Christine was waiting for him.
Erik stepped up to her, who was rightfully his bride now, and she didn't flinch away. She moved up to him a little, having guessed his intentions. After all, she was his bride, and as a bride she was to let her bridegroom to kiss her, wasn't she?
He timidly touched her forehead with his lips.
He waited for anything - swooning, flinching, shouting of horror and disgust. But she endured his kiss in silence, she even didn't try to move aside. She gazed trustingly at him, believing him to fulfil his promise and not to harm either her or Raoul.
His heart broke.
It was an impossible pleasure for him to have someone trusting him, to be able to touch his beloved with his horrid lips, to feel her smooth skin and not to have her repelled by disgust! Tears welled in his eyes and he felt he wasn't able to keep his posture any more. His legs gave way, emotion filling his heart and soul, and he fell at her feet, kissing them and crying.
Telling honestly, he could expect anything now - the same shouting or flinching he had been so afraid a minute ago. But she did something impossible again. She knelt by him and whispered:
"Poor, unhappy Erik!"
And her warm, gentle fingers closed over his cold skeletal hand...
And he felt her tears on his forehead.
For the first time in his life someone cared for him so as to cry over him! These tears were for him the greatest treasure he could ever get. They trickled down his forehead, mingled with his own tears, dampened the cloth of his mask...
Erik couldn't let it be. Not quite understanding what he was doing, he ripped his mask away, catching her tears with his sunken lids, hollow cheeks and malformed lips - with the whole horrible face of his, not wishing to lose a single tear of hers.
He understood that she would run away now.
But she did an impossible thing again.
She embraced his shoulders, kneeling by him, and continued to cry over him, together with him!
He didn't know how long that bliss continued. Finally he lifted his face to hers and looked straight to her eyes.
There wasn't horror in her expression - only pity. And understanding, if he only could hope for such a possibility.
There was no love either.
He felt something turning in his heart. This girl endured his kiss, endured his horrible face, she had cried with him, over him! How much else could he demand from her? She gave him the greatest happiness he could imagine, the happiness of shared emotion. How could he dare to say he loved her, if he continued to make her do things which were so terrible for her?
"Christine, - he whispered, - I'll bring the boy here... take him... you may marry him as soon as you want.."
She looked at him with surprise.
"What are you saying, Erik?"
"I'm saying that where you are concerned I'm only a poor dog ready to die for you... - it was clearly a reprise of her earlier phrase told to Raoul on the roof, about Erik's eyes following her like those of the dog's following its master, - but you are free to marry the boy... I know you love him... because you have cried over me and you've mingled your tears with mine!"
He raised and gently moved her hands from his shoulders. Then he quickly left the room.
Everything was finished. He had got the greatest happiness he could, Erik understood it. He would never love another woman, and the woman he was loving had just given him everything she could give - he comprehended he couldn't hope to get more of her feelings. She didn't love him, but her compassion was much greater then any kind feelings he had ever got from other people! Even daroga's care was just of duty and partly of pity, not of compassion and acception.
So he must act as his love demanded of him - to do everything to make the woman he loved happy. It meant to let her go with his rival, that handsome boy he couldn't harm now, to know they will be married soon...
And to die.
He knew he was to die. He gave Christine everything he could, all the strength of his heart and soul. Now he was just an empty shell, and he knew that without her and without hope he would die very soon. He lacked strength to live.
Ah, that was good.
He opened the door to the Communists' dungeon, where Raoul was lying, drugged. Erik quickly took a bottle of aromatic antidote to his nose. The young man stirred, moaned and lifted his lids. His eyes frose at the sight of Erik's hideous face. Only seeing those terrified eyes, Erik realised he was still unmasked.
Oh, well. Christine had endured the sight. The man she was going to marry could endure it too.
"Get up and come with me, - Erik ordered. - She is waiting for you."
Raoul got to his feet with surprised expression on his face and silently followed the Phantom of the Opera.
Raoul rushed up to Christine and kissed her lips. She accepted his kiss with joy and answered it. That's what Erik was never to taste - someone kissing his mouth. Well, he was even never to taste someone kissing him at all!
He was mistaken. When Raoul let her go, Christine went up to Erik, bent his head to her and kissed his forehead.
"Thank you," - she whispered.
He caught her arm. Raoul tensed, but seeing the Phantom standing calmly decided just to wait and see.
"Look, - Erik said, - here's the ring Erik had given you. He found it when you lost it... and now he returns it to you... and to him! It's the wedding-ring, you know... The wedding-ring... Listen! - He choked a little and was thankful he was without his mask on. - You should wear it... all the time... Soon... you will know that I'm dead. Swear to me, - she looked at him with surprised eyes again, - swear to me you will come here after my death!"
"Why are you going to die?"
"Of love... it's not important... Listen! I want to be buried... like anyone else... whom else could I trust? Listen! You'll find me near the fountain... do you remember? There I held you for the first time in my arms... I often go there... There I want to have my rest, near the place... where I knew hope... You'll find a tomb beside the pool... you should put my body there... and... put that ring on my finger, this, - he indicated the fourth finger of his right hand with his left hand, - and bury me with this ring, please... Do you swear to do it?"
Christine's eyes looked at him, and he saw the dawning of comprehension there. What has she realised? - he thought idly. - That I'm going to die? There's nothing strange in it, she knows I don't want to live without her, that grasshopper business was just about it.
"Yes, I swear... wait."
She went up to Raoul. What was he to wait? Till she, hand in hand with his victorious rival, left his cursed abode?
She stood before the young man and said:
"Forgive me, Raoul."
The terrible pallor covered the Vicomte's cheeks.
"I know you came here to save me... but finally I had to save you. I gave my word to Erik that I would be his wife in exchange of your life. He fulfilled his promise. Now I must fulfil mine. I'm staying here."
If Erik ever thought he could hear the divine music, these words were just such - impossible and absolutely incomprehensible in their magesty.
He stood as if pinned to the floor, shaking, struggling so as not to fall - his head was swimming terribly.
The Vicomte swayed and caught Christine's hand:
"My dear, what are you saying? He's a monster!"
Christine quickly turned to Erik, expecting him to vent his powerful wrath to Raoul for those words. But Erik was too busy fighting with his sudden weakness. The singer turned back to Raoul and said:
"He is not a monster, Raoul. A monster would never release you and let me go with you. He's just a human, and not a bad one, I believe. Please, Raoul. I understand, you risked your life to save me. But it weren't you who won the game, so you can't claim me as your prize. Sorry, my love."
Anger and anguish flared in Raoul's eyes.
"And HE can claim you?"
"He can. He's the winner. And remember, Raoul, I have never promised to be your wife. But him I have promised - in exchange of your life. It's just a matter of honor."
The young nobleman felt incredibly offended. Yes, he lost the deadly game, he was to die, but he was miraculously saved by his beloved... now he was given his beloved back and was losing her again - now by her own will!
"Yes, honor. And one more thing. You won't die without me. He will. Do you want me to think of myself as of the murderer?"
"HE is the murderer!"
"Yes, and God forgive him, it's not for me to judge him. And not for you, either. Please, Raoul, don't torment me any more. Thank you for everything, my love. Now leave, please." - Her voice was very quiet and gentle.
Raoul looked at his rival. Erik made a step back and now stood leaning agaings the wall, terribly pale, watching the pair with a pained, childish look (though it seemed impossible for him to have a childish look). Yet Raoul remembered how formidable Erik really was.
"Ok, I'll leave. But I'll return soon!"
"No, - she said firmly. - You will swear to me now that you will never return here and forget the way... forget everything you've seen here, forget you've ever met the Opera Ghost... And know that if you refuse, you'll get nothing but my contempt. Anyhow I won't be your wife, I belong to him, not to you. But if you swear that and fulfil your promise, I will ever remember you dearly. Please, my beloved Raoul, do it. Do the last favour to your Christine."
She touched his cheek lightly and stepped away. Raoul, terribly pale, went outside and took the boat. He couldn't say what was happening. Christine was absolutely right formally, by her own words she belonged to the Phantom now. But... Erik let her go. And she didn't. Because of honor. Raoul, as a nobleman, was supposed to understand the meaning of honor, but here he coudn't comprehend it. He was enduring the most terrible pain in his life.
Christine took a candle and went up to the Phantom.
"Why?" - he whispered, still not able to stand firmly without leaning against the solid wall.
"I have promised you to be your wife, haven't I?" - she said. - "Surely you don't want me to break my promise and despise myself for the whole life?"
"I don't... but..." - his throat contorted. He didn't understand something important here, something...
"Ok, I have fulfilled my promise. Now I want to know if you are going to fulfil yours."
"Mine? - he frowned. - What promise of mine? I have released the boy..."
"The promise of marrying me."
He looked as if lightning-striken.
"I'm not going to make you marry me..."
"And I prefer to be your wife rather than concubine. It's all a matter of honor, Erik. I'm not noble-born, but I prefer to act like one. Sometimes honor is the only thing left for us. I don't want to lose it."
Yes, she had matured strongly. Was that the Christine who had trembled under his gaze? Yet this was the Christine who had daringly ordered him to give her her freedom after he had abdicted her for the first time. This was the same Christine.
He felt he could stand normally now. He straightened and met Christine's gaze.
She stood straight and firm, her little frame tence, her blue eyes looking seriously in him. She was fully in the control of herself. If there was some thunderstorm of feelings in her soul, it was concealed well under those shining blue shields.
Yes, that's it. He understood at last. Nobody ever had treated him as a human, nobody ever thought even of the possibility of some obligations towards him. Erik had made bagrains often in his life, but every time he had to make his partner fulfil his part of the bagrain by the means of force and fear. And now he fulfilled his part of the bagrain (as he always had done) but he let her not to fulful her part, the terrible part - but she did. She treated him as a human, as an equal!
He hadn't made a mistake when he fell in love with her.
He took her hand timidly, having understood at last what he was to say.
"Thank you, Christine." - his voice was barely more than a whisper. And she answered in a calm impassive voice:
"You are welcome, Erik. So, will you make me the rightful mistress of this house?"
He didn't know if he was to weep or rejoice. He was ugly, repulsive, there was no possibility that this sweet girl could want him as her spouse, she had said she was loving Raoul... But now it was truly the matter of honor... she had acknolidged him having his honor and the possibility of losing it.
She was right - honor was the only thing left for him.
Strange, but he felt a little strength returning to him.
There was nothing handsome in him. His body, though not an ugly one, was proportionally built, but because of his extreme leanness it reminded a skeleton with several tight knots of muscles attached to it and covered by the alabaster skin. His cape had concealed his thinness, but without it he really looked macabre. His hands were terribly thin, almost skeletal too, bone-white and cold by touch. His face, well, everything had already been seen and said, and there was nothing to do with that face except just never to show it to anybody. His hair was a little better than those described by the late stagehand Buquet - really dark, not two or three locks as Buquet had said, ordinary short hair, nothing beautiful or charming in it, nothing to soften the terrible ugliness of his face. His motions were swift, powerful and accurate like those of a hunting cat's, but there was no cat's grace in them - the unpleasant crawling motions of a snake. His only beauty was his voice, but when he was silent, there was nothing even remotely attractive in him.
Christine was sitting at her table, trying to read. But the thoughts in her head didn't let her understand the text.
What has she done?
Raoul, her dear, beloved Raoul was now alone, longing for her fruitlessly. And she was in the domain of that murderous, crazy freak.
But she had given her word, and she meant to fulfil it.
She knew nothing really threatened her. Erik had shouted at her, he even had tied her up once, but he never had really tried to harm her. She was sure he wouldn't try to take her by force, since he had had plenty of options of doing it earlier and had never ever tried. He wanted her, she knew it, it was evident even for an innocent girl, but he never had tried even to touch her in sensual manner.
Was Raoul capable of such selfless devotion?
Surely he was, she told herself, he's a noble gentleman, but for a murderous madman this behavior seemed strange.
"He's not just a murderous madman, - she remained herself, stretching, - he is a genius... a great musician. If not for his face, he would charm the whole world..."
This thought suddenly stunned her.
Really, if not for his face, Erik could become immencely great among the humankind. She imagined his ethereal voice, sounding not in the subterranian corridors... where? - well, on this same Opera scene - a single performance of 'Faust' or 'Othello' and the whole world would lie at his feet, and it would be only fair, since never yet the world had produced such a singer. She imagined him playing the huge Conservatoire organ... she imagined his opera, Don Juan Triumphant, performed...
And if only the music! He was an architect, an inventor, a scientist, a brilliant performer. And he had to hide his talents in the damp Opera cellars and use them for performing tricks instead of gloriously using them under the sun and getting the world's love for them.
Her breath stopped for a moment. Such an unjustice! She sobbed a little, sighed and stood.
She knocked at his room.
Erik opened the door. He had his mask on and looked a little better. Evidently he had used the time since they parted for rest. She quickly surveyed his room. Where had he rested - in the coffin? Or sitting at the organ?
He looked at her with a questioning look.
Really - what had she been going to say? "Erik, it's such a pity you cannot perform on the stage?" Some new thought, indeed. She called herself a couple of names.
"Erik, what time is it now?"
"Almost midnight. You should sleep."
"Yes. Thank you. Good-night."
"Good night, Christine."
She stepped back, letting him close the door... and stepped inside again.
"Erik, are you going to sleep?"
"Well, yes, and what of it?"
"Don't do it here."
"Why mustn't I?"
She looked at the red-black room... at the Dies Irae words on the curtains... and at the coffin in the middle. A bedroom indeed! Certainly one would think of death living here.
"Because I don't want you to sleep in the coffin anymore."
He cocked his head.
"Well, why don't you want me to sleep in my bed?"
She suddenly grew tantrum.
"Because it isn't a bed! It's a coffin! And you are not dead!"
He shrugged calmly.
"When you have a corpse appearance it's appropriate to sleep in a coffin."
She licked her lips.
"Erik, please... don't sleep in that coffin. Please."
He stood and looked at her silently. Then shrugged.
"Well, if you want it, I think I can do it just to please you. There are a lot of couches here, I think I can settle myself on any of them. Are you satisfied?"
The bitter tone of his words hurt her.
"Yes." No, she wasn't satisfied. She had come here to comfort him, to compensate a little for the unjustice of fate... and just got another cold bath.
But now she understood why he acted so.
She couldn't sleep. Tomorrow she was going to become his wife. As the fulfilment of her bagrain...
Could her father even imagine such a fate for her? His beloved daughter, his songbird, his adored Christine living underground, having given herself to some horrible freak?
"My father would appreciate you, Erik, - she thought. - He had never estimated anyone by his appearance."
This thought amused her. They - her father and Erik - could go along brilliantly. She imagined Erik singing to Charles Daae's violin... Or Charles playing his violin and Erik playing the organ... Or Charles playing and herself and Erik singing... She closed her eyes and listened to the imaginary singing. Her father was smiling over his violin, and Erik was smiling too, she didn't see his smile beneath the mask, but he was glad, it was evident, and they both were looking at her, and she was laughing happily - so beautiful the song was.
A soft cry interrupted her dreams.
She went up to the door and listened.
"Erik?" - she asked uncertainly.
There was no answer, but she heard the cry again.
She took the candle and opened the door to his room. He wasn't there, the terrible coffin was empty. She left his room through the other door and found herself in a drawing-room.
There he was, lying on a couch at the wall. Fully dressed, he even didn't take off his boots. Evidently he fell asleep involuntary.
His body was totally rigid, his head tilted back. His hands were clutching the blanket he was lying on.
Christine stood beside the couch and listened.
"No... Don't..." - he whispered.
"Don't do what?" - she asked softly.
He didn't awake.
"Please... Don't beat me... I will take my mask off..."
A nightmare. No, that won't do. She leaned over him and gently touched him by the shoulder.
"Erik, it's ok now. You're safe, in your house no one will harm you."
He shrank away, evidently frightened, and trembled.
"No, don't let them harm me... I will do as you order..."
Damn, if that's his customary sleep, it's not surprising he is half-mad.
She sighed and sat by his side. The revulsion she had felf was forgotten because of the simple need to help a suffering man.
She stroked his shoulders undecisevely. He only tensed more.
Christine took him by his shoulder and shook him lightly:
"Erik, enough! Wake up! Stop that now!"
He waked up with a start, looking at her with clouded eyes. His breathing was shallow, he was still trembling. Sitting up, he said in a husky voice:
"Why don't you sleep? What are you doing here?"
"You've had a nightmare, and I heard you crying and came. Do you have them often? Nightmares, I mean?"
He rubbed his eyes with his fists.
"Every night, I suppose. I mean, when I actually get to sleep. I don't sleep much. Why do you ask?"
Why does she ask! Damn, has nobody ever cared for him?
"Erik, you are tired, aren't you?"
"I don't know. Well, I've slept for a couple of hours, so I suppose I'm not."
She shook her head.
"Let's try to sleep. That is, let me try to help you to sleep. Take off your boots and lie down... please."
"Listen, Christine, tomorrow we'll be married, but now I'm even not your husband yet. May be you won't tell me what to do?"
She hissed. How he was able to turn her attempts to care for him to some childish nuisance!
"You may do as you wish," - she said. - But don't say you don't want me to sit by your side!
"I won't say it, - he said quietly. - But you need sleep more than I. I got accustomed to sleeplessness, and you didn't. So I think it would be better if you go to sleep now."
"And you will have another nightmare."
"No, I won't just sleep, and that's all."
She stared at him with blinking eyes. He seemed absolutely calm, his exhausted state notwithstanding. What should she do?
Nothing. There's nothing to do now. His will and his logic were undeniable.
She sighed and turned to the door, then suddenly turned back and said:
"You know, I was just imagining you, my father and myself performing music. It was so nice - we were both singing, father was playing the violin and smiling..."
"Do you think your father would be smiling at me?"
"I'm sure, Erik. He would see you as you are."
He laughed bitterly.
"Then he wouldn't smile at me at all."
"No, Erik. He would see your talent and generosity. As I see."
His hand took hers uncertainly:
"Do you really?"
"Of course. And now, please, try to sleep."
She kissed his palm lightly and quickly left.
Erik was lying in the darkness for a long time, trying to accomodate everything he was feeling during that dialogue and touching the spot on his palm her lips had touched.
A matter of honor, indeed.
He got some more sleep before dawn, and in his dream he was singing by someone's violin, and someone's unseen lips touched his palm.
The carriage was going slowly along the Paris streets.
Erik and Christine were sitting in separate corners, not looking at each other.
They had been married. The marriage was not 'merry', as Erik had once boasted. There were only they and the priest, a worthy father who for a considerable donation had agreed not to ask too many questions and not to try to see the mysterious bridegroom's face.
When the priest told them to kiss, Erik wanted to ask the father permission not to, both to conceal his face and not to make Christine do it, but she deliberately took his face into her hands and kissed his lips without turning his face to the priest. Her face was serious and composed, as if she was performing some important duty demanding all her attention and will. (And it was really so.) Erik couldn't say if he wanted to be kissed by Christine with such an expression or not, but the kiss itself didn't disappoint him.
It was not an indifferent touch of lips; first she touched his mouth lightly, as if probing, then pressed her mouth to his a little more, touched his lips with her tongue (and he thought he was going to die of sidden rush of desire) and thus made him open his mouth a little under hers, and then, covering his lips fully with hers, kissed him with sudden anxiety, moving her lips over his misshapen mouth.
It wasn't a kiss appropriate for church.
And now they were going home together, and Erik had a wife.
He had often imagined how he would bring his wife home. Since he had fallen in love with Christine, he imagined it very often, picturing to himself gorgeous gifts, wonderful music and burning passion. Well, he knew these were only fairy-tales, the gorgeous events like that were not for him. This girl was paying him for sparing her beloved's life, and no music and no gifts in the whole world could invoke in her the passion he had dreamed of. She was fulfilling her promise, it was a matter of honor, and now she demanded him to stick to honor and to obligations too. It was great... but instead of joy he was in fear.
How would he make love to the girl who didn't want him?
She would lie rigid, trying to conceal her revulsion, keeping silence not to shout of terror. She would give herself to him, she wouldn't reject him, but she would be cold and indifferent, there wouldn't be joy of shared emotion in this 'lovemaking'. He had never been with a woman, and now, being the rightful husband to his beloved and desiring her desperately, he was ready to reject his rights. Better to die without knowing a woman's love than to make her go through it!
But how, oh how would he refuse of his dream?
Christine, in her corner, was solving the same problem from her own point of view.
She didn't want him. Telling the truth, she didn't want anybody. Being an innocent girl, her passions weren't awakened yet, and even with Raoul she had never fancied more than kissing in a secluded room. Strangely, she wasn't revulsed by Erik any more. May be it was just because of those few touches they had shared - his hands were cold, but there was really nothing terrible in them, and stroking his shoulders casually turned out not to be terrible too, and she even had enjoyed the kiss in such a way she didn't expect herself. She knew she was able to become his, she knew it was her duty now, but she couldn't imagine how it would be. Pain, pressure, clenched teeth and rigid body? Yes, she was afraid. But she decided to overcome her fear.
Because of honor.
She would be Erik's tonight.
"Farewell, Raoul", - she thought.
Erik looked at her in that moment. Was he a mind-reader?
No, he wasn't. But even without actually touching her he felt her inward tension, as if there was some contact between them. Fanstastically sensitive, tuned to her thoughts and feelings since the first day she had spent in his house, he could almost feel the beating of her heart without hearing it.
The afternoon passed in silence. There were several words said concerning late dinner of cold meat and some salad, a little bread and a bottle of good Tokay wine. They ate together in a small dining-room, Erik serving the table silently and Christine cutting the meat and bread. The dinner resulted in Christine eating her meals without any appetite and Erik eating almost nothing.
He even wasn't in a mood to play. But she asked him.
Having finished her meal, she stood, came up to him and said:
"Erik, would you play please?"
He was immencely pleased she asked.
The mood came to him while he played. He played Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Hendel - everything he could remember. She looked at his hands as if bewildered. His long fingers slided over the keys in the intricate dance, his hands soared, rised and fell, crossed over the keys and parted again and again soared in the candle-lit darkness. And there, over the keys of his organ, Erik's hands were beautiful.
He didn't try to sing knowing that his singing fascinated Christine. For him it seemed something like cheating. Why didn't he want to cheat? He didn't know. He just didn't. If she didn't want him, let her have her own mind and her own decision.
"Sing for me, please."
He turned to her:
"What would you like to hear?"
She thought a little:
"Lohengrin's story, if you know it."
Certainly he knew it. The part of Lohengrin suited his flying tenor beautifully. Oh, well. The story of Lohengrin was the story of unfulfilled passion and lost happiness. After Christine had unmasked him, Erik compared himself to Lohengrin - they were both doomed to suffer because of the curiosity of their beloved. He would sing Lohengrin's story.
The first notes melted together with the deep organ sounds and flied up:
"There in the holy realm, among the far high mountains,
There's the ancient castle of Montsalvat..."
Christine was listening intently, savouring every note, her eyes closed tightly. The etherial voice of Erik's suited ideally for the unearthy beauty - inward and outward - of the Knight of the Grail. She imagined Erik as Lohengrin - no, not Erik, someone like him, but another - a slight body, beautiful flying white hands, a face clouded with golden light... Where had she seen this gorgeous man already? Lohengrin, betrayed by his beloved, just as she had betrayed Erik several times - first revealing his face, then revealing his mistery to Raoul, then trying to bribe him with her agreement of marriage...
Never would she betray him any more. She would be just a cheapskate if she does.
Erik finished the song and lowered his hands onto the keys. Christine opened her eyes. He said with his back turned to her, leaning on the armchair's back, his head tilted back, his body still strained by the feeling channeled in the song.
"Thank you," - she whispered. - "Are you tired?"
"Me? No, I think I'm not. Why do you ask?"
She wanted to ask him to rest, but guessing his tension she asked:
"Let's sing the final for Aida, if you'd like to."
"Aida and Radames in the tomb together? Well, very appropriate..."
That's why she had chosen Lohengrin's story for him to sing - it didn't cause him to tell things like that. Yes, Aida and Radames in the tomb together, but both afraid to hurt each other's feelings, both afraid of each other - and both hurting and scaring each other brilliantly.
"Damn Aida and Radames. It's late already. Are you going to bed?"
He turned to her, his white mask gleaming in the candlelight:
"May be. Why do you ask?"
She answered a little angrily:
"You know perfectly well why I ask!"
There was no more possibility to lie or tell half-truths. He sighed:
"Christine, if you imagine for a moment that I'm going to make you do that..."
"Erik, if you imagine for a moment I'm not going to do that, you're mistaken. I have my duty as your wife, and I'm going to fulfil it."
"Whom do you take me for?"
He could tell her a thousand of things. He could tell her he knew perfectly well she didn't want him. He could tell her he would never take her without her will. He could tell her he didn't want her body without her passion and her love. He could tell her he didn't want to make love to the woman who would really imagine some other man on his place. He could tell her...
But he had always been a gambler. It was a game between them - a game of honor and duty. She called him her husband, and a husband has his duty and his rights, hasn't he? Well, he'll play his part till the end, he won't lose the game to her, and all other reasons be damned!
"Shall I extinguish the light?"
Her whisper was barely a sound. He was terribly sorry for her, caught in her own trap, so sorry he could almost forget his own desire and passion. He extingushed the only candle and placed it on the small table near her bed.
Now they were in complete darkness. Christine couldn't see him. He was just strange, almost ethereal presence near her, only his breath betraying where he was.
She sighed deeply, composed herself, came up to him and embraced him, putting her head on his chest.
Stunned by the almost unfamiliar sensation and her supreme trust, Erik undecisevely put his arms around her and heard her whispering:
"Erik, don't be afraid... I'm not afraid."
And then she bent his head down with her left hand, her right hand taking off his mask, and her mouth found his lips.
After all, everything turned out to be simple.
Christine awakened in the dark room, her head resting on his shoulder. He had been right - you may grow accustomed to everything. And in the darkness his deformity meant almost nothing next to the exquisite pleasure of touching, embracing and the shared desire to please each other.
They were both unexperienced, but the night gave them the discoveries they hadn't imagined before. The macabre game unexpectedly lead them to mutual joy, to the knowlegde of the awakened desire for her and of the accepted passion for him.
It wasn't torture for her - she accepted him with joy, and he cried of happiness a little. For him it wasn't just physical pleasure - it was the immense joy of someone accepting him totally, body and soul, giving him strength to live and hope.
Now he was sleeping. His breath was slow and peaceful. No nightmares that night, no tears of horror and misery - just sound sleep, and, as Christine could say, he wasn't going to wake up.
She stretched, thinking of necessity to get up, get dressed and make breakfast, but decided she would better lie in Erik's warm embrace.
His hands weren't cold anymore.
Days passed, and Christine detected he was changing. First of all, he began to sleep much more. Not able to contain his passion, he took her to their bed every night and made love to her until they both were exhausted. After it he slept soundly for several hours at least.
And woke up hungry.
He had always been indifferent to food, but now it seemed the need to eat awakened in him. He ate small amounts of food, but he dined with her every day now, and she was glad of it.
She saw his tantrums practically disappearing, his temper growing more mild. His nerves and his health were improving considerably.
Once he was cutting bread for their dinner, and she was looking, bewildered, at his hands moving over the plate... suddenly she came up to him and said:
"Erik, your hands!"
"Well, what of them?"
"Just look at them!"
He looked at his hands as if he saw them for the first time in his life. And he understood he did.
His hands weren't skeletal anymore. The thin layer of flesh covered his fine bones now, and the delicate white skin of his lost its unhealthy pallor.
His hands were beautiful.
Erik looked at them, bewildered, then looked at smiling Christine, took her hands and laughed.
For the first time in his life he was laughing of joy.
His singing changed too. Instead of pain and strain there was now peace and quiet joy in his voice. His love was accepted, even of duty and honor, and he was almost as happy as he ever dreamed.
Gradually his body followed his hands - he got a little more flesh, and his skeletal frame turned to a slight, well-muscled body of a man knowing his needs and boundaries. His motions changed also - the newly acquired calmness and sureness gave him the grace he lacked.
Once he was standing at the candleholder, lighting the candles. His face was illuminated from below, and his mask reflected the candlelight, so that his face seemed to be clouded with golden glow.
When Christine saw him like this, she gasped.
He turned to her:
"What is it?"
"Lohengrin..." - she breathed.
"Oh, nothing. Just a thought of one not-too-clever girl. When you were singing Lohengrin's story, I imagined Lohengrin... and his image seemed familiar to me. I didn't know why. Now I know. He looked exactly like you do now."
"So you've guessed what I could look like?"
"There's something more here... But, in general, yes. My Lohengrin, my Erik..."
He looked at her with a surprised look. She went to him across the room, her eyes shining, her arms outstretched to him. He reached to her to accept her, and she went into his arms.
Never had she embraced him in a full light yet.
She looked at his masked face:
"I shall never betray you, Erik... I love you."
They were lying in each other's arms.
"I think I should confess, - she said. - Maybe I'll offend you...
"Well, confess, wife," - he smiled in the darkness.
"I told you I stayed because of honor, - she sighed. - Because I had promised and felt necessary to keep that promise. Well, I was lying. You see, that very moment you released Raoul and told us to go I saw you as you are at last. I saw the real you under all those layers of hatred and pain. Remember me seeing you as Lohengrin and thinking I have already seen you like this? It was just then. And you turned out to be so beautiful that same moment I fell in love with you and stayed because I was really madly in love with you. It wasn't the matter of honor, it was just the matter of love. Very selfish, but I wanted to press you to my breast and no one to meddle so much I invented all this matter of honor... Will you forgive me?"
"I think I'll forgive you", - he laughed quietly.
Her hand caressed his cheek.
"Kiss me", - she asked.
And he did.