Chapter Twenty-Two:  Loves Comes To Those Who Believe It

The sun was streaming in the window as Erik awoke the next morning, and stretched in the large expanse of the bed.  The smile was firmly planted on his unmasked face even before his eyes had opened.  He knew what this day would hold, the best present he had ever been given.  Love, pure, simple yet complex.  To have and to hold from this day forward.

His hands, without thought, touched his face, and yet even that action, the one he had used to keep himself grounded in reality these many years, held no sway over his emotions on this morning.  For once, Christmas had come to him.  He climbed out of the covers and went about preparing for the day.

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A few rooms down the hall, a smaller figure was also rising from her slumber, a sleep filled with the most pleasant dreams.  As her eyes opened, the smile also adorned her face.

'Erik,'  came the simple thought.

This was the day that would change her life.  For in a few hours, she would no longer be Christine Daae, the young ingénue of the Opera Populaire, but Christine Laramie, wife of Erik Laramie.

Her hand flew to touch the smile on her face, to touch anything to prove to herself that she was in a wakened state and no longer dreaming.  Once she was assured that she was indeed awake, she climbed out of the covers, and started preparing for the day.

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The house was in full hustle by nine in the morning, with Meg and Marie in Christine's room, and Nadir and Gerard with Erik.  Soon, the men were out the front door on their way to the church, leaving the women alone in the house.  By ten, the three women were ready themselves.

"Oh Christine!"  Meg sighed as she and Marie took a step back from the transformed bride before them.

"My dear,"  Marie whispered,  "You are going to render him speechless."

"Do you really think so?"  Christine asked, the blush creeping up in her cheeks.

"Yes, dear, I am absolutely positive of it,"  Marie answered honestly.

Christine took a moment to gaze at the reflection in the mirror.  Her mind slowly drifted back to the last time she had worn a wedding dress . . . the night that she and Erik had gone to the Bois, and upon returning, she had wanted her lesson.  Erik's suggestion of doing the Terra, Addio from Aida in the wedding dress he had bought with her in mind.  His eyes behind the mask going dark with lust, though she did not understand the significance at the time.

Would he feel the same feelings for her when she walked down the aisle to greet him in a few hours?

The thought filled her with anticipation and a smidgen of fear for the unknown, yet the anticipation won out.  She turned away from the mirror to face the two ladies before her.

"It's almost time, Christine,"  Meg said softly.

Christine nodded, and they made their way out of the room and down the stairs, stopping only long enough to don their cloaks before heading out the door and walking to the waiting coach.

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Erik was already pacing the length of the Sacristy in his nervousness by ten-thirty.

"You're making me dizzy, Erik,"  Nadir stated in Persian.

"I can't help it,"  Erik replied.  "I've only half an hour before the wedding is to start, and damn it, Nadir, I've never . . . I've never . . ."

"You're frightened.  I do believe it is a perfectly natural feeling, Erik."

Erik glanced at Nadir, the eyes behind the mask filled with contempt.  "Forgive me for putting this bluntly, Nadir, but I somehow doubt that you went into your marriage as . . . inexperienced as I am."

Nadir cocked an eyebrow.  Normally, Erik was very cryptic, to hear him stating anything so bluntly as he just had was very out of character, and yet, there it was, the comment hanging between them.  "Are you saying you've never been with a woman?"

Erik swooped around, and placed his hands on the window sill for support as he rasped out his answer,  "Yes, that is exactly what I am saying."

"You wouldn't be the first man, Erik, who was a virgin on his wedding day, I am sure"  Nadir answered, a reddish color staining his dark cheeks,  "and I assure you, it is a perfectly natural process."

"Look, I was a fool for brining this up in the first place, Daroga.  Let's forget it."

Nadir's eyebrow came down from its cocked position, and he said no more, instead letting the silence reign until Gerard entered the nave. 

"They've arrived."

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Across the street from the church, he stood, and saw the three women disembark from the carriage.  As the carriage pulled away, he gained sight of the bride, resplendent in the shining white dress.

'Surely she must be an angel sent down from Heaven,'  he thought.  'Even from this distance, I can see the radiant joy on her face.  Why did I come here to torture myself?  Can I honestly burst in there and try to object, which may destroy her happiness?  Perhaps it is merely I question that she is not hypnotized, some insane need to see them together, to know for sure, but some how, some way, I will be in that church!'

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Erik took his place at the alter, and Nadir, Meg, Marie and Gerard sat in the pew, waiting for the music to start the short processional.

Pachabel's Canon in D played on the piano, and there she was, the shining white of her dress making Erik think of all the angels in Heaven as she glided down the aisle to meet him.  The dress was scoop-necked with short sleeves and a slit layer skirt, the top layer pulled to the sides to reveal the under layer, with tiny flowers dotting along the hems of the top layer.  Her hair was pulled up in an intricately woven braid that wrapped around her head, and the veil a tiny hat, sprinkled with baby's breath and with long flowing layers of the cloud like gauze shrouding her face, the back part of the veil flowing over the hidden bustle and stretching down the aisle past the impossibly long train of the dress.  As she came closer, he held out his hand, and the breath caught in his throat when she took it in her small white gloved one.  Gently, he led her up to the alter, where Monsignor Dominique was waiting for them.

Time seemed to stand still, and the bride and groom paid little attention to the words of the mass, neither able to totally clear their heads of their own respective thoughts centering on the person by their respective sides.  Thoughts which only cleared as Monsignor began the vows.

They stood face to face as the Monsignor asked them to repeat the words as old as time.

"I Erik, take thee, Christine, for my lawful wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

"I Christine, take thee, Erik, for my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

"And now the ring,"  Dominique intoned.

Erik produced two simple wedding bands from the pocked of his suit jacket, and handed it to the priest.  Both watched as the priest blessed the rings, and handed one back to Erik and told him the words to say.

Erik took Christine's left hand, and reverently slid the ring on her fourth finger,  "This ring I give thee, in token and pledge, of my constant faith and devotion."

Then Dominique handed the other ring to Christine, and motioned that she do the same.

With a smile, Christine took Erik's left hand in her two small ones, and gently placed the ring on the corresponding finger as she spoke the words,  "This ring I give thee, in token and pledge, of my constant faith and devotion."

A muffled cry rang out from the back of the church, and seven sets of eyes made their way back there, though no one could see who it was that made the sound.  After a moment's silence, all eyes finally turned back to the priest and the bride and groom.

Monsignor Dominique smiled at the couple before him, as he intoned the final blessing upon them, and the smiles were returned as he said,  "I now pronounce you, man and wife."  He nodded at the couple before him, and they turned to each other with ecstatic joy.

The final steps between them closed, and silence reigned.  Erik reverently lifted the veil back from her face.  Christine looked into his eyes imploringly, hoping he would understand her silent question.

Erik took his eyes off her for a moment to look out into their small audience warily, fearing the reaction from them and the priest if he granted Christine's wish.  Then he looked back into her eyes, and knew she saw the moment of hesitation there.

"Let me show you,"  she whispered.

Unable to deny her anything, even when warring against the instincts of a lifetime, he nodded his assent as her hands slowly crept up to his face.  He could feel the quiet intake of breath from the pews as Christine's small hands undid the mask and handed it to him.  Her hands went back to his face, and gently guided it down so his lips met her own.  And this time, when the same muffled cry rang out from the area of the nave, neither one heard it.

Finally, the moment ended, and Erik replaced the mask before turning to their guests.  Slowly, Nadir, Meg, Marie and Gerard made their way one by one to the happy couple, congratulating them, and then the six of them continued in high spirits to leave the church.

So, hand in hand, side by side, heart to beating heart, two souls walked out and faced the world together as one. 

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Raoul watched in wide eyed wonderment as the party made their way past his hiding spot in the nave, and out the door.

'She really does love him,'  he thought.  'There is no other explanation.  She could not have looked upon that face and kissed him like that if she didn't.  I've lost.'

The Vicomte left the church as quietly as he had come, without fulfilling his mission.  Outside the church, he paused and took the slip of paper he had found in the ledger of the Opera that day just over a week ago.

The blood-red ink on the page mocked him, for he'd known on first sight who it was from.

Monsieur Firmin,

It is with a mixture of pleasure and regret that I inform you that Mademoiselle Daae will require a leave of absence from the Opera.  My intelligence tells me that she is about to be married during Christmas week in Rouen.  If you look closely in the chorus, you will notice that there are one or two sopranos who can hold a tune for the time Mademoiselle Daae is away.  Also, I have it on authority that Meg Giry will be accompanying Mademoiselle Daae on her journey.  Madame Giry will likely be informing you of this sometime today, and already has my instruction on who to put in her daughter's place.

Kindest Regards,

O.G.

His hand now crumpled the paper, what he once thought of as the madman's note.  Today he had not seen a madman as he would have hoped.  Today before Christine, he had seen a man.  If one ignored the mask, then the man appeared quite normal.  If one ignored what lay beyond the mask, as Christine was able to.

The tears made their way down his face, and the passers by noticed this young, well dressed man, standing on the steps of the church on Christmas day, crying as if his heart was broken.

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They entered the house in high spirits to a small feast that was set out on the table buffet style.  But the first stop was the splendid Christmas tree that graced the drawing room, and under which rested a few presents.  Nadir was the first to make his way to the tree, and he picked up a small box tied with a white bow.

"It's not meant to be a Christmas present, more of a wedding present to the both of you,"  Nadir said simply as he handed the box to Erik and Christine.

Erik and Christine turned to each other, the delight in both their eyes, and together they opened the tiny parcel.  Christine gasped as she saw the little music box, and nearly dropped it, would have dropped it if it had not been for Erik's grasp.

Erik gently lifted the ornate box out of its package, and revealed the figure of a tiny blue and gold bird with a pure white rose.  He stared at it in wonderment for a moment, before he turned to Nadir,  "It's beautiful."

"It's exquisite,"  Christine echoed as her small hand reached out to touch the tiny figures on the box.  Her mind couldn't help but go back to the night Erik told her the story of the nightingale who loved a white rose against the will of Allah.  Her gaze met his, and she could tell he was thinking the same thought.

"It was Nadir who told me the story, all those years ago,"  Erik explained.

Christine smiled as she left the box with Erik, and gave Nadir a short hug.  "Thank you."

"You're both most welcome,"  Nadir replied, returning the embrace before letting her go and allowing her to take her place once again by Erik.

"Now, if all of you will sit down,"  Gerard called out,  "Marie and I also have something for our bride and groom."

Erik and Christine shared a glance, and then did as told.  Marie joined her husband as he walked over to the couple and handed them a small box.

Another glance between Erik and Christine before they opened this second surprise.  Tissue paper abounded in the box, before Erik's hands grasped a small metal object.  He pulled it free of the tissue paper, and revealed a key.

A puzzled look to Gerard from behind the mask, and Gerard smiled.  "That key, Erik, goes to a house on the outskirts of Rouen."

"I don't quite understand,"  Erik puzzled.

"The house originally belonged to your grandfather, Erik, and when he died, it was passed on to Charles.  When your mother discovered the house in Boscherville, of course they moved there, and he had not updated his will after the wedding, so the house was left to me.  As his son, you are more entitled to it, and quite honestly, I have no use for it, one house is enough!"

Erik turned to Christine, almost as if he were questioning her, and she shrugged her shoulders.  He then turned back to Gerard.  "I don't know what to say."

"There is nothing to say, my boy.  I'm certainly not saying you have to give up your life in Paris.  The house is yours to do with as you wish.  Of course, I had figured that the two of you would not want to spend your wedding night in a house full of people.  The house is ready for you if you wish to go there tonight, and after that,"  Gerard trailed off and spread his hands in supplication.

Erik nodded, and slipped the key into his pocket.  He turned to Christine again, and she nodded and rose from the divan.  From under the tree, she produced two packages that were hiding in the back.  One she handed to Marie, the other to Meg.

As she did that, Erik also went to the tree and procured two more packages, and then handed one to Gerard and one to Nadir.  He stood before Nadir, and said sotto voce,  "I know you do not celebrate Christmas, so this is not a Christmas gift.  Merely a token of thanks for being here with us today."

"Erik, usually you are not such a terrible liar, but today, I can see the truth in your eyes.  However, I will allow us both to fool ourselves,"  Nadir answered as he opened the intricately wrapped present, and revealed a gold pocket watch.

Nadir looked up in question, and Erik brought Nadir's old one out of his own pocket.

"I merely noticed that your old one was not keeping proper time these days,"  Erik answered as he handed the older watch to Nadir as well.

"I still do not want you to teach me that particular trick."

"Just as well, a good magician never divulges his secrets!"  Erik then turned away from Nadir to face his uncle.

"Do I dare ask how you managed to procure these, Erik?"  Gerard asked as he held the ticket stating him to be owner of a box at the Paris Opera Populaire.

"Let us merely say that a sizable donation was left in your name,"  Erik answered noncommittally.

"Erik, you shouldn't have,"  Gerard deferred.  "How did you even know I liked opera?"

"Well, not many people keep that many opera scores near a piano unless they play at some point."

"But surely you could not have known that before the other night?"

"I beg to differ, I discovered that piano and the scores the first time I was here.  It's not something I can easily miss."

"Well, with your voice, and playing abilities, I suppose not,"  Gerard relented as the two men turned toward the ladies.

Meg and Marie were both opening their presents, and similar gasps issued from them as they both pulled their presents out of the boxes.

Meg's was a beautiful new pair of pristine white toe shoes, and she ran with delight to Christine and embraced her.

"How did you know?"

"Your old shoes were getting a bit worn,"  Christine answered.  "So I thought you would be needing a new pair soon enough.  I know how much you love to dance, and when I saw you admiring them when we took our walk down the Rue de St. Martin a few weeks ago, I knew I had to get them."

"Thank you, this is the best present I could have ever received."

Marie, in the meantime, was rendered speechless as she revealed a sparkling diamond necklace.  Christine made her way in front of her, and watched as her face lit up.

"We weren't quite sure what to get you,"  Christine explained,  "and the necklace was Erik's idea."

"It's breathtaking,"  Marie gasped.

Erik joined Christine at this moment, and he replied with all the formality that had been instilled in him since birth regarding this friend of his mother's,  "I am glad you like it, Madame."

Marie moved to stand before Erik in a way she hadn't since he was a young boy.  She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, something she also had not done in a long time.  "Erik, don't you think it's high time you dispensed with the formality I know your . . . drummed into your head.  After all, we are family now."

An eyebrow cocked unseen behind the mask.

"If you are going to call Gerard by his given name, I feel it only right that you do the same for me,"  Marie clarified.

They stood like that a moment, before Erik tried out the unfamiliar phrase on his tongue,  "Marie."

The older lady smiled before him, and reached out to embrace the man who'd grown so much from the boy she would always remember.

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Later that evening, Erik and Christine lay together in the master bedroom of the house Gerard had given to them, silent, and well sated.

Christine reached out a hand to touch Erik's naked face, and brush away a tear that had made its way down his cheek.  "You're crying."

"Only because you have just given me the greatest present I could ever have asked for, Christine," Erik answered as he adjusted them enough so that he could place a kiss on her forehead.

Christine smiled in the moonlight as they lapsed into silence once more in the glorious moonlight.

Soft sighs permeated the air around them as they snuggled under the covers together, and almost in tandem, they each laid a hand over the other's heart as their breathing slowed.  And after a long time, Christine broke the still silence.

"Merry Christmas, Erik."

Erik adjusted himself so that he could gaze down into her eyes, and his smile matched hers.  "Merry Christmas, mon ange."

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Finit

When you want it the most

There's no easy way out

When you're ready to go

And your heart's left in doubt

Don't give up on your faith

Love comes to those who believe it

And that's the way it is

~ Celine Dion, That's The Way It Is

Author's Notes:  First off, much credit is deserved to Yami No Eyes for her expert help on the description of Christine's dress.  I will forever be in your debt, m'dear.

Although I decided in the end to forgo a lot of descriptions of the ball, assume that Marie and Gerard followed tradition there.

In technicality, there is another chapter to the story which I edited out due to the rating of it.  If you are of consenting age (18 in the US) you may find the complete un-edited story on my website http://www.stemwinder.us/Phantom_phics.html Only difference between the two versions is the end of chapter twenty-two and chapter twenty-three.

A big thank you to everyone who reviewed.  I still can not believe I'm done this tale.  As to the possibilities of a sequel . . . I don't know yet.  We shall see what my muse decides.

This is the first time that I have posted as I was writing.  I've never written a cohesive story that was quite as long as this before, so it surprised me as this one seemed to grow and grow.  In the beginning, I imagined about 10 to 15 chapters, and they were originally much smaller.  Then the inspiration flowed, and it spiraled out of control.  I'm proud of my little baby here.

Now that I'm done, I get to go read everyone else!  YIPEEEEE!

Deirdre:  No, he was not wearing the Red Death costume, a bit gory for Christmas, don't you think?

Angel Of Night:  well here it is.  Wonder if the shock is wearing off quite yet from that letter and picture ;-) I originally planned on delving into the party, but the result was I kept tripping up over the dialogue, so . . . trust me, it was much better skipped.

Chicketieboo:  Surprised?  See, it all turned out well in the end, wonder how shocked you were at that!  I still have to e-mail you about hosting it on your website (goodness knows a good story can never get enough coverage) but I need to know which version you want (or, should I say, which rating?)

Ash and Marianne:  I do hope you liked my ending.  I toyed with the idea of Raoul coming out of the woodwork during the wedding, and found I just could not do it.  And I never had any intention of giving Erik an attack before or during this story, merely put it in to add some plot drama . . . now, if I ever write a sequel . . . we shall see.

And now . . . Au revior, mes amies!

@}-----,----- Stemwinder -----'-----{@