Oct. 23 – 6:00pm
Two days had passed since Erik had gotten the call about Alex’s fever. Two days of antibiotics and IV fluids. Two days of watching helplessly as she tossed and turned in fever-induced nightmares. It tore at his heart to hear her cry and beg though she never said for what or from whom. Erik called Dr. Matthews twice a day, worried Alex should be in the hospital instead of at the Estate. Every time, the doctor would assure him that she was receiving better care with him than in a sterile hospital room with only occasional checks by a nurse.
On the third day, Alex muttered softly and kicked off the numerous blankets that had been placed over her. Looking up from the opera house blueprints he’d been studying, Erik noticed the sheen of sweat on her face. Hopeful, he checked her temperature and nearly wept at the reading. The fever had broken. Dr. Matthews was called and he recommended keeping her on the IV and antibiotics for at least three more days. He arranged to examine her the next day and had been satisfied with Alex’s progress. With plenty of rest, fluids, and antibiotics she would recover quickly with only a dime-sized scar where the bullet had entered. Though pleased by the news, it didn’t belay Erik’s concern that she’d still not yet awakened.
By nightfall, he was tempted to call the doctor once more and demand he return to check on Alex. Instead, he sat by her bed, held her hand, and did the one thing he swore he’d never do again. He sang. He started wordlessly at first, humming lullabies and love songs from the operas he’d written including his unpublished Don Juan Triumphant. But soon, the words seemed to flow out of him and he sang of rebirth and renewal, springtime and possibility, broken hearts and healing. A slight movement from the bed caught his attention and the song faded away as he looked into Alex’s shocked pale green eyes.
“Angel…” she managed to whisper past the lump in her throat. “Surely you must’ve come straight from heaven to have such a voice.”
“You’re awake.” Erik could have slapped himself for such an idiotic observation. “How are you feeling, ma petite?” That was better at least.
“Thirsty. Achy.” Alex frowned and slowly looked around the room. “What happened?”
“Your wound had gotten infected so you had a bad fever. Let me fetch you some water and we can talk if you still feel up to it.”
As he quickly left the room, bits and pieces of Alex’s nightmares filtered into her memory and dredged up all her insecurities. She’d been dreaming of a future with a man who could have any woman he chose except the one he loved. She now saw how foolish her dreams had been. Erik was talented in so many fields, composing, singing, architecture and all she had was the mediocre ability to sketch. He was inhumanly sexy whereas she was so…not. She was pulled from her melancholy thoughts by Erik’s return with her water.
He helped her to sit up, arranging the pillows behind her so she’d be comfortable, and handed her the glass. She winced only slightly as the movement tugged on her injury but didn’t make a sound. Nor would she meet his eyes. Watching her carefully, Erik noticed her hands were shaking on the glass as well. What had happened in the few minutes it took to pour a glass of water?
“Are you in pain, Alexandra?” His soft voice pierced her heart when he used her name instead of the endearment he’d been wont to use.
“No,” she whispered and set the glass on the nightstand, “but I am tired. I think I’ll go back to sleep, thank you.” Carefully, she rolled over onto her uninjured side which put her back to the confused masked man by her bed.
“Alexandra.” His smooth voice flowed over her like warm honey. “What is wrong, ma petite?”
“Nothing. I’m just tired, that’s all.” She was glad he couldn’t see her tears; she didn’t need or want his pity. What a fool she was.
“As you wish but we shall talk later.” He slipped out of the room and closed the door behind him, wondering again what had upset her.
Erik stalked into the Library to pour himself a glass of brandy. He was well on his way to an enormously foul mood. Da’ud, sitting at the sofa, put the book he was reading into his lap and watched his friend empty one glass only to fill another.
“I do not understand women, Daroga.” He didn’t turn as he spoke but he knew the detective was listening. “One moment all is well then, when I go to the kitchen for her water, I return to find her clearly upset but unwilling to discuss it.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, my friend, unless it has something to do with her nightmares. I’m sure she simply needs time.”
“Time? Time is something that is not on my side, Da’ud. We’re getting close to resolving this mess and then there will be no reason to keep her here.” Erik had begun pacing,
“Have you tried simply asking?”
“She wouldn’t,” with a sigh, he turned his back on his friend and raised the mask to run a hand over weary eyes. “If it weren’t for the danger, I would simply drag this out as long as possible. I won’t have her injured again if I can prevent it.”
“And what of Christine, Erik?” Da’ud watched his friend carefully to see if her name caused as much pain as it used to.
“What of her?” Snarling, he turned to fix his molten amber gaze on the detective. “She took everything I had to give and threw it back at me. I believe my infatuation ended the day she tried to kill me.”
“Then why do you insist on clinging to painful memories? Why do you still dream of her at night?” The detective knew he tread on dangerous ground but had to make Erik see reason. “I’ve seen the way you look at Alex; there’s a longing there that I’ve not seen in a long time. But you can not contemplate even the possibility of a relationship while holding on to what once was and might have been.” He flinched when the brandy glass was thrown against the stone fireplace but continued to press his point. “When Christine called, how did you feel? What did you say? You can’t move on until you put her behind you.”
“You don’t understand,” Erik snapped pacing the Library like a caged panther. “She was the first to see and to accept. How can I let that go?”
“Did she?” Da’ud hated being so cruel to one who’d suffered more than enough but he had to see reason. “Did she really accept? You, yourself, told me she preferred you to wear the latex mask when with her. Even during…intimate moments. Was that accepting or did you simply want to believe it so badly?”
“She didn’t want to wake up next to a monster!”
“Mask or not, you are not a monster, Erik.” The quiet voice from the doorway startled the two men into silence. Having said her piece, Alex continued back to her room. She had awakened with the argument started getting heated and realized she was actually feeling hungry. Not wanting to interrupt the men, she had slowly made her way to the kitchen for some water and crackers. On her way back, she’d heard Erik defending that woman for her cruelty while calling himself the monster. She simply couldn’t let it pass but she wasn’t about to hang around and get yelled at for being out of bed either.
“Erik,” Da’ud’s voice was nervous as he watched the fury grow in his friend’s golden eyes. Standing awkwardly, he was prepared to tackle him if he tried to go to Alex’s room. “Don’t go in there and say something you’ll regret later…” He tried to grab the furious man’s arm but Erik shook him off without slowing down. “Erik! Damn stubborn fool.” Slowly lowering himself back to the sofa, Da’ud put his head in his hands with a faint groan and waited for the fireworks to start.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so angry. Two days! For the last two days Alex had been in bed delirious with fever and on the very day it breaks, she thinks she can wander about the house. He’d swear she was trying to give him a heart attack. Erik stormed to her door and flung it open to crash against the wall. Alex, having crawled back into bed was waiting for just such a reaction and didn’t even flinch.
“There is a small thing called knocking, you know.” She was hungry, tired, and depressed and the last thing she wanted to do was cater to his self-pity. When he stalked into the room without saying a word, she started to get nervous. Had she finally pushed him too far? So focused was she on not cringing before his anger, that she hadn’t realized he’d snatched a sheet from the bed. When she heard the first ripping sound, she knew she was in trouble.
“Wh…what are you doing?” Slowly, Alex began creeping to the other side of the bed when one elegant hand shot out to stop her. He pulled her back to the center of the bed and glared down at her fiercely. Though he remained silent, the order was obvious. “Erik? Erik, what are you…?” Her eyes widened when he pulled her left arm to the edge of the mattress and secured it to the bedframe with the strip of ripped sheet. Quickly and efficiently, he tied her right wrist in a similar manner. There was enough slack in the cloth so as to not pull on her injury but not enough to allow access to the knots. Futilely, Alex tugged at the bonds. “Erik! This isn’t funny.” He only arched one beautiful brow, the anger still churning beneath his calm façade. “Dammit, Erik, untie me this instant!” When a third strip of the sheet served as a gag, Alex glared daggers at him. Now that she was quiet, he felt it time to explain a few things she had obviously forgotten.
“Now, ma petite, I believe we have a few rules to review, yes?” His silken tone covered barely repressed fury and, for the first time since she’d asked him about the mask, Alex started to truly get scared. However, her anger was keeping the fear at bay for the moment. “Since you are obviously incapable of taking care of yourself, as evidenced by that little foray into the kitchen, it falls upon me as your host to ensure your safety and well being while in my home. As I have already warned you once of the consequences of rising before you are medically cleared to do so, I can only assume that you are unwilling to be sensible.” The gag muffled the curses she was throwing at his head while she tugged on the ties around her wrists and if looks could kill, they would be attending his funeral soon. “I will return to check on you and see if you have regained some semblance of rationality.”
Alex watched in horror as he walked to the door. He wasn’t really going to leave her like this, was he? As the door closed behind him, she could have cheerfully strangled him with what was left of the bed sheet.