A Gauntlet is Thrown
Throughout Christine’s story, Erik’s anger continued to rise until he dared not to even look at his angel for fear he’d traumatize her even further. The things he’d planned to do to Gachot seemed pedestrian now that he knew the complete story. It was going to take more creativity to truly hurt him as he deserved; Erik would need to go shopping once more. When her voice dwindled away to nothing, he had a tenuous hold on his fury and sanity. It wasn't until he felt the small figure ease from his arms that he realized she might have taken his silence in a way he hadn't intended. She was in her room in a flash and he could hear her sobs through the door.
“Christine?” It took great effort to keep his simmering anger from his voice. He didn't want her to think he was angry at her for any reason. “Please open the door, mon ange.” When there was no reply other than her tears, he eased the door open only to find her room empty. The rustling behind the bathroom door alerted him to her hiding place and he crossed the room to knock softly on the door.
When the door finally opened, his eyes widened to see his angel dressed as the young boy once more. Her gorgeous hair was braided and pinned tightly under the battered hat and her clothing, though clean, had more patches than original cloth. She’d scrubbed her face but her eyes, red and puffy, were still bright with unshed tears. They also looked everywhere but at him and his heart broke a little bit more.
“If you would kindly show me the way out, I will bother you no more Monsieur Devereaux.” Christine’s voice shook but that was all the emotion she allowed to show.
“No, Monsieur, don’t. Please. I…I knew…I expected this once you’d heard everything, but I would prefer not to get lost in the tunnels.” She brushed past him quickly so that he wouldn't see the fresh tears on her cheeks. “I promise that…that I've taken nothing, Monsieur, but what I had when I arrived so, if you would…” Erik’s hand on her shoulder spun her around to face him and she fell silent, shocked at the anger on his face. His fingers, wrapped around her upper arms, tightened to the point that she knew she’d carry bruises as he shook her.
“Is that what you think I’m worried about, Christine? Do you think I give a damn about all these useless pieces of junk?” Flinging her aside so she fell onto the bed, Erik picked up a vase and shattered it against the opposite wall. “Dammit, child, I could replace everything in this house a hundred times over and you dare to assume I’m going to accuse you of theft? No, I will not show you how to navigate the tunnels as I’m not letting you leave this house until it is safe to do so.”
“Letting me?” Christine’s fear of his outburst was overshadowed by her anger at his high-handedness. “You’re not letting me? Monsieur, you are gravely mistaken if you think I’m going to be controlled by any man ever again. I will be leaving.” Rolling off the bed, she marched determinedly to the door only to be stopped once more by those firm, unrelenting hands.
“Very well, mon ange. If you will not listen to reason…” Tossing her back onto the bed, he quickly slipped out the door. A grim smile graced Erik’s lips at her shriek of frustrated anger when the lock clicked into place. “When you are willing to converse in a more civilized manner, mademoiselle, I shall unlock the door. And throw those clothes in the fire!” Pocketing the key, he entered the music room. A song was forming in his mind and he wanted to get it on paper before he forgot.
Christine paced the small room like a caged tiger. She’d never liked being confined and after that night she liked it even less. It made her feel helpless, and that was something she was determined not to be. Pulling out a hairpin, she set to work on the lock; she wasn't an expert but she wasn't a novice either. Ten minutes turned into thirty and then an hour and she was still no closer to unlocking her door than when she’d started. Who puts such difficult locks on the inside of a house? A thought occurred to her that made her groan. If they were this bad on the inside, how difficult was the exterior lock? With a frustrated growl, Christine tossed the hairpin across the room to join the pieces of the broken vase. She knew she was being foolish for trying to leave but pride and stubbornness refused to bow to logic. She wouldn't stay where she was pitied.
Another two hours had passed before she heard Erik’s knock at the door. During this time she’d counted 120 floor tiles, 250 boards that made up the wainscoting, seventeen candles (five of which were lit), and five spiders of various types and sizes. She was bored out of her mind which did little for her temper. So when Erik knocked, she was itching for a fight…anything to change up the monotony of being in that room alone.
“Are you ready to let me go, Monsieur?”
The door opened slowly as if he feared her reaction, which was wise. He barely had time to duck the vase that matched the one he threw earlier. As it shattered against the door's frame Christine was already looking for her second missile while a grim smile of satisfaction graced her lips at his muttered curse. If she could get him away from the door, she could slip past him and lock him in. Something tickled the back of her mind that this might not be the wisest course, but she was no longer listening to logic. The glass by the pitcher of water on her vanity was the next contestant and she aimed away from the door’s hinges this time, hoping to herd him into leaving a gap she could use. When he moved further into the room, she saw her chance and bolted towards the door. Not a good idea.
She was almost through when an arm like a steel band caught her around the waist and spun her back into the room and onto the bed. The momentum of snatching her and spinning her around had carried him as well and he’d landed atop her with enough force to knock the air from both their lungs. Christine glared into Erik’s furious amber gaze and was reminded once more that he was also the infamous Opera Ghost. Caught as surely as a fly in a web, she watched as the anger faded to be replaced by something just as intense. Before she had a chance to say or do anything, Erik leaned forward and kissed her. Hard. Then sanity and reason returned and he flew across the room to huddle in the corner.
“Erik is so sorry, mon ange. Erik should never have touched his Christine with his hideously deformed lips. Please don’t die, mon ange, Erik is so sorry. Please don’t die.”
Christine laid in stunned silence wondering why he’d kissed her. Did he think she was fair game now that he knew of her past? But no, that didn't seem like Erik at all. Then why? Bringing a shaking hand to her tingling lips, she remembered the feel of his. They were soft, oddly textured on the right side but not unpleasantly so, and warm; so warm she could feel it running through her body. Slowly, she became aware that Erik was crouched in the corner, sobbing and rocking back and forth like a child after a particularly harsh punishment. It took a while for her sluggish brain to comprehend his words. He thought she’d die if he kissed her? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Who had told him that rubbish? She never thought she’d want a man that close to her after her attack but it had felt…nice. She always felt so safe with Erik; she still did. He was nothing if not a gentleman.
Christine rose from the bed and approached him cautiously; she felt that one incorrect move on her part and he’d bolt from the room like a frightened rabbit. Kneeling before him, she gently took Erik’s hands and eased them from his face.
“Erik! What…what have you done?” His fingers were red from where he’d clawed at his face, leaving several large gashes on the already mangled skin. “We have to get you cleaned up; it could get infected.” He didn't resist when she pulled him into the bathroom and sat him on the small stool by the tub while Christine gathered the needed medical supplies. Erik’s eyes remained unfocused during the entire procedure and he never so much as winced, even after the sting of ointment. Once he was clean and doctored, she led him into the den and sat next to him on the sofa growing ever more worried when he remained unresponsive. After more than ten minutes, he turned to look at her as if surprised to see her.
“Christine? Why…?” His golden eyes widened as he remembered what had occurred and he stood from the sofa quickly only to be tugged back down. “Please forgive me, mon ange. I promise it will never happen again.”
“Erik?” Reaching over, she gently turned his face to hers. “Why would you think I’d die?”
“I am hideous, Christine, a monster. My…my mother wouldn't let me touch her for fear of what I might do to her.” She wasn’t sure what was more disturbing; what he’d been told or that he repeated it so matter-of-factly.
“You are not a monster, Erik. And…and it wasn't awful. It was actually quite nice.” A blush tinted her cheeks as she said this and she wondered if she was beginning to feel more than friendship for her host. This would never do!
Practice had ended for the day and Madame Giry was glad. Ever since the death of the little ballerina, Vivienne, the girls in the ballet corps were more nervous and jumpy than ever before. Before dismissing them, she reminded them all to travel nowhere alone, inside or outside of the opera house; and patrons did not count. Tired and aching, the girls slowly left the practice room as Angelique packed up the necessary bandages and poultices a ballerina always needed. It wasn't until she turned to leave that she realized she wasn't alone.
“Bonjour, Madame Giry,” the gentleman bowed in greeting. He was richly attired and handsome and would have been quite appealing if not for the hard set to his jaw and the calculatingly cold gleam in his eyes.
“Bonjour, Monsieur le Comte. If you will excuse me, I must see to my girls.” Giving her best ballet mistress glare, she waited for him to move from the doorway but he remained still. She felt a small frisson of alarm run through her when he stepped into the room and closed the door.
“I’m afraid I must insist, Madame, on a private audience. You see, you have a friend who has taken something that belongs to me. I am a forgiving man, Madame, and would be willing to overlook certain things if it were to be returned to me within, shall we say, twenty-four hours. However, I am not one to cross and if my property is not in my grasp by the appointed time, I am certain the gendarmes will be most pleased to know that Buquet’s murderer is at large and hiding beneath the Garnier.” Though she was shaking inside, not once did she drop her haughty demeanor and piercing stare.
“I don’t know where you get your information, monsieur, but I do not associate with thieves and murderers. Now move away from the door so I can leave; you have delayed me long enough.” Head held high, Angelique attempted to brush past him but was stopped by the press of cold metal against the side of her neck and an unmoving arm around her waist.
“Listen well, you supercilious bitch,” Gachot increased the pressure until she could feel a trickle of blood running down her neck. “You will tell that freak to deliver my property to Box Five by the end of the Overture tomorrow night or I’ll take another of your precious little ballet rats home for a night of fun. And I will continue to do so every day until I reclaim what is mine. Do you understand?” The last came out as a low hiss which very nearly froze the blood in her veins. Defeated, she simply nodded and the sharp bite of the blade was gone from her neck. Just as she was satisfied they were through with their talk, he grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him. With a sneer that twisted his handsome face into a vision of pure evil, he brought the knife up and slashed across her cheek. “To help you remember, Madame.”
He left the room in high humor, his laughter carrying a more than a hint of madness. Angelique quickly pulled the bandages from her basket to press against her bleeding cheek. She had to tell Erik, and soon. They had to find some way to stop that monster from hurting any more of her girls without sacrificing Christine.