Chapter 30 – Persia
Nadir watched helplessly from the threshold as Erik raged in their dining room, throwing around furniture, breaking smaller things, damaging larger ones, while screaming like a madman – or like a mortally wounded beast.
"Murderer!" Erik roared. "Killer! That's what I am. Builder of torture chambers! A monster who is watching people die a slow and painful death, not because they have wronged me, but because I will get paid for their agony!" He slammed a chair against the wall.
"Erik, please..." Nadir tried to calm his friend, but Erik did not pay him any attention. His insane laughter resounded through the room.
"I killed your son, too!" Erik shouted at Nadir. "I killed them all! Dozens of people... I am an executioner, a perverted beast that enjoys causing pain!" He punched the table with his fist, hard, his knuckles starting to bleed.
"You wanted to help Reza," Nadir made another attempt to soothe Erik, praying that Darius would be back soon with the ladies. "He needs to relax, and soon," Nadir thought. "If he stays that agitated much longer, he could suffer a stroke or heart attack. Even if he does not attempt to..." He shuddered, thanking Allah that nothing in the room could be used as a tool to end one's own life.
"Slow and painful..." Erik laughed hysterically. "I am good at that... " He looked around the room, a flicker of insanity in his eyes. "Like them... justice fulfilled..."
Nadir paled. "No, Erik!" he screamed. "That won't resolve anything! You need to live and redeem yourself, to make it up for the suffering you caused..." He was interrupted by another blood-curling scream and the sound of the table being upturned.
"Angel!" Christine's voice was barely above a whisper, yet it made Nadir turn around to face Darius and the two ladies. Christine's face was ashen with shock, when she realized Erik's current state of mind. She pressed her fists against her heart and looked as if she would faint at any moment.
Mme. Giry put a supportive arm around Christine's shoulder then she addressed Nadir. "What happened?" she asked. "How long has he been like that?"
Nadir half-turned towards her, making sure that he still could keep an eye on Erik, while explaining the situation to the ladies. "Reza's birthday is upcoming," he sighed, "and Darius asked me if I wanted to sort of commemorate that day by having one of Reza's favorite dishes for dinner. We were not aware that Erik could overhear our conversation, thinking that he was in his room as he has been almost constantly for the past few days, but for some reason he had come down earlier today, and he heard at least part of what we said and when he heard Reza's name he remembered my boy, where he had met him, and everything else that happened in Persia. He groaned as if in agony and that's when... he started raging... it's as if he had suddenly lost his mind. He calls himself a killer, rages against himself and tries to relieve his frustration about his past by causing as much destruction as possible."
"He needs me," Christine's voice was frail, yet determined, when she made a few steps towards the dining room.
Nadir gripped her upper arm and held her back. "Not now," he told her softly. "He needs to calm down a bit, before he will be able to listen to reason. In his current condition he may even be dangerous."
Christine shuddered, but obeyed. Her eyes followed Erik for the next half hour, watching as he wreaked havoc in the once cozy dining room, screamed till he was hoarse, and finally broke down exhausted.
When she saw Erik on the floor, leaning heavily against the wall, facing an empty corner of the room, staring at it with unseeing eyes, as if in shock of what he had learned about himself that day, there was no holding her back, though. Christine entered the destroyed dining room and slowly, so as not to agitate him again, approached her beloved's hunched form.
Once she had reached Erik, she sank down to her knees next to him and wrapped her arms around him. "My poor Angel," she whispered, "I wish I could have spared you this."
Erik continued to stare ahead, and rasped, "leave me alone. I am a murderer. There is blood on my hands." He laughed again, a terrible, hollow laughter, before continuing. "I have killed dozens, I could kill again at any moment. You are not safe with me. Leave me alone!" The last words were spoken forcefully, like an outcry of his tortured soul.
"I am safe with you," Christine put all the determination she could muster into her words, pulling Erik even closer. "You would never harm me."
"How can you be so sure?" Erik scoffed. "Maybe you have no idea who I am!" He pointed at his disfigurement. "Apparently not even this has made you understand what kind of a monster I am. I am cursed with the devil's mark, I was meant to be a murderer, a criminal from the moment I was born."
His body shook again with insane laughter. "Oh, my mother was a wise woman. She knew. The moment she first saw me, she knew that she had given birth to a heartless monster. If only she had had the courage to finish my wretched existence then and there. She certainly would have made the world a better place by ridding it of me."
Christine rested her head on Erik's shoulder and whispered. "I do know who you are. You are kind and compassionate and you have a warm, loving heart. You helped me through the most difficult period of my life. You were there for me when my dear papa died, you helped me heal and you shared your music with me. No monster would be able to do that." She snuggled up to him even closer. "No monster would be able to appreciate music the way you do," she breathed into Erik's ear.
Erik stared ahead and said monotonously, "dozens of bodies prove you wrong. I killed them all, killed for money! Made them die a slow, painful death, tortured them for days, made them experience unimaginable agony, and took the shah's money as compensation for the time and effort it took me to come up with more and more horrible ways of killing his enemies."
Christine forced herself not to shudder at this rather detailed description of Erik's past crimes, then she said. "That was not you, my Angel, at least not the real you. That was a creature shaped by society's rejection, by years and years of abuse and hatred, a soul that had never experienced love. The person that did all those things is long gone."
Erik laughed bitterly. "You are trying to find excuses," he said. "I had experienced friendship. Antoinette had been kind to me..."
Christine turned Erik's head to make him face her. "She was kind to you, but she admits herself that she was too young to fully understand how terribly starved you were emotionally, and when she met her husband, Meg's father, ..." her voice trailed. "You must have felt so alone and you feared that everybody else would abuse you and hurt you even further, since that was all you could remember from your life before meeting her. Your mother, the gypsies, they all had treated you terribly and damaged you emotionally. The shah's court was your first real chance at being accepted. You could belong there without being abused. And all it took in order to be accepted was to treat others the same way the world had treated you."
Erik turned towards the wall again. "I enjoyed it," he said weakly. "Coming up with new ways of torture was a challenge..."
Christine had tears in her eyes. "My poor Angel," she sighed. "You were desperate to find a place in society, to be able to use your abilities, and the first person to offer you that chance had to be a perverted sadist like the shah, who used you as a tool to satisfy his own blood-lust. It is as I said, they are all every bit as guilty of your crimes as you are. Your mother, who made you feel inferior because of your face, the gypsies who taught you that it was all right to abuse and torture others in order to make a living, and the shah, who tempted you with the things you craved most, acceptance, recognition, challenging tasks, in order to make you commit his crimes in his place. The person who committed those crimes was a product of the way the world had treated him. You are not that person any longer."
Erik tried to free himself from Christine's arms. "And why exactly do you think I am different now?" he groaned. "I still kill without a thought... Buquet, Piangi... nobody forced me to do that, nobody made me kill them, yet..."
"What about Raoul, then?" Christine reminded him. "He hurt you more than anybody else by luring me away from you, yet you didn't... On the contrary, it was him who tried to get rid of you..."
"I attacked him at your father's grave," Erik reminded her.
"That was a fair combat," Christine corrected him. "You did not spy on him in the dark and kill him in a back alley. You gave him a chance to defend himself. He, on the other hand, plotted to get you killed, and he used the gendarmes as his henchmen. He did not want to get his fingers dirty. And yet, when he was at your mercy that night, you did not kill him, you let him go."
"For you," Erik whispered. "I did not kill him, could not go through with it, because it would have hurt you..."
Christine smiled. "See, Angel, that's what I mean. That's how I know that you won't kill ever again. It would hurt me, and you would never want to hurt me. We all know that. And because we understand why you did what you did, we all still love you despite your past. Me, maman, Monsieur Khan, Darius..."
Erik finally relaxed. He slumped onto the floor like a rag doll and started crying. Christine held him protectively and whispered soothing words to him for over an hour, when she finally realized that Erik was close to collapsing from emotional and physical exhaustion. She motioned for Nadir to come closer.
"I think Erik needs some sleep now," she whispered to the former daroga. "And his hands are awfully bruised and chafed, I think he might need some medical attention, too."
Nadir nodded. He pulled his only semi-conscious friend up and helped him to bed. Erik was so exhausted that he fell asleep the moment his head touched the pillow. He did not even notice it anymore when Nadir removed a splinter from his left hand and disinfected a rather nasty bleeding cut on the knuckles of his right hand.
Erik slept for the rest of the day. Nadir, Darius, Christine and Mme. Giry took turns sitting with him, all of them still afraid of what he might do, if he awoke alone and remembered again the horrendous crimes he had committed.
It was close to eight o'clock in the evening when Erik finally opened his eyes again, seeing Nadir sitting at his bedside, smiling at him encouragingly.
"Nadir," Erik sighed, turning away from his friend. "How can you smile at me like that? I killed your son, for Heaven's sake!"
Nadir squeezed Erik's heaving shoulder. "That was the kindest thing you could have done for my little Reza," he said. "You saved him, spared him months and months of excruciating pain. You gave him peace. That's when I knew that I had misjudged you. That you were not the heartless, unfeeling, bloodthirsty, sadist monster that I had thought you to be, but a warm, compassionate person. That you were only a lost, misguided soul, pushed in the wrong direction by years of abuse and rejection."
Erik fought back tears. "How can you be so sure?" he asked. "How can you ever trust me again after all the things I did?"
"You are a different person now," Nadir told Erik's back. "You have experienced love and friendship now, and those experiences have brought the goodness of your heart to the fore. You abhor killing now. You won't do it again." Nadir smiled, "and you would not want to disappoint your friends and thus lose them, now that you finally do have friends."
Erik closed his eyes. In his mind's eye he saw Christine's pale, worried face and heard her tell him, "It would hurt me, and you would never want to hurt me." Was that wishful thinking? Had he dreamed that in his hour of need she had come to offer him her understanding, her acceptance, her – love – after all he had said to her only a few days ago? He did not dare hope that she of all people would forgive him.
He turned around slowly and faced Nadir. "Christine," he whispered. "I dreamed that she was here and told me something similar..." His eyes took on an enthusiastic expression. "It was such a wonderful dream," he sighed.
Nadir's smile broadened. "That was no dream," he said quietly. "Madame Christine came the moment I sent for her, and if you did not fall prey to the deepest depression this morning it is only thanks to her. She truly loves you, Erik, she brought you back from the brink of despair and self-loathing."
"Yet another sin I committed," Erik sighed. "I pushed her away, her and her love, out of jealous egotism, because I could not bear the thought that..." He looked away again, embarrassed.
"She will forgive you, Erik," Nadir comforted his friend. "If you apologize to her, that is, and if you forgive her that she was married before. Don't push her away, because she made a mistake once, she has paid dearly for that already. Doesn't she deserve to be loved even more, after having been treated so poorly by the Vicomte?"
"Do you think..." Erik's voice was unsure, hesitant. "I mean, is it conceivable that she... that I..." He summoned all his courage and finally blurted out. "Can I see her?"
Nadir beamed. Things finally seemed to go the right way for these two star-crossed lovers. "She is waiting for you to call her,"he told Erik, "and even though you've been on an emotional roller-coaster today already and need your rest, I will allow her to come in for a few minutes and talk to you, if you promise that you will eat a little something and go back to sleep again afterwards."
Erik nodded. He would have promised anything for a chance to see Christine and try to obtain her forgiveness. "Is she not angry, hurt, because of the things I said to her?" he asked nervously.
"She is worried about you," Nadir explained. "That's why I will allow her to see you for a few minutes. She needs to know that you will be all right." He helped Erik into a sitting position, then went to look for Christine.
He found her with Mme. Giry and Darius in the parlor. The moment he entered the room, Christine jumped to her feet. "Erik...?" she asked worriedly.
Nadir patted her on the shoulder. "He is awake," he told her, "and he wants to see you. I have the impression as if he had something important to tell you..."
Christine was out of the room, before Nadir had even finished his sentence. He smiled at Mme. Giry and said, "I think we'd better prepare ourselves for an imminent engagement."
Christine slowed down once she reached the corridor leading to Erik's room. She wanted to see her Angel, but... how would he react to her? Was he only going to thank her for having helped him through his emotional crisis earlier that day, keeping his distance from her, the divorced woman, or... She did not dare hope for more. Surely it was asking too much to expect him to take her back now that she was not pure anymore...
She hesitantly knocked on Erik's door and entered his room. "Christine!" her Angel called out, his voice heavy with love and longing, his arms extended towards her.
"Angel!" Christine flew to his bedside, sank to her knees and threw herself into Erik's waiting arms.
Erik buried his face in her curls. "Forgive me, Christine," he begged. "Please say that I have not ruined every chance of winning your heart with my egotistic jealousy, oh please, please try to forgive me one last time."
Christine wrapped her arms around Erik tightly and rested her head against his chest. "Does that mean..." she asked shyly, "do you not mind anymore that I... that Raoul..." She blushed deeply, then whispered barely audibly, "that I gave my innocence to him."
"Oh Christine," Erik sighed. "My Christine, I hurt you so badly a few days ago, but you never held it against me, and when I needed help, in my darkest hour, you did not hesitate one moment, you put aside all the hurt I had caused you and came to me. If you can forgive me for all that and for those crimes I committed so long ago... oh Christine, it is you that must forgive me, not the other way round. Forgive me for the way I treated you and for my other crimes, in Persia and at the Opéra Populaire. Will you be able to do that, my love? Will you be able to look not just past my horrible face, but also past the atrocities I have committed?"
Christine nodded against Erik's chest. "Yes," she whispered. "That was your past. That was so long ago. You are not that person anymore. The man I learned to love when I was still a small girl, has never been anything but kind, understanding and compassionate, and he loves me with all his heart."
Erik shifted, so that Christine looked up at him. "Did you mean it..." he began nervously, "you told me that... do you still feel that way?"
Christine smiled. Erik was adorable in his confusion. "What do you want to know, Angel?" she asked softly.
"Do you... I mean, will you... you said, if I wanted, you would..." Erik blushed deeply. "Marry me," he added, his voice almost too low to be heard.
Christine's whole face lit up. "Erik, did you just say, what I think you did?" she asked nervously. "If I misunderstood him and he did not just propose to me, let me die," she prayed, certain that she would not be able to survive yet another rejection by him.
Erik nodded uncertainly. "Would you consider marrying me?" he asked nervously. "I know that I have done nothing to deserve your love, but if you are still willing to put up with me..." He could not finish the sentence, for he suddenly felt Christine's lips upon his own. He moaned and surrendered only too willingly to the mystery of this woman's heart and her ability to forgive him.