They made an odd pair, Erik thought, looking down at the blonde man kneeling at his feet.
And it had taken a long journey to get here.
In the days following the scandal at the Opera, Erik dared not go out at all, but the need for food made it necessary eventually. Although he tended to stick a few favorite masks, he had fashioned many, one of which was made of supple leather and closely matched to the color of his skin, allowing him to be taken for an eccentric or perhaps a war veteran who had suffered some facial disfigurement. No one seemed to connect him with the Phantom, which was hardly surprising given that a quick glance at his features from a distance was all that the audience had been afforded. Most people assumed that the infamous Opera Ghost was dead or had fled the country and Erik was happy to let them think so. In addition, Paris prided itself on affecting a world-weariness which helped the former Phantom to pass without too much notice.
He had been content to stay underground for the most part, nursing his emotional wounds, until an undue interruption had occurred.
Really, the sheer nerve! Raoul had waded into the water again and they had shouted back and forth at each other. Erik was too angry to stop making death threats, let alone to allow Raoul to complete a sentence.
It had taken a week for the death threats to stop. (Raoul was patient and determined, and visited every other day when he could.)
It had taken two weeks before Raoul had made Erik understand that Christine had left Paris to return to Sweden.
It had taken three weeks and an unexplained absence on Raoul's part before Erik realized that he almost...missed...the boy when he wasn't around to pester him. (It wasn't because of any undue fondness on his part, Erik grumbled to himself – rather it was simple boredom when the boy wasn't around.)
And it was a month before Erik told Raoul his name and let him come out of the water, saying, "Don't drip on the carpet," before plopping down unceremoniously in an armchair. He didn't offer a seat to Raoul.
"So. What reason have you to keep intruding on me like this?" Erik asked, steepling long fingers.
"I want something from you."
"That's obvious. One thing I will say for you, you're tenacious. And have very little sense of self-preservation."
"That's two things."
"Shall we go back to death threats?" asked Erik tightly.
"Then what, Vicomte, are you doing here?"
"I want music lessons."
"I want you to teach me to sing."
"And what on earth makes you think I'll agree?"
What else have you got to do now? She's left both of us, Raoul was too intelligent to say. "I was just hoping..." was what he came out with.
And of course, it was another week before Erik agreed.
The lessons went better than either had expected. Raoul had a clear tenor voice, that, while not particularly strong, was still not at all unpleasant to listen to. And it was...rather nice...to have a pupil again, Erik admitted grudgingly. Even though he'd have much preferred the pupil to be his lost Christine...
...or perhaps he should say their lost Christine. Raoul had explained that, try as he might, he had had a great deal of difficulty in reconciling his family to the addition of an opera singer in their midst. And Christine, with her usual selflessness, had no desire to inflict her company on those who did not desire it. She was still singing, Raoul said, and from her letters seemed to be quite happy.
Erik was jealous of those letters.
Erik was jealous of the Chagnys in general and had roundly denounced them all for a pack of fools who didn't know a good thing when they saw it and had let a jewel slip through their fingers...until Raoul had fixed him with a meaningful look and Erik, remembering his own inability to hold on to said jewel, quieted down.
The change came slowly, almost imperceptibly, but at some point, Erik began to look forward to the lessons.
He'd never admit that to Raoul, of course.
And it was some time after that that the two unlikely companions began to venture out together when Erik needed to run errands, though he'd still rather have died than call Raoul friend.
Raoul did most of the talking, anyway.
The music lessons had continued, to both their satisfaction, but Raoul had occasionally begun to bring items of interest with him on his trips into the Opera cellars, as a sort of payment. The idea of monetary reimbursement had been brought up once and Erik had been so insulted that Raoul never mentioned it again. In truth, Erik had amassed a small fortune thanks to his old habit of blackmailing the managers.
It was the middle of December when Raoul showed up with his hands full of contraptions made of shining metal and leather, and plunked them down in front of Erik.
Erik quirked a brow so high that the mask couldn't hide it.
"And just what am I expected to do with these?"
"They are ice skates," said Raoul proudly.
"I can see that. But in case you hadn't noticed, the lake down here never freezes. One of the few benefits to living underground – it's nearly the same temperature all year round."
"We're not going to use them down here."
"Oh? And just what are we going to do with them?"
"The reservoir at La Villette has frozen over. We're going skating."
"You must surely be joking."
"I most assuredly am not. It's nearly dark; no one will notice us. It's perfect. You haven't been out in days."
"Please do not take my physical fitness upon yourself as a worry," said Erik acidly.
"It will be fun."
"Yes, fun. Come on. What reason have you for saying no?"
"I - " Erik stopped, and if Raoul hadn't known better, he'd have sworn he was blushing.
"I have never been ice skating," Erik mumbled.
Oh. Raoul hadn't realized – he'd been extremely thoughtless. With the life Erik had led, of course he wouldn't have had time for such a simple act. Raoul plucked up his courage.
"Then I shall teach you."
A series of emotions flashed across Erik's face – shame, embarrassment – could that be hope? - but not rage, for once. Finally he said, "I wouldn't know how to begin."
"It can be a form of payment," Raoul said. "For the music lessons. "You've given your time to me, now I can give something to you."
Erik muttered something else that Raoul didn't catch – he was not used to people being nice to him – but he went to get his coat all the same.
Dusk was falling when the two men emerged from the door on the Rue Scribe side of the opera house. Raoul's carriage was waiting. "Do you bring that ievery/i time?" Erik asked. "Why not ask me to put out a sign with my name on it?"
"He usually waits around the corner," Raoul explained.
"Hmph," Erik said. Raoul gave directions to the driver, and they were off.
When they reached the park, Erik was surprised to see a variety of people young and old, on the frozen surface of the reservoir. He was a bit at war with himself – his fear of appearing foolish by attempting a skill at which he was not practiced fought with his delight in learning new things. He knew he often quickly mastered new skills, and that desire won out over his trepidation.
He sat on a bench and let the Vicomte strap the skates to his boots, admiring the shining silver blades, and the elegance Raoul brought to an act so simple.
He was not above reveling a bit in the fact that he had Raoul de Chagny at his feet.
Raoul finished with Erik's skates and strapped on his own. "Watch me first," he advised.
"If you say so," said Erik, who did not like not being the one in control of the situation, yet still desired to learn.
Raoul circled the frozen surface with an effortless grace that Erik could not help admiring a little. His blonde hair streamed back from his face and his arms and legs moved together faultlessly as he glided over the ice. Finally he returned to the bench where Erik sat. "Now it's your turn. Stand up on your skates like so and walk through the snow, then...that's right...find your balance. Here, link your arm with mine."
Link my arm with yours? Erik took a look around and saw many couples skating in pairs – mostly male and female, but quite a few were two females. He shrugged and linked his arm with Raoul's.
"Now do as I do."
Raoul made short strokes at first, and Erik wobbled a bit, but soon got the feel of the rhythm. Presently they were gliding without too much trouble, though Erik hoped that Raoul wouldn't ask him to attempt the figure eights and other fancy maneuvers that some of the skaters in the center were exhibiting. The gliding movement, the feel of the gentle breeze against the part of his skin that was uncovered, and the feeling of Raoul's arm in his - where had that last thought come from? No matter. Erik was almost – almost – enjoying himself.
"What do you think?"
"Not bad," Erik admitted grudgingly. "Not too bad at all."
Raoul tried to keep the wide grin of pleasure off of his face, but only succeeded in looking like he was about to sneeze. Erik was almost in a good mood. Erik was allowing physical contact. He felt they'd made great strides tonight.
...how to tell Erik about the mistletoe in his pocket?
It was a holiday tradition, after all.