WARNING: This story is not entirely accurate; I had to bend history a bit for it. My sincerest of apologies to Erik.
Erik gazed an inch forward into her eyes. They were the clearest green he could remember since the bright spring grass. Her hair was a gentle brown. The summer sun shown down hot upon them both, warming their skin. He took her hands in his, giving them a gentle squeeze. She smiled with a smile only befitting an angel and leaned forward kissing him lightly on one cheek. Then, with no hesitation, kissed him on his other cheek. Remarkably, he did not flinch at her touch, and was not ashamed of her gaze, as she studied his face with no fright and no sympathy. Her smile, in fact, increased, and she tilted her head to the side, luscious, musically gifted lips parting, beautiful eyes closing. And their lips touched, perfection meeting imperfection, in pure bliss.
Erik woke with an unpleasant aching about him. His mind spun and his imperfect lips parted with the name "Christine" but no sound escaped them. It had been six years, and her face still lingered in his dreams. Awake, he turned his thoughts to more productive matters- his rooms and his opera. It was astonishing to think of how little he’d had then, compared to now. Underground caverns, the Paris Opera House digging deep into France’s catacombs, setting up a network of spots throughout the country for Erik to explore, unnoticed. Though his home would remain the house on the lake, he found his sanity much saved by his ability to travel about at least in as much as he could. That day, however, he woke in his own house, in his own bed.
His stomach didn’t pull towards breakfast, so after dressing he visited his piano. He sat tall and straight before the instrument, in perfect form, pausing one moment as his muse came over him. There was a time many years ago after Christine Daaé when he thought that he would never play again. The thought of music drained his soul, and the beauty of his work haunted his every moment. But right now he found himself absorbed in it. It was his will, it was his passion.
"Ehhhktchhh!" He sneezed freely, falling forward, his hands not losing a beat as notes trickled from the piano. But he sniffed, righting himself and waited until the break where the soft became allegro to take up the small white cloth square that sat atop the piano. He rubbed it against his nose and blinked a few times as another tickle broke through. Kermmmph! He buried this one in the handkerchief and sniffed again. Ehhshahhh! At a third, the realization gripped him: he was coming down with a cold. And he remembered his time with Collette some years ago.
"I think you are catching cold."
"...With all respect, Mademoiselle," he said, voice a silken purr. "I do not 'catch cold'."
Unconsciously stepping back, Collette whispered out, "B-but...everyone catches cold. Sometimes."
He remembered how embarrassed he had been, feeling the epitome of impoliteness. But he craved her tender touch and kind words… and above them, he craved those of Christine. Those things he loved in Christine, those things the Vicomte de Chagny had stolen from him. That morning, years ago, his world had collapsed. He’d thought himself dead for sometime, and it even brought the simple, elegant line in the newspaper ‘Erik is dead." But it was not to be. The world which had first dealt him a cold hand of fate, placing him down upon the earth with a face not even a mother could love, would not let him leave so easily. His heart was broken, his soul unrepairable, but he simply could not die. Though, perhaps, it was all for the better. In the years after, the students came and went, and operas came and went. But no one could replace that spark of what Christine had. And since that morning, his ability to ‘catch cold’ as Collette had put it, had greatly increased, though he couldn’t admit it to anyone but himself. Perhaps it was hope keeping him well all those years ago. For even among his sad, sullen state, his heart had been strong. But now, there was so little left for him but death which toyed at his every emotion when he fell asleep in his coffin every night.
"EhhhShhahh!" He sniffed and ran a hand under his nose, being careful of his mask. Over the years he had perfected that task, as well. He could now easily pull back a bit, leaving just enough room for the side of his hand to swipe below. He wore his mask most of the time now, simply because it was much safer that way if unexpected visitors were to come by. Since his last dear student had finished her lessons months ago, there were not too many who would know enough to find him, and certainly the Persian would not lead them; they stayed away from each other after the last incident. But he felt safer this way, and ran less risk of catching a glimpse of his face in a polished teacup or the waters of the underground river.
"IhhhCHISHH! hehShahh! Ihhshhhhh!" Erik sniffed and wiped his nose with the handkerchief, finding it a depressing chore to be coming down sick once again. Even music was not cheering him up. However, it was time to make his daily rounds around the opera house. There was rumor that the managers were indeed leaving, and a new party would be coming into power. It was so much of a bother to put up with; certainly something he did not wish to deal with while under the effects of a cold.
The opera was quiet for an early Saturday morning before a matinee. Singers rested their voices, and dancers rested their feet. Technicians worked on the few details of the stage- changing a set piece here or there. Costume and makeup artists cleaned and gabbed away. While comforting and familiar, it was beginning to bore him quite terribly.
"Who is this man in my visions?
Who is he under the light?
I hear his voice, see his form, but his face—
Oh Don Juan… my Don Juan…"
Erik’s ears perked up at the angelic voice. It was a strong woman’s belle soprano, belting out the notes of his own masterpiece, though making it sound as beautifully innocent and delicate as Christine had in the role. He followed the sound through the passageways, coming at once to the manager’s office. Some new star come to audition, he assumed, as his talents led him to enter the room in secrecy. Normally, the spot at the trap door would have been sufficient to get near enough to lift an envelope, but this time he entered the room entirely, staying out of view and in the shadows.
A thin woman stood alone in the office, singing to herself, eyes closed. She was young, no more than twenty-seven at most, with beautiful brown curls of hair and a very simple, gentle face. All at once, Erik found himself mystified by her singing. Her choice of music, while perfect, was an unexpected surprise.
For a man as disciplined and full of self-control as Erik was, he was also very much human. And while his curiosity implored him to secretly observe for as long as possible, his nose seemed to have other ideas. It ran a bit, and he did not want to make a movement to wipe it. However, it tickled lightly on top of that. While sniffling would certainly keep a sneeze at bay, he did not want to risk being heard either. However, if he left, he may never know why she was singing his song. Unfortunately, he did not get a change to make the decision. "EhhhhCHISHH!" he sneezed lightly.
The woman stopped singing immediately, jumping at the sound, with a slender hand over her heart. "Who’s there?!" she exclaimed.
Erik sniffed lightly, weighing his options. The last thing he needed was another person knowing his secrets. Newcomers could rarely be trusted—if ever. And she was hardly even a member of the Opera Company as far as he knew. He knew better than that. But too much suspicion on her part to begin with could lead to his downfall. Once again, curiosity had gotten the best of him, as he had been drawn to such a lovely singing voice. So he sniffed and threw his voice to the other side of the room. "Just a lover of music, Mademoiselle." His voice was rough, despite his wishes, and he hoped it did not scare her into screaming.
She simply nodded. "Have you heard me singing for very long, Monsieur?"
His voice was flat, unemotional. "Long enough to know from which Opera you have chosen to sing."
Her eyes opened, and seemed to light up as a smile spread across her face. "Indeed? I felt sure few here would know of it! It was performed here many years ago."
"I remember." Erik grew more curious at every moment. There was something about this fine creature that intrigued him. And thus, he decided to play about with her as such, though perhaps it was only the link to Christine that peaked his interest so.
"So you’ve seen Don Juan Triumphant, too! Trés Magnifique! It is my favorite opera of them all. Truly a masterpiece above all, don’t you think?"
"Quite," he replied, leaving it at that.
"I suppose I must have looked rather silly just then, singing to myself?"
He paused, and took a risk. "Not at all, Mademoiselle. One look in the mirror should tell you that."
"Would that it were so easy," she sighed, turning her head towards the opposite wall to where his voice seemed to be. "You see, I have been blind since birth."
Erik had to control himself to contain his startled reaction. How could he have missed picking up on such an important detail? Surely it was the cold impairing his senses. "IhhChuh! EhhhHISHH!"
"God bless you!" she chimed out, pulling a small handkerchief from her pocket and extending it thoughtfully towards the blank wall. "Would you care to use my hanky, Monsieur?"
He sniffed, rubbing at his nose and knowing a small fit of more sneezes would come at any moment. "No thank you, Mademoiselle, I shall be taking my leave now. I wish you well." And in an instant, he was gone.
As he left, she protested, saying, "But Monsieur! Your name?!"
Erik returned to the office later that morning, to check for his money. He used the small trapdoor to pilfer the pocket of the black trenched fellow in the room. However, the manager had not left the francs in the envelope for him. Alternatively, he wrote and left him a note.
My Dear O.G.,
I know well of your exploits. And I, too, know of your dealings with the previous managers of this fine Opera House. However, my curiosity and financial side get the better of me. I have heard so much of you, O.G., that I am eager to meet you face-to-face. You see, I cannot allow an envelope of money to be given to a nobody. Should we set up meetings, I would be glad to conform to your wishes and give you your allowance. But until then, I cannot deposit the money in anything but your hand. Please understand that I hold you in the highest regards.
Erik rolled his eyes as he read it, knowing far too well what tricks he had in store to prove that he was not a force to be reckoned with. It was premature to send another chandelier to its death. However a few tricks of lighting upon the dancers, and a few strategically cut ropes holding set pieces at the climax of the performance would serve his purpose well.
"EhhhIHHSHH! Blasted cold!" he muttered, taking out his handkerchief and rubbing at his nose. "EhhhCHIISHH! EhhhSHOO! Hehshhhah!" Perhaps after this exploit and the matinee he would seek a bit of bed rest. The cold, luckily, simply caused him to sneeze and had not debilitated him… yet. He could feel it reaching that point, and hoped to hold it at bay with a little extra sleep. "EhhCHISHH! HehChoo!" But that was when he was finished. His knife sliced at the rope skillfully cutting the majority of the fibers. Just as he finished his job, he was interrupted by a figure who took center stage and began to sing.
"Oh Don Juan… My Don Juan,
Triumphant in battle, in waging and warring,
I beg your handsome façade, do hear me imploring—"
"Mademoiselle?" Erik said, swooping down in a smooth blur of black to stand in the shadows on the stage a fair distance from her. He stayed behind the skim, should another visitor appear.
Her face lit up. "We meet again!" Her smile was enticing, her voice a delicate whisper of anticipation.
"We do indeed. I beg your pardon for my sudden departure at our last meeting."
She shook her head. "Think nothing of it, Monsieur. This Opera House had fallen under new management and we are all doing our best to be busy."
The corners of one side of his mouth turned up in mischievousness to think of what he had in store for the new manager. "You have a very beautiful voice, Mademoiselle."
She blushed. "Thank you, kind Monsieur. It seems you pick my moments of self-indulgence to appear to me. I once had dreams of singing that song on this very stage."
Oddly, he found it so easy to talk with her. There was no danger in his heart from their conversation, and the fact that she knew not who he was made their interludes all the more inviting. "You are one of the few who would give it justice."
"Thank you again, kind Monsieur."
"It is I who should be thankful for your beautiful… sing..ing… EhhhHISHH! Pardon me, Mademoiselle."
"God bless you, Monsieur."
"Merci. I’m afraid I must be leaving. I do hope to see you again."
"Oh Monsieur! I still do not have your name!"
Erik smiled, rubbing at his nose, as he ducked back out through a trap door.
Foust was going as well as could be expected. Erik had hoped to see the mystery woman in one of the roles, but she was nowhere to be seen. He sat box 5, falling into the comfort of the seat as his body ached a bit. It had been a tiring day already, and the day was only half over.
"Hkght!" he sneezed, pinching his nose closed under his mask so that the sound was barely audible. "Hkght! Hehkghtt!" He dabbed at his nose with his handkerchief and glanced up at his handiwork. One of the two cut ropes was just about to break; it was time to take his exit. "Hkitch!" He stood, head whirling with sinus pressure, nose clearing for a split second, then immediately running afterwards. "HiKght! Hkght! hhKxghtt!" his fingers tightened around his nostrils, as each sneeze snapped him forward just a bit.
"Aaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" one of the ballerinas screamed, and Erik dashed into the hollow marble column that was in box 5 with one last glance as the set came crashing down around the dancers. He lingered in his hiding spot a moment, listening to the screams and cries and alarming roar of the operagoers. Yes, this would certainly convince the manager that he was to be appeased.
"Opera Ghost?" he heard a delicate voice ask as the curtains for box 5 were pushed aside and a woman entered. Erik heard a sigh. "I felt sure he would be here," she whispered.
Erik’s eyes grew wide, and his fingers, still pinching his nostrils, held them closed tighter to restrict all sneezes, for he now realized that this was the woman he had met twice that day. Should he sneeze, she would not only know of his presence, but his identity would be completely given away.
She left quickly enough, and Erik smiled as he retired to his bed, filled with victory over the new Manager, and curiosity over the new singer.
Erik woke the next morning, feeling slightly worse than the day before. His nose was stuffed and tickling, and a barrage of sneezes plagued him the moment he stood, causing him to sit back down and rethink this idea of ‘getting up’. It was a Sunday—the one day that he had the opera house to himself. Sunday mornings meant Church for the greater population of Paris, and Sunday days meant rest and relaxation. He could use a bit of that, himself.
He dressed properly and fixed a small breakfast for himself. He then set to work at the organ. Sunday was the only day he could play it to his satisfaction. In the last few years, once the destruction of his dungeon and iron tree had been finalized, he worked on creating the perfect acoustics for his organ. After much design and reconstruction, he had come upon the perfect sound, with the bellows and tones of the organ emanating through the passageways, hallways, and the great house of the Opera. And when he played it, he felt more alive than he had ever before.
This morning, his hands stroked the keys, and his feet rested upon the foot pedals. When he began to play, it was not his latest masterpiece that came out, but his former work, Don Juan Triumphant. It surprised him a moment, as he had not played it since its conception; perhaps the blind woman’s influence upon him had been greater than what he had formerly suspected. His nose ran freely, but he gave no immediate care to it now; he was absorbed in his music. Note after note flowed with every emotion in the world from the giant organ. Affection, unrequited love, honor, triumph. It was his heart, it was his only achievement. Erik, the Opera Ghost, the phantom, the Angel of Music, could bring to humanity such beauty only at the cost of his own depression and recluse ways. But it made him feel loved to play it, it made him feel a part of life at long last. Upon the last note of the act, he stopped, closing his eyes and listening as the sound echoed away.
"That was beautiful playing."
His eyes shot open and his head spun to the side to see the woman standing there.
"I hope you don’t mind the intrusion. I got lost and followed the music here…"
Erik was hesitant to speak. She would no doubt recognize his voice.
"I know it may sounds foolish, but I’m lost. I was looking for the Opera Ghost."
He stood, silently, and backed up a few feet, pulling a small lever that locked all obvious entrance and exit from the room. One could never be too careful. He took a deep breath. "You have found him, Mademoiselle." His voice was much deeper than usual from the effects of the cold, but it was none-the-less recognizable.
Her jaw dropped and her voice caught in her throat.
He cleared his own throat a moment, before belting out the perfect baritone,
"Nobody tangles with Don Juan!"
She backed up, finding the doorway from whist she came blocked. Pure terror ran through her. As much as she had wanted to find the ghost, she did want to come out of the finding alive.
He laughed at the sight. "So, you wanted to find the Opera Ghost, hmm?"
"Y-yes Monsieur," she said, closing her eyes, wishing it were all a dream. She should have suspected him of it from the moment of their initial meeting.
"So what do you think now that… now that you hehh… hahhh… have-fouhhhh…" he quickly brought his handkerchief out and covered his nose and mouth. He pinched his nostrils tight closed from beneath the fabric as the urge caused his body to tense and his eyes to close. He stood, panting a moment, trying to force it away. But his body lunged forward, "Hehghth! Ehhchugthh! Eiihhchitt!" The sneezes were too strong to suppress fully as he had managed to do the night before. He tried to continue as quickly as possible. "Now that you have found mehhh… eh-heh…" his nose was tickling fiercely. "EhhCHISHH! Huhmchushh! IhhhSHHHH! EhhhhIHSHH!" He took a deep breath and blew strong into the handkerchief. He brought it down, folded it, and blew again, wiping at his nose and upper lip with the edge of the hanky. It was difficult to sound threatening while in the middle of a sneezing fit. Stuffily he tried again. "Now that you have found me, what do you thuuhhh…" his voice, overly nasal, tickled his nose and they began again, "hehPISHH! HehCSHH! HuhSHOO! Huhshhahhh! HehSHISHH!" He blew his nose as much as he could, trying to clear himself of the nuisance that was his latest cold.
"God bless you," she said softly, finding confidence in her words. The ghost, it appeared to hear ears, had a cold. As terrifying as he was trying to seem, the simple act of sneezing brought him down, helplessly, to her level.
He mumbled something through his handkerchief and released the lever.
"Monsieur?" she asked. But her hands, which had been resting on the wall behind her grasped for something to hold onto as the wall was slid away. Off balance and by surprise, she stumbled backward through the doorway.
"Go," he barked out. "And tell no one of your sniff fihh… fiihhh… find-ings-EhSHISHH! Ehhshhhahh! Hehchuuhhh!"
She scrambled back through the passageways, and Erik knew she would most likely turn up dead some time, having run into one of his traps. It was amazing she had not happened upon one on the journey there, but she seemed a woman of the senses, and was perhaps more perceptive than many with sight. However, he was certain her luck would run out in a matter of minutes. Some things, she would learn, were not meant to be found. ‘A pity, too,’ he thought between sneezes, ‘such a beautiful lady, and such a beautiful voice. Curiosity certainly has killed the cat.’ A little angry with himself for not killing her on the spot, but for some reason, he couldn’t fathom the idea. She was simply too enchanting. Or perhaps the cold was making him go soft.
On that depressing note, he returned to his organ for some composing. It went well relatively well, and when done, he found that his thoughts still rested upon the woman. So, he decided to take a walk around to see what had become of her. The initial passageways leading up and around and filtering out to the stage and various other places in the house were dusty and filled with the obligatory rat dung, but free of lifeless women’s bodies. He did some more strolling and found, at the entryway by the Rue Scribe, a corpse. It did not look to have been there for long, but it was perfectly unrecognizable as it seems it had been trapped between two large moving stones and mauled further by the Parisian dogs that frequented the alleyways. His boot came up and pushed it out to the street to free the entrance and give it a bit more dignity, face down rather than on its side.
"A pity," Erik said out loud as he smiled at the repulsive sight. He covered his nose and mouth, sniffing into his handkerchief as the cold Parisian air got to him. With a shrug, he returned to his house to take a small nap. He wasn’t feeling too well all of a sudden, and was hoping another long sleep would do him good.
The next morning, the paper read,
Corpse of Opera Singer found dead
on Rue Scribe
Erik slept soundly that morning, towards the afternoon. When he awoke, the cold was upon him fully. He didn’t much feel like leaving his bed, though he had a desire to go exploring in the catacombs. But his fatigue convinced him to take a needed morning of rest. He drew the silk and wool over his ailing body and smiled peacefully at their warm and comforting touch. His nose itched with tickle, and his hand swooped out from below the covers to catch its impending drip with the cloth of a fresh hanky. He snorted into it, hoping to clear his nose enough to rest; the annoyance of the cold had gone on long enough by far. But the sensation of blowing or rubbing at his nose at all only irritated it more. Out came a weak triple, smothered into the handkerchief at hand. "huhPshh! hupTISH! hupPSHHuhhhh…" He blew again, producing only the same. "huhPISHH! hupTISHH! hup-CHOO!" Frustrated, he dabbed gently at his nose, holding the fabric just below to satisfy the runs and appease the tickles. But such a position made sleep nearly impossible.
He ended up simply lying there much of the afternoon, feeling perfectly miserable and sorry for himself while at the same time trying to deny that he required womanly comfort. If only for a cool palm to test his forehead, or a kind hand to supply him with a new handkerchief, or a gentle smile to give him sympathy. No. That was not his life. As another bout of frustration hit, he pulled himself up and dawned a robe to head towards the kitchen.
He got no further than his bedroom door when his ears detected the faint sound of footsteps. In a blur, his lasso was at hand, and he was about to move towards the passageways when out stepped his visitor. Erik was stopped short to see the lovely woman again, hovering in the entryway with a determined look in sightless eyes.
At the sound of his rather audible breathing, she smiled. "Phantom, I’m sorry to come again, but I need to speak with you."
This woman was unbelievable. Could she not take no for an answer? Must every one of Erik’s problems be solved with violence? "Mademoiselle," he croaked, his lush, handsome voice loaded with congestion. "I warned you. I do not know why you are here, but you will not live long enough to… to… to explain-huhPIFFT! huhCHUH! huhPFFT! HUHCHOO!"
"Bless you," she supplied, when the sneezing abated. She almost seemed to be mocking him with her pity. "That’s quite a cold you have there.
He could have killed her for that alone, but another fit of sneezes racked him suddenly. "iihhPFFT! huhCHIH! huhSHHHSHH!" As he reached up to cover his nose again, he was shocked to discover that he’d somehow forgotten his mask when he dressed that morning. Of course he had not been expecting visitors, but the mere idea of his exposed face in the presence of such a woman was one he could not fathom. All at once he felt naked, and his arm and robe sleeve shot up to cover half his face, as his body was tossed forward by the immense force of another half dozen sneezes. It didn’t matter if she couldn’t see; it made him uncomfortable, and even more so was the fact that he was sneezing impolitely in front of a woman he would sooner kill than be embarrassed in front of. But there was something about this woman… he couldn’t quite place it.
Meanwhile, she felt around, locating a set of chairs against one wall. Upon further inspection, they seemed safe enough, so she sat down in one, femininely crossing her legs beneath her skirts and placing her folded hands in her lap to wait for him. She had no intention of leaving so easily this time, and absolutely no intention of dying.
"Mademoiselle!" Erik roared, not sure whether to strike or frighten with laugher.
She made his mind up for him as she laughed lightly. "I know perfectly well what you are capable of, Monsieur. And I am certain I would have been murdered like the woman yesterday if it were not for certain states I am proud to possess, such as my lack of sight and my love of a particular masterpiece. C’est vrai, Monsieur?"
He grunted, his body aching, his nose running.
"Oh, do, sit down. You’ll be more comfortable, I can assure you. We have much to talk about, you and I."
He chuckled at her put-upon sense of control. "Do we?" he inquired as sarcastically as possible.
She nodded calmly. "Whether you know it yet or not, we are in positions of dependency. You need me, just as much as I, you. And there cannot be one without the other."
Erik’s ears perked up. His arm lowered cautiously, as he convinced himself that he was safe from any terrified stares, shrieks or cries that his face always caused. Still thinking himself in control, he settled into the soft green armchair across from her, to listen to what she had to say. "You have sniffle exactly two minutes sniff, sniff, Mademoiselle."
"That should be plenty, Monsieur," she told him with a sly smile. "Now, tell me if I am wrong, but you do indeed get an allowance from the Opera House manager. Oui?"
"Oui," he replied coldly.
"And while much of it ends up back where it began, bits of it are taken for gifts, tokens, and what I can assume are your living expenses. Oui?"
"Without this money, you could not live as comfortably. And without the Opera, you would have little reason to live. Oui?"
A pause. "Mademoiselle—"
"I also know that the new manager has not paid you. And I know that you are feeling ill, and perhaps lonely. I know you have taken students before, the most gifted Christine Daaé for one. I know you have had your fun, making this House your own personal realm and controlling even those who control it. I know you have had a difficult life. And I know that you would rather be in bed with a hot tea than dealing with me at this moment. But as I’ve mentioned before, there are dependencies. You cannot live without certain things, and this Opera House cannot be the greatest in all of Europe without you." She paused, oddly, to examine his reaction. She could almost hear his heart pounding. "What you do not know is, the manager is willing to do anything you wish, and to protect you as much as necessary. And oui, there is a reason I know this."
She withdrew a small square of paper from her pocket and handed it to him. His hand took it gently and unfolded it. Fearing what it held, his eyes took once last glance at his victim before swooping down to read over the beautifully crafted words:
It was she. Erik instantly felt ill. Not the sort of ill that was making his nose run, but the sort that made his stomach churn. The manager was a woman. A woman in charge of the business of an Opera. His opera. Taste she had, but sense? The manager was feet away from him. In his home, in his domain, in his life. This was not right. Surely she understood they were not to be friends?
"You see now why notes to me are useless, Monsieur? I have learned to write well, but reading is a skill I am afraid I will not as easily master. This is why I needed a face-to-face meeting with you. I simply wanted to explain why your notes would be going unread, for I would of course share them with no one. I knew that certain details you would be specifying would escape me, and I wish to comply to any stipulations you may set, OG."
Erik found it odd to be called such to his face. This woman surely had more guts than he had thought. What was her motive? What could she possibly want in return? He was not given the chance to ask. His nose tickled dangerously, and he was forced to hold a pair of fingers beneath, rubbing firmly to quench the tickle.
She waited for a response.
His breaths caught in his throat, his eyes squeezing closed not to sneeze, but to concentrate on holding them off. Erik rubbed more, holding, hoping.
She smiled, expelling a few small laughs. "You know, Monsieur, that if you feel the need to sneeze, there is no reason not to. I can hear it in your breathing whether it happens or not. Better to let it out rather than suffer too long with—"
The sneezes picked that particular moment to explode from within his nose, as much as he tried to hold them in. "ehhCHISHH! hehSHUH! huhSHIH! hehCHISHH! huptCHISH! heptSHUSH!"
"—them," she finished. Extending her handkerchief. "Bless you, Monsieur."
His own was soiled and damp at his nose’s touch. And despite his feelings, he took the cloth and ran it beneath his nose gratefully, marveling at its softness against his sore nose.
"Do keep it, if you wish."
He had every intention of doing so, as his nose began to run and tickle most violently. His body drew back and face screwed up into a mess of deformity and helplessness. "eh… eh-heh… heh-hehEHCHUMPH! hetCHIHH! hupTCHUMP! hehCHOO! hehSHISHH! hehSHOO! sniff, sniff, eeehhh… hehCHISHHH!"
"hehIHHSHHH! hehCHOOO! hehhSHISHH! hehCHOOO!" He blew heartily into the handkerchief and fell back into the soft, velvet chair in misery. He would have to come down with a bad cold just now. Not a week before or a week after. Suddenly, coldness struck him on the forehead and he jumped, opening his eyes to find her hovering over him with her hand up.
"You’ve a fever, Monsieur! Perhaps my ideas should wait until you are much better. I had not realized how ill you are. I do apologize for keeping you so long already. Vite, Monsieur. allez à votre lit pour du sommeil."
He sniffed, pushing past her to stand. "I do not sniff require my bed or sleep, sniff, Mademoiselle. And I’ll sniff ask you to sniff, sniff, keep to yourself in my sniff presence, sniff." She had come so close to the wrong side of his face, to the wrong side of his character. "Sniff! The only reason I have allowed you to live is that you intrigue me. Should you step out of line, I will not be responsible for your outcome. Sniff! Now, do present your idea." He heard a soft sigh of frustration.
"As I stated before, you and I are dependent upon each other. I cannot have you catching your death in my basement, Phantom. Please, at least sit down to rest again?"
Cautiously, he did so, sure to keep a careful watch over her every move.
She sat down again, as well, and crossed her legs as she relaxed back and pitched her idea. "I trust no one but myself with this Opera House. And thus, your notes will go unread, should you leave any for me. What I suggest is weekly meetings, Monsieur. I can deliver you your check, you may state your business and opinions about the Opera House and its contents. I am sure that a master such as yourself knows better than a simple lover of music as to what operas and singers should be kept and which dispatched of." She took a breath. "I value your opinion, OG, and I would like your help in maintaining my Opera House. It’s as simple as weekly meetings."
The phantom snuffled into his handkerchief, not quite sure whether to be impressed, flattered or disgusted.
"Return tomorrow," he said gruffly. "I will have made my mind up by then."
She stood. "Oui, Monsieur. Prenez soin de votre rhume."
He did not breathe again until her footsteps had left his ears completely. "Take care of my cold, indeed!" he grumbled, standing up quickly, then immediately regretting it. Dizziness knocked him back down to the chair, and he rubbed at his nose as it began to run again. Despite his better judgement and denying that it had anything at all to do with the woman, he retired to his bed for a rest.
"Monsieur Phantom?" With one hand, she felt around the room to follow the sound of snoring. While she had no doubt that he were as threatening and dangerous as Opera legend told, he was somewhat less so with what seemed like a terrible cold. As she entered a room, she inquired again. "Monsieur Phantom?"
The snores broke with a loud grunt and a set of coughs.
"Out!" Erik commanded, holding a hand over his mouth with fingers beneath his nose as it tickled and ran. "I’ll atted you id the bain roob."
She shook her head. "You’re not to get out of bed. I don’t care if you murder me, Monsieur, you sound terrible and you shouldn’t get up. Any opera singer knows the proper treatment for such a head cold is bed rest and tea. Which…" she held up the tray she carried in one hand. "I have brought for you. Along with a few spare hankies I thought you might need."
She felt around until she found his nightstand and placed the tray there for him. Not finding any chairs in the vicinity, she held her breath and dared to sit on the edge and foot of his bed. "Have you had sufficient time to—"
"huhEHHSHOO! huhIHHHSHHHH! hehEHHSHOOO! huhSHOOO! HEHSHOOO!"
"— think about the proposition? Bless you, by the way."
"Berci," he snuffled a thank you, realizing that he felt too sick and stuffed up to attend to her anywhere besides his bed. As utterly rude and embarrassing as it was, the cold overpowered him too much at present to let him make any decisions for himself. "I do wish to abologize, Badebioselle."
"Think nothing of it!" she laughed. "I have the occasional sniffle from time to time, as well. Do take some tea. It will clear you up a bit."
Without thinking, he did so, finding the taste was one he remembered from his time working at the Sultan’s palace halfway across the world. The thought of poison instantly struck him. If it were poisoned, the one sip was all it would take to—
"Dependency, Monsieur. I would never resort to poison or trickery." She left off the ‘as you might’ simply to save herself. She knew such possibilities were running through his mind.
He sniffed strongly as the warm vapors hit his nose, making it run, but clearing his sinuses at the same time. "Mademoiselle…" he had decided upon his answer. "I believe you and I sniff have an arrangement."
She grinned. Then she stuck her hand out towards him. "Monique De’Maquelle, cousin of a one Christine Daaé."
Erik’s heart skipped a beat. Ignoring the hand, he choked out, "Christine?"
Calmly, "I was there the night of her kidnapping, to hear your beautiful Opera. And I was there when she and the Vicomte were wed."
Even sick, his face grew abnormally pale. "She spoke of me?"
Monique nodded. "Kindly, Monsieur. You are her angel of music."
"I do not know, Monsieur. When there was news of your death, she came to town. But when you were discovered to be alive, she fled in fear of your reaction to her. She did not want you harmed, and asked me to… to watch after your Opera for you, Monsieur."
With another sip of his tea, he took her hand, shaking it like a proper gentleman. "Erik," he said with a smile. "Just Erik."
She rose with a determined look. With a less than determined voice, "May I touch your face, Erik?"
He was taken aback by the sudden inquiry.
"Oui, Christine told me of your face. Half deformed, half handsome. But with a voice such as yours, Monsieur… I can imagine nothing but perfection from you. I want to see half your face. Which half is up to you. You may dash my picture of you, Monsieur, or you may fulfill my dreams." She held out her hand, not for a shake, but for his hand to take. "S’il vous plait, Monsieur. I have wanted this moment since I heard the first notes of ‘Don Juan Triumphant.’"
He took her hand in his own as one might take ones own future. His fingers ran over her rough, slender, used fingers. She had complete and utter trust in him. True, that one mention of the name Christine was enough to make him go soft, but she had earned everything up to that point on her own. Did she deserve her dream? Did Erik? Decidedly, he lifted her fingertips to his forehead on his good side, careful to guide her fingers over only certain parts of his face. Forehead, eye, down the bridge of his nose then quickly over to this cheek to bypass his nostrils, then down the side of his face to one corner of his mouth and his chin. When finished, he opened his eyes to find her smiling.
"More handsome than I had imagined," she whispered. Blushing, she pulled her hand back. "Merci beaucoup, Monsieur."
Erik smiled back. "De rien, Sniff! Mademoiselle."
"I should be going," she told him. "The second production of Foust is scheduled for tomorrow night. Perhaps if you are feeling better you would let me enjoy it with you in Box Five?"
"Perhaps," Erik said, rubbing at his nose. This was not the time to sneeze. Things were going to well for a sneeze to ruin it. And yet, his nose tickled wildly, even with the rubbing.
"If not, I shall see you here next week, Monsieur?"
He nodded, afraid one word might set off the sneezing fit.
"Monsieur? Was that not decided upon?"
He nodded again, more determined than ever to contain these sneezes.
All at once he remembered she could not see, and quickly choked out a, "Oui," as his nose ran profusely, even as he wrinkled it and flared his nostrils.
"Are you quite all right, Monsieur?"
"Oui," he managed, grabbing for a fresh handkerchief as the running became too much.
"Then I will take my leave of you once more, Monsieur de la Musique." She grinned to herself at her secret name for him, then quickly disappeared out of his house.
Given the reprieve he thought might not come in time, he let his guard down for a fit of truly violent sneezes which shook him entirely. "hehIHHHSHHHOO! huhhhHUHSHOOO! hehEEHHHSHHHH! huh-eh-ehhhhh-EHHSHOOO! huh-heh-hehhhhIHHHSHOOO! huhEHHSHOO! hihEHHSHOOO! huhEHCHOOO!"
"Bless you again, Monsieur," she giggled, having only been out of the room when his sneezes began; she returned to give him a soft kiss on the forehead. "Prenez soin de votre rhume." Pulling his covers up over him and tucking them around him tightly.
"Berci," he thanked her, closing his eyes. "Ber-Sniff!-Merci Monique."
"De rien, Erik."
She heard a small click and a shuffle, then a light sniffle and she knew at once he was there. He settled into the seat beside her with a soft "Good evedidg, Badeboiselle." He went for his handkerchief only to find that he’d somehow managed to drop it in the passageways leading to Box 5. Thinking quickly as his nose ran profusely, he used the cuff of his sleeve and sniffed strongly. The combination halted further runs as he settled into his seat.
"How are you feeling, Monsieur?"
"A little udder the weather, still, I’b afraid," he answered.
She laughed. "A little?"
He gave a light chuckle. "Berhabs a lot." He lifted his arm and buried his nose in the crook of his elbow, sniffing strongly as he wiped his nose on his sleeve.
She reached over to pat his leg in assurance that he would be better soon. "Thank you for attending, Monsieur. I hope you do not mind my presence?"
He shook his head out of habit. "As long as you do not mind mine."
She giggled nervously. "To attend one of the greatest operas with le Monsieur de la Musique himself? It is all I could wish for."
"All?" he asked pointedly as the house darkened.
She shivered as it grew cold around her, and her anticipation grew to know it was just about to start. "Almost all…"
The opera was beautiful. Even though Monique could not see the dancers, the music touched her as it had never before. And each number, each scene, passed more quickly than ever. It wasn’t until somewhere through the second act that Erik’s heavy breathing became heavy snores.
Gently, she placed a hand on his arm, and Erik awoke to a soft, "Monsieur?" in his ear.
He rubbed at his nose and eyes. Knowing the opera better than the back of his hand, he calculated that he had been asleep some while. "Bardodez-boi, Badeboiselle," he whispered back, face falling quickly at the sensation of a building fit of sneezes.
She giggled. "You’re pardoned, Monsieur. Do you need to retire for the eve?"
The phantom sniffed strongly. "I’ll be all right. I abbreciate your… your codcerd…"
Two gloved fingers pressed against the bottom of his nose. It wasn’t as effective as if his mask were removed, but it seemed to hold them off for the most part. The urge increased, but at least the sneezes were held back. Sneezing at all would be a bad move, but without his handkerchief he knew it would be difficult to contain the sound at all.
She heard his breaths grow short and unsteady. This was a particularly quiet moment in the opera and a very inopportune time to sneeze. "Have you a handkerchief, Monsieur?"
He couldn’t so much as breathe. Perhaps he could lift his mask enough to be able to smother the sound into his wrist, or even his shoulder? It would still be great, but at the moment, there was little else he could do.
He felt something shoved into his face and opened his eyes to find her extended handkerchief. He grabbed at it, pinching his nostrils closed beneath the safety of his mask as his nose exploded. "ehhKigxt! huhPifxt! hehh… hehEHkxxt! hehPffttch! huhPffttch! huh-eehhh-huhIggxst!"
"God bless you, Monsieur."
Keeping a firm grip of his nose through the handkerchief as the tickles died down, he responded with a nasal thank you which was cut short by a strong yawn. He excused himself again, quickly.
"Oui," he whispered, lowering the handkerchief at last. Simply trying to be at his best and controlling himself as necessary for a gentleman took more out of him than the sneezes themselves. "eehhh… ehhKISHHH! EehhhPfxxt! hehKixgt! ehhPifft!" He rubbed at his nose, then repeated again, "Oui."
"Music is the best medicine for that," she said, patting her shoulder. "Come, lie your head down and lose yourself in the opera, Monsieur Erik."
He froze a moment. Was she being too familiar with him, or was she simply being kind?
"I was told to watch after your Opera House, Monsieur. And I take that to mean that I should watch after you, as well. Did I not speak of dependencies?"
He said nothing.
"I can tell by your breathing that you are tired, Monsieur. And if you’d rather remain here than retire to your bed, I can respect that. And if you’d care to doze in your seat, that is your prerogative. But I am offering you a shoulder, Monsieur."
He hesitated, still. Her words made sense. That much was true. After deliberations, he finally gave in and leaned, bending his head to lie it gently upon her shoulder. Her hand came up and stroked the back of his neck as one might pet a dog. "Rest. And feel better."
He nodded, sniffing, and closed his eyes to enjoy the opera as Monique was forced to. Strange sensations filled him for the first time. It took a few measures of music passing for him to identify them. It was friendship. It was caring. And for some reason, it was unconditional. Feeling as displaced as when Christine had kissed him without being asked or forced to, a smile turned upon Erik’s face. "I appreciate your kindness, Mademoiselle."
Her free hand once again patted his thigh, as the other continued to stroke the back of his neck. "And I, yours. One day, when you are well, I wish to take you to a field I know. I am sure it has been a long while since you’ve felt the warmth of the sun upon you. I would like to learn of your world, your music, as well as share my world with you."
He smiled, feeling his fatigue take over and push him slowly towards sleep. "I should sniff like that, Mademoiselle Monique."
Erik gazed an inch forward into her eyes. They were the clearest green he could remember since the bright spring grass, even if they could not focus upon anything. Her hair was a gentle brown. The summer sun shown down hot upon them both, warming their skin. He took her hands in his, giving them a gentle squeeze. She smiled with a smile only befitting an angel and leaned forward kissing him lightly on one cheek. Then, with no hesitation, kissed him on his other cheek, so soft that her lips barely touched it. Remarkably, he did not flinch at her touch, and was not ashamed of her gaze, as she studied his face with no fright and no sympathy, for she had none to give. For once, Erik was perfect. Her smile, in fact, increased, and she tilted her head to the side. Two sets of luscious, musically gifted lips parting, beautiful eyes closing. And their lips touched, perfection meeting perfection, in pure bliss.