Twisted every way, what answer can I give?
Am I to risk my life to win the chance to live?
Can I betray the man who once inspired my voice?
Do I become his prey? Do I have any choice?
“I can’t!” Christine shouted against the cacophony of voices surrounding her. She ran from the room, her dear Raoul calling after her, but she did not turn back.
She thought of leaving, of running into the street and going as far as her legs would carry, but where would she go? Back home, alone and on foot? Would she hide away there until the world disappeared around her, until the demands of others stopped ringing in her ears? And even if that should--if that could--happen, then what?
She didn’t want anyone to find her--not the managers, certainly not Carlotta, not even Raoul. He would whisper sweet, consoling things to her until she agreed to what he asked, because who can deny a man like him when he asks something as if it’s the most reasonable thing in the world? How can she explain that it’s not only for herself that she’s afraid--and she is that, very much--but also for the man behind the mask, behind the terrible deeds? It doesn’t make sense, even to her, but when she closes her eyes she sees his own--sadness and fear and hurt flickering in them like candlelight.
She stopped at the door of her old dressing room. It had been locked from the outside since the masquerade, Raoul finally starting to believe Christine’s tales of a man who came through a mirror. It had been for her own safety, a gesture of support when the Phantom’s renewed interest in her, after months of dormancy, had come to light. She knew where to find the key.
Christine went to its hiding place, hardly knowing why, and hid it in her skirts. She hurried back to the room with furtive glances, ensuring no one followed, and ducked inside. Closing the door behind her, she was immediately plunged into darkness. She fumbled to find a lamp, and finally lit it as low as she could manage, so that the light under the door wouldn’t attract any attention. She could hardly see beyond her outstretched hand, the rest of the small room cast in shadows, ominous and comforting at once.
She sat in her old chair, and soon sobs began welling up in her chest, her throat growing sore with the effort of stifling them. If she let them out her hiding place would be spoiled, someone inevitably coaxing her out. Tears fell on her gown, the threads drinking them in, and it seemed cruel that she couldn’t wail, couldn’t cry out at the terrible twisting in her soul.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat in that room, crying quietly like a child who knew they were shortly to be caught doing something forbidden. She hadn’t done anything to bring this on, no matter what Carlotta said. If Christine was guilty of anything--in the beginning at least--it was naivety, foolishness, grief.
Perhaps that was enough to make her complicit. Perhaps it was enough that it wasn’t only fear that struck her when she thought of him.
She gasped at the sound, soft but somehow filling the room. She clutched at her chest and froze, silent and hoping with some part of herself that it was only her distress conjuring that voice.
“You’ve come to continue your lessons.”
She did sob then, sucking the air back into her lungs and holding it again. “Angel, please…” The thought to run hadn’t struck her at all until this moment, but she couldn’t. There was lead in her feet, and it kept her in the chair, facing a shadowed reflection of herself in the mirror. She felt like she could no longer run, like this was all that was left to her. She would become his prey, or she wouldn’t.
“Please what?” The Phantom spoke slowly, almost carefully.
She took a trembling breath, forcing the words to come out clearly. “Please don’t hurt me.”
The mirror slid aside, and she did look away now, pressing her chin into the far shoulder and squeezing her eyes shut. She did not know what the Angel--wrathful, avenging--might do, but she did not have the courage to see it coming.
She heard his footfalls as he stepped onto the smooth wood of the floor, and winced as they grew closer.
“Christine…” he said, and the musical quality of his voice had fallen away, uneven where it had so often been steady and clear. She looked at him, and half his face was shrouded in that white mask, but she read him as though it were naked. “I wouldn’t. I could not hurt you.”
He looked as frightened as she had felt, like something invaluable had fallen from his hand and now teetered on a cliff’s edge. He was kneeling before her, looking up into her eyes, his pupils blown wide by the low lamp light. His hand hovered just over her arm like he wanted to offer comfort. Her heart thumped in her chest less forcefully.
“You let me be for months. Why are you back?”
“I--is it not obvious?” He searched her face and reached into his jacket, pulling out a handkerchief. Holding it out to her, he continued, “I needed to finish it. You are a creature who was made to sing, and I must give you music.”
She dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief, blowing her nose and clearing the evidence of her tears from her face.
“Come,” he said, taking her hand as he stood. “We must rehearse. The music is complex, but I believe you more than capable.” He faced the open mirror.
Christine pulled her hand from his grasp. “Don’t take me back there!”
“Ah.” He straightened his shoulders. He glanced back in her direction but his eyes did not meet hers. “As you wish. I do hope your Mr. Reyer is up to the task, then.”
He moved towards the mirror, and the words left Christine’s throat before she recognized them. “Don’t leave.”
He turned back to her, and she could not see his face in the shadows, but the tilt of his head was confused. Christine didn’t have any answers for him. She had been living in fear of the spectre of him for months, had awoken at night from dreams of being taken back to his domain, of forgetting what the sun looked like. And yet, the physical reality of him did not render that same terror, like her mind knew something her body refused to learn.
She stood, the lamp now at her back and very little of its light reaching them. Finding his hand, Christine took it and raised it in hers.
“You were a comfort to me once,” she breathed over his knuckles. “I was… I felt so alone, and you were miraculous.”
He stared down at her, transfixed.
“I’m scared now, every minute, and I just… I keep hoping for another miracle.” She held his palm--it shook, just a little, in her grip--up to her cheek, resting on it. This flesh-and-blood Phantom had misled her, terrorized her--had killed a man--and still leaning into him made her feel like all that was distant, somewhere else. Like she was someone else.
It made no sense, appealing to him of all people, but at least he didn’t think her mad.
“You have nothing to fear from me.”
Laughter--humorless, with a note of hysteria--bubbled up in her helplessly, and she turned her mouth to his palm to block the sound. “I have everything to fear.” She stepped closer still.
His free hand rose to grasp her shoulder. “Christine,” he said, exhaled like the name was a weight on his chest. He pulled her closer, and she went. Even as her rational mind told her to pull away, Christine only stopped when her body was pressed against his. He inhaled sharply at the touch, and she reached up to cup the unmasked side of his face, a mirror of his hand on her.
"I know something of loneliness," he said, hardly above a whisper.
"Do you feel it now?"
His fingers curled until they sat under her chin, tipping it up. "No." He leaned in, and she thought he would kiss her on the mouth, but instead his lips pressed against the space where her neck met her shoulder. Christine sighed into it, feeling again like she was being washed away. Her arm went around the Angel's neck, and she let it take her.
He held her by the waist, guiding her until she was pressed against a wall, the crisp lines of his suit crumpled where their bodies met. His hand slid up her bodice, slow like he was noting each stitch, and when the swell of her breast rose from her neck line, his mouth moved there. It was so little skin, yards of fabric still between them, but each touch sent an emboldening tingle through the rest of her.
“Touch me, Angel.” Christine did not recognize her own voice, asking for this, asking for him. She tugged up her skirt so that her leg could brush against his, and it was wanton, disgraceful, like jokes made about the chorus girls when rich men gave them roses.
Pulling away from her breast with some effort, the Phantom stared down at her, their faces so close that she could see his wide eyes clearly despite the darkness. “Trust me,” he said, and let his hand fall to her exposed knee, his thumb just grazing over the top of her stocking. A sound escaped her throat, high and quavering, and his touch slid up her thigh. She moved into it, coaxing him higher until he was stopped by the seam of her bodice meeting her skirts. He kneaded her thigh, moaning softly against her ear, his thumb dangerously, tantalizingly close to the place her legs met.
“I do,” she breathed, and it was terrible and damning and true. It was so easy to quiet her mind, to let his proximity subsume her until it was the only thing she knew.
He shifted under her skirts, releasing his grip on her thigh and swimming through the fabric until he found the open slit in her drawers. His breathing faltered until he held it altogether, and Christine gasped when his fingers finally grazed over her sex. It was the barest touch, and still her knees nearly buckled, only the wall at her back and the Phantom’s arm at her waist keeping her upright.
He gazed at her, searching, hoping, and when those careful fingers slid into her folds a softly exhaled “yes” was all she could manage.
He was exploring at first, almost prodding at her with fevered curiosity, and it wasn’t unpleasant exactly, but it wasn’t what she craved. She arched into the touch, her brows coming together on her forehead, and when he passed over that button of flesh that sent a needful thrill through her core, she reached out and tugged at his lapels. “There, keep doing--” he found it again, circling and staring at her, awaiting instruction. “Right there, please,” she moaned, and his pace quickened with confidence, finally offering Christine some relief against the desire in her bones.
His mouth was on her neck again, pressing wet, sucking kisses to her throat. When she whimpered at his hand between her thighs, he would groan and open his mouth wider as though he wanted to consume the sound. His fingers, now wet to the knuckles from her own arousal, dipped near her entrance. Her heel dug into the back of his thigh, and one digit slid inside like a key turning against a need she’d had locked away.
“You are the angel, my dear.” He pulled back from her neck to watch her face as he curled inside her. Her mouth had fallen open, and her eyes squeezed shut when he said, “You are perfection made flesh.”
He added another finger and pushed them deeper, Christine clawing at his jacket. She was working herself on them now, relishing the sweet, slick drag against her walls as the Phantom lavished attention on her collarbone and the tops of her breasts.
He slipped out of her, and she resented the sudden absence, but soon he was passing those dripping fingers back over the button of pleasure nestled in her folds, and the feeling of it now was almost unbearable. Overwhelming on such a fine point that radiated through her belly, Christine could hardly think as the awful, cresting wave of her climax approached. She buried her face in his shirt to muffle her cry when it took her, coursing through her abdomen, through her limbs as she clutched him helplessly.
He held her through it, petting her hair when she finally seemed recovered. He squeezed the back of her neck, and his eyes, when she looked up at them, were pained.
“My body burns for you, Christine. I want--I want to have you.” She was flush against him now, his hand between her legs having fallen away, and she could feel the hardness in his pants. He ached, and so did she, and there was no chorus of voices to deny it, to make demands of her.
“You can,” she said, and it felt like falling from a great height. Her stomach rose under her ribs as his mouth descended on her again, still avoiding her own and leaving a trail of quick, hungry kisses down her neck. The Phantom worked at opening his fly, and Christine--debauched, ruined, foolish Christine--raised her skirts to her waist.
She only caught a glimpse of his manhood in the low light, clutched in his hand, rigid and straining. He closed the little distance between them and reached under her skirts once more, this time planting his hands where her thighs met her backside and hauling her up until her sex was level with his. Christine made a shocked noise and brought one arm up to grip the back of his neck. His length slid over her folds, and she used the leverage of the wall at her back to maneuver her hips so that the tip found its destination.
Entering her, a choked groan escaped the Phantom’s throat, and Christine found she could make no sound at all, at first. It was sudden and slow and exactly what her body had been reaching for. She held his shoulders with both hands, her legs wrapped around his waist, and his fingers dug into the back of her thighs as he began thrusting. It was the rhythm of it, the steady stroking of that unlocked box inside that finally drew a moan from Christine, her head falling back against the wall.
His head fell to her chest, the mask a cool, hard line interrupting the heat of his brow, and he was muttering delicate, reverent things into her skin. Christine let herself be carried away on the current of sensation, time slipping through her grasp like water. The pumping of the Phantom’s hips grew dizzyingly fast, and she could only hold on to him until he stiffened, plunging himself impossibly deep inside her. He groaned as though the sound had been rent from him, dragged out with his release. Christine shuddered around him, tightening her legs on him as he leaned into her, his hands falling from her thighs to sit lightly at her waist.
He stood there, holding her and breathing, and she stared back at him. He slid from inside her with a stuttered sigh, and steadied her as she returned to her feet. Her skirts fell back in place, any evidence of the encounter shrouded beneath them entirely. The Phantom tucked himself back into his pants, straightened his suit, and he too looked just the same as when he’d entered.
They regarded one another, and he pushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. The sadness in his eyes, not entirely gone, had retreated.
“I promise that I will please you.”
She blinked, reality returning to her somewhat. “What?”
“I will be the sweetest, most loyal, most doting husband a woman has ever had. I will get you a carriage--your own horses. You will want for--”
“No...” Her head was swimming again, and she swore she could hear that cacophony, the expectations, the demands, the accusations that swirled around her. “Don’t say--don’t--”
“What gives you pause? Is it your Viscount? I will dispose of him. I would burn this whole sorry opera to the ground for you, Christine. Do you doubt it?”
She scrambled away from him clumsily. “Angel--oh--” She looked at him, and what she saw was earnest; he would do all of that and more, and she had-- “I’ve made a mistake!”
“A mistake?” His eyes were panicked now, searching, and for all she could tell she was back in that dark place of candlelight and captivity, and she thought if I do not go now he will not let me.
Seeing her moving to leave, he snatched her arm, holding it in a vice grip. “Christine, you can’t mean--”
“Let me go, Angel! If you ever cared for me, let me go.”
He gawked back at her, confused and--offended, of all things. Still he held her.
“I’ll perform for you, in your opera, please--please!”
He looked down at his hand, his eyes widening, and released her. “Christine…” he breathed, but she rushed to the door. She looked back at him once more before going through it, and he only stood, not pursuing her. The Phantom’s arm hovered in the air, like she might still take his hand, and she left, locking the door behind her.
There was no one in the hallway when she emerged, and Christine collapsed to the ground, stinging tears welling up in her eyes once more. She wanted to believe it was someone else in that room, that it wasn’t her who found comfort and--and more, in the arms of the pitiless creature who had been terrorizing her and everyone she knew. She wanted to believe it had been a dream, just the imaginings that Raoul insisted her encounters with the Phantom had been--but it wasn’t.
When the sobs had emptied her out, leaving her chest hollow, she stood and went to the washroom. She did what she could to wash his scent from her skin, the evidence of him from between her legs, and finally dabbed a cool, wet cloth to her eyes, puffy with tears. She heard the company gathering for rehearsals, and she took a steadying breath. They would believe that Raoul had talked her into returning, and he would think she had come to her senses.
No one asked after her when she arrived, music in hand, and that was just as well.