The Best-Laid Schemes o' Mice an' Men…
The faint tinkling of an alarm broke the silence that had begun to grow awkward in the house on the lake. Erik quickly replaced his mask and bade her to remain in the house; Christine agreed without protest. Pausing only to fasten his cloak about his shoulders and grab his fedora, the ghost slipped out the door to see who had invaded his home. Slowly pulling out the pins that secured the hat, Christine took a long frank look at her feelings for her masked host. She valued him as a friend, that much she’d already been aware, but these new feelings were most unwelcome. She couldn't allow herself to fall for anyone when there was no chance it would ever be reciprocated. With fresh tears forming, she returned to her room very much afraid her heart had already taken that leap.
Changing into a simple pale blue dress, Christine considered her options. If everything were to be settled with Gachot, she could finally take the stage like her father wanted. She was certain Erik would train her voice but, after two years of working at being invisible, did she really long to have so many eyes focused on her? No, aspirations of the stage were her father’s dreams, not hers. What then? Christine had no desire to don her boy’s clothing and take to the flies but she needed a profession, a place to stay, and food on her table. As she entered the kitchen to put a kettle of water on for tea, an idea struck her that seemed perfect: housekeeper and cook to the Opera Ghost. She giggled softly at the thought. What a job description! She would definitely give Erik his bedroom back, of course, but she could happily remain in the house on the lake. She ignored the voice whispering that it would keep her close to him as well.
The kettle’s whistle jarred her from her introspection and masked the sound of the door opening. She nearly dropped the kettle when Erik rushed in with a rather disheveled and…bleeding? Madame Giry.
“Angel, in the bathroom is a first aid kit. I need it, some towels, and boiling water.”
“The tea kettle had just come to a boil, Erik, so water is ready. I’ll be right back with the rest.” A brief pause at the door, “Gachot?” His grim nod dropped her heart into her toes. Already those around her were paying for the sins of her past.
Reentering the kitchen with the necessary items as well as a candle to sterilize the needle, Christine laid everything within Erik’s easy reach and moved out of his way. She sat by Madame and took her hand with a reassuring squeeze. He made quick work of cleaning and stitching her cheek, his golden voice singing hypnotically to dull the pain. Once he was finished and everything cleaned and put away, Christine put more water on to boil and began preparing a light snack to go with tea as Angelique related all that had happened with Gachot. When the kettle whistled, she brought everything to the table and poured for each of them, wondering if she was strong enough to do what needed to be done.
“The bastard.” Erik’s growl made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and a shiver ran down her spine. “I had a feeling he was responsible for the little rat’s murder. He has to be stopped, Angelique.”
“I know, Erik, but how? If you take him from the Opera House, the gendarmes will be swarming the place like a hive of angry bees. I’d rather he pay for what he’s done, not you.”
“Simple, Madame,” Christine’s soft voice eased into the discussion. “I go to him tomorrow as he wishes and Erik follows. There can be no connection to the Garnier if he is disposed of in his own home.” Though she was proud that her voice remained steady, she couldn't keep the blood from leaving her face. She knew the risks if Erik was delayed or lost them altogether.
“NO!” Erik stood so quickly that his chair toppled over with a loud crash. “I will not lead you like a lamb to the slaughter into the monster’s lair.”
“You know it’s the only way, Monsieur. I will not let another suffer in my stead.”
“So you would return to him after all he’s done to you?”
“Of course not!” Horrified he’d think such a thing, her own anger began to stir and she stood and glared up at him. “How dare you think I want to return to him! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you know what he’s done to me! I could never knowingly put another in that position.”
“And what if we get separated, Christine? What if he doesn't return to his estate and I lose you?” He grabbed her shoulders and shook her, trying to make his point. “You little fool; there are too many things that could go wrong that would put you at his mercy once more. It’s because I know what he’s done that I refuse to turn you over like some kind of present.” Suddenly he pulled her into a tight embrace and murmured against her hair. “I cannot risk losing you, mon ange.”
Angelique, forgotten momentarily at the table, watched the two with a speculative gaze. She’d never seen her masked friend get so worked up over the well-being of anyone, and yet he was shaking with both anger and fear over his little angel. Christine also seemed to be clinging to him a bit more than mere friendship would allow. Could Erik have fallen for her? Would she allow herself to return his affections? Seeing that they were far too comfortable holding each other, she called forth her best ballet mistress voice and ordered them back to their seats. It was all she could do to hide her amusement when they jumped apart like a pair of scalded cats and quickly took their seats.
“Thank you, it made my neck hurt to look up at you both.” Hiding her grin in her tea cup at their discomfort, she took a fortifying sip before continuing. “Erik, the girl does have a point…”
“…and a name.” Christine’s soft murmur earned her a glare from Angelique and a smirk from Erik.
“As I was saying, she has a point. If he were to believe that Christine went to him against our wishes…”
“…which would be the truth.” This time it was Erik whose muttered interjection received Angelique’s glare and Christine’s smirk.
“…he might be less inclined to stay for the entire performance, which allows you to spirit him away from the Garnier with few witnesses.”
Hidden in the secret tunnels near Box Five, Erik was in a foul mood and itching to take it out on Jean-Louis Gachot. For hours he’d tried to come up with some plan that did not involve putting Christine back into the clutches of that monster. Unfortunately, time was against them and so he agreed with extreme displeasure. His angel had chosen to wear her boy’s attire for the meeting, citing ease of movement through the tunnels, but he knew there was more to it than that. He chose not to press the issue and put more strain on her nerves and his temper. The orchestra had just started warming up when Gachot entered the box. It was time for them to put on a show worthy of the stage.
The lights dimmed as the first strains of the Overture began and Erik took advantage of that short moment before one’s eyes could adjust to silently step from the passageway and into the darkest corner of the box. In all his years of being subjected to the violence and hatred of mankind, there was no one he’d ever wanted to kill as badly as he wanted to kill the man who now sat before him. The fact that it would be so easy to do so now and yet knowing he could not did nothing for his temper. A deliberate movement made Gachot aware of his presence and Erik smiled evilly when the man’s face reflected fear before he’d schooled his features into one of indifference.
“You must be the infamous Opera Ghost I keep hearing about. Nice trick with the eyes, Monsieur le Fantôme.”
“It is no trick, Gachot,” the golden voice of the angels now reverberated through the box with such evil menace that it sent a shiver down his foe’s spine. “You wish to reclaim someone you once abused, discarded, and very nearly destroyed, but I am here to inform you that will never happen. Do not press this matter, Gachot, or I will take great delight in persuading you to reconsider.” Before the Comte could respond in any way, there was a sudden, blinding flash and smoke in the center of the box. When the spots finally faded from his eyes, Gachot was alone in the box once more.
Back inside the passageway, Christine was having a hard time gathering the courage to play her role. When Erik reentered the dark tunnel, she flung herself into his arms and begged him to come for her, to save her once they were away from the Palais Garnier. He gently stroked up and down her back and whispered his promises before reluctantly releasing her to go wait in Gachot’s carriage. Shaking and very nearly hyperventilating, Christine waited until the end of the first aria before exiting the tunnel and into the box with the man who’d ruined her life.
She was here. Gachot smiled as he kept his eyes on the stage. He knew her kind well; she’d not let another suffer in her stead. He briefly wondered how she’d escaped the Opera Ghost but was truly unconcerned with the how, or even the why, as long as she was here. Without even so much as a glance to acknowledge her, he patted the seat beside him. She was slow to come near him and he could practically feel her fear rolling off her in waves. Excellent. He couldn't wait to have her under his control once more.
“I have to thank you, my dear,” his soft murmur barely cut through the screeching of La Carlotta but she heard, he knew it the moment he saw the shudder envelop her small frame. “I never knew myself until that night with you. You've shown me what I am and what I was meant to be. That’s why I had to have you back, to show my…appreciation.” Her whimper when he trailed his hand along her thigh ignited his blood. To hell with the opera; he wanted her now!
Standing, he finally looked at her and smirked at her disguise. She didn't make a very convincing lad in his mind. She was far too frail and effeminate to be considered anything but what she was, but he was going to enjoy unwrapping the gift so cleverly packaged for him. A flare of light from the stage chased the shadows from the box and he considered taking a sample of her delights right there in the theater. The fear plainly wrought on her face as well as her steady rain of tears had him harder than a virgin boy in a whorehouse. When she cringed away from his hand, he smiled evilly and wrapped his fingers in her tight braid, pulling her from her seat and flush against his body.
“We are going home to have some fun, my dear. If you value the lives of everyone in this pathetic building, I’d advise you to keep your mouth shut as we walk to the carriage. I’m sure the ballet wench is dear to you, is she not?” At her terrified nod, he chuckled. “It is up to you to keep her breathing. Do not forget it.” Grasping her arm tightly, he escorted her out of the Garnier and into his waiting carriage. With a tap to the roof, they left the relative safety of the opera house and its resident ghost.