Christine woke early Christmas morning curled in Erik’s warm embrace. Her cheek rested up against his silk-clad chest that rose and fell evenly, evidence that for once her husband was actually asleep. She smiled sleepily and cuddled closer, relishing how relaxed he felt. It really was a Christmas miracle, not only that he was sleeping, but that he was sleeping peacefully without his mask. Not once in the night had she felt him stir beside her.
Carefully she attempted to extract herself from his grasp so she could prepare for the day without waking him. Erik shifted as she moved and she waited with bated breath to see if he would wake. For a moment she was sure he would, but when she placed a hand on his arm with all the gentleness in the world he relaxed again.
She sang softly as she changed, sparing a glance at the bed every few minutes to see if Erik was still asleep. He looked so soft, all his hard bony edges and straight lines smoothed out. The cold air of their underground nipped at her bare skin as she slipped her clothes on. It took every ounce of self-restraint to stop herself from abandoning her day clothes and crawling back in bed beside him. She turned her back to remove the temptation.
“Good morning my Christine,” Erik said quietly, his voice thick with sleep. Christine jumped a little, surprised at the unexpected noise. “Oh. Did I startle you?”
“Only a little, darling. I’m alright.” Despite her reassurance, he reached over to the bedside table, one skeletal hand scrambling for his mask. Christine sighed. Together they were making progress, slowly overcoming his need to wear the mask when they were alone together. It pained her to see him revert to his old habits so quickly but she kept her tone neutral as she crossed the room to sit beside her husband.
“Oh, Erik. Don’t put that on please. I simply thought you were still asleep and didn’t expect your words. Did you sleep well, love?”
“Yes. Erik did,” he answered, propping himself up on one elbow. “Otherwise how else would Père Noël have come to bring your gifts?” Christine giggled.
“I’m surprised a grump like you would even know who he is!” He chuckled warmly, reaching one hand out to play with her curls.
“Ah, Christine. Erik may make poor decisions right and left, but surely after all these years he can behave well enough some of the time to warrant a gift?” He said it as a jest, but like anything he said a little bitterness tainted the words. Still, Christine smiled and planted a soft kiss on his mangled cheek.
“Of course! How could I have thought otherwise? There is no one more deserving of a gift than you Erik.”
“How easily you forget yourself, my love,” Erik replied. “An angel deserves the world. A man such as myself deserves far, far less.”
"How long will it take you to stop saying that? No matter what your past or your face has led you to believe, you are worthy of good things. " Erik pretended to contemplate the statement for a moment before shaking his head.
"Erik fears it will take an eternity of you by his side and then some to change that. Although," he added with a sly hopeful grin. "A kiss can temporarily purchase my silence." Christine obliged him, pressing her warm lips to his cold ones. Erik closed his eyes and sighed, a smile playing at his lips.
The two stayed that way for nearly a half-hour, tangled in their warm embrace. Neither wanted to be the first to leave, but it was Christine who detached herself from Erik first. He made a soft noise in protest, reaching out to grab her slender wrist. She smiled kindly but extracted herself nonetheless.
“We can’t lay here all day, love. It’s Christmas! We need to celebrate!” Erik groaned and muttered something that sounded like ‘Erik has no time for Christmas! He’s gone years without it,” but she wasn’t entirely sure. He complained when she dragged him out from under the dark bed sheets, yelping as his bare feet touched the stone floor. The resistance slowed to a stop, as did all of his bodily functions but breathing, when Christine’s fingers unbuttoned the buttons of his nightshirt.
“Ah… oh… Christine, what are you…”
“None of that ,” she whispered, blushing. Though she had been successfully bedded on numerous occasions the subject still was strange to talk about. “Not now anyway. But you obviously aren’t changing, and we mustn't have our celebration in our nightclothes. It wouldn’t be proper.” Erik swallowed, his face falling a little. “There… there will be plenty of time for that later though. If we… If we happen to be… inclined to partake in such activities. ” He nodded in response, a little too eagerly. Christine stepped back and let him change the rest of the way in peace.
When he had finished, dressed to the nines as usual in the same dark suit and tails he always wore, Christine crossed the room to her bedside table and pulled a little holly leaf and a pin from one of the draws. He raised one eyebrow when she approached and stood on her tiptoes to fiddle with his lapel. A few seconds later she pulled back, smiling at her handiwork. Erik glanced down, looking slightly taken aback at the bright green attached to his jacket. He didn’t remove it. His darling wife had pinned it there for a reason and no matter what that reason might be, he was determined to leave it in place.
Everything was finally in place. Excitedly she grabbed Erik’s wrist and dragged him from the bedroom, out into the sitting room where she had decorated for the holiday. He smiled at his young wife and her child-like enthusiasm. It was difficult to stay stony-faced when she was so tangibly energetic, and as always when Christine was involved he could deny her nothing, including his excitement.
Christine’s excitement peaked then fell when she noticed the number of presents arranged around the tree in the corner of the room, similar to the way her father used to place them when she was small and they could afford a tree. While it was exciting to be on the receiving end of so many gifts (because she was sure Erik had not purchased any for himself) a sinking feeling rose in her stomach. Erik, never one to do anything by half measures, had surely gone all out with the expenses and chose as many of the most expensive gifts he could find. She on the other hand, only had a small hand-carved angel to offer. With a sigh, Christine resigned herself to her mistake and rose to collect her sorry excuse for a gift.
“Wait right here,” Christine ordered, pointing to the chair in front of the fire. Erik frowned, one eyebrow quirking up in a silent question. “I need to get something. I’ll be right back.” On light feet, she crossed the parlor, entered their bedroom, and stole over to the box hiding Erik’s gift. She lifted the lid gently and took out the wooden figure, now placed in a smaller box and wrapped in brightly colored paper. Setting it down gently so not to hurt her husband’s gift, she laid the smaller box on the bed and placed the one containing her keepsakes back where it belonged.
In the other room, Erik had taken to pacing. There was nothing to be worried about. That he was almost sure about. Christine would enjoy her gifts. They were all expensive except for the angel, and there were enough that if she wasn’t fond of a few the others would make up for it. Even if she didn’t particularly enjoy the gifts she would at least use them and pretend to love them for his sake.
He would have been more confident if he had been giving her a piece of music, but thanks to Nadir, that meddling old fool, he found his hands shaking at the thought of giving his wife a gift. That wooden angel he had been idiotic enough to purchase laid heavily on his mind. It took every ounce of his strange form of self-restraint to keep him from walking to the tree, taking the small box from its hiding place at the bottom of the stack, and throwing it into the roaring flames. Forcing himself to stop pacing, he gripped the edge of the mantle until his pale knuckles went entirely white. If only he hadn’t left his mask in the bedroom. Perhaps if he had left it on he could have convinced Christine to stay in bed with him, an outcome he would have preferred.
The sound of the door opening behind him startled Erik who flinched noticeably. Christine slipped out, her hands clearly holding something behind her back. He paid no mind as his anxiety spiked.
“Are these all for me,” Christine asked, placing the little box under the chair and gesturing to the packages surrounding the tree. Erik nodded. “You didn’t need to get me so much, Erik. I appreciate it though,” she added, not wanting him to think she was upset with him for it.
“Is Christine going to open them? Do you… do you want to open them?”
“Oh yes!” She sat herself on the couch, sinking into the cushions and patting the spot beside her, motioning for her husband to join her. “Is there any specific order that I should open them in?”
“Order? No. It does not matter. Erik will hand you whichever one you would like to open first.” One gift at a time, Erik handed her gift after gift. Custom-tailored dresses, interesting novels, intricate pieces of the finest jewelry, and boxes of sweets piled up near her feet as she unwrapped. Erik had thought to remove all evidence of pricing from each item, knowing that Christine, modest young woman that she was, disapproved of the amount he often spent on her. His confidence grew as she oohed and ahhed over his selections, even demanding that he try some of the candy he had purchased her. On several occasions, she leaped from her seat to throw her arms around him or kiss him, many things that made him feel inclined to celebrate Christmas for years to come.
They reached the bottom of the pile in less time than either of them had expected. Soon only the damaged brown box the young man had packaged the angel in was left, hidden behind the trunk of the tree where Erik hoped Christine couldn’t see it. He had decided to dispose of it later after Christine had gone to bed for the night.
“You know, I’m very surprised that you didn’t compose anything for me. I was rather looking forward to what you might be writing,” Christine commented, laying her head on his shoulder as Erik ran his fingers through her curls. “Of course you write for me so often that I suppose I shouldn’t have presumed…” Erik’s hand went slack. He wanted nothing more than to throttle Nadir.
“Christine? You… you wanted me to write you a song?”He ran his hands through his wig in exasperation. “The Daroga, that incompetent old man! Of course, he would be wrong! He told me… he told me that you wouldn’t want a song for Christmas! He told Erik that the point of the holiday is to give the people you love something you normally wouldn’t!” Christine groaned.
“Oh, my love! Why would you listen to a man who doesn’t even celebrate Christmas?”
“Erik is sorry,” Erik said, panicking a little. He stood up quickly and started his way over to the door to the music room. “He will write you something right away. It will be done before the day is over.” Christine jumped to her feet, following after him.
“I wasn’t saying you had to, dearest. I only… Ugh.” She groaned. As much as she loved Erik, his bizarre thought process and infallible ability to jump to the strangest conclusions grated on her nerves. One small hand reached up and grabbed his shoulder as Christine dug her heels into the rug on the floor. “Come back here Erik! I still need to give you your gift!” He froze, one spindly hand resting on the golden doorknob.
“My… my what?” His head whipped around, golden eyes wide and disbelieving. Christine’s heart broke a little at the amount of surprise caused by a simple Christmas present.
“Your present,” Christine whispered, leading him back to the sofa. The dazed expression on his ravaged face never wavered. She kept one hand nestled in his as she retrieved the brightly wrapped box that contained the angel. Perhaps, she wondered, were all my worries over whether he would like it for nothing? I should have realized that he would just be grateful to be given a gift.
Erik’s hands shook as he gently detached the paper from the box. Every few seconds he looked up to see Christine watching him, tears in her eyes. Each time she nodded, encouraging him to keep going.
At last, all the paper had been peeled away and deposited on the floor. Erik sat there staring blankly at the uncovered box, hands hovering over the edges but refusing to touch it. He sniffled, wiping the back of his hand across his face and ducking his head. Christine knelt in front of him, prying his hands away from his face and kissing him on the forehead with all the love she could muster into one display of affection.
“This is… this is the first… This is the first gift someone has given Erik. The first one with nothing expected in return. I had never expected such an honor.”
“Please Erik,” Christine pleaded. “Please don’t cry. If I had known how much this would… would break you up, I never would have bought you something.” Erik set the box to the side and took Christine in his arms, letting out a sob. She held just as tightly to him as he did to her, wrapping her arms around his neck as he cried, a few silent tears slipping down her own cheeks as well. They stayed that way for what seemed like hours, clinging to each other. Finally, when Erik’s tears slowed and stopped Christine deposited the box back into his lap. “Will you open it,” she whispered, attempting to meet his eyes.
“Yes… Yes of course. Anything you wish, my love.” With the lightest fingers, he lifted the lid and extracted the carved figure. He nearly burst into tears again.
“Oh! Oh no! What is it now Erik? Do you not like it? I’m so sorry. I only bought it because it reminded me of you. You, my husband and my angel of music.”
“It’s perfect,” Erik sighed, placing the angel off to one side and kissing the tips of Christine’s fingers. “But I’m afraid I have one gift left for you.” Before Christine could get a word in edgewise he crawled behind the Christmas tree (looking a foolish sight as he scrambled around, tear tracks staining his face) and pulled out a box identical to the one he had opened.
“Erik, you really didn’t need to go out of your way to get me so much! Whatever possessed you to save this for-”
“I… I was afraid,” he stuttered, interrupting. “I was afraid you would hate it. It’s not as grand as the other things and Erik… Erik was going to burn it so that you would never know, but now…” He gestured wildly with one hand, waiting for the words to come to him. He floundered for a moment, overcome by emotion until he shook his head and guided Christine’s small hands to the box with his own.
Christine gasped when she opened it. Nestled inside was the female angel that had sat beside the one she had purchased for Erik. They matched perfectly, united once more in the warm little house by the lake, hidden deep beneath the Opera Garnier.
“Merry Christmas, angel,” Christine whispered wrapping her arms around her husband’s waist and leaning her head on his chest. “I’m glad you enjoyed your gift, as humble as it may be.”
“Merry Christmas to you as well my love. Erik will treasure this carving for the rest of his days. He is… I am… I am pleased to know that you are happy with your gifts as well.”
“Especially the last one,” she murmured against his tailcoat, one hand coming to the back of his head and pulling it gently down. Her breath ghosted over his lips. “I gifted an angel for my angel, and received one in return.” He closed the gap, initiating his favorite Christmas gift of all.