to Christine he said, “Alright, you heard what Danior just said. I don’t want you going near that black caravan, especially at night. Can you do that for me?”

 

“Yes Papa,” Christine replied obediently.

 

“That’s my girl,” Gustave said, kissing her on the forehead.

 

Danior guided them back to the family caravans and showed them the caravan they would be using for the season. Whilst Christine explored the caravan and started to unpack their belongings, Danior explained to Gustave that for the most part he would be a roaming musician, but he would on occasion be required to provide music for the dancers. This meant that visitors wouldn’t have to pay to hear him and he would be reliant on any coins that happened to throw his way. Gustave wasn’t deterred and indicated that he wanted to start performing that night. He knew that this was the opportunity he was waiting for and working with this clan was going to allow him to change Christine’s life for the better.

 


 

The camp truly did come alive at night. Gustave and Christine had left their caravan close to sundown as Gustave prepared to start playing and they both watched in astonishment as the camp seemed to transform into a living, breathing entity. Lanterns, torches and campfires appeared everywhere, giving the camp a red glow that Gustave had no doubt could be seen for miles. More flags had been hoisted up advertising food, drinks and attractions. Women in full colourful skirts danced from one spot to another, tempting young men to visit the attractions and leaving them to the mercies of the men running the attractions. Music could be heard throughout the clearing and children were laughing and shouting.

 

Gustave found a spot outside a clairvoyant’s tent and began to play. He enjoyed having the freedom to perform whatever songs he wanted to and took advantage of this by playing an eclectic mix of cheerful songs. The dancing girls who were moving about the camp would occasionally start to dance to the music that he was playing, quickly drawing a crowd that she would spirit away.  As he took a short break Gustave leaned over towards Christine, “Do you want to sing? I’ll let you pick the song,” he offered, trying to tempt her.

 

Christine looked over to where a few visitors were milling around, most of them having moved on to other attractions as her father took a break. The crowd wasn’t too big, she could do this. If she wanted to be a prima donna she would have to learn to sing in front of bigger groups that this. “Herr Mannelig,” she instructed.

 

As Christine sang the crowd that had previously scattered gradually began to return. Her voice, although young, seemed to soar over the clearing and even the nearby gypsies stopped what they were doing to listen to the child. Christine became lost in the music and didn’t notice just how large her audience had become until a gypsy came to deliver a message to Gustave from Danior. She was abruptly brought back to reality as Gustave stopped playing to talk to the gypsy. Trying to ignore the crowd that was still watching her, she stepped closer to the men to hear what they were talking about.

 

“Fallen ill. Danior wants you to take his place for the rest of the night,” the gypsy explained.

 

“Right. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” The gypsy nodded in acknowledgement and went to explain the situation to the other musicians.

 

“They need me to go play for the dancers Christine. One of the other musicians isn’t feeling well so I need to take his place. Would you like to come and watch or do you want to go back to the caravan?” Gustave asked noticing that Christine was trying to smother a yawn.

 

“I want to...” she interrupted herself with another yawn. “I think I should go back to the caravan,” she finished.

 

“Alright then. Do you remember how to get there or do you want me to walk you back?”

 

“I know how to get there Papa,” Christine replied, a trace of indignation in her voice.

 

Gustave smiled, “Good night Christine.”

 

“Good night Papa.”

 

The pair separated and Christine started making her way back to their caravan. As she was walking she could see the black caravan that Danior had shown them earlier in the day. There was a long line of visitors waiting to enter the caravan and she could hear them shouting and heckling. She remembered what her father said about staying away from it but she felt compelled to have a closer look. As she got nearer she could see that the people in the line were holding small rocks and rotten food. The people exiting the caravan were empty handed. Remembering what Danior said, barely human, nightmares, temper, Christine shook off her compulsion to get even closer and ran back to her caravan. As she turned her back on the black caravan she thought she heard a man crying out. She told herself that it was just someone in the crowd, but as she snuggled under the bed clothes, she could still hear it in her mind.

 


 

She awoke with a jerk a few hours later when the door to the caravan creaked open. Turning over she wiped the sleep from her eyes, “Papa?”

 

“Yes Christine, it’s me. You should be asleep,” he said, crouching down beside her bed and brushing the hair from her eyes.

 

“How were the dancers? Did you know how to play all the songs?” Christine asked.

 

“The dancers were very good. Maybe you could go and watch them rehearse tomorrow?” he replied softly. “I knew a lot of the songs and I was able to play along with the rest. I spoke to Danior again.”

 

“Mmm?” Christine murmured, the sleep not entirely gone from her voice.

 

“He wants me to keep playing for the dancers for a bit longer. The man that I replaced tonight still isn’t feeling well and Danior thinks it might be a few days before he’s ready to play again. He cares about his clan Christine and I think that he really wants to help us. This season is going to be the start of a new life for us; I’ve got such wonderful plans!” he said, gripping Christine’s hands through the bed clothes.

 

Christine wasn’t so sure that Danior was the wonderful man her father thought he was. He certainly appeared to be friendly and popular with the rest of the clan today but she remembered the way he had reacted when she knocked on his door and the tone of his voice when he started talking about the black caravan. Reaching up to give Gustave a kiss, she decided not to think about Danior anymore, “Goodnight Papa.”

 

“Goodnight Christine,” Gustave replied, adjusting her bed clothes.

 


 

In the black caravan a young man rolled onto his back, wincing at the pressure that it put on his abused skin. Tonight had been especially brutal, his guard having had no trouble in getting the crowd worked up. Pulling himself onto his hands and knees, he crawled to the back of the cage and hauled himself into the coffin that Danior had decided was a far more suitable substitute for a bed for a thing like him. Lying back he replayed that voice in his head. Maybe that was the only place it had ever existed? The crowd had been at the height of their frenzy when he had heard it so could his mind have created it as an escape? The voice was so soft, he was sure no one else had heard it. It was young and he could hear where it could be improved. But it called to him, so perfect. He needed it to be real was the last thought that crossed his mind before he slipped into a restless sleep.

 

Chapter Text

He was dead. Her father was dead. Maybe if she kept saying that it would finally start to sink in. But she had been saying it for the past two days and it still seemed just as unreal as it had the first time she had said it. She had been there the moment the life had left him and lay beside him as his body grew cold and yet her instincts were still telling her to go to him and that he would be able to make the emptiness inside her go away. There had always been change in her life, as they moved from town to town so her father could perform. She was used to leaving friends and homes but he had always been there, the one constant in her life. But she was alone and nobody was going to be able to take the emptiness away. Because he was dead. 

 

Christine looked around the caravan, which once again looked exactly as it had on the first day she and Gustave had joined the clan. There was no indication that two people had lived here, that a person had died here, save a bag full of their belongings in the corner and Gustave’s violin case resting carefully on top. Gustave had died just days before the clan was due to move on, the time that he and Christine had been scheduled to leave the clan. As soon as the body had been moved Danior had ordered that the caravan be cleaned out, they couldn’t afford to keep a caravan available for a dead man and a child. A gypsy woman, Christine didn’t know who, had intervened on Christine’s behalf and as a result she was allowed to remain in the caravan until the day of the funeral, today.

 

The clan was due to leave the clearing this afternoon, Danior wasn’t going to delay their departure for anything. This should have been the day that Christine and Gustave had left the clan, on to their new life in Paris. Christine thought about the plans that they had made. He had been so excited the day they had arrived at the camp, talking about how they would be able to move anywhere they wanted to and that this was going to be the last travelling show. Even when he had first gotten sick, his enthusiasm hadn’t waned. For each day that went past and Gustave wasn’t able to work, there was that little bit less money for them to fund their new life. But Gustave wasn’t deterred. Instead he became more determined that as soon as he was well again he was going to play better than he ever had before. Christine had sat by his bed for hours as they discussed their plans for the future. They had decided to move to Paris, where Gustave was going to audition for the Opera and when Christine was older she could audition for the chorus. Gustave’s plans had become more and more extravagant, but with each day that passed Christine could see him getting that little bit sicker.

 

Christine knew that there was very little money. They had barely been with the clan for two weeks when Gustave had become ill. He had visited the sick gypsy musician that Danior had asked him to replace and had caught the illness that the gypsy was suffering from. But whilst the gypsy had soon recovered, Gustave had just gotten sicker. Gypsy medicine could only do so much and a large portion of the money that Gustave had been able to earn had been spent on the doctor from the nearby town to no avail. He had tried to keep Christine’s spirits up by discussing their plans for the future but eventually the situation became too serious to ignore. Christine tried to hold back her tears as he explained that if something happened to him there was a friend in Paris who would look after her. When he had started to tell her about the Angel of Music that he was going to send to her from heaven, she had started to cry, begging Gustave not to leave her. She would rather she never sing again if it meant that she could keep her Papa with her.

 

Christine was jolted out of her thoughts when there was a knock on the caravan door. “We’re about to start,” said the young girl sent to fetch her.

 

“I’ll be right there,” she replied. Christine took one last look around the caravan, trying to remember what it had looked like during those first two weeks. Closing the door behind her, she made her way to where the clan was waiting.

 

If someone had asked Christine what had happened at the funeral, she doubted she could have told them. She could remember staring at the coffin and wanting to look anywhere else, but she couldn’t drag her eyes away. She vaguely thought that her father should have had a funeral in a church but the gypsies had arranged the funeral and they didn’t use churches when a person passed away. When the music had started, a lone violin, tears had silently streamed down her face.

 

The entire clan had attended the funeral but they had quickly returned to packing up the camp when it was over. People who had known her father had given her their condolences, but they too quickly returned to more urgent tasks that the newly orphaned girl. Not having anything to do or anyone to go to, Christine had returned to the caravan where she found that her belongings had been moved outside. The caravan no longer belonged to a Daae. Sitting down on the steps, she waited. Whether she was waiting for something or nothing she didn’t know.  

 

Staring off into space, Christine didn’t realise that Danior had approached her until he spoke.

 

“You’ll need to move from there Christine. We have to hitch this caravan for the move.”

 

“Oh. I’m sorry,” she apologised. “Where do you want me to go?”

 

Already annoyed at the delay the funeral had caused, he replied shortly, “It doesn’t matter. Just stay away from all the caravans, they’re all going to be hitched in the next half an hour.”

 

“Where am I going to sleep tonight? When are the caravans going to be ready?” she asked in a small voice.

 

“That really doesn’t concern you seeing as you won’t be with us,” he replied, uncaring of how harsh his response seemed to the child.

 

“What?” she said as tears started to gather in her eyes.

 

“Your father and you were to stay with us for the season. The clan is now moving on to our next location and you need to do the same,” Danior explained in a matter of fact tone.

 

“My father...” Christine started, “Papa and I were planning to go to Paris where he was going to audition for the Opera. He said that if something happened to him, there was a friend in Paris that I could stay with. So if I could stay with you just until you go to Paris...”

 

Danior interrupted her at this point, “The clan is going in the opposite direction to Paris. It will likely be years before we are close to it. Do you expect to stay with us for years?”

 

“Well no, but if I could just stay until we reach a large town I could take a train to Paris.” Christine was crying by this stage and her tears only seemed to add to Danior’s anger.

 

“Last night was your last night with this clan,” he snapped. “I should have thrown you and your father out weeks ago. He didn’t bring in any money for the clan because he wasn’t performing and still we had to feed and house the two of you. I think that I have been more than generous in letting you stay but you have reached the limits of my generosity. There is a town that we will be passing through on the way to our next location. You can ride with us to the town but you will need to make your own way from there. I’m sure there’s someone in the town that would be willing to take you as a maid or in some other position.”

 

“You would leave a young girl to fend for herself in a strange town, just days after losing her father?” a female voice questioned.

 

“Vadoma, this is not your concern,” Danior barked at the gypsy woman walking towards the caravan.

 

Vadoma wasn’t deterred however and retorted, “Nor is it yours apparently.”

 

Ignoring her angry reply, he stated quietly with a hard edge to his voice, “This is the way it’s going to be. Christine will be leaving us at the next town and you Vadoma; will remember who makes the decisions for this clan.”

 

Christine was too petrified to do anything but nod her head. She could barely think, what was she going to do when she got to the next town? It would likely be early evening by the time the clan arrived there, how was she going to find somewhere to sleep in time? She wondered whether there was any money left and whether it would be enough for a room.

 

Vadoma wasn’t willing to back down. “Gustave Daae thought that you were a good man. He trusted you. And this how you’re going to treat his daughter?”

 

Turning his back on Christine, who was watching the exchange between two adults with wide eyes, Danior replied, “I am doing exactly what I agreed to do for Daae, more even. I agreed that the clan would take them in for the season and he would play for us. He played for all of two weeks but I still allowed him and his daughter to stay. But as agreed, it is now time for Christine to leave us.”

 

“You can’t possible think that it is reasonable to follow through with that arrangement?” Vadoma asked incredulously. “Do you think that Gustave would be happy for you to follow the plan and just abandon his daughter after he died? Have you given any real thought to what will happen to her if you just leave her in the first town we come across? How is the child to survive on her own?”

 

“I am concerned with the survival of this clan, nothing else,” he replied tightly.

 

Vadoma scoffed at this. “You are concerned with a lot more than the survival of this clan and we both know it.”

 

Danior started to lunge for Vadoma and for a moment Christine thought that he was going to strike the woman but he appeared to recover his senses at the last moment. “The girl will be leaving us at the next town. End of discussion.” Believing that he had made his position clear, he stalked away.

 

“How exactly do you propose to achieve this?” Vadoma called after him. “Christine is well liked by many in the clan, I’m sure someone will allow her to ride with them if it appears she has been accidentally left behind. Or perhaps you will tie her to a tree, so she can’t escape the town you abandon her in.”

 

“That will not be necessary,” he said coolly. “If I say that the girl is to remain in the town no one will attempt to bring her with us.”

 

“Are you sure that is such a wise decision? As I said, Christine is well liked. It would no doubt cause some, discontent, if she were to be left behind. And that is not something that you can afford at this time.”

 

“I can always tell them that she had family there.”

 

“You really don’t care, do you?” Vadoma asked. “Lying, so you don’t have to care for a small child. Besides, lies don’t always stay hidden,” she continued, a threatening tone creeping into her voice.

 

Danior paused for a moment, considering his options. “What do you suggest then?” he asked brusquely.

 

“That Christine stays with us. There are always chores to be done; she can earn her keep that way. If we go to Paris at some point we can look for Gustave’s friend and see whether they are still willing to take her in. Otherwise she remains with us and we can reconsider the situation when she is old enough to take care of herself, but not a moment sooner,” Vadoma explained.

 

“And where will she sleep?” he asked.

 

“In my caravan,” Vadoma said simply. “That way I can start to teach her my craft, give her a way to earn a living.”

 

“What?” Danior snapped, “You will not be sharing that with an outsider.”

 

“Firstly, as Christine will be staying with us on a long term basis she will not be considered an ‘outsider’. Secondly, my craft is a woman’s domain and even you Danior, have no say over who I will share it with.” Vadoma knew that she had won.

 

“Fine. But any problems will be on your head Vadoma.” With that being said be turned on his heel and headed back towards the camp, leaving Vadoma and Christine alone in front on the empty caravan.

 

Once she was sure that Danior wasn’t coming back, Vadoma sat down on the steps to the caravan next to Christine. Wrapping an arm around the child’s small shoulders, she held her as she started crying in earnest. Huge sobs wracked through Christine’s body and she struggled to take in enough air between them. Vadoma knew that there was nothing she could say that would end Christine’s tears so she continued to hold the girl, gently stroking her back when the tears seemed to become too intense to bear.

 

Christine felt overwhelmed by the emotions rushing through her mind. Grief, that her father was gone and wasn’t coming back to her. Anger, that Danior would so callously abandon her when her father had trusted that he was a good man. Relief, that she was safe and had somewhere to sleep that night. Gratitude, that Vadoma had fought on her behalf and was willing to take her in. Remembering Vadoma, Christine struggled up from where she was lying across the gypsy woman’s lap. Wiping her eyes and nose with the back of her hands, she looked up and studied the woman who was nothing less than her saviour. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

 

“You are very welcome,” Vadoma said smiling down at Christine. “I think we should move now, I’m surprised Danior hasn’t sent the men over with the horses by now. We’ll take your belongings to my caravan. We can unpack them once we arrive at the new site,” she continued, reaching for Gustave’s violin case.

 

“No!” Christine shouted. Startled, Vadoma put the violin case down.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“I’m sorry. It’s just... Can I carry the violin?” Christine said pitifully.

 

“Of course Christine.” Stepping back Vadoma allowed Christine to step forward and retrieve the violin case. Christine hugged it to her chest as Vadoma gathered the rest of Christine and Gustave’s belongings. “My caravan’s on the other side of the clearing, close to the main fire. I’ll try and make sure that it’s set up in a quieter location at the next site.”

 

“You don’t have to do that for me,” Christine protested. “If you want to stay near the main fire it doesn’t bother me.”

 

“Nonsense. Besides after this season it will be nice to have some peace and quiet,” Vadoma dismissed Christine’s concerns as she led them through the hive of activity that was a gypsy camp about to move.

 

Arriving at Vadoma’s caravan, Vadoma put Christine’s belongings on top of the bed whilst Christine made sure that Gustave’s violin was stored securely and wasn’t going to fall when the caravan started moving.

 

“Vadoma,” Christine said suddenly. “You said before that you were going to teach me your craft. What did you mean?” Christine was afraid that Vadoma’s craft was going to be singing or music and she wasn’t ready to have another teacher so soon after her Papa.

 

“Clairvoyance. Reading the tarot cards to predict a person’s future. It’s very popular with visitors to the camp, especially young ladies looking for love and young men looking for their fortunes,” Vadoma explained. “It’s not something that we need to start immediately. But when you feel that you are ready I can start teaching you. There’s no need for you to do basic chores forever.”

 

“I don’t want you to get in trouble with Danior,” Christine said hesitantly.

 

“Do not worry about Danior. I meant what I said to him earlier, my craft is women’s business and it is not up to him to decide who I will teach it to. But if he ever starts talking to you like he did before, you need to tell me straight away. I want you to feel safe with the clan because this is your home now,” Vadoma said brushing Christine’s curls away from her face.

 

“I will,” Christine promised.

 

Chapter Text

Christine awoke when the first rays of the morning sun shone directly into her eyes. Although there were wooden shutters on the window that Vadoma shut tightly every night, it was an ongoing battle to stop the light from shining into Christine’s face. Vadoma had requested that the caravan be moved but by the time they had realised there was a problem the camp was too well established to rotate it. Still uncertain of her position within the clan, Christine had insisted that it didn’t bother her than much and that they shouldn’t go to any trouble for her. Instead it had become a game for her and Vadoma, each day one of them would devise a new way to block the sun and each morning they would laugh when the idea inevitably failed. Squinting at the window, Christine could see that Vadoma’s idea of a large book against the window frame hadn’t worked.

Although she enjoyed the game with Vadoma Christine knew that she would mourn the light when they eventually found a way to block it. The light would wake her before there was any movement in the camp and prior to Vadoma starting her day. She would quietly dress each morning and grab a lightweight shawl to guard against the cool morning air before walking to the abandoned church that was down the road from the site Danior had chosen for the camp.

The church was at the base of a hill and had only recently been abandoned. When Christine had visited the nearby town with some of the other children she had overheard two women talking and learned that the old priest had died and no one could be found to take over for him. She knew that the clan wouldn’t always set up camp so close to a church but she was grateful that there was one so close to the current camp. Although the main entrance to the church was chained and locked, a side entrance intended for use by the priest had been missed when the building had been shut up and Christine was able to easily get in and out each morning.

Kneeling in a pew at the front of the church, Christine looked up at the small stain glass window above the altar and admired the light filtering through the wings of the angel. Clasping her hands together she started praying to her father, as she did every morning, “I miss you Papa. I hope you’re with Mama and the angels and that you can look out for me from time to time. Is there lots of music in heaven? The gypsies still play music all the time, even when we don’t have visitors at the camp. I know I should start singing again, but it’s hard. I don’t know how to do it without you. Maybe when you send the Angel of Music I’ll be able to sing again. When are you going to send the Angel Papa? Am I not good enough for him to visit me?” She started to cry softly at this thought.

She cried for a few minutes before wiping her eyes with the corner of her shawl. “I’m sorry Papa. You promised you would send the Angel and you always keep your promises. I just need to be more patient,” she said resolutely. “That’s what Vadoma would tell me. Do you remember Vadoma Papa? I think she visited you once. I live with her now, in her caravan. She has lots of things in her caravan and she’s going to teach me how to tell people’s futures. She’s really nice...”

Christine had been living with Vadoma for three months and was quickly coming to trust and love the gypsy woman. She hadn’t pushed Christine to talk about Gustave’s death or the plans that they had made for the future but Christine found that she felt comfortable telling her about small parts of her past and her feelings about living with the clan. Vadoma had taken Christine in as a surrogate daughter and she had therefore been treated as such by the clan. She didn’t have any children of her own and wasn’t married, which Christine had learned was very unusual in the clan, but she was liked and respected by everyone and was one of the only people who seemed willing to stand up to Danior. Even though Danior still wasn’t happy that Christine was living with the clan his feelings had not been adopted by the majority of the gypsies. It seemed that he had taken Vadoma’s comments seriously and had not given the clan any reason to think that he was unhappy with their newest member.

Like Vadoma, Danior was loved and respected by the clan and Christine knew that her father had thought very highly of the gypsy leader. The children that Christine had spoken to all trusted the man, saying that he was always very busy, but that he would occasionally play with them and they always had great fun. Although he hadn’t let it show to the rest of the clan it was obvious to Christine that he was irritated with her continued presence in the camp. Christine tried to avoid being alone with him and found that when there was no one else around he was harsh and bitter towards her. However this was rare and it seemed that Danior wanted to avoid Christine as much as she wanted to avoid him. Danior’s attitude towards Christine had been noticed by a few of Danior’s closest men and whilst they didn’t treat her in the same way as Danior, they did not make her feel as welcome as the other gypsies did.

Christine shook her head, realising that her mind had drifted. “I wish you were still here Papa and we had been able to go Paris. You would have become so famous...” her voice trailed off again. Recognising that she had been sitting in the church for a while, she finished her prayer silently before heading towards the door. She paused when she reached the exit and turned back to face the inside of the building, “Goodbye Papa, I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Walking back into the camp, Christine could see that she had been away longer than normal from the increased activity of the site. The fires that were lit every day, regardless of the temperature, were already burning and groups of people were scattered around the camp eating the morning meal. Children were running around, burning off their morning rush of energy, whilst the men and women discussed the day’s chores.

Pulling off her shawl, Christine made her way back to Vadoma’s caravan, with a short detour to collect some fruit for breakfast. Entering the caravan Christine noticed that Vadoma wasn’t there and sat down to eat her breakfast.

“Good morning,” Vadoma said entering the caravan and leaning over Christine to give her a kiss on the top of her head.

“Good morning Vadoma,” Christine chirped in reply.

“You were up early this morning,” Vadoma commented with a knowing smile. She knew that Christine had been visiting the abandoned church each morning, but hadn’t said anything, realising that it was the young girl’s way of coping with her grief.

Christine still wasn’t ready to explain that she was visiting the abandoned church each morning and praying for her father. She knew that she should tell Vadoma what she was doing so Vadoma wouldn’t worry about her but it was something that she shared with her Papa and she wasn’t comfortable letting another person into their relationship yet. She wasn’t sure how she would explain it, but she knew that for moment it needed to be just her and her Papa.

Not wanting to outright lie to Vadoma, Christine gave a non-committal answer. “I wasn’t sleepy. Plus,” she said with a grin on her face, “The sun was shining in my eyes. Your idea didn’t work.”

“Oh dear. Well you have all day to come up with a wonderful idea for tonight,” Vadoma replied. Looking out the door, she noticed that the children had stopped playing for the moment and continued, “Everyone’s starting their chores Christine, you should hurry along and join the others.”

Danior had sent for Vadoma and Christine the morning after Christine’s first night with Vadoma. He had seized on Vadoma’s idea for Christine to do chores around the camp to earn her keep and had arranged for her join two other children in cleaning areas of the camp that were frequented by visitors. This meant cleaning out the tents and caravans that housed the various attractions and gathering the rubbish that had been left near the campfires. Danior was insistent that the camp be spotless before the first visitors of the day arrived. He was often heard saying that people weren’t going to pay to see attractions displayed by pigs. Christine had quickly learned that the busier the camp was one night, the longer it would take to clean the next morning.

Briefly thinking about what the camp had looked like when she walked through it earlier that morning, Christine said to Vadoma, “The camp didn’t look too bad this morning, it shouldn’t take too long to clean.”

“It was a quiet night last night,” Vadoma explained. “Although the animals still seemed to attract a large crowd so you might need to spend a bit more time there.”

Christine screwed up her face at the thought. She didn’t like having to clean near the animals’ cages. She felt sorry for them, being locked in cages and being whipped. Plus the smell was terrible, especially first thing in the morning before their keepers had cleaned the cages out. Christine was just thankful that she didn’t have to do that.

Gathering up the scraps from her breakfast, Christine said goodbye to Vadoma, grabbed an apron from the trunk at the base of her bed and went to meet Mala and Milosh, the twins that she worked with. The twins were a year older than Christine and whilst they loved each other dearly and were rarely seen apart, Mala, who was older by ten minutes, was merciless in teasing her brother. Both twins had become fast friends with Christine and she often found herself in the middle of their games.

She joined the twins in their normal meeting spot, outside a dull brown tent that housed various supplies, including the brooms and buckets that they used every day.

“Christine will agree with me,” Milosh insisted before Christine even had a chance to greet them.

“About what?” she asked.

“About which animal is best,” Mala interrupted her brother before he had a chance to respond. “Milosh thinks the wolf is the best animal we have but I think that it’s boring because it’s just like a large dog and we have lots of those in the camp.”

Determined to have his say, Milosh took over for Mala, “It’s not boring. Mala likes the big cat and I think that’s boring because all it does is sleep.”

“Umm...” Christine mumbled, trying to come up with an answer. “I think I like the bear best.”

“No. You have to choose either the wolf or the big cat,” Mala insisted.

Christine didn’t think this was fair but both twins were staring at her expectantly, waiting for an answer. “The big cat,” she decided. “Sorry Milosh.”

Milosh looked troubled for a moment, but then smiled, “That’s alright. I guess the big cat isn’t that boring.”

“We should start working,” Christine said, walking into the tent. “We don’t want Danior to get mad at us.”

“He won’t get mad at us,” Mala asserted.

“As long as we get the work done in time for the first visitors,” Milosh added.

The twins were Danior’s nephew and niece and he openly adored both of them. The feeling was equally strong on the twins’ side and they believed that he could do no wrong. As such Christine much preferred to see Danior when she was with Mala or Milosh. But it also made her sad, that she couldn’t tell her friends what she thought about Danior and how she often had to listen to them talk about how wonderful their uncle was and that they didn’t realise how he treated her when they weren’t there.

The children gathered what they needed for their work and Christine told them what Vadoma had said about the animals being popular the night before. They decided that they would start with the other areas and meet to do the animals’ area together. Hopefully, Mala said, by that time the keepers would have cleaned the cages.

Christine always started by cleaning Vadoma’s tent. Since Vadoma only had one or two visitors in there at a time, the inside of the tent was always easy. However the people who lined up outside the tent, waiting to see her, always made a slightly bigger mess. Christine always made sure Vadoma’s tent was extra clean, as a way of thanking her for looking after her.

To get to the tent, Christine had to walk past the black caravan. At this time of day the area surrounding the tent was quiet, an entirely different scenario to the night time, when it was the most popular attraction in the camp and visitors swarmed everywhere. She could still vividly remember the way Danior spoke about the attraction and knew that her father wanted her kept away from it and so far she had done her best to comply with her Papa’s wishes. But the gypsies were very open in talking about the various attractions and Christine knew that it was just a matter of time before she would inadvertently overhear someone talking about exactly what was in the black caravan.

She didn’t know why, but she felt that whatever was in the black caravan, it really wasn’t as terrible and horrible as people made out. She did know that every time she walked by it she felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness. There was also anger and frustration but they weren’t as strong as the other feelings. She felt both drawn to it and repelled by it and decided it was better to stay away. Christine had told Vadoma how the black caravan made her feel one night just after they had gone to bed. Vadoma, knowing about Gustave’s wishes, hadn’t told Christine what was in the caravan but had told Christine that an ability to sense emotions would help when she started teaching her clairvoyance and the tarot cards.

Once she had finished cleaning Vadoma’s tent, Christine quickly moved onto the other tents and campfires that she needed to clean, before heading to the animal cages to meet Mala and Milosh. She was the first to arrive and decided to take a small break whilst waiting for the others to arrive before starting. She had barely sat down when Milosh arrived, “Oh good, I’m here before Mala,” he said, flopping down next to Christine. Wrinkling his nose he asked, “Keepers haven’t cleaned out the cages yet?”

“Nope,” Christine confirmed. “We’ll have to work extra quickly.”

“No. I’m too tired to work quickly,” Milosh moaned.

“Would you rather the smell?” Christine asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Alright,” he grumbled. “At least Mala’s here now,” he said pointing in front of them to where Mala was approaching. “You can suffer the smell with us,” he told his sister.

“Ugh. Let’s get to work then.”

The children finished cleaning as quickly as they could and made a game of seeing who could hold their breath the longest. Returning to the main part of the camp, as the animals were kept a short distance away, they joined Mala and Milosh’s parents, Luca and Talaitha, for lunch in one of the larger tents. Although Luca was Danior’s brother, they weren’t close since he didn’t get involved in the running of the camp or inter-clan politics and as such he wasn’t aware of Danior’s animosity towards Christine. He reminded Christine of her Papa, although Gustave could never be replaced in her heart.

After the meal, Milosh went off with his father whilst the girls returned to the family caravan with Talaitha. Just before Christine and Gustave had joined the clan, Talaitha had started teaching her daughter to sew, and when Christine had started living with Vadoma, she had suggested that she could teach Christine at the same time. The girls had lessons every day as there was a never ending supply of sewing and mending to be done for the clan. Talaitha was known as the best seamstress in the camp and everyone wanted her to do their work. Mala was a natural like her mother and looked forward to their lessons. Christine knew that the work was important, but couldn’t help but complain when her stitches weren’t straight or she pricked herself with the needle.

 


 

“Please step this way Mademoiselles,” Christine said with a small curtsy, holding aside the curtain to Vadoma’s tent so that two young women could enter and have their futures read by Vadoma.

The two ladies had been whispering and giggling whilst waiting for their turn. The taller of the two eagerly walked into the tent, whilst the shorter lagged behind a bit and stopped next to Christine. “Excuse me,” she whispered. “Is it frightening at all?”

“What do you mean?” Christine asked, puzzled.

“The fortune teller. I’ve heard that some fortune tellers will tell you the most dreadful things. That they will speak of death!” she exclaimed, her voice rising slightly at the end.

“Vadoma isn’t frightening,” Christine said with a reassuring smile. “When you go in she will ask what you want to know. So you can ask her to just focus on the good things.”

“That’s such a relief. Thank you very much,” the woman said, pressing a coin into Christine’s palm.

As the second lady walked into the tent, Christine quickly pocketed the coin before scanning the area in front of her and noting that there were only two groups waiting for Vadoma. She pushed herself backwards into the fabric of the tent so she could hear what Vadoma was saying, whilst still keeping an eye out for more customers.

It had been Vadoma’s idea that Christine work at the front of the tent. She said that it added a greater air of mystery if visitors never saw her outside the tent. Plus it gave Christine the opportunity to see what was involved in Vadoma’s work. She hadn’t realised that so many different kinds of people came to visit Vadoma. There were young ladies who came to ask about lovers and marriage, older women who came for a hint of scandal, young men trying to decide what careers to take. But the group that surprised Christine was the business men who would sneak in to ask her about their fortunes. It seemed to Christine that they couldn’t be very good business men if they needed a gypsy woman’s help.

She continued to stand outside the tent, and showed the next two groups in, noticing that there was no one else waiting. A few minutes after the last group had left the tent, Vadoma emerged. “I don’t think we’re going to have any more visitors tonight,” she observed. “Would you like to go to the main campfire and watch the dancers for a bit?”

Christine’s eyes lit up at the suggestion. She loved watching the dancers with their quick graceful movements and full twirling skirts, along with the men who could lift the girls like they weighed nothing at all. “Oh yes please Vadoma. Are you going to come?”

“No, I might stay here, just in case there are any more visitors. But you have fun and ask Luca to bring you back to the caravan,” Vadoma instructed.

Christine nodded her head in agreement and stretched up to give Vadoma a kiss before running off towards the main campfire.

By the time she reached area near the main campfire where the dancing was taking place a strong crowd had already gathered and Christine found that she had to weave through the people to find a position where she could see. She sat down next to one of the dancers who was sitting out for the current song.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” the dancer asked.

“Oh yes,” Christine agreed

“This is one of my favourite dances, but I hurt my knee so I’m not able to do it for the next few weeks,” she continued.

“Will you be alright?” Christine asked wide eyed.

“Sure. Happens all the time, we know how to handle it,” the dancer replied nonchalantly.

“How do they do that?” Christine asked, watching a female dancer fall backwards into the arms of one of the men.

“Lots of practise. With a pile of blankets underneath,” the dancer laughed. “You should come to practise one day. Mala and Milosh could come as well. We could teach you some basic steps. Who knows, maybe one day you could be dancing up there,” she said pointing to the group of dancers who were finishing with dramatic poses.

“Really? Thank you. I’ll be sure to ask them,” Christine exclaimed.

That night she dreamed of dancing and singing as the Angel of Music played for her.

Chapter Text

Leaving the broom just inside the tent, Christine stretched as she walked out and remembered the hemming that she needed to finish with Talaitha that afternoon. A girl a few years older than Christine had recently had a growth spurt and her mother had brought Talaitha all of her skirts and dresses to have the hems let down. Groaning a little at the thought, Christine cheered up when she realised she still had some time before lunch to play with the twins.

 

Spotting Milosh, she broke into a jog to catch up with him. “Hey Milosh,” she said with a smile. Her smile dropped when she noticed the look on Milosh’s face. He looked worried, and scared. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing,” he replied, obviously trying to put on a more normal expression and failing somewhat.  “But my uncle wants to see you.”

 

“Oh.” Christine’s face was starting to resemble Milosh’s. “What for?”

 

“He didn’t say. But he wants to see you straight away,” Milosh said, staring at the dirt.

 

“Well maybe you could come with me. Then when I’m finished we can go find Mala and play before lunch,” Christine suggested.

 

Milosh shook his head. “No. I have to go back to our caravan. And I don’t think Mala can come and play this morning.”

 

“Oh,” Christine said again “Is Mala alright?”

 

“She’s fine. But she’s, um, busy,” Milosh faltered.

 

“Well I’ll see her this afternoon then for our sewing lesson with your mother.”

 

“Uh, no. Mama says that you don’t need to come this afternoon and she’ll see you tomorrow. You should really go and see Uncle Danior now; you don’t want to keep him waiting,” Milosh said quickly.

 

“But...” Christine started feebly. “Milosh what’s going on?”

 

“Nothing!” Milosh exclaimed. “But you really should go now. I’ll see you later,” he said, turning his back and practically running from Christine.

 

Resolving to try and track down at least one of the twins later that afternoon, Christine started walking towards Danior’s caravan.

 

As she got closer to the ornately decorated red caravan, Christine started to get a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. Fighting the urge to run back to her own caravan, she climbed the stairs and reached out to knock on the door, which, most unusually, was already open.

 

“Come in Christine,” Danior called from where he sat at a small desk in the far corner of the caravan. Not looking up, he didn’t give her a chance to talk before he continued. “As of tomorrow I want you to start cleaning the black caravan.”

 

“But Mala always cleans it,” Christine said hesitantly.

 

“Not anymore,” Danior replied abruptly.

 

“Why not?” Christine asked, trying to sound braver than she felt.

 

“That isn’t your concern. I said that you will be cleaning it and that’s what you’ll do. If you want to stay with this clan then it’s time you started actually contributing,” he snarled.

 

Christine took a deep breath to try and hold back the tears that were threatening to spill over. “I already...” she started.

 

Danior interrupted before she could continue. “You can leave now,” he said coldly.

 

Realising that it was wiser to leave than to try and continue the conversation, Christine fled the caravan.

 


 

Later that afternoon Christine was wandering the camp, feeling a little lost with nothing to do. It was strange not being with Talaitha and sewing like they did every afternoon. She briefly considered trying to find Milosh but then realised that he was probably busy with whatever was keeping Mala occupied. She wasn’t used to Milosh acting so secretive, he was normally so open and friendly with her. Christine knew there had to be something going on that he wasn’t telling her about. For a split second she thought that maybe Danior had done something, but then she remembered how much Danior adored his niece and nephew, he wouldn’t do anything to upset them. Maybe he was harsher than normal with her because whatever had happened to Mala and Milosh had also upset him? She couldn’t think of what it could be. Unless it had something to do with the black caravan. But surely even Danior wouldn’t send her in there if she would be in any danger.

 

Christine was jolted from her thoughts when she stumbled over a rock. Looking around she realised that she had walked to the pond in a nearby field. The gypsies used the pond for bathing but at this time of day it was normally deserted. Except that Christine could see a small figure sitting by the side of the far side of the pond, Mala.

 

Making her way to the other side, Christine realised that Mala hadn’t even noticed that she was there until she sat next to her and Mala gave a little start.

 

“I’m sorry. I thought you saw me,” Christine said softly.

 

Mala didn’t say anything, but shrugged her shoulders in response.

 

“What’s wrong? Milosh said you were busy and then I wasn’t able to visit your Mama for our sewing lesson,” Christine asked.

 

“Nothing’s wrong,” Mala responded flatly.

 

“Are you alright?” Christine persisted. “Did someone hurt you? Was it Danior?” Christine was horrified to think that her initial thoughts may have been correct.

 

“No,” Mala exclaimed, becoming a lot more animated at this suggestion. “My uncle would never hurt me.”

 

“Then what’s going on?” Christine cried.

 

“Nothing. It’s just...I can’t say. It’s nothing, really. I’ve got to go. Mama needs me back at home.” With that Mala quickly got to her feet and practically ran from Christine.

 

Left alone by the pond, Christine once again got lost in thoughts about what was happening with Mala, Milosh and Danior.

 


 

 “Did you find out what happened?” Christine asked, sitting up quickly on her bed as soon as Vadoma entered the caravan.

 

Vadoma shook her head slowly, like she was trying to figure something out. “I’m sorry Christine. Danior refused to tell me anything. I spoke to Talaitha and Luca but they didn’t say much either, and I didn’t want to push them.”

 

“Of course not,” Christine murmured dejectedly. “Do you think that Mala is alright?”

 

“I think that she’s a little bit sad at the moment,” Vadoma said carefully. “But if you are a good friend to her, she’ll be feeling better very soon. Talk to her tomorrow afternoon, after she’s had a bit of time.”

 

“I’m scared of tomorrow,” Christine confided.

 

Vadoma sat near the top of the bed and put her arms around Christine. “There’s nothing to be scared of. It’s a caravan which is the same as all the other ones that you clean.”

 

“But what if what’s in there is what made Mala sad?” she questioned.

 

“You will be perfectly fine tomorrow Christine,” Vadoma responded, ignoring the question. “Now I think it’s time you went to sleep,” she said, kissing Christine on the forehead and waiting for her to lie down so she could pull the covers up over her shoulders. “Good night.”

 

“Good night,” Christine said, feeling like she wanted to bury herself in her covers and never come out.

 


 

Christine stood at the base of the stairs of the black caravan. It was on the edge of the camp and whilst she could hear people in the camp, she couldn’t see anyone. It was as though she was all alone. But maybe she wasn’t. She still didn’t know what was in the black caravan. There was a large wooden bar across the front of the door, obviously intended to keep things in, rather than out. She had wanted to ask Mala or Milosh to come with her, but they still had their cleaning to do and Christine felt that yesterday’s incident meant they would probably say no.

 

Taking a deep breath, she walked up the stairs, pulled the bar out and opened the door. She looked into the caravan and could see nothing. The sun created a shaft of light through the doorway, but it didn’t light up the whole caravan. There was dirt on the floor, brought in the night before on the shoes of all the visitors who walked through the caravan and Christine could see food scraps and other rubbish on the small segment of floor that was lit. She blindly reached to her side to retrieve the broom that she had propped up against the side of the caravan and walked in.

 

It was cool inside the caravan and smelt musty, like it had been closed up for a long time. It reminded Christine of an attic in a house she and her father had once lived in. Once she was inside she found that the light did allow her to see beyond the doorway to the sides of the caravan, which were also painted black, but she couldn’t see the far end. She knew from walking past the caravan every day that it was the longest caravan owned by the clan, longer even than Danior’s. There were boxes lining the walls, seating for the visitors at night.

 

She started to gather the food and other rubbish that had been discarded by the previous night’s visitors and threw it in the bucket she had placed at the door. She then swept the floor, pushing the dirt and smaller bits of rubbish out the door in small clouds. She wanted to leave it at that. The feelings of sadness and loneliness that she normally experienced walking past the caravan were even stronger when she was inside and she wanted to run for the safety of the camp and Vadoma’s caravan.

 

But she knew that she couldn’t do that. Danior always insisted that every attraction be spotless for when the first visitors arrived and Christine knew that he would come down hard on her if she left the black caravan looking anything but perfect.

 

Looking into the darkness she decided that she wasn’t going to be able to do much more if she couldn’t see. Maybe there were some windows she could open. She climbed up onto the wooden boxes and ran her hands across the walls, searching for a window. She knew that the caravan should have had windows, she could see them on the outside, but she couldn’t find any indication of them on the inside. She jumped down, her shoes making a sound that reverberated throughout the caravan. Still scanning the caravan for any hint of a window, she spotted a lantern tucked away in the corner. Seizing it, Christine quickly left the caravan and made her way to the nearest campfire to light it.

 

Feeling more confident armed with a lantern, Christine re-entered the caravan. She held it up closer to her face and walked deeper into the caravan than she had previously ventured. She saw that there was something at the back of the caravan and was trying to focus on it when a voice called out, “Stop!”

 

Christine jerked so violently she almost dropped her lantern. “What?” she squeaked.

 

“Don’t come any closer. Get rid of the lantern,” the voice instructed from the opposite side of the caravan.

 

“But I have to clean the caravan. I need the lantern to see,” Christine stammered.

 

“You can clean without it. The light hurts my eyes,” he said. The voice was now behind her.

 

“I’m sorry,” Christine gasped whirling around trying to find the voice. “But how am I supposed to clean if I can’t see?”

 

“You will be able to see, I’ll show you how. Just get rid of the lantern,” the voice snapped.

 

“Alright,” Christine extinguished the lantern and placed it by the door. Walking back to the centre of the caravan she said “I can’t see anything.”

 

“Give it a moment. Just look into the darkness. And whatever you do, do not look back at the door. Your eyes need to adjust to the lack of light,” the voice explained. It seemed to be coming from the back of the caravan again.

 

Christine followed the instructions and found that she was gradually able to make out the shape of the caravan, although she still couldn’t see where the voice was coming from. “Can you see me?” she asked timidly.

 

“I can. I’m used to the darkness,” he replied. Clearing his throat he continued, “Can you see enough to start your work now?”

 

Being careful not to look directly at the doorway, Christine resumed gathering the rubbish and sweeping, gathering everything in a small pile that she would push out the door when she was ready to leave. Unconsciously she started humming just under her breath in an attempt to calm herself.

 

He watched as the young girl cleaned the caravan. He had seen dozens of children sent in over the years, only to abruptly leave for various reasons, but she seemed different to the others. Not only in appearance, for her skin was much paler than that of a gypsy, but there was something else about her that called out to him, that told him she was safe. He had seen the young children who were petrified to enter the caravan to do their chores return years later as teenagers, happy to torment him for the crowds, but she wouldn’t do that. She had even apologised when he told her that the light hurt his eyes, no one had ever done that.

 

When she started humming, a memory rushed back to him from many months ago. Maybe he hadn’t imagine it, maybe the voice that had sung and taken his soul away as his body was being beaten was real and standing right in front of him. He risked venturing closer the metal bars that closed off the back quarter of the caravan, knowing that she likely wouldn’t be able to see him but risking it to hear her better. He could hear the quality in her voice and knew that she would be magnificent when she was older. He wondered what it would be like to hear her sing, really sing, but quickly dismissed the thought. Why would she sing in here? And it wasn’t likely that he was going to be leaving the caravan any time soon. He stepped back towards the coffin as she approached the bars.

 

“Um...is there a door here?” she asked trying to find a way through.

 

“You don’t need to clean on that side,” he said bluntly.

 

“Oh. Alright,” she replied. Gathering her bucket on one arm she awkwardly used the broom to push out the pile of dirt that she had made. When she reached the door she squinted in the bright light, stunned at how much she had adjusted to the darkness. Turning back to face the inside of the caravan, she found that once again she couldn’t see anything beyond the shaft of light from the doorway. “Thank you,” she said. “For helping me to see.” Without waiting for a reply she bounded down the stairs and away from the caravan.

 

He sat there stunned for a moment. She had thanked him for helping her. She had thanked him. He had suggested the same technique to other children in the past and many of them had run out screaming at the sound of his voice. But those who stayed rarely listened to him, and certainly none had ever thanked him. What made this girl different? He could only hope that she would return.

 


 

Christine wasn’t nearly as nervous the next morning as she approached the black caravan. She had left it to last again and she would freely admit that if Danior had approached her and told her that she didn’t clean it anymore, she would not have been upset. She believed that although the caravan seemed scary, because of the darkness and the metal bars, she was safe there. She thought back to what Danior had told her Papa when he had been giving them a tour of the camp. He had said that what was in the caravan was ‘barely human’. Although she hadn’t seen what was in the caravan, it, he, had sounded human. He’d actually had a nice voice Christine thought, the kind that made her feel warm inside. He had seemed upset with her, but then he had said that the light hurt his eyes, so maybe that was why he was upset.  Perhaps today he would be nicer.

 

She again felt the sadness and loneliness wash over her as she walked closer to the black caravan. She didn’t hesitate this time as she walked up the stairs and unbarred the door. Walking inside she called “Hello?”

 

“Hello.” The voice sounded perplexed and like its owner was standing directly behind her. Christine immediately spun around but there was no one to be found.

 

“My name’s Christine. What’s your’s?” she asked once her heart had stopped trying to pound out of her chest.

 

“Don’t you know what the gypsies call me?” the voice said with a slight sneer.

 

“No,” Christine shook her head. “My Papa said that I should stay away from this caravan. And nobody’s spoken to me about it.”

 

“Ah,” the voice murmured. She didn’t know who or what he was. But she was still scared of him, he thought bitterly. She was so young though and obviously didn’t belong with the gypsies. And she had listened to his advice yesterday without running. Should he reveal himself as an attraction or...

 

His thoughts were interrupted when Christine spoke, “You do have a name, don’t you?”

 

“Erik. My name is Erik,” he said. He hadn’t spoken his name in over ten years.

 

“I’m pleased to meet you Erik,” Christine announced. Erik staggered back onto his coffin when she said this. If he hadn’t said his name in ten years it had been even longer since anyone else had spoken it. He had almost forgotten what it sounded like spoken aloud and to hear that voice saying it, it was almost too much.

 

Realising that Erik wasn’t going to respond, Christine started cleaning. Once again she begun by cleaning the area that was lit by the sunlight streaming through the door. She then walked to the door and partially closed it.

 

“What are you doing?” Erik’s voice sounded like it was coming from the right side of the caravan.

 

“Yesterday you said that I shouldn’t look at the doorway when I was trying to work in the dark and it was really hard. I thought this would make it easier,” Christine shrugged.

 

“That makes sense,” Erik said, amazed that this girl would willingly close the door to his caravan whilst she was inside. But then she still didn’t know what he was.

 

As Christine stood in the dark waiting for her eyes to adjust she asked, “Where are you Erik?”

 

“I am in the caravan.”

 

“I know that,” Christine giggled slightly. “But where in the caravan? You sound like you’re always moving but I never see you.”

 

Deciding not to throw his voice for this conversation he explained, “The metal bars you found yesterday? I am on the other side of those.”

 

“Oh. Do you ever come out?” Christine asked curiously.

 

“No.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Erik thought about this for a moment. She still didn’t know what he was. He had thought that after yesterday she would have immediately run off to ask someone exactly what was in the black caravan. She seemed to be a curious child so he couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to know. Was it possible that she could be a friend, someone to talk to? He’d never had a friend before. He knew that when she found out what he really was she would run away, but maybe they could be friends for a little while.

 

“I live here,” he replied simply.

 

This answer seemed to satisfy Christine and having determined that she was able to see enough, she started to clean again. She was humming again, but this time she would occasionally sing small phrases in a very soft voice. Erik was content listening to her but soon he became curious. “Do you sing?”

 

Christine stopped what she was doing. “I used to,” she admitted. “I used to sing when Papa played the violin. But not anymore.”

 

Repeating Christine’s earlier question Erik asked, “Why not?”

 

“I don’t feel like it anymore. I miss Papa,” she said sadly.

 

Thinking back a few months Erik remembered that there had been a musician working with the clan for the season and that he had brought his young daughter. “You father is dead,” he stated.

 

“Yes. I know that he would want me to keep singing. But it doesn’t feel right, not yet,” Christine explained.

 

“The music will come to you again,” Erik said.

 

“Oh I know,” Christine smiled, thinking of the Angel of Music that her Papa had promised her.  “But when I’m ready.”

 

Chapter Text

“Erik, can I ask you a question?” Christine said, putting her mop aside and sitting down on a box.

 

“Of course,” Erik replied.

 

Christine had now been cleaning the black caravan for two weeks, including a complete mopping every Saturday morning in preparation for the busiest night of the week. She had developed a routine for the black caravan, always leaving it to the end of her chores. Every morning she would greet Erik when she arrived at the caravan. She would then get rid of the rubbish that she could see in the immediate vicinity of the doorway before closing the door and waiting for her eyes to adjust. Whilst she was waiting she would chat away to Erik about what she had planned for the rest of the day or something interesting that had happened the previous night. He didn’t say much, finding that he liked hearing about what was happening in the camp from Christine, rather than overhearing bits of conversations from his keepers and the people who visited the caravan at night.

 

“You always stay at the end of the caravan, don’t you?” she asked cautiously.

 

“Yes,” he responded equally cautiously, not sure whether he was comfortable with where this conversation could lead. So far Christine had refrained from asking any questions about his situation and he wasn’t willing to risk their budding friendship by volunteering any information.

 

“When I first came here and you spoke to me, it sounded like you were moving around the caravan. How did you do that?” she enquired.

 

Erik breathed a small sigh of relief. Today wouldn’t be the day where the one glimmer of happiness in his otherwise miserable existence disappeared. Even though he had only known Christine for two weeks, he couldn’t remember how he had survived without her visits. “A voice trick. Making my voice sound like it’s coming from a different location to where I am.”

 

“Oh,” Christine said in amazement. “Is it hard?”

 

“I don’t find it difficult. But I don’t think it’s something everyone can do,” he explained.

 

“Well who taught you how to do it?” she said, considering the matter. Her Papa has always taught her what she needed to know. And now Vadoma and Talaitha were teaching her.

 

“I taught myself,” he said plainly.

 

“You must be really smart,” Christine said, duly impressed.

 

Erik didn’t respond and Christine didn’t continue, realising that the conversation was over for the moment. Sliding off the box and taking the mop up, she made her way to the bucket of water and continued to clean the caravan floor. She mopped in silence for a few minutes, whilst Erik watched.

 

Searching for something to say, Erik finally asked, “Have you finished sewing the new curtains for your caravan yet?” Christine had told him about the ongoing saga to stop the sun shining in her eyes in the morning. The latest idea was new curtains out of the thickest, heaviest material they could find. When Talaitha heard about it she considered it to be a perfect sewing task for Christine.

 

“No,” Christine sulked, a look of distaste marring her features. “The fabric is so thick; it takes forever just to do one stitch.”

 

Erik was about to respond when suddenly the caravan door slammed open. Christine immediately raised her hands to shield her eyes from the light suddenly assaulting her eyes and involuntarily stepped closer to the wall.

 

“I thought I heard voices in here,” the man sneered. Christine recognised him as Nicu, one of Danior’s most trusted men. Turning to Christine he asked, “What are you doing in here?”

 

“I’m c-cleaning,” she stuttered. “Danior gets me to clean here every day.”

 

Seemingly satisfied with Christine’s answer, Nicu turned his attention away from her and focused on Erik.

 

“Made a little friend have we, freak?” he asked. Even standing at the back of his cage Erik could smell the alcohol on Nicu.

 

“Now why would such a sweet little girl want to be friends with you?” he said, blatantly implying that he thought Christine was anything but sweet. “Does she know what you look like? What you are? That you’re a monster? Or is that why you make her close the door? So she’ll never see you.”

 

Erik didn’t respond and Nicu held up his lantern to see that Erik was standing beside the coffin. Emboldened by the lack of reaction from Erik, Nicu took a step closer to the bars, “What do you do with her in the dark? Do you make her touch you?”

 

“How dare you!” Erik roared, rushing at the bars, ready to strangle Nicu with his bare hands. To even suggest that he would ever hurt Christine, he could barely stand the thought.

 

But Nicu knew that he was safe and that the bars wouldn’t give. “Did I say you could talk monster?” he hollered back. “Disgusting corpse! Danior should have let us kill you years ago.”

 

Christine had been quiet up until this point, too scared to move and hoping that Nicu would just shout for a bit and then leave. But she could see that he was getting more agitated and she couldn’t bear to listen to him call Erik names for any longer.

“Please stop,” she begged. Her voice was quiet but it was loud enough to make Nicu take notice.

 

Shooting a wicked look at Erik, Nicu stalked over to Christine and grabbed her by the wrist. Pulling her closer to the bars he said “I don’t think you’ve been properly introduced to our star attraction. This is the Living Corpse.”

 

Trying to pull her wrist free, Christine retorted angrily, “He’s not a corpse!”

 

“Have you ever seen him? Do you know what he looks like under that sack he wears on his head? He only has half a face you know,” he questioned menacingly.

 

Even after adjusting to working in the dark for two weeks, Christine still hadn’t seen more than a glimpse of Erik’s silhouette. She shook her head.

 

“Well then, maybe you should see what your friend looks like,” Nicu said, trying to drag Christine closer to the cage. She redoubled her efforts to pull away from him, putting all of her weight into it.

 

Erik was still reaching through the bars in an attempt to grab onto Nicu. “Let her go,” he yelled. 

 

Through the drunken, angry haze in his mind, Nicu realised that he wasn’t going to be able to drag Christine close enough to the cage to see the Living Corpse without it trying to strangle him. He suddenly let go of Christine and she tumbled to the ground. “If you’re so eager to get out Corpse, maybe we should bring you to the girl.” He started fumbling in his pocket for the key to the cage.

 

Erik pulled away from the bars and stepped further back into the cage. This was perfect, Nicu was coming to him. As soon as the drunken idiot opened the door Erik would be able to pull him in. He knew there would be hell to pay later but it would be worth it to make sure Nicu was never able to lay another hand on Christine. Her wrist was surely bruised and he wasn’t going to let anything else happen to her.

 

Nicu found the key and opened the lock. As soon as he started to open the cage door Erik darted forward, grabbed him by the collar and began dragging him towards the coffin. Nicu stumbled, trying to keep his footing. Erik hauled him up against the side of the coffin and started to wrap his hands around Nicu’s neck. He frantically started pulling at Erik’s hands, trying to loosen his grip but Erik just tightened his fingers.

 

Finding that he wasn’t able to force Erik to release his hold around his neck, Nicu reached up and started pulling at the sack that covered his head.

 

Erik wasn’t willing to let go of Nicu and didn’t make any attempt to stop him from taking the sack. But then Nicu stretched out his hand and dug his knuckles into Erik’s ruined right eye socket. Erik roared out in pain and involuntarily let go of Nicu’s neck to get his hands away from his face.

 

Hearing Erik’s scream, Christine called out to the area of the cage where she thought the two men were, “Erik, are you alright?”

 

“Christine.” In all his rage Erik had almost forgotten that the young girl was still in the caravan. “Christine, you have to go, now.”

 

“What? Erik!” she shrieked.

 

Nicu took advantage of the distraction that Christine was causing and jumped at Erik, tackling him down to the floor. Straddling his waist and pinning his arms down with his thighs, Nicu started punching Erik’s face. Alternating fists he focused his attention on the damaged side of Erik’s face, knowing it would cause maximum pain. Erik writhed and yelled under Nicu, finally managing to buck him off. Not giving him a moment to recover, Erik starting hitting Nicu indiscriminately. Over the thumping sound of fists hitting flesh Erik could hear Christine whimpering and calling his name.

 

“Christine. Get out!” he yelled.

 

Hearing the anger in Erik’s voice Christine sprung from the floor and bolted towards the door, not caring that she was leaving her cleaning equipment behind. She jumped off the stairs and started running, almost colliding with a group of men that were also running, but in the direction of the black caravan. She ran to the side of a tent to avoid the group and stopped, panting. Watching them run past she listened to what they were saying.

 

“Shouting coming from the black caravan.”

 

“I heard a girl screaming.”

 

“Saw Nicu around here a little while ago.”

 

“Has Nicu been drinking again?”

 

“How could it get out?”

 

She stared as they all ran into the black caravan. She heard someone call out, “Get it off him.”

 

The men in the caravan were shouting, some in anger, some in encouragement and some in pain. But above it all she could hear Erik, desperately trying to fight the gypsies off. Unable to listen to his cries any longer, she turned and ran further into the safety of the camp.

 

She ran faster, uncaring of the people who had to jump out of her way. Suddenly she crashed into someone and a pair of warm arms wrapped around her shoulders in order to keep them both upright. “Christine,” the voice said laughingly, “What sort of games are you playing? Are the twins with you?”

 

Christine glanced up to see Talaitha. Seeing the look on Christine’s face, Talaitha frowned, “What’s wrong Christine? What’s happened?”

 

“The men, they...” Christine trailed off as she started to think about the events which had just transpired and were probably still happening in the black caravan. “He’s on his own!” she shrieked before bursting into tears. Her exhaustion took over and she collapsed to the ground, crying.

 

“What men? Who’s on their own? Christine I don’t understand,” Talaitha said frantically. “Are you hurt?” she continued running her hands over Christine trying to find any injuries.

 

People were starting to take notice of Christine and Talaitha called out to one of them, “Go find Vadoma.”

 

Satisfied that Christine didn’t have any life threatening physical injuries and realising that she wasn’t going to get anything coherent out of her, Talaitha sat down on the ground next to Christine and held her, waiting for Vadoma to arrive.

 

It seemed that no sooner had Talaitha sat down that Vadoma arrived, flying to Christine’s side and repeating the same frantic search for injuries that Talaitha had just undertaken.

 

“She’s alright, she’s alright,” Talaitha soothed. “But maybe we should take her back to your caravan,” she said, noting the growing crowd, which mostly consisted of children.

 

“Yes,” Vadoma agreed. Looking down at Christine she brushed the hair out of her eyes. “We need to go back to the caravan. Can you walk?” she asked softly.

 

Christine nodded, tears still silently streaming down her face. She got to her feet and started walking towards the caravan, flanked on either side by Talaitha and Vadoma. When they reached the caravan Christine walked straight to her bed and curled up in a ball, whilst Talaitha quietly said good bye to Vadoma and explained the little Christine had said.

 

Vadoma sat on the bed next to Christine and started running her fingers through Christine’s curls. After a few minutes she asked, “Did a man hurt you?”

 

Christine shook her head.

 

“Is there a man hurt somewhere?” Vadoma continued.

 

Christine didn’t respond, but started crying harder.

 

Recognising that this approach wasn’t going to work, Vadoma tried another tactic.

 

“Did you do your chores this morning?”

 

Christine nodded her head.

 

“Did you go and play with the twins afterwards?”

 

She shook her head this time.

 

“Were you able to finish your chores?”

 

A nod.

 

Vadoma suddenly remembered seeing Tamas running through the camp saying something about the Living Corpse and needing to find Danior. “Christine, did something happen in the black caravan?” she asked gently.

 

Christine nodded again and sniffling, pulled herself onto Vadoma’s lap. Silently, Vadoma held Christine as she cried.

 

Gradually, Christine’s cries and sniffles became less and less, and realising that she had fallen asleep, Vadoma carefully moved Christine onto the bed and pulled a quilt up over her shoulders. Cautiously walking to the door, she opened it slowly to prevent any squeaks and tiptoeing out, closed the door behind her.

 

She marched over to Danior’s caravan and threw the door open, uncaring that he hated people barging in. She was about to open her mouth when she noticed that he wasn’t there. Smiling to herself she realised that this was actually better. If there was anything Danior hated more than people barging into his caravan, it was people being in his caravan when he wasn’t there. Sitting down at his desk, Vadoma started randomly picking at the items and papers on it.

 

She didn’t have to wait long. Danior soon burst through the door, swearing under his breath, “What the hell are you doing here?” he snarled at her.

 

“Good day Danior. Have you had a pleasant morning?” she asked kindly. “I haven’t. And Christine hasn’t. She’s spent a good part of this morning crying herself to sleep.”

 

“I haven’t got time for your games Vadoma,” he muttered, walking to his desk and pushing her aside to get to the papers.

 

“Make time,” she demanded. “Something happened in the black caravan. What was it?”

 

“It’s none of your concern,” Danior snapped, still searching through his papers.

 

“Yes it is. It’s my concern because Christine was there!” she shouted.

 

“That girl is costing me a fortune,” Danior said, suddenly standing up and sweeping the papers off his desk in disgust.

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. She does her chores, just the same as any child in this camp,” Vadoma retorted. “What happened?” she demanded again.

 

“I won’t be able to put it on display tonight, our busiest night of the week. And that fool Nicu isn’t going to be able to work for at least the next two weeks.” Danior’s moment of rage having passed, he started gathering up his papers.

 

Vadoma knew Nicu was one of Danior’s most trusted men, as well as one of his closest friends. For Danior to call him a fool meant that something serious had happened. “‘It?’ The Living Corpse?” she asked.

 

“Yes you stupid woman,” Danior barked. “The Living Corpse. God knows how much money I’m going to lose tonight. It’s unconscious. And whilst people like to look at the Living Corpse it helps if it actually moves.”

 

“Why is he unconscious?” Vadoma asked.

 

“It attacked Nicu, almost killed him. It took six men to drag the creature off him,” Danior explained.

 

“He wouldn’t attack unprovoked,” Vadoma started.

 

“Who knows what it’s capable of? Nevertheless I asked Nicu what happened. He said that he opened the cage, he wanted to teach a lesson,” Danior continued.

 

“Nicu knows better than that. All the men do.” Vadoma frowned.

 

“Yes well Nicu wasn’t exactly himself this morning. I could smell the drink all over him,” Danior said shortly.

 

“What has any of this to do with Christine?” she asked.

 

“She was the reason Nicu was in there,” Danior exploded.

 

“What are you talking about?” Vadoma said warily.

 

“Nicu went into the caravan because he heard voices. He said he thought that Christine was being hurt by the monster,” he said.

 

“No. There must be something else going on. Christine’s been working in the black caravan for two weeks now. She hasn’t had any injuries and she would have told me if something had happened,” she said, rubbing her forehead.

 

“You would trust the Living Corpse over Nicu?” he asked warningly.

 

“Of course not.” Vadoma replied smoothly. “I only mean to say that Nicu is injured, perhaps he doesn’t remember everything that occurred. Plus you said that he had been drinking.”

 

“Perhaps,” he muttered begrudgingly.

 

“Christine saw the attack,” she stated.

 

“It seems likely,” Danior said, not much caring what the young girl had seen. “Nicu said she was there, that’s why he entered the caravan. But no-one saw her at the end.”

 

“What will happen now?” Vadoma asked.

 

Well it’s still unconscious, I won’t be able to start showing it again until it wakes up. I’ll get more of the girls to dance tonight, hopefully we can start to make up the money that way...” he started explaining.

 

“I meant about Christine,” Vadoma interrupted.

 

“What about her?” Danior asked.

 

“You can’t expect her to keep working in the black caravan after what happened. She’s terrified,” Vadoma said in astonishment.

 

“Yes, I can. She’s only been working there for two weeks, I don’t want to move the chores around so soon. Besides from what I can see, she suffered the least out of anyone in this situation,” he said snidely. “She was obviously being lazy. It shouldn’t have taken her that long to clean the caravan, what was she still doing there?”

 

“She always cleans the black caravan last. How is it your concern if she spends a little extra time there?” Vadoma said, taking a step towards the desk.

 

“Her spending extra time in there is what caused this entire situation,” Danior shouted, grabbing a pile of papers and waving them in Vadoma’s face. “Perhaps as her guardian, you should remind her that the attraction caravans are not her personal playground!”

 

“I believe one of your nephews is quite fond of one of the dancers’ tents. Perhaps you should remind him that it isn’t his ‘personal playground’,” Vadoma retorted calmly, turning to walk out the door.

 

“Get out,” Danior barked. But Vadoma was already gone. 

Chapter Text

After crying herself to sleep the previous day, Christine had slept through to the morning. When she woke she found that she was still wearing her dress, although at some point during the night Vadoma had removed her apron and she could see it hanging in its usual spot.

 

Noticing that Christine was awake, Vadoma put aside her work and walked over to the bed, “You had a very long sleep,” she said smiling. “How are you feeling this morning?”

 

“Alright I guess,” Christine shrugged as she sat up. “I’m hungry.”

 

“Good. There’s some bread on the table.” She straightened out Christine’s bed as Christine went over to the table. Joining her at the table Vadoma watched Christine eat for a few minutes. “Are you ready to do your chores this morning?” she started.

 

With a mouth full of bread Christine nodded.

 

“I know that what happened yesterday was frightening and I spoke to Danior about it.”

 

“What did he say?” Christine asked.

 

“He said that Nicu heard voices in the black caravan and thought that you were in trouble. That the fight started because Nicu was trying to protect you,” Vadoma explained.

 

Christine knew that if she told Vadoma what really happened she would immediately march over to Danior’s caravan to confront him. She knew that Vadoma hated altercations with Danior and since Christine had joined the gypsies they had become much more frequent. Wanting to spare Vadoma from yet another one, she didn’t respond to what Vadoma had just explained, instead asking, “What’s going to happen now?”

 

“I’m sorry Christine,” Vadoma sighed. “I tried to convince Danior to get someone else to clean the black caravan from now on, but he refused.”

 

“That’s alright.” Christine knew that Danior wouldn’t have been willing to take that particular chore away from her. He seemed to get a strange sense of enjoyment out of knowing that she did it. “Thank you for trying.” To be truthful Christine wasn’t sure whether she was sorry or not that Vadoma had failed to have the chore taken away from her.

 

“I can come with you if you would like?” Vadoma offered, reaching across the table to take hold of Christine’s hand.

 

“Pardon?” Christine questioned.

 

“I don’t have a lot to do this morning. I could come and sit with you whilst you clean the black caravan, just so you can get used to it again,” she explained.

 

“You don’t need to do that Vadoma. But thank you. I need to just go there like I always do,” Christine said, trying to convince herself more than Vadoma.

 

“If you’re sure,” Vadoma said. She looked out the window for a moment and noticed most of the children were now diligently performing their chores. “Everyone has started doing their chores, you should go and meet up with Mala and Milosh.”

 

Christine quickly changed out of her sleep creased dress and donned her apron. The thought of seeing the twins cheered her up a bit. Although things had been slightly awkward for the first few days after Christine started cleaning the black caravan with no one really knowing what to say, the three children soon reverted back to their normal friendship when Christine was asked to resolve an important dispute that the twins were having regarding breakfast foods. They were supposed to have another lesson with the dancers tomorrow and Christine tried to distract herself from thoughts of the black caravan for a moment by thinking of the dancing lesson. When she had told the twins about the invitation Milosh had thought it sounded like a wonderful idea and was very enthusiastic.  Mala had come with them but refused to participate, saying that all the spinning would make her feel sick. Christine was sure that after a couple more lessons Mala wouldn’t be able to resist joining in.

 

Christine was pulled from her thoughts when Vadoma gently rested a hand on her shoulder, “Are you sure you ready to do this?”

 

Christine smiled up at Vadoma, “I’m sure.” Kissing Vadoma goodbye, Christine left the caravan to meet the twins at the supply tent.

 

Throughout the morning Christine tried to imagine that everything was normal. That it was a day just like any day of the past two weeks. She laughed and played with Mala and Milosh when they met at the supply tent and every time they ran into each other between jobs. She greeted all the adults she saw and wished them a good day. She tried to focus on her work and make sure that every area she was responsible for was sparkling clean. But every time she was alone thoughts of Erik and the black caravan crept into her mind.

 

Until yesterday she would have happily said that Erik was her friend. He was always interested in what she had to say and he didn’t treat her like she was a silly little girl. He seemed to be really smart and knew lots of interesting things. Visiting the black caravan was becoming one of her favourite parts of the day. But then she started thinking about what Nicu had said. She had never seen Erik’s face. She had just been able to see in the darkness of the caravan that he was tall and thin but she wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in a crowd. Was it strange to have a friend and not know what they looked like? Christine wasn’t sure and didn’t know who to ask. And why did he live in the black caravan? She didn’t think that he wanted to live there; the gypsies had much nicer caravans to live in. Nicu had called him the Living Corpse and said that he only had half a face that was covered in a sack. Was that why the visitors went into the caravan each night, to look at Erik’s face? But he had been so angry when Nicu had wanted Christine to see his face. By the end there had been so much anger and fear in the caravan that Christine hadn’t been able to make sense of it. Was Erik angry at Nicu or her? And why was he scared? She wished that yesterday had never happened and she could keep being friends with Erik and that he wouldn’t be angry or scared.

 

All too soon Christine found herself at the stairs to the black caravan. She hadn’t even been this nervous on the first morning. A small part of her wished that she had taken Vadoma up on her offer but the more sensible part of Christine’s mind knew that she had to do this by herself. She walked up the stairs and pulled the bar out as normal. She suddenly wondered why the bar was there. It obviously wasn’t to keep people out because she could easily open it. This meant that it was designed to keep something, Erik, in. Did the gypsies think he was dangerous? Up until yesterday she wouldn’t have thought he was dangerous but Milosh had told her that Nicu was really badly hurt. And the men she had seen running to the black caravan were going to help Nicu. Which meant that the only one who could have hurt him was Erik. But her heart insisted that the Erik she knew wasn’t dangerous.

 

She pushed the door open slowly hoping that it wouldn’t make any noise, even though the light flooding the front of the caravan was sure to draw the occupant’s attention. Walking in, she didn’t offer Erik her usual greeting. Instead she placed her gear by the door and quickly got to work. When it came time to shut the door to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness, she didn’t close the door as fully as she usually did.

 

There was pain. That was the first thing that he was aware of. Taking a slightly deeper breath, he immediately wished he hadn’t as pain lanced through his ribs. He struggled for a moment to bear the pain without breathing too deeply. He could feel the lining of his coffin beneath his fingers; at least somebody had had the decency to put him in there, rather than leaving him where he had fallen. Suddenly he became aware of the pressure on his back, scars once again torn open by whips and fists and oozing onto his shirt. Trying to shift slightly to relieve some of the discomfort he found that he wasn’t quite ready to move yet and moving only made the pain worse, causing him to let out a groan.

 

“Erik?” Christine whispered timidly.

 

Erik suddenly noticed the small amount of light emanating from the front of the caravan. He must have been unconscious all night and Christine was here to clean.

 

Christine.

 

Christine.

 

How much had she seen yesterday? Did she now know that he was a dangerous monster? But why had she come back?

 

Christine took another step closer to the bars, “Erik? Are you there?”

 

“Yyy,” he slurred, “Yes.”

 

She could hear rustling noises coming from the corner of the cage. Erik gripped onto the side on the coffin trying to drag himself into a position that didn’t put too much pressure on his back or his ribs. Panting, he choked out, “Christine I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have been here yesterday.”

 

Christine was stunned. Maybe she had been wrong about Erik and he didn’t want to be her friend.

 

He continued, “You shouldn’t have to spend time with a monster. It was wrong of me to try and be friends with you. Yesterday just proved it. I couldn’t even keep my temper.”

 

“No!” Christine insisted. “Yesterday wasn’t your fault. Nicu shouldn’t have been saying such awful things about you. And you’re not a monster.” As Christine said this she realised that she believed it. Even though she had only known him for two weeks and didn’t know what he looked like, she knew that Erik wasn’t a monster, or a freak or any of those other names that Nicu had called him.

 

“Some of what he said was true, Christine,” he whispered sadly.

 

“No it wasn’t,” she insisted. Suddenly she noticed that Erik was breathing very heavily and moaning slightly. “Are you alright?”

 

“I’ll be fine,” Erik gasped as he accidentally took a breath that was too deep.

 

“No, you’re hurt,” Christine realised. “All those men that came into the caravan, Nicu, they hurt you.” She rushed to the bars, desperately trying to see him. “I should go get someone.”

 

“No!” he cried out. Erik knew that Christine was coming to love her new gypsy family, with some exceptions, and he didn’t want her to find out just how little they cared for some of their attractions. He knew from past experience that they would have checked him at some point last night and having determined that he would live, had left him as he was. “It’s not that bad, I don’t need anyone to see me.”

 

“Well...I’ll help you then,” she said firmly, leaving no room for argument. “I’ll go get some water and bandages. What else will you need?”

 

Erik thought for a moment about refusing Christine’s offer, but the beating yesterday had been the worst in a long time and he had no desire to develop an infection. But Christine couldn’t be seen bringing the supplies to the caravan; they would both suffer for it.

 

As though she had read his mind, Christine suddenly added, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone what I’m doing.”

 

Trusting that Christine would be able to do what she had just promised, Erik relented. “I’ll need alcohol to clean some of the cuts.”

 

“They cut you?” Christine said in horror.

 

“They’re just little cuts,” Erik lied, trying to reassure her.

 

“I’ll try not to be too long,” Christine promised as she left the caravan.

 

Erik stared at the roof after Christine left. She had come back. He knew that Danior had probably given the young girl little choice but still, she had come back. She had spoken to him, defended him and seemed to care that he was hurt. Maybe this meant that she really was his friend. His head told him that the beating would be even worse if they were caught again, but his heart didn’t care. His heart was singing, he had a friend.

 

But she still didn’t know what he was. Nicu had told her what he looked but Christine didn’t seem to believe him. Why would she though? Things like him weren’t supposed to exist, they had to be seen to be believed. He should tell her the truth, Erik knew that. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it, not yet. What harm did it do, he tried to convince himself, in not telling her the truth. He wasn’t going to leave his cage in the near future and as she grew up Christine would gradually learn the truth about what was kept in some of the gypsy caravans. It was better that she discovered these things little by little rather than being told all at once at such a young age. Maybe if she discovered what he was gradually, she would have been his friend for so long that she wouldn’t want to stop.

 

Christine would be coming back with the supplies soon he realised. She would want him to use them straight away and he didn’t want her to have to listen as he pulled himself out of the coffin. Steeling himself for the pain he reached across to hold onto the side of the coffin with both hands. With a cry of pain he pulled himself into a sitting position. He sat there for a few minutes as his body adjusted to this new position. Never letting go of the coffin he slowly dragged himself over the edge and lowered himself to the ground, not wanting to cause any further damage to his ribs. Once again, he sat there for a few moments, panting from the effort it had taken. He could feel something warm and wet running down his back, he must have reopened one of the cuts on his back. Not having enough energy to stand he crawled over to the wall, where he was close enough to take what Christine was bringing but where it was still dark enough that she couldn’t see him.

 

Sitting there, he once again started to think over the events of the previous day. He thought that he had learned long ago not to let the gypsies see his anger. They would push and push him, trying to get him to lose his temper so they would have an excuse for the beatings. Their taunts would make him furious to a point he almost couldn’t bear, but he would never let them see it. Until yesterday. There was something about Christine that made him willing to risk the beatings. His thoughts were interrupted by the girl in question.

 

“Erik, I’m back,” she announced. “I’m sorry I took so long but I ran into Mala...”

 

“Does she know what you’re doing?” Erik questioned, horrified that Christine had been caught trying to help him. He knew that he shouldn’t have let her get involved in this; he should have just endured the aftermath of the beating like he always did.

 

“It’s fine,” Christine said. “Actually it was a good think that I saw her because I was able to tell her that I won’t be able to come to our sewing lesson this afternoon. I told her that I had a lot of work to do here. She’d heard about what happened here yesterday so she understood.”

 

Erik didn’t know whether this meant that Mala knew what was really happening or not, but as Christine seemed to feel safe he decided to let it go.

 

“I’ve got water, alcohol, bandages, some special tea of Vadoma’s and some soft bread if you are hungry. I wasn’t sure if there was anything else you needed. I can go back if you need?” she said anxiously.

 

“No,” he warned. “You shouldn’t be seen coming and going from the caravan too much. What you have brought will be sufficient. Thank you.”

 

“What do you want first?” Christine asked, putting everything down in front of the cage.

 

“The water, alcohol and bandages,” Erik instructed. “Place them just inside the bars.”

 

Finding that he would have to stretch to reach the items Erik debated for a moment moving closer to the front of the cage but decided against it. He wasn’t willing to risk letting Christine see him, especially in his current state. He let out a gasp as he felt the wounds on his back stretch as he reached for the items.

 

“Erik?” Christine asked tearfully, moving closer to the bars in an attempt to see him.

 

“I’m alright Christine, I’m alright,” he said soothingly, trying to keep the pain out of his voice.

 

“Well maybe I can help,” she offered. “If you could just get closer to the bars I’m sure I could reach through...”

 

“No!” he shouted, much louder than he had intended.

 

“I’m sorry,” Christine whimpered, pulling away from the bars.

 

“No I’m sorry Christine,” Erik sighed, angry that he had almost lost his temper in front of Christine again. “It’s just...you’ve already done enough bringing everything here, you don’t need to do anymore.”

 

“But I want to help you,” she said.

 

“And you have. But it will be easier if I do this myself,” he said, gingerly pulling off his shirt to gain better access to his wounds.

 

“If you’re sure,” Christine sounded entirely unconvinced.

 

“I’m sure,” he answered, reaching for the alcohol.

 

For the next few minutes, both occupants of the black caravan tried to hold back tears as Erik tended to his wounds. Neither one realised how close they actually were to the other. Christine could hear every moan, gasp and whimper of pain and wished desperately that there was something more that she could do. Finally Erik had done all that he could and drinking the last of the water; he passed everything back through the bars.

 

Gathering everything up, Christine noticed that Erik had returned all the bandages she had given him. Her eyes having adjusted to the light, she could see that whilst some of them had been used, others were untouched. “Erik, what about the bandages?” she asked.

 

“I’ve used what I needed,” he replied in an unintentionally defensive tone. He didn’t want to explain to her that his keepers would demand to know where the bandages had come from if he bandaged his wounds.

 

“Oh.” Christine thought that he would have used more than that, but maybe she gave him more than she remembered.

 

“Do you want some tea?” she said pushing it through the bars. “It’s a special brew that Vadoma makes when people are injured. This is left over from when one of the dancers hurt her ankle, but it should still be good. And you should have some bread.”

 

Erik gratefully accepted the tea and bread but found that his stomach started to revolt after a few sips and bites. He returned the tea to Christine but kept the bread for later.

 

“Are you feeling better?” Christine asked.

 

“I am, thank you,” Erik replied, realising that there must have been a painkiller of sorts in Vadoma’s tea as his back hadn’t hurt nearly as much when he had stretched to return the tea.

 

“That’s good. I probably should go now,” Christine said, standing to gather everything she had brought for Erik, as well as her cleaning things.

 

“Christine?” Erik asked as she approached the door. “Will you be coming back tomorrow?”

 

He could only see her silhouette in the doorway, but he could hear the smile in her voice when she replied, “Of course.”

Chapter Text

“Christine!” Mala squealed, running across from where she and Milosh were waiting near the supply tent to give Christine a giant hug.

 

“Hello,” Christine giggled, allowing Mala to swing her around.  

 

“Good morning,” she greeted Milosh as he walked over to join them.

 

“Have you heard yet?” Mala asked, practically bouncing with excitement.

 

“Heard what?” Christine asked.

 

“We are moving,” Mala announced.

 

Turning to Milosh, who was much calmer than his sister, Christine whispered, “Doesn’t the camp always move?”

 

“Of course the camp always moves silly,” Mala explained in a long suffering voice. “That’s not the exciting part. The exciting part is that we’re moving to the coast, near Marseille.”

 

“Mala loves the sea,” Milosh added. “It’s doesn’t matter how cold it is, she’ll still want to go swimming.”

 

“Marseille will not be that cold,” Mala said indignantly, despite it only being the end of winter. “Uncle Danior said that in a month or so it will be warm enough for swimming.”

 

“Maybe for you. But I will not be swimming and I’m sure Christine agrees with me,” Milosh said haughtily.

 

“Do you know how long we’re going to be staying there?” Christine asked. “Maybe it will be warm enough in a few months.”

 

Mala shook her head. “It doesn’t matter; it will still be wonderful to live by the sea.”

 

Christine started to remember the last time she had lived by the sea, that wonderful time with her Papa, but she was quickly distracted by Milosh.

 

“Christine, can you please help me clean the drinks tent? Papa said it was really busy last night and it’s messier than usual. I promise I’ll clean up anything disgusting,” he pleaded.

 

“Um, sure,” Christine agreed. “Should we go there first?”

 

The three children said their goodbyes and Christine followed Milosh to the drinks tent. The tent was extremely messy, as Luca had described, and Milosh was very relieved that he didn’t have to fulfil his promise to clean up anything disgusting.

 

When they had finished cleaning the tent, Milosh asked, “Do you want me to help with any of your cleaning? I could come to the black caravan with you.”

 

“No, you don’t need to do that. The black caravan isn’t that hard to clean,” Christine answered, not wanting her time with Erik to be interrupted.

 

“But I should do something for you,” Milosh protested. “You helped me with my cleaning plus you still have all of yours to do.”

 

“It’s alright Milosh. Besides,” Christine said with a grin, “This way you still owe me a favour.”

 


 

“Good morning Erik,” Christine chirped as she skipped through the door of the black caravan. She immediately bent down to start collecting the larger pieces of rubbish.

 

“Good morning Christine,” Erik said, climbing out of his coffin to stand closer to the bars.

 

“Before I forget,” Christine ran over to the bars and slid through a small, cloth wrapped parcel. “Some pastry.” Ever since Erik’s attack Christine had developed a habit of bringing Erik small bits of food whenever she could.  Although Erik didn’t need to eat much, he found that he much preferred the food Christine brought for him to that which his keepers gave him.

 

“Thank you,” Erik said, unwrapping the pastry and pushing the cloth back through the bars.

 

“How was your dancing lesson yesterday?” he enquired, watching Christine as she swept in the doorway.

 

“It was so much fun,” Christine exclaimed. “Mala finally decided that dancing looked like fun and joined us. The dancers who are teaching us were really happy because now we can start doing some group dances. I think we need to convince another boy to join in though.”

 

“Why is that?” Erik asked.

 

“Well in a lot of dances the boys and the girls partner up and so they can’t teach us much when there’s only one boy. Plus I used to always dance with Milosh and now I have to share him with Mala. The twins look really funny when they dance together, because Mala is taller than Milosh,” Christine giggled.

 

“Oh but the best part?” Christine said as she shut the door to block the light. “One of the dancers gave Mala and me some of their old practise skirts. Talaitha is going to help us alter them so they fit properly and then we’ll look just like proper dancers.” She started spinning to demonstrate, although her dress didn’t fly out nearly as much as the dancing skirt would. She stopped suddenly as a wave of dizziness washed over her, “Ooh,” she groaned. “Erik where are you?”

 

“Take two steps around to your right,” Erik said.

 

Christine tentatively complied.

 

“You’re facing the bars now.”  Watching as she stumbled a little, he told her, “You should sit down for a moment.”

 

“Alright,” Christine agreed, taking a few steps towards the bars before plopping down.

 

“What else is happening?” Erik asked, trying to distract Christine from her dizziness.

 

“Not much,” she replied, feeling slightly sorry for herself. “Oh no, wait, something is happening. The camp’s going to be moving again soon.”

 

“I thought that might be happening soon. The gypsies have been here for a while,” Erik said, trying to work out exactly how long it had been.

 

It’s strange,” Christine pondered. “Papa and I used to move about all the time, but we always stayed in different houses. But the gypsies always live in the same caravans. So the inside always looks the same but the outside can change.”

 

Erik rarely saw the outside, although there were some very small cracks in the walls that he could see though if he got very close to them, plus there was the doorway. Not knowing exactly how to respond to Christine’s idea, he asked instead, “Do you know where the camp is going?”

 

“To the sea, near Marseille.” If anyone else had heard Christine, they would have said that she sounded excited, but Erik could hear something else in her voice.

 

“You don’t want to move to the coast?” he asked gently.

 

“No, it’s not that. I love the sea. Mala is so excited about being able to go swimming, even though it’s going to be too cold to swim for the first few months. And Marseille is a really big city.”

 

“But?” Erik prodded.

 

“It’s just that the last time I was at the coast was the summer before we came to live with the gypsies. Papa was still alive,” she concluded sadly.

 

“Are they happy memories?” he said, moving closer to the bars.

 

“Oh yes. But...” Christine sighed.

 

“Then you need to focus on that. Don’t think about the bad things that happened afterwards,” he said firmly. “Tell me about the coast.”

 

“It was called Perros Guirec. Have you heard of it?” Christine asked looking towards the cage.

 

“I haven’t,” he answered.

 

“Oh. It wasn’t very big but there were lots of tourists from Paris there for the summer so Papa though it would be a good place to find work. We lived in a very old house that overlooked the ocean. It would creak at night and Papa used to tell me that it was the fairies running around.” She smiled briefly at the memory.

 

“Mostly Papa would play outside during the day, near the beach or the cafes. Sometimes at night he would be asked to play at parties in the summer homes of the wealthy. He hoped that he might have found a patron,” she said wistfully.

 

“And what did you do?” Erik asked.

 

“I would watch Papa play during the day, sometimes he would even ask me to sing. I spent a lot of time with Raoul.” Another smile came to her face.

 

“Who is Raoul?” Erik was genuinely curious about the boy who brought such a smile to Christine’s face.

 

“A boy from Paris. He was spending the summer at Perros with his family. They owned one of the large homes and Papa played there twice. I was walking along the beach one day when the scarf I was wearing blew away. Raoul saw it and ran into the ocean to fetch it for me. He was so proud when he was able to present it to me. At first his parents said that he shouldn’t be spending time with me, but then his brother Philippe said that we were just children and should be able to play together.”

 

Erik suddenly found himself infuriated at this couple who thought Christine wasn’t good enough for their son. They wouldn’t have been able to find a better companion for him in all the wealthy houses in Perros Guirec. At least the elder son clearly had more sense than his parents.

 

“We would play on the beach for hours, building sandcastles and running from the waves,” Christine reminisced. “Sometimes he would stay at our house after it got dark and Papa would tell us stories. We would explore the gardens around his house and sometimes we would sneak into the house and try to hide from the servants. There was a maid who worked there who was really old and Raoul used to steal her duster and put it in another spot so she would think she had misplaced it,” Christine giggled.

 

“Are you feeling better now?” he asked, referring both to her dizziness and her sorrow regarding her father.

 

“I am,” she answered. “I can see now so I probably should get to work.”

 

As Christine started to work she began to hum songs that she remembered her Papa playing at Perros Guirec, the conversation with Erik having brought them to the forefront of her mind. Soon she was softly whispering the lyrics and it wasn’t long before she was singing them properly.

 

Like always, Erik watched Christine as she worked. When she started to sing, he closed his eyes and let her voice wash over her. He had no doubt now that hers was the voice he had heard that night so many months ago. To hear it now, so clear and pure in front of him, he could scarcely believe it was real. That a thing like himself could hear a voice like Christine’s without being struck down. He could still hear where her voice could be improved and now he had the opportunity to do something about it. Opening his eyes he studied Christine carefully.

 

“Stand up straighter and open your shoulders,” he said suddenly.

 

Christine immediately stopped singing, “What?”

 

“No, keep singing.” He waved his hands in a continue motion even though he knew she couldn’t see him. “Just stand up straighter and open your shoulders.”

 

She began to sing again, but put her broom down to follow his instructions. Erik could immediately hear the improvement in her voice. “Can you hear it?” he asked.

 

“Yes,” she breathed, realising at the same time that she hadn’t sung or felt the music like that since her father died. “How did you know that would work?”

 

“Music was important to me.” Erik admitted.

 

Right away Christine noticed Erik’s use of the word ‘was’. “Isn’t music important to you anymore? Even though I haven’t sung in a while, music will always be important to me.”

 

“Of course not. Music will always be important to me as well. But, like you, there hasn’t been much music in my life lately.”

 

“How long?” she questioned.

 

“Since I was a few years older than you. But before that I would have lived in a world of music if I were allowed to.” The longing was evident in Erik’s voice.

 

Abandoning her cleaning once more, Christine sat down near the cage. “What did you do?” she asked.

 

“What kind of music? Piano mostly, occasionally violin. I would sing, but that was very rare. I was learning to compose when the music was taken away.” As soon as the words left his mouth Erik regretted them. He was certain that Christine would want to know what he meant by that and everything would start to fall apart on him.

 

However Christine was more focused on other things that he had said. “You could do all that and you were only a few years older than me?” she said in astonishment. “You must have practised a lot.”

 

“Every hour that I could,” he agreed.

 

“You love music so much,” Christine stated. “How could you let it go?”

 

“You did,” Erik said pointedly.

 

“Not really,” Christine shook her head. “After Papa died, I wasn’t able to sing anymore because he wasn’t there. But the music never left, there were always songs in my head.”

 

“And now you’ve started to sing again,” he spoke very softly.

 

“It’s too strong to ignore forever,” she said, not realising she was speaking for both of them.

 

“I suppose that my situation is similar to yours,” Erik said slowly, trying to work out his thoughts. “And the music has never really left my head, I just haven’t been able to express it.” He paused for a moment, thinking. Do you want it back?” he asked suddenly.

 

Christine thought about this for a moment. The music had been something she had always shared with her Papa, after he had died it seemed wrong to sing without him. But he had wanted her to continue singing. Perhaps her singing earlier without realising it was a sign. Although there was much music in the camp, she didn’t think there would be many chances for her to sing. “How? I don’t think Danior would let me sing with the gypsies.”

 

“Not with the gypsies,” Erik’s mind was racing, there were so many thoughts and ideas, and the music was deafening. “With me.”

 

“What do you mean?” she asked, intrigued.

 

“I could teach you,” he exclaimed. “I could teach you what I know. Help you to improve your singing. I could make you the greatest singer the world has ever seen!”

 

“I don’t know...” Christine started.

 

“Of course,” Erik immediately deflated. Why on earth would she want him to teach her anything? He should be grateful for the time she did want to spend with him and shouldn’t try to force her to spend any more. “It was a foolish idea.”

 

“No it’s not. It’s a wonderful idea,” Christine said passionately. She had decided that Erik was one of the smartest people she knew. She was sure that he would be able to teach her so much and if he said he could make her the greatest singer in the world then she believed it. “It’s just that, I already spend more time in here than I should. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

 

She was right of course. Erik was surprised that after the events with Nicu nobody had come to check on Christine when she was cleaning the caravan. He didn’t care what happened to him if it meant he got to spend more time with Christine, but eventually there would be consequences for her and he couldn’t stomach the idea of that. “What if you were to come at sunrise, before the camp was awake?”

 

Idly playing with her broom, she considered it. She already knew that the camp was quiet in the morning and the black caravan was far enough away from where everyone slept that they wouldn’t wake anyone. But she always visited the church in the morning and prayed for her father, she didn’t want to give that up. She knew that the next place the clan stayed wasn’t likely to have an abandoned church nearby so she wanted to take advantage of their current location whilst she still could. Maybe she could visit the church in the afternoon, in the quiet moments before the visitors arrived. She was often alone at that time of day, it should work. “Alright,” she agreed.

 

Erik couldn’t believe what he was hearing. She was willing to let him teach her. “We can start tomorrow morning.”

 

“Tomorrow morning,” Christine confirmed. “But I really have to finish cleaning here; otherwise I won’t have time for lunch before my lesson with Talaitha.”

 

For once Erik wasn’t paying attention as Christine worked. He was too busy working out what he was going to teach her. He had no sheet music, which she wouldn’t have been able to see regardless, and no instruments, he would need to rely on his voice. His mother had always said that his voice was another sign that he had been touched by the Devil and that he could bewitch people. But she had been a cruel, superstitious woman, just like the gypsies. Nevertheless he would watch Christine and if he thought he was doing her any harm he would stop the lessons immediately. Maybe they could start with songs that she already knew and then he could start teaching her ones that he knew. He wanted to avoid gypsy music, but perhaps he could compose something. Imagining the caravan in the morning, he tried to determine where was going to be the best place for her to stand and where he would be able to have the clearest view of her.

 

“Good bye Erik,” Christine called out as she walked out the door.

 

“Mmm, good bye Christine,” he said absently, wondering which scale would be best to start with.

 

After her sewing lesson with Talaitha, where she and Mala had been able to work on their new dancing skirts, Christine had made her way down the hill to the abandoned church. There were constantly people of all ages coming and going from the camp and no one had given Christine a second glance. Kneeling in her usual pew, she had begun. “Good afternoon Papa. I hope you’re there. I know it’s not morning but I hope you can still hear me. I’m going to start coming to visit you in the afternoon instead of the morning. Erik is going to give me singing lessons! But I don’t want him to get in trouble again so we’re going to have them in the morning before anyone is awake.” Pausing for a moment, she started to fidget with her buttons.

 

“I sang today Papa. It was the first time I’ve sung without you. When I first met Erik he said that the music would come back to me. I know it never really left me but I think I’m ready for this. I promise I’ll still wait for you to send my Angel of Music but maybe Erik can help me while I wait. He was able to help me a lot this morning just by telling me to stand up straighter.” She semi-demonstrated by straightening her shoulders as she knelt.

 

“How will I know when the Angel of Music has come to me Papa? Will he look like an angel or will he tell me? Or maybe I’ll just know in my heart that he is the Angel. I wish you were able to tell me,” she said soberly.

 

“The camp is going to be moving soon, down to the coast near Marseille. Do you remember when we stayed near the sea? We lived in that old house and Raoul would come to visit.” She suddenly had an idea, “Papa could you please look over Raoul and make sure he is happy? He was so nice to me.”

 

Glancing out the window, she noticed that it was approaching sundown. “I have to go now Papa and help Vadoma get ready for the visitors. But I promise I’ll be here tomorrow afternoon and I’ll tell you about my first lesson with Erik.” Silently she finished her prayers, before jogging back to the camp.

 


 

Christine awoke long before sunrise the next morning and stared at the window, as if she could force the sunlight to start shining through. At the first glimmer, she quickly hopped out of bed and dressed, before tiptoeing out of Vadoma’s caravan. She dashed across the camp to the black caravan, thankful for the soft ground underneath that allowed her to do so silently, and closed the door behind her, leaving her in the darkness. “Erik, are you awake?” she whispered.

 

“I am.” Like Christine, Erik had been awake for hours waiting for their lesson, preparing right down to the smallest detail. “Are you ready for your lesson?”

 

“Yes,” she said resolutely, trying to stand the way Erik had instructed her to yesterday.

 

And so they began. 

Chapter Text

Seven years later

“Good morning Papa,” Christine said, her teeth chattering slightly in the cold. She was sitting on a fallen log in a dense copse of trees, far enough away from the camp that no one was able to see or hear her. Pulling her cloak around her body more tightly she continued, “It’s been getting colder for the past week or so, Luca thinks it will probably snow soon. Once that happens there will be no chance of us moving until the spring, it’s too hard to move all the caravans through the snow. Danior hasn’t said why he wanted the camp to be so close to the mountains over winter, all the other clans go further south.” Christine didn’t expect that Danior would share that information with Vadoma or herself but she was slightly surprised he hadn’t told anyone else. Or if he had they were keeping it to themselves. Still the clan trusted that after so many years in charge Danior would continue to do the best thing for them.

 

“I promise I will still come here every day, even if it does snow,” she assured. “But I might not be able to stay so long,” she added mournfully. Christine had diligently prayed to her father every day since she had joined the clan. Over the years she had been able to visit a variety of churches, chapels and cathedrals, although none had been as peaceful as that first abandoned church that she had found at the base of a hill. However there had been locations, such as this one, and occasions when they were travelling from one site to another, that Christine had instead needed to find a quiet spot away from camp to talk to her father. The occasional extreme of weather notwithstanding, Christine didn’t mind not being in a traditional setting for prayer. Her time with the gypsies had taught her that religion and God did not require all the trappings of a church. If she believed, they would hear her, no matter where she was. She found that in some ways she quite liked praying outside, with nature all around her.

 

“We’ve been teaching the girls how to make quilts. They’re getting close to being finished and they can’t wait to show them to their families. However I have a feeling that there are going to be many fights about who gets to sleep under them.” She gave a wry smile.

 

Talaitha’s eyes had started to fail her a few years earlier, too many hours of making tiny stitches in poor light. She was still able to knit and was constantly swamped with requests for new socks and baby blankets but she couldn’t sew anymore. It had always been planned that Mala would take over one day for her mother as the clan’s main seamstress and when Talaitha found that she could no longer do the work she was confident that her daughter was ready to take on the task. Christine had never had the instinctive ability like Mala, but she was still a competent seamstress and Mala was grateful for all the help that she provided. As well as the general sewing that was always required by the clan, Mala and Christine had inherited from Talaitha the task of teaching the younger girls how to sew. Currently they were responsible for teaching eight little girls from five families. Whilst Christine had never learned to love sewing like Mala, she did enjoy teaching the girls and watching their faces light up whenever they mastered something new.

 

“I’ve almost finished Vadoma’s quilt as well, which is a relief because I was worried that I wouldn’t get it done in time for Christmas. Now that Luca has told us it’s likely to be a cold winter and we’ll be spending it near the mountains because of Danior I’m glad I decided to make it. I know that she’s got her mother’s quilt but it won’t hurt to have another one. I say it every year but I want her present to be really special, to thank her for looking after me.” She paused to think of her adoptive mother.

 

Christine couldn’t have asked for a better person to be her surrogate mother during the years she had spent with the gypsies. Whilst she couldn’t remember her own mother, and only had stories that her father had told her, Christine liked to imagine that the two women were very similar. She always thought that it was a shame Vadoma hadn’t had children of her own but, and Christine knew that it was selfish of her to think it; she knew that she wouldn’t have been able to take her in if she had. Vadoma had done more for her than she could ever have asked for, loving her, guiding her and listening to her. She had stood up for her against Danior and Christine knew that it was because of Vadoma that Danior no longer dropped continuous hints about how she should leave the clan. She had been there for the last scraped knees of childhood and was watching as she started to take the first steps towards being a woman. Vadoma had shared in every aspect of Christine’s life, except for her friendship with Erik.

 

Christine had often wanted to tell Vadoma of her friendship with the man who lived in the black caravan. About how he brought music back to her life and was the best friend you could ever ask for. But Vadoma had lived her whole life amongst the gypsies and looked down on exhibits as slightly less than human. Whilst she didn’t find satisfaction in taunting or hurting them like some of the other gypsies, she wouldn’t have understood why or how Christine could be friends with Erik. She hadn’t been happy when Christine had first started cleaning the black caravan, nor when Danior had insisted she continue, long after she had stopped cleaning other areas of the camp. Christine felt that Vadoma believed it was dangerous for Christine to be there and this belief would likely become stronger if she found out that Christine had been friends with Erik for years and yet still didn’t know what he looked like.

 

“I want to give Erik something for Christmas this year,” Christine said thoughtfully. “He’s been such a good friend and he’s taught me so much. But I’ve never given him a present before. He can’t keep anything in his caravan.” Christine remembered all the times she had offered to bring him things, clean clothing, blankets, bandages when he was injured or medicines when he was sick. But he would never accept anything, unless it could be used immediately and left no trace of its existence. “I wish you were here, you always gave such wonderful presents. You would be able to think of something that was perfect to give to Erik. But you’re not, so I will have to do this by myself. And I should do this by myself. If I wish to give Erik a present I should come up with it on my own,” she concluded determinedly.

 

Rubbings her hands together she realised how cold her fingers were. Looking to the sky she saw that it was getting late and she needed to return to the camp and help Vadoma get ready for the visitors. She silently finished her prayer and asked that her father continue to watch over her.

 

Back at the camp the evening preparations for the visitors were well underway. Campfires, lanterns and torches burned in every conceivable spot in an attempt to drive away the cold. Tents and attractions that were closed during the day were opened and the smell of various treats designed to entice lingered in the air. Christine quickly returned to the caravan to change into a more colourful outfit before rushing across the camp to Vadoma’s tent. “I’m not late am I?” she asked, barging through the tent flaps.

 

“Of course not Sedre,” Vadoma smiled as she looked up from the cards she was arranging on the round table in front of her. “You ask that every afternoon and you have never been late yet.”

 

“I know, I know,” Christine grinned, reaching up to straighten the beaded decorations that hung from the tent walls and invariably got knocked out of place at some point during the evening. “But it will happen one day.”

 

“Come, sit.” Vadoma pushed out one of the chairs on the opposite side of the table. “We won’t have any guests for a little while yet, let’s see what you can remember.”

 

Christine obediently sat down and watched as Vadoma randomly selected a card and held it up. It depicted an angel, dressed in white, pouring water from one goblet into another.

 

“Temperance,” she identified.

 

“Correct.” Vadoma placed the card down in front of Christine. “And...”

 

“And, it can indicate moderation or bringing balance into a person’s life. It can also mean that a compromise is required even if the two options seem incompatible.”

 

“Anything else?” Vadoma asked.

 

Christine frowned as she concentrated. “Ooh,” she exclaimed, “Judgement. The two goblets are like scales balancing a person’s good deeds against their bad deeds.”

 

“Very good.” Vadoma retrieved the card and slid it back into the deck. “This one?” she held out a new card.

 

“The hermit?” Christine answered, more question than statement.

 

“That’s right,” Vadoma confirmed.

 

“It means that you either need to leave to become comfortable with yourself or if you’ve already left you need to come back and share what you have learned,” she continued more confidently.

 

“I prefer to say ‘withdraw from society’ rather than just ‘leave’, but otherwise that was correct. Do you remember I used it a few nights ago?” Vadoma asked.

 

“The older gentleman who had lost his son, I remember,” Christine said, thinking back.

 

Vadoma had started to train Christine in the art of clairvoyance and tarot reading when she had turned twelve. Prior to her twelfth birthday Christine had acted as Vadoma’s assistant, showing people into the tent and collecting payments. As part of her training Vadoma had drilled Christine on the tarot cards and tested her at seemingly random times. More importantly though Vadoma had taught her to read the visitors, to find out what they wanted to hear by looking at their body language. Most nights Christine would sit in the tent with Vadoma, watching her give readings and discussing each one after they had left. In more recent times Vadoma had allowed Christine to give readings of her own.

 

“Would you like to give a reading tonight?” Vadoma asked as she walked over to the tent flap to see whether the visitors had started to arrive yet.

 

“Alright,” Christine agreed. “But no wealthy older men.” Christine’s last reading had been for a wealthy older gentleman and she had told him that he was soon going to be required to repay a large debt. The man had practically started to turn purple when she told him and she had been worried that he was going to expire on her. Thankfully his wife had come searching for him and he had left with her.

 

“No promises,” Vadoma replied wickedly. She would often tell Christine that part of her training was learning how to deal with all types of people and had been known to test Christine by having her give readings to visitors she knew were going to be difficult.

 

Seeing that there were a number of visitors milling around the camp, Vadoma lit the remaining candles and returned to the table, waiting for the first visitor to enter the tent.

 

It was a busy night, despite the cold, and there was a constant stream of visitors coming into the tent. Christine gave readings to a group of three young noblemen who had clearly drunk too much. The men tried their best to sit still and be serious as the young woman on the opposite side of the table told their futures, but they couldn’t help but randomly start giggling at the most inappropriate moments. Still, they were happy drunks and would have been pleased with whatever Christine had told them. She had been tempted to test that theory but knowing that Vadoma was watching her she elected not to do so.

 

A few hours later and the stream of visitors to the tent had slowed down considerably. “I should be able to manage the last few visitors,” Vadoma said, stretching her arms above her head, “You should go and see the twins; they’re both dancing tonight aren’t they?”

 

“They are,” Christine confirmed. “I’ll see you back at the caravan.” Leaning over to give Vadoma a kiss, Christine gathered up the cloak she had discarded in a corner and headed to the main bonfire to meet her friends.

 

Christine had remained friends with Mala and Milosh and the years had only strengthened their bond. When she wasn’t with Vadoma or Erik she could usually be found with one or both of the twins. Her friendships with each of them were quiet different, Milosh being the calmer, more serious twin, whilst his older sister was always looking for her next adventure. Despite their differences, and the teasing and mock arguments that still occurred, much to the despair of Christine and Talaitha, the twins were the best of friends and nothing could come between them.

 

Standing discretely behind some visitors, Christine watched as the twins and their friends danced for the cheers of the crowd. Another couple were the focus of the dance, but Mala and Milosh drew Christine’s attention. Mala spun furiously, her skirt flying out to form a disc around her, whilst Milosh stood proudly with the other men, waiting to catch their spinning partners. Although when they had met Milosh had been shorter than his sister, it hadn’t been long before he towered over the two girls. His height and strength meant that he had become a much sought after dance partner, although his shy nature meant that he preferred dancing with his sister or Christine.

 

Whilst Christine had been the one who had introduced the twins to dancing, only they had been allowed to continue learning and later to perform. They taught her what they could in their spare time and she would dance at gypsy parties but Danior had decreed that she wasn’t to dance for the visitors. He claimed, and the other gypsies were happy to believe this, that he didn’t want her to work too hard, as she already had her sewing work and working with Vadoma. But Christine knew that the real reason Danior didn’t want her dancing was because she didn’t look like a gypsy. Her dark, curly hair looked gypsy, but her pale skin clearly marked her as an outsider and Danior only wanted gypsies in his clan. He hadn’t like her performing readings for the same reason, but Vadoma had been able to stand her ground on that issue, saying that if she was limited to doing menial chores and was never seen by the visitors it would look suspicious.

 

The dancers made their dramatic finish, with the girls hanging backwards over their partners’ arms, before they were helped up and everyone bowed and curtseyed. Spotting Christine, the twins made their way through the crowd. “So, how did we do?” Milosh asked, casually wrapping his arm around Christine’s waist.

 

“Wonderful, as usual,” Christine smiled.

 

“Are you hungry?” Mala asked. “I’m starving. Let’s go get something to eat.”

 

Christine and Milosh followed Mala as she weaved through the mass of people congregating around the main campfire. The smell of food hit them as they walked into the tent and Milosh quickly secured a table in the corner whilst Mala and Christine collected their supper. The three friends talked and laughed well into the night, only leaving when it was pointed out to them that they were the only people still in the tent.

 


 

“A flat major,” Erik instructed, standing by the side wall of the caravan.

 

Christine shifted her weight slightly before performing the scale. Her voice echoed throughout the caravan.

 

“C minor.” There was no comment on her performance, only the next command.

 

She slowly began to ascend the scale and was only on the second note when Erik interrupted, “Stop. You’re doing it again,” he growled. “You’re letting your shoulders drop.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Christine apologised, trying to straighten her shoulders.

 

“Don’t be sorry, just fix it,” he snapped.

 

Christine held back the sigh that threatened to escape and, making sure her posture was perfect, began the scale again. Sometimes she felt that there were two people living in the black caravan. One was a kind, intelligent man who was fiercely protective and she could talk to for hours and the other was a bad tempered perfectionist obsessed with music who would snap at her for the smallest error and rarely gave praise. Still, the joy that she felt when she sang and the music surrounded her made it worth it. It seemed like they were in another world during their lesson, away from the gypsies, away from the darkness of the caravan and for Erik, away from the reality of his situation. Christine knew that Erik would never push her further than she could go. He seemed to have an instinctive knowledge of exactly what she was capable of and even when she felt she had reached her limit he would always know whether she was able to go further.

 

“Better,” he said when she had finished. That was as close to praise as she was likely to receive. Christine gave a small smile in appreciation.

 

“We shall work on Tristes apprêts today,” Erik announced, the traces of irritation gone from his voice.

 

Although Erik had not left the black caravan in almost twenty years and it had been even longer since he had last seen a piece of music, it no doubt seemed to Christine that he knew an unending number of songs, operas and voice exercises. However what he did know was old, a result of hours spent alone in his mother’s music room when she had attempted to escape the horror of her son by leaving the house. The room had been overflowing with sheet music and was dominated by a large mahogany piano, a reminder of when the house was a happier place, a home. He never saw his mother go into the music room and would have been severely punished had he ever been discovered in there. Those hours in the music room were the only part of his former life that he remembered with anything resembling fondness, although he hadn’t shared this with Christine.

 

He sung a starting note for Christine and she launched into the aria. When he had given Christine her first singing lesson Erik had been extremely relieved to discover that what his mother had claimed had been incorrect and he wasn’t able to bewitch people with his voice. Had she shown any sign of being unduly influenced by his voice he would have ended the lessons immediately, as much as it would have hurt him. Christine loved to hear him sing however, and would often beg for him to sing to her at the end of their lessons.

 

They continued to work on the aria, concentrating slowly on each line. Relying solely on Erik’s memory of the piece meant that this was a time consuming process and he would often demonstrate a line three or four times before he was happy with its accuracy. As Christine finished a line, Erik noticed noise coming from outside the caravan. “People are starting to get up, you’ll need to leave now.”

 

Christine sighed in disappointment. “I wanted you to sing for me.”

 

“Not today. I’ll see you later this morning,” Erik said.

 

“Alright. Good bye Erik.” With that Christine slowly opened the caravan door, checked whether there was anyone nearby and crept out.

 


 

Later that morning Christine returned to the black caravan, a small bowl of cold stew hidden in the bucket she was carrying.

 

It remained a mystery to the gypsies why Christine still cleaned the black caravan, years after such a chore should have been passed on to a younger child. Many of them remembered their own, usually short, stint cleaning the caravan of the Living Corpse and if Christine was cleaning it, that meant their children wouldn’t have to, so few questioned it. Christine knew that despite the financial implications of Nicu’s attack on Erik so many years ago, Danior had derived a certain degree of pleasure from knowing that she had witnessed it and how terrified she had seemed immediately after the event. It seemed that he still believed she was terrified of the black caravan, although Christine considered that to be a very foolish notion considering how long ago it had all happened, and forced her to continue working there. Still she did nothing to dissuade him of this belief, preferring to continue cleaning the caravan so she would have a legitimate excuse were she ever caught there.

 

“Morning Erik,” she greeted as she entered the caravan for the second time that morning. “How was last night?”

 

“Uneventful,” he announced. Every morning he said this Christine would let out a breath she hadn’t realised she had been holding. Erik would not cancel their singing lesson for any reason, nor would he let anything interrupt it, so it wasn’t until her second visit of the day that she would discover how he had survived the previous night. Unfortunately there had been mornings where she would find out at this time that he had been injured the night before and had hidden it throughout their lesson. She still hadn’t been able to find a way to determine straight away whether he had been hurt and he refused to tell her any sooner, saying that her singing should come first. It had become a source of ongoing dispute between the two in recent years.

 

“Good,” she smiled. Reaching into the bucket to pull out the stew she continued, “I brought some stew from last night. It’s cold so I don’t know how it will taste...” she trailed off, poking dubiously at the stew with a spoon.

 

“It will be fine,” Erik assured her as he collected the small bowl from where Christine had placed it by the bars. Retreating to the back of the caravan, he removed the sack covering his face in preparation to eat.

 

“Well, tell me if it tastes bad and I’ll find something else,” she said warily.

 

“That won’t be necessary,” Erik replied, taking a bite. He wasn’t really concerned with the taste of food; as long as it was digestible he was satisfied.

 

Christine walked back to the front of the caravan and started to clean. The past years had taken their toll on the black caravan. When Gustave and Christine had first seen the caravan it had been painted a glossy black, instantly drawing a person’s attention. Now, the elements had eroded the gloss, leaving a dull black that seemed to draw in all the surrounding light. The paint was starting to chip away, especially on the corners and around the door frame. Inside the floor had been worn smooth by countless visitors and Christine had to be careful to ensure she didn’t slip over.

 

“There’s another one,” she announced indignantly.

 

Erik swallowed his final mouthful. “Another what?”

 

“Another crack in the wood over here. The wind is going to come right through. Luca says it’s going to be a cold winter and you’re going to freeze to death in here if nothing is done about the state of this caravan,” she cried. “I wish you’d let me do something, bring you a blanket or tell someone so it could be fixed. It’s not as though they don’t know I’m in here.”

 

This was something Erik was still having trouble adjusting to. The idea that a person, that Christine, cared whether he lived or died. She cared when he had been beaten, got upset even. A voice inside him still insisted that it was just a matter of time before she realised what he was and would be horrified that she had ever considered him a friend and would simply stop coming. He tried to ignore the voice because he didn’t think he could survive if Christine left him. He had always had a very strong survival instinct, much to his disgust at times when he just wanted it all to end and his traitorous body had refused to give up, but knowing that Christine would be upset if something were to happen to him made him want to continue on, no matter how much he suffered along the way.

 

“True, but they would want to know why you cared. You know how the gypsies feel about me,” Erik replied bitterly.

 

“I know. I just wish there was something I could do. I hate the thought of you stuck in here, freezing all winter,” she replied, the distress evident in her voice.

 

“Please don’t be upset Christine,” Erik pleaded. “The cold doesn’t bother me and the cracks are small, I’m sure they won’t make that much of a difference.”

 

“I’m going to find a way Erik,” Christine promised. “One day I’m going to make sure that you’re never cold again.”

 

Her promise alone sent a rush of warmth through Erik’s body. He didn’t think that she would ever be able to fulfil her promise but that she wanted to make it was enough. Clearing his throat, he asked, “Tell me, ah, what’s been happening with your friends?” Although Erik didn’t care for any of the gypsies, he could appreciate that they made Christine happy in their own ways and it gave him a contented feeling to see her so.

 

“I know what you’re trying to do,” Christine said, reaching for a broom. “So I’ll leave it. For the moment. But I’m not going to stop trying to think of a solution,” she said stubbornly.

 

As Christine went through the motions of cleaning the black caravan, she told him of her friends and what was happening in the camp. She spoke of the little girls that she taught and how they were progressing with their quilts. While she spoke fondly of the children, Erik casually thought that Christine would make a good mother one day before quickly dismissing the thought; she was still a child herself. She continued on, telling him that a friend of Milosh’s had recently been betrothed and that the couple was planning to have the wedding early in the new year. She talk about Azir the fire breather, who had decided that he was getting too old to continue fire breathing and wanted to return to his home in the east. And she told Erik of her conversations with Mala and Milosh, where they would wonder what their futures held.

Chapter Text

New Year’s Eve. It was one of the few nights of the year that Danior would allow the gypsies to close the attractions and tents early and ask visitors to leave the camp. The coming weeks would be busy, especially for Vadoma, Christine and the other gypsies who provided fortune telling services and that meant there would be a greater number of visitors for the other gypsies to tempt. But tonight was one of their nights, when they could celebrate the coming of a new year and the passing of the old and have a good time with their friends and family.

 

 Whilst the passing of the years meant very little to Erik, he was somewhat grateful for New Year’s Eve, as well as the other rare nights that Danior allowed the camp to be closed to visitors. Not only did it mean that he spent less time being paraded and humiliated in front of visitors but it also meant that his guards were in the best of moods and there was very little Erik could do to genuinely get them angry. He had tested that particular theory once, many years earlier before Christine had arrived, by attempting to escape on the anniversary of the clan’s founding, another night where the camp was closed early. While he had been caught before he had barely made it out the door of the caravan, the beating he had sustained was no worse than one he would receive on nights where one of the guards was in a foul mood and decided to take it out on him. Certainly it was nothing like he would have expected for an escape attempt.

 

Tonight the visitors had just trickled in, most people having other things to do on New Year’s Eve than visit a gypsy camp to see the Living Corpse. They had been calm, the guards not being able to whip them into their usual frenzy because there were so few. He had been dragged to the front of cage twice and the sack pulled from his head, but the whip hadn’t broken his skin, due in part to the slightly thicker shirt he was given to wear through the winter, and the kicks had been kept to a minimum. It would take two men to drag his struggling body towards the crowd, on some nights they needed to call in a third man if he was feeling particularly aggressive. Erik had promised himself a long time ago that he would never help the gypsies in their perverse display, although he knew that struggling in some ways added to the atmosphere the gypsies were trying to create. But there was also a small part of him that would always say that maybe this time would be the time he finally won and they would leave him at the back of his cage. Tonight yet again had not been that time.

 

He could hear music coming from the centre of the camp, the quick melody, the shaking of tambourines and clapping of hands infiltrating the black caravan. There was a barely discernable hum of people talking and laughing, celebrating the occasion. Over the years Erik had come to hate the gypsy music, associating it with the arrival of the visitors and beatings from the gypsies. He had refused to teach Christine any gypsy music and had lost his temper with her whenever he had heard her singing or humming a gypsy song. She had quickly learned to never sing their songs in his presence.

 

Erik had always taught Christine music that belonged in the opera houses and theatres of Europe, which was very different to the music that Gustave had shared with her travelling throughout France. He thought back to the events of Christmas Day, less than a week ago. He had expected to see very little of Christine that day, knowing that the gypsies had a full day of celebrations and that Christine was expected to stay with Vadoma for the majority of the day. Still the chores had to be done and she had appeared in the caravan earlier than usual to clean up the mess from the night before. When she had finished she had gathered up her equipment and walked to the door as if she were about to leave, but at the last minute she had turned and walked back to the bars that separated them. She had told him to sit down and then asked whether he was comfortable. He had watched as she positioned herself in the centre of the caravan and started to sing ‘D’où viens-tu, bergère?’. When she had finished he had remained in stunned silence until she nervously asked whether he liked it. Erik had immediately assured her that he had. With a sigh of relief Christine had explained that it was his Christmas present because she couldn’t give him anything that he could keep in the caravan. Once again Erik was dumbstruck. He had been given a Christmas present. From Christine. He was constantly amazed by the depths of her friendship and prayed to an entity that he didn’t believe in that she would always be in his life.

 

Wanting to see Christine, he lifted himself out of his coffin, feeling a twinge in his right shoulder when he put too much weight on it. Creeping to the back wall of the caravan he pulled the sack tight around his face and put his eye up to one of the numerous holes in the wall. The black caravan was closer to the centre of the camp than usual, Danior having ordered that all the caravans and tents be situated closer to each other so the gypsies spent less time out in the cold when dashing from place to place, and Erik had discovered that at the right angle he could see what was happening at the main campfire.

 

His guards were sitting close the campfire, drinking. He hoped that they didn’t decide to check on him at some point during the night. Whilst they had been cheerful earlier in the evening, they were both violent and abusive drunks, especially the younger one. Erik could just see that the older man had his hand resting high on a woman’s leg so it seemed unlikely that he would be coming to the black caravan. Erik could only hope that the younger one found something similar to occupy his thoughts and that he didn’t bring her to the black caravan. The young gypsy had a penchant for bringing women into the caravan late at night, finding that their fear of the Living Corpse only added to his excitement. And he was not the first man to do so. In his younger years, Erik had watched, curious as to what was happening. But as he got older he learned to see it for what it really was and he would lie in his coffin trying to block out the moans.

 

Moving away from his guards, Erik’s eye drifted across the celebration, taking in all the colour and movement. He soon found Christine, dancing with a circle of girls and women, their arms linked. There was a happy smile on her face as she danced the quick steps that moved the circle around. The light from the campfire bathed the dancers and brought out red highlights in Christine’s curls. As they danced their full, colourful skirts flew to the side and you couldn’t tell where one skirt began and another ended. Erik knew how much Christine loved dancing with her friends and how disappointed she had been when Danior stopped her, so he was pleased to see her being able to enjoy herself. He continued to watch her dance, moving infinitesimally against the caravan wall so he didn’t lose sight of her.

 

Soon the dance came to an end and the dancers playfully curtseyed to the applause of the men. They broke into smaller groups, chatting and giggling with each other. Another song soon started and there was a flurry of activity as the women founded men to dance with. The couples quickly sorted themselves and the dance began.

 

Erik had lost sight of Christine in the rush to find partners. Once the dancing started he found her near the edge of the dancing area. She was dancing with a tall, dark haired gypsy. Her hand was in his, his other arm wrapped around her waist and their bodies pulled flush together, like all the other couples. Christine tossed her head back with laughter and Erik’s heart fell to his stomach.

 

He watched as the couple continued to dance, their bodies never separating and the man constantly leaning down to whisper in Christine’s ear so the smile never left her face.

 

Christine had often spoken to him about how much she enjoyed dancing at the gypsy parties and how Milosh would only dance with his sister or herself. At least he assumed it was Milosh holding Christine. But what if it wasn’t? What if there were other men who danced with Christine. When had he started thinking of Milosh as a man and not a child? For if Milosh was a man that would mean Christine was a woman. Erik pulled away from the wall and rubbed his hands over his face, the fabric of the sack scrapping at his skin. Of course Christine was still a child, what had he been thinking? But when he put his eye back up to the window and found the couple again he discovered that his initial thought had been correct. Christine had grown up. She was no longer a child but a beautiful woman.

 

Even from the caravan Erik could see that the man’s fingers were intertwined with Christine’s. He felt his anger rising and his fists curl into balls against the caravan walls. How dare this man, even if it was Milosh, act so familiar with his Christine? What gave him the right to touch her and to make her laugh like that? Why should this man be able to hold her hand and rest his arm around her waist when he could never touch her, not even the smallest brush of skin on skin?

 

Erik pulled away from the crack again, this time with a gasp. What was wrong with him? She wasn’t his Christine. A monster like himself shouldn’t touch a beautiful thing like Christine. He shouldn’t even be thinking about it. But suddenly there was nothing he wanted more in his life than to know what her skin felt like. Just the smallest touch, he tried to tell himself, would be enough. But it wouldn’t be enough. He wanted to know what her hand felt like wrapped in his, he wanted to see her smile as she looked into his eyes, he wanted to be able to whisper in her ear that he loved her.

 

Oh god. Erik almost choked as the emotions threatened to overwhelm him and his heart battled his mind. He was in love with Christine.

 

No he wasn’t the more sensible part of his mind howled. He wasn’t in love with her; he was just being a good friend. He didn’t want to see being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous young gypsy. But Milosh was anything but unscrupulous. Milosh and Mala were Christine’s best friends and she talked to Erik about them constantly. He knew that Milosh was a good man and would take care of Christine. But he could take good care of her as well, his heart whispered, and Milosh could never love her like he did.

 

He slumped to the floor under the weight of it all. He had opened Pandora’s Box and he could never go back. He was in love with Christine and he wanted her as his own.

 

How could he have let this have happen he berated himself. What did he possible hope to achieve? He should never have spoken to her when she came to clean the caravan; he should never have suggested music lessons. But she had spoken to him and treated him like a human being, rather than a monster that was to be feared. And he had so quickly come to depend on her visits, a break to the crushing loneliness that had engulfed his life for so many years. He had often thought of sending her away, but he could never bring himself to do it. Now the situation was so much worse. The loneliness had been bearable and looking back now he felt that he would have survived had she left in the first few years.

 

Now he knew that he would die if she left. And it would happen. She would marry soon and have children and she wouldn’t have time to come to the black caravan. But she would be happy and when he died he would know that there was somebody who used to care and who might mourn his passing just a little.

 

His heart still protested. Nobody else could have her. He could make her happy. How, his mind questioned. The gypsies had held him for almost twenty years, they weren’t about to let him go. He could try to escape. He’d made attempts in the past but he had never had something like Christine waiting on the other side. And then what? Force her to leave her family and be unable to support her. He was a fool. Christine was good enough to be his friend, she could never want anything more from him. She deserved someone who was as beautiful as she was, who could provide for her and wouldn’t take her away from her family.

 

If she found out she would be disgusted, he told himself. To know that a monster loved her and wanted to touch her. She would leave him one day, but he didn’t want to be the cause of her leaving any sooner than necessary. He wouldn’t tell her. He would continue to be her friend and watch as she fell in love with another.

 

Hauling himself back up the wall he looked out the crack again. The dance had just finished and whilst some couples had already separated, Milosh still had a hold of Christine. She was saying something to him and he bent down to place a kiss on her forehead before releasing her. Erik continued to watch as Christine walked away from the dancing area and out of his sight, leaving Milosh, who immediately sought out his sister.

 

Leaving the dancing area, Christine walked to the other side of the campfire to get herself a drink of water and sat down on a crate, her back to a tent. Despite the cold night air, she was hot from the energetic dancing and fanned herself briefly with her hand. She let her eyes drift back to the dancing area, where Milosh and Mala were dancing in a group.

 

“If we put Vadoma’s tent near the entrance, she should attract more visitors.” At the sound of a male voice speaking about her surrogate mother Christine’s ears perked up and she turned her head slightly.

 

“She’s told me that she feels confident Christine will be able to see visitors on her own in a few months. So that should increase the numbers as well.” Christine allowed herself a small grin of pride when she heard this.

 

“Good.” Christine instantly recognised the voice as Danior. “It’s about time she started contributing to the clan.”

 

“Well to be fair, she has been teaching the younger girls to sew. And she still cleans the Living Corpse’s caravan and you know how hard it was getting a child to do that work for longer than a week or so.” Another male voice said hesitantly. It sounded like Tamas, one of Danior’s most trusted men.

 

“That doesn’t bring in money,” Danior snapped. “And that is precisely what we need now. That girl has been here for almost ten years, imagine how much money has been spent on her.”

 

“She’ll be going soon won’t she?” It was Nicu speaking now. “Didn’t you always say that when she was old enough to support herself she’d be out?”

 

Although Christine had initially felt bad about listening into the conversation, she had no such reservations now and shifted closer to the tent so she could hear the conversation better.

 

“That was the plan initially, yes. But I’ve come to realise that it’s not going to be that easy,” Danior explained.

 

“So what are you going to do?” Tamas asked. “There’s been talk in recent months of Christine and Milosh. People have seen how close they are and have suggested that they might want to marry soon. If Christine marries a gypsy you’ll never be able to get rid of her.”

 

Christine raised her hand to her mouth in shock. People thought that she and Milosh wanted to get married?

 

“I’m not worried,” Danior said confidently. “As leader of this clan I have the final say in any marriages and I will never allow my nephew to marry an outsider.”

 

“So you won’t let her marry into the clan,” Nicu said. “What’s the plan then?”

 

“A wedding,” Danior announced.

 

“Huh?” Tamas and Nicu seemed to say this simultaneously.

 

“The girl has been with us for so long that many people in the clan seem to have forgotten that she’s an outsider. Hell, she’s not even a gypsy. She’s not going to leave voluntarily and the reaction would not be good if I told her to leave. Vadoma alone would never give me a moment’s peace,” he muttered. “But if Christine were to marry, she would have to follow her new husband.”

 

“You want her to marry someone outside the clan,” Nicu said slowly, starting to catch on.

 

“Precisely. No one’s going to be suspicious if Christine leaves the clan to be with her husband. Instead they’ll be happy for her.” Christine could practically hear the smirk in his voice.

 

“Have you got anyone in mind?” Tamas asked.

 

“No one in particular yet. I would have preferred someone who wasn’t a gypsy, that way we could be certain that she was never going to cause any issues for us again. But unfortunately visitors don’t exactly come to the camp looking for a bride.” The innuendo dripped from his voice. “So it will have to be someone from another clan. I don’t think it will be too difficult. Most clans have a few older men who are eager to have a young bride. They won’t care that she isn’t a gypsy.”

 

The three men chuckled at this comment. Christine felt sick to her stomach. She knew the type of men that Danior was talking about, the ones that no one in their own clan would marry, and the thought of being married off to one of them didn’t bear thinking about.

 

“Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get something for her,” Danior commented.

 

Not wanting to hear another word Christine jumped from the box and ran, knowing exactly where she needed to go.

 

Chapter Text

Erik’s eyes opened immediately when he heard the wooden bar hit the ground. Silently he stood from where he had collapsed against the wall when he had lost sight of Christine. He crept to the far corner of the caravan, hiding himself so that he would be the last thing that the intruder’s lantern would illuminate if they crossed the threshold of the bars. He could hear someone fumbling to open the latch on the door. A sneer came across Erik’s face, if the fool was too drunk to open a simple door what could he possible hope to achieve in the caravan? At least it would be over quickly, he didn’t have the energy to deal with yet another drunken gypsy who thought that he could best the Living Corpse.

 

Why bother fighting, he suddenly thought. Why not let the gypsy have his moment of glory and end his miserable existence? He was yanked from his thoughts when the intruder finally worked out the latch and burst through the door.

 

“Erik!” Christine sobbed, slamming the door shut and blindly running up to the bars. “Erik. Where are you?”

 

“Christine?” She had never come to the caravan at this time of night before. “Christine. What’s wrong?”

 

Christine didn’t answer, but hung onto the bars sobbing.

 

“Christine!” his voice was louder this time. “Tell me what’s wrong. Has somebody hurt you? I...I can’t do anything for you here, you should go and find Vadoma or Talaitha.” Erik was devastated that already he wasn’t able to help her. This was just further proof that he could never tell her about his feelings. What sort of man would he be if he couldn’t do anything to help her?

 

“Please don’t send me away,” she whispered, the pain evident in her voice.

 

“Christine,” Erik murmured, crouching down to her level at the bars knowing that her eyes wouldn’t have had time to adjust to the dark yet. “Christine I’m not sending you away but if you’re injured there’s nothing here that I can use to help you.”

 

“I’m not injured,” she stated. “It’s just, oh god Erik it was so horrible,” she concluded, wiping at her eyes.

 

“I don’t understand.” When Erik had last seen Christine she was happily dancing and whispering with Milosh.

 

“Danior. I heard him talking with Tamas and Nicu. About me,” she said bluntly.

 

Erik was well aware of how Danior felt about Christine and how he treated her. He also knew that Tamas and Nicu for the most part took their cues from Danior. “What about you?” he asked warily.

 

“That I don’t belong here. That I’m an outsider and they want to get rid of me. But I do belong here! This is my home Erik. My family is here, I don’t know anyone outside the clan. Not anymore,” she cried hysterically.

 

“Christine, Christine,” Erik soothed. “Vadoma treats you like a daughter, she’s not going to let Danior just abandon you.”

 

Christine took a deep breath before continuing, “He’s already thought of that. He said that because so many people in the clan, like Vadoma and the twins, had forgotten that I was an outsider he couldn’t just leave me behind or tell me to go. It would cause too many problems for him.”

 

Erik didn’t say anything, sensing that Christine needed a moment before she continued.

 

Her voice was deep and low in an effort to hold back the tears. “Danior wants me to get married.”

 

“What? To who?” Erik was outraged.

 

“He doesn’t care. He wants me to marry someone from another clan so I’ll have to leave this one. He said that no one would be suspicious if I left the clan to be with my husband. He said that all clans have older men who are looking for a young bride.” At this Christine lost her fight to hold back the tears.

 

Erik was absolutely livid. Like Christine, he knew the type of men that Danior was referring to and he found himself practically shaking with rage at the thought. He tightened his grip on the bars but finding that it didn’t help he set to stalking around the cage.

 

“I thought this was over.” Christine took a shuddering breath. “I thought that I was safe here, that this was my home. I know that Danior doesn’t like me and didn’t want me to stay with the clan after Papa died...” she trailed off. “But he hasn’t said anything in years and Vadoma and Mala and Milosh have always spoken as if they assumed I would be here for the rest of my life. Surely Vadoma would have told me if she knew that Danior still wanted to get rid of me. What could have made him change his mind? I haven’t done anything.”

 

How dare Danior think about doing such a thing? He obviously knew what kind of life he would be condemning Christine to and couldn’t care less. To rip her away from the life she had know for so many years and the people she considered family. Erik almost laughed to think that earlier in the evening he had been worried about Christine marrying Milosh. He knew that if she married Milosh that he would do his best to make sure she was happy, but these other men wouldn’t. Plus if she married Milosh at least she would be able to stay with the clan, close to Vadoma and Mala.

 

The sound of Christine’s tears broke through Erik’s rage but he didn’t dare return to the bars knowing that she had now been in the caravan long enough for her eyes to have adjusted. Not wanting to upset her further he stopped pacing and leaned against the coffin, gripping the side tightly.

 

“Please don’t cry Christine,” he pleaded. “I promise you won’t have to marry anyone you don’t want to.” What was he doing, he asked himself wearily, making promises he knew he had no way of keeping.

 

“They think I want to marry Milosh,” Christine said, not realising that Erik had been thinking exactly that only a few hours earlier. “But Danior said that because he has final say of marriages within the clan there is no way he would ever let that happen.”

 

“Do you want to marry Milosh?” he asked hesitantly. If Danior and his men thought that Christine and Milosh were going to get married perhaps Milosh had been openly courting Christine. She hadn’t mentioned anything to him. Erik tried to think back over the past few months to see if Christine had been acting any differently. He thought that he could hear disappointment in her voice when she had said that Danior wouldn’t allow it.

 

“No.” Erik’s grip on the coffin immediately loosened. “I love Milosh dearly, but as a brother. He will make a wonderful husband one day but I could never marry him.”

 

“So why did Danior think that you wanted to marry him?” Even though Christine said now that she didn’t want to marry Milosh she could still change her mind if he were an ardent enough suitor. Seeing them dancing together Erik didn’t think that it would take much for Christine to develop feelings for the handsome young gypsy.

 

“It was Tamas who said it.” The change of topic had allowed Christine to calm down, although the evidence of her tears could still be heard in her voice. “He said that people in the camp have been talking. But it doesn’t mean anything. Any time a man and woman are seen together and are both unmarried rumours are started. Sometimes one of them is married and the rumours will still start. Milosh is one of my best friends and so I spend time with him. There’s nothing more to it. Just meaningless gossip,” she explained.

 

“Sometimes others can see where feelings are developing before...” Erik trailed off. What was he thinking? Was he trying to convince Christine that she may be in love with Milosh?

 

But Christine didn’t seem to notice his abandoned sentence. “It’s not that Danior wouldn’t allow Milosh and me to marry. I don’t want to marry Milosh and he doesn’t want to marry me. But Danior will never allow me to marry anyone unless they come from another clan. Or if they were an outsider.”

 

Another small wave of relief washed over Erik as Christine confirmed that Milosh didn’t want to marry her. Letting go of the coffin he dared to take a step closer to the bars. He contemplated for a moment the meaning of the last thing that she said. He knew that she wouldn’t want to marry one of the men that Danior would consider for her, but there had been some sort of longing in her voice. “You want to marry someone from the clan,” he asked flatly. She was probably already being courted by one of the gypsies. Erik’s heart sunk as he returned to the coffin.

 

“I want to marry someone in the camp,” she said carefully. “At least I think I do. Oh I don’t know, I’m being foolish.”

 

Erik didn’t know how much more of this he could handle tonight. “Christine, you could never be foolish,” he said roughly.

 

“I am. He would never even think of it I’m sure.” Christine shuffled alongside the bars so she could lean against the caravan wall. Starting to pick at her fingernails she said, “He probably still sees me as a child.”

 

“He’s older than you then?” Erik asked disapprovingly.

 

“Yes but I’ve known him for so long. I know he would never take advantage of me.”

 

“So you’re not being courted?” Erik confirmed. He hated the very idea of an older man taking advantage of Christine, no matter how much she trusted him.

 

“No,” she shook her head sadly, not realising that she was breaking Erik’s heart. It was clear to him how much she wanted this gypsy to court her. “But I spend time with him,” she said fondly. “And since Danior won’t let me marry anyone here it’s probably for the best.”

 

Erik felt incredibly torn listening to Christine. He hated the idea of another man courting and marrying her, taking her away from him, but he could hear how much Christine wanted this. He was a tiny bit pleased that Danior wouldn’t allow Christine to marry anyone in the clan, but his fury that he would marry her out of the clan quickly overrode that. He could only hope that Danior wasn’t able to find a prospective groom in another clan too soon.

 

“What is he like?” he asked, not ready to hear who exactly had stolen Christine’s heart.

 

“He’s wonderful,” she sighed, “He’s so kind and I can talk to him for hours. He always takes me seriously even though I know I can say some very silly things sometimes.”

 

She spent hours talking to this gypsy? How was it that she had never mentioned it? Erik racked his brain, surely she had mentioned him.

 

“He’s very smart and he’s taught me so much. I feel safe with him, like I can trust him with my life and he would protect and look after me no matter what. Sometimes I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found him here,” she continued.

 

“Really?” Erik ground out. He found that he suddenly hated Christine a little, that she wouldn’t share what was obviously such an important part of her life with him. He was instantly ashamed of himself; there was no reason to expect that she would share every aspect of her life with him. But then she had come to him when she was upset, so surely that meant something. If she could trust him with what she had overheard Danior saying, why couldn’t she have trust him with how she felt about this man before now? Or even that he existed.

 

Christine peered into the cage, trying to find Erik. “Really.”

 

Erik could think of nothing more to say and they drifted into silence. The music from the gypsy party drifted through the caravan and Christine lazily allowed her foot to softly tap in time. Erik stared down into the coffin trying to make sense of everything that had happened that evening. In another life perhaps, he would have been able to court Christine and make her forget all about this other man. He could have even been the man she was talking so fondly about.

 

“Erik?” Christine called softly, “Would you sing for me?”

 

Even in his lowest moments he could never refuse her anything. Turning back to face the bars of the cage, he responded, “Certainly. What would you like to hear?”

 

“You can decide. Something soft,” she requested.

 

He started singing ‘Á la Claire fontaine’, knowing that it was one of her favourites. As he sang, Christine closed her eyes and let his voice gently wash over her. When he finished, she didn’t open her eyes, instead saying thank you and then allowing the silence to resume.

 

Erik believed that she had had fallen asleep and was wondering whether he should wake her when she suddenly spoke. “When Papa was still alive he used to tell me about an Angel of Music.”

 

He studied her curiously through the darkness. “He said the Angel of Music would visit people and help them become great musicians or singers. But the Angel wouldn’t visit just anyone; he would only visit those who truly loved music in their heart. Papa always said that one day the Angel would visit me and help me become a famous Prima Donna. I used to think that maybe the Angel hadn’t come to me because Papa and I moved so often and he didn’t know where to find me. Papa said the Angel would come when the time was right.” She paused here and Erik wondered whether she was going to continue.

 

“When he was sick, just before he died, he promised that he would send the Angel of Music to me from heaven. I remember that that was what made me realise that Papa wasn’t going to get better. I begged him not to leave me and told him that I would rather the angel didn’t visit me if it meant he could stay. But we don’t have control over these things, do we? And Papa died.”

 

“Christine...” he wished he could take away the pain of her father’s death, knowing how much it still haunted her.

 

“No, it’s alright. You know that I didn’t sing for a long time after Papa died. I was waiting for him to send me the Angel of Music and every day I would pray that he would come. But then we started singing lessons and I was able to return to the music. Still, for years I continued to wait and pray for the Angel of Music to come.”

 

Christine moved across the caravan until she was directly opposite Erik. She was looking so intently into the darkness that Erik feared that she could see him, but when she didn’t show any sign of terror he relaxed.

 

“I used to think that the Angel of Music would be a real angel. That they would be beautiful and wear white robes and have wings and come down from heaven to teach me. But then I realised that the angel could be a real person. And it is. It’s you. You’re my Angel of Music Erik,” she said breathlessly.

 

“I...uh...I...” Erik stuttered.

 

“You don’t have to say anything,” she laughed gently. “I know that it sounds strange. But you brought music back into my life; you’ve helped me to sing better than my father could ever have dreamed. I know that if I hadn’t found you here I would never have found joy in music again. I’m sure I eventually would have sung again, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I’ve been able to with you. And I think that that is what Papa was talking about. The Angel of Music is someone who could help me love music.”

 

“I’m not an angel.” Erik was pleased that his voice didn’t falter when he said that. He was the very opposite of an angel, he was a demon, a monster, a devil, a corpse.

 

“Maybe not a real angel,” Christine’s naivety was apparent when she unintentionally revealed that she still believed there were real angels. “But you are my angel. And you mean more to me than a real angel ever could.”

 

Seemingly content with what she had revealed, Christine continued to sit there, looking into the cage. Erik stood in the middle of the cage, stunned.

 

She had called him an angel, her angel. The feelings he had experienced when she had first asked his name so many years came back to him. She made him feel like a human being and he could almost forget his wretched face.  But not quite. Would she still think he was her angel if she discovered what he looked like? Her angel. He cherished the small spark of possessiveness in her. He would be hers for as long as she would have him. For a moment he allowed himself the brief fantasy that he was allowed to call her his. But he quickly brought himself back to reality; she didn’t mean it in that way.

 

He hadn’t believed that he was capable of creating anything beautiful. But the way Christine had spoken of her love of music and how he had given that to her, surely that was beautiful. Perhaps he wasn’t capable of creating beauty on his own, but with Christine’s help he could, like they had created the music together. He had always longed for beauty in his life but until Christine had come to live with the clan he could point to very little that he would call beautiful. But since he had met her, he could now see beauty in the small things, such as flowers in the woods or the happy smile of a small child, through her eyes. He looked down to the girl in question.

 

He hadn’t noticed Christine falling asleep whilst he was lost in his thoughts. She had fallen asleep on her side, facing the cage, and her hand had just slipped through the bars. It was so different to the hands that normally reached through the bars. Hands that normally reached through the bars meant danger, hands that would pull, scratch and hit given half the chance. Most hands had the dark skin of the gypsies, the paler visitors happy to watch or throw things into the cage, but very few were willing to risk their own skin with the Living Corpse. Christine’s hand was pale and small but bore the signs of her work. It was rough and dry from the cleaning that she performed every day and there were little nicks and scratches from the needles and scissors she used when sewing. It was not what society would call a proper lady’s hand, but Erik thought it was beautiful.

 

Certain that she would not wake, Erik crept a little closer to the front of the cage and crouched down. Christine’s hand was so close, all he needed to do was reach and out and touch. He shouldn’t, he knew that. She was asleep and would never consent to a freak like him touching her. But his hand seemed to have a mind of its own and reaching across he gently trailed his index finger along her thumb before quickly clutching it back to his chest, as though he had been burned. How dare he touch her, he berated himself. What sort of monster couldn’t stop himself from touching a young girl?

 

Christine moaned slightly and Erik was terrified that she was going to wake up and start screaming. If her fear of him brought every man in the camp into the caravan, he wouldn’t fight them. He would deserve everything they could think to inflict upon him. But Christine didn’t awaken. She stretched in her sleep and her hand moved further into the cage, as though she was reaching for something just out of her grasp.

 

She was sound asleep, his mind whispered, he could touch her again, maybe feel her hand in his. He shook his head to get rid of these thoughts and retreated back to the coffin, to remove himself from temptation.

 

Erik knew that if Christine was discovered in the black caravan there would be questions that neither of them were willing to answer. But he wasn’t ready for Christine to leave just yet, the opportunity to watch her sleep was something that he wasn’t strong enough to sacrifice. Instead he resolved that at the first sign of life in the morning he would wake her so she could return to her caravan. He knew that on nights like this the gypsies would often sleep in caravans that were not their own, in the past Christine had spent the night with Mala and Milosh, so Vadoma would not be worried if Christine wasn’t in their caravan. But she could not be caught with him.

 

Settling himself against the coffin, he continued to watch Christine as she slept.

Chapter Text

The sun was already shining through the cracks in the panelling of the black caravan when Erik first heard footsteps in a nearby caravan. It was the sign that he had been dreading the arrival of all night and he knew that Christine would have to leave soon, whilst she was still able to without being seen. He tore his eyes away from her for only a moment to glance at the door, before quickly returning his gaze to her sleeping form. She was sleeping on her side, with her feet tucked up beneath her skirt. Her hand, which she had stretched through the bars of his cage when she had first fallen asleep, hadn’t moved during the night and Erik had watched, fascinated, each time her fingers had tried to grasp at something whilst she slept.

 

He considered for a moment trying to wake her by touching her hand. If he placed his hand in her’s would her fingers wrap around his and would his touch gently wake her? No, he decided, shaking his head in disgust at his foolishness. Christine would no doubt be disoriented from waking up in the black caravan, instead of the familiarity of Vadoma’s caravan and Erik had no desire to make the situation any more uncomfortable for her than necessary.

 

She looked so peaceful sleeping, despite the uncomfortableness of her surroundings, and Erik hated having to wake her but the consequences of her staying meant that it had to be done. Keeping his voice low so the noise wouldn’t attract any attention outside the caravan, he called her name, “Christine.”

 

She didn’t respond, so he called out again, “Christine.”

 

This time she did respond, grumbling slightly and shifting her body closer to the bars, but still not waking. He called her name for a third time, “Christine.”

 

Slowly she opened her eyes, blinking a few times to clear the sleep from them. “Erik? What’s happening? Is it morning?” she mumbled.

 

If she was surprised at all to find herself waking up in the black caravan she betrayed no signs of it. If Erik hadn’t of known better, he would have said that Christine was used to waking up there, knowing that he was nearby. He didn’t allow himself to dwell on the idea of Christine being accustomed to waking up near him.

 

“It’s morning,” he whispered. “I’ve already heard some of the gypsies. You need to go back to your caravan before anyone sees you.”

 

“Hmm,” she agreed, sitting up and running her fingers through her hair in an attempt to neaten it. “I had such a wonderful dream. It was strange, but I was so warm and safe. ”

 

Erik didn’t respond, but Christine continued nonetheless.

 

“I was loved, in the dream. At least it felt like I was loved. It wasn’t love like Vadoma loves me, it was different, more intense. They touched me, just once, and it was...perfect. But then they pulled away and I could sense they were still close. I kept reaching out to them but they were too far away.”

 

Christine’s dream did not sound wonderful to Erik. The idea of someone who loved you being just out of reach sounded more like torture. But perhaps it was different for someone who had had many people who loved them in their life.

 

“It sounds quite strange when I say it aloud,” Christine mused. “Maybe it’s one of those things that has to be experienced.”

 

“Perhaps,” Erik said moodily. “You should leave, there will be too many gypsies around soon for you to be able to leave unnoticed.”

 

“I know,” she sighed. “I wish I didn’t have to go. And I don’t think I’ll be able to come for my lesson this morning, there’ll be too much to do after last night. But I promise I’ll be back to clean in here later this morning.”

 

“Alright,” he agreed, watching as Christine used the bars on the cage to pull herself to her feet.

 

“Thank you for last night...for everything,” she said shyly. Before Erik had a chance to respond, she had walked to the door. “Goodbye,” she called.

 

“Goodbye,” Erik said as she walked out the door. “You’re welcome.”

 

There was no one in the vicinity when Christine left the black caravan and when she ran into an older woman she was so close to Vadoma’s caravan that the woman didn’t question it. She was somewhat surprised to find that Vadoma wasn’t in her bed, but Christine assumed that she had arisen early to start the clean up. Knowing that she still had at least an hour before anyone would be expecting her Christine collapsed onto her bed.

 

She wondered for a moment whether the night before had been real or whether it had been a strange dream. Had she really told, or rather hinted to, Erik that she was interested in him romantically? She felt her cheeks flame at the thought. She had never imagined that she would do anything like that, even if she hadn’t come out and explicitly explained her feelings. But then Erik had a way of making her feel so comfortable that she could say anything. That was why the man knew virtually everything there was to know about her.

 

What were her feelings for Erik? She knew that she cared for him, deeply, that was without question. But was she in love with him? As soon as she asked the question she felt that the answer had to be yes, of course she was in love with him.  But then what did she know of love? She had loved her Papa, she loved Vadoma and Mala and Milosh, but to be in love with someone was something very different.  She thought of the weddings she had been to and friends who had been married. The way that she had seen the brides and grooms look at each other, like they were the only two people in the world, could she look at Erik like that?

 

She had never even seen his face, she told herself, thinking that it should make a difference. But it didn’t and she knew that whatever he looked like would not change how she felt about him. She had known for years that his face was deformed; the gypsies did not make any effort to hide this fact, although very few of them had actually seen him for long enough to study his face in detail, beyond Danior and the men who had acted as his keepers. None of them were men that Christine particularly liked and so she had never spoken to them of Erik. In fact there was no one in the clan she had ever really spoken to about Erik.

 

When she thought about it more, Christine realised that there was so much she didn’t know about Erik. Not only had she never seen him, she didn’t know what his full name was, or even if he had one, or how old he was. She knew that he was older than her, but not how much. He had been an adult when she first met him, although he didn’t sound like any of the older men in the camp, or even Luca or any of the men who were the same age as her father would have been if he were still alive. She didn’t think that his voice had actually changed in all the years that she had known him.

 

For all the time that she had known him, Erik had been an adult, but he had known her as a child. Did he still see her that way or had his perception of her changed? Did he see her in a way where he would be able to return her feelings, for she was certain that she did have feelings for him and wanted him to be able to feel the same for her.

 

Shifting slightly on her bed to remove an uncomfortable lump of fabric, Christine thought about Erik’s reaction to her confession the night before. He had been upset, that much was clear, but it was less clear why he was upset with her. He hadn’t tried to stop her or told her that what she was saying was inappropriate, nor had he been angry with her. If she had to classify his feelings she would have said that he seemed sad, and maybe disappointed.

 

She thought back over exactly what she had said to Erik. As close as she had felt to him she hadn’t been ready to confess her feelings in their entirety but everything she had said to him was true. She was certain that although she had spoken of the man being in the camp, she had never actually referred to them as a gypsy. Which was true. Although Erik lived in the camp, she knew that he wasn’t a gypsy and would never consider himself one. But then maybe Erik had never made that distinction. He always referred to himself as being separate to the gypsies, even though he had lived with the clan for so many years now. But knowing how they treated him, Christine understood why he would never consider himself a part of them. Perhaps when she had told him that she had feelings for somewhat in the camp he had automatically assumed that she was referring to a gypsy.

 

Even if she had said that the man wasn’t a gypsy, Christine realised that Erik still would not have recognised that she was talking about him. She had never really known him to consider himself to be like everyone else and he didn’t expect to get what everyone else took for granted. Starting with the time that Nicu had found her in the black caravan, Christine had heard many of the gypsies refer to Erik as a thing or a monster and she knew that as much as she tried to convince him otherwise, Erik in his own way believed this to be true. He tried not to let it show when she was around, but in his bleaker moments she had heard him refer to himself as a freak or a corpse.

 

When she was younger she had often spoken to Erik about what she believed the future held for her and what life would be like when she grew up. But for Erik life seemed to be constant. He offered her very little insight into his past and he never spoke of any future beyond his life in the black caravan. It was therefore completely understandably that he would never consider the idea that he could be the man that Christine had spoken of. As far as he was concerned he was never going to leave the black caravan. He was going to spend the rest of his life being jeered at by crowds. The thought that anyone might love him and want to have a life with him was ludicrous. She didn’t know how they could have a life together, they gypsies would never see him as anything other than an exhibit and she couldn’t imagine leaving the clan. She had been able to convince him that he was deserving of friendship, now she needed to show him that he was also worthy of love.

 

Sighing in frustration Christine tried to imagine what Erik had been thinking. If he had never considered the possibility that he was the man she had been speaking of, which she was now certain was the case, then why would he seemed sad? As she thought about it more, she realised that Erik probably had noticed that she had never referred to the man as a gypsy or a member of the clan. He was incredibly intelligent and always noticed the smallest detail. So he mustn’t have realised that it was intentional and had therefore dismissed it as irrelevant. The only conclusion that Christine could reach was that Erik was afraid of what it would mean for their friendship. If she were courted by and married to a gypsy her priority would become her husband and eventually their children. Did Erik assume that she would have no more time for their friendship? Even if she were interested in one of the gypsies she would never sacrifice her friendship with Erik. Did he think that she would just abandon him or did he think that it would be a more gradual occurrence? But what if he thought that she had feelings for someone who wasn’t a gypsy, perhaps one of the more regular visitors to the camp. Did he then believe that she was to leave the clan and the camp entirely, leaving him on his own?

 

Huffing a little, Christine flung herself onto her side. None of this made sense. Even if Erik had never considered that a woman, that she, could fall in love with him, who could he possible think that she had been referring to? She went over what she had said the night before. She had said that the person was older than her and that she spent time with him. He was intelligent and would listen to her prattle on for hours. She had told Erik that he made her feel safe and she trusted him with her life, not knowing how she would have survived in the camp had she not found him there. How could he not see that she was referring to him? There was absolutely no-one else in the camp who could possibly meet that description. There never had been. She told Erik everything that was happening in her life, there was nothing that he didn’t know about her. If there was another man who was that important to her, he would have known about him. Just like he knew about Mala, Vadoma, Milosh and everyone else she was close to.

 

In some ways, Christine realised, Erik wasn’t like other men. When a gypsy woman was interested in one of the men, she would smile at him and her friends would let him know that she wanted to be courted. The man would then take the lead in the more formal stages of courtship. Although Christine was always smiling at Erik, she wasn’t entirely sure that he could see her in the caravan. Plus he hadn’t realised when she was talking about him the night before so he was hardly going to notice the significance of her smiling at him. And none of her friends knew about Erik, as opposed to the Living Corpse, so she couldn’t have one of them indicate her interest to him. Even if he was able to see her and she had friends that knew about him, Erik knew nothing of gypsy courtships. The only way she was going to be able to do this was on her own. She was going to have to take the lead and court Erik.

 

She felt herself going red again at the very idea. What kind of woman would do that? No gypsy woman would ever consider doing such a thing and no gypsy man would ever accept such behaviour. But then she wasn’t really a gypsy woman and Erik certainly wasn’t a gypsy man. Of course she still lived amongst the clan and had no desire to offend them in any way. But she needed Erik to know that he was loved and deserving of being loved. She didn’t really know how Erik would react, there was still a strong possibility that he saw her as a child and Christine knew it would be hard for him to adjust to the idea of a woman wanting a relationship with him.

                                   

Some children suddenly shouted outside the caravan, arguing over who would finish their chores first, and it made Christine realise what the time was and that she needed to get back to the black caravan to clean it before she had to meet with the girls for their lesson. She didn’t know how she was supposed to do this and really she was hoping that Erik would know what to do, which was silly, but she was so used to Erik always knowing what to do. She decided that she would try describing him again, and emphasise that she wanted a relationship with this person and hoped that in the light of day Erik would realise what she was trying to tell him. 

 

After gathering her cleaning supplies Christine returned to the black caravan, sweeping out the front part of the caravan before closing the door to allow her eyes to adjust.

 

“Did anyone see you?” Erik asked.

 

“No one saw me,” Christine confirmed. She continued to clean in silence and she tried to work out the best way to raise the conversation from the night before. “Erik?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Never mind,” she said, feeling her courage disappearing. “No, wait. What I said last night, about the man that I...He’s not a gypsy,” she blurted out.

 

Not a gypsy. Erik could barely decide whether that made the situation better or worse. Whilst he hated the gypsies and the idea of Christine being married to one of their young men, at least if she were to marry a gypsy she would stay with the clan. She would be able to remain with Vadoma and her friends and she could remain a part of his life for a bit longer. But if she were to marry an outsider she would leave, there was no question of that.

 

“But he’s always been such a big part of my life,” she continued, feeling braver. “I’ve always been able to tell him everything and he’s been able to give me such wonderful advice. He’s an angel really,” she said, raising her eyes to look beyond the bars, trying to catch a glimpse of Erik. She had called him an angel the night before, how could he not realise that she was talking about him? “I thought you would have guessed by now,” she murmured.

 

But Erik was completely mystified, and hurt. He could not think of any man that Christine had ever mentioned who could possibly meet that description. All the men Christine had ever spoken about had been gypsies. He knew that there were outsiders who had regular business with the clan but Christine had never spoken of them in any great deal. The only conclusion he could reach was that it was a man she hadn’t spoken much of. But then why would she think that he should know who it was? Perhaps she just didn’t realise how little she had spoken of this man, he reasoned.

 

Christine waited for Erik to say something, anything. She had said that he was an angel, after calling him her Angel of Music the night before. She didn’t think that there was anything more she could say short of outright admitting that she loved him. He must know, she decided. Even if he hadn’t expected it, he must have realised that she was referring to him. But he wasn’t saying anything. She hadn’t expected confessions of love, but she thought that he would say something.

 

It was too much, she realised. She had gone too far and now he was even more upset then he had been the night before. Whenever he was upset or hurt he would pull away from her and stop talking and that was exactly what he was doing and she couldn’t let that happen.

 

“Please don’t do this,” she asked softly.

 

“Do what?” he said gruffly.

 

“Pull away from me. Stop talking to me,” she clarified. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I won’t mention it again,” Because I know you don’t care for me the way I care for you, she added to herself silently.

 

Erik immediately felt terrible because he could see that he was hurting her, “No Christine, you don’t have to do that.”

 

“No I do. Besides our friendship is more important than anything else,” she said, smiling weakly.

 

“It is,” he agreed, thinking that their friendship was the most important thing in the world to him.

 

“Then it’s agreed, I won’t mention it again and you won’t stop talking to me,” Christine said, sounding more upbeat.

 

And although Erik knew that it was terrible to stop her pursuing a relationship with a young man, he agreed because he wasn’t ready to let her go. 

Chapter Text

Nine years earlier

 

“It’s as high as I can go I’m afraid. I sorry it’s not as much as your clan initially paid for them. You know that my clan would do whatever we could to assist yours, but we are simply not in a position to offer you any more for these beasts,” Danior said with a sympathetic smile.

 

The two men walked alongside the cages, ignoring the animals as they paced restlessly and made half hearted attempts to lap from their filthy buckets of water.

 

“Of course,” Besnik agreed. “We are of course grateful for anything you are able to offer. It was a fool’s errand to try and put the animals on display,” He looked across to Danior. “But I’m sure that your clan will have every success with them,” he said hastily.

 

“We’ll do our best,” Danior replied. “But the costs of feeding them alone, it may be too much for us,” he said shaking his head.

 

“There’s a clan in Italy that has been displaying animals for over fifty years. If they are able to do it I’m sure your clan will be successful Danior,” Besnik said.

 

“Hmm. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to keep them for a short while longer?” Danior asked. “See if you can make a success of it? After all this was one of your father’s dreams for the clan.”

 

“I know,” Besnik said sadly. He had only recently come into the leadership of his clan after the death of his father. The clan has prospered under his father, who had dreamed of having the most famous travelling clan in France. But since Besnik had taken over the clan had suffered one misfortune after another and already the clan was a mere shadow of what it had been. “But the welfare of the clan needs to come first. We can’t be feeding wild animals when we can barely afford to feed the children. Father would understand that. There will be other animals.”

 

“That’s true,” Danior replied sympathetically. “And of course the last thing you need right now is the authorities chasing after you.”

 

“The authorities?” Besnik was puzzled.

 

“Oh yes. Apparently the authorities in Paris are acting strongly against anyone keeping wild animals, especially clans. They’re handing out heavy fines to anyone who is caught. They say that the animals are too dangerous,” Danior explained.

 

“Well I suppose that settles it then. I can’t afford any fines and I doubt the clan would be able to outrun the authorities.” Besnik rubbed at his brow, his stress showing. “But what about your clan Danior? How will you manage?”

 

“We’re a small clan, it would be easier for us to outrun the authorities. And I’m not planning on having the clan close to Paris for the next few years at least. But I’ll keep an ear out for any information on the authorities and if I hear anything I suppose I’ll have to get rid of the animals, to whoever will take them,” Danior shrugged.

 


 

“Danior should never have made it seem like we were doing their clan a favour by taking the animals. Then we wouldn’t have been dealing with this mess for the past ten years!” Nicu said, taking a swig from his flask.

 

“No. We were doing them a favour in a way. They wouldn’t have been able to survive much longer if they had kept them,” Tamas sighed. “Danior shouldn’t have told them that the authorities were coming after clans that kept wild animals and fining them. They were unhappy that we didn’t pay the real value of the animals but they were extremely insulted that we would lie to them and breach the trust between the two clans. That was what caused all of this,” he said waving his hand around to demonstrate.

 

“I don’t know why Danior even bothered to tell Besnik the story about the authorities, he would have sold the animals regardless,” Nicu grumbled.

 

“Besnik was hesitating,” Danior said as he strode in the tent. “I did what I had to do to make sure the sale went through.”

 

“Ah, Danior...we, uh...” Tamas stuttered.

 

“Sit down Tamas. I am well aware of how both of you feel about the initial deal with Besnik and his clan.” Danior took a seat next to Nicu. “But what’s done is done.”

 

“That’s easy to say. But what you did has resulted in ten years of deals being made between the clans that have never been enough. You would make a deal, then turn around and say how generous we were being and try to insist that they give us something. They would then claim that we were going back on the deal and being untrustworthy again. You need to make a deal and leave it at that. Stop trying to always gain something extra out of it!” Nicu was angry and the liquor had loosened his tongue.

 

“Nicu,” Danior growled warningly. “If you utter one word of that during the meeting today...”

 

“Would I do that?” Nicu gave an innocent smile. Of Nicu and Tamas, Nicu was the braver and much more likely to confront Danior. But he knew that whilst Danior would tolerate a challenge in private he would never accept anything less than one hundred percent loyalty in public.

 

“And give me that,” Danior said snatching the flask and ignoring Nicu’s comment. “I do not want you smelling of liquor at the meeting.”

 

Danior took a moment to compose himself. “This will be the final time. I have thought carefully about what we are offering the clan and I will leave it at that. Once today’s meeting is over relations between the two clans will be restored to what they once were.”

 

A voice called from outside the tent. Tamas walked overly and briefly conversed with the person on the other side. “Besnik and his men have arrived,” he announced. “Luca has shown them to your caravan,” he addressed Danior.

 

“Right then. Better not keep them waiting,” Danior said standing up. “And remember what I said,” he growled at Nicu.

 

The three men made their way across the camp to Danior’s red caravan. As they entered Danior could see one of the gypsy men was casually flicking through the papers on his desk whilst the other two were seated. Hearing Danior and his men enter, the two men rose from their seats whilst the one behind the desk simply looked up, papers still in hand. “Danior,” he greeted.

 

“Besnik.” Danior returned the greeting in a similar fashion. He walked over to his desk to straighten the papers, taking the ones that Besnik was holding at the same time. “You of course remember my men, Nicu and Tamas.”

 

“Certainly,” Besnik replied, walking away from the desk. “This is Emilian and Marko,” he said, pointing to his men. “I don’t believe you have met Emilian. He’s only started taking on a greater role in the clan within the past year.”

 

Danior inclined his head at Emilian. “I hope the journey to our camp wasn’t too difficult. There aren’t many clans this close to the mountains at this time of year. I was surprised that you were nearby.”

 

“Like your clan I imagine, we have our reasons for wanting to be here,” Besnik said, being deliberately vague.

 

“Of course,” Danior said graciously. “It is quite fortunate that you are based nearby, as it gives us this opportunity to resolve past difficulties between our two clans.”

 

“That is true. We don’t want this unpleasantness to go on any longer than it already has,” Besnik replied.

 

“Under the leadership of your fathers,” Tamas said, addressing Besnik and Danior, “The two clans were the closest of all the clans in France. We hope,” he continued, looking briefly to Danior for approval, “That the arrangements we discuss today will go a long way to restoring that relationship.”

 

“Precisely,” Danior agreed. “It’s what our fathers would have wanted.” Danior knew how close Besnik had been to his father and how he had struggled to lead his clan after his father’s death.

 

“I agree.” Besnik replied. “The relationship between the two clans was always that of equals. That is what we should be working towards today.”

 

“Before we start can I offer anyone a drink?” Nicu asked.

 

“I’ll have a...” Marko started.

 

“There was supposed to be a jug of water in here,” Danior interrupted. “Perhaps you could go fetch one?” he directed Nicu.

 

When Nicu returned the six gypsies took their seats around Danior’s desk.

 

“Our last agreement did not proceed as initially planned,” Besnik spoke slowly.

 

“Ah yes, the goats,” Danior remembered.

 

“You charged us far more than those animals were worth and then they produced no milk. We had to slaughter them for meat. But that did not allow us to recoup our costs,” Marko explained.

 

“An animal will only produce milk for so long. It was simply an unfortunate coincidence,” Danior said calmly.

 

“And I trust there will be no ‘unfortunate coincidences’ today?” Besnik asked.

 

“And that you will not be approaching our clan in a fortnight’s time claiming that you have undercharged us?” Emilian added.

 

Danior gritted his teeth and Tamas could see a vein pulsing in his neck. “Of course not. I guarantee that nothing of the sort will happen.”

 

“This is what we are proposing,” Nicu slide a sheet of paper across the desk to the three gypsies on the other side. “We were planning to spend the summer down at the coast near Marsielle. We were there a number of years ago and it was a very successful season. The other clans are aware that we have claimed the area this year but we would like to offer it to you. Unless of course you have other plans.”

 

“That is generous,” Besnik agreed. “We have no firm plans for the coming season and it has been a while since we stayed in that part of the country.”

 

“You won’t be disappointed. The profits from a season near Marseille will last you for the rest of the year,” Tamas added.

 

“We would also like to sell you three horses and two caravans for this figure here.” Nicu stretched across the desk to point out the number on the papers in front of Besnik. “Two of the horses are good draught horses, suitable for pulling caravans or being loaded with supplies. The other is a small mare that the women and children use for riding. The two caravans, one is a sleeper and the other we have been using recently for cooking, but you could refit it for an attraction or just use it for storage.”

 

“You no longer need these caravans?” Marko asked warily.

 

“No. We have recently acquired new caravans and no longer require these ones,” Tamas explained. “There is nothing wrong with the caravans. We will of course have you inspect them before a final decision is made.”

 

“This price is too high,” Besnik announced. “After last time I did not think that you would do this to us Danior.”

 

“It is a fair price,” Danior argued.

 

“Perhaps if you were offering three working horses as we initially asked for. But this mare, she will be an amusement at best. Hardly the same as the other two.”

 

“We cannot afford to give up another of our working horses. We still have caravans and supplies that need to be moved. However if you are not interested in the mare we can negotiate a lower price,” Danior said, reaching for the papers to make the changes.

 

“No,” Besnik said, placing his fist on the papers to stop Danior from taking them. “We are interested in taking the mare. The women and children still need to ride. But we will not be paying this much. We are willing to give ten per cent less than this figure.”

 

“Ten per cent less?” Nicu muttered under his breath.

 

Danior gave a sharp look at Nicu. “I understand that you are disappointed that we were unable to provide the three working horses that you requested. But we cannot afford to drop our asking price by ten per cent. Perhaps five?”

 

“I believe we could manage that,” Besnik agreed. “But we will need to see the caravans and the horses before we finalise this arrangement.”

 

“I would expect nothing less of you,” Danior flattered, reaching out his hand. Besnik and Danior shook hands to cement their in principle agreement.

 

“There is one final thing that we would like to offer. I like to think of it as a gesture of good faith, a way to really re-establish the close ties between our clans,” Danior said.

 

Nicu and Tamas exchanged a look. Danior hadn’t told them that there was something else he wanted to give to the other clan.

 

“Last time I visited your clan Besnik I noticed that your youngest son still wasn’t married. I hope I’m not being too forward if I assume that this is still the case?”

 

“Unfortunately Pali still has not found himself a wife. None of the girls in the clan are willing to marry him, even if he is son of the clan leader,” Besnik explained. “My wife has indulged him considerably over the years and is blind to the aspects of his personality which repulse any prospective brides.”

 

“I believe we can help with this issue. As the final part of our arrangement I would like to offer a bride for Pali,” Danior announced.

 

“Danior that is extremely generous, but are you sure? Pali requires a great deal of patience and sometimes his interest in women can be a little...unusual. The women in my clan are aware of this, that is why they all refuse to marry him,” Besnik uttered.

 

“I wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t sure,” Danior smiled. Tamas began to feel slightly ill as he realised who Danior was intending to offer. Pali was well known in the gypsy community for a multitude of reasons, none of which could be classified as positive.

 

“Well of course we are interested,” Besnik replied with a pleased smile. He knew his wife would be thrilled when he announced that he had found a bride for their son. “Who is she?”

 

“Her name is Christine. She’s seventeen, the perfect age to become a wife. She’s a quiet girl, very obedient, which I imagine would suit Pali well. She’s working reading fortunes for our visitors at the moment and I’m sure she would be happy to continue doing this with your clan. She also works as one of seamstresses so you could put her to work doing that if you preferred,” Danior started rolling off Christine’s attributes.

 

“She’s currently teaching our young girls how to sew. They’re all quite fond of her so I’m sure she’ll make a wonderful mother,” Nicu added.

 

“Christine,” Emilian commented. “It’s an unusual name, for a gypsy.”

 

“She also very beautiful,” Danior continued, trying to ignore Emilian’s comment. “Here,” he said walking across the caravan to open the door. He looked across the camp before sighting Christine standing near a campfire with his niece and nephew. “She’s just standing near that campfire. The one with the brown curls.”

 

Besnik joined Danior in the doorway and looked across to the group of young people. Watching the girl with the brown curls, he could see that she was slim, wasn’t overly tall, had a friendly smile and pale skin. Very pale skin.

 

“Who are her parents?” he asked suspiciously.

 

“She’s been an orphan for many years now. She’s currently living with Vadoma, who taught her how to read fortunes. You would never have met her parents,” Danior bluffed.

 

“No I doubt I would have met her parents, seeing as she’s not gypsy,” Besnik stated.

 

Danior decided it wasn’t wise to try and argue that Christine had a gypsy background. “She’s lived with the clan for over fifteen years,” he exaggerated. “She’s been raised the same way as any gypsy child, she knows all our customs and our culture. The entire clan has accepted her as one of their own.”

 

“But she’s not gypsy,” Besnik emphasised. “What is this Danior? You decided that a real gypsy daughter was too good for Pali and decided to offer us this outsider?”

 

“No, of course not,” Danior exclaimed. “Christine will make a wonderful wife for Pali.”

 

“You know exactly how rare outsider marriages are within clans. And despite Pali’s problems, he is still the son of a clan leader. He cannot be seen marrying an outsider, not matter how wonderful you believe she is,” Besnik explained.

 

“If she will make such a wonderful wife, surely you would want to keep her within your own clan,” Marko added, joining Danior and Besnik at the caravan door and looking out to Christine. “It looks like she’s close with your nephew Danior, perhaps you would prefer they were married?”

 

Danior didn’t immediately respond and Besnik jumped in, “I didn’t think so. You’ve decided that you no longer want this girl in your clan and you believed that we would be desperate enough to take her.”

 

Tamas, who had remained seated, not wanting to be involved in Danior’s attempt to sell Christine, looked up to see that Marko and Emilian had joined Besnik at the caravan entrance.

 

“This will be the end of any attempts to restore relations between our two clans Danior,” Besnik declared. “You have once again shown that you have no respect for our clan and have gravely insulted my family by offering an outsider as a bride for my son.”

 

“Surely you know that no insult was intended,” Danior tried to say smoothly.

 

“Ten years of negotiations and agreements would say otherwise. I’m sure that it goes without saying that we will be rejecting the rest of your offer as well,” Besnik said as he walked out the door and down the caravan steps.

 

“Don’t think that this is over,” Emilian sneered as he followed Besnik out of the caravan.

 

Danior stood at his caravan door and watched as the three men made their way through the camp. He wasn’t concerned about Emilian’s threats. Besnik’s clan had made similar comments in the past and nothing had ever come of it. In a way he was glad that they had rejected the offer. He didn’t want to give up Marseille and they could always use the caravans and horses. But he was still stuck with Christine, and so far no other clans had shown any interest in taking her, for similar reasons to Besnik. He knew however, even if Besnik hadn’t been desperate enough to take her for Pali, there was a man desperate enough somewhere, it would just take a bit more work to find him. He would simply need to start appealing to the very worst that the clans had to offer. 

Chapter Text

The caravan floor was littered with scraps of fabric and everyone was buried under half made quilts but the girls had been diligently working for the past five minutes so both Mala and Christine were pleased with the way the lesson was progressing. Their young charges had been taught all the basics of quilting and it was now a matter of putting everything they had learned into practise. The girls were still at the awkward stage of beginning to insert the wadding but so far there had been no disasters. Reaching across the lap of the girl sitting next to her, Mala tucked a tiny corner of wadding back between the layers of fabric before the quilt’s owner sewed it outside the quilt. “Those are very neat stitches Florica,” she commented, smiling at her.

 

“Thank you Mala,” she replied, brightening at the comment.

 

Suddenly there was an anguished squeal and Mala looked up to see that the girl next to Christine, Drina, had lost her grip on her quilt. Whilst the layers of fabric were still clutched in her hands, all the wadding had fallen out of the bottom and had now pooled around Christine and Drina’s feet.

 

“Oh dear,” Mala exclaimed, sharing a look with Christine.

 

Seeing that all the other girls had stopped working and were now staring intently at the scene, waiting for what would happen next, Christine said firmly, “Girls, please focus on your own quilts,” before turning back to Drina. “It’s alright Drina, I’ve done that as well.”

 

Drina’s lip was starting to tremble as she asked, “How will I fix it?”

 

Christine took the shell of the quilt out of Drina’s hands and studied it. Two and a half seams had already been sewn, which meant that it wasn’t going to be easy to get the wadding back in, especially in the cramped confines of the caravan. “Umm....well we’ll take it outside,” she decided. “And that way we can spread it out properly and slide everything back in.”

 

“But it’ll get dirty,” Drina sniffed.

 

“No it won’t. We’ll find a nice grassy spot so no dirt will get on it and it hasn’t rained all week, so it won’t get wet,” Christine explained.

 

“The boys will laugh at me,” said she pitifully.

 

“The boys will not laugh at you,” Christine said confidently. “The boys don’t know how to make quilts; they won’t know what has happened. And just in case, we’ll find a quiet spot to fix the quilt, alright?”

 

“Alright,” Drina agreed, reaching down to gather up the wadding before carrying it out of the caravan.

 

Christine gathered the shell and followed Drina, stopping briefly beside Mala to ask, “You’ll be alright until I get back?”

 

Mala glanced around the rest of the girls, who were all now diligently sewing, “We’ll be fine,” she grinned.

 

Drina had already found the perfect spot for them and was waiting with the wadding hanging by her side. She dropped the wadding when she saw Christine and helped her spread out the shell. Silently they gradually worked the wadding into the shell, reaching in and manipulating every bit of it to make sure that the quilt was perfectly flat with no lumps.

 

“See?” Christine smiled, “That wasn’t too difficult. Now which side were you sewing on?”

 

“That side,” Drina pointed to the right.

 

“Good,” Christine pulled a small pin cushion out of her apron and extracted some pins, dropping them into Drina’s palm. “We’ll pin it closed and then fold it up so the spot where you’re sewing is on top. Then you will be able to take it back to the caravan.”

 

“Mmm hmm,” Drina mumbled, already focusing on pinning the quilt together.  When she was finished she returned to Christine the excess pins and watched as Christine expertly folded the quilt. She gave Christine a shy hug before carefully lifting the quilt and returning to the caravan.

 

“All fixed?” Mala asked when Christine returned to the caravan.

 

“All fixed,” Christine confirmed, squeezing herself down next to Mala. “But I think we should get all the girls to pin all their seams, not just the ones they’re working on, to stop this happening again.”

 

“Hmm, good idea. We’ll do it next time, when everyone’s forgotten about today. Besides we’ve almost finished,” she added.

 

Christine nodded and returned to her original seat next to Drina. The two older girls continued to watch their charges for the next few minutes, helping them untangle knots in threads and commenting on how the girls’ work was progressing.

 

“Alright girls,” Mala announced. “I want everyone to finish the stitch they’re working on and then you can pack up.”

 

Christine grinned as the girls very carefully finished their final stitches, knowing that any mistake would keep them there longer, and hurriedly tidied up their work. With a flurry of farewells and thank yous the girls left, leaving Christine and Mala alone.

 

“Papa always says he doesn’t know how we do it,” Mala said, leaning back.

 

“Do what?”

 

“Teach eight little girls. Mama only had to teach two of us, and she said it’s a lot different when you’re teaching your own child.”

 

“Probably because she could send you to bed without any supper if you didn’t behave,” Christine said with a smirk, reminding Mala of her most hated childhood punishment.

 

“Oh, shush,” Mala scolded her friend lightly. “We should do some work on the present for Nadya and Yoska.”

 

“Where is it?” Christine asked, hauling herself up.

 

“Under Milosh’s bed,” Mala answered.

 

“You know, Yoska is Milosh’s friend and we’re not that close with Nadya,” Christine said as she reached under the bunk. “Really, he should be helping with the present.”

 

“True. He has done some work on their caravan though. Still, can you imagine Milosh trying to sew anything?”

 

Christine laughed, “I was just telling Drina that boys are terrible when it comes to sewing. Ooh here they are,” she exclaimed, pulling out a neatly folded pile of fabric. Separating out the pieces she tossed one at Mala. Quickly threading a needle and clutching it between her teeth, Mala shook out the half completed curtain and started hemming.

 

Christine had never learned how to thread a needle as quickly as Mala or her mother, but she managed to get the thread through on her second attempt. Picking up a smaller curtain she folded the top hem down so the curtain could be hung and began to sew it in place.

 

“The wedding’s only a month away,” Christine commented.

 

“I know. I think I’m only just starting to get used to the idea. I know Mama still can’t believe it,” Mala said.

 

“I can understand that,” Christine said, shaking her head. “Nobody saw it coming. Out of everyone in the clan they were the last two anyone ever expected to marry. Even Nayda’s parents didn’t really know about it until Yoska came to them to ask permission.”

 

Although Nayda and Yoska were of a similar age, they had very different personalities. Nayda was beautiful and outgoing and it was expected that she would marry a future clan leader. Yoska had been a sickly boy growing up and had never played much with the other children, however he was quite intelligent and was learning to act as one of the clan’s negotiators. The two had not spent time together as children and it was a mystery how they had had the chance to get to know each other and fall in love. However once they had announced their engagement they had become inseparable in public and it was clear to everyone how much in love they were with one another.

 

“I heard that Nayda’s papa wasn’t happy with the match, he thought that she could do better and was going to say no. Nayda was furious when he told her and she said that there wasn’t anyone better for her than Yoska. They ended up screaming at each other until her mother had to intervene. But she won in the end,” Mala explained.

 

“I can see Nayda doing that,” Christine giggled. “But I can’t see her acting that way with Yoska.”

 

“No,” Mala agreed. “She’s definitely different around him, much calmer. They’re just so in love with each other, I never seen anything like it.”

 

“Vadoma read their fortunes when they announced their engagement, they have a good future.”

 

“There will probably be a baby before their first anniversary,” Mala smiled, rotating the curtain she was holding to start on another hem.

 

“Before their first anniversary? You’re not giving them much time.” Christine raised an eyebrow.

 

“Well you’ve seen how in love they are. And the more in love a couple is, the sooner the babies come,” Mala said with a knowing smirk.

 

“Mala!” Christine gasped, faking outrage.

 

Both girls dissolved into giggles. Slowly they managed to get themselves under control and continued working on the wedding gift.

 

“It’s strange to imagine, that our friends are the ones who are now getting married and having families,” Christine said, stretching at her stitches when she saw that they were starting to gather the fabric.

 

“And of course that means that soon there will be young men wanting to court us,” Mala stated.

 

“Has anyone asked you yet? To court you, that is?” Christine said awkwardly.

 

“Do you remember when Pali asked me a few years ago?” Mala shuddered. “I said no and escaped as quickly as I could.”

 

“I remember, you were only thirteen. He couldn’t possibly have believed that your parents would have agreed. It was disturbing,” Christine recalled.

 

“I know. Which is why I left as soon as I could and avoided him for the rest of the visit.”

 

“Anyone else? Someone you wouldn’t have to run away from?” she probed further.

 

“Not really,” Mala shook her head. “Not that I would want to actually court. I can’t really imagine being married to anyone in the clan.”

 

“So who will you marry?”

 

“I don’t know. I haven’t met him yet. But he will be very handsome, and very brave. He’ll have to be from another clan, or maybe he won’t even be a gypsy!” she exclaimed.

 

Christine snorted. “Your mama would have a fit if you married someone who wasn’t a gypsy.”

 

“No because he is going to be so wonderful and we will be so in love that Mama won’t be able to help but love him and want him to marry me.”

 

“Ah, I see,” Christine said seriously, “It will be the great love of the century. A match between gypsy and outsider.”

 

“It will,” Mala confirmed, sitting up straighter, before grinning.  “But it will need to wait a little, since I haven’t met anyone like that yet.”

 

“Maybe it will happen tonight. Someone amazing will come as a visitor tonight and sweep you off your feet,” Christine predicted.

 

“Perhaps,” Mala smiled. “But what about you? Is there anyone that you would like to court you? Because I would be happy to talk with them.”

 

“I am sure you would,” Christine said, imagining Mala approaching any of the young men in the clan on her behalf.

 

“Anyone?” Mala said eagerly.

 

“No...not really.” If she was honest she had never really thought about any of the boys she grew up with as potential husbands, not when she had Erik.  And despite what had happened with Erik she couldn’t see that changing any time soon. “There was someone that I thought...but I was wrong.”

 

Sensing that this wasn’t the right topic to tease her friend about, Mala said, “I’m sorry. Are you sure? Maybe if you wait a little bit things will change?”

 

“I’m sure,” Christine nodded. “It was never going to... I don’t know.”

 

“Who was...?” Mala started. “Never mind.”

 

Christine just gave a small grateful smile and turned her attention back to her sewing.

 

Trying to lighten the mood again, Mala said, “I’ve got a better idea, you should marry Milosh.”

 

“What?”

 

“No, just think about it for a moment. You two already love each other; you know everything there is to know about each other.”

 

“Because we’re friends,” Christine interrupted.

 

“Details,” Mala dismissed Christine’s comment with a wave of her hand. “Feelings can always change.”

 

“I don’t think they will ever change that much,” Christine said wryly.

 

“They could,” Mala insisted. “And I’m not the only who thinks so.”

 

“Who else?” Christine demanded. She knew after overhearing Danior’s conversation about her future that there were people that thought she and Milosh wanted to marry but she assumed that these were some of the older gypsies. Did Mala know of gypsies their own age who thought the same?

 

But Mala ignored the question. “Besides, if the two of you got married, then we would be sisters. I’ve always wanted a sister and you would be absolutely perfect.”

 

“You always wanted a baby sister to play with,” Christine retorted. “I’m not a baby.”

 

“This is even more perfect then. You marry Milosh and become my sister. Then you two will have babies and I can play with them,” Mala teased, knowing that this suggestion would really get a rise out of Christine.

 

As Mala knew she would, Christine lost the battle and went bright red at this final suggestion, “Mala! I’m not....with Milosh.”

 

“Why not?” she whinged.

 

“Because...he’s Milosh,” Christine said inarticulately. “He’s like my brother. I couldn’t marry him.”

 

“Then why are you blushing?” Mala countered.

 

Christine paused for a moment, “Because you are making such outrageous suggestions.”

 

“It’s not an outrageous suggestion,” Mala protested. “It’s perfectly reasonably that a boy and a girl who played together as children would grow up to fall in love and marry.”

 

“Maybe,” she conceded. “But it’s not going to be me and Milosh.”

 

“I think that you’re protesting too much. You know that I can talk to Milosh on your behalf. And Vadoma and our parents would be thrilled.”

 

“And you’re....”

 

Christine was interrupted when the door to the caravan swung open and Milosh entered.

 

“Oh Milosh, perfect!” Mala squealed, clapping her hands in delight. “We were just talking about you.”

 

Milosh surveyed the scene in the caravan, his sister looking wickedly gleeful and Christine looking embarrassed and ready to kill Mala. “Do I want to know?” he asked Christine.

 

“Not really, no,” Christine shook her head. “But I don’t think that will stop Mala from telling you.”

 

Mala grinned, “I was just saying to Christine how wonderful it would be if the two of you were to marry.”

 

Milosh immediately flushed at the suggestion, “Christine is like a sister, I couldn’t marry her.”

 

“See!” Christine pointed at Milosh.

 

“It’s a pity that we don’t have an older brother,” Milosh directed at his twin. “Then Christine could marry him and we could have her for a sister.”

 

“That would be nice,” Mala agreed. “But we don’t and I want her for a sister so you’ll have to marry her.”

 

“No.”

 

“Why?” Mala pestered. “Is there someone else you want to marry?”

 

“Well...no,” Milosh stammered. “But that doesn’t mean I should marry Christine.”

 

“Perhaps he’s waiting for his great love to come to the camp,” Christine said pointedly.

 

“Exactly. What?” Milosh turned back to Christine in confusion at where the direction of the conversation had gone.

 

“No,” Mala shook her head. “We can’t both have great loves. Milosh will have to marry someone in the camp.”

 

“What if he meets someone before you do?”

 

“That won’t happen,” Mala said confidently.

 

“How can you be sure?” Christine asked.

 

“Because it’s my destiny. It’s been read in the tarot.”

 

“Mala, I read the cards. And I know Vadoma’s never done that sort of reading for you.”

 

“Girls!” Milosh interrupted the argument. “What are you two talking about?”

 

“Mala believes that she’s going to fall in love with an outsider and that it will be a great love and the clan will tell the story of it for generations to come,” Christine explained, embellishing the story slightly.

 

“That’s not quite true,” Mala said, holding up her finger. “I never said that the clan was going to tell the story of it.”

 

“But the rest of it is true?” Milosh grinned.

 

“Yes,” Christine answered for her friend, grinning back.

 

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Mala defended. “I’m young enough that I don’t need to say yes to any man who is interested, I can afford to be selective.”

 

“Mama would be furious if you wanted to marry an outsider,” Milosh pointed out.

 

“I said that,” Christine mentioned.

 

“Yes, and as I explained to you Christine, this man will be completely wonderful and will win Mama over and she will want him to marry me.”

 

“Ah, you have it all worked out I see,” Milosh teased.

 

“Exactly, so now we just need to work out you,” Mala replied.

 

“Work me out?”

 

“Yes. If you won’t marry Christine then we’ll just have to find someone else for you,” Mala said nonchalantly.

 

“Really?” he questioned.

 

“Absolutely,” Christine agreed with a telling grin. “I’m sure we’ll be able to find someone for you.”

 

“This is going to come back to haunt you,” Milosh said, knowing what the two girls were about to do. “Trust me.”

 

“Well let’s see,” Mala began. “There’s Lyuba.”

 

Milosh relaxed slightly at this suggestion. Lyuba was a girl around Christine’s age and was quite nice, although he suspected that she was about to announce her engagement to an older man in another clan.

 

“She’s nice,” Christine agreed, echoing Milosh’s thoughts. “But I think she’s being courted by someone in another clan.”

 

“That’s a shame,” Mala said, sounding like she already knew it. “How about Mirela?”

 

“Too old,” Christine shook her head.

 

“She’s only five years older than Milosh. Besides if someone doesn’t marry her soon...” Mala trailed off.

 

“That’s not very nice,” Milosh stated.

 

“Aishe.” Christine suggested. “She wouldn’t be too old.”

 

“True but she already has three children,” Mala pointed out.

 

“I don’t think I’m quite what she’s looking for,” Milosh said. Aishe had been very young when she was married and her husband had died shortly after she had had their third child. It was a well known fact amongst the clans that she was looking for another husband, preferable an older one who wouldn’t expect a large family.

 

Mala giggled to herself.

 

“What?” Milosh asked, knowing that she was laughing at him.

 

“How about Tsura?” she laughed.

 

“Absolutely not. No way,” Milosh said before Christine had a chance to say anything. Tsura was an elderly woman, widowed, who was always commenting on how handsome all the young men were.

 

“I don’t think this is going to work,” Christine said sadly, although she was fighting to hold back a grin.

 

“Thank god,” Milosh muttered, mostly to himself.

 

“Besides we don’t need to worry about this yet anyway. We’re still young,” Christine said.

 

“Exactly,” Milosh agreed, relieved that they had stopped making suggestions.

 

“Imagine how much life will change, for all of us, when one of us gets married,” Mala observed.

 

“It’s been the three of us for so long,” Milosh added. “I can’t imagine anyone else joining us, and I don’t want to lose either of you.”

 

Both the girls flashed smiles at Milosh at this comment.

 

“I think it needs to be just the three of us for a while longer,” Mala stated, the others nodding in agreement.

 

“But if you two aren’t married by the time Milosh is twenty one, you’re marrying each other,” Mala said, determined to have the last word. 

Chapter Text

The camp was just starting to come to life as Christine returned from her lesson with Erik. Walking past the caravan that the twins shared with their parents she could see Talaitha sticking her head out the door to check how cold it was. A group of the men were due to travel to the nearest town that morning to purchase supplies and they were making the final adjustments to their carts and horses. Only the hardiest of children had ventured outside to play, although Christine could see two of the girls from her sewing class in amongst the rabble of boys. The camp dogs were out begging for scraps of food.

 

She could still feel the energy rushing through her from her lesson and the melodies still sang in her mind. Erik had her sing chorus pieces from various operas this morning. Although they didn’t provide the vocal challenges that arias and duets did, Erik said that it was important that she learned about all aspects of an opera, not just the major roles. He would still talk about how she was one day going to be the greatest soprano France had ever seen. Sometimes she would wonder how he thought that she would achieve this, travelling in a gypsy camp and never singing for the visitors. But she could hear the joy and pride in his voice when he spoke of it and she didn’t want to disappoint him, so didn’t say anything.  He had sung with her this morning and she briefly thought of the thrill that she always got when he first started singing. He had a rich, masculine voice that Christine adored, but when he sung it was absolutely beautiful. She felt that she could listen to him talk and sing forever, and never get bored.

 

Christine made a detour to one of the large communal tents used for food storage and gathered some day old bread in two bowls, some milk and a small spoonful of sugar. Taking the ingredients back out of the tent she settled by one of the campfires to heat the milk. When it was warm enough she poured the milk over the two bowls of bread and sprinkled them with sugar. Carefully balancing the bowls, she walked back to the caravan she shared with Vadoma. She placed one bowl down on the steps so she could open the door and retrieved it before walking inside, pushing the door closed with her back.

 

“Vadoma, are you awake?” she whispered.

 

“Yes sedre,” Vadoma responded from under the pile of quilts on her bed.

 

“I’ve made bryta,” Christine said as she sat on the side of Vadoma’s bed and watched her extract herself from the quilts. Handing over Vadoma’s bowl, Christine began sipping spoonfuls of sweet milk, leaving her bread until last.

 

“You didn’t have to make me breakfast Christine, I could have fetched something myself,” Vadoma scolded gently.

 

“I know, but I was making some for myself and it’s just as easy to make it for two,” Christine shrugged.

 

“Alright, what’s wrong?” Vadoma asked.

 

“Why would anything be wrong?” Christine replied, taking a mouthful of bread.

 

“You only make bryta when you’re upset about something,” Vadoma said knowingly. She leaned over to place her bowl on a small table near the bed. “So, what is it?”

 

Christine stared into her bowl for a few moments before starting, “Do you remember the day you convinced Danior to let me stay with the clan?”

 

“Of course, how could I forget? That day changed our lives.”

 

“I know that you remember the day, but do you remember exactly what you said to Danior, to convince him to let me stay?” Christine probed.

 

“Not word for word, but I remember the general conversation,” Vadoma responded.

 

“You said to Danior that I was to stay with the clan for the time being and that the matter would be reconsidered when I was old enough to take care of myself. I know that nothing has been said about it in years, but I’m at an age now where I could take care of myself, if I had to. There are people close to my age in the clan who are starting families, Milosh’s friend is engaged. It wouldn’t be unusual if I were to get married or even leave the clan,” Christine said, poking at her bread.

 

“Christine, do you want to leave the clan?” Vadoma asked cautiously.

 

“No!” she cried. “That’s exactly it. I want to stay here, this is my home. But I know that I’m not a real gypsy and that I’m old enough to go out on my own.”

 

“You are right. This is your home,” Vadoma emphasised. “What I said back then, I didn’t intend that we would ever talk about you having to leave the clan when you were old enough. I only said that to convince Danior to let you stay. It doesn’t matter that you weren’t born gypsy, this clan is your family and you will have a place here for as long as you want.”

 

“But Danior still doesn’t like me being here and he’s the leader of the clan, he could send me away if he wanted to. He could arrange a marriage for me with a man from another clan and then I would have to leave.” Christine didn’t tell Vadoma that Danior was already planning this for fear that Vadoma would immediately go and confront the man. As much as Christine would have liked for someone to argue against this plan on her behalf, she knew it would raise some difficult questions as to how they knew of the plan.

 

“Danior would have a very difficult time trying to send you away from this clan and he knows it. As I said, this clan is your family and you have so many people here who love you and couldn’t bear to see you leave. Danior would have a fight on his hands if he ever tried, even if most of the clan do believe he is a wonderful leader.” Vadoma shook her head at the thought. “I love you so much Christine and I am proud of the woman you are becoming. I couldn’t have loved you more if you were my own flesh and blood daughter. As far as I am concerned, and as far as the clan is concerned, you are my daughter and nothing Danior or anyone else ever says will change that.” Vadoma took Christine’s bowl from her, placing it on the table next to her own and gathered the younger woman in her arms. “I don’t care if you are old enough to get married or leave the clan; I’m not ready for you to go.”

 

“Thank you Vadoma. I love you too,” Christine whispered, holding onto Vadoma tightly.

 

“When Danior first became leader of the clan, it was more common for marriages to be arranged between clans. But it’s not something that happens much anymore. Occasionally the sons and daughters of clan leaders will have arranged marriages to secure ties between two clans but nearly everyone else is married to someone within their own clan and they will choose who they marry. Even if he wanted to try and marry you out of the clan, Danior would have trouble finding a clan willing to provide a groom because you aren’t the daughter of a clan leader. Arranged marriages between clans are part of the old ways, and although Danior believes very strongly in the old ways, other clan leaders do not. But you also need to remember that Danior is getting older, he won’t be clan leader forever. No doubt the next clan leader will see you as part of the clan and will want you to stay,” Vadoma explained.

 

“But Danior could be leader for many years still. And if he was desperate enough to get rid of me I’m sure he could find a husband somewhere. A completely vile one that didn’t care if the bride was unwilling,” Christine cried, somewhat hysterically.

 

“Christine that is not going to happen,” Vadoma said firmly, wanting to shake some sense into the girl. “If he ever tries I want you to go around telling everyone in the clan that you don’t want to get married. I told you, you have so many people in this clan who love you; they are not going to let Danior force you into an unhappy and unwilling marriage. And I promise you, that I will never let you marry someone that you don’t love.”

 

“Mmm,” Christine mumbled in response.

 

“Besides,” Vadoma said, a teasing note entering her voice, “I think there will be many disappointed people in this clan if you marry someone other than Milosh.”

 

“What?” Christine gapped. How many people though that she and Milosh were going to get married?

 

“You and Milosh,” Vadoma said patiently. “Everyone can see how close you two are and how much time you spend together. It’s only natural that marriage would be a consideration. You would make such a handsome couple and you are such good friends with Mala, it would be wonderful if you were sisters.”

 

“Vadoma,” Christine said indignantly. “You don’t seriously think that I want to marry Milosh, do you?”

 

“Of course not sedre, I’m teasing,” Vadoma grinned. “I know how you feel about Milosh, although that’s not to say that I wouldn’t be thrilled if the two of you did decide that you wanted something more from your relationship.” She looked over to see Christine turning slightly pink. “But there are people in the clan who don’t know you or Milosh as well as I do and would be very happy to see you two wed.”

 

“I could never marry Milosh, he’s like my brother,” Christine said, retrieving her bowl from the table.

 

“That’s what Talaitha once said to me about Luca,” Vadoma mused.

 

“Vadoma...” Christine said warningly.

 

“I’m just saying,” Vadoma protested innocently. “Unless of course, there is someone else?”

 

Vadoma watched as Christine’s face turned bright red. “Ah, so there is someone.”

 

“I...uh...umm,” Christine responded inelegantly.

 

There was suddenly a cracking noise outside that caused both women to abandon their conversation and turn to the door of the caravan.

 

“What was that?” Christine asked.

 

“I’m not sure.” Vadoma leaned down to the end of her bed to fetch a shawl hanging over the end.  Wrapping it around her shoulders she slipped out of bed and walked over the door to peer outside. Christine followed her to the door and looked over her shoulder out into the camp.

 

“I can’t see anything,” Christine said. There were gypsies rushing around, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

 

“No, neither can I. It was probably nothing.” Vadoma took a step back in order to close the door. “Wait, what was that?”

 

“Where?” Christine asked, scanning the camp more intently.

 

“The tent over there, to the left. There’s someone in there.” As she spoke a strange man walked out of the tent carrying a large sack. They watched as he turned back and threw the lantern he was carrying into the tent. Nothing happened at first but then tendrils of smoke starting drifting through the open flap of the tent.

 

“He set the tent on fire!” Christine exclaimed in a loud whisper. “We have to go and tell someone.”

 

“No I need you to stay here,” Vadoma instructed, closing the door behind her and quickly moving back to her bed and getting dressed.

 

“What? Why? What’s going on Vadoma?” Christine had a feeling that the older woman knew what was happening.

 

“I recognised that man. He’s from Besnik’s clan. They’re attacking the camp. I want you to stay here where it’s safe,” Vadoma said buttoning upon her boots.

 

“Why would they be attacking us?” Christine asked nervously. “Are you sure they are attacking us. Maybe it’s just a thief.”

 

“I don’t know. But I know what an attack sounds like.” There was more noise coming from outside the caravan by now, including gun shots and the sound of swords hitting swords. “I need to go make sure all the children are safe.”

 

“Well let me come,” Christine said making a move to follow Vadoma out the door.

 

“No. I don’t want you out there Christine. Hopefully they won’t come in here. But I want you to keep watch. If you see any strangers approaching the caravan I want you to get out.” At the panicked look on Christine’s face, Vadoma reassured, “Gypsies will rarely enter a caravan like ours during an attack, I’m sure you’ll be safe here. You just need to stay vigilant.”

 

“Of course,” Christine said, trying to sound confident. “I’ll be fine.”

 

“That’s my girl,” Vadoma said, giving Christine a kiss on the forehead before rushing out the door.

 

Christine quickly bolted the door shut and opened one of the small windows to the side of the door to watch the attack. More strange men had flooded the camp by now and Christine could see one or two women she didn’t recognise amongst them. They appeared to be ransacking the camp, rushing into tents and caravans and taking whatever valuables and useable supplies they could find before torching or vandalising the tent or caravan. Christine swore under her breath when she saw a woman rushing across the camp carrying bolts of fabric that she and Mala were currently using to create work shirts for the men.

 

Besnik’s men seemed to be carrying out a raid, focusing on stealing their supplies and destroying their caravans and tents, rather than attacking anyone. But the clan couldn’t allow Besnik to do this, without their supplies and shelter they would be as good as dead after one night in this weather. The men were attacking the strangers, threatening them with guns and swords and Christine quickly realised that Besnik’s men were ferocious and brutal when provoked. She stifled a scream when she saw Tamas run through the shoulder with a sword. Not wanting to watch him bleed to death, Christine quickly look away, her focus drifting across the black caravan.

 

Erik.

 

She didn’t like to think about it but she knew how valuable Erik was to Danior. Even though the black caravan wasn’t marked it would just be a matter of time before one of Besnik’s gypsies stumbled across him. It would be great prize for any camp to have, the Living Corpse, and Christine was sure that Besnik would know that. But the men that found their way into the black caravan might not. There would be no way for Erik to escape that cage if someone broke in intent on attacking him. She had to get there first.

 

She closed the window and hurried to her bed to grab her cloak. Wrapping it around her shoulders, she rushed out the door, barely stopping to pull it shut behind her.

 

Erik crouched low on the caravan floor, face up against the back wall as he observed the camp being attacked. The attack was in full swing, with the strange gypsies evenly occupied looting whatever they could find or fending off attacks from Danior’s men. He watched as a group of women ran out from one of the caravans to extinguish the campfires that were still burning. It was a smart move, denying Besnik’s men a source of fire to use on the tents and caravans. A stray child sat crying under the wheel of a caravan but Vadoma quickly swooped in and gathered the child up before running for a caravan.

 

He flinched as another series of bullets started to pelt the caravan. He scrambled over to the base of the coffin to take shelter and waited for the assault to cease. Looking around the side of the caravan he could see that the bullets had been concentrated in the one area, tearing large holes in two or three of the planks of wood that made up the back wall.

 

Erik crawled back to his spot against the back wall, being careful to stay away from the new holes in the wall lest anyone catch sight of him and think that there was something worth coming after in the black caravan. He was curious as to why the camp was being attacked. He knew Danior’s actions had caused friction with other clans in the past, the gypsies tended to be a little more open in their conversations when they believed that the only thing listening was an unintelligent monster, but he had never known another clan to attack before.

 

A flash of brown curls suddenly caught his attention. Christine was running across the camp. What was she doing? Why wasn’t she in her caravan? It wasn’t safe for her to be running through the camp when they were under attack! Vadoma shouldn’t have left her alone, Christine was her responsibility. Erik knew that Christine would have returned to the caravan after their lesson this morning and that Vadoma was usually still in bed when she returned. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed since Christine had left.

 

As she walked past the extinguished main campfire Christine tripped over the hem of her skirt and fell to her hands and knees. Erik counted the seconds it took her to get back onto her feet, feeling that she was in even more danger in such a vulnerable position. The fear and adrenaline had obviously got to Christine, because it was taking longer than it should have for her to stand and she tripped on her skirt again.

 

At last she was back on her feet and she started running again. But she had barely taken two steps when a tall, slightly overweight young gypsy caught sight of her and grabbed her by the wrist. Erik had already seen this gypsy fight off an attack from one of Danior’s men and knew that he was a strong and vicious fighter. The gypsy threw Christine up against a post but she managed to wriggle free before he was able to pin her. As Erik watched the gypsy lunge at Christine, trying to pull her to the ground, he felt the fury building up inside. He was going to kill this gypsy, for touching his Christine, for daring to scare her. He looked at the holes in the caravan walls. He pushed against the planks with his hands, using his weight to try and push them off the side of the caravan. Realising that wasn’t going to work he started kicking at them, needing only to create a hole big enough for him to slip through. He had to get to Christine.

 

Chapter Text

If Erik had been in a normal state of mind, he would have been grateful that the gypsies had provided him with boots, although if they had known how he was using them they would have promptly taken them away. He continued to kick at the wall, his only thought being that he had to get to Christine. One plank had already given way but there still wasn’t enough space for Erik to squeeze his thin body through. He switched legs, the knowledge that he had already broken through one plank giving him an extra burst of energy to focus on the others. Christine was still screaming for help but it seemed that nobody was coming to her assistance. Finally two more planks gave way and fell to the ground. Erik wasted no time in crawling under the cross bar and slipping to the ground.

 

He was paralysed the moment he left the black caravan, the sunlight was blinding. Although it was a dull and overcast morning, Erik could barely remember the last time he had been out in daylight. Over twenty years locked in a cage had made his eyes painfully sensitive to light and he automatically brought his hands up to cover his eyes. Even with the shadows that his sack caused it was still far too bright and when he tried to open his eyes he couldn’t see much.

 

Christine screamed again and he starting running blindly towards her. His sack slipped down over his eyes and he fumbled to straighten it. The light was becoming less painful and squinting he could make out that Christine was on her hands and knees trying to crawl away from the gypsy who was looming above her. With a snarl Erik rushed at the gypsy, leaping forward to knock him to the ground. Erik tried to use his weight to pin the gypsy to the ground, giving Christine a chance to escape, but his lean frame was no impediment to the heavy gypsy who easily knocked him off.

 

The gypsy obviously viewed Erik as nothing more than a mere annoyance, easily ignored, and immediately turning his attention back to Christine.

 

“Why are you fighting me?” Pali asked in a gentle tone that didn’t match his aggressive posture. “My clan is going to defeat yours, look around. My father’s the leader of my clan, he’s not going to deny me anything I want from here. It will be much easier for you if you just come with me now.” He reached down and stroked her cheek, “Although if you want to fight me, that can be fun too. For me at least,” he leered.

 

Christine shrieked and tried to move further away. The gypsy leaned over and grabbing her arm flung her onto her back. Seeing his opportunity, Erik crept up behind him and clutched tightly at the gypsy’s long coarse hair, pulling him backwards. Pali, momentarily stunned, went along with the backwards movement. Erik didn’t hesitate, and not giving the gypsy a moment to regain his bearings, started punching him in the face.

 

It didn’t take long for Pali to stand up and start fighting back, swinging around to return Erik’s punches. He took hold of Erik’s arm, twisting it around his back and forcing him to the ground. He followed Erik down, preparing to continue punching him but Erik quickly rolled away and got to his feet. He managed to land one kick on the gypsy’s lower back before he too got to his feet. The two men circled each other for a moment before the gypsy rushed at Erik, tackling him to the ground. They started wrestling for control, punching whatever part of their opponent that they could find, face, chest, legs. Pali tore at the sack covering Erik’s head, in an effort to see where he was landing his punches. Erik kicked and kneed him, aiming for his lower back and groin, knowing from past experience how painful it would be. The gypsy landed a kick on Erik’s chest, pushing him backwards and winding him. As he fell backwards Pali jumped forward, straddling him and continuing to punch him around his face. Erik managed to punch him in the throat, dazing him long enough to wrap his hands around his neck and starting to squeeze. He watched as the gypsy ineffectually clawed at his hands, trying to get a grip on them to pull them away. But the gypsy’s fingers were too thick and he couldn’t fit them between Erik’s fingers and his own neck. Pali’s attempts grew more feeble and Erik could feel more and more of the gypsy’s weight starting to rest on him as he gradually lost consciousness. When Erik saw the gypsy’s eyes roll back into his head, he let go and with a grunt of effort, push the gypsy off him. 

 

Erik only gave himself a few seconds to recover, flexing his aching hands and wincing when he realised that the gypsy had broken open a cut on his back left by a whip a few weeks earlier. Turning over he looked at Christine. She was still on her back where the gypsy had thrown her but she had propped herself up with her elbows to see what was happening. Physically she looked unharmed, although Erik was sure that she would be bruised where the gypsy had grabbed and thrown her and he fervently wished that he had been able to get to her before the gypsy had been able to touch her. But the worst part was that she looked absolutely terrified, staring wide eyed at the gypsy who was lying where most of the fight had taken place. Hauling himself up, Erik started moving towards Christine.

 

When the fight had ended Christine found herself staring at the unconscious Pali, unable to tear her gaze away. A flash of movement caught her eye and she saw that the other man was moving towards her. He was crawling towards her, but his head was down and she couldn’t see his face. He looked to be tall and thin. He was wearing a shirt that was far too big for him and looked like it had never been washed. His hair was long and hung around his face and Christine would have struggled to say what colour it was, a sort of non descript mixture of grey and light brown. Christine didn’t recognise him; he didn’t look like any of the men in the clan. As he got closer, he looked up at her and Christine screamed.

 

There was something horribly wrong with his face. The left side looked like it was relatively normal, possibly handsome even, although it was covered in blood from the fight and there were small scars across his cheek and forehead. The right side was grotesque. The eye drooped down the cheek and the nose seemed to collapse in on itself. His top lip was distorted and impossibly thick. The skin on the side of his face was red, as though it was very thin and you could see through to the flesh underneath. In some spots it seemed as if there was no skin at all, only raw flesh.

 

She started scooting backwards, pulling herself along with her arms. She didn’t want to turn her back on this creature long enough to get to her feet and she didn’t dare stop moving.

“Christine, wait. Are you alright? Are you hurt?” the creature called, reaching out to her. On its hands and knees it was able to move faster than Christine and soon it had caught up to her and was hovering above her.

 

“Please don’t hurt me,” she whimpered, feeling entirely trapped.

 

“Christine. I’m not going to hurt you, you know that. I just want to know that you are alright.” The creature was talking as though he knew her, and she knew him.

 

Erik didn’t understand why Christine still looked so terrified. The gypsy was unconscious, he wasn’t able to hurt her anymore. She knew that he would never hurt her, he just wanted to make sure that she was safe and unharmed. At that moment the wind picked up and Erik felt a breeze against his bare face.

 

His face. The gypsy must have pulled off his sack when they were fighting and he hadn’t noticed. No wonder Christine was terrified, she had no idea what he looked liked and to suddenly be confronted with his hideous face after being attacked by the gypsy, anyone would be scared. He had never wanted her to know what he looked like and had always promised himself that if she did see him in the light, his sack would stay firmly in place.

 

Sill on his hands and knees he slammed one hand up to his face in an attempt to cover the disfigurement. “Christine, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you could see...But you know that I would never hurt you, I just wanted to keep you safe from that gypsy. It’s me Christine, Erik. Christine I promise that you’re safe now, the gypsy can’t hurt you. My face...I know it looks hideous. I never wanted you to know. Christine, say something please,” he begged.

 

Even once the man had covered his face with his hand, Christine could still see what it looked like in her mind. She wasn’t paying any attention to what he was saying, still imagining that face looming above her.

 

“Christine, Christine.” The man kept repeating her name again and again, desperately, and it started to penetrate her thoughts.

 

“Christine, please, Christine.” It sounded so familiar, and comfortable. She knew this voice, she had heard it before, but this person was a stranger to her. She would remember if she had met anyone who looked like that. But the way he was saying her name, it was as though she were the most important person in the world.

 

Memories started drifting across her mind, various conversations that she had been a part of or heard over the years. Half a face, raw flesh, the main attraction, don’t hurt it too much, like it’s nose had been smashed in, how does it eat, I dare you to go in, dead six months, a coffin for a bed, the Living Corpse. Erik.

 

This was her Erik, sitting in front of her, pitifully trying to cover his face. She tried to will her heart to slow down. She was safe with Erik, he would never hurt her, she knew this. There was no-one she trusted more in the world than him. Tears started slowly rolling down her cheeks. She had known for years now that Erik was the Living Corpse and that he was kept in the black caravan to be put on display for visitors. But it was not something they had discussed and she had rarely thought about it but having him sit in front of her like this suddenly made it terrifyingly real. Every time she had brought bandages and alcohol to the caravan it had been to clean wounds inflicted upon him because of his face. She choked back a sob as Erik continued to call her name.

 

“Christine, I’m sorry. You were never supposed to see. Just please tell me that you are alright. I’ll go away and you’ll never have to see me again, I’ll never even talk to you I promise, just answer me please!” Erik cried. 

 

“Erik?” she asked tentatively.

 

“Yes,” he said, struggling to hold his weight up with one arm. He was resting on his right arm and his shoulder was starting to burn. But he wasn’t willing to let Christine see his face again and so he put up with the pain. “The gypsy, did he hurt you?”

 

“No,” Christine shook her head. “I’m alright. He didn’t hurt me.” Pushing off her elbows, she got into a sitting position, inadvertently moving closer to Erik. “He was so strong. I tried to fight him off. I kept calling for help but nobody heard me,” she whispered. “You did. You heard me and you came to help me. How did...” She suddenly noticed that his right arm was starting to shake from the pressure of holding his body up. “He hurt you. You need to lie down.” She reached for his left hand, intending to lower it from his face so he could redistribute his weight.

 

“No! I can’t let you...” Erik said, pulling back just enough for Christine to realise that he didn’t want to be touched.

 

“Can’t let me what?” she asked, looking down at the ground.

 

“I can’t let you touch me,” he replied in a hollow voice.

 

“Why not? You’re hurt, you need help,” Christine questioned, slightly hurt.

 

“It wouldn’t be right for me to ask that of you.” Hoping to end the conversation, Erik shifted himself into a sitting position. He very much wanted to massage his shoulder to try and minimise the pain that was currently shooting through it but he couldn’t expose Christine to his face again.

 

“You’re not asking, I’m offering,” she replied. She hated herself for the relief that she felt when Erik had moved into a sitting position. Although she had been offering to help him move, she had been mentally bracing herself to see his face again.

 

“It doesn’t matter. Someone like you shouldn’t have to touch a thing like me.” He had seen the relief in her eyes when she had realised she wouldn’t need to move his hand away from his face.

 

“Don’t say that.” Christine had heard the self loathing in his voice. “You’re injured,” she repeated, a bit more forcefully. “Let me help you. I’ve always helped you in the past. Nothing’s changed.”

 

She was in shock, he told himself. Her camp was being raided around them, she had just been attacked by a gypsy and she had been exposed to his hideous face. She wasn’t thinking clearly. Once she had a bit of time she would realise what he was and decide that she didn’t want to be near him anymore. He had always hoped that if Christine ever did see his face their friendship would be sufficiently strong that she would be able to see past his face, but now that it had happened he knew that it had been a foolish dream. Nothing could survive the horror of his face.

 

“What do you need?” It was the same question Christine always asked when she came to the black caravan and found him injured.

 

“My...my sack,” Erik asked. “Where is it?”

 

“Your sack? Erik what are you talking about?” Christine asked, confused.

 

“A sack. I use it to cover my, uh...” Erik gestured towards his head.

 

“Oh.” Christine suddenly realised what he was talking around. Getting up on her knees she scanned the immediate vicinity and saw something that looked like it could be Erik’s sack on the other side of Pali, who was still unconscious. Getting to her feet she quickly darted to the other side of the gypsy and retrieved the sack before rushing back to Erik and kneeling in front of him.

 

Erik greedily snatched the sack from her hands.

 

Appreciating that Erik would want some privacy, Christine intently studied the hem on her skirt.

 

“You can look now,” Erik announced.

 

Christine felt the tears welling in her eyes again as saw Erik sitting there with a sack covering his head. “Erik...you shouldn’t...”

 

“I have to,” he said harshly.

 

“Erik, you do know that...I don’t care,” she finished quickly.

 

There it was. She had realised that she didn’t want to have him near her anymore. He would never talk to her again, never hear her sing, never see her smile.

 

“About your face I mean,” she clarified. “I’ve known for a long time that Danior was putting you on display as the Living Corpse and it didn’t stop me seeing you. I don’t want you to leave me just because I’ve seen your face.”

 

“Christine I will never leave you. Not unless you want me to,” Erik interrupted.

 

“That’s good,” she smiled. “Because I don’t want you to leave.” Erik’s heart started to flutter back to life.

 

Erik sat there, content for the moment to just watch Christine and marvel at the fact that she still wanted him to stay, even after she had seen his face. Even though she couldn’t see his face, Christine could still feel his eyes watching her. She shifted self consciously. Looking away from Erik she gazed around the camp. Some of the tents and caravans were still smouldering, the gypsies having quickly moved to extinguish them as soon as Besnik’s men had lit them. There were wounded from both clans strewed throughout the camp. Danior’s men were being attended to, whilst Besnik’s men were left lying there, the rest of the clan having been run off. The attack was over.

 

“I want a complete inventory,” Danior barked out. “We need to know how much those bastards took.” Danior’s voice pulled Erik out of his contemplation of Christine. He quickly glanced around, trying to find the clan leader.

 

“And make sure all those fires are completely out,” Danior ordered. It sounded as though he was on the other side of a row of nearby tents.

 

Erik knew that he couldn’t be found out of the black caravan. His punishment would be swift and harsh and Danior wouldn’t care that Christine was there to witness it. Besnik’s unconscious gypsy could also cause problems, especially if he was telling the truth about being Besnik’s son. No one would expect that Christine had rendered the large man unconscious and she would be asked who was responsible. Neither of them could be found here.

 

“Christine we need to leave,” Erik said, getting to his feet. “Danior’s coming and he can’t find us here.”

 

“What? Where is he?” Christine exclaimed, looking frantically around for Danior. She also knew what was likely to happen to Erik if he was discovered out of the black caravan.

 

“Just on the other side of those tents,” he hissed. “If we head to that patch of trees over there he won’t be able to see us.”

 

“Alright, should I go first?” Christine stood near to Erik.

 

“No, I’ll go. We need to stay down and not attract any attention.” Standing this close to Erik Christine could see his eyes through the holes in his sack and noticed they were a pale blue.

 

With a final glance at Christine Erik took off towards the trees, Christine close on his heels. 

Chapter Text

Christine huddled into the small hollow made by the roots of the ancient tree in an attempt to keep warm. Her cloak helped but today wasn’t a day that she would have chosen to spend outside. She looked across at Erik who was standing out in the open, keeping watch in a shirt that Christine could tell was not very thick. She didn’t understand how he wasn’t shivering.

 

“I normally would have cleaned the caravan by now,” she observed, looking up at the sky.

 

“Mmm,” Erik murmured, taking a few steps closer to the tree line to check that no gypsies were nearby.

 

“What happens now?” she asked, teeth chattering slightly.

 

“You’ll go back to the camp.” Erik had his back to Christine but he turned his head to face her. “No one will suspect that you had anything to do with that gypsy. You can say that you had to run when the attack started and that you got lost in the confusion.”

 

“What about you?” Christine questioned, looking intently up at him.

 

“I don’t know. I won’t...I can’t just walk back to the camp and let the gypsies put me back in that cage. I haven’t been outside of that caravan in years but I won’t let them win,” he ground out.

 

“So you’ll leave me,” she murmured sadly.

 

“Christine, I...” he turned around to face her and watched as she bowed her head. This was his chance, his heart whispered, he could take Christine away from the camp and have a life with her. He could show her how much he loved her and maybe in time she would forget his face. A life on the run, his mind argued, away from her family. Only weeks ago he had listened to her fears of being taken away from the clan, away from the friends and family that she had and now he wanted to do just that. He truly was selfish.

 

“It’s alright,” she continued weakly. “I know you can’t stay here just for me. You can’t go back to the caravan. But I could come with you.”

 

“What? Christine, no.” Erik was shocked.

 

“Let me come with you Erik, please. You’ve done so much for me, let me do this for you. I can help you.”

 

For a brief moment he considered accepting her offer, after all his heart said, she was offering, she wanted to go with him. “Christine you can’t. You have a life in this camp. Your friends and family are here.”

 

She knew he was right. But how could she just let him walk out of her life? She didn’t think she could bear it. “But you’re my...I need you in my life,” she begged.

 

There was a rustling in some nearby bushes and they both immediately turned towards the sound.

 

“What was that?” Christine asked softly.

 

“It was probably just some birds. But I’ll go check,” Erik said, walking towards the sound.

 

“Wait, Erik!” Christine called. She immediately covered her mouth when she realised how loudly she had spoken. “Sorry. Just...don’t leave without saying goodbye,” she asked.

 

Erik simply nodded and darted off into the undergrowth.

 

He carefully tiptoed to the area the sound had come from, getting closer to the camp. The rustling continued and Erik clenched his fists. A small bird hopped out of the foliage, searching for food. Erik’s posture immediately relaxed and he walked away from the bird. Hearing conversation coming from the camp, he immediately dropped to the ground, hiding behind a fallen log.

 

“Tamas has been found,” a male voice announced. “He’s been injured.”

 

“Damn.” Erik recognised the next voice as Danior. “How badly?”

 

“Sword to the shoulder. It was a clean cut but he’s lost a lot of blood. They think they’ve found him in time but it’s going to be a long recovery,” the voice replied.

 

“Brilliant. I was counting on him to help us salvage what we could after this. I don’t suppose you could do much could you Nicu?” Danior asked.

 

“I’m not too good with numbers, you know that Danior. Ask your brother, he should be able to help,” Nicu suggested.

 

“Maybe,” Danior said half heartedly. “What else have you discovered?”

 

“The fires to some of the tents weren’t as bad as we first thought, but they will need to be aired out for a few days before we’re able to start using them again. The caravans however are a problem. Some of the sleeper caravans are virtually gutted. We’re going to need to fit more people into the remaining caravans at night, it’s too cold to have anyone sleeping in tents. A lot of the dry food supplies are gone, three of the goats were killed, but I’ve already got some men carving them up for meat so it isn’t a complete loss, and Talaitha and Mala said they have lost a lot of fabric. Some saddles have also been taken. People are reporting a lot of small things being taken or damaged but it’s going to be a while before everyone has had a chance to sort through their belongings,” Nicu reported.

 

“What about the attractions?” Danior asked impatiently.

 

“Not sure, they’re still being checked. But so far it seems as if they’re safe.”

 

“Good. If we’re able to clean everything up in time hopefully we can welcome visitors tonight,” Danior said confidently.

 

Before Nicu had a chance to respond another man joined the conversation. “Excuse me, Danior?” the man asked timidly. He sounded very young, still a teenager.

 

“Yes, what is it?”

 

“We’ve been checking the attractions Danior, making sure they’re safe and all. And...um...the Living Corpse Danior, it’s gone,” he finished quickly.

 

“What!” Danior exploded. “It’s my most valuable attraction. This camp needs that hideous corpse. I am going to kill Besnik. I don’t care what it takes, we are going to get that monster back.”

 

“No, Danior you don’t understand.” It seemed that the man was braver than he initially sounded; it took a very brave person to tell Danior he was wrong, especially when he was mad. “The door to the black caravan was still barred shut, nobody had broken in. Some of the boards at the back of the caravan have been torn off. It looks like it broke out.”

 

“Are you sure about that?” he replied dangerously. “The black caravan is the strongest caravan in the entire camp to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen,” he shouted.

 

“There were bullet holes in the back wall; we think that would have made it easier to break out. There are already men out searching for it,” the man added helpfully.

 

Erik glanced around. He doubted the men would be very quiet searching for him or that they would expect him to still be this close to the camp. Nonetheless, he twisted his body slightly so he could keep a better eye out whilst still listening to Danior.

 

“Double it. In fact I want every able bodied man in this camp out searching for the creature. Search parties in every direction. Make sure everyone else knows that it’s missing, I want the entire camp to be on the lookout,” Danior ordered.

 

“I’ll let everyone know,” the man agreed. There was a rustling noise as the man exited the tent.

 

“We should get some of the men to start repairing the black caravan,” Nicu said.

 

Danior ignored him. “You know who’s really to blame for all this?” he seethed.

 

“For the attack or the Living Corpse disappearing?” Nicu said, deciding to go along with the change in topic.

 

“Both.”

 

“Besnik,” Nicu answered simply. “If he hadn’t attacked it never would have had the opportunity to escape.”

 

“No. Christine,” Danior shouted. He must have kicked at something because Erik heard a crashing noise from within the tent.

 

“Uhh...” Nicu started.

 

“If it wasn’t for her, Besnik never would have been insulted and therefore never would have attacked us like this. We would have come to an arrangement eventually and then things would be settled between the two clans,” Danior explained.

 

“Danior, you know that I dislike the girl as much as you do, but I don’t really see how it’s her fault that Besnik attacked,” he said carefully.

 

“No. Of course you don’t,” Danior said condescendingly.

 

“She wouldn’t have even known why Besnik was here, if she even knew that he was here in the first place,” Nicu replied, his anger flaring quickly at the insult. “And it isn’t her fault that Besnik recognised she wasn’t a gypsy.”

 

“Yes it is!” Danior roared. “This is it. I don’t care what the rest of the clan think, Christine will be out of this camp by sundown. And if she won’t leave willingly, she’ll leave in a box.”

 

“Danior!” Nicu shouted.

 

Erik was so furious he was shaking. Danior had just said that he was willing to kill Christine. That he wanted her out of the clan so much that he would have her killed. Erik wanted to go into the tent and strangle Danior with his bare hands but he held himself back. He didn’t know what Nicu was talking about with Besnik having recognised that Christine wasn’t a gypsy, and he was fairly certain that Christine didn’t either, but he imagined it had something to do with his idea to marry her out of the clan. But to blame her when he didn’t go according to plan?

 

“If you’re not careful you’ll be joining her Nicu. Anyone who fights me on this will be joining her,” he ranted. “Maybe I can finally be rid of Vadoma at the same time.”

 

There was another crashing sound from inside the tent and a yelp from Nicu.

 

“Find the girl. But don’t take any men away from the search for the corpse. It shouldn’t be too hard to find her,” Danior said, slightly calmer.

 

“What are you going to do with her?” Nicu asked.

 

“I told you, she is leaving the clan today, one way or another. Now go find her,” he ground out.

 

As Nicu left the tent Erik sat up against the log he had been hiding behind. Christine was safe for the moment, she was hidden away from the immediate vicinity of the camp and with only Nicu searching for it would take some time for him to find her. And so far there hadn’t been any indication that the men searching for him were nearby, although they probably expected that he had run as far away from the camp as possible.

 

They both had to leave the camp, there was no other option that Erik could see. He knew that Danior was absolutely ruthless but he never expected to see him turn this way. To be willing to kill a member of the clan, a woman, even if she hadn’t been born gypsy, demonstrated just had far he had gone. He was getting out of control, even Nicu had seemed unhappy about the direction Danior was taking, and of all the gypsies, Nicu was the one most likely to follow everything Danior said. Vadoma had always been able to protect Christine in the past, but she wasn’t going to be able to win this fight. At best she would find herself thrown out of the clan along with Christine.

 

The decision was made. He couldn’t sit around continuing to justify it. Christine was safe for the moment, but that wasn’t going to last forever. Standing, he started formulating a plan. They needed to get away from the camp as soon as possible. If they could find their way to a large city it would be harder for the gypsies to track them down but he would need to make sure no one knew about his face. Erik knew how fast rumours like that would spread. But they needed something to survive on. He doubted that Christine had anything with her besides the clothes she was wearing and he had even less. He started to move closer to the camp.

 

Hiding himself up against the wall of the tent that Danior was still inside, Erik scanned the camp. There seemed to be only women and children present, all the men by this stage having been sent out to look for him. Opposite the tent Erik was standing against a child walk out of another tent eating a piece of fruit. Carefully, making sure that no one caught sight of him, Erik moved from tent to tent, making his way around the circle of tents until he reached the one that the child had exited. Peering inside he was pleased to see that he had been correct in his deduction and that it was a food storage tent. Making sure that he would have an adequate place to hide should someone else enter the tent, he picked up a bag that had carelessly left by the tent flap. Walking through the tent he saw that that what Nicu had said was true, Besnik’s men had obviously taken a lot of the food, but still Erik managed to gather some bread, cheese and dried meat. It wasn’t a feast, but if they were careful it should last them a few days. Spotting some empty water skins he pushed them into the top of the bag before tying it off and swinging it over his shoulder. Returning to the front of the tent, Erik looked out and planned his next move.

 

A few tents to the left, the circle opened out and Erik could see a group of caravans. Checking that there was no one close by, he was about to walk out of the tent when a woman called out, “Christine?”

 

Erik started to panic, had Christine returned to the camp? If she was with any of the gypsies he was never going to be able to get to her before Nicu or Danior found her.

 

“Christine are you here?” she called again. So Christine hadn’t returned to the camp. But if this woman was searching for her as well Erik would need to start moving faster. The woman started checking the tents and Erik tried to calculate the best way to escape the tent he was in without the woman catching sight of him.

 

“Vadoma,” a younger woman called out.

 

“Oh Mala,” Vadoma answered, abandoning her search of a large tent. “Is Christine with you or your brother?”

 

“No, I was coming to ask if she was with you,” Mala replied. “No one’s seen her this morning.”

 

“I left her in our caravan when the attack started. I told her to stay there but to get out if she thought she was in danger. She’s not there but it doesn’t look like anyone else has been in the caravan,” Vadoma explained.

 

“I’m sure she’s nearby,” Mala said confidently. “She’s not amongst the injured, I’ve already checked. She’s probably hiding and doesn’t realise the attack is over. Milosh and Papa are out searching for the Living Corpse but we’ll go fetch Mama, she’ll be able to help us find Christine.”

 

“No I want to keep searching these tents first,” Vadoma said, waving her hand to indicate the tents. “But you go find your mother and meet me back here.”

 

With a nod of her head, Mala rushed off.

 

Watching Christine’s surrogate mother and her best friend Erik again felt guilty for taking Christine away from the camp, from her family. He knew that she was happy here. But they weren’t going to be able to protect her from Danior. His way was the only way.

 

Seeing Vadoma walk into one of the tents in her search for Christine, Erik quickly rushed out of the tent with his bag of food and headed for the nearest caravan.

 

The nearest caravan was one of the largest he could see, painted red and elaborately decorated with carvings of vines and lions. Easily forcing the door open, Erik entered the caravan, pulling the door shut behind him. He was surprised to see that there was only one bed; he had expected a caravan of this size to belong to a family. There was little in the way of personal effects, a few items of men’s clothing littered the bed but otherwise the caravan was filled with ledgers and books, with sheets of paper and inkwells on the large desk. He immediately started on the desk, pulling open drawers and scattering papers. It was only because he was on his hands and knees that he noticed the thin drawer set halfway back under the desk. Breaking the drawer out of its spot Erik pulled it to the ground. He had expected the drawer to be filled with money but it was at least three quarters empty. Still he cleared it out, tipping the money into his bag of food. Knowing that the gypsies would blame Besnik’s men he left the door open as he walked out of the tent.

 

Erik had barely stepped out of the caravan when he heard someone approaching. He immediately swung the bag up onto his shoulder and changed direction so the gypsy wouldn’t see his head. He suddenly realised that he and Christine wouldn’t last five minutes away from the camp if he continued to wear a sack on his head. It would attract nearly as much attention as his face.

 

The caravan next to the red one was smaller but the door was open and Erik could see a pair of boots just inside. Quickly ducking inside he was relieved to see a long coat with a high collar and a broad brimmed hat hanging at the end of one of the beds. Estimating that the coat would fit him, Erik quickly put the coat on, pulling the collar up as high as it would go before tucking the excess material from his sack into the collar. He donned the hat, angling it downwards as much as possible. On the way out he grabbed the boots.

 

Outside Erik realised that he was far from where he had initially entered the camp and that it would be safest for him to get out as quickly as possible and then follow the perimeter of the camp to find his way back to Christine. Again he ducked from caravan to caravan, hiding in the shadows to ensure that no one saw him. As he waited for two women to walk pass, Erik noticed the carvings on the blue caravan he was resting against. The shutter just above his head had a small dog carved in the corner. He took a few steps backwards so he could see the other shutter, once more there was a small dog carved in the corner. He remembered that Christine had once told him that Vadoma had a dog when she was a child and she had absolutely adored it. When her caravan had been built she had insisted that the woodcarver include carvings of dogs. Realising that this was Vadoma and Christine’s caravan, he checked that the two women had passed and went to the door. The door was closed, but not locked and he snuck in. He immediately recognised Christine’s bed, seeing a dress that she had worn a few days earlier but his eye was drawn to the violin sitting on a small shelf above her bed. The violin was sitting on top of a case and reaching up he pulled the two items down to the bed. Stowing the violin safely in its case, he gathered a few items of clothing for Christine, pushing them into his now overflowing bag and jumped down from the caravan.

 

The immediate vicinity was deserted and Erik ran for the edge of the camp. Once he was safely outside the camp he slowed down and started walking around the outside, looking for the spot he had originally entered. Once there he would be able to trace his way back to Christine. He now had to explain to her why she couldn’t stay with her family. 

Chapter Text

Erik walked deeper into the woods, the sounds of the gypsy camp becoming more and more faint. He didn’t remember them being this far away from the camp. He had left her alone for too long he rebuked himself. He shouldn’t have snuck into the camp once he realised what Danior was planning. He should have returned to Christine and taken her to safety. The men searching for him must have come across her and believing she was lost returned her to the camp. Or worse Nicu had found her and taken her to Danior. If that had happen he would walk straight back into his cage, they could do what they liked to him.

 

Abruptly the area he was walking through started to look familiar and Erik spied a small corner of fabric peeking from behind the base of a tree. He instantly recognised the material as that of Christine’s cloak. Erik rushed towards her, stumbling over the leaves and branches that littered the ground and his bag slapping against his legs. Christine was still tucked up against the tree truck and her eyes were closed. In the split second that it took for Christine to open her eyes, a hundred thoughts rushed through Erik’s head. He was too late, she’d been out in the cold for too long, the shock of seeing his face had killed her, Danior had found her.

 

Christine opened her eyes and letting out a soundless scream began to push herself away from the tree, away from Erik.

 

She was afraid of him Erik thought miserably. Despite what she had said earlier about wanting him in her life and not caring about his face, he scared her. How could he possibly keep her safe when she believed that he was a danger to her? She couldn’t trust a thing she didn’t feel safe with.

 

“Who are...Erik is that you?” she asked hesitantly.

 

“Yes,” he replied. He watched as she shifted back into her position against the trunk of the tree. But she didn’t move any closer to him.

 

“You scared me,” she admonished gently. “I didn’t hear you coming and then all of a sudden you were rushing towards me. I didn’t recognise you...with the hat,” she finished, gesturing at his ensemble.

 

“I’m sorry,” Erik’s apology sounded awkward. “I thought you had been hurt, that someone had found you.”

 

“I was just resting my eyes for a moment,” she reassured him. She looked at the forest surrounding them and realised that nobody from the camp would have heard her if she screamed for help.

 

Noticing the items that Erik had dropped by his side she asked, “What’s that?”

 

“Supplies. Food, clothes, money,” he listed.

 

“And Papa’s violin,” she finished. “Erik, what’s going on? You can’t just take my father’s violin, that belongs to me,” she said defensively, getting to her feet. “You stole all of that from the camp. We’ve just been attacked by another clan, we need that, all of it.”

 

“Christine you have to come with me,” he blurted out.”That’s why I have your father’s violin.” That hadn’t been how he had wanted to tell her but he could see that she was getting angry and he needed to explain things as quickly as possible.

 

“What...no, no,” she said weakly, her anger instantly evaporating. “I can’t just leave here. You said it yourself, my family and friends are here. My life is in this camp.”

 

“I know what I said but that was before. We have to go.” He gestured for her to get up.

 

“Before what? Erik less than an hour ago you wanted me to stay here. I don’t understand what’s happening,” she cried. “The camp’s been raided and I’ve been attacked and we’re hiding in the forest and I’m so tired.” With this she started to cry, messy tears that made her feel even worse.

 

Erik shifted uncomfortably. He felt even more uncertain that he normally did when faced with a crying Christine and he hated the thought that his actions had contributed to her tears. He could hear her unspoken words, that she was afraid of him and his hideous face. He wanted to go to Christine and comfort her, but he knew that to get closer to her would only make things worse, so he remained standing where he was.

 

“Christine, when I went back to the camp there were things that I heard...it isn’t safe for you here anymore,” he explained.

 

“What kind of things?” she asked. She could tell from the way he was shifting restlessly that he didn’t feel safe here and he looked ready to bolt. But she couldn’t just leave the camp because he said that he had heard things.

 

“I heard Danior talking to Nicu. He blames you for the attack. Nicu is out looking for you right now so we have to leave,” he pleaded. He thought about reaching out to take her hands and pull her up but dismissed the thought.

 

“Danior has been mad at me before. And he has sent Nicu to fetch me before,” Christine said with a sigh of resignation. She only hoped that Danior would be busy surveying the damage to the camp and would hold off shouting at her until tomorrow.

 

“He was furious. Beyond furious,” he emphasised. “You aren’t safe in the camp.”

 

“Vadoma will...” Christine began.

 

“I know that Vadoma has always been able to stand up to Danior for you in the past. But this time is different. She’s not going to be able to protect you anymore.” The ‘but I can’ was left unspoken.

 

“No,” Christine shook her head in denial. “It can’t be that bad.”

 

Erik lifted his head for the first time since the conversation had started. Looking directly into her eyes he said, “It is.”

 

There was something so intense in Erik’s eyes that Christine immediately believed him. “So I have to leave,” she murmured sadly. “But what about Vadoma, and the twins and Talaitha. They’ll wonder what happened to me. They’ll think I was taken during the attack,” she panicked.

 

“Christine we don’t have time.” Whilst he didn’t want Christine to be upset he didn’t particularly care about any of the gypsies.

 

“Let me go back, just to tell them that I’m leaving. I’ll be quick, I promise,” she swore, making a move to go back to the camp.

 

“Christine no. You can’t risk Danior knowing that you’re there. We have to leave now,” he said forcefully.

 

“They’re my family Erik,” she whispered, tears building up again.

 

“I know. But I need to keep you safe,” he said earnestly.

 

She wiped her eyes, “Alright.”

 

Erik watched, fascinated, as she walked towards him, showing no sign of hesitation or impending violence. She reached out and picked up the violin case which was resting by his feet. She turned to look at him expectantly.

 

“Alright,” he breathed, hoisting the larger bag over his shoulder. He made sure his hat was tilted down over his face and glancing around to make sure that no-one was nearby, began to lead Christine away from the camp.

 

Although the midday sun was now high in the sky, it was still overcast and minimal light or warmth seemed to penetrate the canopy above them. Christine clutched the violin case to her chest, as though she was trying to keep it warm. Erik walked by her side, constantly reaching up to make sure that his collar was still covering the lower part of his face and making minute adjustments to the angle of his hat. Although his legs were longer than Christine’s and he should have been easily able to outpace her, years spent in a cage where he could do little more than pace meant that his muscles were already starting to ache, the adrenaline from earlier starting to wear off.

 

Christine studied the top of the violin case that she was carrying. It was covered in dark brown leather that her father had religiously cleaned. The leather still felt as soft as the last time she had held the case in her hands. The violin had been displayed in front of the case and her height meant that there were few places in the caravan where she could see it. Discretely looking at the man walking by her side she decided that Erik was probably tall enough to easily see that the case was behind the violin. She only even took the case down when the camp was moving so the violin could be stored somewhere where it wasn’t going to fall as the caravan was moving along. It had been Vadoma’s idea to keep the violin on display.

 

Vadoma.

 

She had just left Vadoma. Her family. Christine’s speed started to drop as her thoughts gathered momentum. Surely by now Vadoma would have realised that she was missing. And that would mean that Mala, Milosh and their parents would also know. Would they have told Danior yet? Would people be out looking for her? Erik had taken her father’s violin and she thought she had seen one of her skirts poking out of the bag he was carrying. Once they realised that some of her things were gone would they think that they had been stolen during the raid or would they believe that she had run away? No, she thought, Vadoma would never believe that Christine had run away, not after their conversation about Danior wanting her to leave the clan earlier that day. Had it only been hours ago that Christine had been sitting with Vadoma in their caravan eating bryta? It seemed a lifetime ago. How long would it be until she saw her again?

 

“I left them,” Christine murmured, coming to a complete stop.

 

“Christine?” Erik asked somewhat impatiently when he realised that Christine was no longer walking by his side.

 

“I left them,” she repeated. “Vadoma, Milosh, Mala, everyone.” Despite knowing that Christine didn’t have feelings for Milosh, Erik couldn’t help but feel a small twinge of jealousy at the mention of the young gypsy and immediately hated himself for it.

 

“They’ll think that I was taken by the other clan. Or worse. What if they are out there searching for my body?” she cried, slightly hysterically

 

“Christine please, you need to be quiet,” Erik said sharply, looking around to make sure that nobody had heard her.

 

“You should have let me go back. I should have told Vadoma what was happening, or at least left a note for her. She has nothing,” Christine continued, lowering her voice.

 

“I...” Erik struggled to find the right words. “I couldn’t risk you going back into the camp, not when Danior already had Nicu searching for you.”

 

“It would only have been for a few minutes,” Christine didn’t know why she was begging, they were already too far away from the camp to turn around. “Or I could have written a note and you could have left it in our caravan.”

 

“I wasn’t going to leave you alone again,” Erik said. “I’m sorry...” he concluded inadequately. What could he tell her? That he didn’t care what the gypsy woman thought or believed as long as Christine was safe? He knew how much Christine loved Vadoma and that it would devastate her to hear that.

 

He watched as Christine just stood there, lost in her thoughts. “Are you warm enough?” he asked. “I have some of your clothes.”

 

Christine simply nodded.

 

“Perhaps we should take a short rest,” he concluded, attempting to usher Christine gently to a fallen log without touching her. She allowed him to lead her to the log and she sat down, watching as he dug through the bag to get some food.

 

When he presented her some cheese, she shook her head, “I’m not hungry.”

 

“You need to eat something,” he pleaded, rummaging further in the bag to find something else to offer here. She accepted the bread but only pulled tiny pieces off to nibble at. Taking a piece of bread for himself, Erik walked away from Christine and sat with his back to her. Pulling down the collar on his coat, he lifted the sack away from his mouth so he was able to eat.

 

Christine stopped eating as he walked away from her, feeling even more alone as her only companion turned his back on her. Putting what was left of her bread back into the bag she stood and crept over to where Erik was sitting, resting a hand lightly on his shoulder as she sat down next to him.

 

He had heard her behind him but started when she had touched his shoulder and violently pulled away from her. He immediately pulled the sack back down to cover his face.

 

“I’m sorry,” Christine said, immediately pulling her hand into her lap. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

 

“You didn’t,” he said gruffly. “I’m just not used to people touching me.” He didn’t add the ‘without hurting me.’ He wasn’t sure why she was voluntarily touching him, had she forgotten what he looked like already?

 

“Oh.”

 

They sat in silence for a few minutes and Christine watched as Erik destroyed what little remained of his meal.

 

“What are we going to do?” she asked, breaking the silence. A bird, startled by the noise, took flight.

 

“We’ll keep walking and try to find shelter for the night, a barn or abandoned building,” he replied.

 

“No. I mean what are we going to do?” she said meaningfully.

 

“We need to get as far away from the camp as possible. Find somewhere to live. A city would be best. We’ll need to avoid any small towns, there’s too much chance that someone will notice us.” Erik picked up a nearby stick and started tracing in the dirt.

 

“Why would...” Christine started but trailed off when she realised the answer. “Then what?”

 

“Then we survive,” Erik replied bluntly. “There’s money,” he said, tilting his head in the direction of the bag. “But it won’t last forever. I’ll need to get more, whether I get a job or...” He didn’t think anyone was likely to hire him, but he didn’t want to tell Christine that he planned to be a thief to provide for her.

 

“I suppose I could find work as a seamstress or take work in,” Christine suggested doubtfully.

 

“No. You shouldn’t have to work as a seamstress.” He knew how much she disliked sewing, even though over the years she had become much better at it. “You should be on a stage, singing.”

 

“Maybe,” she said softly. Although she had always wanted to sing on stage when her father was alive, it wasn’t something she had considered in many years. She had never sung when visitors came to the camp and most of the gypsies hadn’t even known that she could sing. She hadn’t sung for anyone except Erik in years.

 

“Lyon isn’t too far away. We passed through it on our way here,” she offered.

 

Erik could vaguely remember one of the gypsies mentioning Lyon a few months ago, but he didn’t recall passing though. Although he was sure that he had been taken through hundreds of towns and cities that he wasn’t aware of. “How far?”

 

“It took maybe a day, day and a half, for us to reach the camp after we left,” Christine said, trying to recall that particular journey. “But that was moving the entire clan.”

 

Meaning that it would take maybe half a day for a group of men on horseback. “It’s too close,” Erik decided. “We need to be as far away from here as possible.”

 

“Paris is far away,” Christine said. When Erik turned to look at her she blushed. “I’m sorry. Father and I had planned to go to Paris after our summer with the clan. I was so excited.”

 

Erik nodded, “Paris is further away. Being a large city will help as well, it will be easier to hide.”

 

“And I don’t think Danior will go there. I remember Luca said once that they hadn’t been to Paris since their father was alive,” Christine added. Erik didn’t feel that this was a guarantee that Danior would never take the clan to Paris, but he knew he would feel better being able to hide Christine in a large city.

 

Erik looked around at the forest that surrounded them. “We’re going to need to find a path or a road out of here. I don’t want to still be here by nightfall.”

 

“Once we get to Lyon we can catch a train to Paris. Or don’t we have enough money for that?” Christine asked.

 

“I’m not sure,” Erik admitted, not having dealt with money, except that which was thrown into his cage, for many years. Getting up he walked back over to the log where he had left the bag and carried it back to Christine. He pulled out the clothes and food and shown Christine what remained at the bottom of the bag.

 

Christine gasped, eyes wide, at the sight. “I think that will be enough for train tickets.”

 

“Good,” Erik said, starting to repack the bag.

 

“But how will you get on a train with...” She waved her hand in front of his face.

 

Erik wasn’t sure whether he should be unhappy that Christine was so aware of his condition or pleased that she cared enough to worry about him. “If I cover myself it shouldn’t be an issue.”

 

“Are you ready to go?” he asked getting to his feet.

 

Christine turned and looked back at the direction they had come from. Although the camp had long disappeared from view, she peered deep amongst the trees; as if she would be able to see the camp if she tried hard enough. “Let’s go,” she said, turning back to Erik and picking up the violin case.

 

Erik changed their direction, hoping to find a road that they could follow, rather than walking further towards the mountains. His legs continued to burn and he heard Christine stumble, no doubt feeling just as tired as he was. He almost dropped to his knees in relief when he finally spotted an old dirt road winding through the trees. Christine must have spotted the road mere moments after he did for she excitedly touched his arm for a second, before remembering what he had said about being touched and pulling her hand away.

 

“Which way?” she asked.

 

Erik looked both ways, but he could see nothing which indicated which way they should go. “Left. If we go right we might end up back at the camp.”

 

Christine started walking out to the road and Erik called out to her, “Christine, don’t walk on the road.”

 

She turned back to face him, a puzzled expression on her face.

 

“We’ll walk beside the road,” he clarified. “We don’t want anyone to spot us, we’re still close enough to the camp that someone might find us.”

 

Obediently, Christine made her way back to where Erik was standing amongst the trees and they started to follow the road. The trees started to thin out around them and when he looked up Erik could see that the sun was low in the sky. Out in the open the wind was stronger and the air was quickly becoming cooler.

 

“What’s that over there?” Christine asked, pointing to something in a field on the other side of the road. “Is it a building?”

 

“Wait here,” Erik instructed, dropping his bag at Christine’s feet. He quickly climbed over the fence and crossed the road, jogging into the field to determine what it was.

 

“It’s an empty storage shed,” he announced as he climbed back over the fence. “It’s old but I don’t think we’re going to find anything else and it’s getting late.”

 

Erik held the violin case as Christine climbed over the fences, but she quickly snatched it back as they walked to the shed. As they got closer she could see that the structure was very basic, three walls and a roof, probably used for storing hay or wood.

 

“I can barely remember the last time I slept in something that didn’t have wheels underneath,” Christine said with a hint of a smile.

 

“Me neither,” Erik admitted.

 

They ate a small meal, not knowing how long the food was going to need to last them. To Erik’s relief Christine ate more than just a small piece of bread but she was once again hurt when he turned his back on her to eat.

 

As they laid down to sleep, Erik made sure that he was in front of Christine, both to protect her from the elements and to ensure that if anyone found them, they wouldn’t immediately see her. Although he was tired he couldn’t fall asleep, concerned about what the future was going to hold. Was Christine right, would Vadoma have been able to protect her from Danior? How was he going to provide for them? Was she going to hate him for what he was doing? As he finally started to drift off, he sensed Christine moving closer to his back, trying to share in the little body heat he was giving off.

Chapter Text

A cool breeze blew across Christine’s shoulder. She pushed further into the solid warmth behind her and murmured in appreciation when she felt the warmth seeping into her shoulder. It still felt early, so she probably had at least another hour until she had to get up for her lesson with Erik. She would have some free time this afternoon, she remembered, now that she and Mala had finished the present for Nayda and Yoska’s wedding. She wondered whether the twins would be free this afternoon for a walk through the woods. Mala would be free but she didn’t know whether Milosh was still helping with the caravan. Although Vadoma had said that she wanted to travel to the nearest town in the next few days to make some purchases.

 

Another breeze blew across her shoulder and she blindly reached down to pull up another quilt. Not finding one she tried to sit up to reach down further the bed but was prevented from doing so from something resting across her waist. Opening her eyes she looked down to see an arm pulling away from her. Gasping she rolled over to see a man scrambling away from her. Looking up she saw that his head was covered with a sack.

 

Erik, she remembered. Looking past him she could see that the sun had just risen over the field. They had spent the night in an old shed, after escaping from the clan.

 

Suddenly the events of the previous day came rushing back to her and she let out a small whimper, “Erik, the clan...”

 

Not knowing what Christine was trying to say, or whether she was afraid of him coming any closer, Erik didn’t move and only murmured her name in response, “Christine.”

 

She shuffled closer to him, which Erik took to mean that she wasn’t afraid of him.

 

“Vadoma, the twins...I won’t be able to see them again, will I?” she asked roughly.

 

“I’m sorry,” Erik said, not knowing what else he could say to comfort her. He knew that she would desperately want to go back to the camp, to return to the clan and be with Vadoma, to wake up in the caravan that had been her home for so many years. Instead she had woken up in an abandoned shed with him, not knowing what the coming days and weeks were going to bring.

 

He wished that he could take her back and tell her that it had all been a mistake. That of course she was safe in the camp. But to even voice those wishes would only make things worse, when they both knew that there was no chance of the situation changing.

 

“We should eat,” she said mechanically, standing up and brushing off small bits of hay that had stuck to her skirt. Without waiting for Erik to reply, she went over to the side wall where he had rested their bag. Digging through it she pulled out some sweet bread that she knew would only be edible for the next day or two.

 

“Here,” she said, holding some out to Erik.

 

“I’m not hungry,” he replied automatically.

 

“Neither am I,” she responded, taking a bite of the bread. “But we need to eat something. This won’t last much longer and we shouldn’t waste it.”

 

Not bothering to argue, Erik took the bread from Christine and turned around to lift the sack and start eating it. He heard her sigh of disappointment when he turned his back on her, but didn’t turn back to face her.

 

They ate in silence and when she was finished Christine dragged the bag over to where she was sitting and started digging through it.

 

“What are you looking for?” Erik asked.

 

“Medical supplies,” she answered. “I never had a chance to tend to you yesterday.”

 

It was true. Although Christine had attempted to take care of Erik’s cuts immediately after the fight with the gypsy they had been forgotten in their flight from the camp.

 

“It’s not that bad,” he replied, the reminder of what had happened the day before sending a twinge through his aching muscles.

 

“There are blood stains on the...” Christine gestured towards the sack. “And god knows what else that brute did to you.”

 

Erik immediately slapped his hands up to his face in a belated attempt to hide from Christine.

 

“I’ve already seen it,” she said. “Don’t hide from me.”

 

Reluctantly Erik brought his hands down, knowing that a bloody sack was not the worst thing he could show Christine.

 

Christine pulled out a water container and what she recognised as an old underskirt from the bag. She tore some strips from the bottom of the skirt and crawled over to where Erik was sitting.

 

“That was your skirt,” he said dumbly, watching as Christine got closer to him.

 

“It was an old skirt,” she shrugged. “I haven’t worn it in a couple of years. I grew out of it.” Reaching forward, she brought her hand up towards the sack.

 

“I can do it,” Erik said quickly, bringing his hands up to grip the sack.

 

“Erik, let me help you,” Christine cried, trying to get her hands passed Erik’s to remove the sack from his head.

 

“No!” he almost shouted. “Please Christine...don’t. Just let me...I can do it.”

 

She looked down at the stripes of skirt in her hands. “Alright,” she agreed reluctantly. “But if you need any help...”

 

“I won’t,” he said, gathering the rags delicately from her hands, making sure that he didn’t touch her, and took the supplies over to the corner of the shed.

 

Knowing that he wouldn’t want her watching, Christine turned to face the entrance of the shed and tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall.

 

It seemed like a lifetime passed before Christine sensed Erik walking up behind her and she got up to watch him burying the bloody rags amongst the debris that had gathered against the outside wall of the shed.

 

“We need to keep moving,” he said, not wanting to tell her again that they needed to put as much distance as possible between them and the gypsies, because he knew how much it would upset her.

 

“I’ll get the bags,” Christine stated, although she knew Erik would follow her to collect the main one.

 

The rest of the day was spent in near silence, as they both thought about what they had left behind. For Christine it was bittersweet, as she remembered all the good times that she had shared with everyone in the camp and knowing that it would likely never happen again. Whilst Erik was more than happy to leave the camp and never look back, for he had with him the only thing that he cared about, Christine. He didn’t allow himself any pleasure in the thought, for he knew how miserable Christine was going to be for a long time to come.

 

They continued to follow the road, walking just out of sight of anyone who might pass them. But the road was quiet, and Christine doubted whether any of the locals they had seen would have paid any attention to them. The only people they spotted were farmers, usually travelling alone, although Erik had been quick to hide them even further into the woods when they had been passed by two noblemen riding, fearing that they may have visited the camp in past days and recognised either Christine or himself.

 

It wasn’t until half way through the day that they reached a crossroads and a sign post pointing them in the direction of Lyon.  They had both been relieved to see the sign post, as Christine had lost any sense of where they were after their journey through the woods to get away from the camp. The road they were travelling beside didn’t seem familiar to her, but then she admitted that she rarely paid attention to where they were going for the entire trip when the gypsies moved from camp to camp.

 

But it was going to take a number of days for them to reach Lyon, especially at the speed they were walking. Decades locked in the caravan meant that Erik’s endurance was low and it was going to take time before he was able to walk the distance that other men could. They had also quickly discovered on the first day that Erik couldn’t walk towards the sun, his eyes were too sensitive and the direct sunlight would hurt them. This meant that if the road they were taking was heading towards the sun, they would have to stop and wait an hour or two. They knew it shouldn’t take long for Erik’s eyes to adjust, but still being relatively close to the camp meant any time they weren’t moving Erik was nervous.

 

The following days and nights were very similar, and they didn’t speak to a soul beyond each other. They would awaken at sunrise and each morning Christine would discover Erik’s arm around her waist and her bottom nestled against his hips. There was no choice but to sleep close to each other for warmth and they seemed to naturally drift towards one another, although Erik would always remove his arm and pull away from her once he became conscious of where it was. They would eat breakfast from their ever diminishing supplies and start walking. As the days progressed they discovered that they were passing more and more sign posts for Lyon and that they were starting to encountered more villages.

 

Although they were passing through villages, they never spent the night there. Erik knew that they were still close to the gypsies and didn’t want to risk spending the night in an inn and being remembered by the owners. Even if the owners didn’t speak to the gypsies, gossip of a man who wore a sack over his face and a young woman would still make their way to the clan. Instead they spent their nights in empty sheds and barns that they found on deserted edges of people’s properties. They were fortunate that after their first night they were able to find completely enclosed buildings, although it was still bitterly cold and they found on a number of occasions that other creatures had also taken up residence for the night.   

 

It had been threatening to rain all day when they stopped for a break late one afternoon.  Although she knew that Erik needed to rest, she wasn’t surprised when he said that he was going on ahead, as he would often scout ahead whilst she rested, especially when they were coming closer to a village. During a rare conversation he had explained that he wanted to know where any dangers were before he had her with him.

 

Christine fidgeted with their bag whilst she waited for him, packing and repacking their supplies. She always got nervous when he left her, more for what could potentially happen to him rather than her.

 

“I’ve found somewhere for us to stay tonight,” he announced when he returned.

 

“Here?” she asked, “But we’re so close to the village, somebody might see us.”

 

“It’s far enough away from the village that nobody will see us,” Erik explained.

 

“Alright,” Christine agreed, trusting that Erik knew what he was doing. She got to her feet and collected Gustav’s violin whilst Erik picked up their bag.

 

They hadn’t walked far when Erik veered away from the main road they had been following and started leading Christine up a small lane. There was a small cottage at the end of the lane and it soon became apparent that it was the only building in the area.

 

“This is where we’re staying?” Christine questioned, a small amount of hopefulness creeping into her voice. The cottage was small and old, and obviously wasn’t well cared for, but to someone who had spent their past few nights sleeping in sheds and barns it looked wonderful.

 

Erik simply nodded, please with Christine’s reaction.

 

Christine started to walk faster, eager to get into the cottage and out of the cold. “Wait,” she said, slowing down slightly. “Will there be anyone else there?”

 

“We’ll be alone,” he confirmed.

 

Convinced now that they would be safe, Christine pushed on and had already entered the cottage when Erik entered.

 

“We won’t be able to start a fire,” Erik said, putting down their bag and closing the door with one last look behind him. “But we’ll be warmer than we have been.”

 

“Oh good,” Christine exclaimed, taking off her cloak for what seemed like the first time in weeks.

 

Whilst Erik went about preparing their supper, Christine started to explore the second room, the bedroom. Although they had nothing to put away, she allowed her curiosity to get the better of her and went to the small chest at the foot of bed. Opening it she was surprised to find a modest number of clothes contained in it.

 

Someone must have lived in the cottage, Christine realised, as dilapidated as it was. But where were they? She very much doubted that Erik had met them and arranged payment so they could spend the night in their house. Which could only mean that Erik had broken into the house without their permission. For a moment she was furious with him before feeling very silly for not realising it as soon as he told her that they were staying in the cottage. Although run down the cottage was obviously still in use and Erik wasn’t going to talk to anyone in order to arrange for its use. Her only excuse was that she had been so excited about having a proper bed to sleep in.

 

Despite knowing that what they were doing was wrong, Christine decided not to say anything. It would only upset Erik to know that she was unhappy with the situation and after over twenty years being locked in the caravan and jeered at by society it was understandable that Erik wouldn’t be willing to follow every one of society’s rules. Besides, she reasoned, they had brought their own food and weren’t going to use any of the firewood she had seen stacked outside. As long as they left the cottage in the same condition they had found it in, the owners would be none the wiser.  

 


 

Two days later they were in Lyon and they were both completely overwhelmed, although they knew that Paris was going to be bigger and even busier than this. Christine couldn’t remember cities being this busy when she had visited them with her father and when the clan had passed through cities she had been somewhat sheltered from the busier areas. Erik on the other hand had never stepped foot in a city. Every time the clan had visited a city, Danior had been even more cautious than usual about keeping him secured.

 

They knew once they were away from Lyon, the chances of the clan being able to find them would be greatly reduced. Therefore once they arrived in the city they headed straight for the train station, eager to get on a train to Paris.

 

Neither of them had any experience in arranging transportation and Christine only had a vague idea as to how much the tickets should cost. Erik still wanted to stay out of sight as much as possible so they decided that Christine would purchase their tickets.

 

Christine was nervous as she approached the ticket counter, afraid of being away from Erik in such a crowded place. For the past week she hadn’t spoken to anyone other than Erik and she knew that the events with the clan meant that it was going to be a long time before she trusted anyone, even just walking past a stranger in the street. But they were never going to survive otherwise, so she had to do this. And she knew that if she felt nervous and untrusting, then Erik would feel ten times worse. She wanted to be able to do this for him, for them.

 

They were fortunate that they had arrived at the station only hours before the train for Paris was due to leave and that Christine was able to purchase tickets for them. The money that Erik had taken from the camp was enough for the tickets and Christine was able to spare a small amount to buy a sweet pie that they shared whilst they were waiting.

 

When the large clock that they were sitting near read quarter to, they gathered the bag and Gustav’s violin case and Christine doubled checked that she had the tickets tucked into her skirt. She led them to the platform and resisted the urge to reach behind her and take Erik’s hand, knowing that he would never accept.

 

She climbed onto the train and presented her tickets to the inspector. The man smiled at her as she walked passed him into the carriage but as soon as he saw Erik his smile disappeared. “I’m sorry sir, you can’t board this train.”

 

Christine turned back to the men with a frown, “I have his ticket,” she explained.

 

“I’m sorry Madame, but I can’t let him on the train,” the man said, sounding somewhat apologetic.

 

“Why not?” Christine said, taking a step closer to Erik.

 

“Well, it’s just that...what he’s wearing...it isn’t appropriate,” he stuttered.

 

“My brother was recently injured and wears the sack for the comfort of those around him. We haven’t been able to find anything more appropriate yet. Now, as we have two valid, paid for tickets, I assume that you will not prevent us from boarding?” Christine said forcefully, not even hesitating.

 

“No Madame,” the young man gulped, stepping aside to let them board. But whilst Christine walked passed with her head held high, Erik kept his eyes trained on the ground and wished that there was a small dark corner that he could crawl into.

 

He was supposed to be looking after her, but he couldn’t do something as simple as board a train without her help. How would they manage once they arrived in Paris? It seemed that he was only able to take care of her if it didn’t require him to interact with another person. He vowed to himself that the next time they needed to talk to someone he would do it.

 

“Relax,” Christine whispered to him as they walked through the carriage to their seats. “It’s only the sack, they don’t know anything.”

 

“I should have said something. It’s not fair for you,” he murmured as they sat down.

 

“I think that people might be more accepting if it comes from me,” she explained. “Once we get to Paris we’ll have to find something less noticeable.”

 

“Right,” Erik said, inwardly terrified at the idea of exchanging his sack for anything else.

 

Like their days travelling to Lyon, the train trip to Paris was spent in silence. Erik continued to worry about what would happen when they arrived in Paris and how he would look after Christine. He had thought he could continue to steal to provide from her, but realised that it wasn’t a viable plan in the long term. Eventually Christine would start to ask questions and she was too good to accept that what she had was a result of others’ suffering. Besides that, he was too recognisable and their luck wouldn’t hold out forever, one day he would get caught and he couldn’t bear the thought of Christine being left on her own in Paris.

 

Although she had spent hours thinking about what had happened with the clan, it was until they were on the train that the enormity of what they were doing hit Christine. She was running away to Paris with Erik and she was never going to see Vadoma, the twins or any of her friends ever again. She had left because of Danior and his hate for her. She couldn’t even cry, instead just stared blankly out the window until they reached Paris.

Chapter Text

They stood on the steps of the Paris train station watching the city rush pass them. Christine tightened her grip on the violin case, as thought it could get carried away in the crowds of people around them.

 

“We’ll need to find somewhere to stay,” Christine said, continuing to watch the city.

 

“What?” Erik asked blankly. He had never seen this many people in all his life and any crowds made him think of the gypsies’ visitors that came to the black caravan. He could almost hear them jeering and shouting at him.

 

“This isn’t like the places we passed on the way to Lyon. There won’t be any sheds to stay in. We have enough money, I’m sure we can afford a room somewhere, just for tonight, and we’ll find something more permanent tomorrow.”

 

“Of course, you’re right,” he responded automatically, still staring at the crowds.

 

“Erik?” Christine asked, gently touching his arm.

 

He immediately jerked away from her touch. “Sorry,” he apologised.

 

“It’s alright,” she said, a hint of sadness in her voice. “Which way do you think we should go?”

 

He watched the street for a few moments. After seeing that the wealthier Parisians were heading to the left, he pointed right and said, “We should find somewhere that will take us that way.”

 

Christine nodded and started following Erik down the street, walking as close to him as she was able. She noticed that people were giving them a wide berth, no doubt for fear of what lay under the sack that covered Erik’s head, and that she kept receiving pitiful looks. Still she tried to keep her head held high and told herself that if those people knew Erik they wouldn’t act in such a way.

 

Erik held their bag tightly in one hand and had the other poised to secure his sack, should anyone become curious and try to remove it. He wondered what it would be like to walk down the street without it. If he had a normal face and was able to have Christine on his arm. Perhaps he would be taking her to an expensive hotel in Paris as part of their wedding tour. They could be travelling in a horse drawn carriage to their destination, possible with a personal maid for Christine.

 

Instead they were trying to hide from the clan in Paris, walking and carrying their own bags, trying to find a hotel that they could afford but that would still be safe enough for Christine. Eventually he found one that seemed acceptable and stopped in front of it.

 

“Here?” Christine asked, looking up at it.

 

“We can find somewhere else if you like,” he said anxiously.

 

“No, no. It’s fine.” In truth it was better than Christine had expected and she was slightly worried that it would cost too much. Still it was only one night. “Shall we go in?”

 

The two walked into the hotel, with Christine leading, and were able to arrange a room and meals for the night. Like the man at the Lyon train station, the manager had been concerned about allowing Erik to stay, fearing that the sack was hiding an infection, but Christine had once again explained that her brother was injured and he wore the sack for the comfort of those around him. She assured him that Erik was not infected and that if he was, than surely she as his sister would also be infected by now. 

 

Unwilling to turn away paying guests, the manager accepted Christine’s explanation and showed them to their room. After making sure that the door was locked and safely storing Gustav’s violin in the cupboard Christine collapsed onto the bed, and after persuading Erik that he also needed to rest, they both fell into a deep sleep.

 

It was dark by the time they woke up but Christine still felt exhausted, not having had a proper night’s sleep since they left the camp. Although he knew that he would not be welcome downstairs, the manager having implied that when he agreed to give them a room, Erik insisted on going down to arrange for their meals to be sent up. He was determined that he was going to do something for her, instead of letting her constantly arrange everything for them.

 

She smiled so sweetly when he woke her and presented her with her first hot meal in over a week that it almost made him forget about all the stares and whispers directed at him when he had ventured downstairs. When they were finished he placed their trays outside the door and this time Christine didn’t need to convince him to share the bed with her, he automatically lay down beside her and fell asleep.

 

They left the hotel first thing the next morning, not bothering to eat breakfast with the rest of the guests.

 

“Where do you want to go?” Erik asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Christine shrugged. “I don’t really know much about Paris, beyond what Papa told me.”

 

“Well when you used to talk to him about coming to Paris, where were you going to live?” he probed. He wanted Christine to have something she had always dreamed of, even if it was only living in the same area that she and her father had planned to live in.

 

“We never really spoke about that. It was always about what we were going to do once we were here.”

 

“Where did you picture the two of you living?” he pushed. Christine had often spoken to him about her and her father’s plans for Paris, but she had never really mentioned where they were planning to live.

 

“I suppose it would have been close to the Opera Populaire, since Papa was going to audition there. But it will be too expensive there,” she protested.

 

“Maybe,” Erik conceded. “But we’ll start there and maybe we’ll be able to find something that isn’t too far away.”

 

So whilst Erik minded the bags Christine went into a nearby bakery to purchase some small buns for their breakfast and to ask for directions to the Opera Populaire. After eating half their breakfast and storing the rest for lunch, they started walking in the direction of the theatre.

 

“Oh my...” Christine gasped as the theatre came into view. “I never thought it would be so...big.”

 

“It is impressive,” Erik agreed, torn between studying the architecture of the building and watching Christine’s reaction.

 

“We will have to come back another day,” Christine said, smiling at Erik’s reaction, which was obvious even hidden by the sack. “So you can study it properly.”

 

“Maybe,” he murmured, although he doubted there would be any sightseeing in his future.

 

Despite numerous people also standing near the opera house staring up at it, Erik didn’t feel comfortable staying there any longer than necessary and they soon started walking away from the theatre to search for a place to stay.

 

It didn’t take long before they started encountering ‘room for let’ signs in the residential enclaves of the city. Not knowing how long it was going to be until either of them for employment they didn’t want to spend all of their funds on accommodation and the first few buildings Christine went into were too expensive. They quickly realised that their expectations were going to need to drop and they started looking at older buildings.  

 

By afternoon they had been through three buildings that they could afford but none of the owners were willing to give them a room once they saw Erik. Christine had repeatedly explained to them that her brother was injured and wasn’t contagious at all, but no one would listen. They were starting to fear that they would need to go back to the hotel for another night, although Erik doubted whether they would allow him in for a second time.

 

The sun was low in the sky when they decided to make one last attempt to find a place before they would try to return to the hotel. The building was at the end of a street with rubbish piled up in the gutters. The shutters didn’t hang straight and the paint was starting to peel off but there was a vacancy sign in the window and they knew that they couldn’t afford not to try.

 

The landlord was uninterested in anything Christine had to say, as long as she was able to afford the rent. He didn’t care when she mentioned that there would be someone else living there and didn’t even let her explain about Erik. Instead he just asked for the first month’s rent, handed her the key, pointed her up the stairs and disappeared into the back of the building. Feeling slightly puzzled at what had just occurred, Christine went outside to fetch Erik and they made their way up to their apartment.

 

The next morning saw Christine and Erik both at a bit of a loss as to what to do. For the past week they had been so focused on getting as far away from the camp and Danior as possible and now they had done that, there was nowhere else to run. They knew that they both needed to find work, but weren’t sure as to how to go about it. Everyone in the clan knew what Christine was able to do and would bring work to her when necessary. This memory seemed to inspire Christine and she realised that she should advertise her skills as a seamstress. So she went from door to door offering her services, using the dress she was wearing as an example of her skills. She explained that she was able to do all repairs and that she could create new pieces if material was provided.

 

She only had one person take up her offer by the end of the week, a bachelor in an adjoining building who had been amassing a pile of buttons and worn elbows and knees. But it was a start and he promised that if her work was good he would recommend her to all of his unmarried friends. The amount that he paid her also ensured that they were able to purchase fresh food for the rest of the week.

 

Erik however had been less successful. After managing to get Christine safely to Paris and finding somewhere for them to live he started to believe that he really was capable of looking after her properly, like he had dreamed of. He knew that this life wasn’t exactly the one that he wanted to give her, but it was a start. And now that Christine was starting to work he needed to find employment so he could start supporting her. But nobody seemed willing to take him on for even the most basic labouring jobs. He was told that he could have the job if he removed the sack from his head and no matter how much he explained the situation nobody was willing to back down from this requirement.

 

So each morning he forced himself to walk out the front door, despite a voice inside that begged him to stay inside where he knew it was safe, and search for work, whilst Christine continued to take in sewing jobs. But each day it was the same story and he started to think that maybe he wasn’t capable of taking care of her. But there was no one else. If he was to leave her then she would be alone in a strange city. At least if he stayed with her she wouldn’t have to live on her own. He knew that he couldn’t give up, surely that was some job that was sufficiently bad or poorly paid that no one else would want it and the employer wouldn’t care about his sack.

 

He even got sufficiently desperate as to return to the Opera Populaire, hoping that there might be some job available backstage, where he could hide in the darkness and no one would have to see him. But when he went to the vacancies sign there was only one notice, ‘Chorus Members Wanted’. Forgetting about his own search for work, Erik raced home to tell Christine.

 

“Christine!” he almost shouted as he burst through the front door.

 

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Christine asked, jumping to her feet for fear that something terrible had happened.

 

“The opera. You have to audition,” he said forcefully.

 

“Erik I don’t understand, what are you talking about?” Christine said, calming down slightly.

 

“I went to the Opera Populaire. They’re holding auditions for the chorus,” he explained, taking a step closer to her. “It’s the perfect opportunity for you to start singing like you’ve always wanted to.”

 

“I don’t know Erik,” Christine said, sounding far less enthusiastic than Erik would have expected. “I haven’t sung for anyone except you since I was a child.”

 

“Christine, you’re ready,” he exclaimed. “This is exactly what you and your father always wanted for you. You belong there. And once the managers realise that you won’t have to take in sewing work anymore,” he said looking disdainfully over at the table which was covered in other people’s clothing.

 

“I suppose...When are the auditions?”

 

“This week,” he stated.

 

“This week?” she exclaimed. “That’s not enough time Erik. How am I supposed to prepare in a week.”

 

“You’re already prepared,” he said arrogantly. “I can think of at least half a dozen songs you could use.”

 

“Sure, but those songs are at least twenty years old. I think they would want to hear something more recent.” She wasn’t certain but Christine felt the most famous opera in France would not be impressed by twenty year old songs.

 

“It doesn’t matter what you sing, all they need to realise is how brilliant you are.” Erik was confident that Christine would be able to impress them singing anything.

 

“Maybe...” Erik’s belief and confidence in her was overwhelming and she didn’t want to hurt him with her doubts. Of course singing at the Opera Populaire was what she had always wanted; she just hadn’t expected the opportunity to arise so quickly. But if Erik felt she was ready then she needed to believe it as well. “Alright I’ll audition.”

 

“Wonderful,” Erik said and Christine was certain that she could hear him smiling. “We’ll start immediately.”

 


 

Two days later Erik wished Christine good luck as she left for the Opera Populaire. When she had asked him to wish her luck he had declared that she didn’t need luck, but when he saw her smile drop slightly he had quickly and profusely wished her luck, although he couldn’t help but add that the managers were fools if they didn’t hire her. Christine rolled her eyes when she heard this comment but smiled. Throughout the two days that had had to prepare, Erik had frequently said this, even going so far as to say that they should hire her as one of their leading sopranos. Although Christine thought that was highly unlikely, it had done wonders for her confidence and she was certain that by the end of the day she would be a member of the Opera Populaire.

 

As soon as he heard the front door of the building close behind Christine he rushed to the mattress that served as his bed. Lifting it slightly and feeling around, he located the scrap of leather than he had found whilst out earlier in the week. He took it over to the table and pushed aside Christine’s sewing, leaving only some plain white fabric and her needles, scissors and threads. He had been thinking about how he was going to construct it all week and now that he had the materials in front of him he wanted to make sure that it was absolutely perfect.

 

It was late in the afternoon when he heard Christine running up the stairs. He quickly put her sewing back on the table the way she had left it and removed the last pieces of evidence that he had been working there. Carefully he fitted the mask over his face and felt to make sure that all of the deformity was hidden. He stood back from the door, waiting for her to enter.

 

“Erik, Erik!” she called out before she had even reached their door. “Oh where is my key?” he heard her muttered to herself.

 

“Erik I’m in. They accepted me,” she exclaimed as she stumbled through the door. “I’m a...Erik?” she gaped, staring at him in amazement.

 

“Well?” he asked anxiously.

 

“You got rid of your sack,” she said dumbly.

 

“Yes. What do you think?” he said, feeling even more nervous.

 

“What do I...Erik, it’s amazing!” she squealed, running to him and throwing her arms around him before he had a chance to stop her. Quickly realising what she had done, and how uncomfortable Erik was likely feeling, she immediately pulled away but couldn’t help but reach up to run her fingertips across the mask.

 

“It’s wonderful. When did you make it?” she asked, paying more attention to the parts of his face that she could now see, rather than the mask.

 

“Whilst you were out. I hope you don’t mind that I used some of your fabric.”

 

“Don’t mind? Of course I don’t mind!” she laughed. “You can use every bit of fabric I have if it means you won’t ever wear that horrid sack again.”

 

“I don’t ever want to wear it again,” Erik said honestly. The sack reminded him of the gypsies and of Danior and he never wanted to see it again.

 

“Good. But Erik,” Christine said shyly. “You know that you don’t have to wear anything. Not here, with me.”

 

“I, um...” Erik started.

 

“It’s alright,” Christine said, holding up a hand to stop him, realising that she was probably pushing him too far in one day. The mask on its own was a wonderful step. “Maybe get used to the mask first?”

 

Erik nodded in agreement. He didn’t want Christine to have to suffer looking at his face. And he knew that as much as she might say she would accept him, it was right that he keep his deformity hidden from her. She didn’t deserve to see that in the closest she had to a home.

 

Christine continued to watch Erik, taking the opportunity to learn every inch of his exposed face. This was the first chance she had ever really had to see what the man she loved looked like.

 

“Christine,” Erik prodded gently. “The Opera?”

 

“Right,” she exclaimed, blushing slightly. “They asked me to join the chorus. The managers said that the song was a bit old but the conductor said I was a wonderful singer and they should take me regardless of what song I sung and they agreed and I’m in,” she laughed.

 

“See I told you they would be fools. At least the conductor had some sense. Although I still think they should have offered you a solo role,” Erik said, trying to sound grumpy but unable to prevent a hint of happiness creeping into his voice.

 

“Erik! I’ve never sung professionally, they aren’t going to give me a solo role,” Christine protested. “Besides, aren’t you going to congratulate me?”

 

“Of course. Congratulations Mademoiselle Christine Daae, newest member of the Opera Populaire chorus.” He smiled again, feeling as though he would overflow with pride for her.

 

Christine didn’t think it was possible, but her smile became even wider at seeing Erik smile at her,“Your smile.”

 

“What?” Erik asked puzzled.

 

“I’ve never seen you smile before. It’s wonderful.” It wasn’t what anyone would call a handsome smile, not with Erik’s distorted top lip, which was still visible near the edge of the mask, but to Christine it was the most amazing thing she had ever seen.

 

“And nobody will be able to refuse you work now,” she exclaimed, realising that today was the day their fortunes would start to alter. 

 

“I still can’t show them my entire face,” he said.

 

“It won’t matter. Besides from far away, you won’t even be able to see it,” Christine declared.

 

And Christine was right. The next day Erik set out early in the morning to find employment, Christine’s wishes of good luck and declarations that anyone would be a fool not to hire him. echoing in his head. He felt more confident than he had ever been and he was determined not to return home until he was able to tell Christine that he had found a job and would be able to take care of her.

 

By midday he had found something, a job on a construction site, clearing away mud and water in preparation for the foundations of a new building to be laid. He returned home exhausted and filthy but it was worth it when he saw Christine beaming with pride as he told her about the job and presented her with the coins he had been given at the end of the day. He fell into bed immediately after supper, too exhausted to sit up with Christine, and wondered how he was every going to survive a full day of the back breaking labour. He immediately chastised himself for thinking that, for he knew he should be grateful for the work and fell asleep thinking of whether he would earn enough to buy something special for Christine.  

Chapter Text

Erik let the door fall shut behind him as he realised that it was just as hot in the foyer as it was outside. He glanced around to make sure that he was alone and lifted his mask to wipe away the sweat and dirt that had accumulated on the covered half of his brow. He looked at the staircase in front of him in disgust, noticing that yet again the landlord hadn’t fixed the broken floorboard. He wondered briefly whether removing the floorboard entirely would force the landlord to fix it, but quickly decided the landlord would most likely still ignore the problem and then all the tenants would have to deal with a missing floorboard.

 

He started moving towards the staircase when a voice called out to him, “You there.” Erik recognised the voice of the landlord’s wife.

 

“Yes?” he questioned, thankful for the darkness and resisting the urge to run away from any unnecessary human contact.

 

“Another package was left for your sister,” she said, shoving a soft parcel into his hands. “And please remind her that if she wants to have packages delivered here she should be here to collect them. I’m not a mail service,” she concluded snidely, quickly walking away.

 

Erik didn’t bother to respond and tucked the parcel under his arm before walking up the stairs, making a conscious effort to avoid the broken floorboard. Opening the door to the two rooms that he shared with Christine, he pulled off the coat and hat that he still insisted on wearing, regardless of the weather and his mask.

 

“Christine?” he called.

 

“I’m in here.” Christine’s voice came from the back of the apartment, where the only window was located. Walking through to the back room he found Christine sitting at a small table, with some sewing in her lap and a small stack of papers, which looked like sheet music, on the table.

 

“There was a package waiting for you downstairs.” Christine looked up at him, a look of despair on her face.

 

“Who’s it from?” she asked warily.

 

Erik turned the package over, looking for a name, “Madame Benoit.”

 

“Wonderful,” Christine muttered. “Her sons have probably torn their shirts fighting again. There won’t be anything left of the original fabric if they keep this up.”

 

“She called you my sister,” he offered, hoping to make her smile. The landlord and his wife had never bothered to ask about Erik and Christine’s relationship and didn’t seem to care, as long as the rent was paid. It had become a source of amusement for Erik and Christine to hear the variety of relationships the couple concocted for them, although in truth they had never told them what their relationship was.

 

“Hmm,” Christine responded, obviously not paying attention.

 

“What this?” he asked, reaching for the music on the table.

 

“New production,” she replied, focusing on the tiny stitches she was making. “Hannibal. Do you know it?” For all the skill and talent Erik had been able to bring out in Christine, it wasn’t until they had left the gypsies that he had had the opportunity to teach her how to read music. Whilst Christine was quickly able to pick up what Erik taught her they had been hampered by the fact that they only had access to music that Christine was given at the opera house or that Erik was able to transcribe. Their progress was slower than either of them would have liked and Christine still required Erik to teach her the songs she needed to learn the way he had taught her in the black caravan, through demonstration.

 

Erik flipped through the pages, “Vaguely. This isn’t the entire libretto? There should be an aria for the lead female.”

 

“Only the main cast get the entire libretto,” she said shortly. “Chorus members only get copies of the songs that they are involved in. They aren’t going to waste money printing entire librettos for our amusement. You know that.”

 

“Of course,” Erik agreed. “When do you need to learn this by?”

 

“We need to know the opening song for rehearsal tomorrow.” Christine viciously stabbed at her sewing. “I tried to read it on the way home but it was too complicated.”

 

He scanned through the first song, “I don’t remember this one, but we should be able to work on the basics tonight.”

 

“I shouldn’t have to learn chorus songs. I should have tried harder at the audition, then I would have at least had a chance at an actual role, even a small one,” she grumbled, sucking on her finger after stabbing it with her needle.

 

“Christine you sung brilliantly at your audition and you remembered everything I had taught you. It’s not your fault that the fools who run that theatre couldn’t see that,” Erik explained, not understanding where Christine’s anger was coming from. He had always believed that Christine should have been giving a leading role but she had always said, and seemed to accept, that nobody started at the top and it would take time.

 

“No. They just wanted modern singers because they are ‘a theatre that showcases the newest offerings in the opera world’,” she said, imitating one of the managers. “Which is why they are now putting on Hannibal,” she snorted. “We should have waited until I had learned some songs that had been written in the past thirty years. Then they would have given me a better role. Or at least one that paid more.”

 

“We were lucky that they were holding auditions when we first arrived in Paris. We didn’t have time to learn anything new. And who knows how long it would have been until they held auditions again,” Erik said sensibly.

 

“I know, I know,” Christine sighed, putting her sewing down on the table and flexing her fingers, “And if I wasn’t in the chorus then I would have to sew all day. I just wish...Do you know people live at the theatre? A lot of the dancers and some of the chorus. I went up there today with one of the dancers, Meg. She was complaining about how hot it gets at night, but it was heavenly compared with here. She said that there were a couple of beds free at the moment and that I could take one if I needed it. They don’t pay you as much but they give you somewhere to sleep and meals are provided.”

 

“Do you want to move there?” Erik asked, horrified by the direction that the conversation was taking and terrified that Christine wanted to leave him. He had been dreading this since they had arrived in Paris, that Christine would realise that she was living with a monster and want to be as far away from him as possible.

 

“I told Meg no. I didn’t tell her why,” she exclaimed, mistaking the look on Erik’s face for fear that they would be discovered. “Besides, I couldn’t leave you.”

 

Why? He wanted to ask. Why couldn’t she leave him? Did she want to stay with him because she wanted to be with him or because she needed him? Or had she realised what kind of monster he was and was afraid of what he would do if she tried to leave? But he didn’t, instead saying, “I’m sorry.”

 

His response seemed so inadequate to Christine, although she wasn’t sure why. “What for?”

 

“For this,” he said, gesturing around the cramped and decaying apartment. He looked over at the window Christine was sitting by, that wouldn’t open to let in fresh air no matter how hard he pushed it, the battered furniture that had already been in apartment and the basin that they had to use in place of running water.

 

“It’s not terrible,” she observed. “I mean, it’s certainly better than what you’re used to.”

 

He’d been wrong, he realised. Christine was going to leave him. But not before she took one final shot at him. After all, who would want to live with a thing that had spent most of its life in a cage? The past few months had no doubt been hell for her.

 

“Maybe this is exactly what you wanted. An escape from the gypsies, a chance to start a new life. A real life, where you are free to do exactly what you want.” She stood and started advancing towards him.

 

Erik instinctively started backing away from her. “No, Christine, it’s not like that.”

 

“Maybe you needed someone to go with you, a reason to escape. I don’t doubt that Danior would seek to blame me for the attack on the camp. But perhaps you exaggerated how mad he actually was, so I would go with you, rather than heading back to the camp. You took me away from my family and it could have been for nothing. What would you have done if I had refused, would you have physically dragged me away?” Every accusation was worse than any physical blow he had endured at the hands of the gypsies.

 

“He was going to expel you from the clan and if you didn’t leave willingly he was going hurt you. I couldn’t let him do that to you,” he said shakily.

 

“No!” she shouted. “You’re lying. He wouldn’t hurt me. Not like that. Vadoma wouldn’t let him.” She refused to believe that someone she had known for so long would do her physical harm, no matter how much he disliked her.

 

“Christine, you didn’t hear him. Vadoma wasn’t going to be able to stop him, not this time,” he said, still trying to get a hold of his emotions. Until now he hadn’t allowed himself to really think what would have happened if he hadn’t been able to get Christine away from the camp.

 

“Of course she could have. But you never gave her the chance,” she defended her surrogate mother.

 

“No, she couldn’t. If she got in his way he was going to get rid of her too. He even threatened Nicu.” He wanted to be able to convince her that the threat was real without revealing that Danior had been willing to kill her.

 

“I don’t believe you!” she shouted defiantly.

 

“He threatened Nicu, one of his closest men. I don’t think he has ever done that, even when Nicu has done something incredibly stupid when he’s been drunk. What does that tell you?” Erik asked.

 

“No...” she said futilely. “But maybe it wasn’t going to be that bad. I’ve seen him use a whip on others...”

 

“It would have been bad, very bad,” he exhaled, relieved that she was finally starting to believe him.

 

“Oh.” All her anger seemed to desert her, leaving only resignation.

 

“Christine, I swear, this is not what I wanted for you. Do you honestly think that I want for you to have to live in this terrible apartment in an area where it isn’t safe for you to walk out the door at night? For you to have to work two jobs, one of which you hate, just to earn enough money to survive? I hate that I’m not able to earn enough money to support you, that nobody will hire me to do anything but the most pitiful, disgusting jobs that no-one else wants. I didn’t want to take you away from Vadoma, from your family and I wish you could go back. I wish that you could have everything that made you happy. But this was the only way to keep you safe. That is the only reason I did this. Not because I wanted to leave the camp and needed someone to come with me. Not for any other reason. It was only to keep you safe.” He stood there, waiting for her to reply and hoping desperately that she would believe him.

 

“I know,” she whispered and promptly burst into tears.

 

Erik was horrified. He hated seeing Christine cry in the past and he hated it even more knowing that he was the cause.

 

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, reaching out for his hand, but he pulled away before she could touch him. With nothing to hold on to she sunk to the floor, her skirt pooling around her.

 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it, I promise. I know that you wouldn’t lie to me,” she continued. Erik felt a small stirring from his conscience at the back of his mind. No, he hadn’t lied to her, but she didn’t know why he was so determined to keep her safe. That if it had been any other girl being attacked he would have left her there. She didn’t know that he had begun dreaming about their future together, one where he could hold her and tell her that he loved her. Would she still be sorry if she knew?

 

“I’m tired,” she murmured, staring at the bare floor. “I’m so tired. I miss Vadoma, I miss everyone back at the camp. It’s been months and they have no idea where I am, or even that I’m safe. Paris is so different to what I remember and it’s so hot I don’t think I’ll ever be cool again. The lead soprano at the theatre, Carlotta, has decided she hates me and I’m scared that she’ll convince the managers to fire me.”

 

Not fully able to resist his urge to comfort her, Erik lowered himself to the floor and sat across from Christine. “I...” he began.

 

“You believe me don’t you?” she beseeched. “I shouldn’t have said those things to you and I promise I don’t believe them, not for an instant. I just took things out on you. I don’t think I would have been able to survive here if you weren’t with me.” She paused for a moment and thought about what Erik had told her about Danior. How badly could Danior have hurt her? If he had threatened Nicu did that mean that even Nicu thought he was going to go too far?

 

“If it hadn’t been for you, I might not have survived the attack on the camp.” She didn’t say whether she meant the gypsy or Danior, but Erik could tell from the look on her face that she had now realised that either man could have ended her life.

 

“I believe you,” Erik replied. But he wondered whether there was a small part of her that really believed what she had accused him of, even if she wasn’t consciously aware of it. He wouldn’t blame her. A thing that was no better than a corpse had told her that a man she had known for the better part of her life wanted to do her harm and that her family couldn’t protect her and that the only way to remain safe was to run away with him? He was surprised she hadn’t run away from him on the spot.

 

“Good,” Christine said with a shaky smile. She continued to smile until he met her gaze and she took the opportunity to study his face. The mask covered the damaged right side of his face, ending just above his mouth. Sitting this close to him she could see the small scars on the left side, but she only needed to take a few steps backwards for them to become invisible. His hair was shorter that it had been when they left the camp and he had it tied back in a short ponytail, although there were pieces that had escaped during the day. He had cut it himself when he had stopped wearing the sack over his head, refusing to allow Christine to cut it for him.

 

She had been so pleased when he had made himself a proper mask. He had insisted on wearing the hessian sack over his head during the trip to Paris and she hated it. Even once they were safely away from the gypsy camp he continued to wear the hat and pulled his collar up to cover as much of his face as possible. With the mask only covering half his face she could see the man he really was. She understood why he wore it outside but had told him that he shouldn’t wear it when they were alone in the apartment; however he refused to take it off. She hoped that one day he would trust her enough to let her see all of him, but she felt that after what she had just said he wasn’t going to feel that he could trust her enough in the near future.

 

Erik shifted slightly, feeling uncomfortable under Christine’s scrutiny. “I do have some, ah, good news,” he ventured.

 

“Really?” He could see her visibly brighten at his statement and felt a strange sense of pride that he was able to do so.

 

“I’ve been offered another job by the master mason on the building site. He’s almost finished his work on the site and is going to be moving onto another job and he wants me to work for him. He says that he wants to train me, like an apprentice. The pay’s a little higher and I won’t have to stay on site as long because all his work needs to be done in full sunlight,” he explained with a small smile.   

 

Christine beamed, “Erik, that’s wonderful. I’m so proud of you.”

 

He immediately forgave every horrible thing she had accused him of earlier. She was proud of him. Nobody had ever been proud him and that Christine was the first person to say it made it all worthwhile. He vowed that from now on he wouldn’t just try to keep her safe; he wanted to make her proud of him. He wanted to experience this again.

 

“When do you start?” she asked excitedly.

 

“Next week. And I think,” he said carefully, “That with the extra money I’ll be earning you won’t need to take in as much sewing.”

 

“Really?” she squeaked. She almost lunged forward to hug him but held herself back at the last minute. “That would be nice,” she finished demurely, still grinning widely.

 

“I meant what I said before Christine. I know how much you dislike sewing and I want to be able to provide for you,” Erik said earnestly. “I hope that this job will be the start.”

 

“We should celebrate,” she decided.

 

“How?”

 

“We can go for a walk tonight. Once the sun’s set it will be so much cooler outside than it is in here. There’s a park that I walk past every day on the way to the theatre, it will be perfect.”

 

“I’m not sure...” It was one thing to leave the apartment to go to the work site, he had to do that to earn money. But he rarely, if ever, left the apartment for any other reason.

 

“There won’t be much light in the park, only the light from the lamps along the paths. No one will be able to see your mask, it will blend into the rest of your face in the darkness,” she reassured him, sensing that he was ready to say no to her suggestion because his mask.

 

He could see how much this meant to Christine and he knew that her earlier outburst had been at least partly because she was constantly working, either at the theatre or sewing, and never had a chance to relax. He wanted to look after her and he realised that it would mean doing more than just providing for her financially. He also wanted to see her happy and make her smile. “Alright. A short walk,” he agreed.

 

“Thank you Erik. I promise, nobody will pay any attention to us. We’ll be just like any other couple taking an evening stroll.” Christine averted her face from Erik’s gaze as soon as she said the word ‘couple’, wishing profusely that she had chosen another way to refer to them.

 

Erik wondered whether she realised that she had referred to them as a couple, but quickly dismissed the idea as ridiculous. She had used it as a figure of speech, nothing more. Despite this, he found that at this moment, he was happier then he could ever remember being.

 

“Should we start looking over your music for tomorrow before we go?” he suggested, pointing to the Hannibal sheet music still resting on the table.

 

“We should,” Christine agreed, standing up and leading him back to the table. 

Chapter Text

“Oh dear,” Christine giggled. “Look at that poor man over there.”

 

Erik obediently looked in the direction Christine was pointing to where a young nobleman was struggling to control the three hounds he was walking. The dogs, who were evidently stronger than the man, had pulled him off the path and were busily sniffing the base of a large tree.

 

“It would have been wise to ask for help in walking three of those things,” Erik said, watching as the man tried to hold onto the leads as the dogs decided they wanted to go in different directions.

 

“I’m sure a man like that could have found someone to help him if he wanted it. Perhaps he just likes walking them himself?” Christine suggested.

 

They continued to walk through the park, away from the man with his dogs, and silently took in their surroundings. The sun was starting to set and each time they walked in some shade they could feel the coolness of the coming night air.

 

“Can you see those two children over there?” Erik asked, looking ahead to where the path they were on crossed with another.

 

“No, where? Oh there they are, aren’t they sweet!” Christine exclaimed, smiling fondly at the two young children who were toddling along hand in hand, a few steps ahead of their parents.

 

They both slowed down, so they wouldn’t intercept the family at the crossroads. Feeling as though this was the right moment, Christine gently linked her arm through Erik’s and was thrilled when he accepted her touch without starting.

 

After the night they had gone for a walk in the park to celebrate Erik’s new job with the mason, it had become a habit for Erik and Christine to go for a walk each evening after supper. At first Erik had only been willing to go because it was an opportunity for Christine to get out of the hot stuffiness of the apartment, he was still extremely wary about leaving the safety of the apartment for any reason other than work. But he gradually found that when he was wearing his mask in the evening, nobody would pay any attention to him and he genuinely started to enjoy their walks and look forward to them.

 

So although the nights were starting to become cooler with the advent of autumn, they continued to go out each evening. They both wondered whether they would be able to continue once winter came, but neither said anything, instead focusing on enjoying their time together whilst they could.

 

It was on the night when Erik had told Christine how much he enjoyed their walks that she had bravely taken his arm for the first time. When they had first arrived in Paris he had automatically pulled away from her each time she had touched him, whether intentionally or unintentionally. But Christine had grown up touching those she had loved and she refused to not be able to do the same with Erik. She knew why he pulled away, for too many years human touch had been a source of pain for him, and she was determined to show him that it could also be wonderful. Slowly her efforts had paid off and she was able to brush her hand against him or push past him in their cramped rooms without him shying away.

 

But she wanted to be able to show him more continuous and obvious affection and their nightly walks presented the perfect opportunity. They had been laughing together, something that had been rare but that was becoming more frequent, when, without giving it much thought, Erik had said how much he enjoyed their walks and how it was his favourite part of the day. Before he had had a chance to think about what he had said, Christine had said that she felt the same way. Realising that this was an opportunity to progress their relationship, Christine had tucked her hand around Erik’s elbow.

 

Although he was used to brief, light touches from Christine, such a bold move startled him and he jerked away from her.

 

Christine had immediately apologised, almost in tears for fear that she had ruined not only their walk but any progress she had made with Erik. She wondered whether it was what her touch symbolised that Erik had pulled away from, rather than the actual contact.

 

Erik too feared for what this would mean for his relationship with Christine. He knew that Christine taking his arm could have just been a case of her following the conventions of the society around them, but he hoped that it could mean something more, that she thought of him as a potential suitor. He knew that the chances of this being true were slim and he could have so easily ruined it.

 

So Erik also began to apologise, telling Christine that he didn’t mean to offend her and that he should be thrilled that a woman such as her was willing to touch and be seen him public with him.

 

Awkwardly, they both came to realise that this simple touch was something they wanted with each other. He had offered his arm to her and they had continued their walk.

 

Since then Christine had taken his arm each night. She always waited until the right moment to do so, when she felt Erik was most relaxed. Sometimes this would occur early in the walk and on one or two occasions it had not occurred until they were on their way home. But they both enjoyed being able to enter their home each night as though they were something more than they actually were.

 

On the first night they had taken a walk Christine had inadvertently called them a couple and she had not been able to rid of mind of what this meant ever since. Every night she had found her imagination getting away from her as she thought about Erik and herself taking their walks as husband and wife. She wondered what the people they encountered on their walks thought; did they look like husband and wife? Did people believe that they had a family at home or were they newlyweds?

 

Erik didn’t care what other people thought of him, as long as they kept their distance. But, similar to Christine, he liked to imagine that she was his wife. That he could be just like every other man and have a woman who loved him. In the dark his mask would fade away and he would look normal. He didn’t dream of being good looking or handsome, he wanted to be the type of man that no one would pay attention to and that one woman could love. He imagined what his life with Christine would be like if they were able to share their important moments in the park. Perhaps he had proposed to her whilst sitting on the bench that was hidden in a grove of trees or maybe she would tell him that she was expecting their child whilst standing near the lake.

 

But despite his dreams he didn’t make any attempts to pursue Christine, feeling that he should be grateful that she was willing to take a walk through the park each night on his arm.

 

“Madame Benoit had another parcel delivered today,” she said, resuming their conversation.

 

“Hmm...” Erik murmured, still caught up in the feeling of her shoulder pressing against him.

 

“I sent it back.”

 

“That’s good,” he replied, clearly not paying attention to what she was saying. “Wait, you sent it back?”

 

“Yes,” Christine confirmed with a grin.

 

“You can’t possibly have done it all this afternoon,” Erik said.

 

“No. I opened it up, saw all of those shirts and trousers that needed mending and decided that I couldn’t stand the thought of fixing another. So I sent them back to her.”

 

“I know how much you hate it Christine, but was that a wise thing to do?” Erik questioned. “If Madame Benoit starts telling people that you turned away work...”

 

“Erik please don’t worry, I have thought this through. I sent her a very apologetic message and told her about another seamstress that should be able to assist her. She was one of the people whose door I knocked on when we first arrived, that’s how she knows about me. And none of my other clients have ever mentioned that they heard about me from her. So I doubt she knows anyone that she could say anything to,” Christine explained.

 

“I suppose...”

 

Christine could tell from the tone of his voice that he wasn’t entirely convinced. “The sewing was only something I was going to do until I found work singing. And now with your new job there’s more money coming in. I think that we’re able to afford this.”

 

Erik quickly did some mental calculations. His wages had improved when he had starting working for the mason and they were even able to start saving a small amount each week. Christine turning away jobs from some of her clients wasn’t going to have a large impact on them and it would certainly make her happier. He might need to start working an hour or two extra each week so they could continue to put money aside, but it would be worth it.

 

“We can,” he agreed, smiling down at her.

 

“It will only be a few clients, like Madame Benoit, so I don’t have to spend all my time at home sewing. Who knows, perhaps one day I won’t have to sew at all!”

 

“When you’re a famous soprano at the Opera Populaire,” Erik said fondly.

 

“Exactly. I’m certain famous sopranos are even able to get others to do their own sewing,” she said cheekily. Without thinking she rested her head against Erik’s shoulder as she imagine what their life would be like if they didn’t need to worry about every coin that came into their possession.

 

Erik’s wasn’t able to stop the smile spreading across his face when he realised what Christine had done and, more importantly, that he hadn’t flinched away from her at all.

 


 

There were storm clouds threatening to burst the next afternoon and Cloutier sent all his workers home earlier, rather than risk starting new work and getting caught in the rain. Taking advantage of the rare opportunity the men quickly packed away their tools and left the site. Erik was one of the last to leave, not wanting to get caught walking in the same direction as any of the other workers. This was partially in order to keep his home with Christine a secret and partially to avoid any unnecessary human contact.

 

On his way home, Erik encountered far more people than he was used to and he found himself frequently checking that his mask was still in place and walking as quickly as he was able to without drawing any unnecessary attention to himself. He let out a small sigh of relief when he was able to close the door of the apartment behind him and discard his hat and coat. Knowing that Christine wasn’t going to be home for hours he pulled off his mask to allow his face to breath properly.

 

He tried to find something to occupy his time, reading a book, sweeping the floor, studying some of the music that Christine had left lying around but he wasn’t able to focus. His mind kept returning to the previous night’s walk and the way Christine had so comfortably rested her head on his shoulder. Every time she touched him he loved her a little bit more and he couldn’t express how grateful he was for the affection that she showed him. In his heart he knew that it didn’t mean that she loved him in the same way that he loved her, how could she? But still he was glad that she was able to treat him like a normal man and that she was willing to be seen with him in public, even if no-one knew who they were.

 

He wished he could tell her how much he appreciated it, but to do so would bring up the unfortunate topic of his face and why he was so different to other men. As much as he loved her, he didn’t want Christine to have to be subjected to it in any way, whether that was seeing it or talking about it.

 

Erik knew that despite his promises to himself, Christine looked after him far more than he looked after her. His reluctance to leave the house, other than to go to work or for their nightly walks, meant that Christine was the one who purchased everything they needed and paid their rent each week. He was supposed to look after her, but his fear was stopping him from doing so.

 

Glancing over to the fireplace he saw that the weekly rent payment was sitting on the mantle, carefully held in place with a teacup, waiting for Christine to deliver it that evening. Without stopping to contemplate what he was doing, he gathered the money and walked out of the apartment, going downstairs to deliver it to the landlady.

 

His heart was racing when he returned to the apartment and he had been tempted to strangle the landlady for all the horrible things she had said, both about himself and Christine, but he felt wonderful. He had been able to do something normal for Christine, just like any other man could.  But he didn’t want to stop there. He looked around the apartment to see what else he could do. Christine had purchased food the day before so there was no need for him to do that.

 

But perhaps he could prepare supper for them. They would usually wait until they were both home and prepare supper together, although sometimes only one of them would do it if the other had had a particularly trying day. It would be a wonderful surprise for Christine if she arrived home after rehearsals and found that supper was all ready to eat.

 

He quickly set about putting away all the bits and pieces that seemed to always find their way to the table, determined that Christine would have a proper dinner. He set the table with the small amount of mismatched crockery that they owned and turned his attention to the meal.

The cupboard contained some fresh vegetables and a loaf of bread, which Erik decided he would be able to make ratatouille. Christine had rediscovered the dish at the theatre and she had remembered that she and her father had often eaten it when she was young. She had almost forgotten about it during her time with the gypsies but it had quickly become one of her favourites.

 

When Christine made it she tried to make it as close as possible to how her father had, so Erik did the same. Lighting a fire, he started chopping the vegetables as he waited for it to heat up. As he was cooking he kept nervously glancing at the door, afraid that Christine would come home early before he was ready. But once everything was ready he started to get impatient, standing at the door, trying to will Christine through it.

 

He heard Christine coming up the stairs, after so many years of listening to it he would recognise the sound of her walking anywhere; he quickly rushed back to the table to make sure everything was perfect, before opening the door for her.

 

“Erik, what is this?” Christine asked in astonishment, taking in the unusually clear table and the wonderful smell emanating from the fireplace.

 

“Cloutier sent everyone home early today, so I thought that I would surprise you. Do you like it?” Erik asked anxiously.

 

“Do I like it?” she echoed and once again forgetting herself she reached out to clasp his hand. “Erik this is wonderful.”

 

She blushed as she watched Erik stare at their joined hands in astonishment, but waited until he pulled away from her, not wanting to do anything that could possible spoil the atmosphere that he had obviously worked so hard to create.

 

“Um, here, let me take those,” Erik said pulling his hand away from her’s and reaching for her reticule and hat and trying very hard not to think about the fact that she had just been holding his hand.

 

“Thank you,” Christine said, handing her hat to Erik and pulling out the pins that were holding her hair in place. “It smells wonderful in here. Did you make ratatouille?”

 

“I did,” he said, ushering her away from the fireplace and holding out a chair so she could sit. “I used most of the vegetables you bought yesterday. I hope you don’t mind?”

 

“Of course I don’t mind. But you didn’t need to do all of this; you should have enjoyed your afternoon off,” Christine said, watching as Erik served up their dinner. “You certainly made plenty, there should be enough for supper for the next few nights.”

 

Christine waited until Erik had finished serving the food before she started eating. “It’s delicious,” she commented. “It tastes exactly like Papa’s used to.”

 

Erik didn’t reply, but gave her a small smile and continued to eat his meal delicately, making sure that nothing got on the mask and that he didn’t knock it out of place.

 

When they were finished, Christine got up in order to start clearing the table, but Erik swiftly relieved her of the bowls. “I will do the cleaning up,” he said firmly.

 

“Alright,” Christine said, “Well, I’ll go and pay the rent so I won’t have to worry about it when we come home.”

 

“No no. I also paid the rent this afternoon. You can just sit down and relax before we go for our walk,” Erik said, whilst rinsing the dishes.

 

“Oh, well thank you,” she said, feeling slightly at a loss as to what to do. She knew how Erik felt about going out in public when he didn’t have to do, so she was incredibly proud of him for facing the horrible landlady, who she knew would have said something nasty about his mask. It was something that a normal man would do and even if he didn’t say it, Christine knew that was what Erik wanted most of all, so she didn’t comment, although she hoped that he would be willing to do it again next week.

 

Whilst he cleaned, Christine took advantage of his distraction to watch him, and noted how gracefully he moved, even when he was doing something as mundane as cleaning dishes. He didn’t seem to notice her staring, or if he did it didn’t bother him, and she took this as a good sign. She wondered what it would be like to watch him playing a piano and made a silent wish that one day she would be able to do so.

 

When he was close to finish, Christine got up to tie her hair back again and collected her hat, before fetching Erik’s coat and hat and waiting at the door for him so they could leave for their walk immediately. For the first time, she put her arm around his as soon as they walked out their front door, and she didn’t move it until they returned home later that evening. 

Chapter Text

“Is it just me, or does this seem to be happening more and more often?” Christine whispered to Meg, who was fiddling with the ribbons on her practise shoes.

 

“It’s not just you,” Meg agreed, looking up just in time to see Carlotta’s libretto go flying into the orchestra pit. “Maman says that when Carlotta first agreed to perform here Monsieur Lefèvre was so pleased that he gave her anything she asked for. He adjusted rehearsal times to suit her, had her dressing room redecorated and so she started taking advantage of it, asking for more and more outrageous things and threatening to quit if he didn’t give them to her. She does this because he lets her get away with it.”

 

“Surely there are other singers that could take her place,” Christine said quietly.

 

“Of course. I heard Monsieur Reyer say that she’s having more and more trouble reaching the higher notes but won’t admit it. But she’s still very popular and people will pay to see her,” Meg shrugged, moving on to fidgeting with her skirt.

 

“Stop that,” Christine said, slapping Meg’s hands away from her skirt. “If your mother sees you doing that...” she warned.

 

“I know,” Meg sighed. “Apparently that’s why Monsieur Lefèvre is selling the theatre, because he doesn’t want to deal with Carlotta anymore.”

 

“Isn’t that just a rumour? He hasn’t said that he’s retiring,” Christine said sceptically.

 

“But he is making a big announcement today. Besides, there’s no such thing as a secret in this place,” Meg said casually, a lifetime spent in the opera house meaning that such things were simply the way of life for her.

 

Christine shifted uncomfortably at this revelation. The last thing she wanted was for anyone to know about her situation. She had been careful not to let anyone know who she lived with, where she lived or even where she was from. “Perhaps.”

 

Along with the rest of the chorus and dancers, Christine and Meg watched, with a mixture of fascination and weariness, as Carlotta continued to argue with Monsieur Reyer.

 

“No,” Carlotta shouted, stamping her foot. “I will not rehearse if I have to wear this horrible thing,” she said, plucking at her heavily beaded dress.

 

“If you don’t rehearse, you won’t be wearing anything, because we won’t be ready by opening night,” Monsieur Reyer threatened. Several of the stagehands snickered at his unintended comment.

 

“How dare you!” Carlotta shrieked. “I don’t have to put up with this.” She started walking off the stage.

 

“Of course you don’t. I’m sure that there is someone in the chorus who knows your part and we will be able to continue rehearsing,” he said nonchalantly, bending down to retrieve Carlotta’s libretto.

 

“There’s an understudy?” she screeched, whirling around. “You horrible little toad. How dare you! I never have an understudy.” She marched over to the orchestra pit and bent down to snatch the libretto back from the conductor.

 

“We will continue rehearsing,” she announced to the chorus and dancers.

 

“Well done Monsieur Reyer,” Meg said under her breath, standing up and stretching her legs in preparation.

 

Before the group were able to get themselves organised, Monsieur Lefèvre entered from the back of the theatre, followed by three gentlemen, two of whom were involved in an animated discussion.

 

“Do you know them?” Christine asked, still not familiar with everyone who was involved with the theatre.

 

Meg shook her head and watched the four men approaching the stage. The theatre fell silent, although Carlotta could be heard complaining to her assistants that nobody ever paid that much attention to her when she entered a room.

 

“If I could have your attention please?” Monsieur Lefèvre requested, somewhat redundantly in Christine’s opinion as the entire theatre was already paying attention to him. “I have an announcement to make. I know that there have been rumours in recent weeks that I am retiring and I am sad to say that as of today those rumours are correct. I have just come from signing the papers selling the theatre to Messieurs Andre and Firmin,” he indicated the two men standing to his left, “Who are to be your new managers.” He waited for the polite applause to die down. “Although I am forced to retire for personal reasons,” with this he shot a brief, but obvious, glance towards Carlotta, “I am sure Messieurs Andre and Firmin will enjoy owning this theatre as much as I have.”

 

“Did you see that?” Meg leaned across to Christine. “I told you it was because of Carlotta.”

 

Monsieur Andre or Firmin, nobody was sure who was who yet, stepped forward. “Yes, thank you Monsieur Lefèvre. My partner and I are pleased to be the new owners of the Opera Populaire and we are looking forward to the opening night of Hannibal. We have one brief announcement of our own to make and we will let you continue with your rehearsals. I am sure that we will get to know all of you within the coming months.” He glanced across the stage although his gaze seemed to remain on the dancers longer than was polite.

 

The other one stepped forward to join his partner. “As our first official act as the new owners of the Opera Populaire, Monsieur Firmin and I are delighted to announce as our newest patrons, the de Chagny family. The Vicomte Raoul de Chagny,” Monsieur Andre indicated the younger man who had been standing towards the back of the small group during the announcements, “will be representing his family in this endeavour and I have no doubt that you will all make him feel most welcome.”

 

“Thank you Messieurs Andre and Firmin. My family have been strong supporters of various artistic endeavours for many years now and we look forward to giving our patronage to the Opera Populaire,” the Vicomte said, and took a step backwards.

 

The look on Monsieur Andre’s face indicated that he had expected the Vicomte to give a slightly longer speech. “Thank you Vicomte. Perhaps you would care to watch the rehearsal? I believe the opening number is ready for opening night.”

 

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Monsieur Firmin added. “If you would care to take a seat?” he said to the Vicomte, ushering him towards the front row.

 

“Alright. You may begin,” Monsieur Andre said to the group assembled on the stage.

 

The cast made no attempt to move until Monsieur Reyer called out, “Places,” and there was a scurry of activity as the chorus, dancers and cast rushed off stage, making last minute adjustments to costumes and shoes and gathering props.

 

With a loud clash from a pair of large cymbals, the orchestra began their introduction and the chorus and dancers made their way onto the stage in a scene of obviously organised chaos. The music echoed deafeningly throughout the empty theatre but only Messieurs Andre and Firmin seemed to be bothered by it.

 

If either of the new managers had looked at the Vicomte, they would have believed that he was deeply engrossed in watching the performance. But he was ignoring the main performers, as well as the dancers, and was instead scouring the chorus. When the chorus had first entered the stage he had caught a glance of a girl who looked extremely familiar and he was desperately hoping for another sighting of her to see if his initial thought was correct. It was only at the end of the performance when the dancers fell to their knees in front of the chorus that he was able to find her, tucked onto the end of a line, almost hidden in the wings. She looked so familiar.

 

Messieurs Andre and Firmin burst into enthusiastic applause as soon as the orchestra finished and the Vicomte forced himself to politely join in.

 

“Wasn’t that wonderful?” Monsieur Andre asked.

 

“As you can see I am sure that your family will be very pleased with their investment,” Monsieur Firmin said smugly.

 

“Yes, wonderful. I’m sure my family will be very pleased,” the Vicomte said distractedly, still peering at the stage hoping for another glance at the mysterious girl.

 

“There was a woman...” he began.

 

“Ah La Carlotta, our prima donna,” Monsieur Andre interrupted. “We shall introduce you immediately.”

 

“No, no. This woman, she was in the chorus. She had long curly dark hair. What’s her name?” the Vicomte asked.

 

“I’m certain we wouldn’t know,” Monsieur Andre replied. “Perhaps Monsieur Lefèvre knows?”

 

“No. But I am sure I can send someone to find out easily enough whilst we finalise the contracts,” Monsieur Lefèvre said. He was used to members of the upper class and nobility seeking audiences with the young women of the theatre, although the dancers tended to be more popular than anyone in the chorus.

 

“Thank you, no.” The Vicomte rose from his seat and started heading towards the stage, intent on finding the girl himself.

 

“But Monsieur le Vicomte,” Monsieur Firmin called out. “The contracts.”

 

“They can wait,” he shouted back as he ducked through the curtains into the wings.  He was immediately met by a crush of people, still milling about backstage waiting for whatever was going to happen next. A group of dancers surrounded him, preventing him from moving further into the backstage areas. He peered over the top of the group, hoping to see those familiar curls.

 

“Monsieur le Vicomte,” one purred, resting her hand on his arm. “Did you enjoy our performance?”

 

“Yes, it was lovely,” he answered automatically. “Excuse me,” he said, pushing his way through the dancers, leaving them to discuss their encounter with the new patron.

 

“He was so handsome, wasn’t he?” Meg sighed, as she repeated steps from the beginning of the dance that she was sure she had done incorrectly.

 

“I suppose so,” Christine replied hesitantly.

 

“We’ve had patrons in the past who have been very old and ugly. Some of the girls don’t care though and would behave absolutely shamelessly, hoping that the men will want to take them as a mistress, or perhaps even marry them,” Meg explained matter of factly.

 

Christine shuddered slightly as she remembered the way that one of the new managers had looked at the dancers. “Is that common?” she asked.

 

“It depends,” Meg shrugged. “But I imagine the Vicomte will be very popular.”

 

“Meg, you wouldn’t..., not a mistress.” Christine sounded appalled.

 

“Gosh no,” she exclaimed. “But if he wished to court me, properly, I would be a fool to say no. And so would you,” she finished, looking to where the man in question was approaching them.

 

“Christine? Christine Daae?” the Vicomte asked. He had finally found her tucked against a wall with one of the dancers.

 

Meg turned to Christine and raised her eyebrows.

 

“You do remember me don’t you? We spent that summer together at Perros Guirec. Your father played for my parents.” Although he wasn’t sure whether Christine would remember him, there was no hint of nervousness in his voice.

 

“Monsieur le Vicomte,” Christine responded deferentially. “Of course. It is good to see you again.”

 

“Christine,” he laughed. “You never called me ‘Monsieur le Vicomte’ before, don’t start now. Call me Raoul, like you used to.”

 

“Of course, Raoul,” she murmured. Turning to Meg she said, “This is Meg Giry, she’s a dancer here.”

 

Meg gave a small curtsey as Raoul placed a kiss on the back of her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Monsieur le Vicomte,” she greeted him.

 

“Likewise. Giry, I met an Antoinette Giry earlier, the ballet mistress,” Raoul remarked.

 

“My mother,” Meg explained.

 

“You no doubt inherited her talent.” Meg blushed profusely at the comment, but managed to thank him for his kind words.

 

“Christine I had no idea that you were going to be here. It’s wonderful to see you. Is your father working here as well? I saw a list of names for the orchestra but I didn’t see a Daae,” he exclaimed.

 

Christine shook her head. “No, my father isn’t working here. He passed away many years ago.”

 

He reached forward to grasp her hand, but Christine shied away, not wanting to become the subject of gossip. “I’m so sorry. May I ask when?”

 

“The summer after Perros Guirec,” she explained.

 

“He was still young,” Raoul murmured. “Where did you go after that?”

 

“I stayed with friends. We moved frequently.” Meg listened, fascinated, for Christine had revealed very little of her life prior to coming to the opera.

 

“And now you’re here. Do you live in the theatre?” he asked.

 

“No.” Christine didn’t elaborate, for she didn’t want to reveal that she was living with a man who wasn’t her husband or a relative, nor did she wish to lie and say that she was living alone.

 

“Oh.” He felt a little disconcerted by her abrupt response, but continued, “You must come to supper with me tonight, so we can talk properly.”

 

“I’m not sure I can’t...” she replied hesitantly.

 

“You must. I insist. Mademoiselle Giry can attend as a chaperone,” he said gallantly.

 

Christine could feel Meg practically vibrating with excitement beside her. “Alright. But we should meet here, in the foyer,” she insisted. She didn’t want Raoul, or Meg for that matter, to know where she was living.

 

“Perfect. Shall we meet at eight?” he asked, a huge smile spreading across his face.

 

“Yes, eight sounds fine,” Christine agreed.

 

“I must go now; the managers are no doubt wanting me to sign more documents. I look forward to seeing you, both of you,” he amended with a glance towards Meg, “Tonight.” Christine wasn’t as quick this time and couldn’t move her hand away from his reach before he grasped it and placed a kiss on the back. He quickly moved away from them, heading back onto the stage where he assumed the managers were waiting for him.

 

Once he was out of earshot Meg let out a squeal that she had been holding in since he had first approached them. “Christine. The Vicomte wants to take you to supper. Everyone is going to be so jealous. Can you imagine! Perhaps he will even want to court you. You’re in the chorus, not a dancer or one of the lead singers, so it is a little bit unusual but still you shouldn’t let that stop you.”

 

“Meg!” Christine chastised firmly. “He is not going to court me. We are old friends, that is all. We will have supper tonight and it won’t go any further.”

 

“Maybe,” Meg replied, not at all convinced. “What are you going to wear?”

 

“I don’t know.” Christine suddenly realised that she owned nothing even remotely appropriate for the type of restaurant that Raoul was likely to take them to.

 

“Don’t worry,” Meg reassured her, ‘We’ll find something in the costume department.” Seeing the look of panic on Christine’s face she added, “Something suitable. Not all the costumes look like this. There’s a lot that just look like ordinary outfits. But after rehearsal,” she finished, seeing Monsieur Reyer and her mother directing everyone back to the stage.

 


 

Christine carried the borrowed dress up the stairs, being careful not to catch it on anything. She hadn’t felt right about taking the dress from the theatre but Meg had assured her that it was done all the time. Holding the package tightly under her arm, she slipped her key into the door and entered the apartment.

 

“Erik,” she called out softly. “Are you here?”

 

She jumped when he spoke her name behind her. “I wish you would stop doing that,” she exclaimed, heart racing. “You always move so quietly. Even when you’re wearing shoes,” she finished accusingly.

 

“I’m sorry,” he apologised. It was a habit he had acquired with the gypsies, moving silently within the dark caravan so they couldn’t hear where he was.

 

Christine waved off his apology, although she had been startled she wasn’t upset at all. “I’m glad you’re home, I didn’t want to tell you in a note.”

 

“Is something wrong?” Erik asked, noticing the package Christine was still holding under her arm.

 

She walked further into the apartment and placed the package on the table. “No, not wrong, exactly. Do you remember me telling you about a boy I played with the summer before I joined the clan?”

 

“Raoul,” he answered immediately. He remembered everything Christine had told him about her life, every name, place and event.

 

“Yes,” Christine confirmed, pleased that he remembered something she had told him so long ago. “He came to the theatre today; his family are to be the new patrons.”

 

“Patrons?” Erik questioned dumbly. He knew that Raoul’s family were wealthy but to be to wealthy enough to be the patrons of a theatre the size of the Opera Populaire was something that he hadn’t expected.

 

“Apparently the Vicomte and his family have been supporting the arts for many years. Or so he said when the new managers introduced him.”

 

“Vicomte?” Erik repeated.

 

“Didn’t I tell you that?” Christine wondered. “Never mind. The point is that he recognised me; he was able to see me even though I was at the end of the chorus. And he invited me to supper,” she let out in a rush.

 

“And you accepted,” Erik stated. There was absolutely no emotion in his voice and even with his half mask his face gave nothing away.

 

Troubled by the fact that she wasn’t able to tell how Erik felt about this revelation, Christine continued. “I didn’t think it was a good idea to accept his invitation but he was insistent and he was so pleased to see me again. Plus Meg was standing right there and Raoul invited her to come and act as a chaperone and I couldn’t think of a reason to say no. It’s not as though I could say anything about you.”

 

“You should go,” Erik said, very calmly.

 

“What? You want me to go?” Erik was too lost in his own feelings to hear the hurt entering Christine’s voice.

 

“He was your friend when you were children, was he not? Of course you should take the opportunity to renew your relationship.” The Vicomte had been kind and generous towards Christine when they had been children, he could only hope that the years had not changed him too much.

 

“And that’s all it is,” Christine burst out. “He wants to talk about the years that have passed since we last saw one another. We are simply old childhood friends.”

 

“Of course,” Erik agreed. At the moment they were only childhood friends. But the Vicomte obviously had strong memories of Christine if he was able to recognise a woman standing in a chorus line, a woman who he hadn’t seen since they were both children. It was clear what was going to happen. The Vicomte had already seen that Christine had become a beautiful woman. He would take her to supper and realise that she was a sweet, kind and generous person and would want to spend more time with her. Perhaps he would wish to officially court her. And then Christine would leave him, for why would she want to stay with a hideous monster who had been paraded by gypsies for years and who she needed to help support when she could have a young, handsome, wealthy and kind Vicomte? Erik knew that the Vicomte would be able to provide Christine with a far more comfortable, and probably far more safe, life that he could ever hope to. All he wanted was for her to be safe and happy. The Vicomte could do that, he couldn’t. It was that simple.

 

“I’m sure this won’t happen again,” Christine said, starting to unwrap the parcel on the table. “I’m not even sure what I’m going to say to him tonight. I can’t tell him that I’ve been living with gypsies for the past ten years and now I’ve run away with a man they were keeping captive. He will probably think that I’m very strange and will decide that he doesn’t wish to spend any more time with me.”

 

“No he won’t,” Erik argued

 

“Will you be alright? I’m not expecting any parcels to be delivered tonight, so you shouldn’t need to answer the door,” Christine called out, walking into the other room with the dress.

 

She was right to ask of course, he hated having to answer the door and for the first months after they had arrived he had hidden in the other room whenever Christine had had a package delivered. He let out a small sigh of disgust at himself. What sort of man was too scared to answer his own door?

 

“I will be fine,” he answered stubbornly. “And I’m sure that the Vicomte will want to take you out again,” he added, mostly to emphasis to himself that this was the way events were going to unfold.

 

Christine rushed back out of the second room, wearing the dress that she had been carrying minutes earlier. She looked stunning and Erik knew that the Vicomte was going to think so too.

 

“You look beautiful,” he managed to choke out. He had never seen her wear anything like it; it was so different to the gypsy dresses she had worn on special occasions with the clan. It was a cobalt blue and made of a delicate material that Erik didn’t recognise.

 

Christine stopped rushing and looked up at Erik, blushing ever so slightly. “Thank you.”

 

She continued to look up at him but soon the moment ended. “I’m meeting Meg and Raoul back at the theatre,” she explained. “But I won’t be home too late.” She reached out to brush her hand against Erik’s wrist and with an almost sad smile walked out the door. 

Chapter Text

Christine smiled to herself as she walked up the stairs to the apartment, pleased with the small package she had tucked away in her reticule. She knew that it was perfect the moment she saw it, although Meg had been puzzled as to why she would be interested in such an item, and she hoped that by presenting it to Erik they would be able to begin returning to the way things were a few weeks earlier.

 

After Erik had started his new job with the master mason their lives had continued to improve. Once Christine had turned down work from Madame Benoit and a small number of other clients, they had found that they could manage with the extra Erik was receiving from Cloutier and Christine had found that she was actually able to turn away new clients. Their regular evening walks continued to be a source of joy for both of them, although it was rarely discussed. She was able to touch him more freely now without him shying away at all, resting her head on his shoulder and linking her arm around his elbow, and whilst he wouldn’t initiate any physical contact she hoped that one day soon he would. They had starting having long talks, like they used to back in the caravan, and he was gradually starting to tell her things about himself, although he wouldn’t talk about what the gypsies did to him.

 

But a few weeks ago it had suddenly stopped.  He had started shying away from her touch again and avoided her every time she wanted to have a conversation with him. He made excuses for not going on their evening walks and Christine found that the only way she could get him to spend any time with her was if she needed help learning new songs for the opera. All the confidence he seemed to have gained from his new job appeared to vanish overnight and Christine feared that one day he was going to come home and say that he had quit.

 

She knew that he had been hurt by what she had said when she accused him of exaggerating the situation with Danior in order to take her away from the camp and she desperately wished that she had never said it. She still didn’t know why she had said such horrible things for she had always known that Erik wouldn’t lie to her and that she could trust him complete. All she could say was that she was angry that Danior’s actions had forced her to leave her family and that the events of that day had caused her to lash out. She had apologised numerous times but Erik had always said that he could understand why she had said it and that he forgave her completely. She hated that he thought what she had said was reasonable but he wouldn’t be convinced otherwise. Still she wondered if it continued to play in his mind as it did in her’s.

 

“Erik?” she called as she pushed open the front door. “Are you here? Oh good, you’re home,” she exclaimed, seeing him sitting at their table, drawing something that she presumed was for his work. “I have something for you.”

 

Turning to face her, he asked, “What’s that?”

 

“It’s a surprise,” she smiled, pulling the package from her reticule. “You’ll have to open it.”

 

“Not that,” he said, ignoring the package. “Your wrist.” There was a delicate gold bracelet around her wrist. He couldn’t remember her wearing it when she left or even owning such an item and he didn’t think that she would have brought it for herself when she went to lunch with another girl from the theatre.

 

“Oh this. It’s just a trinket really,” Christine said in an obviously faked carefree tone.

 

“I don’t remember seeing it before,” he pushed. He didn’t even know why he was doing this. Did he really need to hear her say that it was a gift from Raoul? He didn’t need to be reminded that Raoul could provide her with things that he never could.

 

“I’ve had it for a week or two,” she explained. “It was a gift from Raoul,” she admitted.

 

Of course he thought bitterly. He imagined that it wouldn’t be long before he was presenting her with other pieces of jewellery, a ring perhaps? And then she would leave him. He wouldn’t be able to stay in Paris, not when there was the chance of hearing news of the Vicomte de Chagny and his young bride. But this was what he wanted for Christine he argued to himself, what would be best for her. She shouldn’t be trapped with a monster like him. The Vicomte would be able to provide her with the type of life she deserved. The Vicomte no doubt deserved someone like Christine. He didn’t deserve anyone, especially not someone as wonderful as her.

 

“It’s very nice,” he said coolly.

 

“Oh,” she responded unhappily. She had been so sure that he had been about to display some sort of emotion. Didn’t he care that another man was practically courting her? What would it take for him to express some sign of jealousy or anything to show that he cared about her?   Or perhaps she was being foolish, expecting Erik to have any sort of feelings beyond basic friendship for her. She had hoped that living together over the past months would have shown Erik that she was no longer a child, but maybe she had been wrong.

 

Nevertheless she still wanted his friendship back, if that was all she could hope to have. Remembering the package still in her hand, she forced a smile onto her face and approached the table. “Please open it,” she entreated, putting it on top of the paper that Erik had been sketching on.

 

Erik dutifully started to open the package, a small part of him savouring the fact that this was the first real tangible present he had ever been given. And from Christine no less. His heart was at war with his mind, one screaming at him to never let her go because she belonged with him and the other reminding him that he wasn’t going to be able to give her a reasonable life and that he needed to do what was best for her, not what he selfishly wanted.  

 

Carefully peeling the brown paper back revealed a small book entitled ‘A History of French Masons.’ It was wonderful. When he had first started working with the master mason he had often relayed to Christine what his employer had told him about famous French masons. Although he felt that Christine likely had absolutely no interest in the topic she would listen to him intently and ask questions and even encourage him to tell her more. He loved her all the more for it. He lightly ran his fingers over the binding, enjoying the feel of its texture.

 

When Erik didn’t say anything, Christine offered, “We walked past this tiny bookshop and it was just sitting there in the window. I immediately thought that it would be perfect for you so I went in and brought it.”

 

Erik allowed himself one last look at the gift Christine had given him before forcing himself to push it to the other side of the table and returning his attention to the sketches in front of him. “Thank you,” he said briefly.

 

“Is that all?” she asked timidly. She had seen the way he had reverently handled the book and wondered whether he had ever really received a physical gift during his life. She had given him items when he was kept in the caravan by the gypsies, but they had strictly been necessities. She could remember his reaction to the song she had performed for him as a Christmas present, he had been so grateful and one would say almost happy, despite the situation he was in. What had happened to that man?

 

“I am sure that it will be most useful,” he pronounced, not looking up from his papers. He wanted to fall to his knees and thank her but held himself back. Christine wouldn’t want him thanking her like that. And the less time that she had to spend with him the more time she could spend with Raoul, which was what he wanted for her. He was so wrapped up in his own feelings that he couldn’t even hear the sorrow in Christine’s voice.

 

“Erik,” Christine said. She waited until he turned to look at her before continuing, “What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing,” he replied, immediately realising that that was the wrong answer and made it sound like he was hiding something. But he couldn’t tell her that he was deliberately withdrawing from her and encouraging her to become involved with another man because he would never be good enough for her. He certainly couldn’t tell her that he hated being apart from her and that he wanted more. “Why do you ask?” he asked, hoping that she couldn’t hear the fear in his voice.

 

“You’ve changed,” she said softly, moving towards the table and taking a seat in the empty chair. “The past few weeks...things have been different.”

 

Christine reached across the table to try and take his hand but he very quickly pulled away. He cringed as he realised how obvious it had been. “See?” she cried. “You won’t even let me touch you anymore. I know what the gypsies did to you; I brought you bandages and water for years. But I would never, ever, hurt you. I thought that you knew that, I thought you trusted me. Yet you pull away as though I was going to strike you. I know what it was like for the first few months, you would jump every time I touch you, like it was an instinct. But we got past that didn’t we? All our walks in the park where I would take your arm. Now it seems like you’re doing it on purpose.”

 

He couldn’t think of what to say, so he remained silent. As much as he had craved Christine’s touch, when they first left the clan his body would betray him, automatically pulling away from Christine every time she even came close to touching him. He had never told her how glad he was that she persisted, continuing to grant small touches when anyone else would have given up, feeling that he was rejecting them. But then he had started pulling away, deliberately this time, fearing that he wasn’t going to be able to resist the urge to touch her in return for much longer. And knowing that the more he experienced her touch, the harder it was going to be to give it up when she inevitably left him.

 

“You don’t talk to me anymore,” she continued, prompted by his lack of response. “For as long as I have known you I have been able to tell you anything. But now it’s like you’re a stranger who isn’t interested in anything I have to say.” She paused for a moment and when she resumed her voice was thick with emotion. “I know that I am younger than you and that you have known me since I was a child. Maybe you still see me as a child and living with me has made you realise that you aren’t interested in being friends with someone like me.” She realised that her insecurities were starting to show but she didn’t care, she needed to know either way.

 

He knew that what he was doing was going to be the right thing for Christine in the long run. Of course she was going to be better off with someone like the Vicomte. But he had wanted her to start forgetting about him, not worry that there was something wrong with her. As much as he didn’t want to have this conversation with her, for fear of what he would start to reveal, he couldn’t let her continue to believe that there was anything wrong with her.

 

“Christine I know that you are not a child. I don’t see you that way,” he began, not really knowing what he was going to say next.

 

“Do you know that that is the first thing you have told me in weeks? The first thing that actually means something,” she questioned. “You didn’t tell me much about your life when I visited you in the caravan. I understand that. I know that the gypsies did unspeakable things to you and I will never forgive them for that. And I don’t expect you to tell me everything about your life with the gypsies, not unless you want to. But you don’t tell me anything anymore. You used to talk to me about your work, about how you wanted to find a nice house to live in and music, we would talk about music for hours. But lately, nothing.”

 

Yet again, Erik had no way to explain his actions to Christine.

 

“I miss the old Erik,” she sobbed, trying in vain to grasp his hands again. “I miss the Erik that I knew back with the gypsies, the one that came to Paris with me. You’re becoming a stranger to me and I hate it. I miss the Erik that gave me music lessons because he was passionate about it, not because he had to so I could earn money. I miss the man who I could talk to for hours about any topic we cared to consider. I miss the man I love...d, spending time with even if we were just sitting in the darkness,” she fumbled over her last sentence.

 

Erik started fidgeting with the stick of charcoal he had been using and watched as his fingers turned black.

 

“You can trust me,” she said fiercely. “You can tell me anything, anything at all. Surely after all that we’ve been through you know that.”

 

Christine paused for a moment and appeared to stare down at Erik’s hands like he was, watching the charcoal coat them. She wasn’t certain that she should raise the issue of Erik’s role within the gypsy camp but she could think of no other way to get through to him. Since they had fled the camp they had only spoken of her reasons for leaving and the life she had left behind. Although they had spoken of their time together in the caravan, they had never discussed why Erik was there in the first place.

 

“I always knew, at least it felt that way,” she said awkwardly. “I remember when we first arrived at the camp Danior started to explain about your caravan, but Papa made him stop, he didn’t want me to hear about things like that.”

 

“Christine, don’t...” Erik begged, realising where this conversation would likely lead.

 

“No, I need to say this. You need to hear it,” she replied firmly, still watching his hands. “Papa told me to stay away from the caravan and the other children were scared of it, but I never knew why. I would walk past it every day and I never felt scared, not really. I would feel...sad, instead. Then one day Mala stopped cleaning the caravan and nobody would tell me why. I’m sure that Mala, Milosh, their parents and Danior all knew why but they wouldn’t tell me, or Vadoma, even years later. The all acted so strangely when it happened. I thought that something had happened to Mala in the caravan so I was nervous when I first started. And Danior was angry and forcing me to clean the caravan and the other children didn’t go near it, so I was scared. But then I started cleaning there and I met you and I wasn’t scared anymore. I think that it happened by the end of that first morning.” She gave a wistful smile. “The day that Nicu came into the caravan, I was terrified. I cried for what felt like hours after that. But it wasn’t because I was scared of you, or what you had done. I was scared because Nicu had attacked you and I was afraid that you were hurt.” Christine looked up at Erik at this point and tried to catch his eye, but his head remained stubbornly lowered.

 

“It was not long after that happened that I discovered you were the Living Corpse.” Erik’s head snapped up at the moment of his gypsy stage name.

 

“You knew?” he asked, his voice rough. Rationally, he knew that having lived amongst the gypsies for so long Christine was going to be aware that he was the Living Corpse, but hearing her give voice to that knowledge made it all the more real and he hated it.

 

“It wasn’t going to remain a secret forever, despite what Papa told Danior when we first arrived at camp. But don’t you see, it doesn’t matter,” she emphasised. “I knew who you were and I trusted you. It didn’t matter what anyone told me about you I still came into the caravan every day because I knew what you were really like. Why do you think I snuck out of Vadoma’s caravan every morning to see you? It was because you were my friend and I wanted to spend time with you,” she answered the question before Erik had a chance to respond.

 

“For most of the time I have known you I have known who you are and what the gypsies were doing to you,” she repeated. “And it has never mattered. You have always been my best friend and I trust you with my life. I left my home because you told me I wasn’t safe there. That’s how much I trust you.”

 

Erik continued to stare at her, stunned. He couldn’t believe that she had uttered the words ‘Living Corpse’. In some ways that world seemed a lifetime ago. But hearing her say it brought forward the worst of his insecurities and he couldn’t think of what he could possibly say that would be worthy of her.

 

“Erik?” she whispered softly. “Please say something.”

 

He dropped his gaze back down to the table.

 

The thought suddenly entered Christine’s mind that perhaps she had gone too far. “I’m sorry,” she stuttered, pushing her chair back from the table. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I’ll, um, be at the theatre. I’ll be back later.”

 

She fled out the door whilst Erik continued to stare at the table. 

Chapter Text

When the door slammed behind Christine, Erik looked up from the table. He considered their front door, with its peeling paintwork and a lock that expanded and would stick in hot weather. Less than a year ago it would have been inconceivable to think that he would live in an apartment, like an ordinary man, with a front door that he could walk out of any time he chose to. He thought about the door to the cage in the black caravan, a small but strong lock tucked discretely amongst the metal bars so as not to draw the attention of the visitors. It was almost ironic that the final time he left the cage; he didn’t walk through the door, instead squeezing himself through a hole in the back wall.

 

How much his life had changed since they left the gypsy camp. The never ending cycle of bruises and lash marks that had been inflicted by the gypsies had finally started to heal, replaced by small cuts on his hands and forearms from working with stone all day at the construction site. When Christine had initially seen his injured hands she had insisted on bandaging them, until they had discovered that it was impractical for him to work with bandaged hands. He had a job, a real job, just like a normal man. He could go to work and at the end of each day he could see what he had accomplished. When Danior had first locked him in the black caravan he would try to imagine what he could do if he were ever able to escape. He imagined being a composer, having his music played across Europe, but then he had realised that no one would want to hear the music of a monster. However day after day of being presented as a freak to the visitors had robbed him of his ability to see anything else in the future. Eventually he had stopped trying.

 

But since coming to Paris he had started imagining a future again. At times it was almost as though he were a normal man. He had started imagining what it would be like once he was trained and could work on his own projects, whether he would be able to hire men to work for him. When he had started working the other men on the job site had been wary of him but their fascination with their masked co-worker soon grew old and he was accepted, even if he wasn’t included. He listened to their conversations about their families and how they wished they were able to earn more money to support them and it made him realise that perhaps he wasn’t so dissimilar to the other men. Although his wages had increased since he had started working for the master mason, it still wasn’t enough for them to move into a better apartment or for Christine to entirely give up her sewing work. But he could see a time when money wasn’t going to be so tight.

 

And then there was Christine. As much as he tried not to he found that he loved her more and more with each passing day. Living with her he was discovering little things about her that he would never have discovered living in the camp and he carefully catalogued these in his mind. He had learned that she would curl up in a chair with her knees up under her chin when she was reading a book that she enjoyed, that she would make a little squeaking sound when she bathed with water that was too cold and that she liked to eat toast that was so well cooked it was almost black. There were times when he would find himself imagining that they were a normal couple, perhaps even husband and wife, and he would savour the thought for a moment, before brutally trying to banish it from his mind. As much as he might want it, and although he felt the closest to a normal man as he ever had during his miserable existence, he wasn’t a normal man and he could never have Christine for his own. He knew that it hadn’t been her intention, but saying his old gypsy nickname had violently reinforced all the reasons he had for never pursuing anything further with Christine. He loved her, desperately, and he knew he could never deny that, but he wasn’t even fit to be her friend, let alone anything more intimate. The best he could hope to do was to see her happily settle in Paris with a man like Raoul de Chagny. His heart would break at the sight and he would likely want to die, but she would be happy.

 

That was why he had started pushing her away. So she would have time to meet and be courted by men like de Chagny, rather than indulging the whims of a monster like himself and taking evening walks in the park. And so maybe it would hurt a tiny bit less when she left him, because he would have fewer memories of what it was like to do normal things with her. Of course it was far too late for that and he knew that he would spend the remainder of his life torturing himself with memories of what she had looked like and how she had felt when she reached out to touch him.

 

He couldn’t understand though why Christine was so upset with him. Surely she didn’t believe that she was going to need to spend the rest of her life with him. He appreciated that Christine felt a certain attachment to him, considered him a friend perhaps and trusted him. But that wasn’t enough for her to become so upset. Erik suddenly remembered the time that she had accused him of fabricating the reasons he gave for needing to take her away from the gypsy camp and she had later explained how she was upset because of what had been happening at the theatre and how she was so tired. Yes, he concluded, that was what had just happened. Christine was having a difficult time at the theatre and she was upset. Perhaps she had even had a fight with Meg earlier in the day. It would even explain why she had rushed from the apartment; she was embarrassed that she had lost her temper again.

 

Erik suddenly noticed the long shadows stretching across the floor. Turning to the window he realised that it was almost sunset. How long had he been sitting there? Christine’s reticule was still sitting on the chair where she had dropped it when she had presented him with his gift, which meant that she had no money to pay for transportation. He hated it when she needed to walk home at night and he had tried to always ensure that she had enough money for the nights she had performances at the theatre. Quickly rising from his chair, he collected his coat and hat and pulled them on as he walked out the front door, determined to find Christine before it got too dark.

 

As he walked, he wondered whether he should explain the situation to Christine. Not that he loved her but that he was trying to help her start a more secure, stable and happy life here in Paris and that he couldn’t be a part of that life.

 


 

When Christine had arrived at the theatre she had told the bemused doorman that she was here to practise. The doorman thought it strange that anyone would want to practise on their day off but nevertheless let her through. She had told herself firmly that she was going to practise, the empty stage giving her the perfect opportunity to work on her projection. But once she was on stage she found that she wasn’t able to concentrate for more than a couple of lines, with thoughts of Erik continually taking the place of the music.

 

She could see now what had happened. Living with her the past months had been too much for Erik and he had grown tired of her. He no doubt still saw her as the child that he had taught in the black caravan and he didn’t want to make a life with her. He probably wanted to leave her but was too good a man to abandon her, so he stayed to ensure that she was safe. Perhaps she could consider moving into one of the dormitories in the theatre and then, knowing that she was safe, Erik wouldn’t feel obliged to stay with her any longer. Her heart ached at the thought of him no longer being in her life but if it would make him happy then she was willing to let him go.

 

Since they had settled in Paris Christine had found that her love for Erik grew every day. She had always known that he was intelligent, but out of the gypsy camp and the horrible caravan that they had kept him in she had learned just how incredibly intelligent he was, with an ability to learn anything he put his mind to. Although he didn’t admit or talk about it, Christine could see that he was ambitious and had dreams far beyond being apprentice to one day being a master mason who ran his own business. After he had started working with the master mason Christine had thought that there had been a shift in their relationship. He had started opening up to her and when they spent time together it seemed like he was happy. She had even started to think that perhaps the idea of them being together wasn’t just the farfetched idea of a little girl and he could fall in love with her.

 

Christine knew that Erik’s face was always going to be an issue. He had spent decades as the captive of Danior because of it and been put on display every night for the jeering crowds. Even with the mask he still drew unwanted attention, taunts from young men wanting a chance to display their bravery and gasps from shocked elderly matrons. But she could see that he was so much more than the mask and his face. She wouldn’t have cared if his entire face had looked like the right side. Although he had not let her see his face since they had left the clan, she had not forgotten what he looked like. There was no denying that it was shocking but Christine knew that if she saw it again she wouldn’t scream or start or even care. She would only see the face of the man she loved. She had tried to convince Erik that she didn’t care what he looked like, repeatedly encouraging him to go without the mask when he was at home, but he had refused every time, saying that he didn’t want to inflict his horrid visage on her. Christine had quickly learned that he would fall into a deeply depressive mood after these conversations and had started making her suggestions more subtle.

 

And then everything had changed and all the progress Christine felt they had made in their relationship since coming to Paris fell away. He became a virtual stranger to her and judging by the conversation she had had with him only a few hours earlier, it seemed that he didn’t care. She returned to her original thought, that she should leave him and allow him to pursue the life he obviously wanted, one without her.

 

She tried to imagine what her life would be like without Erik. She had seen him every day without fail for more than ten years. How could she go from that to never seeing him again? Her life would become the theatre but how could she sing without Erik in her life? She wouldn’t be alone, she told herself. She would still have Meg and she was slowly starting to make friends with some of the other girls in the chorus. And of course there was Raoul. It was becoming more and more obvious that he wanted something greater than friendship from Christine. She wondered whether she should allow Raoul to court her properly. It was an opportunity that a girl like Christine could normally only dream of and she knew that in many ways it would be foolish to turn him down, even if her heart wasn’t in it.

 

“Christine?” the man in question suddenly called out, causing Christine to jump, whirling around to face the front of the stage. “Christine, what are you doing here? Monsieur Firmin said that today was the performers’ day off.”

 

“Raoul! You startled me,” Christine gasped, as Raoul smiled apologetically. “It is. Our day off I mean. I just thought it would be a good opportunity to practise on stage without any interruptions.”

 

“Such dedication Little Lotte, as the patron of the Opera Populaire I am impressed,” Raoul said with a teasing grin, before turning serious. “But are you sure you’re not working too hard? This is supposed to be your day off; you should be out spending time with Meg and your other friends, not practising on your own in an empty opera house.”

 

“It’s alright, I know when to stop,” she reassured him. “Besides,” she said, hoping to turn the attention away from herself, “Why are you here?”

 

“Ah, sadly I have no day off. I needed to look at some of the accounts with Messieurs Firmin and Andre,” he sighed dramatically, bringing a small smile to Christine’s face.

 

“I love seeing that,” Raoul said, suddenly turning serious. A puzzled expression replaced Christine’s smile.

 

“You. Smiling,” he clarified. Reaching across to Christine he ran his fingers down the length of a curl.

 

“Raoul...” Christine said, the warning note evident in her voice as she took a step backwards.

 

“No, wait, Christine. I’m glad that I found you here today. There’s something that I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while now but it’s never been the right time.” For the first time since he had reappeared in her life it seemed that Raoul was uneasy, which was a change for the normally poised and confident vicomte. “Would you like to sit?” he asked, gesturing towards the stalls.

 

“No, thank you,” she replied, thinking that she preferred the openness of the stage to the confining seats of the theatre.

 

“Alright...um...I knew exactly what I wanted to say earlier but I seemed to have forgotten all of it,” he said with a nervous laugh. “We were such good friends when we were children,” he started, “And even though we hadn’t seen each other in many years I always considered that you were one of the best friends I ever had.”

 

“Me too,” Christine interrupted. “That summer was one of the happiest of my life.”

 

“I always wondered what had happened to you and whenever I saw a group of musicians, any musicians, I would look to see if your father was amongst them, hoping that if I found him, I would be able to find you. And then my family became patrons here, and there you were, almost as if it was fate. I recognised you the moment I saw you.” He gave a small laugh. “You cannot imagine how relieved I was that you remembered me when I approached you backstage.

 

“Of course I would remember you. We were inseparable that summer,” Christine reminded him.

 

“Exactly, inseparable,” he agreed enthusiastically. “And we’ve been spending time together, as friends, since I found you and it’s reminded me exactly why we were inseparable. But we’re grown now Christine and the feelings that can develop between a man and a woman are not those that exist between a young boy and girl.”

 

“Raoul, please...” Now that she was faced with the reality that a relationship beyond mere friendship was a very real possibility with Raoul Christine suddenly realised that she couldn’t go through with it. Even if Erik never wanted her, she could never pretend that she was in love with another man, no matter how wonderful he was.

 

“Please let me finish,” he implored, taking a step closer to her and clasping her hands in his. “I think, no I know, that I am falling in love with you Christine Daae. And whilst you have no family that I can ask for permission from, I would very much like to start formally courting you.”

 

Hearing those words aloud Christine discovered that she almost hated herself for what she knew she had to do.

 

Mistaking her silence for concern of a different kind, Raoul continued, “I know that long term relationships between members of the nobility and women who work at the opera are not common and that the ones you often hear of are not respectable, but I swear to you Christine that is not what I am proposing, not for a moment. I will not do anything that could sully your reputation and I am hoping that this courtship will lead to a respectable and happy marriage.”

 

“Marriage?” Christine squeaked, far louder than she would have liked. She winced as she heard her voice echo throughout the theatre.

 

Erik came to a halt as he stepped through the door at the back of the stalls. Christine’s voice seemed to echo around him, “Marriage, marriage, marriage, marriage.”

 

It was too soon he realised, he wasn’t ready to let her go, not yet. This was exactly what he was hoping would happen, a part of him argued. But not yet, he needed more time to get used to the idea of Christine not being in his life. What should she do though? Spend time with a man who would be a suitable husband but wait until the monster in her life was ready to let her go? He would never be ready. Even if she waited another fifty years he still wouldn’t be ready.

 

If he looked at them, if he saw how perfect they looked together it would show him. It would remind him why this was the right decision and would shatter the last remaining hope he had that Christine could ever want a thing like him. That was what he needed he told himself resolutely. 

 

He dragged his eyes across the thick carpet that covered the floor of the theatre, up over the red velvet covered seats and finally onto the stage which was empty of any sets or props. He could see the young couple standing close, the man holding the woman’s hand between both of his, whilst she reached up to stroke his cheek. And Erik saw red.

 

The anger that he felt when he had seen Milosh dancing with Christine at the gypsies’ New Year party was nothing compared to what he felt watching the Vicomte hold Christine. This was pure rage. He could hear the blood pulsing through his veins and he curled his hands into fists to prevent himself from tearing at the curtains that hung against the back wall of the theatre, or worse, rushing to the stage and tearing into the Vicomte. He couldn’t describe how much he hated the man at the moment, for being in a position where he could hold Christine and ask her to be his wife.

 

Even standing at the back of the theatre Erik could see that the Vicomte was a handsome man, and with his title and wealth he would be able to ensure that Christine never wanted for anything. Seeing him standing there with Christine suddenly made everything seem far too real. Previously it had been abstract, a theory only. Christine had reunited with an old friend whose situation in life meant that a marriage between the two was a likely outcome. Although Erik had heard plenty about the Vicomte he had no particular feelings about the man one way or another. He could have just as easily been any other man that Christine had met and Erik would have felt exactly the same.

 

But not anymore. Now he had a face to put with the name and stories. Erik realised that even if the man had been ugly, he still would have felt this way, because it wasn’t him. She loved and was going to marry a man that wasn’t him. He vaguely realised that his feelings didn’t make sense, he had never been in a situation where he was going to marry Christine, she had never loved him, and you couldn’t take from a man what he never had to begin with. Nevertheless his heart disagreed and was insisting that the Vicomte was taking away what was his. His instincts were telling him to march onto the stage and claim her. Disgusted with himself, he turned and left the theatre before he gave in and ruined Christine’s happy moment for nothing.

 

“I’m sorry Raoul, I can’t,” Christine said, slipping from his grasp and walking from the stage. 

Chapter Text

“And I am hoping that this courtship will lead to a respectable and happy marriage,” Raoul concluded, the hope evident in his eyes.

“Marriage?” Christine squeaked. She cringed at her voice echoing throughout the theatre. Lowering her voice she repeated, “Marriage?”

“Not immediately, of course,” Raoul rushed to reassure her. He knew, without a doubt, that he wanted to marry Christine and would arrange a ceremony for tomorrow if that was what she wanted. But he also knew that Christine’s feelings for him weren’t as strong as his feelings for her. But a proper courtship would allow those feelings to develop so he was willing to wait. All he asked was that his bride loved him as much as he loved her on their wedding day.

“Raoul...you can’t be serious,” Christine said faintly. Of course she had known that he wanted more than friendship, most likely an official courtship, but to be talking of marriage already? Was he so certain that they were compatible for a lifetime together?

“I am perfectly serious,” he replied, rubbing his thumb across the hand he was holding. ‘I lo..., care for you very much and I hope that one day that this will lead to marriage.”

“But you’re a Vicomte, your family, society, there are certain things that you are expected to do.” Christine hoped that if Raoul realised that this wasn’t a wise decision for him to be making then she wouldn’t need to tell him no. She knew that this approach was cowardly, but she didn’t want to have to break his heart. She hadn’t missed his almost confession of love and didn’t want to tell him that she was never going to be able to feel the same way.

“As a Vicomte I am expected to marry and produce an heir,” Raoul said stiffly. “I’ve been told that for as long as I can remember. But I want that to be with you,” he continued tenderly. “Now that you are in my life again, I want those things, marriage and a family, with you.”

“Your parents didn’t approve of us playing together as children. It was only through your brother’s intervention that we were allowed to spend time together. And now, not only am I not from a suitable family, I perform in an opera house. Your parents will never approve of a marriage between us,” she explained.

“Christine I know what you’re trying to do,” he smiled.

“You do?” She had hoped that her intentions weren’t that obvious.

“Yes. And I don’t want you to think for one moment that you aren’t good enough for me. You are a wonderful woman, and your father was a good man. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t rich or that he didn’t have a title. Those sorts of things don’t matter to me. My mother has introduced me to dozens of young women that society would consider a suitable match for me and none of them compare to you,” Raoul said passionately.

“Your parents aren’t going to see it that way.” Christine reached up to stroke his cheek. “Dear Raoul. You are a wonderful man, and one day you will meet a woman and you will fall in love and your parents will approve. But that woman isn’t me.”

“I’m not going to let my parents stop me from marrying the woman I love. Philippe has had numerous companions over the years, never even spoken of marrying one of them and our parents have allowed him to do so. If they want there to be any chance of the family name being legitimately continued they will allow me to marry the woman I choose,” he exclaimed, now holding her hand between both of his.

Seeing the trapped expression on Christine’s face he sighed, “But I’m getting ahead of myself again. There will be no more talk of marriage tonight.”

He didn’t see the relief in the small smile that Christine gave him.

“Will you allow me to court you Christine?” he asked, stepping even closer to her, so their hands were trapped between their chests.

At Christine’s hesitation, Raoul’s face dropped. “You are free to accept my offer, aren’t you Christine? I know you aren’t married and you’ve never mentioned any gentlemen to whom you are close. I’ve never even heard a rumour in the theatre about anyone visiting you after performances.”

There was someone else and that was the problem, Christine thought. If Erik wasn’t in her life it was likely that she would have happily accepted Raoul’s offer. But Erik was in her life and she knew that she could never feel for Raoul what she felt for Erik, even if those feelings weren’t returned. However she couldn’t explain this to Raoul without raising too many questions about her life before Paris, and more importantly, questions about Erik. She knew that, like Vadoma, Raoul wouldn’t understand Erik and would seek to protect her from him, never understanding that Erik was the last person on Earth she needed to be protected from. Realising that Raoul had finished talking and was waiting for her response, she shook her head, not willing to voice her lie out loud.

“It’s me then. You’re free to be courted but you don’t want it to be me,” he concluded, bitterness tinging his voice. “I don’t understand, we were such good friends and I thought you enjoyed spending time with me, you always seem happy when we are together.” Christine wished there was some way she could erase the confusion and hurt from his face.

“Raoul you are a wonderful friend and I do enjoy spending time with you...”

“Then what’s wrong?” he interrupted. “Why can’t this happen?”

“I’m sorry Raoul, I can’t,” she said, pulling her hands from his grasp and dashing towards the downstage stairs, desperate to escape from him before the tears started to spill down her face.

She ignored Raoul’s calls for her to stop as she hurried out the front doors of the theatre. As she stepped out into the night air she realised that she had no way to pay for a ride home and that she would have to walk. She couldn’t go back to Raoul and ask him to take her home, so there was no other option.

She hastily wiped the tears from her face and started walking away from the theatre. She had done the right thing, she told her herself firmly. It wouldn’t have been right to allow Raoul to court her, knowing that she was never going to be able to love him the way that he loved her. Despite his protestations that his parents would accept the marriage, Christine knew that the rift would begin as soon as Raoul announced their courtship, and she didn’t want to be the cause of that. And she couldn’t do it to herself, not when she was in love with another. She only wished that she had been able to better explain herself to Raoul, but she couldn’t risk exposing Erik.

Erik. She didn’t know what she was going to do about him. Tonight had shown her that she wasn’t going to be able to leave him for another man. She didn’t even think that she would be able to bring herself to move into the dormitories at the theatre. Knowing how he felt about her, she almost wished that she had been able to accept Raoul’s offer just to ease his burden, but her heart just wouldn’t allow it. She needed him in her life, in whatever capacity he would have her. It was selfish but she couldn’t let him go. Christine decided that she would let Erik set the boundaries. She would let him have as much or as little of her as he wanted. She would stop questioning him constantly and would stop boring him with the details of her life. She was sure that he would still want to tutor her in music, but again she would let him decide how much he wanted to do, there were always teachers at the opera house that she could use. As long as she was able to sleep at night knowing that he was nearby.

Arriving at the door to the apartment, Christine slowly tested the handle, silently praying that Erik hadn’t locked the door and she would be able to creep in without needing to wake him.

“How did you get home?” he asked the moment she had closed the door behind her.

“I’m sorry,” she apologised. “I didn’t think you would still be awake.”

“How did you get home?” he repeated. He presented an incredibly intimating figure, standing in the middle of the room, hands clasped behind his back and the mask covering one half of an expressionless face.

“I, um...” Christine knew how much he hated her walking alone at night.

“Your options must have been somewhat limited, seeing as you didn’t have this.” He pulled her reticule out from behind his back. He allowed it to swing for a few moments before placing it on the table.

“I’m sorry,” she apologised again. “I know that you don’t like me walking home alone at night, but as you can see I didn’t have any other option. I promise I’ll be more organised in the future.”

“You really ought to be more careful. A young woman such as yourself, walking the streets at night. There are all sorts of monsters roaming once the sun goes down,” he continued. Christine felt that he could have listed the items in their pantry and there would have been more emotion in his voice.

“I didn’t mean for you to worry,” she said meekly.

“I wasn’t worried,” he said coolly. Christine felt the words like someone had taken a hammer to her heart and beaten it into smithereens. “But you do have your reputation to consider. After all, not all monsters look like this.” He waved his hand in the general vicinity of his face and Christine realised that it was one of the few occasions he had ever referred to his looks. “Some of them are even well regarded by society. Think of some of the men who used to visit the camp.”

“Erik, I don’t understand...” He had made it perfectly clear that he didn’t care for her, why was he continuing to push the issue?

Seeming to drop the topic, he resumed his questioning of how she had travelled home. “Was there no-one at the theatre who could escort you home? Perhaps that patron, the Vicomte?”

“That patron, the Vicomte?” Christine repeated. Erik knew Raoul’s name, why would he refer to him in such a detached manner?

“You’re right, that wouldn’t have been wise at all. Imagine what people would start saying about you if you were seen leaving the theatre at night with the Vicomte, unescorted.” The sneer was evident in his voice.

“I walked home, on my own,” Christine snapped. “I wasn’t accosted in the street, nor has my reputation suffered at all for it. Are you happy with that?”

“I’m not so sure,” he drawled. “I heard a carriage in the street minutes before you entered the apartment. Are you sure you didn’t take a ride with your childhood friend?”

“Yes,” she said firmly, holding her chin up.

“Are you saying that I’m lying? That I didn’t hear a carriage?” he questioned.

Christine paused for a moment to remember the last few minutes before she had entered the apartment. It had been silent in the streets, not a soul to be seen and certainly no carriages. Even with his spectacular hearing, there was no way that Erik could have heard a carriage from up in the apartment without Christine having heard it as well. “Yes,” she challenged. “There was no carriage, nor was I in one at any time.”

Erik just looked at Christine, a faint glimmer of amusement in his eyes. She held his gaze for a moment, before letting her shoulders sag in defeat. “What’s...” she was about to ask him what was wrong when she remembered her earlier decision about Erik. “I’m going to bed,” she sighed, walking past him to get to the back room where she slept.

“How is the Vicomte?” Erik asked abruptly, causing Christine to stop in her tracks and turn to face him.

“He is fine,” she answered warily.

“Is he enjoying his role as patron of the theatre?” Christine could tell that Erik’s questions were leading to something bigger, that they weren’t as innocuous as they appeared.

“He is.” She deliberately kept her answer short.

“Being patron of such a large theatre must involve a lot of work that requires his presence at the theatre. You have often mentioned that he has had business at the theatre when you’ve been at rehearsals,” he pointed out.

“I suppose so.”

“For a young man like the Vicomte there would be attractions at the theatre far more interesting than business,” he insinuated.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she lied. In truth she knew exactly what he was talking about. Many of the lesser patrons had favourite girls amongst the dancers and the chorus and the women who had more prominent roles in the various operas would frequently have noblemen waiting at their dressing room doors.

“Really Christine?” Erik smirked. “You’ve been working at the theatre long enough to realise that it’s not that much different to the gypsy camp. Tell me, who is the Vicomte’s favourite? One of the dancers perhaps? Or maybe a singer?”

“Raoul isn’t like that!” she exclaimed.

“You have been spending a lot of time with him recently,” Erik mused. “I’m sure you would know.” His emphasis made it clear to Christine that he thought she was the Vicomte’s favourite.

“No.”

“What has he told you Christine? What has he promised you?” He took a step closer to her and Christine forced herself to stay where she was. “Has he told you that he loves you? Does he arrange for you to meet in secret corners of the theatre? Does he kiss you Christine, and tell you that one small touch won’t hurt anyone? Do you think a man like that will keep his promises?”

Christine was proud when she realised that she hadn’t blushed at his comments, instead straightening her spine and staring back at Erik. “Raoul is a gentleman,” she stressed.

“Ha! You know as well as I do that that means nothing,” he sneered, watching her carefully to gauge her reaction. Erik knew that Christine was wiser that he was implying. Whilst there were plenty of wealthy men associated with the theatre who would easily woo a silly girl into their bed, Christine would never fall for empty words. And whilst he loathed the man, Christine had told him enough about Raoul for him to know that the Vicomte was not like those other men. That was why he had wanted Christine to spend time with him, because it appeared that he would be honourable in his dealings with Christine.

But he wanted her to crack. He needed her to hate him so it would be easier to let her go. That’s why he kept throwing horrible accusations at her. He wanted Christine to admit to him that she was going to marry to Vicomte, that he had made a genuine offer for her hand and that she had accepted. He needed to hear her say that she was going to leave him, that she was prepared to turn her back on the life they were making together. Because it wasn’t a life they were building together, not really, not the one he could only dream of. He needed to hear her say it out loud. One final nail in his coffin. He wondered whether the shock of hearing her say it might kill him. He darkly hoped that it would, although he doubted he would be that lucky.

What would it be like once she had told him? Would Christine be happy and laughing, pleased that she was able to share her news and that she would at last be able to leave him. Would she expect him to be happy for her, or would she not care how he felt? And would the pain hit him immediately, or would it take time to sink in?

“What is wrong with you?” Christine exploded. “You have never had a problem with my spending time with Raoul. I’ve always told you everything about him.” That wasn’t entirely true but at this stage Christine was too furious to care. Her promise not to push at Erik also flew from her mind. If he wouldn’t love her like she loved him, then she would hurt him like he was hurting her. Anything would be better than this pain, even anger. “And I have never said anything that would suggest Raoul was that sort of man. I thought you would have known me better than that, to even suggest that I would allow myself to fall for a man like that is ridiculous.”

Of course he knew that she would never allow the attentions of a man like that, but he wasn’t going to admit that. Not until she had told him the truth about her engagement.

“Even if I did, it would be no concern of yours,” she continued harshly. “You’re not a relative who needs to be concerned with my reputation. You’re not my brother or father. You’re not my husband.”

He knew that it was true but it hurt more than he had expected when she said that he wasn’t her husband.

“To be honest I’m not even sure why you care at all. You’ve made it more than clear that you aren’t interested in me or what is happening in my life, beyond my singing.”

Why did she sound so hurt, Erik wondered. Wouldn’t it have been worse if he had shown his intense interest in everything she did? Then she would have realised how he felt about her and known that a monster was in love with her and wanted to be the one she was engaged to.

“So tell me, why do you care Erik?” Christine didn’t know what sort of answer she was expecting. What could he say that would explain this? “Why on earth does it matter to you whether I spend time with Raoul or whether I allow him to take liberties that might tarnish my reputation? Perhaps he will want to marry me and we’ll raise a family together. Or he might leave me and I’ll spend the rest of my life working at the theatre. But why would you care?”

Was that it? Was that how she was going to tell him that she had agreed to marry the Vicomte? She was taunting him, wanting him to react. It was too much for Erik and he couldn’t bare it His heart was pounding and his Christine was standing in front of him, angry, with her fists clenched into little balls and her hair coming loose from the bun that she had carefully pinned it into early that day. She was going to leave him and he couldn’t let that happen.

“This is why I care,” he growled, rushing forward to pin her arms to her side and propel her backwards until she hit the wall. Bending down he desperately pushed his mouth against her’s, silently begging her to respond. He pushed her harder against the wall, his hips pressed against her. He ran his tongue along her lips and when she opened beneath him he slipped inside. His kiss was messy and inexperienced and his mask meant that he couldn’t fully feel her skin against his. But none of that matter because he could taste Christine.

Chapter Text

Erik’s fingers were leaving little spots of fire on her skin as he gripped her shoulders. He angled her head further back and kissed her even more deeply. She stood there, with her hands still hanging by her sides, as the leather of his mask brushed against her skin. This couldn’t be real, she told herself. At any moment she was going to wake up and realise that this was a dream. How much of today had been a dream? Maybe she hadn’t gone to lunch with Meg and Raoul hadn’t asked if he could court her. Maybe she had dreamed it all because Erik standing above her kissing her like she was his everything couldn’t be real.

 

She held perfectly still, not wanting to move for fear that she would disturb herself and she would wake up, going back to a reality where Erik wasn’t kissing her. His body was pressed against her’s, and she could feel his hard, lean muscles, both from the way he was leaning intimately against her and in the way he was still gripping her shoulders. His lips were moving insistently against her’s, trying to coax a response and she could taste him. It was a distinctive taste that was unlike anything she was able to describe, but she knew that she would never forget it as his taste.

 

There was a noise as something was dropped onto the floor in a nearby apartment. Hearing the noise, but not moving, Christine began coming to the realisation that this was real. She wasn’t dreaming and Erik was kissing her. She didn’t understand why he was kissing her, hadn’t they just been fighting about her relationship with Raoul? Or rather, Erik had been making accusations about Raoul and suggesting that she was letting him use her. During their conversation she hadn’t been able to decide whether he cared about her relationship more than he was letting on or whether he was toying with her and being deliberately cruel. Suddenly Erik nipped at the corner of her lower lip and all thoughts of Raoul disappeared from her head.

 

All of her attention was focused on the man kissing her and she realised that she had just been standing there, passively letting him kiss her. This was what she had wanted for so long, and even if Erik didn’t want her as much as she wanted him, she wasn’t going to let the opportunity to show him how she felt slip through her fingers. Tentatively she allowed her hands to creep up, so they rested lightly on Erik’s hips. Following his lead, she started moving her mouth, nipping at his lips before allowing her tongue to venture further. She tightened her hold on his hips as the urgency in her kiss increased.

 

Erik tore himself away from Christine with a gasp and stumbled backwards. She had been trying to push him away. He had forced himself onto her and she hadn’t been strong enough to get away. He looked at her, not meeting her eyes, but enough to see that she was leaning up against the wall, panting. Any minute now she was sure to start screaming, begging for someone to come and stop the monster from attacking her again. And then she would leave him.

 

His knees gave way and he crumpled to the floor. “Christine. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I should never...never have touched you,” he cried. “I’m a monster, a monster that doesn’t deserve to touch you. And you would never want me to touch you. No woman would. I’m sorry that you had to endure that. You should have pushed me away sooner, hurt me if you needed to. Anything so you didn’t have to feel my hideous face.” He wrapped his arms over the top of his head and started crying in earnest.

 

Christine rushed forward, dropping onto the floor so she was the same height as Erik. She reached across, meaning to move his hands away from his face. This wasn’t the same man who had been kissing her only minutes earlier, and she was horrified to think that she had caused this extreme reaction. “Erik, no! You didn’t hurt me, I promise.” As her fingers landed on his shirtsleeves he started and scrambled to move further away from her.

 

It wasn’t clear whether he hadn’t heard Christine, didn’t understand her or didn’t believe her, because he continued. “Please forgive me Christine, please. I didn’t mean it I promise. I won’t ever touch you again. Just, please don’t leave me,” he whimpered pitifully. “Please stay with me Christine; I don’t think I could bare it if you left. I thought I could but I was wrong. Don’t leave me. I promise I won’t ever touch you again. You won’t ever have to feel my skin against yours. I’ll wear gloves, I’ll do anything you want, please,” he begged.

 

“Erik I’m not going to leave. I promise,” Christine swore. She wanted to tell him that he could touch her as much as he wanted and that she would welcome every touch, but she felt that he wasn’t going to believe her, not with the state he was in. “I’m staying, I’m not going to leave you.”

 

“I was going to let you go, so you could be happy. You would be happy with your Raoul, wouldn’t you? You enjoyed spending time with him, you would often talk about him when you had come home from the theatre and he had taken you to lunch or you had spoken of the summer you spent together. And I tried, I promise. I tried so hard, I let you go with your boy. I thought that he was going to be able to give you everything that you deserved. You could have married him and been happy. He could have given you everything.”

 

“You wanted me to go with Raoul?” Christine asked. She wanted desperately to reach out to Erik and take him into her arms, but she didn’t want to scare him away, so she remained still, twisting her hands in her lap.

 

“Yes. I thought that it would be the best thing for you. I thought that if I stayed away from you, you would see how much happier you could be with him. Without me. He could give you a better life than I could. If you were with him, I couldn’t see you anymore. It wouldn’t be allowed.”

 

“Oh Erik,” Christine whispered. It suddenly started to make sense, why Erik had been so distant in recent weeks. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about her; it was that he wanted her to focus all her attention on Raoul. Because he thought that her life would be better if he wasn’t in it and Raoul was.

 

“But then I saw you with him. You were together and I couldn’t stand it. I realised something Christine. He could never love you as much I as do. No man could ever love you that much. It’s the one thing I could give you that he couldn’t. And that’s more important than anything he could give you.” Saying these words out loud seemed to give him enough strength to lift his head. His stare was almost unnerving as he said, “I love you Christine.”

 

Christine was glad that she was sitting as she surely would have collapsed otherwise on hearing Erik’s admission. She felt as if she was being spun around in circles, and she didn’t know where she was going to be when she stopped. She had always been able to be count on Erik being calm and rational; it seemed like he always knew what to do. He had always guided her and looked after her, even when they had been living with the clan. But now she knew that she was going to need to be the one to help Erik.

 

As if he had just realised what he had said, his head immediately dropped back down as he started moaning, “Oh Christine forgive me. I didn’t mean it. I shouldn’t say such things to you. You don’t want to hear those words from a monster. Only stay with me, please. You must stay with me. I will love you so much, but I will never say it. All I need is to be close to you, that is all, I swear. But I can’t let you leave with the Vicomte.”

 

“Do you mean it Erik? You love me?” she asked tremulously.

 

He nodded his head in affirmation. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed.

 

Christine wished that his confession had been a happy occasion, where she was able to laugh with joy and smile and tell him that she loved him too. It was wrong that he was so devastated. She started fidgeting with her skirt, allowing her fingers to pick at the hem. Erik believed that she would be happier if she were allowed to leave with Raoul. He also thought that she was repulsed by their kiss and the idea that he was in love with her. Even though they had been friends for so many years he still expected her to react to him like the ladies who visited the black caravan, with fear, loathing and disgust. She needed to convince him that he was worthy of her love, and to do that she needed to tell him everything.

 

“Raoul was at the theatre tonight. I didn’t know he was going to be there. He had a meeting with the managers and he found me on the stage. He was very pleased to see me and said that he had something he wanted to ask me. I suspected I knew what he was going to ask, I think that I was almost expecting it to happen, although I hadn’t thought that he would ask tonight.”

 

Erik groaned in misery. She was going to tell him every detail of the Vicomte’s proposal. He didn’t think that she could be that cruel, but he didn’t stop her. It was probably for the best for him to hear how perfect the Vicomte was. It would show him how much of a monster he really was.

 

“Raoul and I were such good friends when we were children and when we met again at the theatre I was so happy to have my old friend back. It was foolish, but I wanted our friendship to continue as if we had never been apart. We started spending more time together and I thought nothing more of it. But in more recent weeks it has started becoming apparent that Raoul wanted more than our old friendship. He was approaching me more than one would approach an old friend and ignored the attentions of any of the other girls at the theatre.” Christine took a deep breath before continuing. “That’s what he wanted to talk to me about tonight. He asked me whether I would allow him to formally court me.”

 

“Of course,” Erik whispered. He would let her tell her story, but he wouldn’t let her go. He would show her why she couldn’t leave him. He wondered how long she would cry for her boy, and how long it would take her to forget him. They would have to leave Paris, Christine couldn’t continue working at the Opera Populaire if the Vicomte continued his patronage. But Christine wouldn’t want to leave Paris, or the opera, and she would hate him even more if he forced her. He rubbed at his face, desperate for an answer that he knew didn’t exist.

 

“I thought that you didn’t want me anymore Erik,” Christine said hollowly. “After you got your new job things became so good between us. At least I thought they were. I thought that we were getting closer and that maybe...But then one day it just seemed to stop. Suddenly you didn’t want to hear about the theatre, unless it had to do with singing, you didn’t tell me anything about your work, and I know how much you love it, and you didn’t want to spend time with me. Our walks in the park, everything, just stopped. At first I thought I had done something wrong, that I’d upset you somehow. I couldn’t think what, and I tried to apologise every way I knew how, but it didn’t work. Then I realised, it was me.”

 

“Christine...” Erik felt like he was being strangled but he forced the word out nonetheless.

 

“No I need to tell you this, I want you to understand,” she interrupted. “Every since we first met, you have always helped me. You taught me how to sing, about music. You would listen to me talk about any trivial thing for hours and you would always give me advice when I needed it. And when I think about what I did for you in return I realise that I really didn’t do that much for you. After we left the camp what you did for me just continued to increase. I wouldn’t have gotten away from the camp if it hadn’t been for you. Even if I had of known what Danior was planning I wouldn’t have been able to survive on my own and I wouldn’t have gotten away fast enough, they would have found me. You’ve looked after me since we arrived in Paris and I’ve kept you trapped here. If you had left the camp on your own you wouldn’t have stopped running, you would have continued until you were as far away from the clan as possible. You would have explored all of Europe and I know that you would have enjoyed it. You wouldn’t have had to force yourself to interact with people. I forced you to take this path and I thought that you were starting to realise how different your life would have been if you had run without me.  You’ve known me since I was a child and I thought that you still saw me that way, a child who was trapping you in this life.”

 

Erik was horrified. She thought that he resented her? Never for a moment had he regretted taking her from the camp. His only concern had been that she was safe and happy. He had never even considered the possibility that she would question his feelings for her. His actions were supposed to give her the opportunity to spend more time living the life she was supposed to have, not to dwell on thoughts of him.

 

“So I thought that it would be best if I could find a way to leave you, so wouldn’t have to look after me anymore. Meg had told me that there was a free bed in one of the dormitories at the theatre and I considered it. But then things started to change with Raoul and I began to realise how he felt about me. For a man like Raoul to take an interest, a serious interest, in a woman like me is extremely unusual and I know that most of the girls at the theatre would kill to be in that position.” She gave a dull laugh. “I started to think that maybe I should allow it. It would have been considered a...sensible decision for a woman in my position. And I knew that it would make Raoul happy. Whatever my feelings are for him I want him to be happy.”

 

At this point Erik pulled his hands away from his face and looked up at Christine. She didn’t look happy. She looked exhausted, and confused.

 

“But then when he asked me tonight I couldn’t go through with it, I couldn’t say yes. As much as I knew that I should say yes, for everyone’s sake, I couldn’t do it. And it was because of me. I knew that I could never love him, or even pretend to love him, the way that a woman is supposed to love a man. I could never love him the way that I love you,” she finished, blushing slightly.

 

More confident now that he wasn’t going to shy away from her touch, she shuffled closer to him. “I love you Erik.” She reached up to run her fingers down his good cheek and leaned in to gently press her lips against his. Their second kiss was very different to their first, much softer and almost hesitant, with Christine taking the lead. But once again Erik pulled away.

 

“No,” he gasped. “You shouldn’t have to do that. I won’t ever make you.”

 

“Erik I want to. Of course I want to, I love you,” she said passionately. “You do believe me, don’t you?” she asked, with a tiny quiver in her voice.

 

“I...” Erik started. How could he ever not believe his Christine? But to say that she loved him and wanted him, no one was good enough to want that. She was sitting in front of him, begging him to believe her and he couldn’t refuse her. “I believe that you love me,” he conceded. “But love doesn’t always have to involve those more, intimate, aspects of love,” he said awkwardly. “I am hideous and repulsive, a freak. You are so beautiful Christine. You shouldn’t let me touch you.”

 

“Don’t you want me, is that’s what wrong?” Christine asked, frustrated that he wasn’t really believing her.

 

He remembered the way her body had felt sleeping next to him the first night they had left the gypsy camp and how he had felt when he kissed her. Then he remembered all the lustful dreams he had had since he had seen her dancing with Milosh, and how they had only increased since they had arrived in Paris. His body knew what it wanted and sometimes it felt like it was screaming at him with need. “I do,” he admitted. “So much. But I can control myself I promise. My face, my entire body, Christine, you should never have to...”

 

“But I want to,” she pronounced clearly. “I want you as much as you want me. Erik, your face doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter what you look like. I’ve told you that you don’t need to wear the mask in our home and I mean it.”

 

“But you were so scared when you saw my face at the camp,” Erik argued.

 

“I didn’t know what you looked like. I had never seen you before, not really. And the camp was being attacked, I had just been attacked and you were fighting with Pali. Then you were racing towards me and I didn’t know who you were. For all I knew you were about to attack me. But then you started saying my name and I realised who you were. I told you back then that it didn’t matter what you looked like and it’s still true. Let me prove it to you, please,” she beseeched, reaching to intertwine their fingers.

 

“How?” he asked, fascinated by the interplay of their fingers. This had been one of his earliest fantasies about Christine, simply being able to hold her hand, to feel their skin touching.  

 

“I want to kiss you, properly, with nothing between us,” Christine said, watching his eyes intently.

 

Realisation dawned on Erik. “My mask? Christine, no, I can’t do that to you.”

 

“Please Erik. You won’t be doing it to me; I want you to do it for me,” she implored. “Trust that I love you enough to see past your face.”

 

He couldn’t say no to her, not when she was holding his hand and looking at him like he was the only person in her world. He was standing on the edge of a cliff and what Christine did next would determine whether he went over the edge or was pulled back to safety. Erik desperately hoped that Christine was telling the truth and that she would still want to kiss him after he took off his mask, but the larger part of him believed that once she saw his face again she would realise what he was and decide to accept the Vicomte’s offer and leave him.

 

He tightened his grip on Christine’s hand, stilling the movement of her fingers and with his other hand slowly reached up to his face. Christine stretched her hand out to cover his as he curled his fingers under the edge of the mask. Together they pulled it away and Erik squeezed his eyes shut, too scared to see Christine’s reaction. He only hoped that her scream wouldn’t attract any unwanted attention to their apartment.

 

“Erik, open your eyes,” Christine coaxed. Once again unable to refuse her, he slowly opened his eyes to see her gently smiling face. “It’s alright, I’m not going anywhere.” She lifted her hand from where it was resting on his, the mask still tightly in his grasp, and delicately traced her fingers over the distorted side of his face.

 

Erik moaned as she ran her fingers across his swollen top lip, unable to resist the urge to lean into her touch. She wasn’t pulling away, he marvelled, she was willingly touching his hideous excuse for a face and she was smiling. He still thought that he should pull away, to spare her, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

 

“I love you Erik,” she repeated, leaning closer to press her lips to his. Realising that she wasn’t going to hurt his face, she increased her caresses of his damaged cheek. She ran her tongue over his lips, enticing him to open for her. This time he didn’t pull away, but responded with all the passion he felt, his tongue pushing into her mouth to continue his exploration of her. Christine moved closer to Erik, pressing her chest against his until he wrapped an arm her to hold her in place. She pushed against him harder, until he was forced to lie back on the floor, Christine stretched out on top of him.

 

Erik tore his lips away from hers to start planting little kisses on her face. “Christine, oh Christine. I love you, I love you so much. We should stop; you need to tell me to stop,” he murmured between kisses.

 

“Erik, I think we need to move,” Christine panted, tilting her head to give him better access to her neck.

 

“Hmm?” he mumbled, focusing on moving down to her shoulder blades.

 

“Erik!” she gasped. “The floor. I think we should move.” Pulling away, she climbed off of Erik and sat next to him. Standing up, she reached down to take his hand, “Come with me.”

 

He stood and allowed her to guide him to the back room. She sat down on her bed and attempted to pull him down but he resisted. “Christine, we can’t.”

 

Blushing a little, she replied, “I know. Just...I want you to hold me tonight. Like you did when we left the camp. Only this time don’t pull away from me. Can you do that Erik?”

 

“Alright.” He waited until she had scooted over to the far side of the bed, before lying down stiffly next to her. Twisting so that she was lying on her side, she reached backwards to guide his arm over his waist. The awkward angle forced Erik to also roll onto his side and Christine immediately pushed herself backwards so she was spooned against him. He buried his nose in her hair and inhaled deeply. “I love you Christine,” he said.

 

As he tightened his grip around her waist, she whispered back, “I love you too Erik.”

Chapter Text

The sound of someone slamming a door downstairs woke Erik. Unusually, he didn’t feel the immediate need to jump from his bed and investigate, to check whether he was in any danger or whether someone was about to come after him. It was a habit he had quickly developed living with the gypsies. Any nearby sound could indicate that one of the gypsies was about to come into the black caravan and it was far better to be awake and alert when that occurred. Making sure that he was in the least vulnerable position was also important, and that meant not lying down. Unfortunately it had not been a habit that he had been able to break since arriving in Paris. At least until now.

 

He could feel the pressure of his belt rubbing against his hip; he was obviously still wearing the clothes he had worn the day before. He noted that he was warm, far warmer than he could ever remember being, and something solid but soft was pushed up against him. Opening his eyes he squinted at the early morning sun and took in the unfamiliar view. He was in Christine’s bed he remembered, Christine had invited him to her bed last night, wanting him to hold her as she slept.

 

Scarcely believing that it was real, he looked down at the woman whose bed he was sharing. They were pressed together, front to front and Christine had her head tucked under his chin. He could feel her breath every time she exhaled, warming his neck. If he tilted his head slightly he was able to catch the scent of her hair. Her hand was draped over his side, fingers lightly resting against his back, whilst his arm was wrapped tightly around her, high up near her shoulders. Their legs were tangled intimately, with one of Christine’s legs tossed high over his hip. As he became more aware of their close proximity he could feel the stirrings of his arousal pressing against her.

 

Christine stirred in her sleep and gave a contented little sigh. She stretched, pushing her pelvis more firmly against Erik’s and her fingers increased their pressure on his back. Seemingly happy in her adjusted position, she burrowed her face into the side of Erik’s neck and stopped moving. The corner of her mouth was resting against his neck and he would feel her giving him a tiny accidental kiss every time she breathed.

 

It was almost too much for Erik to take in. Once he had realised his feelings for Christine he had known that this was what he wanted with her, he had spend hours imagining it. But he never thought that it would become a reality. He thought that he would continue to love her until she fell in love with and married another man, whether the Vicomte or someone else. The greatest hope he allowed himself was that she would stay with him and allow him to love her. But, as much as he would imagine it, he never believed that she could love him in the same way that he loved her, or that she would allow his touch and enjoy it. But she had told him that she loved him, she had kissed him and now she was lying next to him in her bed, holding onto him even in her sleep.

 

She stirred once again and pulled back slightly, looking sleepily up at Erik. “Good morning,” she murmured.

 

“Good morning,” he replied automatically, wary that she still might pull away completely.

 

“You’re really here,” she said joyfully, nuzzling at his chin. “I thought that maybe I had dreamt all of this.”

 

“It’s real.” Erik struggled to believe the words himself.

 

“Good.” Christine smiled against his neck, before kissing her way up the line of his throat, across his jaw to his mouth. She pressed a light kiss to his lips. Threading her fingers into his thin hair she pulled him closer to her, sucking on his lower lip before opening to allow his tongue to explore her. She shifted onto her back, forcing Erik to follow so that his weight was resting on her. He had no doubt that she would be able to feel his arousal pressing against her thigh but she wasn’t trying to move away. Still he fought his urge to press into her, not wanting to draw attention to it for fear that she would reject him for being a lust filled monster. He continued to kiss her, trying to memorise the feel and taste of her mouth beneath him. Christine responded eagerly, keeping her grip tight to prevent him from pulling away from her. She allowed her other hand to drift across his face, stroking his cheek.

 

Erik was so caught up in the sensation of kissing Christine that it took a few moments for his mind to register that she was touching his face, his unmasked face. He awkwardly untangled himself from Christine and pulled away from her. Slapping his hand over the deformed side of his face he climbed from the bed and immediately turned his back to Christine, so she wasn’t able to see any of his face. “Erik, what’s wrong? Did I hurt you?” Christine panicked.

 

“My mask. I don’t have it. You shouldn’t have to, not when I’m not...You shouldn’t ever...” he said sadly, the sound slightly muffled by his hand and the fact that he was turned away from Christine.  

 

“What do you mean? Erik you don’t have to wear your mask, not here,” Christine pleaded. “Please come back,” she said, putting her hand on the empty side of the bed.

 

Erik slowly shook his head, “No, I can’t.”

 

“Why?” she cried.

 

“Christine what you said to me last night, it was the most precious thing anyone has ever said to me in my life. And that you allowed me to kiss you, that you freely touched my repulsive face, was more than I could ever have dreamed. But we didn’t make any promises last night and I will understand if you don’t want this to go any further,” he said with a heavy sigh.

 

“Of course I want this to go further!” she exclaimed. “Do you really think that I would wake up this morning and regret everything that happened last night? This was what I have wanted for so long. I thought you did too.”

 

“It is exactly what I want and that’s the problem Christine!” He knew that he was getting agitated but he couldn’t stop himself. “It’s only been a few hours but if you allow me to continue, if you let me love you and kiss you like an ordinary man I won’t ever be able to let you go. You’ll be an addiction I can’t give up. I have to give you this chance now, whilst I still can.”

 

“I don’t ever want you to let me go. I know that I belong with you, forever,” Christine replied simply.

 

“Forever is a very long time. Especially with this face,” Erik said bitterly, his back still to Christine. “I don’t have a choice, but you do. You shouldn’t make a decision that you will regret.”

 

“No I shouldn’t,” Christine agreed, rising from the bed and walking towards the door. She stopped in front of Erik and turned to face him. Reaching up she tried to pull his hand away from his face but he resisted, “Please?” she requested. She felt his muscles relax and she was able to pull his hand away and see his face. “I love you Erik,” she said, leading him back to the bed. She tried to recreate their previous embrace, but Erik remained tense beside her.

 

“I promise you, this is what I want,” she began. “I am not afraid of the fact that you will never let me go. The only thing I am afraid of is that you will leave me. I want you with me forever Erik, and I don’t ever want you to let me go.”

 

He studied her closely, trying to find any hint of deception or fear, but couldn’t find any. “Are you sure?” he whispered, the hope coming through in his voice.

 

“Yes,” she replied, leaning forward to brush her lips against his. “You have been the only man I have ever wanted. The gypsy boys, the men at the theatre, no one could ever mean to me what you do. Even when I thought that there was no chance of this ever happening, no one has ever been able to attract me like you. I only wanted you.” Boldly, she pushed her body more firmly against him. Feeling his arousal poking into her only increased her confidence. “No one has ever touched me like this Erik. You were the first man to kiss me. You’ll be the only one who ever does.”

 

Erik hoped with everything he had that what Christine was saying was true because he wasn’t able to resist any longer. He didn’t understand why, why she would love him and reject all other men to be with him, but at this moment he didn’t care. She was offering him everything he wanted, a life by her side and in her heart. She would even let him hold her and kiss her. He could scarcely believe that she wanted him to touch her and had never allowed another man to kiss her because she only wanted him. All he could do was give her his heart and his love, his very soul if he could, and hope that it was enough for her. He loved her and he knew that if he ever lost her he would die, there was simply no other option.

 

“Christine I love you,” he moaned. His admission seemed to take everything out of him and his body relaxed against her’s. Cautiously, he leaned down to give her a gentle kiss. A small thrill ran through Christine’s body as she realised that this was the first one that he had initiated out of love. Although she had enjoyed their first kiss and it had ended in a very different place to where it had begun, she knew instinctively that Erik regretted the way he had started it, trying to prove a point he thought she would disagree with. She allowed the pressure of his body against her’s to push her onto her back, so that he was once again above her. She let him set the pace of this kiss, a much slower and deeper kiss than their previous ones. She found that she loved the feeling of his weight resting on top of her, making her feel that she was hidden away from the rest of the world.

 

Slowly, Erik brought the kiss to an end, running his fingers through Christine’s hair as he placed small kisses on her cheeks and forehead, whispering endearments between kisses. He rolled off her, but immediately pulled her to cuddle against him. “Will it always be like this?” he asked.

 

“Yes, it will always be like this,” Christine said, placing a small kiss on his deformed cheek, just below his eye.

 

“When I first woke I couldn’t believe that you were really there. I don’t think that I have ever felt that comfortable, or warm. I was perfectly content,” Erik explained, speaking softly, as though they were the only people in the world.

 

“I did promise,” Christine said with a mischievous smile.

 

“Promise what?” Erik asked, puzzled.

 

“I promised that I would find a way to make sure that you were never cold again. Do you remember?” She ran her fingers down his spine. “This is how I’m going to keep you warm Erik, I never want to spend a night apart from you.”

 

“Of course I remember,” he replied, squeezing her closer to him. He didn’t think that he would ever forget that day. It had been the first time anyone had ever made him a promise that he had wanted to be kept. He remembered the rush of warmth that he had felt at Christine’s words and looking back he wondered whether it was when his feelings for her had started. He hadn’t thought that she would ever find a way to keep her promise whilst they were living with the gypsies and even if she had, this wasn’t even close to what he had imagined.

 

“I’ll always keep you warm Erik, and you’ll keep me warm,” she confirmed, her voice muffled in his neck.

 

“Always,” he agreed.

 

The couple grew silent, allowing time to pass them by, enjoying the sensations of being wrapped in the other’s arms. Erik allowed himself the pleasure of burying his face in Christine’s hair, feeling the soft curls brush against his cheeks and inhaling deeply, trying to commit the scent to memory. If he was struck down at this very moment for daring to touch a beautiful thing like Christine, he would die happy and content. Christine’s fingers traced patterns across Erik’s back and spine. She briefly considered working her way under his shirt so she could touch bare skin but decided against it. She knew that Erik might pull away if she tried to push things further and this moment was too perfect to ruin. Lying there, Christine wondered how she had ever gone without this feeling, and how she had thought that she would have been able to survive without it.

 

“What happens now?” Christine asked, softly breaking the silence.

 

“I could make you breakfast,” Erik suggested, looking out the window and realising how late it was.

 

“No, not today, although food would be nice. I meant with us,” she clarified. For all the hours she had spent imagining a life with Erik, she wasn’t sure where they would progress from here.

 

“I don’t know. What normally happens now?” Erik responded, uncomfortably aware of how little knowledge he had in the field.

 

“With the clan, the couple would approach their parents so a betrothal could be negotiated. But Vadoma always said that the clan was still trapped in the old ways and that the outside world was very different. The courtships that take place at the theatre are...varied?” she concluded, struggling to find an appropriate word.  

 

“What do you want?” Erik asked. He knew that he had no desire to follow any of the gypsy traditions, but if Christine wanted it he would do whatever it took to make her happy.

 

“I just want you. Nothing else matters,” Christine murmured, continuing to stroke Erik’s back.

 

“Perhaps you should move into the dorms at the theatre.” Erik was loathed to suggest it but the last thing he wanted was for Christine’s reputation to be sullied by him. “Now that our relationship has changed...”

 

“What?” Christine interrupted, moving up in his arms so they were face to face. “You want me to leave?”

 

“Just for a short while. Your reputation...”

 

“No,” she exclaimed. “I don’t care about my reputation, all I care about is you. Besides, nobody’s going to know. No-one at the theatre knows that you exist and the landlady can’t remember whether you’re my brother or my father. I already said Erik, I don’t want to spend a night apart from you, for any reason, least of all my reputation. I want you with me, always. You promised that you would always keep me warm, I’m not going to let you out of that promise that easily.” She leaned forward to kiss him softly.

 

“As long as you are happy my love,” Erik said, returning her kiss and causing Christine to smile.

 

“Maybe we could consider finding somewhere else to live,” Christine pondered, tracing patterns on Erik’s chest. “We had so little money left once we arrived here, we only started living here because there was nowhere else we could afford. It would be nice to be able to start our life together in a new home.”

 

“We could find a small house, or a cottage, with a garden,” Erik suggested.

 

“Mmm,” Christine agreed. “With a beautiful view out the bedroom window.”

 

“We can do it Christine. I’ll find you the home that you have always dreamed of,” Erik promised. “Cloutier has said that he will increase my wages once he finalises a new contract. That should give us enough to move out of this apartment.”

 

“If I’m able to secure an individual role in one of the upcoming productions, instead of just being in the chorus, my wages will also increase, and that will help. I’m auditioning for every role that I can and I think that I’m getting close to winning a role. Monsieur Reyer has commented on how good I am during my auditions,” Christine said.

 

“They were fools for not casting you the moment you arrived at their theatre,” Erik muttered.

 

Christine simply giggled and kissed his cheek.

 

“One day I will have a leading soprano role,” Christine declared. “And you will be the most famous and sought after mason in all of Paris, no all of France.”

 

“Really?” Erik questioned, smirking slightly.

 

“You don’t believe me?” she challenged, “Here. I know these things,” she demanded, reaching for his hand and turning the palm towards her face.

 

Erik moved slightly to ease the pressure the angle was putting on his bad shoulder and watched Christine as she studied his palm.

 

“You will have a long life and you will die in bed, surrounded by your loved ones. This line here,” she ran her finger along a line at the bottom of his palm, “This means that you will have one passionate and deep love during your life, and you will always be together. You have a strong success line, which means that you will succeed at anything you set out to do. That’s how I know you will be a wonderful mason. There’s also a fame line here, which means that you will be well known for what you do.”

 

“Christine, that sounds wonderful, there’s just one small issue,” Erik said seriously.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“You may have been taught how to read tarot cards, but Vadoma never taught you how to read palms,” he teased.

 

“That doesn’t matter,” Christine said, turning serious again. “I know that you will only have one love in your life and that as long as we are together our life will be wonderful, no matter where we live or what happens in our careers.”

 

Erik simply pulled her close as he tried to comprehend why this wonderful woman wanted to share her life with a creature like himself. 

Chapter Text

The remainder of that first day had been spent in bed together, only leaving for food and other necessities. They both forgot about life outside the apartment, too caught up in expressing their love for each other, talking and kissing. They didn’t need to worry about gypsies or theatres, masons or love struck vicomtes, they were lost in their own little world. Christine couldn’t stop touching Erik, suddenly becoming unable to bear the idea that their skin wasn’t touching in some way, even if it was just their fingertips.

 

 At some point during the afternoon Erik had come to the sudden realisation that he hadn’t shied away from a single touch of Christine’s since he had woken up next to her. The simple act of her kissing him had broken through his last barrier and he knew, both consciously and subconsciously, that her touch would never harm him. But although he would accept her touch he was still reluctant to be the one to initiate a touch or even move when they were in contact.

 

It didn’t take long for Christine to realise however, that when they were kissing Erik would become a lot freer in his touches. Whether this was due to confidence or distraction she didn’t know, but she wanted to encourage it, hoping that Erik would realise that he was allowed to touch her and that she wanted him to do so. She told him numerous times that she wanted him to touch her, but he had trouble comprehending that such an idea could be real and it was going to take time for him to accept it.

 

They talked about everything they could possibly imagine, but never once mentioned their lives outside of the apartment. They had spoken of music and told each other stories, although over the years their collection of stories had become so intertwined and familiar to each other that Christine couldn’t entirely remember what stories Erik had told her and which ones she had told him. But she was certain that Erik could speak of anything and it would be interesting to her. Erik decided that one day he would have new stories to tell her, and a home that had a library where she could keep them all.

 

They were so caught up in each other, having ceased talking and just holding each other and occasionally sharing kisses, that they didn’t even notice when the sun started to fade in the sky. It was only when Christine noted how dark the room was and got up to light a candle that they realised it was night. Whilst Erik put together a simple meal of bread and dried meat, Christine collected some music that she needed for the next day and took it back to the bed to read. Erik quickly joined her, being carefully not to drop crumbs on Christine’s bed. After they finished eating, Erik propped himself up against the bed head whilst Christine crawled into his arms and handed her music to him, silently asking him to quietly sing it to her, both as a method of teaching and a source of comfort.

 


 

Morning came all too soon and they were forced to leave the comfort of each other’s arms. Like the previous night, they had once again shared Christine’s bed, holding each other as they slept. Erik usually started work before Christine and he hated having to leave her. Although he tried to not to disturb her, Christine stirred as soon as he pulled away from her. He immediately apologised for waking her, but a small part of him was glad that she was awake, so that he was able to tell her that he was leaving. After what they had shared he had no intention of letting her think that he had abandoned her. He shuffled quietly around the apartment whilst he got ready and when he returned to Christine’s room to say good bye she pulled him down for a kiss, determined that they would start a new tradition of never parting without a kiss.

 

Despite the happiness that they had found together over the past couple of days, they didn’t allow it to show at the building site or the theatre. For Erik this was relatively easy, he rarely spoke to anyone unless it was related to the job he was doing and between his mask and the cloths they used to cover their mouths, there was very little of his face on display. Still he knew he had to be careful since he didn’t want anyone asking questions or to draw any attention. One of the younger apprentices had recently starting courting a girl and the other men had subjected him to weeks of good natured teasing as well as a celebratory night out which had lasted into the early hours of the morning. As far as the worksite was concerned, nothing in Erik’s life had changed.

 

As she made her way to the theatre Christine knew that she was going to have trouble keeping her new found happiness a secret. She couldn’t stop smiling and was well aware that the other girls would realise that something had changed the moment they saw her. So she told herself that it was a role that she needed to play, she needed to pretend that she was still the Christine of two days ago. It was going to be difficult and she hoped that one day she would be able to be open about it.

 

The only thing that was potentially marring her happiness was the thought of seeing Raoul again. She didn’t know what she was going to say to him. Now that she knew exactly how strong his feelings were she was certain that he would want an explanation for her actions the other evening. Of course he deserved it too, but she didn’t know how she could turn him down without admitting that there was someone else. It was cowardly to avoid him, however until she was able to come up with a plausible explanation, it was all she could think of.

 

She was beyond relieved then, when she overheard the managers say that Raoul had taken off for London for a month, only informing then via a hastily written note that morning. She wondered whether it had to do with her, but dismissed the thought quickly. It was much more likely that he simply had urgent business to attend to in England. Regardless of the reason, it gave Christine some much needed time to work out how she was going to extract herself from the situation without betraying Erik whilst also trying not to hurt Raoul any more than necessary.

 


 

Erik quickly decided that he enjoyed their shared day off more than he had ever enjoyed their evening walks. As far as he was concerned there could be nothing better than spending an entire day with Christine in their apartment, without having to worry about anyone or anything else. Since Christine had started turning away sewing work she was able to get everything done at night after coming home from the theatre, so there were absolutely no distractions on their day off. They started to take their walks again every evening and Christine no longer gave any thought to touching Erik. Taking his arm was now as natural to her as the act of walking.

 

“You know,” Christine said one evening as they were walking, pulling her shawl over her shoulder, “I used to imagine this.”

 

“Imagine what?” he asked. Noticing that she had pulled her shawl up over her shoulder he realised that the chill of the night air must have been affecting her. He moved his shoulder closer to her’s, hoping to share the meagre warmth that his body produced. Although he barely moved, Christine seemed to notice and smiled gratefully up at him. 

 

“This. When we were on our walks I used to imagine that we were....together,” Christine struggled to find an appropriate word to describe their relationship.

 

“Really?” Erik asked, amazed that she had shared his fantasy.

 

“Really,” she giggled. “I used to wonder what people thought we were to each other and whether our walks would be any different if I was able to tell you that I loved you.”

 

“Did you do this often?”

 

“Every walk. From the very first time.” She laughed quietly. “I remember the first time I suggested it, when Cloutier first offered you the job, I said that we could be just like any other couple going for a walk. I wasn’t able to stop thinking about it.”

 

“Hmm,” Erik murmured.

 

“But, the reality is so much better than I ever imagined,” she concluded.

 

“I agree,” Erik admitted.

 

“With what?”

 

“With all of it. I used to imagine that you were mine,” he said, a hint of possessiveness entering his voice. “But I never imagined it would be this wonderful.”

 

Looking around to ensure that they were alone, Christine stood up on her toes and pressed a kiss to Erik’s lips. “I love you,” she said, dropping back down and maintaining eye contact.

 

“My Christine,” he said, smiling down at her.

 

“My Erik,” she replied, quickly stealing another kiss before pulling him along the path to continue their walk.

 

Over the next few weeks their apartment gradually changed to reflect their new relationship. Erik hadn’t spent a single night away from Christine’s bed and his part of the front room became a storage space, his bed littered with bits and pieces. His belongings slowly migrated in Christine’s room and soon it was difficult to tell that they had once not shared the room. Sharing a bedroom brought them even closer together as they learnt more about other, things that they had never thought to discuss or had the opportunity to witness. Like that Erik hated sleeping under the covers, feeling as though he was trapped when there was anything on top of him and that Christine would always throw her nightclothes onto the bed when she changed and that she would always miss. This particular habit drove Erik, who preferred that items be kept in their proper places, crazy and so every morning he would discretely tuck her night attire under her pillow.

 

“Erik, what are you doing?” Christine asked when she caught him doing it one morning, the nightdress tightly gripped in his fist.

 

“Nothing!” he said, slightly startled that she had entered the room without him noticing. “I was just tidying up.”

 

“Really? Our one day together and you want to clean?” she slowly sauntered over to him. “You can’t think of anything more interesting to do?” Taking the nightdress from his hand and throwing it onto the bed, she reached up to plant a kiss on the side of his neck.

 

“It wasn’t going to take long...” he protested weakly as she continued to kiss up his neck and along his jaw line. Feeling impatient he twisted his head and caught her lips in a passionate kiss.

 

“See?” Christine murmured in between kisses. “Isn’t this nicer?”

 

“Much,” he agreed, groaning slightly as Christine pressed the length of her body more firmly against his.

 

Wrapping her hands around his hips to hold him close to her, she started walking backwards towards the bed, their legs getting tangled as he was forced to follow her. She sat down and allowed the pressure and intensity of Erik’s kisses to push her back onto the bed. Erik automatically followed her, having absolutely no desire to stop kissing her for a moment. With Erik stretched out on top of her they continued kissing and caressing each other.

 

Wanting to feel more of him, Christine started to pull his shirt free from his trousers, blindly feeling for skin. He gasped when her hot fingers made contact with his skin, the sensation of hot on cold feeling almost overwhelming.

 

Reaching up between them he started to undo the top buttons on Christine’s dress, pushing the fabric aside to gain access to her shoulder. Tearing his mouth away from her lips he turned his attention to the slope between her shoulder and her neck, sucking in a way that he knew would leave marks.

 

“Oh,” she sighed. “More Erik, please,” she said, rocking her hips up against him.

 

He could still feel her fingers dancing across his abdomen, but when they shifted down and started on the fastenings to his trousers he wrenched himself away from her, rolling to the side to lay next to her.

 

“Erik?” she questioned, panting.

 

“We can’t let this go any further, not now.”

 

Unfortunately this was becoming a more and more frequent occurrence. Their physical attraction to one another was growing stronger every day and they were finding it harder to resist where it was naturally leading them. But Erik kept holding them back.

 

He knew without a doubt that he loved Christine and wanted her in every way, heart, soul and body. And whilst Christine insisted that she wanted the same from him, he couldn’t allow them to give in yet. He needed Christine to be absolutely sure about her choice before they went any further. Because he knew that once they had shared everything with each other he would never be able to let her go. He simply wouldn’t survive it.

 

“What can I do to convince you that I want this, that I want you?” Christine pleaded, shifting closer to Erik so she was able to caress his cheek.

 

“I don’t want you to regret this,” he said.

 

“I could never regret this,” she responded fiercely.

 

“Even if you have to stay with me for the rest of your life? Because that is what will happen. I couldn’t let you go after that, even if you wanted to go,” Erik explained, staring up at the ceiling.

 

“I want to grow old with you Erik, nothing will ever change that. There is no way I would ever want you to let me go.”

 

He didn’t say it, but he wondered whether one day the pull of a normal life would start to takes its toll on Christine. He cared nothing for the rules and conventions of society, as long as he had Christine by his side he would be content. But could he be enough for Christine? He knew that her religion was important to her and she attended church every week. As they were not married he doubted whether they should be sharing a bed in the manner they were, let alone going further. Could she regret that as well if he allowed things to progress? There were so many reasons Christine could regret him and he had to wait until he was certain that she wouldn’t change her mind.

 

“It doesn’t have to happen today,” Christine said, resting the upper half of her body on Erik’s. “But I do want this, when we’re both ready,” she continued, realising that although they both wanted this, they were probably both nervous as well, for a multitude of reasons.

 

Erik didn’t want this to colour the rest of their day together so, pulling Christine closer to him, he said, “I realised the other day that the job site isn’t far from the edge of Paris.”

 

“Hmm?” Christine murmured distractedly, playing with the fabric of his shirt.

 

“I’ve been walking when we break for lunch. There’s a lot of farm land, but there’s also some small cottages. They’re still close enough to Paris for work, but you don’t have to live surrounded by people,” he said, thinking about how crowded the apartment building seemed, where you could always hear what was happening in the apartments around you. “We’ve been able to save some money over the past few months and Cloutier is still paying me well...”

 

“Do you think we might be able to leave here?” Christine asked excitedly, pushing herself to look down at Erik.

 

“Maybe,” he said cautiously. “We can start to think about it.”

 

“That’s wonderful!” she exclaimed.

 

“I want to be able to give you everything Christine,” he said, running his fingers along her back. “I know this isn’t much...”

 

“But it is,” she interrupted.

 

“And maybe, away from the city, we won’t need to hide so much anymore. I don’t want people thinking that you are my sister.”

 

Although nobody in the building seemed to care about their relationship, and nobody in their respective workplaces knew of the other’s existence, they had decided shortly after arriving in Paris that if they were ever asked they would say that they were brother and sister and that Christine was caring for Erik after he was injured. Their initial attempts to claim they were husband and wife, at the train station and the hotel, had been met with suspicion. Neither of them had liked the idea, but had not been able to admit it at the time.

 

“It would be nice not to hide. The girls at the theatre are always talking about suitors and the patrons, I sometimes wish that I could tell them that I loved someone,” Christine said, kissing him softly.

 

“I don’t like people thinking that they can take you away from me,” Erik admitted, thinking of the Vicomte. He was certain that there would be plenty more men like him who would want Christine for themselves, and that many of them would not be nearly as honourable as the young patron.

 

“But it doesn’t matter what they think. Nobody will ever be able to take me away from you,” Christine reassured him. “And I don’t want anyone taking you from me.”

 

Erik laughed softly at this and she knew that it was because he thought that no one could possibly want him but sometimes she wondered. Erik was so brilliant and she knew that he was capable of achieving wonderful things. Perhaps one day society would take notice of him and with that came young women who would vie for his attention. She knew that if he had been born with a normal face she never would have had a hope of capturing his love.

 

“So you like the idea?” he asked.

 

“Of course I do. A real home where we don’t have to hide? I would do it tomorrow if I could.”

 

“I’ll start making proper enquiries tomorrow then,” Erik decided, determined that this time he would find a proper home for Christine on his own and that she wouldn’t be forced to arrange it for them because of him.

 

“Thank you,” she said quietly.

 

As Erik started telling her what the houses he had seen were like, Christine began to wonder what this would mean for their relationship. Surely if he wanted to be open about their relationship it meant that he was thinking about their future and was starting to believe what she was telling him, that she wanted to be with him entirely, forever. He wanted other men to know that she was his, she thought, smiling to herself. After the events with Raoul she had realised that Erik was the only man she could ever marry and she knew that Erik’s possessiveness would accept nothing less than marriage. She would have to belong to him completely. And once he was convinced of her feelings, there would be nothing to stop them from committing themselves fully to each other. 

Chapter Text

 

“Girls,” Madame Giry directed from the front of the stage where she was standing beside Monsieur Reyer. “You will all need to be on stage and in position ready to start on the eighth count. Celeste and Marie, this means that you need start leading your lines out the moment the music starts. If you hesitate the girls on the ends won’t have time to get into their starting positions.”

 

“The chorus will already be in position before the curtain rises,” Monsieur Reyer took over. “You all know your places so made sure you are in them and that you are not going to get in the way of the dancers. Alright, let’s run through that and give the dancers the chance to practise with the orchestra.”

 

Madame Giry walked off stage towards the wings, whilst Monsieur Reyer made his way to the front of the orchestra pit. “Places everyone,” he called.

 

He briefly scanned the stage to make sure that all the dancers were gone. Satisfied that they were ready he cued the musicians and began.

 

Madame Giry watched carefully as her dancers ran out onto the stage. Noticing that the line running out from the far side of the stage were having to curve around one of the chorus members she walked out on stage and indicated for Monsieur Reyer to stop. The cast glanced around in frustration at being stopped so soon, but they knew better than to complain when Madame Giry was running a rehearsal.

 

“Mademoiselle Daae?” she asked.

 

“Yes Madame?” Christine responded, puzzled that the dance mistress would be calling on her.

 

“Were you paying attention when the chorus was assigned positions earlier this morning?” Madame Giry questioned.

 

“Of course Madame,” she replied.

 

“Then why are you standing here, instead of between those two gentlemen?” Madame Giry asked sternly.

 

Christine looked around and saw that she was standing much more forward that she was supposed to be. “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again,” she said, quickly taking a few steps backwards so she was properly lined up.

 

“Let’s start again,” Monsieur Reyer announced. He started the music again and the cast were able to run through the number without any major mistakes.

 

“That was good, for the moment,” Madame Giry declared. “Some of you have fallen half a count behind the rest by the end but we have time before opening night to fix that. Monsieur Reyer, do you have anything to add?”

 

“Not at the moment. If we can get everyone off the stage I want Carlotta and Piangi to run through the next scene.” He could see Piangi standing by the edge of the stage, but wasn’t able to see Carlotta. “Where is Carlotta? Can someone please tell her that she is needed on stage now,” he said, rubbing his temple. One of the ballet rats ran off the stage towards the dressing rooms to track down the soprano.

 

Whilst they waited for Carlotta to make an appearance the chorus and dancers sat down in the wings and around the edge of the stage. Meg scurried over to where Christine was sitting in the down stage area.

 

“Are you alright?” she whispered, sitting down next to Christine.

 

“Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?” she smiled.

 

“Because my mother just chastised you in front of everyone. I hate it when she singles me out,” Meg said with a shudder.

 

“It wasn’t that bad. I was in the wrong spot, somebody needed to tell me,” Christine said rationally.

 

“Still...You handled it better that I would have and I’m used to it,” Meg said, a touch of pride in her voice.

 

“Alright, I am here,” Carlotta announced as she walked onto the stage, Piangi quickly rushing to her side. “I hope this is important, my little doggy isn’t feeling well and I had to leave her with Rosetta and I do not trust her.”

 

“Of course not, nothing important, just a rehearsal,” Monsieur Reyer muttered under his breath. “Carlotta, we need you to rehearse the first duet from act two,” he said charmingly.

 

“Yes, I suppose you do need me for that,” she sniffed. “Alright I am ready.”

 

“Piangi, if you can please start on the left and Carlotta will make her way over to you as you sing the opening lines,” Monsieur Reyer directed.

 

The music started and Piangi had just started singing when Carlotta stopped walking across the stage and shouted, “No!”

 

“Is something the matter?” Monsieur Reyer asked, gripping his baton tightly.

 

“I cannot rehearse with all of these people watching me,” Carlotta sneered.

 

“This is the way that we always rehearse my dear,” Piangi said, walking into the middle of the stage to join her.

 

“I don’t care!” she shrieked. “I won’t rehearse whilst they are here.”

 

Madame Giry walked back onto the stage, “We will break for lunch. Everyone is to be back here in one hour.”

 

This seemed to satisfy Carlotta, who nodded her approval. As everyone started to leave the stage, Monsieur Reyer gave a small smile of thanks to Madame Giry.

 

Meg and Christine went with the majority of the cast back to the dining room where lunch was currently being served for all of the theatre’s employees. Meg neatly sidestepped the wandering hands of one of the set painters as they lined up to collect their meals. She looked longingly at the piece of cake on Christine’s plate but decided on a piece of baguette instead. Noticing the look on Meg’s face Christine offered, “You can have half.”

 

“No, I shouldn’t,” Meg sighed. “Sometimes I wish I were in the chorus, then I could eat cake as much as a I wanted.”

 

“Well, I’ll leave it until last, in case you change your mind,” Christine said as they gathered their cutlery and found a table.

 

The two women ate in silence for a few minutes before Meg commented, “You’re very happy today.”

 

Christine took a sip of water, “Maybe,” she replied, unsuccessfully hiding a smile.

 

“You’ve been in a really good mood all day. You even smiled at Carlotta this morning. Nobody smiles at Carlotta, except Piangi, or maybe Monsieur Reyer when he wants something from her.”

 

“I’m not allowed to be nice?” Christine asked sweetly.

 

“Not to Carlotta,” Meg replied, mimicking Christine’s tone.

 

“I suppose I am in a good mood,” Christine admitted. She recalled Erik saying the exact same thing to her that morning as she watched him getting ready to leave for work. They had spent the entire previous day lying in each other’s arms, talking about the new home that they were going to find and what it would be like to no longer have to hide their love. But they had needed to return to reality this morning, both needing to leave the other and go to work. She blushed slightly as she remembered their parting kiss. She knew that it wouldn’t be long before Erik was ready to fully come to her bed.

 

“And that!” Meg grinned, indicating Christine’s blushing cheeks. “You’ve been doing that all morning. You’ve been daydreaming at the oddest times, with a secret smile on your face and every now and then you start to blush.”

 

“I have not!” Christine said defensively.

 

“Christine, you did it not more than a minute ago,” Meg said, tearing off a piece of bread.

 

“No, I was just thinking about what you had said. Besides you were teasing me, of course I was going to blush,” Christine argued in her defence.

 

“There’s more to it than that. I’ve seen you drift off at least...three, four, five times this morning,” Meg counted. “You’re definitely thinking about something interesting.”

 

Christine settled for glaring at Meg and taking a bite of her lunch.

 

“And let’s not forget that Maman corrected you in front of everyone and it didn’t bother you, not one bit. That doesn’t happen to anyone. Not even the oldest and most experienced dancers are unaffected by Maman’s corrections,” Meg said, half teasing, half in awe.

 

“What exactly are you trying to say?” Christine relented.

 

“Random day dreaming, blushing, being nice to everyone and not being affected by Maman’s scoldings,” Meg listed. “I’ve seen all these things before. Usually in girls who are in love.”

 

Christine tried to hold it back, but she couldn’t prevent the blush from staining her cheeks again. Had she really been that obvious? She had been hiding her happiness from her relationship with Erik for weeks now and she had been in love with Erik for years living in the gypsy camp and Mala and the other girls had never thought that she was in love. They had all teased each other about the various boys and tried to decide who would marry who, but nobody had ever seriously thought that Christine was in love with anyone. Except for those conversations she had had during her last days in the camp, when Mala and then Vadoma had teased her about Milosh and then realised that perhaps she was in love with somebody else.            

 

“Ha, I was right,” Meg crowed. Noticing Christine’s expression she immediately became contrite. “Oh Christine, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, I promise.”

 

“What?” Realising that Meg must have misread her expression, she explained, “No, it’s not that, I was just remembering some people that I used to know. One of the last times that I saw them one of them said something similar to me.”

 

Meg was surprised at Christine’s reply. Since coming to the theatre Christine had shared very little about her life beforehand, even with Meg, who was no doubt her closest friend at the Opera Populaire. She would talk about her future and what was currently happening in the theatre, but never anything about her past or any of the people in her life. Sometimes it was as though Christine just appeared in Paris out of nowhere. She had never mentioned her family, or if she even had one. Nobody knew where Christine lived or even who she lived with. Meg had often suggested that Christine move into the dormitories at the theatre, hoping that it would be safer than where she was currently living, but Christine always firmly, but politely, turned her down. Although she was intrigued, she decided not to push any further and returned to her original line of questioning.

 

“Are you in love Christine?” Meg asked plainly.

 

“I, uh...” Christine hated not being able to tell Meg, and she wanted to be able to share her happiness with another, but she knew that she couldn’t risk telling her, not yet. If she admitted that she was in love with Erik, that would lead to questions about who he was. If she had thought that Meg wouldn’t understand why she was living with Erik, she was certain that she wouldn’t understand that she was in love with him.

 

“It’s the Vicomte isn’t it? Raoul? I saw him earlier today, he must be back from London,” Meg pressed on. “Has he proposed yet? You need to be very careful with the noblemen, some of them are only after one thing and are plenty of girls around here who have been silly enough to fall for it. But I don’t think the Vicomte is like that. I think that he’ll do the right thing by you. I’m sure that if he hasn’t proposed yet, he’ll do so very soon. Especially if you have declared your love for each other. It’s so romantic, imagine the stories you will be able to tell your grandchildren. How you were friends as children and then Raoul rediscovered you in the chorus of an opera.”

 

“Wait, you think that I’m in love with Raoul?” Christine knew that it was an obvious conclusion for Meg to reach, who else would she think she was in love with, but she couldn’t think of what else to say at the moment.

 

“Of course, who else could you be in love with?” Meg said with a confused look on her face. “I’ve been with the two of you when he’s taken you to lunch Christine. It’s been obvious for weeks that he’s in love with you.”

 

“Really?” Christine asked, cringing slightly.

 

“Really,” Meg confirmed with a smile, thinking that Christine was simply being modest. “He’s been so attentive and he seems to remember every little thing that you tell him. Plus he’s always at the opera; surrounded by young singers and dancers, and you are the only one he has eyes for.”

 

Christine knew that she had to tell Meg that she wasn’t in love with Raoul. It wasn’t fair to let Meg believe that there was a relationship between Christine and Raoul and it would be even less fair if Meg said something to Raoul and he had to explain that Christine had turned him down.

 

“Meg, Raoul and I, we...” Christine let out a silent sigh of relief as a small group of ballet rats appeared beside their table.

 

“Meg, Christine, we’ve been looking for you two everywhere. Have you finished your lunch yet?” Brigette asked, glancing at their plates.

 

“We’ve just been talking,” Meg shrugged, knowing that Christine wouldn’t want an entire group of ballet rats interrogating her about Raoul.

 

“Oh. Can we join you? We just heard something really interesting,” Brigette said brightly.

 

“Sure,” Christine said, forcing herself to smile and trying to forget about the awkward direction her conversation with Meg had just been heading. She waited as Brigette, Adele and Sibylle pulled seats up to the table she and Meg were sharing.

 

“We just heard some of the stage hands talking,” Adele said excitedly. “There’s a gypsy clan that has set up their camp in the city, not far from here.”

 

“Ooh gypsies!” Meg was intrigued.

 

“I know!” Adele agreed. “I’ve never seen a gypsy but they sound very exciting. The stagehands were saying that every night the gypsies will open the camp to outsiders and they will charge you to see all their attractions. They have fortune tellers and dancers and music. One of the stagehands said that he had already visited the camp and they had a strong man and a woman who could twist herself into the most unnatural positions. There was something else...”

 

“Animals. Wild animals,” Sibylle provided. “They say that this camp has a bear, a wild cat and a wolf! They’re kept in cages but if you’re brave enough you can walk right up to them.”

 

“The food is really nice as well,” Christine added, the subject taking her back to the time when she lived in that world. When the girls all looked at her oddly she realised what she had said. “Or so I’ve heard,” she added, trying to justify her comment

 

It all sounded very familiar. The woman who could twist herself into unnatural positions sounded like Jin Jing, a Chinese woman who had joined then clan when Christine was about thirteen years old. And Christine could hardly forget the animals, after Erik they were Danior’s pride and joy and one of the most popular exhibits the clan had. There were other clans that had animals. Although Danior’s clan had suffered in more recent years other clans had prospered and started purchasing more expensive exhibits. But how many were going to have the exact same collection of animals? Nevertheless they wouldn’t be in Paris, would they? Danior had avoided Paris and had immediately shut down any suggestions from the other gypsies that they spend a season in the city. Whilst all the other clans that Christine knew of had spent at least one season in Paris, as far as she knew the clan had never come to Paris, at least not since Danior had been the leader.

 

“So, we were thinking that we should go there, tonight. Why should the stagehands get to have all the fun?” Brigette suggested. “Do you two want to come?”

 

“Absolutely,” Meg instantly agreed. “We would love to come, wouldn’t we Christine?”

 

“Maybe,” Christine replied distractedly. She knew that the only way to determine for certain whether the clan was Danior’s or not was to go and have a look for herself. But then she couldn’t risk being seen by anyone in the clan. If Vadoma or any of her friends saw her they would insist that she come back home to them and if Danior or any of his men saw her she didn’t want to really think what that would mean. She would have to go home and tell Erik, he needed to know, perhaps more than she did. She wasn’t going to let him be recaptured by Danior.

 

“We’ll have to keep it a secret, that we’re going,” Meg said. “If Maman finds out she will be furious and she won’t let me out of the theatre for the next year,” she said dramatically.

 

“Why?” Adele asked, not wanting to get on the bad side of the ballet mistress.

 

“Maman hates gypsies, she always has. She says that they’re cruel and greedy and don’t care about anyone but themselves. She says that you shouldn’t visit the camps and give the gypsies money, because it just encourages them. I remember when I was younger a clan came to the city and I begged to go but Maman refused to take me. She’s never said why, exactly. Just something about how she visited a camp when she was a child and she saw something really bad,” Meg explained.

 

“So we’ll go, but we won’t tell Madame Giry,” Sibylle decided for the group.

 

“I don’t think I’ll be able to come,” Christine spoke up hesitantly.

 

“Oh Christine, but it will be so much fun. Why not?” Brigette said.

 

“They’re holding auditions for the new production next week. I really need to keep practising if I’m ever going to get a role outside the chorus,” Christine explained, relieved that she had been able to quickly come up with such a believable excuse.

 

“What if we go tomorrow?” Meg suggested.

 

“The auditions are next week,” Christine repeated. “I need to practise as much as I can. You can all still go. It will be fun. Just be careful and don’t spend too much money.” Although she didn’t want Erik or herself anywhere near the camp, she knew that her friends would enjoy it and that they wouldn’t be in any danger from the gypsies.

 

“We should be returning to rehearsal,” Adele said, noticing the time. “But we’ll go to the camp tonight.”

 

All of the girls, except Christine, nodded their assent as they made their way back to the stage. Christine was quiet and hoped the rest of the day would pass quickly. She needed to get home to tell Erik of the possibility of the clan being in Paris so they could decide what they wanted to do next. 

Chapter Text

Christine knew that the clan Meg and their friends were going to visit that night could just as easily be any other gypsy clan and that even if it was Danior’s clan the chances of them finding Erik and herself in the city were very slim. But she still couldn’t help walking home a little faster than usual, not wanting to be out on the streets where anyone could see her any longer than necessary. She knew that she was safe in the theatre, the doormen would never allow gypsies into the building, and she wanted to get to the safety of her home as quickly as possible.

 

Once she had entered the apartment she made sure that the locks were secure before calling out to Erik.

 

“Erik?” she said, walking through to the back room. Since he left so early in the morning he was usually waiting for her when she got home from the theatre. He wasn’t there. Still, she told herself, it was early. He sometimes had to stay later at the site to finish off a particular piece of work that the client wanted done.

 

She went back to the front room to ensure that the door was still locked and gathered a parcel of sewing that had been left on the table. She took it back to the table by the window, intending to try and distract herself with the work until Erik returned. Despite her attempts to concentrate on the sewing she still found herself imagining would what happen to Erik if Danior or any of his men found him. Danior wouldn’t hesitate to put him on show once more but he would be punished for escaping and Danior would do whatever he thought was necessary to prevent it from happening again. She let out a small sob at the thought of Erik being permanently shackled in the black caravan.

 

The more time that passed the more Christine began to panic. Erik was very rarely this late home and what were the chances that he would be late home on the same day that she learned that the clan might have come to Paris? Realising that she had sewn two sides of a cuff together she gave up on the sewing and returned to the front room to wait for Erik.

 

What would she do if he didn’t come home to her? Should she make a report to the police? She knew that they wouldn’t approve of a woman filing a report about a man she wasn’t related to but she didn’t care. Maybe she could say that Erik was her husband.  Of course there was the possibility that they wouldn’t believe her and would dismiss her story as that of a silly girl. Perhaps she would need to go back to the camp, although she didn’t know how she would break Erik out if he was there, as he would no doubt be under heavy guard. She knew that Erik would want her to run, to ensure that she wasn’t captured by Danior but she was never going to be able to bring herself to leave him behind.

 

She was pacing in front of the door when she heard someone walking up the stairs and stop at the door to the apartment. She held her breath as a key turned in the lock and the door was pushed open.

 

“Erik!” she gasped, throwing herself into his arms. She squeezed him tightly for a moment before stepping back to run her eyes over him, making sure that he was unharmed.

 

“I never thought that anyone would be so glad to see me,” he said tenderly, stroking her cheek with the back of his finger as she leaned into his caress.

 

“I will always be happy to see you,” Christine murmured, pulling herself up against his chest once more.

 

She hated that she had to do this. Erik had smiled when he had seen her waiting at the door for him. She had never seen him so genuinely happy. He had certainly smiled and appeared happy in the initial weeks after he got the job with Cloutier and before he had come up with the foolish idea that she would be better off with Raoul. But something was different now. He appeared genuinely happy, like he was starting to honestly believe that he could have a normal life, with a job and a woman to share it with. Christine would have given anything to make sure Erik stayed this happy for the rest of his life, but he had to know about the possibility of Danior being in the city.

 

“Christine, what’s wrong?” he asked, feeling her tense in his arms. She had been so pleased to see him, surely she hadn’t changed her mind about wanting to be with him after what they had discussed yesterday? He mentally scolded himself at the thought. He knew that Christine wasn’t going to leave him and hoped that one day soon he would truly accept that and not think that was going to leave him every time she got upset.

 

“Umm, can we sit?” Christine asked. Erik walked over to the table and sat down, but rather than taking a seat herself Christine curled up Erik’s lap and wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him tightly.

 

“Christine, please, what’s wrong?” If he wasn’t the problem then what was making Christine so scared?

 

“Some of the girls at the theatre were talking today, about a gypsy clan that has come into the city. They invited me to go visit the camp tonight. They had heard some of the stagehands talking about how they had already been and all the attractions and exhibits that the camp had. Erik, I think it might be Danior,” she stated bluntly.

 

“Christine, there are a lot of gypsy clans in France, what makes you think it’s Danior?” He spoke calmly but inside he felt as scared as Christine looked.

 

“I don’t know for sure, I’ve just got a horrible feeling that it’s going to be him. And the attractions that Adele and Sibylle described, we had those!” Her voice rose as she became more upset.

 

“Except for me,” Erik said distastefully, “The clan had attractions that you could find in lots of other camps.”

 

“This clan has the exact same animals that Danior has and a woman who sounds like Jin Jing. I know that lots of clans have similar attractions but still...”

 

“When you were younger you always said that you wanted the clan to come to Paris, because your father wanted you to live with a friend here. But Danior never wanted to come here. I think he was trying to avoid attracting the attention of the authorities,” Erik said, trying to think of a reason why Danior would bring the clan to Paris. The obvious reason was that he was trying to find either Christine or himself, but it didn’t sit entirely right with him.

 

“I know. But remember how angry you said he was after the clan was attacked. He was furious that we were both missing, he sent search parties out for both of us. What if he was angry enough to expand that search and be willing to come to Paris to do so?” Christine wondered.

 

“What’s more important to him, finding us or staying out of Paris?” Erik said, resting his chin on top of Christine’s head.

 

“He never really said why he didn’t want to come to Paris, but I always got the feeling it was more of a precaution that anything else. I don’t think the police or the government were actually after him, he was just trying to avoid attracting their attention at all. But if I’m right that means he would be willing to come into the city if it meant finding us,” she deduced.

 

“If they are after us,” he emphasised. “Danior wanted you gone from the clan. He got what he wanted with you.”

 

“But not you,” Christine said. Erik could feel her trembling on his lap. “You were the most popular attraction in the camp and you brought in the most money for Danior. I think that he would be desperate enough to search the country for you. Erik you can’t go back to that!”

 

“I won’t.” He knew that he would die before he went back to the camp. But now that he had Christine dying wasn’t an option either.

 

“We have to leave Paris,” Christine decided.

 

“Christine, you can’t just leave. You’re doing so well at the theatre and you’ve come so far. I’m sure that at the next round of auditions the managers will realise how wonderful you are and cast you properly,” Erik said.

 

“Erik!” Christine exclaimed, appalled at what he was saying. “Do you really think I care about that? You mean more to me than any theatre ever could. If Danior finds you he will put you back in the black caravan. I can’t let that happen and I will give up anything I have to to make sure that you are safe.”

 

“It shouldn’t be like this,” Erik said, finally losing his composure. “I took you away from camp so that you would be safe. You shouldn’t have to leave the life you’ve set up in Paris because I failed. Maybe I should have taken you further than Paris, out of France perhaps. You’re in danger now because of me, because Danior is most likely trying to track down me.” He let his arms fall from around Christine, feeling that she wouldn’t want him to touch her anymore. “I’m a failure. I thought that I could be a man, that I could take care of you and keep you safe but I couldn’t. I shouldn’t have tried to be something that I’m not. I’m a monster, a corpse.”

 

“No! Erik, don’t say that,” Christine protested. “You aren’t a monster or a corpse, or anything like that. You are a man, a wonderful man and I love you. It is not your fault that this is happening. You have done everything I could possibly ask for to keep me safe. What’s happening now is Danior’s fault. He shouldn’t have come looking for us, and even if it isn’t him, he was the one who put us in a position where we need to run every time there is a chance that he has found us.” She tightened her arms around his neck and pulled him to her mouth, kissing him softly. “Please believe me.”

 

“I do,” Erik said, accepting her kiss but not feeling as though he currently had the right to return it.

 

“We need to leave Paris. My job, your job, it doesn’t matter. We can start again somewhere else, and it will be easier this time,” she reassured him.

 

Trying to think clearly he said, “If Danior and his people are in Paris, we don’t know how long they could have been here. I think we need to leave soon, tomorrow, tomorrow night at the latest.”

 

“So soon,” Christine murmured, half question half statement.

 

“We can’t tell anyone, we’ll just go. I get paid tomorrow so I’ll have to go to work to collect my wages. We’re going to need them.”

 

“I don’t get paid until next week and I can’t ask for it early without raising any suspicions. I guess we’ll have to go without mine,” Christine said ruefully. “But I’ll still go to work.”

 

“Good idea. We don’t want anyone to come searching for you whilst you’re still here,” Erik rubbed at his mouth.

 

“Where will we go this time? If Danior’s come to Paris looking for us he’ll be willing to go anywhere in France. Maybe we should consider other country, Italy or Germany?” Christine shifted in Erik’s lap, trying to encourage him to wrap his arms around her again, but he ignored her silent request.

 

“No, not far enough. We need to go somewhere the clan will never follow, overseas would be best. England or America perhaps...”

 

“Alright.” It made her slightly nervous to think about the possibility of moving to a country on the other side of the world but she knew that if she was with Erik it would be alright.

 

Erik’s thoughts were entirely the opposite of Christine’s. She simply wasn’t going to be safe as long as he was in her life. If it wasn’t Danior, there would be someone else who wanted to attack him because he was different, less than human, and Christine would always be caught up in it if she was with him. They no doubt would encounter people who would attempt to rescue Christine, never believing that a woman like her could possibly choose to be with a creature like him. The fact that they were talking about needing to leave Europe was proof enough that he wasn’t able to take care of her the way she deserved. He considered telling her that perhaps she should reconsider the Vicomte’s offer, if nothing else he would have enough money to ensure that she was safe, but he quickly rejected the idea, knowing that the time for that had passed. Still there were other ways to ensure that Christine was safe from him.

 

“We’ll find a new city, and once you’ve found a job and somewhere better than this to live, I’ll leave you,” he decided sadly.

 

“What? You can’t leave me,” she stammered. “Why would you do that?”

 

“It’s the only way I can keep you safe Christine. This entire affair has just proven that I can’t do that any other way. As long as I’m with you, you will always be a target, whether it’s Danior or someone else who wants to exploit my hideous face. If I leave you then you can establish a career and you can find a proper man to love you, one who is handsome and who can provide for you and give you a family.”

 

“No, Erik you can’t. Please. I’ll beg if I have to, just please, please don’t leave me. I love you so much I can’t do this without you. I don’t want. If you leave me you might as well just give me back to Danior and he can marry me off to whoever he wants, because I don’t think I would care anymore.” She moved her legs so that she was straddling him and looked directly into his eyes. She took a deep breath and continued, “I love you. I’ve already said that my career doesn’t matter. I didn’t want Raoul and I don’t want any other man. If I am to have a family it will be with you. I don’t care if we have to run every year, as long as I’m with you. I trust that you will keep me safe and I promise that I will do everything in my power to keep you safe.” She buried her face in the side of his neck. “Please.”

 

Erik could feel the pressure of her face against his neck. She was breathing heavily and he felt a rush of air against his skin every time she exhaled. “I love you,” she whispered before planting a kiss on his neck. She continued to lay kisses along his skin, moving up his neck and along his jaw until she reached his mouth. The kisses she gave him were soft and gentle, but there was no mistaking the love behind them.

 

Erik continued to sit passively, allowing Christine to kiss him but not responding. His heart and body were screaming at him to respond with everything he felt for her, but his head continued to argue that he didn’t deserve this. Christine wasn’t deterred however and soon his heart and body began to win the fight as he slowly began to respond to her. He allowed his fingers to wander up her arms, tracing over her shoulders and up her neck so he could cup her face between his hands, holding her close to him. His tongue traced the seam of her lips and she eagerly opened to allow him entrance. Pleased with his response, Christine pushed her hips closer to his, bringing the lower halves of their bodies into intimate contact.

 

He momentarily faltered when he felt her pushing against him, worried that she would pull away when she realised how he was reacting to her. He held himself still, even though his instincts were telling him to push back against Christine.

 

“Erik, don’t stop,” she mewled against his mouth, distressed that he had stopped kissing her. She started running her fingers around the opening to his shirt, teasing the skin she could find.

 

He could scarcely believe that this beautiful creature sitting on his lap still wanted him to touch her, wanted him to kiss her. Hearing the distress in her voice her resumed kissing her and was rewarded with a soft moan. She continued to play with his shirt, opening the buttons near the top in order to access more skin and his hips automatically pushed against hers when she lightly brushed a finger across one of his nipples.

 

Erik turned his attention away from her mouth and started to place kisses down her neck and across her shoulders. She tilted her head back to give him greater access to her skin. “I love you so much,” he said in between kisses.

 

Needing to touch more of her skin he started to pull her dress off of her shoulder. “No, wait,” Christine panted. Erik immediately pulled back and was amazed when instead of climbing off his lap Christine started to undo the fastenings to the top of her dress. He was certain that he lost any self control when he saw her pull the bodice of her dress off so that it sat around her waist and her upper body was clad only in her chemise and corset.

 

He allowed his eyes to take in the sight in front of him before surging forward and pulling Christine forcefully against his chest. He kissed her again, far more deeply that he had previously and he felt like he was going to drown in her. He knew that this was it for them, Christine was willing to move to the other side of the world to be with him, and he didn’t want to wait any longer. She loved him.

 

Like he had only moments earlier, Christine cupped Erik’s face between her hands, holding him fast against her as she climbed off his lap and started drawing him towards the back room, towards their bedroom. She awkwardly walked backwards, their legs threatening to trip the other up as they walked so closely together. “I love you Erik,” she whispered as she dropped down to the bed, forcing him to follow.

 

As he followed her down, clumsily kneeling on the edge of the mattress, Christine let go of his face and started focusing in earnest on his shirt. She opened the remaining buttons, running her hands across his chest before pushing the shirt from his shoulders. Erik quickly pulled her into a standing position, pushing her dress down over her hips so it pooled on the floor. He guided her back onto the bed, but she went further this time, so that she was lying on her back and he was hovering above her. She reached a hand to his back and pulled him down so that his weight was resting on her, his hips cradled between her legs.

 

They drifted away from reality, lost in their own world, where their only concern was being able to touch the other, feeling skin against skin. They hurriedly divested each other of their remaining clothing, not caring where the items fell. He hesitated for only a moment before he entered her and they gazed into each other’s eyes as they shared a moment that they knew they would never share with anyone else. As he ran his fingers down the length of a curl Christine reached up to take his hand. The urge to move soon overcame Erik and he quickly established a rhythm that was over far too soon. Crying out her name, he reached his peak within her as she continued to run her free hand over him.

 

He pulled away from her, not wanting to crush her with his weight, but Christine wasn’t going to let him go that easily. As he lay down next to her she immediately moved up against him, her breast crushed against his arm. He lifted his arm so he could wrap it around her shoulders.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You didn’t...”

 

“No,” she interrupted. “Don’t apologise. It was wonderful and we have a lifetime to make it perfect.”

 

“I love you,” he whispered fiercely, pressing a kiss into her hair.

 

“I love you too, so much. And I’m never going to let you go. Even if we have to run for the rest of our lives. I will always be with you,” she vowed, tightening her arm around his waist.

 

Christine soon fell asleep, but Erik remained awake for hours, simply watching Christine and noting that her grip on him never faltered. 

Chapter Text

This is just like any other day, Christine told herself as she turned the corner and the Opera Populaire came into view. As far as anyone was concerned she would be coming to the theatre tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that. She would be performing when the production opened in two weeks and she would be auditioning for a larger role in the next one. She knew that she had to leave the theatre but she wished that she was able to say goodbye to the people that she had come to care about. There was little chance of Danior learning of her whereabouts from anyone at the theatre, however it was a chance that she couldn’t risk taking. Besides, even if she were able to say goodbye to her friends, she would then have to explain why she was leaving and that would lead to questions about Erik and the gypsies. It was safer for everyone if she disappeared without a word, no matter how much it hurt.

 

As she approached the side entrance that all of the Opera Populaire employees used, she tried to wipe any hint of worry from her face. “Good morning,” she greeted the doorman Bertrand.

 

“Good morning Mademoiselle Daae,” he said in return. Bertrand greeted everyone by name and never forgot a name, no matter how new someone was. When Christine started to think that she would never say good morning to Bertrand again she caught herself, firmly telling herself that she would never survive the day if she continued on in that fashion. Still she needed to say goodbye to everyone in her own way, even if they didn’t know and she decided that she would try and speak to everyone she could today, if only to say hello.

 

So as she walked through the theatre towards the dressing rooms she said good morning to everyone that she knew. If anyone thought that she was acting strangely they didn’t say anything and Christine knew that she would be long gone from Paris by the time anyone gave her behaviour any serious consideration.

 

“Oh good, you’re here Christine,” Celeste greeted Christine as she entered the dressing room that she shared with five other girls. “The costume ladies want to see you.”

 

“Why, is something wrong?” she asked as she took off her coat and hung it up.

 

“No, nothing like that. They’re just doing final checks on all the costumes, making sure everything is perfect. They’re running a little behind and want to see everyone as soon as possible. It shouldn’t take long, I was only there for ten minutes,” Celeste said, lacing up her slippers. “You’ll have enough time to see them before rehearsal starts.”

 

“Alright. Thank you,” Christine replied, before leaving the dressing room. Walking through the halls she continued to say good morning to everyone before she reached the costuming department. Tentatively she knocked on the door and was told to come in. “Who are you?” asked an older woman who was embroidering a man’s shirt.

 

“Um, Christine Daae. I’m in the chorus. I was told that you wanted to see everyone for a final costume check?”

 

“Aimee!” the older woman called out. “Another chorus girl to see you.”

 

A younger woman, Aimee, poked her head around the corner. “Oh Christine, it’s you. Just give me a moment and I’ll get your costume.”

 

“Alright,” Christine said. She had already met Aimee at her initial costume fittings. Aimee was an apprentice in the costuming department and was a perfectionist when it came to making sure costumes fitted exactly.

 

“Here, put this on,” Aimee said, handing Christine her costume and pushing her into a curtained off section of the room.

 

“It fits,” Christine announced as she pulled aside the curtain and walked out. “I don’t think anything needs to be done.”

 

“That’s because you’re not a seamstress,” Aimee replied, running a critical eye over Christine’s outfit. “I don’t think I like the way that it’s sitting on your hips, and the hem is just a tiny bit too long at the back.”

 

“It’s fine, really Aimee. I don’t want you to go to any trouble,” Christine protested. She was never going to wear this costume on stage and she didn’t want Aimee or any of the seamstresses doing work on the costume for no reason. “Mostly I’m at the back of the chorus, nobody will be paying any attention to my costume.”

 

“Don’t be silly,” Aimee waved off Christine’s protestations. “Every costume that goes out on the stage has to be absolutely perfect. No exceptions,” she said firmly.

 

“Alright,” Christine relented, knowing that it would seem strange if she protested too much. She only hoped that by the time they got to working on her costume they would have realised that she was gone.

 

“It will be done for opening night, I promise,” Aimee said as Christine ducked back behind the curtain to get changed.

 

“Christine!” Christine heard Meg squeal her name as she left the costuming rooms and was immediately set upon by Meg, Adele, Brigette and Sibylle. She spun around to greet them all, once again knowing that this was the last time that she would see her friends. Looking at the girls, she realised how much they had come to mean to her and thoughts of their friendship made her remember Mala. At least this time she knew she was leaving and had the opportunity to say goodbye to her friends in her own way; she didn’t have that opportunity with Mala, or Milosh, or any of her friends back at the camp. But once again no one knew that she was leaving.

 

“Sorry, what were you saying?” Christine asked, shaking her head to try and clear it of her depressing thoughts and focusing on the time she had left with her friends.

 

“The gypsy camp, last night,” Meg repeated. “You should have come Christine, we had so much fun.”

 

“You will have to come next time,” Sibylle added.

 

“Next time?”

 

“The gypsies are staying in Paris for a month, so we’re going to go back before they leave,” Adele explained.

 

“Perhaps,” Christine replied, noncommittally.

 

“Perhaps?” Meg repeated incredulously. “Oh no Christine you are not skipping out again. The camp was amazing; you’ve never seen anything like it. There were torches and campfires burning everywhere and flags flying from every tent and caravan.”

 

“And their clothes, they were so beautiful,” Brigette chimed in. “Their skirts were so colourful and you should have seen them dancing. Such quick steps, it was so different to ballet. I don’t think I could ever dance like them.”

 

Christine smiled briefly as she remembered her dancing lessons from years ago and how long ago the new year’s party when she had last danced seemed.

 

Meg laughed, “Can you imagine the scolding Maman would give you if you danced like that in practise?” Lifting her skirt slightly, she tried to imitate the quick steps that she had seen the night before, however quickly gave up.

 

“Still I would love to be able to dance like that,” Brigette sighed.

 

“Which is why we are going back, so we can watch them again,” Adele said, linking her arm through Brigette’s as they started walking back to the dressing rooms.

 

“Of course Christine will have to have her fortune told,” Sibylle added seriously. “Find out whether there is a certain Vicomte in her future?” she teased.

 

Christine winced at the mention of Raoul, she still hadn’t had the opportunity to tell Meg about what had occurred with Raoul, but before she was able to deflect the comment Meg interrupted.

 

“Oh Christine the fortune teller!” Meg exclaimed. “She was wonderful. Her tent was so pretty and she had all these beaded decorations hanging everywhere. She was younger that I would have expected, but she knew everything about us. She had these cards, she called them tarot cards that she used to tell our fortune, but she was able to tell us other things just by looking at us. As soon as we entered the tent she said that we were all dancers.”

 

“The way you walk,” Christine murmured softly.

 

“What?” Meg asked, puzzled.

 

“Never mind,” Christine said, remembering how Vadoma taught her how to read a person’s body language and how much you could learn from a person just by noticing small things about them that others would consider inconsequential. “Keep going.”

 

As the girls continued to walk down the halls towards the dressing rooms, Christine realised that the fortune teller they were talking about had to be Vadoma and that her original instincts were correct. There could be no doubt that Danior’s clan was in Paris.

 


 

“They had better not come back again,” Nicu muttered as he followed Tamas down the street.

 

“Why would they?” Tamas asked. “Danior showed them that we have nothing to hide, we aren’t breaking any laws.”

 

“You think that will stop them?” he sneered. “We’re gypsies, they don’t need a reason to come into the camp, they just do it.”

 

“And if they do all they’ll see is a group of gypsies providing entertainment for anybody who wishes to see it.”

 

“Yeah well they aren’t good for business. Did Danior tell you how much we made that night? They frightened off all our visitors,” Nicu said, glancing at the construction site they were walking past.

 

“It was one night and we aren’t going to be staying in the city for that much longer. By the time they think about trying to raid the camp again we’ll be long gone.” Noticing that Nicu was starting to lag behind, Tamas stopped and turned to him, “What is it?”

 

“There’s someone over there that looks familiar,” Nicu said watching the builders.

 

Tamas looked at the group of men who were lining up to collect their wages, “I don’t see anyone. Why would you recognise anyone working on a construction site in Paris?”

 

“I don’t know. But he looks really familiar.”

 

“It’s probably just someone who’s visited the camp. Looks like its pay day, maybe he’ll come back?” Tamas shrugged. “Come on, Danior won’t be happy if we’re late back, let’s go.”

 

“Have a look, do you recognise him?” Nicu asked.

 

“Why does it matter? Can we just go? If we’re caught loitering around a construction site they really will have a reason to arrest us,” Tamas said starting to walk around.

 

“Just look would you?” Nicu hissed, pointing to the man he had been watching. “That one who just got his wages, with the mask.”

 

“Mask?” The man definitely looked familiar to Tamas and he suddenly realised why Nicu was so interested in him. “He doesn’t look familiar,” he lied.

 

“No, no, no, I definitely know him,” Nicu muttered. The man in question suddenly turned to face them, as though he were staring straight at them. “No it couldn’t be, no one would ever hire that freak like it was a normal man.”

 

“What are you muttering about?” Tamas asked impatiently.

 

“Can’t you see it you fool? It’s the Living Corpse!” Nicu exclaimed.

 

“The Living Corpse?” Tamas said disbelievingly. “Who escaped from the Black Caravan? Is working on a construction site in Paris? How much have you had to drink today Nicu?” He knew that he was going overboard, but Tamas also knew how much attention they would draw to themselves if they tried to capture the creature in Paris. Now that it had had a taste of freedom it wouldn’t go down without a fight.

 

“I haven’t drunk anything,” Nicu snapped. “And I know what I’m seeing. That’s the Living Corpse.”

 

“But how can you tell? Most of the time it wore that sack over its head. Would you even recognise its face?” Tamas continued to protest.

 

“I saw it enough to know. Pull away that mask and you’d recognise it too. It’s put on weight and is pretending to be a man but I know what it really is. Come on, it’s starting to leave,” Nicu said turning back the way they had come to follow the man.

 

Tamas reached out to restrain Nicu. “We’ll never be able to capture him on our own. It used to take up to five men to bring him down and working on construction sites these last months is only going to have made him stronger. If it is the Living Corpse, we should come back with more men, or at least some weapons.”

 

Nicu shook Tamas off. “This could be our only opportunity. Do you really want to be the one to tell Danior that we had the Living Corpse in our sights and let it go? Besides, I’m not suggesting that we drag it back to the camp tonight. I just want to get a closer look at it and find out what hole it’s living in. We report back to Danior and let him make the decision.”

 

Turning his attention away from Tamas, Nicu could see that the man he thought was the Living Corpse was about to turn the corner, out of sight. “Come on. We’re going to lose it,” he said, breaking out into a slow jog.

 

Realising that he had no choice but to follow Nicu, Tamas gave once last glance in the direction of the camp, although he couldn’t see it, and turned to run after Nicu. Despite what he had said to Nicu, Tamas knew that this man had been the Living Corpse. He hated to think what would happen if they tried to recapture it, both to the men involved and to the entire camp if the authorities learned of what they were trying to do. He knew that the authorities would have no sympathy to the Living Corpse, especially if it revealed its true nature and attacked, but they would never allow Danior to keep it, instead they would drag it to the nearest asylum. 

 

As they followed the Living Corpse through the streets of Paris, Nicu started to wonder whether the creature knew that it was being followed or whether it was just naturally paranoid after its life in the camp. It seemed to duck in and out of small streets and laneways, before returning to the main street that it had started on, leading them around in circles before ultimately heading in the one direction. There was no way that this thing could know that the clan was in Paris, could it? Danior had advertised their presence in the city to attract visitors, but hadn’t given away enough information for anyone to identify the specific clan. For all Nicu knew perhaps the thing had lost its mind and was aimlessly wandering the streets.

 

The construction site was in one of the nicer neighbourhoods of Paris but slowly they were making their way into areas that were more and more rundown. But it didn’t bother either of the gypsy men, both used to the less savoury parts of towns and cities where they were often forced to camp.  

 

Eventually it stopped outside an old apartment building in a tiny side street. They watched as it lifted a latch to enter the building, “No lock,” Nicu commented.

 

“There’ll be locks to the individual apartments,” Tamas pointed out.

 

“On a building like this? They’ll be easy enough to break,” Nicu said confidently.

 

“Danior might not want to break into the apartment in any case, he might want to take it on the streets instead.”

 

“Yeah, right,” Nicu agreed. “Who’d rent an apartment to a thing like that anyway?”

 

“A place like this? They’ll rent to anyone who can pay,” Tamas said gesturing around them.

 

“Perhaps,” Nicu was unconvinced. “Maybe he threatened them, or hypnotised them.”

 

“If you were going to threaten someone into giving you an apartment, you’d pick somewhere nicer than here,” Tamas scoffed.

 

“Right,” Nicu said stupidly. “We should wait here a bit, just in case.”

 

They waited outside the apartment building for the next few hours, trying to blend into the shadows and hoping that no one saw them. Once they were convinced that the Living Corpse wasn’t going to leave and that it did in fact live there, they made careful note of where they were and quickly hurried back to the camp, never realising that a man slipped out of the apartment building minutes after they left.

 

The camp was located on the outskirts of Paris, close enough that they would attract visitors, but far enough away to deter the authorities from visiting them every night. By the time Nicu and Tamas returned preparations were well underway for the arrival of the night’s visitors. Both men waved off requests for help from the other gypsies, quickly weaving their way through the caravans and tents to get to Danior’s caravan.

 

Tamas reached up and knocked on the door, “It’s us.”

 

There were banging noises from within the caravan and Danior unceremoniously pulled the door open, “Well? Is it arranged?”

 

In all the excitement of finding the Living Corpse in Paris the two men had almost forgotten why Danior had sent them into the city. “What? Of course, it’s done Danior. It’s all arranged for next week,” Nicu said.

 

“Good,” Danior said returning to his desk. “I need you two to go and help set up for tonight, we’re running behind and I want everything ready for when the first visitors arrive.”

 

“Danior we discovered something when we were in the city...” Tamas said hesitantly.

 

“I don’t have time for this...” Danior replied warningly.

 

“We found it. The Living Corpse. It’s in Paris,” Nicu blurted out.

 

“What? What are you talking about?” Danior growled.

 

“On this construction site. We were walking past and saw it collecting its wages, bold as anything. It was wearing a mask. No one there had any idea,” Nicu explained.

 

“Maybe it wasn’t the creature, maybe it was someone else,” Danior suggested, not wanting to get his hopes up.

 

“Danior! It was the Living Corpse. Trust me,” Nicu said clenching his hand into a fist and bringing down on the desk.

 

Danior glared at Nicu before turning his attention to Tamas, “Well?”

 

“It looks a bit different, put on some weight, wearing a mask. But it could be. We followed it to an apartment building where we think its living.”

 

“Only one way to find out,” Danior said getting up and walking towards the door.

 

“What, now Danior? But tonight’s visitors...” Tamas asked.

 

“Hang tonight’s visitors. Imagine the visitors that will come when we capture the Living Corpse. Let’s go, now,” he ordered, sliding a dagger into his boot. 

Chapter Text

Erik paced in front of the doorway as he waited for Christine to come home. He wondered whether he should have gone to the theatre to walk her home but quickly dismissed the idea. He had never walked Christine home before and people were liable to notice if he turned up at the theatre suddenly. They were even more likely to remember after Christine had disappeared. He hoped that she had enough money for the journey home before he remembered that he had checked her reticule that morning to ensure that she had enough. Still perhaps he should have gone to the theatre to follow her home, even if he didn’t walk by her side he could have discretely followed from a distance, to make sure that no one else followed her.

 

Leaving the door he walked over to small table that sat by the window to check that the tickets were still there. They had cost him most of the money he had been saving and he could not risk losing them. The ship he had arranged passage on was by no means luxurious, it was primarily for transporting cargo, however they usually took on a small number of passengers on the understanding that they stayed out of way of the men working on the ship, which had been fine with Erik. He was slightly nervous about having Christine on a ship with so many men, but he had been assured that if she was accompanied by him they would have no issues. This was what he should have done from the start, he had reflected whilst waiting in line at the shipping company’s office. He should have taken Christine out of the country where the gypsies were never going to be able to find them and not become complacent, relying on the idea that Danior wouldn’t bring the clan close to Paris. He realised that they had been foolish in thinking that they could live in Paris and be open with their relationship.

 

Pulling off his mask, Erik rubbed at his face, he had to stop this. He couldn’t keep second guessing every decision he made regarding Christine. She trusted him, loved him, enough to believe that he would do the right thing to keep her safe. It was too early for her to be home yet, he just needed to be patient and she would arrive home just like she normally did. Then they would be able to pack up the last of their belongings and leave. After all, he told himself, the gypsies didn’t know that he and Christine were in Paris, this was merely a precaution.

 

This was the only way they could be together, without constantly looking back over their shoulders to make sure than the clan wasn’t there. Erik knew that there would always be people who would disapprove of their relationship or scorn them, but he hoped that people in America would be more accepting. When suitably attired, he felt that he could almost pass for an ordinary man, one that was allowed to have Christine on his arm.  He knew that Christine would insist that he was a normal man, no matter what he wore, and that she belonged on his arm, but he didn’t think that he would ever entirely accept the idea. His thoughts drifted to the night before. That Christine had welcomed his touch and his kiss, that she had allowed him to make love to her and wanted to be with him again, was almost unbelievable. He knew that he would never forget the feeling, the connection, that he had shared with her, and it was only the fact that he knew he couldn’t possibly have imagined something so wonderful that convinced him that it had been real.

 

But now that he knew what happiness could be, that this could be his life, he wasn’t going to let anyone stop him from having this. No man, whether gypsy or Vicomte, was going to stop him from being with Christine and loving her. She had promised last night that she would run forever to be with him and he knew that he would do the same. The only person who would stop him being with Christine was Christine and as much as he loved her, if she told him that she no longer wanted to be with him, then he would let her go, although he would never stop watching her. He needed her in his life, in whatever form that was, even if she didn’t know it. He would always watch over her, even if he wasn’t the one who could make her happy.

 

Light footsteps outside their apartment told Erik that Christine had arrived home and he opened the door for her. She didn’t say anything as he shut the door behind her and she placed her reticule on the table, briefly glancing at the tickets. Walking back to Erik she wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him close to her, resting her head on his chest.

 

He knew why she was upset, being forced once again to leave a place she called home and he knew that nothing he could say was going to change that fact. So he settled for holding her, allowing her to take what comfort she could from him. Leaning down to rest his cheek on the top of her head, he gently ran his fingers through her hair. He could feel her fingers clutching at the back of his shirt and the warmth of her breath as she exhaled into the front. Erik didn’t know how long they had been standing there when Christine turned her head to face him. Moving his head so that their foreheads were touching he looked into her eyes.

 

“Thank you,” she said softly.

 

“What for?” he replied equally as softly.

 

“For everything. For being you,” she said reaching up to kiss him. She allowed herself to get lost in the kiss and would have happily let Erik lead her back to the bed but he pulled away and she let out a little moan of frustration.

 

“I’m sorry. We don’t have time,” he said, amazed that she was actually disappointed when he withdrew his touch.

 

“I know,” she said, walking back to the table and picking up the tickets. “Does anyone know?”

 

“That I’m leaving?” he confirmed. When Christine nodded he continued, “No one suspects, or if they do they didn’t say anything. I lined up to collect my wages like everyone else this afternoon and as far as they are concerned I will be at work tomorrow. I finished the piece of work Cloutier had me working on, but it was due to be finished today or tomorrow so it won’t raise any suspicions.”

 

“Perfectionist,” Christine commented with a small smile.

 

“What?” he replied, semi-defensively.

 

“You. It would have irritated you endlessly if you hadn’t been able to finish it,” she said, still smiling.

 

“Would not,” he grumped.

 

“Would too,” Christine retorted.

 

“Maybe a little,” he conceded, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.  “But I would not risk your safety for a piece of masonry,” he said, becoming serious once more.

 

“I know. But I love that you are so dedicated to anything you put your mind to. That’s why I’m not worried about what happens next. You say that you will look after me and I trust that you can do that.”

 

Erik felt a swell of pride at the idea that this woman, that Christine, had sufficient confidence in him to completely trust him when he was moving her to the other side of the world. “I don’t ever want to let you down.”

 

“You won’t, ever,” she said simply.

 

He stared at her in awe for a few moments before clearing his throat, “What about you? Does anyone know?”

 

“No. At least I don’t think so. I didn’t tell anyone. I said goodbye to Meg and the other girls when I left at the end of rehearsal, but as far as they are concerned I’m coming back tomorrow,” she answered sadly.

 

“I know you wanted to be able to say goodbye to them...” Erik started.

 

“But it wouldn’t be safe,” Christine finished for him. “I know. But I’ve said goodbye to them in my own way. I left little gifts in their dressing rooms, ribbons that they’ve admired, that sort of thing. They won’t find them until morning and hopefully they’ll realise what the gifts mean when they’ve discovered I’ve gone.”

 

Christine once again fell into silence as she contemplated the fact that she would likely never see the friends that she had made at the opera again. Her eyes drifted across the table and landed on tickets. Studying them more closely she commented, “The ship doesn’t leave until next week.”

 

Erik walked over to the table and sat in the chair opposite Christine. Reaching across he took the tickets from Christine’s hands. “The ship leaves from Cherbourg,” he explained. “It will take time to get there. And it was the soonest I could get.”

 

“Will we still leave tonight?” she asked.

 

“Yes, but I want to wait until it’s dark,” Erik said looking briefly out the window. “I’m afraid that it’s not going to be the most comfortable voyage.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“The ship, it isn’t a passenger vessel. It mostly carries cargo, but they also take on a few passengers for the extra money. We’ll have to spend most of our time below deck and we’ll be somewhat restricted in where we can go,” he admitted.

 

“Erik,” Christine said reaching across to grasp his hand. “It’s alright. I wasn’t expecting anything luxurious. As long as it gets us to America that’s the main thing. Besides, I grew up in a gypsy camp where we would travel for days on end in caravans. I’m sure the ship will be fine.”

 

Despite Christine’s reassurances all Erik could imagine was her being trapped in a tiny cabin, with no sunlight and no fresh air for days at a time. He never wanted her to know what it was like to be trapped, caged. And he had no idea what life was going to be like for her at the other end. “You don’t have to go,” he said, wanting to give her one last chance to escape.

 

“What do you mean? If we don’t go and Danior is in the city there is still the chance that he will find us.” Christine asked, confused.

 

“No, you don’t have to go,” he emphasised. “We both know that Danior will want me, so I can’t risk staying here. But you...I could take you to the theatre, you could live in the dormitory like your friend Meg suggested, you would be safe there. Just for a little while and then when it was safe I could send for you.”

 

“I’m safe with you,” Christine cried, hating that Erik was again suggesting he leave her. “Why would you even suggest that you leave me? Is that what you want? When would it be the right time for you to send for me? Weeks? Months? Years?”

 

“Of course not!” he shouted. “I’m naturally an incredibly selfish man. I never want to let you go. But I am trying to do the right thing here and as much as it will hurt me I will let you go if that’s what you want. You would be safer if you stayed at the opera house, you know that.”

 

Christine bowed her head, “I know that I would probably be safer. But I wouldn’t be happy even if it was only for a little while, I don’t think I could bear it,” she said tearfully. “I’ve told you, I don’t care what the price is, all I want is you. Please stop asking me if I want you to leave me because my answer is never going to change.”

 

That he was the cause of Christine’s tears made Erik feel absolutely wretched.  He virtually fell off the chair and dropped to his knees, crawling forward until he had his face buried in her lap. “I’m so sorry Christine,” he sobbed miserably. “I don’t want to leave you, ever. I love you so much and I just want to do the right thing for you.”

 

Running her fingers through his thin hair, Christine whispered, “Just keep loving me and never leave me, not even for one day.”

 

When Erik finally lifted his head from Christine’s lap he noticed that the room had gotten much darker and looking out the window he could just see the dying rays of the sun. “We need to start getting ready.”

 

“Alright,” Christine agreed, allowing Erik to pull her to her feet. “Erik?” She waited until her turned to face her before continuing, “Promise me you won’t ever ask me that again, please.”

 

Erik just nodded before walking to his bed to finish packing his belongings.

 

Half an hour later they were ready to leave.

 


 

It was late by the time Danior, Nicu and Tamas reached the poor neighbourhood where Nicu and Tamas believed they had seen the Living Corpse, and it was virtually dark when they located the apartment building.

 

“Are you certain this is the right building?” Danior asked as they broke into an abandoned building further down the street and situated themselves around the window where they could see the building in question.

 

“Yeah, it’s the right one,” Nicu said. “I recognise that garland hanging from the door.” The garland had been an attempt by the landlady to make the building more attractive; however it had died and was starting to fall apart.

 

“Which apartment is it in?” he asked next.

 

“Not sure. The windows are small and we weren’t able to follow it inside,” Tamas explained.

 

“Well we’ll just have to wait for it to come out instead. I don’t want to risk going in there if we don’t know which apartment we want,” Danior decided.

 

“But it could be hours until it comes out. We could be here until morning!” Nicu exclaimed.

 

“And?” Danior said coolly.

 

“Nothing,” Nicu sighed, shifting to find a more comfortable position near the window.

 

The three men didn’t have to wait long, for just over half an hour later the front door to the building and a woman stepped out, clutching something tightly to her chest. She glanced around the street but then turned her attention back to the front door, as though she were waiting for someone.

 

“Christine!” Tamas gasped, suddenly sitting forward.

 

“What are you talking about?” Nicu asked, not moving. Danior remained silent, but shifted closer to the window to get a better look at the woman who has just left the building.

 

“That woman, it’s Christine Daae,” Tamas insisted.

 

Nicu seemed to have forgotten that when Christine was last in the camp Danior had ordered him to capture her so she could be cast out from the clan. Time had also seemed to make him forget his own dislike of the girl and he eagerly joined Tamas closer to the window to see her. “What would she be doing here?”

 

“I don’t know. She just disappeared the day we were attacked. Nobody ever saw her leave,” Tamas said.

 

“Vadoma always thought Pali, Besnik’s son, took her during the raid because Luca saw him near her, but she must have been wrong,” Nicu speculated. “If Pali had taken her she wouldn’t be here.”

 

“I think Besnik’s clan is up north at the moment,” Tamas murmured. “Christine wouldn’t have run away, she didn’t have anywhere to go or anyone to look after her.”

 

“But what are the chances that she just happens to come out of the same apartment building that we saw the Living Corpse go into earlier today?” Nicu questioned.

 

“Very low...” Tamas said slowly. “It’s had her with it all this time...”

 

“My god!” Nicu shuddered. “What it must have put her through.”

 

“Why would it have taken her?” Tamas asked.

 

“Who knows why a mind like that works the way it does. But think about it, she was in that caravan every day for years. Plenty of time for the creature to develop a fixation on a pretty young thing. What do you think Danior?” he asked, trying to draw the other man into the conversation.

 

Danior didn’t answer, but continued to watch Christine, who was still standing near the door, clutching what he could now see to be a violin case to her chest. Squinting to try and focus more on the case Danior realised that the case belonged to Gustave Daae, however he still didn’t say anything.

 

“She looks sort of nervous, but it looks like she’s afraid of what’s around her rather than what could come out of the building,” Tamas observed.

 

“Anyone in their right mind would know that they should be more afraid of the creature in the building rather than anything out here, it must have somehow tricked her or hypnotised her into believing that she was safe with it,” Nicu rationalised. “Hang on a moment, something’s happening....”

 

They watched as Christine turned her attention to the door way and took a few steps closer to it. A tall figure emerged from the building holding two small bags and Christine appeared to smile up at it and took a step closer when it reached out to her.

 

“That’s it,” Tamas said, confirming what they all knew.

 

“She doesn’t looked afraid of it,” Tamas said, confused as he watched Christine continue to stand close to the creature and willingly touch it.

 

“I told you, it’s tricked her in some way, used black magic or something like that,” Nicu repeated.

 

“So,” Tamas said, turning away from the window to face Danior. “What now?”

 

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Nicu interrupted. Danior and Tamas both turned their attention back to the window, where they saw the Living Corpse kissing Christine.

 

“Black magic, black magic, black magic,” Tamas started chanting to himself, never even considering the possibility that Christine was willingly returning the creature’s kiss.

 

But Danior wasn’t nearly as ignorant and the sight of the girl kissing the Living Corpse only confirmed his suspicion that the two were lovers. The thought was as abhorrent to him as it was to Nicu and Tamas, but his disgust wasn’t nearly enough to override his anger. When he had seen Christine holding Gustave’s violin case he started to suspect that she had left the camp voluntarily. Vadoma had noticed the violin missing soon after the raid but everyone had assumed that it had been taken by one of Besnik’s people. But that was obviously not the case. If the creature had taken the girl against her will, Danior could see no reason why it would have bothered to take the violin as well. No the only reason he could see for the violin being with Christine would be that she had run with the creature and stopped to take her most prized possession.

 

Danior was furious. That this creature and this girl had been able to outwit him and escape his camp. Of course the only way the Living Corpse could have possibly escaped was if it had help. He didn’t particularly care at this moment that they were lovers, his only concern at the moment was making sure that the Living Corpse was dragged back to the camp, in chains if necessary, ready to be displayed tomorrow night.

 

“Be a man,” he sneered at Nicu, who still looked somewhat nauseous. Getting to his feet he ordered, “Let’s go. We surround them and attack. Forget the girl, she won’t be able to do any damage. Focus on the corpse and do whatever you have to to get it under control. It’s coming back to the camp tonight.” Without waiting for a response, Danior opened the door and crept silently out into the dark. 

Chapter Text

Danior appeared perfectly calm as he signalled for Tamas and Nicu to start following the couple down the street when they started to walk away from the apartment building. Inside he was furious, but he wasn’t going to let anything stop him from taking back what was his, and punishing those who were responsible. Tamas and Nicu were not as confident as their leader, and were concerned about how the creature would react now that it had tasted freedom. Nicu had not forgotten the last time that the thing had attacked him and knew that it had only gotten stronger and more determined since then. However neither of them were in a position to argue with Danior and had to follow his instructions.

 

The street where the apartment was located had been deserted and Nicu and Tamas had both wondered why they hadn’t taken the creature as soon as they saw it. But Danior knew that although the area was little better than a slum it was a residential area and he didn’t want any witnesses. No one would come to the creature’s aid, but there would always be someone willing to talk for the right price. So he continued to lead his men, following the corpse and the girl. Gradually the apartment buildings became fewer and fewer, to be replaced by businesses that were closed for the night. With not a single bar or tavern nearby the area was completely deserted. Ahead of them, the creature stopped and Danior motioned for his men to stop and wait for his signal to attack.

 

“What is it Erik?” Christine asked as he stopped beside her in front of a butcher’s shop.

 

“I’m not sure,” he murmured, putting down the bags he was carrying to free his hands. “There’s someone else here...”

 

“I don’t see anyone,” Christine replied, looking around cautiously, but not seeing anyone in the dark. “Can you hear them? Maybe they’re in one of the buildings?”

 

“No, they’re outside,” he said, taking a step backwards and forcing Christine behind him. He took another step that pushed her into the shadows. “Go, hide,” he ordered.

 

Christine stumbled backwards in her hurry to follow Erik’s instructions. The urgency and worry that she had heard in his voice meant that she didn’t dare hesitate. But before she had the chance to hide herself away three dark masses emerged from the shadows and rushed at Erik.

 

“Erik! No!” she shouted as the first man reached him. The man swung his arm back before swinging it forward, aiming at Erik’s face but before he was able to make contact Erik lunged to the side, causing the man to stumble forward. Before either man could attempt another hit the remaining two men reached them and also started swinging at Erik and, with the odds not being in Erik’s favour, the other men were able to land some of their punches.

 

Although Christine knew that she couldn’t possibly hope to fend off even one of these men, nonetheless she couldn’t stand by and watch this happen. She took a deep breath and ran forward, before hitting the first man she found on the shoulder. But it barely impacted on him for he turned around and swatted at her like an insect, catching on the cheek and knocking her to the ground.

 

In the moment before he hit her Christine had caught a glimpse of the man’s face and instantly recognised that it was Danior. Which meant that the other two men had to be Nicu and Tamas. How had the clan found them? Nobody in Paris knew who Erik or Christine really were and even if they did they weren’t likely to cooperate with gypsies. They had been so careful since they had discovered that the clan was here, even before they were sure that it was their clan. But then who knew how long the clan had actually been in Paris. They could have been there for weeks trying to find them. They should have forgotten about waiting for Erik’s wages and left Paris the day Meg had told her about the camp Christine reflected bitterly. The money didn’t matter; they should have done whatever was necessary to stay safe.

 

Being knocked to the ground had stunned Christine and she couldn’t pull herself up. Instead she was forced to watch as the men circled around Erik, relentlessly swinging punches at him. It seemed to Christine that they must have done things like this before, because they would always attack as a group, so that when Erik was able to escape one man he went straight into the path of another. She could hear the terrible sound of flesh hitting flesh and she couldn’t help but cry out when she heard something crack.

 

Despite the strength that Erik had been able to build up working for the mason and his determination not to let Danior take him back to the camp, the men were soon able to overpower him. As soon as they saw the opportunity Tamas and Nicu stopped hitting Erik and moved in to restrain him, each one grabbing an arm and holding it tight, so that he was no longer able to defend himself. However wasn’t willing to let Danior take him down that easily and he continued to struggle against Tamas and Nicu.

 

“No!” Christine shouted, having finally caught her breath. “Let him go. Tamas, please don’t do this,” she said, trying to appeal to the man she knew was the most reasonable. She knew that the only way Danior would stop his attack on Erik was if he was physically forced to and that Nicu would do whatever Danior told him to. But Tamas had shown some compassion in the past and she knew that he had argued against Danior in the past, so she felt that he was her only hope at freeing Erik. Even if Tamas only loosened his grip slightly it would be enough for Erik to force his way free. “Tamas, he hasn’t done anything wrong. You can’t keep a man locked up in that caravan.”

 

But Tamas was too focused on keeping Erik still and watching what Danior was doing to take any notice of Christine’s pleas. The men kept going as though she wasn’t there and she watched in horror as Danior continued his relentless assault on Erik.

 

“You stupid creature,” he spat, flecks of saliva landing on the bare side of Erik’s face. “Did you think that you could be a man? That if you lived in an apartment and someone was foolish enough to give you a job, that you could be like everyone else? That if you hid behind a mask no-one would ever know what you really are? It will never happen. These people that think you’re human will turn on you the moment they find out what you really are.” With that Danior tore the mask from Erik’s head, which had miraculously stayed in place during the fight.

 

Erik instinctively ducked his head, trying to hide his face from view.

 

“See?” Danior sneered, swinging his arm down to punch Erik low in the stomach. “Even a thing like you has the sense not to show that excuse for a face where it’s not wanted. You don’t belong in society. You belong in a cage, locked up where you can’t hurt anyone.”

 

“No, Erik, don’t listen to him. It’s not true,” Christine called out, praying that Danior’s comments weren’t going to cause Erik to slip into self doubt.

 

“You think that your life was bad after you killed Javert?” he asked, stamping down hard on Erik’s foot and causing him to cringe in pain. “You have ruined my clan, the children are going hungry.”

 

“I would say that has more to do with you than me,” Erik couldn’t help but remark. He may not be in a position to physically fight back against Danior but he wasn’t just going to take everything that was thrown his way.

 

Christine was momentarily distracted by the beating occurring in front of her. There wasn’t enough food for the clan and the children were going hungry? Her family and friends were suffering? She knew that the money Danior made from showing Erik was significant but she didn’t think it was that much. All the other attractions brought in their fair share. She remembered exactly how much Vadoma could make because she would count the takings each night before Vadoma delivered them to Danior. Of course there was the money that Erik had taken when they had escaped, but it hadn’t been that much. Still there was always the possibility that Danior was lying.

 

“Don’t you dare talk back to me,” Danior roared in response to Erik’s insult, punching him on the damaged side of his face as punishment. “You will never leave that caravan for as long as you live, I promise you that. I obviously gave you too much freedom, allowing you to roam free in the back half of the caravan. But no more. You will be shackled to the coffin and I’ll have men drag you to the bars every night so our visitors can see the horror of the Living Corpse.”

 

Danior paused for a moment, throwing more punches at Erik’s face, before lowering his attention to his chest and stomach. “That’s all you are, a corpse. You’re lucky that I let you live at all. You’re nothing, a rotting carcass whose parents should have killed you when you were born. You’ll never be a man, no matter how hard you try.”

 

He had been able to throw off her pitiful attempts to stop him the first time, but Christine had to try and stop Danior again. Getting to her feet she rushed forward, grabbing at his arm as he pulled back to deliver another blow, but once again he barely noticed her and her weight meant nothing as he still managed to deliver the blow as intended, even with her hanging off him. She stumbled forward, stubbornly refusing to let go of Danior’s arm and crashed into Erik.

 

“Christine, go!” Erik managed to hiss under his breath when Christine collided with him, despite the blow to his shoulder from Danior. It was so soft, and so quick, that none of the gypsies even noticed that he had spoken. But she didn’t have a chance to respond before Danior swung his arm back again, throwing her off and to the ground in the process.

 

Although she hadn’t hindered him at all and he didn’t seem to even notice her presence, after Danior had knocked Christine to the ground for a second time he seemed to become even more enraged. He stopped insulting and verbally abusing Erik, instead saving all of his energy for the attack. His hits became so vicious that he was grunting with the effort. Tamas and Nicu struggled to hold Erik upright, the force that Danior was using being enough to push them backwards.

 

Tamas knew that the Living Corpse was strong and could easily survive a beating. He couldn’t count how many times he had witnessed the thing being beaten over the years, by Danior, then men who were its keepers. Sometimes it would remain conscious for the entire beating and other times it would receive a blow to the head and lose consciousness. Considering the beating Danior was giving it now Tamas was amazed it was still conscious. But as Danior drew back his fist, he saw that it was covered in blood and he began to worry that Danior, in his fury, was going to go too far.

 

“Danior stop,” he said firmly, causing both Danior and Nicu to look at him. Danior looked furious at being told what to do.

 

“What?” he said dangerously.

 

“You need it alive,” Tamas said, wanting to get to the point immediately and not waste any words.

 

“Death is the only thing fitting. After all it already looks dead,” he sneered, turning back to Erik, and for a brief moment Tamas believed that death was exactly what Danior intended for the Living Corpse.

 

“But you’re right,” he said, taking a step back. “We can’t afford to lose our most valuable attraction. It deserves to be punished; it needs to know who its master is. Beatings obviously haven’t worked, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Death is the only thing we haven’t tried. But we can’t afford to kill it. People might pay to see the Living Corpse, but they won’t pay anything if it’s an actual corpse. So it needs to stay alive.”

 

He looked over his shoulder to where Christine was sprawled on the ground. “The girl on the other hand, isn’t of any value to us. At least not anymore. She’s been tainted by the creature’s touch. Do you think that it believes itself in love with her or it’s just used her to relieve itself of its animal urges?” he asked his two men. Both men gave him looks of disgust and didn’t respond, however Danior was too caught up to notice. “The Living Corpse’s Whore. It has a certain ring to it. But no one will pay a dowry to marry her, not now. Of course I imagine there are men who would be willing to pay for a night in her bed,” he mused. “But it wouldn’t be much.”

 

At the thought of his wicked idea Danior seemed to have calmed down considerably. No longer the ranting, violent man of moments ago, he was once again the composed gypsy leader. But everyone present knew that this side of Danior was much more deadly.

 

“It’s the perfect solution,” he said. “The creature is punished, the problem of the girl is finally off my hands. Of course!” he exclaimed. “The Living Corpse’s Bride. Perhaps she may be of some use to us after all. We could put her in the caravan, in her own coffin. People would pay even more to see the Living Corpse and his decaying bride. Of course we couldn’t keep her forever, but we should be able to get a good few weeks.”

 

It was at this point that both Nicu and Tamas realised that their leader had taken leave of his senses. They accepted Danior’s obsession with the creature, and in Nicu’s case encouraged it because of how valuable it was to the clan, but this was going further than either of them could stomach. The clan allowed Danior to get away with a lot of things because they all believed that he was doing what would be best for everyone in the long run. Even the fallout from the attack by Besnik’s clan had been minimal, even after some of the reasons for it had become known. But to kill a young girl and then display her corpse for a profit was too much and the clan would never allow him to get away with it. The fact that it was Christine, who most considered a member of the clan, only made it worse. Earlier that day they would have said that Danior would have known this, but now it seemed that Danior believed that not only would he get away with it but that the clan would congratulate him for his clever thinking. As they thought about it, both of their grips on the creature between them loosened.

 

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll do,” he said, more to himself than anyone else. Lifting his knee up, he pulled out the knife that he had hidden in his boot earlier. Now brandishing his weapon, he turned his back on Nicu, Tamas and Erik and took a step towards Christine.

 

Before Nicu and Tamas even had a chance to react, Erik had wrenched himself from their grasp and threw himself at Danior, knocking the older man to the ground. Danior immediately twisted underneath Erik, bucking him off and reaching for his knife which he had lost his hold on when Erik had crashed into him. But Erik was quicker, kicking the knife out of Danior’s reach and scrambling on his hands and knees to get the knife for himself.

Danior lunged forward, grabbing Erik by the hair and shoulder in order to pull him back to continue inflicting his beating. However Danior didn’t see that Erik had reached the knife and now had it firmly in his grasp. Erik twisted in Danior’s grip as he was pulled backwards and when he was close enough didn’t hesitate in slicing the blade across Danior’s throat.

 

Christine stared at Erik as he immediately dropped the knife and seemed to deflate before her eyes, as though he no longer even had the energy to hold himself upright. He was covered in blood, both his own and Danior’s, and Christine knew from experience that it would be weeks until he fully recovered from the beating. She could barely believe what she had just witnessed. She had been certain that Erik was only moments from unconsciousness and then he had exploded, like there was nothing in the world that could stop him. And now it was over.

 

The two gypsies couldn’t take their eyes off Danior’s body. The body of their leader. They knew for certain that he had to be dead. He had stopped moving the moment the knife was removed from his neck and experience told them that no one could survive losing that much blood. But neither one could bring himself to actually touch the body and confirm it.

 

Slowly they both turned to the creature that had collapsed in a pool of Danior’s blood. They knew it was capable of violence, they both bore scars that attested to that, but they didn’t realise that it was capable of killing so effortlessly. It looked pitiful at the moment, panting on the ground, but they had just seen how quickly that could change. Although they knew they should stay with Danior’s body, and take it back to the clan for funerary preparations, they weren’t willing to stay near the thing to do so. After what they had seen they felt that they would be risking their lives to stay. After all a corpse wasn’t going to be able to distinguish between men. Danior had always said that if they allowed the creature to go lose it would only be a matter of time before it massacred everyone it could find.

 

Nicu turned and ran back up the street. If necessary they would come back at first light to retrieve Danior’s body but in the meantime he wasn’t going to risk his life for a body. Not wanting to be left alone, Tamas quickly bolted after him. Neither of them considered for a moment that they were leaving behind what had been the clan’s most valuable attraction.

 

Erik however didn’t care about the two gypsies; with Danior gone they didn’t pose any threat to Christine. Instead all of his attention was on her, waiting for her to react to what she had just seen. The suspense was almost unbearable as the two stared at each other. All he needed was a sign, just some small indication that she accepted him, that she could still love him after what she had seen him do. Finally he couldn’t stand it any longer. “Christine?” he whispered shakily. “Please say that you forgive me, please. I...I had no choice; he was going to hurt you. I had to protect you. That’s the only reason that I did it, I promise. I would do anything to protect you. I love you so much Christine, I would do anything for you.” He looked down at his hands, which were covered in blood, “I know that I’m a monster Christine, but I would never hurt you, never,” he said emphatically. “It’s just that I love you so much...Please don’t leave me. I’ll do whatever you want, just stay with me.”

 

Christine had remained perfectly still throughout Erik’s speech. Only when he had finished did she made a move, slowly working her way around the body that separated them. Despite the fact that he was covered in blood, she immediately reached out to touch him, brushing her fingers gently against the damaged side of his face. “What he did to you...” she murmured.

 

Craving her touch, Erik instinctively leaned towards her and reached up to rest his hand on top of hers. The combined weight of their hands was pressing on a cut that Danior had inflicted on Erik, but he didn’t care.

 

With a gasp Christine flung her arms around Erik, pulling him up against her. “I thought he was going to kill you. I was going to lose you Erik, I can’t lose you.” She sobbed against his shoulder for a moment before pulling back to look into his eyes. She took a deep breath to try and get her tears under control, “I love you. And I swear that I am never going to leave you, I couldn’t do it, I love you too much.”

 

Hesitantly, Erik leaned in to capture Christine’s lips in a gentle kiss and she eagerly responded, trying to show him everything that she felt. But as she moved against him her arm brushed against his ribs and he let out a pained cry.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said, immediately pulling away. “We need to get you help. Do you think you can walk, we can’t let anyone find us here,” she asked, looking over towards Danior’s body.

 

“I know. I’ll have to walk. We have to go now, before whatever I’m running on disappears completely,” Erik replied. He slowly got to his feet, wincing when he put too much weight on the foot that Danior had tried to crush. Christine stooped down and brought his arm across her shoulders so she could help support his weight.

 

“We need to go this way,” Erik said, leading them towards a dark side street.

 

“What’s there?” Christine asked warily looking down the street and thinking that it appeared less than safe.

 

“There’s a doctor that works near here. He deals with bar fights, prostitutes, that kind of thing. He won’t ask any questions as long as you pay. And he won’t say anything to anyone else.”

 

“Alright,” Christine said, realising that they had few other options available to them. “Wait. The bags, Papa’s violin, we can’t leave them here.”

 

“Of course,” Erik remembered, as Christine led them back to the bags. Slowly they managed to find a way to carry the bags and for Christine to support Erik without his wounds being pressed upon too much and they slowly walked away from the scene towards the doctor. 

Chapter Text

“Thank you,” Christine said gratefully as she accepted the bowl of water and rags from the doctor’s daughter, who closed the door behind her.

 

She turned back to Erik, who was shifting restlessly, and sat on the edge of the bed, placing the bowl on a nearby chair. Not saying anything, she lifted his hand away from his face and laid it gently on the bed. The entire time the doctor had been attempting to treat Erik he had insisted on keeping his face covered, despite the doctor’s protests that he had seen it all before. It had made the doctor’s work difficult but Erik didn’t care, no one was going to see his face.

 

He had continued to refuse to reveal his face when the doctor had sent his daughter in to clean the blood that remained on Erik’s skin. The young girl had refused to be cowed by Erik, having worked in her father’s practise for as long as she could remember and being used to stubborn patients, and she simply cleaned around his hand. Once she had finished she had returned with fresh water for Christine, hoping that she would be able to convince the patient to cooperate.  

 

But he allowed Christine to reveal his face, now even more hideous because it was covered in his blood. She had seen the very worst that he had to offer when he had killed Danior in front of her and she hadn’t run away. He was truly able to believe her now when she said that his face didn’t frighten her.

 

“You could have been nicer to the doctor and his daughter,” she scolded lightly as she wet the rag. “They were only trying to help you.”

 

“Hmm,” Erik grumbled. He stilled under Christine’s ministrations, having become used to her treatment from his injuries on the worksite.

 

She continued to work in silence, cleaning the blood away until she was satisfied that no trace of it remained and handed his mask to him.

 

“I can’t believe that your injuries weren’t worse,” she said quietly. “I was certain that something would have been broken.” Although Erik was covered in cuts and bruises were already starting to appear, the doctor had told them that there were no broken bones, but some of his ribs would be tender for the next few weeks.

 

“Danior knows how to hit to cause pain, but not any lasting damage. Or he did,” Erik explained. Except for when his shoulder had been dislocated when he had tried to escape as a child, Danior and his men had never broken Erik’s bones, although they had inflicted many deep cuts that had left scars.

 

“Never again,” she said quietly.

 

Erik watched her as she wrung out the rags and hung them over the back of the chair to dry. She put the bowl of now bloody water near the door of the bedroom and returned to the bed.

 

“We’ll still have to leave Paris,” she said after a moment.

 

“I know,” Erik agreed.

 

“I used to think that the clan would accept me back, if Danior wasn’t there. But now...I don’t think they ever could.”

 

“Nicu and Tamas?” Erik questioned, remembering that the two men had bolted the moment they had realised that he had killed Danior, no doubt returning to the safety of the clan.

 

“Partially. They will return to the camp and tell the clan everything. Everything,” Christine emphasised, taking Erik’s hand. “The clan...they won’t understand this. That I want this and it makes me happy. Even the people who love me the most, Vadoma, the twins, I’ll be tainted to them.” Sensing Erik’s anger, she added, “It’s what they’ve been taught, you can’t blame them.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Erik apologised. He had always feared that his touch would ruin her.

 

“Shush,” Christine stopped him, placing her finger against his lips. “Don’t ever apologise for loving me. But even if that weren’t an issue I wouldn’t go back because of you. You killed their leader Erik, no gypsy clan would ever forgive that. Most of them don’t realise what he was really like, they loved him. And they will want revenge.”

 

“They’re going to keep hunting me,” Erik realised.

 

“Maybe not with the same vigour as Danior, but yes, they will always be looking for you. I would never want to be a part of that. And I am not going to let you run without me,” she said firmly, pre-empting anything Erik was going to say.

 

“I think I’ve passed the point where I could ever let you go,” Erik said slowly.

 

“Good,” Christine said, leaning over to lightly touch her lips to his.

 

“Alison said that we can stay here a few days, until you’re able to travel,” she explained after she had straightened up.

 

“Who?”

 

“The doctor’s daughter,” Christine smiled. “She’s going to find some extra blankets for me...”

 

“Christine we can’t stay,” Erik interrupted.

 

“What? Erik you need to recover,” Christine stressed. “The doctor’s not going to let anyone in.”

 

“We can’t afford to wait, not again. That’s what got us here to begin with.” Like Christine, Erik had also realised that they should have left as soon as she had heard about the clan and not bothered waiting the day for his wages. They would have survived without them. “Besides if we wait we’ll miss the boat.”

 

“Right,” Christine said, rubbing her forehead.

 

“We’ll wait until daybreak, but then we have to go,” he decided. “You should get some sleep.”

 

“Alright. But I want to talk to the doctor before we leave so I know what to do to take care of you,” Christine agreed reluctantly, lying down beside Erik on the narrow bed to try and get some sleep before the sun rose.

 


 

Erik was already awake the next morning when Alison came to the door to deliver some food. Christine was still sleeping, balanced precariously on the edge of the bed and he shook her gently to wake her up. “Christine,” he whispered.

 

“Is it time to go?” she asked groggily.

 

“The daughter’s just left some breakfast but then we have to leave,” Erik explained, carefully sitting up and testing his injuries.

 

“But the doctor...” Christine quickly scrambled from the bed and rushed out the door to catch up with Alison. Erik could hear the murmur of their conversation as he slowly got out of bed.

 

“We can’t leave yet,” Christine announced as she flew back into the room.

 

“Why?”

 

“The doctor had to go see a patient very early this morning and he hasn’t return. Alison said that he should be back soon,” she explained.

 

“He could be hours!” Erik exclaimed. “We can’t afford to wait.”

 

“Erik, if something happens to you on the ship I don’t know what to do. And I doubt anyone else on the ship will know. We have to wait so I can talk to him,” Christine insisted.

 

“We’ll wait an hour,” Erik countered. “Then we’ll see.”

 

He slowly hobbled over to the window, wanting to check whether there was anyone suspicious in the vicinity, but he was quickly intercepted by Christine.

 

“Please lie down,” she asked, bringing a hand up to gentle rest on his chest. “Rest, whilst you still can.”

 

Christine had been telling Erik that he needed to rest for years. Every time the gypsies had injured him and she had brought water and rags to the black caravan she would tell him to rest and that it would help him recover sooner. But there was something about this time that made him stop and stare at her. She was looking up at him, looking so beautiful and perfect despite what she had endured in the past couple of days and she cared about him, loved him.

 

“Marry me,” he blurted out.

 

“Yes,” she replied without hesitation.

 

“No, wait, I should do this properly,” he muttered, more to himself that to Christine.

 

“Erik, you asked and I said yes. We don’t need anything else,” she said, the happiness coming off her in waves.

 

“But it wasn’t what I planned,” he said, his back turned to her as he dug through the bag that contained his clothes.

 

“You planned this?” Christine asked with a waiver in her voice.

 

Finding what he was looking for, Erik knelt before Christine, holding up a plain gold ring. “From the moment I realised that I was in love with you, I have wanted nothing more than for you to be my wife. Even when I believed that there was no chance that you could return my feelings I would imagine what it would be like. And when we arrived in Paris I thought that maybe, one day, I could be worthy of you.”

 

“Erik...” Christine murmured.

 

He twisted the ring between his fingers and reached for Christine’s hand, “I saw this on my first day working with Cloutier. I know that it’s not much...”

 

“No, it’s perfect,” Christine interrupted.

 

Erik gave her a small smile and continued, “When I saw it I didn’t think that this could really happen, but I still bought it, just in case. I know that I don’t have anything to offer you, but I love you Christine, more than I think any man could ever love a woman and I would do anything to make you happy. I want you by my side for the rest of our lives. Will you do me the honour of marrying me?”

 

“I’ve never wanted anything more than to be your wife,” Christine said, kneeling down in front of Erik and accepting the ring. “Of course I will marry you.”

 

As he slipped the ring onto her finger Erik kissed her, “I love you so much. I never thought that this could be real.”

 

“I love you too,” she replied, before looking down at the ring that was to symbolise their union.

 

There was a sharp knock at the door and they heard the voice of the doctor call out, “Can I come in?”

 

“Just a minute,” Christine called back, quickly getting to her feet.

 

It was slightly more difficult for Erik to get to his feet then it had been for him to kneel. But with help from Christine he managed to get to his feet and stagger over to the bed and sit down.

 

“Come in doctor,” Christine said, opening the door for the man.

 

They spend the next half an hour or so trying to explain to the doctor that they couldn’t afford to stay any longer and that they needed to leave Paris, without explaining exactly why they were being forced to leave the city. At first he had been adamant that Erik wasn’t to leave his care and that he certainly wasn’t able to travel. But he soon realised that the couple weren’t going to be convinced otherwise and that underneath Erik’s intimidating stare, the man was quite terrified for what could happen to the young woman if they stayed. So he explained to them, in explicit detail, what Erik’s injuries were and what could make them worse. He then told Christine what she needed to do to ensure that they healed properly and gave her a supply of clean bandages for their journey.

 

An hour after Erik proposed to Christine, they were at the train station where they had first arrived in Paris, preparing to leave the city.

 

“It feels like a lifetime has passed since we were last here,” Christine said as they sat and watched people bustling through the station. “So much has changed.”

 

“But some things have remained the same,” he replied, the frustration obvious in his voice. “We’re still running from them.”

 

“I know,” Christine sighed, rubbing her thumb across Erik’s fingers. “But this will be the end. Once we leave Europe we won’t need to run anymore.”

 

“I just want so much for you. But I’m too selfish to let you go.”

 

“Erik, all I ever want is you. And if you’re being selfish, than so I am, because I’m not willing to let you go either.”

 

“Perhaps.” A part of him was triumphant that she mirrored his feelings and was unwilling to release him from her life, but he didn’t say anything further.

 

“Besides, don’t they say America is the land of opportunity? Maybe our every fantasy will come true. You’ll be a sought after architect and I’ll sing on the most famous stages in the country.”

 

“All our dreams. I promise Christine, I will do whatever I have to to make them come true,” Erik vowed.

 

“Me too, Erik,” Christine promised in return. Glancing up at the large clock on the wall, she sighed. “It’s time to board.”

 

Although they were once again running from the clan, they were different as they boarded the train for the second time. All the good things that had happened since they arrived in Paris, Erik’s work, their relationship, had caused Erik’s confidence in himself as a man to grow and whilst the events of the night before had shaken him, and caused him to fear for Christine, they had not broken him. They boarded the carriage just like any other couple, with Christine’s hand looped around Erik’s elbow and Erik helping Christine climb up the stairs. Although Erik was wearing a hat and jacket, he was no longer using them to hide; instead he wore them just like a normal gentleman. His mask was only visible upon close inspection and although the ticket inspector stared for a second longer than would be considered polite, he didn’t make any comment and allowed Erik to board the train without any questions.

 

Despite this, Christine could feel Erik’s tension in the way that he tightly gripped her hand once they were sitting down.

 

“Erik, we’re safe,” she whispered.

 

“We won’t be safe until we’re on the boat, away from here,” he whispered back, eyes darting around the carriage.

 

“They won’t come on a train,” she tried to reassure him.

 

“They weren’t supposed to come to Paris either,” he retorted.

 

“Danior brought the clan to Paris,” Christine emphasised. “He was obsessed with you, with how much money you could bring in. Their focus will be on burying him, nothing else. By the time they come to think of you we will be long gone from here.”

 

“I hope you’re right,” he sighed.

 

“I am,” she said simply, resting her head on his shoulder.

 

With a jerk, the train started to pull away from the platform and Erik stared out the window and watched as the city turned into countryside. Still exhausted from the night before Christine fell asleep, trusting that Erik would watch over her as she slept.

 

The further they got away from Paris, the more relaxed Erik felt. He realised that Christine was right, the gypsies’ first priority would be to bury Danior. He didn’t doubt that they would want vengeance against him, but there was no one in the clan who was as tenacious as Danior. The clan always travelled together, rarely separating for more than a day or two, and whoever the next leader was would never be able to transport the entire clan half way across the world in pursuit of them.

 

They were leaving Paris and going to a place where there would be no gypsies chasing after them and no noblemen who wanted to marry Christine. Erik had no doubt that there would be men in America who would want Christine, but she was to be his wife. She was going to promise herself to him for the rest of their lives and nobody was ever going to be able to come between them.  He gently rubbed his hand across the ring on her finger that symbolised their promise. A year ago, trapped in the caravan, he never would have imagined that this could possibly become a reality. He placed a light kiss in her hair and prayed that she would never have reason to regret tying herself to him for the rest of her life.

 

Hours later Christine was still sleeping, not even waking when the ticket inspector came through to announce that they would be arriving soon and the passengers around them became much more lively, talking and fetching their luggage.

 

“Christine, Christine,” he whispered. “You need to wake up my love.”

 

“Oh, are we there?” she yawned, looking out the window just as they pulled into the station. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sleep so long. How are you? Are your bandages alright?”

 

“My bandages are fine. Although I am a bit stiff from sitting in the one position for so long.”

 

Christine instantly jumped to her feet, motioning for Erik to get up and walk around whilst she pulled their bags down.

 

He didn’t have much of a chance to stretch his legs before the train arrived at the platform and they got caught up in the rush to get off.

 

They immediately asked for directions to the docks, not wanting to run any risk that they would miss their boat. After asking for assistance once more they were able to find the boat, an older sturdy vessel that looked like it had spent a fair amount of time being battered by the sea. The dock in front of it was lined with crates waiting to be loading and Christine watched the men scurrying back and forth for a moment before rushing to catch up with Erik, who was approaching the captain.

 

The captain told them that it would still be few hours before they were ready to depart as they were still loading the ship. He said that they were welcome to come aboard if they stayed out of the way of the crew but he recommended that they take advantage of being on solid land whilst they still could.

 

Although Erik was hesitant to do so, for fear that the boat would leave without them; they decided to stay on dry land. It had been a number of years since Christine had been to the sea and she was thrilled at the prospect of being able to walk along the beach.

 

They walked hand in hand across the sand, not saying a word. Christine remembered the last time she had been on the coast, playing in the waves with Mala and Milosh at Marseille. Erik had never really been to the coast, and whilst the smell was familiar from the season at Marseille, the sight was something entirely new and wonderful.

 

“Erik, look!” Christine suddenly gasped with delight.

 

He immediately looked where she was pointing, at a small church in the distance, just beyond the sand dunes.

 

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she exclaimed, stopping to stare at it.

 

“Lovely,” Erik agreed. As he watched Christine staring at the church, inspiration struck him and wrapping his arms around her he said softly, “Marry me.”

 

“What?” Christine twisted her head around and asked, obviously puzzled.

 

“Marry me, right now. In that church,” he explained.

 

“Really? Right now?” she asked, her entire face lighting up at the prospect.

 

“Yes,” he said simply. “I don’t want to have to wait until we reach America to marry. We should start our new life as husband and wife.”

 

“Of course! Erik that sounds wonderful,” Christine exclaimed, flinging her arms around his neck.

 

Hand in hand they walked up the dunes towards the church. They startled the priest as they burst through the door, but he quickly regained his composure and asked, “Can I help you?”

 

“We want to get married,” Erik announced.

 

“Of course, I’m certain that we can arrange something,” the priest said, walking closer to the couple.

 

“Right now. We want to get married right now,” Christine added, smiling up at Erik.

 

“Right now?” the priest asked, wondering why this couple needed to be married so soon. “Are you certain?” he seemed to direct the question to Christine.

 

“Absolutely,” Erik said firmly, taking a step closer to the priest. He had seen the priest stare at his mask and knew that the priest was wondering whether he was forcing Christine into this.

 

“But what about your families?” he stammered.

 

Sensing that Erik was going to lose his patience with the priest, Christine stepped forward, “We have no family father. It is only the two of us and it would mean so much to us if you could marry us now.”

 

“Well I suppose if you have no family...Are you certain this is what you both want?” he said, giving them one last chance to change their minds.

 

“It is,” Erik said solemnly, his anger cooling as he realised that the priest was agreeing.

 

“More than anything,” Christine added.

 

“Alright then. Follow me,” the father said, leading them down the aisle to the front of the church.

 

Twenty minutes later they walked out of the church as husband and wife, their marriage certificate tucked safely in Erik’s coat pocket.

 

“Nobody will ever be able to break us apart now,” Christine said as they stood on the deck of the boat, Erik’s arms wrapped around her middle as they watched themselves drifting further away from the dock. “We belong to each other and can prove it to the world.”

 

“Hmm,” Erik agreed.

 

“We’ll never have to hide our relationship or each other’s existence again,” she continued, thinking that for the entire time she had known Erik there had always been so many secrets. The gypsies had never known of their relationship and then in Paris at the theatre no-one had known that Erik existed. She didn’t want to live like that anymore.

 

“Everyone will know that you are my wife,” Erik said, still slightly in awe of that fact.

 

“And you are my husband,” Christine added, nuzzling at his neck.

 

“Forever,” he promised as the drifted further away from France and closer to their new life.