As he slipped through the front entrance of his home, Erik had mixed emotions about the night’s events. He was greatly relieved that the danger to Christine was over, but now there was no reason for her to remain in his home. What was worse, he knew he could never ask that of her. After two years of hiding, his angel deserved to walk and live in the sunlight. Hanging his cloak and hat with a sigh, Erik made his way towards the office that now served as his bedroom. His clothes were dirty, bloody, and smelled distinctly like horse. He wanted a bath, a brandy, and the pipe organ. In that order.
After a thorough bath, he entered the den for his brandy and noticed his favorite chair was occupied with a half-awake Angelique Giry. He wondered just what had happened that she felt it necessary to stay up to wait for him and shot a concerned glance in the direction of Christine’s room. Entering the room and pouring his drink, Erik took a seat across from his friend with a quiet greeting.
“It is done, then?” Madame Giry’s voice was low and she, too, stole a glance towards the room that housed his sleeping angel.
“Yes. Gachot will no longer be a threat to Christine or your gaggle of little ballet geese.” Before she could ask, he shook his head. “No, you definitely do not want to know, my friend.” She sighed and nodded in acceptance, knowing that when Erik was this adamant, it was for a good reason.
“Erik…what happened to Christine while she was with Gachot?”
“I can only guess what went on inside the carriage,” Erik sighed and placed his empty glass on a side table and ran a hand through his hair. Remembering the things his angel had been subjected to, his tone sharpened and his anger grew once more. “When they exited, she was completely unclothed and he was letting his driver stare at her nakedness. He…strapped her to shackles hanging from the ceiling and…and began…touching her. Touching her in places he had no right to even dream of, much less place his filthy hands!” Standing, he began to pace in front of the fireplace. “I couldn't go to her immediately; there were guards posted. And they were allowed to watch his disgusting violation of my angel. One of them even…he had the nerve to…” Turning abruptly, Erik grabbed the empty glass and threw it at the fireplace before collapsing onto his knees. “I had to get rid of them, Angelique. I had to! But my poor angel, my Christine…”
She slid from the chair to wrap her arms around him when he began to sob. He resisted her comforting embrace for a moment before hiding his masked face in her shoulder. Angelique murmured soothing words, rubbing his back like she would a child, until he finally got his emotions back under control. Embarrassed, Erik pulled away and sat with his back against the chair he’d recently vacated. Staring at the ceiling, his voice was emotionless as he continued.
“When I was finally able to get to get to him, the bastard was doing things…he’d disrobed entirely…” His eyes and voice grew hard though there was a hint of malicious satisfaction in the slight upward turn of his lips. “I replaced my angel in those shackles with his own filthy hide and encouraged the warehouse’s occupants to keep him company while I brought her here to you. He received no more than he deserved and I was most disappointed I couldn't spend more quality time with him.”
“You need to speak to her, Erik, when she awakens. I slipped her some laudanum to ensure she rested tonight and didn't try anything foolish.” Angelique returned to her chair; she was too old to crawl about on the floor.
“Foolish? What do you mean?” He immediately locked his amber gaze on her face in concern. “She’s not going to try to…harm herself, is she?”
“I truly don’t know,” She gave a deep sigh and averted her eyes to stare into the fireplace. “She asked me to lead her to the street as she felt she’d no longer be welcome here. She’d planned on disappearing. That’s why I drugged her drink; I couldn't be certain I could remain awake and didn't want her roaming the tunnels alone.”
Somewhat embarrassed, and angry at his embarrassment, Erik explained what Gachot was doing when he wrapped the lasso around his neck. Angelique nodded in understanding; that was why Christine was so upset. She blamed herself for her body’s natural reaction to sexual stimuli. Now it was her turn to throw her hair into disarray by dragging her fingers through it. How would she ever convince the girl that she wasn't perverted or sick?
Rousing from her drug-induced sleep, Christine’s head was pounding and she could have sworn something small and furry had died in her mouth, as it had such an awful taste. Her body felt heavy, like she’d just left the lake after a swim, and she struggled to sit up. A large but gentle hand wrapped around her shoulders to lend support as the pillows were lifted and placed behind her. She’d know that touch anywhere and kept her eyes on her hands, which had twisted together in her lap. Christine could only hope that he’d not make things more difficult than they needed to be, but feared he was there to do just that.
“Good morning, mon ange.” God, did his voice have to be as gentle and soft as his touch? “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, Monsieur,” her words were barely a whisper as anything more would have triggered the tears she was fighting to hold inside. “If you will return my clothing, I’ll be gone as soon as I've changed.”
The bed dipped as he sat beside her and claimed one of her shaking hands. “If you speak of those horrible rags I first met you in, they have finally been disposed of.” One of his hands released hers and reached out to softly caress her cheek but stopped short of actually touching her. He can’t bear to touch me now. Christine felt tears slip through her defenses and escape down her cheeks. “What is wrong, mon ange?”
“N…nothing, Monsieur.” The lie was obvious as she shook from the effort of stopping her tears. They continued to escape, however, and were multiplying in number
s and force. She nearly broke down when he tenderly
cupped her cheek and brushed her tears away with his thumb.
“Your tears tell me otherwise, my dear.” Erik’s whisper was as tender as his touch and she covered his hand with hers and held it close to her face.
“I have to go, Monsieur, surely you know that. I can’t stay; you can’t want me to stay. Not now. Not anymore. No one will….” Her voice caught and, before she knew what he was intending, Erik had pulled her close and wrapped her in his comforting arms. The final thread of control snapped and Christine clung to the lapels of his coat as she cried once more.
“Sshhh, mon ange. It’s over now. Erik will never let anyone hurt his Christine ever again.” She could barely feel the soft touch of his lips upon her hair and wondered if she was imagining it. “You are safe now.” He continued to stroke her hair gently as his soothing voice calmed her tears.
“Thank you, Monsieur.” Christine finally got her emotions locked down once more and attempted to move from his embrace but found herself held fast.
“You once called me Erik, mon ange.” Leaning back, his amber eyes gazed down at her with tenderness and none of the disgust she’d expected to see. “You are also suffering under a vastly erroneous assumption. You may stay here for as long as you wish; you are always, and forever will be, welcome in Erik’s home.” Leaning back, he smiled and wiped the tears from her cheeks before laying her back against the pillows. “Angelique shall be here momentarily with your breakfast, my dear. After you have eaten and dressed, I would be honored if you would join me in the den.” He rose at her nod and placed a light kiss, the barest brush of his lips, on her forehead before he left the room.
Within a few minutes, a soft rap on her door preceded Angelique Giry with a breakfast tray. Setting it across her legs, the older lady apologized to Christine about the laudanum and assured her that nothing on the tray held anything of a similar nature. While she ate, Madame Giry pulled out a gown and all the required underthings and laid them on the end of the bed. It was clear there was something she wished to say, but just as clear that she didn't quite know how to begin. Only after Christine set the tray aside did the ballet mistress broach the subject of what had happened at the warehouse and the girl’s response.
In the den, Erik paced fretfully. Angelique had explained Christine’s distress and, on an intellectual level, he fully understood. According to the many texts he’d studied, the female anatomy had several lesser and one major erogenous zones. Gachot had known this and used that knowledge to his advantage so that, even in death, he still held sway over the young woman. Like the abuse he’d forced upon the child two years ago, and the humiliation of the night before, it was all about power. What better hold could Gachot have over Christine than for her to project all her hate and loathing for her tormentor onto herself? In that way, his power would never dim.
Erik knew he wasn't a saint; in fact, he wasn't even a good man, really. The evidence for that lay in an abandoned warehouse at the mercy of the rats and other vermin. Therefore, he didn't understand why he was so unnerved to know that Christine had responded to Gachot’s touch for any reason. He knew it had been both unwilling and unwanted, a simple matter of anatomy. He also knew that he had far more blemishes on his soul, some of which he even enjoyed, than this one transgression. Why, then, did this bother him so much?
Clenching his hands into tight fists, Erik wished he’d left Gachot alive so he could take his confusion and frustration out on his filthy, perverted hide. He couldn't blame his angel; she was the victim in all this and was doing a fair job of blaming herself already. No, he had to put his anger, his disgust, and his hatred onto the one responsible and then he had to bury it with him. Erik knew that he had to be strong for his Christine; she was hurting in ways he’d never understand. He would do whatever it took to make her happy, even if that meant he must remove himself from her life forever.
Across town in an abandoned warehouse, the banging of a carriage against a bay door alerted a patrolling gendarme. Investigating the warehouse, the seasoned veteran found a nobleman’s carriage hitched to a matching pair of horses that were trying to back out of the building. The gendarme found the latch and pulled open the bay doors to lead the animals outside. Tying them to a lamp post, he returned to discover what had upset them so. The odor of death, faint at the bay doors, grew stronger as he advanced into the building. His footsteps echoed loudly as he approached what appeared to be the carcass of a dead animal swarming with flies and rats. Upon closer inspection, he was horrified to learn that the pile of chewed flesh and bone wasn't a stray dog or some other animal but the remains of a human being. He stumbled out the door into the cool morning air in an effort to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged. Catching another patrol, the gendarme sent them for help. It was going to be a long day.