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'Till I Hear You Sing

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Soul of Music: ‘Till I Hear You Sing

By OperaGoose

GENERAL DISCLAIMER: 'The Phantom of the Opera' belongs to Gaston Leroux and Andrew Lloyd Webber, both as a novel, movie and musical. ‘Love Never Dies’ belongs to Andrew Lloyd Webber Any other publically recognisable works belong to their respective owners. This is a work of entertainment, and no profit is being made. No copyright infringement is intended.



Chapter 1: Time Runs Dry


Had he still possessed one, his heart would have broken as he walked away from her. However, Christine held his blackened heart carefully in her hands, and it would always be hers. All he felt was the excruciating pain of every step he took away from his Angel. Yet, he would not go back. He would not allow his beloved Christine to waste her life chained to the shadows, even if it was with him.

The sunlight burnt his eyes, though it was barely dawn beyond the clouds heavy with snow.

He felt stone press against his back as the passage closed automatically. That tiny nudge shattered his strength and he slid down the wall, lying on the dusty cobblestones. He let repressed sobs rack his frame, his aching eyes squeezed shut against the tears.

He let his Angel's voice, the one he helped forge, flood his mind. "God give me courage to show you, you are not alone..." The air around him ached with his sorrow and he clawed at his ears, tugging them painfully, wishing he could stop the sound of his pain marring the memory of her voice.

He had no clue how long he laid in the dust, hands clamped over his ears, trying to replay every moment of his Angel's voice. A new tune sliced through his sorrows and he looked up to see Antoinette Greer watching him quietly. "Where is Miss de Night?" She demanded, her tone cold.

"Say the word and I will follow you." Christine had sung.

He sobbed, managing from an aching throat: "I don't know."

The older woman arched an eyebrow. "Mister Mabry informed me that she returned to your lair." She pointed out.

"Angel of music, you deceived me..."

"I left." He croaked out.

Antoinette Greer studied him carefully for a moment. With a sigh, she knelt and hoisted him to his feet. "There are many out for your blood, Erik. If you will not return to your own home, you will have to stay at Margaret's."

Margaret 'Peggy' Greer was Antoinette's only child. Last time Erik had seen her, she'd been an impertinent seven-year-old who, even then, only came up to his thigh. But, as he discovered after a torturously-bright car ride, the young journalist couldn't have been much more different.

The suspicious-eyed blonde who opened the door glared at her intruders for a moment, before throwing the door open and disappearing back into her townhouse without a word. Erik was hesitant, but after Antoinette strode right through the house in to the kitchen, he followed after her. He felt so out of place in this domestic setting, wishing not for the first time that he was surrounded by the glittering granite of his home, his Angel held securely in his embrace.

Antoinette forced him into a seat, and a few minutes later she forced a mug of tea into his limp hands.

He wondered what he would be doing now if he had not left his Angel behind. He could picture nothing else but holding her in his embrace, singing reaffirmations of their rooftop promises. He spent an eternity committing every detail of the thought to picture until he could no longer picture the colour of her eyes beyond the curve of her stubby lashes.

He glanced at his hands to find the mug missing, and looked around for the older woman. Six-foot Peggy stood in the doorway, watching him curiously. "You've been sitting there doing nothing for an hour now. You haven't even looked for the piano." She remarked scrutinisingly. He looked at her, having no energy to form an expression. "It's in the conservatory, but for some reason I think you couldn't care less about that right now."

She crossed the room and sat on the other side of the table. "What's her name?" she asked curiously.

"Christine Daae." The name slipped from his lips before he had much time to think of the pain it would cause.

Peggy raised her eyebrows. "The Mozart Scandal?"

The mention of the composer drew Erik back into a reverie. His Angel had been so happy when he had taught her to sing the Queen of the Night aria, her eyes glowed with an inner light only he could create in her. He frowned, despondent, when he still could not recall the exact shade of her eyes. For a terrifying moment, he couldn't picture her at all, and when he felt restraining hands on his shoulders, he realised he had stood and charged for the door.

He tried to tune back into the journalist's words as he allowed himself to be pushed back in the seat. "...said I'm not allowed to let you leave the house. She'll be furious at me if she comes back and you're not here."

"I need a photo." The words spilled from his tongue with less desperation than he felt.

"A photo of what?" Peggy asked curiously.

"Christine!" he roared furiously, gripping the table so as to not stand and run out to see his Angel, to commit every detail of her face to memory before leaving her for good.

"Sit." Peggy commanded firmly. "I'll be back in a moment." She told him, before disappearing out of the kitchen.

Sobs wracked his frame as he clenched his muscles in the attempt to conjure a picture of his Angel. He couldn't remember a single physical detail – the feel of her skin, the scent of her shampoo, the colour of her eyes or hair. He could only remember the sound of her voice as she sung mournfully into the air: "...you deceived me..."

When he opened his eyes, Peggy was glaring at him indignantly, a freshly-printed piece of paper held in her hands. He took it gingerly, with just as carefully as he had taken his Angel's hand the first time she had said she trusted him.

Christine's smiling photo looked up at him. Brown. Her eyes were a warm, earthy shade of brown. Tears leaked from his left eye, and he was careful not to let them touch the face of his Angel. "Thank you." He whispered.

If Peggy answered, he didn't hear her. A flood of restored memories was crowding his mind, cutting him off from his host's presence. Eventually, when he had done a satisfactory enough recollection, he returned his attention to a scowling Peggy. She motioned for him to follow her, and he did so numbly, listening with half an ear as she pointed out various parts of her home. She pointed to a room that felt bereft of human interaction.

"This is the sitting room. I never use it. The settee folds out into a bed." She explained, before prodding him into the room. "I have to get back to work. I have a deadline in two hours. Make yourself at home, you know where the piano is."

Erik was already lost in recollection before she had shut the door. His Christine had been so curious, so receptive during their first meetings in the piano room. She loved his music, and he had been so eager to please his first ever audience. Bubbling with anxious energy, he paced the length of the room.

When his mind cleared of memory, the late afternoon sun was just shifting its last course through the coloured panes of the window. Finally, it disappeared behind the houses across the road and he stared out the window for a long time.

Across the house, Peggy was having an apparently hilarious conversation on the phone. It couldn't possibly... Had it only been one day since he had left his Angel? He picked up his pacing, glaring occasionally at the clock which couldn't possibly be counting normal seconds. When had time decided to crawl? It had always raced with his Angel...

He spent the night in the same way he spent the afternoon – pacing the living room, flooded with memories swiftly dwindling in detail. Any time he couldn't picture his Angel, the picture Peggy had given him was immediately, lovingly, removed from his waistcoat pocket and studied until it was memorized for another gruelling eternity.

When the clock told him it was 2:27am, Peggy came frowning to the door of the living room. "Go to sleep." She growled impatiently.

He bowed his head deeply, trying to ignore the significance of the time. "My apologies, mademoiselle, if I have woken you." He said formally, worried at the groaning of his voice.

She frowned. "If you won't sleep, at least stop pacing. Your shoes are echoing over the whole freaking house." She pointed out sullenly, disappearing back up the stairs.

He sunk, slumping, into the seat of the settee. He was suddenly very weary, but knew he couldn't sleep even if he tried. He hadn't gone a whole day without hearing his Christine in six months. The last few months had been spent listening to her sing at least once every day, often more.

His day felt empty, incomplete without it. He knew he could not rest without first hearing his Christine sing.

The memories were insufficient, as the exact sound of her voice was something he could not reaffirm with a picture. He took the paper out of his pocket and stared at it, tracing the curve of her jaw with a gentle fingertip.

Eternity dragged on and on, until a shrill alarm shrieked through the house. He glared at the clock on the mantel that informed him it was the beginning of a new day and he crossed to the window and glared at the lightening clouds. "One day." He whispered into the glass in a puff of breath. It had been one day since he had seen his Angel.

An ache settling into every possible part of his being, he turned back to the mantel to see that only a minute had passed since he had last checked. He whimpered in the back of his throat. How long could the rest of his life take?

...

He lasted exactly nine days. On the dawn of the tenth, a letter from the Populaire had arrived through Peggy's door and he had been unable to resist, slipping from the house silently and running as fast as he could until he reached the gilded facade of his home. He practically tore the door to a secret entrance off in his haste to open it and raced faster than he had ever moved to the Carlotta Suite.

He let himself through the door and stared at the room beyond. It was so...bereft. The dark-pink curtain hung to conceal the mirror was torn, revealing a slant of cracked glass. Crossing the room, he ripped the rest of the curtain down to reveal the spider-web of cracks, stained brown-red in the centre, at the approximate height of his Angel's fist.

He could hardly breathe through the lump in his throat. His Christine had been injured!

Knowing she wasn't there, he turned hopefully towards the bed across the room. It was empty, neatly made exactly the same as the last he had seen it. A faint trace of the Angel of Music Lullaby echoed in the corners of the suite, almost as insubstantial as the memory of the song itself.

He sunk into the loveseat, wrapping himself in the memories of many lazy afternoons entwined with his Angel, the Fool just on the other side of the door. She would be home soon. She couldn't stay away for too long.

He didn't know how long it took to fall into blaming himself once more, or how long he spent attacking his own motives as he sat and waited for his Angel to return. But he knew she would forgive him for his cruel actions, because they were in love. She would forgive him for taking her heart and handing it back in shattered little pieces. He would prove himself trustworthy to hold it again the moment she stepped over the threshold. He needed her to forgive him, needed to prove he could be trusted with something so precious.

He shivered, memory clawing at the edges of his mind. He could still picture his mother's hate-filled face as his six-year-old self grovelled at her feet. He didn't want to wear the mask today. Her eyes cold, she'd stood imperiously and disappeared into her bedroom for a moment, rummaging in the tiny bureaux.

When she returned, she threw a small, gaily coloured cardboard box at his feet. A silhouette of a stiletto shoe served as a logo, a few letters announcing something. He didn't know what – he could read of course, but whatever it was it wasn't written in French.

She looked at him with a sneer on her face. "Are you going to thank me properly for your present?" she demanded icily.

"Thank you for the shoebox, Mama." He managed to stutter out in barely audible French.

She smirked at him. "Don't you want to know what's in the box, Erik?" she asked cruelly.

"Yes, Mama." He answered timidly. He reached out to lift the lid, but she stepped down on his hand, not caring about the sharp crack.

"Did I say you could open it, you wretch?" she screeched furiously.

"No, Mama. Sorry, Mama. Forgive me, Mama?" he stuttered out.

"The box, Erik," she began, an odd emotion underlying her voice, "contains all of my love for you." He had been so happy at that moment, he hadn't been able to form words. He had only been able to sing along to the music of his pure joy. His mother ground her foot down on his hand. "Stop singing, or I will take it away!" she hissed furiously. He drifted off into a whimper and stuttered out another apology. "You must take care of the box, Erik. For, if you lose it, you shall neverhave my love again. Do you understand?" she screeched in his ear.

He nodded, stuttering affirmations as he crawled back to his room, box clutched in his hands. She was mad because he had lost his mask at her employer's yesterday, and the other little boy had seen his face and cried. She was testing if he was trustworthy.

Erik scowled at the door of the Carlotta Suite. It remained resolutely closed.

He had taken care of that box for years, useless as it was. He had even dragged the box with him when he left France, only to discover that it was empty, and it had always been empty. He had always been devoid of his mother's love.

He launched to his feet, staring eagerly as the door opened. He heart sunk to his feet when the Fool's theme preceded the boy himself into the room.

The Fool frowned. "If I had been anyone else, you'd be in some serious trouble right now."

"Where is Christine?" Erik demanded, ignoring the bruises and rope-burns slowly fading from the Fool's face and neck.

"I'm not allowed to tell you." The Fool answered calmly, closing the door behind him. As he stepped further into the room, Erik could smell the rich scents of food coming from a paper bag in the Fool's hands. "Take a seat. I've been commanded to take care of you." He explained sourly, putting the bag on the coffee-table and sitting cross-legged on the ground next to it. "I hope you like Indian." He added as an afterthought. He opened a box and began to eat.

Erik didn't react at first. After a moment he crossed and sat on the couch, offering his unwelcome guest a stony glare. "Who forbade you to tell me where Christine is?" he demanded.

"She did." The Fool answered with a mouthful of food. He swallowed and withdrew a letter from his pocket, unfolding it with one hand and spooning up rice at the same time. "Dear Greg, et cetera, 'please don't tell Him' – that's capitalized – 'where I am. Take care of him. I love him, and even if I can't have him, I refuse to let him waste away to nothing'." He recited, before putting the letter away in his pocket and returning to his food.

"May I read the letter?" Erik asked through gritted teeth.

The Fool shook his head. "She told me not to let you do that either. Just eat, for her sake – God knows how long you've been in here without eating."

Erik would have answered the precise amount of time, but his senses were skewed. Every moment seemed to last an eternity without his Angel. He picked up a piece of naan bread from the bag and chewed it sullenly, glaring at his only company.

The Fool was unperturbed. He continued eating, babbling mindlessly between bites of the food. Once he had finished, he sat back and watched Erik, bored.

"Do you enjoy staring at the monster?" the Phantom demanded icily.

"Hurry up and finish eating. Some of us have things to do." The Fool replied, unintimidated.

Erik glared at the half naan in his hand and the very full container of curry and rice left. "I am satiated." He answered dismissively.

"Bull!" the Fool snapped, "You haven't even started."

Erik was at the end of his tolerance for dealing with the impertinent boy and got to his feet, leaving the room without a word. He slipped into a passageway and hid behind the mirror until the Fool took his leave. He repaired the mechanism and let himself back through the cracked glass, affronted to find the rest of the meal still sitting on the coffee table.

Growling, he pointed ignored it and sat on the love seat to resume his watch of the door. He was exhausted, having gone uncounted days without rest, yet even after lying out on the settee, he could not sleep.

Barren memories of his Angel clouded his mind. The faded picture in his pocket assured he knew every detail of her face, yet he couldn't remember exactly how tall she stood, or the way her face shaped her emotions, nor the sound of her glorious voice. He stood and paced back and forth over the suite. His eyes were fixed constantly on the door, waiting for the moment his Christine returned.

He could not rest until he saw his Angel again.

...

The Fool returned every so often with more food, half of which he left behind when Erik refused to finish what the Fool considered a decent portion. Erik had no clear sense of time – sometimes it seemed like the Fool had been gone for an age, and other times it was like he had barely stepped out of the room, only to walk back in with more damned food.

The Fool prattled on, as expectable, but Erik rarely acknowledged or answered the boy. He felt Christine's absence keenly – where was she and how long until she returned? The question had been bothering him for several of the Fool's visits, and over fish and chips one instance, the question broke out: "When will Christine return?"

His companion glanced at him pityingly before swallowing and putting down his plastic fork. He watched Erik carefully for a long time before answering: "Christine is not coming back, Ghost."

Furious that the Fool would dare mock him by lying at a time like this, he kicked the coffee table and stormed to the mirror, slamming it shut behind him.

"I'm not lying!" the Fool called softly, before Erik stormed down the passageway so he wouldn't have to hear any more of the boy's cruel jokes.

His fist had been bloody from pounding the wall once he had calmed down.

Afterwards, he couldn't bear to return to the Carlotta Suite. Instead, he returned to Peggy's home. She didn't bat an eyelid, nor look up from her computer screen. "Put the kettle on," was her reply to his verbose apologies.

He spent a day pacing his sitting room, finding his sense of time still skewed once he compared it to the clock on the mantel.

On the second day, he sat motionless at the piano in the conservatory, clouded by memories of music lessons in the piano room. It rained all day, water running in chaotic rivulets down the glass walls. When night fell, he returned to pacing his sitting room, passing Peggy and her dinner on his way through the kitchen.

He slept a few winks that night, dreaming of Greg informing him coldly that Christine would never return to the Populaire, while holding the tail end of the hangman's noose secured around Erik's neck. He woke at sunrise, barely two hours after he slept.

He paced the third day until Antoinette came for a visit, silently drinking tea while he watched and waited. She left shortly after sunset and he resumed his pacing.

The next day the older woman returned with a black leather mask. He recognised it instantly, spending the silence of the remainder of her visit staring at the mask in his hands. He realised for the first time that it wasn't true leather at all, but a good-quality imitation. His mind was divided between disappointment and going over every minute of the day Christine had taken him to her mother's masquerade ball. By the time he tore himself away from their bitter argument, Antoinette had already left and he slid the mask into place.

Another memory suffocated his consciousness then, far older. It was Mask Day. He was ten years old. Mask Day occurred on the same day every year, the day his mother would give him a new mask to hide his shame. The sons of Mama's employers were nine and one, the latter barely able to walk, yet eager to follow his brother to ogle the monster. The mask was getting more and more necessary as the years passed.

The new mask was lumpy and made of terracotta clay. Today, his older sister looked at him in disgusted pity. "Can't we get him anything nicer for his birthday?" she spat icily at her father and their mother.

He had never known Mask Day was his birthday before. He'd never even known he had one at all. Marie had a birthday every year in the Summer. Mamma's employers let them go and stay in the Big House for a weekend. Marie got cake and an extravagant gift.

Erik had Mask Day.

He ghosted a hand over the fake leather adorning and hiding his face. Christine had never known about Mask Day, had never thought anything ill about his childhood until he had thrown it in her face on their last day. She had given him this mask as if it meant nothing.

He tore the mask off and tossed it into the flames of the fireplace. The acrid stench of cooking plastic engulfed the room and he fled Peggy's home, returning once more to the Carlotta Suite.

...

He didn't know how many days had passed, but one eternity he returned to see the Fool setting up two plates of a full roast dinner. Erik sat on the couch and watched the boy eat. Questions bubbled in his mind and the first slipped from his tongue: "How long have you been taking care of me for?" The phrasing felt foreign in his mouth, sounded wrong in his ears. The unwanted company and enforced meals hardly displayed much 'care' but his otherwise occupied mind offered no alternative terms.

The Fool used the excuse of chewing and swallowing to compose his answer. Erik knew it was an excuse because the Fool had no qualms with talking through a mouthful of food usually. He waited, impatience ticking as the wait continued.

"A month and a half now." The Fool answered carefully. "But if your real question is..." he trailed off and cleared his throat carefully. "It's been two months since the argument in the lair."

Erik had to leave then, to come to terms with the time frame. It would be Spring soon, the last chance for snow passing quickly. The Winter had all but passed without his Angel. He was torn between wondering where the time had gone and how on earth he had survived two months of each moment lasting an eternity.

His Christine could be anywhere in the world right now. Could have done anything a dozen times over. Another unbearable point in being without her was never knowing where she was or what she was doing.

All he had left for him was quickly fading memories and the rest of his life in eternities without his Angel. Time would crawl until he saw her again. But if it was forever, he would still survive.



Chapter 2: Count The Silent Days


The first time Erik sat down at his organ since he had last seen his Angel, he found he had nothing to play. He wondered idly how long he had been unable to hear The Music for. He could not pinpoint the moment – his mind had been otherwise occupied for too many eternities.

He relied on memories instead, as he so often did nowadays. Of all the choices, he played the song his Angel had sung during the showcase. His anger simmered as he remembered. He'd been so consumed with his own angst that he had failed to see hers until he had already ostracised her.

She, ever gracious, had forgiven him. Yet, clearly, she had never completely given up her desires for freedom. He had worried for that, and it was one of the multitudes of reasons he had given himself for letting her go on their last day.

Because, yes, he did have his reasons. The trouble now was remembering what they were. He had committed that day to memory with such particular detail that he could barely remember it. There was only every detail of his Angel's expressions, every spectacular note she'd hit in her pleas for his mercy.

But he couldn't remember any of his own thoughts of the time, nor anything the Fool had sung desperately. Nor, if he concentrated, could he remember the sound of his Angel's voice. He was at a loss and as he realised his fingers had stopped, he felt the oppression of the silence more than ever.

He went to the roof. The sky was bruised green and purple – sunrise or sunset he wouldn't know until he waited for a change in either direction. Somewhere out in that world he couldn't face, his Angel was taking in the sights and sounds. He wished her happiness almost as vehemently as he wished for her to return.

A heart-stopping thought occurred to him and he stared desperately at the nearly-black sky. What if his Angel was somewhere...with someone else? He could wish for his Angel's happiness, but he could not wish her happiness with another man! Christine was his!

He ended up storming into the Piangi Suite, where the Fool was shuffling through some paperwork. The boy looked up and jumped at seeing his guest. "Christ! You could have knocked!" he panted, regaining his breath from the fright. "I assume, since you're here, you want something immediately and can't wait for dinner to ask?"

"Where is Christine?" he demanded.

The Fool raised his eyebrows and packed up his paperwork. "Even if I knew, she wouldn't want me to tell you. And I don't know." He answered wearily. He crossed to the neglected vanity desk and pulled out a letter from one of the drawers. "She was in Bedlam. I called by to check up on her a month ago and she'd been signed out by some French aristocrat. Raoul something-or-other." The Fool explained calmly.

Initially, Erik could process no information other than the fact that the damned Fop had taken his Christine away. He growled and paced back and forth over the Fool's sitting area, muttering curses on the Vicomte in their mutual native tongue. When the rest of the Fool's chatter permeated his brain, he stopped mid-step and stood still, fear shooting through his chest.

"Bedlam?" he managed out through the lump in his throat.

"Bedlam Asylum for the Mentally Ill." The Fool answered quietly. He closed the distance between them and held out the yellowing envelope, "It's probably best if you just read the letter yourself."

Erik snatched the letter from the boy's stubby fingers and hurried from the room. He didn't want to have to school his expression from the Fool, nor did he want to have him reading over his shoulder. He closed the door to the Carlotta Suite and sunk into the loveseat. He opened the letter with trembling hands, smoothing the paper on his lap and tracing the curling letters of her script affectionately. He spent an eternity just looking at the shapes of the words, hardly daring to breathe on the paper, let alone read what was written.

Eventually, he took a deep breath and read the words inked on the page.

"Dear Greg," it began, predictably.

" They think I'm crazy. Admittedly, some of their reasons are fairly justified, but their main concern is my apparent delusion of a man living under the Populaire. You know that there is, unless I truly am crazy and there never was a Phantom. Either way, I would request you not to contribute your point of view. I am to be disclosed in a closed ward tomorrow, and the sooner I can pretend to be recovered, the sooner I can leave this dreadful place.

I must blackmail you now, I'm afraid. Please, Greg, if you ever cared for me, do me this favour: should He return, make it your duty to keep him alive. Please don't tell Him where I am. Take care of him. I love him, and even if I can't have him, I refuse to let him waste away to nothing. It was his choice to leave me, but should he change his mind and come back to the Populaire looking for me, please look after him. You did such a splendid job of making sure I ate three meals a day, and He is much less maintenance. He barely eats, and if I know him at all, he won't find sustenance for himself. Please, bring him meals once a day, and make sure he eats some of it.

I feel terrible at asking you to take care of your most hated enemy, especially considering I can no way repay you – emotionally. Within the envelope is the key-card to my main bank account. The pin is your birthday. Use it for Him. I shan't be needing it where I am going.

I wish I had the time to say more, but I must send this letter now. The doctors don't know I am writing to you, and I can't imagine their horror at discovering it is mostly to beg you to take care of my apparent delusion.

If you can find it in your compassion, Greg, tell Him I love him at least once.

Farewell,

Christine Daae (Cath) "

"Would you like a moment to compose yourself before we eat, sir?" the Fool's voice sprung up from the doorway.

Erik didn't even think, he only felt. He crossed the room in a dash and slammed the boy against the mahogany door, smashing a fist into his nose. He didn't stop the blows as they came, almost disengaged from his limbs and his fury. Without the crashing notes of his anger, each blow seemed to echo in the always-empty room, the Fool's sharp gasps of breath and whimpers of pain somehow more infuriating than discouraging.

He stepped away, staring down at the bloody form of his only companion – beaten into unconsciousness. He fled, mind spinning from the shock of his own actions.

He could imagine, in crisp detail, the absolute horror on his Angel's face if she ever knew he had acted so brashly, so violently upon her trusted friend. The friend who had spent six months, no less, making sure he ate and bathed regularly.

The moment was terrible and beautiful. He had been unable to picture a single detail of his Angel for two months, and now the only thing he could see was her abject horror. He sobbed quietly, wrapping his arms around dusty knees as he backed into a corner.

It was better, then, that she was off with her precious Vicomte. Better that she would never have to look at him with such revulsion. Better that she knew not the monster he was. Numbly, he clicked his dislocated thumb back into place, the noise echoing sickeningly through the silence.

He stood, exiting the passageway and going to the Piangi Suite, intent on apologizing to the Fool for his actions. Not that he expected or deserved forgiveness, but he would need to show appropriate remorse for his conscience to let him sleep the little that he did.

The hushed voices within were as clear as day to him as he stood on the other side of the doors.

"...upset. We can't hold him responsible." He heard the tail end of Mister Mabry's explanation.

Erik gasped softly at discovering it was Antoinette who replied. "Are you delirious from the pain, sir?" she demanded, outraged. "This is the second time he has beaten you for no good reason! You cannot possibly excuse him for this!"

"Antoinette, please." Mister Mabry interrupted quietly, softly. "The other time was justified. I removed his mask, ma'am – in front of Christine!" he explained. Erik heard the name like a knife to the chest. Even now, he couldn't hear her name. He wondered if he ever would.

There was a tense silence beyond the door, interrupted only by the sounds of First Aid. Finally, Antoinette said weakly: "You never told me that." There was another tense silence. "Margaret said he burnt the mask from Christine – do you have his one?" she questioned.

"It shattered." Mister Mabry answered, sounding like he was speaking with a mouth full of cotton wool. "He burnt it?" he inquired curiously. There was a short silence, followed by the slight rustle as Antoinette nodded. "Wow. I bet Peggy was furious."

Erik could clearly picture the distaste in Antoinette's expression at the younger man using the nickname with such affection. He arched an eyebrow – was there something between the two he had yet to notice?

He'd had enough of eavesdropping and knocked thrice on the door.

Antoinette swore under her breath. "Who on earth could that be?" she hissed at Greg, suspicious.

There was a rustle as the younger man shrugged. "Who is it?" he called out, loudly enough for a person with average hearing to hear.

He opened the door and slid inside, closing it firmly behind him. "I came to apologize." He said quickly, before either of the occupants could say anything about his presence. "I was far too quick to let my temper get away with me, and I am deeply sorry for the uncalled for violence I inflicted upon your person."

Mister Mabry inclined his head. "We're cool." He answered casually, "Although you may have broken my nose." He commented, touching it gingerly.

"Please," Erik interrupted, "allow me to pay for a medical practitioner to check you over." He looked at Antoinette pointedly, and she frowned as she gathered up the first aid kit. "The usual account, ma'am."

"We'll speak on this later. I will not condone random acts of violence like this!" the woman snapped furiously.

"Your disapproval is noted. A later time, Antoinette."

She left in a huff, Mister Mabry trailing after her.

Left to his own devices, his thoughts grew more morose. His Angel, trapped in Bedlam, and he without any idea she had still been in London at all. And to think, Mister Mabry knowing the entire time, unable to testify to her sanity at her behest. If he had only known...

Well, what could he have done but show himself? He would have proven her delusion to be nothing of the sort.

But it was no matter anyway. His Christine was no longer in Bedlam, nor England at all. Erik wished the Fop would take her to the French countryside. The place was beautiful in the summer, the vineyards lively with the seasonal picking. She'd loved the pleasant memory he had shared – he could picture her among the grape vines, dragonflies dancing around her unrestrained hair. He could see the image so clearly, it was almost like a true memory.

That was the first night he dreamt of Christine.

...

Once starting, the dreams did not stop. Sleep was both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, he could envision it perfectly. Every single detail that eluded him when awake, he saw in full colour while sleeping. On the other hand, the return to consciousness was painfully jarring.

He placed her in the backdrops of his favourite childhood memories – rolling green hills and vibrant sunlit vineyards. Erik had never seen his Angel in the sunlight, yet his unconscious mind painted the image as if he had witnessed the wonder a thousand times.

But even in the sweetest of recollections, the air was still devoid of Music.

As tempting as dreaming was, he found he could not sleep more usual. The summer months gave way to a frigid Autumn, and still no word came from his Angel. To everyone' surprise, a mutually reluctant friendship grew like a sickly tree between Mister Mabry and himself.

It was a dreary but dry September afternoon when he ventured out onto the roof once more. Memories bereft of detail flitted through his mind, and he wept even as he he grinned. Once, his Christine had truly loved him, had desired to spend an undefined amount of time with him. Here, they had expressed their devotion – once in song and another in flesh. Through the fading moments of twilight, the memory became crystal clear. Yet, even as he tried to focus, the details slipped away.

Saddened, he watched an audience gather outside the Populaire, dispersing into cars as time passed. He realised with a vague shame that he did not know what musical they had disgraced his stage with this time.

He had been a most neglectful master.

The next day found him skulking in the catwalks, studying the particular details of the stage. It was a rather inappropriately spectacular set for Les Miserables. Mister Mabry spotted him, astounded, and joined him with lunch.

"Tonight is closing night." He explained without prompting. "As customary, your box has not been sold. If you could surrender your entertainment to the hands of Miss Giordani for a night—"

"I shall attend, Mister Mabry, if you stop your attempts at persuasion right now." Erik interrupted impatiently. "The real question is why you are so intent to have me attend. If I remember, you were a strong objector to the Opera Ghost's tyranny." The younger man cleared his throat and avoided eye-contact. "In fact, you were one of the two main perpetrators in the downfall of my carefully maintained reputation."

"Hey! I explained about that!" Mister Mabry cried defensively. "I told Ray and Mister Finn all about what actually happened. I had to cover the damage costs, which means, by the way, that I'll be working here for the rest of my life." He pointed out bitterly.

"Come now, Mister Mabry, where else did you intend to go?" Erik asked, his tone almost mocking. "The Populaire is your home almost as much as it is mine." He pointed out levelly, "And besides, with Mister Burket out of the picture, you now hold the position of Sound Technician."

"Yes," the younger man mused, "and I've actually been doing less work since the promotion."

They sat in silence for some time, until Erik fixed the younger man with a glare. "You are avoiding the question." He pointed out coldly.

"Well, it's not just my idea." Mister Mabry admitted quietly. "There are two very good reasons for your return. The first being, without you the Populaire's musicals suck." Erik smirked slightly. "Heaps of people have noticed – including critics. None of the designers will co-ordinate or improve. The directors are making bad choices, the actors aren't being pushed to do their best and Ray is at a loss." Mister Mabry explained. "He and Mister Finn have actually spoken of forging a Ghost's Note."

"And they've confided all this in you?" Erik asked, disbelieving.

Mister Mabry shifted slightly. "Well...no, but there's a lot to be learnt while hiding inside walls." He answered, awkward about his confession.

Erik's lip curled up in another smirk. "Well, Mister Mabry. Eavesdropping? You have learnt well." There was a tense silence. "Well?" he prompted impatiently.

"Well, what? Did you want to know what else I learnt?" Mister Mabry asked nervously.

"The other reason for my return to tyranny." Erik answered, temper ticking.

"Oh, that. Well..." He mumbled something that even the Phantom could not hear. Erik turned him a fierce glare, and the younger man surrendered with a sigh. "Me – and Mrs Greer, and Peggy – well, we all think..." he cleared his throat awkwardly, "Well, that is to say—"

"Mister Mabry!" Erik snapped, impatience working on his temper. "Make your point or take your leave. You have wasted enough of my time, already."

"Well, as Mrs Greer put it: you need something to occupy your time other than moping." Mister Mabry admitted.

Erik scowled. "I do not mope." He answered, insulted.

Mister Mabry snorted, "Right." He dismissed sarcastically, "Of course you mope, sir! It has been six months, and you've only played once." He pointed out. "Christine made me think that you played every day."

Erik clenched his fists and stood swiftly, glaring down at the Sound Technician. "That is a matter of an absence of something that you cannot fathom."

"Look, I know you miss Christine, but—"

The sharp slap of a leather-clad hand meeting bare skin bounced back through the auditorium. "Mister Mabry." Erik began coldly. "Do not speak of matters you know nothing of." Mister Mabry rubbed his assaulted cheek gingerly. "I was not merely referring to Her absence. As I said, you cannot fathom what else is missing. There are very few who can, and she is the only one I've ever known."

Flicking his cloak with a rough jerk, he left the Fool on the catwalks.

Yet, despite every intention of proving the Fool wrong, when he sat at the organ he found he had nothing to play. Every song that came to mind was immediately dismissed for its connection to Christine and the painful memories that resulted. Put out, he went to Peggy's house.

Being informed of the fact only made him intensely aware that he was moping, yet he was at a loss of what to do. Eventually, he found himself beside the Fool in box five as the curtain rose. He said nothing during the performance, disgusted, except to whisper furiously: "Who is the new Lighting Technician?"

The Fool glanced at him in surprise. "Todd Greenwich." He answered. "Another one of Laney's ex-students."

Erik scowled, and left before the final note had chance to disappear. He went directly to his writing desk, now coated in thick dust. He tidied only as necessary, and wrote his first letter to the Managers since the fateful night that caused so much disaster.

He penned the greeting and paused, collecting his thoughts.

" Imagine my disappointment upon seeing the late production, gentlemen. You have never failed to adhere to my expectations by so much. It appears I must resume my former position, for the sake of my Opera House's reputation.

The first address of concern – why would you even consider rehiring Miss Giordani? Had her amateur performance in her very first role not convinced you that she should never darken my stage again? Miss Giordani will not be hired again. I will not compromise on this point.

The next point of concern: what incompetent fool have you hired to design the sets? I know Mister Townsend's work, and he would never make the mistake of grandeur. Least of all for Les Miserables, his favourite musical. Mister Townsend was the only competent designer at the Populaire.

However, one could hardly see the set because of the atrocious lighting. The whole design speaks of Mark West. If he has not improved in nine years, I can hardly imagine he will do so now. Fortunately, the last few productions managed to be salvaged through the professionalism of your Lighting Technicians. "

He had to stop then, eyes unfocusing as the memory of Christine's tormented week, working on the lights. He closed his eyes against as he remembered that first day she had spent in his lair. Particular the time they spent shrouded in the shadows of the library, seated on his most comfortable chair. The very same loveseat that now sat neglected in the Carlotta Suite. Carefully, gingerly, he'd examined one of her hands.

He couldn't remember the exact shade of her skin, nor the pattern of lines on her palm, but he could vividly recall the texture of skin beneath his lips as he'd gently kissed each of her blistered fingertips and his Angel's breathy gasp at the first contact.

His fist clenched on his thigh, and he resumed the letter with bitter determination. ' Since it is apparent you cannot be trusted to keep the high standards of my Opera House, I will be oversee the next production. Until then, my dear friends, I remain:

Your obedient friend and servant, ' he signed off with an elaborate 'O.G.' and sealed the envelope with a leering red skull of wax.

He left the envelope on Mister Giles' desk, and returned to Peggy's house.

...

Chalumeau was not a historian. He'd payed little attention to the truth of Hannibal of Carthage when composing his War Opera. The love between the great war-general Hannibal and the legendary Queen Elyssa was historically inaccurate, the queen predating the man by several centuries. The epic swordfight between Hannibal and the Roman Emperor (never named) was impossible – Rome hadn't become an empire at that stage.

Still, Erik knew from experience that the opera was musically succinct. If it was played correctly by a properly assembled orchestra every note matched the Music perfectly. Chalumeau had been one of the few composers through-out history to write the Music exactly as it could be heard.

However, even by the time the rehearsals began, Erik was still devoid of Music. Without the accuracy of the music to praise, he was left with the numerous flaws in the Opera's staging and libretto. It wouldn't be too much to say that the Opera was the production he had put the most scrutiny on. But, as the critics proclaimed, it was the best production that had ever been at the Populaire.

The Managers publically congratulated themselves on a job well done, while in the privacy of their offices, composed letters overflowing with gratitude to the resident Opera Ghost. Antoinette informed him a 'bonus' had been included in his salary, but this meant little to him. The day following Closing Night, he sat sullenly in his box, watching a building crew disassemble the set.

He heard footsteps and turned towards the door, expecting Mister Mabry to step through the door. When the figure entered, his heart skipped a beat. There, with the porcelain-doll skin and long, brown curls, was an all-too familiar silhouette. His breath caught in his throat, but he strangled out: "Christine?"

The figure stepped into the circle of light and his heart stuttered to life with a lance of pain. No, it wasn't her. It was merely the actress who had played Elyssa. "You know, it was a curious thing," she started, apparently not perturbed by his face at all, "When I came here to audition, every inch of this theatre was flooded with music. But, oddly enough, when it came to the first rehearsal, this oppressive silence blanketed the whole auditorium."

Erik arched an eyebrow, watching her warily.

"I gotta tell you, it made rehearsing really difficult. I've never had to rely on my skills before. The weird thing was, it was only ever at the Populaire." She sat in a seat and studied him carefully. "Imagine my surprise, then, when it gets to the second night of the run, and suddenly I've got the Music propelling me through the whole Opera."

He glared at her impatiently. He never went to the second show. If he had his way, he would only attend the first and last shows, unless some dire event needed observation and correction.

"Then, much to my displeasure, last night the silence came back and, today, when I wandered through the auditorium, there was music once again. But, after I finished clearing out my dressing room, the silence was back. Then, I realised: You're the Opera Ghost."

He sneered at her coldly. "Brilliant deduction, Miss Brighton. Would you like a prize?"

She smirked. "Perhaps later." She answered mockingly. "What I am curious about is what on earth caused you to block the music so?" He glared at her while she studied his unmasked face. "What's her name?"

It was as if he had been winded. The breath exploded from his chest, and he stared at the woman helplessly. "Christine." He hadn't been aware of speaking the name, until Miss Brighton arched an eyebrow. "Christine Daae."

"Daae?" she echoed curiously, "As in the Mozart Guy?" Erik scowled at her scrutinising tone and flicked his cloak, disappearing from the box. He heard her voice carry after him: "It's a shame though. I would have loved to know what Music we could've made together."

He left the theatre, spending the next few days pacing up and down his sitting room in Peggy's home. On the third day, he wrote a note to the managers, advising them on the advantages of having a talent like Miss Sienna Brighton contracted to the Populaire. It wasn't attraction, nor for Miss Brighton's sake at all. His reasons were what he stated: Miss Brighton was the finest talent to have ever led a show in the history of the Populaire theatre, and the theatre could only benefit from a reputation built around her abilities.

Maybe, perhaps, he felt a connection to her – yet another person who could hear the Music and understand its impact on a great performance. But it was not love that drove him to secure her. He felt as little for her as he felt for Mister Peterson, whom he also recommended.

The managers followed his suggestions, and his half-life at the Populaire dragged on. Then, on no particular day, two years after he had last seen his Angel, the Music returned.



Chapter 3: Teases At My Ear


Three years, and missing Christine hadn't become any easier. Every slumber was still haunted by dreams of his Angel. Sometimes they were memories, sometimes imaginary scenarios that could never come true. Often he would wake from sweet dreams of holding Christine to find himself clutching at the empty air. It was a pitiful existence, yet it was all he knew.

Lives continued around him. Peggy Greer was to become the new Mrs Mabry. Antoinette had been a mix of outrage and reluctance upon learning that her daughter and future son-in-law were smitten with each other, but her wary approval had been garnered a year ago, and their future looked bright.

The guise of obeying Christine's plea had long since given way to a genuine, if unacknowledged, friendship. Despite the fact that Greg knew Erik was perfectly capable of fending for himself, they still shared frequent meals together. Although, on occasion, Erik still had the tendency to strike out at the young man, he felt a deeper sense of guilt for betraying a friend, rather than the shame for succumbing to his monstrous tendencies. Their changed relationship had initially been met with mutual disgust, but time had smoothed the sharp edges away.

Still, Erik had been surprised and honoured at receiving the invitation to the Greer-Mabry wedding. He'd bought a lavish wedding present, trusted in the hands of Antoinette, as he would likely be sneaking to the ceremony. At first, Erik had been nervous to wonder whether Christine would attend the wedding. Greg had uneasily informed him that despite Peggy's wide variety of sources, and her hard-won determination, Christine's whereabouts remained a mystery.

Erik had been keenly disappointed, but a day or two wallowing in misery and Sondheim returned him to his usual state of longing. He wondered where she could possibly be – she surely could not be in London, or Peggy would have found her before now. Still, he spent the week leading up to the wedding in contemplation.

On the morning of the ceremony, he dressed hesitantly in the modern tuxedo he'd made for the occasion. It had been a long time since he had last worn contemporary clothing, in fact a couple of years shy of twenty had passed since he had.

Once dressed, he steeled his courage and headed to the address on the invitation. A church, not that he'd had the habit of frequenting them. Ducking his face to hide the deformity from the ordained and celebratory, he made his way to the back where the music told him an anxious Peggy was waiting. He knocked and a frustrated sigh reached his ears. "Come in!" A terse-sounding Antoinette commanded.

He slipped through the door and took in the picture within. Antoinette was fiddling with a bouquet of flowers while Peggy stood before a full-length mirror, pushing and prodding a wayward curl of hair into place. "Erik!" Peggy cried, in slight relief. She turned and embraced him a little too tightly. "Thank god you're here! Everything's going wrong!" She sobbed, slightly hysterical.

"Calm down, Margaret." He said soothingly. "What can I do to help?"

"The flowers are horrid!" Antoinette snapped angrily.

"I don't have anything 'borrowed' for the tradition!" Peggy protested, pushing her loose curl away from her face once more.

"The organ-player was arrested this morning!" Antoinette bit off viciously.

"And my hair won't sit!" Peggy sobbed, distressed.

He shook his head at the vexations of the bridal party and gave them both reassuring smiles. "All these problems are easily assuaged." He informed them gently. He crossed to Antoinette, who looked much closer to breaking point and took the bouquet from her. "I will play the organ personally." He assured them, deftly untying the bouquet. He reshuffled the stems into a more aesthetic arrangement and retied them securely. "There." He announced, handing them back to a relieved Antoinette.

"But, my hair! The 'borrowed'!" Peggy protested, nearly hyperventilating.

With a spasm of pain, he reached into his breast-pocket. He removed a fading picture of Christine and a single diamond hairpin. "Christine would be honoured, if she knew." He whispered softly, almost to himself. Crossing the distance to the bride, he pinned away the fretful lock with a ghost of a touch and took in the complete picture.

He kissed her gently on the forehead, feeling the love for a sister he'd never had much opportunity to feel for his own. "You look sublime." He informed her gently.

She gave him a fierce embrace. "Thank you for being here, Erik. You've saved the day – and it means so much to Greg that you would come." She mumbled into his chest.

Awkwardly, he ghosted a hand over her hair, hardly daring to touch it in case he ruined the style. "I would do whatever I could to make this day the best it can be." He informed her quietly. "For you and Greg, and your mother too – you three are the only friends I have in the world. You and your mother are the only family I have known without being tainted by hatred."

He stepped away and held her at arm's length, distressed to see tears in her eyes. He glanced at Antoinette for answers, but she was turned away, dabbing at her face with a handkerchief. Wondering what he had said to upset them in such a fashion, he stepped away and bowed deeply. "I should find your groom, Peggy. No doubt he is having issues with his cravat." He bowed to Antoinette and smiled warmly at Peggy. "If this were a theatre, I would say 'break a leg'. As it is, I have no clue about wedding etiquette. Good luck, Margaret."

At Peggy's slight hitch of breath, he left the bride's chambers. He was correct in his assumption of Greg's situation. The young man was distressed, jerking the fabric of the cravat and trying to tug it into a normal tie-knot. Erik tutted in amusement as he closed the heavy door and crossed the room. He removed the groom's trembling hands from the silk fabric and began working the familiar knot. "It is a cravat, Mister Mabry, not a tie." He informed him with gentle rebuke. He stepped away and took in the young man. "Well," he remarked dryly, "at least I don't have to adjust your cummerbund."

Greg laughed slightly, and some of the worry left his face. "Did Antoinette tell you about the organ player?" He asked, the tension back in his voice.

"The situation is under control, Mister Mabry." Erik answered calmly. "It is your wedding day, the two of you should not be worrying about such trivial matters." He remarked in disapproval.

Greg laughed once more. "You've never been to a wedding before, have you?" He asked cryptically.

"I have not." Erik agreed matter-of-factly.

Greg just laughed again and put a hand on Erik's shoulder. "Thanks for coming today." He told him quietly. "It means the world to Peggy that you could be here."

Bewildered, Erik arched his eyebrow. "I'm sure the two of you have better things to worry about than a disfigured old man attending your matrimonial ceremony." He pointed out.

Greg rolled his eyes. "You're not old, Erik."

The man in question gasped slightly at the casual use of his given name and turned away to hide his brimming tears. "Best of luck..." He hesitated, and then turned to the groom with a reassuring smile. "...Greg."

He grinned widely and yanked Erik into a tight embrace. "Thanks." He stepped away and cleared his throat awkwardly.

"I'd best go find the organ." Erik remarked, flustered by all the undue embracing he'd received from the wedding party. "Make sure your shoelaces are tied. You don't want to trip." He suggested, before fleeing from the dressing chambers entirely.

...

He wondered what Christine would think of him if she had seen him that day. Would she be astounded by his relationship with the Greer-Mabry party? His friendship with Greg would shock her, without a doubt.

With a weary sigh, he sat in his lair, sinking gratefully into the throne-like chair. The newlyweds were now on their way to the Czech Republic for their honeymoon, all loving glances and lingering kisses. Their joy was as painful as it was comforting – he was glad that they could find happiness with each other, as well as seething with jealousy and inner turmoil at the fact that he no longer knew such happiness with Christine.

Once, they two had known the joy a husband and wife shared together, on a pitch-black winter's night, atop his Opera House and then safe underneath.

The quietest strains of their music curled through the air and he stood abruptly, whirling. His eyes flew around the cavern, searching for Christine as the music faded away. He cried in despair, tripping over his discarded boots as he ran towards the passageway. His Christine had been here! He had heard her! Gasping for desperate breath, he turned down the usual path. Why had she left without saying anything?

He frowned, turning another corner. Christine wasn't this fast. He threw the glass of the mirror open and stumbled into the Carlotta Suite. It was empty, half a year's worth of dust coating everything, undisturbed.

She must've used a different passage – it explained why he hadn't caught up with her. He hurried into the backstage corridors, eyes pealed as he ran towards Antoinette's secret entrance. She had to be down there still – the dust wasn't disturbed here either. He raced through the opening, following the path all the way down to his lair, ignoring his soaking trousers as he searched the caverns.

The realisation struck him with a spasm of panic in his chest: Christine had not been to the Populaire in three years, she must've forgotten the way and gotten lost.

Well, he would find her. He would search every inch of his Opera House to bring her back.

By the time he reached the roof, the moon was high on the sparkling backdrop of the night sky.

He had stumbled, exhausted, back into the Carlotta Suite as a last desperate hope. Antoinette stood by the vanity, an eyebrow arched at his dishevelled appearance. "What is it?" He growled, frustrated by Christine's disappearance.

"Peggy asked me to give you this." Antoinette replied, obviously affronted by his attitude. She held out a manila envelope and he sighed in frustration, taking it from her with a jerk and tearing the top open. He removed the contents and stared.

His heart stopped at the photo on the glossy pages of a gossip magazine. The Fop was standing, pointing at something off-camera, with an arm resting intimately on His Christine's lower back. He gasped, trying to get air into his lungs as he fell to his knees and picked up the magazine.

"Are you alright, Erik?" Antoinette asked, her voice laced with concern.

He bent his shoulders, against the weight of her concern and the sudden hatred of seeing his Christine with the Fop. "Leave me." He growled, clenching his jaw and eyes shut.

"Erik...?"

"Get out!" He yelled furiously, his voice bouncing back and hurting his own ears.

Erik could not look as the woman left the suite, eyes locked on Christine's happy, interested face. Slowly, sadly and brimming with hatred, he put the magazine on the floor where the envelope had landed. So...his Christine was alive and well. Happy, that he was grateful for, but with the Fop, which nearly killed him to know. He felt foolish for his own self-delusion: Why would Christine choose him, a disfigured monster, over the Vicomte, her perfect childhood sweetheart? Although begrudging it with all of his loathing, he could admit that the aristocrat was a handsome and well-intentioned person.

Once his anger gave way to resigned sorrow, he sunk wearily into the nearest seat – Christine's vanity desk. The mirror was coated with so much dust that it obscured any reflection he wouldn't have wanted to see anyway. He turned and glared down at his hands on the dusty lacquered surface, just as he had seen his Angel do many times. All her theatre paperwork was completed sprawled out on the floor, with her feet kicking up in the air unconsciously. Most of her vain pursuits were conducted in the bathroom, or in front of the full-length mirror. It seemed the only thing the vanity desk was used for was...

Letters. Sure enough, when he reached into a drawer, there was still Christine's letter-writing equipment – untouched by dust, unlike the rest of the room. He cleared away the surface of the desk and laid out the slightly yellowed paper against the mahogany wood. The slightest trace of Christine's vanilla scent wafted through the air, and he felt tears slipping out of his left eye. It had been so long since he'd had any real reminder of his Angel, and now, it would have been almost as if she had just left the room...had his chest not ached from her prolonged absence.

Wrapping himself in memories, he reached back into the drawer and removed one of Christine's fountain pens. It was so dainty, looking awkward and dwarfed by his hand. He laid the hand holding the pen against the paper and inwardly marvelled at the contrast. Christine's hand had looked so different compared to his. Her hands were smaller, more feminine, as they held the pen in a familiar grip, the porcelain colour of her skin against the paper so different to his too-pale, yellowish skin. He'd been tanned, too many lives ago.

As a child, he'd loved to be in the sunlight. His home had been filled with too much oppressive music, since before he could remember. The music echoed through the cold rooms, soaked into the very walls. He'd spent all his free time outside when it was permitted.

But that had all changed. It was only a few days past his twelfth Mask Day, and he had been chasing dragonflies through the gardens when he'd come face-to-mask with the two children of Mama's employers. The elder had grinned cruelly, backing Erik against a hedge. He'd said something spitting in English – Erik had not learnt English yet. The younger, with his wide blue eyes and white-blonde hair, had stepped forward, eager but frightened. He couldn't have been more than three years old.

The elder had punched him sharply in the abdomen, winding him and sending him crumpling to his knees. The younger had pushed him over, timidly, scared. Then, the blue-eyed boy had reached for the black-painted mask, taking it off his face with wary curiosity.

The toddler had screamed, even as he punched and clawed at the face, trying to rid Erik of the second, disgusting mask. Erik had never willingly gone outside during the day again until he'd left his home altogether.

It had taken years for the tan to properly fade, even longer for the scratches from the toddler's vicious claws to scar and disappear. His agoraphobia had been ingrained into his personality and even now he kept his travelling to the dark hours if he could help it.

He looked down at the page of writing to see it half-filled. His eyes widened and he read the letter he had hardly been aware of writing:

"Angel," it began longingly.

" I can only think now of how different you and I are, how infinitely better than me you have grown to be – everything from the carefully tended hands to the kindness that rests in your soul. Not a moment passes when I am not intensely aware that you are missing. I cannot remember the curve of your fingers, nor the sparkle in your eyes when you smile. It has been long since I could remember anything with any detail. I cannot remember the sound of your voice, Christine, and that pains me almost as much as your absence.

" I thought I heard you today, our music, from the night we spent together as one. How could I not? On the day of Greg's own marriage. But, I remember, you do not know that Greg and I are friends. And that, Christine, is all thanks to you.

" Once more you are the reason for something I do. It was your instructions to Greg that led to our eventual friendship, no matter how hard we resisted getting along. Once again, my feelings for you have proven to be able to move me to fantastic and unbelievable things.

" Angel, I cannot express how desperately I wish you were here. Time has no meaning any more. The past three years have felt like a thousand. You came to the Populaire and quickly came the centrepiece to my life. I couldn't say it often enough when I had the chance:

Christine Daae, I lo " his hand had faltered half-way through the word.

In fact, he had only ever said the words to her once. Three simple words, but even as he put the pen to the page and tried to write the next letter, the line trembled and stuttered to a halt before it had formed the 'v'.

He was wearing his fourth mask, staring at his mother as she clucked and tutted, fixing the hem of a curtain. Her disapproving eyes turned to him, and her eyes were filled with unveiled disgust. "Mama, I love you." He'd called to her. He didn't remember ever being told the words, but every time Marie said them, their mother said it in return.

His mother stared at him with a horrified expression for a moment, before turning away with a shudder. The reaction was the same for the next ten years, until he'd finally stopped trying.

He threw the pen away from him, staring at the circle of blue ink grown quite large over the page. He folded the page viciously and shoved it into an envelope. Collecting the envelope and taking them both down to the lair, he sat at his organ and glared furiously at the sheet music propped open. He had no urge to play, so he didn't.

It had all fallen apart today. What little life he had built in her absence had been shaken apart by a single strain of Music. Who knew what more Music would do? He needed a distraction, something tangible – something that wouldn't fade away to nothing and leave him in despair.

And what better than a nursery for the new Mabry family?

...

Greg Mabry's surprise was clearly written on his face. Erik resisted the childish urge to shuffle from foot to foot in his nervousness. "Sweetie, you should come look at this!" The newlywed called down the hallway to his wife. Erik had only come back to collect the last of his paintbrushes, and now he would have to face Greg's disdain in person.

"Did Erik set fire to the sitting room?" Peggy asked in amusement from outside the room, before she stepped inside and her jaw dropped. Remembering her manners, she closed her mouth as she took in the room. "Did you do all this?" she asked of the silent Phantom.

"Most of the furniture is from your old nursery. Antoinette gave them to me – I only carved my designs into the pieces and re-stained the wood." He answered awkwardly, straightening his waistcoat.

Peggy stepped deeper into the room, studying the walls curiously. Greg smirked wryly, "What if he's not a musician?"

Erik very nearly flushed with embarrassment. "Of course, you are well within your rights to paint over the mural." He pointed out, feeling disappointment grip his stomach in a tight fist.

"Greg will do no such thing." Peggy answered sternly, before her face resumed her awe as she traced the realistic bark of a majestic willow. She moved on to the collection of instruments and ending finally beside the crib, where an Angel gazed down, a violin tucked under her chin. "Erik, this is magnificent." She managed out eventually.

He bowed his head in embarrassment. "A mere project for distraction." He corrected calmly. "I thought it would be more constructive than terrorizing the ballet corps." He bowed from the waist and give them a calm look. "Congratulations once again, Mister and Mrs Mabry." With a sweep of his cloak, he left the Mabry household.

Before too long, Greg was coming into his lair. "Alright, what's happened?" He demanded.

Erik looked up from his wood-carving lethargically. "I thought she was here." Erik explained softly.

There was a confused strain in the music as Greg gave him a gormless expression. "What?"

"I thought I heard Christine," Erik clarified wistfully, standing and crossing to the edge of the lake, "here. When I looked for her, I thought she must've gone back up to the Opera House. I spent the rest of the day looking for her. I didn't realize that I'd imagined the whole thing until I'd searched the whole building."

Erik watched as Greg's face was overcome with a sympathetic expression. "It wasn't Christine. She's overseas." He pointed out gingerly.

"I know. When I returned, Antoinette delivered your wife's package. I read the magazine article. She and the Vicomte were in Berlin." Erik agreed painfully. He saw a brief guilty look cross Greg's face, and he put a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "There is nothing for you to trouble yourself with, Greg. And thank you for the magazine, it was nice to finally know where Christine was. It feels less daunting now, knowing that she is alive and well. I wish her happiness." He sighed and turned away, "Even if that means it is the Vicomte she must be happy with."

A soft rendition of the Angel of Music Lullaby curled through the air and he whirled, eyes going wide with expectation. But he only saw Greg standing beside him and he slumped, without the energy to hold himself tall. "Erik?" Greg asked gingerly.

"I thought I heard her again." Erik admitted quietly. "I thank you for taking the time to come and check on my well-being. However, I wish to rest now."

"Erik." The Phantom turned to Greg, watching him carefully as he seemed to be struggling with himself for a moment. Eventually, he asked softly, "Do you truly wish Christine happiness with the Vicomte? Do you not wish she was here with you?"

"Of course I do. On both accounts." Erik answered, "But if Christine desired to find her happiness with me, she would be here. I would not force her into something she would not be happy with. I love her too much for something as monstrous as that."

"And you believe the Vicomte would be as noble as that?" Greg demanded, distaste obvious in his voice and the Music.

"I have to, Greg." Erik replied painfully, clenching his fists. "I cannot have her unhappy – even if it is just in my own mind."

The newlywed looked contemplative, but nodded. "Get some rest, Erik. You look exhausted. One of us will be around to visit you tomorrow." He said, putting a hand on his shoulder. His quiet music faded away as he left the lair, leaving only the reprisal of Christine and the Fop's childish tunes.

"Good night." He whispered to no one.

That night he dreamt of Christine's wedding. The Fop stood glowing at the altar, eyes only for the vision that was his Angel. Her eyes never looked up from the bouquet of white lilies in her hands, even as she repeated the sacred vows. When the Fop went to kiss her, to make official their union, he could have sworn they weren't tears of happiness she shed.

He woke with a whimper dying in his throat and tears in his eyes, staring hatefully into the air that taunted him still with the Angel of Music Lullaby. Furious, he stood, storming to the organ and sitting down forcefully on the seat. His fingers punched the keys, trying in all his desperation to block out the hateful music that haunted him so mercilessly.

Eventually, the Music succumbed to the force of his will, harmonizing with his thundering organ notes. His thoughts and feelings had no words in any spoken language, merely a crash of notes that twisted and deformed the air itself. Bar after bar of music thundered through the pipes, and he didn't falter until Christine's voice sprung up beside his ear, as if she was sitting right beside him: " Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known?"

He gasped in pain, whirling in his seat, expecting to see Christine standing beside him with a pitying expression. He could imagine the sight so clearly that for a moment he actually believed his Angel was standing beside him. When reality struck, he let out a scream that tore his throat until he could taste blood on his tongue.

He clamped his jaw shut fiercely and picked up the music where he had left of. When Christine's music infiltrated his song, or the memory of her voice teased at his ear, he only played with renewed vigour.

He had no clue how long he played for. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he acknowledged Antoinette's voice as it pleaded with him: "Please Erik! Come away from the organ!" He ignored it, because her voice was trying to interrupt his music.

His fingers bled like they hadn't in years, even the calluses worn away. He didn't react, merely played the music on bloody keys. He didn't know when his eyes stopped working, nor when he lost all feeling everywhere but his aching chest and screaming fingers. He only knew the moment when he could hear Christine's voice in his mind, whispering painfully: "Oh, Angel, what have you done?"

He felt hands on his shoulders, yanking him away from the instrument. He struggled, fingers desperately searching the keys, fighting against the arms around his torso to get back to the organ before the Lullaby could come back. Weak, cracking whimpers tore from his throat and he fought against the grip that held him steady. He had to get away, before the beating began. He felt a sharp pain in his hands and he screamed with a torn throat.

"Mama! Laissez-moi tranquille!" He screamed, trying to fight away from Père's hands. He didn't know what he had done to deserve another beating, but he was so tired. He just wanted to sleep, and not wake up again. He didn't want to be hurt again. Sometimes she would forgive him if he begged enough... "Maman! Désolé! Désolé, Mama, Désolé..." he repeated the words until his aching throat could produce no more than a bare whisper of breath.

The last words he heard before he succumbed to the darkness sounded nothing like his mother's or Père's. "Bloody hell, Erik! Look at your hands!"

...

He dreamt of his reluctant family. It was the first and only birthday he'd ever had – the fourteenth Mask Day. Marie was a woman now, living deeper in the city with her friend. Mask Day had come as it always did – he woke up to a box thumping against his chest and the expectation he was to wear it until he received the next one.

He had been polishing the silverware when Marie came home unexpectedly. He told her that Mamma was at the Employer's already, and that Père wouldn't be home until night-time. She'd looked at him sadly. "I know." She'd said softly. "I came to see you."

He'd flushed with honour – no one had ever come to see him before. "What can I do for you, Marie?" he asked, bewildered.

She looked at him, a frown creasing her forehead. "Erik, what day is it today?" she asked.

"Mask Day." He answered instantly. The shiny black plastic was already sticky against his skin.

Marie looked heart-broken, but he couldn't comprehend why. Marie had everything she'd ever wanted. She sighed sadly, and pulled a long present box from her hand-bag. "It isn't much, but I wanted to get you something." She answered, holding the box towards him. "Happy Birthday, Erik."

He took it, awed. He'd never received a gift before. He opened it to reveal a shiny penny-whistle on a bed of crepe paper. He'd been unable to form words, only pick up the instrument and blow the first clear note he had ever created with an instrument. Then, he had played his joy for his sister, and she cried with him.

They sat on the carpet in the entrance hall, looking at the stained wall paper on the opposite wall. Eventually, Marie turned to look at him. "Erik, if I told you I could take you away from Mama, would you come with me?"

He stared at her, confused. Leave Mama? He would never be able to leave her: she'd said that she would be 'stuck with him forever'. "I love Mama." He answered eventually.

She blinked at him, before turning away in attempt to hide the tears in her eyes. "I think that's the worst thing, Erik. You truly do." She'd put an arm around his shoulder and pulled him against her side. He realised with a start that she was comforting him, like Père had done to her many times when she was a girl. "Oh, if only you knew any better." She whispered against his hair.

Erik didn't say anything. He merely enjoyed the first proper embrace he could ever remember receiving.

He woke to a loud screaming match, lying in surprisingly soft sheets, an IV needle stuck in his arm. Cracking a sticky eye open, he glared at the clear liquid dripping from the bag. He rolled his eye around, taking in the rest of the room he found himself in. When he figured out where he was, he tried to leave immediately. His muscles barely twitched in response to his urging.

He cracked his other eye open, wincing at the light from the streetlamp outside the window. He glared hatefully at the mural he'd painted on the walls, the Angel of Music bent over the cradle mocking him with the memories it conjured.

Concentrating all his energy, he lifted one of his arms weakly. A spasm of pain shot up from his fingertips and he whimpered weakly. The whimper set his throat aflame with pain and he hissed a sharp gasp of breath. A moment later, Antoinette and Greg were hurrying into the room. He tried to clench his fists, only to have his hands scream in pain.

"Shh, shh, shh." Antoinette soothed gently, putting a hand on his forearm to hold him still. "Don't move your hands." He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to demand what was going on, but she held a finger to his lips sternly. "No speaking. Doctor Charles says you need to rest your voice for at least a week."

He scowled and tried to move again, another whimper of pain tearing through his throat.

"Stubborn git." Greg muttered, coming over and sitting on the edge of the bed. "Don't move. The doctor left us sedatives and permission to use them. It's awfully tempting right now."

Erik turned his glare furiously on the Fool, wishing they would just ask him the most basic question. His glare hardened when Greg simply wore a look of stubborn confusion. He turned his eyes helplessly to Antoinette, but she was busy looking at the IV. Breathing silently, he concentrated all his effort on a single word.

"Water!"

Antoinette and Greg were guilty as they attended to him from then on. When he had enough energy to move, his muscles were too weak. His fingers burned with pain whenever they made the slightest movement. Eventually, the fire in his throat died down to a dull throb.

But he refused to say another word. Even when Antoinette deemed him healthy enough to be able to fend for himself in the bowels of the Opera House, he did not speak. He conveyed what was necessary to the managers, the directors and the occasional actor through written word.

Each of his friends dealt with his silence in their own way. Antoinette kept asking him questions, in attempts to frustrate him enough into answering. He all but ignored her on those days. Greg filled the silence with his own inane prattle, as he always had. Erik allowed the Fool his speeches and listened dutifully. However, he found most of his time spent with Peggy. She was the most understanding of his friends, and shared in his silence rather than attempt to destroy it.

Then, six months later, the baby Mabry was born. Greg had been eating with Erik when the call came in, and he'd insisted on the Phantom coming along. Erik had never seen anything so small. Peggy lay exhausted against the sheets, the tiny wrapped bundle held lovingly in her arms.

Greg perched on the bed, awkward but instantly smitten. Erik stood to the side with Antoinette, feeling removed from the family moment. Then Greg had dragged Antoinette to collect some baby things from their home, leaving Erik alone with Peggy and the newborn.

She smiled at him warmly. "I need to use the bathroom. Would you hold him for a moment?"

Feeling too large for the room, he held his arms out and Peggy deposited the precious burden into the crook of his arms before disappearing through a door.

Erik stared at the pale face in his arms, at a loss. If he moved, would it wake up? Should he sit down? What was he supposed to do if it started crying? All the questions slipped away when the infant-blue eyes opened. The newborn blinked at him and gurgled contentedly, before going back to sleep.

Erik felt tears well up in his his eyes. The baby had looked at him, and not immediately burst out crying. There was no fear or revulsion in the blue eyes. He sobbed silently and held the baby closer. He looked up to see Peggy studying him from the doorway and a single gravelly word came from his throat: "Name?"



Chapter 4: Years Come and Years Go


"Cameron, you behave for your Godfather, okay?" Greg commanded his son with warm affection. The six-month old boy hardly knew what was being said, but he laughed happily and grasped onto the collar of Erik's shirt.

Erik chuckled slightly and supported the small body as his godson attempted to clamber over his shoulders.

"I know you wanted to oversee this tech rehearsal, but Peggy couldn't get out of this meeting. She'll be here in about an hour." Greg was saying, juggling with his keys and wallet. "Cam's been fed and changed, so just keep him entertained. If there's any problems—"

"I am to telephone you and Peggy immediately." Erik finished with an amused smirk. "I know, Greg. I look after Cameron frequently and there are rarely any changes to your instructions. Go to the rehearsal and try not to let my Opera House fall into shambles in my absence."

Greg rolled his eyes and headed for the door. Cameron whimpered a little at the loss of his father, but quickly resumed his attempt to explore the Opera Ghost's shoulders and back. Erik chuckled and put the infant down in his cot. Cameron squawked in protest for a little while before picking up one of the many toys around him and exploring it with avid fascination.

Erik fetched the violin from the conservatory and tuned it quickly standing beside Cameron's cot. He played the childish melody that accompanied his godson constantly. The infant giggled brightly and pulled himself up on shaky legs to reach out towards the Opera Ghost. Erik smiled affectionately, but didn't move any closer. Cameron squawked in protest, but sat down to listen.

He didn't know if the infant could hear the Music, but he enjoyed listening nonetheless. Erik was glad for another audience, even though this one could hardly compare to his last. He gasped and the bow faltered on the violin, screeching out an awkward note. Cameron squealed in protest, but Erik was hardly aware of it – it had suddenly struck him that it had been four years since he had heard his Christine.

The violin and bow fell from his limp fingers, thunking against the floor with a noise that would have made him wince had he been aware of it.

He couldn't see through watery eyes and blinding heartache. He heard Cameron start crying before it was drowned out by the sound of his pain in the Music.

Christine could have been anything by now, could even have a child of her own. He stumbled back until his knees hit an armchair and he sunk into the seat with trembling knees.

The Fop didn't need to secure an heir like the Comte, but he was no doubt eager to for a family – children to share his idiotic ideas with. Erik could picture the scene with painful clarity – his Christine and her infant double spread out on a picnic blanket, laughing in the summer air. The little boy would stretch out his arms to tug at his mother's brown locks, and Christine would patiently remove the child's hands and give him an ancient teddy bear instead.

He shuddered a breath and forced himself away from the scene, only to hear near-silence. His eyes searched the room and found Peggy nursing a sleeping Cameron with a sympathetic expression.

"I'm sorry." He exhaled painfully. He was unfit to take care of his own Godson!

"No harm, Erik." Peggy answered calmly. "Christine?" she guessed gently.

"You would tell me if she was married, wouldn't you? If she had children?" he pleaded.

"Of course I would. I wouldn't keep something like that from you." She answered, affronted. "I check for marriage and birth certificates every time."

"Thank you." was all he managed out. His chest ached painfully where his heart should have been. He always ached – he wondered if the pain would ever properly fade, or whether it would continue until he simply couldn't take it any more.

He wondered how far away that day was until Cameron whined sleepily. He couldn't willingly hurt the child, not if he had any choice in the matter. The realisation hit with a start that had a lump forming in his throat: he had something to live for now.

"I have to go." He announced, getting to his feet. "There's a technical rehearsal."

"Come by for lunch tomorrow. We're having a roast." Peggy commanded.

He nodded his head and left quickly, the ache in his chest just a little duller.

...

Dear Christine,

What I would give to just know what it is you are doing. There is so much left unknown – do you still think of me at all? Has your Fop tended to all of your hopes and dreams?

You are haunting me – no other word for it. To think, I am the Phantom, and yet you are the one who is haunting me. More and more your music is at every turn. Not as bad as that tragic phase some time ago, but still haunting none the less.

And the dreams! Every time I lay down to sleep, you are there as you can't be in my waking moments. But not just you, the Vicomte and an imaginary child too. For he cannot exist – there is no record of a child to you, nor the Vicomte.

But the memories where we are together are the worst, for they are the ones that cannot be true. Your absence is torturing me, taunting me with my l-

...

Antoinette scowled as she took in the mess of music sheets littering the lair. Erik felt his face burn in shame and he bowed his head.

"The latest efforts in your obsession?" she asked sourly.

"I thought if I was to write down her Music then it would stop haunting me." He admitted, sorting through several identical sheets of music.

"Did it work?" the aging woman asked pointedly.

He waved a hand towards the lair, at every available surface covered in sheet music and the wads of disintegrating paper floating in the lake. "Does it look like it worked?" he challenged coldly.

"You stopped eventually." She noted.

"I ran out of ink." He admitted quietly, grouping another set of sheets together. "Is there something you wanted, Antoinette?"

Her scowl deepened. "Greg and Peggy sent me to find you. You've been down here for days." She answered.

"Why did Greg not come himself? He usually has no qualms with barging in here unannounced." He muttered, tossing a sheet smudged beyond legibility. It joined its brothers in the lake.

"Cam still has chicken pox. Peggy was following up a lead." Antoinette answered curtly. "They have enough to worry about without you disappearing from the face of the earth on another foolish attempt at peace of mind."

"Once again, Antoinette, you positive encouragement and confidence in my ability to take care of myself are more than helpful." He bit sarcastically, getting to his feet. "I have a lot of cleaning to do. You may tell Greg that I am perfectly fine, and that I will check in after I am finished."

"It's not healthy, Erik!" she yelled. "Did you even eat this week?"

"Between renditions." He answered coldly, "Whenever I felt the need. I am not a child, I can take care of myself."

"All precedent showing otherwise." She huffed and kicked a jumble of papers. "Erik, this obsession with Christine is going to kill you! Do you hear me? Kill you!" she yelled furiously.

"Antoinette, there are people who speak of things they know nothing about." He answered calmly. "They are called fools."

"Erik, you in—"

"However, if you need to put yourself at ease, let me assure you: this 'obsession', as you put it, is a lifeline as much as you fear for it. Bluntly put, Antoinette, I will not die until I have seen my Christine again, until I have heard her sing once more." A new tune twisted through the Music, morphing the aging woman's fearful rage. He crossed to the only woman who had ever truly acted like a mother to him and kissed her gently on the creased forehead. "Rest easy. I am not going anywhere."

Having expressed his yearly allowance of maternal affection, he turned back to the mess and let the new music comfort his aching chest.

...

Dear Christine,

It has been a little over four and a half years since I have last seen you. Not a day goes past when I do not wonder after you – where you are and what you're doing and whether you are happy with your new life without me.

My life can hardly be called living without you. I find it hard to believe that you were only here for six months. How could you have infiltrated every fibre of my being in such a short amount of time? But then again, six months will never be enough to time to have had you near me. What I would give to see you again, Angel...

Cameron knows your name. The word coming from his innocent lips tore a new pain into my aching soul. Peggy wants me to tell him your story – our story. When I started to think of it, it was too painful to bear. I told him of Little Lotte instead. Peggy and Greg finally understand the mural in their nursery.

She still wants me to tell him the story – when he's old enough to fully understand. I think that was her veiled attempt at letting me get used to the idea – perhaps one day when it does not hurt to much. I cannot properly breathe as I recall the events that brought us together but finally rent us apart.

Would you guess? I've never blamed you for leaving. I do often wonder why you have chosen not to return to me – you knew I would return, you told Greg as much. Yet I refuse to believe you will not come back because you do not love me any longer. Even the most cursed of love never dies, Angel. Sometimes I wonder if your love for the Vicomte has eclipsed yours for me. A fact that would tear me apart to have confirmed, but a plausible option.

My feelings for you have never wavered – they remain as strong as ever, but instead they wound me instead of you. My love for others has never amounted to anything good. First they ostracised and destroyed my unhappy mother, and then they broke you. As much as I could have wished to pick up the pieces, I hope the Vicomte has done a sufficient job.

I miss you, Christine. Time has, miraculously, smoothed the edges of my pain. Hours go past when I do not think of you, only to have you return to my thoughts for another eternity. It is hard to fathom the amount of time that has passed, it seems to be far longer.

I wish you happiness my Angel, with the Vicomte. I hope he can love you. Just as I lov

...

He fell into another period of silence. He didn't speak and he didn't hear music. He played still, for Cameron's sake. The little boy had awkwardly attempted to play himself, standing on the piano stool with shaky legs, thumping on the keys with chubby fists. Erik had silently removed the boy and sat him on his lap as he played a lullaby. One different to Christine's. That resulted in a promise to Peggy that he would teach his godson when Cameron was old enough.

It was Miss Brighton who eventually confronted him about his silence. It was a few days after Cameron's second birthday, halfway through rehearsals, when she stormed into his box. She fixed him with a furious expression and slammed the door. "It's not in my natural register! Either get over yourself and let the music come back or clear out of rehearsals so I can sing it!" she snapped furiously. He glared at her humourlessly, closing the portfolio of concept sketches impatiently.

There was an awkward silence before Miss Brighton frowned with dawning realisation. "You're not speaking. No wonder." She took the portfolio from his hands, wedging it between an arm-rest. "This is about the Daae Girl, isn't it?" she pressed, sitting beside him.

"Christine." He croaked out, his throat aching from disuse. "Her name is Christine."

"Right. Yeah." She leaned closer to him. "What you need, sir, is a new focus." There was the sound of clothes against velvet as she shifted again in the seat. He ignored that, eyes nearly glazing over as he thought carefully. "Something else to devote your energy to." He glanced, only to see her inches away from his face. He inwardly started in surprise, refusing to show any outward indication of his disquiet. She puckered her lips and closed her eyes, leaning towards him.

Moving faster than most people could manage, he held the portfolio up between them. There was a dull chunk! as the woman's face collided with the leather cover and he restrained his amusement with his outrage. "Miss Brighton, I am not interested in your advances." He pointed out coldly. "Whatever you think my problem is, the solution is not transference." Miss Brighton shoved the book to the side, her beautiful face a mask of ugly hatred. "Now, I have been generous to you, allowing you a permanent position at my Opera House, an unprecedented honour. I will overlook this...lapse in judgement, but shall you attempt suchlike ever again, you will no longer be welcome. Am I being clear?"

"Perfectly." She spat bitterly.

Disgusted with her wanton behaviour, he swept out of the box. He knew certain women used carnal pleasures as a way of persuasion, but he had no respect for harlots. He returned to his lair, blanketed by the music of his rage and disgust.

...

Dearest Angel,

One day I will find a way to deliver these letters to you. Come what may, you will know the things I long to tell you. Even if it takes years.

You can't have disappeared entirely. There are no death certificates or missing person reports in your name. I can only assume that the Fop knows where you are. You're probably with him anyway, living the life you were once loath to accept.

I wonder how you can be happy, Christine, when you are set in a life you foreswore against: faking your thoughts and feelings for the aristocracy. You loathed it, Angel, and swore you would never go back to that life again. But, I suppose the Vicomte has won you over.

You were always weak for him.

I remember when you told me that he was nothing compared to me, that your feelings for me far outweighed any for him. I suppose time changes all things, doesn't it? Even me, Christine. I find myself recently no longer content to simply sit around and mourn your absence. I know it was I who left you alone in the lair, Christine, but it is you who has chosen never to come back. I have been willing to give you everything since you I first truly saw you, if you would only share yourself.

And I suppose you did, for a time. But you have left me with nothing but poisonous hopes – no proper goodbye to dissuade me from believing you might return. No hatred to dissuade me from trusting in your love. I loathe you, Christine, almost as strongly as I love—

...

The squealing of children in the backyard merely filled Erik with annoyance. Peggy was whirling around the kitchen, juggling empty cups, plates of sprinkle-covered bread and a recipe book. Erik stood at the window, watching Cameron and the three-year-old's friends chase each other around two lines of chairs.

Greg came through the door with a laugh, a thin sheen of sweat covering his forehead. It was a beautiful summer's day outside, and Erik had nearly undergone a heart-attack to get here. The sticky porcelain of a mask covered the marred side of his face and it scorched in the sunlight.

It had been a nightmare to brave himself to make and wear a mask to the house of the man who had once torn the identical copy off.

Greg spotted him and smiled, his eyes betraying him as the locked on the mask. He took a step forward with a hand outstretched and Erik involuntarily took a step back, his heart racing in fear. He realised with a flush of shame that Greg had only wished to shake his hand and mumbled an apology, unable to meet the Sound Technician's eyes.

When he raised his gaze, Peggy was looking between the two awkward men with an arched eyebrow. The expression on her face demanded an explanation later, once the party had been resolved, and she handed the plate of brightly decorated bread to her husband and shooed him back out of the kitchen.

Erik continued watching the crowd in the backyard. Blonde-haired-grey-eyed Cameron was giggling, uninhibited, as he ran hurriedly from chair to chair, desperate not to lose the game. On the sidelines, a girl was crying over her loss and Erik curled his lip in disgust – that was simply bad sportsmanship.

A few of the parents were gathered together, occasionally shooting him curious looks while pretending to look at their children. One of the mothers' mouths formed the word 'Godfather' and the others nodded in comprehension. So, he was a point of curiosity once again. It seemed that was to be his destiny. Always fascination, but never acceptance. Desire, once – a long time ago.

Muttering to Peggy about the music room, he left for the solitude for the room that had once been his living room, and baby Cameron's nursery. After the Mabry had bought the townhouse next door and knocked down the dividing wall, they had enough room for Cameron to have his own bedroom. The old nursery had been converted into the only thing that seemed to appropriately match the mural – a music room. The grand piano stood by the far wall, with the Angel of Music looking over the keys with her violin.

Erik traced the curve of the Angel's jaw with a bitter smile. It looked so much like Christine, and the ache in his chest was tempered with the acidic twist of hate in his stomach. He turned his back on the Angel and sat on a comfortable armchair, burying his face in his hands.

He couldn't remember any more. Beyond a haze of rage, there was a glaze of sadness, and nothing was easy to remember. He couldn't remember anything she'd ever said, what songs he'd taught her or the words to their duet. Only the vaguest recollection of how she looked was sourced from the occasional picture or short article in a gossip magazine.

His forgetting angered him almost as much as the fact that Christine had left him. The least he could do in her absence was remember their time together. But, no, he was not allowed even that. He hated himself more than he hated her.

When he lifted his head, it was dark outside the window. He frowned, wondering how he had managed to let time get away from him again. He crossed to the piano and opened it, noting with satisfaction the lack of dust on the keys. He ran his fingers over the keys before settling into an arpeggio.

There was a squeal somewhere in the house and the sound of running feet. Cameron appeared in the doorway, tired eyes eager. "Erik!" he greeted loudly, bounding towards him and settling himself in his Godfather's lap. The little boy glanced at him curiously for a moment, before blurting out: "Why are you wearing a mask?"

Erik resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably and ignored the question, placing the boy's hands on the keys and watching him play with a tutor's eye.

"Is it because of your face?" The little boy piped up timidly. Erik gasped and his fists clenched involuntarily. Cameron had never before made any indication that he noticed anything amiss with his deformity, and now he was asking so callously... He closed his eyes against the pain. "Is that why Christine left too?"

Erik sobbed and set the boy on the ground before standing and glaring at the Angel in the mural. "No." He answered eventually. "She didn't care about my face." He admitted, almost to himself. He had that to hold on to, at least.

"Neither do I." Cameron answered quietly, coming over and hugging the back of Erik's knees.

Erik knelt down beside his godson. "I know." he said softly, a ghost of a smile drifting over his lips. "I have a gift for you, Cameron." He announced grandly.

Squealing in delight, the boy forgot the sombre mood and sat expectantly on the piano stool. Erik withdrew the beribboned box with enough ceremony to set Cameron off into giggles.

The boy carefully untied the ribbon, but ripped off the lid with enough fervour to belie his patience. He stared with glowing eyes at the silver object nestled on deep red velvet.

Erik thought it appropriate – the first birthday present he had given his godson was the only one he had ever been given. Not the same one, of course. Erik had money to use for spoiling the child, and Erik's...

"A pennywhistle!" Cameron exclaimed correctly. "Do I get to play it?" He asked eagerly.

"Frankly, Cameron, I would be insulted if you didn't." Erik answered with mock-solemnity. Cameron merely squealed in delight and ran off to show his parents the gift.

Erik sank wearily back into the armchair he'd recently vacated. A musical instrument should always be revered, a fact that was deeply ingrained into his very being. After all, he'd never been taught as much.

He had kept Marie's gift a secret from his mother, old enough then to know that she would only loathe Marie and punish him for its presence.

But Mama's infallible intuition and deep-set suspicion was the reason why the employers liked her so much as their housekeeper. Nothing escaped her notice for long, not the new maid stealing silverware, nor her son's secret music-playing.

He returned to his room one day to see Mama standing by his bed. It was strange – not only did she look uncomfortable and disgusted just being there, but Mama never came down into his room for any pleasant reason.

"Do you think I'm stupid, Erik?" She demanded, her tone colder than ice. He'd learnt from the best, after all.

"No, Mama!" He cried desperately, wracking his brains for anything he could have done wrong.

"Really?" She returned, her tone impossibly colder than before. "Then do you care to explain this?" From behind her back she revealed the pennywhistle. "Where did you steal this from, boy?" She yelled, suddenly furious.

"No, Mama, I didn't steal it, I swear!" He answered, backing into the wall.

"You must think me stupid, Erik, if you expect me to believe that. You have no money, so you couldn't have bought it." She rationalized, her anger all the more frightening for her calmness. Mama's anger froze you into such fear you couldn't move or speak. You could only take the blows and weep.

He managed out from a rapidly drying throat: "It was a gift! Marie-"

"I don't want to hear any more of your lies." She interrupted calmly. "Now, you are going to accept your punishment like a good boy, and after that you are never to leave this room again." She looked at him with eyes filled to the brim by cold hatred. "Do you understand me?"

"Mama, I-" He had never gotten to make his plea. Mama had called down Marie's father and the punishment had began.

When it was over, he lay prone on the bed, bearing the weight against his broken ribs and bruised torso so as to keep the raw wounds on his back from touching the filthy sheets.

Mama stood silently beside the furnace, studying the pennywhistle with a pinched expression. "It's a sickness, Erik." She told him calmly, never taking her eyes off the gift. "Your obsession with music, hearing it when there's nothing there." She frowned, closing her fist and finally looking at him. Her face was filled with revulsion and pity. "I've tried all your life to keep you from succumbing to your madness. That's why I have to do this now – to save you from yourself."

Before Erik could breathe, Mama had the furnace open and had tossed the pennywhistle into the flames. He cried out in pain, at both mental anguish and the burn as he'd jerked upwards, as she slammed the door closed on the flames.

"I hate you!" he howled, not knowing which hurt more. "I hate you!"

Mama crossed the cellar in a few quick strides and slapped a hand down on the raw flesh of his back. "That is not how you speak to your mother, Erik." She struck again. "Apologize this instant!"

"Sorry!" he gasped out through the sheer pain.

Another blow. "Properly, you ungrateful little bastard!" Another.

"I'm sorry Mama. I love you. Please forgive me?" He pleaded.

She caressed his open wounds almost tenderly. "Good boy. Goodnight, Erik."

He had woken the next day to find the door locked. The next time he'd left the room, it had been for good.

Peggy woke him with a cup of tea and a reprimand about falling asleep in armchairs. He told her irritably that it was more comfortable than an organ and drank the mug in one move. She watched him silently for a moment, before her music grew sad and threaded with guilt. "You still miss her." She stated softly.

He gave a bitter grimace. "Every day." He sighed wearily.

She sighed and clenched the arm-rest. "Why do you not go her? You know she is with the Vicomte. I could get you an address or—"

"Christine is happy without me." Erik spat viciously, self-loathing clenching through the music.

"What if she wasn't?" Peggy pressed, a slight edge of desperation in her voice.

"If she weren't," he explained painfully, "she would be here. She would have sought happiness with me. She knows I will always wait for her."

"She doesn't remember you." A new voice sprung from the doorway. Erik glanced in horror at Greg, who entered the room followed by an outraged Antoinette.

"Greg! We agreed to keep it—" The older woman began to scold her son-in-law.

"No, Antoinette." Greg interrupted, a harsh note of finality in the music. "He deserves to know. We've been cruel to keep it from him for all these years."

"Know what?" Erik growled, getting to his feet and glaring at the three others. "What have you been keeping from me?" He yelled furiously.

"Christine doesn't think you exist." Peggy explained softly.

Erik gasped in pain and reeled backwards.

"Bedlam is a messed up place." Greg explained darkly. "They spent months and a fortune on therapies trying to rid her of her 'delusion' about a disfigured man beneath an Opera House. When we caught wind of what was really going on, we tried to get her out – only to be informed that she had already been removed from their care by one Vicomte Raoul de Chagny. That she was undergoing 'private treatment'."

"We'd hoped that it was just a cover, and that the Vicomte was just rescuing her from the asylum." Antoinette continued.

"It wasn't until we met up with Christine and the Vicomte in Prague that we realised he was keeping the same opinion her doctors had. If anything, he's worse – from what we gathered, she is kept almost constantly sedated." Peggy explained thickly, her eyes brimming with tears. "We tried everything, even asked her mother to help us – but he has a registered therapist on hand who swears in her medical opinion that Christine is not recovered."

Erik didn't know exactly when he'd started crying, but he took a deep breath and wiped away the trail of tears down his uncovered face. "Margaret, I will need the Vicomte's home address. Antoinette, I will need passage to France and a substantial amount of Euros." He turned to face them with a resolution set into his face like stone. "I can not condone this. I will not. I will go to the Vicomte and bring her back myself."

"Erik, is that wise?" Antoinette asked tentatively.

"Antoinette." He interrupted her voice-of-reason shortly. "I was fine to leave her when I thought she was happy with the Vicomte. When I thought she had chosen between us. I will not leave her to suffer when I can prevent it. Stop asking questions and do what I requested." He swept away from them, already planning his course of action.

...

Christine -

I'm coming to get you.

- Erik



Chapter 5: No More Than Half-Way Real


He outfitted himself in contemporary clothing. Still mostly suits, but all in modern cuts and fashions. He didn't know exactly how long he was to be in France for, but armed with a thick folder of six year's worth of information on the case of one Catherine de Night, he would not leave until he knew she was safe and happy.

He settled into his hotel first. After a day or two of rest and pacing, he was mentally prepared to face the world outside. He checked over his information and headed to the address indicated. His stomach rose to his throat and his heart started racing as he turned down the street. It was too familiar, and it filled him with fear. But he couldn't place it in his memories, and didn't want to. He decided it must have been nerves, especially when the fear increased as he approached the correct house.

Clenching his fist around sweating palms, he knocked three times on the wood and waited. All of the upper windows were dark, and only a sliver of light seemed to be coming from down the hallway. The lights behind the door snapped on and he waited for the footsteps to reach him. A rotund silhouette opened the door.

"And you are, sir?" The aged man answered in suspicious French.

"My name is Erik Leroux, sir." He answered, his throat closing up. This man looked so familiar, and filled him with more fear. But he ignored that.

"You'll be after Marie, then?" The man guessed incorrectly. Before Erik could reply, the man continued: "she's not here. It's just me and the chauffer – everyone else has gone to the chateaux for the Summer."

"Everyone?" He echoed, wondering if that meant his Angel as well.

"Everyone, sir. Don't you listen? Do you think this family could survive three months without an entire domestic staff to cater to their every needs?" He said bitterly. "Would you like me to deliver her a message?"

"No." Erik answered, a coldness seeping into his stomach. "No, I will go to her myself. Thank you for your help, sir." He bowed slightly and turned, hurrying from the house as fast as he could without arousing suspicion.

He immediately booked passage to the Chateaux de Chagny, and slept. His dreams were twisted, convoluted mixes of haunted childhood memories and the usual images of Christine. The most heart-wrenching part was when Christine had gone into the cellar that had served as his sanctuary and, later, prison and just cried over the bloody sheets.

He awoke with sobs dying in his throat and the pieces of the puzzle falling together: why he had been so terrified yesterday walking down a street, his irrational loathing for the Vicomte, how he could picture Christine so very easily at the Chateaux, why a Marie Leroux was working at the de Chagny's town house.

The former Comte and Comtess de Chagny were Mama's employers. He fled to the en suite and was violently ill. Sobbing and retching, he let his thoughts run wild. Christine was truly trapped, bound by Vicomte, locked in the same house as the current Comte, the elder brother. He could not rest, knowing the torment the two inflicted on him as children.

He felt like a scared little boy again, curled up on the tiles, shaking with fear and shivering with shock. The irrational sense of guilt and regret completed the recollection. Now, if only he was in mass amounts of physical pain and it would be entirely succinct.

He stayed in the corner for hours until he had reign on his emotions and made it to the train with just enough time to pack his things and check out of the hotel.

The Chateaux and its surrounding vineyards were exactly as he remembered. He stayed the night in a Bed&Breakfast cottage, donning a flesh-coloured mask the next day and borrowing a horse to take the trip. He rang the doorbell and trembled slightly. Who would answer the door? Would he know them? How much of the staff had changed in over twenty years?

The door opened to a face he could have sworn he would never seen again. Marie Leroux, looking far older than her forty-three years, peered out at him curiously. "Can I help you, sir?" She asked.

He managed out a strangled: "Marie?"

She glanced at him suspiciously, "Do I kn-" Realisation dawned on her face and her jaw dropped. Blinking at him wildly for a moment, she regained her breath. "Erik?" She whispered, awed. He nodded and she tugged him through the door and into a tight hug. "Oh, my lord. Can it really be you? Come in! Come inside!"

Letting the fact that he was already inside slide, he waited for her to close the door and took in the familiar splendour as he waited for her return. It was somehow lighter, friendlier without his mother at the helm. Traces of Christine's music echoed underneath the general score, a distressed and muted viola against the wind and percussions. She had been here, recently.

"Would you like tea? Goodness, I'm all a-flutter! We'll sit in the west wing drawing room." She hurried through the halls and Erik followed, pushing away snatches of not-so-pleasant memories with a firm resolve. When they came to the drawing room, Marie chased away a few of the domestic staff hanging about. There was already tea laid out on the table and, if Erik knew Marie at all, there was always tea available, no matter the time of day or night.

He sat, feeling in awkward in a chair he was sure he had once soiled while Marie bustled about adding milk and sugar to her dainty china cup. When she sat, he began: "I'm sure you know that Miss Daae has been staying with the Vicomte for some time."

Marie stared at him for a long time, before a kind of relieved sadness dominated the music. Her breath hitched and she shook her head in distress. "I had hoped a little that it wasn't you after all." She commented cryptically.

"She is in the Vicomte's care." He prodded, confused by her diversion.

She cleared her throat and drank a sip of tea. "That hasn't escaped my notice these past six years, no." She agreed. There was a tense silence as Erik debated what to say next. "She used to speak of you. She was quite distressed when she first came to Paris, desperate to go to the Populaire and return to you. Not knowing that it was true, of course, I helped the Vicomte keep her in the town house. When she realised who I was, she confronted me and she told me that you were the man. I told the Vicomte."

Erik frowned. If she had done such a thing, then why hadn't his Christine been released?

"The Vicomte did not see reason. He thought my opinion was too biased because of my hopes that it was indeed my missing brother." She explained softly. "But he agreed to take Christine off the prescribed medicine, to see if she could remember either way."

He opened his mouth to question, but Marie shook her head slightly.

"In the cruellest way, dear brother – the therapies worked." She explained painfully. "Christine believes that you are simply a delusion fuelled by grief over her deceased father."

"May I see her?" He asked, an edge of desperation clawing at his mind. "If she could just see me, I know she would remember. Even the Vicomte could not deny it with my existence as proof."

"I'm afraid that is not possible at this time." She answered tensely. "Christine is currently in a meeting with a wedding planner for her upcoming marriage to the Vicomte."

Erik closed his eyes against the onslaught of pain and clenched his fists, ignoring the crack of breaking porcelain and the scald of hot tea against his hands. "They are getting married?" He asked, his heart constricting in his chest.

"Yes." she answered, coming over and taking the ruined shards away. "I am sorry, Erik." She said quietly. He tore his hands out of her gentle grip and willed the tears away. He had expected this. He had always expected Christine to be with the Vicomte when he found her. So why was this hurting so much?

"How can she? After all he's done to her?" He growled, clenching his fists to revel in the pain.

"She is grateful." Marie answered, her voice constricted with loathing. "She thinks he has been nothing but kind and helpful to her."

He stood swiftly. "No! No! No!" He bellowed. His voice broke and he whispered to himself. "This cannot be."

"Marie?" A long-since-familiar voice called from down the hallway. "Is something the matter?"

The moment he heard the door-handle begin to move, he was bolting across the room, facing the window and trying to ignore the explosion of their music: the same tune that accompanied every thought and memory of their earthly union. He felt her eyes lingering on him, before it drifted away and she enquired after Marie again.

"Mademoiselle, excuse the intrusion." Marie apologized in wavering English. "I just delivered my guest some very upsetting news."

Her gaze was like a flame to his clothed back. "Is he alright?" She asked, her voice filled with genuine concern.

"Ask her to leave." He spat in cold French.

"Mademoiselle, if you would please—" Marie was cut off by her own gasp, "Christine, you mustn't—"

Before Erik had time to wonder what she mustn't do, he felt a long-forgotten touch on his arm. "Sir?" She asked in very weak French. "Is there nothing I can get you to ease the hurt?"

He breathed in a moment, savouring the last touch he would ever know from his beloved and turned to face her. She was ever more beautiful than he could picture, but tired and nearly haggard-looking. She gasped when she met his eyes, and a brief spark of recognition flashed through her warm browns. She frowned, tilting her head to study him. "Have...have we met?" She asked hesitantly.

He shook his head and stepped away from her. "You would remember our meeting." He informed her in her native tongue. He crossed to Marie and kissed her cheek softly. "My apologies, Marie, but I must to leave. You can imagine how little joy I feel being in this place." He explained in their natural language.

She looked hurt, but nodded in understanding. "Of course. Let me show you to the door."

He shook his head firmly. "I remember the way." He stole a final look at the bewildered Christine and refocused his attention. "I will not leave you in silence Marie." He told her quietly. "But I cannot return to a home of theirs." He clasped her hands tightly and turned away.

He took his leave, the maze of hallways hadn't changed since his midnight wondering as a child. He didn't let any tears form, let alone allow them to fall. There would be no use in letting his grief taint the halls of the only happy memories he held of his childhood. He walked up the driveway to where the borrowed horse was tethered, before turning to look at the Chateaux one last time.

For a moment, he could have sworn he saw his Angel standing in the window. But it must have been a portrait for, as long as he stared, it didn't move an inch. He ducked his head against the pain of his momentary hopes and vaulted himself onto the horse.

He rode hard and fast towards the village and when he was locked in his borrowed room, he let his grief fall soundlessly. The music ached with him, but he ignored that in favour of curling in a corner and crushing his face against the faded and peeling wallpaper. All this way, all this time wasted!

If he had come a month earlier, he may have had a chance. But, no! Now she was engaged, overseeing the plans of her future marriage to a husband she would learn to loathe and life she has always despised. He seethed with hatred, towards every party involved: the Fop for his cruelty and abuse; Christine, for forgetting everything; Greg, Peggy and Antoinette for their damnable silence on the matter. But, more than any other, he hated himself for leaving all those years ago.

...

The next few eternities passed by in a haze. He could barely remember leaving Chagny, but here he was, sitting by his lake. Everything seemed completely surreal, so he simply sat and waited for the time to pass. He felt completely numbed, vague and insubstantial. He seemed to blink, and suddenly Greg was there. Erik felt no start of surprise or fear. He did not speak to greet the man. He simply sat, and waited.

Time continued, and Greg disappeared for a while. He returned with Cameron, but not even his Godson could stir any reaction in the Phantom. Greg had to take his son away, the distress driving the child to tears.

More eternities passed and Greg returned, with Antoinette hovering in the background. Greg knelt beside the throne Erik had collapsed in and started speaking in a calm and rational tone. He could have been reciting nursery rhymes for all Erik could comprehend, but the gentle tone was nice.

Eventually, words slipped from Erik's mouth: "It isn't fair." His eyes slipped past the stress-lined face of the sound technician and drifted away.

"What isn't fair?" Greg pressed.

"It isn't fair." Erik whispered, staring at but not seeing the undisturbed surface of the lake. "It's not fair that the Fop gets everything and we are left with nothing."

Greg frowned, sinking back onto his haunches. "Erik?"

"We don't remember, Greg. She has forgotten everything, and I...I can't remember what she looks like, anything she ever said or anything we did together." He blinked tears out of his eyes and focused back on the face of his friend. "I can only remember the notes." he whispered brokenly.

The sound technician was displaced, and Antoinette stood before him, a pen and paper in her hands. "Then write them down, Erik. Write them down before you forget them too." she commanded.

He obeyed, taking the blank sheet music and starting with the first note. He lost awareness for everything else but the notes smashing through the air and crawling across the page. He was dimly aware when he felt a thin broth ghost across his tongue and slide down his oesophagus. He felt ashamed that he had to be essentially force-fed, but the feeling was quickly lost as the Music propelled him on.

As the last note faded from the air along with the sounds of his pen scratching against the paper, he looked up to see Peggy sitting a short distance away, absorbed in a book. He swallowed through his parched throat and managed out: "It is finished," before slumping forward out of his throne and passing out of consciousness.

His fifteenth mask had been tossed down the stairs in a thin cardboard box. For months, Erik had only the music in the air for companionship. Sometimes, snatches of conversation floated down through the floors and reached his ears, but it was rare. Meagre meals were left at the top of the stairs.

He wasn't sure he could even speak any more. He'd had no reason to use his voice for months, so it was useless from weakness. The same could be said for most of his muscles, to be concise. There was no where to go and nothing to do in the cellar that had become his prison. Erik had no real idea how long he'd been locked down there, but his back had healed over completely some time ago.

He worried, for winter was setting in and he had a cough that wouldn't go away. Before he had even the time to don the new mask, he heard raised voices from the hallway atop the staircase. "He's my brother, Mama! I have the right to see him!" That was Marie's voice! A hushed, indistinguishable murmur of Mama's voice replied. "A danger to society! What exactly has he done?" Mama said something else. "Stealing? Stealing what?" He realised with a start that they were talking about him and stood carefully on shaking legs. "No, Mama, he wasn't lying. I did give it to him. And you should have seen how happy he was to have gotten it."

The door flung open and Marie was coming down the stairs, Mama standing in the doorway. "...to tell me how to raise my son, you ungrateful bitch." She bit icily.

Marie froze in horror at seeing Erik standing there wincing in the light, clutching a paper-mache mask in his hands. She swore quiet vehemently and turned to glare at her mother. "What kind of monster are you?" She demanded, disgusted. She turned back towards the basement and gathered Erik up into a tight embrace. "It's alright, Erik. I'm getting you out of here."

"Excuse me?" Mama screeched, storming down the staircase, "What do you think you're doing?" She demanded, yanking her once-beloved daughter aside roughly by the arm.

"I'm getting this broken child away from you!" Marie hissed, yanking her arm away. "He at least deserves a chance at a life without abuse. He deserves a life away from a cruel monster like you."

Erik stood swaying, watching the argument fly back and forth between the two women. He felt a coughing fit start and tried to smother it with his fist, but he had to breathe eventually and that burned his throat. He coughed so hard he was sick, and then Marie was holding him again, rocking him back and forth and telling him everything would be alright.

He slept then, warm and comfortable in his sister's arms.

"...now, I don't read music or anything, but it certainly looks impressive." Greg was commenting. Erik scowled, opening his eyes against the dull yellow light of the table lamp in the Mabry's music room.

There was the sound of shuffling paper and a flat hum of agreement. "There's a lot here." That was Antoinette's voice.

"Do you think, perhaps, that one instance I regain consciousness in your home, you might have the decency to be quiet?" Erik asked derisively, sitting up. There was a desperate whimper and suddenly he had a small form leaping onto his chest. "Shh, every thing is fine, Cameron." He cooed gently to his crying Godson, "I am all right."

"You were so sad, Erik! You wouldn't look at me, and you didn't hear anything I said." He sniffled and glared with determination at Erik. "I hate Christine for what she's done to you."

Erik shook his head and pulled Cameron back into an embrace. "You mustn't, Cameron." He answered quietly, hardly daring the words to be spoken aloud. "You mustn't hate my Christine for what isn't her fault." He kissed the head of blonde hair, "We had our chance together. I didn't take that chance, so we can't be angry with her." He leant his head on his Godson's and allowed the hair to absorb the tears coursing out of his eye. "You cannot blame her for a fault that is mine."

The two simply held each other as they wept.

...

As the last note faded away, Erik realised his audience had increased. When Christine had been gone for nearly seven years, he had conceded to playing their story for Cameron. He had chosen the lair for his performance, simply because he did not want the Mabry music room flooded with any more of their music.

Cameron had sat avidly in the closest chair, eyes drawn unwaveringly to the sheets of music as the instrumental of 'No One Would Listen' began. Before the song was through, Peggy and Greg had joined their son on the love-seat. During the transition, Antoinette had arrived and sat stoically on the chair from his writing desk.

After that, he'd lost himself in the Music. Released, he could see the silhouetted reflections of two more people on the polished pipes of his organ. He held a hand out and Cameron hurried forward, pressing a cool surface of porcelain into his hand. He covered his distortion with the white half-mask and turned to glare at the intruders.

"Miss Brighton, Mister Peterson. I do not believe this was a public presentation." He informed them coldly.

He took in the state of his audience for the first time. Peggy was buried in her husband's shoulder, sobbing softly, while Greg looked blank-faced while his occasionally welling eyes give him away. Antoinette was dabbing at her face with a lacy handkerchief, while stroking the red-faced and distressed Cameron's head comfortingly as he burrowed into her side. The two intruders, however, were trained actors and had managed to weep with some dignity – Miss Brighton was red eyed with two neat tear-tracks running down her cheeks while Mister Peterson left the tears to flow unbothered.

There was a gleam of mischief in Miss Brighton's eyes, "We couldn't help it, sir. We were rehearsing lines when we heard the music. We followed Mrs Greer." She explained. He arched a furious eyebrow at Antoinette for her carelessness, but she returned it with a challenge he chose to ignore.

"Sir, if I may say so, that was truly one of the most wonderful compositions I have ever had the honour of hearing." Mister Peterson bowed deeply. "Thank you."

Erik scowled while repressing the joy at the praise. "Antoinette, you will show them out." He commanded coldly. She handed off Cameron to his parents and led the actors away.

Greg sniffed and cleared his throat. "As much as you are affronted at their presence, Erik, they were right. That was an amazing work, and I am honoured to have heard it." He stood and shook the astounded Ghost's hand.

He collected the sobbing form of Cameron from his wife. "You wait for me at the car, love. I'd like to speak with Erik for a while longer." Peggy commanded him. Greg nodded and disappeared through the passageway with the Godson who called a pitiful goodbye.

The two sat in silence for a long time, before Peggy spoke up. "She meant a lot to you."

Erik huffed a bitter laugh. "Christine means everything to me." He answered pointedly.

"I've seen that." She agreed, pulling her jumper closer. "Erik, did you ever think that maybe she didn't want you to mourn after her for the rest of your life?" She asked gently.

He smiled a little bitterly and shook her head. "While she was here, Christine gave little thought to what I would do when I was left behind. We never planned for her absence – she refused to entertain the notion." He heaved a breath as he prepared to admit his revelation. "But now, she is marrying the Vicomte...and she has forgotten me." He shrugged. "I can only assume that, if she thought of me at all, she hoped I would let her go just as much as she let me go. But that is something I cannot do. Christine has become a permanent fixture in my soul, and I wouldn't be rid of her now, even if I could."

"So maybe sitting down here isn't the way to go, Erik." Peggy mused.

He frowned at her. "What do you mean?"

The journalist got to her feet with a decisive expression. "The time for waiting in the shadows is over, Erik. Christine will recognise your story when she sees it. Bring it into light." She gave him a hard look. "This is your Opera House, Erik. Use it to send your message. When Christine hears, she will come."

"With the Vicomte." he pointed out bitterly.

Peggy smirked at him. "Erik, when she remembers, she will return to you." She told him, nodding her head at the sheet music open on the organ. "Married or not." She added.

She hugged him once and went after her husband.

...

The libretto took months. He couldn't remember the events around her leaving, so he fabricated his own a century or so before her time.

In the end, only the basic themes and most of the music were what remained of their story. After some debate with himself, he left the names of the leads as they were. He was too tired to pretend the Musical was anything other than it had been intended – a message to his Angel.

He'd sat in the theatre director's office in person to deliver his work. Within a hurried process, the production was underway. He was designing everything, trusting no one not to mar his vision. It was stressful, but he managed.

The choice for Christine Daae and Raoul de Chagny were obvious – Miss Brighton and Mister Peterson were the only real options. For Carlotta, he summoned her real-life counterpart, Miss Charlotte Giordani. He chose an undiscovered ingénue for his own character, someone with enough skill to perform the role and do the character justice.

Once that was done, the rehearsals came quickly. The cast knew that the composer was the Opera Ghost himself, but no one dared to say a word on the matter. Critics and experts murmured at the completely unknown new production at a theatre that was known for conducting only well-established productions. But that merely stirred more interest.

Between dividing his time between rehearsals, coaching Miss Brighton on the more daring cadenzas and designing every component, he rarely had time to sleep. When he did, he was haunted by dreams of his Angel coming to see the production and what followed. Sometimes she was married and refused to leave the Vicomte. Sometimes she left the Fop and began life anew with him. A torturous few times she didn't remember him at all, and left unmoved.

Peggy was his confidant in everything and though she searched diligently, she could find nothing that declared the Vicomte's marriage to anyone, let alone Christine. Erik did not dare to hope too often – the pair was probably taking the time to organise an extravagant ceremony that incorporated the entire European aristocracy, if he knew the de Chagny family at all.

So, Erik kept his mind away from Christine as often as he could.

He had been putting it off for as long as possible, but it had finally become avoidable – he had to make Christine's costumes. He spent as much time as possible perfecting the designs and then choosing the fabrics. Finally, he tried to make the costumes, but he needed a mannequin. He hesitated until costume rehearsals were well underway and Miss Brighton had upped the ante on her complaining from frequent to constant.

He'd planned on a headless figure, but an artistic frenzy had swept him up. When he'd come to his senses, there was Christine standing before him. Her expression was blank, and she didn't move, but otherwise it could have been her. He threw a bag over the dummy's head and set to work making the costumes.

Miss Brighton had stared at it before a recording session, but wisely didn't comment on anything other than the elaborate costume, half-stitched together. However, once Erik had returned with a new microphone, she was staring in morbid fascination at the dummy's uncovered face. "Is this her?" The woman asked curiously, "Is this the real Christine Daae?"

Erik stormed across the lair and yanked the sack back over the dummy's head. He paused with his hands clenched in the rough hessian. "Yes." He breathed eventually. He plugged in the microphone and looked at Miss Brighton expectantly.

She was staring in confusion at the covered figure. "That's very morbid." She remarked warily.

"We don't have all day, Miss Brighton." He spat icily.

But the sad look in Christine's eyes haunted him even after the dummy was put away in the haberdashery. He slept fitfully, plagued by sad brown eyes and Miss Brighton's words. "That's very morbid." When he knew he was awake, he was standing before the dummy, the hessian clenched in his fist.

Christine's heartbroken eyes looked glassily into his own. He lifted it gently into a bridal hold. It was too light to be human but the hinged joints made it flop realistically. He curled the figure into his chest until they reached his throne. He sat her gently and crouched to stare into the beloved face.

It could have been Christine, lost in a haze of his music. He sung his part of their love duet, lifting his hands to almost cup her face, not closing the final distance that would smash the illusion.

"Anywhere you go, let me go too..."

Unable to resist the urge he leaned forward and kissed her. Hard unyielding plastic met his lips and he sobbed, folding over himself. A wave of self-loathing swept over him and he choked. Gagging, he stumbled into his bathroom and hugged the porcelain of his toilet bowl as he tried to expel his non-existent meal.

He couldn't look at it as he stumbled back into the bedroom and curled up in the bed. He felt so disgusted with himself.

He eventually came down from his hysteria, but the dummy still dishevelled his composure. Antoinette was disgusted at him for it, and Greg simply looked at it with a pitying expression. Once again, it came down to Peggy and Cameron to be the only ones who could understand. Its likeness terrified him, especially considering his habit to move the mannequin around when half-asleep and forget about it until he found it in a new place and dared to believe that it was truly Christine for just a few moments.

But his mind quickly became otherwise occupied. Tech Week was drawing to a close and the final dress rehearsal was fast approaching. Miss Brighton was not at the vocal strength to sustain the expected notes in the title song, so he had instructed Greg to include a recording in the sound cues.

The dress rehearsal was in shambles. Miss Giordani's voice failed her at an inopportune time and Mister Peterson tripped over his cloak and knocked down part of the set. The orchestra confused itself and several of the key props were misplaced and badly damaged.

Erik was relieved – the show was going to be pulled off to aplomb. He enjoyed the gala from his box, moved to all the appropriate emotions as dictated by the music, not allowing himself to be otherwise invested in the story. He observed the audience reaction and any glaring mistakes. He wrote a note to the Stage Manager to get these things corrected, and allowed the show to continue.

That being done, he sent tickets to Marie and her two children.



Chapter 6: Without You


"Christine." Her Angel sung, voice breathless and pleading. "Christine..."

"Angel." She gasped back, pulling him closer and feeling the raised and marred flesh of his back. Her eyes rolled up to the starry heavens and she gasped another breath. "I love you." She panted, breath coming shorter and shorter.

She felt his lips on hers and, together, they gasped in ecstasy.

She woke with a desperate cry on her lips, jerking upright and sloshing bathwater all over the marble floor. There were hurried footsteps and a knock on the door. "Mademoiselle? Are you alright?" The worried voice of the housekeeper queried.

"I'm fine, Marie." She replied, panting as she tried to settle her racing heart. "I fell asleep in the bathtub, that's all." She added in explanation, and stared at her wrinkled hands. "Just a dream. That's all." She said to herself, feeling the usual disappointment and sorrow settle in.

When the housekeeper's footsteps retreated, she left the bathroom and prepared to face yet another sleepless night, sat motionlessly by a window – looking out to the place of so many childhood memories.

The childhood mirth Christine had enjoyed at the Townhouse had completely evaporated in her many years' absence. Between then and now, it had become a prison. Gilded though the bars were, a prison it remained.

Raoul held her through-out the hate and pleading, never succumbing to disappointment or mercy. Christine had never seen him so strong. She had never known he was capable of being that man. He was never a boy in her eyes after that.

But the hazes passed, and she was only left with haunting thoughts of what she had never truly had.

Philippe was as spiteful as ever, but that she had come to expect it in her years here. She missed the old Comte and Comtess – Raoul's parents had retired permanently to the Chateaux, leaving the title and responsibility to their eldest son. He made insinuations for many months that he expected her to leave, but Raoul would hear none of it 'while she still needed help'.

Raoul would hear little of anything, to be precise, and as grateful as she was for all his help, sometimes she wished he would just listen to her. He refused to speak of her 'delusion', claiming to his brother later that he was only protecting her from her sickness.

Christine learnt in the first few months of 'care' to sit very still and say very little. This allowed Raoul to get on with her arrangements without unnecessary interruptions. She learnt to miss the boy who found time for her.

When the therapist had pronounced her lucid enough to return to society, Raoul took the opportunity and used it for his own gains. That began the trips upon the town, balls and hunting parties and galas and a thousand other things filled with aristocratic nonsense that had her very nearly imagining tearing her hair out.

Of course, she barely moved these days, so actually tearing her hair out was inconceivable. Naturally, she was believably bright and cordial under any sort of public eye, but when she didn't have to be, she simply wasn't anything.

Days and weeks and months passed, and she seemed to watch it flitting past in fast forward, hardly aware of anything at all. She was contemplating the date at breakfast one morning as she sipped a tea, staring into the open blue sky out the window.

Marie, who had been around since before Christine had come to the townhouse for the very first time, came in with the newspaper and a fresh batch of tea. She set them down beside Raoul and said something is rapid French. They held a brief conversation between them for a moment before Raoul waved her off. " Merci, mademoiselle Leroux."

Christine choked on her drink. Crystal clear, she remembered the two earth-shattering words scribed in an elegant hand above music that echoed in her head but not the in the air – Erik Leroux. She stood, whirling to look at the concerned woman. She could suddenly see the resemblance between them – the green of one of Erik's eyes suddenly so familiar in both of the woman's, the slight upwards curl of the lip, the shape of the eyes.

She forgot how to breathe for a moment, knees buckling as she caught herself on the edge of the table to stop herself from hitting the floor. She knew, without a shred of a doubt, that she was looking at one of Erik's relatives.

Music exploded to life around her and she flinched, sinking into the chair. She became dimly aware of Raoul murmuring questions to her in an attempt at a soothing voice. His distress was obvious in the music, and she gave him a desperate look. A firm expression settled on his face, and the rest of the day was lost in a lethargic haze of sedation.

Trapped in her mind, she heard the strict voices of Raoul and her therapist – reminding her of what she really knew. The 'Phantom of the Opera', her 'Angel of Music' didn't exist. There was no disfigured man living beneath the Populaire Theatre. It was a delusion she had invented for herself to fulfil her father's promise.

She was secure in this knowledge by the time she returned to the world around her.

But it wasn't all fixed. Where there had been silence, there was now inexplicable music. Her delusion explained it perfectly, but she didn't dare to believe it. Nor did she risk telling Raoul or the doctor – she hated the grip of sedatives, and avoided it all she could.

But something was niggling at her subconscious, and she woke in a state one night. Half-muddled with the remnants of her last dose and the twisted dreams, she tore through her chest of drawers until she found a yellowing set of sheet music. There it was, the name she hadn't dared to believe. Her fingers trembled as they touched the elaborate 'E' and she jerked away, fuelled with desperation to know.

She gripped the music to her chest and raced up the stairs, not stopping long enough to pull something over her nightgown. The chilled midnight air raised her skin into gooseflesh, the icy marble of the townhouse freezing any feeling from her toes. Still, she flew up all the stairs until she was knocking rapidly on the door to the attic stairs.

It was answered momentarily by the housekeeper, her face weary and sad.

She looked at Marie, the woman's calm and patient tones soothing alongside her own desperation. "May I speak with you, Marie?" She asked. Without waiting, she sunk into the nearest seat and waited.

The woman came over a few moments later, her wariness in the Music. Christine knew the Housekeeper's English was only average, but she had to know.

"Mademoiselle, is there anything I can get for you?" Marie asked hesitantly, her accent thick.

"Marie...I know this is going to seem very strange and it will probably confuse you, but I need to ask you." She took a deep breath. "Did you...have you..." She exhaled and inhaled again, clenching her nightgown with shaking hands. "Do you have a cousin, or something. A...a man named Erik? With a 'k'?"

Marie inhaled sharply and sunk into the opposite armchair. "Mon dieu." She gasped very softly. She sat very still for a moment, staring off in the distance. The ghost of a tune Christine had only heard only a few times with the Phantom twisted through the air and she waited, wondering. Eventually, Marie looked at her and said very softly: "Mon frère." Christine frowned in confusion, and the Housekeeper clarified: "Erik is my brother."

There was a tense and awkward silence as the information sunk in. "Oh." Christine acknowledged eventually. Her Angel had never spoken of a sister. He had never spoken of his family at all, but to spit at her on their last day: "This face which earned a mother's fear and loathing."

"Mademoiselle. The man living under the theatre was...it was Erik?" Marie asked, her demeanour giving away that she knew it was true.

Christine resisted the compulsion to believe with all her strength. "There is no Phantom of the Opera." She heard her own voice singing. She shook her head desperately and clutched at her hair. The sheet music fell from her lap and Marie picked the papers gingerly. The younger woman clawed at her face, trying to distract herself with the pain. "He can't be real. He left me. He left me alone, with only a name for proof." She shuddered, clutching at her arms. "If he was real, he wouldn't have left me. He loved me. He said so himself."

"Mon dieu." Marie swore again. Christine looked to find her in tears, staring in disbelief at the music in her hands.

"We will speak to the Vicomte together first thing tomorrow." The Housekeeper said eventually. "Don't you see, Mademoiselle?" She whispered hoarsely, "You are not confused. The man Raoul doesn't believe exists is my brother."

Reeling, Christine shook her head, then shivered as the cold permeated her haze. "We mustn't tell Raoul." She whispered desperately. "He'll make me forget!" She clutched the arm littered with track marks from her sedation. "I want to remember."

"What's going on here?" A newcomer's voice demanded. Christine turned terrified eyes to the Vicomte standing too close. "Christine! You should be resting." He said with too much concern, crossing to her side.

She leapt away, backing into a corner. "No!" She screamed, scratching as he tried to touch her. "Raoul, you can't make me!" She yelled, slapping away his hands. "I want to remember!" She sobbed, sliding down the wall as her energy left. "I need to remember!" She sobbed, fighting with her waning strength as her childhood friend took her into his arms. "Erik." She whimpered. "I must remember Erik."

She cried at the familiar prick in the crook of her elbow and surrendered helplessly to the haze.

...

Raoul was not impressed with her relapse. Ashamed, she worked hard to pretend she had all but forgotten her delusion. He stopped giving her the sedatives that had befuddled her for nearly a whole year. The withdrawal was nightmarish, but feeling clear-headed for the first time in too long, she set out to continue living as if she had not been insane for such time.

She never mentioned that the 'Music' had never faded, didn't dare risk the facade she erected for peace's sake.

Raoul, proud of her progress, began to parade Christine around with a new fervour. His intentions were obvious: he wanted them to be married, something he thought his right. He never spoke that idea aloud, but Christine had known him long enough to recognise what she saw.

She was scared, reluctant – this man was not the boy she had known. He was colder, firmer when it came to her silliness. But she let him work, with nothing better for her future than him, what else could she have done?

Before she knew it, years had flown, and Raoul had decided to show her the world. A continental tour began, and her reluctance quietly gave away to romance.

The shock came in Prague. They were seated at a restaurant in their hotel, browsing the menu, when she dropped her cup and got to her feet. She had just heard the Baby Elephant Walk, which could only mean, "Greg Mabry?" She called, turning slowly.

He rose from the table he shared with a tall, blonde-haired woman wearing a suspicious expression.

"Christine Daae!" The Sound Assistant greeted, his grin beaming. "Where on earth have you been?" She laughed away his question. "Here, let me introduce you to my wife." The utter happiness in his expression warmed Christine's heart almost as much as the music did. Christine muttered her apologies to Raoul and went to sit at the table. "Christine, this is Margaret Mabry." He introduced, kissing his wife's hand.

"Peggy." The woman corrected, eyeing her carefully.

The music surrounding the woman was slightly familiar. She restrained the urge to bite her lip until the realization came: "There is something of Antoinette Greer in you." She ventured carefully.

Peggy arched an eyebrow in an identical manner to the woman in question. "I'm her daughter." She turned to Greg with a fierce expression, "Greg. This is her?"

Christine laughed, "What stories has he been telling you?" She teased warmly.

Ignoring Greg's expression, the blonde woman turned a stony expression to Christine. "Nothing. Erik has told me enough."

Her mind reeled, flashing back to images of a sheet of music with a name in elegant script. She resisted the thoughts with all her might – there was no sheet music of that description. When her head was clear, she sat upright and smiled pleasantly at her old friend's wife. "My apologies, Mrs Mabry. I don't know any Eriks."

Raoul was suddenly beside them, requesting an introduction. They spoke of idle things for some time, before Peggy brought up the subject of 'Erik' once more. She ignored Christine's attempts to quell the topic, continuing on stubbornly. Raoul wrapped his arm around Christine's shoulders possessively. "I think that's enough for today." He snapped viciously. "Lotte is in a delicate mental state as it is, she doesn't need you agitating her like that." he added, more gently.

Christine warmed with the fierce protectiveness he displayed, but realised how tired she was. "Look, I would dearly love to speak to you again. Of the Populaire, among other things. Where are you staying?" she asked.

"The honeymoon suite at this hotel." Peggy answered, eyeing a fuming Raoul carefully. "We would like to invite you to brunch tomorrow morning."

"Both of you." Greg added kindly. "The cafe across the road at ten thirty, if you're interested."

"We will let you know." Raoul replied, getting to his feet and helping Christine back to their hotel.

She sunk into the loveseat and tried to calm her nerves. She looked at her concerned companion with a pleading expression. "I don't want to see them again, Raoul. Greg's wife—" She shuddered. "I don't like her. She makes me...some of the things she's saying is too..." She shuddered, trying to find words.

"I will explain the situation." Raoul dismissed flippantly. He paused, coming to sit beside her with a softened expression. "Little Lotte, I promised I would take care of you. I will explain to them that you're too distressed to continue our travelling." he whispered gently.

"Can we go home, Raoul?" she asked quietly. "I need something familiar. Things are too unsettled at the moment."

He pressed a glass of water into her hands, and she realised how parched she was. "I will sort everything out." She realized with quiet relief that there was the usual tonic to help her sleep mixed in the drink. "Get some rest." He told her gently, kissing her forehead and stepping out of the suite.

...

Years seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and before she knew it, she was standing in the Chateaux, staring at the vineyard across the road from a high bay window.

She'd been exiled from the wedding-planner's meeting after her hysterical refusal to have roses at the ceremony. It was a little out of order, she knew – but roses reminded her of the single red rose tied with a black ribbon, and she didn't want to be so distracted at her own wedding.

Six years, she realized with a start. Six years since she had been checked into Bedlam. A curl of yearning music wrapped around her heart and she shivered, dropping her hands to her side. Had he been real, it would be six years since she'd seen her Angel. She heard a quiet whinny and she glanced in surprise at a familiar horse tethered outside the fence. It belonged to a farmer on the edge of the village. What could he possibly be doing here?

She stared at the white clouds flitting over the sky, and wondered where the time had gotten to. Movement caught her eye and she looked to the figure walking down the driveway. She scowled slightly: that man was far too tall to be the farmer.

But his music was familiar and she resisted the source her mind tried to tell her it was. Brimming with curiosity, she drifted down the staircase. She hung back in the hallway of the West Wing, knowing Marie would take any guest there. She tried to listen, but any talk was French – and she only knew bits and pieces, even after all this time. The music told her it was an intense conversation, Marie's apologetic and soothing, the stranger's (too, too familiar) distraught.

As the music built towards a crescendo, she heard the crack of porcelain and her mind flashed back to a shattering white mask. She shook her thoughts of and turned to leave, when she heard a too-familiar voice bellowing in denial.

"Marie?" She couldn't help calling. She found herself at the door. "Is something the matter?" She pushed open the door and looked inside. Standing by the window was the same too-familiar figure. Their music, her and her Angel's, exploded to life and she stared – hardly daring to hope that this was real, that he had come to claim her. She repressed her hopes: her Angel was not a real person. He was a figment. "Marie, what's going on?" She asked, the air feeling too thick.

Christine was barely aware of the Housekeeper's explanation, her eyes straying back to the man she could swear... "Is he alright?" She asked. His posture was tense, hunching over himself with clenched fists.

The stranger spat something in French (she recognised the word 'leave') and she trembled at that voice. His voice. She ignored the Housekeeper's voice as she crossed the room and touched the stranger. She struggled to translate her thoughts with any eloquence. For a moment, he leaned into her touch and the longing music twisted through her and settled in her very core. She breathed in the rich scent of chocolate. Too familiar, too—

He winced away from her and turned in place. She couldn't help but gasp as she met his eyes. Green and silver, filled with such pain and longing. Taking in the rest of his face, she was distressed to see it covered in a flesh-coloured mask. "Have..." She recoiled from her own foolishness, but still she couldn't help but ask. "Have we met?"

He looked pained, but shook his head and began to walk away. He paused a few steps away and his shoulders tensed. "You would remember our meeting." He said in plain English.

She found she couldn't breathe, and continued to watch him as he interacted with the Housekeeper, tossing her one final glance before disappearing from the room.

She crossed to his window and stared at the horse tethered just off the property. Surely, it couldn't have been. He would've... He said they'd never met. It couldn't have been her Angel. He would have acknowledged her if it had. She watched as he walked back up the driveway.

The man paused to look back at the house, and she could've sworn he stared at her for the longest time. Before she gathered the courage to make an acknowledging gesture, the figure had moved with unnatural speed and vaulted on the horse. As soon as he was out of sight, the trance-like distraction cleared.

"Marie!" she gasped desperately, turning to the woman. "Marie!"

The Housekeeper hurried over. "Mademoiselle? What is the matter?" she pressed, worried.

"Who—" she panted to catch her breath, standing still with one hand against the railing. "Who was that man?" she asked desperately.

Marie gave her a painful look. "I think you know that for yourself, Christine." She answered softly.

The younger woman gasped and sunk, trembling into the nearest seat. "No." She said almost to herself, hating the tears in her eyes. She shook her head and looked up with pleading eyes to the Housekeeper. "It couldn't have been Erik."

The older woman sighed and turned away, closing her eyes tiredly. "If Mademoiselle says so."

"Your brother?" Christine whispered, "My..." her voice cracked, "I mean – your brother Erik Leroux?"

"Oui." Marie replied slightly. "Your An—"

"Marie." Christine interrupted, flinching. "He said so – we have never met." She said pointedly. "He cannot be 'my' anything."

The housekeeper sighed in frustration. "Very well, Mademoiselle." The music was resigned and bitter, but the woman said nothing.

She was almost at the door when Christine called her name. "Don't tell Raoul." She requested softly. "He does not need to know."

"Of course, Mademoiselle. Is there anything else?" Marie asked softly.

"No. No." Christine's eyes locked on the shards of what had once been a tea-cup. "You may continue your duties in preparation of the transfer back to the Townhouse."

...

Christine couldn't sleep. The night ached with music, haunted and sad. She sat by the window staring out at the twinkling stars.

Her mind was confused, tormented. For some reason, her mind had painted a real person as her Angel of Music. One she had never met before. It was riddled with confusion and she had been trying for months to figure it out.

Autumn leaves flitted past the window, caught up in the blistering wind. Her skin rose in sympathy and she stood, wrapping a warm house-coat around her nightgown.

After a moment's thought, she slipped her feet into a pair of sandals and left the room. She followed the haunted music out of the house, through the hedges until she reached the smaller house at the back of the estate.

"That's where the monster lives." Raoul had once whispered. Christine's father had put an end to that thought – that's where the old Housekeeper and her family had once lived. Marie had lived in the attic suite until the arrival of her twin daughters a few years ago.

She had moved her little family into the Monster's House. Christine had asked whether it was an appropriate place for children to grow up in. Marie had assured the young woman: "It's quite alright, Mademoiselle. That's where I was raised." And if Marie lived there...

She followed the music to the cellar door and paused, a hand on the latch. The acute pain in the music hurt just standing here...did she really want to see?

"Erik stayed down there." Marie's soft voice said behind her. "You shouldn't."

"I think I need to know." Christine admitted softly, no longer trying to resist the places her mind wanted to take her.

"It's not a happy story." The Housekeeper explained quietly. "Don't look." She pleaded, "If you need to know, I can tell you."

"Do you swear to tell me of his childhood?" Christine asked.

"Yes." Marie breathed.

Christine had the door open and was halfway down the stairs before Marie had cried out in horror.

She understood Erik's spacious and lavishly decorated underground lair. If she'd lived in this, she would have done the same. The room was crowded with crates and sheet-covered furniture, coated in decades' worth of dust. It was freezing, but tucked away in a cranny beside a long-dead furnace was a nest of stained sheets and a single lumpy pillow. Pinned to the wall were fourteen masks, ascending in size.

"A mask, my first unfeeling scrap of clothing..." He'd once sung.

"Tell me." Christine whispered.

"Our mother was married to my father." Marie began slowly. Christine sunk onto a crate, hardly daring to breathe so she could hear the words. "Before Erik was born, Mother could be...cold, sometimes. But she was kind to me. I don't know who Erik's father was, but my father was away for a year before she fell pregnant.

"He was born...how he looked. Mother was frightened and...sick, sick to see the face of her baby. I...when we were growing up, I didn't know there was anything wrong about how we treated him. He never knew a kind word. He was not allowed out of this room without a mask. If he did anything that displeased Mother, Papa would beat him. Punches and belts."

Christine sobbed, covering her mouth with a hand. She could remember the fading traces of scars on his back, the feel of them against her fingertips. She hadn't asked, hadn't wanted to bring up painful memories by demanding an explanation.

"I eventually learned how cruel we were being. I tried to be kinder, but Mother and Papa made it clear that I was to leave if I was going to go against their way of life. I only came back twice after I left. The first, I gave him his first birthday gift: a pennywhistle. Mother burnt it, sure he had stolen it from somewhere.

"The second time, I took him away from her. He was so scared of the outside world, but Mother was going to report him missing with the police. I had to get him out of France. I took him to the seaside, found him a ferry across the channel. I never heard from him again." Marie paused, wringing her hands nervously. "Papa had run away with a young maid a few months earlier, and Mother was arrested after trying to burn down the chateaux. I took over her job. Almost a year after that, you and your parents arrived."

Christine shivered, pulling her dressing gown closer. It was so strange to know their path could so nearly have crossed long before they had. Would she have thought him a monster? Her father would have discovered his connection to the Music, surely. But would he have been her Angel? Would they be married now? Would they have had a family? Swallowing her pain, she stood slowly.

She squared her shoulders, throwing off her thoughts. She had never met Erik – he had never been her Angel. As Marie had said, he was a year gone before she had first come to the townhouse. Their story at the Populaire had never occurred.

"Thank you, Marie. I will return to my room now." She announced, before taking her leave. She didn't sleep for days, haunted by the image of a masked child curled, frightened and beaten on the nest of sheets.

...

Marie, Celeste and little Ellie returned from their trip overseas in excellent spirits. As Marie had explained, they had been very well-treated, and Ellie had been quite spoilt by the experience. Celeste, a sober four-year-old, merely explained in broken English that their Uncle's show had been brilliant, the hospitality at the hotel fit for a king.

Christine did not realise the 'uncle' comment until some time later, and not on her own. Celeste was polishing silverware at the kitchen table while Christine nibbled tastelessly at a cheese platter. The girl's humming was lost among the other music, and Christine did not take notice until she was taking her plate to the sink and Celeste began to sing.

The plate shattered against the marble. Gasping, Christine whirled to the girl with furious eyes. "Where did you hear that song?" she demanded, gripping the girl's shoulders in her fists.

"It's the song 'All I Ask of You' from Uncle's musical!" the little girl answered, wary. "Please, Mademoiselle! You're hurting me!"

Christine tried to gasp in air, her head spinning wildly. Celeste struggled away, frightened and Christine's apologies fell breathless in the air. Her uncle's musical stole the song she had imagined between and her Angel?

Uncle! Marie only had one brother!

She trembled, scared. Her Angel had written a musical, a musical that included their love song! Oh, it was confusing. It couldn't be! It hadn't been real!

"Your face, Christine, it's white!" the little girl sang, astonished, creeping closer hesitantly.

Christine sunk to the floor, trembling still. "Celeste, mon petite, tell me about your Uncle's musical?" she requested breathlessly.

The child jumped to the challenge eagerly. "It was beautiful, Mademoiselle! The music was amazing, and the singers so good! There was a girl in the story with your name! And the Vicomte's!" she replied eagerly.

Christine closed her eyes against the pain. Denied what her mind was claiming. "Please, Celeste, what was it called?" She begged, distressed.

"It was: 'The Phantom of the Opera'." Stormy organ notes accompanied the title and Christine had to concentrate on breathing for a long while. When her head finally cleared, Marie was helping her to her feet.

Christine struggled away, but Marie held firm. "Mademoiselle, please. You're not well."

"I must buy a ticket to see 'The Phantom of the Opera' at the Populaire Theatre. It's very important." Christine answered, almost trance-like in her determination. She had to go, had to understand.

"Yes, Mademoiselle, if you'd like, but..." Marie paused. "How did you know where it was?"

Christine gave her a hopeless look. "It couldn't be anywhere else." She whispered breathlessly.

Marie met the gaze with a heavy expression. "You'll go tonight. I will inform the Vicomte of your imminent departure."



Chapter 7: Till I Hear You Sing


"Lotte, this is utter nonsense!" Raoul snapped, bursting into her room. She didn't answer, continuing to fold her clothes into the suitcase. "You can't just go to London by yourself!"

She stared at him, at a loss. "Raoul, listen, please – I need to." She sighed and sat on the bed. "From what I can tell, this musical – it's succinct with my delusion. If I go to see it, it might explain where all these ideas came from." She explained softly. "I need to go."

He sighed. "Well obviously." He remarked bitterly. He pulled the door open, "Marie! Have someone pack me a suitcase!" he called, before closing again. He arched an eyebrow at Christine's relieved expression. "What? You didn't think I was going to force you to go alone, did you?" He asked warmly, wrapping an arm around her waist.

She buried her face in his chest. "Thank you, Raoul."

He chuckled, and pulled back to look at her. "We have the penthouse at the Grand booked for five nights, and two tickets to Heathrow in three hours. Mister Timmins is currently on the phone organizing a box at the Populaire for tomorrow night." He gave a gently smile, standing and retaking her hands. "I swore to take care of you, Lotte. And I shall." He kissed her cheek. "The car will be waiting out the front. I will see you downstairs."

She sat weakly back on the bed, lacing her fingers in her lap. She listened to Raoul issue instructions to Marie in rapid French as she stared out at the well-tended gardens.

She was grateful for Raoul's company. He would keep her grounded – without him she would be too tempted to give in to the explanation her sickened mind wanted to give her. With him, she could focus on the logical conclusion: she had met Erik Leroux briefly during her stay at the Opera Populaire, and she must've seen a draft of his musical. Her mind would have twisted the story to come up with its own solution to her father's unfulfilled promise, breeding her delusions.

Seeing the musical would explain the things she couldn't, and then she would be able to finally answer the holes in her own logic. This musical would end everything, she was sure of it.

"We have box five booked for the show tomorrow night." Raoul announced, re-entering the room. "Lotte, are you alright?"

"I'm fine, darling." She answered, giving him a weak smile. His news sunk in, and her heart raced. "Box five?" Christine echoed, mind reeling. It was his box – their box!

"It would be too stressful for you to sit with the rest of the crowd, Christine. Besides, it's right up the front. 'A prime viewing position'." Raoul quoted calmly. He pushed a lock of his hair aside and stood. "The car will be here soon. Two minutes, Little Lotte."

As soon as the door was shut, she stood and fisted her trembling hands. She was anxious, trembling, her stomach in knots. She took one deep breath and turned to the mirror, watching her reflection in terror.

Yes, this musical would end everything. It had to – she couldn't live like this any longer.

...

"Are you coming to the show tonight, Erik?" Cameron asked eagerly, tugging at his collar.

The Phantom shook his head. "There were other seats sold in my box tonight. I am in no mood to have them intruding on my enjoyment. I will meet you after the show." He said gently.

"I like the dress." Cameron remarked eagerly, staring at the mannequin standing beside the throne.

"Miss Brighton will be attending an important dinner about the move to Broadway in two weeks and she needs to be at her best." He answered distractedly.

"It's a pretty blue." The boy added.

"Precisely why I chose it." Erik snapped impatiently. "Cameron, put the mannequin away and I'll walk you to the lobby." He commanded, scrawling his signature on an important contract. "And don't leave it lying around for me to find this time! Away in the haberdashery, please."

"What was that last part, Erik?" Cameron asked, springing up beside his elbow.

"Never mind, I'll look for it later." Erik dismissed tiredly, putting the contract away into an envelope. "Come, it's almost time for the curtain."

...

"Everything will be fine, Christine." Raoul said gently, lacing their fingers.

Christine's heart raced and her breath caught as she heard the familiar Angel of Music lullaby curling through the air. She gripped Raoul's hand impossibly tighter in her own and turned to look at the door as the music grew closer. It began to fade and the door opened, submitting the form of a young boy. She started in surprise – he could hardly be older than four!

"Where are your parents?" She asked, shocked.

"Mum and Dad are going to dinner together. My godfather said I was allowed to see the show." The boy answered shyly.

"Isn't he accompanying you?" She asked, horrified.

At the same time, Raoul demanded: "Shouldn't you be going to your seat?"

"This box is always let to theatre workers and their kids." The boy answered matter-of-factly. He looked at Christine and smiled. "My dad showed me the way around the theatre. I'm allowed to be here by myself as long as I don't leave the box alone."

She nodded, privately worried. He was so young! "Come sit by me, then." She offered softly, gesturing to the seat beside her. "Are you here often?" She asked quietly.

The boy began towards her eagerly, ignoring Raoul completely. "My dad is here all the time and my godfather—" He stopped in his tracks, staring slack-jawed at the woman. He gasped slightly and stepped closer, climbing up on the seat so he could put a hand on her cheek in awe. "You're her!"

Christine blinked in surprise, the boy's hand cold against her cheek. "I beg your pardon?" She whispered softly. From up close, he looked so familiar. But she couldn't place him, didn't know why his features were recognisable.

"You're her! Christine!" he exclaimed excitedly. "I can't believe it's you! You've finally come! Oh, Dad knew you would!"

"What?" She breathed, hardly daring to move. "What do you mean?"

"Lotte, what..." Raoul trailed off as a voice announced the beginning of the show.

"Quiet now." The boy announced conspiringly. "The show is about to begin!"

Christine stopped breathing as the lights began to dim. This was it.

...

Raoul glanced sideways at Christine to see her reaction. She was staring horrified at the stage, where their characters sung a powerful love song. Her fists were clenched furiously on the arm-rests and she sobbed words into the darkness: "How could he?"

He leant over to ask her what was wrong, when the strange boy's pale hand touched her hand.

Christine was torn, her own mind turning against her. She had tried to resist, tried to objectify herself from the story. But it was truth, re-set in a new place. It was their story, but...

How could he? Not only had he given away their love song, he'd given in to Raoul! Oh, and she'd never hated herself so much as she did, watching the perfect Miss Brighton parade on stage. Was she really so self-absorbed?

She started when she felt a hand on hers and glanced to the side to see somehow familiar grey eyes staring up at her. "Let him explain, Miss Daae." The boy whispered gently.

She raised her eyebrows slightly, and gave a reluctant smile, before returning to her attention to the stage. Oh, her Angel would explain himself. She was going to make sure he did.

She held desperately onto the edge of her seat as the magnificent chandelier crashed towards the stage. Eyes glued to the frozen figure of Miss Brighton, silently chanting: "Crush her! Crush her!" She was almost disappointed at the heroic save of one Vicomte de Chagny and watched the curtain fall on the intermission.

"Christine, are you alright?" Raoul whispered, touching her hand.

She winced and shook her head, closing her eyes in hopes of shutting things out. "Raoul...every note. Every word is... I know it. I've seen it all before." She looked at him desperately, willing him to make sense of the situation. "Raoul, this is our story." She told him, choked. "Mine and the Phantom's." She clarified at his bewildered expression.

"You need to calm down, Christine. I knew this was a bad idea." He kissed her hand gently. "We should leave."

"No!" She protested, shocked at her own vehemence. "I need to see the end of this. Please?" She begged, clutching his hand in both of hers.

He nodded reluctantly, and sat back. Too soon, the lights began to dim, and Christine lost her breath as the entr'acte drew her back into the story of her delusion.

...

Both Raoul and the boy were watching her expectantly as the show drew to its conclusion. Tears were drying on her face, but she ignored them. "Is that what he thinks happened?" She whispered.

The curtain rose to submit the cast for their bows, and the moment Raoul's attention was diverted, she raced out of the box. He cried in protest after her, but it was drowned by the applause. She raced downwards, following the music as much as her memories from the days she worked here.

"Miss! You can't go back there!" a stagehand protested. She slowed down and he gasped at her. "Miss de Night? I almost didn't recognise you! Go on through." He insisted, opening the stage door.

She smiled, but let it fall as soon as she was out of sight. She ran past a group of the chorus, one who called out: "In a hurry, Sienna?"

She didn't stop until she ran into a shadowy figure. The flash of a white mask sent a jolt through her and the music, but realised it was just the actor who had played the Phantom.

His eyes widened. "You...you're her." He breathed, shocked. "You're the Christine this musical is written about."

"Yes, I am." She answered breathlessly. "Look, another time, please? I have somewhere to go."

"Run." He commanded weakly, standing aside. She obeyed.

Her old suite was mercifully unlocked, and she stood trembling against the door for a moment. A light bulb was blown over by the vanity, but other than a year's worth of dust it was otherwise exactly as she last remembered it. Numbly, she crossed to the thick, now dusty, pink curtain and pushed it to the side. The half-silvered glass lay underneath, a spider-web of cracks distorting her reflection. She laid her hand against the mirror, careful not to let her fingers touch the sharp fissures. The vivid memory of punching the glass flashed over her vision as she saw the damage she had caused. Very faint scars littered her fingers and knuckles, only noticeable if you tried really hard to look for them. But it hadn't helped. The mirror had remained firmly closed. Taking a shuddering breath, she pushed firmly on the glass, gasping at the hiss that meant the mechanism was working.

She slid the glass aside with a screech and disappeared into the darkness, tracing the path that was spelt into her memory like her own name.

...

"Christine is beautiful, isn't she?" Cameron asked sleepy, laying his head on Erik's shoulder.

Erik smiled. "Yes." He answered calmly. "She is a very beautiful woman." He agreed.

"Beautiful." Cameron mumbled as he drifted off to sleep. "But sad...and very still."

Erik frowned in confusion, but mentally shrugged at the oddities that came from the mind of a four-year-old. Peggy opened the front door as they came up the path and he smiled tiredly, handing over the precious cargo.

"How was the show?" she whispered, balancing her son on her hip.

"I didn't watch." He answered. "My box was sold. Cameron seemed to enjoy it – he was going on and on about Christine and Raoul the whole walk home. He only dropped off a moment ago."

Peggy looked at him sadly. "You look tired, Erik. Why don't you stay here tonight?" she suggested.

"Thank you for the offer, Peggy, but I must decline. There is work to be done." He answered. He bowed at the waist and turned to leave.

"I'm sure she'll come, Erik." She called after him.

He turned and gave her a weak smile. "So you say, Peggy, 'as soon as she hears of it'. I will see you again soon." He promised, before letting the night swallow him.

He arrived back at the Populaire, just as Miss Brighton and Mister Clayton were leaving. They glanced at him, and the young man whispered something inaudible. Miss Brighton gasped, but Erik merely acknowledged them with a nod before ducking into a passageway.

He entered the lair and froze, staring at his throne in shock. Was that...?

He scowled, turning away. Damn the boy, sometimes – he had to leave the mannequin around where he could see it and get his hopes up!

He glanced back at the dummy and clenched his fists. That dress would need to be redone. It looked to similar to one of Christine's favoured designer's. It looked more like her than ever. He growled furiously, shoving a candelabrum over. His fury reflected in the music as a heavy bass-line and chords. "Damned mannequin!" he shouted.

He shouted and his fury gave way to plaintive piano. "My Christine," he crooned, "my Christine. Lost and gone..." He stood the stand back up and gripped it tightly. "Lost and gone..."

Christine was confused, but kept her face blank as the piano music drifted out. Did...did he really think she was a mannequin? Her breath caught as his heavenly voice pierced the air and her chest.

"The day starts, the day ends," he sung, slowly lowering his arms from the candelabrum, "time crawls by. Night steals in," he turned slowly towards the rest of the lair, eyes avoiding where she sat, "pacing the floor."

She followed his weary progress with her eyes until he stood with his back to her, looking out at the lake. "The moments creep, yet I can't bear to sleep..." His head bowed slightly, and he wrapped his arms around his torso, "... 'till I hear you sing..."

He walked further along the bank, giving her the view of his yearning profile. "And weeks pass and months pass, seasons fly." He sung. "Still you don't walk through the door." His arms fell limply back to his side and he glared at the organ. " And in a haze, I count the silent days 'till I you sing, once more..."

The music swelled higher and he turned and strode back past her to the candelabrum. "And sometimes at night time, I dream that you are there!" he sung desperately. But his next words were softer and sad as he gripped his torso again. "But wake holding nothing but the empty air..."

He turned to stare wistfully out at the lake, giving her a clear view of the tear rolling down his cheek. " And years come, and years go...time runs dry." He gripped his ribcage almost painfully hard. "Still I ache down to the core!" he sung furiously.

He lowered his arms. "My broken soul can't be alive and whole, 'till I hear you sing, once more."

He turned suddenly towards her, eyes boring into her face as he strode fiercely towards her. "And music – your music! – it teases at my ear!" Before he could get too close, he turned away, clutching his head. "I turn and it fades away..."

He walked back to the lake, yelling at the caverns beyond the portcullis. "...and you're not here!" He continued yelling to her, or so he thought. "Let hopes pass! Let dreams pass! Let them die!"

His shoulders slumped slightly, his anger disappearing. "Without you what are they for?" He sung brokenly. He glanced at her over his shoulder. " I'll always feel no more than half-way real!" He turned to face her fully. "'Till I hear you sing!" Hurt in his eyes, he whirled back to face the lake. "Once more!" he sung, slowly lifting his arms until he stood like a crucifixion.

As the last notes faded, she found her voice: "This cannot be happening."

...

Had he gone mad?

Erik's breath was tight. He lowered his arms slowly. It couldn't be...unless it was? He closed his eyes, trying to decipher the truth in the music. He didn't know it, but it reminded him painfully of his Angel.

Beyond the music came a rustle of silken fabric and soft-soled footsteps.

Dare he hope? Dare he believe it only to turn and find it false? A desperate frown creased his forehead and he clenched his fists, bowing his shoulders under the weight of his indecision.

"Have I gone mad?" he breathed hopelessly.

He felt a soft weight on his arm and smelt a waft of vanilla – Christine's characteristic scent. "No more than I have." She answered cryptically.

"Oh Christine..." he sung. He opened his eyes, turning to face her for the first time in seven long years. "My Christine?" he whispered awed.

"Erik?" she whispered, hesitant.

It was the sound of his name falling from those beloved lips that broke him. Sobbing, he reached out and joined their trembling lips.

Their music exploded to life, with the memories of their night together so many years ago.

She returned the kiss for a moment, before she jerked away from him. She stared at him, fearful. Slowly, she lifted a hand to her trembling lips. Launching forward, she gripped his face and drew him into a fierce kiss.

She tore away from him and he cried out in despair, voice lost in the music. She looked at him, looking terrified. She lifted a trembling hand, ghosting over the edge of his mask. Then, her hand jerked back in preparation and he caught her wrist before the slap could land on his face. Both of their gazes locked on the diamond engagement ring on the appropriate finger.

She backed away, her face horrified and filled with self-loathing. He stepped towards her and she tore her wrist from his grasp, racing across the lair and putting a candelabrum between them. He clenched his still-raised hand into a fist and lowered it slowly. "Why did you come?" He growled out, frustrated. She was obviously still engaged to the damned Fop! Why would she come simply to torment him?

"I don't know." She answered, almost too soft to be heard. She clutched her skirt in her hands, the ridiculously-sized diamond flashing in the candle-light. "I should have known it wasn't real. I should have known it all along." She sung weakly. He balked in confusion – wasn't real? She couldn't...

Did she still believe he didn't exist? He stepped towards her and she fled towards the entrance she had frequented so long ago. " You know the truth within your heart – you know your thoughts cannot be wrong." He sung back gingerly.

"Oh, how I wish that could be true." She gasped and turned away from him. "My mind's the one thing I can't trust."

His pity extended to her confusion, but he knew he had to push her – had to force her past her own denial. "Oh, Christine. My Christine..."

She held up a finger to shush him and turned away. "Every memory was within that show!"

He shook his head and stepped closer. "My Christine! Come, mon ange, you know that's not so!" She shook her head and backed away. " Come, Christine! There's something that I left out!" He reached her side and gripped her head firmly between her hands to stop her shaking it with her denial. "Of which, I'm sure you've no doubt!" She tensed and he stepped away. "Remember what night..." He pleaded.

She turned away, closing her eyes. "You left out our night." She whispered, hardly daring to speak the words aloud.

"Once, there was a night – one night, just you and I." He sung insistently. She trembled as she walked towards the lake." We met upon our roof..."

She joined her heavenly voice with his, and they reminisced together: "And watched the midnight sky."

She trembled and clutched her arms. "I'd come up alone, to breathe the freezing air."

"I hid to shield my face." He remembered, touching his mask self-consciously. He'd been without it, that night – but she hadn't tried to see what he wanted to remain hidden.

She lowered her arms slowly. "I knew that you were there." With her eyes closed, she remembered every detail she could. She raised a hand, like she'd done so many years ago. "And I touched you." Her hand flinched and she snapped her eyes open.

"And I felt you." He encouraged, stepping closer towards her. She was remembering! He knew that she would!

She turned to look at him as their voices entwined again. "And I heard those ravishing refrains."

"The music of your pulse." Christine sung, a frown growing.

"The singing in your veins." He agreed soothingly. "And I held you..." He prodded.

"And I touched you." She echoed, reaching towards him with trembling hands.

"And embraced you." He added hesitantly, stepping towards her and reaching back.

"And I felt you." She sung, jerking her hands back away before their skin could touch.

They sung, together: "And with every breath and every sigh..."

"I felt no longer scared." He admitted quietly. How he had feared himself before then – of carnal desires that he daren't express.

But not on that night. Christine had been as bold as she dared. "I felt no longer shy." She sung hesitantly.

Their gaze met for the first time since she had tried to slap him, and their voices joined. "All our desires bared, one night – just you and I."

"You offered the world," she remembered, tilting her neck as she studied him, "I only wanted you." She smiled faintly as she allowed herself to trust the rest. "Though scared and unprepared, you knew just what to do."

He blushed hotly as he remembered. "And then, unashamed, with just my face to hide." He ghosted a hand over her face, lingering by her neck. " No worse than any man, I tried to make you mine." She gasped, eyes falling closed. He rested his fingers against the artery in her neck and sung: "And I kissed you!"

Her own hand rose to trail down his waistcoat. "...and caressed you." She returned, her voice laced with desire only he had known.

Desire he would only ever feel for her. "And the world around us fell away." Their voices blended, in as perfect harmony as their desires were on that night. "We shared things in the dark, I never thought I'd say."

She trembled and tried to pull away, just like she'd done then. In perfect mimickry, he grabbed her and pulled her back to face him. " And I caught you!" He reminded her.

"And I kissed you!" She returned passionately.

She had been willing, pliant – he'd laid her out on his cloak and... "And I took you!"

"And I begged you!" She sung, gripping at his arms in desperation.

"With a need too urgent to deny." They sung together, and her hands clutched tighter against his arms. "And nothing mattered then, except for you and I!" Too tight, too desperate. Hysterical. He cupped her face as fiercely as he dared. "Again and then again." The mood grew sombre, and she released him to pull away. "One night." They sung hesitantly. " Just you and I."

She shuddered and shook her head violently. "But that never happened!" She spat, her voice filled with self-loathing. "None of it ever happened. Because you're not real!" She screeched, heading towards the exit.

"Christine!" He yelled, grabbing her arm. "This is real. I am real." He insisted. He ran his fingers up and down her bare arm. "You can feel me, Christine. I am here. You know it. You've always known it." He whispered into her ear.

"No!" She shouted, breaking away. The jerk of his clinging hands tripped her to the ground and she clenched the granite with clawed fists. "It can't be real. Because if it's real, then you left me! And you can't have left me!" She sobbed, collapsing onto the floor. "My Angel would never have left me."

"Christine..." He sighed, feeling his heart break once again in his chest. "I..."

"No, not you." She snapped back angrily. He knelt at her side and she tensed, holding herself away. "The Erik I knew swore to me one love, one lifetime. He said he loved me, and if he loved me he wouldn't have left me standing knee-deep in a sodding lake!" She sat up fiercely and glowered at him with all the hatred she had ever known. "If you're him, then explain that!"

When the intense strains of her anger gave away, the music took his answer from him in the softest of sotto voices. "Once you'd made your choice..." He closed his eyes and shook his head. " I'd caused you too much strife. I hated what I'd done: I'd tried to steal your life." He went to touch her arm, but paused just before their skin touched. "I wanted you safe, but knew what it would take." He clenched his fist and pulled away. "Said what I'd never said..." He hung his head in shame, digging his own nails into his hand. "And left you by the lake."

Quicker than he'd known to prepare for, she whirled on him and pushed him onto the floor. Glaring with a tear-stained face. "And I loved you! But you left me!" She clenched his jacket in her hands and hoisted him up from the ground. " I'd have followed anywhere you led!" She dropped him and turned back away. "I turned to swear my love, and found you gone instead !"

He sat up, reaching for her. "And I loved you!" He sung, desperate for her to know.

She jerked away from his touch. "Yes I loved you!" She sung hysterically.

"And I left you!" He spat, filled with self-loathing.

"How I loved you!" She echoed, clutching at her hair.

"And I had to, both of us knew why!" He continued, pulling her back towards him.

"I don't know why!" She protested, trying to struggle away from him.

She gave up soon enough, and they sung together, with all the desperation of their years of separation: " And yet I can't regret, from now until I die, the night I won't forget. One night, just you and I."

When the music settled and their breathing had aligned to a much gentler rhythm, Christine seemed to remember her situation and stood, straightening the expensive fabrics of her dress. He stood with all the dignity he could muster, and sung quietly: "And now?"

She looked at him, her face painted in disbelief. "How can you talk of now?" She demanded. "For us..." She clutched her hands and looked at the obscene diamond on her ring finger. "There is no now." She said, her voice aching with disappointment.

Their moment was interrupted by the approaching sounds of Peggy Mabry. Christine gave him a sorrowful look and touched his arm. "I'm getting married in three weeks, Erik." She whispered softly. Her face fell in disappointment and she removed her hand and shook her head. "It's too late."

In the few bars before Peggy arrived, Christine transformed from the woman Raoul had known and hoped for into the future Vicomtess – posture perfect, a snapshot of regallity, but far too still. It was the sight Peggy entered to, and the woman's disgust was obvious. "You."

Christine inclined her head and smiled a soft smile that gave no reason to believe it was anything but genuine. "Good evening, Mrs Mabry." She greeted in a soft, almost breathless voice. The sort of voice to be used to pass the aristocratic secrets to other ears of title and breeding, but quiet and subservient so easily ignored if that was ones desire.

Erik loathed it the moment he heard it.

Peggy seemed surprised, but ploughed on: "Would you mind if I spoke to Erik alone?" She asked.

"Oh, don't trouble yourself." Christine answered, in that same voice. "I was just leaving." She offered one last look at Erik, and he saw the pain and self-loathing her her eyes beyond the soft and apologetic face. With a deep, nearly imperceptible breath, she left the lair in a gliding walk that barely stirred the air as she passed.

Erik, despite the loathing this new side of Christine filled him with, could not look away until she disappeared from view in the labyrinthine tunnel back to the world above.

"Erik. Are you—"" Peggy began.

"Leave it." He snapped coldly. He turned his back on the passageway and clenched his fists as he took in the offensive candelabrum from his little breakdown earlier. That his Angel had seen that and remained unmoved... "Please, just leave it." He begged, closing his eyes and letting the tears fall.



Chapter 8: Explanations


Christine hardly knew her own feelings as she stood in the elevator, heading up to the Penthouse suite. The events of the evening weren't shrouded in a romantic haze like her memories from the time before – they were stark and painful and too much like her real life to be part of her twisted delusion. The Phantom of the Opera, her Angel of Music, had been real all along. He was a real man named Erik Leroux who had composed a musical of their music, for her.

But that meant that all those years of anguish and mental torment... had all been for nothing?

She opened the door to the penthouse and closed it as quietly as she could, leaning against the polished oak for just a moment to gather her wits. When she at last turned back around, Raoul had stormed scowling into the room. "Where the hell have you been?" he demanded.

She met his glare helplessly. "I have been with Erik. You should have known that." She answered.

"The composer of that damnable musical?" He demanded, outraged. "I've never met the man and you—"

"Please, Raoul." She interrupted softly. He cut off instantly, watching her with concern. "I'm not even sure I understand what's going on. Sit down. I'm going to change, and then we can talk about things."

Raoul's scowl deepened, but sat in the arm-chair with a patient expression. Christine shivered at his calm acceptance, but was grateful. She disappeared into her suite. All of her things were away where she liked them. The clothes in the armoire, her nightwear folded on the pillow, her toiletries laid out on the vanity as she liked them.

She dressed in her nightwear, wrapping herself in her warmest dressing gown, and returned to the communal living room.

He was staring at her as she came back in, face still painted with concern. She sat, and he immediately launched into a patronizing lecture: "How irresponsible can you possibly be, Lotte? Can you imagine how much worry you put me through? You left that box without a single word as to your intentions. You come back hours later with only the explanation that you were with a man I've never met, who's obviously completely obsessed with you." His voice was soft, rational. Christine almost wished he'd been screaming.

She gave him a pleading look. "Raoul, please." She begged.

"I want an explanation, Lotte. Can you at least give me that?" He asked.

She sighed and shivered. "I'm not insane." She began, the words a relief even to herself. Raoul frowned slightly, but did not interrupt. "Seven years ago, when I came to the Populaire Theatre, I quickly drew the attentions of a man living five floors below the theatre. He called himself the Opera Ghost, and he acted like a co-ordinator of sorts."

"Lotte..."

"Not that he did it in a conventional way." She added, a soft smile settling on her lips as she remembered. "He used letters. Threatened and bullied them into getting his way, if they still didn't do what he commanded he'd play tricks. Falling sandbags, dropping lights, misplacing props."

"Lotte, listen to me. You're just explaining the musical." Raoul interrupted, taking her hands.

She flinched and removed her hands. "Raoul, I'm trying to explain." She answered desperately.

"I knew this was a bad idea." He groaned, standing up and beginning to pace. "I knew it could only encourage a relapse. Listen, we'll go back to Chagny for a couple of weeks. We can get Doctor Blackman to put you back on the therapies, so you can be all better in time for the wedding."

"Raoul, please." She gasped, standing up and grabbing his arm. "Listen to me! I'm not mad, and if you would just let me explain!" He began to walk away, removing her arm and she swept it over the dining table, dislodging the crystal fruit-bowl and wincing slightly at the shatter. He turned around to face her, eyes aflame with fury. She gasped and backed away, hands in the air. "I shouldn't have done that." She admitted, softly.

"This is you trying to convince me you're mentally stable?" He asked in disbelief.

"It got your attention." She dismissed lightly. "What do I need to give you as proof?" She asked hopelessly, watching him imploringly. "You must have seen him. He was raised at your Townhouse." As he turned away, she continued: "He would've been about ten years older than you, always wearing a mask?"

Raoul spat something in French, a word she'd known from childhood as 'The Monster'. She gasped a breath, remembering the tale he'd once told of The Monster's true face. How the gallant boy Raoul had been described with detail how he'd tried to remove the ugly mask, but the creature had become bloodied and fled into his cave.

"You knew Erik is a child." Christine breathed in disbelief. "You knew from the very beginning that the disfigured man under the Opera House was a very real possibility. You knew it was true the moment you saw his name written on the sheet music."

Raoul whirled back around to face her. "So? What if I did?" He demanded coldly.

"You've lied to me for years." She snapped coldly. "And not only that, as a child, you abused him!"

"I was a child. He frightened me. I don't need to defend myself for that." he answered coldly.

"You were proud of the fact you had vanquished a monster!" Bile rising in her throat, she turned away. "You nearly tore his face off."

"It would have been an improvement." He spat sourly.

Christine moved faster than she had dared before Raoul in years. He was completely unprepared for the ringing slap she dealt upon his face, the metal band of their engagement ring tearing his lip slightly as it followed through. "I don't know you any more, Raoul." She sobbed hysterically. She worked the ring off her numbing hand and tossed it on the polished floorboards.

With nothing left to say, she prepared to flee. She froze with one hand on the door as Raoul called to her: "Don't you dare walk out that door, Christine!"

She paused, glanced once back at him, and left the door swinging behind her.

...

Erik sighed deeply, glaring at his hands. He hadn't known how to explain what had happened to Peggy, so he hadn't. But the woman wouldn't let up – instead, she'd dragged a tired Greg and hyperactive Cameron down to his lair in attempt to break his spirit.

The couple had disappeared into the kitchen to chat and make tea, leaving godfather and son alone in the main cavern. The boy was colouring in with the usual determination.

"I don't think Christine liked seeing the show very much." Cameron mumbled through a mouthful of pencils, completely oblivious. "Her music sounded very sore tonight."

Erik looked up from the floor with a frown. "What do you mean?" He prodded.

"When your Christine was here for the show. Her music sounded very sore, like she was hurting." The boy answered, pulling a light blue and medium grey from his lips. "That's probably why she left the box so quickly." He remarked, flipping pages swiftly. "Raoul didn't sound very nice either."

Erik frowned. Christine would inevitably be hurt by his musical. It brought the worst parts of their history up and few of the good ones in their voices. That the Fop was angry was no surprise either.

He sighed tersely and pushed his hair back from his face. The oil had been all but removed from his stressed movements, his shirt crumpled and untucked – he'd been out of sorts all night, too distressed by his Angel's unexpected appearance and swift disappearance to concentrate on mundane things like his own presentation.

Cameron sat up properly and watched him with concerned eyes. "You're sad, Erik." The boy commented mournfully. He crawled forward slightly and sat at Erik's feet, leaning his knobbly elbows on his Godfather's knees. "You miss Christine." He stated.

"I saw Christine tonight." Erik replied calmly, ruffling the boy's hair with an attempt at a carefree smile.

Erik knew better than to lie to the boy though – especially since he had let on with the Music. "But you want to see her every day." He nodded decisively. "You'll never be happy unless you get to see her every day." He pointed out.

Erik gasped sharply. "You, Cameron, are far too wise." He commented calmly.

"Will you marry her?" Cameron pressed. "Mummy and Daddy are married and they see each other every day!" he pointed out eagerly.

Erik sighed. "It's not just my choice to marry Christine. She is already to be married." He explained tiredly. "To the Vicomte." He added with all his acid.

"Doesn't Christine want to marry you, Erik?" Cameron asked, confused.

"That, Cameron, is a question I do not know the answer to." He answered, lost. Marriage had never been topical for them. There was only their love, amazing and unexpected as it had been without the expectation of vows.

The boy perked up eagerly and turned to the entrance as Christine's music preceded her distressed form into the lair. The hem of her dressing-gown was soiled and torn, the pristine white stained by the passageways to his home. It hung off a shoulder, scooping up some of her hair while the rest hung about her in no order. Her face was tear-stained and her expression was haunted.

Erik was across the room, catching her before his godson had the time to notice she was fainting. He cradled her close to his chest, like he had done on those first few mornings from the piano room. How his actor-counterpart lifted Miss Brighton on the stage.

He turned around just as Peggy and Greg re-entered the main cavern. Cameron rushed to his side, touching the unbound hair with hesitant concern. "Is your Christine okay?" He asked in a hushed voice.

"Distressed, I think." Erik answered soothingly. "Exhausted, maybe. But there are no visible injuries. If she doesn't wake by tomorrow, we will have Doctor Charles examine her."

"This is a bad idea, Erik." Peggy growled impatiently. "Look at the state she left you in! She shouldn't be here. You should take her back to the Vicomte!"

He glared at her, with as much fury as he could muster with his Angel in his arms. "Who do you think would have put her in such a state? I severely doubt Christine is in the habit of wearing her nightwear upon the town."

Peggy and Greg began whispering to each other and – though he could have heard them clearly – he chose to ignore them in favour of taking Christine to the bedchamber and laying her carefully in the swan bed.

"Erik?" Greg's voice snapped through his daze. The older man looked up and instantly mistrusted the wary expression the younger wore. Peggy looked furious and hateful, which soured Erik's opinion of her considerably. "Me and Peggy believe it would be better for everyone involved if we took Christine back to our home." He explained.

"Generous though the offer is, I will decline. It would be distressing for Christine to wake in an unknown place." Erik answered calmly.

A screech of outraged music sprung from Peggy, and he turned a glare at her. "We mean to keep her away from you, Erik." She pointed out angrily.

"And at last your true motive is revealed." He commented dryly. "You think to separate us, when we have finally been reunited."

"Erik, she's not the woman you love any more!" Peggy yelled desperately. "She's barely a person!"

"Peggy..." Greg tried to interrupt calmly.

"She's an automaton, damn it!" She snapped. "I saw it in Prague, but I didn't dare believe it. You couldn't have loved her as she was. But I gave the benefit of the doubt and then she returns even worse and I won't let you destroy yourself trying to love a memory!"

"Margaret, that's quite enough." Erik growled.

"For heaven's sake! You might as well bed the mannequin for all you—"

Peggy's rant was cut off by a hand to her throat, pressing her against the granite walls of the bed cavern. Cameron sobbed quietly in the corner and Greg stood frozen, unable to move for shock. Erik, tears of self-loathing in his eyes, whispered in a deadly voice: "You will never speak of Christine like that again."

"Damnit, Erik – get off my wife!" Greg yelled, pulling at the older man's arm.

The phantom obeyed, stepping away from the couple. Peggy gasped hyperventilating breaths, curling into her husband's embrace. "It seems we've all shown our true selves." He announced, feeling bitter. "You supported me, Margaret. You encouraged everything for her." He turned away and watched a crying Cameron with a slowly breaking heart. "I'm sorry it has come to this."

He sat on the chair by the bed, watching his unconscious Angel breathe.

"Come on, Cameron. We have to go." Greg's stern voice commanded. The boy's music was hesitant, but still determined. "Cameron! Don't you dare!" Erik felt a childish hand on his arm and closed his eyes against the pain of what he must do.

"Cameron! Get away from him right now!" Peggy commanded hysterically.

"Erik?" Cameron whispered softly, so quiet even Erik struggled to hear it.

"You cannot choose me." He whispered, concentrating on the slight hitch in breath from his Angel on the bed. "You must always put family first." He told the boy.

"You haven't." Cameron pointed out, upset.

"I would have, had it ever been an option." Erik answered softly as Christine's breathing settled into a steady rhythm once again. "Go with your mother and do the proper thing." He instructed.

He felt the boy's arms locked around him in a fierce embrace. "I love you!" He sobbed, clutching at the cloth of his godfather's shirt.

"I love you too, Cameron. But you must do as your mother says and leave me." Erik commanded.

He ignored the furious whispers and the sobbing as the Mabry family left his lair, undoubtedly to never return. He watched as Christine slept on, her breathing finally indicating a deep, natural slumber. He kissed her forehead gently and settled back into his seat with a heavy heart. When Christine woke, they would sort out everything.

...

Christine sat unnaturally still in the arm chair Erik had vacated to pace. He could feel the tension rolling of his Angel in waves, the music only an unhelpful reminder. He paused to study her, wishing he hadn't let his hurt over the Mabry exile flood the music. She thought she had done something wrong.

"Why are you here?" He demanded, desperate for confirmation.

"Clarify 'here'. Do you mean here, London, or here, your home?" She returned with petulant mocking.

He scowled at her tone, but answered nonetheless: "Both, if you would."

"I came to London because Marie's daughter was singing All I Ask of You in the middle of the kitchen! You wrote me a musical, Erik, I had to come see it." She answered angrily, folding her arms under her chest.

"So, why the Vicomte?" He spat the title with distaste.

She stood, pacing along the first bookcase. "Because after you left me here in your lair without so much as a goodbye, he was the one who decided to pick up the pieces!" she yelled furiously, glaring at him heatedly.

He dropped his head, guiltily.

She sighed. "Sorry, I'm still really upset about that. I understand you had your reasons, Erik. But it still hurts."

He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Nothing with you has gone at all how I expected, mon ange," he noticed the shiver and ghost of a smile that passed over Christine at the old endearment, "but it has happened, and now we have to deal with it."

"That's why we're here." She remarked, rolling her eyes.

"I remember." Erik muttered, resuming his pacing. "So, why did you come down here last night?" he prompted, not meeting her eyes.

"After I saw it, it scared me. I didn't even think you existed, and... Everything about that show was ours, so I came down here to figure out why, to have you explain. You weren't here, and I thought maybe I was wrong. But, I waited and then you came back, and you sang and then...well," she sighed in frustration, "things got a little...weird. There was a slight mental breakdown, and a duet. But, of course – you were there for that."

Erik allowed a smile to cross his face for a moment. His Christine was a character. He remembered the current situation and sobered considerably. "But you left." He pointed out.

"I had to get back to Raoul before I did anything worse to cheat on him." She answered, shivering. "I would have done anything... but when I heard Peggy coming, I knew the world was waiting." She stood and crossed to the fireplace. "I tried to speak to Raoul, to explain that I wasn't crazy. He wouldn't listen and then he said some things and...well, I slapped him, threw his engagement ring on the ground and came back here."

He scowled and watched her for a moment. "You ended things with the Fop?" He demanded, wanting confirmation.

"Don't call him that." She scolded impatiently.

Erik growled. "Christine, understand my confusion." He pleaded, annoyed. "Are you or are you not engaged to be married to the Vicomte de Chagny?"

Christine stared at him for a moment, before slowly crossing the short distance to stand before him. "No." She answered softly. She tugged his head down towards hers and pressed a kiss to his lips. "I am no longer engaged to Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny." She answered formally.

He breathed a sigh of relief and returned the gentle kiss. "I cannot express my relief, mon ange." He whispered against her lips.

She shivered once more at the name and pressed a harder kiss to his lips. "Come on, Angel, I can think of better things to do than argue."

...

Christine, feeling muzzy with sleep, softly traced a thick white scar on her Angel's ribs as he stroked her hair. "How old were you?" She muttered.

Erik gasped in a breath as he woke up properly. "Hmm?" He asked drowsily.

She traced the scar with more pressure. "How old were you when Marie's father gave you this?" She asked with more clarity.

He tensed beneath her, the hand stilling in her hair. "...you know?" He asked, his voice strangled.

She nodded, circling the scar with the very tip of her finger. He sat up slowly, so as not to dislodge her too uncomfortably. His hand scrabbled for the mask on the bedside table and she sat up, frowning. "Angel?"

He settled the mask on his face, and turned his heavily scarred back to her. His shoulders were bent and his shame flooded the music. "How?" He asked, his voice still tight.

"Your sister told me." She answered, putting a hand on his arm.

He cringed away and she removed her hand, leaning back against the wings of the swan. "You...how much did she tell you?" He asked nervously.

"I saw your old room." She answered warily. He flinched. "Beneath the servant's house in the back of the Estate." She clarified, eyes unfocusing as she remembered that horrible tale. "She said her father used to beat you when you...'displeased' your mother." She answered hesitantly.

Her Angel bent over himself, hugging his knees. He looked to be a scared little boy, like he must've been a thousand times. "The mental games were the worst." He whispered brokenly. "The first time I told her I loved her, she was so disgusted. But she found some twisted pleasure in how it hurt me to say it when she never said it back. After every beating, she made me tell her I loved her." A slice of anger bit through the music. "If I was conscious, that is." He added bitterly.

Christine reached out to touch him, but hesitated before she brushed the skin. He solved her concern by leaning back into the touch with a small whimper. "I loved her, Christine." He whispered painfully. "I didn't learn to hate her for so long."

She shifted until she was hugging him from behind, unable to find any words that could console him. He lifted a hand and clutched her arm tightly. "I couldn't say the words for so long without remembering every disgusted look she gave me. And I hurt you with that." He whispered hoarsely, "I love you, Christine."

She kissed a pale scar on his shoulder. "I love you, Erik." She whispered back.

He turned around and kissed her gently, before settling back to their previous position. Christine continued to trace the same scar. "I was eleven." He answered quietly, "But that wasn't Marie's father. He was always careful to keep the whippings to my back."

Christine gasped a breath, fingers still on the scar. God, had he ever known anything but cruelty? "Then, who...?"

"His name is Philippe. I believe he is now the Comte de Chagny." He answered.

She sat up, blinking at him. "Philippe?" she asked, somehow entirely unsurprised.

"Yes." Erik answered softly, sitting up against the bed-head. "It was one of the Comte's favourite pastimes – tormenting the monster." He remarked bitterly, "Your beloved Raoul was tagging along as soon as he learnt to walk."

Christine's annoyance bubbled in her stomach. "Yes, Raoul." She agreed.

"What? Your precious Vicomte told you of his childhood adventures?" He asked bitterly.

"Yeah." She answered coldly. She turned to him, eyes blazing, "He bragged about it."

"It was Halloween. He removed my first mask, then tried to remove a second one." He told her, hatred clear in his voice. "It was a bloody mess. He wouldn't stop, no matter how much I begged. I had to shove him to get away. Philippe held me to the hedge and the thorns...well, that's how I got the scar."

Christine growled slightly and wrapped a sheet tightly around her torso, climbing out of the bed. "I'm going to kill him. I am." She said decisively, looking around the room, "Where did my clothes get to?"

Erik realised his mistake. Christine was already angry enough with the Vicomte, she didn't need him to fuel that hatred with his own. "Mon ange," Erik interrupted her search gently, "he was only a boy. He never touched me again after that."

"Don't defend him!" She snapped viciously. "He made it seem like he had never seen you, Angel. All this time, he knew about you, he even attacked you! And he let me think I was mad!" Her voice broke and she dissolved into tears.

Erik wrapped her in his embrace, holding her close as he'd been unable for too many years. "Everything will be alright, mon ange." He consoled her gently. Christine was certainly not whole, had been splintered seven years ago. She'd stayed as such for years, held together by the devious whim of the Fop, but now she could properly heal. He would help her however he could. "I'm here now, Christine. I'll never leave you."

...

To clear her head, Christine had gone for a walk aboveground.

She was walking back through the lobby when she heard a voice calling: "Miss Brighton! There you are!" She turned to see the source of the noise and saw an aged Dennis Finn walking down the stairs. He froze when he saw her clearer and sped his step. "Miss de Night! My apologies! I thought you were someone else." He clasped her hand warmly. "It's been years, what a surprise."

She smiled at him. "Mister Finn. Things are going well for you, by all accounts." She answered calmly.

"Yes, yes. Ever since Hannibal, this theatre has had huge success." He leaned carefully towards her, glancing to check they were alone. "Thanks to Miss Brighton and the Ghost, of course." He added.

Christine's breath caught in her throat, but made sure her composure was sound. "Excellent. And the new musical?" ahe prompted.

He gave her a conspirital look, "The Ghost's personal work." He informed her. "Every aspect of the show was designed and approved by him. It's the finest production to grace the Populaire's stage. Have you seen it yet?"

She nodded. "Last night." She answered. "Is Miss Brighton in yet?" She asked. At his reluctant look, she added: "I wished to offer her my congratulations: she did superbly."

He looked uncomfortable. "Miss Brighton should be here soon enough." He explained "You may join us in the theatre, if you like. Today is our infamous mid-season showcase, and I'm sure everyone would love to hear what you've been up to."

"Would you care to accompany me?" She offered, more out of politeness than any real desire for his company.

She was a bit mollified when he agreed, but that was what she got for sticking to aristocratic nonsense, she supposed. "...such an amazing musical." The manager continued to brag about his most successful venture. "Filled with such love and devotion. Having Miss Brighton here certainly has been a godsend."

Confused at his correlation between the two, she frowned and asked: "What do you mean?"

"I mean, if she hadn't come, the Ghost would never have written the musical for her." He answered, his voice dropping to a conspirital whisper. "Any one of us can see that she is the Christine Daae of this story."

Christine's stomach curled with hatred. The musical had been written for her, hadn't it? Though she wasn't singing in it, it was still their story. He hadn't given it to Sienna Brighton...surely? Before either of them could say anything further on the matter, they entered the auditorium.

She gasped and sighed as that familiar sense of 'coming home' washed over her. She revelled in it for just a moment, before a number of the crew (including a beaming Greg) came over to receive her back into their fold.

She joined the festivities with light-hearted relief she hadn't felt since she'd left. Raoul and his aristocratic world were far too serious, and you could forget relief within the halls of Bedlam. The cast Erik had assembled for his work was truly magnificent, each and every individual (barring Charlotte Giordani, for obvious reasons) knew how to use their obvious talent to its full potential. The mood was joyous (and a little inebriated), without the underlying fear of judgement from the Ghost that had been present at the only other showcase she had attended. Of course, they were hand-picked, so they needn't worry for his disapproval.

It was a sly-faced Ronald Peterson who reminded the crew of Christine's own legendary performance. After that, with many an urgent cry of 'Catherine!', she was prodded onto the stage before the microphone stand. "Oh, no – I couldn't!" She protested, laughing. She caught sight of precisely who it was playing the piano, and froze in the presence of her Angel. "I couldn't possibly." She said, more to him than anyone else.

He just smiled and closed the sheet music before him. "Sing once again for me..." He sung, his voice springing into her ear. His heart-wrenching aria beneath the opera house came back to her as an instrumental and her heart broke a little bit.

"I wouldn't know what to sing." She admitted softly.

"Phantom!" A swing called enthusiastically, "Sing something from Phantom!"

The audience agreed with a roar, her Angel with a silent nod.

"Aren't you all sick of that yet?" She asked in disbelief.

"Sing!" Someone else yelled with a laugh.

She sighed and nodded towards Erik. The short introduction to 'Think of Me' by Chalumeau began playing, and she wondered idly why he hadn't chosen one of his own songs for her. "Think of me, think of me fondly when we've said goodbye..." She sung hesitantly, just like his libretto dictated.

"Andre this is doing nothing for my nerves!" The actor who played Dennis Finn's counterpart called from the audience.

"Remember me, every so often, promise me you'll try." She sung, her voice gradually growing strength. " On that day, that not-so-distant day when you are far away and free, if you ever find a moment, stop and think of me."

The somewhat-familiar thrill of performing took over as the Music took on a sweeping instrumental quality, and she couldn't help the smile that overcame her face. "And though it's clear, though it was always clear that this was never meant to be, if you can still remember, spare a thought for me."

"Think of August when the trees were green! Don't think about the things which might have been..." She blinked in the happy tears that formed in her eyes and smiled at Erik as he watched her avidly. " Think of me, think of me waking silent and resigned. Imagine me, trying to hard to put you from my mind." She withdrew her focus from him and took it back out to the audience. " Think of me, please say you'll think of me whatever else you choose to do? There will never be a day when I won't think of you!"

The cheers and catcalls of the audience were lost as she heard Raoul's voice, and searched him out to find him by the doors to the stalls. " Can it be? Can it be Christine?"

His voice was replaced by Ronald Peterson's, singing Raoul's part from the musical. " What a change! You're really not a bit the gawkish girl that once you were! She may not remember me, but I remember her..."

Before Mister Peterson properly finished his line, she resumed the aria, her eyes locked on Raoul. " And though it's clear, though it was always clear that this was never meant to be! Please promise me that sometimes, you will think." She took a deep breath, and with every fibre of her being and every aide of the music, she sent her voice through Chalumeau's defiant cadenza, ending with a clear high note she knew even Miss Brighton struggled with.

She finished the aria and laughed at the applause her companions offered her. A single red rose, tied with a black ribbon landed at her feet and she smiled lovingly at Erik before she descended the stairs back into the stalls.

She moved past Sienna Brighton's hateful and jealous eyes to Raoul's tear-filled, disappointed ones. She smiled at him with pity and warded off everyone's comments until she could find time alone with her ex-fiancé.

"It was beautiful." Raoul complimented softly, "But, of course you knew that." He sighed in disappointment, "You have an honest gift, Lotte. You should not squander it."

"I no longer plan on it." She told him softly. "This is the life I want, Raoul. With Erik, I can have this."

"I could have given you this too." He pointed out bitterly. He touched the scabbed side of his mouth with a wince.

"You never offered." She pointed out calmly. She shook her head and embraced him. "Let's not part on such sour terms. We have years of friendship behind us. Can we not have that in the future too?" She asked him.

"No." He answered resolutely. She gasped in pain. "I will not have the constant shame, Lotte. If you choose him, then it's goodbye forever."

"Oh." She sighed. "Fine then. I'll be at the Grande to pack my suitcase tonight. Then, I'll return to the Populaire. To be with Erik." She explained.

Fury built in the music that Raoul managed to conceal in his eyes. "Oh? And Miss Brighton is fine with this arrangement?" He pressed calmly.

Christine froze, staring at him warily. "Pardon?"

"Forgot all about her, didn't you?" He remarked, his tone vicious. "One night with him, and you've lost your morality." He shook his head in disappointment. "Can you break up a family, Lotte?" He questioned gingerly.

"A family?" She echoed dully.

"You mean you couldn't tell? The boy – the boy in the Box last night." He reminded her gently. "He had to be Erik's son."

Christine shook her head in denial of his statement, before she followed Raoul's gaze to where Miss Brighton and Erik were having an intense conversation. Logic soon overcame her denial – the boy had spoken with such familiarity about the Phantom, and Miss Brighton was so upset now. "Oh, god." She whispered brokenly. She sat down on the nearest seat and stared as Erik calmed the prima donna down with soothing words and a soft expression.

"Perhaps they're not together any more, Lotte." Raoul offered softly, coming to stand beside her. He put his hands on her shoulder. "You should talk to him, ask him about Miss Brighton and the boy."

"How could I be so daft?" She berated herself. Of course it was Miss Brighton! She was literally Erik's new Christine Daae.

She watched as his lips formed a promise to meet Miss Brighton in his lair within half an hour and Christine felt her heart splinter a little further in her chest. Miss Brighton looked satisfied and gave Christine a venomous smile as she passed on her way out of the auditorium. Christine wanted to cry, but didn't move as Raoul left. Nor did she move when Erik disappeared beneath the Pit.

When Greg asked her what was wrong some time later, she didn't even answer before she fled to the underground labyrinth.

Her heart raced as she heard the music coming from within Erik's lair. First was the childish wonderment that she recalled hearing from the young boy in the box, the other an acoustic flamenco-like tune which belonged to Miss Brighton.

She crept closer, silencing her music as best she could. The identified pair was sitting in the cavern that came closest to being described as a 'living room' – a couch and a divan flanked an ornately carved coffee table. Seated on the armchair was Miss Sienna Brighton, sipping at a murky-coloured glass of water. The boy was sprawled on the floor beside the divan, feet up on the chair as he carefully worked on a colouring book.

Christine caught the tail end of Miss Brighton's scolding: "...shouldn't talk to your mother like that, Cameron."

The boy nodded absently and reached for another coloured pencil. "Papa said he'd be at the theatre all day." He pointed out with the perfectly inexplicable timing of a child.

"Your father has a lot to do there." Miss Brighton agreed. She stood and stretched like a cat, and Christine's eyes locked on to the discrepancy of her button-down shirt – one of the buttons was in the wrong hole and Christine gasped, backing away through the lair.

So, Raoul had been right. She would be interrupting a family. She closed her eyes against the pain for a moment, forgetting to keep the music tightly bound, and fled back to the passageway.

...

"What was that?" Miss Brighton's soft query reached Erik's ears as he re-entered his living room.

"It sounded like Christine." Cameron answered matter-of-factly.

Smiling a little at the name of his beloved, he handed the freshly burnt CD in his hand to the now-sour diva. "That is the latest recording of your cadenza from the title song. You've improved greatly." He complimented.

"Though not as good as your wonderful Catherine de Night." Miss Brighton spat with distaste. Erik arched an eyebrow at her attitude, the movement alone demanding an explanation. "That's why you're shipping me to America, isn't it? You want your precious Christine on your stage!"

"Miss Brighton, you're being petty." He remarked with some amusement. "I'm sending you to Broadway because you've been complaining about the West End for five long years. If you've suddenly changed your mind, I'm sure I can find another ingénue to take the role instead." He pointed out. "I did not know Miss de Night was coming at all, let alone if she intends to pursue a career upon my stage. We will see how things turn out."

Miss Brighton looked appeased. "I will go to Broadway." She answered calmly.

"Good. Did you try on the dress?" He asked.

"Yes. It was magnificent." She complimented softly.

"Excellent. You may go." Erik dismissed. Once the soprano had left the lair, he turned his attention to his godson sprawled on the ground. "Peggy will be furious that you are here." He pointed out matter-of-factly.

Cameron gave him a distressed look. "I don't want to stay away forever, Erik." He pointed out, distressed. "You're my family too, and it's not fair of you to turn me away!"

"I will never turn you away, Cameron. You're the son I've never known, and were it up to me I would keep things as they were. But I have betrayed your mother's trust and frightened her irreversibly. You cannot choose me over your parents. You would deeply regret it." He shook his head and accepted the embrace the boy threw himself in to. "Things change sometimes, Cameron. For better or worse, but they must change."

He kissed the boy on the head and led him resolutely out of his lair.

The boy would be back, he knew.



Chapter 9: Once Upon Another Time


Christine avoided the confrontation for another day. She sat by the window in the hotel room, Raoul on the other side of the door trying to coax her out. He made many weighty promises and pretty threats, but she didn't move. She gathered her thoughts, trying to decide what she was going to say. She couldn't focus too well, the painful music in the air twisting at her heart and trying to grab her attention.

She could not have him. That much was a given. He was, if not married, at least in a very serious relationship. There was a child involved now – she knew for herself how much a family suffered from adultery, and she couldn't do that to the boy. She liked him, something about his carefree spirit tugging at her heart-strings like only something truly innocent could. If Miss Brighton was no longer in the picture, she would have no hesitation in stepping in to help fill the hole left in their family.

But Miss Brighton was still there, still firmly ensconced in every aspect of a relationship with Erik. All of it, if her hurried-mismatched-dressing had anything to say for itself.

So, she would bow out, with as much dignity as she could muster, and let Erik live the life he had built in her absence. Maybe he would miss her, and she would definitely miss him, but love hardly ever won. Family and expectations held precedent, practicality coming second.

But...she still hesitated, still waited for her courage to steel enough for her to stand and walk the excruciating distance to the Populaire, down the tunnels written in her mind with years of tracing them over and over in her sleep. Waiting for her resolve to be strong enough to face her Angel and not crumble if he pleaded with her to stay.

She squared her shoulders, but instantly let them slump. She didn't want to. Not for the first time, in years or this morning, she wished she'd stayed at the Populaire when he'd left. He had returned eventually, and if she'd only held on instead of running crying into her mother's disapproving arms, she would have never been kept away long enough for him to find another life, would never have had her memories and trust in herself torn away. She hated herself, almost as much as she hated Miss Brighton. The boy was the only innocent figure in the situation, but she found she couldn't blame Erik either.

Such was love, she supposed.

There was a hesitant knock on the door. "Lotte? I've got an appointment – is there anything you needed while I was at the jeweller's?"

She almost flew at the door, yanking it open to his startled face. "Speak to him for me." She begged desperately. She grabbed his hands and clutched them in hers. "Go to him, Raoul. Please?"

"Lotte, I can't do that. You have to end this for yourself." She knew from the music, that he was already convinced. He would go, because she asked him to.

"I...I'm not strong enough, Raoul. I can't face him and say that I can't be with him because he found happiness without me." She whispered painfully, crossing the room once more and sinking back into her seat. "Please, Raoul?"

"Lotte..." he sighed gingerly, coming to kneel beside her. "Why don't you just save yourself that pain?" He suggested. He took her hands, "We can still be married." He said quietly, "Leave all of this hurt behind you, and just build a new life. He did, so he should allow you that same right."

"We will be married, Raoul." She replied, taking his hands away. "If you can live with knowing you're second in my heart. I love you, but I love him more. If you can handle that, then I'm willing to marry you."

He folded his hands in his lap. "Everything will be alright, Lotte. I will speak with him. Leave it all to me." He kissed her cheek and left the room, closing the door with a decisive snap.

Christine buried her face in her hands, letting the building sobs tremble silently away. It had to be done, but she couldn't do it herself. She only hoped Raoul wouldn't break it to her Angel with too much victory.

It was true, she still loved him – love never died, not really. It could lessen, morph into hatred or be buried beneath other loves, but it never truly died. She sunk back into her seat by the window. Everything was so precariously close to being finished, and it felt like the world was ending all over again.

...

With a furious scowl, Erik stormed out into the main cavern. Beyond the orchestra and voices echoing from the stage, the Fop's music was growing rapidly closer, tampered with Antoinette's warning. Her voice curled through the tunnels: "Your hand at the level of your eyes..."

The Vicomte echoed the command with as much enthusiasm as Greg had many years ago. Well, let it be his folly.

Erik grabbed a coil of rope from a bench and his fingers deftly formed the lasso they knew so well. At least Greer hadn't led him through the usual path. Seeing the Fop's usually meticulous appearance waterlogged would serve some petty justice. He closed the portcullis simply for another hindrance and extinguished most of the lights.

This meeting would be on his terms.

Too long later, the Fop came through the fog to the portcullis. "Enough games, monsieur Leroux." The Fop announced himself in tired weary-sounding French. "I'm here at Christine's request. She'd hate you if something happened to me."

Conceding to the logic, Erik raised the gate and glared as the Fop ducked inside. What could it be that Christine could not come and say for herself? " Welcome to my world, Vicomte." He sent his voice to rise up from the waters of the lake.

The Fop shivered. "Though I sincerely doubt I am welcome, you'll want to hear what I have to say." He returned, a tone of concern woven through the smugness.

"By all means, Vicomte, enter as far as you dare." Erik taunted. As soon as the Fop was in reaching distance, he secured the noose around his over-moisturised neck. It would bruise so nicely. "Make yourself comfortable."

The note of satisfaction in the Fop's music kept him from tightening the noose too much – what could he possibly be proud of? "Like a second home." The Fop agreed dryly. "Can we not talk like men?"

"There are many who would disagree with your implication that I am a man, Vicomte." Erik hissed coldly, fist clenching against the rope.

"Indeed." The Fop agreed calmly. "Many would call you a monster."

Erik shoved the infuriating Vicomte away from him into the hard-backed seat of his desk. The younger man looked in his direction, a lazy contemptuous expression settling over his face. In the light, the Fop would likely only be able to make out a glowing white mask, whereas Erik could see everything clearly.

Everything, including a familiar thick gold band with an inlaid square diamond on his index finger. His hands gave another tug at the rope, choking the Fop for a moment, as he recognised the Promise Ring. The band was thicker than he remembered, the diamond slightly more frosted. Like everything, he had built a different idea of it in his head in absence of true memories.

"Come, now, monsieur. In the dark, we are all equal." The Fop's words sounded diplomatic, but the music ensured Erik knew they were mocking. The Fop tugged at the noose, and Erik released it without a word.

The Phantom retreated deeper into the shadows. "I tire of your presence, Vicomte. What have you come here to say?"

"I've come here at Christine's request," the Fop began, "to present the choice she is offering."

"And why did she not come here herself?" the Phantom demanded, covering his hurt with suspicion.

"She was convinced you would be able to talk her into a decision she didn't want to make." The Vicomte answered sagely. "She loves you, monsieur, but there are some things she will not sacrifice."

"Present the choices, Vicomte, and I will make the one I deem fit." Erik snapped impatiently.

The Fop brushed an imaginary piece of lint off his soaking knee and clasped his hands, the diamond on his knuckle flashing in the candlelight. "Monsieur, it has been years. Christine has loved you for all seven of them, but you must understand that a person must move on in their lives." He explained calmly. Erik's fists clenched with a crack of leather. This was the part, then, where the Fop told him that they were to be married after all.

"Christine was never the type to stagnate." Erik muttered, just loud enough for the Vicomte to hear.

A slightly mocking smile crossed the youthful face. "Ah, you understand then." He agreed. "Christine is a loving woman, and practical. She has agreed to become my wife."

Oh, cruel fate. That his Angel could return to him only just to be snatched out of his grasp. He cursed everyone who had hindered them, but the Fop most of all.

But the Vicomte was continuing: "As well as her love for me, there is our son." He explained.

Erik's heart stuttered to a halt at those words. A son? "There is no son." He stated, resolute in that fact. There couldn't be.

"The discovery is new." The Fop answered calmly. He removed a picture from his pocket. "While Christine was still in therapy, there was some confusion about the pregnancy. Christine went into labour too early. The hospital mixed up her case, and the boy was announced a stillborn." He shook his head. "It broke Christine's heart at the time, but she soon forgot it entirely." There was no lie in his story.

Erik accepted the proffered photograph from the Fop and a lump formed in his throat at the boy smiling in the picture. He was being led by a stressed-looking woman along a street. The boy was thin and sickly-looking, as one could expect from a premature birth. But it was undeniably her hair, her eyes that sparkled at the camera. He wanted to be sick. The boy looked five years old.

"We are to collect him after the wedding." The Vicomte explained calmly. "You can imagine how eager Christine is to start a family."

"Naturally." Erik spat, trying to force his voice from a throat coated in cement.

"But she is not happy to let you go entirely. So, we discussed the situation and came up with an arrangement I find...bearable." The Fop grimaced. "Your choice, really, is to agree or not."

"Well, I am hardly agreeing to something I know not of." Erik snapped back, pain twisting in his gut.

"Once Christine and I are married, I will...permit the two of you to continue a relationship." The Vicomte answered, reluctant. He hated the arrangement.

"Why would you agree to such a thing?" Erik demanded savagely. "Why marry Christine if you don't want her to yourself?"

"I want her to be happy. This was the only way I could think to achieve that." The Fop answered calmly.

Erik growled under his breath, resisting the urge to drown the Vicomte in the murky waters of his lake. "Don't turn this into a noble sacrifice on your part." He commanded viciously, turning his back on the Fop. "If she would be so unhappy without me, why don't you just let her be with me?" he demanded coldly.

"Because she doesn't want to be with you." The Fop answered, cruelly casual. Erik gasped in pain, desperately tearing apart the music in an attempt to detect a lie. But there was none – the Vicomte hadn't been lying. His Angel didn't want him!

His heart thundered in his chest, "Why not?" he hissed.

"She knew you would ask that. She said to tell you: 'I love you, but I love him more'." The Fop answered flippantly. And there was no lie in those words. "She would hurt more if she had to leave me behind. And our son."

The ache that had been in his chest for seven years, absent since the moment he knew Christine was returning to him, returned tenfold. "Leave." He spat over his shoulder.

"Monsieur...?"

"I said leave!" Erik bellowed, his voice filling the cavern several times over and echoing back through the passage. Above them, the orchestra faltered and Miss Giordani missed a note.

"Am I to take it, then, your answer is no?" The Vicomte asked hesitantly.

"I will not take her if she has decided to be yours!" Erik spat viciously, disgusted with the very prospect. "If she loves you and needs to be with you, then so be it! I will not take away her happiness." He turned back and stepped into the pool of candlelight, his expression hard. "Her devotion is not to be shared." He announced coldly. He crossed to the chair in a flash and picked the Fop up by the collar. "You will treat her right. You will give her everything she wants and protect her from anything that wishes to harm her." He growled. He threw the Vicomte back down at the music of his Godson and the Fool. "If I found you haven't, you will feel my wrath."

"...Erik?" Cameron asked, hesitant, scared.

"Leave. Now." Erik commanded, thrusting his hand towards the boat. He turned a glare to Greg, switching back to the Fool's tongue. "Take the Vicomte away. Use the boat." He commanded.

Greg nodded, taking the Vicomte's arm and leading him away.

Erik sighed, his anger giving way to sorrow. So, what he had feared had been true. Christine loved the Fop more than her Angel, had finally bowed to societal expectation and was marrying the Vicomte. But she had learned all she knew of fidelity from her parents, and they'd had their own little arrangement on extra-marital affairs.

He knew he couldn't share her with the Fop. He couldn't divide her affections, couldn't force herself to split herself between them. She would lose herself in the gulf, and the child would suffer. So, he would ease her guilt. Her love for her new family would soon soothe any hurt she felt.

"Erik?" Cameron's tentative voice sprung up beside him. There was a light touch on his hand and the Phantom looked down at the concerned face of a child that knew too much of love and heartbreak for his young age.

"Come, Cameron." Erik said quietly, offering the boy a hand. "You left a picture half-finished. Never leave work uncompleted."

If the boy saw the tears falling from the unmasked eye, he said nothing. But, Cameron was wise like that.

...

The sun had begun to set when Christine heard the footsteps outside her doorway. There was a hesitant knock on the door, but she could hear Raoul's glee in the music. Selfish, smug ass, she thought bitterly. Her heart was breaking and he thought he had finally won some long-standing competition.

"Can I come in, Lotte?" he asked carefully. At least he took the care to sound concerned.

"Did you tell him?" she returned in place of an answer.

The door opened, and a bar of guilt coursed through the music. "I spoke with him." He admitted softly, coming to stand behind her. "He didn't seem to want to accept it, but I badgered him."

Christine shuddered a breath and nodded. "You were gone a while."

"Well...there was a sort of negotiation." Raoul admitted. "We discussed the possibility of an extra-marital relationship." She gasped, hate firing through her veins. How could either of them possibly think she would agree to that? After all it had done to her family! "Then..." he sounded reluctant, but his music was rather victorious. "Lotte, I'm sorry, but he said...he said he would not have you if you had been with me."

She gasped painfully. "He really said that?"

"Well, technically he said," he rambled off something in French, "but that's it."

What hurt most was the lack of lying in the music. Raoul was telling the truth, and that cut her to the bone. How could Erik think so low of her? Like she had given herself carnally to Raoul just because she lived with him! She sighed and stood wearily. She turned to her childhood friend and saw the bruises beginning to form in a ring around his neck.

She wasn't surprised, and she was too tired for anger. Raoul had probably earned a good choking. Shaking her head, she kissed him on the cheek. "Well...thank you." She said softly.

"You're welcome, Lotte." He returned kindly. "Cheer up, my sweet. Things are sorted now, and you can get married with a clear conscience."

She managed to keep the wince repressed at his words, and let him ramble until he disappeared from the suite to do who-knew-what.

Christine didn't know her intentions until she was in a taxi and the words had left her mouth: "To the Populaire, please."

Letting Raoul face her Angel hadn't been enough, and she knew that to the depths of her soul. It was cruel just to leave him like this. She had run out without so much as a word. She was strong enough to see him once more.

Just once more. She could give him that. Even if it was just to say goodbye.

Grumbling to himself, the driver went the relatively short distance to the Populaire Theatre. It was quiet out the front and Christine winced slightly as the driver sped away, spraying her with a puddle beside the curb. Oh well, she deserved it.

She slipped into the secret passageway. Taking a deep breath, she steeled her courage and headed into the passageway.

...

Cameron was practicing scales on the organ. His godfather was in a terrible mood, and the little boy was at a loss as to what he was supposed to do. He felt too young and helpless to deal with Erik as his heart was breaking. Long-since heartbroken Erik was easy to deal with – when certain music was in the air, you avoided all mention of Christine, when there was different music, you spoke with him about how much he missed her.

But Erik's hurt was new, and Cameron didn't know how to act.

"The fourth note is supposed to be a sharp." Erik called from his place, sprawled out in the throne, utterly defeated. Cameron corrected himself and sighed. His fingers were too little for the heavy ivory keys and it was hard to play properly.

The introduction of a new but familiar movement in the music had Cameron taking his fingers off the keys and watching the entrance for Christine to come in. She did after a while, looking just as sad and lonely as Erik did.

His Godfather glanced up wearily, looking at her with too much pain on his face. "So, you've come to say goodbye." He said in greeting.

Christine's face fell even further and she sat on the floor in front of the throne, her legs to the side like a mermaid. She laid her head on his knee, beside one of his clenched hands. "I'm being cruel." She admitted so quietly that Cameron had to strain his ears to hear her. "But I couldn't just go without seeing you."

Erik sighed sadly and unclenched his fist to stroke her hair tenderly. "If there was any way you could stay and everyone could be happy..." He said longingly.

The beautiful woman lifted her head and looked up at Cameron's godfather. "Raoul mentioned the suggested arrangement." She admitted quietly.

Erik shook his head sadly. "It would be Adultery." He said quietly. Cameron wondered silently what that word meant – weren't grown-ups supposed to act like adults? "It was not a suitable choice. I know that, you know that, everyone knows it to be so."

"Yes. We all do." She agreed quietly. She rested her head on his knee once more and sighed, letting her breath out with a sob. "I always knew we would have to move on with our lives." She admitted painfully, "I just thought it would be together."

Cameron's godfather shook his head and lifted her chin up to look painfully but reassuringly into his beloved's eyes. "Life has to move on, mon ange." He told her, his voice soothing and kind though Cameron and surely Christine could hear his pain in the Music. "It is a fact." He released her chin to stroke her cheek tenderly. "Other things happen, other people do. Engagement, marriage," their eyes flickered over to Cameron, "children."

Christine nodded in acceptance, but in a leap of music, she jumped up and kissed the man fiercely. "I love you!" she said passionately. "I'll always love you. Remember that!" she said fiercely.

He kissed her tenderly. "I know, mon ange." He agreed. "But sometimes other love comes first." They looked into each other's eyes for a long time until Erik whispered sadly: "I wish I hadn't left all those years ago."

She smiled sadly and shook her head. "But you did."

He kissed her once again. "There is no use wishing." He agreed.

Christine nodded sadly, standing. Cameron could see determination in her face, but she turned away to face the lake as the Music swelled. She sung and Cameron felt tears in his eyes – Miss Brighton was a poor representation for that magnificent voice. " Once upon another time our story had only begun." She held her arms around her torso sadly. "You chose to turn the page..." she glanced quickly back at Erik over her shoulder, before turning away again. "And I made choices too."

Cameron watched Erik slowly stand, the green eye filling and releasing tears down the man's face. He walked slowly behind her, but didn't touch. " Once upon that other time we did what we thought must be done." Christine continued. Her head slowly turned to take in Cameron still perched on the organ stool. Her smile was breathtaking and heartbreaking. "And now we have no choice: we do what we must do."

Erik lifted a hand as if he was touching her arm, but he left a tiny gap, trailing his hand down through the air to fall limply at his side.

"We love, we live, we give what we can give," she sung, finally turning to face the masked man. She gave him a sad look, " and take what little we deserve."

Cameron was confused, but the Music forbade him from interrupting, and when his godfather opened his mouth to sing, he was moved to surprise and awe – Erik had sung before, of course, but never like this. The words were sad, but his voice was beautiful.

"Once upon another time I knew how our story would end." Christine's face flashed with pain and she turned back to face the lake. Erik stepped behind her without pause and held her tightly to his chest. "And maybe I was wrong, but now the moment's gone."

He rested his head on her shoulder, eyes squeezed shut against the pain. " Were it still that other time, I'd make time itself somehow bend. But now I'm not that strong," He released Christine and turned away, so they were both standing with their backs to one another. "And time keeps moving on."

Their voices rose together in a beautiful duet, entwining together like Cameron had never heard before. It was as if their voices were made to be together – so why were they breaking up? "We love, we live, we give what we can give and take what little we deserve."

The couple turned to face each other, tears streaking their faces but voices clear and strong. "We love! We live! We give what we can give!" They stepped closer, arms finding their way around waists with no conscious thought. They fit so perfectly, Cameron despaired. " And take what little we deserve..."

Christine rose on her toes to kiss Cameron's godfather softly and sadly. They stared into each other's eyes and sung, their voices finally splitting from their entwinement as Christine soared higher than Erik: "Once upon another time."

They stood, still wrapped around each other for a long time, eyes locked on each other until Erik closed his eyes and pressed a lingering kiss on her forehead. "Go, my love." He said.

She sobbed, arms gripping his jacket fiercely. She sung, strong and determined: "Remember: love never dies!" She released him and turned, running from the caverns and taking her heartbreaking music with her. Cameron knew those words would stay in his heart for the rest of his life, knew he would never forget the events of today as long as he lived.

Erik began to slump and the boy raced to his side, giving what little comfort he could.



Chapter 10: I Will Hear You Sing Once More


When Greg eventually returned to collect his son, a terrified Peggy accompanied him. They stood at the entrance of his lair and called entreaties for their son. Erik, with hands that trembled so much they could barely move, pushed at his godson's restricting arms. "Go." He commanded, his voice hoarse from sobbing. "You had best return to your mother and father, Cameron." He continued when the boy refused to move.

"But I can't leave you here all by yourself, Erik!" The boy protested fiercely, grip beginning to form bruises.

"You must, Cameron." Erik corrected, prying his arms away with only enough force to get the message across. "Family is of the utmost importance."

"But you have no family." Cameron whimpered softly, a small hand clutching at Erik's callused ones. "Who will love you and take care of you now?"

"Marie is my family, Cameron." Erik answered, trying to soothe the boy's concerns. "I will go to her in France, and treat her and her children like the royalty they should be treated. You remember Elle and Celeste, Cameron?" The boy nodded tearfully. "They will take care of me. You needn't worry, mon petit ange." His French stuck in his throat. He wanted to gift the boy with an endearment to express his gratitude and love, but could find nothing else.

The boy sobbed and turned to leave, but whirled back around to face his godfather. "Can I come back here to your home, Erik? To see you?"

"No." Erik replied resolutely. "No, I am leaving my home. You may not return in my absence." He commanded, thinking of the horror Cameron might walk in to. He would not scar the child.

"I understand." Cameron commented sadly. He turned away, but paused in the entranceway to the main cavern. "Erik? I love you." He called softly.

The broken fragments of Erik's heart shattered. "I love you too, Cameron." He called in return, wishing their sadness hadn't clouded the music.

The boy's music and footsteps quickly receded, and he stood in the entranceway to watch Peggy fiercely embrace her sobbing son. Erik listened as she lamented his absence, and scolded him for his foolishness. She never looked up from her son's traumatised face, but Greg watched Erik with withdrawn concern. Erik could raise no energy to school a reassuring expression, or wipe the lingering tears from his face. Let the younger man see, he was tired of hiding from the world.

Once Peggy had evidently decided their reunion had gone on long enough, she stood and turned for the doorway. "Come along, Cameron. We're leaving."

Erik looked upon the perfect face of his godson one last time, before the Mabry Family left his lair, never to return.

...

Erik had struggled with his exact cause of action to mark the day for a long time. The gossip magazines had followed it with obsession – artist's constructions of the grandiose plans, interviews with anyone and everyone involved in the ceremony or reception that would answer their questions, photographs of the 'stressed couple'.

The day of Christine's wedding fell on the feast of St. Valentine. The whole plan was bathed in the clichéd mistakes that made up the romance the Fop was so well-known for. While women swooned at his romantics and men begrudgingly accepted his relationship superiority, Erik was sickened with disgust.

It was everything Christine would never have wanted. Already she was beginning the marriage in the Fop's way, and it only demonstrated how the rest of her life would take shape.

Erik had debated with himself, but ultimately decided against going to see Christine – before, during or after the wedding. Their time was over, and he would leave their goodbye as it stood. Christine needed to move on with his life, and he...

Well, his life was over.

He left his plot until the last moment, hoping with the shattered remains of his heart that Christine would change her mind and return to him. But on the eve of her wedding, he composed what letters were necessary to set his affairs in order, and left them for Antoinette Greer to distribute.

He watched the dawn of Christine's wedding day on the roof that would always be theirs, standing in the place where their souls had entwined. The city seemed to unfurl unbearably slow, as if it too dreaded the day ahead, and as the sun grew too hot on his face, he wondered through the theatre, taking in every detail and matching it to the first time he had seen it.

Marie had sent him on a passenger-ferry across the channel. He arrived at the very bottom of the country, in a town just above the Isle of White. The border patrol had been swamped: a family of sixteen was pleading asylum, and Erik – with his questionably acquired passport and permanent visa – was waved through without so much as a glance upwards.

Luke Greer had been in the navy regiment based in that town. Antoinette Greer, his head-strong French-born wife, was being left in the country with their young wary-eyed daughter while he went on a 'routine training mission' out to sea.

Margaret Greer had spotted him first, huddled in a doorway in a futile attempt to avoid the drizzling rain. Antoinette had taken one look at his abused form and taken him under her umbrella and metaphorical wing. She taught him English, and important life skills like cooking and shopping. Luke Greer had never returned from his 'routine training mission', and neither had the regiment's stunningly beautiful nurse.

The move to London had been swift after that, Antoinette claiming the sight of the sea made her sick with disgust. Antoinette had happened upon an employment advertisement for the old Opéra Populaire building, which was recently being commissioned to reopen as a standard theatre. Erik had followed her to work one day and fallen into intense infatuation with the building.

By the time the Populaire Theatre had begun its first production, he had made the place his home.

He remained in his melancholy as the day wore on, tying and retying the Punjab lasso, assuring himself it worked perfectly each time before seeing room for improvement in the next moment and beginning again.

Finally, the rendition of the Wedding March from A Midsummer's Night Dream ended, leaving his entire world bathed in silence. With a resigned nod, he stood upon a chair to check the hook he had installed.

Once assured it would hold his weight, he looped the lasso around his own neck and closed his eyes, bracing himself for the final step he dared to take. He'd barely shifted his weight when he felt a fist grip his shirt, and he opened his eyes to see Antoinette Greer's incensed face.

"Not now, you coward!" She yelled furiously. "There's been an accident!"

...

According to the detectives, the three Mabry's had been on their way to the seaside when a lorry had driven over a pothole in the road. The vehicle had lost all control, but the Mabry's had come out worst. The driver was in the ICU with crushed legs and a severe concussion.

The charred remains of Gregory and Margaret Mabry were in the hospital morgue.

"From what we understand," a female detective explained softly, "Mister Mabry had already removed his son from the wreckage and was in the process of extracting his wife from the vehicle when the oil tank caught alight..."

At Antoinette's keening wail, Erik folded his pseudo-mother into his embrace and glared tiredly at the detective. "Thank you. That will do." He said firmly. The detective disappeared into the peripheries, while Erik and Antoinette waited.

And waited.

Finally, a doctor in a pristine lab coat approached them. "Mrs Greer and Mister Leroux?" He enquired in the too-hushed voice of waiting rooms. At Erik's firm nod, he continued: "The boy's out of surgery now, if you wanted to wait for him to come to."

The first few moments in the room seemed to take an eternity. The too-small form of the only surviving Mabry was dwarfed in the hospital bed, his skin almost paler than the sheets. Erik's mind recoiled in outrage at the sight of his face.

Time returned to the normal pace as Antoinette cried in despair and rushed to her grandson's side. "Why aren't his injuries covered?" He demanded in a growl from the lavender-clad nurse.

"It's best in this type of injury to let the fresh stitches breathe." She answered, but the music gave way to the fact that she didn't even know if she was telling the truth. "A post-operative care team will be in soon to dress them." She hoped.

Then there was only standing and pacing, the wait while a doctor could find the time between the other emergencies to come and tell them the extent of what was going to happen. It seemed to take days, but finally a scuffed and stressed middle-aged doctor entered the room. He picked up the clipboard and pretended to browse – Erik could tell by the music that he was trying to gather the courage to confront them.

"Cameron's going to be just fine." He explained after a moment, turning a smile towards them. At Antoinette's look of utter disbelief and Erik's stony expression, he continued. "...from a medical point of view. His injuries were mainly facial and rather superficial. There will be some scarring on the right side of his face, but plastic surgery will be able to clear the scarring by eighty percent." He checked the clipboard once more. "There is some bruising on the torso, from the seat-belt most likely, so we would like to keep him under observation overnight, just to ensure there is no internal bleeding."

"That will be unnecessary." Erik interrupted the doctor coolly. "We have a personal practitioner. Make all referrals to one Doctor Neil Charles, and include a transfer of any necessary documents. If he is fit for travel, we will be taking him home immediately."

Outraged, but knowing that Erik Leroux was clearly someone not to be messed around with the doctor nodded and went to go deal with the mess of paperwork.

Erik collapsed into the seat beside Antoinette, at a loss to what he was expected to do.

...

The bombshell dropped a few days later. According to the late Mabry's attorney, they had changed their will a fortnight previously, leaving everything to Cameron and leaving Cameron in the sole care of Erik.

The phantom had been bewildered, and during their moment alone when their charge was asleep, he whispered hopelessly to Antoinette: "I cannot take him."

She'd turned outraged eyes onto him. "You selfish prat." She'd growled angrily. "That boy has just lost his entire world, and you still want to take yourself away?"

"No." He answered resolutely. "I could not hurt him like that, not now." He shook his head and clutched at his arms. "I only meant that I am not fit to raise a child, Antoinette. I am barely able to take care of myself, what am I to do with a child's life in my hands?" He daren't mention that any life in his hands seemed to fall to pieces. She didn't need the excess grief.

"Peggy and Greg obviously thought you could do it." Antoinette pointed out stiffly. "Alone. Their last instructions declared that we were to share guardianship of Cam. They obviously changed their minds about your needing my help."

"There must be some mistake." Erik decided, shaking his head. "Three weeks ago, I strangled Peggy against my bedroom wall and she shortly after swore that Cameron would not be under my terrorizing control any longer. She must have meant to remove me as guardian, not make me the only."

"I'll call the attorney, see if there could have been a mistake."

There wasn't. Mrs Mabry had been adamant about the changes she made, making him repeat the phrase word-for-word a dozen times before she was satisfied. Later, Mister Mabry had stopped by and sought to confirm the change in person. There was no error: Erik was the sole guardian.

There were letters to explain, if Mrs Greer cared to come retrieve them. She did and a week after the tragedy, Erik found himself presented with his own letters from ghosts. He felt sick to the stomach, as he read the words of a woman whom he had wronged so entirely.

'Dear Erik,

I'm guessing this will all come as a surprise to you. At the date of this letter, only a few days ago you were choking me against your wall. Even yesterday when we came to collect Cameron from you and swore you would never see him again I didn't know what had befallen you. I'm sure Christine is a fine and loving woman. I've never seen this side to her, but she could not be or you couldn't love her.

Cameron has explained what events took place some time before we came to get him. Of Christine and how she ended things, about the Vicomte's visit and the revelation of their child. If Christine is as loving as you have conveyed, she would give the child the best family she could. What could I do, but the very same?

Cam is so young, Erik, but he already looks up to you above all else. If, heaven forbid, anything happens to Greg and I, you are the one I want to raise our son. But, if you are reading this, I guess something has happened. Take care of him, Erik – and treat him like the son you could never have with Christine. He deserves that much, at least.

We have removed guardianship from Mum, but do not be afraid to turn to her if you are at a loss. I know your childhood was not ideal, though you have never shared the details. But I know you can do a fine job with Cam. We all do. '

The handwriting then became the chicken-scratch script of Gregory Mabry, Erik's first and only real friend.

' Erik, if you can spare Cameron one tenth of the devotion you have shown the Populaire over the past twenty years, then you will be ten times the father I have been. I know you. I trust you. You will raise my boy to be the gentleman I never could.

You deserve more in life than Christine has given you, and if Cameron can fill some of the hole she left behind then you are getting back some of which you have lost.

All the best,

Gregory and Margaret Mabry '.

Christine's voice sung to him in a haunting and decisive reprise she had never sung: " Just love, just live, just give what you can give, and take the love that you deserve."

He closed his eyes and clenched his free fist. "I'll do it."

...

Cameron didn't seem to acknowledge his parents' passing at all, except to ask Erik: "If it's my home too now, do I get to swim in our lake?"

Despite his Godson's eagerness, he refused the boy permission to swim until the boy was healed. According to a grief therapist, the boy would accept the truth in his own terms, and Erik would best not push the grieving process. Denial was the first stage, and some children could spend a fair while resisting the knowledge of a parent's passing.

So he found work to do, and Cameron music to practice. But Cameron continued to beg to swim in the lake, called by something Erik couldn't conceive.

He finally gave in one afternoon. He signed the last of the paperwork confirming the date of the Broadway production being brought forward and approved the itinerary of the dinner to finish the last of the negotiations.

By the time he was finished denying performance rights to other theatre companies, it was well into the afternoon. The cast would be arriving soon, and his silence was very soon to be interrupted. Flexing his gloved fingers in annoyance, he turned to see Cameron watching the lake eagerly. "It is rather cold in there, you realise?"

"Yes, Erik." Cameron acknowledged, nodding.

"There is a rather lot to trip over as well." Erik warned tiredly. "Watch your feet. If you find any ropes or tracks, don't touch them. They are important in the grand scheme of things."

"If I find anything else?" The boy asked eagerly.

"Don't touch any wires or cables. Anything else you're more than welcome to bring up." Erik answered primly, before sinking into the throne and gesturing the boy to go.

The boy changed with more speed than Erik had thought him capable, and was yelping as he strode determined into the cold lake. Erik was reminded fondly of the time he had choked the boy's father against the closed portcullis, tinged with mourning for the two lost lives. If he had only stayed, he and Christine could be together right now and the Mabry family would not have been torn apart.

"Why is there a train track under here?" Cameron asked, coming up for air.

"It's not a train track. It's a track for the boat, when I have not the capabilities to row it myself." Erik answered calmly. The boy wanted to know everything about anything. Children were rather tiring like that.

Cameron paddled to the bank and dropped a broken fountain pen onto the stone. Erik chuckled slightly as he remembered exactly how it had gotten in there. The design for Christine's wedding dress had set him off into quite a tiff.

"What does this rope do?" Cameron asked, half-buried under the water as he felt the rope. "It's loose."

"That is part of the mechanism that pulls up the portcullis." Erik answered calmly.

The boy dove back under and reappeared quite a distance away, an algae-covered and malformed porcelain mask in his hands. "What—"

"A failed attempt at making a mask. From before you were born." Erik called before the boy could ask the question.

"Will you show me how you make your masks?" Cameron asked, paddling back to the shore to deposit the latest find. He paused by the banks, and touched his scarred and swollen face.

"Not while you're in the water." Erik answered softly, trying not to imagine what Cameron would face in the world above for his scars. "One more dive, Cameron. Your lips are going blue." He instructed warily.

The boy cheated him, shooting up for air and ducking back below before he had time to say anything. Erik shook his head in amusement and went to stand at the banks. He collected the reclaimed items and reminded himself to discard them in a more appropriate place.

Goose-fleshed and chattering, Cameron waded out of the lake, clutching a number of items in his hand. "W-when I g-g-g-g-row up-p-p, I'm g-g-g-going t-t-to l-l-live und-d-der the s-s-sea." Cameron said through chattering teeth.

Erik arched an eyebrow. "Are you?" He asked challengingly, "Which sea?"

Cameron's eyes went wide. "Th-th-there's m-more than one?" He asked shocked.

Erik wrapped him in a thick towel. "There are seven." He answered calmly. "And seven more oceans." He added matter-of-factly.

"Have you seen them all?" Cameron asked eagerly.

"None." Erik answered smoothly.

"That's what you get for living beneath an Opera House for your whole life." Cameron teased warmly, no longer chattering. "I'm going to see them all!" he pointed eagerly.

"Of course. You must choose which one is best to live under." Erik agreed smoothly. "Now, what else did you find under there?"

Cameron released his algae-covered finds from his cupped hands, letting them fall all over the floor. Erik assessed most of it to be a number of nuts and bolts and wondered forebodingly exactly what had fallen apart this time. Cameron shoved most aside and withdrew a rather large, particularly round nut. He held it up to the light, and Erik's throat caught as it glinted gold.

He held his hand out for it and the boy handed it over obediently. They both recognised the music surrounding the object. He scrubbed at the metal desperately, revealing the wide gold band and the square in-laid diamond. He sobbed, turning it to read the inscription on the inside. Christine's voice echoed through the music, singing the words Erik now knew so well:

"Love Never Dies..."

The ring was exactly how he remembered. And he had seen it a thousand times, wrapped around Christine's thumb, and for one brief time, around his own finger. The one the Fop had worn was a good imitation, but not perfect. Erik clenched his fist around the icy metal.

Erik chuckled self-deprecatingly and opened his hand to stare at the nearly clean ring in his hand. " Ah, Christine. My Christine, though I swore our goodbye was goodbye." He sung, getting to his feet and looking out at the passageways beyond the portcullis, " But Christine, now I know what we shared was so no lie! Ah Christine, this will return you to me, back where you know you should be! My sweet Christine! "

"Are you going after her this time?" Cameron asked eagerly at his elbow.

"Get dressed, Cameron. I must take you to Antoinette." Erik commanded resolutely.

...

"You shouldn't be here." Christine said matter-of-factly, closing the door behind her. "We agreed we were done."

He shook his head, rising from the armchair. "That was a decision made on incorrect assumptions." He answered calmly. "How was Monte Carlo?"

She gave him a derisive look and pulled the kettle down from the mantel. "I didn't expect you to come. I thought for sure you would hate me for the rest of my life." She commented eventually, in the same matter-of-fact tone.

"The fault is not your own, mon ange." He announced softly. "You see, I believed the Fop meant more to you than he truly did."

"Whatever are you on about?" She asked curiously, kneeling by the coffee table and pouring two cups of tea.

"You see, your meddlesome Fop would have done anything to have you to himself, including wilfully deceiving us both." He took her hands with a gentle affection that belied his harsh tone. "We should have expected it from one of the Aristocracy. He told just enough truth to not blatantly lie, but he painted a picture entirely different to the situation before him."

Christine frowned. Yes, that did sound like the aristocrats she knew, but what on earth was Erik talking about?

"When he came to see me, the Fop told me you were engaged." He explained calmly. "I, foolishly, believed him. He twisted some things to make me believe it, but above all else, I thought he was wearing your father's promise ring."

Christine shook her head in denial of the statement. "He wasn't. I haven't had that ring since—"

"Since you threw it in my lake." Erik agreed calmly, pulling a small golden object out of his waistcoat pocket. "Cameron found it yesterday. It made me realise that things were not how they appeared."

"You're not married to Miss Brighton? And Cameron's not your son?" Christine blurted out, desperate to have it confirmed, as she took the ring and attempted to wipe away some left over grime.

Erik's eyebrow arched sharply. "Is that what you thought, mon ange? While I can tell you may confuse the relationship I have with my godson, what on earth led you to believe that I was married to that harlot?" he asked mildly.

"I thought..." Christine sighed and turned away, ashamed. "You contracted her to the Populaire, and gave her our musical." She answered quietly.

He clucked his tongue slightly, reaching forward to embrace her. Blushing with the shame of her own temptation, she turned away and took a sip of tea. "Ah, Christine. What fools we have both been." He whispered. He ghosted over the curls escaping from her business-up-do "The answer to those concerns is the very same. Miss Brighton has a spectacular voice." He answered. "It's undeniable. I thought it would be successful for the Populaire to have a spectacle available for every possible show. I did the same for Mister Peterson."

Christine nodded, accepting his reasons. "And the show?"

"Christine, the Phantom of the Opera was yours." He turned her chin with a gloved finger and looked deeply into her eyes. "It was always yours." He said seriously. And, like it had always been, he seemed to be saying more than his simple words meant.

She shivered slightly and sat back against the seat, turning the ring around in her hands. She paused to read the inscription. "Amor Nunquam Morirtur – Love Never Dies." She recited calmly. She shook her head slightly with a slight smile and handed it back to him. "I gave it to you. I meant for you to keep it." She said firmly in reply to his questioning look. "It's the least I can give you. A mere sentiment to ease some of your pain."

He slipped the ring onto his right index finger and studied her for a moment. "Annul the marriage." He announced abruptly. "I can give you everything the Vicomte can offer you. Everything but a title."

She shook her head. "I couldn't, Erik. You know me, you know my heart." She said softly, fingering the handle of her cup.

"Marriage vows are of the utmost." Erik sighed, disappointed.

She smiled sadly. "Would you love me if I thought anything else?" She asked, a little teasingly.

"Yes." He answered vehemently. "I would love you whatever the case, Christine. You know that just as well as I do."

She nodded absently, eyes unfocused as she lost herself in thought. "Why did you leave, Erik?" She asked painfully. He sucked in a breath through his teeth and sighed. "Seven years ago. You made me choose between you and Greg – not that it was ever a choice – but then you left me."

Erik frowned, watching the ring on his finger. "I don't remember everything, Christine." He answered calmly. "I barely remember anything about those precious few months we had together. I tried to hard to remember and forgot." He shook his head absently. "I remember...I remember thinking that you would learn to hate me. I remember wanting you to have a real life, not a half-one buried beneath the Populaire. I remember...thinking that my love would destroy you."

Christine cupped his bare face with her free hand, the music twisting around her heart. "Perhaps it would have. Maybe it wouldn't. It hardly matters – that was so long ago, and we can't change things now. I only wanted to know 'why'." She shook her head slightly, releasing him.

An introspective silence drifted over them, interrupted only by Christine's occasional sip of her tea.

Eventually, Erik asked: "Will you be happy, Christine?"

She laughed slightly. "No." She answered lightly. "No, my happiness was never in the equation." She added softly, not bitter in the slightest. "But I knew that from the beginning. Anything with Raoul is always about Raoul."

"I would give you happiness." He pointed out petulantly.

She smiled, quietly excepting the life she had given up. "Yes, you would have. I think you were the only one who could." She gave a bitter little chuckle. "Had you come to me with any of this before the wedding, I would have called it off." She pointed out.

"I hadn't found the ring before the ceremony." He mused, with a calmness to match her own. Their meeting was so civil – a depiction of what her entire life would be now. Their meetings had always been passionate and exciting. This was so... trite. "I guess it was not meant to be, then."

She shrugged and set down her empty cup. She stood and looked out the window. Monte Carlo had been awful. Before that week, she had never known about Raoul's well-concealed gambling addiction, or his preference for empty-headed blondes. He'd spent their wedding night bedding the twin cabaret act. She had spent it crying into a fountain. It was an interesting glance into the future.

"Their story doesn't have to end." She realised suddenly. She turned to find Erik standing just behind her and to the side, looking out at the vineyard. He blinked and looked at her, his expression nonplussed. "Our characters, from your musical." She clarified.

"Christine sails off into the world with the dashing young Vicomte, I think that's a fairly concise ending, mon ange." Ah, there was the bitterness she knew and loved.

"Maybe if you'd played the end differently." She pointed out rationally. "If Christine had just left, then maybe. But she came back. If she could do it once, then who's to say she wouldn't do it again. I think it's rather blatant that she would."

"Really?" He asked, hope glowing in his eyes.

She sighed. "Don't misconstrue that, Erik. My marriage is final. But she would come back. I know she would."

"Ten years later, with a bastard in her wake?" He muttered, words mocking the Vicomte.

She shrugged, trying to be nonchalant. "If that's the way you see it." She dismissed. She didn't think about the things that could have been, but ultimately were not. "There's no set story there, Erik. Let the Music take you where it thinks it should." She heard a muffled, horribly falsetto voice from the floor above and stiffened. "You should go." She announced. If that barmaid was awake, then Raoul would be soon and if he caught Erik here...

He was swiftly by the door. "Shall I ever see you again, Christine? Or is it Vicomtess now?" He asked, his tone unreadable.

"Technically it's Vicomtess Catherine de Chagny." She answered sourly. "But I'd probably hit you if you ever called me that." She threatened with a grin.

He crossed the room and held her tight in a few short steps. "Might I have one last kiss to remember you by, mon ange?" He pleaded.

She laughed. "That would be a terrible idea. You know how I feel about adultery." She shook her head and stepped away from him. "A kiss is never 'just a kiss'."

"This is goodbye, then?" He asked gingerly, his sorrow laced through the Music.

"You can't be my friend, Erik – I won't ask that of you." She half-smiled and lost herself in the thoughts of better times. "You once said you could deny me nothing, and if any of that remains... plus, your love for me would make you want to see me. We would be friends, Erik – and then our love would be wasted. I would rather never see you than have another stupidly amicable meeting like this ever again."

"Yes, it's been awful." He agreed with a glimmer of amusement. His face grew serious and sorrowful. "Goodbye, then, Christine."

She sighed and closed her eyes. "Leave before I look up, Erik. I couldn't bear to see you leave again."

He bent her head down slightly and pressed a kiss to her forehead that burnt with the pain it inflicted. "Amor nunquam moritur." He whispered, his breath ghosting against her ear.

She shivered. "Love never dies." She returned. She looked up again and found the room utterly empty, the door firmly closed.

Sobbing, she let her grief flood over here. God, she was an idiot. What was she doing swearing fealty to an idiot who spent their entire honeymoon in a blaze of gambling and adultery? It was foolish, but she couldn't deny her own morals. She had sworn fealty and obedience, through everything, 'till death do them part.

Her mother couldn't uphold them, and apparently Raoul couldn't – but she would, even if she had to destroy everything she was to do so.

Christine wiped her eyes and went to the mirror above the mantel to make sure her hair was in order, vain as it seemed. But then she heard Raoul's precise, ringing footsteps coming down the hall – they announced his presence in that presentive way that seemed to be taught to all aristocratic gentlemen. She'd asked Raoul as a foolish teenager where he had gone to finishing school. He'd refused to speak to her for seven weeks.

It had been a lonely school holiday.

The door opened with a sound that seemed to infiltrate the whole room. Had Christine not already been stock-still, she would have frozen at the very noise. "Good morning, Raoul." She greeted, coming to his side and giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek.

His nostrils flared. "You've been with the chef again, haven't you?" He demanded coldly. "You reek of chocolate – do we need to discuss your eating habits again, Lotte? Because I thought you'd learnt your lesson years ago."

"I merely passed through the kitchen, darling." She replied easily, sitting at the table. "Perhaps leant in to smell a pot – but I didn't eat anything. I know how you feel about snacking." This was all true, but she avoided the true reason of why she smelt of chocolate. She had barely touched her Angel, but it clung to her like an old cloak.

Raoul hummed, obviously not quite believing her, but not bothered enough to begin an argument. He looked around the room in distaste. "Why this drawing room, Lotte? The Chateaux has a hundred rooms much more elegant for receiving guests." He pointed out coldly.

"This is my private tea room, darling." She answered in her carefully-prepared 'wife' voice. "I've taken the green room in the east wing for reception. The one with the powder-room attached? You remember – the room where Marie used to keep the tea-pots." She didn't dare mention that she'd chosen this room because it was the farthest from both Raoul's study and his personal chambers.

"What is it with you British and tea? Why do you need a whole room just for drinking tea...by yourself...?" He began to trail off as he spotted the second, untouched teacup on the coffee table. "You ungrateful little harlot." He spat venomously.

Her temper clicked. That he dare think such things of her when he himself...! "Yes, and how is Claire this morning?" She retorted, deeply sarcastic.

At the harsh slap of his hand against her cheek, she almost wished she hadn't said anything. She merely moved her ringing head back into position and smiled at him pleasantly. She could hear his guilt coursing through the music, but his expression was completely controlled. One couldn't show one's wife one's true emotions, after all. Especially not in France.

"You've been in here with someone!" He hissed furiously, "Lotte, I will not have you make sport of me behind my back! You are to act as a proper wife, and you will not mock me behind my back!"

"I wouldn't dream of it, darling." She answered, with perfect innocence. "But ask any of the staff, Raoul – no one has been in or out of this hallway bar us two all morning." She had hoped, if Erik hadn't the foresight to slip in unnoticed, that Marie would coach her staff not to breathe a word of his coming. Her face was alight from simple backchat – what would happen if Raoul knew she'd received a visit from the man she loved? Regardless of whether or not anything had occurred, Raoul's assumptions were more dangerous than anything else.

"Be sure I will." With a challenging look, he picked up the unused teacup and threw it against the wall, staining the wallpaper with murky brown tea. "Send for Marie to get that cleaned up." He commanded, before slamming the door behind him.

Christine held a trembling hand to her face and let tears slip uncontrolled down her face. Raoul was a disgusting brute, but she had sworn fealty to him. He had never struck her before, so maybe... maybe he was still drunk from the night before? She hoped so, because she would rather die than live in a house where she was struck for every minor offence.

"I should have stayed with Erik." She whispered to herself. She shook her head violently, "Don't speak such nonsense." She scolded. She straightened her clothes and checked that her hair was still in order. The thick make-up she had employed to hide her tired face was covering the bruising nicely. Still, she would spend the day inside, just in case.

...

The Fop's ridiculously put-upon swagger was identical to his father's and uncles' – the Stride de Chagny, was one of the nicer names the hired help had bequeathed it in Erik's youth. As soon as the Vicomte turned the corner, Erik dashed out and brought him back behind a curtain, the tasselled tie wrapped firmly around his neck.

"If you touch her again, it will be the last thing you do." He whispered in frigid French next to the Fop's ears.

He was making pathetic whimpering noises, and breathy pleas for his life. Erik released him and slipped back through a panel in the wall as the pathetic excuse for a man stumbled crying down the hallway. He wouldn't be surprised if the idiot had soiled himself for fear.

He reappeared in the drawing room that was Marie's headquarters. "You are sure you won't leave with me?" He said by way of announcement.

"Someone has to be here to make sure Christine is okay." Marie dismissed his enquiry easily.

"Then I have a job for you, if you'd be so generous." He informed his sister, handing her a top-of-the-range mobile phone. "If the Vicomte so much as lays a finger on her, I want to know about it. And I mean that literally – if he puts a finger to her chin, I want a text message. Any touch she gives you may dismiss, a hand on the arm, a peck on the check. But if he even brushes against her in the hallway, I want to hear of it. You understand?"

"Perfectly clear. The Vicomte has no physical contact with his wife." Marie nodded, tucking the phone away in a pocket of her apron. "You will write, won't you Erik? And in the winter break if the Vicomtess has gone to Paris, you will bring this Cameron to the Chateaux, won't you?"

He nodded stiffly. "He has already sworn that the Mabry home is open to you and your two daughters at any point imaginable. He wants to live with me under the Populaire – I wanted to insist otherwise but Antoinette was adamant."

"The boy loves you, Erik. He needs to be with you and you can't just uproot yourself. Take it slowly and I'm sure you will manage to live aboveground, but for now he will just have to be with you." There was a tense pause. "Is he really—?" She could not find a word, but gestured to the right side of her face.

"It will be easier to tell when the swelling has gone down, but they had to take his eye." Marie shivered at the news that had broken everyone's heart. "I want him to have the surgery but Antoinette insists it's his decision." He sighed. "I have promised him we will make masks upon my return."

She nodded, and their conversation lingered and dwindled until it was time for him to go. He kissed her cheek and wished her the best. At the doorway, he repeated: "A single finger." Before swinging his cloak and disappearing into the night.

He stood beneath the window to Christine's bedroom and watched as she looked down at him with an arched eyebrow. She mouthed the word 'go' and closed the curtains with a resolute expression.

Erik began to walk towards the village, taking the time on the way to take off the Promise Ring and study it under the starlight. 'A mere sentiment', Christine had called it. But the ring had always meant much more to them both than that. She'd told the story with eagerness but regret so many years ago. The ring had been a gift from her mother and her father had worn it well past the end of their marriage. It was with this very ring that Miranda Sinclair had declared that she loved Charles Daae. The violinist returned the sentiment with an engagement ring. He turned the ring in a brief glimpse of moonlight, catching the engraving with deep shadows.

Love Never Dies.

The tune of his heartfelt aria began to twist through the Music. Christine had all but commanded him to finish their story, to give them an ending they deserved but ultimately couldn't have. He would do it if it killed him. But he would do more of that. Raoul had began to make arrangements for the stage career of his wife, beginning with an anniversary concert for some modern composer.

Christine would use the voice he had given her to build the career she had always dreamed of. Then, at the very pinnacle of her success, he would bring her back to the Populaire for one final performance – a song he wrote for their musical. A song he would compose for her.

Erik clenched his fist around the ring and lifted his masked face to the moon. " And come what may, if just for one sweet day: I will hear you sing once more!"



Chapter 11: Epilogue


Cameron had spent most of his childhood under his own self-delusion that he was the secret love child of Erik Leroux and Christine Daae. After his Granny's passing, the belief became impossible to sustain. They laid her beside her beloved daughter Peggy, and the illusions Cameron had built to protect himself from the truth came crashing down.

Erik removed him from the cemetery three days later, dying from pneumonia and malnutrition. That was the first time he'd been back in a hospital since the accident. Erik had a private doctor, and the grey-haired old man had been present at all the illness of his youth and early teens – every moment from Erik's mental breakdown at the organ, through his own rehabilitation after the crash, even at Granny's deathbed holding her wrist in a trembling hand.

Cameron had not fared well in the hospital, but emerged with a clean bill of health and the restoration of his identity. After that, Erik had sent his godson-cum-surrogate-son away to a prestigious boarding school. It had, after all, been Erik's disappearance that had nearly killed Cameron.

The Vicomte had touched Christine's arm while entering a car, and reappeared at Christine's gala two nights later with an arm in a cast. Erik's return had coincided with Cameron's third day at the graves.

He had begged and pleaded not to go, threatened and cajoled with all his being. But Erik's will was the strongest, and Cameron had taken a trunk of all his belongings and stepped out into the real world. He'd hated it almost instantly.

Erik, after all, was not society's expectation of a well-adjusted human being. Cameron's social skills were a half-formed blend of Erik's romantic chivalry and the interactions he spied around the theatre or on the stage.

What relationships may have withstood that were obliterated by the wreckage that composed the left side of his face. From the hairline down to his collar bone, skirting his nose and lips, Cameron's skin was a mess of pink and white scar tissue. He had a number of fake eyes made up, but personally preferred the one of black onyx that didn't pretend to be what it wasn't. The headmaster forbade it, but alone in his room it was the on he was wont to wear.

Cameron already played any instrument with the ease of a master, and without someone with a Soul of Music to share the true wonderment with his inner musician fell by the wayside. His obsession instead turned to mechanics – he wanted to know how everything worked and had problems resting until he knew the answers that vexed him. When mechanical wonderments began to run dry, he turned his adoration to the foreign world.

He'd grown up out of his determination to live under the sea (well, mostly) but now desired to see every country in the world. Although Erik was a little wounded by his desire to return home all but disappearing, he catered to his godson's wishes as best he could. Entire holidays were spent in the other Western wonders – when he was fourteen, the lively coastlines of Australia for the summer (he may have donned his mask and done some prankery in the architectural wonderment that was the Sydney Opera House) and the Tanner Reef for a sea-breeze Christmas; the decrepit Coney Island for his fifteenth summer and an icy Christmas cruise around the Netherlands.

Erik had promised him Austria for the summer vacation of his sixteenth year, but Cameron was overcome by a bout of homesickness for the darkened caverns of the Populaire Theatre. And that had everything to do with Morgan Riley.

Morgan had been to Cameron the Angel of Perfection. Blessed with curls spent hours taming into perfection and a smile that broke a man's heart, Morgan had shocked Cameron by looking upon him with kindness and desire. In the common mistake of adolescence, the teens fell upon each other in a hazy night of lust and gratification.

Cameron should have seen the aftermath, but was blinded by first infatuation. After the smoke cleared on the wreckage, he could only be glad that he had not loved the blue-eyed demon and move on with his life.

But he still wanted to wallow, and knew no better place in the world than his godfather-come-surrogate-father's underground lake. So he missed the plane to Vienna and paid a coach to take him home instead.

He spent the trip in nervous derangement – how was he to make up for the thousands of pounds' worth of holiday he had just simply skipped out on? What if Erik didn't want him there at all, and that's why he had not offered his home? And how the hell was he supposed to explain that Morgan was, in fact, a male and he could never continue the Mabry bloodline?

He told himself to be rational, and had calmed himself by the time he'd gotten on the tube and well on the way to the Populaire. It was the name of the theatre that first drew his attention to the two gossiping middle-aged ladies on the seat across from him.

"What's going on at the Populaire Theatre this season? I heard somewhere that they're putting on another run of Phantom." A bottle-blonde chattered eagerly.

Cameron had arched an eyebrow – that was news to him. Erik had sworn not to put Phantom back on that stage until...no, he couldn't have!

"Uh-huh!" The bottle-redhead replied with just as much enthusiasm. "I hear Mister Leroux is really close to finishing the sequel we've been waiting on for thirteen years. It's one last run of Phantom to build us up before the new one debuts."

"I remember now! They're going to hold a press release on a secret date! And do you wanna know who's singing?"

Cameron really did, but the doors were opening on his station and he really didn't want to sit on the tube for another hour until it came back. Besides, he would find out within an hour or two anyway. Steeling his courage, he ascended to the upper world and walked the block and a half to the Populaire Theatre, just as magnificent as he remembered.

But it was the figure who thanked him as he held open the door that really stole Cameron's breath away. With chocolate-brown curls in utter disarray, the deepest brown eyes Cameron had ever looked into and the most endearing frown he had ever seen on a human being, a slight boy of what might be seventeen or eighteen breezed past with a soft 'thank you'.

Cameron let the door swing shut and sat weakly down on the steps. The music in the boy's wake was a perfect blend of his godfather and a woman who he could have sworn he wouldn't see again. He had just seen the love-child of Erik and Christine...and was instantly enthralled.

This would not be good.



TEASER: CHILD OF THE WILDERNESS


-TEASER FOR THE THIRD AND FINAL PART OF THE SOUL OF MUSIC TRILOGY: CHILD OF THE WILDERNESS-

Raoul sat in Box Five, clutching the arm-rests as hard as he could. His knuckles were an unseemly white colour from the strain, but he could not force them to relax. Any moment now, Little Lotte would appear on the stage and sing for that monster, her Angel of Music.

He was scared and a little disgusted. One side of his mind taunted him – if he had treated his Little Lotte properly from the beginning of their union, then perhaps she never would have returned to the damned Populaire Theatre, to sing a song her Angel wrote as her last before she left her husband.

Raoul had blackmailed the lawyers into giving him the information they were instructed to keep secret – his Little Lotte had signed the divorce papers, and Raoul was in despair. She was his, damn it! He had won her over ten years ago! Maybe it had been dishonest, or even amoral, but she had sworn herself to him and she should not have been leaving now.

The Master of Ceremonies appeared on the stage beside a microphone stand. "And now, to sing the title aria from Erik Leroux's brand new musical, it is my honour to introduce the Vicomtess Catherine de Chagny!"

The audience screamed its approval as the lights dimmed to darkness and the orchestra began to play. The curtain slowly opened to reveal a single spotlight glowing on a staircase. There was a murmur of intrigue and disappointment – where was she?

Raoul gasped, hands clenching impossibly tighter on the arm rest. Would she sing? Was she even now packing her things in the dressing room and leaving for good? He wish he knew what his Little Lotte was thinking at that very moment. The orchestra was hesitant, and he could see obvious confusion in the pit – she was meant to be there. The conductor gave the musicians a stern look and indicated they return to the beginning of the score.

"Please, Christine," he whispered into the darkness, "stop the show."

The orchestra was still floundering, obviously distressed at the no-show. The audience had recognised that something was obviously going wrong. A couple of people were muttering hatefully and glaring in his direction. Like it was his fault that she was not there, gracing them with her voice.

He began to relax, relieved, as it became obvious that his Little Lotte was not going to sing. The conductor indicated they bring the song to a close.

But then, just as the orchestra brought the instrumental to its end and the Master of Ceremonies went to retake the stage, a glittering shoe appeared in the spotlight.