The door loomed like a living thing before her and fear kept her away from it. Christine wasn't sure if it was fear of remaining sequestered in the room with nothing but her thoughts for company or fear of going to Erik not knowing what he was thinking or how he felt. Madame Giry had tried to explain that she’d done nothing wrong, but how could that be so? As scared and disgusted as she’d been to have Gachot’s evil hands on her body, once he’d placed his tongue…. She shuddered, once more feeling nauseous as she remembered her body’s reaction. Surely this was God’s punishment for her sins. Opening the door, she walked towards the den like a man condemned to the gallows.
In the doorway, she watched the fluid grace of her host as he paced before the fireplace. Even agitated, he was poetry in motion, and she felt her heart stutter oddly as she watched him. Erik Devereaux was a fine man who deserved far more than a home in the cellars of the opera house. He also deserved someone much better than her; a fact that caused her increasing amounts of pain to consider. Christine was unable to stop the small sigh that passed her lips as she pictured her phantom with a lovely diva on his arm, but it was enough to alert him to her presence.
“Please, mon ange, do not lurk about in the doorway.” The barest of smiles curled the edge of his lips as he motioned her towards a seat by the fire. “Would you care for a drink, perhaps?”
Christine shook her head as she sat on the very edge of the chair, nervous in his presence for the first time since their initial meeting. Would he send her away? Is that why he wished to speak to her? But no, he said she was always welcome but that could have been mere politeness. Erik was, after all, the very epitome of a gentleman. Considering what had happened, what he’d seen at the warehouse, perhaps he wished to ask her to remain in a quite different capacity. It must get exceedingly lonely in the cellars. The question was… would she? With the effortless grace of his every movement, his passion for his music, and his gentleness and kindness to her, Erik would no doubt be a considerate lover. Oh yes, she very much believed she would take him up on his offer if only to be able to remain by his side for a while longer.
“Christine?” Startled at the feel of his hand gently brushing against her cheek, she realized he’d been calling her name.
“Yes, Monsieur?” The blush on her cheeks rivaled the brilliance of the fire that burned in the hearth at where her thoughts had traveled.
“Might I ask what thoughts hold your attention so completely?” Christine’s eyes widened and she shook her head almost desperately. He looked as if he wanted to argue but, instead, sat back in the chair he’d taken across from her and picked up his drink. “As you wish, my dear. Angelique and I were wondering if you had any plans now that Gachot is no longer a threat. First, however, let me reiterate that I meant it when I said you’d always be welcome in my home, so do not think I wish for you to leave. If you wish to train and take the stage, I will be more than honored to aid you in that endeavor. If you would like to return to Sweden, I will ensure you have the funding and a proper escort. If you would like to live quietly outside of Paris, that can be arranged as well. You do not have to make your decision now, mon ange, so please don’t feel that you must. These offers shall remain open indefinitely.”
“Why, Monsieur? Why would you go to so much trouble for a common wh…” The dangerous flash in his eyes sent a shiver down her spine and she abruptly changed the directions of her thoughts. “um…for me?”
“Do not ever refer to yourself in such an insulting, degrading manner again!” The anger that bled through his usually cultured and melodic tones struck her like sharpened knives and she winced under their force. Leaning forward with his fisted hands on his knees and the flames from the hearth reflected in his golden eyes, he was a panther ready to pounce on his prey. The aura of danger surrounding him was truly frightening, and she sank further back into her chair. “I would kill anyone else who so much as insinuated what you just have, but neither will I stand it from you. You have done nothing wrong, my angel. Nothing! Not two years ago, not last night.” Erik leaned forward and cupped her cheek to hold her so she couldn't look away. “Do not take on shame you do not deserve, my love, for the natural physical reactions of your body. Is it wrong to appreciate a delicious meal? Does it upset you when the cold makes you shiver and affects your body in other ways? When the time comes that you fall in love, my Christine, you’ll understand that…desire and lovemaking are far more than mere chemical and physical reactions.”
Captured by the gentle pressure of his hand on her cheek and the tenderness in his eyes, Christine thought she was beginning to understand. No other’s touch had ever made her feel like this; every place his skin met hers tingled with a warmth and awareness that spread throughout her body. Erik was a dangerous man, of that she had no doubt, but even when he frightened her with his temper she still felt safer with him than with anyone else. Only her papa had ever made her feel that way. Erik had never lied to her, never tried to touch her inappropriately, and his one kiss had upset him far more than it had her. Madame Giry had said much the same thing concerning her reaction to Gachot. She even went so far as to cite it as the cause for so many of her ballerinas getting into trouble with men, for they mistook a natural physical reaction for love. Had it been normal? She couldn't be certain but what she did know was that she didn't want to leave the house on the lake, nor its alluring owner, until she found out if she was as damned as she feared. Covering his hand with hers, she gave in to temptation and turned her face slightly to place a soft kiss into his palm.
“I want to understand, Erik; I want to believe. And…and I do not want to leave you.” Afraid to look at him, Christine couldn't help but feel the shudder that went through Erik’s body. Devastated that she’d repulsed him with so simple a touch, she quickly removed his hand from her face and stood to leave. Murmuring a broken apology, she quickly headed for the sanctity of the bedroom as tears spilled from eyes already raw from crying. She never even made it out of the den before Erik’s gentle, but unyielding, hands grasped her shoulders to stop her flight.
The softness of Christine’s lips against the sensitive skin of his palm sent a shudder of pure delight throughout his body. He was about to promise her that she never need leave him again should she so desire it when suddenly she was apologizing and on her way out of the room. Confused, Erik quickly followed and stopped her before she could leave the room. He could see the candlelight reflecting off the tears on her cheeks and wondered just what had happened to upset her.
“Christine? What’s wrong, mon ange; what did Erik do to upset you so?” Gently turning her around to face him, he pulled her into a loose embrace and stroked her hair. Had his touch reminded her of her abuse at the hands of the Comte? But if so, then why did she apologize to him?
“You did nothing, Monsieur. It is I who was foolish.” Slipping from his arms and drying her eyes with the handkerchief Erik had pressed into her hand, Christine took a steadying breath, fixed a pleasant smile on her face, and dared to look into his stormy golden eyes. “I misjudged things and acted without thought. Now that I know how…how distasteful you find my touch, I promise you that it will never happen again.”
Erik could do nothing but stare. Distasteful? She thought he found her distasteful? Pulling her back into his arms, he nearly groaned from the press of her body to his. “Christine…oh my love, you have it all wrong.” Erik buried his face in the mass of curls at her neck and fought the urge to throw her onto the sofa and show her just how much he did enjoy her touch. “So very wrong. I do not find your touch to be distasteful; the problem is that I yearn for it with every fiber of my being. It’s an ache inside me that never ends, never lessens. The feel of your lips granting me the first willing kiss of my wretched life very nearly unmanned me, my dear, and I was desperately trying to remain a gentleman.”
“Truly?” Christine’s voice shook as she clutched at him, afraid to believe.
Pulling back slightly so she could see the hunger in his eyes, Erik replaced his hand on her cheek and caressed her tempting pink lips. Slowly, so slowly she had no doubts as to his intentions, he lowered his head to hers. If she made a single move or sound of distress, he’d release her immediately, but the desire to show her just how badly he did want her touch was overwhelming. Just before their lips met, Erik hesitated, wanting to give her every opportunity to move if she wished to. His heart soared when she closed the gap and pressed her lips to his. With effort, he kept the kiss gentle, though his body cried out for passion. When he raised his head, Christine’s arms were tight around his neck, her eyes were closed, and she had a dreamy smile on her lips.
“You see, my love,” Erik’s golden voice flowed over her like warm honey, “I find your touch to be anything but distasteful.” Not wishing to push her after her ordeal, he caressed her cheek before stepping back. Gently removing her hands from around his neck, he planted a kiss on each before laying one upon his arm. “Would you like to sing, mon ange, or shall I play for you?”
“Will you play for me, Maestro?” Still feeling giddy, Christine was grateful for his arm as he escorted her to the music room.
Days turned to weeks and seasons came and went, but they all passed relatively unnoticed by the couple in the house on the lake. The gendarmes eventually identified the man in the warehouse but never got any leads on the killer. For a while, Paris was gripped in the unreasonable fear of a vicious murderer such as only the media and gossip can promote. As the days passed with no other deaths, however, a new scandal soon captured their attention and the Comte was forgotten. The Persian’s contacts had found the location of Christine’s father’s grave and both Erik and Madame Giry accompanied her to pay her respects. Slowly, Christine began to heal from Gachot’s torment and agreed to take the stage to fulfill her father’s dreams. La Carlotta was conveniently ill that night, and Christine triumphed. That night also brought her to the attention of an old acquaintance; someone she had long forgotten.
“Christine Daaé, where is your scarf?” A huge bouquet of roses was followed by a dashing young nobleman into her dressing room.
“I beg your pardon, Monsieur?” Christine frowned as the young man entered without knocking or waiting for permission. Who does he think he is? I’m in my dressing gown, for pity’s sake!
“Surely you remember,” the gentleman placed the bouquet on her vanity and smiled his most charming smile, “I was only fourteen and soaked to the skin…”
“…because you’d gone into the sea to fetch my scarf.” Christine finished for him with no little amount of irritation. “Vicomte de Chagny, to what do I owe this pleasure?” The last word was stressed as if his intrusion was anything but.
“Come now, Christine, don’t be so formal! I’ll give you five minutes to change and then I’ll take you out to dinner.” He turned to leave.
“No.” A single word spoken in the calmest of tones stopped the nobleman at the door. Surprised, he turned back to the young singer certain he’d heard her incorrectly.
“I’m sorry, did you need more time?”
“I fear you have been misinformed, Monsieur le Vicomte, if you believe me to be like some of the other singers here…”
“Of that I’m well aware, Christine, for you have the voice of an angel!” His blithe interruption only served to irritate her further.
“What I meant, Monsieur, is that I’m tired and wish to rest; therefore…”
“Oh, I won’t keep you out late. Never fear!”
“If you would shut up, you pompous fool; I’m trying to tell you I’m not going to dinner with you. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph but you’d try the patience of a saint!” The fact that he was just standing in her doorway gaping at her like a fish fueled her anger. “Did it never occur to you, Monsieur le Vicomte, that this is a lady’s dressing room and you should have knocked before entering? Perhaps you are used to barging in on females in the midst of dressing but I am not used to entertaining gentlemen in my dressing gown. I am not going to dinner with you. I am not going to ‘entertain’ you for the benefit of your patronage. What I am going to do is finish preparing for bed. A bed I will sleep in alone. Good night, Monsieur.”
During her speech, Christine had managed to push the nobleman the rest of the way out of the door. Though the look of utter shock on his face was more than amusing, she was in no mood to be amused. She was tired. She was hungry. She wanted nothing more than to be with Erik and not some smug, overconfident nobleman. With her last words, she slammed the door in his face and threw the lock. Leaning against it, she watched the mirror slide open with a smile. Taking her Phantom’s hand, Christine returned to her home beyond the lake.