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As Any Normal Man ...

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In the living-room Christine was reading a book on the sofa as she was waiting for Erik to return, wondering why it took him so long to take the make-up off. She had long since washed her face and slipped into her frilly nightgown and robe.
Maybe he needs help? She wondered. Despite being an artistic genius Erik was often helpless when it came to new or ordinary things.
With a sigh she closed her book and padded to the bathroom in her elegant slippers.

“Erik?” she asked as she listened at the door. No reply, but to her surprise no other sounds either. She knocked at the door. “Erik, are you still in there?”

No-one answered, but she did hear something: soft sniffles as if someone was trying to swallow away tears before speaking. Then sure enough a thick tearful wail came: “Christine, please … go away!”

But that was the last thing Christine wanted to do now that her fears were confirmed: something really was wrong! Carefully Christine lay her hand on the handle and tried it. Much to her relief Erik had not locked the door and she could step inside. For a moment she blinked in confusion: where was Erik? But then she heard the soft hitched breathing of her fiancée from somewhere inside the large luxurious space.
Soon enough she found him and her heart broke: he was cowering in the darkest corner, so curdled up on himself that he was almost wedged underneath the bath. As Erik was an extremely tall man this could not be comfortable. He had hidden his face behind his hands and seemed utterly hysterical.

“Erik …” Christine said softly. “What is wrong my love?”

Breathy sobs and a muffled “Don’t look. Please leave me ...” where her answer. But she ignored it, as she knew by now that the one thing she should not do when Erik was like that was leave. Carefully she sat herself down next to him and begun to give him soothing touches in the hope of calming him down.

“What is wrong with your face sweetie. Let me see. Are you in pain?” Not trying to show that she was concerned, Christine started humming softly and gave him more touches and encouraging smiles.

Through a blurry haze Erik gazed at her. Why did she not leave? Why was she so soft and gentle? Pain … so much pain … Could he show her his problem? Slowly the last remaining part of his rational mind told him that he might have to as he could not remain in that uncomfortable spot forever.

“Christine …” Erik said after a while in a soft wobbly voice, his eyes focussed to a spot on the floor. He could not look at her in his embarrassment.

“What is it my dear?” Christine said, coming closer to him.

“I … I can’t get it off and it hurts so much …” Erik forced out between moans, louder now. “I’m disgusting Christine!! Please, please don’t be angry … upset … please. I tried to ...” A soft soothing shushing sound stopped Erik from speaking further.

“Show Christine what is wrong sweetie, she won’t be upset …” Christine said as she gently tugged at his hands. Tremulously Erik obeyed and let her pull his hands away, knowing he could not hide this from her any longer.

To Erik’s surprise Christine did not laugh and she did not look disgusted either. In fact she looked extremely worried.

“Oh Erik … the skin has gone completely red! Let me look, quickly!” A shaken Christine cupped his chin in her hand to look closer. “Oh my stars!! No wonder you’re in pain!! Erik … what did you do?”

Relieved Christine was not angry with him Erik crawled closer to her and Christine allowed him into her arms.

“I glued it on ...” Erik breathed wearily against Christine’s shoulder.

“With skin glue?” Christine urged, hopefully.

“Something stronger … It had to stay on … I could not risk ...” Erik admitted in a dejected voice.

“Oh sweetie no …!” Christine said feeling both sad and exasperated: what had Erik been doing to himself?  She held Erik a little tighter as she closed her eyes and thought of what she should do now. That nose had to come off but Erik’s skin was so damaged already, it would be so very painful for him.

“Would you allow me to help you, Erik?” She said softly. After a moment she felt Erik nod against her in agreement.

“It will hurt sweetie, do you understand that?” Another nod from Erik at her warning.

“Please …” Erik forced out. “I … can’t breath ...”

With a sigh Christine let go of Erik and rose to her feet, then she helped Erik to stand and put him on a chair where he closed his eyes.

“I will try using soap and water first, hopefully that will help ...” Christine said, worrying Erik was losing consciousness.

“Already tried … water …” Erik muttered breathlessly.

“But you must have been in a panic. Let me try ...” Christine said with more confidence than she felt.

“Do whatever you think is best,” Erik sighed. Christine squeezed his shoulder in support and then walked to the tap to begin.

As careful as she could Christine dabbed hot soapy water on the edge between wax, glue and skin,

worrying when nothing seemed to happen and hearing Erik’s gasps of pain.

“It’s no use … I could have told you ...” Erik moaned sadly after her fifth try.

“Just wait and let it soak sweetie.” Christine tried in a forced cheerful voice. “The glue needs to dissolve, you know.”

As they waited Christine tried to keep Erik’s spirits up with cheerful chatter. But, clearly at the end of his tether, Erik barely responded.

“I love how much you try for me angel …” Erik sighed after what seemed like an eternity. “But it’s no use ...”

But just then the glue finally surrendered and the wax nose dropped to the floor with a small clunk, leaving Christine to stare at a once more noseless Erik. After a horrified gasp by Erik a deep silence fell as he and Christine locked eyes.

Christine’s insides twisted as she gazed at her fiancée. The poor man’s face looked worse than ever: angry burn marks and blisters were spreading around the hole in the centre of his face and the edges were bleeding. But what was actually terrifying to her was the heartbreaking misery that emanated from Erik and the pain burning in his eyes.

“Is is bad …?” Erik whispered in a voice so soft and broken it hurt Christine physically. Thinking of the right words to use she waited too long, giving Erik time to listen to the self loathing voices in his mind once more.

“It’s al-right ... you can leave … you don’t have to look at me ...” Erik said dejectedly, his eyes firmly fixed on the wax nose at his feet.

“But I don’t want to leave.” Christine said in a soft voice as she stepped towards him, wishing she had kissed him the moment the nose had dropped off.

Before she could reach him Erik managed to rise to his feet with difficulty so he could turn away from her and face the wall.

“You don’t have to lie. This had to be horrific for you.”

With a sad sigh Christine walked towards Erik and wrapped her arms around him. Immediately he crumpled in her embrace and started to sob.

“It’s all right Erik, I promise. I love you so much.” Christine murmured into Erik’s ear as she held him.

“I am sorry Christine,” Erik said between gasps. “You deserve better. I wanted to give you a normal man without a hole where his nose should be.”

Hearing how low Erik thought of himself made Christine cry too and made her want to keep him in her arms forever to protect him from his pain and self hatred.

“Erik, I don’t want a normal man.” She exclaimed, “I want you, holes and all!!”

A soft choking sound escaped Erik at her words: did she mean them? Truly mean them? Did she not mind seeing this monstrous face again?

“Even … even now I must surely appear more horrific than ever?” Erik urged breathlessly, “Even now … you had to be reminded of the deformity in this humiliating way?”

Kisses, suddenly there were kisses all over his damaged face. The kisses were accompanied by honest loving eyes and the sweetest words.

“Especially now. My dearest, you don’t need to put yourself through all this pain for my sake.”

For a while Erik had no words and simply clung onto Christine. He could not understand how anyone could love something as horrific as him, but he was grateful, so very grateful. All to soon he knew he had to give up on the embrace as light-headedness, exhaustion, pain and a general feeling of unwellness started taking their toll. As the world spun around him Erik sank deeper into Christine’s arms.

“Christine ...” Erik sighed helplessly. “I … don’t feel so well ...” Immediately he felt her arms grow tighter around him. It was safe with Christine, she would protect him.

“My poor silly Erik, you must have had such a terrible night.” Christine smiled sweetly as she kissed his forehead again, making Erik purr in bliss.

“I didn’t mind if it meant one night outside with you in the real world.” Erik admitted honestly.

“We’ll do it again Erik,” Christine said as her hands ran through his hair, “I promise we’ll make it work in a better way so you might actually enjoy yourself. And now you’re having a lay-down on the couch and I am making you some hot cocoa.”

“I would love that Christine ...” Erik sighed tiredly as he allowed Christine to help him to the couch in the living-room.

When Erik finally lay down it was a moment of relief for him, but also one of confusion: should simply going out be so exhausting? He felt worse than he did after two weeks of working on a score without rest. Poor Christine, he’d probably be very boring company in the next two days.

Feeling dazed and spaced out Erik let Christine work on him without question, feeling vaguely happy when she treated his face with a disinfectant and nourishing cream. The burning lessened a little after that. Then Christine gave him his chocolate milk and a soothing sedative that finally calmed him a little after that she sat by his side and read for him until he fell asleep.

It was still early, Christine knew as she closed her book of poetry and looked down at Erik’s still, sleeping features. Wired after the events of the night she wasn’t ready for sleep just yet. In fact, she felt rather hungry: neither of them had eaten much in the restaurant.
So Christine spent the evening baking herself an omelet and eating it while reading an exciting book. Then she treated herself to some wine and lounged about in one of the comfortable chairs by the fireplace reading some more until she felt it was bedtime.

As she stood up and stretched herself she pondered if she should she wake Erik up just to bring him to bed. Recalling how he had complained about his back for days after sleeping on the sofa for too long a few months earlier she regretfully felt that she should. He didn’t need more any more pain than his face would be giving him in the coming weeks.

“Erik, wake up, we’re going to bed.” Christine murmured softly. Erik huffed and turned away from her in annoyance.

“I am in bed ...” Erik groaned at the injustice of having his rare moment of rest disturbed like that.

“No, you’re on the couch.” Christine laughed as she rolled her eyes at Erik’s silliness.

“But I don’t like the couch.” Came Erik’s complaining voice.

“I know Erik that is why I am bringing you to bed.” Christine said as she ruffled his hair.

When Erik finally understood what Christine was talking about he sat up with difficulty, pressing the balls of his hands against his stinging eyes.

“Do you need anything Erik?” Christine asked, seeing that he wasn’t comfortable.
The man opened his mouth, clearly there was something, but then Erik stopped himself and shook his head.

“No, no, it's fine ...” he said rather unconvincingly. Christine sighed in despair, it was one of these nights again.

“Erik ...” Christine said in a long-suffering voice.

“You have ...” her fiancee began, but Christine had had enough.

“Don't tell me I have done enough, do so again and I'll scream. You won't like that as I'll damage my voice. So once again, what do you need?” Christine near yelled to a startled Erik. She had quite enough: Erik was going to get whatever it was he needed and then they’d go to bed and that was final.

“Water ...” Erik almost squeaked in surprise at Christine’s anger.

“See, that wasn't so hard was it?” Christine smiled almost triumphantly. “Of course I'll get you water Erik, my goodness.”

When she returned with her glass she handed it to Erik and sat down next to him. Staring at her fiancée as she drank she felt happy and sad at the same time: happy about being with Erik but sad about how everything had gone. A nice night out should not end with the man she loved splayed out on the sofa in exhaustion with his face damaged enough to cause infection. Erik deserved better.

“Is something bothering you, Christine?” Erik asked after a while, when the bittersweet look on her face started unnerving him.

“No … I just … feel sad about tonight.” Christine shrugged, deep in thought.

“Oh …” Erik sighed glumly. “I am so sorry, I will try harder next time.” These words made Christine look at him in surprise.

“No Erik,” Christine explained swiftly, not wanting Erik to go into a downward spiral again. “I am not angry with you, I am upset about you having to jump through all these hoops just to take me out.”

Erik nodded and then gave her a hopeful smile. “I will think of something better next week …”

Christine squeezed his hand as she shook her head firmly. “Not next week Erik, your skin won’t be healed by then.” From the corner of her eyes she saw how Erik’s face fell at that statement. “No, don’t look like that. First we’ll have some nice dinners here in the Opera. There must be hundreds of places that we haven’t been and we’ll take nightly strolls on the roof. That is romantic too. Then, once your face is healed we’ll work on a new and better disguise together. And you must promise me that you will tell me when you are uncomfortable or in pain. Promise?"

Erik nodded again but didn’t seem pacified at all.

“We’ll take it slow,” Christine continued, “short walks round the theatre, dinner with Mother Valerius, whatever it takes to get you comfortable. I’d much rather not go out than watch you suffer.”

Still Erik seemed glum and Christine simply couldn’t understand why: it all sounded so good to her.

“But … I wanted to dance with you.” Erik finally admitted sadly. “I have dreamed of dancing with you for so long!”

The way Erik admitted this seemed more suitable to the confession of a deep dark secret than anything else and it took Christine a lot of willpower not to laugh. But she managed it manfully: the last thing Erik needed was thinking she thought him ridicules. Why had he never mentioned this before?

“Erik, you can dace with me any time.” Christine said cheerfully as she lay her head against his shoulder, feeling that telltale shivver that still went thorough him at the contact even after all these months. “We don’t need to be in a ballroom to dance, you know.”

A hesitant smile pulled at the corners of Erik’s lips at this statement.

“Oh … but ...” He closed his eyes and swallowed. “Would you dance with me now Christine ...?”

A hesitant Christine sat up to look at him: “Erik, you’re not well, it doesn’t have to be now.”

But the suddenly rather excited Erik didn’t even seem to hear her.

“Yes, yes it has to be now Christine, then at least this evening would still have the moment I dreamed of.”

The sudden delight in Erik’s eyes melted all Christine’s objections. “Only if you’re careful with yourself, sweetie ...”

Erik hugged Christine in glee. “I will be …! I am safe when you are with me.” he then said with love in his voice. Then Erik stood up carefully and walked to a music box that he wound carefully. The box ready he turned and reached for Christine, who took his hand and rose.

As the music begun and Christine nestled herself in his arms Erik uttered a slight gasp of surprised joy. Then he closed his eyes to feel her even better against him as they begun to slowly slide in tune to the music.

Soon Erik knew that Christine was right: they did not need a ballroom, all they needed was each other: Erik and Christine. They swayed against each-other slowly and carefully, not even truly dancing but lost in each-other and the music. They swayed even when there was no music until Erik was beginning to feel too worn out to go on, not that he wound admit it.

“That’s it. Off to bed with you.” Christine when she felt him stumble a little.

“Anything you wish my angel.” Erik smiled happily, revelling in the loving gaze she shot up at him.

A cheerful Christine hugged Erik. “You look so happy, my love.” she sighed with what almost sounded like relief.

“I … I think I am … despite everything I am happy.” Erik said thoughtfully as they walked to the bedroom. “I know now that I might be able to go out with you in the real world and … we danced. Just being with you tonight … that is all the happiness I need.”

A smile lit Christine’s face and she pulled Erik towards her. “I love you …” she exhaled blissfully as she kissed his lips.

“I love you more Christine ...” Erik said earnestly. Then they released each other so that they could dress for bed.

As he took of his jacket a new smile curled Erik’s lips and he chuckled. Then he turned to the woman who would soon be his wife.

“Oh and Christine ...”

“Yes Erik …?”

“I do posses quite a magnificent jawline, don’t I?”

A loving pair of eyes met Erik’s as Christine returned his smile and gave her answer:

“The most magnificent I’ve ever seen.”