Chapter 1: In the Bleak Midwinter
It was the last night of January and one the coldest in history. If you dared to venture outside your breathing would turn to misty snow. In fact, snow was falling but the icy wind froze the poor flakes mid flight, turning them into little ice pebbles that fell painfully on anyone unhappy enough to walk the streets.
Not that anyone with any sense would dare go outside in this weather, who would expose themselves to such terrible conditions? No one except for one very exhausted man who was not dressed for the cold, but rather for a night at the theater. The only thing able to keep him warm was the soaking wet cape he kept wrapped tightly around his shivering frame, the brimmed hat pressed firmly on his head and perhaps the mask he wore on his face.
Two nights before this man had lost everything he had: the love of his live, his music and his home, at the very depths of the Paris Opera where he had once ruled as it's resident Phantom.
Those days were now behind him, he no longer was a Phantom, here on the streets he was nothing but Erik, a fragile very human man.
On the run for the mob for two days now he had been either hiding or walking, never resting and his strength was fading fast. Beyond fatigued he wished he could sit down somewhere but he couldn't risk falling asleep in the bitter cold. He had to keep walking, but he had been walking so very long.
Dragging himself through the mountains of frozen snow he had to stop every few yards to lean against a wall to gather the strength to continue. As he did a hacking cough escaped him, nearly making him collapse. He wrapped his arms around himself to settle his wheezing breath and winced in pain as he sensed his chest was hurting terribly.
Erik had already felt out of sorts before the events of that faithful night. Events that were now a blurry memory. His head had been burning from a debilitating ache, it still did, pounding now. The icy cold and lack of any form of rest had aggravated it. Feeling his tired eyes closing just from resting against the wall he knew he had to continue moving and fast. He forced his unwilling body to stagger on.
There had to be somewhere, anywhere to hide. Somewhere sheltered from the cold where he could sit, even for a few minutes.
Slower, ever slower Erik's body moved, his legs protesting at the never ending demands put upon them. He moved closer the houses, using their walls to keep him from collapsing. A yearning to sleep overtook his brain, to just sleep where he stood. He fought it but lacked the strength, sleep closed his eyes with a vengeance and for a while it seemed he just couldn't open them anymore.
Stumbling blindly on he fought against his bodies wishes and forced his eyes to open. Sadly it was too late for his blurry vision to notice the icy patch before him and Erik's fragile, broken, body slammed to the pavement.
For a moment he simply lay on the icy concrete, his breath taken away by the force with which his body had contacted the ground. It was the final straw and for a few seconds Erik curled up into himself on the freezing ground to give in to the tears that he had tried to repress for so long.
But his body was too weakened to cry for long. Laying there on the ice all it wanted was … sleep.
His eyes closed.
For a second the urge to give up was all encompassing. He had lost everything, he had lost Christine! Life had already lost it's meaning so why not let it go? He was so tired, so terribly tired, why not stop this hell of pain and walking? Death would be gentle if he'd just go to sleep now. The cold would lull him into a peaceful slumber and soon his misery would be over. Yes, it was for the best.
Giving in to the voice in his head he almost let himself fall asleep, but then another voice called out to him: the voice of self preservation. It told him to get up as soon as possible. What if they found him like this in the morning? What if they put his corpse on display and mock him for all eternity? What if Christine would see his corpse in the papers? Was this how he wanted her to remember him?
No, that would not do.
With a mighty effort he once more opened his eyes. Unbearably slowly he sat up, his body almost too fatigued to move at all. But he had to go on. If he really did not want to freeze to death he could not stay still. He rose and cursed at the pain he felt shooting through his ankle as he tried to get to his feet. The throbbing ache sent him spiraling back to the ground.
Trying to regain his composure he forced himself to focus on his surroundings. Unable to stand up he felt terrified and exposed: where could he go? Where was he?
He could make out some sort of castle near him. He forced himself to crawl towards it’s gates for a closer look.
His numb fingers prickled with pain when he dragged himself up on the iron bars to see where he'd ended up at. Looking at the crest he had to do a double take.
To his amazement the endless hours of walking had led him straight to the Chagny estate without him even being aware of it; this was meant to be!! His delirious mind told him that if he was close to Christine he'd be safe.
A hole in the hedge of the estate gave him an idea: estates had many empty sheds and buildings. He was so very tired, cold and in so much pain, maybe he could find a place to rest on the grounds somewhere. No-one could begrudge him that, could they? If he could find shelter he'd at-least be safe for the night. Safe and near to Christine for one more night! Was this his reward for baring all the pain, for the fact he kept going?
Squinting his eyes he could see what looked like an empty shed just waiting for him to rest his weary bones. No-one ever gave these sheds any thought, they were left to rot away. Maybe a days rest, to heal his ankle, nothing more. His dear Christine. He would not visit her, but just revel in the thought of being near her.
He would be near Christi …
His body had grown so weakened that the new, fresh pain of his ankle and the idea of Christine being so very close was too much for it to bear and slowly he slid back down the gate again, briefly losing consciousness.
Waking up a few seconds later he knew he'd better get to his new shelter fast, before Christine would be confronted with his corpse clinging to her gates in the morning. He could not do that to her.
Crawling through the frozen bushes was hard when he kept blacking out. Unable to walk he crawled the last few yards to the empty shed as well. The thin skin of his bony fingers split open from cold and colored parts of the white snow red. Erik's pain was beyond unbearable and tears of agony froze behind his mask.
After what seemed like endless hours of suffering he finally reached it: his shelter. It was still cold inside the shed, but at-least it was dry. Not that it mattered as his clothes were drenched. But he was away from the elements and the chance of discovery and that by itself was relief enough.
His eyes, blurred though his sight now was, still retained enough of their night vision to notice the hay that lay in the far corner. Using the very last of his strength he dragged his body to where he could finally rest for a while. The moment he collapsed onto the hay was the moment everything went blissfully black.
Christine Daaé woke up as she had done every morning since the events beneath the Opera house: confused and with a sense of loss. Every morning her first thought had been: Where is he? Is he alright? She could not understand: why where her first thoughts of each day for Erik? Why not Raoul?
She shook her head, pushing her worries away. It did not matter now. He was gone and she would never see him again.
Slowly she stepped out of bed, shivering from the sudden cold that hit her body. Her warm bed had made her forget the icy temperatures outside.
A different chill overtook her heart: what if he was out there, alone in the cold?
Oh, she couldn’t bear it.
Pushing the thoughts of him away again she quickly slipped into her warm dressing gown and went downstairs.
Trying to think happier thoughts to distract her, Christine decided to take breakfast by the garden window that morning. It was such a beautiful winter's day: the sunlight was lighting up the snowy scene in a way that made it look like the garden was covered with a multitude of diamonds.
As she bit her toast the girl watched Raoul potter about the garden. She decided it would be fun to watch what he did for a bit. Christine’s interest peaked when she noticed him move towards the shed, his posture seemingly confused. He stepped inside. About five minutes later she saw him dash out again and run back to their house, he appeared as if he had seen a ghost.
Watching him run back to the shed again within a few seconds with a blanket of all things was too much. She grabbed her cloak, requested her maids clogs and dashed out of the house.
Raoul Vicomte de Chagny had risen early that morning. After waking round five o’clock he had not been able to get back to sleep. He had taken his time to dress and had read his newspaper while eating a leisurely breakfast. When daylight finally arrived he decided he would take a stroll around his estate.
Stepping outside Raoul took a deep breath of fresh air and looked around. How splendid it all seemed, like a picture postcard. A smile formed on his face as he begun his walk.
He loved the silence of the early morning and the sound of icy snow beneath his feet. Huddled in his warm clothes the cold didn’t bother him and with nothing to do the rest of the day he decided he would use this walk to inspect the outer reaches of his estate to see if everything held up after the heavy snowfall.
Half an hour later he had reached the gate. Everything seemed in order so far, or so he thought.
Just then he saw something odd. He frowned and stepped closer.
What Raoul had noticed were strange patterns in the snow as if someone had dragged themselves over the grounds. Without thinking he begun following this strange trail.
To his concern he noticed that halfway the traces in the snow became marked with, what looked like specs of blood.
Soon he realised that he was led to the old, tiny shed that was awaiting demolition in spring.
At the door the trail stopped.
With a sigh Raoul stopped as well, he swallowed. Intruders? Just his luck, all he’d wanted was a peaceful walk. With all he’d been through this week, was that too much to ask?
Then he heard an odd sound coming from the rickety building. Coming closer to the door he understood the sound to be a terrible coughing, a giant wheezing noise.
Oh it did sound awful. Maybe someone had fallen ill and decided to seek refuge in his shed.
He should go in to see if they needed help. If a person fell ill on his estate, was it not his responsibility?
Taking a deep breath Raoul stepped into the shed. For a second he saw nothing, then his eyes got used to the dim light that fell through the cracks of the walls and roof. There, at the back he saw what looked like a shape on the floor. For a few seconds Raoul thought it was a tramp who had searched shelter from the cold. Then he stepped closer and all colour drained from his face: the figure on the floor wore a cape and his face was covered with a mask. He knew the man in the shed could only be one person:
“Erik!!” the Viscount exclaimed. Quickly he stretched himself to his full length, ready to do … well … something. But the mighty Phantom remained motionless on the floor. Paying closer attention to the condition his former rival was in, Raoul realised that Erik was probably too weakened to move.
Unsure of himself Raoul knelt down next to him and saw that the man in front of him was in a terrible state. He was so delirious that he was clearly still oblivious to his presence.
His cracked lips were both bleeding and blue with cold. He also noticed Erik had wrapped his cape around himself in a desperate, but failed attempt to keep warm. He touched the material and shrank back with a shock: the cape felt as if it had been made from ice.
“Erik, what are you doing here?” He tried, hoping to understand what was going on.
A shudder went through Erik, the man tried to open his eyes but couldn’t. Then his lips moved in a way that seemed pleading. Softly he croaked “water ...”
“Water … please ...”
For a second Raoul closed his eyes, clenching his hands to fists. He thought how easy it would be to walk away, to leave Erik to his fate after all that had happened only a few days ago. Then he quickly pushed these thoughts away, thinking about Christine instead. Could he ever face her again knowing he had left her “Angel of Music” to die in their shed? She still clearly deeply cared about this man and had told him so much about what Erik had been through in his life that he had begun to understand him more than he'd like. Someone who had been treated the way Erik had been all his life could only be pitied.
Christine had explained that even as a baby Erik had never been held. His mother feared him, told him he was cursed by the devil, gave him a mask and that was it.
Erik had been attacked wherever he went, displayed as a freak until he realised that killing was his only form of protection. With no-one to teach him a better way and the only thing he was ever told was that he was a monster, not fit to live in society what chance did he have?
The fact that despite everything he still fell in love deeply and obsessively was astonishing. It wasn’t just a first love, but the first time he had allowed himself to love at all. It was bound to end in disaster. Still even at his most deranged Erik had allowed Christine to let him see the errors of his ways. One kiss was all it took. Probably the first time he’d ever been touched with kindness. After that he could even bring himself to spare the life of the rival who had come to take the only one he’d ever loved away …
Raoul swallowed at the lump that had formed in his throat. No, he could not leave him like this, for better or worse Erik was part of their lives now. Also, on a more selfish level, he wanted to know how the heck he'd ended up in his shed and how long he'd been there.
“Hang on Erik,” He said calmly, hoping the man would hear him, “I will get you water.”
He ran back to the house where he grabbed a flask that he filled with water and also took a winter blanket that was actually meant for his horses. Raoul figured that if it could protect big horses from the cold it might warm Erik a little too.
Within seconds he was back in the shed where he knelt down next to Erik again and tore away the cloak of ice. Erik whimpered in fear, his hands blindly grabbing for his only protection. Swiftly Raoul wrapped the horses blanket around him, stirring another whimper. He waited a few seconds for Erik to calm down, then Raoul lifted his head and put the flask to his mouth. The desperate man drank eagerly, until overwhelming exhaustion forced him to stop. Erik slumped in the Viscount arms and crawled closer, clearly following a primitive instinct to cling to heat. The man felt like a block of ice in his arms. Raoul felt the terrible shivering, the chattering of his teeth, the ragged feverish breathing.
“Raoul, what is going on? I saw you run to the shed with a blanket and … ERIK!!”
Brimming with curiosity Christine had burst through the door and immediately stopped in her tracks when she saw something that had not been on her list of secrets she expected the shed could hold. What was her fiancee doing on the floor cradling The Phantom of the Opera in his arms?
Feeling slightly mortified by the situation Raoul looked up at the girl, not sure what to tell her.
In a flash Christine sat next to him, looking from Erik to Raoul in complete confusion.
“What … what is going on? What's wrong with Erik … why is here? Why is he … in your lap?”
Raoul tried to explain how he'd found him and how Erik had begged him for water. He added that he had felt sorry for him and had tried his best to help.
The moment he finished his story he saw the relief and gratitude in Christine's eyes.
“Thank you …” She whispered as she kissed him. “For trying to save him.” and Raoul knew he had done the right thing.
“So, what's next?” Christine asked after a brief silence. “We can't just leave him here.”
“We can't?” Raoul said stupidly.
The girl next to him shot him a long suffering look. “Of course not. Erik needs a bed and a doctor. Raoul, he needs care!!”
She was right, Raoul knew it, so he came up with a plan.
He would get his assistant Victor to help them get Erik to one of the guest rooms. Victor had worked for him for many years and Raoul knew he could trust him. It was a solution Christine reluctantly agreed to. She didn’t want anyone to know of Erik’s whereabouts, he was clearly on the run.
“Christine, you said yourself that he needs care. He might be thin but he is tall and there is no way I can get him upstairs on my own. If he is to stay here and if we get a doctor … people will know an unknown guest is here anyway.”
She nodded and sighed. “You do what you think is right, Raoul.”
Leaving to get Victor, Raoul now placed Erik into Christine's arms. His heart gave a small pull when he saw how gently she took him, the love that beamed from her eyes when she held him and how natural it looked for her to have him in her arms. He quickly ran back to the house.
“Erik, my dear,” she whispered, as she wrapped her cape round both of them, wanting Erik to share her body heath. “What happened to you?”
To her horror the man was unresponsive, his breathing shallow.
“Please hurry Raoul.” She whispered as tears fell from her eyes.
She had to keep Erik conscious, she knew. Once he faded it could be too late.
What could she do? Well what else could she do for the man who had taught her his music?
She sang …
Had she not sang for him there and then Erik might not have survived, death was calling loudly luring the ailing man towards him at an alarming speed.
But her voice reached out to his subconscious. He knew it was her: she had said his name!! He heard her delicate tones calling him back to the true light: her light!!
Weakly Erik's eyes opened themselves to her a little and through a blurry haze he saw her: his Christine. Her eyes were gentle, her face was filled with kindness. Her voice was so beautiful as she was singing … to him? He had walked so long, but now he was finally home.
“Chr ...stine ...” he wheezed.
“It's alright ...” the girl sobbed.
“M … my … Sanc … tuary ...”
His eyes closed again as he slumped against her limply, while her eyes once more filled with tears. Softly she continued her singing.
As he arrived at the door with Victor, Raoul heard Erik’s words and the love in Christine's voice as she sang to the ill man. For a second the Viscount stopped to think: “Had Christine really chosen him that night, or had it been Erik that had forced the choice on her?” He swallowed, feeling a fool not to have thought of this before.
Later, he told himself, later. This was not the time to soliloquize, not when Christine sat sobbing on the floor of a freezing shed rocking a nearly dying man in her arms.
He knew that for her sake he would do whatever he could to save Erik and whatever happened after that was in the hands of destiny.
Part of Erik's back story is based on the one Michael Crawford and Hal Prince created.
Chapter 3: Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes
Raoul cleared his throat to signal his return. His heart breaking a little as Christine’s tear stained face turned towards him.
“Don’t cry Christine, everything will be all-right soon.” Raoul said, then regretted his promise immediately. How could he be certain everything would ever be all-right again? The way Erik lay in Christine’s arms, barely breathing, he had no way of knowing how things would turn out. Yet still he told her things would be well. Why did he keep doing this?
“Are you sure Raoul?” Christine asked between sobs.
“Of course Christine ...” Raoul answered automatically and cursed himself, he just couldn’t stop it.
To deflect from his faltering confidence Raoul gestured for Victor to come in.
“Victor and I will help Erik upstairs. A warm bath and lots of rest and he will feel much better.” Raoul tried with a smile. Well, it wasn’t a lie, was it? Once the man was out of his cold soaking wet clothes and was warmed up he would at least feel slightly better, wouldn’t he?
“He doesn’t look well sir ...” came Victor’s voice.
The look of shock on Christine’s face at those words annoyed Raoul. How dare Victor upset Christine! Why did he have to speak at all? All the damn man needed to do was help him get Erik to the house.
“How can you even tell? He’s wearing a mask!!” snapped the Viscount more harshly than he intended. “Look, just help me get him inside.”
“Of course sir.” Victor said, sensing his boss’ upset.
Unfortunately getting Erik to the house was slightly more difficult than the two men had originally envisioned. They tried to help him to his feet, but Erik uttered a terrible cry of pain when being made to stand.
Horrified by the sound Christine jumped up angrily.
“Raoul!! You're hurting him!! Why are you hurting him?!!” She exclaimed in horror.
Seeing Erik was starting to shake from the sudden shock she swiftly wrapped her arms around him and made him sit back down, soothing him as he gasped and shook.
“Honestly, Christine I didn't know he was injured.” Raoul pouted. He didn’t do it on purpose. He was only trying to help, and they had to get Erik to the house somehow.
“Well, you should have checked before you did anything!” The girl insisted and then returned her attentions to Erik, gently rubbing his back and whispering calming words.
With a sigh of frustration Raoul turned back to Victor. “And now?” He asked, sounding dejected.
“I guess we'll have to carry him.” his assistant shrugged. Raoul agreed, it was the only option. “Christine, we’ll carry him.” He tried in a cheerful tone.
Christine just nodded, not wanting to break contact with Erik. “It will be over soon Erik, don't worry. You'll soon be in a warm bath then and then you can rest in a bed.” she whispered. “You’ll be getting a nice bed Erik. You’ll see. Raoul only has nice beds. You’ll enjoy it, it will be much better than that silly coffin of yours!”
Then she started her rocking and humming again.
As everything was going on around him, Erik just sat there motionlessly in Christine’s arms. He felt her gently touches and listened to her voice but he was too weak now to even respond to anything. His delirious mind could not understand what was going on. He didn’t even know if any of this was real.
Was Christine telling him he could stay? Was it true what she said? He’d be warm again? He was so deeply unbearably cold he couldn’t imagine he ever would. He could get a bed and sleep? His angel wanted him near her? After all that had happened … and Raoul …? Before he could finish the thought everything went black again.
Waking up he found himself in something pleasant and warm. There also was a delicious scent, that was calm and soothing. The cold was fading and his body felt a little less heavy and painful.
Hearing a splash he realised that it was probably a bath, a heavenly warm bath. A small sob of relief escaped his throat, then things once more turned black.
The moment Erik was cleaned, dressed and put to bed Christine immediately sat herself next to him to hold his bandaged hand. As Raoul watched them from a distance the girl begun singing her soothing songs again as she removed Erik's mask to gently wipe his face with a cloth. Raoul turned away in horror but also felt admiration for his childhood friend: how was she able to do this without flinching?
Erik stirred feeling something touching the sensitive skin of his face.
He opened his eyes to see … Christine. She smiled at him and he felt as if he could cry.
He had been through hell but it had been worth if it meant he could have this miracle.
For a terrifying second he wondered if it was all a dream and he was still out in the shed, dying, but sensing the amount of pain he was in he knew it had to be real.
He was warm … safe and … with Christine.
A surge of delight filled Christine when she noticed that Erik opened his eyes to look at her. He was awake and seemed almost alert! She had brought him back! Tears of relief pricked behind her eyes, but she tried to hold them back. She knew that seeing her cry always upset Erik and that was the last thing she wanted to do right now.
No, she forced a smile instead.
“There you go Erik, all is well.” She said gently. “There is a doctor on his way and until then I am here and I'll sing for you.”
A shuddering sigh from Erik was her answer, a sigh Christine answered with another loving smile. Carefully she begun stroking his hair as she hummed.
Watching Christine's ministrations and seeing Erik relax in her touch Raoul pored himself a steadying brandy. Taking a sip he sighed as thoughts and feelings rushed through him.
Seeing Christine like that with the man that was supposed to be his rival in her affections should have angered him or made him feel jealous at-least. But at that moment Raoul could not begrudge the desperately ill man anything. Not with the things he had just seen still freshly on his mind.
He and Victor had undressed Erik for his bath and bed and the experience had all but traumatised him.
Raoul shuddered at the recent memory. Seeing that skeletal body would haunt him forever. He had never expected to find a sight so pitiful under the carefully selected clothes.
But what was even worse; Erik's emaciated figure was covered with scars, marks and badly healed wounds. It was as if he'd been whipped, caned and stabbed countless times in his lifetime. It was no wonder this man had grown to hate humanity. The sight had almost made Raoul throw up.
The Viscount was startled from his dark thoughts when the sound of the doorbell shattered the peace in the room.
“That will be the Doctor now.” Raoul smiled foolishly, glad for an excuse to leave the room for a moment. Swiftly he put his glass down and ran from the room.
Hearing those words a weight fell from Christine's shoulders. Erik was awake and would receive proper care. Things would be all right soon.
“You hear that Erik? The Doctor is here!” She beamed. “You will be well my dear maestro!”
The man on the bed just stared at her silently. But the love and kindness that beamed from his blurry yellow eyes was unmistakable. All that love aimed only at her.
“Oh Erik ...” She whispered. “I missed you so much ...”
For a second the feelings the eyes stirred in her overwhelmed her. Then, without planning to or thinking she kissed his forehead.
As she did a small gasp escaped Erik.
Chapter 4: I Live Not Where I Love
It was indeed the Doctor calling at the door, much to Raoul's relief. The Viscount swiftly led the man to the guestroom where Erik and Christine were.
Doctor Merchant was a kind elderly gentleman with a heart for his patients a vast knowledge and a peaceful non judgmental attitude. Raoul was glad that it was the Doctor himself who had turned up and not his assistant, who was one of the most obnoxious men he'd ever met. The Viscount hoped that he was right in thinking Doctor Merchant would deal with Erik without asking too many questions and would treat him as he would any other person in need of help.
For a brief second these hopes seemed unfounded when he saw the Doctor freeze in horror as he reached the bed of his new patient. Obviously noticing the physicians terror Christine shot Raoul a withering look, as if he could help the other man's response to Erik’s face.
But then something miraculous happened. Doctor Merchant took a deep breath, cleared his throat, put down his doctor's bag on a chair by the bedside and took to work.
From the bed Erik observed the new stranger that had entered through a cloudy haze. It had to be the Doctor Christine had talked about. He knew he probably needed a doctor, he was obviously very ill. But … all he really wanted was Christine by his side, talking to him, singing to him, touching his hair.
His darling angel … she had kissed his forehead, told him she had missed him. Had she truly meant this? She had looked so sincere and loving. Oh the joy she had brought him.
He wondered why fate had brought them all together again. Maybe she did love him? Oh, if only that could be true … No, he should not mistake her kind care for love.
Was he allowed this longing, after sending her away with the boy only days ago? He had done this because he had known it was the right thing to do but maybe … maybe …
How strange it was to be here now, in this house. The boy seemed fine with was going on so far. He had saved him and given him a bed in his home. A warm comfortable bed. He never had a more comfortable place to sleep in his life. What had he done to deserve such kindness from this man?
He had left Christine in his care. Christine the treasure worth more than all the riches the world contained. Was it gratitude or … pity? Did the boy know he was most likely dying and did he feel some kind of sorrow for his plight? If that was the case he'd accept what the boy offered him with gratitude. To die in such comfort and splendour with a loving Christine by his side … It was more than he deserved.
Erik sighed as he watched the Doctor flinch above him. It was to be expected he guessed. He was too tired to be offended. Was he supposed to be awake when the man examined him? He really wanted to sleep. Everything was hazy and horrible now Christine had moved away from him. Suddenly Erik felt everything so much more urgently: the excruciating, unbearable, burning pain, his pounding head … the crippling, debilitating exhaustion.
“Monsieur, with your permission I will be examining you now...” The man hovering above him said kindly.
Erik had to admire the Doctor's quick recovery. He had to be very good at his profession to hide his revulsion like that. He tried to make his agreement clear. Oh, how it hurt to move or speak.
What he wanted to say was “yes” but the word that escaped him was … “pain ...”.
Saying the word he heard a small gasp from somewhere in the room. Christine? She was still here? Oh he could curse himself, he did not want to worry her more than he already had.
“Don't worry Monsieur ...” He heard, more than he saw, the Doctor. Things were becoming more and more blurry and it was as if the Doctor’s voice came from further away than it had before. Maybe it was the exhaustion.
“I will give you something for the pain in a moment.”
He would? That was good … so good.
His eyes fluttered things were going grey now.
He didn't want to, he tried not to … but … he had to sleep. The exertion of being with Christine, the emotion of having her sing to him, touching him … kiss his forehead … She had kissed his forehead!
It had been overwhelming. Then seeing a stranger and trying to communicate had taken it out of him even more. Without being able to stop it his eyes closed as unconsciousness collected him again.
“Oh … oh dear ...” Christine heard the Doctor mutter as Erik slipped away in front of her eyes. Her heart froze. “What? What is it? What happened?!” she gasped breathlessly, finally letting the tears she had held back go free. “Please tell me!! Don't let him die, please!!” she cried out, her voice raw with worry.
A soothing hand fell lightly on her shoulder. It startled her. Then she remembered: Raoul! Could she really have forgotten he was even there?
“Come Christine. The Doctor can't tell you anything yet.” She heard Raoul hum gently above her. But that wasn’t easing her worries one bit.
“Raoul … Erik says he's in pain,” her voice was shrill and panicked. “Please make that Doctor give him something to stop his pain!!”
The kind hand became an arm and then a hug.
“Don't worry. I am here and will make sure everything will be all right.” Raoul whispered kindly, rubbing her back in circles. “But come and let the Doctor do his work now. He has not even examined him my dear Lotte.”
He was right, she knew it. There was nothing she could do.
Suddenly exhausted Christine simply let herself slump against Raoul and let the man lead her out of the room. “Yes … yes … of course ...” she muttered, as her eyes closed for a second.
In the living-room Raoul brought her to the couch and made her lay down. She obeyed gratefully, letting the Viscount take over. Deep in her heart Christine hated that she always relied on Raoul to be the one to make everything better. But right now she had to. The last few hours had been taxing and she was utterly empty and emotionally raw.
Erik, my poor Erik. Oh please, please let him recover! She prayed silently.
These last few days without him … She had missed him so much, more than she'd ever held possible. But to finally have him back … like this? Oh, seeing him on the floor in Raoul's arms in that shed… He'd looked so terrible that for a second she had thought he was already …
Then when he had opened his eyes … the joy …
But nothing was certain yet, was it? She had just seen him fade away again. Only the doctor could tell her.
Clang … she heard next to her and looked up to see that Raoul had kindly put a cup of tea on the table beside her. Suddenly feeling extraordinary thirsty Christine sat up and drank it, grateful to her friend that he would think of bringing the drink to her.
She was so proud of him. To think that the young man had been able to put aside any lingering resentments towards Erik to do the right thing and help him, even take him in.
Both men had surprised her this week, in how they could put the greater good before their own needs.
Only … had Erik's decision been right …? Had sending her away with Raoul really been what was good for her? If Raoul knew that she had kissed Erik's forehead only moments ago …
Oh no, she would not think about this now, not with Erik's life in the balance. Besides, it was not like Raoul had to know, had he?
Her drink finished she lay back down, closed her eyes and fell asleep for half an hour.
Chapter 5: Heavy the Beat of the Weary Waves
Two more chapters setting up the story and relationships before things will become more action packed.
A cough at the door of the living room startled Christine from the early beginnings of a nightmare: Erik was still in the shed, but this time Raoul had not found him. She had herself, eventually, but it had been many days later and his body had frozen to death.
Horrified by the dream and confused by the sudden cough she cried out in terror.
Both Raoul and the Doctor rushed to her side.
“Oh Mademoiselle, please!” Doctor Merchant pleaded. “I am so sorry for startling you like this, please except my apologies.”
Christine could not speak, her teeth chattering, her body shivering. Soon Raoul's arms were around her and she clung to his soothing touch.
“He … he is dead, isn't he Doctor?” She sobbed. “He died when you examined him. He died without me.”
“No, Mademoiselle, no. I can assure you he is not. Though in his condition … I cannot give any guarantees.”
From over Christine's shaking shoulder Raoul shot the Doctor a withering glare.
“Please, Monsieur, a moment please. Can you not see my fiancée is very upset …?”
“Your fiancée …? Oh … but ...” The Doctor did not finish his thought, but Raoul could guess: The Doctor had thought Christine was with Erik. Given her extreme reaction it came as no surprise.
After a few minutes Christine had calmed herself enough to hear the results of the Doctor’s examinations. The man’s findings turned out to be rather grim.
The doctor was appalled by his patient, not by his severely deformed face but by the horrific condition he was in. A severe pneumonia, bruised rib and a sprained ankle were not even the worst of his problems: he was utterly exhausted, severely undernourished, dehydrated had a body entirely depleted of vitamins and the worst case of mould poisoning he'd seen in quite some time. All this and then suffering a strong bout of hypothermia on top of that, well the doctor was surprised that the man was alive at all.
“Mould poisoning?” Raoul asked incredulously, that was the last thing he'd expected to hear.
“Yes, mould poisoning!” The Doctor exclaimed. “The condition this man is in is shocking! If I didn't know any better I would think this person had been locked underground somewhere damp without daylight for years!!”
Christine and Raoul shared a quick sheepish look with each other at those words. Internally Raoul squirmed a little: did the Doctor know who Erik was? But how could he? No-one would expect “the Phantom” to seek shelter here, would they? No, it was probably just a coincidence.
He noticed that while he had been silently worrying the Doctor had continued talking.
“Has this man been acting irrational or strange recently?”
Another look between Raoul and Christine. The Viscount had to use a lot of willpower to not burst into laughter.
“Recently?” He finally asked. “It depends on what you mean.”
The Doctor blinked at him in surprise, then continued: “Well, fits of anger, insomnia, brain fog, headache, confusion, irritability, mood-swings, depression, paranoia.”
“That … does sound rather like him ...” Christine mumbled as she bit her nail in worry.
“Good … well … not good.” The Doctor nodded. “That does confirm the severity of the infection.”
“This makes me think you are saying his brain is infected?” Raoul said in quiet surprise.
He heard Christine sigh sadly at his words. It made him realise she had barely said a word herself this entire time. He looked at her and his heart pulled seeing the tension on her pale face, her eyes big with worry. She clearly cared more about Erik than she had ever let on, perhaps even more than she would ever admit to herself. Raoul sighed, then willed himself to continue the discussion with the Doctor.
“Can this be?” He urged, as the Doctor had not yet answered the question: had Erik’s brain been contaminated? He had to know. With what Erik had been through he would obviously never be normal, but if part of his extreme behaviour in recent months had been caused by infection …
The Doctor nodded sagely. “This is worry Monsieur le Vicomte. The toxin-producing “black mould” is terrible to the brain. Prolonged exposure can certainly have a dramatic effect on the brain and behaviour. There are two main effects of mould exposure: the physical airway irritating effects including allergies, cough and fatigue, and the more concerning effects on the central nervous system and the brain. This can include brain fog, inability to concentrate, depression, sleep disorders, anxiety, irritability, headache, loss of appetite and confusion. Sometimes it even swells the brain and cause damage to the lungs.”
Listening intently Raoul had to ask: “Would … would basements be … particularly mould invested?”
The Doctor raised an eyebrow: “Oh, very much indeed Monsieur Vicomte. Mould most often hides in places like cabinets, basements and crawl spaces, in drywall, and areas with water damage.”
“So spending a long time there … would be … bad … you’d say?
Doctor Merchant looked confused by Raoul’s line of questioning but gamely complied.
“The severity of a person’s reaction to it can differ; if they have already suffered trauma or if they are already suffer from a pre-existing mental condition … In this case it is a big worry as the patient’s skull and nasal passage are rather exposed.”
Hearing the Doctor mention Erik’s appearance as if it were a secondary worry, an almost normal thing made Christine sniffle. She felt Raoul’s fingers interlace with her in a supportive squeeze.
“What can we do for him?” She heard Raoul say. He sounded kind, as if he truly wished to help Erik.
This made her feel happy: not many people had ever wanted to truly help Erik.
With a mighty effort she forced herself to listen to the Doctor, she had to remember every word to be sure Erik would receive the care he needed and deserved after the hell he’d been through.
“What he really needs is silence, complete rest, a clean bright environment, healthy food and lots of fluids. He will also need medication, which I will have delivered to you as soon as possible. Still, this man is in such a terrible condition I cannot guarantee anything.
In any other circumstance I would have advised to have him be taken to hospital as soon as possible, but I do not think he would survive the strain of such a journey … Neither could I guarantee the patient would receive the best care. Nurses are often very superstitious. To ease the strain on your household I could try to find a nurse who has treated war victims.”
No, no no! Christine’s mind screamed. No stranger would come near Erik. She had allowed the doctor, but no one else! Erik needed calm and a stranger caring for him would not do that. Strange people would terrify him, would not understand his needs, not like she could. Maybe the nurse would talk about Erik to others, that could be dangerous. No, all things considered it would be better to not bother with a nurse. They could not ask a servant either. The last thing Erik needed was a terrified maid who might be cruel to him as well. No, there was no other option.
“No need. I will look after him myself. I am the only one he trusts …” Christine said, her chin jutting forward, her entire posture that of a woman who’s mind had been made up.
She noticed the confused look on Raoul’s face. “Christine … you can’t. Not on your own.”
“I have to, I am all he has. I am not letting illness take another person I lo …”
She faltered, the words freezing in her mouth. She saw Raoul, the pain in his eyes, the Doctor in confusion. Her heart was pounding in her throat.
“… care for.” She finished, on a whisper.
The Doctor stared at her, a look of pity in his eyes.
“Mademoiselle, this task is too heavy. The Monsieur will need round the clock care. This is not the task for one woman!” As the Doctor spoke the sheer the magnitude of the task ahead of her dawned on her.
“But ...” She said, her voice a lot less confident than a moment before. “What … what else can I do? If the nurses are too superstitious and the maids... Oh my goodness they will be of no use if they flinch when seeing his face. No, I will do it.” But could she really do this not even knowing if Erik would survive? What if he did not and it would be her fault? Terror overtaking her she looked at Raoul pleadingly. “Raoul … I’m frightened, please help me.”
The Viscount gently kissed her hand “Christine, you know I will. I always will.” sighing with relief Christine lay her head against Raoul’s shoulder.
Raoul was worried, Christine was pale, anxious and seemed exhausted already. The strain would make her ill long before Erik was recovered. Then the shock of having made Christine ill would most likely cause Erik a relapse and by that time he himself would probably suffer a nervous breakdown.
Then there was the other scenario: Christine working herself beyond exhaustion and Erik still dying, the state the man was in this was very likely. Remembering what losing her father had done to her he shuddered to think what would happen if she lost Erik as well.
All things considered this could not end well. He needed to think of a solution. But what could he do if Christine didn’t want any strangers taking care of Erik?
His thoughts were interrupted when suddenly an awful noise came from Erik’s room. It sounded like a hoarse incoherent screaming. Christine jumped to her feet immediately.
“Oh no, there is no one with him! He must be so scared!”
Swiftly she ran to Erik’s room, followed more slowly by Raoul and Doctor Merchant.
Erik had awoken from a nightmare to find the strange room empty. His feverish mind was confused. Who was keeping him a prisoner? What was going on? Where was … she?
“Where … where am I? …” His cracked, hoarse voice cried out. “Christine … where is Christine? Who took Christine away from me?!!”
The door opened and someone ran in. “I am here, Erik …!” A woman who looked like Christine hurried to his side. But was it really her?
“You … not Christine ...” Erik muttered dazedly.
A feeling of falling through ice overtook Christine. How delirious was Erik if he did not recognise her?
“No, I am Christine, Erik ...” she gently pleaded as she took his hand. “Can’t you see that? It’s me.”
“Don’t … don’t lie ...” The man sobbed, tears running down his sunken cheeks.
Slowly Christine sat herself by the bed and begun stroking his hair while singing once more, a soft Swedish lullaby. To her relief hearing her voice calmed Erik down a little.
“Christine ...” Erik sighed after a while. “You … you are my Christine ...”
“See,” she smiled sadly. “I told you it was me ...”
For a while Erik just stared at her. “Angel ...” he then whispered. Hearing how hoarse his voice was Christine wondered if he might be thirsty.
“Erik, do you want some water?” She tried sweetly.
Erik nodded with difficulty so Christine gently raised his head to help him drink. Sadly he only managed a few sips.
“Are you sure you don't want any more?” Christine asked in surprise, the Doctor said he needed lots of fluids after all.
“So tired ...” Erik sighed, the effort had been too much for him.
Christine bit her lip, Erik seemed weaker than he had been before, this was not right. She should not have left him on his own so soon, Christine berated herself. She should have trusted her instincts. The girl tried to stifle a sob, it came out as a strangled breath.
“Mademoiselle,” The Doctor was suddenly behind her. “The patient would be better of sleeping. I will give him something and return later with all the necessities.”
Wringing her hands from tension and despair Christine gave a quick nod of agreement. She felt as if she was in a cursed nightmare. Everything seemed unreal. She blinked a few times before she could even bare to look at Erik again.
“You can go back to sleep now Erik. Would you like that?” She was surprised at how cheerful she could make herself sound when all she wanted was to curl up and cry in a corner.
As she moved away a flash of fear shot through Erik's eyes. His terror seemed to grow as the Doctor injected him with a sleeping potion.
“Stay with C’stine ...” The man in the bed droned with difficulty, his shaking hand clenching and unclenching in a desperate attempt to find her soothing touch. When finished with his task, the Doctor quickly moved away so Christine could return to her chair by the bed.
“I’m still here Erik.” She urged as she sat down, “and I will be here when you wake up.”
“Don’t … don’t leave Erik ...” He pleaded, his eyes now filled with despair.
She clutched his hand and brought it to her lips. “I won’t leave you Erik, I promise!” she said before pressing a kiss on the bandaged hand. “I will hold your hand when you sleep.”
Seemingly placated Erik closed his eyes again and immediately fell asleep as Christine sat by his side.
Chewing his lip tensely, Raoul watched the scene unfold as his worry increased. It was clear that Erik was clinging to Christine for dear life in the most literal sense of the way. But could anyone expect Christine to sit by his bed day and night for a recovery that would certainly cost months?
Chapter 6: Who is at My Window Weeping?
As Christine watched the Doctor work on Erik, Raoul kept thinking of a solution that would be beneficial for all of them. There had to be a way, there had to.
“AH!!” He suddenly cried out, finally he had it!! His cry startled Christine who looked at him in annoyance and the Doctor who looked at him as if he’d gone insane.
No time to explain, he had to get everything ready now.
“I … just remembered. I have an important … thing.” He said slightly sheepishly and rushed out.
Leaving the room he only just heard Christine cry his name behind him.
It reminded him of the evening of her début so many months ago. Things certainly had changed a lot since then! Swiftly he dashed out of the door, only stopping to call for Victor to help him get carriage ready.
He needed to get this done as soon as possible.
A few hours later Raoul returned feeling satisfied.
He was informed that the Doctor had medication delivered by courier and that Christine was still upstairs tending to their guest.
Bursting to tell his news the Viscount rushed up to the guest room, where he found Christine still holding Erik’s hand. The tired girl now sat slightly slumped in her chair, clearly willing herself not to fall asleep.
“Lotte my sweet ...” Raoul begun hesitantly as he entered.
A bleary eyed Christine lifted her tired head to look at him. “Where were you ...” she sighed wearily, struggling to keep her eyes open.
“Don’t be upset Christine, I did not abandon you, I swear. It’s just … I have been thinking ...”
The girl in front of him cocked her head to the side to signal she was listening. With a shrug Raoul started.
“Christine, you know you can’t look after Erik on your own.”
Christine’s eyes snapped open at those words, she was completely awake now! She let go of Erik’s hand, the man immediately begun muttering and fussing in his sleep, his face now twisted in fear.
“What?” Christine said angrily as she stood up to face him. “Is that why you left? You don’t want him here after all? Raoul … you … you promised. We can’t send him to hospital...”
Reaching out to calm her, Raoul gently took her by her shoulders.
“No, no. I am not sending him away and of course I will help you. I left to work on a plan that will ease your strain. Christine, you will make yourself ill doing this on your own and you know that will only upset Erik and hamper his progress.”
The girl in front of him seemed to consider his words, then bowed her head in acknowledgement.
“What … what’s your plan Raoul …?” She whispered. Raoul smiled at her.
“Well … I thought of … the Giry’s … what if they came to help out? Madame Giry knows Erik like no other, Meg knows enough about him to not be frightened.”
With relief he noticed Christine’s drawn face light up.
“Oh … Oh Raoul!!” She gasped, clasping her hands in glee. “That is brilliant!!”
But just as quickly Christine face clouded again. “But what if they don't want to?”
“Well … I am rather certain they will. In fact they’ll arrive tomorrow morning. The maids are getting their rooms ready as we speak.”
He shook his head at Christine staring at him open mouthed. He had truly surprised her.
“And now you need rest, Lotte.” He insisted, remembering how she had looked as he'd walked into the room.
“No, no …” Christine shook her head. “Not yet I promised I would not leave him!”
Without listening Raoul lifted her up and carried her to the couch where he lay her down.
“Here then, you can stay close to him while I sit by his bedside. If anything happens you will be there right away.”
But before he had even finished speaking Christine was already fast asleep.
With a sigh Raoul shook his head and covered his Little Lotte with a blanket. For a moment he looked to see if she was comfortable, then he moved back to the Phantom in the bed.
As he came closer to Erik, suddenly a boney bandaged hand clasped his wrist, making Raoul jump. The hand's grasp was weak, but insistent.
Though he knew he could easily have released himself from Erik's grasp, curiosity forced him to remain.
“Erik?” Raoul asked in a whisper, not wanting to wake up Christine. “I thought you were asleep?”
“Why … save me …?” Erik slurred sleepily, his blurry eyes unable to truly focus on him.
“You spared me ...” Raoul shrugged, hoping to end it there.
No amount of illness nor medication could hide the fact that Erik did not to accept this answer.
At the same moment Raoul knew He smiled down at the ailing Phantom and simply said …
Something close to a smile formed on Erik's pale lips at his answer. “Ah ...” he sighed as if receiving a blessing and immediately he fell asleep again, his grip on Raoul's wrist loosening.
For a brief moment Raoul stood by the bedside, looking at the sleeping man in silent confusion, then he carefully returned Erik’s hand to the bed. To his surprise Erik flinched and begun muttering in fear once more the moment he let go. With an exasperated sigh Raoul took Erik’s hand again as he sat down on the chair next to his bed. This was going to be a long night.
During the night Erik begun to run a terrible fever accompanied by nightmares.
Raoul had tried to sooth him as best he could, but the man kept begging and pleading for Christine.
“Who has taken her …?” Erik sobbed. “Who has taken her …?”
“No one Erik, she is here, she is just sleeping.”
“You lie, you lie!!” Erik wailed.
His head moved restlessly on the pillow.
“Don’t … don’t hurt me ...”
“No one can hurt you Erik ...”
“No … mother … don’t … please … I will wear the mask ...”
Unsure what to do Raoul let Erik drink some more water. It calmed him for a while, but then suddenly, without warning, he begun screaming terribly. He screamed so loudly it woke up Christine.
“Erik?” she exclaimed in horror as she sat up.
“He has a fever,” Raoul said as gentle as he could. “I am taking care of everything. Go back to sleep Lotte.”
But she was already by Erik’s side, her eyes alight with fear.
“Why is he screaming so?” her voice trembled.
Just then the screaming stopped.
“No more …” Erik pleaded. “Please. No more ...”
A jolt went to Raoul; he understood. “I … I think he had a nightmare about … being whipped.”
The girl in front of him turned round in horror, her face even whiter than it had been before.
Raoul closed his eyes. “When … when I helped him undress I saw his … body … it was covered in all sorts of old wounds … including whip marks.”
Before Christine had a chance to react Erik’s eyes snapped open again.
“Christine!” he called out once more, and this time she was there.
“Erik, it’s alright. You are safe in this house.”
“I … I thought they had found me … They took me away from you.”
“No, no, nothing has happened and nothing will.” she smiled as she set herself on the edge of the bed. She felt far more cheerful after her rest. “Raoul has been with you all night, you had a fever and he looked after you. Oh Erik who could have imagined that? You two becoming friends.”
Listening to Christine's kind words Erik groaned weakly. The fever broken he looked around the room as if for the first time and his eyes met a bedraggled Raoul. The boy looked just as confused by the situation as he felt. Did Christine really hope for the two of them to be friends? For her sake he would try and he knew the boy would too, he had already shown him that. But could this last? He pondered as his heavy eyes closed again. He was surprised to find that part of him hoped it would. The Phantom and the Viscount being friends? The idea was preposterous.
And yet ...
No ... he didn't want to think any longer. Whatever the future held would have to wait, right now he was too ill to think about it properly.
After all she had been through in her life Antoinette Giry wasn’t an easy woman to surprise, but the man she found when opening her front door that evening managed just that.
The last few days had been dark for the ballet mistress: the Opera season had come to an abrupt close and she would probably be out of work for months and so would her daughter. But this was not even her biggest problem; it was the feeling of loss and guilt that plagued her every waking moment.
Where was he? The man she’d tried to hide for so many years? The feeling she had betrayed him weighed heavy on her. Could she have done things differently?
Her little Meg would hug her, tell her she had done nothing wrong; things could not have gone on like this much longer. But Meg was sad too: she missed her best friend. She doubted she would see Christine ever again.
Erik, Christine … Raoul … She had failed them all.
Then, just when she had resigned herself to a life without her precious charges, there was that knock at the door and there he was: The young Vicomte, telling her they were all safe for now, but that they needed her to help with the care for Erik who was desperately ill.
She accepted without hesitation, and so did Meg. They would spend the night packing and leave for the Chagny house in the morning. Maybe better days lay ahead.
Chapter 7: I Remember, I Remember
“Hello, Erik …”
The man in the bed vaguely recognised the voice that spoke to him, but Erik couldn’t quite grasp who it’s owner was.
Blinking his eyes open painfully slowly he was surprised to find that it was Madame Giry who was sitting at his bedside.
“Good to see you awake.” the woman said softly, her voice shaking a little, “you gave me quite a fright, you know.”
Even though she looked at him kindly, her sudden presence unsettled him for a second. Was she taking him away from this place? Was he going to prison? Would she force him back into the darkness underneath the Opera? For a while he was too terrified to respond. Thankfully, he suddenly noticed Christine standing behind her. His angel was smiling reassuringly, so he knew things had to be al-right.
He tried to focus his blurry vision and hazy weary brain on the new presence next to his bed with difficulty. Why was Madame Giry there if not to take him away?
“Erik?” the ballet mistress asked again, clearly uncertain of his lucidity.
“Hmmm” he groaned weakly as he fought to keep his eyes open. He was slightly more alert now his fever had broken, but more fatigued than ever.
“It’s al-right, you don’t have to speak.” He heard Madame Giry continue. It almost angered him. He just wanted her to leave so he could go back to sleep. Her sudden presence in his safe haven had scared him and her voice was too loud now. He really couldn’t concentrate enough to listen to her. Why had Christine let her in? Yes, she had saved his life many years ago, but had left him alone in the darkness after that.
Sensing Erik’s discomfort, Madame Giry looked up at Christine sadly. The girl had told her Erik was gravely ill, but it had not prepared her for the reality in front of her. Was this broken skeleton really Erik? This had not happened overnight. He had starved himself under her roof. He had been poisoned by the very place she had brought him to for safety and nearly gone deranged from loneliness. How could she have let this happen?
Oh who was she kidding, she knew what she had done wrong. Yes, she had brought him to the Opera and yes she had looked after him. But ... only for a while. Then life got in the way: a career, a love, a child. Meanwhile time just passed by in lonelyness for the poor man in the shadows.
All it would have took was for her to visit him once a day, bring him a healthy meal, maybe, and talk. But instead weeks, months went by without her even talking to him.
Alone with just music for company, Erik's pain and frustration kept growing. A genius with a million ideas, but no way of ever sharing them with the world. As years past by the lack of company and intellectual stimulation, the frustration of hearing lackluster performances arranged by an uncaring management obviously drove him to despair. He wanted to be heard, one way or another.
Then the hauntings begun, a desperate plea for attention, she now understood. Instead of being a friend she let herself be used as a go between for the “ghost” and the management. What she should have done was talk to him, ask him why he was doing this. But Erik’s behaviour had become so unpredictable by then it scared even her.
Now though, there was no fear, only regret for the pale man laying on the pillow, staring at her with barely open, hollow eyes.
“Erik ...” she tried. “I have come here to help Christine take care of you. She cannot do this alone. Do you understand that?”
A vague nod of acknowledgement. She noticed him struggling to speak, his mouth and jaw preparing for words to be forced out.
“I … sorry Antoinette ...” Erik then muttered, his breathing laboured. “R … ruined y … your life ..."
Hearing him say this, while knowing that she could have avoided so much of what happened and spared him all this pain, the words were like a knife in her heart.
“No, no Erik. I should be sorry. I just left you on your own, I should have been there for you.”
She hoped he understood, but it seemed unlikely, his eyes seemed to be focused in three different directions at once.
“I … don’t feel so well ...” Erik then sighed, his eyes closing.
Madame Giry took his hand and gave it a squeeze. “You sleep Erik. We’ll talk later.”
But Erik was asleep already.
For a few seconds Madame Giry just sat there, holding Erik’s bandaged hand. Then the corp de ballet’s iron mistress burst into tears.
“So he just turned up in your shed?” Asked Meg, her eyes big with delighted glee at the great adventure she was starting at the Estate, a mug of hot chocolate in her hands.
“Yes … he was just … there.” Raoul nodded at her from the other side of the table, holding his own mug of liquid chocolate. The two were waiting for Christine and Madame Giry to return and tell them how Erik was doing. Christine was insistent no more than one person at the time would be allowed near Erik, afraid that too many people would overwhelm him.
So far neither Meg nor Raoul had had a chance to speak much to the soprano, who kept dashing back to Erik’s room the second she thought she heard even the slightest of sounds.
“Looks like Christine is doting on him.” Meg said, frowning a little. “She’s acting like a first time mum who has just taken her baby home.”
That descriptive image made Raoul laugh for the first time in days, as he imagined the mighty Phantom as a baby in Christine’s arms.
“Oh, she’s like a lioness when it comes to him.” he then nodded to Meg, still chuckling a little.
“Isn’t that weird for you?” Meg said thouhtfully.
That question wiped the grin of Raoul’s face and he thought for a minute. He’d put away all his feelings after they had found Erik in his shed. He simply had done “the right thing”, for Christine’s sake and to save the life of a fellow human being. But what was it he truly felt? What did he think of Christine’s dedication to this strange man?
He decided he would not be discussing this with the very curious but oh so gossipy young Giry in front of him, even though her big sparkly eyes begged him for answers.
“Weird … you say?” He muttered after a moment. “A bit but … well … I guess it has to do with her father as much as anything. She was too young to look after him properly and Erik … I guess is like a second chance for her. So … I can understand it and will of course help her where I can.” He shrugged, knowing that his answer made as much sense as a tap-dancing cat.
“If you say so …” was Meg’s response to that as she sipped from her mug with a doubtful look.
Months went by in the Chagny residence and Raoul became used to his strange collection of house-guests.
Erik had been so weakened that his recovery took a rather long time. During the first weeks it was difficult to get any fluids or sustenance into him. The man was too debilitated to gather enough strength to drink or chew but food and fluids were exactly the things he desperately needed.
It was Meg who came up with an idea: several times a day they would pour small mouthfuls of water, fruit juice or clear soup into Erik’s mouth from a tea pot and all he had to do was swallow.
To do this Erik would be held up by Meg and Raoul while either Christine or Madame Giry would pour while the other made sure he swallowed. It was a difficult task, as the man would often simply fall asleep mid pouring or just not think of swallowing at all.
The most important thing they had to get into to Erik every day was the juice of a whole lemon, squeezed in water. This would help free him from the mould toxins in his body.
Doctor Merchant came every day to give him injections that would help necessary vitamins go into his body.
For the rest Erik would lay there, either sleeping or staring into space, only responding to the sound of Christine singing or talking to him.
Finally, after more than three weeks of this, Erik had become strong and alert enough to be spoon fed porridge, puréed fruit and soups. It took even longer for Erik to be able to sit up in bed and eat by himself. His recovery seemed painfully slow. Even the Doctor had to admit that he might have underestimated how weakened his patient had truly been.
Summer was approaching and still the shockingly impaired Erik was cooped up in the guest bedroom. When he felt strong enough he would be carried downstairs for dinner, which exhausted him so much he usually had to be brought back to the bedroom to recover halfway through. Christine kept him company every day, reading to him or singing. Madame Giry would fuss over him and scold him for not eating enough.
Erik had often asked Raoul if he was imposing, but the Viscount always assured him this was not the case. Well, he could hardly throw out a man who could barely make it through dinner without falling asleep, could he? And besides, Christine would kill him if he had even dared to think about it. Then there was the fact that deep down Raoul had to admit he really didn’t want Erik to leave any more.
Against his better judgement Raoul had started visiting Erik too and was surprised to find that calmed and stripped from mystery his house guest was surprisingly good company. Erik had a wit and knowledge he found infectious. Often, when Erik felt up to it, they talked for ages and the man was a delight.
All it took was treating him like a normal human being, which Christine had known all along. He had long since gotten used to his face, the mask only worn during dinner and other times when the servants were around.
To all intends and purposes it seemed as if Erik was to be part of his household forever and so would Madame Giry and Meg.
Meg was a joy, Raoul found. With Christine and Madame Giry looking after Erik, he and Meg would run errands or go on walks. They could talk for hours on end while walking round the gardens of the estate. He never knew Meg could be so funny and that she was so smart. In the Opera she had been so preoccupied with her art that there had been no time for small talk.
Ballet was still on Meg’s mind, though, and she had expressed a worry that she would fall behind in her dancing, not being able to practice for so long, a sentiment her mother agreed with. To help Raoul had the ballroom turned into a make shift studio and … he still was not sure how it had happened, a week later half the corp de ballet was catching up on missed lessons in his home.
Meanwhile, at Erik’s insistence, Christine had resumed her singing lessons. She would practice in the music room while he listened from his bed. He would later tell her what parts needed improving, unless he’d fallen asleep halfway through, which would happen quite often. It wasn’t ideal but somehow they made it work.
With Christine training in the music room, the ballet in his ballroom and the Phantom recovering in the guest room it almost seemed as if the strange and exciting world he had found in the Opera now existed in Raoul’s own home.
It was odd, Raoul thought. But he felt rather pleased with this turn of events. In fact, he felt happy. It was almost as if he had his old family life back.
Over the years his estate had become rather lonely: his aunt had died, his sisters moved away after they wed, while his brother Phillipe had given up his title to him so he could move to Italy with a Prima Ballerina called La Sorelli. Given his own infatuation with Christine Raoul had not stopped him, and the two were very happily married now.
He had been happy for his brother and sisters, but being all alone in that big house. No, it just didn’t feel right.
How different things were now with Christine, Madame Giry and Meg. It was almost like having his aunt and sisters back. Then there was Erik, who, in a strange way, reminded him of his brother.
No, he wasn’t about to give up on this new blissful life any time soon.
Chapter 8: Song in the Garden
“Erik, wake up!!” Christine sang by Erik’s ear. The former Phantom groaned, but complied, it was Christine who asked, after all. “Good morning.” She beamed at him when he opened his eyes. What a delightful sight to wake up to.
“Or good afternoon, really.” She continued. “It’s nearly one o’ clock. Should you still be sleeping so much?” As she spoke she handed him a breakfast tray.
Still not answering in his sleep dazed state Erik just listened to his angel chattering so merrily.
Should he still sleep so much? He rather thought he did, even something as simple as walking to the toilet and back made him feel as if he’d gone up and down every single staircase in the Opera about four hundred times. To add insult to injury he had to be supported as he went, his body still wasn’t strong enough to walk by itself. Was Christine disappointed that his recovery took so long? Maybe she and Raoul were fed up with him occupying their home for so long. He had rather invaded their lives again.
A panic overtook Erik. His heart pounded at the thought of being asked to leave, the very idea terrified him.
Despite being devastatingly ill he had loved his time on the estate: he had experienced kindness and care something he had never known before. People had talked to him and treated him like a person. He had been without his mask for months, exposed amongst people, and no-one had hurt him or been angry about it.
There was Christine who was so good to him. Raoul whom he now loved talking to. The Giry’s who were kind. He loved his room; he had a warm comfortable bed, beautiful furniture and for the first time in his life he saw sunlight through the windows when he woke up.
Raoul had told him he could stay as long as he wanted and he had believed him at the time.
But maybe he had it all wrong and the man had simply tried to spare his feelings. Maybe he was an inconvenience, he couldn’t blame them. Who would want a wanted monster to linger in their house?
The moment the thought struck it paralysed him and became his reality: He was holding them all back, he should go!!
“I’m sorry …” He said, bowing his head, to hide the fact that he was close to tears.
“Erik?” What is wrong?” Christine asked, her brow furrowing in confusion at Erik’s downcast appearance.
“I … will try and get better, I promise.” Erik said in a shaking voice, keeping his eyes fixed on his hands. Hands he was now wringing in tension. “Erik will try and leave as soon as he can. He … he knows he must be a burden to you all.”
Confused by Erik’s unexpected breakdown Christine quickly took the tray from his lap and put it on the floor. Then she sat herself on the edge of the bed to take Erik in her arms, but to her surprise he moved away from her. The fact he was rejecting her and was talking about himself in the third person again meant his upset, for whatever reason, was quite severe.
“Erik, please, why do you say this?” Christine asked sadly. Erik still refused to look at her. Christine understood that whatever he wanted to say, he just wanted to get it over with.
“Don’t worry. I will leave as soon as I can, so you and Raoul can get married.” he choked out then the man begun sobbing uncontrollably for no apparent reason at all. Ignoring his protests Christine forcefully wrapped her arms around him.
“Erik, stop it.” She insisted. “Why are you upsetting yourself like that? It’s not good for you. Did someone say something to you to upset you like this?”
“N … no …” Erik hiccuped tearfully, “but … Erik has been inconveniencing you all for so long … he … would understand if you’d all want him gone so you can all live your lives again. No one needs a monster in their house.”
Holding back tears herself now, Christine closed her eyes. Hearing Erik call himself a monster was like a knife in her heart. She had hoped the new life they were trying to give him had raised his sense of self worth, but clearly it had not worked yet.
“Hush now, please. What is going on? Why are you talking like this? No-one wants you to leave, I promise.”
Christine just couldn’t understand what had suddenly come over Erik. Things had been going so well recently. After it was clear that Erik would survive her world seemed perfect. She could have it all: her beloved Maestro, dear Raoul, her best friend, her foster mother and music! All of it, in one house! She finally had her dream life. So why was Erik ruining it by being upset and talking about leaving?
“Does Christine truly like … Erik around?”
The girl wrapped her arms around the weeping man even tighter. “Yes!” she urged.
“Do you mean it?” Erik asked urgently in a shaking voice.
“Mean what?” Christine was quite close to tears herself now.
“That … that you want me to stay?”
Christine broke the embrace to look Erik in the eye, hoping to show him she was absolutely sincere.
“Yes, of course I do!! Erik, what has brought this on?”
For a second Erik just sat there, steadying his breath, his head held low.
“You … you asked me if I really should sleep so much and … and I thought you were angry with me for … still being ill after so long.” He muttered sadly in the end.
“Oh my dear silly man.” Christine didn't know if she should laugh or cry about the self loathing that seemed to occupy so much of Erik's mind. “How could I be angry with you for that? Have you any idea how close you were to dying? How worried I have been? I am not surprised you are still recovering. Erik, all we want is for you to be well again. We care for you maestro, we all do. Poor Erik, always so worried, it isn't good for you to think like this.” She started to gently stroke his hair, making Erik release a relieved shuddering sigh. She let him lean his head on her shoulder as he explained himself in a small voice.
“I'm sorry Christine. It is just …. no-one has ever wanted me to stay with them … I just can’t believe anyone would willingly … Especially Raoul … He says he enjoys my company … How can he … after all I did? I thought … he was just humouring me because he expected me to die.”
Listening to Erik’s inner turmoil Christine closed her eyes. She understood now; Erik was afraid to be left alone again. He was afraid of losing the semblance of a normal life he had found. A life with people who looked out for him. Then she suddenly remembered: the reason she had woken him: oh, that would cheer the poor man up!! She shifted herself a little, forcing Erik to lift his head which made him utter a tiny grumble of annoyance, but he was soon satisfied when she took his hands. She looked at him with a beaming smile.
“Oh Maestro that is not the case at all. In fact Raoul and I have a surprise for you. Eat your breakfast, Raoul and Victor will come and help you downstairs in a bit.”
Ignoring the confused frown Erik gave her Christine hopped off the bed and returned the breakfast tray to Erik’s lap.
“Christine … what …?” He begun. The girl shook her head.
“Breakfast first Erik, you still have a long way to go before you've gained a normal weight again.”
Erik wanted to protest but the glare Christine gave him made him decide that eating his breakfast might be better for his health in more ways than one.
After breakfast Raoul and Victor carried Erik downstairs as promised. To his surprise he was placed on a chair in the hallway. He looked at Raoul in confusion.
“What … what is going on?” Erik once more felt panic rising. He wasn’t used to surprises, they terrified him.
Ignoring Erik’s question, Raoul just smiled at him and then turned to the front-door as he cried out: “Lotte, Netty, you can come in now!!”
The door opened and Christine and Madame Giry walked in, the younger woman pushing an obviously brand new wheelchair.
Erik didn’t understand, what did they mean by this? Why was he brought down to look at a wheelchair? It couldn’t possibly be meant for him, could it?
“Erik … this is a gift to you from all of us.” Raoul said. A big smile on his face.
With a shock Erik looked up at him, his mouth open in surprise. What did Raoul say? Something so expensive … for him?
“The Doctor says you need light and fresh air.” The Viscount continued. “So I decided: a wheelchair is what he needs. That way you can join us on walks and take trips to the garden when the weather is right.”
Silence, as everyone looked at Erik expectantly. The man just sat there, in stunned silence. He couldn’t understand it; why would anyone buy him such a gift? Only this morning he had thought they wanted him gone, and now Raoul had bought him a wheelchair and was inviting him on trips.
Feeling the people in the hallway expected him to speak he looked up, his vision clouded by unshed tears of gratitude.
“I … I … I … Thank you ...” He stammered clumsily, his tongue and throat thick with emotion. “I can’t believe it!! You would buy this … for me?”
Seeing Erik floundering Raoul quickly stepped in. “Of course.” he grinned, squeezing Erik’s shoulder. “Now come and sit, so I can adjust it for you.”
What a joy it was for Erik to go outside for the first time in bright light, seeing the estate in all it's summertime glory. Green grass, multicolored flowers, sunlight on his face and a smiling Christine who talked to him about it all. He couldn’t remember ever feeling happier.
Raoul watched the two from the window of the living room and felt his heart warm from seeing the quiet happiness that radiated from Erik. He couldn't remember ever seeing anyone happier at simply being outside in sunlight. What it was that made him feel so strangely protective over a man who had once tried to strangle him he could not understand. But for some bizarre reason he wanted nothing more than lead him from the darkness and help him reclaim his life.
The first thing that Erik had done once he had regained the ability to talk coherently was apologise profusely, apologies Raoul had accepted without question. Then over the many weeks that followed Erik had revealed more about himself and his life. Enough for Raoul to understand that this man deserved a second chance in life or more to the point: a chance at life. What he had gone through before now could hardly be called living. Yes, part of it was pity. But there was something else, something that made him feel connected to Erik in a way he couldn't quite grasp.
After about fifteen minutes he saw the couple return from the garden to the house and had to smile when he saw a proud looking Erik hold a bouquet of flowers Christine had picked for him. The girl herself looked flushed and excited.
“They are very close … aren't they?” He suddenly heard Meg behind him. He turned around to see the young girl in her rehearsal tutu.
“I think they have a special bond.” Raoul nodded. Meg frowned a little, Raoul understood she probably wondered why he was suddenly so fine with it all. He was glad she did not ask, as he would not be able to tell her.
“How are rehearsals going Meg?” He quickly asked. “Is the old Chagny ballroom still adequate?”
Meg snorted and pulled a face. “Adequate? Raoul, you know very well that I far prefer this glorious hall to the dingy, sweaty room we have at the Opera. I wish we could stay forever, especially as the owner is far better looking.” She smiled coquetry at the Viscount and then pirouetted away laughing before Raoul could reply.
“These sorts of things never happened with my sisters ...” he muttered to himself as he shook his head in confusion. It was rather enjoyable, though.
Chapter 9: The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton
Mild mentions of crime and abuse.
A smiling Christine walked up the stairs with a tray in her hands. She and Erik would have the house to themselves this afternoon: Most of the servants where on their yearly staff picnic while Raoul was out on the town with Meg and Madame Giry. Christine had decided not to go, she wanted to stay and look after Erik who seemed slightly unwell.
Her poor maestro had enjoyed their brief outing the other day tremendously, but it seemed that fifteen minutes had been slightly too much too soon. When waking him today Erik had worried her a bit, appearing fatigued and slightly confused.
Thankfully Doctor Merchant had told her that it was probably nothing more serious than the outing having been slightly overwhelming for Erik. It was essential for him to get fresh air and sunlight but fifteen minutes might have been too long for a first time.
“Build it up my dear: start at five minutes and work upwards from there.”
He urged her to make Erik stay in bed for the day to recover and then try bringing him outside again in a day or two.
Erik was annoyed at the verdict: he had wanted to go out again immediately, despite his exhaustion. He wanted to feel the sunlight on his face. It had been such an incredible sensation for him and he wanted to feel lots more of that.
But Christine had to be strict: doctors orders were doctors orders and Erik would stay in bed. The fact he fell asleep in the middle of protesting her words rather proving her point.
So yes, she had let the others go to town without her, not wanting poor Erik to feel abandoned when he woke up.
After an hour of feeling sorry for the both of them not being able to enjoy the gorgeous weather Christine decided that if everyone was having fun she and Erik would too.
Within seconds she got herself a fun idea: she and Erik would have a tea party! They both deserved a peaceful afternoon with tea and cakes as they talked by the open window.
Over the last few weeks, with Erik easing into solid food again, her soft fruit cakes had gone down quite well with him. The first time he tasted one he burst into tears, which would have startled her were it not that most things made Erik cry these days. Still this seemed rather an over reaction.
Sadly, as always, the reason behind it all proved tragic. It turned out that Erik was not used to treats at all. Having grown up being denied them by his parents and then living a life that more or less consisted of being abused on a daily basis had made him think he was unworthy of cakes and candy. Treats were for the beautiful, the good, not for … Erik.
Having his Christine, his angel, baking cakes for him, a monster … being thought worthy of tasting something so delicious made by her very hand. It was almost too much for him to bear.
So from that day on Christine had brought him at least one treat a day: be it cookies, chocolate, a decadent dessert or cakes. Every treat filled Erik with such delight and wonder it almost broke her heart. The man was older than her but had experienced so little of the happiness life had to offer that others took for granted and she wanted him to have as much of it as possible.
He had called each treat “a slice of heaven”. But what he loved most, though, were her fruit cakes. So that was what they would be having today.
Humming happily to herself Christine put the tray down as she reached the landing to open the door of Erik’s bedroom.
But before she could suddenly, out of nowhere, a hand grabbed her wrist. She immediately knew it was not Erik, nor was it Raoul’s: the hand felt course, like sandpaper. It was big and clenched around her wrist like a vice.
She let out a scream.
“Quiet, you little bitch!!” The owner of the hand breathed in her neck. The voice was rough, raspy and terrible. How did a strange man get here and why was he attacking her?
“ERIK!!” She managed to scream before the man’s other hand clasped over her mouth and dragged her to another room nearby.
Wrestling and wiggling to get away from the stranger Christine felt desperate. She begun to sob: what would this person do to her? Would anyone come to save her? With the staff away no-one was near in this wing and she could not reach for the bell cord to sound out for help. One ring and the remaining butler would be there in no time at all. But she could not. There was no-one.
No-one but Erik. But Erik was asleep and could not get up without assistance. He would not be able to save her, even if he wanted to.
But Christine had not counted on one thing: Erik’s promise of hearing her whenever she may call for him was no lie.
Erik woke up with a start. Had he heard Christine cry his name? He was certain of it. She had sounded frightened. Was his angel in danger? How could she be in this beautiful peaceful home?
He was about to tell himself to stop being silly and that he’d probably been dreaming when he became aware of the noises.
Strange, muffled sounds of people struggling and sobs … Christine’s sobs. Something was wrong with Christine. She was in trouble.
Remembering Christine telling him how they’d have the house to themselves that day he quickly realised that he was the only one who could help her.
He wasn’t the kind of man to wallow in questions of what he could do in his weakened state; he had to rescue Christine from whatever terror there was, damn the consequences.
With a mighty effort Erik lifted his body from the bed. He grabbed a chair to keep him steady, then he reached for the walking cane Raoul had given him for emergencies. This was an emergency! Keeping himself upright by dividing his weight between the wall and the cane he dragged himself towards the room where the sounds came from.
He opened the door to the room Christine’s sobs came from as quietly as possible: he’d had years of training as a ghost after all. He saw the back of a big man, and Christine cowering in the corner, her eyes wide with fear. How dare this fat giant threaten an angel! Oh how he wished he still had his lasso on him. But no matter, he might not have the lasso, but he still had his cane. The cane with a heavy brass iron top!
One well aimed blow to the head was enough and the “fat giant” fell to the floor.
As the unknown man went down, so went Erik as his legs collapsed underneath him. Through a haze he heard a cry, his name being screamed, a bell, footsteps and then there were arms around him. The arms felt like Christine, so he lay his head on her shoulder and closed his eyes as everything went black.
Raoul didn’t believe in coincidences so he was certain what happened that day was meant to be. Much to the annoyance of his female companions he had to turn their carriage around as he had forgotten his wallet. The moment he entered the house he heard the alarm bell ringing violently, with no-one responding.
Remembering Christine had felt worried about Erik that morning he rushed up the stairs immediately to see what was wrong.
To his surprise there was no sight of Erik and Christine in Erik’s room. Before he had time to wonder where he had gone to he heard the sound of Christine’s sobs in a nearby room and darted towards it.
The sight he ran into as he entered took his breath away: a deadly pale Christine cradling a barely conscious Erik, while a large strange man lay on the floor, his head bleeding.
“Christine?” Raoul asked, his voice filled with concern and confusion.
The girl lifted her tear stained face to him. Raoul gasped at the fear in her eyes.
“He … he was in the house …” Christine sobbed. “He grabbed me … threatened me … Erik saved me … Oh Raoul!!” A new flood of tears prevented her from telling him more.
For a second Raoul felt dizzy with shock. How could this happen? He’d only been away less than ninety minutes. Christine and Erik were supposed to be safe in his house. How had this man come in to shatter their peace?
He rubbed his face and took a deep breath and then he looked at the situation in front of him again. Focusing on the criminal on the floor his heart jumped into his throat in shock. It was Marc Mallet, a highly wanted dangerous criminal.Raoul knew the man and his story well. Marc had come from a very well to do family and was expected to become a great benefactor to the arts and a society darling as his parents had been.
Marc, though, had other plans: he liked the finer things in life, including wine, women and … gambling. Wasting his families money on all this for too long, his family had cut of his allowance. Undeterred Marc became a con man, cheating many a rich lady out of her fortune. Then he became a highway man and climbed up all the way to gangland boss. Soon he became the most feared man in Paris, known for enjoying and encouraging violence and murder and the terrible abuse of women during his robberies.
Raoul shuddered to think what would have happened to Christine had Erik not been there.
Seeing him there, slumped in Christine’s arms, Raoul felt sadness. There was Marc, a once handsome rich man who had every chance handed to him on a platter, but decided to waste it all on an unremorseful life of violence and abuse and then Erik … the most talented and gifted being he had ever met but he had been rejected just because of how he looked. He had not wanted to be a criminal but society had forced him to be one.
It was all so … unfair.
Suddenly an idea struck the Viscount, an idea to get rid of a worry that had been nagging at the back of his mind for a long time now. An idea that would finally give Erik the second chance he deserved.
“Christine, we have to get Erik to bed right now!! Then we need to talk!"
Chapter 10: The School for Scheming
Just as Raoul and Christine had managed to help Erik to his feet Madame Giry and Meg arrived on the landing. When Raoul didn’t return the women feared something was wrong, but the situation that met their eyes was far beyond what they had ever expected.
“Oh my stars!” Meg exclaimed, seeing the criminal on the floor. “Who is he? Why is he here? Is he dead?”
Frustrated with the intrusion Raoul wanted to snap at the two women, demanding they leave. Then, on second thought, he decided against it. Maybe Madame Giry could move things along faster than Christine as the girl seemed far too upset to talk.
“No time Meg. Please, help Christine with Erik and give her some comfort. Antoinette, please come with me.”
While Christine and Meg brought Erik back to bed, Raoul explained to Madame Giry who the unconscious man on the floor was and then laid out his plan to her.
“Antoinette, I think that in some ways we both had the same worry over the last few months … This might be a chance to … set Erik free.”
Madame Giry bowed her head and sighed. It was true, she had been worried. The events at the Opera were not forgotten yet and every day there was a chance that Erik would be discovered. To the servants Erik had been explained as being Christine’s vocal coach from Meaux who had come to visit. They all had spun a rather intricate tale explaining away him and his odd arrival:
To the household Erik was now Christine’s former voice teacher Monsieur Erique L'Ange. He was an old friend of her father who had been watching over her over the years after the latter's passing. Not too far from the truth to make it difficult to remember.
Hearing about her engagement Monsieur Erique had decided to visit her. Sadly his carriage had been robbed on the way to the estate. Thrown from his carriage he had traveled the long journey to the Estate by foot and had then gotten lost on the grounds when arriving during the night.
His mask had been explained away as well: Monsieur Erique was a war victim. So far no-one had asked any worrying questions, but this was mainly because besides during dinner, Erik had rarely interacted with anyone in the house except for her, Christine, Raoul, Meg and Victor – the last one being more family than staff to the Viscount.
Still Madame Giry had heard the maids whisper sometimes about the strange masked man that had entered the household only days after Christine had in the wake of all that had happened at the Opera. Then she and Meg had followed soon after. So far things were going well, but if one of the staff ever talked to someone who would put two and two together …
“Tell me what you are thinking. I will help.” Madame Giry nodded, her intuition already anticipating the young man’s plan.
“In a few minutes I want you to go to the police and tell them that there was a burglary at the Chagny estate and that Christine was attacked. I managed to intervene. Tell them that she identified this man as the same person who kidnapped her in the Opera.”
For a few seconds Madame Giry simply stared at the Viscount.
“You … you want them to think?” She began.
A smirk on Raoul’s face, he seemed rather proud of his idea.
“That Marc was the Opera ghost … yes …?” He said so airily that it seemed as if the gravity of the situation had not dawned on him yet. Madame Giry shook her head at such foolishness of youth.
“My dear boy, do you really think anyone would fall for such a ridicules scheme? This man doesn’t look a thing like Erik and I am not even talking about his face!! The managers will ...”
An even bigger grin appeared on the Viscount’s face as he took the ballet mistress by her shoulders.
“Those managers will do whatever it takes to save their reputation and keep my patronage.” Raoul said with a passionate certainty. “Meanwhile the police will find it a relief to catch anyone at all after the media made such a big thing of all their recent blunders. My dear Nettie, believe me; all anyone cares about is that an arrest has finally been made. Trust me, with what this guy has done two charges more or less are not going to make much difference.”
Looking at the young man in front of her Madame Giry swallowed. That strong willed look in his eyes, the way he proudly lifted his high cheekboned jaw as he spoke, the intensity in his voice as he explained his plan. It was as if she were talking to Erik when he was being particularly enraptured about a certain subject.
“Raoul … I think Erik has been rubbing off on you a little too much,” she said as she gently pushed him away.
The Viscount seemed thrown for a second by her words, but then he snorted with laughter.
“Madame Giry I am not as innocent nor as naive as I look.” Raoul insisted as he stretched himself to his full height. “After what Erik did today … saving Christine despite being barely able to stand … He deserves this chance.” He took the woman’s hands pleadingly. “Please, don’t you want all of us to be truly free again?”
The thoughts of Erik’s decades of suffering begun their relentless tugging at Madame Giry’s soul once more. Then there was the idea of Erik finally reaching his full potential with help, kindness and freedom. The fact that Raoul’s plan would also free her of any potential charges of complicity was a thought she firmly pushed away. All she had ever wanted to do was help a cruelly mistreated man, but so far neither her nor Erik had benefited much from her deeds. Here was the chance to start again.
“Yes.” she said so softly it could barely be heard. Yes, she wanted to be free. Yes, she wanted Erik to be free. She just hoped Raoul truly knew what he was doing.
Delighted at her words Raoul pulled her back to the room with the criminal, ready for action.
“Then help me. This is the only opportunity we have.”
But now things were going too fast for Antoinette, she still had some questions.
Raoul pulled a face at this new delay.
“Will Christine go along with this?”
“I am certain.”
For a second Raoul paused. He had clearly never thought at this eventuality. Then, just as suddenly, the hesitation disappeared into a shrug.
“He will have no choice.” He pulled her over the threshold, back into the room. “Now hurry up before this guy comes round, we have already wasted too much time as it is.”
The couple swiftly took to work. The first thing Raoul did was clean the cane of Erik’s fingerprints and replace them with his own then he grabbed the doorknob, to make sure the freshest prints were his.
Madame Giry inspected the room to make certain there was nothing untoward that could lead to unwanted questions. When finally reassured everything was ready Raoul and Madame Giry left the room again and Raoul firmly locked the door. Then he turned to Madame Giry.
“It’s time Madame Giry. Go to the police. In the meantime I will explain everything to Christine and Meg.”
The ballet mistress could only nod, her heart filled with worry as she descended down the stairs.
For a second Raoul watched her go, then he dashed to Erik’s room to collect the girls and explain what was going on. He didn’t want to reveal his plans near Erik, as he did not want him aware of it all yet. The last time he’d seen him the man had not appeared to be in any condition to suffer another sudden shock.
After laying out his plan to the girls Raoul found Christine seemed as worried as Madame Giry had been, while an adventurous Meg appeared to find the whole conspiracy rather “delicious”.
“But what if the managers don’t support your claim?” Christine said in a shaking voice. “What if you will be arrested for perjury? I could lose you and Erik!” The sadness in her eyes momentarily stopped Raoul from answering Christine. Meg, though, had no such qualms.
“For goodness sake Christine!!” Meg exclaimed. “Please stop being so pessimistic!! Everyone at the Opera will agree with this, because they know that the sooner an arrest is made, the sooner we will open again.” The thought made the ballerina’s eyes glimmer with delight. Clearly she could not wait to be onstage again. Meg missed performing, Raoul knew. She had often talked to him about this: rehearsing was one thing, but nothing compared to the rush of the stage in front of an audience. He knew Christine missed this as well, but not as much as Meg: she loved music itself and it didn’t matter to her whether she were performing onstage or just singing comforting songs for Erik. This was clearly why she didn't particularly support Meg’s ecstatic exclamation.
“Meg! Is that all you think about?” the girl said, as her brow furrowed. A laughing Meg wrapped her elegant arms around her and pulled an unwilling Christine closer.
“No, I am just being practical, like Raoul. Come on Christine. This is a good thing, can’t you see?”
Now Raoul wrapped his arms around her from the other side, making Christine the filling in an over zealous intrigue sandwich.
“Erik can finally build a life!” Raoul urged, close to her ear. “He will no longer have this threat of doom over him.” He begun rubbing Christine’s back, much to her annoyance.
“I know … I know ...” Christine groaned as she wormed her way out of the double hug. “But I am not sure if it’s what he wants. What Erik wants. Ever since he recovered his mental health he has been feeling so guilty...” as she tried to walk away Raoul darted in front of her.
“He will have no choice Christine. If he would ever be arrested here or anywhere in the future it would implicate all of us, and I am certain he would not want that either. Do you really think he’d like to see you in jail?”
Saying these words Raoul cringed on the inside. He didn’t like to emotionally blackmail Christine. But he wasn’t lying and it was all for a good cause. Still, he hated seeing sadness on Christine’s face again, after she had been smiling so much recently.
“I never thought of that ...” Christine whispered dejectedly. Everything Raoul said made sense and she wanted nothing more than Erik’s freedom ... But her friend’s scheme seemed so harebrained.
Then again ... she had been the one who had wanted to hide Erik in the first place. The one who had encouraged Erik and Raoul’s friendship. Now Raoul wanted to protect a friend like he had wanted to protect her. It was his nature.
“Anyway … I think we've already passed the point of no return ...” Meg shrugged, interrupting her thoughts, “seeing my mum is already telling all this to the police right now anyway.”
With a sigh Christine closed her eyes for a moment. It was true, impulsive as he was Raoul had already put his plan into action without her or Erik’s sayso. Of course he’d had a limited time frame to work with. If only she’d had more time to think.
Suddenly she felt two hands in hers. She opened her eyes and saw Raoul’s pleading blue eyes.
“Christine, Christine, don't think that I don't care,” the Viscount murmered gently, “but every hope, and every prayer rests on you now.”
“You said that before,” Christine said, almost laughing despite everything, “and look how that turned out.”
“You’re smiling!” grinned Meg. “You are going to do this, aren’t you?”
Christine rolled her eyes and sighed sarcastically. What else could she do?
“She is doing this.” Meg smirked gleefully at Raoul.
The Viscount sighed with relief.
Chapter 11: A Darting Fear
The heart of Madame Giry had moved from it’s normal place to her throat for the entire journey to the police and back. She was glad that a few decades at the opera had taught her some acting tricks and praised herself for her excellent performance at the police station.
Once she had returned to the Chagny estate with the police in tow things moved swiftly: Raoul and Christine were questioned, as was Meg. They all backed each other up and the officer, who was leading both the Opera and the Marc case seemed relieved with this apparent swift resolution, as Raoul had predicted. The man wasted no time in arresting Marc and soon the criminal was carried from the house to the police carriage.
Watching the police leave from the parlour window a pale and shaking Christine burst into tears.
“Christine!” Raoul exclaimed, watching the young girls upset.
“I’m sorry.” she sobbed, as the Viscount walked to her and took her into his arms.
“Don’t apologise child.” Madame Giry said, the tension still palpable in her voice. “It’s been a trying day for all of us.”
“It’s not over yet.” Meg muttered.
“What are you talking about?” Raoul asked with worry. What more could there be?!
“Well, someone needs to tell Erik, do they not? We did all this for him, so don’t you think he has the right to know about what happened?”
Christine sniffled against Raoul’s chest, cursing herself for her weakness. Meg and Madame Giry seemed so strong in all of this. On the other hand … they were not the ones who had been attacked and had seen Erik collapse while trying to save her. Wonderful, brave, Erik, who had heard her cries for help in his sleep. Then barely able to stand by himself he had found the strength come to her rescue.
Yes, someone needed to tell him he was a free man now, and that someone was her!
Taking a deep breath she released herself from Raoul’s embrace and wiped her eyes.
“I will tell him,” she said as she walked to the door, “he needs to hear it from me.”
As she ascended the stairs a shiver ran down Christine’s back, remembering the last time she had climbed these stairs. It felt like it had all been a dream, (or rather a nightmare,) now, were it not for the stain on the carpet where the teapot had fallen during her struggle.
She quickly shook herself from the dark thoughts that threatened to overwhelm her as she softly entered Erik’s bedroom.
Erik was still fast asleep, much to Christine’s worry. She hoped the events of that day would not cause him to relapse. Erik had already been exhausted from their brief trip to the garden yesterday, which now seemed like weeks ago, so this could not have happened at a worse time. She decided it would be better to let Erik sleep for now and wait for Doctor Merchant before giving the poor man another shock.
Half an hour later, to Christine’s relief, the doctor arrived.
Christine and Raoul explained the events to him, knowing that the Doctor did have to know the cause of whatever the incident might have done to Erik’s health. To make sense of why they had told the police that Raoul, rather than Erik, had been the one to apprehend the criminal, they explained that the Viscount had taken the credits because they feared that Erik was in no state to bear long police enquiries and media attention. Much to their relief the Doctor agreed with this and swiftly prepared to examine his patient to deduct if there was any damage done.
It took Christine and Doctor Merchant quite a while to wake up Erik so he could be examined. It took even longer to get him anywhere near coherent.
“Erik, are you al-right?” Christine asked softly as she handed him a glass of water.
For a second a confused expression slid over Erik’s sleepy features, he frowned a little, clearly trying to recall the events before his deep sleep. “Should … should I not ask you this?” he asked, shaking his head.
A soft smile forming on her lips Christine set herself on the edge of the bed. “I am well, thanks to you. But I have asked the Doctor to examine you after your collapse, just to see if you are well too. Are you up for this?”
Taking a few sips of water Erik’s groggy mind mulled over Christine’s question. He wasn’t feeling right, he knew, so he would probably be better off letting the Doctor check on him. He would probably never get used to the luxury of a Doctor looking after him, in the past no-one would go near him, even if he was injured and bleeding. He would also never get used to people caring so much about him to even call for a doctor. And Christine being near him like this, full of love and kindness … he would be grateful for this every day. Oh, he loved her so much, his angel. If he thought of her in that room with that … demon …. all he’d known was that he had to save her, his health be damned. The image returned in his mind as clearly as if it were happening again right then: the man holding the terrified Christine’s wrists with such menace, the look of terror in her eyes. What if he had not made it to the door in time? She could have been …
“Erik … Erik ...” he heard from far away. “Erik, what is wrong? Why are you crying? Can you hear me Erik?” Arms were wrapped around him, and once again Erik was sobbing violently against Christine’s shoulder.
“I don’t understand ...” Christine said softly, to the doctor standing behind her. “Why is he crying?”
“Probably shock mademoiselle.” she head the Doctor’s kind voice behind her. “From what you have told me he has been through quite an ordeal, far too much for someone in his condition. I don’t think it has harmed him physically, I worry more about the mental effects of it all. With your permission I will get to work now.”
With a nod Christine moved to get up, but was stopped in her action by two arms wrapped tightly around her and a head pressing urgently against her stomach.
“No … Christine … no leave … stay … stay with Erik ...”
With a helpless shrug Christine looked at the Doctor. “I … I don’t think I can leave just yet.” she sat herself back down and begun stroking Erik’s head. “Erik my dear. I will only be gone for a few moments, so the Doctor can look after you, I promise.” These words made the, clearly panicked, Erik hold her even more insistently.
“But … but someone could hurt you again ...” Erik urged fearfully, trembling in Christine’s arms.
“No, no Raoul is back,” Christine said gently, hoping this would calm him, “don’t worry. Nothing can happen.”
A trembling Erik lifted his head to look at her, the terror in his eyes was palpable.
“Is … is he really back?” he whispered hopefully in a small voice.
“Yes … yes of course.” Christine insisted. She heard and felt a sigh of relief course through Erik’s thin body, but he showed no inclination of letting her go. Knowing something had to happen, as Doctor Merchant obviously couldn’t wait forever, Christine turned slightly to look at the medic standing behind her. “could you call the viscount please sir? Maybe seeing him will help.”
The Doctor nodded and slipped from the room, closing the door. The unexpected sound sending a jolt through Erik and he crept even closer to Christine, his embrace so tight the girl could barely breath. She could feel his body shaking against her own. He seemed utterly terrified and it worried Christine. Before his illness he had never been like this, so obviously scared and vulnerable.
“Erik …?” she asked, “what …?” It took a few seconds before he could speak.
“You … you could have died …” he finally gasped, “Christine ... could have died … would … would have been Erik’s fault!!”
“Oh ...” Christine sighed sadly. She now understood, having collapsed on the scene and only truly waking up just now, Erik was still experiencing the event as if it were mere moments ago. She soothingly stroked his hair again and then begun to gently press tiny butterfly kisses to his forehead.
“It would not have been your fault Erik, of course it wouldn’t. If you had not heard me it would be because you were sleeping. But you did, you hear me, despite everything and you saved me!”
A gentle moan from Erik went right to her heart. “You’re my hero, Erik.” she whispered in his ear.
With that she then pressed a kiss to his lips, extracting a gasp from the man.
“Oh ...” Erik sighed lovingly. “Christine … My Christine.”
Her ministrations seemed to calm him a little, but Christine didn’t want to let go of her broken hero just yet. With his head against her shoulder Christine rocked him gently for a while, while she hummed a soothing melody. Christine wondered why it took so long for the doctor to return, but didn’t mind too much as she wouldn’t have missed this moment with Erik for anything.
“I … I am so sorry Christine.” she heard Erik’s soft voice whisper in her neck after some time.
“Sorry?” The girl asked incredulously. “What do you have to be sorry about? You saved my life!”
“For … for collapsing and not seeing to you, to see if you were all right.”
This broke her heart, when would Erik stop seeing everything as his fault? When would his unnecessary guilt stop torturing him?
“Erik, you are not even supposed to be out of bed. The doctor says you pushed above and beyond just for me. You have nothing to worry about. All you have to do is rest, while I’ll look after you.”
“Very true.” A sudden voice agreed. With a start Christine looked up to see Raoul standing there. Her heart pounded a little, knowing she had not heard him come in. What if he had seen her kiss Erik like that? Erik clearly had not heard him enter either, as the sudden noise had driven him deeper in Christine’s arms again.
The Doctor shared a look of understanding with Raoul and the Viscount moved closer to the pair on the bed and knelt in front of Erik.
“Hello there Erik.” Raoul said kindly, seeing the terrified man huddled in Christine’s arms. “Thank you for what you did today. You are quite the hero.”
Christine raised her eyebrows, why was Raoul talking to Erik as if he were a three year old? Then she realised it was something she had been doing quite a lot too. Not all the time, but looking back over the last few months … Even though Erik had seemed happy most of the time, his bursts of terror and grief had been frequent and the only way to get him out of it had been patience, rest and talking to him in a soothing voice or singing. She hoped Erik wasn’t damaged even more now. With herself still reeling from the events of the day, she wasn’t sure if she bear that.
She knew it was terrible to think this as the man clearly couldn’t help feeling what he felt and her heart broke with pity for him … but … Oh, Christine couldn’t deny it: she missed her old Erik, the strong imposing figure he had been before it had all gone wrong. She missed his singing, his music, the sounds that made her feel as if all the wonders in the world were opened to her. Besides the rare times he corrected her during the stilted singing lessons she still received it was as if Erik didn't even care about music anymore.
She missed his passion, his drive.
She missed her Angel of Music ...
She missed the man the man who had brought her to his house beyond the lake.
She missed ...
Oh no ...!!
She missed ...
Could she truly miss … The Phantom of the Opera?