First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who reviewed the first time this story was posted. It was wonderful to read all those reviews, and many of your suggestions have been taken into account in this reposting. That doesn't mean that they always will be, but in this case I did find them very helpful. And this time this story will be updated! I will really try, to the best of my ability, not to let it hang for another two years!
Now, without further adue, on with the story!
Do I have to put one of these?
I'm not making any money from this story, so don't sue. I'm writing it purely for my own enjoyment and that of my readers. Also, any characters that you recognize are not mine. They belong to Gaston LeRoux and/or Andrew Lloyd Webber. Any original characters that you see however, are open season, as I don't believe in copyright.
Erik took Christine's hand gently and placed the little gold ring in her palm.
"There." He said through his tears. "Take it for you, and him. I know you love the boy. Don't cry anymore."
Christine looked through her own tears at Erik who still knelt at her feet, where he had fallen, weeping, when she had allowed him to kiss her forehead unmasked. She looked at this being, this man whom she so little understood. She looked upon the man who loved her so much, who had been capable of so many horrors and yet of such beauty and such love. She looked at his hand supporting hers; at the little wedding ring in her palm.
"What do you mean?" she asked him softly.
"Christine" he breathed. "You have wept over me, with me. You have mingled your tears with mine. You have allowed me to kiss you. You have given me all the happiness the world can offer, more than I ever dared hope for. But I know you don't love me." This last, he said with no bitterness at all. "I know you love the Vicompte. I cannot force you to stay. Go and be happy. Marry him when you please and be happy."
It took a moment for Erik's meaning to register. When it did, Christine looked at him in sheer astonishment, barely comprehending. Not a few hours ago, he had been ready to kill her, Raoul and everyone in the opera house if she had refused to become his wife. Now he was letting her go? He was setting her free? To marry Raoul? Did that mean he would let Raoul free as well?
"Erik?" Christine breathed.
Erik rose then and went off into the darkness. Christine could not see where he went. During the time he was gone, she could not tell how long, it felt like hours, she began to feel alone and afraid. His words had been beautiful. But what if he changed his mind?
But then he reappeared, now leading Raoul who, as soon as he beheld Christine alive and alright, ran to her. They embraced, and gave each other their lips for the second time. When they had let each other go at last, Erik walked solemnly up to them and put Christine's hand in Raoul's.
"Go, and be happy." He said gently. Raoul stood dumfounded at first, just as Christine had done, not understanding. The monster who had nearly roasted him alive, then nearly drowned him and then locked him in a dark dungeon, had just brought him to Christine who was unharmed and was letting them go?
Christine herself had begun to weep silently again, for she understood now that Erik had meant it. His weren't just fancy words uttered in the extreme of passion and brief happiness. He was truly letting them go. When the realization of the fact became clear to Raoul, he grasped Christine's hand firmly and began to lead her, almost at a run, out of the catacombs. He still feared, as Christine had herself at first, that the Phantom would change his mind. But Christine broke away from him.
"wait" she said.
She walked back to Erik, who stood solemnly near the door of his home, and gently placed a kiss on his still unmasked forehead. Then she walked back to Raoul and let him lead her away. At first, what she had just done did not register to Erik. Then it did: her kiss, her understanding, her thanks, her forgiveness, and her good-bye.
As Christine hurried behind Raoul she wept. She wept for the man whom she had not seen for the incredible soul that he really was. to have suffered so much sorrow and pain, to have fallen so far into darkness, and yet to have overcome all that suffering to be turned from that evil to let them go, all for a kiss on the forehead and a few tears... She wept for the fact that she could not return the love of such a soul. She would pray for him. She had to. Such a soul was no monster and could not be beyond redemption. And she did pray for him.
As soon as she and Raoul reached the safety of her flat, Christine ran into her room, locked her door, took out her rosary and fell on her knees. She entreated the Holy Mother to intercede for him and to show him comfort. She entreated Christ to forgive and redeem him. But most of all, she entreated God that Erik might some day love again and this time that it might be a woman who could return his love. She prayed that there might be, out there somewhere, a woman who could give him the love he deserved, who could love him as she could not, and that God would guide Erik and that woman to one another. And somehow, she knew her prayer was heard, that all she need do was keep praying it.
After Christine had disappeared from sight, Erik listened to the sound of her and Raoul's footsteps fading into the distance. He held his composure until the sound died away. It was as long as he could hold it. When they were gone, for the first time since he was five years old, Erik wept. He broke down, and wept so hard that his sobs could not even be given voice. As he wept, the words, felt rather than heard, passed through his soul: "You have acquitted yourself well. Your tears have been heard and counted. This is not all there is in store for you." But the words gave him no comfort then. Christine was gone and, though he was quite sure that she at last understood at least a little, she did not love him.