Christine was decidedly very, very tired. She had, of course, enjoyed her little vacation, if you could call it that. Three whole weeks of non stop performing, each night spent singing and dancing her heart out as the crowd cheered them on. She had had a lot of fun, but she now longed to be back in Paris with her husband. Just imagining being embraced in his comfortable warmth made her smile in anticipation.
So, even though she technically wasn’t due back home for another day, she didn’t actually have any more performances, and she decided that she would surprise her husband by coming home a day early.
So, after the evening’s performance on the nineteenth day, she quickly went through all the closing night traditions. Which were not actually very quick, as many people wanted to talk to the star of the performance and she had to say all her goodbyes to the rest of the cast and crew, as well as thank the managers of the building. It was nearly twelve at night by the time she arrived back at the hotel they were all staying at, and she quickly packed all her things. By the time she fell asleep it was nearly one in the morning, however she forced herself to wake up at six in order to get an early start.
The carriage ride took over nine hours, most of which she spent sleeping. She was finally awoken by the coachman when they reached Paris, at which point it was nearly four. Christine was overjoyed to be back in her home city, and even more excited to see Erik and surprise him with her presence. She blushed at the thought of what he might do when he saw her again, as her mind conjured all sorts of romantic fantasies.
She was dropped off on the Rue Scribe side of the opera house, and she deftly made her way down into the tunnels and across the lake. She nearly wept with joy at the sight of their lovely house, immediately running down to the drawing room entrance. She flung open the door and joyfully announced “I’m home!” to a very empty drawing room.
The drawing room should most definitely not be empty. Erik should be at the piano, composing the score, and he should be looking up at her with a mischievous smile as she walked over to him in a rather seductive manner. He should be throwing his arms around her and kissing her senseless and announcing how much he missed her.
Or really, she would take anything over the horrible silence of the empty drawing room.
She carefully set down her things and crept through the empty room, walking down the hall to where the music room was. Still nothing. She went into the dining room and the kitchen, and he wasn’t there either. His room, where he kept his beloved organ, was empty as well. That left only her room, unless he was out.
She slowly opened her door, which was already ajar, and the sight that she was met with pained her to no end.
Erik, her lovely, sweet, generous, caring husband was on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor. The marble floor, which already appeared to be polished, was being scrubbed rather roughly by him. And worse than that, he looked a mess. His scraggly hair was in a mess of tangles at the back of his head, his mask was off but the skin there still looked like it was rubbed raw. He was in dress pants and a simple linen shirt, but both were covered in dirt and various scratches and tears. His shoes were scuffed and dirty; really, everything about him was a far cry from his usual pristine appearance, and it saddened her deeply to see that he had taken so little care of himself.
And worse than that, she noticed with tears in her eyes that he was wearing those horrible white gloves again- the ones that he had insisted he wear so as not to “sully Christine’s possessions with his monstrous being.” She had thought that she’d thrown those away a long time ago. It appeared he had multiple.
He hadn’t seemed to hear her when she came in, and he didn’t respond when she called to him now. She sighed deeply and willed the tears out of her eyes, knowing they would only distress him more. She instead came to kneel down beside him, and she gently placed a hand on his shoulder.
It was as if he had been struck by lightning. His entire body convulsed and shook terribly, and he immediately dropped the rag he was holding like it had burned him. He then tentatively looked back up towards her, and he immediately gasped and jumped away from her, holding his hands out as if she was going to hurt him.
“Christi- Christine is back! Christine can not be back! Christine was supposed to come back tomorrow, the house is not ready! Erik is not ready, he has not finished cleaning, he meant to-” He cut himself off with a low, mournful moan as he clutched his chest and sank to his knees. “Oh, Christine must forgive Erik, he did not mean to be so terrible. The house was supposed to be nice and clean for you, and now it is not. Christine must be so very tired, she was supposed to have a nice bed and a meal and a clean house waiting for her, but Erik has been very bad and neglected his duties so now Christine must suffer! Erik is very sorry, he did not mean to!” he cried, clutching his hands out towards her as if in prayer. The sight tugged at her heartstrings, and it took all of Christine’s willpower to not start crying right then and there.
She came to kneel in front of him, reaching out for his hands, but he quickly snatched them away.
“Oh, Erik, Christine does not need these things,” she began, her tone gentle. “Christine only needs her loving husband to come home to. She does not need a clean house or a cooked meal or any of those things. She needs her husband.”
She did not expect the impact her words would have.
He immediately began crying, throwing himself down so that he could kiss her hem and shoes.
“Christine is so lovely! She is such a pure angel, Erik does not deserve her! She deserves far better! Oh, Christine!” he sobbed, and it broke her heart in two. She quickly took him in her arms, but he gasped at the contact and broke away, looking like a spooked animal.
“Erik, what’s wrong?” she whispered, noticing how he was holding his arms out very oddly.
“Nothing is wrong with Erik, he simply does not want to taint Christine with his horribleness,” he choked out, shaking. She clucked her tongue at that, crawling so that she was before him once more.
“Erik, give me your hands,” she commanded, and he complied, albeit reluctantly. She gently tugged off the gloves he wore, and was horrified by what she saw. His hands- no -his arms were covered in raw, red scratches, but the damage was the worst at his hands. They were blistered and bruised as if he had rubbed them raw then smashed them against the wall. Which, he quite possibly might have. His long, slender fingers were an angry red color, the already paper-thin skin looked almost nonexistent, revealing the muscle underneath. He whimpered when she rubbed a finger over his palms, and she immediately lightened her touch.
“Oh Erik,” she whispered, “what have you done to yourself while I’ve been away?”
His only response was a shuddering inhale, and she immediately knew something had to be done. She gently released his hands and got up quickly, moving to get something to remedy his hands. He cried out mournfully at the loss of contact.
“Of course, Christine must go. She must not look at Erik, for he is too terrible! He is too-” he broke himself off with another horrible sob, and Christine was once again kneeling in front of him. She took his head in her hands and kissed his forehead lovingly, earning her another sob.
“You are not terrible, Erik, and Christine does want to look at you. But I have to go and get something for your poor hands, alright?” He nodded, and she gave his forehead another kiss before getting up and running to the washroom as fast as she could.
She came back with a small tin filled with green paste, then looked down at her patient and realized she couldn’t possibly give it to him now, when he was cold and dirty and miserable. He needed to be cleaned up first, she mused.
“Erik, dear,” she started tentatively, “I think we should get you all cleaned up first, hmm?”
He stared up at her before nodding slowly, and she helped him to his feet. He began walking out of the room, but she quickly tugged him back.
“Oh no you don’t. I’m helping you,” she declared, ushering him into her bathroom and forcing him out of his clothes and into the bath. He barely even put up a fight, too tired to try, and simply let her gently scrub his skin and attempt to detangle his thin strands of hair.
She gently held his head as she pulled a comb through his hair, and he sighed and leaned back into her touch, his eyes fluttering closed.
“Erik, when was the last time you slept?” she questioned quietly, getting through a particularly bad knot. His eyes snapped open as he jolted upwards.
“I- Erik does not know. It has been a… while,” he said sheepishly, not daring to look up at his wife, knowing her gaze would be chiding.
“We’ve talked about this, Erik. You need to sleep. It’s not healthy! And I need you healthy and alive to stay by my side.” She hummed and pulled him back towards her, resting his head on the edge of the tub as she resumed her combing and ministrations.
“Christine… wants Erik by her side?” he asked slowly, disbelief evident in his voice. She smiled, though he couldn’t see it.
“Yes, I daresay that Christine wants him by her side for a long time yet.”
When they had finished there, Christine helped him into a dressing gown, trying to be as careful as she could with his arms and hands, though she still noticed him wincing occasionally. When that was over, she sat him down at the edge of her bed and grabbed the same tin as before. It was filled with a light green paste that smelled slightly of flowers. She gently held one of his hands in hers and rubbed a generous amount on both his arms and hands. She tried to be as gentle and careful as possible, knowing that it would hurt. When she had finished, she kissed both his hands and returned them to him. She then sat across from him, simply looking at him, concern written all over her features.
“Erik, is your face bothering you?” she asked, noticing the redness on his deformed side; how it looked much more irritated than it usually did. She also saw how his eyes were bloodshot, likely from not sleeping for weeks, and how they were rimmed red from all the crying.
He shook his head, but they both knew it was a lie. She beckoned to him silently, and he eagerly returned her embrace. She placed a soft kiss to his forehead, then took his face in her hands once more. She gently rubbed more of the cream all over his skin, taking care to be as gentle as she possibly could. He leaned into her touch, sated and content. Perhaps, if he was more lucid and less tired, then he might’ve protested horribly at her taking care of him, might’ve been horrified at how she had to do all of this for him. But he was so, so tired, and Christine was soft and warm and loving and all of the things he was not.
So, when she pulled him down to the bed with her, he did not protest. He simply let her pull him so that his head rested over her heart, and they could lay together in contentment. She wrapped her arms around him, gently, so as to not hurt him further, and he sighed happily. Everything was better now that Christine was here. He was finally safe again.
Christine resolved that she would spend the rest of the week getting her husband back to normal, whatever that took. They would have to talk about what happened, and she would have to prepare him better for any of her possible excursions in the future. Though, it was unlikely she’d be leaving even for an hour any time soon. She knew in her heart that it was likely he wouldn’t survive it.
However, they had all the time in the world to talk of those things, and right now, with her sleeping husband purring softly in her arms, she figured that they could wait.