God give me courage to show you you are not alone…
Her lips on his, the strangest feeling, the most heavenly feeling. He could have died there and then, and wondered, briefly, if he had. It was overwhelming sweetness, confusing passion, feelings he didn't understand. Erik could control entire cities if he really wanted to. His sensual power was the only love he ever had in his life as he became a human spider, weaving his webs of lies and manipulation. And yet, in that moment, it was as though all of this disappeared into nothing. Christine Daaé kissed him and he felt his web untangling, his power destroyed as if she'd taken a hammer to his heart. He was a child stumbling in the dark, uncertainty possessing him like an impassioned spirit. She kissed him and he was alive, he was dead, he was everything in between. He hardly knew what to do, could only stand there in astonishment, stunned to his very core. Christine was kissing him. It was the greatest torture, the greatest pleasure. And when she released his face, staring at him expectantly, he could only stare back with wide, confused eyes. It was only when she kissed him again that he realised: Oh, Christine. I have to let you go, don't I? I have to release you.
He replayed the memory every day in his head. He could envision it in such detail, he could almost feel her lips on his again. Almost. Not quite.
It was the most delicious torture, thinking about it the way he did. Sometimes, it would be so overwhelming to recall that memory that he would sit in a stupor, frozen in place as though entranced by the mere memory of her. Sometimes, it would be too much, and he'd shut his mind off as fast as he could, desperate to escape her even as she broke through into the prison of his mind over and over and over again. Christine didn't just take down his walls. She crashed through them, her voice striking him right to the core. He was the master, the powerful figure of her dreams, and yet, she mastered him.
Today, he was in the middle of remembering her kiss for the fourth time when Meg Giry broke into his thoughts.
His eyes flashed open. He came back to his surroundings like a man waking from a dream, staring around him as though surprised to find himself in the parlour. The curtains were drawn (the light was too bright) and he was perched on the arm of one of the love-seats like a cat. Meg stood in the doorway, staring at him in that wary way of hers, as if she was expecting him to suddenly leap at her and strangle her to death.
In another world, her complete fear of him would have amused him, or even, depending on the day, angered him. Now, it was just tiring.
"Ah, Mademoiselle - I beg your pardon. Did you say something?" he asked.
She stared at him in amazement. "We…we just had an entire conversation," she said slowly. "Don't you remember?"
No, he didn't remember. He stared right back.
"Yes," she said. "But you thought I was Christine."
"I did? What did I say?"
Perhaps the intensity in his gaze frightened her, because she looked down at her hands instead. "You didn't say anything bad. It was…polite."
Erik wasn't a religious man, but in that moment, he silently thanked any god listening that he didn't say anything wildly inappropriate.
"My apologies," he said, suddenly unable to look at her from all the crushing shame. "I was just…thinking."
This was getting bad now. He needed to do something with his time, needed a project to work on so he wouldn't lose his mind. He'd just had a conversation he didn't even remember having. What was wrong with him?
You need to sleep, his conscience, which was starting to sound suspiciously similar to Madame Giry, said.
He shook himself. He wouldn't dwell on that now. He'd think on it later, when he had more time to meditate.
"Where is your mother?" Erik asked.
Meg rolled her eyes. "Who knows? She said she had an appointment to keep. Said I should keep an eye on…" She trailed off into silence, realising, perhaps, what she had just revealed.
It was no matter. Erik knew they were watching him, making sure he didn't sneak out of the house again. He was being treated like a child, but for once, it didn't really bother him. He didn't like to upset the people close to him. Friends were very rare and in between, and he truly regretted the argument he'd had with Madame Giry a few days before. They hadn't spoken about it. No apology had been said. But he didn't miss the way her eyes followed him, the way Meg, even, seemed to watch him.
Foolish, both of them, to think they could somehow keep a magician contained within four walls. He was trapped here only because he allowed it.
"Why are you here?" he asked Meg, who was now watching him closely, as if wondering whether he had slipped into a memory again.
Meg seemed slightly nervous to tell him. He was getting rather tired of it. He'd had a lifetime of people flinching away from him, a lifetime of people fearing him. He was sick of it now. Fear had its power, but he was beginning to realise that power was losing its charm. Power didn't bring him his heart's desire. His soul-song sang to no one.
Meg continued to look at him, but he sensed an awkward caution in the air, as though she didn't quite trust him enough. "I was waiting for the post. Just in case any letters come."
That got his attention. "Letters?" he repeated. "Whoever from?"
Meg Giry didn't have many friends nowadays. With Erik in the house, she couldn't exactly invite any of her friends to tea, and Meg spent most of her time acting as Erik's jailer. If Madame Giry wasn't here, it was Meg's job to make sure Erik stayed confined to the house. He comforted himself with the knowledge that all of this was temporary. When Paris calmed down and the police forgot him, he would leave. And then he'd find somewhere else to go and die, with only memories of Christine to feed his hungry soul.
It was obvious who Meg was waiting to hear from, but Erik wanted to hear it nonetheless.
She flushed as she said it, as though she was confiding a secret in him, a great shame. "From Christine, actually. She hasn't…well, she hasn't been replying to any of my letters."
He tilted his head, frowning. That wasn't like his Christine. He was well aware of just how close Meg and Christine were; in fact, at times, he felt fiercely jealous of their warm, simple relationship. Christine had started a new life of high social standing with her precious dandy, but she wouldn't just abandon Meg like that.
"None at all?" he asked.
Meg shook her head. An expression of concern passed over her face. He could feel her worries, feel the air grow thick with anxiety. He could barely breathe, his mind racing with possibilities. What if something terrible had happened? What if Christine was in trouble?
What if that idiot boy was somehow stopping her from writing? What if he was so eager to cut her off from her old life that he'd completely forbidden any contact with the world outside their precious estate?
No. Even if Raoul was stopping the letters, surely Christine wouldn't just do as she was told like a good little girl?
Well, why wouldn't she? the little voice at the back of his head seemed to sneer. She did what she was told when it was her Angel of Music telling her.
But it wasn't the same. Erik had the power of his voice. His music was his sensuality; his music was his source of control. It was easy to manipulate someone with it, especially if that someone was lonely and missing a fatherly figure in her life. What did Raoul have? A pretty face? Christine was not so shallow that she'd be easily manipulated by a pair of pretty eyes.
Something about this didn't feel right. Every instinct in his body urged him to go immediately to Christine.
"Do you think maybe she's in trouble?" Meg asked nervously.
He forced himself to play the father. "I'm sure she's fine. She's probably just busy with her new life. Do not fret so, child; she will write soon enough."
He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and she flushed a deep shade of red. It was unusual for her, he supposed, to talk about her worries and concerns, especially with an intimidating man like himself. But who else did she have to talk to about such trivial matters? Madame Giry was often busy, and if she wasn't busy, she was talking about more serious matters. Erik was here and he was listening. How strange that he should become little Meg Giry's confidant. An unlikely arrangement to be sure, but it was probably better for his rotting mind to actually talk to someone, and if he could help her, well, why not? Erik was not usually a giving man, but the Girys had helped him so much. For all that he complained and rolled his eyes and argued with Madame Giry, he truly appreciated their help, appreciated them as people.
Not that he would ever tell them this. Erik was a master of music and magic and even architecture, but a master of his own feelings? He could practically hear the daroga laughing at the prospect.
Meg dropped down on the other love-seat, slumping in a manner so unladylike, her mother would faint if she saw it. She looked so miserable, poor girl. "The last time she wrote, she was upset," she admitted. "She gave me her new address and asked me to visit."
She gave me her new address.
She gave me her new address.
She gave me her new address.
Technically, if he stole that letter and memorised the address, he would be doing it for a good reason. Technically, he would be doing it, not out of selfish need and desire, but out of concern. She was too quiet; even Meg was worried. Surely it wouldn't be wrong of him to steal something if it meant helping Christine? If it meant helping Meg? It was hospitality. It was gratefulness.
The ends justify the means.
No, they don't, his conscience said, annoying little fly that it was.
"She seemed sad," Meg added.
"She did?" he asked. His feelings were conflicted. On one hand, he desperately wanted her to be happy. She deserved it, angel that she was, and he had released her so that she could find some semblance of peace in the world of day, where she belonged. But on the other hand, he did get a sick, twisted pleasure out of it. So her perfect life isn't so perfect after all. Good.
"Well, Raoul expects so much of her," Meg said hesitantly.
It was as though she'd momentarily forgotten who she was speaking to. The very mention of his name made him grind his teeth. He should have killed him. No, he chastised himself. That is behind you.
Raoul expects so much of her. How dare he expect anything from her? He had been gifted by the gods, gifted with her love, and he dared expect things from it? From her? The very idea made him want to scream, or throw things, or travel to Rouen to wring the idiot's neck.
He turned Christine's ring round his finger, taking deep breaths to try and calm himself down. He needed to do something with his hands. He wished for the strings of a violin, or the keys of his piano.
"I don't know," Meg continued. "I just have a bad feeling. I worry for her, Monsieur; I worry very much."
She looked very strange. There was an unreadable expression in her eyes, an odd kind of glint he couldn't for the life of him identify.
"I understand," he said softly, and he did. Oh, how he did. "You and Christine are very close."
"Very," she agreed. She smiled, but it was a little sad. Wistful. There was a glassy look to her eyes now, the sort of look that came over people when they were lost in a memory. "We grew up together, after all. I was friends with her before anyone else. I knew she was talented right from the beginning - even before you!"
She paused, as if expecting him to reproach her for the insult. He didn't. he just looked at her, letting himself be lulled by her memories as if they were his own. If someone gave him a choice of air or Christine, Erik was fairly certain he would choose Christine. The mere mention of her made his heart flutter like a lovefool.
"I just hope she's all right," Meg said miserably. "This really isn't like her. She wouldn't just abandon me like this, would she? She wouldn't."
No, she wouldn't. Something wrong.
Of course, it could just be that the letters were going missing. These things happened, after all. Perhaps they were lost before they could be delivered.
But there was a horrible feeling in Erik's gut, the sort that told him something was very wrong indeed. The instinct to rush to Christine's side only seemed to grow. He couldn't get the image of her, afraid and alone, out of his head. His Christine was a survivor; he knew that. He'd seen her in terrible states, had seen her breaking and broken after the death of her father, had seen her terrified of him. But he still couldn't stop his mind from urging him: Go to Rouen. Go to her. Do you really think the Vicomte will protect her?
Later, when he was alone in his cellar, he said aloud: "Tell me, Christine, and please be honest. Are you in trouble?" And he could have sworn he heard her tearful answer: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
Perhaps it had finally happened. Perhaps he'd finally lost his mind.
Days passed by with no letters from Christine. Every day, Erik would emerge from his cellar and give Meg a questioning look. Every day, she would grimly, silently shake her head, and he would crawl back downstairs to think. Sometimes, he would pace. Other times, he would just sit and think. Most times, he had to keep his hands busy, and so he'd sit for hours at a time at his piano, playing and playing and playing in an attempt to fill up the smothering silence around him.
And God, how smothering it was! He couldn't stand it. He would sing soft songs to himself, punishing himself by singing one-sided duets and wishing, wishing, always wishing. He couldn't sleep. He was too busy thinking, worrying. He would read over the letter Meg had given him over and over again, searching for signs of trouble between the lines. But there was nothing obvious, and this letter had been sent a while ago now. So much could have happened since then. What terrible fate could have befallen her? And how could he save her, trapped here in Paris as he was?
Go to her. Go to her. Go to her.
It took all his willpower not to. He thought obsessively about her.
Just go and check. Go and see. She might be fine, but wouldn't it better to know? Wouldn't it be better to guide her as you have done before?
No. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to anyone. She had her precious Vicomte to protect her, to take care of her, and for all his faults, he did love Christine. No real harm would befall her with her boy looking after her.
If he told himself enough times, perhaps he'd believe that.
Then one day Meg half-ran down into the cellar, startling him so magnificently, he lost his rhythm and ended up slamming his hands onto the lowest notes. The room filled with dreadful, violent noise. He removed his hands quickly, wincing at the assault on his ears and turning on her with a disapproving scowl.
"Did I not instruct that I was not to be disturbed?" he demanded furiously. "If you are so desperate to come down here, at the very least, knock!"
But for once she didn't seem at all afraid of him. She just crossed her arms, rolling her eyes. "Are you ever in a good mood? You look terrible, by the way."
"I know," he said. "I was born like this."
She snorted, which was so unladylike he couldn't help shaking his head. He took a moment to observe the stack of letters she was holding in her hand.
All of his irritability disintegrated. He leapt up from his piano bench so suddenly, Meg flinched away from him.
His heart clenched in his chest. Christine. There were letters from her right in front of him, her words, her best wishes, her thoughts and feelings all carefully written, lovingly crafted. They were right there. It was a physical need, a desire to lean forwards and snatch the stack of letters right out of Meg's hands. It took all his willpower not to. He clenched his fists, forcing his eyes to stare down at the floor instead of those sinful papers.
He struggled to keep his voice even. "Are they…?"
"Yes," she said. "They all came today. The whole pile, all at once"
He tilted his head. "That," he said softly, "is a little too coincidental for my liking."
She nodded in agreement, her lips a thin line of discontent. She looked like her mother then, standing there with the letters, looking at him as if they were co-conspirators.
"Well?" he said expectantly. Open them. Open them, tell me what they say, tell me she's all right.
She shoved most of the letters under her arm, freeing her hands so that she could open the first in the pile. Through the paper, he could see her handwriting, could see her name at the bottom of the page. Christine de Chagny. The de Chagny was written a little shakier than the Christine. Perhaps…no.
It means nothing, he scolded himself. Stop it, Erik.
"Oh!" Meg cried, frowning.
"What is it?" Erik asked.
"She thinks I haven't been writing to her," she said, visibly confused. "But I've sent so many letters!"
Erik frowned. He didn't like this. He didn't like it at all. It could be a coincidence, of course; perhaps these letters had got lost, perhaps there was a problem with the postal system at large.
But there was something about it, something that made his skin itch. He didn't trust it. Something was wrong; he could just feel it, an ancient rattling of his bones. Something is wrong and something is about to happen.
The urge to rush to Christine's side grew.
"Do you think maybe the same thing is happening to her?" Meg asked.
Erik just looked at her grimly. It was certainly possible.
"Does she say anything about it?" he asked, gesturing to the letter.
She glanced back at the letter, then back up at him. She didn't pass it to him, and for that, he both loathed and admired her. Whatever was in that letter was private, for Meg's eyes alone.
"'Please reply as soon as you can'," Meg read from the page instead of handing the letter to him. "'You haven't written to me in so long now, and I'm starting to get worried. Have I upset you?'"
Meg looked up at him again. There was a silence. It was so deafening, it made Erik want to shout or scream or sing. He did nothing. He just stood there, still towering above Meg, his shoulders actually hurting from the tension in his body. He could collapse under it, all that pain rushing around him like hundreds of little knives, stabbing over and over again.
She needs you. She needs you. She needs you.
No, she doesn't! She's happy! She's happy without me! No one needs me. In fact, she needs anything but me!
Meg stared at Erik, and Erik stared at the floor, turning over every possibility in his mind. It was probably something minimal, something stupid. He felt ridiculous for overreacting the way he was. Letters went missing all the time. They got lost in delivery, got lost in the post offices dotted around France. It was absolutely ridiculous to think there could be any nefarious goings-on.
But that feeling in his gut continued to nag him.
And for once, it didn't just seem to be him.
"I don't like this," Meg said. "It would be fine if it was just her letters going missing. But both of us?"
"Yes," he said faintly, only half-listening.
"It probably doesn't mean anything, does it?" Meg asked hopefully. "It's probably just coincidence, right?"
"I don't know," he said quietly.
"What does all of this mean?"
He shook his head, his eyes far away.
Nothing. It meant nothing.
But it meant something. He could feel it. It was an instinct, the instinct to discover and uncover, the instinct to govern and protect. For the first time since he'd come here, for the first time since he'd lost everything, he had something. He had a puzzle to solve. And perhaps it really did have a simple solution - some issue with the post, something innocent that his twisted head was transforming into a monstrosity - but it didn't matter. He felt like he was slowly beginning to return to himself.
But which version of himself was he returning to? His monikers were cold and unfeeling but hot and heady, pulling at him, fighting within him.
He found himself sitting on the bench again, frowning to himself.
"Monsieur?" Meg asked uncertainly, and he realised he had been silent for far too long.
He glanced up at her, smoothing out his expression, trying to seem as neutral as he could.
"What do we do?" Meg asked.
"Reply to Christine as you normally would," he advised. "It may be that this means nothing."
"But…?" she prompted.
"But we should be on our guard," he said. "Be careful what you write."
She stared at him. Perhaps she found something displeasing in his face, because she shook her head, frowning. "You think the letters are being intercepted."
"I didn't say that," he said softly.
"But you think it's a possibility?"
He gestured vaguely. "Perhaps."
It would make sense. The letters had been read and analysed and now they were being returned to Meg in bulk.
Perhaps he was being paranoid. Perhaps this was a ridiculous notion. The letters were sealed, after all.
"Write to her normally," Erik said again, "and have it delivered as you normally would."
"And you?" she asked imprudently. "What will you do?"
He shrugged. "That," he said very quietly, "is my business."
That night, he wrote a letter of his own.
A/N: Thank you all so much for reading so far 3