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As Any Normal Man ...

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The mirror swooshed open and Erik stepped out, for a second he listened carefully for any noise. No-one? Good. Now he could try out his plan in peace.

Today would be one of the happiest days of his life, Erik felt certain. Not that that would be difficult to achieve with the life he’d known. But today was exceptional: Christine Daaé, his wonderful, merciful angel had agreed to have diner with him. Not just any dinner, but a dinner in a restaurant, as a couple!
He had nearly fainted when she said yes.

Obviously Christine would be expecting the date to take place at the Opera, either in her dressing room or in his house. But not this time, Erik felt that Christine deserved better, a true date with all the trimmings. The problem with this was … his face, or rather: the mask. Erik did not wish to embarrass his sweet girl by making her a source of gossip and scorn, which he knew she would be when stepping out with a masked man. In the weeks it took to work up the courage to ask her for a date with him in the world above, Erik had been thinking about this problem a lot, only asking her when he had a plan to make it work. If she said yes, of course, and she did!!

Stepping to the vanity table in three swift steps, Erik sat himself down and gazed into the mirror. A sigh escaped him when he looked at the masked face and the deep set hollow eyes looking back at him.

Minutes ticked away as he sat there, silently. He had planned to sit down and remove his mask immediately, deal with the pain and grief and get it over with. Now he had prolonged the agony.

Hurry up, Christine will be here soon! His mind suddenly warned him. Oh no, he would not want her to see him like this, he had to be ready before she arrived.

Quickly his hand reached up and Erik tore of his mask and dropped it to the floor. Ah, he had done it! Unmasked in front of a mirror. Now all he needed to do was open his eyes and look at himself, but it was as if they had suddenly been glued shut. Annoyed with his behaviour he slapped himself and his eyes flew open. Now he could finally face himself!

It was a shock … he had not seen his own face in decades … not since he was a child.

How old he looked, how tired … how monstrous …The yellowish white parchment like skin, the veins, the thin lips, the hair-loss, the sunken skeletal cheeks, the deep set yellow eyes, accentuated by the large dark circles that had formed beneath them after decades of chronic sleep deprivation, ill health and under-nutrition. And then worst of all, the ironic crowning glory of this horrible face: the gaping hole where a nose should have been, it was glaring at him almost as if it were mocking him. He was hideous, a … a monster!!

Tears started dripping from his eyes. It was hopeless, this would not work at all, Erik thought, and for a second he decided to give up. He had seen enough of himself to last him the rest of his life. How could Christine even bear to be near him?! He would leave, hide in his coffin and just forget about it all. For a second that thought sounded so appealing that Erik started to get up from his chair. But no, he forbid himself, he had made the decision and for Christine’s sake he should try at-least.

Erik wiped his eyes, took a deep shuddering breath and then he looked at all the products Christine had on her table. Over the last few weeks he had studied her routine and was certain about the order they all went in. With a trembling hand he took a small sponge and pored some tonic on it to clean his skin. How he hated looking at himself in that mirror, but he had to, he had to see himself to know what he was doing.

His skin clean and dry he eagerly reached out for the brown substance he had seen Christine use to darken her features when she played a temptress like Carmen. Would he look better with a healthy tan? Please! He prayed.

Carefully he dabbed some of it on his skin. Result!! He appeared a little less corpse like! More!! He thought and more was applied. How wonderful: the dark circles had as good as disappeared and his skin looked almost normal. Rouge next to fill out and plump his face a little. For quite some time over the last few weeks Erik had been studying contouring, often watching the leading men prepare, to know where to add the touches. Then he used a neutral coloured lip pencil to create the illusion of a bigger lip and followed this up with a new wig he had ordered recently: a dark blonde wig which he was convinced would make him look younger and soften his features.

Once the wig was applied Erik took a moment to look in the mirror and take in his new appearance. He was surprised at what he saw: a normal face, well … almost … The gaping hole in the middle was still there, even more obvious now his skin looked so healthy.

From his coat he produced his piece de resistance: a false nose. Not just any type of false nose as you could get in a joke shop, but his own sculpted piece of art. It was a perfect, dignified, Greek nose that he would have been proud of to claim as his own feature.

To make the nose look as real as possible, he had decided to glue it to his face. Tying it with string would make it look cheep and fake, reminding Christine that his appearance was just an illusion. All the actors usually used skin glue if their performance required a fake nose or beard, so he would too, just a little stronger. He wanted the nose to stay on as long as possible. Eagerly Erik lathered the end of the nose with the glue, he could barely wait for it to set. He so longed to see his new appearance. What would it be like to see himself as a normal man?

After what seemed like hours, the glue had thickened just a little bit and the nose was ready to be placed onto his face. For a brief moment Erik glanced into the mirror at his sad noseless facade to have the image imprinted for when the nose would be there. He wanted to relish in the difference. Then he put his new nose in place.

The moment he attached the nose to his face Erik hissed in pain, as the glue immediately seemed to burn into his skin. Oh, he had forgotten how paper thin the integument of his face was. The pain was almost unbearable and it was only the thought of his make up smearing that stopped him from weeping with agony. His breathing hitched a little, but he tried to calm himself valiantly.

Maybe the pain was a good thing, Erik decided: the deeper the glue burned, the better the nose was attached. The pain would pass, it would fade as the glue set, he assured himself.

As he waited for the glue to dry Erik hummed softly as he rocked himself, his arms wrapped tightly around his thin body, forcing his mind of the pain and the panic attack that was bubbling inside of him after of all the emotions he’d been through.

A happy Christine Daaé was softly singing to herself as she walked the halls of the Opera house. It wasn’t often that she felt as blissfully happy as she did today, but tonight would be very special, she was certain. Erik had asked her on a date, a real date! He had sworn to her that he did not mean a pick-nick by the lake or anything in or on the roof of the Opera house but that they would actually go outside!! For a while she had wondered if he truly meant it or even truly wanted it: she knew that Erik never ventured away from the Opera, that it physically scared him to be amongst people; but Erik had assured her that it would all be wonderful. Then yesterday he told her there would be a surprise for her in her dressing-room tonight. Christine could hardly wait to see what all this could mean!!

Her happiness evaporated when she entered her dressing-room and stopped in shock: there was a man at her vanity, touching her make up!! How did he get in there, when the door was locked? Only Erik … Erik? She squinted her eyes: the thin long limbs, the graceful movement? But his suit was not Erik’s style: it was blue velvet, his hair did not suit him, it was dark blonde, Erik’s should be dark brown or black.

When he turned around Christine gasped: It was Erik!! But what had he done? Erik looked like an over eager actor doing make up for the first time: his face too dark, his cheeks plumped with far too much rouge, his lips overdrawn and … how did he get that nose?

“Erik … what ... how … why?” Christine was not even sure what to say!! Was this her surprise? If it was he had succeeded: she was truly surprised!!

From her vanity chair Erik beamed at her through his make up, his eyes gazing up at her brimming with hope and love.

“Do you like it Christine? I did it for you, because … I want to take you out on a real date as a real man would!”

Immediately Christine’s mouth snapped shut. There was no way she could ridicule him and she was glad she had not laughed out loud. He was so eager to please and sounded so hopeful. The poor man, she couldn’t even imagine how hard it must have been for him to look in the mirror and prepare himself for this date.
As a real man would, he said. Poor Erik, always running himself down. He was a real man, a human just like her and she loved him the way he was. He did not need to change himself for her and she hoped she had not given him cause to think otherwise. If he had to go through all this to go outside with her … she’d much rather stay with him in the Opera.
But she said nothing, not wanting to spoil his joy.

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“Christine …?” Erik asked, “D … don’t you like it?” A slight tremor had slipped into his voice now as anxiety hit him. Why was Christine just standing there? Why did she not reply?
She hates it!! His brain begun it’s bullying chant of fear. She hates it, she thinks you are a freak!! She hates it and she never wants to see you again. Did you really think you could trick her with make-up? You sad fool, now she sees you for what you really are.

“N … never mind. You hate it. Erik understands … I don’t know what I was thinking … I will wash it off.” Erik stammered as he scrambled to his feet. “E … Erik is sorry for ruining your … evening and … and … using your items ...”

It was only when Christine realised that Erik’s wafer thin confidence was crumpling before her very eyes that she remembered she was supposed to speak, and quickly.

“No, no Erik! Don’t.” She begun, hoping the right words would come to her as she spoke. “Oh, sweetie I love what you have done for me. It must have been difficult for you. Please, don’t think my silence means I hate it. It was just that you surprised me. I had never expected to see you like this.”

A trembling Erik sat down again hesitatingly as Christine moved towards him and placed her hand on his shoulder. The girl swallowed seeing Erik’s face in close up; the make up was piled on so heavyhandedly it looked completely unnatural. But was this not because she knew him so well? Other people might take this differently. Where she not to know him he might look like a slightly odd, but on the whole normal man. If this might be way for Erik to go outside once in a while she should not shut it down but help him to look better. Erik deserved as much of a normal life as he could get.

“It’s very good for a first attempt.” Christine smiled encouragingly, squinting at the work he had done. “But would you let me do some finishing touches to make it look even better?”

Two fearful yellow eyes shot up at her: “Did I do it wrong? I studied for weeks … What … What did I ...”

The fear of failure was palpable and Christine knew that she had to be patient in a situation that dealt with what for Erik was tantamount to trampling on a raw nerve.

“Oh no, sweetie you did so well!” She smiled. “But it is a first attempt so there are a few tricks you still need to know about.”

Erik nodded slowly: it was true, he probably had to learn more. It was all right, he told himself, she didn’t hate it. She had smiled and complimented him and now she was going to help him.

Careful not to scare him, Christine kept her smile fixed to her face as she picked up a few brushes and powders from the vanity table.

“The most important thing Erik …” Christine chirped cheerfully as she took to work, “is blending. You layered everything on, so you can see some edges. If you blend all those colours it will look natural. Just wait and I’ll show you.”

For a few seconds Erik was filled with tension, what would Christine do to him? But then … Christine came closer and her gentle hands started touching him her nimble fingers rubbing at his face, then there were soft tickling brushes and a gentle sweet smelling powder doing their work. It felt so nice and soothing … was this what it was like being prepared for a show in the Opera? As Christine worked on him Erik closed his eyes and dreamed away.

He dreamed of being the Opera star he could have been, loved and expected. Then he dreamed of being on-stage with Christine and singing before an adoring audience together.

“Erik, sweetie, it’s finished … look!”

With a start Erik returned to the room and blinked at Christine in surprise. Had he fallen asleep for a moment?

“I’m sorry ...” he muttered in confusion, not even sure why he was apologising.

A smile curled Christine’s lips seeing Erik so befuddled. That poor man, he was so tense all the time, often unable to sleep and chronically exhausted because of it. Soon after they became close Christine had found out that whenever something would calm Erik completely he’d often promptly fall asleep. Usually this calm came from her. It included stroking Erik’s hair, holding him, reading for him or singing him a lullaby. Now she could add doing his make up to this list as well. He’d probably been worked up about this to the point of fatigue for days.

“Don’t be silly Erik,” she smiled, her hand gently massaging his back, “what are you saying sorry for? Come on, look in the mirror and see what you think.”

For a few seconds Erik blinked himself awake a little more then he hesitatingly turned his gaze towards the mirror. What had Christine made of him? The second he saw the result a gasp of utter surprise escaped him: was that really him? He looked so … normal … so real.

“Oh … Christine ...” Erik whispered, as he tried to stop himself from crying … “You made me look … You made me look as any normal man would ...” Even the nose was blended into his face now and if you didn’t look for too long you would almost think it was real. It was perfect!! He still wasn’t what most people would call handsome, but he didn’t care. It was enough for him to have a real face and to be able to take his Christine out on the town. To his delight now, when not distracted by his deformity, he found a part of his face that he actually liked: he really did have a good jawline! Christine had often mentioned it, but he had thought she was simply trying to make him feel better. But it was true! She had not been lying! To his surprise he saw himself smile, he looked proud. Despite all his talent he had never been truly proud of himself before this moment.

Seeing the delight and overwhelming emotion in Erik made Christine’s heart ache. Poor Erik, how he must have longed to see this reflection in the mirror. A part of herself worried about this: make-up did not last. All to soon it would be washed off and Erik would have to deal with reality again.
But seeing the beaming smile on Erik’s face she kept this to herself; let him have this night and they would deal with the consequences later.

A rare sparkle in his eyes Erik rose from his chair to offer Christine his arm.

“Ne permettrez-vous pas, ma belle demoiselle, Qu'on vous offre le bras, Pour faire le chemin?”
(“Won't you permit, My beautiful lady, Me to offer you an arm, To guide your way?”)
Erik sang the words from Faust to her. With a happy smile Christine, unlike Marguerite, wrapped herself against his arm and smiled up at him: “Oui Monsieur.”

Seeing her eyes sparkle up at him Erik gasped with joy: never in his life had he felt more at ease with himself and the world. Tonight, for once, they would be like any other couple.

“Par le ciel! Que de grâce, et quelle modestie! O belle enfant! je t'aime, je t'aime, je t'aime!”
(“By heaven! What grace! and what modesty! Beautiful child, I love you, I love you,”)
Erik sang to Christine lovingly.

And with that they left the dressingroom through the mirror on their way to their first date in the outside world.

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Physically it was worse than the mask: Erik soon realised. The false nose still hurt and restricted his breathing to the point that he could only take in little gasps, while his new wig itched terribly. Still, despite the discomfort he did feel rather pleased with himself and confident in knowing he looked like an ordinary man for the first time in his life. Once he had led Christine through the corridors of the Opera to a waiting carriage outside Erik felt positively delighted: The waiting driver didn’t even give him a second glance and greeted him the way he’d seen people great others. This moment alone was worth the unpleasantness of his new disguise.

What Erik did not know was that Christine had not been as sure of his disguise as she pretended to be for his sake. As she sat in the carriage and looked at him she felt happy for him: he appeared more confident than she’d ever seen him once he realised the driver had not flinched at his sight. This calmed her a lot as well. Despite her work on making him look natural Christine had feared that people might laugh at his obvious use of make up. But thankfully with the cover of darkness his face didn’t look strange at all. With a relieved sigh she leaned back into the pillows of the carriage: maybe it would all work out after-all.

The journey continued in silence for a while, both lost in their own thoughts. The first stop on their night out was a restaurant: Alléno Paris at the Pavillon Ledoyen. As they drove onwards, Erik’s earlier confidence and optimism slowly begun to crumble. Having never been at a restaurant, or out in a public place, he begun to feel rather nervous about it all. After hiding underground for more than a decade he knew for a fact that he had no social skills to speak of. A sudden terror overtaking him, Erik reached out for Christine’s hand, seeking comfort in the only person he trusted.

“Christine …” Erik whispered softly as the carriage approached the park leading to the lavish restaurant.

“What is it Erik?” Christine asked, surprise to suddenly find Erik’s cold hand in hers: why was he shaking like that?

“I … think this was a mistake …” Erik said, his voice hoarse with anxiety. “I … I haven’t been around people for so long … I have never been to a restaurant …”

Looking at him Christine could see his terror shine through the layers of makeup, she shifted herself closer to him and begun rubbing his back as she smiled up at him.

“Oh Erik, don’t over-think this too much. All you need to be is polite: thank people for taking your coat for example.”

A gasp escaped Erik as he looked at her in dismay.

“Where will they be taking my coat?” he asked with clear worry in his voice.

“They hang it in the wardrobe for you. You’ll get it back, I promise!!” Christine almost laughed, but didn’t: explaining this might sound silly to her, but she had to remember that Erik had never experienced any normal social gatherings, so to him it was deadly serious.

“Why would I want a stranger touching my clothing?” Erik grumbled pensively. “Christine this all sound rather troublesome and unhygienic.”

Now Christine couldn’t help but snort. “Erik, it just works like this, don’t question it.”

For a second Erik shook his head in annoyance. “What else?” he then urged worriedly.

With a sigh Christine decided to oblige him, hoping to take some of his worries away by explaining restaurant etiquette to him.

“You tell the person at the desk that we have reserved and they will show us to our seats.” she ventured.

“Yes …” Erik nodded tensely.

“They show us the menu and we’ll order what we’d like to eat.”

“Understood …”

What else? Thought Christine, sensing she was not explaining things too clearly to him, nor was she taking his worries away.

“Then come the wines. You choose a bottle and they will let you try it.”

“Try?” Erik frowned with confusion.

“They give you a glass of it. You taste it and … spit it out …” Christine tried. It did seem odd now that she mentioned it.

“Spit ... it ... out ...?” Erik repeated slowly, confusion clear on his face. “On the waiter?”

For a moment Christine looked at Erik blankly: was he joking? No, he seemed quite serious.

“No, of course not!!” she exclaimed, slapping her fiancée lightly.

“On the floor?” he retorted.

“No, in a bucket.” Christine said in exasperation. Maybe she should have explained all this to Erik before they had even begun planning this outing. It was so easy to forget how little he knew about the regular world because he was so well learned in so many other aspects.

“What’s the point of that?” Erik queried, disgust about the very idea plain on his face.

“It’s so that if you don’t like the wine you can send it back.” Christine shrugged.

“Send it back? What could be wrong with it?” Now Erik’s confusion was replaced by the irritation of human behaviour Christine knew so well from him.

“It could be sour or corked.” she offered. But this clearly made Erik even more annoyed.

“You mean that this big expensive restaurant would hire klutzes who can’t open a wine bottle properly?” Erik cried in dismay.

“They’re only human, Erik!!” Christine muttered as she rubbed her temples.

“Unacceptable!” Erik grumbled, giving her a glare she was only used to seeing when he was off to one of “The Phantom’s” business meetings with the managers. “There is an easy technique to avoid leaving cork in wine. Why are these people untrained?”

“Well what are you going to do about it? Send notes?” Christine snapped in frustration.
It was only because she knew that Erik was acting out because of his nerves, else Christine would have ended the conversation there and then. Now she knew she had to push through, so Erik would not have to face any unwelcome surprises.

“Anyway, then we get some bread.” she continued wearily.

“I am not ordering bread …” Erik pouted petulantly.

“They give it for free as we await diner.”

“If I eat bread I’ll be full.” Erik almost whined.

“You don’t have to eat the bread, Erik …” Christine said in a long suffering voice.

“But they have given it to me. It would be rude not to take it, would it not? Can I bring it home?”

Moments like this made Christine keenly aware of how much of a child Erik could be: the fear and wonder about new things. Things others took for granted.

“I think so … Anyway, then, right before our dinner arrives, they will place some napkins on our lap.”

A small chuckle from Erik. “Why?” he asked as he squinted at her in sudden amusement.

“To protect our clothes from stains.” Christine was chuckling too now.

But all too soon Erik’s smile fell away as fear and irritation returned, his hands tensing around his walking cane so much his knuckles went white.

“Why? Are most customers unable to eat properly? Oh, I don’t know Christine … It all sounds rather complicated and oppressive …” To her horror Christine saw panic was taking over now and Erik’s breathing was getting out of control. “They will leave us alone to eat, won’t they Christine …?” He pleaded hopelessly. “Will we be in full view? I could not handle it if people watched me eat …”

Seeing him spiraling back into paranoia Christine took his hand again to calm him.

“They won’t notice you Erik, don’t worry. Remember, I selected our table and made sure it isn’t too close to other people.”

Erik nodded and released a breathy sigh: it would be al right. Everything would be al right as long as Christine was there. As the carriage made it’s final yards towards the restaurant Erik felt a heavy exhaustion overtake him. Trying to calm himself he closed his eyes and leaned back for a while. To his relief he felt Christine’s hand that was still holding his and how she made gentle calming movements with her thumb. How kind she was to him. With her by his side he could do this, he told himself, millions of people visited restaurants daily, there had to be people among them that were stranger than him, there had to be others who were disfigured. All too soon he felt the carriage grind to a halt.

“We’re here … are you ready Erik?” Christine said gently, as she rubbed Erik’s arm. The yellow eyes snapped open and she could see the fear in them, even though he tried to appear calm. Then Erik forced his face into a smile.

“Of course my angel.” he said gently.

A part of Christine just wanted to stay in the carriage and hold him. It hurt her to know that he was putting himself through all this for her sake and she wished she could do more to make him feel safe and protected, as he would always do for her.

“I love you Erik ...” she whispered as she kissed his cheek.

“I love you more, my sweet Christine ...” Erik smiled back slightly falteringly.

Then Erik stepped out of the carriage and quickly moved to help her out as well. With surprise Christine noticed that once she had taken Erik’s hand as a support to disembark, he seemed reluctant to let her go. Figuring Erik needed the support she decided not to mention it and instead wrapped herself against his arm and snuggled her head to his shoulder. From above her she heard and felt a soft sign as his tense shoulders loosened a little as he sensed her support. Don’t be afraid Erik, I am here … Christine thought to herself. As they walked to the door she hummed a soft melody that she knew helped him calm down.

Lost in a world of fear Erik had completely surrendered to Christine: as long as she was with him, as long as she held him he was safe was what he kept reminding himself. From far away he heard her soft humming and tried to focus on it, as if it were a lifeline to get him out of his stupor. Was he sweating beneath his hat? He hoped not, what if his make up ran? Why did his wig and nose itch so much? He was dimly aware of Christine walking him towards the doors of the restaurant and that there was a man ready to great them. Breath, he reminded himself, breath.

“Welcome Madame, Monsieur ...”

For a second Erik blinked: was that smiling welcome meant for him?

“Thank you …” He heard Christine say, so he guessed it was and gave the young man a friendly (he hoped) nod. Then he let Christine drag him inside. Still feeling unable to speak or physically present at all he let Christine deal with anything that involved talking to anyone. There was a twinge of guilt, as he knew that when a man asked a lady for a date he was expected to be the debonair host brimming with chivalry, but he was barely able to move. Christine knew this world, so it was best to let her guide him. Then maybe, one day he could be the man he wished he could be for her and take her out in the way he always dreamed he could.

Not for the first time tonight Christine wished they had stayed at the Opera. Erik looked so tense and was so subdued. Her poor fiancée was simply following her now, repeating all her actions. Of course it was his first time away from the Opera in over a decade. Maybe it would get better once he got used to interacting with people more. Still she didn’t like seeing him like this and wished she could do more to help.

It was all just as she had said Erik thought: Someone took his coat away to a place he did not know, then someone brought them to a table. Everything felt so odd and hazy by now Erik felt as if he were dreaming.

A menu was handed to him that he could not read at first as the letters decided to spin and blur in front of his eyes. Suddenly worried that eating anything too chewy or spicy would damage his make up, Erik selected a small crudetee and some bland soup. It didn’t matter: he had no appetite left and wouldn’t taste much of it in his current state. Frowning at him from the other end of the table Christine also selected a small meal. Feeling guilty about how helpless he was being Erik hoped that this was not for his sake: Christine should have anything she desired and not settle for less on his account. On the other hand he also wished she was nearer to him, so he could hold her hand till dinner arrived.

Why was that waiter bothering him? Oh yes, the wine …

Poor Erik, Christine thought, he was trying so hard but his fear was palpable to her. The wine glass the waiter handed him was shaking in his hand and the sip he took to try the wine almost choked him. If the waiter left she would move her chair next to him and hold his hand, she decided. Who cared about customs if the man she loved needed her?

Chapter Text

When Christine moved to him and took his hand Erik breathed a sigh of relief and immediately felt a lot calmer.

“Are you al-right Erik?” Christine murmured to him as she brought his hand to her lips and pressed a few kisses to it.

“Yes, as long as you are near me I will be ...” Erik said honestly as he surreptitiously moved his chair even closer to Christine. All he truly wanted was to sit in her arms and cry as she rocked him and sang.

“You are doing so well sweetie. Don’t worry about a thing.” Christine murmured gently into his ear. Erik nodded stiffly. It was going well, he reminded himself, no-one was looking at them.

A waiter brought the bread Christine had mentioned earlier. To his surprise the young man gave them both a little smile that made Erik feel somewhat happier again: the waiter truly saw him as a normal customer.

“Thank you.” Erik tried tentatively and the waiter gave him a nod.

“Well done sweetie.” Christine smiled.

“So that was good?” Erik said eagerly. “You are certain I still look normal?”

Christine gave his hand a little squeeze and looked at him. “My dear Erik, you will always look normal to me, don’t forget it. But yes, your make up is still in tact and you’re doing really well, don’t worry.”

As she spoke the waiter returned again carrying a saucer on which two spoons lay, containing something small and edible.

“Your amuse bouche, Madame and Monsieur.”

As he left Erik frowned at the contents on the spoons.

“What on earth is this?” He asked Christine in utter confusion.

“That’s our amuse bouche, Erik.” She smiled cheerfully. “A gift from the chef.”

“Our what?”

“Amuse bouche ...”

“What nonsense …” Erik grumbled.

“Just try it Erik.” Christine said as she lifted one of the spoons, took the bite and frowned. “Or don’t ...”

“Not good?” Erik asked, feeling worry rise.

“It … it’s al-right ...” Christine said with a shrug. What she had tasted was a rather indescribable but obviously expensive flavour and it made her glad she had selected a more common meal she actually knew.

With a sigh Erik lifted the spoon and took the bite as well, Christine shouldn’t be the only one suffering. It was … different.

“Amuse bouche indeed. I don’t find it particularly funny ...” Erik muttered as he pushed the saucer away.

A snort of laughter escaped Christine at that. Seeing his fiancée’s amusement and the sparkle of laughter in her eyes, Erik couldn’t help but chuckle a little too. It was all rather ridicules he thought.

For a while they giggled together, Erik’s head pressed on Christine’s hair, their arms entwined. This was the best moment of the night, Erik thought. Just sitting there with his beloved, surrounded by people who did, for once, not judge him. To his amazement he saw that some were actually giving kind smiles in their direction as if they were happy for them and for a moment he was too. This was all he had ever wanted.

“Your meal Madame, Monsieur, with a chefs compliment for being the most adorable couple of the night!!” The young waiter said cheerfully as he placed their meals in front of them.

Erik looked up with a start. “What?” he gasped, not grasping what he heard. Then he felt Christine’s hand give his a gentle squeeze.

“How kind, tell him thank you from us.” Christine smiled at the waiter who nodded happily as he left.

“What … what happened …?” Erik muttered. The most adorable couple? He was part of the most adorable couple of the night? How had this happened? Did he truly look like a normal man now? No, no, it couldn’t be! It had to be because of Christine. But he had been sitting next to her and people, including the waiter, had smiled at him too! Was this what it was like to be normal?

“Erik, sweetie, don’t cry. You’ll ruin your make-up!” He heard Christine from far away.
That surprised him: was he crying? He lifted his hand but Christine stopped him.

“Don’t wipe you silly man, you’ll rub it off!!”

A panic struck Erik: had he ruined his make up? What if it had smeared!

“Oh … Oh no …” Erik whispered dejectedly. “What will I do if … if ...”

Two gentle hands wrapped round his arm reassuringly.

“Don’t worry Erik, I have a compact mirror, a handkerchief and powder. You can go check up on how you look in the toilet.” Christine offered.

“But ...” Erik sighed, not feeling relieved in the slightest. “But … Christine you have to come with me ...” The thought of going out somewhere in the restaurant on his own scared him terribly: all these people. What if they say him and wondered what he was doing, what if they realised his nose was fake?

“Breath, Erik!” Christine insisted.

But that was the whole point: wearing this nose he couldn’t, all he could was eye Christine nervously, trying to make her come with him.

“Erik, I can’t come with you to the mens room!” Christine groaned as Erik gazed at her pleadingly.

“Then can I come with you to … where you go?” Erik begged.

“Erik, no! Of course not. That’s even worse.” Christine blushed at the thought of her and Erik going to the ladies room.

Feeling mildly desperate Erik crumpled. Now unsure of his appearance he turned his chair so he sank into the shadow and faced Christine.

“Christine, I can’t do this alone, please.” Why did she not want to help him?

But his Christine did not seem moved by this as she handed Erik her compact, powder and handkerchief.

“Yes you can Erik, all you have to do is look in the mirror, dab at the tears and add just a tiny bit of powder. That’s all, you will be fine.”

A trembling started inside Erik: why was she so insistent for him to go alone? Could Christine not see he needed her? Anything could happen: he could not handle people, fear could make him lash out or instead someone could attack him if they thought him odd. He was feeling as if he were about to faint.

“What if someone sees me?” He tried, his mouth dry.

“Then you wait till he leaves. Just don’t draw too much attention to yourself.” Christine insisted.

“That’s easy for you to say!” Erik bit back, his anxiety making him angry.

“Erik, you managed it for years as a ghost.” Christine retorted rolling her eyes.

“There is a reason I live inside walls …” Erik harrumphed.

Inwardly Christine felt exasperated: she wasn’t being mean but it had been a long and trying night. Now she really wanted to start her meal and for Erik to do one simple thing by himself. Just one thing, that would make him see going out in public was fine now he looked like this.

“Come on Erik, just try it. If there are too many people just come back here.” Christine tried to sooth him.

“What if … what if I can’t find our table again…? What if you disappear?” Erik’s voice trembled and his lips and mouth were so dry.

“Erik, I promise you I will stay exactly where I am. I’ve just received my dinner, where would I be going? Now hurry before everything gets cold!!”

From the tone of her voice Erik understood Christine would really not come with him. Releasing a resigned sigh he stiffly rose from his chair. The moment he stood he felt dizzy and shaky from anxiety and it took him a lot not to fall flat on his face when he made his first unsteady step. Then a thought hit him and he turned to Christine in a new fright:

“Christine, please … I don’t know where it is!”

Seeing the fear in his eyes and posture Christine forgot all about her frustration and immediately rose from her chair. Yes, it would have been good for Erik to go by himself, but having him search all over the restaurant on his own was far too much too soon.

“Don’t worry sweetie, I will take you there.” Hearing this a relieved Erik immediately wrapped himself against her and Christine took his hand. Feeling how much he was shaking made her feel guilty about how she had tried to push him. It was clear that she had been very wrong: he was nowhere near ready to be without her, the man could barely stand by himself! Making sure he understood that she was there for him Christine once again rubbed his hand with her thumb as she helped him all the way to the mensroom.

“Will you wait for me outside?” Erik asked as they arrived, sounding like a terrified little boy.

“If you want me to?” Christine said with an indulgent smile.

An eager nod from Erik made her want to hug him. “I’ll wait sweetie, don’t worry.”

To Erik’s relief the gentleman’s wash-room was an empty luxurious space giving him room to close his eyes and regulate his breathing. The silence felt like relief after being in a chattering crowd for so long.

It was only now that he realised how tired he was. Oh, how he longed to be home again, he yearned for the silence and the safe seclusion. But he truly should not complain, he told himself sternly: he had been treated like a normal man! He had taken Christine out in public, showing their love to all of Paris! By rights he should be the happiest man on earth right now.

Reluctantly Erik opened Christine’s compact mirror to look at himself, fearing the worst.

But, thankfully the face staring back at him was still that of a normal man, be it far more shiny from all the sweating he had done in his panicked state. Carefully he dabbed away the tear marks and added a little powder on the places where it was really showing.

He frowned when noticing that the skin around his nose was beginning to look slightly reddish and swollen. It had been throbbing steadily and growing more painful by the minute. Erik was aware that it could not be good that the red was starting to show through his make up, but decided to ignore it for now. Their evening had only just started and he still had so many plans! After dinner he would take Christine dancing and then they would walk along the Seine and kiss in the moonlight. He just hoped that he would find the energy for it all, as it was getting so hard to breath.

No, he would not spoil the night he had planned for them, Erik decided. As long as Christine didn’t notice he would not mention it himself or give in to these feelings,

A layer of powder and the red was out of sight again, if he was careful she would never know. A few more moments of peace and he would return to the crowd, to Christine to finish their meal and continue the night.

It would be fine.

Chapter Text

After a few more seconds Erik left the wash-room, more reluctant than he felt he had any right to. The sound of the chattering crowd that exploded onto him once he opened the door almost physically hurt. Swiftly his eyes searched for Christine, relief washing over him when he saw her waiting for him.
Then the relief was replaced by an overwhelming sense of guilt: this was not the romantic night he had envisioned for them at all. What he had dreamed of was being the romantic hero he had read about in his books and seen in all those operas: he would sweep Christine of her feet and they would dance all over town laughing and kissing. But it was a lie: he could not give this to his Christine. This was what the Viscount could have given her, not him. What did his angel get with him: a terrified wreck with a fake nose whom she had to safeguard. Here she was waiting for him by the toilets, she did not deserve this. The most adorable couple of the night indeed: he was a monster playing pretend and he wasn’t certain how long he could keep it up any more either. The pain, the fear of being outside and the fact that he was probably ruining Christine’s evening were all building up inside of him and he was reaching breaking point.
But then Christine moved to his side and took his hand and he knew, he just knew that if she wished it so, he would try and keep it up forever.

The moment Erik stepped out of the wash-room, Christine knew things where getting too much for him, she could read her fiancée like a book. This was because Erik had no filter, the man simply had no fake expressions as he had never needed them, hiding his face behind a real mask for most of his life.

At that moment he looked haggard and pained even through the layers of make up. This night was tough of him and she knew that he intended to do more: take her dancing, walk along the Seine and goodness knew what else. But Christine didn’t want that, not like this: Erik was clearly only putting himself through this for her and so it was up to her to assure that they would go straight home after dinner. Had Christine thought this through properly she would have suggested that they’d take it easy: Erik should have started with little walks outside, then a visit to Mother Valerius, a brief shopping trip and so on. It would have eased him into society and have made him get used to the disguise. But Christine knew hindsight was always a wonderful thing.

“Christine ...” Erik said softly as he took her hand. “I’m so sorry ...”

Christine’s brow furrowed hearing these words, as far as she knew Erik had done nothing wrong, yet.

“Why?” she asked in confusion.

“For existing … for ruining the evening.” Erik said bitterly through gritted teeth.

“Erik, you did nothing of the sort what makes you think that? I know you’re trying the best you can.”

As she spoke Christine carefully led Erik back to their table, trying to ignore how clammy and shaky his hands had become.

“It’s not good enough.” Erik sighed, his voice too tired for Christine’s liking. Internally she decided that she would have a talk with him the next day, or whenever he was recovered from the event. Clearly he was still thinking she was expecting things from him that she knew he was unable to give.

Reaching his table Erik gallantly helped Christine to her chair and then slumped wearily into his own far less elegantly. The throbbing of the skin around his nose was getting unbearable and he was beginning to feel strangely feverish. Trying to take his mind of it he stirred his now nearly cold soup and did his best to smile at Christine.

Unfortunately for Erik, Christine saw right through the wobbly smile and found it disturbing rather than endearing. There was something off about him other than his fear, she pondered.

As the dinner continued Christine noticed that Erik grew progressively more quiet and uncomfortable. He kept touching and scratching his new “nose” when he thought she was not looking and did the same with his wig.
When he begun to close his eyes and sigh once in a while she decided she’d had enough. Did Erik really think she wanted him to take her dancing like that? Why, she didn’t even want to stay for desert. Her fiancée was going home and once there she’d put him straight to bed.

“Shall we go home, Erik?” Christine tried gently, just as Erik had closed his eyes again.

“What?” Erik startled in confusion. “Already? Did … did I do something wrong?”

A gentle Christine rubbed his arm to reassure him.

“No, no, it was a perfect night so far, but I can feel you are uncomfortable, in pain even ...”

Erik gave a sad smile as he looked down at the crudetee that he’d barely touched.

“That … that’s al-right Christine, a small price to pay for being outside as a normal man.”

Those words pained Christine: she kept forgetting how much being accepted had to mean to Erik. But there had to be a better way to achieve this, as right now Erik was clearly in pain for one reason or another. Her brain whirled as she searched for a reason that would make him abandon his plans.

“Oh I understand, you poor man. But we can do this again any time I swear. I can see your disguise is getting uncomfortable and if you keep touching it people might notice something is off ...”

It almost made Christine laugh when she noticed the flicker of relief that went over Erik’s face at her words. Her poor fiancée wanted to go home so desperately. But of course, as always, Erik had to object a little at first.

“Oh Christine, you don’t have to worry about me, I will try and be careful … I have already ruined your evening and to cut it short simply because of my discomfort … that would not do at all.”

As always Erik made it seem as if he didn’t matter and only she did. The thing he keeps forgetting, Christine thought sadly, is that he matters to me.

“Erik the only way you could ruin my evening is to continue this any longer. How can you even think I could have fun when you are in pain? Please, if you want to make me happy let me take you home.”

For a second Erik considered it, then he finally looked at her.

“If … if that is what you want?” he asked doubtfully.

“It is.” Christine nodded.

“Then … I guess we’ll go home ...” Erik muttered reluctantly, but his face could not hide the relief he was feeling.

He has relented far too easily, Christine thought, as they waived for the waiter to come so that they could pay for their barely touched meals. That probably meant he was feeling even worse than she had suspected, her thoughts continued. Never mind, she’d look after him.

As they were driven home in their carriage Erik silently thanked Christine for forcing him to go home: he could not have lasted much longer. By now his skin had started to feel as if it were on fire and it was as if he were barely able to breath at all, making him feel terribly odd and tired. Things were starting to swirl and blur in front of his eyes, so he closed them again.

Erik was quiet and seemed tense, Christine noted with worry. When he closed his eyes and reached out for her Christine took his hand between her two small ones and gently rubbed it, trying to calm and sooth him till they were home.

When they finally arrived back inside the house beyond the lake the relief was overwhelming for both of them, but short lived for Erik. All journey long he had only longed for one thing: how he would come home and run into the bathroom to splash his face with cold water to sooth the burning, wash off the make up and then finally take off the dreaded nose.

But now, standing in the hallway with Christine a sad, dull, dread overtook him: what if he washed off his new face and Christine did not like his own face any-more? What if she would see him like a monster again? Was the pain and discomfort really that bad if it meant Christine had an ordinary man with a nose by her side? If it meant she would not leave him? As he was thinking this his vision blurred again and it was as if his neck were stretching and suddenly he seemed to look at everything from high above while clouds floated around him.

“Erik, you are swaying on your feet, what’s wrong?” the small panicked voice of Christine reached him. “Oh my goodness, is that stupid nose restricting your breathing? Is that what’s been bothering you? Erik, go and take it off, right now!!”

For a moment Erik could not even understand what Christine was saying any-more, but he somehow sensed that she was urging him to take off the make-up and the nose.

“But … but then I’ll have that hole again … and … and …” Erik slurred, his voice sounding thick. It felt as if his tongue was becoming too big for his mouth. Obviously Christine heard it too as she grabbed his arm and forcefully propelled him to the bathroom.

“I don’t care!! You’re going white even with all that dark make up on. You are going into that bathroom and wash if off right now, Erik!! RIGHT NOW!”

Soon enough Erik was in the bathroom, facing a mirror again. For a second he cast a last longing glance at the man he could have been, then he opened the tab. First he happily took off the itchy wig, sighing with relief as one part of sweaty discomfort disappeared. Soon after Erik revelled a little in dabbing cold water on his burning face, allowing himself to sob a little after all that he had experienced that night. It was so unfair: had he lived a normal life, or if he’d had a normal face he and Christine would still have been out there, enjoying dinner … Or they would be driving to the ballroom by now. How he wished he could have danced with her!!
But Christine had been so right to call a halt to the evening as deep down he knew that he would have probably collapsed by now. Which he still was in danger of doing if he did not take that nose of quickly.

Swiftly he lathered a cloth with soap and begun the process of washing it all off, certain the aching nose attachment would follow sooth.
But to his horror … it did not!

No matter how he scrubbed or pulled the nose remained firmly in place, worryingly the skin around the nose continued to swell and kept getting redder as the pain increased. Soon Erik’s brain was lost in a cloud of agony, shame and hopelessness. The constant lack of air was making it so much worse, causing his thoughts to become muddled and disjointed: The nose would remain there, shutting down his brain, until the skin was burned off, he thought. Christine would be disgusted … or she would laugh and humiliate him! The thoughts attacked him unrelentingly as if someone was there shouting them at him and made him collapse onto the floor in despair.
“That’s what you get for trying to pass yourself of as a normal man, you are a monster, you will always be a monster!!” The voices screamed at him.
Soon he had lost all control of his reasonable mind and weeping and moaning in fear and hopelessness he crawled away, squeezing himself in the farthest corner of the bathroom between the bath and the wall.

Chapter Text

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.”