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Out of my Mind

Chapter Text

The moon was full when Christine wandered out through the grounds of the estate. She liked to take midnight treks, and the de Changy home often made her claustrophobic.

Don't be mistaken - it was a grand home, by no means small or inadequate. The rooms were massive, the decor glorious and tasteful. Sitting in her new home she swore she could smell the riches. And she was grateful. She just missed the night, that was all. So much of her life was spent in darkness that it was hard to leave it behind.

That was what she had asked of Raoul, though, right? To take her away from the darkness, to protect her. Sometimes she couldn't remember why she had been so afraid, sometimes her memory grew hazy and she forgot why she longed so badly to lay beside the man she did now, the one who rested in the bed snoring and reeking of booze. Sometimes she couldn't remember what monster to run from.

She had wandered out further than she had intended to. The estate was growing smaller and smaller behind her until she was nearly to the line of trees that surrounded the west end of the property. Her eyes scanned the line of trees, breathless and frightened though not quite sure why.

The hair on the back of her neck stood on end and she shivered, suddenly feeling watched. She called out the only thing she could think to, the only name she still called in every fearful moment. "Angel?"

She swore she heard her name whispered in the wind, lightly and then louder. She saw a rustle in the tree limbs and jumped, opening her mouth. Before she could let a sound escape, a black gloved hand clamped over her mouth, an arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her against a sturdy but thin frame.

"Please don't scream," the angel's voice whispered.

She stiffened, suddenly terrified and elated all at once, and nodded her obedience against the hand that silenced her.

Slowly he removed his hand from her mouth and unwrapped his arm from her waist.

She turned and when the dark mask came into view she sighed. "Oh Angel. Why do you come to me now?"

His hand raised as though he was going to touch her face, but it stopped before it reached its goal and fell limply to his side again. "I always watch over you. I am your angel, am I not?" He reminded her quietly.

She looked unsure but nodded.

"You make me nervous," he began, "running out through the night alone. Why are you not in bed with your husband? Why do you insist on putting yourself in danger night after night Christine?"

She shrugged her shoulders and grabbed her left arm with her right hand. She looked down at her feet and he was surprised how small and childlike she truly looked with the gesture. "I miss the dark," she whispered. "And Raoul does not mind - he has long since been out of his mind."

He lifted his hand once more, only to stop short once again. "Out of his mind? How do you mean? Christine, you are not in danger are you?"

She shook her head, still not lifting her eyes. "He is drunk and asleep."

His hand reached out again and this time he made contact, barely brushing her jaw to make her look up into his eyes. "You are well?"

A soft, sad smile graced her lips. Her eyes looked tired, he noted. "You are my angel, no? You tell me."

"I do not... I do not look inside," he confessed. "I don't step much into the property. Only, not until I saw you wandering the other night that is."

Her smile was gone and she tore away from him, turning her back. "Why do you come now?" The question was strained and she sounded hurt.

"I missed you. I needed to know that I had done the right thing, that you were cared for and safe."

She turned back and the hope in her voice made her angel want to weep. "Truly?"

"Yes, truly my Christine," he took a bold step closer.

"But you turned me away, you sent me away and I thought th-"

Her words ended when he suddenly grabbed her jaw again, tilting her face up and claiming her lips with his.

She felt a spark go through her body, an instant warmth and excitement spread from dead, cold, bloated lips. The contradiction between her body's reaction and the truth of the lips was not lost on her.

When he released her lips she gasped for air. "Why would you do that?"

He smirked at her, barely visible in the darkness and through the cut of his mask. "You wanted me to."

She bit her bottom lip and squeezed her arm a little harder, avoiding his gaze. "Perhaps," she said. "Perhaps I did once. I've wanted so much, and it is never to be. Once I had dreams of you. I truly did. I thought of the life I could have with my angel. But you pushed and pushed, you pushed me away. That night all of my dreams were shattered. Every moment wasted."

He grabbed her shoulders roughly and gave her a shake. She looked up into his eyes. "Do you mean this, Christine?"

She nodded numbly, just realizing what confession she had made. In the back of her mind she thought that perhaps she shouldn't have admitted it, but she was tired of the strict bonds her role placed on her. She was no longer Christine. She was a Viscountess. Her words and thoughts no longer mattered, only her looks. By day she was the Viscountess, but at night, at night she was Christine. And Christine no longer cared what frail boundary she may be crossing.

His hand slid to the small of her back, pulling her flush against him, so close that she could feel every fold of his clothing. If she concentrated she could almost feel the strong beat of his heart. His hand tilted her jaw up again. "Run away with me," his breath ghosted on her ear and she shivered, overtaken by the sensation of his body so close to hers.

"I - I can't," she said feebly, trying to remember herself.

"We can start over," he began, his hand running down lower and lower from her jaw until it laid over her bosom, gently running across the top of her cleavage. She shivered again, feeling very warm and compliant. Suddenly he spun her around, pulling her back tight against him and allowing his hand more room to explore what he knew was rightfully his. All the while, he whispered his plan into her ear. "We could be anyone. We could be no one. I can teach you to disappear, just as I once taught you to soar. We can go anywhere, Rome perhaps. I always loved Rome. Or maybe Italy, perhaps you would like to go back home to Sweden. It can be ours," his hand slid down and began to gather her skirt. "All you must do is say yes."

She clenched her eyes shut and tried to ignore the excited warmth between her legs, the shiver that ran through to her very core. Her nerves were on fire, each tingle radiating from the touch of his hands, those talented and bloodstained hands. The ones she should be terrified of but instead longed for. Dare she? Dare she just disappear into the night? She was married. She had already brought Raoul and his family such shame. Dare she once more hurt him? Perhaps it would be for the best. He could claim her dead and ask for annulment, marry someone who deserved him. But dare she?

His hand suddenly released her skirt and slid up to her throat where he squeezed lightly. She gasped at the obstruction to her breathing and suddenly remembered what those hands were capable of, she imagined the life being squeezed out of her by those hands. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad. A shameful shiver of lust spread through her as he lightened his grasp and splayed his hand open on her collarbone.

"Tell me yes," he said, directly into her ear. "I will take you tonight. You will never have to face any of them again."

"But my things, Raoul," she said weakly.

"He is drunk, remember? I can get you all new. You would want for nothing, my queen."

She was silent and he released her. She felt the cold rush of air and suddenly missed his contact very much. Too much, she thought.

"I will not force you, Christine. I am far beyond that. You will make your own decisions and I will respect them this time."

Only one word was able to escape her mouth as she turned to look at him. "Sweden?"

"If you wish," he said. "Though, really, we could go anywhere. Anywhere but Persia. It is a terrible place and I am afraid that I've burned one bridge too many to return there."

"Yes," she whispered under her breath.

"I can't hear you dear," he said quietly, tilting her face up to him again.

A smile spread across her face as she looked into his eyes. "Yes!" She repeated firmly. "I will run away with you Angel."

"Erik," he said to her. "I am Erik. I am no Angel and we both know it. You will call me Erik and you will understand that with this decision you will be binding yourself to me irrevocably. Think it through, Christine de Changy. If you say yes you are mine forever."

"Forever," she repeated. "I have always been yours, Erik." She looked pensive for a moment as she contemplated her words. "I have always been yours," she repeated more firmly. "I am not afraid any longer. Yes."

He grasped her face between his hands and looked into her eyes. "Mine," he repeated, an animalistic growl behind the words. "You have made your decision then. You have given me your soul, you have agreed and you are mine forevermore. This is a binding deeper than marriage. You will never be without me and if you run, I will find you. You are mine, Christine de Changy."

She swallowed hard at his words and nodded, wondering what new world awaited her. He released her and stepped back, offering his hand.

"Come," he said. "We have much to do."

She stared at his offered hand and contemplated her choices, then slowly took his hand, allowing him to lead her away.

Away from her husband, away from her home, away into the darkness in nothing more than her night shift.

Chapter Text

Erik found his mind spinning as he led her through the dark woods, turning them back toward the Opera House. He hadn't intended this, you know. Rarely did he set out intending to kidnap someone. These things just happened. And could it really be called kidnapping when she came so willingly?

He mused on this thought as Christine followed behind him silently, compliant and asking no questions, making no protests. 'She is such a good girl,' his mind said. 'Such a good girl and she is all yours. She said so herself.'

He shook his head to rid himself of the voice and noticed her shivering. He glanced back toward her and realized how thin the material of her night shift was.

He paused his step. "Are you cold, Christine?"

She nodded in silence. Not a word had passed from her lips since leaving the estate. Somewhere in the back of his mind Erik thought that perhaps this should concern him, but he pushed the thought away. 'She agreed to this,' he justified to himself. 'She wanted this.'

He released her and swiftly pulled his cloak from his shoulders, wrapping the thick fabric around her body. "It would do no good for you to catch ill," he heard himself saying. "You must speak your needs."

She gave a half-nod, a shy smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "Thank you Ang- Erik," she quickly caught herself. "Thank you Erik."

He nodded curtly and took her hand again, once more beginning at his fast pace.

She was silent as they arrived at the opera, silent as he removed the grating on the side of the building. He jumped down through the opening and offered his hand, she took it and allowed him to help her down. He grabbed her waist as she jumped down, running her body against his. He suppressed the shiver of desire.

'Mine,' his mind screamed. 'Mine to do with as I choose.'

He shook his head but couldn't silence the voice that fed his desire. He placed one arm on each side of her, pushing her back against the cold stone. She made no complaint, finding herself absently grateful for his cloak to cushion her from the stone. Her mind was blank as his lips drew closer and closer to hers. She tilted her head upward, but he paused as he finally came close enough to make contact.

"Mine," he said. His breath on her lips caused a shiver to run through her. He pulled back, leaving his arms on each side, keeping her pinned but allowing her space. She whimpered as he broke the close contact. "I am not a monster, Christine," he reassured her. "I will not have you fear me."

She didn't speak, she simply reached out in the darkness, grasping his face and pulling his lips to hers. He made no protest, only pushing closer to her. The stone dug against her back and the coldness began to penetrate the barriers of the fabric. When his lips left hers she sighed. "I am not afraid, Erik," she repeated.

He released her and reached up, pulling the grating back into place. "Come," he repeated authoritatively. He placed his hand possessively on the back of her neck, squeezing just the tiniest bit. She made no protest, following his instruction.

"Erik?" She finally murmured a few yards into their journey.

"Yes, Christine?" He glanced at her and continued their pace.

"Where will we go?"

He paused and looked at her. She looked unsure, just as childlike as she had out by the woods.

He gave her a tender touch to the face. "Wherever you want, my love."

She nodded and he was surprised to say that she looked completely trusting, as though his word was law. Erik said it and because of that, it will be.

Erik nodded curtly and continued to lead her further and further into the belly of the opera.

She followed compliantly, his hand resting on the small of her back, even allowing him to lift her into and out of the Gondola on the little dark lake.

And when he placed her on his bed, if she was afraid she gave no sign.

"Sleep now, Christine," he said to her. "It is late."

He turned to leave and when she caught his hand in hers he was surprised. She gave it a small squeeze.

"You will be here when I wake?" She asked.

And when he turned back to see her fragile, far too small frame curled in his bed he felt his heart give a terrible lurch.

"Do you wish me to be?"

She looked at him, her eyes wide and doe-like. She squeezed his hand again as her eyes began to close. "Yes, Erik," she murmured sleepily.

"Then I will." He watched a tired smile stretch her lips at his statement, and found that he couldn't resist placing a gentle kiss to her forehead. "Sleep, Christine."

He stayed long after she had drifted to sleep, staring at her tiny hand curled around his, staring at the expensive diamond that rested upon her finger. He had never intended this - to spirit her away, steal her yet again like a thief in the night. But how could he resist? The girl may wear another man's ring, but he contented himself with the fact that tonight, it was his bed that she slipped into willingly.

He slipped his hand from hers and left the room, suddenly needing space. The air was stifling around him.

He wasn't surprised when he came to find himself bare faced and staring into a mirror. It was a nightly routine of his now. But tonight it was different. Tonight he stared in triumph instead of punishment. For tonight, Christine was his. Tonight, she gave him herself. And not even God himself could take her away from him again.

Chapter Text

'Do it,' the persistent voice prodded at him.

"Shut up," he growled into the silence around him.

'She's in your bed. She came willingly. She won't resist.'

"Shut UP!"

'You know you want to. Why torture yourself even more?'

He growled and struck out at the first thing his hand came into contact with. The candelabra fell over, the flame igniting the paper it rested on.

"Oh, look what you've made me do," he sighed to the relentless voice in his head. He used his boot to stamp the small fire out before it could grow.

"Erik?" A small voice called to him from the doorway.

His breath hitched in his throat when he turned to find her, small, still wrapped in his cloak, hair a mess of brown curls from a restless sleep and brown eyes full of concern.

He stood and stared at her, just looking up and down her body as he took in the sight and realized that now the sight was his. Her arms wrapped around herself as though attempting to cover up.

"Are you alright?" She asked. "I thought I heard..."

He nodded his head. "All is well, Christine," he breathed.

'Take her,' the voice screamed. 'Take her now!'

He clenched his eyes shut and took a ragged breath.

Suddenly her hands were on him, and when he opened his eyes it was to look straight into hers.

"Tell me how to help," she whispered.

He shook his head and grasped her left hand, bringing it up to examine it.

"You still wear his ring," it came out more biting than he intended for it to, and he saw her flinch slightly at his words. "Take it off."

She shook her head slightly and looked at the ring. When she looked back up her eyes were tear-filled. "Take it off!" He repeated in a growl. When she made no movement to do so, he threw her hand away from him and turned his back to her. "Damnit, Christine. Why are you here?"

She gave no answer and he turned back to her, only to find her slipping the ring off of her finger. It felt like an eternity, watching her take it off.

She looked up at him, eyes still leaking tears. But, oh, the good girl. She smiled at him. It was strained, but it was there. And when she unfolded his hand in hers and curled his fingers around the ring he felt as though his heart would burst.

"I am not a monster," he repeated, feeling the weight of the ring in his palm and her fingers still curled around his.

She laughed. The silly girl actually laughed. "No, Erik," she said to him. "You are not a monster. You are simply a man. A very broken man."

He looked up into her eyes. "Why are you here?" He repeated.

She sighed. "Because I'm tired," she admitted. "I'm tired of playing a role that isn't mine to have. I'm tired of being something I'm not. I'm tired of sitting still. Maybe it's time to run."

"You still love him."

She gave a slight nod. "I do," she said. "But don't you understand? Love, sometimes love is not enough, Erik."

He pulled away from her grasp. "I know that perfectly well, Christine. You made me live that truth, or do you not remember?"

"I'm here now, am I not?" She cried.

"But you do not love me," he began, slowly drawing nearer and nearer to her until she was pressed with her back against the wall. "Do you?"

She shivered at their closeness, beginning to feel that arousal tug at her again. "Perhaps not," she said, meeting his eyes with her chin lifted in defiance. "But I am here. I could learn to loved you."

His hand was at her throat again, lifting her feet from the ground. She gasped and her fingers pulled at his. "I could kill you," he stated calmly. "Do you truly understand the bargain you made when you came with me?" He loosened his grip slightly, allowing her feet to touch the ground. "You are mine," he growled again.

She nodded against his hand. "Yours," she gasped through her tightened throat.

He released her throat and she gasped for air. Both were breathing heavily, staring into each other's eyes. And suddenly, Erik did it. He kissed her, again pushing her back into the stone wall.

And, oh, the good girl kissed him back. And when his lips trailed down her neck, sucking and biting, she made no protest, only letting her head fall back against the wall. And when he found the place where her neck met her shoulder, the good girl actually gasped her pleasure and dug her fingers into his back.

"You do not love me," he reminded her between kisses and bites. "But if I want you, I will have you. You are mine."

"Yes, Erik," she gasped out with a thick voice. "Yours, all yours."

Suddenly he pulled back and turned away from her. "Leave me," he said simply. "Everything you find in the closet is yours, the bathroom, of course, you know what belongs to you Christine. You will find luggage in the back of your closet. Begin packing, we won't have much time when he realizes that you're gone."

"Erik, I-"

"You heard me," he cut her off. "Do not question me. When I speak I expect you to listen."

Her eyes were downcast. "Yes, Erik."

He used his fingers to tilt her face toward him. "And Christine?" When she finally met his eyes, he continued. "Despite what you may think, I do love you. And my love, well, it is enough for the both of us."

She nodded numbly at his words and when he released her she scurried from the room.

When she was gone he sighed and fell into his recliner.

"Idiot," he growled to himself, examining the ring in his hand.

Chapter Text

The first murder was the hardest for Christine. Now, don't get him wrong, Erik knew it would be. He had just hoped that perhaps they would make it out of the country before she witnessed it. But, alas, that was not the case.

He berated himself for it. It was his fault, really. He should have known better than to travel at night with Christine. But he also knew that if they were going to escape it would have to be after nightfall, when no one would see them boarding with the cargo on the ship.

He had trusted himself to get her there relatively unscathed, but what he didn't count on was the scum that lurked in the alley and tried to pull his Christine away from him.

She had cried out when the man grabbed her, holding a knife against her throat.

Erik had laughed at the man's enthusiasm.

"Empty your pockets or the lady will get it," the man had said gruffly.

"I don't think that is a good choice, Monsieur," Erik said simply.

The man's hand was shaky on the knife and Christine had begun to cry when Erik took a step closer.

"Don't come closer - I'll kill her, I swear!"

Erik shook his head and with a flick of his wrist the lasso was around the man's throat, and only a moment later with a sickening snap, he lay dead on the ground.

Christine was sobbing and Erik ignored her, collecting his trusty lasso and tucking it back into its rightful place in his jacket.

"Come Christine," he said when everything was back in its place.

She shook her head wildly and looked down at the body and back at Erik with the look of a frightened animal.

"He's dead," Erik assured her. "Now come along, we've a ship to catch."

Her eyes clenched shut tightly, and suddenly she launched herself, grabbing the knife from the dead man and pointing it at Erik.

The girl was quick, he had to give her that. He took a step toward her and she lifted the knife, her hand shaking.

"Don't come any closer!" Her voice shook, but he admired her resolve.

He lifted his visible eyebrow and took another step, close enough to touch her now, and she raised the knife so that the tip of it was against his throat.

"Oh Christine," he sighed impatiently. "If you are going to kill me then get on with it."

He lifted his head, exposing his throat to her. "I will give you advice, though, my love. A jab will get the job done, but a deep slice longways is far more effective. I suppose it depends on how much you truly wish for me to suffer."

Her hand shook as he met her eyes. Tears still leaked out.

His patience was running thin with her game. "You won't kill me," he mocked her, still leaving himself open to her and spreading his arms wide. "Where would you go? Who would protect you then? I cannot protect you from the grave. But if you must, go ahead, my Christine. I do not fear death."

A loud sob left her mouth as the knife clattered against the pavement. She brought her hands up to cover her eyes.

He simply pulled her to his chest, letting her shake in his arms. "Shh," he whispered. "It's fine, love. It's fine." He wiped gently at her tears.

"I hate you!" She cried, an intense look in her eyes.

He knew she didn't mean it, but it cut him anyway. He simply shrugged his shoulders. "That may be, but you are still coming with me aren't you? Hate and love aren't so different, my Christine. If you must hate me then do. It makes no difference to me."

Another sob escaped her and he sighed, wrapping his cloak around her shoulders. "Come, Christine," he repeated. And when his arm wrapped around her shoulders and he lead her away, she made no protest, numbly following his direction.

"You know," he mused, "I would expect gratitude for saving your life."

"I hate you," she grumbled.

He only pulled her closer to his body, allowing his hand to drape over her shoulder and brush against the front of her bust. Her shiver didn't escape his notice.

"Say what you must," he whispered into her ear. "It matters not. You are mine."

"Murderer," she said.

"Adulterer," he rebutted. She froze in her step, halting them both.

"What did you call me?" Her voice shook with her anger.

"An adulterer, Christine. If you must shoot such ugly words at me then it is high time that you remember you are no more free of sin than I am."

She began to walk again and he took step beside her. She rested her head on his shoulder and his arm wrapped around her tighter.

"Where are we going?" She asked after a moment.

"Brussels," he replied.

"Belgium?" She asked, her nose scrunching up adorably at his suggestion.

He nodded. "I have some business to see to there. I also own a property or two in the region."

She sighed. "It doesn't matter where we go, I suppose."

He smiled and pressed a kiss to her hair. "It isn't forever," he said to her. "Only a few months if you wish."

She nodded absently and her hand began to play with the pocket of his shirt. "You didn't have to kill him," she offered after a moment, sounding like a petulant child.

He sighed. "Perhaps not," he agreed. "But I would rather he be dead than you."

She continued to absently play with his pocket, twisting the fabric in her fingers as they walked in their odd orientation.

"Thank you," she finally said breathily.

He pressed another kiss to her hair. "Speak no more of it, Christine. It is my job to protect you. We are not so terribly different, my love."

"What do you mean?"

He smoothed her hair before draping his arm around her shoulder again. "We are both confused. We are both simply doing what we must. I am not some cold blooded, merciless murderer Christine. I am just a man. I have feelings, I have guilt, my heart beats just as any other."

She pressed a hesitant kiss to his throat and a comfortable silence settled between them.

She didn't question him when they boarded the ship, settling among the cargo. He took a seat against one of the boxes, stretching his legs in front of him before he drew them back to him, crossing them.

Christine looked around in the darkness.

"I've traveled this way many times before," he said to her. "If we are quiet we will face no problems."

She nodded.

"Are you frightened, Christine?"

She wrapped her arms around herself. "A little bit," she admitted to him.

He opened his arms to her and she obeyed, resting in his lap and allowing him to cradle her against his chest, her head resting on his shoulder. "Nothing here can hurt you, Christine," he assured her. "Erik is here and he will protect you. As long as you are with me, you've nothing to fear. Do you trust me?"

She nuzzled his neck like a cat. "I trust you," she whispered.

"Good," he said, kissing her forehead and holding her as she drifted off to sleep in his embrace.

Chapter Text

Erik had dealt with bad travel companions in the past. If he was perfectly honest, Christine was far from the worst. But he hadn't counted on the rocking of the boat to upset her so much.

She began the trip clinging to him as though he were a life jacket.

"You're fine, Christine. I promise you won't fall through the floor into the water."

She only whimpered and clung tighter to him.

"I hadn't even considered that," she said shakily.

He chuckled at the girl in his arms. "Have you never traveled by boat before?"

She shook her head enthusiastically, her curls hitting his face painfully. "Only - only once," she amended, "when I was a small child."

He wrapped his arms around her and smoothed her hair. "Poor girl," he said sympathetically.

The boat began to rock more enthusiastically, and Erik observed Christine's pale face begin to gain a green hue.

"If you are going to be sick," he murmured to her, "I would appreciate it if you aimed away from me."

She swallowed thickly. "How much longer, Erik?"

"A day at most, I should think," he answered truthfully. When tears began to fall from her eyes he found himself surprised. "Does it truly upset you so?"

"I'm sorry," she murmured. "I'm just... I've never been fond of water to begin with."

He nodded. "If you will allow me movement for a moment, I can help you."

He smiled at her when she released him and reached into his pocket, retrieving the vial he had saved just in case Christine was difficult. If he was honest, he had pictured entirely different reasons for needing it.

"What is it?" She questioned as he tilted a few of the tablets into his hand.

"Laudanum," he answered. "If you take it, you will sleep the rest of the trip peacefully. You will wake on solid ground."

He passed the tablets into her hand and she looked at them suspiciously.

He sighed. "Take them or suffer, Christine. It makes no difference to me. I assure you, though, that you can trust me. I've no reason to lie to you or poison you."

She nodded and reluctantly tipped them into her mouth, swallowing them. She settled back into Erik's lap.

"How long will it take?" She murmured uneasily.

"Relax," he said, pulling her head to his shoulder. "If you don't fight it it could be any moment."

She nodded and curled closer to him, then sighed sleepily. "I lied, you know," she said after a few moments and through a voice thick with sleepiness.

"What about?"

"I don't hate you," she slurred out.

He felt a few tears prick at his eyes but pushed them back. "Oh, Christine," he said. "I know. I already know."

The last thing Christine felt before she slipped away was his kiss to her forehead and a few drops of wetness.

---

When she woke, she realized that she was no longer swaying back and forth. She stretched her fingers and toes out and found that she rested in a large bed covered in silk sheets.

She smiled and rolled onto her side, opening her eyes to come face-to-face with Erik, who knelt at the side of the bed as though he were praying.

"What are you doing?" She asked cautiously.

"Observing, shush," he said, working his leather glove off before bringing his hand to her forehead. "How are you feeling?"

She smiled. "Rested - slow. Almost like I'm moving through water."

He nodded curtly. "An effect of the laudanum, I'm afraid. It will fade."

He pushed her hair back with his bare hand and she shivered.

"I apologize," he said, withdrawing his hand. "I forget how cold my hands are."

"No," she murmured, her face growing red with a blush. "It feels good."

"Would you like me to do it again?" He murmured. She nodded and grew even more red. He gently began stroking her hair and admired the shivers and twitches he seemed to send through her muscles, such a light touch and such a strong effect, he thought.

"You know," he said after a while, "there is nothing to be ashamed of. Not in my presence. I am not your Vicomte, Christine. I do not want you proper. I want the human Christine, not the Viscomtess."

She nuzzled against his hand, making no response to his words.

He climbed into the bed beside her, suddenly feeling as though he were too far away from her. He rearranged her until her head rested on his chest, and he continued to stroke her hair. With each stroke he grew more confident and slowly the caresses moved to skin. Still Christine made no protest and continued her far more than passive reception to his touch.

"I love you, you know," he said again.

She nodded. "I know."

"You do not love me," he stated, "but you do not hate me."

"No, I don't hate you Erik."

"Then there is hope that maybe one day, maybe one day Erik's Christine can love him back."

"One day," she agreed with a nod.

He rearranged her so that she rested back against the pillows and shifted to hover over her, using his arms and legs to effectively trap her.

He brought his lips to hers, kissing her gently and then more and more fervently, feeling the all consuming lust build up inside of him again.

His lips made a trail across her cheek, down her neck where he bit and sucked like a vampire seeking nutrients. She gasped and shivered under him, only causing his arousal to grow. With one hand he gathered her skirts, lifting them to her waist and shifting so that he could push one knee up between her legs, forcing them apart.

"Erik?" She gasped.

He murmured something unintelligible into her throat.

"Erik, I... I am not pure."

He felt the blush rise up her neck beneath his lips, and he continued to suck and bite at her. "Why is that my sin to bear?" He growled against her skin.

"I just, I thought you should know," she whispered.

He pulled at the ribbons of her pantaloons, releasing them and tossing them to the floor. He sighed as his knee came to rest between her legs again and he felt her wet heat.

She shivered beneath him as his hand took the place of his knee, stroking and exploring the new territory.

"How many times?" He asked gruffly.

"What?" She struggled with the words as the pleasure of his touch began to pull her under wave after wave.

"How many times did he defile your body?" Erik spat out, moving to kiss her collar bone.

Her eyes clenched shut as she fought to remain lucid. "Why must you do this to yourself? Why can you not be satisfied in knowing that now, I am here. I chose you, Erik."

He brought his hand to her pretty white throat, satisfied enough to let go only when she gagged. "How many?" He asked again.

"Twice," she finally managed to force out hoarsely.

"Twice," he laughed mockingly. "Tell me, Christine. All of those months of wedded bliss, why would your husband only indulge in you twice?"

"It was marriage," she said defensively. "I was no mistress."

"Ah," he said in understanding. "So there was another for him to go to for that, you were just the pretty little trinket to decorate his arm, hmm?"

She began to cry under him, and he began to kiss away her tears.

"Tell me," he said. "Tell me how it made you feel, making love to him, even if it was only twice. How did it feel?"

She gasped as his finger found the little bundle of nerves between her legs and began to explore it.

"Terrible," she gasped through the hazy pleasure enveloping her thoughts. "It felt like fulfilling a duty and nothing more. Is that what you wanted to hear, Erik?"

"Perhaps," he said, intrigued by the way she twisted and panted under him. "How do I make you feel?" He asked as his finger slid further down, finally daring to breach her body.

"Alive," she whispered roughly as he explored her with his hands.

"Would you hate me very much if I took you just like this?" He whispered against her ear. "Your skirts around your waist, you all wanton and warm beneath me. Would you?"

"No," she gasped out reluctantly. "I wouldn't hate you."

"Good," he said as he sat up to undo his trousers. She whined at the loss of contact, but it wasn't for long. He pulled them down only enough to release himself before he sank back down, wrenching her legs apart with his hands and sinking into her in one fluid motion.

She gasped out in shock and surprise as he filled her and began to move within her.

"You are mine, Christine de Changy," he growled out into her ear. "Mine, do you understand that?"

She nodded at his words, caught up in the sensations he left with his touch.

He whined low in his throat as he sought his release, frustrated that even now it seemed to evade him. He took her in a swell of animalistic heat. He heard her cry out as he lifted her hips into the air and thrusted deeper and deeper into her, but he ignored her knowing that it was far too late to stop himself now.

He used his hands to wrap her legs around his waist. "Keep them there," he growled out, pleased by the fact that she complied to his command.

He brought one hand to her throat and the other supported him as he thrust deeply inside of her. He felt her heartbeat, he could feel the vibrations of every whimper that escaped her. For a moment he wanted nothing more than to open her up and crawl inside of her, to share a skin and a heart.

He cried out as his release finally came and collapsed heavily on top of her.

The poor girl was so good, she even kept her legs around him, holding him squarely inside of her as she gasped for breath.

When he regained himself, he used his hands to unwrap himself from her. And when he was free, he pulled his trousers back up and her skirt back down, collapsing next to her in the bed.

He pulled her against his chest. "You are such a good girl," he mumbled, gently kissing her forehead and trying to ignore the tears that streaked her face.

Chapter Text

"Who am I?"

He was startled by the question that she posed. He thought deeply for a moment.

"Who do you want to be?" He offered at length, patiently waiting for her to expand on her question.

She shook her head, her expression serious. "My name, Erik. What will my name be?"

"Ah," he said, finally understanding. "According to your new papers, my dear, you are Amnita Destler, 20 years old and wife to one Erik Destler."

She scrunched her nose up and shook her head, sighing and looking away.

"Does that displease you?" He asked, honest in his curiosity.

She looked down at her hands then back up at him, offering him a watery smile. "It does not matter."

He came to kneel in front of her, taking her hands in his. "Of course it matters," he said to her. "Never think that your thoughts are weightless."

She stared down at their entwined hands in silence. His patience ran thin quickly and he released one hand, bringing his up to brush a curl back behind her ear. "Tell me what you are thinking, Christine," he murmured.

"There were no vows," she said quietly. He gently massaged her hands, waiting for her to continue. She shook her head. "How can I be your wife if no vows were spoken?"

He sighed. "Christine, our vows were spoken. The night you agreed to flee with me, you spoke your vows."

She closed her eyes and sniffled, nodding her head slightly in acknowledgement of his words.

"Besides," he continued, "we have seen firsthand how easy vows are to break, have we not?"

Her tears finally began to fall and he felt a slight relief at that.

"There you are," he said, releasing her hands and lifting his hands to wipe her tears away. "You are so cold," he said quietly. "Sometimes I fear I may have broken you beyond repair."

She opened her eyes and they flickered across his masked face. "Then fix me," she whispered brokenly.

"Oh, Christine," he said sadly, "if only it were that easy."

She exhaled loudly through her nose. "I've sinned greatly."

He nodded solemnly. "We both have, my love."

She looked him in the eyes and he found himself uncomfortable with the intense look behind them. "How do you deal with the guilt?" She whispered.

He shrugged his shoulders noncommittaly. "God turned his back on me the day that he allowed me to be born. Why should I not do the same?"

The intensity in her eyes faded. He found it remarkable how quickly she could go from a passion of fire to the demeanor of a child.

"The world is a hard place, Christine," he said, squeezing her hands between his own. "It's not for people like us. That's why we need each other, yes? All you need is your Erik."

She nodded numbly and looked away, sniffling one last time. "Yes," she said flatly, "all I need is my Erik."

He kissed her hands. "I love you, Christine," he reminded her.

She nodded, giving him a far-away look. "I know."

"And one day you will love me."

She nodded slowly, patting his hand gently. "Yes, one day I will love you."

"Amnita," she said quietly. "It's from your opera."

It wasn't a question, but he felt the need to answer it anyway. "Yes, Christine. You remember the role, do you not?"

She nodded, looking down and allowing her hair to cover her face. "Only too well."

"Then perhaps you will indulge me in a piece, yes?"

She looked up terrified. "I can't."

He touched her face. "Why?"

"I would disappoint you," she said sadly, avoiding his eye. "I am... very out of practice."

"I expected nothing else," he said, smiling grimly when her eyes met his. "The boy was a fool, Christine. I had no doubt that he would forbid you from music. Am I right?"

"It is not proper," she said angrily, "for a Vicomtess to perform."

"That is... Well, that is perhaps the most preposterous thing I have ever heard," he said with an indignant laugh. "Tell me, Christine. Were you truly willing to murder your soul for him?"

She huffed impatiently. "I am here, am I not?"

"Let me have you," he said, a hand caressing her jaw. "I have had your body, I once touched your soul. Give me your voice. Let me save you."

She clenched her eyes shut and nodded. "Yes," she said in relief. Her eyes opened, and the brightness in them made him hope that perhaps all was not lost. "I am yours. That is what you said, Erik. I am yours. I belong to you. I want... I want you to guide me once more as you did before."

"You are giving me a great gift, my Christine, and I must thank you for it."

She looked pensive for a long moment, and then a bright smile spread across her face. "It is the least I can do," she said with the most emotion she had shown in days, "for my husband."

"Ah, yes, husband," he said with a derisive laugh. "How many have you now, two?"

Her face fell flat. "That's not funny Erik," she said. "I was only trying to make you smile."

"You do not love me," he reminded her yet again. "It would do you well to remember that, Christine."

She stood quickly, turning away from him and crossing her arms across her chest, taking a few steps. "Am I to be tormented for my words forever? God help me."

He stood behind her, grasping her shoulders and spinning her roughly to face him. He clenched tightly onto her shoulders and she flinched at his roughness. "God will not help you, Christine," were his pained words. "I have cried out the same words for many years. God will not hear you. There is only Erik, you see. Only Erik."

She tried to wretch out of his grasp but he pulled her tightly to his chest. "Where would you be," he whispered into the shell of her struggling ear, "were it not for Erik?"

"At home with my husband," she spit out, struggling harder.

"No, Christine," he said sadly. "Your husband would not have recognized you were it not for Erik bringing your voice to the front of the stage. Tell me, dear, where would you be without me?"

She suddenly stopped fighting, collapsing fully into his arms. He didn't mind so much, he thought.

"Alone," she whispered.

"Yes," he said solemnly. "Alone, and possibly worse. It has always only been Erik."

"Only Erik," she echoed emotionlessly.

She began to cry softly and he pressed a kiss to her hanging head.

"Good girl," he whispered.

Chapter Text

Christine was a good girl, and Erik was glad for it. It made things far easier on him. And though he saw a piece of her spirit break off and drift away, he thought that perhaps it was for the best. She had never been an overly confident girl and for that he was grateful. In a new country, with him as the only familiar, he knew he didn't have much reason to fear her running.

Not that she would run, if she could. After all, she was a good girl. A good, smart girl. She knew what was best for her, and at the moment that meant swallowing every bit of pride she ever had and remaining at Erik's side.

She sang for him. Of course she did, she did whatever he asked of her with little to no fight. She had no fight left in her, you see. She surrendered her right to fight long ago, when she had allowed him to be her angel. He knew this, and it seemed it became clearer to her as every day passed.

Her voice was perfect. Her pitch phenomenal, her pronunciation and accuracy crystal clear. The only thing she lacked was the emotion that she once held, the emotion that brought Paris to its feet. But it was no matter. He had fixed that once before and he would do it again, even if it killed him.

He knew that the things he did were wrong. He knew that his harsh words only hurt her and chipped away all that was left of her already broken spirit, but he couldn't stop. Christine consumed him, she completed him, and it terrified him to think that one day she would open her eyes and understand the amount of power she truly had over him.

He loved her. He truly did. He loved her with a deep passion and he would give her anything she asked of him. But he thought it best to keep that bit to himself. As it was, the girl didn't ask for much.

The most she had asked for since learning of her new identity was paper and pen, which he had supplied without a second thought. She would sit by the fireside every night, small and childlike curled up on the floor, and scribble away furiously. He never asked to see what she wrote - he simply observed her, watching as her face scrunched up and relaxed, seeing the way she would pause and look so pensive, then suddenly dive back into her fury of writing.

He found himself curious as to what the pages contained, but he resisted the urge to rip them out of her hands and devour them. He had her. She was his, in mind, body and soul. He absolved the guilt that he felt over his sins by allowing her that small privacy.

For hours they would sit, the only sound that of her pen scratching the paper while Erik watched her and sipped a glass of brandy. He had never been a fan of alcohol, but he indulged now, realizing how it fit the picture of a husband and wife. Perhaps they could be normal.

And every night, when she would finally set the pen down he allowed her to scurry off, hiding the pages (which he knew resided tucked into the space between the top of her nightstand and the wood of the table, crafty Christine), and then return to him, sitting at his feet and allowing him to gently stroke her hair.

They lived mostly in a comfortable silence. Words were not needed. She belonged to him, he loved her and the feelings were not returned. What more was there to speak about? But, oh, how Erik longed to hear her voice. And night after night, he would sit in silence, waiting for her to break it.

And then one night, she did.

"Will you tell me a story?"

He thought for a moment, contemplating wether he felt up to it. "What kind of story, Christine?"

She shrugged and nuzzled against his knee with her head. He smiled and brought his hand to her hair.

"You can just talk," she offered quietly. "I just need to hear your voice."

He continued to stroke her hair and sighed. It was almost as though she had read his mind. How strange that their needs could be so in tune with one another. He supposed that maybe that was just what happened when two people lived together.

"Do you love me yet?" He tried, figuring if all she wanted was to hear his voice he may as well force her to converse with him.

She let out an indignant huff but didn't move. "I need you," she said quietly. "You're all I have."

He paused for a moment and then continued to stroke her hair. It wasn't so bad, he thought. Perhaps that truly could be enough for him. But he kept his thoughts to himself.

"That is a no, hmm?" He said instead.

She sighed again and he let out a low laugh. "You, my dear, are the one who wanted to talk."

She nodded and stretched her arm across his lap under her head.

"Do you miss him terribly?" Erik asked after a moment.

"Sometimes," she admitted easily. "And other times it's as if he never existed."

He felt hope blossom at her words. "That is good, Christine."

"I still feel guilty," she admitted.

He nodded slightly. "Understandably. He will forget about you in time, Christine."

She laughed a shaky laugh. "I suppose that was meant to be reassuring."

He let his hand trail down her hair and then lightly traced her throat, hidden under her mess of curls. He felt her heartbeat quicken under his touch and he smiled at that. "I never intend for anything else, my love."

She whimpered as his hand trailed lower, over her shoulder until he could trace her collarbone, feeling her heart beat against the palm of his hand.

"Do I frighten you, Christine?" He asked suddenly. He felt her swallow against his hand.

"No," she said sullenly. "You would never hurt me, Erik."

"That's right," he said. "Erik would never hurt his Christine. He only does what is best for her."

She tucked her head down and kissed the tip of his finger so quickly and lightly that he wasn't sure if it happened or if he imagined it.

"Why do you let me touch you?" He asked curiously as his hand slipped lower and lower, until it slipped into the gap between her dress and her skin.

She shivered under his caress and shrugged her shoulders.

"You do not love me, but you allow me to touch you," he mused as his hand came to rest in the valley between her heaving breasts. "Why is that, Christine?"

"Because I am yours," she whispered against his knee.

He nodded as he removed his hand from her dress and leaned back, resuming his careful petting of her hair. "And you will never leave me," he reminded her.

She laughed. "Where would I go, Erik? If I left you, where would I go? To the streets? Or perhaps to the husband I scorned? I'm sure he would be delighted to know that his wife ran off in the night with the very man who attempted his murder."

He twisted her hair in his hand until he heard her give a pained gasp and then he released it suddenly. "I will not bear guilt for that," he mumbled. "I beg you to remember it was I that you betrayed in the first place. Honestly, that whole nasty business could have been avoided had you only come to your senses before marrying the boy."

She nodded against his lap.

"You have always been mine," he continued. "You said it yourself, Christine."

"I did," she admitted.

"You did me a great disservice," he said calmly, "by giving your body away to another first. You know, if you have always been mine. It was terribly selfish of you."

"I've done a lot of selfish things," she said quietly.

Erik nodded again. "Christine is a wicked, selfish woman. But Erik is good, and he forgives her for her sins because he loves her."

"I'm feeling terribly tired, Erik," Christine said suddenly.

"Then to bed we go. Is that what you wish for, Christine?"

She nodded sullenly.

"Why so sad, my love?" He asked as she began to rise from the floor, stretching as she did so.

She shook her head. "I am fine, Erik. I'm just tired."

He knew that she was lying but she looked so pretty in her sadness that he could hardly be angry with her for it.

She walked toward the bedroom and paused. "Are you coming to bed with me?"

Erik swore he heard a hopefulness in her voice and his heart beat harder at the thought. "Would you like me to?" He asked carefully, observing the way her muscles tensed.

She looked at him over her shoulder and then quickly turned her head back. "If you wish," she said meekly.

He rose and came to stand behind her. He placed his hands gently on her shoulders and smiled at the shiver his touch sent through her body. "If I do," he said to the back of her head, "I hardly believe that sleep will be the first thing on your agenda."

Her shoulders shrugged under his hands and he felt his heartbeat quicken. It was the closest Christine had come to expressing a desire for him, and though she didn't say it he knew that her nonchalant attitude was a permission to him.

He grasped her hips and brought his lips down to her throat, kissing the spot that always sent a shiver through her. "I want you," he said gruffly.

She nodded. "I know," she replied quietly.

"Tell me you want me," he insisted as he gripped her hips harder, pulling her closer so that she could feel his hardness against her back.

She shivered and gasped, but made no movement to obey.

He sighed and began to gather her skirt in his hands, lifting it until her pantaloons were exposed to his eyes. He released the ribbons with two fingers and let them carelessly fall to the floor.

He lifted her, skirts still bunched in his hands, and brought her to the back of the chair he had been sitting in moments before. He released her skirt and allowed it to cover her for a moment as he reached around her body and guided her hands to the chair.

"Bend over," he commanded her. And the good girl obeyed, using the chair to support herself.

He pulled her skirt up again, allowing himself to take in the image of her most private area exposed to him so openly.

He brought one finger down to caress the damp, puckered lips and slid it inside of her, watching in fascination as she shivered and sighed under his touch.

"Your body will admit it," he said, as he began to move his finger in and out of her warm body. "Why will you not? Admit that you want me. Tell me what your body does. Tell me that you crave me."

"I want you," her broken whisper came. "God help me, Erik. I want you."

"Good girl," he whispered as he used one hand to release himself and guide himself to her entrance. He was much gentler this time, admiring the way her body clung to him and slowly pulled him deeper and deeper.

She shuddered under him and cried out with a moan as he slid into her.

He began to move against her, rocking his hips into hers and relishing every cry that she made. The chair scraped against the floor as he thrust particularly hard, and Christine cried out, arching her back toward him as she offered him easier access to her.

He scooted the dress further up so that he could grab onto her bare hips. "Know," he growled, "know that no one else can make you feel this way, Christine."

She gasped as one of his hands snaked around her and slid between her legs, finding the little bundle of nerves that had seemed to make her gasp before and flicking his finger up and down it in time with his thrusts.

"Know that no one else can make your body sing."

She cried out and began to shake under his ministrations, panting as she seemed to grow tighter and tighter around him. He began to thrust harder, admiring the way her body clung and still admitted him.

Her voice rose as her moans turned to high pitched cries of pleasure. She began to cry as she felt the intense buildup, the pleasure so much that it burned and turned to pain.

She cried out and collapsed against the chair as her body spasmed and Erik felt the wetness spread, feeling the spasms from inside of her. She offered no fight as he used the chair to his advantage, lifting her by her hips and using the chair to support her midsection as he thrust deeper and harder within her.

When his release came he pushed deep inside of her, allowing her to feel his own spasms and twitches. And when he was calm enough to allow his rational thought to return he replaced her feet on the ground, letting her skirt fall to cover her as he pulled his own trousers up.

He took her in his arms then, lifting her like a child and she gave no fight, just allowing her head to lull against his shoulder.

"I will come to bed with you," he announced as he carried her in that direction.

Her arms wrapped weakly around his neck, and he felt his pulse quicken. This was the first time she had offered him a gentle touch without coercion, and when he came to the edge of the bed he was reluctant to break the contact.

He fought with himself over it for a moment before he decided to compromise and sit upon the bed himself, letting her rest across him. To his delight she didn't break the contact, she simply slid her hand down until it rested beside her head on his chest.

"Love," she whispered. "How can you truly know if you love someone?"

He brushed her curls back from her face and pulled her closer to him, trying to calm his wildly beating heart. "You just know, Christine," he offered. "You say you love your boy. How did you know you loved him?"

"I cared deeply about him," she said. "His opinions mattered to me, I was excited to see him. I liked talking to him. He was handsome."

Erik let his hand run down her back, enjoying the caresses she allowed him to give her. "What is your question, Christine?"

He saw her eyes look up at him, wide and ironically innocent.

"Why... Why is it that you can drive me wild with a single touch? Why could he never do that Erik? Why did I never feel this devotion to him, this connection to him?"

Erik pulled her closer to him. "Perhaps you didn't love him, Christine."

She gave no answer to that and he pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "Sleep, Christine," he whispered to her.

He watched as her eyes closed and her muscles relaxed, falling quickly into a deep sleep.

He stared at the ceiling for a long time after that, contemplating her words with restored hope in his heart.

Chapter Text

Erik couldn't remember the last time he had slept. Or eaten, for that matter. Nor could he remember the last meal he had made for Christine.

The realization hit him like a ton of bricks. She was his, after all, and if he wanted to claim her he must at least keep her alive.

He was so stricken by this realization that he forced himself to rouse her out of bed in the middle of the night.

He shook her somewhat roughly. "Christine," he said, "Christine, you must get up this moment."

Her eyes snapped open and she squinted at him in the darkness. "Erik? What's going on?"

He found the sleep that lined her voice adorable, and couldn't help but to press a kiss to her lips. "It has come to my attention that I have been neglecting your mealtimes," he admitted. "And so, I have made a meal and expect you to join me in its consumption."

"What time is it?"

"Three o'clock," he answered as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

She shook her head in the darkness and rubbed at her eyes. "Erik, I am not hungry."

"Nonsense," he said, grabbing her wrist and tugging her from the bed. "Christine is starving, and it is all Erik's fault!"

"Erik," she gasped, practically running to keep up with the purposeful stride he had set, "I am not hungry, I am tired. Are you not tired?"

He pulled the chair out from under the table and gently shoved her into it with a shake of his head.

She watched him with wary eyes as he placed the plate of ham, cheese and bread before her, then sat across from her, folding his fingers and resting his chin upon them.

"When is the last time you slept?" She asked accusingly.

"I do not appreciate your tone," he snapped. "Eat, Christine."

She sighed and looked down at the plate, then let her eyes flicker between the food and his face.

"If I eat," she began carefully, "you will allow me sleep?"

He nodded his compliance.

"I will do this if you will fulfill a promise to me, Erik."

His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "And what is this promise, Christine?"

She sighed again. "Since you have dragged me out of bed at three o'clock in the morning to fulfill this strange fancy of yours, I ask that if I comply with you you will come to bed with me."

A slight smirk crossed his features.

"And sleep, Erik!" She quickly amended, growing red before his eyes.

"I know exactly what you meant, Christine," he replied with an imperious wave of his hand. "Very well, if that is all you ask of me I shall comply."

She nodded and quickly looked down to hide the smile that came from her small victory. Erik had been increasingly agitated over the last few days and she knew that a lot of it could be traced back to his denial of his need for sleep. As much as Erik claimed to be human like everyone else, he tended to neglect his human needs to a point that bordered on self-abuse.

But with their agreement, she forced herself to swallow a few bites. His eyes were trained on her and she felt herself begin to blush.

"Would you like a bit?" She asked, impolitely holding a bite of the ham out to him between the tips of her fingers.

He stared at her meager offering and was silent. She felt herself growing even more red as she realized just how uncouth her action was.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, looking down in shame.

He laughed. "You've nothing to apologize for," he reassured her. "No, I would not like any Christine. This is for you."

She nodded and continued to eat in silence, forcing down bite after bite.

After a seeming eternity the plate was finally empty.

She sighed, hating the uncomfortable fullness she had forced on herself. "And now we can sleep?" She asked hopefully.

He nodded curtly and she smiled shyly.

He rose and came to her chair, pulling it out and offering her his arm.

"Like a true gentleman," she said to him, hiding behind her shy smile.

"I am many things, Christine, but at the top of them all I am a gentleman."

She sighed and shook her head, taking his offered arm and following him to the bed.

When they were finally settled, Erik on his back with Christine's head across his chest, curls splayed out in a wild mess around her pretty little head, she sighed.

"Why will you not relax and just sleep?" She asked him, feeling the tenseness of his body beneath her.

"I have spent years being trained to sleep with one eye open," he said. "And besides, my mask is very uncomfortable to sleep in."

"Oh," she said meekly, tucking her face into his chest. She thought hard for a moment. "Then take it off."

He laughed darkly and ran his hand quickly through her curls. "Yes, and plague you with nightmares."

"It's dark," she reminded him. "I cannot see you."

He felt a painful clench in his heart as he contemplated his choice. "And what of the morning? What if you wake and see me?"

She huffed in annoyance. "I have seen you before, Erik. You cannot honestly mean to be beside me for the rest of our lives and never allow me to look upon it."

He shook his head and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I wouldn't trouble you with the sight."

"So you will instead deny yourself sleep?" She said shrilly. "Erik, you are being ridiculous. Take your mask off and sleep comfortably."

He sighed and relented, removing the mask quickly. She heard the clink of it on the bedside table and smiled at yet another small victory.

"Are you happy, Christine?" Though she knew he referred to his removal of the mask, she could hear the double meaning behind the words.

She lifted one hand to touch the mangled flesh that she couldn't quite make out in the darkness. He tensed but allowed her exploration.

"I am content," she declared, drawing her hand back and snuggling against his sturdy frame.

He sighed and pulled her into his arms. She felt him begin to relax.

"You will be the death of me," he murmured darkly.

"Perhaps," she said to him. "Though it is not my intention."

"Would you cry for your poor Erik?" He asked quietly.

She nodded, grasping the hand that had snaked around her shoulders and pressing a kiss to each sinful, bloodstained finger. "I would mourn for you, Erik."

She felt his slight shake and knew that he was trying to hide his crying. She made no comment to it, thinking it best that she allow him his private emotion.

"You do not love me," he rasped out.

She shook her head against his chest. "No, I do not love you yet. But I do care deeply for you," she admitted.

He pulled her closer and pressed a kiss to her forehead.

"Thank you, Christine," he whispered.

And though she didn't quite understand why he thanked her, she still smiled timidly.

"You're welcome, Erik."

Chapter Text

Erik was embarrassed. Rarely did he have a breakdown in day-to-day life, but it seemed more and more common as days went by. When Christine witnessed his tears once more he decided that enough was enough.

He was beyond groveling, you see. He no longer needed to beg anything of her, for she gave it all freely. The only thing he had yet to gain from her was love. But she was his. He possessed her, she belonged to him and always would. She had said so herself.

But still, Erik was embarrassed about the tears he had shed while holding Christine. Erik was powerful - he had to be. To show weakness was an unforgivable sin. Therefore, when he came across the newspaper containing the small gossip column from Paris on one of his nighttime prowls, he decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to remind Christine of why she needed him, why she belonged to him.

He held it back for about a week, allowing her to be blissfully unaware of the world she had come from. He let her write by the fireside and give him the blank look that she so often did. He partook of her body and let things continue in their stagnant manner.

And finally, one night by the fireside, he told her that he had brought her a gift.

Her eyes lit up, the good, poor girl. "What is it, Erik?" She had asked excitedly.

She was so excited that he almost felt bad for doing this to her. Almost. You see, he knew it had to be done. She had to lose her naivety one way, and at least she would have him to hold her and wipe away the tears that made her so pretty.

When he had retrieved the newspaper and handed it to her, her face fell.

"A paper?" She said, her eyes clouded with confusion. She had looked up at him helplessly. "I don't understand, Erik."

"Page six, my love," he directed her. "I believe you may find something of interest in the gossip column."

He watched as she flipped furiously, eyes scouring the page. He knew the moment she had found it for she began to read intensely. When she looked back up, her face was devoid of all emotion.

And, oh, Erik knew why. For that little gossip column read as follows:

'28 Sep - Vicomte Raoul de Changy laid to rest a casket in remembrance of his missing wife, Vicomtess Christine de Changy. Missing five weeks, she is assumed dead. The Vicomte's romance seems to continue with Mlle Marie Darley, who lent a hand of condolence at the memorial service.'

She stared blankly ahead for a moment, and then her eyes snapped to Erik's. "Why did you bring me that?" She said sadly.

He leaned back in his chair and pressed his fingertips together, allowing her eyes to search his. "Because you need to see, Christine. You need to know."

"Know what, Erik? It shouldn't matter to me. I left. I left him."

"It shouldn't," he agreed. "But it does, does it not?" He observed her carefully and watched as she allowed her face to become blank once more.

"No," she replied dully. "It does not. Not terribly so."

"Who is she, Christine?" He watched her eyes snap shut at his question. "Who is Marie Darley?"

She took a shaky breath and let out a small laugh. When her eyes opened there were tears. "His next wife, I suppose," was her defeated reply. "You know, I always thought that perhaps the sex was just good. I never thought, never believed that he truly loved her." She let out another laugh and her hands quickly covered her mouth.

He stretched both of his arms out and gripped the arm rests of his chair. "Christine," he said to her, "the boy is a fool. This is why you need your Erik, yes? He would never give up on you so easily."

She nodded and her face became blank once again. She brought her hands to the floor and crawled like a child until she was right in front of him, her head resting in his lap. "I do need you, Erik," was her whisper.

He brought a hand to her hair, suppressing the shiver of desire she had caused to threaten his senses with her close contact. "And Erik will never leave you. And if you leave, Erik will find you. Erik would never give up on his Christine after a measly handful of weeks like that boy," he spat the word boy as though it left a bad taste in his mouth.

She lifted herself up and crawled into his lap. He hadn't expected the action and it sent him gripping for some sense. Instead, his hands found Christine's pretty little waist and he clenched it as he tried desperately to ignore the heaving breasts that were now inches from his face, her arms around his neck and the way she straddled his body in such an unladylike manner. "Never, Erik. You will never leave me?"

"Never," he agreed, his eyes still trained on the mysterious swells of flesh hidden so infuriatingly from his sight.

"Even when I'm old, when I've aged and my beauty has faded?"

He shook his head and released her left hip, bringing his hand up to trail from her jaw down to where her skin disappeared from his view under her green bodice. "You will always be beautiful," he said stubbornly.

She huffed a laugh. "And when my voice has faded?"

Again, he shook his head and brought his face down, daring to allow his skin and his mask to rest between her breasts. "Your voice will never fade under my guidance, Christine."

He felt her shiver and brought his face up, giving her shoulder a quick kiss before leaning back in his chair again and looking up at his sweet, good girl who straddled him so tantalizingly.

"You do not love me," he repeated as he looked up at her.

She shook her head sadly. Her eyes were downcast.

He brought his hands to her hips again, holding them firmly. "No matter," he sighed. "I love you."

She nodded slightly at his words and brought one hand to each side of his face, leaning down and kissing him firmly on the lips. He felt the spark of lust begin to devour him again as her lips moved against his, so unsure and clumsy.

When she pulled back he almost felt dizzy in his lust. There was a fire behind her eyes that burned, burned in the most delightful of ways and he found himself captured by it.

"What do you want, Christine?" He groaned as he fought the strain against his pants.

He was sure that Christine felt his lust. She shifted in his lap and brushed herself tantalizingly against him.

"I need you," she whispered, her broken voice a great contrast to the fire that burned in her eyes.

He nodded. "You do," he said softly, loosening his grip on her hips slightly.

She sighed and pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead. "Please," she whispered.

When she pulled back he saw the tears that were streaming unhindered from her eyes.

He wiped away one tear with his finger and fought to push away his lustful thoughts. She was so pretty, so pretty when she cried. She was so close to him that he could smell every bit of her, from her delicate perfume to her feminine sex.

"You do not love me," he said yet again. "You cannot expect pleasures of the flesh to make everything better, Christine. Lust is a drug like any other. It will consume and devour you until you are nothing. You must confront your feelings."

She shook her head. "Please Erik," she said again.

He sighed and touched her face gently. "You do not understand how hard it is to turn away from a willing touch. But we mustn't. Not now, Christine. Now, you need to confront your emotions, not run from them."

"When I am with you," she admitted with a blush, "I forget about him. For a few blissful moments all there is is you, you and pleasure. Yet you deny me this when I am most willing, when I need it most. Why Erik?"

He let his hand trace her pretty face, down to her pretty white throat, where he clenched her, feeling her breathing begin to struggle, feeling her pulse quicken under his fingers. He drew her closer to him by her throat. "Because you do not love me," he said to her. "You do not love me and eventually I, this, will kill you Christine."

Her face was growing a brilliant shade of pink by the time he released her. "I love you," he said again.

She nodded quietly, biting her bottom lip between her teeth. "I do not know," she finally said at length, "how to feel. You must know, Erik. I am confused. I care for you greatly, but I do not, I do not know how to distinguish love."

"Tell me, Christine," he prodded quietly. "Tell me how I make you feel."

She bit her lip again and looked away. She slid one leg to the side so that she rested comfortably across his lap and leaned sideways against him, tucking her head under his chin and playing with his lapels as she had that night long ago when she had witnessed him murder for the fist time. The innocence of the gesture nearly broke poor Erik's heart. He let his chin rest on her hair and brought his arms around her, pulling her close as she gathered the will to speak.

"I feel," she began, and then sighed. "I feel sometimes as though my soul is connected to yours, this deep pull toward you. I do not understand it Erik, and frankly it frightens me. I feel as though I will lose myself in you. The blood of your sins rests on your hands, but is it not sinful to love a murderer? I loved Raoul. I did Erik. But it was not like this. I feel possessed. I feel as though if I let myself go I will be fully swallowed by you, and that frightens me."

"There is a darkness," he said, "that resides in each of us. Perhaps you are just the one to love a murderer Christine. Perhaps you are just realizing that your faith doesn't run as deep as you once thought it did."

"I wanted to be mad at you for killing him," she said suddenly. "But I wasn't. I felt nothing. No pity, no sadness. A human life extinguished right before my eyes and I was numb."

Erik shrugged. "Some men are better off dead, Christine. Do not bear guilt for not pitying the wicked."

"But you are one of the wicked, Erik!" She exclaimed to his chest. She began to shake with her tears and he sighed.

"Yes," he admitted. "But not by choice," he reminded her, tapping his mask with one finger. "So much of my life was wasted spent wishing that I could be normal, that I could be good. I have accepted that it is never to be, Christine. Just as you will one day accept that you love a murderer."

"I've sinned," she whispered.

"Yes, my dear, you have," he whispered in return.

"I am an adulterer. I am a harlot, living out of matrimony and giving my body away to a man who is not my husband. I am living in constant sin."

He drew her hair back behind her ear. "You are goodness," he said to her. "You are light. You have given me things I have only dreamed could be. If there is a God, my love, then he is no better than satan. Why would any loving God create something so beautiful, that feels so wonderful, and declare it a sin? If there is a God he is wrathful and evil."

"I have to believe," she whispered.

His hand was gentle as he tilted her face up so that he could search her eyes. "If you must believe," he said to her. "Then believe in me. I am your angel of music after all, am I not?"

"Yes," she breathed.

He nodded. "Then believe in me," he enticed her. "There is no God, there is only Erik, your angel. And Erik is far more merciful than any manmade God."

She clenched her eyes shut and when she opened them there was a new shine that Erik had never seen before. "Yes, only Erik," she whispered, nodding her head and falling back into his embrace.

Chapter Text

He was overwhelmed by her constant stream of moral questions. But at the same time, he accepted that he had brought it upon himself. Playing a God was a tiresome duty and he began to understand why fewer and fewer people claimed divinity as time went on.

"Is it wrong," she would always begin, "to wish bad on people that have wronged you?"

"No," Erik said to her. "It is only natural."

She nodded. "Then I wish Marie Darley would be run over by the very carriage that carries her."

Erik had chuckled, amused at her statement. It was in moments such as these that Erik remembered how childish Christine truly was. Her body had aged quite well with her maturity, but her mind lagged behind. It was a trait he admired immensely in her, the ability to have lived through grief and pain and still retain such an innocence.

She became more and more bold as time went by, her blank looks replaced with a passion that scorched behind her eyes. He was glad to see some life return to her, even if he sometimes wished that her constant questions would cease.

Often after the passion of lust had left them sweating and clinging to each other in the bed, she would sigh and let her head rest on his chest. "Am I still a good girl?" She would ask.

He would stroke her tenderly, pulling her closer to him. "Yes, Christine," he would answer patiently, allowing her the assurance she sought so frantically. "You are still a good girl. You are goodness and light."

She would nod and pull herself closer, sighing as he caressed her lightly.

He didn't feel as terrible as he first thought he would, lying to her. For you see, his lies made his Christine smile. And what harm was in it truly? At this point in life he had already resigned himself to the fact that he was going to Hell. There was no redemption left for him, he had followed the spiral far too easily.

As for Christine. Well, Christine was a sweet girl. She was innocence and purity, at least in his eyes, and he had no doubt that God would forgive her naivety in playing along with Erik. Erik was wicked, he always had been, he thought, but he was ugly and Christine was pretty, and thus she would find forgiveness and acceptance along the line.

How could he feel bad for lying to her when she smiled so brightly and touched him so gently? 'Angel' she had begun to call him again, and though somewhere in his twisted mind he knew that he had resented the title it now had a new meaning behind it for him that left him smiling when she said it.

For in the word 'Angel' he heard many other things. He heard Protector, Lover, Master, and, dare he think it, perhaps even Love. And when she looked to him with those bright eyes for guidance, how could he be led to believe any differently?

He felt his sanity slipping from him bit by bit, but he was grateful for it. There was an ease to this new life. And so when he had received post asking him to come and attend the business he had forgotten led him to Brussels in the first place, he decided that he would ask Christine to attend it with him.

"Christine," he had ventured one night, no longer afraid of her refusal. "I find business may draw me away for a few days. Would you like to join me on the short trip?"

She had looked confused. "Of course I will accompany you, Angel. What sort of business?"

He had patted her head like a child. "Believe it or not, my dear, not all of my business has been illegitimate. I am overseeing the construction of my design, and it seems that some clarification must be made which requires a personal appearance. I had told you, my child, that I had business to attend in Brussels."

She had nodded and looked relieved at his answer, which he tried not to dwell on for too long. He did not want to bother deconstructing what she had thought he was up to. "What sort of building is it to be, Erik?"

He had snorted his laughter, the irony of it just now coming to his mind. "Why, a church, my love. Fitting, don't you think?"

She nodded. "I am curious. I had no idea you were a designer."

"I am many things, Christine," he replied softly. "I have designed, I have built. I have mastered many trades in many areas."

"Why have I never seen a building of your design?" She asked quietly.

He chuckled quietly. "But you have, my love. You have seen both my design and my handiwork. You just never bothered to ask. Had you never given thought as to why it was the opera house I resided beneath?"

He watched as a flicker of understanding came into her eyes. "It was you," she said, "you built it."

He nodded to her, a small smile tugging at his lips under her look of admiration. "Yes, my Christine. I did."

"But they said the man's name was Garnier," she said. "Thus the reason the building was named after him."

Erik shrugged at her question. "Sometimes it is necessary to do the work and allow another the recognition, especially when one sports a face such as mine."

She touched him then, her hand tracing the normal side of his face, never daring to draw near the mask. "What a pity," she said quietly, "that we have all allowed it to disguise the truth of you."

He closed his eyes and felt his chest tighten. He wasn't sure if it was from guilt or gratitude to Christine's statement. He let out a shaky breath and decided that it was gratitude. "An unfortunate truth of humanity, my dear. I cannot hold it against one for the fear of what they don't understand. It is simply human nature at work."

"When will we leave?" She whispered, her hand still gentle on his face.

"In the morning," he replied. "It is not far and they know to expect me."

She nodded curtly and he tilted her chin toward him. "I've someone to introduce you to." He was amused by the way her brow furrowed in confusion. "He is a good man, my assistant of sorts. You will like him, my Christine."

He kissed her furrowed brow. "I'd not thought you had friends," she ventured carefully.

"Even a recluse must have some company," he said gently. "It is not so much friendships as a necessary business relationship. He has met my needs for survival and asked no questions - in return I have granted him financial security and been sure that his children would never want for the opportunity of education."

"You are a good man," she replied softly.

He smiled at her conjecture. "Perhaps, perhaps not. I am not incapable of empathy, my Christine. I am not a good man, but I find myself sympathetic where children are involved."

She wrapped her arms around him and he cradled her fragile body in his arms. "Children should not feel the harshness of the world. Why do you think my heart was taken by an orphan crying over her lost father, an orphan with an angelic voice? Ah, Christine. My heart is not stone."

She shivered in his arms and his hand clenched in her thick curls at the base of her neck, forcing her head toward him as he claimed her lips with his own.

"My father did send me an angel of music," she whispered when his lips left hers.

He said nothing and only kissed her again. If he did not deny it, it didn't make it a lie. What harm was there in letting her form her own beliefs? The conclusion was hers, and who was he to take it away from her?

When her arms moved up to wrap around his neck, he lifted her and carried her into the bedroom, setting her on the edge of the bed and kneeling before her.

"Undress, Christine," he said, suddenly overtaken with the need to see his Christine, truly see her. He had seen her in bits and pieces, but he had never allowed his eyes the gift of seeing her nakedness altogether.

Her eyes looked unsure but she obeyed, undoing the ties of her dress and standing, allowing it to fall to the floor and leave her in her corset, chemise, stockings and undergarments.

He eyed the material and reached out, running the lace trimming of the garment through his fingers. "All of the way," he said suddenly.

She blushed but turned her back to him and lifted her hair. "I'm afraid I will need help with my corset," she said.

With an invitation so blatantly given he couldn't dare refuse it. He stood and let his trembling fingers take the ties between them. He fumbled, his normal grace forgotten as he struggled to undo the knot. He carefully undid it, loosening the ties and admiring the deep breath Christine took as she allowed her lungs more movement. He didn't dare turn her, he reached around and undid the clasps in the front, allowing his hands to brush her breasts and his lips to skim the back of her neck. "You are beautiful," he whispered as he removed the garment and sat upon the bed, clutching it tightly in his hands as he realized he could nearly see her form through the material.

She blushed crimson but nodded, moving her unsure fingers to her thighs as she nervously undid the clasp of her garter belt and slid the stockings down one at a time.

Finding himself growing impatient, Erik growled out, "I will never understand why women must wear so many layers!"

Christine let out a shaky laugh. "It is propriety," she whispered, blushing as his eyes raked over her nearly naked body.

"Propriety be damned," he growled as he stood and took the lacy trim of the chemise in his hands and tore it over her head, tossing it to the floor. He froze as he came to be confronted with Christine's form, nude aside from the frilly pantaloons that covered her most sacred parts.

His hands came to her milky shoulders, barely touching her as he admired the form before him. Her breasts held the shape and health of youth, small and perky as the nipples poked out at him as though daring him to take them between his lips.

'Beast,' his mind said.

"Mine," he whispered. She trembled under his hands and suddenly he wasn't sure if it was from fear, lust or the cold. Almost as suddenly as the thought came he dismissed it, realizing that it didn't really matter to him any way.

He let his hands trail down her arms, down over her own hands and down further, undoing the last set of ribbons that hid her from his eyes.

When she was fully nude he sat again, letting his eyes rake over her and admiring the way her blush began in her chest and rose to her cheeks. She stood awkwardly before him, not daring to move, staying still, her only movement that of her chest as she forced her breathing to remain even. In, out, in, out.

"Come, my Christine," he said quietly, and she moved slowly toward him. When she was close enough, he grasped her hand. "You are not afraid of me?" The question loomed ominously in the air, but slowly she shook her head. He brought her hand to rest on the edge of his mask and felt her begin to shake again. He curled her fingers under the edge of it but did not move beyond that. "You are still not afraid of me?" His eyes pleaded with her as she trembled before him. He saw goose pimples beginning to rise on her skin. She shook her head quietly, her eyes daring him to continue. His eyes raked over her once again and landed on her face, his eyes trained on hers, a pleading desperation behind them as though begging her forgiveness. He kept the eye contact as he forced her hand to remove his mask slowly.

His eyes never left hers, even as the mask clattered to the floor between them and she took in a ragged breath.

"Ah," he said, watching as her eyes widened. "You see, you are afraid of me now." There was a sadness in his voice that she heard him trying to hide.

She feel to her knees before him and took his hands in hers. "I am not afraid," she whispered. "I have told you many times, Erik, that I am no longer afraid of you. You, you are still Erik. My Erik. There is only Erik. This changes nothing. I am not afraid."

"Foolish child," he breathed as he took her face in his hands and kissed her, allowing the damaged half of his face to brush against her perfect skin. "Oh, foolish Christine. You should be afraid."

She shook her head. "You would never hurt me," she reminded him.

"Never," he breathed, not daring to allow himself to contradict her belief. He slipped his hands under her arms and pulled her into the bed, settling her under him.

He kissed her lips and let his hands explore the foreign skin, pausing as he took her breast in his palm and flicked his thumb over her nipple and admiring the shaky sigh she gave at the contact.

His hands found hers and brought them to the buttons of his shirt. "Go ahead," he said quietly. She bit her lip but nodded. She trembled still but began to unbutton his shirt with unsure hands. When it was unbuttoned and pushed off of his shoulders she gasped, her hands running lightly over the raised scars that seemed to make up his skin. "Know," he said quietly, "know that the body of the man that loves you is just as twisted as his face and soul."

He allowed her hands to trail over him and soon found himself trembling nearly as much as her. "Like braille," she said quietly. Her hands ran from his neck, down his chest and then around his waist and up his back. The sadness in her eyes as she looked up at him made him tremble. "Your years of suffering are written plainly, yet I do not understand their story."

He caught her hand in his as she trailed back over his shoulder and down his chest and he pressed a kiss to her palm. "The world is a cruel place," he said to her. "That is why we have each other. This is what your Erik will protect you from."

She sighed as he kissed her again, allowing his wicked lips to travel from her mouth to her throat, and downward still. She sighed at the caresses and when he finally dared to take one pink, perfect nipple between his lips her body jolted as though from an electric shock. He allowed his tongue to explore it, admiring the way it seemed to harden under his touch. He sucked as through he were a babe and she gasped, her fingers coming to his shoulders and pressing hard against them as she pulled him only closer to her still.

When his curiosity was sated he released her nipple and kissed a trail down her flat belly, over her belly button until his face rested between her thighs. He used his fingers to part the skin that separated his eyes from her most sacred area. And when he found the raised bundle of nerves he sought he took it in his mouth, running his tongue over it much like he did her nipple.

"Erik!" She cried as her hips jolted up, painfully hitting his nose.

He brought one hand up and pushed her hips down, forcing her to remain in place as he explored the area and sucked the little bulb between his lips. She gasped and cried out and shook under him, fighting against the hand that held her firmly.

He released her from his mouth. "If you do not stay still, I will stop," he warned, and though it was an empty threat he found that she was much more still when he returned to his previous occupation.

He brought one hand up to probe her body, sliding it easily inside of her and marveling at the slickness. He had never before felt her so wet and he was intrigued by it. She moaned as he easily inserted a second finger.

"You want me," he said quietly.

She nodded. "Yes, Erik. I want you very much."

He slid his trousers off, allowing himself to be as nude as she was. He used his knees to force her thighs further apart as he sank inside of her.

"Mine," his guttural growl came.

"Yours," she gasped as he moved inside of her and took a breast in his hand, teasing and pinching at her nipple.

She cried out and sank her fingers into his shoulders, closing her eyes tightly against the pleasure.

He grasped her chin roughly, never pausing his movements as he wrenched it toward him. "Look at me," he gasped. "Look at the dead face of the man who makes you feel alive. Look at the beast that you have given your body and soul to."

Her eyes fluttered open as she moaned again, her hands grasping desperately at him as though trying to pull him only closer.

"You are no beast," she forced out as her nails dug into his back and she tried to ignore the buildup of pressure in her lower abdomen.

He cried out with her as he thrust deeper into her, his hand frantically grasping for her hips as he lifted her and thrust deeper and deeper, barely hanging from the edge of his pleasure.

They found their release together and after a moment of sweaty foreheads being pressed together, Erik collapsed beside her.

He pulled her close to him then as they both caught their breaths.

Christine pressed a hesitant kiss to his chest before she settled down and closed her eyes, ready for sleep to overtake her.

It didn't escape Erik's notice that for the first time in weeks, she didn't bother asking if she was still a good girl.

Chapter Text

11

Acceptance.

Erik found himself mulling over the word a lot lately. Christine accepted that she was now his lover, he accepted that she did not love him and may never admit the words even if she did. But he accepted it. He wondered whether anyone actually felt happiness or if they just lived in quiet acceptance.

These were the thoughts he contemplated as they sat in the bouncing carriage, Christine's fragile, pale hand wrapped around his as she stared out the window. His fingers twitched to turn her face toward him, but he fought against the urge.

She sighed and looked toward him with a soft smile. "Paris is far more beautiful," she admitted.

Erik hummed his agreement, eyeing her carefully. She blushed under his gaze and looked away and out of the window again.

The sudden tension caught Erik off guard and he felt the need to slice the silence. "I think that you will like Jules," he ventured. "Although I am loathe to think of what he will believe when I suddenly have a woman at my side. It's no matter."

"What do you mean?" Christine asked, looking toward him again.

"I haven't led the most scrupulous life, my dear. I have no doubt that he will question my intentions and how you came into my company."

"Oh," she offered, looking again out of the window. "Oh, Erik! Look at that!"

He smiled at her sudden excitement and followed her finger to find himself looking at the edifice of his design, and finding that not only was it behind schedule, but the windows were two feet off of the design and threw the whole structure out of kilter. He scolded himself for not coming sooner.

"It's beautiful isn't it?" She ventured.

He hummed again and gave a slight shake of his head. "I should have known better than to trust Jules blindly. There's much work to be done."

"It's your church," she said, looking at him in excitement.

"Indeed it is, my dear, though I am hesitant to put my name on it as it stands."

"It's beautiful," she argued, moving her hand to his shoulder. The carriage slowly came to a stop as Erik grunted his annoyance.

But even in his disagreement he let a smile tug at his mouth and offered his hand to help her from the carriage. "Come," he said. "Though I am disappointed by the outside, I am eager to see how the alter is coming along."

And he led her through the great oak doors already installed in the building, through the bare walls and exposed infrastructure until he came to the alter. Even he had to admit that it was built beautifully, the great hole behind it where the stained glass window would be installed allowed for the most beautiful glow of daylight to give the shrine an almost ethereal glow. It was glorious, even as it remained nearly empty, only a few pews lining the great room.

Christine looked about herself in wonder. "I can't believe this was all your design, Erik. It's glorious."

He pressed a kiss to her pale forehead. "I have always strived to create beautiful things, my love."

"May I... May I be the first to kneel at your alter?" She asked hesitantly.

He hesitated, but relented and gave her permission. He sat in the nearest pew, elbows on his knees as he watched Christine kneel and cross herself, close her eyes and pray. Though he was not a believer himself, he found himself moved by the sight, though anything Christine did tended to have that effect on him. He noted the way the light reflected off of her hair, casting a gentle glow around her, almost like a halo. He both admired and wished he could break the illusion. His twisted mind turned to less pure thoughts, his mind playing out the images of him taking her savagely, bending her over the alter in yet another blasphemous act. He imagined the halo of light enveloping them as they committed an ultimate act of desecration, the way they could taint such a holy place. But wasn't it already tainted when it came from his bloodstained hands? No matter, it was mere fantasy and he fought to gain control over his thoughts, chiding himself for letting his mind wander so.

A hand on his shoulder made him jolt, rising quickly to meet Jules' eyes. The man looked amused and Erik sniffled indignantly. "Jules," he said in greeting. He caught the image of Christine looking toward them from her place on the alter.

"Thank you for coming, Erik," Jules said, his gaze flickering to Christine but his instinct telling him it was better to not question her presence.

She had left her post at the alter and come to Erik's side, sliding her hand into the crook of the masked man's arm.

"My wife, Amnita," Erik said as way of introduction. He gestured toward her with his free arm, and then gestured to Jules, "and Monsieur Jules Bernard, my business partner."

He saw the surprise pass through Jules' eyes, but was surprised when the man asked no questions. "Pleasure to meet you, Monsieur," Christine offered, giving a half curtsy to the confused man.

Jules took her free hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it, allowing a stiff bow at the waist, "The pleasure is mine, I assure you Madame. I must say, I have known your husband for years; this meeting is quite a shock for me and I suppose congratulations are in order for the both of you."

Erik cleared his throat and Jules looked to him. "I must say, I am quite displeased with the progress made so far. How exactly did my specifications for the windows become so skewed?"

"That is precisely what I wanted to discuss with you, Erik," Jules began.

Erik and Jules discussed their business while Christine simply stared around her in wonder and surprise, looking up to the high vaulted ceilings and out into the room, imagining it filled with people, coming to worship and praise. And Erik had created it, just as he had created the temple of music both in and below the opera house. She vaguely wondered if there wasn't anything that he hadn't yet mastered.

She felt suddenly very insignificant. What had she truly accomplished in life aside from scorning her husband and living a life consumed in sin? She was truly nothing in this world, and yet Erik had the ability to make her feel as though she were the meaning behind the world itself.

She blushed as she thought of the more intimate aspects of their relationship. His hand covering hers and squeezing gently brought her back to reality, and she shook her head and looked at him, knowing she had missed something.

"I'm sorry," she began with a light and absentminded smile, "I seem to have lost myself. What was that?"

Jules looked at her in concern but she ignored him, finding herself far more comfortable to believe she was alone with Erik. That realization shook her slightly, but she kept her smile steady, trying not to convey her thoughts with her eyes.

"It seems my instructions have been... Sufficient at last," he said with a pointed look at Jules. He looked back toward her, "And simply asked if you were ready to accompany me to supper."

"Supper?" She asked, attempting to clarify her confusion.

Erik chuckled. "Yes, my dear, supper. Just across town there is a wonderful bistro I discovered when first surveying the site. I think you would quite enjoy it."

She nodded slowly and he smiled. "Farewell, Jules. Be sure it is correct this time."

Jules nodded curtly and gave Christine a strained smile. "Goodbye, Mademoiselle. It was a pleasure meeting you, even if only for a moment."

She gave a polite goodbye, a slight curtsy and was quickly pulled away by Erik, right back out to the carriage.

They settled awkwardly and Christine clasped her hands in her lap. "Do you really mean it, Erik? A real supper out?"

He gave her half a smile. "I do, my love. I truly do. You must be so tired of being cooped up in that house with only me."

She stretched out her fingers and took his hand in hers, holding it with one hand and absently tracing patterns on the back of it with the pointer finger of her other hand. Eventually she sighed and looked up at him with a smile. "Thank you, Erik," she ventured.

"You do not seem happy, Christine."

She looked at him slowly. "I am not unhappy," she argued. He continued to scrutinize her and she sighed. "I am a little nervous, being out in public again. That's all Erik. I've grown so used to the quiet, so used to you that I honestly don't know how I feel about being crowded in with strangers."

The corner of his mouth lifted in a slight smile at that. "You are with Erik, my dear. We will not be crowded in with strangers, and beside the point, I would never let anything happen to you. You know that, yes, Christine? Erik would never put you in danger."

She nodded slightly and tugged on his hand, then slowly rested her head on his shoulder. His arm wrapped around her and his thumb brushed the base of her neck rhythmically.

"Do you trust me, Christine?" He asked quietly.

He felt her nod against his shoulder. "I trust you," she whispered.

Chapter Text

True to his word, the bistro was nearly empty, though a few couples sat around them. They were seated near the door, Erik's back against the wall so that he had a perfect view of the entire room. He had found, over time, that money had ways of giving him his preferred seats; though there was no legal recourse against him here as of yet, he found that it was never bad to be prepared for it.

Christine, on the other hand, was simply delighted to be in public again. "Just like a normal couple!" She had said.

He simply gave a slight smile and let his hand cover hers on the table. "We will never be normal, my dear girl, but I will do my best to make you feel as if we are if that's your wish."

She blushed and bit her lip, turning her attention to the menu. When Erik had offered wine as a selection, she had excitedly agreed.

However, what he had not given much thought to was the fact that Christine had never really enjoyed alcohol in the ways that he had. She was young and good.

She was on her third glass when Erik noticed the dark flush come to her cheeks. The flush really did add something marvelous to her pale complexion, but on his good conscious, if he possessed such a thing, he had told her that it was enough.

It wasn't until she tried to stand to return to the carriage that she realized that she was impaired. She stood and staggered, giggling when Erik caught her with a quick arm around her waist.

She didn't argue with him as he half carried her to the carriage. It wasn't until they were moving that he spoke.

"You are drunk," he said simply, and she giggled and shook her head. "Yes, my Christine. I have managed to get you utterly drunk on accident."

She sighed and fell hard against his side. He wrapped a gentle arm across her shoulders and drew her closer, nearly into his lap. "I am drunk, and it is pleasant," she managed to say before dissolving into a giggling fit.

Erik couldn't fight the smile that tugged at his lips as he pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I hope you forgive me as easily in the morning as you have tonight."

"I always forgive you Erik," she said, suddenly serious. "I have never withheld forgiveness, though sometimes I feel it shouldn't have been as easy to forgive you as it has been."

"Why is that, my Christine?"

She shrugged sloppily. "I truly don't know. I have always felt compelled to forgive you. I've never been able to hold anything against you for long."

He smiled slightly at her drunken honesty. "Do you still love your boy, Christine?"

He watched her brow furrow, and then she slowly shook her head. "I don't think so. I'm very angry, Erik. I'm very angry with him still."

He hadn't intended to get her drunk by any means, but he found her drunken honesty endearing and he couldn't help but to abuse it. "Did he hurt you Christine?"

"Emotionally, never physically. He never raised a hand against me, even drunkenly. I felt at times as though he were ready to, but I think that he truly feared that you were still watching and would kill him."

"I would have," Erik confessed readily. "How does that make you feel, my Christine? If your boy had hurt you, I would have killed him with no second thoughts."

She shrugged again. "I don't like that you kill people," she said childishly. "Killing, well, killing is wrong, Erik. I know that we differ in many aspects, but even you must know it's wrong to kill. Still, it makes me feel safe. You will always protect me, won't you Erik?"

She looked up to him with wide, innocent eyes and he couldn't help but to claim her lips with his own. She kissed back slowly, languidly, and moaned quietly into his mouth.

"I will always protect you," he answered with a whisper after their lips parted, looking straight into her eyes.

She smiled serenely and the lids of her eyes began to droop slightly. She let her head fall on his shoulder again and he began to lightly trail his fingers up and down her arm, reveling in the shivers his contact gave her.

"I love you, my dear Christine," he whispered harshly. "Do you honestly believe that one day you will love me?"

She huffed out a breath and leaned even heavier into him. "I don't know," she sighed. "What really is love, Erik? You are already everything to me, you are my entire life and it is all my doing. One day I may be able to admit my love for you, if only love were so easy to understand."

He pressed his lips to her hair, trying to quiet his own heart beating wildly with hope. Perhaps she already loved him and simply wouldn't admit it.

'Perhaps she will never love you,' the voice in the back of his head reminded him.

No matter, she was his and he consoled himself with that. He already had her mind and body, I he must forgo her heart he found it wasn't too terrible of a compromise.

She was dozing off when they finally made it back to their home and he decided to carry her inside instead of waking her. The sight of her unconscious and trusting, pushed up against his thin frame was a sight that was far too endearing to break.

When he lifted her her head lulled against his shoulder and he couldn't help the slight smile it caused. He pressed a kiss against her forehead.

"I try," he whispered in her unconscious ear. "I try so hard to win your love, to earn your trust, to be a better man for you. I will never stop trying, Christine. You have given me the greatest gift I have ever received."

He couldn't quite decide wether he was lying or not, but he hoped she heard his words regardless. He was a bad man, he knew that much, and he would never be good by any means. What he wanted, he stole, when he needed to, he killed. He had even stolen Christine in every sense of the word. He knew he would never be a good man, but he had come to terms with his sins long ago.

She didn't stir until he sat her upon the bed and began to undress her. She groaned and leaned against him heavily, and he simply smiled and continued to work on her corset strings.

"Are you tired, my Christine?"

She grunted an affirmative grunt. He smiled and pressed another kiss to her hair as he finally got the corset off and laid her down on the bed, gently pulling the covers over her in her chemise.

He pressed yet another kiss to her forehead and turned to leave, suddenly finding his muse and feeling his fingers itching for the keys of the piano, when her hand suddenly caught his.

He looked back and found her wide eyes staring at him. She tugged his hand toward her weakly.

"Please stay with me," she whispered.

He smiled and ran his thumb over her knuckles. "I promise I won't be too long, my dear."

She shook her head and pressed her eyes closed. "Please don't leave me," she pleaded again.

He knelt beside the bed and brushed the hair out of her face. When she opened her eyes they were shining with unshed tears. "What is it, Christine?" He whispered gently.

She worried her lip between her teeth. "Stay with me, just tonight. Please."

He brushed his hand across her cheek and nodded. "I'll stay," he promised her, and she closed her eyes tightly.

When he laid beside her she rolled toward him and quickly buried her face in his chest. He was taken aback, and cautiously raised a hand to stroke her hair.

"What's the matter, my Christine?" He prodded again.

She sighed. "Thank you for staying," she mumbled into his chest.

"Tell me, Christine."

She shook her head slightly and sighed. "I am afraid," she whispered.

"Of what?" He mirrored her tone, afraid that if he were too harsh she wouldn't give the answer he sought.

"I am afraid to love," she whispered. "I loved my papa, I did Erik, and he left me. I loved Meg and Madam Giry and I was forced to leave them behind. I loved Raoul and he turned away from me and broke my trust. I am afraid to love."

His hand was gentle on her as he stroked her arm. "I will never leave you, Christine. Surely you know that by now."

She shrugged against him but relaxed into him.

"I will never leave you, and if we are apart for some reason, I will always find you. I'm not going anywhere, my Christine. I promise."

She nodded and sidled up against him, resting her hand timidly next her her head on his chest, directly over his heart.

He pressed a kiss to her forehead and laid back, bringing one arm around her back and holding her firmly against him. "Do you feel any better, Christine?"

"Yes," she whispered hesitantly.

"Good," he said to her. "Get some rest, my dear. If you don't the morning will be much tougher on you with the alcohol."

"You'll stay?" Her sleepy voice whispered.

"I will stay, Christine," he pledged again, gently stroking her waist with the hand that pressed her against him.

"All night?"

"All night, my Christine. I will be right here until you wake, I give my word."

"Thank you Erik," was her last sleepy, half-slurred whisper.

Chapter Text

13

Erik sang gentle lullabies to Christine all through the night, managing to quiet her quickly the few times that she did stir throughout the night. Her face was warm against his chest but he knew that most of it could be attributed to the alcohol that he had so unwisely encouraged her to take.

It wasn't until the sun began to break through the clouds that he managed to slip into a light slumber.

And it was only a few hours later that he awoke with a start, a sense of wrongness overtaking him. He was alone in the bed, but the sheets were still warm from Christine's body.

An unease nagged at the back of his mind but he pushed it away, getting up and going into the powder room, ready to assist Christine with the nausea that was surely attacking her. Only she wasn't there. Nor was she in the kitchen, library or sitting room.

He returned to the bedroom only long enough to tie his mask in place before exiting through the front door.

He took a few deep breaths and tried to still the wild beating of his heart.

There were small, muddy footprints going in a straight line down the pathway and he followed them swiftly until they veered off to the right and into the tree line.

A million thoughts fluttered through his mind but he cleared them away with a deep breath of the crisp Autumn morning.

He had walked about fifteen feet before he spotted the trail again, weaving in and out of the trees aimlessly and crossing themselves in circles. He was slightly amused by them, of course dear Christine would have been lost.

'And probably frightened,' the voice in his head added with unwelcome pity.

He shook his head and set out in a straighter path, keeping an eye on the strangely winding path and pulling a small bit of bark off of trees every five or so feet.

He paused and listened, hearing the snap of a stick under feet not used to muffling themselves. He smirked slightly and walked forward a few feet, sliding behind a tree when he spotted her wild curls, tangled with a few leaves.

He waited until she was slightly past him and stepped out, wrapping his arms quickly around her waist and pulling her against him, burying his face in her curls as she lashed out at him and finally let out a scream.

He gave an "oof" as her elbow connected with his stomach.

"Be still," he finally said, and at his voice she calmed, slumping back against him in a mixture of relief and defeat. He reached around her and grabbed a wrist in each hand, turning her to face him and pulling her roughly against his chest. "And where do you think you were going?" His gruff question was.

Once his fear of her being gone had abated, he found himself taken by anger, which only grew when she shook her head.

He pushed her back with his body until she was pinned between him and the rough bark of a thick tree. He used one hand to yank her chin up and searched her eyes. "Answer me, my dear. Why are you running from me?"

"I had to know you would come," she said quietly.

He kept his eyes trained on hers. "How much money do you have with you?" He said with an icy calmness.

"None," she confessed.

"How long have you been wandering through these woods?"

"A few hours," she replied, her voice quieter now.

He hummed in the back of his throat. "You doubt that I would come after you, yet you leave with no money and no sense of direction, no destination. Pray tell, what was your plan if I didn't find you, Christine?"

"I don't know," she whispered.

His anger flared and he turned her, pushing her roughly into the tree, ignoring her when she cried out. He pressed his body roughly against her again. "Do you know what could have happened to you out here, Christine?"

"No," she responded weakly.

"Innocent little Christine," he mocked her. He pressed his hips hard against her backside and she whimpered, this time he was sure it was fear. He brought his lips close to her ear. "You had best hoped that some large animal found you and ended things for you mercifully."

She whimpered again, and he moved his head down, kissing and sucking at her neck before speaking again. "Humans are far less merciful," he said to her.

He pulled her away from the tree slightly and used both hands to rip her dress, smiling as the fabric tore and buttons popped off. He only ripped it halfway, leaving enough to keep the dress in place.

"Erik, stop!" She cried. "You're frightening me!"

He turned her so that she was facing him and saw the tears trickling down her face, mingling with a slight tinge of blood that flowed from a scrape across her forehead. His eyes softened as he pinned her with his body again.

He shushed her as he wiped her tears away with gentle fingers. "You are lucky your Erik found you. Shush now, Christine. Shush. You are safe."

"I just needed to know," she said between sniffles.

He continued to brush at her tears and gently pressed his lips to her forehead. "I promised, Christine. I will always find you. Always."

She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest. He felt his shirt growing wet with tears and blood but found that he didn't mind. He stroked her hair and peppered the top of her head with kisses.

"You will never do this again, do you understand Christine?" She nodded against his chest and he felt the last bit of his anger dissipated.

"How does your head feel?" He asked softly.

"It hurts," she mumbled. He nodded, pulling her into his arms to carry her.

He followed the markings he had left on the trees. "Do you realize, Christine, that you were simply wandering in circles?"

She shook her head and wrapped her arms around his neck. He chuckled slightly. "You were very easy to find, my dear. I thank god for your lack of direction and survival skill."

She huffed and rested her head on his shoulder, attempting to ignore the pounding and the sore scrape on her forehead. She still couldn't help but to smile at the melodious chuckle he let out at her frustration.

She tightened her arms around his neck. "I love your laugh," she mumbled.

He nearly tripped himself. Hearing 'love' and 'you' out of her mouth was nearly too much for his poor heart, even if it wasn't really the exact statement he was hoping for. He cleared his throat as he attempted to regain his composure.

"Yes, well. We will get you cleaned up and get something for your head, yes my dear Christine?"

She nodded and rested her head against his shoulder, offering no fight as he trudged their way back.

"I wasn't lying, Christine," he mumbled as they reached the house. "I will always come for you, I will always find you. If I must fight, I will. I am not your Viscomte. I will not be swayed so easily."

She sighed and he felt her arms tighten around his shoulders. "Thank you," she whispered, barely a breath on his throat.

He didn't acknowledge her words, but simply continued on his path until they were finally in their home. He set her gently in his chair in the sitting room, straight across from the fireplace.

He pressed a kiss to her forehead as she unwrapped her arms from his neck.

"I'm going to get something to clean out those scrapes and something for your headache and you will stay right here, yes?" He softly instructed.

Christine nodded and kept her eyes downcast.

"Good girl," he said as he turned and left the room.

He returned a few moments later with a bottle of alcohol and a clean tag along with a syringe to find Christine wringing her hands together in her lap.

She looked up at him as he set the liquor bottle on the side table. "I'm so sorry, Erik," her voice was hoarse from the tears streaking her face.

"Shh," he said as he knelt in front of her. "You are fine. You've nothing to apologize for."

She worried her lip between her teeth but nodded. She eyed the syringe warily but said nothing about it.

He began to wet the rag with the alcohol. "Now this will sting, Christine," he warned, "and for that I am sorry, but it will prevent infection."

"Yes, Erik."

He pressed the cloth to her forehead and though she hissed in pain, she did not flinch or pull away. "Good girl, you are such a good girl Christine. And all done," he said as he pulled away the now dirty and red-stained rag. "That wasn't so bad, hmm?"

She shook her head and finally pointed at the full syringe. "What is that?" She whispered.

"It is Laudanum," he replied. "You've had it before, it's just a bit stronger. You trust me, yes Christine?"

She nodded at him and he gave her a strained smile.

"Of course you do, because you are such a good girl. You know that I would never harm you."

"Never," she whispered. "I trust you Erik."

He brushed her hair back and took her wrist, turning her arm over and pulling it toward him. He pressed with his fingers gently until he found a thick vein.

"You will feel it much faster this time Christine. It will just be a slight pinch and then you'll fall asleep. When you wake your headache will be gone and you will feel rested, I promise."

She nodded but as he brought the needle to her arm she flinched.

"Close your eyes," he suggested. "You've nothing to fear."

She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, and as soon as she seemed relaxed he pushed the needle through, breaking the skin and administering the medication quickly.

"There," he said, "all done now, my Christine."

She opened her eyes and peeked up at him. "Thank you, Erik," she murmured.

"For what?"

"Always taking care of me," her sleepy response was.

The last thing she felt before her world faded to black was his arms hooking behind her shoulders and under her knees as he lifted her.

Chapter Text

When Christine woke, she felt as if she were floating. She stretched out and opened her eyes to find herself alone in bed, wrapped in blankets that were pulled to her chin and wrapped around Erik's pillow, almost as though he had been there and used the pillow to leave without disturbing her.

She rolled onto her back and scratched again with a yawn. She felt floaty and found that she didn't mind it at all, rather enjoying the lightness and lack of tension. She sat up far too fast and giggled at the lightheadedness that took her unexpectedly.

She rubbed gently at her eyes and made slowly to stand, finding the floaty feeling extended through her limbs as she did. She scrunched her toes up in the rug, enjoying her heightened sensations as she did.

She realized as she stood that Erik had stripped her out of her clothing and corset, leaving her in just her light chemise and pantalettes. She found his concern with her comfort endearing and decided to seek him out.

She half expected the door to be locked after her escape attempt yesterday, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't the case.

The house was silent but she still checked the music room first, and upon finding it empty ventured further into the house.

It was in the sitting room that she finally found him, sitting in his favorite chair with a book open on his lap. She leaned against the door frame for some time, taking in his calm demeanor, the room silent aside from the rustle of paper as he turned a page and the occasional clearing of his throat. She smiled at the image. So domestic - so normal and foreign. For a moment she almost fooled herself into thinking that she truly was his wife, that they were just a couple enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon.

"How did you sleep?" He suddenly asked without looking up from his book.

She bit her lip and he cleared his throat again, closing the book and setting it on the coffee table beside him. He looked at her and she shivered under his intense stare.

She moved slowly toward him, as though waiting for permission and he inclined his head in a half-nod.

She came to find herself sitting in his lap, tucking her head under his chin. He sighed and brought his hand to her side, holding her where she was.

"Very well," she whispered against his throat. "Did you come to bed with me?"

"I did," he confirmed. "But when I was sure you weren't going to stir again I decided it was best to leave you to your rest."

She nodded and nuzzled against him, barely touching his throat with her forehead as she rested her head on his shoulder. The shock of his cold skin against hers sent a flash of heat through her and she struggled to quell the sudden flash of lust.

His hand suddenly moved to grip her waist and there was a surprising amount of gentleness behind the movement. She was reminded of the past, a sweet nostalgia overtaking her as she remembered the way he would handle her, as if she were some fragile, breakable thing. She sighed with contentment as his lips pressed gently against her forehead.

"You are so warm," he whispered. "How are you feeling?"

"Wonderful," she answered. "I feel light as a feather, but it is wonderful."

"The laudanum," he said as way of explanation. "It was a rather high dosage."

She nodded and he shifted, causing her to sit up. She caught his eye and smiled shyly. "How long did I sleep?"

"Long enough," he answered quickly.

There was thick tension between them, an anxiousness that they both felt. Christine's stemming from wondering if she were truly forgiven, Erik's coming from his guilt at effectively drugging her and neither willing to confront it out loud.

Wanting it to dispel, Christine suddenly leaned forward and caught his lips with hers, kissing him lightly, almost shyly. He groaned and his hand traveled up her back and into her hair as he deepened the kiss slowly allowing it to become more rough and demanding, pulling her against him.

When they broke the kiss Christine's chest heaved as she regained her breath. Erik's eyes traveled from hers down to her breasts and further down to her legs until they swept back up to her face.

She sighed and sat perfectly still, allowing him to appraise her.

His hand disentangled from her hair and came to grasp her chin, gently forcing her eyes to his. "You are a lovely young woman, Christine," his voice was gruff, almost gravelly. He let out a breath he had been holding. He looked away from her, staring into the empty fireplace as he released her.

"Erik?" She asked, a sudden anxiety overtaking her. "What is it?"

He closed his eyes tightly and sighed. When he looked at her again there was an iciness behind his gaze. "I need you to answer me honestly."

She bit her lip and nodded. "Always, Erik. Always. What is it?"

He looked away from her and back into the fireplace as he spoke. "You have given me so much happiness in these last few months, my Christine. More than I have ever dreamed. I have done a lot of thinking as you slept, and-"

"Erik," she said, a panic weaving an icy grip through her heart.

"Let me finish, Christine," he said calmly, his voice even and flat. "What I have done to you is not fair. The way I have been making you live is not fair. You do not deserve the life of a fugitive, you do not deserve a corpse and a murderer as your companion. You deserve a life of nobility. There is a train leaving for Paris in only a few hours. And if you so choose, you will be on it."

She jumped away from him as though she had been burned and shook her head as she backed away from him. "You promised me," her voice was quiet, and slowly escalated until she was shouting. He was surprised at the fury he saw growing behind her eyes. "You promised me! What of your promises, all that you said? That you would fight, that you wouldn't so easily give up on me! Was is all a lie? All of it -" her words trailed off into sobs as she sank to the floor and buried her face in her hands.

When she felt his hand, gentle on her shoulder she looked up to find him kneeling before her.

"I've broken you," there was a sadness in his words.

She jerked away from his hand and he let it fall limply to his side. He shook his head and sighed sadly.

"You don't want me anymore," her voice was strangely calm, small and almost childish.

"I have never and will never stop wanting you Christine," he answered calmly.

"Then why would you send me away? Send me back?"

"Shush," he responded. "Come here," he said, sitting back on the floor and letting her crawl into his lap. He brushed her tears away with his thumbs as he hummed a soothing melody.

"I'm not sending you anywhere," he said with sudden confidence. He softened his voice. "I'm not sending you away, Christine. I had thought - but apparently not. No, you will stay with your Erik. Of course you will, you are such a good girl. No more of these silly tears."

She sniffled and he caught her lips in another kiss.

"Not want you. Silly girl, how could you ever believe that I wouldn't want you?"

She shook her head and he roughly caught her chin, crashing his lip against hers again, slowly shifting them until she laid against the rug in front of the fireplace and he leaned over her.

"I want you right now," his voice was gruff in her ear and she shivered at the promise in his words. "Just like this," he said as his hands travelled up to the ribbons of her pantalettes and undid them. "Oh Christine, how could I not?"

She shivered as his fingers brushed over every bit of skin exposed as he stripped the undergarment away. He settled himself between her bare legs and his clothing tickled her sensitive skin as he kissed her gently on the lips.

"You're trembling," he whispered as his fingers ghosted against her cheek.

She swallowed and took a deep breath. She looked up into his eyes. "You're not sending me away?"

"You are not going anywhere, my love."

She sighed in relief and closed her eyes, concentrating on the sensation of his fingertips so gentle on her face. "I want you too," she whispered.

His lips moved against hers again gently, and made a trail to her collarbone. "I know, because you are such a good girl," he whispered against her skin.

She sighed as he began to kiss along her jaw. She let her head fall to the side to allow him better access. "Perhaps not good, but I am yours and only yours," she whispered.

He growled against her skin. "Yes, mine. You are mine."

Her hands came to his shoulders and trailed down to the buttons of his shirt, which she began to undo. When his shirt fell open she began to tug at it until he sat back on his haunches and shed both shirt and jacket together. He stayed there for a moment, allowing his eyes to rake over her, her swollen, red lips and the flush in her cheeks, the relief in her eyes. "My god, you are so beautiful," he said in wonder.

She let out a strange noise somewhere between a moan and a whine. He smiled and sat up higher so that he could pull her chemise up and over her head. She obediently lifted her arms, allowing him to strip her completely.

He growled in the back of his throat and leaned down again, kissing a trail from her collarbone to the valley between her breasts, enjoying her contented sighs. She was totally relaxed and he thanked the laudanum for that, stripping her of her inhibitions. It was a wonderful feeling to know that she shivered beneath him purely from pleasure, that her fear was not a factor. She held back nothing, not even trying to hold back her sighs and moans. It was a wonderful change, he found.

As his mouth latched onto a breast he let his hand trail lightly down her belly until it rested on her thigh. He listened closely to her breathing and sighs, noting the way they turned to moans as he slid his thumb over her slit, enjoying the way she shivered in anticipation, the way her hips bucked almost imperceptibly, the shaky, desperate and needy mewl that escaped her lips as he trailed his thumb so lightly, feeling her moisture spread under it.

He pulled his mouth back and pressed a light kiss to her round, perfect, hardened nipple.

"I would be content to tease you like this forever," he breathed.

She moaned as his thumb pushed in just a bit more, just enough to brush against her trembling bulb. She let out a shaky breath and he smiled, brushing over it more and more firmly until she devolved into full moans.

He brought his lips to her ear, close enough that they brushed against her as he spoke. "I have trained your voice, I can do the same with your body," he said gruffly as he pressed harder still and heard her distressed cry. "I love that I can make your body sing for me."

He allowed his touch to grow lighter and she began to pant, a needy wheeze escaping her lips.

Suddenly her hands were on his lower back, her nails digging into him as she jerked her legs up and open, allowing him easier access to his target.

Her nails raked against him until finally she found the fastening of his trousers and she began to undo them, needing a few tries due to her shaky fingers. She sighed as she pushed them down his hips.

His breath caught as he felt her first experimental touch, her small fingers trembling as they moved along his shaft and gently brushed over his head. His hips jumped at the foreign sensation, her fingers shy against him.

"Oh, Christine," he groaned, bucking against her hand. She sighed as his hand enclosed hers, tightening her grip around him, using his hand to guide her movements. He sighed again and dropped his hand from hers, groaning as she confidently stroked him. "You are so good, my love," his voice was gruff, gravelly, weighed down by his unexpected pleasure, her small, warm hand a sensation he had only ever dreamt of feeling.

"I need you," she whispered as she continued to stroke him.

He nodded and swallowed hard, kicking his trousers the rest of the way off and moving to settle closer to her. She released him as he came to touch her.

He took his time, pushing his way inside of her slowly. He growled and she let out a loud gasp as he pushed inside of her, the sensation of oneness hitting both of them harder than ever before.

Her legs wrapped around him of her own accord and her hands pulled him closer to her as he moved slowly inside of her. Sweaty skin pressed against sweaty skin as she pressed her forehead to his throat. "Erik," she moaned, his name sounding like a prayer on her lips, "Oh, Erik," she breathed. Her back arched as she continued to breathe his name, clinging to him as though for life.

He held her close, stroking into her gently, the sensation of her warm body nearly too much combined with the sound of his name coming from her lips. One word echoed through his mind: love. This was perhaps the first time that he could classify what they were doing as making love and he relished every moment of it, every feeling, sigh and word. The way their bodies moved in sync with each other, the feeling of completeness.

"You are so good, oh, Christine," he groaned.

She clenched him tighter. "Right here," her words were shaky. "I'm staying right here - you won't send me away."

He groaned, feeling his release nearing, the telltale tightening of his muscle all the way down his back and to his heels. "I will never send you away, never," he reassured her.

Once more she breathed his name, her legs tightening around him. He heard her cry out as she found her release moment before him, her tightening muscles only enhancing the pure bliss he felt as he spilled his seed inside of her.

He was sill inside of her moment later, as he felt himself begin to soften. He couldn't bring himself to break their physical connection as they both heaved to catch their breaths.

"I love you," he said as he pressed kisses to her sweaty skin.

She still clung to him, making no attempt to move away or push him away. In fact, she only pulled him closer to her. "Promise me that you won't leave me - that you won't leave me or send me away."

Her words were frantic and pulled back to look into her eyes. He was surprised to see an uneasiness behind them. "I will never let you go, Christine."

She sighed in relief. And later in the day when he ran a warm bath for her, she gratefully accepted it with a gentle kiss that lingered in his mind for hours.

Chapter Text

Erik had intended it to be a small gesture. Really, he did. But for some reason he couldn't manage it.

The small ring seemed to burn him through his pocket, where it had been residing for the better part of a week. A custom design - of course it was, he would never accept less than perfection for his Christine. A simple silver, etched in the shape of two entwining roses, small rubies inlaid to act as the petals. Nothing nearly as extravagant as the Viscomte's ring, but elegant in its design.

It wasn't so much fear of her refusing it - she would wear it. She would do anything he asked of her. It was more a fear of her reaction. If she was excited it would elate him, if she hesitated it would tear him apart. And so it was until the following Wednesday that he kept it to himself, tucked away safely in his breast pocket.

It was after a particularly good voice lesson that he decided it was now or never. Christine was already smiling and he had been rather pleased himself.

He had dismissed her already, and she had given him the shy smile that she so often did. She tucked a stray curl behind her ear and turned to leave.

He rubbed his sweaty palms against his knees - since when did his palms sweat? - and cleared his throat.

"Christine?" He was surprised at the softness of his own voice.

"Yes?" She turned back to him.

"I - I've a gift for you," he said, finally remembering himself and steeling himself against her.

Her eyes were mistrustful, but he found he couldn't quite blame her after his last gift of a gossip column. "What is it?"

"I have given it some thought lately. You would like to travel I am sure? I can't imagine you enjoy being holed up with me here all the time. I imagine you must have some wanderlust in you, yes?"

She bit her lip and nodded.

"Ah, so I though. Well come, sit with me and I will give you your gift then," he replied awkwardly, patting the piano bench beside him.

Her head cocked to the side slightly but she nodded and sat beside him.

"I do not want you to take this too terribly seriously," he said, looking into her eyes. He would say anything if only to alleviate his own terror in the moment. "I've no intention of separating myself from you, and if we're to travel we must keep up appearances. As such, I have gotten you this," he said, pulling the ring from his pocket and holding it out to her.

She stared at it blankly for a moment and suddenly tears began to well in her eyes.

A panic took him. "You needn't cry, Christine. There is no need to wear it all the time - only, only if we go out. Oh, please don't cry Christine."

To his surprise, she laughed. She wiped away her tears and laughed, then suddenly pulled him into a tight hug that he couldn't return for shock.

"It is beautiful, Erik," she said after she released him. "It is absolutely beautiful."

He felt pride swell in his chest almost as quickly as the panic had. "I designed it specifically for you Christine. I would never give you anything that wasn't beautiful.

Her smile in the moment captured his heart over again. And when she held her hand out to him, he couldn't help but return her smile. "Come, I want to be sure it fits," she said.

He took her hand in his and slipped the ring onto her finger with a shaking hand. "Perfect," he whispered, running his thumb over the ring on her finger. "Of course it fits you Christine. I already knew your size - I still have your other ring."

She sighed impatiently. "Stop," she said. "Stop bringing up the past. It is dead."

He couldn't do anything but nod, and with that she sighed again. "It is a beautiful ring and I will be glad to wear it. Thank you, Erik," she said.

"You are welcome Christine. Thank you for accepting it."

She bit her lip and nodded, the awkwardness finally getting to her. "May I go bathe now?"

"Of course," he replied, releasing her hand and nodding awkwardly.

She stood and only glanced back at him once before scurrying from the room.

It was later that night, as they sat down to eat dinner, that a glint of light reflected back at him and he realized that she still wore the ring hours later.

He smiled to himself. "You still wear it," he said.

"Hm?" She replied. She glanced down at the ring. "Oh. Of course I do."

"Why?" It was a simple question, but loaded all the same.

She sighed and then smiled, looking fondly at the ring. "It makes me happy I suppose. It reminds me that I am yours - that you are mine. It makes me feel like I belong." She glanced up at him and gave him a shy smile. "Or perhaps I am simply emotional and materialistic."

He cleared his throat. "You have always belonged here, Christine - here, with me."

She blushed and looked down, studying her plate as though it were the most interesting thing in the world. "I suppose I have," she whispered to the plate.

He nodded slowly, gathering his thoughts. "Perhaps next week we shall move. I would prefer to book us more comfortable passage than we last had. Would you like that Christine?"

She looked back up at him and there was an excitement to her eyes that he had missed. "I would, very much Erik."

"Where would you like to go?" He asked. He spread his hands in a sweeping gesture. "Anywhere in the world. Name it and we shall go."

She worried her lip as he had come to learn she was wont to do when she thought. "Anywhere?" She asked quietly.

"Anywhere but France and Persia, my love. And perhaps we should pass up Belgium, I have grown rather tired of it."

He was more than pleased when she giggled at his joke.

"Spain?" She asked.

"Would you like to see it?"

She nodded at his question.

"Then Spain it will be. Do you know any of the language?"

"No, do you?" There was a bit of uneasiness to her question.

He smiled at her. "Of course. Perhaps I could teach you a bit. If you don't like it we needn't stay for more than a few weeks of course."

She smiled at him. "I would like that very much, Erik."

He nodded again. "Then Spain it is."

And it was as they went to bed, Christine resting her head on his chest as she normally did and held her hand out, admiring the ring in the darkness that she finally kissed him. It was a quick kiss, pressed briefly to his rough, unmasked cheek. "Thank you for the ring, Erik. Truly."

"Does this mean I can rightfully call you my wife now?" He had meant it to be a lighthearted comment, but Christine began to worry her lip and she sighed. He gave her a strained smile that he was sure she couldn't see in the darkened room. "Don't worry about it, Christine," he said seriously. He ran his hand gently down her arm. "Don't let it worry you. It's fine."

"I'm sorry," her voice broke with her words.

He pulled her closer. "In time, Christine. All in time. I love you and you are here. That is what matters."

"Fiancée," she whispered. "You can call me your fiancée."

He smiled and kissed her forehead. "Yes," he said. "My beautiful, good fiancée." He rubbed her back gently. "Sleep now, my love."

"I - I am very fond of you," she whispered.

"I am rather fond of you as well, Christine."

"One day I will -"

He swallowed her words with a rough kiss. "No more," he said. "I know. You will love me in time, Christine. And it is fine. I am willing to wait. No more apologies, no more words."

He grasped her hand with his free hand and ran his thumb over the ring. "You are mine, and it is enough for me right now."

She nodded and snuggled closer to him, silently obeying him and closing her eyes, thinking of Spain and the ring that rested heavy on her finger, clutched tightly in his hand.

Chapter Text

It was sometime in the night that Erik was overtaken with a rage and lust so strong that he had to leave the house. It wasn't that he was afraid to engage Christine straight out of slumber - more so that he would hurt her.

It had happened before, but it seemed it was becoming more frequent. Usually all it took was a few minutes of composing or a simple charcoal sketch to calm him enough to return to bed. But tonight it was much stronger. The feeling of the ring on her finger, her nearly nude body pressed up against him, the smell of her hair and the knowledge of the fact that she had yet to admit anything more than fondness for him.

He suppressed the urge to growl and instead looked up at the stars that studded the sky and took a deep breath. He sat a few feet into the yard, cross legged in the grass.

He missed the night, he found. The peace of it, the solitude and silence, the feeling of the slightly dewy ground. It wasn't often that he looked at his past fondly, but tonight he did. He missed running. He missed knowing that he was simply hated and exiled. It was much easier than this strange limbo he found himself in now, halfway hated, halfway loved and never truly knowing where he stood.

He tore at a weed with one hand, plucking it out by the root and examining it. He had the urge to run, to just disappear into the night. But he couldn't do it. He thought of Christine, waking alone. Her confusion, the anguish she would feel at being abandoned once again, her simple, helpless nature. He couldn't leave her. He loved her, damnit, and it tore at his soul everyday. He had never felt such guilt, such hopelessness, in his life before.

He was ripped from his thoughts when he heard the door behind him open and close.

"Erik?" She called out uneasily into the darkness. "Are you out here?"

He turned his head to look at her and found her clutching at the support pillar beside the door, squinting into the darkness and washed in the pale moonlight.

"I'm right here, Christine," he said to her, smiling when he saw her body immediately relax at his words.

"Won't you come back to bed?" Sleep lined her voice.

"Come join me for a bit," he said.

She sighed and began to pad out toward him, following his voice. When she found him in the darkness she sat beside him and wrapped her arms around herself. "It is so cold out here," she murmured as she shivered.

He made no reply, instead wrapping an arm around her and tucking her closer to his body, allowing her to share his cloak.

She shivered and slowly relaxed against him as the chill left her. "What are you doing out here so late?"

He tucked her head beneath his chin. "Simply contemplating life, my dear."

She yawned loudly. "What an odd thing to do at this hour."

He gave a rich laugh at that. "Well, I am an odd man, love."

She nodded slowly and yawned again. He pulled the cloak tighter around her. "And what conclusions have you come to?" She asked.

"When you were younger, where did you think you would be in life by now?" He asked.

"In a house by the sea," she said. "I imagined I would be married. It would be a peaceful, simple life. Perhaps a few children of my own, a husband who worked hard but always spent Sundays with me. I would be rigorous in my church attendance." She sighed. "And you, Erik?"

He smiled weakly. "I would be a famous composer. Or perhaps a highly-sought architect. Children are made of innocence, and though it may be hard to believe I was at one point as well. I believed it was as simple as having a talent, that my face would not exile me. Such is not the case, though."

She yawned again and sat up a bit, rubbing at her eyes. "Life isn't easy for anyone, really Erik," she murmured.

He simply grunted, not agreeing or disagreeing with her firmly.

"I never thought I would be alone," she whispered. "I thought I would always have my papa. But he left me. So many people have left me Erik. And though I will always have memories of my papa, even those are fading away. I can't even truly remember what he looked like. And I suppose I was never truly alone, you have always been there. You, Erik. You are all I have. And perhaps I am all you have. But is that truly so terrible?"

He was shocked by her frankness and simply pulled her body back down to rest against him. He sighed and stroked her arm gently, then gave it a light squeeze. "No Christine," he said at length. "It is not so terrible."

"Are you happy, Erik?" She whispered her query quietly, almost as though she hadn't wanted him to hear it.

He sighed and thought deeply for a moment. "I am content. I am happier than I ever have been. Are you happy, my Christine?"

She nodded sleepily against his shoulder. "Sometimes I fear you are not. I - sometimes I am not. But more often than not I am happy."

The conversation lulled and Erik looked up to the sky, out among the stars. "You've never asked me of my past. Are you not curious?"

She sighed quietly. "The past is dead, Erik. I've no need to know of yours."

He couldn't decide wether that made him hopeful or dejected. There was a strange sensation in his chest when she said that and he found that all he could do was pull her even closer against him, not for the sake of having her near him but simply for the need of having something to hold.

"You are not even the slightest bit curious?" He murmured finally.

"Of course I am," she answered. "But it's nothing I need to know. Don't you understand Erik? The past is nothing. All is forgiven. I don't want the past to chase us anymore."

He brought his hand up to stroke the side of her throat. "I am a murderer."

"I know," she responded quietly.

"I am a thief."

She nodded, stretching her head back to allow his hand more room to roam her skin, shivering when he took the invitation and stroked his thumb across her larynx.

"I am a drug user, I am a deviant. These are all effects from my past, and they will not change. You truly feel that you can live with that knowledge and not know what made me this way?"

She shivered again as he cupped her throat. "What drugs?" She whispered.

"Opium, morphine, alcohol. Take your pick, Christine."

"I-I've never," she began.

He put pressure on her throat, briefly choking her and causing her to leave the sentence unfinished. "It has been a while, and I am a careful user. If I hadn't told you you may have gone the rest of your life without knowing."

She whimpered and bit her lip when he released her throat. "It makes no difference."

"You can truly say that you are fine with all I am?" His thumb stroked her throat again, a light touch in contrast to the pressure.

"You are all I have, Erik. I am fine with all that you are."

He wrapped his fingers around her chin and wretched her head toward him, crushing his lips to hers in a rough and demanding kiss. He could no longer hold back the angry lust that had been brewing within him for hours.

"I am all you have," he whispered gruffly into her ear. He pushed her roughly against the ground, face first. He was careful not to smash her face into the ground, but he twisted a hand in her hair and pulled her head toward him as he pinned her to the ground with his elbow. "That is the only thing that truly keeps you tied to me, isn't it Christine?" He hissed.

"No," she whispered with a rough voice.

"Then what is it, damnit?" He hissed. His free hand had begun to bunch the skirt of her nightdress around her waist and she gasped as he slipped his hand into her bloomers and forced two fingers inside of her.

Her hips bucked back against his fingers and he watched her twist the grass under her hands between her fingers.

"Answer me," he said, giving her hair another tug and finding himself rather satisfied with her gasp.

"This, Erik!" She cried. "This ties me to you, this, whatever it is we have. Are you satisfied? You make me feel more alive than I ever have, you awaken something within me and wether it is wicked or right, it is wonderful."

He twisted her head to the side and gave her an off-centered kiss as his fingers moved inside of her.

"I can make you feel a lot of things," he breathed into her ear. "My mind has seen the very edge of the horizon. I can take yours there as well, if you would simply quit resisting."

She nodded quickly, squeezing her eyes closed.

He leaned up, allowing her movement and pulling his hand from her bloomers. She whined at the loss of contact and pushed her hips back toward him.

"Please," she whispered.

"Please what, Christine?" His voice was low, dangerous and she shivered at his tone.

"I need you, please," her needy mewl was enough to make him consider giving in, and the way her hips ground back toward him, searching for friction in the empty air nearly broke him.

"No," he said, the command clear in his voice. He brought his mouth to her ear again. "Touch yourself," he whispered.

She bit her lip and whined. "Please," she said again.

He shook his head and nipped at her jaw. "You heard me."

Her eyes squeezed shut and tears of frustration began to form and fall. "I-I don't know - ," she mumbled.

"Ah," he replied. "Of course not, because you are a good girl."

He leaned back and rearranged them so that she sat atop his lap. He bunched her skirts up again and pulled her bloomers off, laying them on the ground beside them. He covered her hands with his and brought one up to her throat. "Let me teach you," he whispered into her ear.

She nodded and he began to move her hand, making her caress her throat and gently began to run it down her nightshirt, bringing her other hand up to cup her breast. He coaxed her thumb into brushing over her nipple through the thin material and she sighed, relaxing back against him, allowing him control of her arms like a marionette.

He pressed kisses along her jaw as he moved her hand downward, lower and lower until she was caressing her own sex. He trailed her finger through her moisture and she gasped, throwing her head back and arching her hips away from him and toward her own hand.

She whimpered and began to move on her own, no longer needing his hand to guide her.

He stroked one of her cheeks and grasped her throat. "You are so good," he whispered to her.

She arched her hips back and he groaned as she dragged along his growing erection.

He moved to take her hand again, guiding two of her fingers down lower. He pressed lightly against her hand and she gasped as she reached inside of herself for the first time. She cried out and began to move her fingers.

She gave a tight-lipped "Mmm," as she leaned against him again.

"Trust me," he whispered against her throat.

She whimpered as her movement became more frantic, her rhythm speeding up. He kissed along her throat, groaning as she pressed against his erection again. His hands came to her hips to still her.

"Up," he mumbled, and she obliged, moving to lean forward on her feet. He took the opportunity to release himself from his trousers and he groaned, wrapping one hand around his base as he guided her back to him.

"Trust me," he whispered again and she nodded.

"I trust you," her voice was light, airy, sounding as though she had run a mile or more.

He used his free hand to guide her gently, leaning back slightly as she eased her onto him, pushing in only so slightly and resisting the urge to buck up against her. He hissed through his teeth as she sank back, taking him in slowly, so agonizingly slowly.

She released a full moan as she took him in, and sat still, unsure.

His hands came to her waist and he guided her gently, showing her what to do but allowing her control. Her movement was slow but she slowly became more confident, letting her head roll back wantonly. Erik found himself shocked at Christine, demure, good little Christine, the way she transformed before his eyes into some deranged, beautiful goddess. A woman, he thought, truly a woman. He groaned and brought his hand to her throat, splaying it open and shifting their position until she came to be on her knees, captured under him as he took control again.

"You are mine," he whispered possessively, tightening his hold on her throat a bit. "Tell me."

She grunted, a strange, sweet whine that spread from the back of her throat. "Yours," she whispered. "I am yours."

He kissed along her neck and up her jaw until his mouth rested against her ear. "Tell me you love me," his command was gruff.

She was silent for a moment and then shook her head. His hand tightened around her throat again.

"Lie, Christine," his voice was dark, his tone dangerous and she shivered against him. "Lie to me if you must, but say it."

She bit her lip and he felt her muscles tensing beneath him, a telltale sign that her release was near.

"I-I can't," it was a breathless cry.

"Why?"

"How will you believe me when I do?" It was a quiet question but he heard it all the same.

He pressed harder into her, speeding his pace and watching her hands, the way they clenched the grass and slowly sank into the dirt as she sought some semblance of control.

He sank his teeth into her, at the base of her neck and she cried out and twitched, bucking back against him.

"Let go," he whispered. And that was all it took, he felt all of her muscles tense and suddenly her body went limp beneath him as he felt her heartbeat from inside of her.

She cried out with her release, calling his name and her nails scratched against the dirt frantically and then slowly relaxed.

"So good, Christine," he whispered gruffly, "so good."

He felt the rush of liquid heat as he coaxed her through her climax and it was only moments later that he found himself pressed deep inside of her, groaning as he found his.

They collapsed to the ground and Erik quickly rolled off of her, resting on his back and staring up at the sky that was slowly fading into day as he caught his breath.

Christine lay silent beside him, her panting the only thing reminding him that she was there.

"You do love me, you know," he said breathlessly.

She said nothing and simply rolled over to him, burying her face in his chest and twisting her hands into his nightshirt.

His hand came to rest possessively on the back of her head and his breathing slowly returned to normal. He found himself somehow reassured by the fact that she no longer outright denied it. And as he lay there in the cold grass, curled up with Christine like some animal and watching the sun slowly break over the horizon, he thought that perhaps this was truly what happiness felt like.

"Come to bed with me," she whispered against his chest as her hands slowly relaxed, releasing his now wrinkled nightshirt.

And he found himself nodding as he ran his hand through her hair. "Yes," he said. "Let's go to bed, Christine."

Chapter Text

Erik held the glass of brandy out to Christine where she sat in front of the fire, writing.

She looked up at him confused. It was very rare that Erik invited her to partake of alcohol - not that he would deny her if she asked, he simply didn't offer it on any sort of regular occurrence.

He let out a small laugh at her confusion. "In celebration, my love," he said, holding the glass closer to her.

She swallowed thickly and took the glass. "And what are we celebrating?"

Erik sat down on the rug beside her, looking into the fireplace and taking a swig of his own brandy before setting it on the floor beside his knee. "I've booked us passage to Spain. We leave in two days. I'm sure you will be overjoyed to hear we will actually be on a passenger ship this time."

"Oh, Erik, that is wonderful!" She exclaimed, flashing him a smile before taking a sip of the dark liquor. Her face scrunched up and she swallowed it then sputtered a bit.

Erik gestured to the glass. "I apologize, I'm sure the wine at the restaurant was much more palatable."

She blushed and ran her finger along the rim of the glass before forcing down another gulp. "How long will we be at sea?"

"No longer than a month, I assure you."

She nodded and downed the rest of the small glass he gave her. She continued to clutch the empty glass in both hands as she stared into the fire.

Erik was silent for a few moments, simply watching her. Her face was unreadable. "Would you like more?" He asked, gesturing to the cup.

When she looked over to him, her expression had dropped into a shy gratitude. "Yes, please," she said, handing the glass back to him.

He poured it slowly from the decanter that he kept by his chair. "To us, Christine. To a fresh start and a new beginning."

He held his glass out and she blushed, touching hers to his and drinking with him.

It was only a few moments later that found them in his chair together, Christine's head rested on Erik's shoulder.

"Papa always wanted to take me to Spain," she was saying. "But we never had much money, what with living fair-to-fair. We never could afford it."

Erik gave a slight grunt, an affirmation that he was listening, before draining his glass and pouring himself another glass.

"Have you ever been to Spain, Erik?"

"Briefly," he responded. "I passed through it in my youth."

"Is it just beautiful?" She asked with wonder.

He shrugged. "Paris is far more beautiful, but I suppose that is a matter of taste. But I would be content anywhere, I think, as long as you were beside me."

"Oh Erik," she sighed against his throat before taking another large gulp of the brandy.

It was less than an hour later that Erik realized two things: he was trying to pour alcohol out of an empty container and he and Christine were utterly drunk.

She had begun to slur her words and leaned back against him, so relaxed he was almost afraid she would slide right off of his lap. He pulled her closer to be sure and she giggled, wrapping her arms around his throat.

"I am drunk," she mumbled and then giggled.

"Mm, I am as well my dear," he responded, leaning back into the chair, allowing the alcohol to dissolve his tension.

"Erik?" Her voice was strangely serious for her condition.

"Hmm?"

"You do love me, yes?" There she was again, that demure, childish Christine that liked to come out on occasion.

"More than life itself," he reassured her, bringing his hand to rest against her face and stroking her cheek with his thumb. She nodded and he sighed. "What is it, Christine?"

She pulled away from him and wrapped her arms around herself as she stared forward into the blazing fire. "Please don't be angry," she whispered.

He found himself alarmed by that, his panic mounted but he was careful to appear calm. "I can't be angry with you."

She bit her lip and took a deep breath. "How... What I mean is, uh. How does a woman know if she is with child?"

He felt his heart turn to ice in his chest. "What are you saying?"

She looked back at him. There was an apprehension to her eyes. "I think I might be with child Erik. I haven't had my monthly cycle in a long while and I've been gaining so much weight, I just, oh, please don't be angry with me!" She buried her face in her hands and Erik was sure she had begun to cry.

"Shush," he said, pulling her back to him and letting her clutch his shirt between her little fingers. "I'm not angry with you."

Truth be told he wasn't sure how he felt. On one hand, he had never seen himself as a father. And there was always the chance that something would be wrong with the child. On the other hand, it was the perfect way to guarantee that Christine remained tied to him. And he really did like children, far more than adults normally.

He shushed her and passed his hand over her stomach, cursing himself for not noticing the bump that had begun to form there, the way her dresses were just that much more snug on her body.

"How long has it been since your last cycle, Christine?" He asked breathlessly.

"Two, almost three months," she whispered. "Are you angry?"

"No," he said, rubbing her back soothingly. "I'm not angry."

He laced his left hand through hers, rubbing his fingers over the ring before he brought her hand to rest over her womb.

"A child," he said in wonder.

She nodded her head and bit her lip. "What will we do?" She sounded small, frightened, and he sighed.

He pressed his lips to her temple. "Well, I suppose we will be parents, love."

She began to cry again and he was silent for a moment.

"Are you afraid?" He finally ventured. She nodded to his question and he sighed. "What are you so afraid of?"

She wiped at her tears with her free hand and sniffled. "I will be a terrible mother."

"You will be a wonderful mother," he reassured her. "You will be. You will be a perfect mother Christine, I've no doubt of that. You are selfless and so full of love, I've no doubt that you were meant for motherhood."

Her hand tightened, capturing his fingers between hers. "And you," she whispered, "you will be here to help me."

He nodded softly, pressing kisses to her temple. "I will be here," he said. "I couldn't very well abandon my family, Christine. Despite what you may call yourself, you are my wife and this is my child."

She sighed in relief and leaned heavier against him. "Thank you for not being angry."

"It is my fault, Christine, not yours," he said, brushing his thumb over the swelled flesh of her abdomen. "I can't be angry with you for it, even if I wanted to be."

She began to chew on her lip. "You need rest," he said with a sigh. "Let's get you to bed and I will start our packing."

She nodded gratefully and stood, swaying on legs made uncertain by alcohol.

"Christine," he called to her as she moved toward the bedroom. She looked over her shoulder at him and he sighed. "Everything will be fine. I do love you."

She nodded and gave him a shy smile. And with that she disappeared into the bedroom, leaving Erik with only his thoughts.

Chapter Text

They were some of the earlier passengers to the dock, Erik rather hoping to be stowed away in the cabin before too many could gawk at his mask. He gave a tug to the brim of his wide hat, hoping to conceal his mask better.

Christine clutched tightly to his arm, terrified that they would be separated in the thickening crowds. Mothers tearfully kissed children goodbye and lovers stood wrapped up in their tearful goodbyes. Friends stood waving handkerchiefs from the docks, bidding farewell to the passengers. She found the crowd overwhelming, but was grateful to realize that people were so caught up in their own farewells that the strange woman accompanied by the man in the mask were hardly noticed.

It wasn't until they got up the gangplank that things truly took a turn to be concerned for.

"Sir!" One of the ship hands called. Erik's back stiffened and he turned.

"Yes?" There was a tenseness to his voice, a barely disguised venom and the ship hand flinched.

"I apologize, the lady can board but we can't allow you on ship with a mask."

Erik stiffened, ready to strike or run, but he was grounded by Christine's grip tightening on him.

"Monsieur," she began, with the tone of an offended member of royalty, moving her hand on his arm so that her ring caught a glimmer of sunlight. "My husband is a hero, and I resent your treatment of him. He was wounded at war, you see, and is rather self conscious. I can assure you that if your ill treatment continues not only will my friends be hearing of it, you will be hearing from our lawyers!"

Erik looked at Christine in shock. The lie had fallen so easily from her lips, smooth and bitter. If he hadn't known better he would have found himself inclined to believe her.

The man looked throughly chastised, "Forgive me, Madam," he said. "I was just doing my job - of course. Don't let me burden you two again."

Christine gave the man a smile. "Of course, Monsieur. I understand, simple miscommunications. Thank you."

And she strode on confidently, tugging Erik by the arm.

It wasn't until they were in their room tucking away their luggage that Erik found it in him to say anything.

"Where did that come from?" He asked.

She muttered under her breath and pushed a bag under the bed. "Truly, Erik? You are so ridiculous sometimes. So tense over something so small - it was either my story or a dead ship hand and I would much prefer the former."

He strode to her, taking her face between his hands. "And when did you become such a confident little liar?"

She smiled softly at him. "You forget that I am an actress, Monsieur. I have spend my whole life training for that."

He laughed and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Well I thank you, Madam." He put emphasis on the title and she blushed but smiled.

"To Spain," she whispered.

He nodded and pressed his lips to her forehead. "A fresh start. We will have a family."

She pressed a hand to the small bump of her stomach and took a shaky breath. "A family," she murmured.

He nodded. "A family, Christine. Something I can truly say I never thought I would have."

And when she looked up at him, she smiled. "A family," she said more confidently. "Me, you and our child. What more could we ask for?"

They were disturbed by a knock against the door.

"Yes?" Christine called, not moving to unlatch.

"Ship will be off in an hour," a call came through the door.

"Thank you," Christine called back. She looked to Erik and took a deep breath, lacing her fingers through his. "To a new life, together," she whispered.

"Together, always," he affirmed, kissing her forehead and pulling her close against him as the ship jerked, beginning to pull away from the docks.

Chapter Text

Christine was entranced with the small porthole that served as a window in their room. She stood, face glued to it as the ship slowly pulled away.

"Who are they all, Erik?" She asked.

He smiled, moving to wrap an arm around her shoulders and look out of the porthole with her. He had a clear view - children played, women cried and waved handkerchiefs at the departing ship.

He shrugged. "No telling, Christine. I assume there are parents, mothers, fathers, friends."

"There's so many," she murmured.

"It's a large ship."

She looked up to him. "Why are they all going, do you think?"

He smiled and ran his hand across her shoulder. "Some are returning home, I'm sure. Some are perhaps going for business, for pleasure. Some, I'm sure like us, are simply looking for a new start."

She nodded and smiled. "Thank you, Erik."

"For what?"

"This experience, doing this the right way."

He pressed his lips to her forehead. "You deserve the best, Christine. Not to be tucked away as some stowaway, running like a fugitive. I want you to enjoy this trip. I want you to socialize, make a few friends. Regardless of how brief the friendships are, it will be good for you. Being among people again."

She was silent and he sighed, moving to sit on the edge of the bed. "So tell me," he said. "What is your name?"

"Amnita Destler," she said, not looking away from the porthole.

"And why are you going to Spain?"

"My husband has come to pursue new business ventures, and since it is only the two of us we have decided to move over here and put down roots." She replied absently, quietly, bringing her fingers lightly to the thick glass.

"Ah, yes," he said. "Your husband. Tell me about him."

She sighed and turned to him, giving him a strained smile. "He is an architect and musician, a very accomplished business man. But he's rather reclusive and no, you may not meet him. He was wounded at war, you see, and he wears a mask to cover the evidence. It makes him rather uncomfortable to be in overly social situations."

"Very good, Christine," he said. He stood and moved toward her, pressing his lips to her forehead. "You are a very good girl indeed."

She closed her eyes lightly and he touched her face gently. "And you will be good, yes? You will remember our story and be safe, and always return here before nightfall?"

She nodded her agreement and he smiled. "I am trusting you, Christine."

She met his gaze. "I wouldn't do anything to compromise us, Erik. I have about as much desire to be discovered as you do."

He nodded and squeezed her hands. "Go, explore the ship, meet some friends."

She looked unsure and he pressed a kiss to her lips and pressed a coin-bag into her hand. "I will be here when you return," he reassured her. "Now go, enjoy yourself."

She gave him one last look and then nodded, slipping through the door and out into the sunlight, joining the throng of people that moved through the narrow halls and leaving Erik in the room with a terrifying anxiety gripping at his heart.

Chapter Text

Erik had been pacing for hours, unable to shake this sense of wrongness that had overcome him since Christine had left. He paced along the walls, stoping only occasionally to look out of the porthole, out at the vast expanse of water that surrounded them. He never enjoyed feeling trapped, and that was exactly how he felt.

He was shocked out of his thoughts when the door handle began to rattle, and then there was a pounding on the door.

"Erik, please let me in," Christine's voice sounded panicked, terrified, and he opened the door, shocked when she slammed it behind her and sank to the floor panting. She brought her hand to her chest and then covered her eyes. "It wasn't my fault, I swear," she said breathlessly.

"What happened?" He asked, a dread sinking in the pit of his stomach.

She sighed shakily. "He recognized me," she said breathlessly. "Mademoiselle Daae he called me. I told him I had no idea who he spoke of and he insisted he had seen me perform in Faust, I was the toast of Paris, he said! I still denied it but he wouldn't listen."

"He isn't wrong, Christine. You were the toast of Paris. Did you recognize him?"

She shook her head. "I've never seen him before."

Erik nodded. "Where is he?"

She shook her head again. "He followed me, but I think I lost him somewhere, I -"

She went silent suddenly as there was a knocking on the door. "Mademoiselle Daae?" A voice called. "I didn't mean to frighten you, I apologize for that."

Her breath hitched and she looked at Erik with wide eyes.

"Open the door, Christine," he said grimly. She shook her head and he reached into his jacket, his fingers running over his lasso. He moved behind the door. "Do it," he hissed quietly as the man knocked again.

She stood with tears in her eyes and hesitated. She met Erik's eyes and he was careful to keep them cold. He gave her a nod and she wretched the door open, trying to choke down the tears and plastering a smile on her face. "I'm sorry, Monsieur," she said. "I am simply vacationing, trying not to be recognized. The fame, it can be so exhausting. Please, come in."

As soon as the door was closed Erik had his lasso around the man's throat.

Christine sobbed as the man gagged. "Oh, God!" She cried, covering her eyes. "Must... Must you kill him?" She sobbed.

He looked at her and his eyes softened at the torment he saw on her face. "He will tell, Christine," he said sadly. "One word to anyone and it is over - they will take us away and you will never see your Erik again. Is that what you want?"

She sobbed again and shook her head, then clenched her eyes shut and covered her ears with her hands, turning her back to them. Erik took that as his permission and broke the man's neck quickly, granting him a mercifully quick and painless death.

He sighed and stepped around the body, turning Christine toward him and gently coaxing her hands from her ears, standing close enough to obscure her sight so she couldn't see the body on the floor. He wiped her tears away and sighed.

"I'm sorry Christine," he said softly. And it was true - he was sorry. "If it could be any other way it would, but I have to protect you, I have to protect us. You understand, yes?"

He brushed more of her tears away as she nodded slowly. "You are a good girl," he whispered, "so good and understanding and patient." He pressed kisses to her forehead, being sure to stay just in front of her, unwilling to allow her to look at the body.

She began to shiver. "I killed him." Her voice was tight, pained. "I killed him," she began to panic and her breathing quickened.

He took her face between his hands and forced her to look into her eyes. "Listen to me," he said strictly. "You did nothing. You did not kill him and you will not carry guilt for this, you understand me? You did not kill him. I did. Resent me if you must, but do not carry guilt for my sins."

She sobbed again and collapsed into his arms, clutching tightly onto his shirt. "There was no other way," she whispered.

"You're right," he said, stroking her hair gently. "It was self defense, love. There was no choice."

She nodded slowly and stood back to her own feet, taking a deep breath. "Self-defense, yes. That's all."

He pressed another kiss to her forehead. "Yes, love, that's all. I want you to go back above deck now, love. You will go back up and meet me here at ten o'clock and not a minute sooner. I will take you to dinner tonight, would you like that Christine?"

She nodded weakly. "I'd like that very much," she said shakily.

He pressed a kiss to her lips. "Forget this," he said. "I will take care of everything Christine. Put it out of your mind. You will enjoy this trip, do you understand me?"

She nodded.

"Close your eyes," he demanded, and she obeyed, clenching them tightly. He guided her around the body and to the door. "Not a moment before ten," he reminded her and she nodded.

When the door closed behind her he let out the breath he had been holding, sighing and looking down at the body. It was truly a shame. Chances are he was just a harmless bystander, but allowing him to go on was just too much of a risk. He sat on the edge of the bed and eyed the man, wishing nightfall would come sooner.

Chapter Text

It was half past ten when Christine finally dared to return to the room. She took a deep breath and opened the door, finding Erik sitting on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands. He looked up and gave her a tight-lipped smile.

She looked around the room nervously.

"He's gone," Erik said sadly.

She nodded and took a tense breath, biting at her lip.

"He was traveling alone," Erik said quietly. "No one will suspect anything until long after we have docked."

She slowly sat beside him and leaned into him. He pulled her close and pressed his lips to her temple, knowing she needed physical comfort in the moment.

"It's so sad," she whispered. "Everyone should have at least one person who will miss them, who will know they are gone." Her voice was tight.

Erik nodded, stroking her arm. "We know, Christine," he reminded her. She nodded sadly and he sighed. "Would you like to sing his requiem, Christine?"

Her eyes clenched tightly and she nodded, a few tears escaping.

He brushed them away and shushed her. "We will sing his requiem. Quietly, but we will sing it."

"Thank you," her whisper was like a ghost, hollow and quiet.

"Dies Irae," he said. She nodded. "We will sing his requiem and then we will put it behind us and enjoy a dinner, yes Christine?"

She nodded.

"Are you angry with me?" He asked quietly.

She wiped at her tears again. "No," she said. "I'm not angry with you Erik. I am just sad for him."

Erik nodded. "That's natural," he said.

He pressed a kiss to her forehead and stood, pulling his violin from beneath their bed, carefully placing it under his chin. "Dies Irae," he reminded her, and she nodded.

He began to play and she joined in, her voice weak and wavering. He didn't chide her for it, he allowed her to grieve over the man that neither of them had known.

"Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam,
ad te omnis care veniet.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis."

He would allow her her song if only it eased the guilt that he saw lingering behind her eyes, the uncertainty and the blame she placed on herself. It was much worse than the other time she had witnessed him murder. He supposed it had more to do with the fact that the man was a kind stranger and had intended no ill will. It truly was a shame, but Erik had come to desensitize himself to the killings.

"Kyrie, eleison.
Christe, eleison.
Kyrie, eleison."

He rose his voice with hers, guiding her through the melody. He listened to the way her voice strengthened with his, the sudden confidence and the depth of her emotion. Remorse, perhaps not what he had wanted to hear, but the return of emotion to her vocalization was glorious.

By the end of the requiem Erik found himself in tears. He pulled Christine tight against him.

"You are beautiful," he whispered hoarsely. He took a deep breath and tried to compose himself. "Ready yourself for dinner."

She nodded and hesitantly opened the armoire that her dresses were hung in, peeking cautiously inside.

"Christine, he's gone," Erik said quietly. "He is no longer here - you needn't fear."

She let out a huff of breath. "Of course," she whispered, pulling out a dark red dress and stepping behind the changing screen.

"I mean it, Christine," Erik said to her as she changed. "You bear no guilt for this."

She stepped out from behind the screen, changed and twisting her hair up in an intricate fashion, pinning it and allowing a few loose curls to hang. "I know," she responded, sounding surprisingly light for the ordeal she had been through. "I just - I don't want to see him."

"You won't," Erik promised, standing and offering his arm to her.

She took it and clenched tightly onto his sleeve, only digging her fingers in harder when they stepped into the dark passage.

To her surprise, no one gave them a second glance, most of them caught up in their own worlds. Very few people spared them a second glance, with one man even tipping his hat to them, which Erik confidently returned with a flourish.

"We are fine," he murmured to Christine under his breath. "Do you truly think I would allow any harm to befall you?"

She shook her head, loosening her grip only slightly. He turned his arm and slid his sleeve from beneath her hand, opting to enclose her small hand in his instead. She sighed gratefully and relaxed. He gave it a small squeeze. "Relax or I will have to force you to after dinner," he muttered.

She blushed a bright red color and stifled a giggle at his absurdity. He gave her a soft smile. "You should smile more often, love. It is befitting to you."

She blushed even deeper and glanced out over the railing and up to the sky. She took a deep breath of the crisp sea air and smiled. "It's a truly beautiful night," she whispered.

"Mm," he hummed in agreement.

She turned to him with a weak smile. "Thank you for accompanying me to dinner Erik."

He gave her a stiff bow and kissed her hand before opening the door to the dining room for her. "It is my pleasure, Madam," he said, leading her to a nearby table. It was so late the room was nearly empty, and most of its inhabitants consisted of lone men, reading papers and eating their late dinners.

Their dinner was quiet, punctuated by polite conversation that was truly meaningless, both too afraid to breach any subjects that may pique a near-by listener's attention.

It was after Christine set down her silverware that Erik checked his pocket watch. He stood and offered his hand to Christine, leading her out a different way than they came.

She took in a deep breath of the fresh air and when she heard music, she looked to Erik in surprise.

He gave her a half smile and lead her around the corner, onto an open deck where the ship's band played.

"How did you know, Erik?"

He smiled and shrugged, bowing and kissing her hand again.

"I know many things," he said, a sparkle of amusement behind his eye. "May I have this dance?"

She blushed and took his hand, allowing him to pull her far closer than was proper as he swayed them across the deck. It was a simple three-step waltz, but Christine enjoyed it immensely.

His hand traveled up her back and brushed against her hair that hung just past her shoulders.

"It pains me, but we will have to cut your hair tonight. You are far too easily recognizable."

She nodded with a soft smile. If Erik wanted to cut her hair, she would let him. It made no real difference to her.

He pulled her closer. "You are lovely Christine," he whispered to her. "And you did quite impress me today, in more ways than one."

She brought her hand up to stroke his cheek. And though her face grew red in embarrassment, he found nothing but joy in his heart when she smiled softly at him.

"Can we go back to our room?"

For a moment he thought he had imagined her question. But her eyes were steady on his, even through the shame burning in her cheeks.

He nodded, unable to respond immediately. He swallowed thickly before hoarsely replying, "I would like that."

She blushed again and dropped her eyes from his with a shy smile, but she followed his quick steps with confidence.

Chapter Text

Their cabin was extremely dark when Erik extinguished the gas lamps. Christine was glad she was already on the bed because she doubted that she could navigate it. It reminded her of Erik's home beneath the opera - but there he had always left a candle burning for her at the bedside.

She flicked her eyes around the room, unable to make out even the shadows of objects. She felt the bed give way as Erik sat beside her.

"It's so dark," she murmured to him.

She could hear his amusement behind his question. "Are you afraid of the dark, Christine?"

He supposed he had the answer when her cold hand grasped the thin sleeve of his nightshirt.

He chuckled a little and guided her further into the bed, coaxing her back and pulling the sheets over her, taking his place beside her and allowing her to move closer, nearly crowding him off of the bed. He sighed and stroked her hair gently.

"I am the most terrifying thing you will see in the dark," he murmured to her. "You've nothing to fear Christine. Not while I'm here. You know I wouldn't let anything harm you."

He felt her nod and shift in the bed, keeping close against him but allowing him a bit more room. The gentle sway of the ship was soothing to him and he found himself drifting to sleep far faster than normal.

He awoke some time later when he heard a huff and Christine shifted in the bed again.

He blinked a few times to clear his eyes and saw her lying on her back, eyes wide open and trained on the ceiling as her hands rested over her stomach.

"You should sleep," he murmured.

"I can't," she mumbled, not even glancing his way.

"What is keeping you awake Christine?"

She finally turned her head in his direction and groped out into the darkness, first grasping his leg and working her way up until she found his hand. He was surprised when she pulled it to her, placing both of her tiny hands on top of his and pressing it against her stomach.

At first he didn't feel it. And then there it was, a gentle movement from inside of her abdomen, a barely-there pressure against his palm.

He sighed, pulling her closer to him. "When did it start?"

"Tonight is the first I've felt it... Erik, is it alright? I, it frightens me."

He sighed and nodded against her shoulder. "It's our child," he murmured into her ear. "It's normal, at least in every case of pregnancy I have known. Which, admittedly, isn't many."

She bit her lip. "But it's right? Our, our child is alright?"

He heard the unsureness in her voice, the unease. He began to move his thumb in small circles over her stomach and nodded again. "It's a good sign, Christine. It means it's strong."

She gave a sigh of relief and he smiled, pressing his lips against her throat. "If it was troubling you, why didn't you wake me?"

She bit her lip again and looked into his eyes, the only thing she could make out in the darkness. "It is silly," she said. "And you were sleeping so peacefully - I have never known you to sleep so well."

"You need to relax," he said. "You've had a rather trying day." He continued to make small circles with his thumb, noticing the way it seemed to soothe her. The movement against his palm had slowed, though it was still there, a gentle presence, as though only to remind them that it was there. He was stricken with the sudden thought that this was real. Christine was here, her tiny, fragile body pressed up against him. She was his. She was carrying his child. A strange thing, really, that it took until now to solidify in his mind, but it did.

He sighed, conflicting emotions pulling in his chest and stomach. Gratitude, fear. He was suddenly overtaken with a strange urge and slipped beneath the blankets, pressing a kiss to her barely-covered abdomen and resting his ear against it. He heard nothing, of course. But there it was, the jabbing pressure against his cheek and he let out a shaky breath, pressing another kiss to her chemise.

She sighed and her hand began to stroke his sparse hair lightly.

"My child," he murmured against her abdomen. "Our child." He realized that it was silly to think that it could hear him, but he couldn't help the strange hope that had gripped him. He began to sing quietly, a gypsy lullaby that he hardly remembered himself. And to his surprise the movement calmed, and by the end of his whispered song it had stopped altogether.

He slipped back up the bed, clutching Christine tightly against him. She sighed happily and relaxed against him. "Thank you," she murmured.

He pressed a kiss to her temple. "No more," he said gruffly, too overtaken with his emotions to speak. "Go to sleep now, Christine."

It took a while, but her breathing finally slowed and became even. Erik slept peacefully that night, Christine clutched tightly against him, her back to his chest, his hand splayed open over the swell of her womb.

Chapter Text

Christine had adjusted to the ship much easier this time. Erik was rather impressed with how quickly she grew her sea legs. And though he was rather disappointed when they rose and she opted to go above deck, he was glad to see her enjoying the travels.

It was on the third night that she returned to the cabin with a sweet smile for him.

"I met some people today," she said.

"Ah? Tell me about them Christine," he said, watching her flit about the room, tying her hair up. He found himself wanting to remind her that it was rather late and he would rather she remain with him, but he bit his tongue.

"Signore and Signora Perotte," she said as she busied herself in the mirror. She looked into his eyes through the mirror and smiled, turning to him. "They are very sweet, Erik. You would like them. They're an older couple, they've been in Belguim for two years. They decided to travel when their children grew and they've decided it's time to return home."

She gave him a sad smile and looked down at her feet. "They invited me to dine with them tonight."

Erik nodded slowly, and Christine looked at him with pleading eyes. "You may go," he said slowly.

A smile broke across her face and she made her way to him, pressing a kiss to his lips. "They invited you as well," she said, testing the waters.

He looked away, at the darkening port hole. "No," he said at length. "I would prefer to stay here."

She nodded slowly and brought her hand to stroke his cheek and he stood quickly, catching her wrist. He walked her back until she was pinned against the wall. "You may go," he said gruffly, and he brought his hand to her throat, bringing his mouth to her ear. "But you won't forget who you belong to," he said gruffly.

She shivered and he released her with a smirk. "Enjoy dinner," he said simply.

There was a deep blush on her cheeks and she nodded demurely, looking back and taking a quick breath before slipping out of the door.

She was back from her dinner rather early and he heard her busting about outside of the door for a long while. He heard her deep breath, and the slow click of the lock. She slipped inside, avoiding his eyes.

She was halfway through pulling the pins out of her hair when he cleared his throat and she froze.

"Did you enjoy dinner?" He asked evenly.

She sighed and turned to him. "Are you angry with me?"

He shook his head. "No, I'm not angry," he said smoothly.

And she nodded, continuing to work at her hair with shaking fingers. "It was nice," she replied. "I wish you would have come."

He stood and came to stand behind her, pushing her hands away and making quick work of removing the pins, keeping his eyes trained on her face in their reflection. "And have them pity you. No. I would rather you enjoy your time."

She sighed. "I thought you were angry."

He shook his head, keeping his eyes on hers as he lowered his head, pressing a kiss to the hollow of her throat. "Not angry," he murmured. "I just want to be sure you remember where you belong."

She let her head fall to the side, giving him more room and letting out a shaky sigh. "I belong here," she breathed. "With you."

"That's right," he said, pressing another kiss to her throat before pulling back, running his hands through her hair and sitting on the edge of the bed.

She whimpered as he moved away and he smirked again. She sighed and her hands shook as she picked up the brush, running it slowly through her hair. "Why do you do that?" She asked at length.

"Do what?" He asked, his eyes trained on her back.

"Tease me so," she mumbled.

"I'm sure I've no idea what you're talking about," he said with mock innocence.

She slammed the brush down with more force than necessary and walked heavy-footed until she stood directly in front of him. She framed his face in her hands, one hand on his cheek and the other on the smooth porcelain.

She pressed her lips to his and he groaned, twisting a hand in her hair and deepening the kiss, savoring the taste of her, the feel of her as she climbed atop him, straddling him.

She pulled back from the kiss and gave him a shy smile. He brought his hand to her jaw and pulled her to him again, claiming her lips. "Mine," he murmured.

She let out a sigh and nodded. "Yours," she whispered. And that was all the encouragement he needed.

He twisted them, pushing her to the bed on her back and pulling at her dress. She gasped when the fabric ripped and he groaned, tearing it straight down the middle and doing the same with each lair of fabric until she lay beneath him, nude and gasping, gazing up at him with a look somewhere between lust and fear.

He ignored her look and made quick work of her neck, kissing, biting and sucking. He was positive there would be marks left and he was glad for it. He pulled away and let out a sigh, running his thumb over the purple-red mark that he had left behind.

His touch was gentle as he slid a hand down her body and between her legs. She parted them without much prodding and her breathing grew shallow.

"Regardless of who you meet, where you go or what you do you will remember that you are mine. You will know who makes you feel alive," his tone was dark and harsh and she nodded at his words.

"Don't forget where your allegiance lies, Christine."

"With you, Erik," she murmured as her hips jolted. "Always with you."

He pressed his lips against her in a rough and demanding kiss, and her hands raised, nails digging into his upper arms as she moaned, her hips bucking against his hand again.

"Your Erik will always be here Christine. They, all of them, they will leave you eventually. Only I will stay."

She gasped, clenching her eyes closed and giving a frantic little nod.

"Only Erik," she was breathless, her movement more frantic and he knew she was close to the precipice of her release. Her nails dragged, leaving red marks behind. And as he felt her begin to cross that edge he jerked his hand away from her.

She cried out at the loss of contact and opened her eyes, coming to find him frantically unbuttoning his shirt. She let out a shaky breath and began to work at his trousers.

When he was finally divested of his clothing he settled himself between her legs, using his hand to run himself lightly up and down on her entrance, teasing her and causing her to fruitlessly buck against him, desperate for some sort of friction.

Her wide eyes looked up at him and his breath hitched when she framed his face between her hands. She pulled his mouth to hers briefly and sighed against his mouth.

He felt her finger tips curling around the edge of his mask and he caught her wrist quickly, pinning it to the mattress over her head.

He shook his head at her.

"Please," she whispered.

"No Christine," he muttered, pressing his lips to her throat again.

"It is the only barrier that remains between us," she said.

His hand tightened on her wrist as he pushed inside of her slowly, savoring the give of her body, the contented sigh that escaped her throat, the way her thighs moved upward, capturing him between them.

He let out a shaky breath as he pulled almost all the way out of her and slammed quickly back inside, allowing his free hand to touch her face gently as she cried out.

"Please," she whispered, eyes trained on his mask.

He sighed and pulled out of her, standing. Her eyes clenched shut.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "Please, I won't ask again."

He extinguished the gas lamp slowly, and she heard the clink of his mask on the bedside table. He slowly climbed atop her again and pressed a kiss to her lips.

"Are you happy, mon petit ange?" He whispered as he pressed his way inside of her again.

She cried out and moved against him, meeting him thrust for thrust as her hands made their way to his face. She moved them symmetrically, her thumbs passing over his good eye and his sunken eye, over the normal cheekbone and the jutting ridge that masqueraded as cheek, giving equal attention to each side, angelic and demonic. Fitting, she supposed, for the enigma that was Erik.

She sighed then, moving her hands to run through his sparse hair and down his neck until they rested, splayed open on his muscular shoulder blades. He groaned and she felt the goose-flesh form under her gentle touch.

"I am happy," she whispered to him.

He groaned again, collapsing nearly on top of her. His mangled flesh pushed against her throat and she sighed, bringing one hand to gently stroke his hair, the other digging hard into his shoulder blade.

"I am happy and I am yours," she murmured.

His movement became more frantic as he thrust himself deeper and harder into her, biting at her throat. She gasped, jerking her hips upward and finally finding the friction she sought in the soft drag of his skin pressed to hers.

She began to gasp then, clinging to him as he rocked them closer to their bliss. Her lips found themselves pressed against his temple, the only thing they could find at that angle, and her breath was quick and warm on his skin.

He groaned, feeling their muscles tighten together, moving as if they truly had become one. He felt her edging to her release at the same pace that he was.

"Mine," was the breathless word he spoke.

He felt her nod frantically in the darkness. "Only yours," she cried, pulling him closer.

They found their release together, all teeth and nails, a slackening of reality and a stunning feeling of oneness overcoming them.

Unintelligible words spilled from each of their lips as the franticness ebbed away into a fulfilled calm.

It was only then that Erik settled beside her, pulling her close against him and wrapping his hand around hers, fondling the ring that still rested upon her finger.

Christine broke the silence first. "I am not ashamed of you Erik."

He brushed her hair back with a hand and sighed. "I never said you were."

She nodded into the darkness and he watched her chew on her lip. "I really do wish you would accompany me above deck. They can look on us in pity all they want Erik. It does not bother me, truly."

He let out a loud sigh against her throat and let his head fall to the pillow. "We will discuss this in the morning, not now. Please Christine."

She nodded dutifully and pulled herself closer to him.

"Thank you," he said, running his fingers through her hair, allowing the movement to soothe her into sleep.

Chapter Text

Waking up beside Erik was an experience Christine wasn't sure she would ever grow used to. Especially waking up nude beside Erik. In Belgium he was often up far before her, dressed and proper. Here though, in such close quarters, he had no where to go. And so he stayed.

His skin was cold against hers and she shivered slightly, yawning and looking up to find him staring down at her, his mask back in place.

She sighed but pulled him closer, knowing it was best to choose her battles and that the mask was not something big enough to cause a fight over first thing in the morning.

"What time is it?" Her sleep-heavy voice asked.

"A quarter past eight," he responded, pressing a kiss to her temple.

She burrowed her way further under the covers, savoring the slow warmth that spread from them.

Erik reclined on the pillows, looking down at her. He began to run his hand over her hair and then to her bare shoulders, tracing light patterns over her skin.

"Did you have plans?" He asked at length.

She shook her head against his side and he sighed, letting his hand still on her back.

"You know," he said slowly, as if in contemplation, "there will come a time when you will have to choose between your Erik and the world. And when the time comes, wether it be in a week or five years, I will not force your hand."

She sighed, not gratifying the statement with a response. If he felt no need to force that choice, she was sure it was because he knew her choice would be in his favor. What more did she have?

He twisted the hair at the nape of her neck gently between his fingers and sighed, dropping his hand from her.

"I think," he said quietly, "that you deserve to know why I won't go above deck with you. I know that you are not ashamed of me Christine - and I wish for nothing more than to be a normal man with you at my side. But it is a risk far too big to take."

She turned her face into his chest, letting out a huff of air, which simply caused him to smile and ruffle her hair.

"I want you to enjoy yourself," he said. "I don't want you up there paranoid. I know I have to share you with the world right now Christine, and I've agreed to it."

"What about at night?" Her words were quiet but he heard them all the same.

He smiled. "We will see Christine."

And so they came to reach an agreement. Christine would stay with him, oftentimes cramped into their small bed together, until late into the morning. She would then go up and lunch with her new friends and enjoy a few hours of sunlight and freedom. She would always return just before nightfall, and she and Erik would go up late into the night, taking short strolls in the chilly, star studded nights and enjoying late night dinners.

It became a comfortable routine, and Christine found herself feeling bittersweet when the ship finally docked and they arrived in Spain. It was a good thing, she reminded herself. Somewhere to start over, somewhere that their past wouldn't follow them, somewhere they could both be free.

That was what she repeated to herself as they departed, her hand clutching Erik's arm tightly as he pushed their way confidently through the crowd of passengers.

He glanced back at her periodically, always giving her a crooked smile when her eyes met his. And soon they were out of the thickest part of the crowd and he was tugging her around the edge of a large building and into the small respite of shade that it offered.

And he was reaching into his pocket, shoving pesos into her hand.

"What is this for?" She said in confusion.

He gave half a shrug and smiled. "I thought you may need a new dress or some chocolates. I doubt you will really find the business of booking a hotel interesting."

"This is too much," she said, shaking her head as she looked at the thick wad of money that she was more than certain was bloodstained.

But then he was brushing her hair back and pressing his lips so tenderly to her forehead. "Then get a dress and chocolates," he said flippantly.

And then he was tugging her along behind him. "I'll walk you to the shops," he was saying. "I shouldn't be more than an hour or two."

Here he stopped and looked at her, head cocked slightly. "And Christine, please prove that I can trust you. Do not leave the area until I come for you."

And she was nodding and he was calling her a good girl.

He was pointing up the road at some shops. "Anything you want, buy," he was saying, tucking her hair behind her ear and smiling softly at her.

She was nodding her agreement and his thumbs were hooking under her chin and his lips were pressed against hers. And then he was gone and she was left alone, a purse full of a currency she didn't understand and a street full of people she couldn't talk to.

Chapter Text

25

When Erik returned for her it was to find her sitting on a bench, a box of chocolates open on her lap and two parcels at her feet. She was absentmindedly eating one of the chocolates, watching some children play in the street.

"Christine," he said, calling her attention.

She looked at him and smiled, turning back to watch the children and placing a hand on her steadily swelling stomach.

He sat by her on the bench and watched the children with her. They seemed to be playing a game of tag, running in circles and laughing.

Eventually she sighed happily and began to lean against his arm. "Do you think our child will play like that?"

His hand joined hers, pressed lightly over her womb. "I believe most children play like that Christine."

"Did you?" She was looking up at him, a serene smile that for a moment he almost believed was only for him.

He shook his head and pressed his lips lightly to her forehead. "No love," he said. "I didn't have much of a childhood at all if I'm to be honest."

She looked sad at that and chewed her bottom lip for a moment as if in contemplation. And then she was looking back up at him; "Our child will have all you should have," she was saying. "I vow it to you."

He felt his heart swelling, the sincere honesty and innocence behind her words and eyes too much for him. He cleared his throat twice before he could manage to speak. "I've booked us a hotel for two weeks. It will allow us enough time to find a more permanent lodging that's to your taste."

"That's lovely Erik," she said, her eyes drifting back toward the children.

"Christine, we should be off. We need to settle in and it will be getting dark soon."

She sighed but didn't bother arguing. She stood and juggled the parcels and chocolates in her hands.

He smiled and took them from her arms, finding himself surprised when she snatched the smallest box back.

"I'll carry this one," she said hurriedly.

He narrowed his eyes at her. "What are you hiding from me?"

She shook her head and smiled at him. "It's a surprise Erik. I promise you'll like it, but you must be patient."

He tilted his head, studying her face. "You know that I don't have much patience Christine. I do not like secrets or surprises."

She stood on her tip toes and pressed a brief kiss to his lips then smiled sweetly at him. "Just until we get to the hotel. Then I will show you Erik. I vow it."

He shook his head but accepted the compromise with a huff. He would know soon enough.

He put both parcels under one arm and offered the other to Christine. She accepted it with a grateful smile.

Their journey was quiet, Erik obsessing over the contents of the small box and Christine not daring to push him for conversation and lose her small victory.

They wound down small side streets and Christine was at an utter loss, unable to read any signs or decipher the chatter she heard from strangers. She clutched tightly to Erik's arm as he led the way.

"Does anyone here speak French?" She asked quietly.

He shrugged one shoulder. "I suppose there are a few. But then again it wouldn't surprise me to find the same amount speaking Farsi or Romani."

"I didn't expect it to make me so nervous," she said.

He squeezed her arm tightly. "You've no reason to be nervous," he reminded her. "You have your Erik."

She nodded as he lead her into an alleyway, around a corner and back into the street. He pointed at a building across the lane.

"That's where we will be staying," he said.

Her nose wrinkled. She was surprised at the ramshackled state of the building.

"It's not much to look at," he admitted. "And I'm sorry to make you stay. But money will only speak so much - people have an inherent mistrust for men in masks."

She bit her lip and nodded. "It's a bed and a roof," she said at length.

He nodded at that. "Indeed it is. You are such a good, understanding girl Christine."

She blushed slightly but made no response, allowing him to lead her into the building. He offered the dirty man at the counter half a nod and it was returned with a grimy smile. She felt an anxiousness slither through her stomach at the look in the man's eyes and found herself clutching Erik's arm even tighter as he led her up a narrow staircase and down a dark hallway.

'402' was the number on the door and she found herself questioning it. The building was far too small to house that many rooms. But Erik was pulling a key out of his pocket and it clicked in the lock.

The door pushed open with a loud creak and Christine shivered, the noise running up her spine. But she followed him inside and he closed the door tightly, locking it again from the inside and lighting the oil lamp by the door, allowing a bright flood of light into the dingy room.

He sighed as he looked about the room and then moved forward, putting the packages he carried onto the end table and watching as the dust plumbed and settled back slowly. He ran his finger over the edge of the table and watched the clean line it left behind then shook his head. "I truly am sorry to make you endure such conditions Christine," he said, never turning to look at her.

She forced a smile to her face. "It's fine Erik, truly. We will make due."

He found himself nodding and turning to finally look at her for the first time since the building had come into sight. She was smiling but he realized it didn't quite touch her eyes. She was lying to him - he knew that, knew that she was nervous and dissatisfied, but she smiled and lied so bravely that he tried his hardest not to dwell on it.

"So what is this surprise you had planned Christine?" He asked, eyeing the package that she still clutched tightly in her hand.

At this her smile widened, finally reaching her eyes and Erik found himself strangely satisfied with that.

"It's a gift," she said, her smile faltering slightly but retuning in a shy way. "And I do hope you like it."

She held the small box out to him and he took it gingerly, looking at her with surprise. "You don't have to get me gifts Christine. That money was for you."

She bit her lip and nodded, wrapping her arms around herself. "I just wanted to do something nice for you Erik. And as I said, I only hope that you like it."

"I'm sure I will love it Christine," he said, his eyes softening. "I'm sure I would love anything so long as it came from you."

Her smile returned softly and she shook her head with a laugh. "Well open it then!" she said impatiently.

He smirked and began to work at the box, careful not to tear it. He peered inside of it and his eyes settled on a ring. It was a plain golden band, a wedding band.

He simply stared at it in confusion until Christine's impatience got the best of her.

"Well, do you like it?" She said.

He raised his confused eyes to her face and she smiled softly at him.

"I only hope it fits - unfortunately I don't know your size so well as you know mine."

The longer he stared at her the more nervous she grew. She shifted from foot to foot until he finally spoke.

"Why did you get me this?" It was a whispered question, he was afraid that if he tried any harder his voice may fail him.

She shrugged and looked down. "I only thought it would be nice - if we are to tell that we are married I supposed we may as well make it believable. If - if you don't like it you don't have to wear it."

"I love it Christine," he said quietly, unable to control the tremble to his voice. He knew damn well that she would kill him - his poor heart couldn't take much more of this constant tug-of-war that she waged with it. But what a wonderful death it would be.

She smiled so brightly at that that he found himself having to swallow the lump in his throat. "Well then try it on," she said softly.

His fingers shook as he took it from the box and slid it carefully onto his finger, trying, trying so hard to remind himself not to read more into the small gesture than was really there.

"It's perfect," he whispered. It was a lie - it was perhaps a good half size too large for his finger, but he didn't dare tell her that.

"Good," she said, sounding truly satisfied with herself.

His resolve broke then. He brought his left hand to her chin, tilting it up and watching the ring on his finger, against her skin. He pressed his lips to hers and she let him, even kissing him back.

And as he pulled back he whispered on the breath they shared, "I love you Christine."

And her eyes were soft, her smile sad as she nodded. "I know."

Chapter Text

There was an unease that settled into Christine's eyes, an uneasiness and nervousness that he had nearly forgotten of her. And so he resolved himself to pass their first night in the grimy hotel in an uncomfortable way.

His mask securely in place and the gas lamp at Christine's bedside burning on its lowest setting he held her close in the uncomfortable bed, stroking her hair slowly, intrigued by the way the light glinted off of the ring he dared not remove.

She curled closer to him, her eyes flitting about the room at the unfamiliar, flickering shadows and the bulge of her stomach not offering her a comfortable position. His lips pressed to her forehead gently and his breath ghosted over the skin of her face, offering her a strange sort of comfort.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," he murmured gently to her.

She nodded against his chest. "I know," she said.

He pulled her closer against him and sighed. "But you are still afraid."

She shrugged quietly and he watched her as she chewed her bottom lip. He brought his hand to her face, using his thumb to pull gently on her chin until she finally released the captive lip.

"What are you afraid of Christine?"

She let out a sigh against his chest and shrugged a shoulder. "A lot of things," she finally said.

He resumed his gentle petting of her hair and regarded her face carefully. "Do you regret it?" He whispered.

Her face scrunched up in confusion. "Regret what?"

"Running away with me," he kept his voice gentle, continuing the soothing motion of his hand.

She looked thoughtful for a moment but eventually she shook her head. "No," she said. "I don't think so."

His thumb brushed her temple as he looked into her eyes. "Are you happy Christine?"

"Are you?" She retorted, pulling away and meeting his eye curiously.

He nodded carefully. "I should think I am."

She bit her lip and nodded, settling into his chest again and letting out a huff of breath. "I am content," she said at length.

He pulled her closer against him, resuming his careful petting of her. "I do love you Christine," he murmured, looking down at her, the way she curled against him, the bulge of her stomach a striking contrast to the slim build of her body. Her small, thin and pale fingers twisted in his nightshirt. It was an endearing sight, one that he was grateful for every day.

"I know Erik," she said softly, reaching over and capturing his hand in hers, pulling his arm tighter around her. "And I am rather fond of you."

He swallowed hard as she pulled closer to him, resting her forehead against his throat. Her warm skin and breath felt like fire against him, it seared him. It was all too much. He swallowed again and took a shuddering breath.

"But you don't love me," he managed to force out, somehow keeping his voice even and calm despite the tremble he felt in his very soul.

She made no response aside from a soft sigh and he felt his heart tear in two at that. Half hopeful, half despair. Then again that was what made up his life at this point, wasn't it? He wondered which would win out this time and he couldn't quite decide which he preferred. The hope - the hope would kill him. He was sure of that. The despair - well, he was used to it. It would almost be like welcoming back an old friend, and oh, to be able to bring up that cold barrier again! How he longed for it.

As it was he lay there in silence, forcing his fingers to continue with their soothing petting. He pressed his lips to her forehead and a contented sigh escaped her lips as she curled only closer still to him, pressing her ear over his heart.

He found himself wondering wether she would ever truly be his. He watched the ring on his finger as he carefully stroked her back. He watched the way the light glinted on the cool metal, the way she shivered under the gentle brush of his hand. At first - at first it hadn't been so bad. Erik was good at pretending - he had to be to find any kind of happiness. But the charade was growing tiresome, the constant game of make-believe. Her smiles, the way she played on his heart. Husband, wife, love, fondness. The words tore at him.

And the best part, he thought with a strange twist of humor, was that even as he feel apart and lost his mind here she was, curled so close, completely clueless about what she was doing to him.

And he couldn't help it. His lips pressed lightly to her forehead.

"Goodnight Christine," he managed to whisper.

She snuggled into him and his hand finally came to rest on her hip, pulling her as close as he could. She sighed and gave him a soft smile. "Goodnight Erik."

Chapter Text

"Something is wrong," she had confessed to him on their third night in the the cold and grimy hotel.

"What is it?" He asked distractedly, looking over the paper as he did every night, looking over the listings of homes for sale; too small, too large, wrong area, he ticked them off in his head only halfway listening to Christine.

She bit her lip. She had felt his unease over the last few days. He was slowly growing more distant, more cold toward her. Though it worried her at first she found herself allowing it. As all things did, she supposed this would pass too.

But now, his eyes trained on the paper as he refused to look at her she found her concern growing.

She sighed sadly. "The baby hasn't moved," she said quietly. It had been a few days now since she felt the familiar kick. At first she had been unconcerned - perhaps it was normal. But as the days dragged by she felt her anxiousness growing.

He glanced up at her briefly before returning to the paper. "I'm sure it's nothing," he said quietly.

She sighed, too tired to argue his point. She had been so tired lately, sleeping later and later into the day, finding herself winded with only the slightest activity. And so instead of arguing she simply sighed and settled back into her chair, closing her eyes and allowing herself to slip into a light sleep.

Erik had noticed of course, and he found himself concerned by it but he kept it to himself, writing it off as boredom. He had left her mostly to herself, spending long hours with the paper, out examining the few properties that had piqued his interest. This had become a nightly routine - he would sit down with the paper after they dined, and she would fall asleep. And despite the distance he had forced - for his and her sake - he found it strangely endearing. And so, night after night he would lift her like a small child, never bothering to wake her. He would put her to bed and every night he would press a kiss to her forehead, murmuring the love that he no longer brought to her attention in her waking hours, and return to the paper until late into the night.

It was an odd routine but it was comfortable all the same. He had forced all anguish out of his mind, finding it surprisingly easy to distract himself with his search for a home.

Until the end of their first week at least. He has roused Christine from bed rather early, telling her to get dressed. He had found a home and he wanted her to see it - a beautiful, unique structure just on the outskirts of a rather large town. It was a perfect location, he decided. Far enough to retain his privacy but close enough that Christine could spend her day in town if she so chose to.

And like the good girl she was she obeyed him, allowing him to lead her through the unfamiliar streets and never once complaining. There was a tiredness behind her eyes, her soft smile off just a bit.

"What's wrong?" He finally murmured to her only halfway through their long walk.

She shook her head. "I'm just tired Erik. I'm so tired."

Her grip on his arm was only half as tight as it normally was. "Only a few hours," he found himself saying. "And then you can go home and sleep."

She nodded slowly and sighed, leaning heavier against him.

He found himself only growing more concerned with her condition but he kept the thought to himself, instead prattling to her, pointing out landmarks and different shops, telling her what each sold.

And she smiled softly and sighed. "That's lovely Erik," she murmured with each one.

She had loved the home just as he expected. And she had smiled brightly for the first time in a long time. He felt his cold wall slowly being chipped away, her bright smile and exhausted eyes pulling him in a way he didn't quite understand.

And on their walk back Christine chatted cheerfully, reminding him of the features of the home. And he couldn't help but smile at her excitement, the sweet smile that she gave him.

And then suddenly she stopped mid-step, grasping his sleeve tightly and not moving a muscle otherwise.

He nearly tripped but quickly caught himself. "What is it?"

She shook her head almost imperceptibly and took a shaky breath.

"Christine, what's wrong?" He found himself growing more anxious with every moment.

She shook her head again. "I just need a moment," she said anxiously. She eyed the bench a few feet up the street longingly. "Please," she whispered.

He looked around, finding the street blessedly deserted, and nodded. She sighed with relief as he helped her toward the bench, her steps shaky and unsure.

Her hand never released his sleeve, only holding it tighter until her knuckles were white from the effort, even as her eyes closed. Her jaw was set tightly and she breathed shallowly, almost as though she were afraid to take in a full breath of air.

He sat beside her, putting his hand over hers on her sleeve and finding himself surprised when she caught it tightly in her grip. Her face contorted as she gripped his hand, her nails digging painfully into his skin.

"Talk to me," he said evenly, trying to keep his anxiousness out of his voice. "Tell me what's wrong."

She took a shuddering breath. "It hurts," she said through clenched teeth. Tears began to gather and when she finally opened her eyes they began to leak out. There was nothing but terror behind her eyes. "It hurts, something is wrong," she insisted as she leaned forward, nearly doubling over.

"What hurts Christine?" He said calmly.

She grasped his hand and pulled it roughly against her stomach, looking up at him desperately. "It hurts," her words were strained. "What's wrong with me?"

He let out a shaky breath and began to count in his head. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 months, 6 at the very most. He shook his head to clear the thought. "I don't know, Christine," he lied calmly. No movement, 6 months, pain. He was nearly positive he knew what was happening, but for her sake he kept his voice calm.

She suddenly gripped his hand harder, letting a hiss out from between her teeth.

"We're almost home," he was saying in his most reassuring voice. "You need to get home and rest. Can you do that Christine?"

She was nodding frantically, tears streaming down her face. Her walk was odd and disjointed, slow, but she was doing it all the same and he forced himself to be patient with her.

"You are so good," he was murmuring. "So good and brave."

She took in a shuddering breath. "Is it gonna be alright?" Her question was quiet, her eyes desperate.

His breath hitched in his chest and he found himself nodding. "Yes, Christine," he lied to her gently. "Everything is going to be alright, you just need to rest."

And she was nodding. He felt as though his heart would burst in his chest and he couldn't find it in him to confess what he was sure of - to tell her that she was losing the baby. And so he lied to her, helping her slowly into their grimy hotel, helping her into the bed.

And good girl that she was she let him, allowing him to undress her. Not even questioning him when he stripped her pantalettes away before pulling the blankets up to her chin.

She was so tired, so tired that her eyelids drooped. So tired that all it took was Erik's gentle, warm kiss to her forehead and his whispered permission for her to sleep.

And when her eyes closed, when her breathing grew even he finally found it in himself to look down at the garment that he clutched tightly in his hands. He drew in a shaky breath and ran a hand through his hair as he stared at the irrefutable evidence, the stains of blood, a dark contrast to the pure white of the material.

Chapter Text

Christine woke with a gasp. "Erik," his name was frantic on her lips.

"I'm here Christine," he murmured, setting himself on the edge of the bed and letting her grip his hand tightly in hers. He hadn't left, had barely moved, not even daring to step into the other room.

"It still hurts," she gasped.

He nodded, stroking her warm, sweaty forehead with his free hand. "I know," he said quietly.

Her eyes closed and she took in a quick breath. "I'm scared," she whispered.

"I know Christine," he murmured. "But I'm going to fetch a doctor. I'll fetch a doctor and everything will be alright."

Her eyes shot open and she yanked his arm toward her roughly, shaking her head frantically. "Don't leave me," her words were broken and rough. "Please don't leave me."

He sighed and pressed his lips to her forehead. "I won't be long," he assured her. "I'll be back before you even know I'm gone."

She bit her lip, letting out a shaky breath. "I'm scared," she repeated.

"I know, Christine," he said again, gently. "I know you are and that's why I need to get a doctor."

Her eyes closed and she let her grip on him loosen. She nodded weakly.

He pulled himself away from her and found himself wondering if he was lying to her. He had no connections here and no idea how long it would take him to find a doctor.

"Erik," her voice was weak and his eyes softened when they settled on her face, contorted with pain and terror. "Erik," she said, trying again. "Do you still love me?"

And her question was weak and so small. He wondered if he had been unfair to her, building the distance that he had since they arrived.

He took her face gently between his hands and waited until her eyes met his to answer. "Yes," he said quietly. "I love you Christine. More than life itself. And I'm sorry that I haven't told you that enough lately."

She let out a sigh of relief and nodded. "Please be fast," she said desperately. He only nodded, knowing it was a promise that didn't need to be spoken.

It was only a half hour later that he returned with a doctor in tow. He had bribed the man, offering far more money than the man was worth. But that was the least of Erik's worries.

"Christine," he said.

Her eyes opened and settled on his face, a faraway smile on her lips. "You're back," her voice was hoarse and he nodded.

"I promised I wouldn't be long," he said, sinking to his knees beside the bed and taking her hand in his.

She nodded as her jaw clenched and she took in a deep, unsteady breath, staving off the painful stab between her legs.

The doctor had set to work, opening his medical bag and uncovering Christine, coaxing her into spreading her legs open so that he could look between them.

She grew red with embarrassment but Erik's hand was stroking her forehead so gently. "It's alright," he said quietly. "It's alright, Christine. Look at me, don't look at him."

She nodded frantically and he sighed again. "Good girl," he whispered. "You're my good, brave girl aren't you?"

"Yeah," she gasped out.

He nodded, continuing to murmur useless words to her, trying his best to keep his voice calm and soothing. The doctor declared that she was in labor, the baby was coming, but his words were a mush of foreign dialect to Christine.

Her nails dug into Erik's hand and he continued to stroke her forehead gently.

"You're going to have the baby now," he whispered.

Her lip trembled and she shook her head defiantly. "No," she said. "No, no, no it's not time yet."

"Christine, look at me," he said, only continuing when her frightened eyes settled on his. "The baby is coming. I need you to be brave Christine, we both need to be brave. Can you be brave for me?"

And she was nodding as tears squeezed from her eyes. "It's going to die, isn't it?" Her words were hoarse but there was a strange acceptance behind them.

"I don't know Christine," he said with a sigh. "There's a high chance." He couldn't lie to her - not when she looked at him so desperately, so brokenly.

She nodded at him, taking in a quick breath.

He coaxed her through the birth, translating the doctors instructions for her patiently, stroking her forehead gently, murmuring reassurances as her terrified hand squeezed his until it went numb.

He tried his best not to look between her legs. Her gasps of pain were already nearly more than he could bear, and the blood, the steady trickle of blood that he saw when he did look down nearly broke him. And so he kept his eyes on her face and his words calm, focusing on the moment and trying so hard not to think of the blood, of the dangers of a thing like birth.

It went so quickly, the whole experience dragging over nearly four hours. But to Erik it seemed to have lasted minutes. And before he knew it the doctor was calling him over, giving his condolences and pushing the baby into his arms.

His breath hitched as he looked down at the still body, it's face set and eyes closed. He was stricken by how small it was, the tiniest baby he had ever seen. But there it was - ten fingers, ten toes, a full face, a nose. A boy - his son. There was a strange sense of pride that tugged at him, pride and grief.

And then there was Christine, her voice gentle. "Erik?" She whispered.

He shook his head. "He's dead, Christine," he whispered in return.

He turned to find her nodding, a strange emptiness behind her eyes. "Can I hold him?" Her voice was nothing more than whisper, a strange calmness overlaying it.

He looked down at the tiny body in his arms and let out a shaky breath, then quietly nodded, sitting on the edge of the bed. If she wanted to hold what was left of her child, what right had he to keep that from her?

She was silent as he passed the body to her, showing her how to cradle him as though he were still alive.

She stared sadly down at the baby and sighed. "He's beautiful," she finally said, brushing her thumb over his cold, small cheek.

And he was pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead. "As beautiful as his mother," he said quietly.

She heaved a breath and shook her head, finally looking up at him, tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered brokenly.

He put his arm around her, pulling her close to him, staring down at the child with her. "What for Christine?"

"Letting the baby die."

"Shush," he said, letting his thumb stroke her arm. "It wasn't your fault, Christine. It's no ones fault."

She nodded weakly. "Was it painful for him? When he died?" Her question was small.

He shook his head gently. "He didn't feel anything, Christine," he assured her. "He never even took a breath."

She was nodding against him. "What will they do with him?"

He sighed and pressed his lips to her temple. "He will have a coffin and a good Christian burial," he said quietly.

"Gustave," she said quietly.

He nodded gently. "That's a beautiful name."

He held her close against him as she finally began to cry. He didn't dare taken the child from her arms until she finally cried herself into exhaustion, falling into a fitful sleep.

He paid the doctor well and was assured that a burial would be arranged.

Chapter Text

For perhaps the first time in his life Erik was at a loss.

Death was something he was familiar with, having been the harbinger of it for the majority of his life. It was something that didn't affect him, not really. Perhaps the first, maybe even the second murder had stirred something in him resembling guilt. And guilt, guilt he could deal with. He had felt it's affect throughly in his years.

Grief though, grief was something that he was not equipped to deal with. He had seen it sure enough. He had seen a great deal of it in Persia, he had been the cause of so much of it. He had seen it in the eyes of women whose husbands had perished at his hand, in the eyes of children who had their families ripped from them. But he never let it touch him and he had never quite experienced it himself having accomplished the task of remaining largely unacquainted with humanity for the majority of his life.

So though he had witnessed it, he had no relatable experience with it. And thusly he was lost when it came to Christine's own grief in losing the child.

Not to say that he was completely unaffected by the whole ordeal. But he had realized that such things were natural, and he had a tendency to regard the whole thing with little more than anger. There was a certain amount of sadness instilled in him from it, but it paled in comparison to Christine's all encompassing grief.

He had tried to ply her in the early days following the incident. He enticed her with sunlit walks, with early dinners in town. He offered small distractions, tempting her with music and even with books. But none of it worked and he found himself growing frustrated rather quickly.

She would simply offer him an empty smile and shake her head. "Not today, perhaps tomorrow," she would say evenly.

But tomorrow's came and went and still she kept herself chained to the bed in a strange, half comatose state. Her gaze was empty and her words were calm and soft, no more than a whisper most of the time.

He tried, and he must admit that he tried rather hard, to recognize it as grief and allow her to sulk in her sorrow. But it was exhausting. She didn't cry, she didn't yell, she simply lay there staring blankly ahead. She didn't even sleep as far as he could tell, her eyes hardly closing for more than a quarter of an hour at a time.

And the thing that bothered him perhaps most of all was when he would finally surrender, when he would finally grow tired and climb into the bed beside her, she no longer rolled toward him. Even a simple brush of her fingers on his arm was a rare occurrence, if it happened at all.

No, instead she would curl in on herself, her back to him and her knees pulled close to her chest. There was a constant physical distance between them, and though he felt tempted to there was something intimidating about actually crossing that empty space.

And so he would lay there tormented in his own right. Christine was broken, that much was sure. What was left of the wreckage he had made of her was now lost. And he did take his own responsibility in that; he recognized that her spirit had slowly been dying within her far before she lost the child, and he knew that it was his doing. But he hadn't been able to stop it, he got some sort of sick, twisted pleasure from it if he was quite honest. He had known that some sacrifice on her part was necessary if she were to remain with him. But now she was here, she was here and he was certain that she would stay. It wasn't something that he had questioned, not in a long while. Not since her first half-hearted escape attempt. No, she was here to stay and she was his. But that didn't alleviate the empty ache in his chest, the way he questioned wether it was all worth it.

He had thought at first that he wouldn't care. That her presence would be more than enough for him, that perhaps she could fill that empty need, that longing for companionship that try as he might he couldn't deny. And he did love her, he truly did. But even he knew that his love was a dangerous, burning thing. Looking back he had to admit that he knew that he would kill her. Perhaps not in the physical sense - she still breathed, she spoke, timid as it was. She responded when he addressed her. No. She was still alive in body, but he had crushed her soul. He had broken something deep inside of her and it was only magnified through her own grief.

In the first days, in the days of his failed attempts to rouse her into at least the pretense of being a functional human, he had tried to comfort her. He had tried pressing his lips to her forehead, he had tried to give her comforting caresses. She didn't push him away, but she also didn't encourage him and her tepid acceptance only grew to make him more weary.

And so he would lay beside her and allow the space between them to go untouched.

He had extended their stay at the seedy hotel, bringing it to the attention of the landlord that it would be indefinite. And he had smiled brightly at that; of course he would. Erik was sure he was being charged at least two-fold what the place was worth. But he was too exhausted to fight it, too tired to be angry about it.

When he had informed Christine, she just nodded. He sighed.

He had brought up the house that they had seen to her, but she simply shook her head and wrapped her arms around herself.

"I don't like that one," she said quietly.

Erik knew it was a lie, but he didn't push her. In truth he wondered wether they would live out the rest of their lives in that dark, dirty room. She refused to move and he refused to make her. He wondered wether she would ever want to again.

It wasn't until the third week of their residence in that room that there was finally some occurrence to give him a glimmer of hope.

He woke in the middle of the night to sobs.

She still had her back to him, her pillow clutched tightly to her chest, her slight body shaking with the force of her sobs. And though the sight only made that hollow ache in his chest grow deeper, he found some strange satisfaction from it, some hope that maybe she was not as completely empty as she had seemed.

And so, mustering every ounce of courage he had, he finally breached the distance between them, daring to lay his arm over her waist, daring to press his chest to her back.

At first there was no reaction from Christine.

"Shh," he murmured gently. "It's alright love."

And to his surprise, and immense relief, she finally, finally turned toward him.

Her eyes were red with her tears, her face exhausted, her eyes filled with sadness. And though it hurt to see, he was glad to see any emotion in her at all.

"I'm sorry I woke you," she said, a break in her hoarse voice.

He shook his head and dared to reach out, brushing a few tears away with his thumb. It was a hopeless endeavor, he knew that, as more only followed but it was a comfort all the same.

"It's fine," he murmured. He lay back and opened his arms to her in a silent invitation.

And when she took it, when she pressed close to him, when she buried her wet face in his chest and her hands tangled tightly in his nightshirt, he felt that constant pressure finally begin to lift.

He stroked her hair gently, letting his lips rest in her hair.

He allowed himself to take a small comfort from her embrace, even as she shook and cried. And though he felt compelled to speak, something told him that the silence was best left undisturbed. And so he simply held her, trying to ignore the uncomfortable wetness of her tears.

She sobbed against him for a long while and he found himself wondering wether it was possible to cry oneself into dehydration. But he didn't speak his concern, he simply allowed his thumb to rub soothing circles on her back as she clung to him.

"I'm sorry," she finally said, a gasp more than anything else.

"Shush," he found himself saying, surprised at the tightness in his own voice. "There is nothing to apologize for."

And she only burrowed closer to him, if such a thing were even possible.

"I failed," she mumbled into his chest.

"How have you failed Christine?" He asked quietly.

And she was shaking her head, finally seeming to stem her tears. "I lost your child Erik. I lost - I lost OUR child," she seemed to grow only more hysterical as she spoke but he couldn't find it in himself to scold her for it. "I am a woman, Erik. This is my duty, it was my job to protect our child and I failed."

"You did no such thing," he heard himself say. "Christine, oh dear Christine, women lose children all the time love. It is natural. There is nothing you could have done differently."

"I already loved him," her words were hollow. "I was so afraid, but I loved him. Did you love him Erik?"

And how could he deny her when she looked up at him with such large, tear-filled eyes?

"I loved him," he said, surprised by the break in his own voice, surprised by the tears that were leaking unbidden from his own eyes. "I loved him too."

He didn't know wether he was lying or not, but it felt true. He had felt some strange stirrings in his heart and he couldn't very well deny his own sadness.

And she was nodding. "Why do these things happen?"

Her voice was soft and innocent and it only moved him to tighten his hold on her.

"They just do Christine. No one will ever be able to answer that for you."

She nodded against his chest and made a strange noise, somewhere between a sob and a hiccup.

And he couldn't help it. He pressed his lips to her forehead. "I love you Christine."

And she was nodding again. And in the shakiest and quietest voice he had ever heard from her, a tone filled with pain and emptiness, he heard the words that he had longed to hear since the first moment he had heard her sing.

"I love you too, Erik."

And it only made his heart ache all the more.

A strange thing, really. He had expected a certain flood of joy to come with the words. A finality and happiness that until now had been unknown to him. Instead he felt nothing more than an incredible icy pressure around his heart.

He sighed and forced himself to breathe through the pressure that had settled on his chest and seemingly paralyzed his lungs. "Tell me how to fix it, Christine," he said, the words hard to force through his lips. "Tell me what you need - anything at all."

Her grip on his nightshirt loosened slightly. "I need to run," she said quietly. "I need - I need to go away from here and never see it again."

It wasn't healthy to run from ones problems, but he couldn't very well deny her that when it was how he had lived his entire life.

"Where to?"

"Anywhere but here," she said quietly.

He allowed his hand to skim over her back as he thought. "First thing in the morning," he said. "We will get on the first train or ship that we see and we won't stop until you're ready."

She let out a shaky sigh that sounded a lot like relief to Erik's ears. And she settled in against his chest, finally seeming to rest and accept the exhaustion that had weighed so heavily on her for so long.

"Thank you," she murmured tiredly against his chest.

He could only pull her closer, stroking her gently until sleep finally overtook her.

Chapter Text

It was a quiet start to the journey, Christine lightly clutching his arm as they sat on the blessedly empty train. The sun was just beginning to really peek out and Erik found himself grateful for their early departure.

She sat nearest to the window and he sat on the aisle seat. It wasn't the most comfortable arrangement for him, but Christine's light smile as she watched the landscape pass by was worth the discomfort. It had been weeks since anything resembling a smile had crossed her features and he was stricken by how much he missed them.

He lightly covered her hand with his where it rested in the crook of his arm, desperate for the contact. There had been so little contact between them lately, no true kisses and she no longer gripped his arm as tightly. It made his heart ache but he had reasoned that if he was going to allow any spirit to return to her, any growth or healing, then he must be patient with her. Even when it frustrated him.

And when she turned her head to look at him and gave him a shy smile his heart nearly broke in his chest.

"Where are we going?" She asked.

He gave a half-hearted shrug. "I don't know Christine," he admitted. "This train will take us along the coast line but it won't take us out of the country. I suppose where we go next will be up to you."

She sighed and looked back out of the window. He watched intently as she worried her bottom lip between her teeth and sighed. "I truly don't care where we go so long as it is away from that terrible hotel," she mumbled. And then she turned back to gaze at him, her eyes honest. "I want to go somewhere where you will be happy," she confessed.

He shook his head at that. "You needn't be concerned about that Christine. I am happy wherever you are," he said stoically.

"Surely there is someplace in this world that you haven't seen and want to. Or at least someplace you would like to see again."

He shook his head and gave her a sad smile. "The world was never a very kind place for me Christine, and if I am quite honest my most fond memories were made whilst living five floors below the Earth. And I will not force you back down there - not now. You need sunlight and open air; I am content to provide that for you, even at my own expense."

He watched as she bit her lip and looked down at their entwined hands, moving her free hand over to cover his and playing with the ring that had found a permanent home on his finger. A smile tugged at her mouth.

"You really should have told me that it was too large Erik."

He shook his head at that. "It is perfect Christine, because you gave it to me."

Her smile faded and she sighed, peeking up at him. "I just want to go somewhere where we can start over. Somewhere that we can get away from the past, where it can't chase us anymore." She paused and bit her lip, looking away from him as her words grew shy. "Where maybe we could really get married, start a new life."

He pulled his hand from beneath hers and gently nudged her chin upward, studying her face and waiting until she met his eyes to speak.

"Is that truly what you want?" He whispered the question.

He watched as a brilliant blush colored her features, spreading so quickly that he was almost afraid she would faint. But instead she simply let out a huff of a laugh and nodded her head.

"I can't imagine a life without you Erik. How could I? I would be glad to be your wife," she murmured. As he continued to stare at her she fidgeted slightly. "Of course, if you would rather not -"

He cut her off with a quick press of his lips to hers, gentle and sweet and not at all as demanding as he had wished it to be. But it was a kiss all the same, and she smiled so he contented himself with the small gesture.

"I want nothing more in my life than to call you my wife Christine. To have you as my willing, living bride - and for you to offer it is something that I had thought to be too good to be true. But before you truly offer it you must know that there is truly no going back - you will never see your boy again, you will never step foot in France again. You've made that agreement before but you must have no lingering doubt."

She looked back away from him and out of the window again, watching as trees and grass blurred together in her vision. She slowly began to nod and reached her hand up to wipe away the tears that had begun sometime between his words and her contemplation.

"There was never any going back," her voice was rough and strained. She shook her head and let out a strange sort of choked laugh. When she looked back to him it was with shining eyes and a quivering lip. "From the first night that I heard your voice there was no going back Erik. And I was a fool to think that there ever was."

He reached for her slowly, tentatively brushing away the tears as they fell. "I'm sorry Christine," he whispered. "I am truly sorry for all I've put you through. You should be happy - you should be living carefree with that damned boy in a house by the sea."

She shook her head and sighed. "I can be happy with you Erik."

"Do you remember the night that you ran away with me Christine?" He waited for her nervous nod before continuing. "You were freezing and I gave you my cloak. Do you remember what I said to you?"

She bit her lip and nodded. "Then what did I say love?"

"That I must speak my needs."

He nodded and pressed his lips to her forehead. "I need you to be truthful with me Christine. About everything."

She nodded. "I am."

"And you still want to marry me? To tie yourself even more permanently to me?"

"Yes," she said as firmly as she could as she let her head lean against his shoulder. She caught his hand in hers and entwined their fingers. "I want to marry you Erik."

He let his chin rest on her head and watched the blur of green outside of the window.

After a moment he sighed. "America," he said quietly.

She shifted and pulled back to look at him. "What?"

He shook his head and gave a strained smile. "We will get new papers and go to America. I've never been there. It's where everyone looking for a new start goes. Do you speak any English?"

She shrugged a shoulder. "When I first came to the opera house there was a little girl there from Britain," she said. "I don't remember much and it's been years, but she tried to teach me."

"Elizabeth," Erik murmured and she looked at him in surprise. He shrugged a shoulder. "It should really come as no surprise to you anymore Christine - I know you better than you even know yourself. But it's no matter - I will teach you the language. Many people live there that don't know it."

"America then," she said nervously.

He nodded and finally wrapped his arm around her fully, tucking her against his side. "America," he said, kissing her forehead again.

"Is it safe?" She asked nervously. "I've heard so little about the country."

He shrugged a shoulder. "No more or less than anywhere else I suppose my Christine. But so long as you are with your Erik, you will be safe. Do you trust me?"

And she nodded. "I trust you," she whispered.

"Good," he said, lightly kissing her forehead. "Then it's settled."

Chapter Text

The journey was a long one. Erik had considered the distance and decided that it was best to board a ship near the coast of Spain - it was beneficial, really, that Christine had chosen the country. It would only be a few days trip up the coast and once they were able to secure passage on a ship it would be a straight shot across the Atlantic.

Once they had boarded he supposed it would be less than a month of travel. Give or take a few days, they could make rather good time if they set out straight away.

It was odd honestly, but he felt a strange amount of excitement at the prospect of going to America. Travel didn't normally excite him, but he had heard the whispers about the place. A land of opportunity, a country unlike any other. It was still in its infancy compared to Spain and France and that too was an exciting prospect - he was sure that it meant there was plenty of opportunity in many fields. He was sure that he could find work in architecture, masonry at the very least. And the thought of being able to survive off of that, off of honest work, was a foreign and oddly exciting concept to him. The irony of it wasn't lost on him - he had been an assassin, a ghost, a composer, and all he wanted was to be normal.

Normal with his wife.

Not that they would ever truly be normal - not with his tattered face and her broken soul. But they could try. And for the first time in his life Erik felt an odd optimism.

They transferred from train to train, traveling slowly up the coast and the days had begun to blur together. He had suggested stopping for a night, finding a bed and a bit or respite from the constant movement, but Christine had refused insisting that she was ready to put Spain behind them.

Somewhere along the way Erik had acquired a map. He couldn't remember the last time he had slept, instead spending his nights pouring over it and potential routes. Sleeper cars were hard to come by and most nights Christine dozed against his shoulder while he tried his best not to jostle her.

When they finally reached the docks it was with welcomed relief; it held the promise of a bit of privacy and a real bed. Christine's insistence on constant travel had worn on her and even Erik had to admit his exhaustion.

The spontaneous travel hadn't afforded him the opportunity to arrange everything as perfectly as before, but he managed to acquire second class tickets on a steamer and he found that satisfactory enough. It wouldn't afford them the same luxuries as the first class passage on the last trip, but he also wouldn't subject Christine to third class. They would be comfortable enough and she wouldn't be tied to the lower decks like a rat.

And Christine seemed to be ready for anything so long as they continued to move. Erik knew that feeling well and didn't begrudge her for it - how many times has he done the same thing? Countless. His entire life up until Christine had walked into it consisted of putting as much distance between himself and his problems as he could. The regret would come in time as she realized that no matter how far she ran it would still be there, she would still feel that loss and grief. The tears would come, the screaming and breakdown would come, the nightmares. Erik knew that only too well. But for now he allowed her the small peace she had found; when it came he would be prepared for it and until then he would allow her the bliss of ignorance.

He had managed to convince her to spend a few hours in town with him which he used to clothe her - she had lost so much weight. He had found himself concerned, but she still ate and exhibited all outward signs of health so he kept his concerns in his head, promising himself that he would watch and be sure that her health remained.

But the few hours were too much for her, and sooner than he had wanted he found them walking up the plank to board yet another ship.

Christine was confident this time and led the way, nearly tugging him along behind her. And before long they were barricaded in their room behind a locked door.

She sighed as though relieved and pressed her forehead briefly to the wooden door before rolling her shoulders and setting about unpacking, hanging her dresses and Erik's own clothing in the small wardrobe that made their closet.

Erik sat on the bed, simply watching her as she set about making her own distractions. Something had been burning at his mind but he hadn't any idea how to speak it. His fear was that if he didn't say it now she would never allow him the chance - she wanted to leave it behind, the past.

"You know," he started quietly, looking down at his hands. "We can always try again Christine."

He watched her muscles tense, the deep breath she took as she froze and turned to face him. "Try what again?" Her question was quiet and unsure.

"For a child," he said, finally daring to look up at her.

She worried her lip between her teeth and shifted from foot to foot, occupying herself with playing with her ring. Eventually she sighed and wrapped her arms around herself. "I hadn't any idea that you actually wanted children Erik," she sounded defeated, heavy, and it caused a certain ache that Erik couldn't quite place.

"I don't," he admitted. "But you do. You always have, haven't you?"

She tightened her arms around herself and nodded weakly, not daring to look him in the eye.

He stood and went to her, wrapping her in his arms and pulling her close against him and pressing a kiss to her forehead. "Not now," he reassured her. "But we can try again, when you're ready."

Her face was pressed against his shoulder. "You wouldn't be angry?" It was a muffled question.

"No," he murmured. "No, I wouldn't be angry Christine. Children have never appealed to me particularly, but if it only made you happy I would give you ten."

There was a ghost of a laugh from her. "Ten may be a few too many," she said.

He shrugged his shoulders gently and gave his own huff of laughter, brushing his lips against her forehead once more. "I just thought that this was something you should know."

And she was pulling back from him, looking up at him. There was a softness behind her eyes, something he had thought died in her long ago, but there it was. "Thank you Erik," she said quietly, offering him a slight nod and pulling even farther away, taking up her task of hanging their clothing again, pausing every so often to wipe away the tears that fell intermittently.

Chapter Text

This time was much different than last. Christine no longer seemed anxious to be above deck, instead seeming content to hide away with Erik behind a locked door. And though he knew that he should encourage her to go out and socialize, he found himself more comfortable with her there, where he could see her. He had decided that for his own selfish reasons he would not encourage her to go above, but at the same time he would not refuse her the opportunity if she so chose.

As it was she had only gone above deck twice - once for the desire of sunlight on her face and once to visit the ships library. She had returned with a stack of books and never brought up going above again.

The nights were cold on the Atlantic, and though Erik did take her above for dinners he was only too glad to return to their warm voluntary prison.

She no longer discouraged his attentions and would even warmly kiss him back when he dared to breach the boundary. But still he was careful to maintain a slight distance, unwilling to allow himself to push her for anything more than she was ready to give him.

And then one night, laying in the darkness, Christine began to play with the buttons on his nightshirt.

"Thank you Erik," she murmured. They were nearing the end of their first week on the ship and with only a few left they had both felt a strange relief.

"For what Christine?" He murmured, trying so hard to ignore her fingers, the way she was tugging so gently on the buttons, trying so hard to retain his will power.

"Being so patient with me," she answered, pulling her lip between her teeth.

He put his hand over hers on his chest, stilling her teasing movement. "You've been through a lot Christine," he reminded them both. "Patience is the least of what I should offer you."

And she was lifting herself up, hovering her upper body over his, pressing her lips warmly to his.

His hand travelled up her back, into her hair as he kissed her back, his desire winning over his will as he pulled her tighter to him, kissing her back roughly.

He was the one who broke it, placing both hands in her shoulders and pushing her back just far enough to force distance between their lips as he fought to regain his composure.

"I'm sorry," he breathed.

And there she was, her hand coming to rest on the unmasked flesh of his cheek that she couldn't see through the darkness. "Don't be," she whispered. "I miss you too."

And with that his resolve broke and his hands slipped from her shoulders, allowing her to bring her mouth back to his.

He was careful to maintain a calmness, allowing the kiss to remain gentle and sweet. He wanted her, he had never stopped wanting her, but he allowed her to take the lead.

Her fingers trembled as they set about undoing the buttons of his shirt, all nerves and shyness, but she was trying; his good, brave Christine.

He caught her hand in his and pressed a kiss to her palm. "You don't have to, if you're not ready -"

And she cut him off with a press of her lips to his. "I want you Erik," and her voice wavered, but she was reassuring him and he felt his own heart begin to race.

He shrugged his shirt off and rearranged them so that she was captured under him. He was gentle, as gentle as he could manage to be as he pressed kisses to her face, tender, reassuring, loving. If she wanted this he wouldn't deny her.

And when he began to tug her chemise up she helped him, wiggling her way out of it. She trembled beneath him and he took his time, pressing his lips to her chin, her jaw, her throat, the pale, milky flesh of her still slightly swelled breasts. And she sighed, letting her still shaking fingers tangle in his hair.

"Are you afraid, Christine?"

"No," she murmured. "I'm not afraid of you Erik."

And he sighed against the milky flesh of her breast, drawing his lips to hers again as he let his hand travel downward, pushing her pantalettes away and leaving her quite exposed. She helped him by shimmying and kicking them away.

She let out a strange, breathless gasp as his fingers found her most sensitive place between her legs. She lay her head back against the pillow and bit her lip, clenching her eyes shut as he touched her. She shivered and pushed her hips up, allowing him more access to her.

He watched her carefully as he stroked her, reveling in the warm wetness that he had so missed.

When she spoke again, it was uncontrolled and breathless. "I miss you, Erik," she said. "I want you."

And he was pushing away his pants, and then he was between her legs, running his member over her warm, wet entrance and watching her shiver, hearing her sighs.

And when he finally pushed inside of her he was gentle and slow, not stopping until he was fully sheathed inside of her.

Her breath caught in her throat and she let out something that sounded suspiciously like a sob, but her legs were moving, wrapping around his middle as she offered him only more of herself.

"Shh," he murmured, pressing his lips against her forehead. "It's alright Christine." He stroked her cheek gently with his thumb. "I love you," he said seriously.

And her eyes were opening, she was looking up at him with unshed tears gathering but she was nodding. "I love you too," she murmured, shifting her hips and encouraging him to move.

And he did, slowly at first and then just a bit faster, reminding himself all the while to be gentle, to allow her comfort.

And she was pulling him down, closer to her until he was nearly frightened that he would crush her. But she clung to him and pressed her face against his throat, muffling her gasps.

"Am I hurting you?"

She shook her head against his throat.

He managed to part them only enough to slip his hand between them, bringing it between her legs and stroking her until she trembled.

Any moment now and he knew that she would cross the edge. And he would be there to bring her back, to hold her, to murmur love and reassurance. He knew that he may not find his own completion, but this was a big step for Christine and he would make it good for her regardless of his own pleasure.

He heard his name on her lips, frantic and muffled by his throat.

"Shh," he murmured. "It's alright Christine." And his hand was in her hair, pulling her only closer to him as as his other continued to work between her legs. "It's alright, just let go."

And she was trembling beneath him, and her hips were pressing upward, and she was gasping as he felt her contract around him, the feeling almost enough to bring him to his own edge.

He gasped with her, pulling her closer, stroking into her gently as she rode the wave of her pleasure.

Her legs went slack around him and when she opened her eyes they were wide and panicked. She was struggling with herself, caught between her fulfilled calm and the terror that seemed to strike at her very core.

And then her little hands were pressing against him, pushing him away weakly, and he caught her wrists in his hands as she began to sob.

"Shh," he whispered. "Everything will be fine Christine."

But she was shivering and he forced himself to stop his movement and let out a sigh. He released her wrist and took her chin gently between his fingers, turning her face to him.

"Tell me what's wrong," he murmured.

She took in a shuddering breath and shook her head. "I'm not ready," she sobbed.

"Shush," he said in his most soothing voice. "What are you not ready for?"

"A - a baby," she sobbed.

There was a sudden pressure in his chest and he pressed his lips to her forehead. "Do you trust me Christine?"

His words were hollow but she nodded through her tears.

He nodded slowly back. "I won't give you a baby. But you have to trust me."

He knew that he should stop, that he should pull back, that he should just hold her and let her sleep. But he couldn't. He had been moving inside of her, he had felt her again for the first time in months and he couldn't stop, not now, not when he was so close.

She was nodding up at him. "I trust you," she whispered brokenly.

And he was nodding and moving inside of her again.

She turned her face into the pillow and clenched her eyes shut. He tried to ignore that, to simply focus on the feeling of her.

And he felt it, the tightening from his feet and up through his back. And just as he felt that edge approach he was ripping himself out of her. One stoke of his hand and he was gasping, watching as he spilled his seed on her trembling thigh.

He stayed still, staring at the mess that he had made and not daring to look at her face. He looked down and saw the tint of blood on his member and hand. He sighed.

"Did I hurt you?" He murmured.

"No," she said shakily. And he was nodding, accepting her answer even if it was a lie.

And then he was pulling away, staggering off of the bed and digging through their luggage until he found his handkerchief.

He rubbed it gently between her legs, wiping away the small traces of blood before he brought it to her thigh, wiping away the mess that he had made. She still shook and he sighed at that.

When she was as clean as he could manage with the limited supplies he turned his attention to himself, wiping the blood off of his hand and his member before tossing the handkerchief away.

He sighed and shook his head, laying beside Christine and pulling the blankets back up, being sure that she was adequately covered.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

He shook his head. "No, Christine. It's me who is sorry and selfish."

And she was pushing closer to him, worming her way between his arms. He allowed her to, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead and pulling her close.

"I- I just got scared," she murmured and shook her head.

"I know," he said gently. "And I should have stopped."

She shook her head. "I want you to be happy," she said quietly. "And I did want you. I do want you. I love you, Erik."

He pulled her closer to him still. She was still trembling and he let his hand stroke her arm soothingly. "I love you too, Christine."

He let his lips rest against her forehead as he held her.

"Erik?" His name was no more than a whisper on her lips.

"Hmm?"

"Did you really mean it?"

"Mean what Christine?" He murmured as he let his hand stroke the soft, smooth skin of her back.

She sucked in her lip and then let out a sigh. "That you would really be willing to try for a baby with me."

The softest bit of a smile pulled at his mouth. "Only ever with you Christine."

"I'm serious Erik," she said, pulling back to look in his eye.

He reached his knuckle out to brush over her cheek lightly. "Did you want me to mean it Christine?" She slowly began to nod and he mimicked the movement. "Then I meant it. With every fiber of my being I meant it."

She sighed and settled into his arms. "What if... What if I'm not able?" It was a strained question.

He pressed his lips to her forehead and contemplated his response, letting his thumb brush over her side. "We won't know unless we try," he finally said.

Her leg was nudging between his, entwining her body with his as closely as she could. She was nodding and he felt her tears more than he heard them.

He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her tightly to him, allowing her to bury her face in the crook of his neck.

"We will deal with it then if it comes to it," he was saying. "Perhaps we would adopt a child. But we don't know and worrying over it will only make it worse Christine."

"What's wrong with me?" She mumbled, frustrated, against his throat.

He sighed. "There is nothing wrong with you, love. Nothing at all. You are exhausted and have been through quite a trial, that's all."

She let out a frustrated huff against his throat and he sighed. "You need to rest Christine. We both need to rest."

She was shaking and he was stroking her as soothingly as he could.

"When we get to America we'll find a home," he promised. "We can stop running, we can start a life. Together."

And she sighed quietly. "You promise?"

"I promise you," he said quietly, pressing his lips to her forehead once more.

She seemed to relax at that, melding against him. Her trembling seized and her grip on him relaxed.

He sang quietly to her, stroking his thumb soothingly over her back until finally, finally she drifted into a peaceful sleep.

Chapter Text

"I'm going for a walk," Erik said a few days later.

There was an awkwardness between them that had settled since they shared their bodies again. It wasn't necessarily bad, but it made the air seem thick. And the longer the silence between them dragged on the more stifling it became.

Christine turned a page in the book she was reading and glanced up at him from the cocoon she had made of their bedsheets and pillows. "It's still daylight."

He nodded and scratched at his forearm. "I won't be gone long and I'm not going far," he said.

Her gaze was still fixed on him and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He sighed and moved forward, pressing his lips to her forehead. "Would you like to accompany me?"

"It's still daylight," she repeated softly.

"I know Christine."

She closed the book she was reading and drew her legs up, resting her chin on her knees and picking at her skirt. "Are you angry with me?"

He sighed and sat on the edge of the bed, taking her hand between both of his. "Should I be?" the question was light and quiet, the same tone that he would use with a child.

She shrugged her shoulders and looked down at their hands.

Eventually he sighed. "I'm not angry with you, Christine. I'm just restless."

She nodded and he gave her hand a light squeeze. These moments were the hardest for him, having to watch her withdraw, revert to that childishness that he thought they had left behind months ago.

"What do you want Christine?" He asked softly.

"I want you to stay here with me," she said, finally peeking up at him.

He sighed and brushed her hair back. "I can't," he said quietly. "This tiny room is driving me mad. You should come with me - a little light and fresh air would do you well."

She bit her lip and looked back down toward her feet. "Will you still take me to dinner?"

He hated this, hated that after so long she didn't have confidence. He hated that she didn't trust him, he hated that they were stuck in a limbo of one step forward and three back.

"Of course I will Christine," he said. "Wether you choose to come with me or choose to stay here I promise I will take you to dinner."

She nodded and rested her chin on her knees. "How far are you going?"

He brushed her hair away from her face and gave her a weak smile. "Not even to the main deck, we can just walk up the hallway if that's all you feel able to do."

And she nodded again. "I'll come with you."

Christine's insistence that it was still daylight was not entirely true - sure enough the sun was still showing but it had begun its decent a good while ago and was to the point of being no more than a mere pinkish-orange glow in the sky.

He wore a wide brimmed hat, pulled low to obscure his mask but he was aware that it would still be plainly visible. He was also aware that his notoriety had not spread this far from France, and though it was always prudent to be on guard he had little to fear beyond a few glares and the occasional snide comment. There was a certain freeing feeling associated with knowing that he was honestly crime-free.

Christine's nervousness was plain in the way that she clutched his bicep so tightly, but she held her head high along with him looking every moment like a viscomtess, her stolen title obvious in the way she carried herself. It was stunning to Erik, seeing how only a few months in high society had changed her. Gone was the gawkishness of her youth, the awkward way she had carried herself. She still held a challenge behind her eyes. She had been changed, but only in the most cosmetic of ways. She still held onto her innocence, her unsureness, her damned fear. But she was decidedly better at hiding it behind simpering smiles and cold eyes. There was something strangely alluring about this new Christine, her false confidence, the juxtaposition behind the way she carried herself in public and the way her walls came down in private, in the way she openly defended him to those she didn't know but still shook and cried in his arms at night questioning the cruelty of the world they lived in. Behind the innocence she held in almost every aspect of her life aside from the way she came apart in bed, transforming into a strong wantonness, her promiscuity surprising even him at times. He was charmed, intrigued, and completely transfixed by this new Christine.

And she had no idea.

They only saw one other couple on their small expedition - standing at the railing and looking out over the sea. They were a young couple and obviously on their first trip - perhaps their honeymoon. At least Erik was willing to bet it. They were too absorbed in each other and the rolling ocean to pay any mind to the dark couple that passed behind them. Even so, Christine's grip tightened on him, only relaxing when they were out of sight.

They had only turned the second hallway when Christine insisted she was ready to return to their room and as he had promised to, Erik consented.

They passed the couple one more time, walking in the opposite direction. The young woman looked at them, her eyes settling on his mask. She blinked and quickly looked away, ending the only small confrontation they had on their short walk.

"It wasn't so bad, was it Christine?" He asked as he closed the door behind them.

"No," she agreed quietly. "It's cold."

He let out a bit of a laugh at that. "Well, we are traveling on the Atlantic, love."

She nodded at that and ran her hands over her arms, trying to warm herself. "I will remember to bring a heavier cloak when you take me to dinner in a few hours," she said, giving him the cheekiest smile he had seen on her in a long time.

She seemed so alive in that moment that he couldn't even bring himself to be upset by her challenge. He simply chuckled and nodded, pressing his lips to her forehead. "You most definitely should, my love. Catching cold would do us no good."

Chapter Text

"Erik?"

"Hmm?" He murmured, looking away from the small porthole that served as a window. The trip had dragged on slowly but smoothly and with each passing hour he found himself growing only more restless.

"What's the first thing we'll do when we get to America?" Her question came with an excitement tinged with anxiety.

He looked at her carefully as he contemplated his answer. "I suppose we will find a home, and then I will seek out employment."

She bit her lip and nodded, giving him a weak smile.

"Does that upset you?" He asked carefully.

"No," she said softly, strengthening into a smile that would have been convincing had it reached her eyes.

He found himself drawn toward her, kneeling in front of her and taking her small hands in his. "What's bothering you Christine?"

"It's silly," she said, looking down at their hands and avoiding his eyes.

He sighed gently. "If it's bothering you then it's not silly."

She blinked and looked back to him, a sadness behind her eyes that surprised him. "What if... What if you find a job. You find employment and you get to live a normal life and... And you find someone else?"

He blinked blankly at her, not having expected her question in the slightest. And then he laughed, which in hindsight was not the most considerate response, but he couldn't help it.

He shook his head and ran his thumbs over the backs of her hands. "My dearest Christine, that is the most absurd thing you have ever said."

"I told you it was silly," she said defensively. She attempted to pull her hands away but he tightened his grip.

"Look at me Christine," he said gently. He didn't continue until her eyes met his. "I will never leave you. Never. I don't know where you've gotten such an absurd notion, but I promised that I would never leave you and I fully intend to keep it."

"Raoul made me the same promise," she said quietly.

"Raoul," he said, the name coming out with a bitterness and hatred he wasn't even aware he still possessed. He took a calming breath. "I am not your boy Christine. I am not... I'm not Raoul. It's due time that you realized that."

She looked away uncertainly and he sighed again.

"If I were going to leave you I would have done it long ago," he said quietly. "If I were going to leave you, don't you think I would have when you married the boy? But I didn't, I stayed. I've always stayed Christine, even as you've left. How could I leave my own soul? The only good I've ever touched?"

He felt her relax, felt the tension leaving the tendons of her wrists. "You've always stayed," she murmured.

He nodded slowly. "I've always stayed and I always will."

And to his surprise she leaned forward, kissing him fully on the lips. "Always?" She murmured.

"Always," he responded, kissing her again.

"Even if someone else loved you?" She whispered.

He forced a smile to his lips. "In all of my years walking the earth never have I felt the love that I do for you. Infatuation, attraction, lust sure, I've felt them fully. But never have I felt this kind of love Christine, this love that makes life worth living, that burns and soothes in equal turn. There is nothing left for me in this world without you, do you understand that? Nothing."

He released her wrists and she brought one hand up, pulling his mask away before he could protest. He fought against himself to remain calm as she stared fully at the deformity, a sadness in her eyes.

Her hand came to trace it gently, fingers running over far too thin skin and protruding tendons, up to where his skull became visible, hidden beneath a criss-crossing mass of thin blue veins, back down to the bloated half of his lips, over his gaunt cheek. She examined him fully, not letting a single bit of his normally so well hidden skin go untouched.

"I'm terrified to lose you," she confessed in a weak whisper.

His eyes fluttered closed nearly against his will as her fingers continued to brush against his abused and neglected skin. He let out a shaking breath. "You will never lose me," he said.

"Can we still get married?" She asked quietly.

He opened his eyes, looking fully into hers. "Will that help you get over this unfounded fear of yours?"

She nodded at that and he returned it with a single, firm bob of his head.

"Then we will find a home, and then we will find a priest."

Chapter Text

He was running. He wasn't sure why, but something was driving him on, forcing him forward through the blackness as though his life depended on it. Voices called after him, behind and around him, voices of ghosts long past. Suddenly he was a child again, a burlap sack over his face and a pair of ragged trousers the only things he had to his name. Invisible branches snagged and ripped and tore at his flesh but still he ran on, exhaustion no longer an option.

And suddenly he was falling.

It was an odd feeling, a free fall sure to end in death. And he supposed that he should have felt fear, but instead there was nothing but relief.

But there was no death, there was no relief. Instead he found his feet planted firmly on stone and when he opened his eyes it was to see Christine before him, a flowing white dress hugging her body and an intricate white veil blurring her face from his eyes.

He couldn't tear his eyes from her, the shy smile etched on her lips behind the thin material that masked her as he masked himself. Suddenly nervous, he balled his hand into a fist.

"Oh Erik," she said quietly, sadly. "I could have loved you."

And she was tearing his mask away, disgust evident on her face as she stared at him. There were shouts in the distance - he was surrounded, he realized this. The only face he could make out in the crowd of gendarmes that were closing in was that of the Viscomte, a smug grin on his face as he knew he had finally won, once and for all.

"I deserved this you know," Christine's voice droned on in the background. "After all you've done to me - let them take you peacefully Erik."

And finding nothing to fight for he found himself obeying, sinking to his knees on the stone alter of the church, raising his hands wide as a circle of men approached him.

**

He woke with a start, sitting up so quickly that it caused his head to spin. He couldn't control his breath as he panted his anxiety, tearing open the top buttons of his nightshirt and passing a hand over his unmasked face. Darkness still surrounded him and he supposed it couldn't be much later than two or three.

The bed shifted and he heard a soft sigh. "Erik, what's wrong?" Her sleep lined voice asked.

He didn't answer, instead opting to swing his legs over the edge on the bed and plant them on the ground.

"Erik, where are you going? What's wrong?" Her voice was growing more panicked with each word and she sat up, placing a hand on his shoulder.

He tensed instinctively and fought against his natural reaction to defend himself. It was just a dream, he reminded himself. Just a dream, that wasn't his Christine.

"I need air," his voice was a broken croak.

"What happened?"

He shook his head, unable to muster up any words.

She shifted again, coming to rest on her knees behind him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and pulling him back against herself in some sort of backwards hug.

"Tell me what's wrong, please," she whispered.

He brought his hand up to cover hers and gave it a halfhearted squeeze. "It was just a nightmare Christine," he murmured roughly. "You don't need to worry over it, go back to sleep."

Instead she leaned even more against him, resting her chin on his shoulder. "Tell me about it," she said. "Sometimes talking about it can help."

He shook his head at her suggestion. "I'll be fine," he murmured. "It's over now, don't worry over me."

"I always worry over you Erik," she whispered.

He pulled away and she allowed him to, resting back on the bed as she watched him sadly. He was overcome with an urgency unlike any he had ever felt as he turned toward her, grasping her shoulders tightly and kissing her roughly, all teeth and force as he pushed her down on the bed.

She made no protest, even kissing him back.

This wasn't about love, he realized that. There was no love in his movement, no tenderness in his motive. This was about power, this was about reminding himself that he was in control, she was his, she was his and always would be.

She offered no fight, no words as he yanked her chemise up, hungrily exploring and grasping at the pale flesh that was exposed to him. She voiced no concern as his hand came to rest against her throat and he began to squeeze just beyond the point of comfort.

He found himself wondering if she understood, if she knew that this was something he needed. If she was afraid she gave no sign, only gasping out when he released the grip he had on her throat.

"You are mine," he growled out as his hand traced up her inner thigh.

She shivered and nodded. "I am only ever yours," she responded breathlessly.

He ran his thumb lightly over her collarbone and found purchase on her throat with his teeth, kissing, sucking, biting. She gasped out and her hands came to tangle in his shirt as he attacked her.

She cried out as he bit at the particularly sensitive bit of flesh just under her ear. She arched away from him, her breasts pressed to his chest.

He nuzzled against her neck as she whimpered beneath him.

"You'll never betray your Erik again, will you Christine?" He breathed into her throat.

She shook her head. "I never want to hurt you," she murmured truthfully.

His hand on her thigh inched upward bit by bit until he found her bloomers, which he hastily hooked with his thumb and yanked away, leaving her quite open and exposed.

Her grip on his shirt loosened and one of her hands found its way from his back to his face, brushing against his torn flesh lightly.

"I love you Erik," she whispered. "I love you and only you."

His breath faltered against her throat, a crushing anxiety gripping him as he pressed himself against her, holding her tightly, gasping into her throat. Everything was spinning and he couldn't draw enough air into his lungs.

"It's alright," she was murmuring. "It's alright Erik." She held him tightly against herself, murmuring soothingly as he shook and gasped for air.

He had stilled his movement completely, laying overtop of her gasping against her throat. He was sure she was uncomfortable but she was such a good girl she gave no sign of it, simply holding him. Her fingers tugged soothingly on the hair at the base of his neck.

"It's alright, I love you," she whispered, pressing her lips against his temple.

"I'm sorry," he choked out.

She continued to stroke his hair soothingly, shushing him quietly. "Do you want to go for a walk?" She asked as his breathing slowly evened out.

He was nodding against her throat, drawing a deep breath through his nose.

"Do you want me to come with you?"

He was nodding again and she returned his nod.

"Let's go," she murmured.

They looked quite the pair and had Erik been less upset he would have been rather amused. Their outfits were hastily chosen - his shirt wrinkled and his wig askew. Christine had managed to find stockings of two different lengths and patterns and choose the only cloak that didn't match the green dress she had thrown on. Her hair was tangled and hung loosely over her shoulders.

They were the only ones walking the decks - it was well past two am. And he found himself grateful for that. The cool air was soothing and Christine's firm grip on his arm kept him grounded.

They walked mostly in silence, but as he pulled her to the railing and looked up at the star studded sky she finally broke it.

"Tell me about your dream Erik."

And so he did. Eyes trained on the sky through his entire tale, he relayed every detail.

And by the time he finally looked at her her eyes were misty with tears.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

He sighed. "It was just a dream Christine," he said quietly. "You've done no wrong."

And she shook her head and slid her hand down his arm until she found his and gave it a squeeze. "It is my fault," she said. "I've betrayed you before, it's only natural that you would fear it could happen again."

He looked away from her, down over the railing at the water. At least a fifty foot drop, his mind mused. He didn't bother asking himself why the thought had come.

"It won't happen again Erik," she said after a moment. "It never should have happened the first time - I was a fool."

He nodded at that and let out the breath he had been holding, giving a slight shake of his head as his fingers twitched against her hand. "I was too," he said to the water. "I've always been a fool - I tried to force you to love me and frightened you instead."

She moved closer to him, her forehead resting against his shoulder. "I do love you," she said. "And I'm here - I'm here Erik. I'm yours and all is as it always should have been."

He slid his hand from hers and wrapped it around her shoulders, turning to press a kiss to her hair. "Thank you Christine," he managed to say.

She simply nodded against him, letting him hold her as he stared out at the black night.

Chapter Text

It was with a strange mix of excitement and foreboding that they left the ship.

They had docked midday and Erik couldn't decide wether that was a blessing or a curse. His only comfort was the fact that the cool breeze of the ocean gave him reason to wear his wide brimmed hat and cloak.

Christine, for her part, seemed strangely optimistic. So much so that her jovial mood had managed to alleviate a bit of his own anxiety - at least until her excitement had caused her to release his sleeve and point in the ever-thickening crowd on the docks.

They were only separated for a moment, but even a moment was enough for Erik to realize how easy it would be to lose her in the crowd. She hadn't been too hard to spot again - as luck would have it he had the sense to advise her to wear her brightest dress - and though he had to worm his way through bodies that were far to close for comfort he found a sense of peace as he grasped her elbow firmly.

"Please don't do that Christine," he said as he tugged her along beside him. "Unless you are trying to give your poor Erik a heart attack."

She huffed at him but the soft smile on her face was enough to reassure him that he hadn't upset her - truth be told she probably had no idea that he had lost sight of her.

"Stay close, at least until we make it out of this crowd," he murmured. And at her disapproving look he added on an exasperated "Please."

She giggled at that and it at least brightened his spirits somewhat. And with an indignant huff he shook his head and continued on through the crowd.

"You are small and easy to lose track of," he said as way of explanation, keeping his firm grasp on her arm as he was finding himself incapable of trusting her judgement.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I've just never seen such a thing!"

He paused and looked at her. "What thing?"

And she smiled at him, using the arm that he didn't have in a vice-like grip to point off into the distance.

There a pier jutted out into the water, a dock of sorts he would have assumed had it not been for the buildings crowding the wooden structure and the sheer amount of people that he could make out in the distance.

He paused in his step, looking at the strange structure. "Hm," he said. "That is rather odd."

And he began to walk again, tugging her through the crowd once again as he made note of the strange area.

"Where are we going?" She called over the low hum of voices that surrounded them.

He shrugged one shoulder and continued to pull her forward. "Away from this," he said, indicating the crowd of bodies. "And then I suppose we will find some shops or a park to entertain you while I secure lodgings for us."

She was silent at that and it made him nervous but when he dared to glance back at her she gave him a soft smile.

When they finally reached the outskirts of the crowd Erik loosened his grip on her arm and let out a sigh of relief. Though they were far from being alone he found that the ability to breathe without pushing against some strangers body was one that he had taken for granted.

Christine remained quiet, seeming content to allow him to find his bearings. But the look in her eye was one that caused him to question that.

"What are you thinking Christine?" He finally dared to ask as he caught his breath and pulled her into the shade offered by a nearby building.

"I want to come with you," she said quietly.

He looked at her in surprise. "To find a room?"

She nodded in answer to his question.

"It's a rather boring business," he warned.

She shrugged both shoulders. "I don't care - I want to come with you."

"Very well," he said. "But I suppose there is something we need to discuss."

She blinked at him, waiting for him to breach the subject.

"You want to be married properly, yes?" He asked, tucking one of her curls that had come loose behind her ear. She nodded at that and he returned it with a sad smile. "Then I regret to inform you, mademoiselle, we will have to book two separate rooms."

She bit her lip and shifted her feet slightly. "For how long?"

He shrugged a shoulder. "For no longer than is absolutely necessary - just until we are able to sign a certificate. Which I should hope would take no longer than a week, two weeks at the most."

"Alright," she was saying. "But you'll still be close by, yes?" Her words were quiet, nervous.

"Of course," he said, pressing his lips to her forehead gently. "Of course I will be close by Christine - I will see you every morning and I will walk you to your room every evening. But we have a chance to start over Christine - we have a chance to build a life here. And I will not begin it by ruining your reputation."

She nodded slowly. "I understand Erik."

Even as she said it she picked nervously at her dress sleeve and fidgeted slightly.

"It's only temporary," he said softly. "Only until we can be properly married."

She nodded. "You promise I will see you every morning?"

"Every single one," he murmured with a smile, tugging yet another loose curl into place for her.

"And you'll be very close?"

"As close as I possibly can be - directly across the hallway if possible."

And she nodded her head at that. "I suppose it wouldn't be too terrible, so long as it isn't for too long."

He was pressing his lips against her forehead again, a gentle, chaste kiss. "Thank you for being reasonable," he murmured. "And for not arguing with me."

She pulled herself against him in a quick hug. "Just get us married," she retorted miserably.

Chapter Text

Her first night alone was terrible.

Erik had gifted her a pocket watch as he walked her to her room for her first night alone and she had found the damned thing to be more of a curse than a blessing. Ten o'one, ten fifteen, ten eighteen. The minutes dragged by and having the contraption to confirm the slow passage of time only made it all the harder to rest.

She found herself tossing and turning in a bed that was far too large and empty, and by eleven thirty she had considered snuffing out the candle that burned by her bed at least twelve times. The shadows it casted were eerie in the unfamiliar room, but even so each time she had come to the conclusion that being alone in the dark would be worse.

She took a small comfort from the fact that, true to his word, Erik had managed to bribe his way into the room directly across the hall.

By midnight she was seriously considering taking the four or five steps across the hall to knock on his door.

But that would only make him angry, and that was the last thing she wanted at the moment. He had made her promise him that if he payed the extra fee to be so close she would remain in her own room until he came for her "at precisely seven o'clock." And for the comfort of having him so close at all hours she had agreed to his terms.

How she regretted that now.

By one o'clock she had convinced herself that she was being utterly ridiculous.

By two o'clock she had given up on even the pretense of sleep, taking to humming the lullaby that Erik had sang to her as a little girl, before he had even approached her as an angel.

At precisely two seventeen she heard a strange rustle in the hallway. She knew the time because she had spent the last quarter of an hour staring at the pocket watch and praying to God that it would tick faster.

When the rustle turned to a scraping sound and her door rattled she dropped the pocket watch and sank under the covers, pulling them up to her nose and staring at the door as though it would attack her.

When the lock clicked she began to hold her breath.

And it was all released in one cry of "Erik!" As she launched herself from the bed and into the arms of the dark masked figure that lurked in the doorway.

He caught her with an "oof," his arms wrapping around her. "Shush," he said quietly, stroking her hair as he held her tightly against him. "I'm not here," he murmured. And then, as if it had only just registered; "Why are you still awake?"

"Why are you here?" She countered, the words muffled against his chest.

He let out a quiet huff of laughter. "I'm not," he insisted. "But if you must know, I couldn't sleep either."

"How did you get in here?" She mumbled.

"I didn't, because I'm not here," he reminded her. "In fact, I don't believe I will ever see the inside of this room in my life."

"You're ridiculous."

"I'm ridiculous?" He asked incredulously. "I will remember that next time I fly fifteen feet through the air at you my dear."

She would have argued with him but she was suddenly exhausted. He was warm against her and his hand in her hair along with the rumble of his chest against her ear was soothing. And if that meant that she was the ridiculous one then she would allow it so long as he continued to hold her.

"You should be asleep," he said as he slowly began to move, not pushing her away but slowly steering her toward the bed.

"And you shouldn't be here - you're breaking your own rules."

"They're my rules," he said softly. "I'm allowed to break them - and besides, I thought we had already established that I'm not here."

She sighed against his chest as he slowly walked her backwards. "Will you lay with me? Just for a bit?" She knew her question was silly and childish, but she couldn't ignore the desire, no, the need to have him close.

"I can't stay for long, Christine," he reminded her quietly. "But I suppose it wouldn't hurt, just for a little while."

He coaxed her into the bed and was pulling the blankets over her, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead before he finally made her decision for her and snuffed out the candle at her bedside.

She heard a shuffling in the darkness as he removed his shoes and then the bed was sinking beneath his weight as he laid beside her, pulling her close to him with a sigh that sounded a lot like relief.

"You need to take that pocket watch with you," she grumbled, relaxing against him. There was no urgency, there was no lust. All she felt was a simple contentment as she laid against his far-too-boney side.

"And why is that?" He murmured.

"The damned thing is broken and keeping me awake," she answered matter-of-factly.

"First of all, I assure you it is in perfect working condition or I never would have given it to you," he said, amusement tinging his voice. "Second of all, that is no language for a lady."

She gave a half-hearted "humph" against him that morphed into a yawn.

"You need to sleep Christine," he murmured.

She sighed and nuzzled against him. "And what if I don't wake up before seven?"

His lips pressed gently against her forehead. "It's no matter," he said. "I will be in the lounge when you wake."

Silence passed for two beats before he broke it. "I want you to go shopping tomorrow," he said.

"Will you come with me?" Her words were tired and strained.

"To choose your wedding dress? That, Mademoiselle, would be a scandal. No, I think that you should shop and I shall meet with a few priests. We passed at least four churches on our way here and I should think I'll be able to manage finding at least one that will be willing to marry us."

"Mm," she agreed. "I love you, Erik."

"I love you too Christine," he murmured, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead.

It was three thirty when he finally slipped from the bed. Christine sighed and shifted in the bed, but she remained asleep. And satisfied with that he slipped his shoes on and quietly escaped her room, using his lock pick to firmly lock the door behind him.

By three thirty-five he was back in his own bed, slipping off into his own restless sleep.

Chapter Text

As it turned out, Christine had nothing to worry about. She woke at six thirty, just before the sun began to break the horizon. She wasn't sure what exactly woke her - if it was the cold or the fact that she rolled into the spot that Erik had occupied only hours before, now cold and vacant; whatever it was it left her awake with no hope of returning to sleep.

And so she pulled herself from the bed, forcing her feet to hold her up as she began to dress.

It was odd really. She had insisted herself that she wanted to start over, to leave the past behind, and in some strange way it felt as if they had done exactly that. That was her thought as she contemplated her wardrobe, frustrated by the fact that she had been so eager to run that she hadn't bothered to bring any particularly nice clothing. She supposed that she had never considered that things would ever really change - it would always just be the two of them, living out some sham of a marriage. But now it was real - a true marriage was on the horizon and for the first time in a long time she felt giddy with the concept of a courtship.

When Raoul had walked into her life again she had felt something similar; it was exciting and new. This was different though. She had never had a true courtship and she supposed she never would. Erik had lied and manipulated his way into her life, staking a claim that she hadn't consented to. Her courtship with Raoul was sweet but short, punctuated with terror and a rushed marriage to escape from her strange captor.

How the tables had turned.

The amount of power that he held over her was equal parts terrifying and intoxicating. At the same time, she recognized her own power. It had taken her a long time to recognize it - Erik was rather good at hiding behind a mask; his physical mask and his emotional.

It wasn't until his own nightmare that she realized it. It wasn't that she wasn't afraid when he attacked her so throughly - she was terrified as he climbed atop her and squeezed her throat so tightly. But she held on to her trust - Erik would never hurt her, not her Erik. And so she had remained calm and reassured him. And when his whole facade crumbled she finally got to glimpse his true self.

He had once lamented that he had broken her - it was on that night that she realized that they were both a bit broken; he was strong for her and it was high time she was strong for him.

It wasn't that she had been in a particularly good mood upon their arrival, but she could sense his own nervousness. And so she pushed her own away.

She found herself settling on a blue satin dress - it wasn't particularly elegant, but it was the nicest garment she owned. If Erik wanted to play at a courtship she would give him that, however brief it may be.

She found herself donning a corset, not quite sure why. Her weight had melted away with the loss of their child and even pulled edge to edge it was hardly tight enough to hug her skin, but it was proper.

She tamed her long hair into a proper braid, twisting it up and pinning it tightly. If nothing else her short time as a Viscomtess had taught her proper fashion and she supposed she was grateful for it in a way.

She wished, oh how she wished she had never been so naive, that she had never hurt Erik in the ways that she had. But in a way she supposed it was a necessary evil - he had forced her hand and he could have forced her to stay. And however painful it had been, him releasing her had been an important step in releasing her own resentment and fear, in realizing what it was she truly wanted.

How different their lives could be.

And that wasn't to say that he didn't deserve that pain in a way. She was contemplating that as she made her way from her room and down the stairs toward the lounge. No, he did deserve it in a way - she wasn't naive enough to think that the way he had treated her was proper. He had been deplorable to her, still was sometimes. But he loved her, he loved her as throughly as he knew how to and that was enough for her.

And when she stepped into the lounge and his eyes settled on her she came to realize that everything was exactly as it should be.

He seemed entranced, rising slowly from his seat to come to her, a proper bow as he took her hand in his and pressed his bloated lips to the back of it.

"You are loveliness itself mademoiselle," he said smoothly.

She felt her cheeks flush and she couldn't help the smile that took her.

She forced herself into a small curtsy, giggling. "Well I thank you Monsieur, you look rather dapper yourself."

He rolled his eyes but offered her his arm, which she promptly took, slipping her hand into his elbow.

He was leading her outside, through the front door and onto the already bustling streets.

"How did you sleep?" He was murmuring.

She shrugged her shoulders lazily. "Not the greatest," she said honestly.

"It's only temporary," he said again, though she couldn't be sure whether he was attempting to reassure her or himself.

Either way she nodded, smiling up at him. "Where are we going?"

He hummed and smiled at her for a moment. "I spoke to our hotel's manager this morning and explained that my fiancée was rather eager to begin shopping for her wedding attire and he pointed me toward some shops. So you, my dear, are going shopping. And I will be meeting with some clergymen."

"You're really going to marry me," she murmured, the truth of the situation only just settling on her.

He paused in his step, pulling her to him briefly and pressing his lips to her forehead.

"I want nothing more than you as my wife," he said solemnly.

"Can we even," she began, pausing and letting her eyes scan the streets around them. "Can we truly be married? I mean, considering our... unique circumstances?"

He gave a sigh. "Legally speaking, Christine de Changy is dead my love. It is an odd thing, isn't it? Being a ghost. It's rather convenient though, I think you'll find that as I have."

"Dead," she murmured. She gave a sigh and forced a smile. "Legally or not I suppose it is fitting in a way."

He nodded, letting his hand brush over hers reassuringly, just the briefest of touches but it was enough.

"What style of dress should I be looking for?"

He glanced over at her in surprise. "Whatever you may like. This is your wedding love. It should be all you've dreamt."

She wasn't sure why, but something about his simple statement caused her heart to soar. Her wedding to Raoul had been a rather formal affair and she hadn't much choice in the matter; his mother had selected her dress, a frilly and frivolous thing that she had feared she would drown in. Everything had been calculated down to napkins and flowers - the only real choice she had in the whole ordeal was accepting his proposal. She was stricken once again by the stark contrast of the past that was dead and her present life.

And when they reached the shops, a short six block walk from their hotel, he gave her hand a slight squeeze, just the smallest tint of possessiveness behind the gesture.

"I will be gone no more than four hours," he said evenly. "Feel free to explore the shops but Christine - please, do not leave the street."

She was nodding her agreement, the softest of smiles pulling at her lips. "I'll be right here waiting for you," she murmured her reassurance.

He gave a curt nod and was pressing a small wallet into her hand.

"Spare no expense," he instructed firmly. "Money is no object as of now."

She nodded, running her thumb over the leather pocketbook. "Thank you Erik," she finally said honestly.

He smiled. "Go," he said, nudging her forward.

She smiled. "I love you," she said again. It was as though once the words had left her lips the first time she couldn't say them enough.

His smile was warm. "I love you too," he said. "Now go, shop my little fiancée."

And so she did. As she pulled open the door to the first shop she glanced over her shoulder once, seeing him standing in the middle of the sidewalk watching her, his dark attire a stark contrast to the bright street. And with one last smile she entered the shop.

Chapter Text

It wasn't as simple of a process as she had expected.

As soon as she had expressed a need for a wedding dress in her broken English the shop keeper had smiled brightly and she had been whisked away and handed a book thicker than any she had ever held.

There were countless styles, some minor variations on the last, some the likes of which she had never seen, and even more some that made her blush furiously, pushing far beyond the fringe of proper and into a wanton nature that had her flipping the page quickly lest she drift to less pure thoughts.

All the while the woman was tugging on her, insisting she raise her arms, turning this way and that while she took measurements, jotting them down periodically on parchment. Christine received a proper scolding as the woman's tugging distracted her and she tapped the book impatiently, huffing.

Christine began to wonder if it was a blessing that her last dress had been chosen for her. Halfway through the book she began to lose hope. But as she drew near the end one sketching stood out to her - it was obviously an older choice, the parchment yellowed with age and wrinkled slightly. Despite the state of the page Christine felt something akin to excitement. Her fingers skimmed over the pre-drawn lines; it was the dress she had dreamed of since childhood.

It was shapely, designed to accentuate her more womanly features while still keeping some bit to the imagination. It was cut lower than a past her would have been comfortable with but still covered to the throat with a beaded pearl that clasped in front of the throat. It was accentuated with lace throughout the dress and the skirt bustled high, a mixture of lace and silk that looked akin to something that would belong on a princess. And it was perfect in every way.

When she had pointed at it the shop keeper had scoffed, pointing her toward different designs. And Christine couldn't say they weren't pretty - they all were in their own way, but it wasn't her dress.

And so after a half an hour of choosing fabrics and six confirmations that yes, that was the dress she wanted, she finally stepped back out into the street, clutching the fifty dollar receipt tightly and hoping she had given the right address for the hotel.

She sat on the bench just outside of the shop, watching people move through the streets. And it was with a strange bittersweetness that she remembered the last time she had done that. Her heart ached with each child and mother she saw and she wondered if she would ever truly be healed. But she smiled and waved back at the little boy who waved at her, she watched mothers as they tugged along their little ones.

One day, she reminded herself. Erik had promised her, one day when she was ready.

He was silent as a shadow and he had slipped into the bench beside her, watching her watch the children.

"Christine," he said, causing her to jump.

Her hand covered her heart but she laughed. "Erik, you're going to kill me doing that one day," she said fondly.

He merely hummed.

"I have both good and bad news," he said.

She turned to him then, suddenly serious. "What's the good?"

He sighed and smiled. "I found a church that has declared that they would be more than willing to wed us, pending an interview with the bride-to-be."

She smiled and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly and pulling away quickly when she remembered herself. "That's wonderful Erik! What is the bad news?"

He hummed and looked down at the ring that still adorned her finger. He was nervous, avoiding her eye. And that only caused her own nerves to fray.

"Erik?" She asked softly.

"We need two witnesses Christine. Two people to sign off, two people to speak for us."

And just as quickly as the excitement had come it had left, crashing quickly. "Two?"

He nodded softly. "Two my Christine."

And with a new determination she found herself nodded. "How soon would they wed us?"

"Have you found your dress?"

She was nodding, pressing the receipt into his palm. He glanced at it for only a moment before nodding and tucking it into his shirt pocket. "Once you spoke with the clergy, I see no reason it couldn't be the day after. But we must have witnesses."

She gave a firm nod and was tucking her fingers into his. "We will have our witnesses," she said confidently, firmly.

Chapter Text

There was something strange in contemplating a real marriage to Erik. She found herself wondering if things would continue as they had or if their marriage too would become more proper. That thought alone made her nervous.

Her marriage to Raoul had been a strangely impersonal thing and their wedding night had set a strange precedence to their marriage. She wasn't sure what she had expected, but she certainly hadn't expected some shifted clothing, a quick deflowering and for him to return to his own room quickly after. But it was proper. Women are not meant to enjoy such things - no, in the world she had come from she was quite the deviant. She remembered feeling alone and confused.

That thought made her nervous, but she did her best not to allow it to sully the prospect of a marriage to Erik. Even if things changed she at least had the promise that he wouldn't leave her.

And so, with that in mind, she went to bed rather early. She wanted to be alert and fresh for her meeting with the clergy; they would already have enough trouble finding witnesses and it would do no good to allow them to be concerned with her own well-being.

She did her best with her dressing, even daring to wear the lacy gloves that Erik had bought her long ago on a strange whim of his. And when she dared to look at herself in the mirror she was at least satisfied with her appearance.

She was nervous on the long walk to the church but Erik managed to alleviate most of her nerves.

He squeezed her hand gently and gave her a far longer than was proper kiss on the lips as he said his goodbye at the church doors.

"Everything will be fine Christine," he was saying. "Just keep the conversation on our relationship - the past should stay there. You are a smart girl Christine, all will be well."

And she was nodding at him, and then she was making her way up the steps and into the building.

She felt terribly anxious, but when she finally met the Father she felt it begin to melt away. He was a kindly looking old man, aged by the years. There was a twinkle to his eye and kind wrinkles around his mouth, showing the residue of many smiles shared.

And just at that he was smiling. "Ah, you must be the Christine I heard so much about. I was very eager to meet you - please, sit," and he was motioning at the sofa that sat across from a desk.

She obeyed and he took his own seat, smiling again at her.

"Now," he said kindly, "I do not want any of this to be taken personally - you understand the purpose of these interviews, yes? To be sure that you are not being coerced or forced in any way to a marriage."

"I understand, Sir," she said, nervously twisting her ring around her finger.

He folded his fingers on his desk and leaned forward. "This is a safe space miss," he said seriously. "If you are being forced, if you need help, we can offer it to you."

She smiled softly. "No," she said softly. "I am not being forced - I love Erik and he is the only man I can imagine myself spending the rest of my life with."

And the man nodded, seemingly satisfied with her answer. He leaned back against the seat. "Forgive my curiosity," he said, "or prying as it may be more apt to be called. But it is not often that a masked man comes in begging for a marriage."

She had expected this, she would be lying if she said she hadn't, but it didn't make it any easier to confront. She gave a sigh. "My... My Fiancé has led a troubled life," she said, searching for the right words. "He was deformed from birth and his face has been a large obstacle in his life - that is why we came to America, to start over, to have a chance to lead a life that isn't stained by his past."

"You've seen it?" He was curious, looking at her very seriously.

She gave a nod. "I have seen it and I love him all the same. It - it is not pleasant to see Sir. But it is part of him, and should such a thing keep him from being deserving the same opportunity as any other man?"

"Of course not," the man said, waving his hand as though dismissing the accusation. "But you do understand that it is a difficult life that you are choosing."

"I do," she said, nodding just the smallest nod.

"From what I have seen," he said, "I've no objections in performing a ceremony."

"Sir, I wanted to discuss with you - I, we are new to the country. We have only come by boat two days ago and we, well, we don't know anyone here. How are we to find our witnesses?"

The kindly pastor smiled. "Unfortunately I cannot circumvent that legal requirement. You did not hear it from me, but there is no need to have a long time acquaintance attend the ceremony. Come to our Sunday mass - I am sure you will find at least two young people willing to attend."

"Oh, thank you Sir!" She said, gratitude genuine and thorough.

Chapter Text

"We must attend Sunday mass," she said.

Erik sighed and passed a hand over his eyes. This was at least the sixth time he had heard the words in half as many days. He was not the most patient of men, he would be the first to admit it, but he was doing his best.

"As I have said before, you are more than welcome. I will do no such thing," it was an exhausting sentence. She bit her lip and he sighed. This was not how he wanted to spend their morning, tucked away in a quiet bistro and arguing. "What has sparked this new faith in you?"

She leaned forward and he looked around and then leaned forward as well, willing to indulge her in her childish games so long as it made this particular argument end.

"When I spoke with the pastor he invited us," she whispered. "He seems confident that we can find our witnesses rather easily in his congregation."

And she leaned back in her seat and blinked twice at him. "But it would be rather hard to convince someone to witness a marriage to a stubborn groom."

It was hard to be offended when he was only happy with the return of this flame to his Christine. He missed her compliance and her gentle kindness yet at the same time he appreciated the woman she was growing into; one who was not entirely opposed to challenging him.

She reached across the table and laid her hand over his. "Don't you want to be married Erik?"

And how could he deny her when she asked so desperately and sweetly?

And so it came to pass that Sunday, he found himself dressing for mass.

It was ridiculous really. He had vowed to himself long ago that he would only ever pass into a church for a marriage to his Christine yet here he was - dressing as though to impress God himself and preparing to sit through a service praising the creator that had destroyed him so thoroughly.

The music was deplorable and his fingers twitched from his need to correct the organist. It was sacrilegious, the lack of respect that he seemed to hold for the instrument. But it wasn't all so terrible.

He didn't raise his own voice with the hymns, but listening to his sweet Christine's voice soothed him enough to remain calm. Her small fingers were wrapped around his throughout the service and when he managed to catch her eye it was only contentment that he saw there.

And if he must sacrifice one Sunday morninghe found it wasn't too terrible of a burden to bear.

He felt a strange contentment; he wasn't angry, he wasn't restless. There was a certain calmness that came with Christine's reassuring touch.

And when the service ended he found himself surprised to find a young woman tapping Christine's shoulder.

"Excuse me miss," she said. "I'm sorry to bother you but I can't help myself. I have never heard a voice quite so beautiful in all my time here."

She was a small, plain woman. Rather mousey in Erik's opinion, but her smile was honest.

"Thank you," Christine murmured, her cheeks flushing with the blush that Erik so loved. "I hadn't meant to sing quite so loud."

"Excuse my prying, but where did you learn to sing like that? Surely you have some sort of training."

Her nervous eyes flitted to his and he gave a half nod.

"My Fiancé was my coach," she said, a soft smile etched into her features. And then she was gesturing at him; "Mr Erik Mulheim."

It was odd, hearing his birth name spoken. It had been many years since he had heard the name spoken aloud - but it was fitting he supposed. A fresh start with his rightful name.

She seemed only momentarily surprised as her eyes flickered over his mask, but she smiled all the same.

"How lucky you two must be to share such a passion."

"I am a lucky man indeed," he found himself saying.

Christine smiled up at him.

"Forgive my curiosity," the young woman said kindly, "but I understand that you said Fiancé. Have you agreed upon a wedding date?"

Christine's hand tightened on his arm and he held his tongue as she smiled sadly at the kind woman.

"Unfortunately we hadn't thought so much on it before our relocation, and we find ourselves without witnesses for the ceremony - we've had to postpone it indefinitely."

"Oh, how terrible!" The woman said with empathy.

And less than twenty minutes later he was watching Christine walk away from him with her new friend, arms looped together as they chatted excitedly. And they had their witnesses - a Mrs Amy Farlow and her husband Henry, absent from the service due to an accident on his construction site according to his kindly wife.

And for the first time in his life, Erik wondered how Christine managed social matters so easily. Magic tricks and illusion, music and murder. He was proficient in numerous trades but he feared Christine would always be a mystery to him, his curious little Fiancée.

Chapter Text

They had agreed upon a Tuesday wedding.

Truth be told, neither of them had objected fully to the idea of a Monday wedding, but it had seemed just a bit too rushed.

Christine's dress had arrived on Saturday. She had been so excited she offered to show Erik but he had smiled and squeezed her hand affectionately.

"I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise," he had insisted.

Erik had arranged the whole ordeal - he would arrive at the church far before Christine, being sure that everything was prepared to his satisfaction. He would then send a carriage for her.

He had left her to deal with their witnesses - she agreed after he begrudgingly admitted that she was far more capable than he on that front.

And so, with plans in place they both found themselves growing nervous.

It was an odd thing. They had essentially lived as a married couple for months now, but the thought of it being real was a strange one.

Erik, for his part, regarded the whole thing with trepidation. He had dreamt about this very thing for so long that he couldn't help the feeling that something would snatch it all away from him, as seemed to be a common theme in his life thus far.

And so, late Monday night he found himself creeping once more across the hallway.

It was a common occurrence for him, often finding that seeing Christine soothed his mind. Ever since the first night he had found her to be soundly asleep by the time he felt comfortable in the fact that he wouldn't be seen. But even so, he would peek his head into her room, finding it was necessary to assure himself all was well. He was sure she was aware that he had been visiting, though, as every night he extinguished the candle that burned at her bedside when he was sure she would remain asleep.

Tonight though the candle was already extinguished, the only light in the room was the pale blue hue of the moon seeping through the curtains.

He had thought she was asleep, but as his eyes adjusted to the light he made out her eyes, open and peeking at him from under the covers that she held up to her nose.

"Are you nervous?" He asked as he stepped into the room, daring to sit on the edge of the bed.

She curled toward him.

"A little bit," she admitted quietly.

He hummed and brushed her hair back. "You've no reason to be you know."

She reached up and caught his hand, pulling it to her and wrapping both of hers around it.

"I know," she responded with a shy smile.

He pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "By this time tomorrow you will be my wife," he murmured, finding the thought to be over-whelming.

"And you'll be my husband," she supplied, running her thumbs over the back of his hand. "And you will never leave me."

"Never," he agreed easily.

She gave a sigh of relief and seemed to relax against the bed. "I do love you Erik," she whispered.

He smiled and pressed his lips to hers in the briefest of kisses. "And I love you more than life itself, my Christine."

A shiver ran down her spine and then she was tugging his hand closer to her with a yawn.

"Will you sing to me?" She asked.

And when she looked up at him with such wide, tired eyes how could he deny her anything?

And so he sang, and it was on his whispered lullaby that she drifted off to a healthy slumber.

Chapter Text

Everything would be perfect.

That was the thought he held onto. The morning had passed in a strange blur; he supposed it would have been more prudent of him to sleep than to watch over Christine but he pushed the thought away.

Everything would be perfect. It had to be for his Christine.

And so he muddled through his exhaustion, forcing himself to dress and re-dress himself three times before he was fully satisfied with his appearance. Not that such a thing was even achievable - so long as he lived he would never be satisfied with half of a face, but even so he did his best to make himself presentable, even daring to slick his hair back.

And he found himself chuckling as he looked at himself in the small mirror provided by the hotel. He had never looked like such a foolish fop in his life. Even so, he was satisfied. Even with his face marring him, he could do his best to look handsome for his soon-to-be wife.

Wife. The word still caused a dizziness in him when he thought it. It was an intoxicating thought - the only thing he had never had and the only thing he had ever truly desired. And there she was, directly across the hall, preparing to commit herself to him before witnesses, the church and God himself. And he hadn't forced her.

That was perhaps the strangest part, for him at least. That she had been the one to propose an honest marriage, that she had been the one who desired to bind herself to him.

He had opted to walk to the church. The sky was gloomy and he supposed it may rain, but even so the crisp, cool air was soothing to his frazzled nerves and the walk aided him in staying awake.

And by the time he arrived on the steps of the church he was beginning to feel slightly better.

The Father had greeted him warmly and assisted him with the flowers, helping him arrange them down each side of the aisle. It would be a decidedly small wedding - the smallest the church had ever seen according to the good Father - but Erik found it didn't matter to him. So long as Christine was happy he would be too.

And so he took care in arranging everything neatly, and when he had insisted that no music be played the Father had seen to it.

"It is good to see a young couple so in love and eager," the Father had said, clasping his hand on Erik's shoulder.

And though Erik found himself flinching at the contact he forced himself to relax. Everything would be perfect, he reminded himself.

The witnesses arrived as planned and all was going well. After a short introduction and a slightly forced conversation he even found himself liking Henry.

And it wasn't until he had gone into the street and sent a carriage to collect Christine that he found himself growing nervous again.

He took his place at the alter and nervously ran his palms down his pants, finding them slick with sweat, each ticking second seeming to steal his breath.

She was late.

And then she was even later.

He had considered running of course, as seemed to be his natural inclination toward any nervousness, but he forced himself to remain, anchoring his feet to the ground.

She would be there - she had given her promise.

Everything would be perfect.

And she was. A quarter of an hour past the time they had agreed upon, but she was there. And he felt relief sweep through him as it was announced, the tension melting off of him.

And when she stepped through the door and began to make her way up the aisle toward him he felt his breath catch in his chest.

She was beautiful of course - his Christine was never anything but beautiful. He could make out the flush of her cheeks even through the thin veil that covered her face.

She looked every bit the part of royalty - her dress was elegant and sweeping, the lace intricate and nearly sparkling as it caught the light.

And it wasn't until she stood directly before him and he took her hand that he realized what it was that made him so nervous.

It was the same exact dress she had worn in his dream.

And when she gave him the same exact sad smile he found his heart racing and his hand tightening on hers.

But when her mouth opened, the words were different.

"I'm sorry I'm so late," she whispered with a shy smile. "You can't imagine how difficult it was to get into this dress without assistance."

And for the second time he found relief.

The ceremony itself was rather short and sweet, and though the words had caught in his throat he managed to force out his "I do."

And when he was given permission to kiss her, his Christine, his wife, he did so gladly, lifting the veil and pressing his lips firmly to hers.

And she leaned into him, her lips moving warmly in response to his, and when he broke the kiss she was still leaning into him, her forehead pressed to his shoulder - so briefly.

Within a quarter of an hour the papers were signed by all five, notarized and filed away by the good Father.

Christine, for her part, remained kind to their witnesses - their new friends, he supposed. What an odd concept. But even so her fingers clutched his arm tightly, and they were both relieved when the kind couple bid them adieu at the church.

"It's raining," Erik observed, rather unnecessarily, as they stepped out and onto the stone steps of the church.

Christine's temple was pressed to his shoulder and he felt her nod.

"Step inside," he said to her. "I will fetch us a carriage."

And this time her head shook. "It is not storming so badly," she said, her grip on his elbow tightening. "Can't we just walk?"

"You'll catch ill," he protested weakly, even as he began to walk down the steps with her.

"I promise I won't," she said.

And it was absurd. How on earth could she make such a promise? But even so, he found himself complying with her request. She was right in the fact that the storm was mild, the air was not yet too chilled, and seeing as it was only a four block walk he supposed they could make it before the downpour really began.

She was quiet, clutching his arm so tightly. And when her teeth began to chatter he found himself wrapping his cloak around her and over her own. She sighed and leaned even closer into him as they walked.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"How do you feel, my Christine?" He asked, tugging the hood of the cloak further down on her forehead in an attempt to keep her hair from getting completely soaked.

"Happy," she said, though the word sounded anything but.

He hummed low in his throat. "Are you nervous?" He finally asked.

She shrugged a shoulder. "I suppose I am, just a bit."

They had reached the hotel at this point, and Christine had seemed to stiffen up even more, nervousness plainly noticeable on her now.

"You've nothing to be nervous for," he finally said, stopping before to door to frame her face with his hands and tilt her chin toward him. She gave him a tight lipped smile and half a nod, and though it was disheartening he wouldn't allow it to ruin her wedding day.

Their wedding day.

And it would be perfect in every way.

And so he gave her a gentle kiss and held the door open for her with a slight bow.

When he led her into his room she seemed only more nervous, but she smiled sweetly at him. His good, brave wife.

And so he simply held her to him for a long while, stroking her hair so gently as his lips met her forehead. He hummed quietly, swaying her gently from side to side as she sighed and seemed to relax against him.

"I would never hurt you, you know," he murmured thoughtfully after a moment.

"I know," she responded with a nod, her voice tight.

"Then why are you nervous love? Tell me, tell your husband what you're so afraid of."

She released an empty laugh and shook her head against his chest. "It would only make you angry," her sad voice said.

He pulled away from her, tilting her chin up with the tips of his fingers and searching her eyes. "It's about the boy," he guessed, keeping his voice gentle. When she bit her lip and looked away he knew he had been right. "It's fine, you know," he murmured. "I won't be angry - how can I be angry when you are here, when you chose me?"

She pulled away from him and he allowed it, watching her as she sat on the edge of the bed and crossed her arms over herself, training her eyes on her feet.

After a long silence she finally spoke. "Will I have to return to my room when we've - after we've -" she gestured helplessly, blushing at her own implication.

He regarded her carefully and sighed. "Is that what you want?"

She bit her lip and slowly shook her head, keeping her eyes on the ground.

He found himself kneeling before her, taking her hands in his and ignoring the fact that she avoided his eyes. "You are my wife Christine," he murmured gently. "And as such, I truly do find myself concerned with your wishes. What is bringing this on?"

"When - well, when Raoul and I married, it was -" her fingers twitched nervously against his palm and he gave her hand a gentle squeeze in an attempt at encouragement. She took a deep breath and sighed. "Our wedding night was terrible Erik. I was inexperienced and confused and, well, it is proper, you know, to never see your spouse completely. And it is an act considered a duty - I, well. You seem to want propriety, and what is proper is a husband and a wife having separate beds Erik."

She finally looked up and when her eyes met his the uncertainty he saw behind them left him speechless for a moment. And then he was standing.

"Stay here," he instructed, "and don't move an inch."

And she obeyed, twisting her hands together and wondering wether she should have said anything at all as he left her in the room alone.

He was gone no more than five minutes, and when he came back through the door he was lugging her trunk with him, haphazardly packed, the sleeve of one dress caught in the hinge and dragging the floor. But he paid it no mind, setting it beside his own luggage on the floor and returning to kneel before her.

"You are not going anywhere, my Christine," he murmured to her. "Do you understand that?"

Her heart seemed to skip in her chest and when his hand laid softly against the side of her face she found herself nodding and leaning forward, wrapping her arms around his neck in a tight hug.

"Thank you Erik," she sighed with relief.

He simply pressed his lips to her temple and rubbed her back soothingly.

"I ask no more than what you feel ready for," he murmured thoughtfully after a moment. "And if that means you are nervous and only wish to sleep then so be it."

"It's our wedding night," she argued weakly.

He found himself pulling away and searching her face. "That it is," he agreed, tucking a curl behind her ear and smiling softly at her. "Which means we have the rest of our lives."

She looked nervous for only a moment, her face betraying a deep thoughtfulness. And then she leaned forward, slowly, so slowly, and pressed her lips tenderly to his.

When she pulled away her hands framed his face, a small, shy smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

"It is our wedding night," she murmured softly. "And you are my husband."

He found himself swallowing hard, watching her closely. "And you are my wife," he whispered, hardly believing the words himself.

And when she bit her lip and let her fingers brush his jaw, just at the edge of his mask, he found himself nodding.

It was an odd thing, finding that every time she stripped his mask away he felt the same amount of trepidation; the same fear and anger as he had the first time. But he took a deep, calming breath through his nose and trained his eyes on hers.

If he expected her to be brave for him the least he could do was allow himself to be just as exposed.

And when she smiled at him and brushed her fingers over his gaunt cheek he felt his anger dissipate in a moment. And when her lips pressed themselves so gently to the same cheek they took with them all traces of fear.

"I'm not afraid of you, husband," she whispered, a cheeky grin stretching her mouth with the words.

He hummed deep in his throat and leaned up, capturing her lips again. He took a long moment to look at her - really look at her; her slightly damp hair, the tender smile on her face, the slight blush that colored her cheeks so prettily.

And she was his.

With that thought, and one last devious grin, he found himself leaning down and removing her shoes, tossing them carelessly toward the door.

He would take his time - he had already decided that. And so he began at her ankles, letting his fingers brush over them, inching upward so slowly. And when he reached the hem of her gown he ignored it, pressing upward still with his greedy hands.

When he glanced up at her face it was to see her gazing at him nervously, her bottom lip captured between her teeth.

"I love you," he murmured as his fingers inched their way over her knees.

She nodded, drawing in a shaky breath. "I love you too."

And when he found the clasps that dangled from her garter belt he undid them slowly, never taking his eyes off of hers.

She shivered as he slowly rolled her first stocking off.

And when he had the second one halfway down her leg he paused. "All you have to say is stop," he said meaningfully, looking at her carefully. She was trembling and for a moment he was almost afraid she would faint.

But she simply smiled that same shy smile.

"I know," she breathed with a nod.

And he took that as his permission, stripping the second stocking from her leg.

He let his fingers brush over the now-exposed pale flesh, even daring to press his lips to her ankle. She shivered but made no protest.

And so he continued, reaching under her skirts again and searching for the ties of her pantalettes - one quick, well placed tug and the knot slid out easily. This time she even helped him, shimmying her hips to assist him in removing them.

And when they were off he bent down, pressing his lips to the top of her slender foot and gazing into her eyes for one long moment before he lifted her skirt, daring to slip his head under her dress.

She gasped when his lips met her core, but she didn't fight. He felt her lean back against the mattress. And when he dared to let his tongue dart out and taste her she trapped him tightly between her thighs.

He continued to lick at her, drawing his hands up to gently press her legs to the bed. She let out a breathless gasp but obeyed - she trembled but she did not fight against his hands.

He dared to allow his thumbs to part the folds of her skin and pressed his lips against her womanhood, allowing himself to hum against her.

She gasped again and he felt her shift, her fingers twisting in the bedsheets as her back arched.

"Erik!" She cried, and how sweet it was to hear his own name gasped in such a deliciously desperate way.

He continued his ministrations until she was trembling uncontrollably, gasping for air. She was close, he knew that. But it was their wedding night and he would not allow it to be over for her so quickly.

And so he pressed his lips once more to her warm, wet core and slid out from beneath her dress.

She lay sideways across the bed, one arm thrown over her eyes as she panted. Her hair, done so carefully, was already becoming a knotted mess, her curls having long escaped from their pins.

"Come here," he said softly.

And she was pulling her arm away, lifting herself weakly. He found himself helping her, standing from his place on the floor and sitting beside her on the bed, pulling her against him.

Her face was pressed into the crook of his neck and she leaned heavily against him, small shivers wracking her body.

He brushed her hair gently over one shoulder and began to work at the fastenings of the dress, which ran straight down the middle of her back.

He was about halfway through the ties when he pressed his lips into her hair. "How did you manage to dress yourself?" He murmured with amusement.

She shrugged lazily against him. "I told you that's why I was late."

And he could only chuckle as he finally undid the last tie.

He slid the dress down her shoulders and pushed her away slightly as he pulled it down to her waist.

"You have to stand," he said softly.

She shook her head. "I don't know if I can," she admitted, her blush only deepening with the words.

And he sighed, turning his attention to the corset strings instead. Truth be told he wasn't sure why she bothered with the contraption anymore - she had grown so thin that he could feel her rib bones just beneath her skin - but he made no mention of his dislike for the garment, allowing her to continue using it as she wished.

He pressed his lips to her collarbone as he worked the troublesome thing open, only causing her hands to tangle in his thin hair as she pulled his lips closer against her.

"Lay back," he instructed her calmly when her upper half was finally nude beneath his fingertips.

She obeyed, keeping her eyes on his. There was a smoldering fire behind them - a desire and lust that he hadn't seen in her in a long while.

He lifted her hips easily as he slid the dress down her body - she had grown so unbearably thin that it sometimes made him sad. Bones jutted out at odd angles where she had once carried soft flesh, her skin pulled tight over her collarbone, lending to a strangely emaciated look. Had he not been by her side for so long he would have suspected that she were malnourished.

He ran his hand gently over her hip, up to her waist. It didn't matter, he thought, because she was his.

"You are beautiful," he murmured as he let his hands explore the strange new planes to her body.

She blushed and peeked at him from beneath her eyelashes. "Maybe once," she sighed.

And he simply shook his head, climbing into the bed with her, hooking his hands under her arms and scooting her up until her head rested against the pillow.

"Always," he murmured as he pressed a kiss to the space behind her ear. "You are loveliness, and light, and goodness, and my wife."

"Your wife," she whispered in return.

He was nodding as he climbed atop her, pressing his lips to her lips, her throat, her jaw while she shivered beneath him. One hand trailed down, stroking her face gently and caressing her neck, over the strange ridge of her collarbone until it found her breast, the only truly supple flesh that remained on her body. He cupped it gently in his hand and allowed his thumb to brush over her already hardened nipple.

She hummed and her hands were against his chest, her fingers making quick work of the buttons of his shirt. Her fingers no longer shook of nerves - not as they had the last time they had made love. Instead they were steady and determined.

"You are eager, my wanton little wife," he murmured with amusement.

She blushed but nodded. And before he had even shrugged his shirt all the way off of his shoulders she was working at the fastenings of his trousers.

"Have you missed me so terribly?" He asked in surprise.

She peered up at him and a soft smile crept onto her face. "I have missed you terribly," she confessed.

And he was groaning, quickly discarding his shirt, tossing it in vaguely the same direction as he had her shoes, leaning down quickly to catch her lips again.

"Then I am only sorry to have made you wait so long," he said as his sense returned to him.

It was only a moment later that she was pushing away his trousers, exposing him completely.

"Don't be," she whispered, wrapping her fingers around his member and stroking him in much the same way he had showed her to that night so long ago. "It is better this way, I think. As my husband."

He groaned and pressed his face into her throat, allowing himself to enjoy the sensation of her fingers - her completely willing touch.

"Stop," he groaned after only a moment.

And she obeyed, drawing her fingers back and shifting beneath him, allowing her legs to fall open and moving to cradle his body between her thighs. He stayed still for a moment, catching his breath and allowing the frenzied need to ebb away.

Then his hands were on her knees, pressing them down into the bed as he pressed himself against her.

"You are mine, I think," he murmured into her ear as he pressed harder against her.

She shivered again and nodded.

He moved then, with short, sharp thrusts. He slowly worked his way inside of her, enjoying the sound of her soft, desperate moans as he rightfully took her for the first time.

And when he was finally buried as deeply inside of her as he could be he pressed a kiss just beneath her jaw.

"You are my wife," he said again, wondering if he would ever tire of the simple sentence.

"And you are my husband," she whispered in return, her hands squeezing his biceps tightly. And then she blinked up at him, her eyes trusting and honest. "And you will never leave me."

"Never," he promised for what felt like the hundredth time.

And then he was moving, rolling his hips into her, shifting slightly until he found the angle that made her gasp with every thrust.

Her hands had moved, slipping over onto his back. Her nails dug sharply into his skin and he found he couldn't complain for it - he only hoped that she would dig deeply enough to leave a few pleasant marks among the bad.

He groaned as he felt her constricting around him - he could feel each beat of her heart from deep within her. And when she cried out with her orgasm it was his name that came out in a jumbled cry.

And for just a moment he felt whole.

When she opened her eyes again her eyelids seemed heavy, a look of peace having taken over the desperate need.

She pulled him close to her as he continued to stroke into her body, gently tugging at his hair, pressing her lips to his temple.

He cried out as he pulled himself from her body, and then she was swatting his hand away, closing her fingers around him and tugging him to his completion.

He stayed there for a long moment after had finished, catching his breath as he stared down at her pale hand still wrapped around his member, at the mess of his seed on her inner thigh.

Then he was pulling away, using the far corner of the bed sheet to wipe away the mess and collapsing heavily beside her, pulling her close against him and pressing his lips to her forehead as they caught their breath together.

She was snaking closer to him, her leg slipping between his and her temple pressing itself to his chest.

It was far too warm for her to be so close to him, but he couldn't find it in his heart to complain. Not when she sighed so happily and looked up at him with such heavy, contented eyes.

She reached her left hand out and grabbed his, pulling it tighter around her shoulders and slipping her fingers between his. She gazed down at the rings that adorned each of their fingers, side-by-side.

Erik wondered for a moment if this was what happiness felt like as he looked at her thoughtful face and thoroughly tangled hair.

"Do you remember the first time you spoke to me?" She asked suddenly.

He found himself smiling slightly, pressing his lips tenderly to her hair. "Of course I do," he murmured. "You were crying in the chapel."

"Because my angel had not come," she finished for him. And then she was peeking up at him. "I know - I know you are not an angel Erik, but I can't help feeling that maybe my papa did send you to me."

He sighed. "I don't know Christine," he whispered.

As she nodded, pulling herself only closer still to him. "You don't have to think so," she said. "And you are not an angel - but you are my angel, I think. My papa promised me an angel of music - and he came. When I was a little girl, when you first began to teach me, I used to dream that my angel was a man, that I could marry him and love him forever," she smiled softly up at him. "And I am grateful, I think, that my wish came true."

And finding it impossible to speak he simply rested his right hand on her back, pulling her close and trying to ignore the feeling of her spine against his palm. His other hand squeezed hers gently.

They fell asleep like that, Christine's leg twisted between his, their hands entwined, wedding rings pressed together.

Chapter Text

Erik woke before Christine. While this wasn't a rare occurrence in itself, what was rare was the fact that he was perfectly content to stay right there.

Her skin was warm against his, her cheek pressed to his chest and her leg wrapped over his hip. She snored and he even found that to be strangely endearing. There was something calming in the moment, he thought. And if he were to die just then he would be perfectly content.

He took time to enjoy the sweet moment, gently brushing her tangled hair back so that he could see her face, calm and relaxed in her sleep. Her lips were parted slightly and he even dared to gently brush his thumb over her lower lip, smiling as she shifted in her sleep, turning her face even further into his chest.

He settled for allowing his hand to brush along the far-too-prominent curve of her back - his Christine, his wife. An admittedly strange thought, but not unwelcome in any way.

She smiled sweetly in her sleep and he found himself wondering what it was that filled her dreams. He could only hope that it was pleasantness, nothing like the twisted and painful dreams that he often had. He deserved those dreams, he thought. But his sweet Christine deserved dreams only as sweet as herself.

"Erik," she breathed in her sleep, nuzzling even closer against him, her leg tightening against his hip. He felt the soft curve of her lips as she smiled against him.

For a moment - and only a moment - he wondered if he should replace his mask. Surely it would not be kind to allow her to wake from such sweet dreams and see his gruesome visage. But the thought passed as she shifted even closer to him. No - to reach his mask he would have to disentangle himself from her and in that moment he felt fully incapable of such a sin.

She let out a pleasant sound then, a small, pleasures gasp. A sound that he was far more than familiar with by now, a sound that only made his own self stir, finally feeling the ache of his own member. He often awoke aroused - one reason he tended to disentangle himself from her before she awoke. Back in France, and even in Brussels it had been easy enough to ignore, to simply pull himself away from her and shift his attention to compositions or even a sketch until the terrible ache subsided.

But now, here, it was much harder. She was his wife now, and surely a husband could be held to no fault for his own passions.

And before he could convince himself otherwise he was shifting, moving carefully so as not to wake her. He laid her cheek gently against the pillow and shifted so that he laid on his side, her leg still hitched over his hip.

He pressed his lips tenderly to her forehead and she sighed happily in her sleep.

He pressed his way into her carefully, slowly, gently. And although the angle was odd it was in no way unpleasant. She was warm, and the angle caused a pleasant new tightness. She made that same strange whine in her sleep as he rocked into her, slowly, lazily, no longer frenzied in his need, instead feeling strangely content.

Her leg tightened around his hip and slowly her eyes blinked open.

She had seemed surprised, at first, to find their strange position but she made no attempt to pull away.

"Erik!" Her sleep heavy voice squeaked, and then she was pulling closer to him, pressing her forehead against his throat.

"Good morning, mon ange," he chuckled, stroking her hair gently as her fingers dug tightly into his side.

She made a breathless gasping sound and he pressed his lips to the crown of her head, smiling as she hitched her leg up higher, allowing him to slide only deeper inside of her.

She whined quietly against his throat, a quiet, needy, mewling whimper that only made him wish that they could stay like this forever.

His hand brushed over her back, lower and lower, pressing her only closer against himself.

It would be any moment now, he knew, and he would have to pull away. He hated it. But he could feel it, the unmistakable tightening of his muscles, from the sole of his foot all the way up his lower back.

All too soon he was trying to pull away. Her leg tightened against his hip as he did, forcing to remain where he was.

"Please," her sleep-rough voice whimpered.

He stilled himself and pressed his lips gently to the crown of her head. "Christine," he whispered in warning.

"I know," and she tilted her face, looking up at him. "I know," she repeated softly. "Please."

He brushed his thumb over her cheekbone. She was becoming nearly as thin as him. But her eyes, her eyes held such life. And how could he deny her when she looked up at him so pleadingly?

"A child," he murmured, only finding himself able to express fragments of sentences, his brain a strange jumble of need and contentedness.

Her eyes softened as she looked up at him. "I know," she said again. Her leg shifted again, pulling him only closer. "And I love you," she whispered. "Please."

And her forehead was pressed back against his throat. How could he deny her? He began to move again, slowly, trying to stave off the inevitable ending. He breathed in deeply, pressing his lips against her again, stroking her hair gently as he rocked against her again and again.

And when he felt it again, the undeniable approach of his end, he did not pull away. Instead he only pressed himself deeper into her. One hand found her leg, holding it in place tightly while his other, trapped beneath her, pressed hard against her back. And with a strangled groan he was thrusting deeply inside of her one last time, filling her with his seed.

And afterwords, when he began to catch his breath and his mind began to clear there was a terrible, overwhelming feeling of regret and guilt.

"Good morning," her small voice whispered against his skin.

"Christine," he murmured. And he was stroking her hair so gently, trying desperately to make up for his terrible mistake with gentle touches. "Christine, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

And she burrowed closer to him. "I asked you to," she whispered.

It didn't escape his notice that she had yet to look at him. And he found himself pushing her away only slightly, tilting her chin up. She blinked sleepily up at him and smiled so gently.

"And what if you grow pregnant?" He whispered, keeping his eyes on hers.

Her soft smile never faltered. She shrugged one shoulder gently. "I - I am ready I think."

He brushed his thumb over her gaunt cheek again, anxiety flooding through him. "And if you lose another child?"

At that her smile faltered, pain showing through her eyes for only a moment. But she shrugged again, her smile recovering quickly. "You are my husband," she reminded him softly. "And - and if I lose another child, you will be here."

His heart throbbed painfully at that. "Of course I will," he promised, pressing his lips tenderly to her forehead. "But you have to get healthy," he reminded her, gently running his finger over her thin face, down her throat. "You have grown so thin that I fear you are in no condition to carry a child. And I - I must find employment. And if you want children, we must find a home."

She bit her lip and nodded. "I know," she admitted quietly.

And he was tilting her chin up, pressing his lips against hers for the first time since she had woken. "I could deny you nothing, my Christine," he whispered. "And if it is your wish I will begin looking tomorrow - for a home and employment."

She pulled closer against him. "Thank you," she sighed as he stroked her hair.

"I love you, my wife," he reminded her.

"I love you too," her quiet, hollow whisper came.

Chapter Text

Erik did his best to remain true to his promise, and the very next day found him aimlessly wandering the streets, wondering how exactly one did seek honest employment.

It hadn't occurred to him, up until this point, that he had never had a proper job. His employment had come to him easily - either through pity, the uniqueness of his face, or simple convenient happenstance. Never had he actually sought out employment. And now that he found himself doing just that, he realized that he had no idea how to.

By midday he found himself sitting on the steps of the same church in which he had wed his Christine, a paper open in his lap. He supposed it was the best place to begin, having found a few advertisements seeking help. But even there he found nothing - there were plenty, but none that quite suited his odd skill set. One seeking a stable boy, another looking for help running a market stand.

It was true that he had amassed what would be considered a small fortune - a rather hefty sum of money that kept him far from danger of being poor. Even so, it was not an amount that he was comfortable with. Enough to support them for a good number of years, perhaps even to the end of his life if they were careful, but far from enough for him to be comfortable leaving Christine with.

She would be a young widow, he supposed. A sad thought, but an undeniable truth. He was not quite so young as he would like to think. He wasn't sure what exactly he had thought in those first few frenzied months when the Viscomte had first re-entered her life. He had known, of course, that she would be far better off with his youth and easy attitude. Still, he couldn't bear the thought of allowing him to take her as a wife.

He supposed he had thought to take her as his wife from the start. But nothing quite like the twisted path they had found themselves on - no, he had never planned on properly marrying her. He had never even dared to dream of forcing her to fulfill her wifely duties. He had simply wanted her there, at his side, for company. She would sing in the evenings and they would take nighttime walks on the Bois, and after a few short years when she was still good and innocent he had thought to send her to the young Viscomte, to allow her to have a proper marriage and a happy life.

But it was too late for that now. She could never return to France - would never return to France. He wouldn't allow it, not when she would now be at such risk of going to the gallows at his side. He was under no disillusionment - their marriage was a crime of utmost seriousness.

And now, with Christine's mind on children, he found himself only more desperate for some means to support them. He couldn't imagine it - leaving his poor, innocent, naive and broken Christine young and alone with children and such a small sum of money. She would be lost without him, and he couldn't bear the thought of what ills might be brought onto her in such a circumstance.

And so, to set his own mind at ease, he found himself sitting on the stone steps of the church and staring blankly at the open paper in his lap.

He had been there for at least half of an hour when he heard a familiar voice.

"You do not have to sit in the sun - you are more than welcome to make use of the building at any time."

He turned to be met with the kind Father's smile.

"I - I wouldn't want to interrupt anything," he answered carefully. Truth be told he hadn't even considered stepping inside.

"You are interrupting nothing - come, it is much cooler inside," the Father said, holding the door open and gazing at Erik expectantly.

And though he desperately wished to decline the offer, Erik found himself unable to come up with a reasonable excuse to avoid the situation. So he was standing, entering the chapel for the fourth time with a murmured "Thank you."

"You are welcome here any time, you know," the Father said as he walked by Erik's side up the aisle of the church. "This building - it is meant to be a sanctuary. You will never be turned away."

Erik tapped two fingers on his leg, trying to focus on the steady beat he was making to distract from the anxiety that threatened to overflow him. "I thank you for that," he said, shifting his gaze to the stained-glass windows that lined the walls, depictions of saints scattered throughout them.

"Something is troubling you," the kind Father guessed.

Erik shrugged one shoulder and looked at him carefully. "Many things are troubling me," he confessed, finding the words came easily. "But nothing that won't be sorted soon enough."

The Father was looking at him carefully. He hated the steady gaze, being examined like this. But he stared back at the man calmly, waiting for the words that he was so carefully formulating.

Finally, the Father sighed. "Have you ever been to confession?"

Erik's fingers twitched against his leg and he felt his jaw set itself nearly against his will. "I am not a fan of the practice," he said evenly. "I am a rather private man."

"I had guessed as much," the Father responded with a wry smile. "Perhaps, though, you would find it to be a freeing experience."

Erik's eyes narrowed as he looked at the man suspiciously. "And why? So you could catch me in my wrongs? Send word to the right people?"

The Father raised his hands in front of him. "I mean you no ill, Mr. Mulheim. And I assure you that I have no ulterior motive - I take the vow I have made with God seriously. Nothing spoken within that booth has any business being repeated outside of it." He sighed here and recovered his kind smile. "I had only thought to offer the opportunity - you are free to refuse it."

This gave Erik pause. It would be so easy, he thought. They always made it sound so easy - to repent, to be free. Just a few words and three hail Mary's and all would be set right. He had so much to atone for - so much that he had never been able to leave behind despite Christine's wishes for just that. Dear, sweet Christine, his little wife, who refused to hear of his past, who was running from her own.

And how easy it would be. The risk was rather small, he thought. At the very most he would have to kill the good Father - a shame, if it came to that. He had found himself growing fond of the man - but still, it was a sacrifice he was willing to make should it come down to it. Yes, at the most he would have to kill the man and whisk Christine away in the night only once more.

And how he so longed to be free.

His fingers twitched once and then he found himself nodding. "I think - I think it would not be so bad to try."

The good man was smiling at him then, leading him into another room occupied by a small booth.

"You are under no obligation to do this," the good Father said.

"I think it may be a good thing," Erik replied carefully.

The Father nodded at him once. "Do you know how it works?"

Erik gave half a nod. "I - I go in there and tell you my wrongs."

And the Father was smiling sadly at him. "At the very base I suppose. But you owe me nothing - this is not to get you into trouble. Do not - you are not here to give me any explanation. You are only here to speak aloud to ask God's forgiveness."

Erik was nodding, rubbing his palms against his pants and attempting to ignore his own anxiety, that constant voice within him that rebuked any notion of God.

"I want to try," he said, surprised at the break in his own voice.

Once he was sat inside of the shrouded booth he found he was chiding himself. It was silly - the whole notion was silly. He could hear the Father shifting into the booth across from him, separated by nothing more than a screen and a small black curtain.

Silence settled in the booth and Erik found himself choking on his own anxiety. He had considered standing and leaving, but instead he sat, twisting his slightly oversized wedding band around his finger.

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," the Father's gentle voice came.

And Erik was choking, forcing himself to swallow.

And then he was repeating the words around the lump in his throat. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," the words came out cracked, his voice uncontrolled. And then, suddenly, he felt a strange peace settle in.

He began to speak. Once the first sentence had come the words seemed to flow from within him.

He talked quickly, his words jumbled and confusing, but once they began he found himself unable to stop. He spoke of the mother he hardly remembered - the one who had beat him and forced him to wear a burlap sack for a mask, the one who had sold him to gypsies.

He spoke of petty theft, of murder and lust. He spoke of Persia, of assassination, of the attempts that had been made on his own life. The words poured forth from him, the scenes playing steadily through his mind as he attempted to speak them cohesively.

He spoke of his extortion at the opera house, of his pranks both harmless and malicious. He spoke of his home in the cellar, and after a short pause he spoke of the angel he had been, of the young girl he had nursed into happiness and then subsequently destroyed. And before he could stop himself he was confessing Christine's own sins - of her marriage, of their elopement, of the child they had lost, of every wrong that he had done her.

Silence settled for a long moment, and then it was broken by Erik's own sob.

"I love her," a voice that was not his own rasped out. "I love her and I don't know what to do."

There was silence again, and then there were careful, quiet words. "I have heard a lifetime of sin from a very broken man and a lost soul," the Father's voice said softly. "Despite what you may believe, you are God's child and he loves you dearly despite your past wrongs."

Erik's breath caught in his chest. "I want to be a better man," he whispered. "For Christine, for... for myself." And for the first time in his life he could say with certainty that he was not lying.

"You have repented," the Father's voice replied. "Your sins have been heard and I grant you forgiveness in the name of God."

Erik felt as though he would suffocate, the words causing a strange tightness in his chest, oddly similar to that night he had caught Christine sobbing shortly after they had lost their child. A mixture of dread and hope that seemed so futile.

"Go home Mr. Mulheim," the Father said softly, "and tell your wife that you love her."

And Erik did just that. He found himself unable to even attempt extracting a promise from the Father for secrecy, far too preoccupied with his attempts to calm his own wildly beating heart.

He managed to stem his tears on the walk to the hotel, clutching his paper tightly under his arm as though it would somehow relieve the strange, terrible ache in his chest.

And when he slipped into the room she was there. She had managed to tame her hair and brushed out the knots. She sat in the middle of the bed, looking so small and frail. For a moment he saw the same gawkish, young girl he had first tutored - a frightened little thing that hadn't been prepared for the world, who hadn't deserved any of the pain that he had forced onto her.

She was smiling softly at him. "You're back," she whispered.

He could only nod, watching her as she stood and made her way across the room to him.

When she was close enough he did the only thing that he could - he took her in his arms and pressed his face against her throat.

"I missed you terribly," she said, her fingers kneading the hair at the base of his skull while her chin rested atop his head.

"And what did you do while I was gone?" He asked softly, only desperate for her to continue speaking.

He felt her shrug. "I brushed my hair," she said quietly. "And - and I sewed a hole I found in one of my dresses. And I read a bit."

"I love you Christine," he said quietly, failing to control the break in his voice.

Her fingers paused for a moment against the base of his skull, and then slowly she began to move them again. "And I love you very much, my husband," she murmured, pressing her lips to the top of his head. "How did your search fare?"

And he sighed pulling away from her. He tilted her chin toward him with two fingers and looked at her carefully.

"Do you trust me Christine?" He asked, the question suddenly seeming important.

She smiled at him. "With my life," she answered softly.

And he was nodding, suddenly feeling relief he hadn't even known he was seeking. "I haven't found employment," he confessed. "But I will - I will not stop looking until I do. And I - I will be better, for you."

Her nose scrunched up at that. "What do you mean?"

He couldn't stop himself - he ran his thumbs gently over the creases in her face until they disappeared. "Only that I will be a better man for you. An honest man." He pressed his lips gently to her forehead. "One who will love his wife, and - and the children, when they come."

"Erik," she whispered, his name drawn out in a strangely bittersweet tone.

And he could only pull her against his chest tightly, wondering if he would ever be able to let go.

Chapter Text

Erik found a new determination in the coming days. He would find a home first - a necessity due to Christine's recently re-kindled obsession with children. And when they had a home, he would then seek out employment. Even there, though, he had to be careful. He didn't require a large salary, only enough to pad their savings in the case of some disastrous event. Truth be told they were rather careful with their money - or, Christine was at the very least. She was a rather frugal woman, despite his insistence that she deserved the best. The few times that he had left her with a wallet of money to buy a dress she would come back with most of it and a few smart, sturdy dresses.

It frustrated him endlessly, but oh how he loved her for it all the same.

And so he wasn't too worried when it came to his salary. What he was most concerned about was taking too many long days away from Christine. He couldn't take a position that would necessitate travel - Christine had enough difficulty with the few short hours they were separated when he left. He had considered taking the paper back to the hotel with him, curling up with his young wife as he poured over potential homes. But he resisted the urge - to fall into that now would only make it all the more difficult for her when he did take up a job. It was good for her anyway, he reasoned, to have some time away from him.

He had grown so worried for her - the hours he spent away she would spend in solitude. He had encouraged her to go out, to shop or even take a short walk, but she had seemed rather opposed to the idea. And so he let her remain there alone. He only hoped that the solitude would eventually force her into weariness and that she would come to be the social woman she had once been. Even so, she would have to come to it on her own - to force her would only do more damage than good.

He had settled into a routine rather easily. He would wake early in the morning, allowing himself a good half an hour to remain lazy and curled in bed with his wife. And when it came time he would wake her gently with soft kisses and whispered good mornings.

He always made sure to breakfast with her, taking careful note of her appetite. She had begun to gain back a bit of the weight she had lost and he found himself relieved with that discovery.

When it came time for him to say his goodbyes mid-morning he would always kiss her gently and be away quickly before the sad look she would give him convinced him to stay.

He would take a short walk through the city, but always found himself sitting on the steps of the same church with a new paper by noon.

And always, the good Father would find him and invite him inside with a kind smile.

It had become an easy routine. He would sit in the first pew and the Father would sit beside him, always allowing a comfortable silence to remain between them.

It wasn't until the third day that the Father broke the silence.

"How is your wife?" He had asked gently.

His words had startled Erik, but they were kind and he sighed. "She is well, I think," he responded.

"You think?" The Father asked, sounding surprised.

Erik scratched at the back of his neck uncomfortably and nodded. "She does not complain. I worry for her, truthfully. But what am I to do when she tells me nothing?" He sighed then. "She is lonely, I know, but she refuses to be out without me. So what am I to do?"

The Father shifted in his seat. "Perhaps you should take her out," he offered simply. At Erik's blank look he smiled gently. "Try it," he said. "Show her that there is a world out there that she is welcome to take part in."

Erik's fingers lingered on the edge of his mask and he sighed through his nose. "I had always thought that it would be easy," he murmured. "That when I had a normal wife it would be so much easier to lead a life like any other man." He shook his head. "She deserves the world, you know. And I'm afraid that I can't give it to her - that I'll fail her."

"What do you want, Mr. Mulheim?" The Father asked thoughtfully.

Erik looked down at his ring, twisting it around his finger again. "I want to be like everyone else," he confessed quietly. "I want - I want a normal life. I want a job like any other man, a happy wife who will go to church on Sunday's and allow me to take her for evening strolls. A wife - a wife who isn't afraid of me."

"What does your wife want?"

Erik chewed on the inside of his lip thoughtfully. "She wants to be happy, I think," he murmured. "She tries to be happy, but she is so sad and I - I can't fix it," he said in frustration. "She wants children, she wants a home and a life like anyone else. But she is so weak, and she is so thin. And if she wants children she will have them - two, ten, twenty, I would give her as many as she wanted if only she would smile. But she is so weak, I fear - I dread the thought of her bearing a child now. I don't know that she would survive it."

The Father's hand was on his shoulder then and Erik fought the urge to swat it away.

"Nothing in this world worth having is easy, Mr. Mulheim," he said gently. "You love your wife."

He nodded at that. "I love her more than life itself."

And the Father smiled sadly. "And she loves you, despite what you may think. It's clear as day to anyone who may see you two together."

Erik twisted his ring around his finger once more and sighed. "I know that she loves me," he murmured evenly.

The Father nodded. "All things take time. Allow me - allow me to pray for you," he said thoughtfully. "Let me pray for you and your wife."

"I think - I think that would be fine," he murmured lamely. "Thank you."

And that night when he returned home to find his sad wife sitting in the same spot, curled in the middle of the bed with a book, he found himself kicking off his shoes and climbing in beside her, pulling her against him and not even bothering to apologize when she lost her page.

"I missed you," he said truthfully. "And I love you."

And she giggled against his chest, the most light hearted sound he had heard from her in a long while.

"I missed you terribly," she replied, her customary greeting whenever he returned.

He brushed his fingers through her curls as he slowly laid her back, pressing his lips against hers, to her temple, admiring the way she shivered when his lips brushed her earlobe.

"I found an apartment and I would like you to come with me to see it tomorrow," he whispered between kisses.

She sighed happily. "I would love to."

He pulled back, brushing his thumbs against her temple. "And then I want to take you out for supper."

She smiled softly up at him. "I would like that," she murmured, taking his hand in hers and pressing her lips to his fingertips.

He smiled and pressed his lips to her throat, encouraged by the flutter of her pulse against him. "And there is an opera house not so terribly far from here," he murmured against her skin. "La Traviata is showing, I believe."

She sighed at that. "Erik," she muttered in warning.

"Shush," he murmured. "Let me take you. Is it so wrong for a husband to want to dress his wife up and take her to the opera? To want to sit beside her through a performance like any other husband?" He pressed his lips along her jaw as he ignored her disapproving look, letting them slide down to her throat, kissing and sucking along the delicate flesh until she finally moaned, twisting her fingers into his hair.

"Your husband would behave so well, Christine," he whispered against her throat. "And he will not even complain when the orchestra plays a wrong note, or when the violin is tuned too sharply. And though he knows that his wife is much better suited, he will not even complain of the Prima Donna."

And then he was kissing his way down her throat, along her shoulder as he slid the sleeve of the light chemise she wore out of his way.

"This is not fair," she whined, her tightened fingers and trembling body betraying her weakness. "But if you promise - you promise me that nothing terrible will happen, I will accompany you to the opera."

"I promise you," he whispered to her skin.

And she was nodding. "I trust you Erik," she whispered in return.

He groaned against her throat, the words becoming too much for him all at once. He needed her and he needed her now.

He shifted the chemise up and with one swift tug her pantalettes came away in his hand. He carelessly tossed them over the edge of the bed and pressed his lips along the hollow of her throat.

She whimpered beneath him, a strange and enticing sound.

It had been so long since he had felt so overwhelmed with his need, and with one hand he was undoing his trousers, pushing them away. And when he pressed himself to her she tangled her hands in his shirt, pulling him only closer against herself.

He pressed inside of her so carefully, his hands only pushing the chemise higher up until he held her bare hips firmly in his hands, relieved to feel another layer of flesh there. She was still so thin, worryingly so, but she had begun to gain back a bit of her softness. Bone no longer pressed firmly against his palm - he could still feel it, of course, it would take time for her to recover, but even just the small recovery was enough for him.

She drew her legs up, pressing her feet to the mattress as she arched her back, allowing him only more control.

One hand trailed up under her chemise, brushing against the ribs that he could still only just feel until it found her soft, round breast. He cupped it gently in his hand, flicking his thumb over her hardened nipple and enjoying the shaking breath she took.

He pressed the unmasked side of his face to her throat, allowing his lips to continue their kisses.

"I love you," he whispered against her throat. "And you are mine - only mine."

And she whimpered again, her hands only twisting tighter into his shirt. It would be terribly wrinkled but he couldn't bring himself to care - not when she held him so closely, wrapping one leg up and around his waist.

Her heart was racing, her pulse fluttering so quickly against his lips. His hand trailed back down, coming to find its place between their bodies, finding the soft, quivering nub that rested between her legs and gently rolling it under one finger, feeling her pulse speed only more with her soft, needy mewl.

Her hips arched again, bucking up toward him and he couldn't help but to groan against her throat.

She was close, so close. She trembled, a soft, distressed noise escaping from her. She was so warm, so soft, constricting around him so wonderfully.

"Shush," he whispered softly. "It's alright," he said when he heard that same distressed sound. "It's alright my Christine, my - my wife. Let go."

He continued to work gently between her legs with his fingers, continuing the same pace as he rocked into her, continuing the same movements as his gentle words coaxed her through her orgasm, the flutter of her muscles around him nearly too much, the strangled gasping sound she made only exciting him more.

And when her fingers loosened their grip he was drawing his hand back up to her hips, thrusting deeply inside of her.

He hesitated for only a moment, but her gentle "Please," only strengthened his resolve.

One, two, three more stuttering thrusts and he was burying himself as deeply into her as he could, her name escaping his lips as he once again filled her with his seed.

And when it was done, when he had managed to clear his mind, he found himself curling close to her, laying on his side with his head pillowed against her breast. Her heartbeat was steady under his ear and the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest was soothing.

She was pulling his mask away and he found he didn't have the strength nor desire to stop her - especially when her soft thumb began to stroke the neglected flesh of his forehead, the thin skin that hardly covered his skull.

He was sighing and his hand found its place, resting warm and heavy over her flat and empty womb, his thumb stroking the seemingly innocent and innocuous bit of her body.

"Do you want a boy or a girl?" He heard himself ask.

Her thumb faltered in its path and she sighed, but when he glanced up at her it was to see a soft smile on her face.

"I want it to be healthy," she finally said. "It's gender is irrelevant - I should be happy with either so long as it was healthy."

He continued his petting of her womb. It was a strange thought, purposefully trying for a child. He hadn't even dared to dream such a thing. But here he was, purposefully attempting to father a child for Christine - his wife, his sweet little wilting flower.

He would give her the world if he could; he knew he had been truthful in that when he told the good Father the same thing. But he couldn't - not now, and so he tried to give her the only thing she had asked of him: a fresh start, a marriage and a family. It wasn't so much to ask, he supposed. Not after all she had sacrificed for him.

"I think I want a boy," he confessed, slowing the gentle stroking of his thumb. "The thought of a daughter terrifies me." Yes, a son. It was true that he wanted a son, a son who could protect his little wife when he was gone, who could provide for her. But he kept the thought to himself - there was no use in upsetting his wife and spoiling such a sweet moment with his dark thoughts.

"Then I should only hope I can provide you a son," she said quietly.

He hummed against her chest, his eyelids already heavy with sleep.

"I love you, my little wife," he murmured sleepily, pulling himself closer against her.

"Oh Erik," she whispered. "I love you too."

And for the first time in a long time she began to sing. Her voice was soft and unsure, yet so sweet. He felt his eyes closing, the gentle rise and fall of her chest and the sound of her unsure, sweet lullaby just a bit too soothing.

His last thought before he drifted to sleep was that she was singing his lullaby, the very song he used to sing to her before he was ever even her angel - a song that he had composed only for her and had never taught her.

Chapter Text

Erik hadn't lied to Christine when he told her that he had an apartment to show her. He hadn't lied to her in a long while about anything if he was honest. Though it had been heartbreaking, from the moment she had admitted her love for him he had found a new determination - he wanted to be something good for her; a good lover, a good husband, one who didn't lie. And so he hadn't lied. There was really no point in lying anymore, he thought. She already belonged to him in every conceivable way, she had tied herself to him, first with a child and then with a marriage. And though the child had died it didn't lessen it much - she gave him a son, a son that he had held, a son that he had felt move within her womb, a son that he had sang lullabies to, a son that he truly found that he wanted. And though their marriage was illicit in a way, even that didn't seem to matter so much to him - she had stood beside him in a church and given her vows, she wanted to be his wife, had asked to be his wife.

And there was no reason for him to lie to her anymore.

When he woke her with gentle kisses and she burrowed into his chest with a sigh, these were the thoughts that invaded him, these were the thoughts that flashed through his mind as he let his fingers brush through her hair, as he pressed his lips to her forehead. Even as he roused her from bed, her hair tangled and eyes still sleepy, her fingers clumsy as she attempted to dress herself.

By the time she was half-dressed he was already done, his mask in place and hair carefully slicked back. He watched her as she struggled with the ties of her corset, grogginess clouding her usually easy movements.

And he went to her, pushing her hands away and brushing her hair to the side so that it fell over one shoulder, smoothing the material of the garment he so hated and that she had somehow twisted. And then he was lacing it for her carefully, pulling it just tight enough.

"Thank you," she murmured as he worked.

And he smiled, pressing his lips to her throat, just beneath her ear.

"You have never been so beautiful to me as you are in this moment," he whispered.

And even as she scoffed and tried to argue with him, he knew that it was true. There was no reason for him to lie anymore.

It was breakfast first - it was always breakfast first. Erik had a tendency to neglect his own needs, often letting food fall to the wayside - he was man enough to admit that small fault. But not Christine, his beautiful, sweet, broken little wife. He always breakfasted with her, was always sure that she suppered. He was out most of the day, but had he not been he would have supervised her lunch as well - he would not allow his wife to suffer for his odd idiosyncrasies, not anymore, especially not since she had expressed her wish for children.

And when their breakfast was done and they had reached his hotel room - their hotel room, as it had become - she looked at him so sadly.

It had become his routine, see, to always walk her back to the hotel room after breakfast. He would open the door and quickly kiss her goodbye, leaving before he could convince himself to stay - before she could convince him to stay.

As he unlocked the door she was peeking at him so sadly, so, so sadly that it honestly did pull at his heart.

"You're going to leave now, aren't you?" She whispered as she tugged at her bottom lip with her teeth.

"No," he said simply. "I promised that I would take you to see an apartment today," he continued as he pushed the door open. And then he was turning his attention to her, circling her shoulders with his arm and pressing a kiss to her temple as he walked her further into the room. "And that I would take you to dinner - somewhere fancy, somewhere that will allow me to dress my wife up and show her off." He pressed his lips to her temple again. "And, if I am not mistaken - which I am not - I believe I promised my wife a night at the opera, and a whole day without me leaving her."

"You mean it?" She asked, glancing up at him.

He hummed as though in thought and then smiled down at her. "I believe I made a promise. Have I ever broken a promise to you, my Christine?"

And she chewed her lip for a moment and then softly smiled. "I suppose not," she admitted quietly.

And he hummed deep in the back of his throat. "It is not the nicest apartment," he said softly. "And if you hate it I will continue to look - but it is only that, an apartment, and it's not permanent by any means."

"I am sure it's lovely Erik," she murmured.

"There is an extra bedroom of course," he continued. "I have only looked for apartments with multiple bedrooms, and it is a small bedroom but quite suitable as a nursery."

And she looked at him in surprise. "Erik?" She breathed.

"One bedroom may not be enough, I know. But that is why it isn't permanent."

She moved so quickly that he found himself surprised when she flung her arms about his shoulders and pressed her face against his throat.

"I love you," she whispered.

He let his hand rest against the back of her head, pulling her as close against him as he could as he breathed in the scent of her hair.

"I love you too Christine."

"I'm afraid," she confessed.

"That's completely natural," he replied. "And it's alright, you know, to be afraid. I'm - I'm afraid too."

"You are?" And her words were soft, unsure, the same Christine finding her way out, the one that he thought had been lost when he first stole her away from her husband.

"I am," he admitted, pressing his lips to the crown of her head. "Far more than I would like to admit."

"What are you afraid of?" She murmured, her fingers tugging at his sleeve.

"Everything," he whispered. "I am afraid that I could lose you to birth - it is a dangerous process. I am afraid of what losing another child could do to you - you already seem so fragile, I am afraid that I could never make it better for you. I am afraid that the child could look like me - that it wouldn't love me, that I would terrify it. I am afraid of everything Christine."

"And you'll still allow me to have a child," she said softly.

He ran his fingers through her hair gently. "I want you to be happy," he said. "If it only makes you happy then it's worth all of the fear."

She pulled away from him slowly, wiping at her eyes with her palm and giving him a soft smile. "You will be a good father," she said softly. "I know that you will."

"I will try to be," he replied. "I can only promise to try."

"You will be," she insisted. And then she was smiling softly at him, moving toward him and pressing her lips to his in a brief, soft kiss. "I love you."

It was an odd feeling, the strange way his heart seemed to tighten in his chest every time she spoke those words - not an entirely unpleasant sensation, but one so different from what he had expected. Hopelessness, that was the only way he could describe it. She loved him, it was the only thing he had ever hoped for, but she was so sad, so broken. He wondered often if there was ever any chance of a different outcome - if she could have come to love him even if he hadn't completely destroyed her first. The truth was he would never know, and the guilt gnawed at him relentlessly, knowing that he had taken a girl already so broken and only destroyed her more for his own selfish gain.

But she loved him, and despite his reservations he was glad for it.

And all he could do was press his lips to her forehead.

"Brush out your hair, we should be off soon," and even that simple sentence took all of his control to push out through the relentless warring of his heart.

Christine loved the apartment, something that was not too surprising to Erik. She was a rather simple girl, easy to please, and he supposed so long as there was a roof and walls she would have jumped on the opportunity to call it home. He wondered whether she truly liked it or if she was simply restless and wanting someplace to call home - but regardless, she had smiled so sweetly and seemed so excited that he could hardly find fault in the small home himself.

It was relatively centrally located, in a generally safe area. There were shops nearby - no more than a short walk, a small park only a bit further out. If he were honest he would admit that he chose it for its location, refusing to let go of the small hope that Christine would one day find the desire to venture out again. But whether or not she chose to he afforded her every opportunity and he comforted himself in that fact.

And so with Christine's unreserved approval he found himself putting a down payment on the apartment, which was somehow much lower than was originally quoted when the landlord met his wife. An odd thing, but Erik was far past his anger when it came to human nature. If he had learned anything over the previous months it was that it is always beneficial to bring his sweet, normal looking wife along when negotiations were made. But truly, what did a few extra bills matter if it allowed him to see one of his wife's far-too-rare smiles?

Unfortunately for Erik dinner went much less smoothly than the apartment. The bistro was crowded, causing Christine to grip his hand tightly until they were seated.

And when they were finally seated she continued to look distinctly uncomfortable, her eyes darting around the room and her jaw tightly clenched.

For a moment he felt guilty - surely it would have been more prudent of him to pick a slightly less popular restaurant. His intention hadn't been to overwhelm her, but after so much time with only him for company he could see that was exactly what he had done. He did his best to keep her talking but she remained distracted. And so, instead, he found their meal rushed and awkward. And when the bill was payed and they left she was back to the same unsure Christine she had been at the start of the day.

She clutched his arm tightly, unwilling to loosen her grip even when he made mention of it.

"I am sorry, Christine," he said gently. "I should not have expected you to enjoy such a crowd. The opera, though - I think you will enjoy it. I do hope you'll allow me to make up for it."

And she sighed, shifting her grip on his arm. "Must we go?" She murmured. "I-I am very tired."

Erik always knew when she was lying - he always had been able to tell when the girl lied. At times it was almost as though she had forgotten just how long he had known her for.

"You will enjoy it, dear wife," he said, gently putting his free hand over hers on his arm. "I promise you - I've booked us a private box. And if you would like we can even arrive a little late - you will not have to worry about any crowd. And you know - you know that you are always safe with your Erik."

"I am very tired," she repeated petulantly.

He sighed. "I would very much enjoy it if you would accompany me. It would not be half as enjoyable by myself."

At that she paused and blinked up at him. "You would go without me?"

Knowing that he had her, he nodded and pulled a frown. "I couldn't very well allow a box to remain empty."

"I'll go," she huffed. And then she was leaning closer against him, letting her temple rest against his shoulder as they walked.

"Thank you, Christine," he said gently, not bothering to remind her that they were in public and that her closeness was inappropriate. How could he scold her for it when he enjoyed it so much? Besides, they were married now as far as anyone was concerned. Surely no one could fault them for it.

And true to his promise they did arrive late, quietly slipping into their box halfway through the prelude, ignoring the disapproving glare of the box keeper.

Christine, for all of her hesitation, was quickly enthralled in the production. Her grip on his arm went slack as she leaned forward in her seat. There was a soft smile painted on her face - one that she couldn't quite hide. And with seeing how happy she seemed, the pure enjoyment she seemed to take from the production, he found even his own critiques to be nothing more but inconsequential things.

And at the first intermission she finally pulled her eyes from the stage, looking over at him.

"I will never understand why Alfredo loved Violetta so," she murmured. "She was so cold and fickle - he hardly even knew her to love her so deeply."

He looked at her carefully; her admittedly pale face, her far-too-thin body, the soft look in her eye.

And then he smiled at her.

"Love does not always make sense, dear Christine," he said. "And does it truly need to?"

"I suppose not," she murmured with sudden understanding. And then she was smiling softly, looking about them before she pulled his arm around her shoulders and leaned into him.

He allowed himself to press his lips to the crown of her head before leaning back into his seat.

And, sweet girl that she was, as the lights dimmed for the second act she only burrowed closer to him.

It wasn't until the middle of the second act that he heard her sniffle. And it was as Alfredo burst in, interrupting Violetta's farewell letter that she sighed.

"It's so sad," she murmured against his chest.

He simply hummed, allowing his hand to gently brush over her arm in comfort.

But it wasn't until the curtain had closed on the show, after the applause and as they watched the audience slowly make their way out that she spoke again.

"I had forgotten how much I enjoy the opera," she said, wiping away her ridiculous tears with her palm. "Thank you for making me come."

And he smiled, using his thumb to brush away the few tears she had missed. "I did not make you do anything," he murmured to her. "But if I had any idea that it would affect you so deeply I would have taken you to a comedy instead. I didn't intend to make you sad."

She laughed at that. "It is just a tragic story."

"How so, my little wife?"

She worried her lip for a moment, carefully contemplating her answer. "They loved each other so deeply," she finally said. "Only to be pulled apart, they hardly had time."

"Violetta loved selflessly," he argued. "She knew that she had to do what was best for Alfredo - even if it meant breaking her own heart. I think it's rather romantic."

"But she dies," Christine countered.

And he nodded. "She does, but she dies knowing that Alfredo loved her - that he knew the truth, that she loved him. And she does not die alone - his father embraces her as his own daughter and she dies in the arms of the man she loves."

"I suppose so," she murmured thoughtfully. And then she was looking down at her hands, twisting her fingers together. "Is that what you thought Erik?"

"What did I think?"

"That leaving me was what was best for me," she muttered. And then she looked up at him. "That even though it would break your heart sending me with Raoul was what was best for me."

He heaved a sigh, looking at her carefully. "I did," he admitted cautiously. "I still do."

Her arms wrapped around herself and she gave a short nod. "I disagree," she breathed.

"And I am glad for that," he said. "But I am not good for you - I have hurt you time and time again. Yes, I think that your boy was a far better choice for you. I still believe that it was what was best for you; but even if I wanted to I couldn't let you go. Not now, not after everything that has happened. Not now that you love me, that you want to be here."

She chewed her lip as she stared down at the empty stage. "Erik?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you think I will ever perform again?"

He watched her carefully, the way that she stared at the stage and avoided his eyes. "Do you want to?"

Finally she glanced at him, a sad smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. "It would be dangerous wouldn't it?"

He contemplated it carefully and sighed. "No more dangerous than our being seen together I suppose. Do you wish to perform again?"

She looked away again, but slowly she nodded.

"Would it make you happy Christine?" He whispered to her.

"I've never been happier than when I was on stage," she admitted.

And carefully he was wrapping his arm around her shoulders, pulling her back against him. He pressed his lips gently to her temple. "We will work on your English," he said softly. "And we have both slacked on your discipline - when we get settled in the apartment your lessons will be far more regular." He let his fingers brush against her throat. "You brought Paris to its knees and I've no doubt you could do the same for America - if you want to, you will perform again Christine."

Chapter Text

Erik found himself infinitely grateful for Christine's wish for a quick departure from Spain. It made it a far easier process to move the few blocks from the hotel to their apartment. And perhaps it was better, he thought, that Christine had chosen to stay in until they moved.

As it was they only had two trunks and his violin. He carried one trunk in each hand, entrusting Christine with his violin.

It was a short walk, which Erik was also grateful for. He was rather tired, having been shaken awake by his odd wife in the middle of the night.

"Erik, I want a child," she had said in a panic, leaning over him.

He blinked up at her in confusion. "I know that, love," he murmured, wondering just how far he was going to have to go in explaining how exactly children were made - not a fun thing to think about when one was so rudely awoken. "And we are trying, but these things take time Christine."

She huffed in frustration. "You don't understand - I want a child," she repeated.

Were he not so groggy he may have found amusement in her frustration - as it was he was struggling to keep his eyes open. "What don't I understand?"

"If I have to choose," she said, twisting her ring around her finger. "If I have to choose between the stage and a family, I - I choose a family."

"Come here, silly girl," he said, opening his arms to her. And slowly she did, settling in against him. He gently ran his fingers through her hair having long since learned that physical comfort was often the only thing that calmed her. "You do not have to choose, Christine."

"But if we have a child and I return to the stage, and you have been looking for employment, we will both be so busy. How will we care for a child?"

"We will worry about that when the time comes," he said to her, pulling her close. "If it comes to it we may have to hire a nursemaid - but you will not have to choose, silly Christine, I would not make you do that. I only want you to be happy; if that means we hire a nursemaid and have to struggle through for a bit then we will. But it is nothing to worry over now."

"If I become pregnant I will have to leave the stage," she said quietly.

He kissed her forehead with a yawn. "Performers are allowed leave," he said. "You know this - you have not been away from the opera long enough to forget that. You will have to leave for a brief period - that does not mean you have to give it up completely."

"But what if -"

"Hush," he said. "No more of these doubts. There is no point in worrying over what has not yet happened. I cannot give you the life you deserve, Christine - the life you deserve is with that boy. What I can give you is what you desire, and if that is children and a career on the stage then you will have it."

She was silent for a long while, and just as he began to fall asleep she spoke again.

"Erik?"

"Hmm?"

She worried her lip and pulled herself closer against him. "I love you," she had whispered.

"I love you too, my sweet, silly little wife. Now stop worrying over this ridiculousness and go to sleep."

And she was a silly girl, he thought. He wondered wether this anxiety had always lived in her or if he was the one to cause it, but regardless it was a silly thing. To worry over wether she could bear a healthy child, and then to worry over the stage inviting danger into their life, and then to worry over the child that didn't yet exist changing the career that had not yet begun.

But it would be dangerous, he knew that. He was no fool - it would only take for one person to recognize her, one person to take word back to France and their entire existence would be threatened. He couldn't deny her though, not when she had looked so hopeful, not when the stage bore such a piece of her soul.

If it meant they would have to run again then they would run, but he would not deny his wife the small piece of happiness she so desired. And so, dangerous or not she would have her wish - a career and a child.

And as they settled into their small apartment the excitement he saw behind her eyes made it all well worth it.

Chapter Text

It was only one week into their residence in the new apartment that Erik came home to find his wife already in bed, her knees pulled up to her chest and her chin resting atop them, looking particularly sullen.

Up to this point Erik had been rather impressed - she hadn't seemed so terribly sad, no longer moping around and simply waiting for him. Instead she had been busying herself with cleaning - mostly the spare bedroom. And every night when he returned home she would kiss him, telling him how terribly she had missed him and then chattering on about her ideas - furniture and decorations, where she would like to put the piano that she had decided was necessary. For all it was worth, Erik did not find much interest in the subject but he did his best to encourage her new found interest.

But now, after only one week of carefreeness, she was back to the strange melancholia that seemed to plague her.

When he stepped into the room she looked up at him sadly, the tears that hadn't yet fallen gathering as her lip began to tremble.

"Christine," he breathed gently, taking a tentative step forward, and then another when she didn't speak.

He sat carefully on the edge of the bed, finding some comfort when she shifted, leaning into him.

"What happened?" He whispered.

She sniffled, finally letting her tears begin to fall. "It's silly," she said, her voice rough.

He looked down at her, using his thumb to interrupt the flow of her tears. "If it has upset you so," he murmured, "then it is assuredly not silly."

She shook her head and let out a worryingly hysterical laugh. "My menses came today," she croaked. "It is no reason to be so upset."

He was silent for a long while as he held her, continuing to brush away her tears as they fell. And then he sighed.

"You are not upset that your menses came," he guessed. "You are disappointed."

She slowly nodded. "It's still silly," she argued.

"It is not silly, Christine," he reaffirmed. "It is completely acceptable - when you want something so badly it is easy to be disappointed. But it is a good thing."

"How?" She huffed.

He pressed his lips to the crown of her head. "Because it means that you are recovering," he explained gently. "And it means that you are healthy, that your body is ready to try again. That is a very good thing Christine - it is alright to be disappointed, but do not allow this to take your hope away."

She sighed but she seemed to relax against him. "Erik?" She whispered.

"What love?"

"Do you think I'll be a good mother?" She asked, worrying her bottom lip.

"I know for a fact that you will be a fantastic mother Christine," he said. "I have told you that before, and I only believe it more now."

She nodded, sniffled one last time and wiped away her residual tears. And then she smiled at him softly, almost happily. Were it not for the redness of her eyes and the fact that he had witnessed it he could have forgotten her sadness.

"I am sorry I'm so ridiculous," she said with a small laugh.

He found himself returning her smile. "I wouldn't have you any other way Christine," he said honestly.

And when he made his way into their small kitchen, intent on preparing a simple dinner, she followed him.

She watched him for a moment, and then she wordlessly stole the knife from his hand, taking over his careful cutting of the loaf of bread. He made no mention of it - he very nearly told her that she didn't need to trouble herself, but he stopped before the words could leave his mouth. He would not discourage her.

"Do you think - I mean, would you be up to starting my lessons tomorrow evening?" She said, not looking away from the loaf of bread.

He watched her, the gentleness of her careful slices, the way she concentrated so fully on the task.

"If you are ready," he said.

She smiled softly at that. "Thank you," she said, glancing over at him.

And Erik found himself enjoying his time in the kitchen much more with Christine's assistance, even though she sliced the bread unevenly and held the knife as though she had never handled one in her life.

But with his promise her spirits had seemed to lift and she chattered on to him - nothing of consequence, nothing truly important, but it was sweet all the same.

For perhaps the first time, when she smiled at him and told him that she loved him he didn't feel a terrible ache, there was no emptiness inspired by her words. And for the first time since he had first whisked her away from her home he felt true hope.

Chapter Text

"Stop Christine," it was perhaps the sixth time he had repeated the phrase in the first ten minutes of her voice lesson. Truth be told it was not going as poorly as he had expected it to - he had yet to yell at her, she had not yet broken down in tears. In truth it was an improvement over their previous lessons, and she was not quite as bad off as he had expected her to be.

Instead of tears she huffed in frustration. "Am I truly that terrible?" She asked.

"Do you want me to answer you honestly?" He asked. And at her nod he sighed. "You are not terrible - you are doing quite well. In your current state I've no doubt you could even win a spot in a chorus - perhaps even a Prima Donna. If Carlotta could manage it God knows that you are more than qualified. But your husband is a tyrant and good enough is not good enough - you are good, but you are not yet perfect. Perfection may seem an unfair thing to ask for but you are more than capable of it; I know because I have witnessed perfection from you. So, why do you think I stopped you this time?"

She blinked at him and sighed. "I warbled on the high c."

"Good," he said. "Now, why?"

She chewed her lip thoughtfully. "My jaw is tensed and I did not give it proper breath support."

He nodded, satisfied with her answer. "You see, my silly little wife? You do not even need me. Now fix it."

And so she did, and managed to make it through an entire four rounds of the warm-up before he stopped her again.

"What are you doing?" He said in exasperation.

"I am trying to sing," she said through a tight jaw. "But you seem to be unwilling to let me."

He waved his hand dismissively at her. "Stop," he said firmly. "I am only trying to help you - if you would rather I can allow you to go at this alone and strain your voice."

"I'm not straining," she said with a huff.

"You are," he argued. "And I do not want you to cause permanent damage." He took two steps, closing the distance between them. He used his forefinger to lift her chin and for all her frustration she complied. "It will take time," he sighed. "And work; it has been far too long. I will take my blame in that. I will take your frustration. It will be difficult Christine but I can get you back to where you were if - and only if - you are willing to listen to me."

"I am listening to you," she insisted. "I am trying, I am. I don't know what else to do."

He looked at her carefully. "You are frustrated," he observed.

"I am because you are unwilling to allow me to even make it through a warm-up!" She snapped.

His visible eyebrow raised at her. "Do you want my help or do you not?"

She sighed. "I do," she admitted, much softer this time.

He nodded, pulling his hand away from her chin and taking a few strides, walking around her and observing her posture. "Roll your shoulders back," he said, watching as she did. "Do it again," he said, and as they came back he placed his hands on them. "There," he said, checking the position of her jaw. "Does that feel different?"

"It does," she said.

"Again."

He let her sing another four passes and sighed. "Why am I stopping you?"

"I don't know," she sighed, keeping her eyes forward. "Why?"

He took a step forward and slowly wrapped one arm around her, resting his palm just under her breast. "Breathe," he said softly. He felt her diaphragm expand under his hand, her concentration on his touch focusing it. "Good," he murmured. "That is how every breath should feel Christine. Again."

He stayed exactly where he was as she sang, feeling every breath as she took it. And on the sixth pass, when he hadn't stopped her, she stopped.

"Was it better?"

"Much," he said honestly.

She sighed in relief, leaning back against him. "I don't know if I can do this," she whispered.

"You can," he reassured her, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head.

"Do you really think so?" She asked softly.

He sighed. "I know so," he said. "I wouldn't lie to you Christine. If I didn't believe you could I wouldn't have allowed you to get your hopes so high - you will be on the stage again. We just have to get technique back into your muscle memory. That will be the hardest part."

She nodded against him.

"How do you feel?" He asked gently.

"Exhausted," she confessed quietly.

He nodded. "That is enough for tonight, I think. You need rest - rest tonight. And tomorrow I want you to go up the street to the music shop, choose two or three pieces. When I get home, if you feel up to it, we will work on them. Can you do that?"

"I can do that," she answered, moving her hand to cover his over her stomach.

He found himself pressing his lips to the crown of her head again. "Nothing too difficult," he said. "Not because you are not capable, we just need to ease your voice back into such work. I do not want you any more frustrated than you already are."

She turned then, wrapping her arms around him. "Erik?"

"Hmm?"

"Thank you," she whispered.

Chapter Text

They fell into a comfortable routine. Erik spent his days in much the same way - with a fresh paper sitting in the first pew of the church with the good Father, who had become something of a friend to him. It was an odd thought but it was true and Erik was grateful for the mans company, even when it was mostly silent.

Instead of sitting at home all day Christine had taken to the small music shop, passing a few hours a day browsing their selection. And though it wasn't much Erik found himself relieved with her small outings. And every night she would have a new piece to look at.

She had a lesson nearly every night - every night except for the first day of her menses. He always knew when they came; not because she cried, simply because she became distant. She didn't greet him as enthusiastically and there was a certain air of sadness about her, she would pull away from his touch, become quiet.

Erik, being Erik, began to count the days between these spells of sadness. On the third month he returned home on the first day of her menses with a single red rose and a small box of chocolates. Thus began another tradition; a simple monthly gift. He would buy the rose early in the morning and spend his walk stripping its thorns away, finding that old habits truly died hard - and besides, he would hate to bring his wife any more pain than she already had. And it was pain he came to realize - it wasn't simple sadness, it wasn't an issue of her dreading the natural process. It was a monthly reminder of what could have been, a monthly reminder that she had yet to conceive. It was a silent pain - she refused to talk about it and he wouldn't push it, but he recognized that it was there all the same.

It was on the sixth month that she took his gifts and set them aside, flinging her arms around his neck and kissing him passionately.

"It hasn't come," she said excitedly at his confused look.

"You mean -"

"I could be," she breathed, biting her lip and looking up at him with hope-filled eyes.

They made love that night and for the first time in a long time there was no rush, it wasn't a hurried task, a means to an end. They simply enjoyed each other.

When she woke the next morning to find blood staining the sheets she was absolutely devastated.

He did his best to clean up, stripping the sheets from the bed and opting to throw them out instead of attempting to remove the stain. Truth be told he was afraid that even if the stain came out just the simple thought that they were the same sheets would sadden her.

When he returned to find her kneeling on the floor, arms wrapped tightly around herself he felt the same tightening in his chest that he thought he was finally rid of.

He knelt on the floor in front of her. "Christine," he whispered, and when his hand landed on her shoulder she violently jerked away from him with a sob.

"I don't understand!" She exclaimed angrily. When her eyes met his they were exhausted. "I don't understand," she said again, sounding helplessly lost. "We've done everything right."

"We have," he said softly, not daring to reach for her.

She sniffed as she attempted to blink away her tears. "Is this my punishment?" She whispered. "I only wanted to be happy - wanted you. And now God is punishing me."

"It's not your fault, Christine," he said, trying his hardest not to let her hear his heartbreak at her words. "You've done nothing wrong - I, I have done the wrongs. If this is some sort of punishment you are not deserving of it."

"What's wrong with me," she breathed as she rubbed her eyes with her palms.

He sighed. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with you Christine," he assured her. "Perhaps - perhaps it is me."

She let out a broken laugh at that.

"I'm staying home today," he murmured.

She shook her head, letting her hands fall away from her eyes. "You need a job," she said brokenly.

"My wife needs me more," he said simply.

She looked up at him. And then she was inching closer to him, pressing her face against his chest. He slowly let his arms wrap around her, stroking her hair gently and releasing the breath that he hadn't realized he was holding.

"I want a family Erik," she whispered against him.

He let his chin rest on her head, pulling her close against him. "I know," he said softly.

Chapter Text

He was surprised by how easily she slipped back into the girl that she had been, constantly seeking reassurance and clinging to him in every way that she could - the girl that she had been before all of the pain, before the loss of a child, before she loved him. The girl she had been before she knew how cruel life could truly be, the girl who still held a spark of innocence.

They no longer talked of children. They continued to try, of course, but neither dared to breach the subject. Christine teetered precariously on the edge of hysteria and Erik did his best to avoid provoking her.

And in an attempt to avoid that, he found himself ignoring the day that marked the start of her menses, deciding not to get her a gift. It seemed cruel, he thought, but cruel too would be giving her a reminder of what they had failed in.

He had done his best to keep their routine - it was important, he thought, to keep some sense of normalcy despite her sadness. So everyday he left her with a gentle kiss and a promise to be home for supper, and every evening he encouraged her lessons. He enjoyed them, finding that her lessons pushed her to allow the wall she had been building to chip away. The arias she chose slowly became sadder and sadder, and often he found it was all he could do to keep from crying. It was good though, he reasoned. She refused to speak about it, did her best not to acknowledge her sadness, and her lessons were a perfect outlet. Perhaps not the most healthy but it was better than nothing, better than keeping it all inside. Erik knew first hand how easy it was to lose ones self in misery and self-pity.

When he had come home on the seventh month he had expected to find his wife quiet and distant. Instead she greeted him just as he had the day before - wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing her lips to his.

"I missed you terribly," she said as she let her cheek rest against his shoulder.

"I missed you too, my Christine," he said, letting his palm rub gentle circles on her back. "Have you gotten a new piece you'd like to look at?"

"No," she said softly. "I - I don't feel up to a lesson tonight Erik. If - if it's alright."

"Of course," he said softly, trying to be so careful. "You need rest."

She sighed, reaching over and moving his hand to her waist. "I don't need rest," she murmured. "I just don't quite feel up to a lesson tonight."

He looked at her carefully; there was no sadness, no exhaustion. She leaned up and meaningfully pressed her lips to him again. He was grateful, suddenly, that he hadn't brought her a gift. She was vague but as her hand pulled on his, guiding it to the ties of her dress, he realized that she was telling him that her menses had not come.

He didn't mention it - wouldn't mention it. If it would be brought up it would be by her. Instead he kissed her again, letting his lips trail down until he could press a kiss to the sensitive skin behind her ear.

"I love you, my Christine," he said quietly.

She shivered. "I love you too."

And he worked carefully at the ties of her dress, distracting her with kisses pressed along her jaw, murmured words of love. When he finally got the knot out he slowly began to walk her backwards, toward the bedroom.

When he yanked her dress down, letting it fall to the floor she made no argument, instead slipping her hands under his jacket and pushing it away. Her fingers worked quickly and clumsily at the buttons of his shirt and for a long moment he allowed himself to simply watch her, her furrowed brow and determined movement.

As he shrugged his shirt off she worked at her pantalettes, divesting herself of the garment.

"You are eager, my little wife," he said, finding himself amused.

She huffed as she kissed him again. "I missed you terribly," she repeated in exasperation.

He smiled, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead before beginning their slow walk again, pressing her against the mattress as they came to it.

"I would be content," he whispered to her, "if you missed me this much every day."

"I do," she said, her breath catching as his hand trailed up her thigh.

He hummed, pressing his lips to the space behind her ear again as he let his fingers gently work between her legs, reveling in her labored breath and arching back.

"E-Erik," she whimpered, biting her lip as she looked up at him, her pupils dilated and skin flushed.

And he nodded, slowly shifting and allowing her to shimmy up on the mattress. Then he caught her wrists in one hand, pressing them to the mattress above her head.

"You are mine, aren't you?" He murmured as he continued to tease her with his fingers.

"I am yours," she breathed.

He had let that particular game go for quite a while, but as Christine sank further and further into her sadness he found that the words had a profound effect on her, causing a peace that she seemed to have so rarely.

He pulled his hand away from her, working his trousers open as his other hand firmly held her wrists. And when he was finally rid of the garment he sighed, running his member along the space that his hand had occupied moments ago.

He enjoyed taking her apart in this way; teasing her, listening to her needy whine, feeling her hips buck as she sought him out, feeling her desire. He enjoyed taking her apart in this way because he knew that he could put her back together, get back that small piece of control that he had seemed to lose.

"Erik, please," she whined, her wrists struggling against his tight hold.

And he complied, slowly sinking into her and letting out a breath at her moan.

"You missed me terribly," he murmured as he began to rock gently into her.

"Terribly," she breathed, her hips twitching just the tiniest bit as she met him on each thrust.

He pressed his lips to hers again and buried his mask against her throat, allowing himself to simply enjoy her; his beautiful, warm, gentle wife who wanted him just as much as he wanted her. And for a moment, just a moment, he forgot her brokenness, her sadness. For a moment they were simply husband and wife.

He allowed her fulfillment before seeking his, shimmying his free hand between their bodies and gently coaxing her over the edge. And only after he was sure she was satiated did he allow himself his own release, pressing deep inside of her with a groan.

When she left him for a moment to shimmy back into her pantalettes he made no mention of it, remembering what had happened the month before. He was only grateful that she climbed back into the bed beside him, resting her temple against his chest and letting him gently stroke her back.

"Erik?" She whispered.

"What, my Christine?"

"You will never leave me, will you?"

He wasn't surprised by her question - it was one she had asked quite often before, but it had been a long while since she had voiced it.

"Never," he said, pressing his lips to the crown of her head. And how could he? She was exhausting, her turbulent moods and her constant sadness, her constant seeking of reassurance. But he had caused it. The guilt still ate at him, coming when he least expected it. But for all of her brokenness, he did love her.

It wasn't until one week after her missed menses that she mentioned it to him. There was a happiness in her eyes but she resisted excitement.

And when she lost the pregnancy at six weeks she was not quite so devastated.

He had come home to find her sitting at the dining table, hands folded together as she stared blankly ahead.

"My menses came," she said flatly as way of greeting.

"What?" He breathed.

She finally turned to look at him. "My menses came today," she repeated.

It was denial, of course. He knew that she had miscarried, lost another child. And she knew too, he could see it in her eyes. But mostly he saw exhaustion.

"I'm sorry, Christine," he said gently.

She shook her head. "Please don't," she murmured.

He was kneeling beside her. She let him take her hand. "How do you feel?"

"Exhausted," she said simply.

"No," he murmured. "How do you feel?"

She shook her head. "I'm fine," she said softly. "I'm fine, I just - I just want a bath and to go to sleep."

And so he drew her a bath.

She took longer than he expected and he found himself growing concerned, but an hour and a half later she was quietly slipping into the bed with him.

He found himself relieved when she drew herself against him, pillowing her head on his chest, her damp hair cold.

"I love you Erik," she said quietly, as though understanding that he needed reassurance just as much as she did.

"I love you very much Christine," he said.

There was silence for a long while, and then he sighed. "Tomorrow is Sunday."

"Already?" She replied. "It seems only yesterday was Monday."

He ran his hand over her arm gently. "Would you accompany me to Mass?"

"You want to go to church," she said flatly, disbelievingly.

"I want to take my wife to Mass," he murmured. "There is a difference."

There was a long silence, and then slowly she nodded, pulling herself closer to him. "I'll go."

Chapter Text

Erik did, in fact, take Christine to Mass the very next morning. She had seemed almost excited, choosing the best dress she had. It was a pale pink gown, the sleeves and bodice lined with lace. It was nothing spectacular, nothing outrageous, but it was good to see her actually care, even taking the time to tie her hair up carefully.

He took her to the same church they had been married in, the same one that he visited regularly, and they sat in the very back pew at Christine's insistence. It was odd - for all the time he had spent in the very same building it was only the second service he had attended, often waiting until later in the day on Sunday's and Wednesday's, finding the thought of actually attending a service without his wife to be odd.

But she came, she sang with the music. She held back but there was a certain peacefulness about her. She did not clutch his sleeve tightly, though she did manage to touch him in some way throughout the entire service as though simply to reassure herself that he was still there - her hand would rest on his arm briefly, her knee would brush against his, but she seemed more caught up in the service than she was in reassuring herself.

When the service was over they left quickly, Christine unwilling to be caught in the crowd and insisting that she was ready to go home.

And when Erik returned to the church the next morning with a fresh paper, the father greeted him with a kind smile.

"I saw you yesterday with your wife. It is good to see you two in attendance," he said.

Erik nodded, mostly ignoring his words and taking his place on the first pew, distracting himself with the paper.

"I had rather hoped to speak with you after the service, but you left so quickly."

"Christine does not enjoy crowds," Erik replied, keeping his eyes on the paper even though the words seemed to blur together.

"How is she doing Mr. Mulheim? It seems it's been quite a while since you've spoken of her."

"She is fine," he said, echoing her own words with a sigh. "She is sad, but she is fine - at least, as she tells me."

There was silence for a long while as Erik stared at the paper. And then he sighed. "What exactly are the duties of a stable boy?" He muttered.

The Father laughed at that, shaking his head. "You are no stable boy, Mr. Mulheim."

Erik shrugged one shoulder. "I am no merchant either but it seems that I must take something. I - I am not opposed to physical labor, you know. I worked as a mason for a long while. I doubt stable work would be more difficult."

There was another long silence and then the Father sighed, rubbing his hands together. "You are musically inclined, are you not?"

"I am a musician," Erik replied evenly. "I am also an architect, a mason, an inventor."

The Father nodded at that. "Do you have any experience with pipe organs?"

Erik blinked at his question and finally looked toward the man. "I built one," he confessed, "in my old home. I used to play on it almost exclusively."

"Perhaps you would play something for me," the Father said carefully.

Erik's fingers twitched against the paper. "Why?"

"My organist is nearing retirement," the Father said with a sigh. "His bones ache with every turn in the weather, he is half deaf. He used to play beautifully, you know. But he has grown old, he has brought his intention to leave the service up many times and I fear to make him stay is only becoming cruel."

"I do not believe," Erik said quietly.

The Father gave him a small smile. "I don't see how that has any effect on your skill," he said. "I know that it is not the position you were meant for - and it is in no way a permanent arrangement. When you find something better suited to your skill you will be free to leave. The pay is far below what you are worth I am sure. But it would be a steady paycheck, you would only be required for Wednesday and Sunday services. You would have free access to the instrument - and the building, as always. It would not be ideal, I'm sure, but we would be lucky to have you."

Erik sighed, running his hand over the unmasked side of his face. "I don't need charity," he said.

"If it were charity," the Father said, "I would not ask to hear you play before offering you the position. So, will you play me something?"

And against his better judgement Erik found himself nodding, finding himself nervous to play for the first time. He chose a simple hymn - Ave Maria.

When he finished the Father was looking at him in an odd way. "Next Wednesday," he said quietly. "If you accept you will start next Wednesday."

"I don't want to be on display," Erik confessed quietly, his fingertips brushing the edge of his mask in an attempt to reassure himself that it was still in place.

"You never even have to face the congregation," the Father said. "It is your choice, Mr. Mulheim. By now you ought to realize that I have no ill intentions toward you."

Erik found himself nodding, and after a long moment he found himself standing, awkwardly holding his hand out. The Father took it, giving him a firm handshake. "Next Wednesday," Erik said firmly. And the Father smiled kindly at him.

When Erik returned home that afternoon it was to find his wife curled up in his chair in the parlor, a book open in her lap.

At the click of the door she looked up and smiled at him. "You're home early," she murmured as she set the book aside.

He nodded, taking a few steps toward her. "And I have wonderful news."

"Oh?" She said, looking honestly interested.

He nodded again, taking a few more steps and kneeling in front of the chair, taking her hands gently in his. "I've found a job," he said softly.

She looked surprised at first, and then she smiled, pulling her hands from his and leaning forward, catching him in an awkward hug.

"That is wonderful news, Erik," she said, sounding utterly sincere. "And what is this new job?"

"You would laugh at me," he murmured.

He felt her smile against his neck. "I wouldn't laugh at you," she said honestly. And then she was pulling away from him, looking him in the eye with a gentle smile. "If anything I am proud of you," she confessed.

"Proud of me," he repeated flatly.

She nodded. "I am, ridiculous as it may sound. I won't laugh at you - I know how difficult it has been Erik. But you've done it, you've found an honest job. And I am proud of you, regardless of what the job is. And I most definitely will not laugh at you."

"I am the new church organist," he said, his mouth pulling into a smile.

She blinked at him. "Well, wonderful still," she said, smiling. "Unexpected, but still wonderful. You get to enjoy music and I - maybe I can attend more services."

"You've always been welcome to attend services," he said gently. "I never meant to make you think that you couldn't."

"I know," she said softly, leaning forward and pulling him against her in another awkward hug, pressing her lips to the temple of his mask. "But now I'll have a reason to."

Chapter Text

Christine kept to her word and began to attend mass regularly. Every Wednesday and Sunday morning she could be seen accompanying her masked husband to the church. She still sat in the back pew but she kept her head up and managed surprisingly well without him by her side, even smiling and making small talk with a few of the women as she waited for him after the service.

Thriving, that was what Erik considered it. It seemed such a small thing but it wasn't, not for his wife who had been so intent on shuttering herself away from the world. And when he had offered her a pocketbook to go shopping she had taken it with a gentle kiss.

Three hours seemed such a short amount of time, but it wasn't for his wife. And that is how long she was out without him - for three hours. When she returned home it was with four dresses, smart as always, but each one slightly more elegant than those she had chosen in the past.

"If I am meant to be the wife of the mysterious organist than I must keep up appearances," she had said with a smile.

He had a sort of epiphany over those few weeks. He had been wrong. Love, he had been wrong about love. He had expected far too much, thinking that if only she could love him everything would be set right, that all of their problems would vanish. But that wasn't right at all - love was not some magical spell. He had learned that with his wife's sadness. Love was ups and downs, love was supporting his wife through her pain, love was holding each other together even when it seemed impossible.

And suddenly the vows he had made seemed much more understandable.

And finally, one night as they lay close to one another in bed, her warm breath ghosting over his chest he asked the question that had been in the back of his mind.

"Christine?"

"Hmm?" She hummed.

"I know... I know that you don't like to speak of the past. I have something to ask you but I - I don't want to upset you," he mumbled.

She burrowed closer to him with a sigh. And then she nodded. "You can ask me anything Erik," she whispered.

He brushed his fingers against her temple, pushing her tangled hair out of her face. "Why - why did you let me take you? You claimed not to love me, but you still ran with me. Why?"

Her eyes closed as she nuzzled against him, and slowly a soft smile came to her. "I think - I think I did love you Erik. Even then I think I did." She sighed and opened her eyes, peeking up at him. "I was unhappy," she admitted. "And you - you, who I tried so hard to be rid of, you haunted me all those months. You were constantly in my thoughts. I don't think I was ready to admit it, even to myself. But I was so unhappy and I - once you were there I couldn't bear the thought of living the rest of my life wondering what might have been."

"And are you glad that you took the chance?" He murmured.

She was pulling herself up, pressing her lips gently to his. "I am," she said softly.

"Even - even if I can't give you a child?" He whispered the question.

"Erik," she breathed sadly, pulling away just enough to look him in the eyes. "Is that truly what you think? I know, I admit that I have been difficult," she murmured, and slowly her hand came up, cupping his unmasked cheek in her palm. "But you have been so good to me, and so understanding. I do - I do want children, but they will not make me love you any more or less."

"All you have dreamt of since Gustave is a family," he said softly.

And she smiled a soft, sad smile. "I have," she admitted. "But I was wrong, I think. I already have a family - it is small, but it's a family. I have you; you are my family. And even if we never have children I will always be grateful and love my family dearly, regardless of how small or large it is."

He could do nothing but pull her closer. And slowly she reached her hand up, entwining her fingers with his.

They didn't speak of that conversation again, there was no need to.

And when her menses would come she no longer pushed him away, sinking into her sadness. Instead she would act just the same as any other day, only playfully swatting his hand away and reminding him of the unfortunate biology of women if he got a bit too excited. She was still sad, he knew that well enough, but it was no longer the deep sadness that had plagued her - instead it was a superficial sadness, something that sat just on the surface.

And for a few long months they were happy.

It was during the fourth week of his employment that he convinced her to accompany him to the church late on a Monday evening. She had argued with him, insisting that she didn't want to get him into trouble, that surely the Father would not be happy if she tagged along to distract him. But Erik had dismissed her fears with a wave of his hand and a smile.

"There is nothing even saying that he is there right now, Christine," he said, and slowly he pressed his lips to hers. "And I promise you that if he is he will not be upset to find you there."

Reluctantly she had agreed.

"It's odd to find this place so empty," she had said as he walked her up the aisle.

He hummed, pressing his lips to her temple. "Does it make you nervous?"

"No," she said with a laugh. "It is just odd."

When he sat at the organ's bench and bade her to sit with him she bit her lip, looking about nervously.

"I'm going to get you into trouble," she said.

"How?" He murmured with an encouraging smile. "Unless you plan on being wildly inappropriate I see no reason that I shouldn't be allowed to bring my wife with me."

She sighed and gave in, finally sitting beside him.

It took a solid half of an hour of playing to relax her enough to convince her to sing for him.

"We have no piano," he said to her. "It would be a good opportunity, and come. Ave Maria - there is nothing wrong with singing Ave Maria in a church, is there?"

"I suppose not," she agreed.

"In the original German - you do know it, yes?"

"I know it," she said with a nod.

And with a nod he began to play. When she didn't begin to sing he made a round, continuing to play the opening chords. "Whenever you are ready, Christine," he said gently to her. And it was on the fourth round that she finally began to sing.

It was quiet, drowned out by the pipe organ. "Sing, Christine," he said to her. "You have more power to your voice - this is not a piano, love."

He spoke as he continued to play, and when her voice grew with his words he found himself completely satisfied.

"Good," he said to her.

Her eyes were sliding closed as she sang, finding power to her voice that he hadn't heard in a long while - she was entranced by the music.

And halfway through her song when the Father walked up the aisle Erik drew no attention, continuing to play as he looked over his shoulder, giving the man a soft smile and a curt nod.

The Father said nothing, sitting in the very front pew that Erik had often occupied with him. He smiled, looking completely surprised. It was often that the Father would find his way into the hall, content to listen to Erik's music, but today he looked completely enthralled.

And as her voice soared over the last Ave Maria she nearly collapsed, drawing in a deep breath.

"Lovely, Christine," Erik said to her. "How did that feel?"

"Good," she said softly, her fingers trembling. "I - it has been a long time since I've felt that way."

"It feels a bit like coming home, doesn't it?" He murmured softly.

She nodded, giving him a smile as her shaking fingers rested gently against his arm. "That's exactly it."

"Mrs. Mulheim, you have a lovely voice," the Father said, standing from the pew.

"Oh!" She said in surprise, jumping away from her husband quickly. "I'm so sorry," she said nervously. "I didn't - I didn't mean to intrude."

The Father waved his hand as though dismissing her apology. "There is no intrusion to apologize for," he said. "You are always welcome here, as is your husband. I must admit, that was perhaps the most beautiful Ave Maria I have ever heard."

She blushed at that, glancing toward Erik who only nodded at her. "Thank you," she murmured.

"I mean it," the Father said. "Your husband speaks fondly of your talent - and I must admit that I have heard a word or two from those who sit near you during service, I have been told that you have the voice of an angel," he smiled. "And it is true - I feel blessed to have heard it for myself."

"He is right, Christine," Erik said evenly. "And I think you are ready."

"What?" She said, looking between the two men and seeming suddenly nervous.

When her eyes finally met Erik's again he smiled softly. "You are ready. Your voice is strong, your technique has recovered - there is not much more to be done. You are ready for the stage."

Chapter Text

It was after service that Wednesday, when Erik had convinced her to allow him to take her to lunch that she told him she had an audition.

"That's wonderful, Christine," he said, reaching over the table and cradling her hand in his. "Are you nervous?"

"No," she lied.

And though he knew it was a lie he smiled anyway. "Good, you have no reason to be."

"Do you, I mean, do you really think I can do it?" She murmured. "You were the only reason I was Prima Donna, even if it was brief."

"Nonsense," he said, the corner of his mouth lifting in a smile. "Do you remember your first opera as Prima Donna?" She nodded gently. "You won that position yourself Christine. The only thing I did was give Carlotta a reason to leave - if you hadn't sang so beautifully for them you wouldn't have had the position. If anything my association with you was more detrimental to your position than helpful - I still believe that if I hadn't interfered you would have won the position permanently. The only reason you were pushed out was to rebel against me."

"Do you really think so?" She asked.

"I know so," he said, giving her hand a squeeze. "I do not - I do not want you to be devastated if you are only taken as a chorus member Christine. You know yourself that is where most start - you are capable of more but they will expect you to prove it and I - I can't be there to force it this time."

She bit her lip and nodded. "I know," she said. "And I promise I won't be too devastated," she answered, smiling softly. "I only miss performing - if I am in the chorus for a while I'll be content with that. It may be best anyway, safer."

"You do not worry about our safety," he said. "That is for me to worry about and you will not allow yourself to stay in the chorus and waste your talents. Do you understand me?"

And slowly she nodded. "I do," she murmured. "But I don't want to perform under my real name, I just - I don't want to draw undue attention to us Erik."

"Nilsson," he said. "It is Swedish, it will not be unbelievable. Christina Nilsson. You studied at the conservatoire just as every other hopeful opera singer has."

She nodded at that.

"You are more than capable Christine. And if you allow yourself to you will have a wonderful career."

The next day while she was away at her audition he found himself shopping. One red rose - his signature gift. He had considered a bouquet but something about it was off-putting. He settled on a single red rose and a bottle of sweet wine.

They didn't often partake of alcohol, usually keeping it to a very occasional treat and going months without a sip of it. But this was a special occasion, he reasoned, and a single glass of wine would do no harm.

He had avoided wine for a long while, finding that it only trudged forth the memory of the single time Christine had run from him. It had been a painful memory, but he looked back on it almost fondly now seeing how far they had come. He no longer feared her running - not because of her dependence on him, not because she had nowhere else to go, not because he had control of her. Simply because she loved him - he was confident in the fact that he no longer had to worry himself over her leaving. She was his wife and she loved him, just as he loved her.

And so he chose a sweet wine that he thought would be most to her taste.

He poured two glasses, leaving them on the dining table as he waited for her.

And when she returned home she was nervously twisting her hands together.

"How did it go, Christine?" He asked carefully.

"I warbled on the high c again," she murmured. "I tripped over the run. It - it didn't go as well as it should have." Here she paused, smiling softly at him. "But I have a position in the chorus anyway."

He pulled her against him, kissing her lips gently. "That is wonderful news Christine," he said. "And do not be discouraged by one difficult audition - there will be more auditions. You know that."

"I know," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"How do you feel?"

"Excited," she said with a laugh. "I know it is only the chorus, but I am excited to - to go back to the stage."

"Come here," he said, tugging her into their cozy kitchen. "Allow your husband to spoil you - we have much to celebrate."

He handed her a wine glass and she clutched it tightly in both hands.

He raised his own glass, tapping the rim of it against hers. "To a real life," he said softly. "To my job and my beautiful, lovely, talented wife and the beginning of her great career."

She smiled at him sweetly, bringing the glass to her lips and taking a long, grateful sip. "And to my husband," she added, cradling the glass between the fingers of one hand, laying her free hand on the back of his neck. "Without whom I would be lost."

His lips caught hers in a kiss before he could stop himself, demanding and needy. "And I would be lost without you, my silly wife," he murmured to her.

She pulled away from him, taking another long drink of the wine before setting the nearly empty glass back on the table, running the back of her hand over her mouth and letting her second hand join her first, pulling his mouth back to hers roughly.

For all of the change he had seen in her over the months it was still rare to find his wife so pushy. And while she had a wanton nature she very rarely initiated such things, instead content to allow him to take the lead.

But tonight was entirely different.

He pressed against her, setting his own glass on the table before allowing his hand to travel up her back and into her hair.

He grasped her hair and tugged it, not hard enough to hurt her, just hard enough that she gasped in surprise as her lips left his.

"I don't think you fully understand what you do to me, Christine," he said gruffly.

"I think I do," she said with a teasing smile.

They didn't make it to the bedroom that night for the first time in a long time. Instead he took her right there in the kitchen, her chest pressed against the wall and her skirts bunched around her waist as he held her wrists tightly, pressing them against the wall.

In the past he may have found himself embarrassed by his lack of control, liking to think that despite his upbringing and a lack of affection for most of his life that he was a civilized man.

But on these nights he couldn't bring himself to care - not when his wife, who had a somewhat normal upbringing, showed the same wild abandon and animalistic desire. She wouldn't hold it against him, and he would most certainly never discourage her affections.

And when they were done, his body still pressed against hers as they panted, attempting to regain some sense of composure, she sighed.

"I love you, Erik," she breathed.

"And I love you," he said, pressing his lips tenderly to the crook of her neck.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"For what?" He asked in surprise.

"Everything," she replied softly. "For encouraging me, for supporting me. For stealing me away, for giving me another chance - in life and with you. Thank you."

"Christine," he breathed, only able to pull her closer against him.

Chapter Text

He bought a box.

Christine called him ridiculous. "I am only in the chorus, Erik," she had reminded him.

"I know that," he argued. "But it doesn't matter - chorus, Prima Donna or even just a member of the ballet I would not miss my wife's performance."

And though she called him ridiculous she had smiled sweetly when he told her. Say what she may she was glad to have him there.

Christine found herself busy, attending rehearsals six days a week, often finding her attendance was required from early in the morning until late in the evening.

Erik missed her, of course, having grown used to her constant company but he did his best to fill his days, reading his way through what equated to a small library of books, picking up his drawing again. And on the days that the silence of the apartment grew too oppressive he would make his way to the church, filling the empty hours with music and the good Father's company.

They spent as much time together in the evenings as they could, and on the rare occasion that Christine had a few hours of break she would make her way home and lunch with him. And though her attendance at Wednesday services had become impossible, she still accompanied him every Sunday, filling the back pew that had seemed to grow so empty on Wednesdays.

And she was happy. When he missed her most he reminded himself of that - she was finally happy. And so he never mentioned his loneliness to her having spent so long trying to help her find happiness. Even her exhausted smiles were radiant, and each one made him remember why exactly he was willing to be apart from her for so long.

She attempted to give him her first paycheck and he couldn't help but to laugh at her.

"That is your money, Christine," he said calmly. "To do with as you wish - you earned it."

She bit at her lip. "But you've spent so much on me," she argued. "What is the harm in combining our funds?"

"I am your husband," he reminded her, pressing his lips gently to her forehead. "And it is my job to support you, I want to support you. Besides, now that you have your own pay I will save so much on dresses that it will even out."

She had huffed at him. "You are ridiculous."

He would simply smile, kiss her and agree.

Her performances fell on the evenings and he never missed a single one. He was always sure to be in his box, even though he hated the current Prima Donna, though he had to admit that it was most likely due to the fact that it was not his wife and not so much about any talent she may or may not possess. And while he attended her performances in the evenings, she continued to accompany him to church on Sundays, still insisting on her spot in the back pew. She sat in the back but she still came despite her constant schedule and the fact that she hardly had a day to rest; Erik was glad for it.

And when Christine's menses stopped coming neither of them acknowledged it.

Until the third month, when Erik woke in the middle of the night to find himself alone in bed for perhaps only the second time since he had taken her. It always made him nervous, an odd thing as he had been alone for most of his life, but his wife rarely left the bed in the middle of the night without a word to him and the last time it had happened he was forced to give chase to her through the woods.

Such was not the case on this night. He found her kneeling against the cool tile of the bathroom, heaving into the chamber-pot. And he wordlessly sank to his knees, pulling her hair away from her face and rubbing her back soothingly.

"You're ill," he said quietly.

She shook her head. "I'm not ill," she argued roughly. "I feel - I feel better now."

And it seemed true enough. She no longer heaved, instead allowing herself to lean backwards into him.

He held her for a long while as he contemplated it, and then he sighed. "It's been three months," he murmured.

"What?" She sounded surprised, nervous.

"It's been three months. I've been waiting for you to tell me but - you weren't going to, were you?" Slowly she shook her head and he sighed again. "Why?"

"Because I'm happy, Erik," she whispered. "Because if I say it then it's real, but if I don't - if I don't acknowledge it, if I don't have hope then maybe, maybe it won't hurt so badly if it doesn't happen."

He pulled her against him, into his lap, letting her rest her temple against his shoulder as he gently rocked her. Her fingers began to play with the collar of his shirt, reminding him strikingly of the girl who had just seen him kill a man, the little frightened thing she had been.

"You know - not yet, it's still far too early, but you know that if - if it does continue on, healthily, you will have to apply for leave," he murmured eventually, keeping his voice soft and calm as he carefully chose his words.

"I know," she whispered.

So he simply pressed his lips to the crown of her head, continued to hold her and gently rocking her like a child on the cold bathroom floor.

Chapter Text

p>There was an unspoken agreement between them - they didn't speak of Christine's pregnancy after that night. Even as her womb began to swell - barely, nearly imperceptibly. Erik noticed it, of course, but it was easy enough to hide, only visible to him because he watched her so closely.

And she was happy. After that night she returned to life as usual, ignoring the pregnancy as best she could.

Though they didn't speak of it Erik thought of it often. And as they laid together in bed at night he would let his hand rest gently on the small swell of her womb, and for the first time in his life he found himself praying.

It was on one of those nights that he had the sudden and surprising, at least to him, realization that he wanted the child too. He realized it as he lay there, his palm resting over the slight swell of flesh and his thumb gently stroking it.

That night his prayers changed, turning to no longer be strictly about his wife but instead about the child. They turned to pleads for a healthy, normal child, for a safe birth.

And at four, perhaps four and a half months as they had no way of telling when exactly the child had been conceived, she came home acting strangely. She was uncharacteristically quiet, her usual retelling of the day absent. She pushed the food about her plate and had to ask Erik to repeat himself at least three times when he tried to speak to her.

It wasn't until they settled in bed for the night that she finally spoke.

She laid with her back against his chest, his hand resting over her womb as he had taken to doing. And slowly her hand inched down, laying gently over his.

"I turned in my resignation today," she whispered to the darkness.

"You what?" He asked, truly wondering if he had heard her wrong.

"I turned in my resignation," she repeated softly. "When this production is over I will no longer be working with the company."

He was silent for a long while and she sighed.

"Are you angry with me?" She murmured. "I - I've been wanting to tell you all evening but I didn't want you to be angry with me."

"I'm not angry," he said slowly. "I'm only trying to understand why on earth you would do that."

"Because I am pregnant Erik!" She exclaimed, taking a calming breath and seeming to relax. "Because I am pregnant," she breathed as though the thought had only just occurred to her.

"You are pregnant," he said softly, relieved to find that he was suddenly allowed to speak the word. "But that doesn't mean you had to resign Christine. I told you before that you wouldn't have to choose between a family and your career."

"I know."

"Then why would you resign?" He asked carefully.

"When the child comes," she murmured, "I will want to be home more. I will - I'll need to bond with it. I will need to learn how to be a mother, Erik. That is what's important." She sighed. "And if I lose the child I can't go back there. I wouldn't be able to handle the whispers, the pity," she added in a whisper. "This is what's best. There are more operas, there are more companies that I could work with, there will always be more auditions."

He pulled her close, letting his thumb stroke her womb. "Are you afraid Christine?"

"I'm terrified," her voice wavered with the words.

"But are you happy?"

"I am," she admitted.

He nodded. "I'm afraid too Christine," he admitted in a whisper. "But I am happy. And I've no reason to be upset with you over quitting the company. If you are happy and you think it is what is best then I've no reason to be angry with you."

He didn't dare voice the yearning for the child that had begun to grow in him. His wife wanted it so terribly, and after two losses everything seemed so uncertain. If she knew just how much he wanted the child and something went wrong she would only be more distraught. So instead he simply pulled her close to him, continuing his silent prayers.

Chapter Text

As Christine's womb continued to swell Erik found himself growing more nervous with each day that passed. He began to lose sleep - partly due to his nervousness and partly due to their new arrangement. Christine had taken to laying on her side, her temple against his chest and laying overtop of his arm, her weight causing it go numb.

He didn't dare tell her how uncomfortable the position was - he would rather have her close to him than lay comfortably. If he told her he knew that she would move away from him - as it was she slept soundly, the position seeming to be the only comfortable one that she could find with the new weight she had accumulated.

And it was far more important that she remain in good health. Regardless he had always enjoyed watching her sleep. It seemed an odd thing to admit, but he did. He always had, as far back as he could remember, even when she had been nothing more than some unreachable, untouchable thing. There was something endearing about watching someone sleep, a true sense of peace and openness that didn't exist otherwise.

The fact that she now clung to him as she slept only amplified the feeling. Never in his life did he actual expect someone to trust him so thoroughly - it seemed such a small thing; most women would willingly sleep beside their husbands without a second thought, but for someone like Erik it meant so much more. She trusted him, she allowed herself to sleep by his side and completely trusted him to watch over her, to protect her, she trusted him with her very life. Such a thing was something he would never allow himself to take for granted. The small amount of normalcy that they did have in their life was exciting - something so mundane to anyone else. But he clung to it; he had always lived just beyond the realm of society - even in Persia, where he had been accepted, where they had dared to look upon his face, even there he had been an outcast.

But here, with his wife, he felt normal for perhaps the first time in his life and it was a welcomed feeling. He knew, of course, that they were far from normal. He knew that he wasn't the best husband, that he was controlling, manipulative, that despite her insistence that he wasn't deep down he was a bad man and always would be. No amount of confession or remorse would ever change the atrocities he had committed in the past - no amount of apology or forgiveness would ever wipe away the wrongs that he had done to her. He couldn't even promise that he would never take another life because in complete truth if it came down to it he would slaughter the entire congregation of the church, including the Father he had grown so fond of, if it became a necessary measure to keep his wife safe. And surely such thoughts were not the thoughts of a good man, and such an animalistic instinct to protect was most assuredly not normal.

It was a facade, the normalcy, but he welcomed it gladly.

On the nights that he found sleep to be an impossibility he came to learn that Christine snored. Not every night, but she did snore a quiet, rhythmic snore. It wasn't an annoyance as snoring seemed to be to most, instead he found it rather soothing. She would occasionally mumble in her sleep, never anything that he could actually understand, but her indecipherable words were soft and gentle and she would always pull herself closer to him when she did mumble something. That alone convinced him that whatever she said wasn't important.

He had begun to watch her sleep so often that in the sixth month he knew rather easily she was only pretending to sleep. She lay against him, her eyes closed and her breathing even for at least an hour, but she did not sleep. She was never perfectly still when she slept, you see; her hand would inch across his chest, her nostrils would flare, she would sigh. She had never been one that was good at pretending to sleep.

"What's wrong?" He finally murmured to her after the long hour.

Her eyes blinked open and she sighed. "Nothing's wrong," she said quietly.

"Then why are you not asleep?" He prodded gently. Her shoulders shrugged as she pressed closer to him, her hand twisting in his nightshirt. "You would tell me if something was wrong, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would," she answered quickly. He watched as she bit at her lip, worrying it gently. "And nothing is wrong, not really. I'm just - I'm not tired I suppose."

He looked at her carefully, raising the hand that wasn't currently trapped beneath her and gently tracing her cheek with his thumb. She nuzzled into his touch, causing an involuntary smile from him.

"What are you thinking about, my Christine?"

She was silent for a long while, and finally she sighed. "Things are going to be different, aren't they? When, when the baby is born. Things will change."

"Of course they will," he said quietly. "Our life will be very different with a child, we will have a little one to care for, to raise. What is it that you are concerned about?"

"I'm selfish, I guess," she said quietly. "We will be so busy and, oh, I don't know Erik. I'm just - I don't want things to change," she confessed.

"You want a child," he reminded her, brushing her hair back so that he could look at her carefully. "You want a family."

"I do," she said. "But I - how will we find time Erik? I am so used to it only being the two of us."

"Is it important to you, Christine?" He asked carefully.

"Of course it is," she murmured.

"It is important to me too," he said gently. "And if it is important to us both then we will find time. It will be difficult, at first at least, but we will find a way. You don't have to worry over it - I love you Christine, and if I haven't stopped loving you yet, after everything we have been through, then I think it's fair to say that I never will."

"You want this baby too, don't you?" She whispered her accusation.

He sighed and let his head fall back against the pillow, gently brushing his fingers through her hair as he contemplated his answer.

"I have grown rather fond of the idea," he said softly. "And - and yes. I want this child Christine. I had never considered myself much of a family man, but I hadn't ever seen myself as a husband either. I hadn't even thought that I was capable of love - not like this. But here we are. And yes, I - I do want this child. It terrifies me, but I want it."

She sighed in relief and smiled up at him softly. "I'm glad that you do."

And all he could do was press his lips to the crown of her head.

When she rolled away from him and took his hand he was surprised, but she pressed it against her lower stomach and bit her lip as she looked at him.

"Did you feel that?" She asked after a moment.

"No," he breathed. And he hadn't; he felt nothing aside from the steady breaths she took.

She sighed and released his hand, shimmying until she managed to pull her chemise up and over the bulge of her womb.

She held her hand out and he slid his into hers, and then she pressed his hand to the same spot, holding her breath.

Her skin was warm and soft, and after a few long moments he finally felt it, a small shift, barely even noticeable to him. It was so gentle that had he not been aware of her pregnancy he could have even mistaken it as the grumble of an empty stomach.

"I felt it," he breathed in surprise.

She smiled softly up at him. "It moves relentlessly," she said softly, still holding his hand in the same spot.

He found himself relieved with her admission - the lack of movement had been concerning him, but her womb had continued to grow, surely a sign of a thriving child, and she hadn't made a single mention of it so he tried his best to push his fears away.

She bit her lip gently as she peeked up at him and then slowly, so slowly, she was sliding his hand down further and further until he felt the tickle of the coarse curls that covered her and finally down further, allowing him to feel the warmth and wetness spreading from her core. She looked up at him meaningfully and when he allowed himself to take her invitation, allowing just the tip of his finger to find the small hardened bundle of nerves that hid between her legs her breath caught.

He touched her gently, rolling the little nub under his finger and enjoying the desperate sounds she made. It had been quite a long while since they had made love - something that had been bothering him, but he found himself unable to initiate it. So long as she lay close to him and didn't pull away from his touch he satisfied himself with that.

But now, in this moment, he remembered just how much he missed her.

"On your side," he groaned, pulling his hand away from her. She obeyed, rolling onto her side and letting her back face him.

It wouldn't be the most comfortable position, he knew that, but he longed for her, no, desired her so deeply that it hardly mattered. But he didn't dare lay atop her, paranoid about the child that grew within her, terrified that he would somehow hurt it.

And so instead she rolled on her side and he prodded her leg until she allowed it to rest over her hip.

"Are you terribly uncomfortable?" He murmured, resting his arm over her middle.

"No," she breathed, reaching up and grasping his hand tightly in hers. "I've missed you terribly," she confessed, words that he hadn't heard from her in a long while.

He was careful and gentle as he took her, doing his best to maintain his control - a terribly hard thing to do when she breathed his name so desperately, so needy, when she grasped his hand so tightly.

"I've missed you too," he groaned as he rolled his hips into her gently, pressing his lips to any bit of her skin that he could manage to find. He carefully disentangled his hand from hers, bringing it to rest between her legs as he began to touch her again.

Her hand found his forearm, clutching it tightly as she mewled desperately at his touch, her nails digging into his skin as she attempted to use him to ground herself.

"And you are mine - only ever mine," he breathed. It was a game he had given up long ago, only continuing it when he came to realize how much the words seemed to excite her, how much she truly needed to hear them sometimes.

"Yours," she groaned as her nails dug into him even harder.

"Only mine," he confirmed as he pressed his lips to the back of her neck. "My beautiful, good, wanton little wife. And all mine - only ever mine."

"Only ever yours - and - and you are mine," she breathed.

This was new, but her words were desperate, seeking reassurance and he pressed his lips to her throat once more. "I am completely, irrevocably yours," he whispered to her.

And that night, for the first time in a long while and despite the numbness of his arm trapped beneath his wife, he slept soundly.

Chapter Text

It was sometime during the seventh month of her pregnancy that Erik finally dared to raise the issue of finding a midwife.

"I'm hardly due, Erik," she had replied, resting her hand over the swell of her womb as she sat in his chair. "We have time yet."

He sighed as he attempted to set his reasoning in a way that wouldn't upset his sometimes still-so-fragile wife.

"We have a few months yet," he admitted carefully. "But would you not be more comfortable knowing that we are prepared?"

The truth was that she had now lost two children, one rather late into the pregnancy. Erik was under no illusions - it was perfectly reasonable to think that there was a possibility of losing a third. Still he tried his best to remain optimistic. She had finally seemed to settle into a peacefulness that he refused to disrupt with his fears.

So while he would continue to encourage his wife's confidence in her pregnancy, he found it prudent that he prepare for every possible outcome. He had spent the longs months enjoying her sense of peace, her newly found confidence all the while knowing that if she lost a third child it would destroy her, that he would have to build her back up one piece at a time all over again. And so he had been careful to burn the memory of her happiness into his mind - it had been difficult the first time around, but he knew it would only be more so if she lost another. He knew that he had to hold hope - if he lost it too then they would never recover. And yet he also kept his mind open to the possibility of a child - a little squirming, crying thing that he would hold in his arms. In his mind it was a boy - he would have his mother's eyes, her brown curls, hardly a trace of his father. He held his hope carefully.

"I suppose," she conceded with a sigh. "It wouldn't be so terrible to be prepared." Here she began to absently chew her lip, her eyes suddenly seeming far away and sad as she gently rubbed her belly.

And almost as suddenly as the melancholia came it seemed to pass as she smiled gently at him. "Do you think it will be a boy or a girl?"

"Nothing is certain," he said gently as he sank to his knees in front of her, taking the hand that rested over her belly and pressing his lips to it. "But I should think it will be a boy," he finished with what he hoped was an encouraging smile.

"Nothing is certain," she said wistfully, blinking twice and then forcing another smile to her face. "Yes, well, so long as it is healthy I think I would be happy with either."

And so they began the lengthy process of choosing a midwife. Christine, not quite ready to think about delivering, settled rather easily on a homely old woman. She was kind and spoke with a thick Spanish accent. Her English was broken, perhaps even more broken than Christine's, but she was kind and experienced. If Erik found that he had to translate he supposed it wasn't such a terrible thing - it would at least distract him from the danger that Christine would be in. And if he had something so mundane to quell his fears he wouldn't be opposed.

And Christine, his good, dutiful wife continued to accompany him to church every Sunday and Wednesday morning until she was a few weeks into the eight month of her pregnancy. She would have continued to attend but Erik forbid it - her ankles were swelled, her feet sore and he wouldn't allow her to over exert herself.

Instead they began to take short walks in the evenings. The summer was warm and Christine, finding herself increasingly uncomfortable, found the sun to be far too hot. So they would wait until the sun was low in the sky and take a small turn - usually only around the block. Their pace was nearly unbearably slow for Erik but he was mindful of his wife. Christine, for her part, insisted that she was not ill and would not be confined to the house as if she were.

And so he indulged her despite her aching ankles and her slow waddle. And for a moment, if only a moment, they were peacefully happy.

Chapter Text

He woke to the sound of his wife's pained cry.

It was a terrifying thing to wake to, but he managed to retain his calm all the same - even when she shot out of bed, doubling over herself.

"What is it, Christine?" he asked, managing to keep his voice calm as he sat up beside her.

"It's nothing," she gritted out. "It's nothing, it will pass - it came yesterday too and it passed."

His hand rested on her back, soothingly rubbing it while she reached out in the darkness, clutching his free hand tightly in hers.

"I should fetch the midwife," he said calmly.

Her head shook wildly at that. "No, it's not time yet," and her words were frantic. "It's not time yet, it will pass, you see? It's - it's already passing, Erik."

His hand continued to rub her back soothingly through her lies, his lips pressing to the crown of her head. "Is it not time for the baby, or is it because you are afraid?"

"I'm not ready," her strained whisper came.

"This is a fine time to decide that, Christine," he answered dryly. "You are plenty ready. We've planned for this for months, and I am here. I'm not going anywhere. We are both as ready as we will ever be."

"What if something is wrong?" she sounded so small, so truly afraid.

He sighed, scooting only closer and letting her lean against him as her hand clenched his tightly again, another wave of contraction overtaking her.

"Then I had better fetch the midwife, as she will be far more suited to be sure that everything is right," Erik answered softly. "If something is wrong we will get through it, Christine. We got through it once and if we have to we will get through it again. You ought to know by now that I'm not giving up on you regardless of what happens."

"It's early yet," she said through gritted teeth.

He pressed his lips to her again, counting the months in his mind. "You are at least eight months along," he answered. "That is plenty long enough. Early, sure, but not dangerously so I don't think."

"Are you sure?" And she sounded so desperate, needing his reassurance so badly.

"I'm sure," he said. He lacked formal education, he knew that, but he was rather well-read and he liked to consider himself to be a learned man. Everything he had read seemed to point to the fact that eight months was a perfectly healthy length for a pregnancy.

"Can you wait? Just a bit, just a little bit before you fetch the midwife? I don't - I would hate to wake her for nothing."

He held her close against him. "I can wait just a while longer," he said softly. He was torn - torn between giving her what she needed emotionally and giving her what she needed physically. And so instead of arguing with himself he held her, pressing kisses to her forehead, running his thumb along the back of her hand that clutched his so tightly.

"I love you Christine," he murmured between her contactions.

She nodded, her eyes shutting as her breath began to even out. "I love you too, Erik."

He held her like that for a long while, as her contractions came closer and closer together, hardly allowing her time to catch her breath.

"Christine," he whispered to her eventually. "I am a man of many talents but I don't think those talents expand into childbirth. I need to fetch the midwife now."

"Just a little longer," she insisted, her hand tightening on him again as she gasped in pain.

"It is not passing," he said as gently as he could. "You are going to have this child tonight, Christine. Wether we are ready or not. You have to allow me to make sure it is a safe delivery."

Finally her hand was loosening its grip as she made an attempt to catch her breath, giving in and nodding.

"Don't be long," she breathed.

He pressed his lips to her forehead and stacked both of their pillows under her back, helping her to recline. "I won't," he promised, pressing one more kiss to her forehead before he slipped his mask into place, shambling out through the door.

The woman was not overjoyed to be roused from her bed by his insistant pounding on the door, but after his only-slightly coherent explanation she seemed to understand. She understood well enough to grab her bag and follow him through the streets, at least.

"Where is Signorã?" The woman asked as he led her through the front door. Almost just as the words left her mouth Christine cried out in pain. "Ah, I see."

And this time he was following as the woman led him to his wife.

There was a sheen of sweat on her face, her teeth clenched together as she attempted to hold her cries in.

As soon as she saw him her hand was reaching out, begging him to come nearer, and he didn't have the heart to disobey.

He sank to his knees by the bed, letting her hand grip his so tightly that he was actually afraid she would break a bone.

"It hurts," she gritted out desperately.

His free hand pushed her hair back from her face. "I know it does, love."

The midwife was already setting to work, flipping back the sheets and rolling Christine's skirt up.

Christine hardly noticed.

Erik was disheartened by the already blood-stained bedsheets.

"You wait almost too long," the midwife scolded as she prodded Christine's legs apart.

All he could do was stare at the blood, stare at the proof of his wife's pain. Stare at the suddenly far-too-real possibility of death.

"Erik, what is it?" Christine was a fairly perceptive girl, and her own nervousness shone through her words.

So he forced his eyes away from the sight and on to her face. "Nothing is wrong," he said as calmly as he could manage to. His free hand found her face, making an attempt to wipe away the sweat that coated it.

Her teeth gritted together again.

"Breathe, Christine," he reminded her, satisfied when she obeyed him, taking in deep, ragged breaths. "If you must scream, scream. If you must cry, cry. You are allowed that."

He nearly regretted his words when a moment later a cry of pain escaped her. He couldn't decide which was worse - the sight of the blood staining her thighs or the sound of her screams.

"Push, Signorã, you push," the midwife instructed.

Erik was slipping his second hand over hers, giving it a gentle squeeze. "You have to push," he said softly.

She nodded, seemingly unable to speak, and when the next wave of contraction came she followed the instruction, crying out in pain as she did.

"Si! Si Signorã, again," the midwife cried.

And Christine, ever dutiful, obeyed with another cry.

Erik looked down again, morbid curiosity finding the better of him, and immediately regretted it.

He looked quickly back to her face, trying to forget the sight. Perhaps in another it would have been fascinating, but not here, not his wife.

"You're almost there, Christine," he said softly. "I see, I see a head. And shoulders. You're more than halfway there, you just have to hold on."

"I can't," she cried, tears mingling with sweat on her face.

"You can," he said, pressing his lips to her hand. "I know that you can. You just have to push."

She was shaking her head wildly, her fingers shaking.

"On the count of three, Christine. One... two... three."

She made a terrible sound, a pained cry that he hoped never to hear from his wife's lips again. And then she was falling back against the pillows, her grip on his hand loosening as she panted, catching her breath.

He could hear the midwife shuffling about but he couldn't bring himself to look, he couldn't bring himself to ask.

Instead his eyes remained on Christine's face, his knuckles brushing against her cheek.

"I love you," he whispered to her as she tried to catch her breath.

Her eyes were slipping shut and he suddenly panicked.

"Christine!" And her eyes opened, glassy and only half-focused as she looked at him. "You have to stay awake, love. Just for a little bit, and then you can rest. Can you do that?"

She was giving a halfhearted nod. "Only let me rest my eyes," she said, her voice rough and exhausted.

"Hey, no," he prodded when they began the close. "Just look at me."

And she did, staring into her eyes.

But when the piercing cry breached the room she seemed to snap back into herself, looking up at him again with wide, alert eyes.

"Erik?" she sounded so disbelieving.

All he could do was nod.

"Congratulations, Christine," he breathed, pressing his lips to her forehead.

Chapter Text

The goodly midwife cooed at the infant for quite a while as Erik looked on over his shoulder, unwilling to leave his wife's side for even a moment. She was cleaning it, swaddling it all while the unfamiliar, over-stimulated little thing wriggled and cried.

It's cries were shrill and yet Erik found a strange beauty in it; though perhaps that was more due to his wife's tight grip on his hand and her own wonder than it was the sound.

When the midwife finally placed the infant on Christine's chest, she cried, releasing Erik's hand so that she could wrap both arms under the little bundle, holding it close against her chest.

"Congratulations, Signorã," the midwife had said with a tired smile, betraying the late morning hour. "It is beautiful baby girl."

Christine's crying simply turned to weeping at the woman's words. She looked so incredibly nervous as she held the small babe.

The midwife stayed around for a long while, showing Christine how to swaddle the child, warning her of the odd times that it would cry for her, even going so far as to showing her how to assist the babe in latching onto her breast to feed.

Erik found himself strangely jealous of the scene. Not for his wife's affections, nor her attentions, simply for the perfection of the two. The pure, unbridled love in his wife's eye as she looked at the babe; the perfect face of the child. And how could he fit into such a picture? How could he dare to taint such a perfect scene? He knew nothing of children beyond the basic concept of keeping them alive. He knew nothing of parenthood - nothing of being a father. He hadn't ever had a father and he hardly had a mother to speak of.

And when the midwife finally took her leave he found himself lost, standing in the empty space between the doorway and the bed, unwilling to look away and yet unwilling to intrude.

"Erik," her voice was hoarse as she looked toward him, tears still pooling in her eyes. "Erik, come here. Come and meet your daughter."

He could only stand still, finding himself rooted to the spot. "I can't," he confessed helplessly, finding his own voice tight around the words.

"Yes you can," she encouraged softly. "She wants to meet you."

And he was shaking his head, his own fingers trembling. "What if I frighten her?"

He hadn't meant to say it aloud. It was something that had crossed his mind from time-to-time throughout her entire pregnancy and yet it had seemed such a silly fear that he dare not speak it. Now, though, it seemed so incredibly real and he could hardly bear the thought. To have a stranger fear him was one thing, but for his own flesh and blood to be terrified of him? It would break what little shred of sanity he had worked so hard to establish in the last months.

"You won't frighten her," Christine said softly. "She's only just been born - I hardly think she's known enough to be afraid of much of anything, Erik."

He nervously rubbed his fingers together. "But what if she is? How can you know?"

Christine - his beautiful, far too patient wife - smiled sadly at him. "I have carried this child for eight months, Erik. If anyone would know it is me. And I promise you that she will not be afraid of you - come here," she patted the edge of the mattress gently. "Come here and meet your child - our child."

His heart was pounding far too hard in his chest, his feet like leaden weights but he nodded slowly, taking a deep breath and forcing himself toward them.

And she was perfect. He felt something akin to pride at that. The little infant had ten fingers, ten toes, even a bit of hair. He wondered wether it would be curly like her mother's or wether it would be straight like his own. Her eyes were a light brown color and he found himself wondering if he was looking into the eyes he was meant to have had whatever tragedy that befell him in the womb been avoided. Her face was whole, even sporting a nose and lips. To his great relief she resembled her mother far more than him.

It was with a great nervousness and wonder that he perched himself on the edge of the mattress.

"She's beautiful," he breathed to his wife.

She hummed in the back of her throat, scooting up so that she could rest her back against the headboard, her face only showing the slightest hint of her discomfort with the movement.

"She's perfect," his wife corrected, smiling up at him with a brightness that he had forgotten she possessed.

"Just like her mother."

Christine blushed, as she often did with his compliments, but she smiled nonetheless. "Here," she said softly, shifting to pass the child into his arms.

It was too much, though, and Erik found himself jumping away, standing only a foot from the bed. "No," he said nervously. "I don't - I don't think that is a good idea, Christine."

She bit her lip, looking at him carefully. "She is your daughter too, Erik," she spoke evenly, her words careful and measured. "You will have to touch her at some point or another."

He couldn't quite pin down where exactly his nervousness originated from but it was there, an overwhelming anxiety that he wasn't sure he could ever get past. "What if I hurt her?"

Finally his wife's patience seemed to be at an end, her exhaustion getting the best of her. She rolled her eyes and huffed at him. "You are perhaps the most careful man I have ever met. You do know how to be gentle, Erik. Come here and hold your child."

She was so utterly exhausted, her eyes betraying her, and Erik found himself moving back. He would give his wife the world if she asked it of him. He had given her a child and he would hold it if that was her wish, despite the desperate, painful clenching of his heart in his chest.

He had never quite felt anything like he did when she carefully passed the babe into his anxious arms. He had never felt such an overwhelming urge to protect. There was a breathlessness to it, some overwhelming feeling that drew the air from his lungs as the infant looked up at him, her head cradled helplessly in the crook of his arm.

There was such a helpless innocence to her. She knew nothing of the world, nothing of the terrible and wonderful place she had been borne into.

His thumb brushed gently against her cheek and she made an odd noise, her little hand brushing against his thumb as she curiously reached out.

It was love, he decided. The odd tightness in his chest, the anxiety. He never wanted to let go of her. It was a different kind of love, a pure, uncorrupted love that he had never believed he could hold - and yet here it was.

"See?" Christine whispered as she looked on. "She is not afraid. She is even falling asleep."

"Christine," and he was breathless, helpless, unsure what words to put to the fleeting thoughts that were passing so quickly through his mind.

Her hand came to rest gently on his shoulder, her thumb brushing lazy circles on his shirtsleeve as she fought sleep. "I know, Erik."

When he finally tore his eyes from the infant to look at her face he could see it in her eyes. She did know. He had no doubt of that.

"I love her," he confessed in a whisper, afraid that if he spoke any louder he would lose the careful control that he kept of his voice.

"I know," she returned in just the same tone. "So do I, Erik."

Chapter Text

Christine was once again confined to the bed. Not due to her sadness this time, instead it was due to her discomfort.

It was far more bearable, Erik decided.

As it was she had only left the bed once, and it was on the very night that their child had decided to come. He had drawn her a warm bath, carrying her carefully to it and using the time to strip and change the sheets and pull the crib from the spare bedroom into their room, finding a place for it at the end of the bed.

He had debated on that, but after Christine's reluctance to leave her even to bathe he decided that it would be best to have her nearby. If he was quite honest it was a comfort to him too, knowing that if she cried in the night it would wake him.

He had carried her back to bed that night and she had yet to leave for any considerable length of time, only making the short trek to the washroom on occasion.

It was endearing, honestly. She would spend her mornings cradling the infant in her arms, whispering to her, sometimes even singing to her. Those were Erik's favorite mornings - when he could hear the gentle lullabies floating out from the bedroom.

Oftentimes he found himself staying nearby, sometimes even sitting beside her for hours. Those were his second favorite mornings - the late mornings that he could rest in bed with his wife, his arms around her as the babe slept quietly in her arms.

And when he could manage it, he would wrestle the babe gently from his wife's arms. He found himself talking to her, rambling on about his day, about his job, sometimes about the carriage he had seen on his way to the church, all while she stared up at him with wide eyes, seeming almost as though she were actively trying to understand the words he spoke. When he would brush his finger along her cheek she would weakly wrap her tiny hand around it.

Erik had never quite understood how people could love infants so much - the drool-filled, incapable little things. And yet here he was, finding that with each passing day he only loved her more.

"Eve," his wife said as she sat beside him, looking on as the babe rested in his arms, her little hand seeking out his finger.

"Too biblical," he argued, finally granting the infant's wish and allowing her to catch his index finger.

Christine huffed, letting her temple rest against his shoulder. "I don't hear you helping much," she argued.

He turned his head, pressing a kiss to his impatient wife's forehead. "You didn't like my suggestion," he reminded her.

"I am not giving her my name," she said with a roll of her eyes. "If anyone will get my name it will be my grandchild. I am not that vain, Erik."

He sighed at that. "Perhaps that is your weakness; you lack vanity," he teased, chuckling as she gently swatted his knee. "Fine. Isabella."

She scrunched her nose up and shook her head against his shoulder. "I don't like it."

"Isabella is a fine name," he said.

"No," she rebutted, not bothering to give an explanation.

And in a sudden moment of clarity it came to him, just as he looked down into the babe's eyes. "You won't give her your name," he reaffirmed.

"No!" she huffed in frustration.

"Lottie," he said simply.

His wife froze at that, going oddly quiet, and he turned to look at her.

"Lottie," she repeated softly.

"It is not your name, not really," he argued.

She was nodding slowly. "My father..."

"I know," he said, cutting her off. He knew that if he allowed her to continue her thought she would sink back into her sadness and he couldn't bear that, not when she had been so overwhelmingly happy. He wasn't ready to let that go, not yet. "Little Lottie. I think that Lottie is a fantastic name and I may be overstepping but I think your father would have approved."

She bit the inside of her lip as she contemplated it. "Raoul used to call me Lottie too," she said softly.

Erik shrugged at that, looking back down at his daughter - his daughter, what an odd thought that was. "She is your daughter too, Christine. And you must like the name that we choose."

"It wouldn't upset you?" she asked softly. "Knowing that - just, knowing? Knowing where the name came from, knowing he would use it?"

She had fallen asleep in his arms, her little hand still wrapped around his finger, and Erik couldn't help but to smile at that. She was a good baby, he had decided. She rarely cried and when she did oftentimes it was only because she was hungry or dirty, easily sated by a quick meal or a changed diaper.

"Should it?" he finally replied. "I'm holding my daughter - our daughter - in my arms at this very moment. I have you as a wife - you chose to be my wife. Should I be jealous of him still? If so you should tell me because to be quite honest I haven't been jealous of him in a long while. He hasn't even crossed my mind in a long while."

He could feel her eyes on him, examining him so closely.

"I like the name," she answered at length.

He nodded, glancing over at her. "I do too, my Christine."

And so their daughter was named Lottie.

To Christine's surprise, it was Erik who insisted on a proper christening first.

He came home on a Wednesday morning, pressing his lips so gently to Lottie's forehead, and then to his wife's lips, as was his customary greeting, and then fallen into bed beside her. A rare opportunity had arisen - the babe slept soundly in her crib - and he took full advantage, resting his head on his wife's thigh.

Christine ran her fingers gently through his hair, her nails soothing against his scalp. "How was service?"

He hummed from where he lay, letting his eyes slip closed as he savored the rare moment. "It was service," he said unhelpfully. "I miss you coming with me. The Father asked about you - he wanted me to share his congratulations."

She smiled at that, continuing her gentle scratching of his scalp. "That is very kind, you must tell him that I thank him and that I look forward to service as soon as I am well enough."

"He offered to christen her," he said. "Perhaps, when you are feeling up to it, we can discuss it with him."

"You want to christen her?" Christine asked, her surprise evident in her voice.

He shrugged one shoulder, snuggling in against her thigh. "Even I was christened, Christine."

"I thought you didn't believe," her fingers continued their gentle petting.

"I don't know what I believe anymore," he admitted. "And maybe that would have bothered me before. I was sure, not so long ago, that God was just some imaginary construct, that no God could ever create something like me but now... now I'm not so sure."

Her hand traveled downward, tracing the edge of his mask where only a sliver of skin showed. "What brought about this change?"

He caught her wrist, drawing her hand down and pressing his lips to her palm. "Everything. How else could I have you? Lottie? I doubt even you could explain it."

"Of course I can," she answered softly, and at his disbelieving look she sighed. "I love you, Erik. I love you. That is why you have me and that is why you have Lottie. Because I love you so deeply that at times it makes my very soul ache."

"But why?" he asked softly, pressing the hand that he still had in his to his mask. "There is hardly anything to love in me. And even if there is I hardly deserve it after the life I have led."

She pulled her hand gently from his grasp then slowly, so slowly, she peeled his mask away. Her fingers were warm and soft against the terrible flesh and for a moment he was glad that Lottie slept, still hopeful that somehow she could avoid such a terrible sight.

"Perhaps you were right," she said softly at length, "and we are not so different. Perhaps there is more of you in me than you would like to believe."

Her thumb was tracing his bloated lips, the nose that could hardly be called one.

"Once you told me that love doesn't make sense and it doesn't have to. We both have our demons, Erik. We all do."

His hand covered hers, pressing her warm, soft palm to his cheek. "I want to do this right, Christine. I've been handed a second chance - one that I will never understand, that I will never believe I deserve. But I will be grateful for it, I am grateful for it and only more so every day. I want to christen her, I have to."

She nodded, her thumb continuing to stroke his temple. "She'll be christened Erik."

Chapter Text

She was christened that very Sunday, long after the church service due to Erik's insistance. It was a personal ordeal, he thought, and having so many witnesses would simply cheapen the experience.

He still bought her the frilliest, laciest white dress he could find despite the fact that no one lined the pews in the building.

"I don't know if there is a God up there," he had murmured to Lotte as he cradled her in his arm in the parlor, waiting patiently for his wife. Patience, it was a skill he was learning with each passing day. He was no longer desperate to rush along the quiet moments he had come to enjoy so thoroughly. "I like to think that I am a clever man, but I am not so sure anymore"

Lotte cooed at him, her little hand tapping the edge of his mask. With two fingers he gently redirected it.

"Perhaps your papa is nothing more than a sentimental old fool," he said with a smile, his finger gently stroking her chubby wrist.

When Christine had finally emerged from the bedroom he decided that he was right - he was a sentimental old man. Her hair was tied up in just the same way she had worn it so long ago at the opera house - a loose, lazy braid, some of her wilder curls managing to escape. Her dress was plain, always one for smart, sturdy dresses above fashion and yet there was something so incredibly enchanting about her.

Perhaps it was the new glow to her skin, the happiness that she had finally found. Perhaps it was the smiles that she would share now, or the healthy fullness that her body had finally found.

Only a year ago he could have wrapped his hand around her upper arm twice and now his fingertips could only barely reach around. He had forgotten just how beautiful she was. She was always beautiful, of course, even all those many months ago when she sported a skeletal frame that rivaled even his. But with her fullness, her soft skin, only just a hint of her collarbone visible beneath the surface he remembered exactly how beautiful she was.

"Look at your mother, Lotte," he said, glancing down at her as she cooed happily. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"

Christine rolled her eyes at him, making her way over to where he sat and holding her arms out.

"Only for a kiss," Erik said.

She huffed but in the end her smile won out and she gave him what he asked for - a gentle, far too quick kiss.

He was a man of his word, though, and passed Lotte into her arms anyway. "You are beautiful, Christine," he said, enjoying the way that his simple compliments could still bring the same blush into her cheeks.

"I am fat," she argued, shifting Lotte into her other arm and gently bouncing her as she began to whine.

"Hardly," he replied softly. "You are healthy. You have never been more beautiful than you are now."

"We are going to be late, Erik," she said.

This time it was his turn to huff. Ultimately he conceded, though, finding that she wasn't wrong.

He had procured a baby carriage since Lotte's birth in preparation for when his wife would finally decide to leave the house again but she had stared at it blankly for a long while.

"It looks dangerous," she said, chewing the inside of her lip. "And the church is not such a long walk."

There Erik conceded to her as well. They would use it, he was sure. Christine had so enjoyed their Sunday evening strolls in the past and he was doubtful that either of them would be willing to leave Lotte alone in her crib - but perhaps it was best to wait until she could at least lift her own head.

And so Christine insisted on carrying her for the four blocks, Erik settling on resting his hand on the small of her back as it was impossible to take her hand.

Just as always the good Father welcomed them with open arms.

"You look well," he said to Christine. "As does she."

Erik felt a strange jealousy grip him when the Father brushed his finger along Lotte's tiny fist and she grasped it.

"Lotte," Erik said as he attempted to shake away his strange and irrational reaction. "Her name is Lotte."

"Lotte," the father said, looking at Erik. "A very unique name."

"It's a... family name," Christine offered, sensing Erik's strange mood.

"It's lovely - a unique name for a very unique and miraculous baby," the father said, smiling kindly.

Christine looked suspiciously at Erik and he simply returned the scathing look with a shrug of his shoulders. There was no reason to admit the extent of his confessions to the father.

Erik had never actually witnessed a christening before. The whole thing was so strange, so ceremonial and formal. He wasn't sure what he had expected - perhaps something intimate like his first confession. Instead it was scripted, stiff.

Even so his finger didn't burn when he dipped it into the holy water and he supposed that must count for something. Lotte fussed at the wet touch, reaching for his finger.

Though it was a strange experience he found himself glad, when all was said and done, that they had done it.

When he looked at his wife with her soft smile and the chubby, crying babe in her arms on the alter he felt a new hope blooming in his chest. Perhaps normal was not so difficult as he had once thought.

Chapter Text

It was near the sixth month of her life that Lotte began to crawl.

From the time she was able to lift her head without assistance Erik had taken to laying her on the rug in their parlor and sitting beside her on the floor despite his wife's incessant protests.

"The floor is dirty!" she had said when she first caught him.

"So is Lotte," he answered, "yet you love her anyway. A bit of dirt will not hurt her Christine."

When she began to crawl Erik smugly announced his victory. And so in the evening hours they would sit upon the floor, one on each end of the room as Lotte learned her limbs.

Erik tried not to be too smug when she would crawl toward him and clamber into his lap, babbling on and on. She was a vocal girl - it was almost as though she were trying to make up for her lack of crying with her incessant babbling. It was endearing nonetheless.

"She loves her papa," Christine would say. She was good at pretending she wasn't offended by Lotte's obvious preference of Erik to herself.

"She loves her mother too," Erik insisted. "I simply talk to her more."

That much was true. Though Christine was hardly ever without her babe she found Erik's chatting to her silly. Lotte couldn't understand him, she insisted. Erik argued that it didn't matter, that she would eventually but they must encourage it.

And so when Lotte would babble on and pause as though waiting for his response he would smile and say "That is very interesting, little Lotte."

Christine insisted that he was ridiculous and yet Lotte always seemed interested. And when he would talk she would stare at him carefully with rapt attention.

It was in her eighth month that the inevitable happened.

It was a night like any other. She had clambered into Erik's lap, pulling herself up unsteadily with her hands on his sleeve and staring at him carefully.

When her curious little hand dislodged his mask it took a long moment to even realize what had happened.

Christine stood quickly, ready to snatch her infant up in her arms but Erik stopped her, holding one hand up in the air.

"Erik..." Christine said uneasily.

"Shush, hold on."

Lotte stood still, swaying only the tiniest bit and still using his sleeve to hold herself up. She looked at him thoughtfully.

He stayed perfectly still, letting her stare at him, allowing her to curiously examine his features.

"Your papa is very ugly, isn't he Lotte?" he was encouraged by her lack of reaction.

At his voice Lotte smiled, and then she began to giggle, toppling backwards into his thankfully quick hands.

And Erik, mad as he was, found himself laughing with her, too overwhelmed for any other reaction. This only caused Lotte to giggle even harder.

Christine sighed with what seemed to be relief, sinking back into her seat. Erik couldn't help but to be offended by that.

"Do you really think I would hurt her?" he asked later in the evening, standing in the doorway of the kitchen while she chopped away at vegetables. He had laid Lotte securely in her crib for a nap before seeking out his finicky wife.

"Not on purpose," she said matter-of-factly, refusing to look up at him.

That stung. Even she knew as much and that was evident in the way she stiffened.

He was silent for a long while, chewing over her words.

"You must think very little of me," his tone was even and measured, doing his best to hide the hurt.

She shivered at his tone. "Erik, I know your temper."

"You know my temper," he repeated flatly, stepping forward and grasping her shoulder, gently turning her. "Look at me Christine."

She obeyed with a sigh, looking up at him with nervous eyes.

It was suddenly difficult to breathe - something he hadn't felt in such a long time. "You're still afraid of me," it wasn't a question, it was more of an incredulous statement.

"I'm not afraid of you Erik," she insisted. "I love you."

"And yet you think I would hurt her - your daughter, our daughter," his fingertips were gentle on her cheek, barely brushing against her skin. "I have tried, Christine. I have tried to be a better husband, to be a good father. My temper has not flared in many months. I've been trying."

"I know that you have," she whispered.

"Then why are you still so damn afraid?" He was working himself up now, he knew that. He should take a step back, breathe, calm his voice.

"You loved me too!" she finally exclaimed, her eyes suddenly springing to life with fire. "You love me too and you hurt me. How am I supposed to think you'll react? We both remember what happened when I took your mask."

"Loved you? Loved you?! I love you still, only more now than ever before. Why can't you seem to understand that? You truly can't see the difference? She's a child, Christine. She knows no better. How could I be angry with her for it?" Their voices were rising with each new sentence. He found himself surprised that they couldn't yet hear Lotte's cry from the next room over.

"I love you too, Erik!" she yelled angrily.

And if he were in a better mood he may have found himself amused by the situation. As it was he was too hurt to laugh.

"Have I not been better? Have I given you reason to fear? Eight months and I have never come close to hurting her, eight months and I only love her more every damn day." He hadn't been this excited in a long while, he could nearly feel himself shaking with his emotion.

Christine wrapped both hands behind his neck and pulled him toward her. Before it could even register that he had slipped she was catching him, pressing her lips firmly to his.

When she pulled away, so slowly, he felt his own sigh more than he heard it.

"I miss you," her tone was soft and sweet.

He pressed his forehead to hers, still amazed that she could bear to have his skin upon hers. "I miss you so incredibly much," he admitted.

She was lurching forward, kissing him again, sweet and slow and gentle.

"I'm sorry," she whispered as she pulled away. "It's been very difficult, Erik, and I am sorry. I shouldn't allow my stress take me that way. I know that I can trust you and I never should have doubted that."

His hands framed her face, his thumbs stroking her cheeks softly. "Do you regret it?"

"Regret what?" she murmured, her eyes closing at his touch.

"Any of it," he answered. "Running away, Gustave, marrying me. Lotte. Is there ever a moment where you regret it?"

She sighed, leaning into his touch. "I would take every pain again if it meant I ended up here in your arms, with Lotte. There isn't a single moment I regret. Do you?"

"Not for a moment," he answered, pressing his dry lips to her forehead. "You are exhausted, Christine. You should rest. I will finish dinner."

It was true enough - he could see the tiredness in her eyes.

"I'm not hungry," she answered. She bit her lip as she contemplated her words. "Come lay with me."

He nodded against her. "I would like that."

"And maybe - maybe you can sing to me," she sounded almost afraid to make the request.

His lips pressed to her forehead again as he let his fingers trail through her hair. "I would sing to you for the rest of my days if you wished it."

"And maybe, tomorrow, we can introduce Lotte to her own bedroom."

Chapter Text

Christine never did return to the stage.

She discussed it throughout the years and Erik never found himself discouraging it, but ultimately she decided that staying with her little family was what she wanted.

And then their little family expanded. And then it expanded again.

Christine lost two more children over the years. Each one was terribly sad but Christine did not find herself so disheartened as she had once been.

"We have Lotte," she would remind her husband and herself. "She is enough for me."

She was a strong woman and Erik only found himself more proud of her with each passing day.

Despite the miscarriages they did have two more healthy children - the first came when Lotte was two, a little sister for her. They named her Isabella and Erik had to smirk with his triumph - he always had liked the name.

The third came when Lotte was six and Isabella was four. This one had been a surprise but not a particularly bad one, and Erik finally had his son. A handsome young boy. They named this one Giovanni, the name bringing back the most pleasant memories he had before his Christine had come into his life.

With three children they found that a bigger home was necessary. And so they moved three blocks further from their little church, finding a home where each child could have a room to themselves and Erik could have one for his instruments and the little trinkets that Christine still didn't completely understand.

The goodly father performed the christening for each of their children, and despite the fact that Erik left the church to pursue a promising opportunity in architecture they still attended service every Sunday and Wednesday when it was possible. They would slip in with their three well-behaved children in tow, sitting in the very back row and usually slipping out just before the service had ended.

Erik prided himself on the patience he had learned over the years. He no longer minded so much when his composing was interrupted, when one of his children would fly into the room and carelessly spill his ink. Instead he found himself amazed with each passing day, wondering how he had ever gotten so lucky, reminding himself how very much he didn't deserve the blessings of his little family and his little wife.

And at night when he would climb exhausted into bed his wife would pull herself close to him, pressing her lips to his and snuggling into his chest. He never felt quite so safe and loved in his life as he did in those moments.

He would pull her closer and press his lips into her hair, quietly reminding her how very much he loved her and running his fingers gently through her hair until they both found sleep.

Life was good. And even in the quiet moments, and the sad moments, life was good. They argued, sure, as most couples do. Sometimes they would find themselves locked in a shouting match, but always it ended with a kiss and a reminder of love, a whispered apology. A reassurance that they were happy.

The dependency never ended. Christine would still sometimes slip into her quiet thoughtfulness and still, after the children had been put to bed, she would sometimes clamber into his lap like a child herself, burying her face against his throat. He would hold her close in those moments, reminding her that she was his, that he was never going anywhere. Sometimes she would cry - never weep, simply cry and he would hold her close then too. He never asked why. If she wanted to share what was lodged in her mind she would. Instead he simply offered her the physical comfort that she sought.

Her episodes did not last so terribly long anymore, though, often passing in a few hours or by morning when she would rise chipper and full of smiles almost as though it had never happened. He never reminded her, knowing how much it did embarrass her.

He couldn't hold it against her. He understood her melancholia well, having been attacked by his own throughout his life. She had been through so much, mostly due to him, and it was only to be expected that it would sometimes come back to her. His own did, he was simply better at hiding it.

Even so, despite their melancholia, they were happy. And despite Christine's fears, he did very much love her as she grew older. As her once dark curls began to streak with silver, as lines began to form around her smile and at the edges of her eyes. He loved her only more than he could have believed that he would.

And if you asked either one of them if there were any regrets they would answer the same; only that it took so long to find one another.