'You came for Erik. For poor old Erik.'
I wasn't sure whether he was still talking to Christine, but I decided it wouldn't hurt to comfort him anyway. 'Yes, I am here, Erik, I am not leaving you.' Rubbing his back, I pondered over my next course of action. Surely the others would have gotten suspicious, since I had been gone for quite some time now. But I could not just leave him behind like that, not now he seemed to be more vulnerable than I'd ever seen him before.
Not feeling my legs anymore due to the freezingly cold, wet dress that was plastered against my skin, I decided to take him into the house. When I had finally gotten him to the armchair at the grate, I told him I'd be right back and moved into the kitchen. In one of the cabinets I discovered a small kettle and I quickly put it on the stove with some water. Searching through some more, I found a teacup, teabags and some sugar. While waiting for the water to boil, I checked on my friend. He was staring into the fire numbly, not even acknowledging me when I asked him something. All the time he was mumbling incoherent sentences, most of them concerning the ex Prima Donna, the fire or the Vicomte.
When I came back with the tea, he was still staring and I could not help but feel like the situation was hopeless. How could he ever live a normal life if the sight of Christine caused him to retreat back into his mind? I shook my head, not wanting to think so negatively. 'Erik, I made you some tea. I hope you like cherries, it was the only flavor I could find.' He didn't respond once again and I sighed. Putting down the tea on a side table, I pulled one of his hands towards me and began pulling at the leather glove. Once I got both removed I put the teacup in his hands, hoping that somehow the heat would reach his heart.
For the first time in what seemed like centuries, his eyes blinked and he looked down at his hands confused. Looking back up at me, his eyes flickered with understanding. 'Thank you.'
'That's what friends do.' Getting up from the armrest, I walked up to the a sideboard and picked up the white object lying on the top. 'Here, you had this lying on the ground and I put it away in case it would break.'
Erik stared at the half mask in my hand, then up to my face and then, again, back at the mask. His left, un-gloved hand flew to his face and ,on touching the bare skin, he snatched the mask from my hands. 'Now you've seen it for yourself; I am a monster. A monster by face and soul, as my former protégé so eloquently put it.'
'You are not.'
'How can you say that? Look at me, can you not see what I am?'
'All I see is a friend. A friend who is badly hurt and abused.' In an attempt to comfort him, I put a hand on his arm, but he pulled back.
'Don't touch me.'
'You're not a monster, Erik, I know you are not.'
'What is this, if not the face of a demon?' He gestured at the right, maimed side of his face.
Reaching out my hand, I let my fingers trace his skin. Following every line, every concave I explored his face for the first time. I let my fingertips touch the red, angry looking skin on the right half of his face, but did not leave his strong chin, his aristocratic nose or his high cheekbones unexplored. I am not going to lie, when I first saw the maimed side of his face fear had passed through me for a second. But then I had realized how stupid it was to fear him, when I had been his friend for all this time. Now I could see him, all of him and it was as if I saw him for the first time – and in a way, I did. 'It's the face of a man.'
Erik's point of view
Somehow, those words were more redeeming than any flattery could have ever been. Although a part was still there, it felt as if a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders and he could finally breathe again. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips and he opened his eyes to see Angélique all but stare at him. 'What is it? Coming back on your words now, little lady?' He dared to tease her.
She shook her head and blushed 'You are.. well, you are quite handsome when you smile. You look alive.'
Now openly smiling, he had to admit to himself that he felt alive. More alive in fact than he had done in a very long time, even before Christine. He held no disillusioned hopes for the future, yet he knew he was not alone. For the first in a long time, he felt like Erik. He was not the Devil's Child, not the Phantom of the Opera, he was Erik. And at that moment, that seemed to be enough. 'I feel…-'
'What in God's name is going on here, Erik?'
Both of them turned their heads to the shore bank. There, with the hem of her black dress sodden and a very, very angry look on her face, stood Antoinette Giry.
'Antoinette, it's not what you…-' He started, but was already cut off before he could even start to explain.
'I am sure it is not, Erik. Just like it wasn't what I thought last time. When is this madness ever going to stop? This is the last time I will see you kidnap innocent girls down to your lair. I considered you my friend, Erik, but this is were I must draw the line.'
'Please, Antoinette, if you'd only listen to…-'
'I most definitely shall not! When Christine told me another one of my ballerinas had run off, I hoped against hopes that you would be behind this. But I suppose I should have known.'
'Madame Giry, please, he's right.' From the corner of his eyes, he saw Angélique rise from the armrest. 'I am here by my own choice. Erik never forced me to come down here.'
'Then why else would you be here?' Antoinette did not seem swayed by her words, probably thinking he had coerced her into telling this story.
'Because he is my friend.'
'You know he has killed people, that he kidnapped a girl before and…-'
'I don't care,' Angélique said, adamantly. 'I know what he did, madame Giry, but I also know that he is a good person. I will not try to erase his past deeds, but I can only ask you to try and look past them, like I do.'
The ballet mistress scrutinized the young girl, almost as if trying to read her mind, then looked at him. 'I still don't agree with all of this, Erik, but I am sure you know that. Angélique, I expect you to look fit and awake tomorrow at practice. No excuses.' With that, his old friend turned on her heel and left through one of the secret entrances.
'Yes, that was Antoinette Giry's way of saying she resigned herself to it.'