Was there ever a more wretched monster than he? Erik continued to stare at the marks on the girl’s neck, the marks he’d given her just that morning, their purplish-blue an angry contrast to her creamy skin. Good God, it was a miracle she’d returned to the chapel at all after what he’d done. Kneeling by the bed, he couldn't stop the tears that rolled down his cheeks. It was bad enough he’d hurt the only person who’d ever looked him in the eye and still showed him kindness; to know that, in doing so, he’d hurt his angel as well was unforgivable He’d been ready to kill whoever had hurt her and yet he’d done far worse. Chris had trusted him; she’d trusted him. And he’d repaid her by almost killing her. But she didn't trust you, whispered an evil little voice in the back of his mind. She pretended to be a boy, hiding her true identity beneath a cap and trousers and a concealing cloak. He’d known the child had been hiding something, though. It was evident in the way she spoke that was so at odds with the way she dressed. And then there was her fear this morning…
Though he couldn't stop the silent tears that trekked steadily down his hideous face, he did rise to check for further injuries. A large bruise was forming on the right side of her face that would swell her eye shut for a day or two. She had blood under her short nails but he didn't think it was hers. Bravo, mon ange, for fighting back at least. He hesitated to check anywhere her clothing covered for fear she’d awaken and think him taking advantage of her in her weakened state. Since he saw no blood on her clothing to indicate an injury that needed treatment immediately, he’d wait until she was conscious. He was thankful to find no other injuries on his initial assessment. Before he left her side, he placed a crimson blanket over the child and stoked the fire. It got cold in his underground home.
With his tears finally spent, he set about preparing his home for his wounded angel. Perhaps if he gathered everything now while she was still sleeping, she’d not have to be subjected to his monstrous presence unless she wished to be. Moving with preternatural silence and grace, Erik picked out the smallest robe he could find along with a shirt that sported a higher collar than his others. Since he had nothing that would fit his angel, he thought she could use the shirt as a nightgown until he purchased her something to wear. In the bathroom, he placed fresh, neatly folded towels on the stand by the large tub along with a bottle of bubble bath he’d bought on a whim. He fretted over not having a brush for her hair and added that to the mental list of things to purchase once he could venture out. Quietly leaving the room, Erik entered the kitchen and put a kettle on for tea. On a large platter, he placed a cup and saucer, bowl of sugar, pitcher of cream, along with some slices of cheese, bread, and fruit. While the water heated on the stove, he wrote her a note explaining where she was and with whom, and reassuring her that he’d not inflict his presence upon her unless she required him. He read over the note a second time and, satisfied, placed it on the tray along with the freshly brewed tea. She was still sleeping when he placed the tray by the bed. With one last look filled with regret and worry, Erik slipped out the door and closed it behind him.
As consciousness slowly returned, the girl could hear the beautiful sounds of a piano being played by an expert hand and wondered where she was. Even without opening her eyes, she knew she was no longer in the chapel. She was lying upon a luxurious bed with what felt like satin sheets and covered by a blanket of velvet. A fire crackled in a nearby fireplace, and she could distinctly smell the mouthwatering aroma of fresh tea. Opening her eyes, she gazed around the room with wonder. Decorated in crimson and black, the colors combined with the flickering of the dim gaslights should have draped the room in eerie shadows; instead, it lent it an otherworldly air she found most appealing. Fascinated, she took in the sparse but elegant furniture, the exceedingly large armoire, and a door which she assumed led to a bathroom. When she saw the robe and linen shirt, she frowned and wondered if her kidnappers thought she was crazy enough to bathe while in captivity. There was no way she was putting herself in such a vulnerable position until she knew where she was and why she was here. Finally, neither her eyes nor her hunger could resist the tea tray any longer. Her stomach gave a most indelicate rumble even though she was wary of eating or drinking in an unknown location. If he had captured her, there could very well be poison waiting for her in the tempting snack. Sitting up, she noticed a vaguely familiar letter amongst the dishes.
She read through the letter quickly and was immediately relieved to know she was at the home of a friend. After a second, more thorough perusal of the letter, she felt her heart drop. Perhaps a friend no longer. He wanted nothing to do with her now that he knew the extent of her deception. He enjoyed conversing with her when she was Chris the stage hand high in the flies and eagerly trained her voice when she was the mysterious angel. Now that he knew she was both and neither, he wouldn't even be in the same room as her unless she needed something. Dejected, she ate and drank mechanically, knowing she would need her strength when she had to leave. Sliding to the end of the bed, she gazed longingly at the bath. Now that she knew with whom she was staying, she longed for a decent bath, but turned away to slip on her shoes and cloak. What would be the use when she would just be right back on the streets again? She swayed only slightly when she rose and held onto the nightstand until the room ceased its spinning. Once she felt more stable on her feet, she moved to the door and went in search of her host.
The lovely music guided her to a partially closed door and she hesitated. He was inside, she knew it, but what should she tell him? She doubted he would be interested in her problems, especially now, and she didn't want to drag him into that mess anyway. No, it was for the best that she simply ask him to allow her to leave and assure him that she’d not bother him again. She owed him that much, at least. With a sad sigh, she slipped into the music room as quietly as she could and stood just inside the doorway. He must not have heard her as he continued to play, his body swaying gently with the melody. While watching him, she thought she’d never seen anyone move so gracefully nor play so beautifully. The song slowly came to an end and she found herself lost in his warm golden eyes.
“How are you feeling, mon ange?” His voice was quiet and sent a shiver down her spine at its beauty. Once more, she was struck by the deep sadness that seemed to envelop him like a shroud. Shamed by the endearment, she dropped her eyes to the floor and pulled the cloak tighter around her.
“I am no angel, Monsieur Le Fantôme, as you are now well aware. My name is Christine and I am so very sorry for lying to you.” She couldn't stop the tears that spilled from her eyes. “I didn't know you at first, didn't know I could trust you. Once I did… well, by then I’d been taking lessons from you for several weeks. I already knew how much you despised lies and was caught in a web of my own making. I could neither tell you nor could I let you find out, but it was killing me to perpetuate the lie. And then today…” Christine took a deep breath and risked a glance at his face. She returned her gaze back to the floor at the total lack of any emotion on his face. “Today, I disgusted you by violating your privacy and I know you can never forgive me for that. But I just…” She stopped when the piano bench crashed to the floor as he rose suddenly.
“Forgive you? Forgive you?! I nearly killed you, you ridiculous child!” His voice echoed in the small room making Christine cringe against the wall.
“I know, and I’m sorry! I hadn't meant to upset you and if I could take it back, I would in an instant.” So intent was she on avoiding his eyes that she never saw him approach until he had wrapped his hands around her upper arms and gave her a shake.
“Dammit, girl, shut up and listen! What you said, what you did, all of it means nothing beside the fact that the bruises on your neck came from my hand. When I saw you in the chapel, heard you crying and begging forgiveness from your father, I wanted to kill whoever had caused you such pain. And then to discover that it was me? No, child, there is no need to ask forgiveness from a monster.”
Releasing her, his shoulders drooped as he turned away and more than ever, Christine felt his anguish as a palpable thing in the room. She knew he would walk out of her life and never speak to her again. Not for the wrongs she’d committed against him, but for the wrongs he’d committed against her. She couldn't bear it, and laid a restraining hand on his arm before he could walk away from her.
“Please, Monsieur, you are no monster. Perhaps…perhaps we could start again?” There was such hope in her voice that she didn't even try to hide it, but there was fear as well. Fear that he would reject her plea. “Allow me to introduce myself, Monsieur. My name is Christine Elizabeth Daaé.”
Slowly turning in amazement, he stared at the lovely girl before him and wondered what he’d ever done in his miserable life that had earned him time to bask in the presence of an angel. Close to weeping again, he took her tiny hand in his and elegantly bowed low. “I am Erik Devereaux, Mademoiselle Daaé; at times a vocal instructor, at others an Opera Ghost, but ever and always honored to make your acquaintance.”