Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chapter 06

Chapter Six:
Fallen Angel

          “So that’s your name…” Christine really wasn't aware that she’d spoken her thoughts aloud. She also wasn't conscious that he still had possession of her hand until he raised it to his lips to press the lightest of kisses upon it.
           “So it is,” Erik chuckled softly at her look of surprise and released her hand. Without knowing it, both felt the absence of the other’s warmth keenly. “Would you like a bath now, Mademoiselle DaaĆ©? I have left you something to wear for now, but in the morning I will fetch you some decent clothing.”
          “Please, Monsieur, don’t go to the trouble and expense. I can wash and mend what I have on, and that will be fine.” The thought of new clothing, perhaps even an actual dress, was heavenly, but what would she do with it once she left? And how would she ever repay him?
          “Absolutely not!” The horror on Erik’s face was almost comical if the situation weren't so dire. “I fully intend to burn that…that thing once you have something fit to wear.” He held up a hand to stop her from interrupting. “No arguments, mon ange. I won’t have you in my house parading around in rags that aren't even fit for the dustbin. While I don’t have anything suitable tonight due to the lateness of the hour, it won’t take long to pick up a few things in the morning.”
           “Monsieur Devereaux, you seem to be laboring under the misconception that I will be staying here beyond this night. That, I’m afraid, is something I cannot do. I must leave before sunrise in the morning in order to put as much distance as I can between the Palais Garnier and myself before nightfall. I had hoped to stay at this opera house longer, but that has become impossible. So, while I thank you for the very kind offer, I must regretfully decline.” Christine was studying her shoes intently as she spoke, since she didn't really want to leave at all. It had been so long since she’d thought of anyone as a friend, and it pained her to have to leave the Opera Ghost behind.
          “Well, my dear, I appreciate your willingness to spend even one night in the monster’s lair.” The anger and sarcasm that simmered beneath the polite words made her wince. She was afraid he’d be upset. “I suppose you’ll be sending the gendarmes to capture the creature that haunts the opera house while on your way out?”
          “What?!” Christine’s head snapped up quickly and she stared at him in shock. “Erik…Monsieur Devereaux…I would never do a thing like that to you! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how many times must I tell you that you’re not a monster or a creature! You are my friend, and that’s why I have to go.” Tears gathered in her eyes at the disbelief in his. “I can’t stay because if they find me, it won’t matter to them what you know or do not know. They would hurt you, even kill you, if they found out that you helped me. Please, I can’t be responsible for that; I can’t.” Turning away to hide her tears, she added in a watery voice. “Perhaps it would be best if I just go now.”
           “Who, Christine?” Erik placed his hands on her shoulders to prevent her from leaving the room. “Who is after you?”
 Wrapping her arms around herself, she shook her head. She just couldn't tell him. If she told him who, he’d want to know why. If she told him why…she couldn't bear to watch the disgust fill his unusual golden eyes. When he turned her to face him, she struggled, but he was far stronger than her. A graceful, leather-clad finger nudged her chin, gently forcing her to look at him. His anger had melted away, replaced by concern which only grew upon seeing the steady flow of tears on her cheeks. “My dear,” he murmured softly, “let me help you.”
“I can’t,” Christine whispered, closing her eyes so he wouldn't see the shame in her eyes. “ I've I've done something terrible, Monsieur, and you’ll hate me for it. God knows I do. And I’d prefer that you hated me for leaving than risk your life when they find me.”


          Erik stared down at the girl and wondered what she had done that she considered so terrible. He’d seen the shame and self-loathing that she’d tried so hard to conceal, and that had only made him want to help her more. He pulled her into his embrace and stroked her hair. “Trust me, Christine. I have committed more than my share of sins. There is nothing that you could say or do which would make me turn my back on you. Tell me, mon ange, and I will do everything within my power to help you.”
           He could feel the sobs that wracked her body even though she kept her hands fisted between them. Growing more and more concerned, Erik lifted his angel into his arms and carried her to the sofa. She struggled weakly when he settled her on his lap and gently pressed her head against his shoulder. As his fingers removed her hair from its braid, he whispered reassurances in her ear. This child was the first person besides Angelique to show him any hint of kindness. She’d called him her friend! She even cared enough to try to protect him. For the first time in his long and hideous life he felt more like a man than a monster, and he’d be damned if he was letting her face this alone. Whatever “this” was. As her sobs dissolved into shaky hiccups and then into shuddering breaths, Erik realized his angel had fallen asleep once more. Shifting carefully, he lay back against the arm of the sofa and laid her beside him in his protective embrace. Soothed by her steady breathing and the feel of her silk-like hair beneath his fingers, he too drifted off to sleep.
           The bell chiming the one o’clock hour pulled Erik from blissful slumber. His dreams, for once, had not been full of nightmares but of the angel he still held in his arms. He gently brushed the hair from her face and frowned at the bruise that marred her perfect features. The anger that surged through him as he thought of the person who’d done this to his angel surprised even Erik with its intensity. If the man was standing before him right now, he might very well tear him limb from limb and feel not one iota of regret for doing so. She shifted in her sleep and called for her papa in such a broken, anguished voice that it brought tears to his amber eyes. What secrets lay in her past to bring torment even into her dreams?
           As if she knew she was being watched, Christine began to stir. Erik, relishing the feel of the young woman in his arms, continued to stroke her hair until her eyes popped open and she fought against his restraining arm. Surprised, he released her and watched as she cowered on the far end of the sofa, drawn up into a protective ball. Her eyes were wild and unseeing; she was lost in that place between waking and sleeping and her nightmares had merged with reality. She had felt his arms around her, but it was not Erik she was seeing in her mind. It was him. Bewildered and concerned, he approached the terrified girl slowly, his heart aching when she cringed away from him in fear. Over and over she muttered softly her apologies to her papa and pleas for someone to stop. Stop what, Erik didn't know, but feared he could guess.
          “I’m sorry, Monsieur,” her voice, angelic even in her misery, was so soft even his excellent hearing had difficulty making out the words. She remained in her protective shell, face hidden by her knees and long, curly hair, but he could hear her sadness.
          “You, mon ange, have no reason to apologize to me and, I suspect, little reason to apologize to anyone.” Christine shook her head in denial at his words and Erik felt his heart break all over again. He inched closer, wanting only to comfort his angel. “Trust me, Christine.” As soon as his fingertips brushed across her silky curls, she slid from the sofa and buried her face in his chest. Her arms held him tightly and he understood that she didn't want him to look at her. How many times had he wanted to do the same as a child?
          “If I tell you some of what happened, will you promise not to question me about the rest? Please?”
          “Of course, mon petite ange.” Erik kept his voice soft and soothing, not revealing his impatience to know what was wrong so he could start helping her. He slowly eased his arms around her, giving her plenty of time to back away if she wished, but she only burrowed further against his chest. If the circumstances had been anything other than what they were, he could have cheerfully died a contented man. And then his angel began to weave her tale…

Two Years Earlier

          Christine had just turned sixteen when she and her father, Gustav, arrived in the port town of Le Havre. Her father’s failing health had forced them to leave England, where they’d been staying for the past year, and head to Paris where he had friends. He wanted to ensure that she was taken care after he was gone. The pair usually paid for their travels through performances on street corners and county fairs as well as at the inns and taverns such as the one they were staying in tonight. Earlier, Gustav and Christine had performed in exchange for room and board at a local inn and, though they would be relegated to the attic, it was warm and dry so they didn't complain. They performed well and the guests rewarded them. The tips had been enough to purchase their tickets on the train to Paris, but it wasn't due to depart until early the next night. After a few inquiries, Gustav grabbed his violin while Christine hummed softly to warm up her throat before venturing into town to earn a few extra francs at the fair.
           Their performances were met with modest success. With so much going on, few took the time to throw a coin into the violin case for the two. By the time night was approaching, they barely had enough to purchase meals for the two of them on the train. Christine had been disappointed, but Gustav shrugged it off as one of the drawbacks to travelling as they did. On the way back to the inn, the elderly man stopped to lean against a lamppost and catch his breath. Unbeknownst to his young daughter, Gustav had been experiencing chest pains for the last hour and was now struggling to breathe. The violin case fell from his numb fingers to the cobblestone street, and Christine immediately ran to his side. He hated leaving his precious angel alone in a strange town but also knew he would not live to see Paris. With his remaining strength, he made his daughter promise to seek out his old friend, Angelique Morceau, when she arrived. He pushed the violin into her hands as he slid down the post, his vision narrowing as his time grew ever shorter. Nearly hysterical, she never heard the two men who appeared behind her until they laughed drunkenly.
           “Lookie here, Beauvais, Lady Luck hasn't totally shunned us. She has sent us a gift to play with.” His words were slurred heavily and Christine wondered how he remained on his feet with so much alcohol flooding his system.
           His friend, Beauvais, was equally inebriated and he nearly fell on top of her when he reached for her arm. “Come, my dear. I have a cold bed at home that needs to be warmed.” The girl hugged the violin case close and cringed away from them, praying that someone would come help her. When he reached for her again, she shook her head and begged him to leave her be. She had to get help for her father. At this, they both laughed.
           “Nice story, little one,” her unnamed tormentor sneered, “but you and I both know he’s just some drunken idiot who you’re trying to rob. If you come quietly, we won’t send the gendarmes after you. Hell, you can even keep the money and whatever is in that hideous case if you’re nice enough to us.” There was something in this man’s manner that truly terrified the young singer and she backed further away, keeping the violin case in front of her like a shield.
           “No, please.” Christine’s eyes darted up and down the alley looking for anything or anyone that could help her. “He’s ill, Messieurs, and I need to get him back to the inn so he can rest.”
           “Oh, you’ll go back to the inn, little one,” the sheer menace in his voice dripped with terrible meaning as he reached for her. Unlike his drunken friend, he didn't miss and his fingers wrapped cruelly around her arm to drag her towards the Hound and Hare. She begged and cried and fought the entire way until he grew tired of her noise and slapped her hard. Having never been struck before in her life, Christine grew quiet in her fear. Before she knew it, they were in a bedroom and the unnamed man was removing his clothing. “Don’t worry, dear, you’ll be well-paid for your efforts. Now undress.” Terrified, she shook her head. This could not be happening. “As you wish. Beauvais?” In her fear of this man, she’d forgotten all about his friend. She was reminded when his hands gripped her upper arms tight while the other drew a knife and sliced open her dress.
          Humiliation and terror fought for supremacy as her young body was exposed before his lusting eyes. He was going for the belt of his trousers as Beauvais started peeling her ruined dress from her shoulders. As if suddenly breaking out of a trance, she began to fight once more, her fear lending her strength. She managed to slip from the restraining hands of one of her captors only to have the other’s fist make contact with her stomach, which dropped her to her knees. Gasping for breath, Christine saw the knife in Beauvais’ boot. Desperate and frightened, she pulled it from its sheath and brought it down upon the man’s leg. His howl of pain released some sort of dam inside her and she brought the knife down over and over until the dark, menacing man wrenched it from her fingers. At the sight of the blood on her hands and his fully nude, aroused body, she felt the room spin and then all was black.

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