[A/N: *taps microphone* ...Is this on? No? Well, here I go, anyway.
Who updates a fic after a silence of 3 ½ years? Apparently, I do. I never meant to abandon this, but life had other plans. I'm not at all certain of my ability to recapture the narrative, though the entire story has been outlined from the beginning and I've thought of it often, but I'd like to try. This is not about me, though: it's about Erik and Christine. I started taking them on a journey and I'd like to do my best to complete it. Anyone who wants to come along is more than welcome.]
"The sunrise wakes the lark to sing,
The moonrise wakes the nightingale.
Come darkness, moonrise, everything
That is so silent, sweet, and pale:
Come, so ye wake the nightingale."
- Christina Rossetti
Erik continued his narrative where he'd left off, Christine's hand still clasped in his.
"Traveling to Algeria under my peculiar circumstances was less than an ideal situation. A hunted man, thinking to rescue a political prisoner? Madness, had I not planned very carefully.
"My journey was complicated by the fact that, at the time I had made the promise to rescue Nadira's father, I cared not whether I lived or died. I never expected you to return to me. I never expected-" he swallowed, momentarily overcome. Christine squeezed his hand, silently willing him onward, and he resumed.
"But when the time came to fulfill it – I wanted very much to live." Erik turned to look at her, green eyes full of an emotion he struggled to give voice to. He still feared not to tread lightly around the subject of her newly-recovered memories, as if afraid that one false step would cause them to vanish again.
Christine blushed and looked down at their joined hands, covering his with her free one, struggling also to put emotions deeply felt into words. Her heart felt as if it were awakening after a long slumber – everything was so new, yet so familiar. Who would have guessed that regaining one's own memories could prove so disorienting?
"Erik, you don't – you didn't - " she hesitated, collecting her thoughts, and began again. "You don't need to prove yourself worthy...of me, of anything, or of anyone."
He put one finger under her chin and gently turned her face towards his, not speaking until she faced him. She shivered at the gesture, recalling the past with a mixture of pleasure and pain. His hand was ungloved this time, and she was exquisitely aware of every place where his skin touched her own.
"I will never," he said, simply and seriously, "Be worthy of you. No matter where I go, no matter how long I live. But I can, and do, dare to love you. And I can wish to be a better man for your sake."
His voice wavered; she could hear him mastering himself. She tightened her grip on his hand, tears threatening to well up in her eyes with the same excess of emotion he was feeling, with an admixture of relief. Inexpressible relief that he loved her still. "Go on," she said softly.
He dropped his hand and his gaze, resuming. "I traveled mainly by night. I considered it a fortunate thing that I had spent years designing costumes and playing at disguising myself; that turned out to be useful. This," he gestured to the mask , "Was, of course, the most difficult part of any disguise. At times I masked my entire face; at other times I hid myself in the shadows of a traveling cloak with a very deep cowl. My appearance caused remarks and speculation, but as long as they were not the same remarks and speculation wherever I went, I felt myself to be safe."
He hated talking about it, Christine could tell. His face half-twisted into a grimace of self-disgust when he talked about the lengths he had to go to pass freely among other men, aboveground – the freedom that so many took for granted, as their birthright.
"Once or twice," he continued, "I was a peasant with long, lank hair covering my entire face. My fellow travelers figured me for an escaped convict at that point, I overheard. There were even times," and here he looked away, as if he could not bear to face her, "When I made up the other half of my face to match – this one – and pretended to be begging alms."
A muscle worked in his jaw. He sounded ashamed, and she could not imagine what it had taken for him to go out in public thus disfigured, taking into account the abuses he'd suffered in the past from his own blighted features.
"You were very brave," she said, gently.
He turned slowly, studying her, then quirked an almost-shy grin. "Do you know, Christine, that you continually amaze me?"
They were being quite formal in their speech, afraid of rushing swiftly towards one another as they longed to do, in the grip of feelings too powerful to be given rein to. There was the fear that to do so would shatter the fragile wonder that had just re-formed between them as if it were made of thin crystal.
You hold all my dreams in your eyes...and in your hands, Christine thought. She felt she could trust him, trust this, but her happiness was too sacred and too newly-regained to allow her to open herself to him completely just yet.
Therefore they danced with words – speaking politely, treating each other gently, both treasuring the joy blooming in their breasts until the time came when they could share it – but their eyes spoke the language of their hearts.
And Erik continued. "Compared to the difficulties of getting there, the task itself was relatively easily accomplished." Christine raised her eyebrows, and he smiled. "I didn't expect that either. Fortune smiled upon me.
"I had been prepared for any eventuality I could think of – to disguise myself as a zouave or a colon, to obtain building plans and look for weaknesses in walls – but as it happened, there was a local insurrection a few nights after I arrived. I took advantage of the chaos to bribe a guard, pick a lock, and flee with Nadira's father. It sounds cowardly, but I incurred no – no damage to persons or property," he hastened to finish, choosing his words with care. He wanted to assure her that he had indeed changed, but he feared to bring up past events that gave her every reason to think ill of him.
"We escaped easily amidst the uproar. The first leg of the journey was by ship, the second..." he paused and grinned, looking upwards.
Christine was perplexed. She followed his gaze and saw nothing but the ceiling and a bell at the top of the wall. There were similar bells in every room; she'd considered them another one of his fancies or collections. "But what – how -"
Erik's grin became broader. "I shall show you how the second half of our journey was effected, myself. I think you'd enjoy it. But later, not now."
Christine opened her mouth to question again – this was one of Erik's many mysteries, but he was piquing her curiosity on purpose. He held up a hand, however.
"Forgive me for continuing, but you may ask me anything you wish once I finish the last bit. I assure you! Word of honor!
"Once we were back on French soil, Nadira and her father were quickly reunited. I booked passage for them to Spain, where it is to be hoped that they will be untroubled in future by importunate young aristocrats, political uprisings...and mysterious masked purchasers of roses."
He finished with a flourish, and sat back against the blue velvet of the divan, looking at her expectantly.
Christine's head was whirling. How did you find me? How did we get here? How long was I ill? She hardly knew where to begin asking questions, so she provided an answer of her own.
"Erik, I – I didn't intend to go with Raoul," she faltered, wondering what he must think of her, but he put her mind at ease immediately.
"I know," he said. "The Girys told me." Christine closed her eyes in relief. "When I first found out where you were, I was...dismayed."
Christine bit her lip. She knew too well the forms his displeasure – and temper – were liable to take.
"They soon set me straight," Erik said. "No questions for me? I fear I've overwhelmed you with my tale – I should not have told you all at once like this." He sat up again, concern for her displacing all other emotions.
But she smiled, relieving him in turn. "I have many questions! I'm only considering which to ask first."
He cleared his throat. "In that case, may I ask one of you?" And when she nodded assent, he began, "Do you – that is – can you - " Do you love me still? died on his lips, unasked, as the bell near the ceiling began to ring. Erik frowned. "That's very odd. And possibly not very good."
"What is it?" Christine felt more confused than ever. "What does it mean?" The only thing she was certain of was that here – by this man's side – was the place she most wanted to be in all the world.
"Someone's in my old cavern below the Opera."