Chapter 19 – Torture
Christine was not sure what to think. Erik's words told her that she was forgiven, but his eyes burned with the pain of her betrayal and his jealousy of Raoul. And on the bottom of his gaze lingered the self-loathing for having killed yet another man.
"You need some time to adjust," she said quietly, squeezing her Angel's hand affectionately. "This has been too much for you, especially coming on the heels of the surfacing of your memories about your time with the gypsies."
Erik sighed. He had to admit that she was right. Realizing that he had killed more than one man had been bad enough, but remembering Christine's relationship with that – boy, reliving the scene on the roofs of the Populaire had hurt him beyond imagination. Even though Christine was standing next to him now, smiling, holding his hand, he was not certain he would ever be able to get the image of her clinging to the Vicomte and kissing him out of his mind. He understood now that he himself had basically driven her into the arms of his rival by committing the hideous act of murder, and that she therefore was not to be blamed for her actions that night and thereafter, but his heart ached nevertheless and Erik wondered if he would ever be able to fully believe in her love for him after he had seen how easily she had fallen for another man.
"Maybe it is better, if we wait a few days before I come over again," Christine suggested calmly. "I do not want to put you under further stress too soon. I see that these deaths weigh on you, and that you need to think about my betrayal and forgive me in your heart."
Erik tried to interrupt her, but Christine quickly put her finger on his lips. "Sh, don't say a word, Angel," she whispered. "I know what you told me and that you think that I may not have been as guilty as you suspected that long ago night on the roofs, but what your mind tells you and what your heart feels is not necessarily the same thing. You need time to digest all that."
Erik nodded. "You are right," he admitted. "All this has been rather a shock to me and it will probably take some time to ponder and fully accept all you have told me today." He stared at her. "How on earth can you possibly look at me like that, with so much love in your eyes, at me, a murderer?"
Erik's voice was full of despair and tore at Christine's heart. "I know the real you," she whispered. "I know the caring and loving side of you, and I am confident that you will refrain from killing people in the future, that you have already started a new life here, that the person who killed Buquet and the gypsy is a thing of the past."
Erik looked down. "You will come back?" he asked shyly, "you are not using the fact that I need time to deal with these elements of my past as an excuse to get out of my life again?"
Christine shook her head. "No, Erik," she told him, burying her face in his shirt and wrapping her arms around him. "I meant it when I told you that I love you. I will be waiting for you to send me a note that you are over what happened that night. I will give you as much time as you need. Once you are ready to hear the rest, let me know, and I will be back. I promise."
She hugged Erik again, then on an impulse, she bestowed a chaste kiss on his forehead. "Don't make me wait too long, love," she whispered, before turning to leave.
Erik remained behind, stunned. How was it possible that this angel loved him despite all he had done, when he could not find it in his heart to love himself, not after learning about the crimes he had committed?
The next few days were hell for Erik. He was subject to a turmoil of emotions. Self-loathing because of the murders he had committed and the pain he had caused Christine by doing so were every bit as strong as his jealousy of Raoul and the memory of the desperation he had felt at Christine's betrayal. Erik's constant mood changes and the obvious distress his friend was feeling were taking their toll on Nadir as well. He was worried. The more Erik remembered or learned about his past, the harder he seemed to take it. Erik had reacted badly to the fact that he had killed two men, and there was so much more he still did not know, yet now, that his memory was slowly returning the day would come when Erik would know the full truth about his past life. What would he do once he learned about his time as the Opera Ghost – and even worse, about his time at the court of the Shah?
Nadir was beginning to fear that Erik would not be able to live with the knowledge of these horrible crimes, unless, of course, Christine would be able to convince him of her love despite everything and of her willingness to start a new life with him and help him redeem himself.
Nadir set up straight. He suddenly remembered that Christine did not know about Erik's time in Persia either. He had only warned her that there were more incidents like Buquet's death in Erik's past. Even though she had said so repeatedly, would she really be able to forgive everything, even something as bad as the torture chambers? Would her love be that strong? Or would she recoil in horror from Erik, when she found out about these horrors once he remembered and would need her love most?
Nadir realized that Christine needed to know everything at once. If after learning about her Angel's horrendous past she was still willing to stand at Erik's side and lend him moral support, give him her heart and accept him despite everything, then Erik would stand a chance, if not, then... "Then Allah may help him," Nadir whispered. He had a feeling that if Christine was unable to help Erik learn to accept himself despite his past crimes, then Erik would not want to live on, for the Erik who had woken up in his home three years ago without his memories was not the same man anymore as the Erik who had built torture chambers in Persia. The new Erik had experienced love, friendship, acceptance from the moment he awoke. That new Erik was the person Erik could always have been if his mother had been able to love her disfigured son despite his birth defect, and Nadir would do everything he could think of to make sure that this Erik had a chance at happiness.
The next day, on his way home from the office, Nadir therefore stopped by at the Giry-cottage. Christine greeted him full of hope. "How is Erik doing?" she asked. "Is he over the worst? Is he ready to learn the rest?"
Nadir shook his head. "No," he said sadly. "He is nowhere near ready for that. Especially considering the nature of the memories that have not yet resurfaced but eventually will... those memories that you know nothing about..." His voice trailed. "Miss Christine, there are things that you need to know. Things, that I am not sure you will be able to forgive so easily. Things, that might make you recoil from him in shock."
Christine looked at Nadir uneasily. "You have already mentioned that there were more bad things in Erik's past," she said slowly. "But you did not tell me what exactly these things were. From your words I get the impression that they must be very bad." She nervously played with a lock of her hair, then asked hesitantly, "he has killed a few more people, has he not?"
Nadir nodded. "Yes," he confirmed quietly. "Lots of people."
Christine's face turned as pale as a freshly chalked wall. "How?" she asked. "When?"
Nadir lead her to a chair and made her sit down before he continued. "It was in my home-country of Persia," he began his tale. "Erik had left the Opéra Populaire at some point and for a while he travelled the world. He spent some time in Italy, where he was involved in a tragic accident which caused a young woman her life. No," he told Christine, "Erik did not kill her. She forced him to show her his face, and when he did, she was so scared that she recoiled a few steps and fell from a balcony. " Christine sighed in relief. At least this death could not be blamed on Erik.
Nadir continued. "Erik then joined a traveling fair of some kind and made a name for himself as a magician. That's when the Shah learned about him and Erik caught his interest. He summoned him to his court and made him something like his chief torturer."
Christine paled even more. "He did what?" she whispered, eyes wide in shock.
"The Shah ordered Erik to build torture chambers, to come up with always new ways how to make his own enemies die a slow and painful death. Erik got quite good at it," Nadir explained reluctantly.
"Oh my God," Christine sat in shock for a few moments, unable to speak or think. Nadir waited patiently for her to regain her composure.
"How many?" Christine finally managed to utter, thinking that she might faint any moment. Was it possible, had her Angel killed numerous people in the most painful way possible? Had he caused them to suffer for hours before death took them at last?
"Dozens." Nadir knew that there was no way of making this easy for her.
Christine shuddered at that thought. "Dozens," she repeated. "How could he?"
Nadir put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I am not going to make excuses for him," he said, "but disobeying the Shah was hardly an option."
Christine looked at Nadir. "You met him during this time," she stated flatly. "You knew about his crimes, yet you are his friend. How, why?"
Nadir's eyes gazed into the far distance. "Because of Reza," he murmured, his voice thick with mourning.
Christine shook her head. She did not understand. "Who is Reza?" she asked.
Nadir remained silent for a while, then he explained. "Reza was my son."
Christine stared at him in disbelief. "Your son?" she whispered, "you had a son? You were married once?"
Nadir nodded. "Yes, I was a happy family man once, or about to become one, when my beloved wife was expecting our first child, but she died giving birth to our son. She was the one and only woman in my life and there will never be another one for me. After she died, I bestowed all my love on our son. But Reza was sickly, and after a few years he developed a condition that could not be cured and would eventually be fatal. He was in pain most of the time, in so much pain..."
Now it was Christine's turn to put a comforting hand on the older man's arm. She knew only too well what it meant to lose a beloved person, to see a dear person struggle with death, to stand by helplessly and watch them die, after all, she had been through this as well with her father.
"I was daroga then, which is like the chief of police," Nadir continued. "It was my duty to keep an eye on Erik, the Shah never trusted him." He paused again, fighting back tears that had come unbidden when he first mentioned his son. "In order to do so, I befriended Erik, and invited him to my house," he added. "That's where he met Reza. It was strange, but the man, who had no qualms about killing people in the most horrific ways, felt compassion with my poor boy. There was a bond between them, it was as if they understood each other."
Christine nodded in understanding. "They were both different, both had their problems which made it impossible for them to lead a normal life," she whispered.
Nadir nodded. "Yes, they certainly could relate to each other. That's when I first realized that Erik had a heart. That he was not the killing monster I had thought him to be. Then Reza got worse."
Nadir's tears were now falling freely. "My boy was in constant pain, the disease had reached a point where not even morphine was helping anymore. It killed me to see my little Reza suffer like that."
Christine nodded. She understood only too well what Nadir must have been going through at that time, after all, she had experienced something similar when her father had died.
"One day Erik came to me," Nadir continued. "He told me that he had something that could set Reza free, spare him a few more months of endless pain and give him peace. He offered the substance to me."
Christine gasped. "He gave you something so that you could kill the child?" she asked wide-eyed.
Nadir shook his head. "He offered it, but I couldn't... I mean, I wanted Reza not to be in pain anymore, I wanted it so much, but I couldn't... so Erik..." He did not finish the sentence.
Christine understood him anyway. "So Erik did it himself," she whispered.
Nadir nodded. "Erik did the right thing. He helped his little friend, saved him from months and months of agonizing pain. He gave my poor boy peace, and I will forever be grateful to him. From that day on Erik became my true friend. He had earned himself a place in my family."
Nadir smiled at Christine. "I am not quite old enough to have a son of Erik's age, so I see Erik more as my little brother or a dear nephew that I am in charge of. And I promised my Reza's spirit that I would always be there for his benefactor. That's why a while later, when the Shah was getting tired of Erik and ordered his execution I helped him escape, even though as a result I was exiled from my country after a few months in prison. And when he got injured in the burning Opera house, Darius and I went looking for Erik, brought him to my home and nursed him back to health. My loyal Darius had followed me to France, when I was exiled, because we hoped to find Erik there again. It took us a while, but we eventually got in touch with him again, at a time when he was already your Angel of Music. "
Nadir smiled. "Once again Erik had found a child that needed him. Once again he was helping a kindred spirit." He looked at Christine. "Erik is not a bad man," he said, "despite everything. He had just been so terribly neglected emotionally. If his wench of a mother were not dead by now, I might be tempted to kill her myself. Her rejection and abuse of the innocent child is the main reason for Erik's shortcomings in the moral and emotional departments."
Christine nodded. "I know that," she said. "And I do not condemn him for helping your son, but..." She shuddered again.
Nadir faced her. "I wish he would never remember that," he confessed, "but his memories are coming back now, and sooner or later the day will come. That's why I thought I had to prepare you. You had to know in advance. You needed to come to terms with Erik's time in Persia before he remembers. That is the only way that you will be able to help him deal with his own past when the time comes. That is, if you still want to, now that you know everything."
Christine looked down. "This is a shock," she admitted. "I had not expected his past to be that bad. I know that I will be able to forgive him for that eventually, since I understand that his inability to tell right from wrong, that had been caused by his traumatic childhood, had made him do these things, but it will take time. I am glad you told me now, so that I will be prepared when Erik finally remembers..."
Nadir beamed at her. "Does that mean that you are still willing to help Erik?" he asked. "Is it possible that your feelings for him are strong enough to put even these horrors behind?"
Christine sighed. "It will not be easy," she admitted, "but I feel like you. I owe Erik so much, I will forever be in his debt. And if I can help him learn to accept his own past..." she sobbed. "It hurts that he did these things," she admitted, "but I still love him. Does that make me a bad person?"
Nadir shook his head. "I think it means you are a strong person," he said. "It takes a lot of courage to get over things like these."
Christine sighed. "My poor Angel," she said, "his life has been one long nightmare so far. I cannot blame him for what he did, for I do not know if I would have been able to suffer all he has been through, the rejection, the abuse, without ending up becoming violent as well. It is a miracle that all the horrors he has experienced have not been able to completely destroy the goodness of his heart, that he still was able to feel compassion for your son and for me, that he was able to spare Raoul that night..."
Nadir smiled at her. "I was worried," he admitted. "I feared that once you knew it all, you would not want anything to do with our Erik anymore, and that the realization of his past crimes combined with your final rejection would kill him, but I am confident now that in the end, all will turn out fine."
A tiny smile played across Christine's mouth. "Isn't that the nature of love," she asked, "to be able to forgive? To accept the other with all their flaws?"