Ch 1 – Nightbirds

"My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense…"

John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale


It always seems to be dark here, she thought.

Angel – Erik – my love – I know you can't hear me, but I'm sorry. I tried. A tear slipped down the girl's pale cheek.

The doctor shut the door quietly behind him.

"How is she?" Raoul asked anxiously. "Is there any change?"

A sorrowful shake of the head was the answer.

"Thank you…" Raoul's shoulders slumped.

The doctor patted him gently on the back. "I can see myself out."

Raoul nodded, then gently turned the knob of the bedroom door.

"Christine?" he called gently.

As always, he received no response. The room was dark. The heavy drapes shut out every ray of sunlight ,even in the daytime. No candle shone in the gloom. Christine had been unable to bear the smallest bit of light at first.

She lay, her luxuriant dark hair spread out on the white pillow, eyes closed, hands resting lightly on the bedclothes.

So beautiful, thought Raoul. Come back to me, Christine. Please come back to me.

He walked over to her, his steps muffled by the thick carpet, and sat in the chair beside the bed. He gently brushed back a lock of her hair and touched his fingers to the back of one of her hands. As always, she was completely unresponsive. She might have been carved from marble, so pale and still did she appear. Raoul touched one of her cheeks, softly. Was that a tear?

Where are you? Christine thought. I'm so lost. Come find me, Erik, please come find me…

He was glad to be back. He'd thought of nothing but her during the entire time he'd been away. God, he wished he hadn't had to make the trip. What if she had changed her mind? What if she no longer cared?

As soon as he had reached the city limits, the cloaked man had removed a jeweled ring from the chain around his neck, where it had resided ever since he had left Paris. He wrapped it in a small piece of white paper, summoned a messenger, and gave him the address that he himself had been given.

With that taken care of, the man in the cloak easily slipped through the shadows until he reached his hidden destination. He was adept at moving quickly and silently, without being seen.

Once inside and secure, Erik threw back his hood, revealing his mask. He lit a fire and stretched out in an armchair. He'd been unable to shake the habit of living underground. But if she wanted him – if there was still the slightest chance – he'd live anywhere. He'd live on the surface of the sun itself, if she asked it.

The business in Algiers had taken longer than he had expected, yet she had still occupied his thoughts both day and night. He'd never have left had it not been a matter of life and death – and something he was peculiarly suited to do – and had he not given his word. He had wanted to prove something to himself, to atone somehow for the past, but all he had felt was empty without her. At least the job was now done.

Dealing with people again had been a part of the business he'd much rather have done without. People were still the same: even when you were saving their lives, they shrank from you and shunned you, calling you a freak.

With the single exception of her. She was always the exception: the light in his darkness, the single bastion of hope between himself and the black abyss of madness that had once threatened him.

And, God. He ached with missing her. Especially now that he knew what it felt like to run his hands over every inch of her smooth, creamy skin…he still could not believe he had been fortunate enough to be granted such a boon.

He stood up to clear his thoughts.

Knowing in advance that he had had to go, he never should have – they never should have – but they had been like a force of nature. He wasn't sure either of them could have stopped.

Please, he thought. Let her reply soon. Please, let her want to see me. Please don't let everything have been a dream…

Erik paced his living space restlessly, too impatient to wait for a reply. Finally, although the hour was late and he was tired from the journey, he threw his traveling cloak back on. He could not stand being in the same city where she was without knowing where she was or whether she wanted to see him.

He made his way to the Girys', through the maze of narrow streets. They must be in touch with her. If anyone would know where she was, they would. Perhaps she had mentioned him…

He had expected to be besieged with questions, but Meg received him quietly and solemnly, showing surprise neither about the lateness of the hour nor about his sudden reappearance.

Meg's expression was one of concern. She greeted him courteously and then handed him a small card.

"This came for you about a month ago," she said.

Erik turned the card over. It was in Christine's handwriting.

Raoul thinks I am mad.

Please come.