Wings of desire (2)

With a frightening growl, he stormed away from her, jumping into the boat and pushing himself away from the bank of the channel, into the darkness until he was nowhere to be seen.

She heard low sounds, murmurings of water and splashes of oar and muffled sounds of something not human, not monster… something she knew belonged to him. The Angel. She was unable to think of him as the Phantom… She had heard scary stories about him, and most people feared his dark ways… but she could not bring herself to be afraid of him.

She sat back on his bed and distractedly tore at the grapes, not even thinking of their wonderful, rich flavour while she swallowed them. She consumed food to stay alive, as she had the impression she might be held captive for some time. The thought was, shockingly, not frightening but exciting to her. Yes, they had done their best to condition her to hate him as fiercely as they did, but how could she hate him when right from the start he had been there for her, and helped her through her darkest hours of self-deprecation and loss of a bright future. There had been no one to believe in her singing abilities, and after the first few endeavours, she had given up trying to prove them wrong. It was only in the quiet of her room that she dared to let her voice out, and always, never failingly, a deeper, velvety voice joined in to form a beautiful duet. She was the voice of light and he, that of the dark; hers was gentle and trilling, like a bird’s on a spring dawn, his, low and grunting at times, but mostly, throaty and rich. It was often that she awaited the voice to soar with hers, and when it did, from somewhere she couldn’t see or think of, she withheld her own to hear his more clearly. At times, she even kept silent altogether after the first initial sounds, and laying back on her bed, she listened to his mesmerising voice. She couldn’t make out words, but emotions were fully compensating for the meaning: a sense of loss was reaching for her, and a desire to be with someone, possibly her. Loneliness emanated from that rich voice and Christine fell into frighteningly happy reveries about who the owner of the voice could be, what he could look like, and where he could be staying.

He had first showed himself to her on the day when Raoul asked her hand in marriage. Raoul was her childhood friend and joining him in matrimony seemed not only plausible, but somewhat expectable, hence, she said yes without giving his request too much reflection. The same moment celebrated not only the first kiss she had ever received, but also a thunderous wail that rose from the depths of the theater and shook the building’s walls down to their base. It sounded like the complaint of a wounded beast and the motherly feelings every woman nurtures for someone harmed awoke pity in her heart. She had never seen him, her Angel, and she had pictured him dark, beautiful, almost perfect, yet brooding and a little vicious. However, she did not dare imagine he could be sad about her marrying someone… someone else. His growl confirmed her timid hopes and in the arms of Raoul, despite the certainty that she was doing more wrong than ever before, she listened to three heartbeats: that of a simple-minded, albeit kind Raoul, that of a never before seen Angel, whose contorted features she saw as clearly as if he had been standing before her, and that of her own, torn between the safe, familiar path and that which led into sombre uncertainty. Raoul could give her a safe life and children, and possibly, love… and she did love him in her own way. That he loved her was a fact: it was this fact only that made remorse grow within her. Holding onto Raoul, praying that the Angel would never disappear from her life, she listened to the sounds of the night, fighting among each other.

Resting on his bed while he was away, she paid attention to the noises coming from the distance. Water against rocks, rocks against water. Low, heaving breaths filling the tunnel, almost creating a breeze for the lace of the covers she lay on to play with. The distance between them was reassuring, but also frightening. She knew he was close, but she wanted to be closer to him, despite his scary mask…

He had came to her room unexpected. It had been dark, the night of Raoul’s proposal descending onto the world. A full moon was blinding her through her open window. She was thinking of her life, her singing career that by now, mostly thanks to the Angel who had been her mentor for long months was blossoming, and her life as a wife, mother and housewife that was lurking just around the corner. Was she happy marrying Raoul? Would the Angel stay, would he keep helping her, or would his pride be hurt, would he disappear from her life altogether? She could not face that… living on her own was no novelty, she saw no danger in being lonely… but without the Angel, the invisible guardian who was always there whenever she felt low- no, she could not live without him. He always sensed her moods from afar, even if she merely rested on her bed, stifling mute tears of anger or sadness. He could not see her, yet he knew, and he came…

He had come that night, when her doubts had been the most clamouring inside her soul. She awoke from a dream to see a dark figure stand by her window, the outlines enhanced by the silvery moonlight that was batheing it. She instinctively knew he was her Angel. The sudden shiver up her spine was proof. He was less robust than his voice would have suggested: his build was almost slender but with strong shoulders. Through his curls the moon was watching her astonished face, her eyes that grew wider in shock and fright and a curious excitement.

-Don’t marry him –he spoke, and his voice, for the first time, was wounded and shaky. There was none of the confidence in his voice, that of someone hurt many times, that of someone abused and taken advantage of, that which he displayed each time he sang to her.

-He loves me –she replied, when all she wanted to ask, why, why shouldn’t I marry him?

-He loves the image he has of you… and your beauty –he went on, never budging from his spot by the window. –He doesn’t know who you are, what fears torment you…

-His friendship is dear to me and I have no reason to turn him down –she told him slowly, praying that her words would entice him to speak his mind once and for all.

He came closer then, and stood above her, looming viciously. The sparkling of his dark eyes was marred by the sight of an ivory-coloured, smooth mask which covered half of his face. His lips were parted and she could see them tremble in indecision. She watched his eyes and silently begged him to drown in hers, let his own fears go and accept that he-

But he went as he had arrived, swiftly, like a spectre, his long black cloak undulating on the night breeze. For days he stayed away despite her mute and then, worded pleas; his voice remained silent and she did not feel like singing any more. The production which had premiered that weekend was a success, but only she knew the amount of desolation she felt beneath her mask of smiles at the curtain call.

-You were wonderful, Christine –Raoul had whispered in her ear after she walked behind the stage. The audience was clapping fiercely, but she wanted to be left alone.

She had merely smiled at her fiance’s bliss. He was the new owner of the theatre, naturally, he preferred successful plays to flops, and behind the sincerely appreciative glance he cast her she thought she noticed the greed for something more grandiose, for aa larger treasure he could accumulate through her voice, and for a moment, she strongly believed she could never be his. The Angel had been right.

But then, the Angel’s absence disconcerted her spirits and night after night she found herself wishing she had stopped him from going away, and wilting away at the desire to hear him sing again, and most of all, see his two-sided face once more.

She had fallen into a profound sleep that afternoon. It must have been the sweet red wine she was sipping; little did she know there was sleeping powder in her beverage. She was fast asleep when the Angel came unnoticed, and cooped her up in his arms to quickly deposit her in his boat that was rocking on the waters of the tunnel. Only he knew the entrance to that tunnel, and after carefully closing down the inlet, he returned to his sweet prey and steered the boat to his abode.

The first thing she had seen when she came to was his saddened face, lit by a subdued light. His eyes had been glistening and his whole posture expressed a pain she could not ignore. The voices reaching her from the other end of the tunnel were not less painful; they were coming closer, so she guessed he was done with whatever he had undertaken.

He stepped out of the boat and walked to his desk without even looking at her. She watched his moves curiously: was he reading a letter? She only saw his back, the wrinkles of his white linen shirt [a/n: oh yes, white shirt *droolz*] lifting from time to time when he breathed. The dark curls fell into his eyes and he seemed to be absorbed in his task, apparently oblivious to her presence.

-Why did you bring me here? –she asked, a little impatient. And then, because she sensed how he barricaded himself behind walls of silence, she added. –The wedding’s in two weeks. I have to help Raoul make arrangements.

She knew the mention of Raoul would stir the Angel, and it did. His shoulders shook and a low grunt escaped from his lips, but she could still not see his face.

-Do you intend to keep me here forever?

-He can’t have you –was his reply.

-Why do you hate him so? –she asked, slowly getting to her feet and approaching him.

-He’s not worthy of you –his velvety voice said.

-Do you know anyone who’s worthy of me? –she asked again, standing right behind him by now.

Her hand was violently pushed away from his curls and when he stood up, his lean figure again seemed large and heavy. His eyes were black opals of anger and pain, his hands were gripping her wrists so hard that the soreness of her skin and flesh was muting her.

-No one is worthy of you, Christine –he whispered his frightful reply and let go of her delicate wrists. Then, seeing how she was rubbing them with a pained look, he hung his head. –I’m sorry… my beastly hands are not fit to touch you.

He made as if to turn and walk away again, but she clung to his shoulders and forced him with her tiny frame and endless will to face her.

-Why did you bring me here? Tell me. Why don’t you want me to marry Raoul? –she insisted, searching his eyes, wanting to cup his face, mask and all, but he shook her hands off.

-Because I’m a monster –he breathed and a large tear rolled from his eye over the smooth mask, then dropped to the ground.

She could have sworn the ground trembled beneath her and she held onto his strong arms, piercing his questioning eyes with her glance.

-You’re not a monster –she shook her head and despite his reluctance, took his face between her hands. –I don’t care what’s behind this, I don’t care what your face looks like, because I have seen your soul…

It came off easily, and she held it before his face for a few moments, then dropped her hands slowly. He hid his face behind his hands and it took all of her physical strength and willpower to persuade him to reveal himself.

-Is this what you wanted to see? –came the ragged, pained howl from his throat when he saw the horror in her eyes. –Am I what you’ve been dreaming of?

Her lips were parted in shock and despite herself, her eyes were fixed on the large scar covering half of his face. His skin was deep red and groovy, as if scorched and then sown back together. The contrast between the ugly cicatrice and his beauty was so striking that her senses felt violated.

-What happened? –she whispered.

-Does it matter? –he sobbed. –This is how my adoptive parents loved me… and this is what kept me alive when I was taken by that circus. I was so ugly people actually paid to see me.

She shed invisible tears for his lost childhood, but her shock was bigger than what she could have hid. She saw his eyes and knew he was more pained by her horror than by anything else he had ever gone through, but she couldn’t help herself.

-The worst thing is that I learnt to accept this scar as part of me… and I accepted the fact that I must be as repulsive on the inside as on the inside –he spoke, turning away, his balance shaken.

She shook her head but he couldn’t see that, and took her silence exactly the opposite way.

-Raoul is handsome, he is rich, he can offer you a socially acceptable life… something I could never give you… but I can’t let you marry him, I can’t –he repeated with his fists clenched.

-Why can’t you? –she asked when she found her voice again.

He buried his face in his hands and started crying.

-Why can’t you? –she stepped closer and gently pulled his hands away. They unbended without the slightest protest, and looking at his jarred face she knew his spirit was shaken. –Tell me. Why can’t you let him marry me?

-Because I love you, Christine –he sobbed and disentangled himself from her hands. –I have loved you from the first moment I saw you… heard you… felt your soul reach out to me.

She stood in rapture, her heart singing songs of bliss. He loves her. He loves her! Nothing could ever mar the happiness of that perfect moment.

-I love you but I can’t have you… -he said and broke the illusion.

She had no power to ask why, she waited for him to go on.

-Can’t you see? Losing you to anyone else would kill me… just as having you here, so close… -his voice trembled. –I’m doomed to this existence between reality and dream… and you belong to the light, not here.

-So why don’t you let me go? –she asked, exhilerated, frightened.

-Because I’d rather kill you than have anyone else touch you –he growled and lifted his gaze to meet her eyes, wide and suddenly startled.