It seemed odd that when Erik was most upset, he would not seek solace at his piano or pipe organ, which he saved almost entirely for venting his loudest emotions, but would venture to the very top of the Opera Populaire instead. If he wanted to be alone, there was no better place than locked away in his dark room in the dark house on the dark lake beneath the opera, yet it was as far opposite as one could go that his blackest moods always brought him.
Perhaps he couldn’t stand the cloying, damp atmosphere of the fifth cellar at such times. Perhaps the cold, clear air helped calm him. Or maybe he just enjoyed looking down on everyone from a secluded pedestal. She had no idea. All she knew was that it always surprised her to find him there, and that the best thing for them both was probably to just let him be, no matter how lonely his dark silhouette looked against the pale gray sky.
But she had never been very good at doing the best thing.
And so she closed the door behind her and began to slowly walk towards that tall, forbidding form, crossing her arms against the chill wind that whipped across the roof. He couldn’t have known it was her, surely, but he still didn’t move; the door hadn’t even been locked. Something shifting uneasily in her gut told her it was a very bad sign, and that she should tread quite carefully–back the way she came no doubt, added the small, sensible portion of her mind. But her heart disagreed as per the norm, tugging her forward steadily. Intuition and its insistent whisper that something was dreadfully wrong seemed to second the foolhardy notion that brought her to stand close behind him and call out softly, “Erik? Are you all right?”
To her great surprise, he answered. His voice was soft and hoarse, and his hands opened and closed at his sides like claws as he spoke.
“Tell me, my dear, which do you dream of more often: flying or falling?”
There was something unnerving in that gently scraping murmur.
“Well….” She swallowed and took a step closer so that she could see something of his face. His head was tilted down, and his eyes seemed to look far, far away. “Both, I suppose,” she replied quietly, trying to quell the tremor in her voice. “Why do you ask?”
“It must be very nice to dream of flying instead of falling–always falling–through an endless, burning darkness. It hurts dreadfully, though there is never a bottom. Do you suppose that it what hell is like?”
Erik paused, and she didn’t know if he was waiting for her to speak; she didn’t know if she could have.
“Often one wishes there was a bottom,” he continued in that oddly detached, hollow way. “Perhaps that would end it.”
He shifted a half step closer to the edge over which his gaze seemed fixed. They were already far too close to the side for her taste; this step brought her heart right into her throat, and his next words froze it there. “It couldn’t be half as painful as falling, could it?”
His name left her as a panicked yelp. She clapped a hand over her mouth, but he didn’t seem to have noticed at all.
“Erik,” she amended in a purposefully soft, coaxing tone. “Can we…can we please go home now?”
His chin pivoted a slight but encouraging inch in her direction, away from the frightening drop so near their feet.
“Home?” he hummed distantly, almost too quiet to hear.
“Yes,” she said over a gulp. “Let’s go home, Erik. Please.” And then slowly, tentatively, with every muscle in her body tensed, she crossed the meter of space between them and gently wound her arm around his. A tense span of breathless, waiting seconds passed, and then she leaned into his side with a shuddering sigh.
She saw his head cock like a bird’s out of the corner of her eye. “Are you cold?” he asked in a voice that loosened her shoulders a little.
Her cheek nuzzled against the softness of his sleeve, and she nodded. Never had she been colder than in the moment he took that step closer to the building’s edge. It was the kind of cold that sat in her bones now and made her feel like she might never be warm again.
That same cold seized up within her when, without warning, his arm slipped from hers. Her hands shot out to grab at his clothes desperately, and it occurred to her that she could not see a thing through all the tears suddenly in her eyes, nor hardly hear the sigh he gave for how loudly she was breathing. He stood there and let her clutch his clothes and cry her tears quite patiently for a minute. After that, a handkerchief was delicately wiping over her face as he tutted at her, and she would have laughed had she not been sniffling still.
“You silly girl,” he chided gently, dabbing at her cheeks. “I was only getting my cloak for you.”
And then it slid around her shoulders like a black, sheltering cloud. He pressed his kerchief into her hands in lieu of his clothes, which he smoothed down with a sniff.
By this time she was feeling a little better, and it only increased when he reached around and pulled her close against him.
“Come. I feel a chill descending; it looks like rain.”
But she didn’t care much about the chill any longer. Tucked into his side like that, she was quite comfortable again. It was as warm as could be under his cape and his arm and his once-more watchful gaze, and warmer still the farther away they got from the edge of the roof.
She decided, as he led them away and talked of hearth fires and suppertime, that she would never let him go up there alone again.
And she never did.