Sounds entered her perception first; the purr of an engine growing louder, the crackle of tires on wet pavement.
Christine lolled awake slowly, pulled out of syrupy unconsciousness, gradually aware as centripetal force threw her body out on a swift turn left, the seat belt catching her before she hit the door, passenger side, and dropping her back into the dark leather seat. Her head rolled to the side, so much easier than staying upright…. and when her eyes made their way up, she saw streetlights tracing above her in the moonroof, glimmering as they slid by.
The engine revved higher, and dropped, then higher still, and dropped again, growing, roaring, the car seeming to leap forward, and she saw a gloved hand on the gearshift, pulling it swiftly down. Erik's hand... Erik... and she looked up, over, and he was there, mask on, hat on, eyes on the road, serious.
The car, the same opulent black A8 he always drove? ...it dropped into a higher gear again, and surely they were going very, very fast now... she recalled something he'd said once about 12 cylinders and embarassing gas mileage... and bulletproof tinted windows. And now, focused a bit more, she wondered about where they were driving so quickly, and if they were being followed... Raoul, Agent Kahn, the FBI? The opera house seemed years behind her.
The car veered right, sharply, Erik spinning the wheel and pulling up on the parking brake, then dropping it, straightening the car, and accelerating with such speed that they flew forward. It pressed her into the seat, backwards, into the embrace of the leather cushions, her head pushed back, and she slipped into the ease of the darkness again.
Echoes and voices filtered through; Erik demanding a wheelchair for her and muttering something about a chronic low blood pressure condition. Had he taken her to a hospital? The idea of opening her eyes to find out seemed impossibly difficult; the comfort of oblivion, of relief, was so welcome after weeks of FBI interrogations and tears and feeling her soul itself torn in two.
Then there was nothing, for a while.
The dull roar filled her ears.
It was all around her head, like a fierce noise heard from far away... or like a blow dryer in the next room. Something was hissing, closer, air blowing.
The hangover-like headache was mostly gone, but her mind felt strangely empty. She couldn't remember - couldn't get her eyes open for more than half a second at a time, then they'd fall shut again. Everywhere she'd been, she couldn't remember how she'd gotten there or where she'd been before, each place bluring into the next as she tried to sequence them.
Before now was a blur. But what about now?
She was lying down. She was bound - no, it was a seat belt. She felt the buckle, under her folded hands. Her fingers crept out, feeling a soft blanket over her. Erik had kept a cashmere throw in the car for her, said he couldn't chance the air conditioning harming her throat. Sometimes Christine wondered if he kept it there because he enjoyed cosseting her in it, wrapping the blanket around her as a substitute for his arms... but she recognized, it was the same blanket, she knew the familiar softness beneath her fingers, and she clenched it in her fists, as if to anchor herself in the awake and the here.
She opened her eyes - focusing was easier now, though the ceiling was further away than she expected. It took her a minute to make out the words illuminated there.
"Fasten Seat Belts. No Smoking."
And she panicked, her fingers grappling for the buckle on the seat belt, trying to get up, her feet kicking the blanket off her, hands finally finding the release mechanism on the safety belt. She sat up and pressed her face to the airplane window to her right, but saw nothing but a midnight sky, stars, clouds below her. She fell, stunned, back into her seat, desperately trying to remember. Looking around, she appeared to be in a small room, perhaps three times the size of her fully reclined seat, almost like a private car on a train. There was a low wall to her left, separating her from the other half of the room, and it, like everything around her, was polished wood, sleek, like the interior of a luxury vehicle, and not at all like the airplanes she'd ever been in.
Christine fought a trapped, frantic desire to pound on the walls and find her way out.
Taking a deep breath, she swung her legs to the side, looking down and noticing for the first time that she still wore the coat, and her costume from Don Juan beneath it... and soft blue slippers upon her feet. The black boots she'd been wearing earlier were set neatly on the floor, and she felt strangely uncomfortable, tended to, helpless.
She stood, and eyed the wall to her left. It seemed to split in the middle, surely this was the way out... she looked back over her shoulder, down at the armrest of her chair. Among a myriad of other buttons, she located one with two arrows pointing in opposite directions, and pressed it. The two halves of the wall began to slide back and recede into the wall, and she turned to leave - and found herself staring at Erik's shirtfront.
Christine fell back, leaning against her chair, for support and he stepped forward, his hands hovering near her face, as though he were about to embrace her - or cover her mouth. He said in an urgent whisper. "Please... please don't scream."
Her eyes widened as she realized he wasn't wearing his white sculpted half mask... but rather some sort of thin, flesh-toned rubber, pressed to his skin as though it were pasted there, rather like a large, contoured band-aid.
She was furious, and powerless, and utterly confused, and she choked back tears and the desire to pound her fists into his chest and finally clenched both hands with her arms by her side and assaulted him with words. "What is going on?" she hissed. "Where are we going? How did I get here?" Christine hissed, low and accusing, and more angry than she'd ever been.
"Forgive me..." were Erik's first words, sorrowful, his eyes meeting hers, showing genuine regret.
"No." She said, flatly, raising her voice.
"Please, Christine," he said delicately, "I know you are angry, and have right to be... but, I implore you: please keep your voice low. There is limited privacy here," and he gestured at the room, containing her seat, his, and, she noticed, a door beyond it. "But the walls aren't soundproof."
"Then bringing a captive seems like poor planning," she threw back at him.
"I was hoping to bring you as -" and Erik paused, just a second, and she couldn't tell whether it was sadness or embarrassment flashing across his face. "As a companion," he finished. "This is a first class suite on a commercial airliner, not a prison cell. I know - I know you didn't choose to come here, but I had rather hoped you would like it. Every step of this was planned with your comfort in mind. There is nothing I wouldn't do for you."
"You wouldn't let me make up my own mind! You didn't do that for me!" she whispered angrily.
"You were faced with a decision and apparently chose instead to abdicate consciousness." His tone hardened, controlled anger lingering in his voice. "Should I have left you on the ground in a dead faint for the mob of federal agents to find? Do you think they would have been happy that you let me get away? You set this in motion, Christine, when you started working with the FBI."
She winced, and he went on.
"You continually failed to give me an answer, and yet you continued to visit me, to call for me, to say you only lived during our lessons."
"If you're about to tell me I gave you mixed signals," Christine glared at him, her voice low and sharp, "let me tell you right now there is no signal on Earth so ambiguous that kidnapping is the appropriate response. Your concept of boundaries is so broken, I don't even know -"
"It's not as though I know either," his voice rumbled at the depths of its register, angry and controlled. "You used to tell me you were happy with your fate in the hands of your angel - and then you fell into some ridiculous 'play' engagement when that boy suggested it, and then he started making your decisions for you. Can you blame me for appropriating his methods? They seemed to work." He looked at her with wounded eyes. "I would have loved to ask you to run away with me in some boring, civilized way. Like a normal man."
"Normal men don't drag unconscious women onto airplanes," she threw at him, her fury fading and frustration growing. "Do you realize how creepy that sounds? What a violation that was?"
He stepped backward, away from her, his face fallen into a look of horrified shock, the thin, flesh-toned mask drooping. When his voice came, it was thick and low, as though he was struggling to speak over a lump in his throat. "I would never... You cannot possibly think..."
Strange how quickly sympathy could replace her very rightful anger. She pulled at the collar of the coat, wrapping it tighter around her, instincts uncertain. "Even if I trust you, how am I to know? You took me here against my will. I've been unconscious for hours. I don't know anything!"
"You know me..." he said hoarsely. "As much as a girl can know a madman, I suppose... But I had thought, after all this time, you would trust me. That you would have some faith in - in the way I feel about you. I know - I know my face frightens you, I know it's monstrous. How could you think I would - I would - force myself upon you, when I know it repulses you just to take my hand?" His voice was hollow, and grief-stricken at once. "How could you think that?"
His whole posture seemed to draw inward, his words revealing his confidence shattered, and Christine fought a deep, visceral desire to cradle his head in her arms. As if a bit of comfort could cure him, could take back her words and his actions. And she couldn't answer his question.
"It doesn't repulse me to take your hand." Christine finally said, tired and sad.
He looked at her hesitantly, shoulders raised as though in the midst of a silent roar.
"But," she went on, "There's more than one kind of violation and this is definitely one. You forced me to be here. You cared about what you wanted and nothing else."
Erik's shoulders sagged, and his eyes didn't raise to meet hers. "It occurrecd to me, at the time, that you might never forgive me."
"Stop..." she said wearily. But the tirade of self-loathing that she expected didn't come; he straightened his shoulders, rose up slightly on one leg, and looked up at her.
"I'm sorry you didn't walk on board this plane willingly," he said flatly. "But I had little time and fewer options, and I cannot lose you. Not unless you tell me, honestly, that you don't want me - that you could never care for me. Until you tell me that you really love that boy, and that you're not just going along with his plan. I won't let you be taken as some entitled twit's wife just because you couldn't make a decision about whether or not you wanted to be mine."
His body language belied his hard words; he was lecturing her, but he was still before her on one knee, eyes pleading, and Christine knew he was asking her, again, laying his heart before her. She could say 'yes,' right here, and he would know happiness.
She didn't even know where "here" was.
"Where are we?"
"Midway over the Atlantic Ocean. We're on Emirates flight 202, JFK to Dubai."
He paused, as her jaw dropped, before venturing, "I was rather glad that the timing worked out the way that it did - this was the most comfortable of our options. Emirates operates arguably the finest, and certainly the most private commercial first class cabin in the world. I suppose all those oil barons are even more reclusive than I."
The pride in his words was unmistakable - he spoke with the same tone she'd heard a hundred times before, every time he gave her a gift and explained why it was superior to others of its kind. Books, but only a first edition. Jewelry, but only diamonds from mines not staffed by slaves. He could not think himself handsome, so he surrounded himself with handsome things to have pride in. And he wanted to give them all to her. She felt like some unworthy god receiving sacrifices on an alter.
She blinked and returned to the present. Simple questions; good for the sanity, fantastic for avoidance. "What will we do in Dubai?"
"Get on an airplane," he replied plainly. "We'll need to keep moving for the first 36 to 48 hours, depending on how good their attempts to follow us are. A good 6 or 7 hops should be sufficiently hard to track, especially since they were all purchased under different names and credit cards. I've brought a lovely assortment of passports and wigs."
He paused, waiting for her to laugh, and then went on quickly when she didn't. "At some point we stop the rapid flight, and slow our pace. A week here, ten days there, city to city. When they're sufficiently thrown off trail, and when the story is old enough that we're not immediately recognizable from the front page stories, I'll find someplace for us to settle longer term."
She stared at him. "What if I don't want to? To go along without any say about anything? What if I actually wanted to be back in New York with Raoul?"
He eyed her for a minute, seeming to appraise her words, and whether or not they were hypothetical. "If you wanted to, you would say so. Do so. And judging by your actions, I'd say that you seem to want someone else to control your destiny right now. I'd simply rather it be me than that boy."
His words frustrated her, worried her, and yet she couldn't think of a response.
Simple questions, still good for the sanity.
"Won't they just see who bought the tickets?" she asked.
"Even if they do follow the financial trail through the pseudonyms, I've reserved several flights from each destination. My first instinct was to charter a private plane, but that attracts far more attention. Much easier for us to simply vanish in plain sight."
He waited, for a moment, but she said nothing, and he went on, seeming to try and fill the silence, "I suppose to truly blend in we ought to travel in coach, but, even with this mask - I can tell you wanted to ask about it. It's ridiculous, really, up close, just a thick layer of latex glued to the skin. It hurts, and it's terrible, but it attracts so little attention - even with this mask, I can only pass as normal from a distance. So it's best if we're in sparsely populated cabins where half the occupants are wearing silken eye-masks and sleeping in a haze of complimentary drinks anyway. Three cheers for first class."
Erik said the last words wryly, but the hesitant look quickly returned to what she could see of his face. He was waiting for her to argue or sympathize, and she had nothing. Nothing left to say, and no feelings she could easily identify.
"I..." she began, finding her voice suddenly dry, some sort of lump in her throat. "I have to go to the bathroom."
He stood, and looked down at her with an expression she couldn't quite read, something hesitant, and almost worried. Finally, he gestured with his left hand, sweeping it wide. "The door is right there," he said. "Restrooms are up at the front of the cabin. If you'd like dinner, just ask the flight attendant and it will be delivered to the suite."
And it was with the last sentence that Christine could tell, he was terrified. She wouldn't even have to scream for help. She could just quietly tell a flight attendant that she'd been kidnapped. There were probably even air marshals on the flight - Erik was hardly the typical suicide bomber, but she was certain they'd be happy to cuff him right there on the plane, save the day and rescue the captive.
If she was a captive.
"You control the entry like this," he said, pushing another one of the buttons on her armrest.
A portion of the outer wall slid back, smoothly, mechanized, and Christine stared at the open door.
I took a few liberties with this chapter with the exact configuration of the first class cabins on Emirates airlines planes. Generally the two-person cabins are in the middle, and are far less secluded, and the most private cabins along the wall are single-seat only. However, I wanted Christine to have a window to look out of, so, forgive me a bit of artistic license. The flight number's correct, though. :-)