Monday, June 6, 2011

Chapter 21

Oct. 19 – 3:30pm

            “Her name is Christine Daae and she was the woman I loved, the woman I wished to be my bride, and the woman who betrayed and tried to kill me five years ago.”
            Not knowing what to expect, Alex still wasn’t prepared for what she’d heard. It did make sense, though. She had always suspected there was someone in Erik’s past who’d broken his heart but never would she have guessed how violently it had been done. No wonder he kept his emotions under such tight control. Though she sympathized greatly with her host, having known her own heartbreak and betrayal from one she thought loved her, she was amazed at the sheer anger she felt for this unknown woman. He may be moody and temperamental but he was also kind, gentle, talented, and with a wicked sense of humor that rivaled and even surpassed her own.
            She watched as Erik moved to the sideboard to pour a glass of brandy and drain it before pouring another. For perhaps the first time since she’d known him, he appeared to be at a loss as to what to say. Alex glanced at Da’ud, wondering if she should ask him to explain further, but he gave a surreptitious shake of his head. Biting her lip, she returned her gaze to her host and struggled to stay calm and patient. 
            Erik moved to the window, knowing he should say something but uncertain as to how much he was willing, or could bear, to say. He didn’t want to relive the pain of Christine’s betrayal or his foolish belief that anyone could ever love him with his horror of a face. But perhaps, if he spoke of what his life had been before her, he might be able to numb the pain. Without turning, he began his tale in Paris…

            It was cold and snowing the night he ran away from the priests. Though he knew stealing to be a crime against the laws of both man and God, he didn’t see that either should matter to a monster. He’d taken all the money he could find, the head priest’s thickest winter coat, and a small sack of dried meats and fruits. Once he reached Paris, he knew things would be better. It was so large that he could easily get lost and not have to worry about more attempts to purge the demons from him. Erik stayed in the shadows on his journey to the city hoping to avoid other travelers, sleeping during the day and traveling at night. He knew the priests would alert the authorities about his sin against the Church and his face was far too distinctive.
            There were several times he ran into others along the way; some he managed to avoid while others didn’t turn out so well. He was only nine years old and a day’s walk from Paris when he killed his first man. Though it was self defense, it solidified in the young boy’s tortured mind that he was the demon the priests always claimed him to be. It was the push that kept him to the shadows of the city, earning his way through petty theft and intimidation. He remained in the shadows and darkness until he was twelve and met his first glimmer of light, his first angel.
            Erik had been following the young woman for several blocks. She was carrying a small package with such care and protectiveness that it had to be valuable. Why else would she clutch it so tightly to her breast? He could tell she was lost and subtly coaxed her further into the deserted alleys by throwing his voice into the darkened corners and alleys he wanted her to avoid. Once she turned down the dead-end street he’d chosen for his strike, she was surrounded by three of the local toughs looking for an easy mark. Though he was angered by their interruption, he wasn’t in the mood for a fight until one of them struck the lady and knocked her to the ground. The bundle he’d been anxious to steal was revealed to be a small infant by its startled wail.
            He was already in motion before the largest of the men pulled a knife and threatened to kill the child if the woman didn’t shut it up. Upon hearing that, anger blossomed into red-hot fury and he made swift work of the other two before advancing on the third. Shocked to see his men lying bleeding and dying upon the ground at the hands of boy, the large thug rushed at him. Erik neatly side-stepped the man’s clumsy attack and brought up the small dagger he’d hidden along the length of his arm. The man’s scream of pain and rage only brought a satisfied gleam into the boy’s unusual golden eyes. As they circled one another looking for an advantage, Erik’s attention was pulled to the young woman as she struggled to rise and the thug took advantage of the distraction. Using his size against his much smaller foe, he pushed the boy against the side of a brick building and delivered a hard left to his chin.
            “What are you?” The thug recoiled in disgust when the mask flew from the boy’s face.
            “Your worst nightmare,” Erik’s low reply was nearly lost in the screams when he plunged his knife deep into the man’s belly. Tripping him, he placed his knee on the man’s throat to hold him in place while he twisted and turned the knife in his hand. Releasing him only when his screams fell silent, he then turned to the woman whose life and virtue he’d just saved. Grasping the knife tightly in his hand, he advanced on the trembling woman. There could be no witnesses after all.
            “Come with me, I know where you can hide.” Erik stumbled back in shock when the lady held out her hand. Her face showed no disgust for his face and her fear was fading the longer they stood staring at one another. Impatiently, she reached forward to grab his hand, “The gendarme will be here soon, monsieur, we have to go!” Though Erik avoided her hand, he did retrieve his mask and motion for her to follow him as he led her out of the dangerous alleyways. By the time they reached a well-lit busy street, he’d cleaned his hands of most of the blood and replaced his mask. When the woman stepped onto the sidewalk, he stayed behind in the shadows prepared to disappear completely. Much to his surprise, the lady finally managed to grab his hand and pull him along with an exasperated sigh. “You were going the wrong way, monsieur.”
            When they reached her home, she nearly pushed the boy inside before following him to close and lock the door. She guided him to a small den containing a desk, chair, lamp, and sofa where they were joined by a slim athletic man. She quickly relayed the story of what had happened and the man Erik could only assume to be the lady’s husband turned to fix the boy with a penetrating stare. After several long, tense moments the man gave a single nod as if satisfied with what he saw and held out his hand.
            “My name is François Giry, monsieur, and I thank you for the rescue of my wife, Angelique, and daughter, Meghan.” Suspicious of the treatment by these strangers, the boy relied on manners that had been beaten into him at a young age. He accepted the hand with a curt nod.
            “I am Erik.”

Alex could only listen in amazed horror at the story of this man’s childhood. At nine, she was playing with dollhouses and the worst thing that had happened was her pet goldfish had died. At twelve, she was secretly still playing with Barbie and boys were only just becoming something more than mere pests. Death hadn’t truly touched her until she was fifteen and her maternal grandmother had died at the age of ninety-five. Once more she wondered how someone with Erik’s background could still be sane much less sympathetic to another’s plight. She wrenched her gaze from Erik’s stiff back to look over at Da’ud. None of this appeared to be a shock to the older man though he clearly was pained by the tale.

The boy stayed the night with the Giry’s having every intention of leaving in the early morning with their best silver. When the light of the morning sun fell across his masked face, however, he awakened to find François at the desk watching him. Immediately he checked for his mask before sitting up to look around the room expecting the gendarme to take him away at any moment. François remained silent, waiting for the boy to look at him once more.
They talked for several hours before Angelique rose and Erik told the man the little he knew of how he came to be at the Church and then, later, Paris. François listened in silence, interrupting only to ask for clarification of certain facts. They moved on to other subjects and the man was pleased to discover that the boy was intelligent, driven, and talented but poorly educated. They struck a deal where Erik would remain with the Giry’s for a period of six months. During that time, he would be tutored in basic education at an accelerated rate in order to catch up to his peers. In return, Erik would refrain from theft, blackmail, extortion, murder and any other unsavory acts he’d resorted to during his time in Paris as well as act as escort and guard to the man’s young wife and child when needed. If, at the end of the six months, all were in agreement, the Giry’s would become the boy’s legal guardians and arrange papers for him such as a birth certificate, passport, etc. Erik was still suspicious of a deal that seemed so incredibly one-sided but figured if things went wrong he could simply disappear once more so he agreed. Four years later, Angelique, Erik, and Meghan returned to her family in the US in mourning. François had been killed by a terrorist’s bomb planted on the subway he took to work every morning.
They never returned to France after that. It was simply too painful. Erik completed school and began the many surgeries that he hoped would make him look normal. After the fifth one, the doctors advised him against more due to the massive amounts of scar tissue already built up. Disappointed and angry, he sought acceptance and structure, something to live for. He joined the Marine Corps. Within two years, he was recognized as their best in hand to hand combat, stealth, and marksmanship and was placed in the prestigious Force Recon unit. Once his tour was nearing its end, he was actively recruited to be a federal agent.  He mostly worked alone, having little patience for training new recruits, yet after five years he was given the trainee that would change his life. Her name was Christine Daae.
Their first three years together were a strictly professional teacher-student relationship. At some point, however, things began to change. Erik noticed that his partner was actually a beautiful woman who seemed to genuinely like him even after seeing behind his mask. They were working undercover when things changed forever. Posing as a married couple, the pair fell into the role with enthusiasm. By the end of the week, they’d had their first kiss. By the end of the month, they were sharing each other’s bed. By the end of the mission, they were living together. It all fell apart that night at the opera, things were strained for weeks. Both were skilled at concealing their emotions, they had to be, but using that training against each other slowly tore them apart. The mission into Iraq was to be Erik’s last; he’d already put in his paperwork to resign after selling his first musical score. Angelique missed him dearly and Meghan had grown to the point he no longer recognized her. He wanted to return to his family to heal his bruised heart and give Christine a chance to decide what she wanted to do. He discovered her answer at the end of a gun barrel in an abandoned warehouse. He hadn’t seen her since.

Alexandra was openly weeping by this point and truly hating the woman who had abused Erik’s trust and heart so badly. She couldn’t imagine rejecting the love of such an amazing man but knew now that, though she’d shied away from acknowledging them, her fragile hopes would never come to pass. He was still grieving for his lost love and, though she had betrayed him in the worst possible way, he loved her still.

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