MADAME O.G.

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Chapter 10: Burning Bridges

"Let her go," Raoul said with every bit of lordly dignity he had remaining, his golden-brown hair tangling around his shoulders and getting in his mouth. He had not found it easy to reach the Phantom's lair: he was soaked to the bone, dirty, angry. "Christine, has he harmed you?"

Dumbfounded, Christine could only shake her head incredulously.

"This is an unparalleled delight!" Erik said poisonously, backing away from her and raising his hands in a gesture half of welcome and half of surrender. "My dear, shall we have him to supper, perhaps? None of us have eaten, I imagine."

That shook her out of her momentary stupor. Little toad! she thought angrily to herself. You can't simply let them fight it out! They'll kill each other if you don't do something. "Stop," she told Erik, and put a hand back onto his arm. "Raoul, I'll lift the portcullis if you promise not to – to do anything rash."

"That depends on what you mean by 'rash.'"

"I'm here of my own free will!"

There was silence in the cave. The plink of water, constant even in Erik's underground home, was suddenly deafening. Christine watched as Raoul's face changed from fear to horror and revulsion. She knew that, for the first time, he had bothered to truly look at Erik's abhorrent face. "It has bewitched you. That thing has done something to you. Look at him! Think of what he's done! M. Firmin shall be bankrupted!"

"You know as well as I that that's not so," Erik said.

"Raoul! Do you promise not to hurt us?" Christine filled her voice with as much emotion as she could, in order to convince him to swear. He would be true to his word, she knew: men like Raoul prided themselves on that. "We shall go and leave you here if you won't. You know we can."

He agreed, reluctantly. The portcullis came up with the groan of machinery and a deafening rush of water. Raoul rushed through the opening, struggling in the flooded corridor. The water reached his waist. Finally he made it up into Erik's house. Christine took his measure: he was confused and angry, frustrated, uncomprehending of the choices she made.

"If you have harmed her, if you have – have threatened her virtue, Monsieur," he addressed to Erik this time, "I shall not abide by my promise. You cannot deny that any rational man would believe – well. Now, Christine, stop this madness! You see that I shall harm no one. Come away, and all will be well with the world again!"

"You think that I would harm her?" Erik responded before Christine could think what to say. She kept a hand on his arm to anchor him, remind him that she did not want anybody hurt on her account; otherwise, she felt sure he would have done something terrible. "Foolish boy! I love her. Why should I make her pay for the sins of the world? She is the only one who has not been cruel. I would have captured you if my aim was revenge."

Raoul blanched as Christine hurried to say, "I won't go, Raoul, I can't. I don't – I don't want to."

"The mob is on its way," he replied, taking a different tactic. Even as children he had won arguments like that, switching between different approaches until he found one that worked. "Mme. Giry and her daughter were going to try and stop them, for what reason I know not, but two women cannot hold back all the policemen gathered in the Opera Populaire. If Christine comes with me, your home is safe, Monsieur. Surely you see that it is necessary?"

For the first time, Christine was conscious of the fact that they were underground, deep beneath the opera-house. Before she had paid no attention to the physical location of each room, thinking of them only in an abstracted sort of way. Now the weight of the great building weighed down on her from above, the hundreds of tons of building material, the hundreds of people likely still milling about above their heads. They could get out – she knew they could get out – but this sanctuary, this place would be overrun. It was quite possible to puzzle out the tunnels, given time and the determination to do so.

"We will not be coming back to this place," Erik said implacably. "The mob may have their way with it. I shall regret some things that will undoubtedly be destroyed, but they are only material things, after all. They might as well be burned up in a chance fire, or ruined by a flood. The water here rises in the winter commonly enough; one year it might rise too high."

"But Christine's life is at the opera-house. Her music means everything to her. Have some pity! You cannot take her away from her song!"

"Raoul - come," she finally said, tired of being talked about. "Were I your wife you would prevent me from singing publicly. No man wants their helpmeet involved in the theater, of all scandalous things." From his mouth's brief twitch downward she knew she had hit the nail on the head. He was jealous! He was thinking of her as a wife! She could not help but feel a bit vindicated, pleased at his attentions. Still – "Erik will not deny me performance if I wish it."

"You choose him, then?" Raoul asked, dangerous and low. He stood still, focused, still angry at the very situation. "Do you love him, Christine? Could you stand seeing that – that foul face each morning? Will you sleep soundly at night knowing such a man lives in your home? Or has he convinced you, bewitched you, coerced you? I love you! I have since we were children and it grows stronger each day since I saw you again! Shall this be your choice?"

That was the crux of it, really, the salient point. But she did not even think before she answered. The word was automatic. "Yes." She paused, thought, spoke again. "You would hardly understand. I hardly understand. He isn't my life, Raoul, or anything terribly passionate like that. I wouldn't go anywhere or do anything for him, and he must limit himself and not do everything for me. But his face is insignificant, and..." she trailed off, unsure of how to phrase anything more. She didn't dare look at Erik, and her cheeks burned for no reason at all. "You only think you love me. You love an idea, a memory. I am not the little girl whose scarf you fetched from the sea anymore."

Raoul, who had been holding his chin at an imperious angle, dropped it. "Go," he said, half-calmly. Then, when they stood still, shocked: "Go!"

That second word propelled Erik to a sideboard, where he seized a candlestick – one of the few that was not a proper candelabra. He slipped back into the bathroom. There was a smash and the sound of broken glass falling to the floor before he emerged again. "The way to our conveyance is through here. Give me your trunk," he said to Christine, putting on his white mask with deft fingers.

As they turned and left, letting the heavy velvet draperies that had once covered the bedroom's mirror fall shut behind them, Christine thought she heard Raoul call after them. She turned to look but saw nothing but dark fabric.

"Bonsoir," she thought he said. But perhaps she was wrong. They were moving quickly, after all, and it was difficult to tell.

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The disappearance of La Daaé was discussed in great detail, not only in the opera-house but in the newspapers. After all, it was a mystery never to be solved involving the theater, the aristocracy, and a beautiful woman. The facts of the case were these: a mysterious man, dressed to play the role of Don Juan, bound and gagged M. Piangi and went on-stage to replace him, performing the better part of a scene; he then proceeded to kidnap Mlle. Daaé, using an ingenious system of simple machines, such as are used for almost every theater-trick. A mob formed to search the bowels of the theater for the infamous Opera Ghost, the presumed culprit; when they found what seemed to be the ghost's lair, however, there was only one person present: the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny. He claimed to have found the place deserted. However, his story of stumbling upon a secret passage and following it to the underground house by chance was highly suspect; he was considered a possible accomplice to Mlle. Daaé's kidnapping for some time, and the charges were never fully disproven.

What the newspapers never discovered, though, was the letter Meg Giry received shortly after the happenings at the Opera Populaire. It was short and written in a poor hand, but on fine paper. It was, in fact, exactly the sort of letter that Christine Daaé had been apt to write before her disappearance. This was no coincidence.

Meg,

If I could I should have warned you, but I knew nothing about what was to happen. I could not tell you all before for fear of worry, but it is enough to say that I am married now and living far away from Paris. There are hard times yet and I do not know when Erik shall enjoy the daylight again, or when he shall believe that no one of any learning would shun him for his unfortunate face, but we grow more content every day. Do not fear for me. I do love him, in my own way, and he is devoted to me. You may send letters care of M. François Belfoi, of Street. Someday perhaps we may meet again, but that cannot happen for many years, I imagineYou would not want to endanger our happiness.

Yours always,

Mme. de Becque.

If anyone had intercepted the letter, there would be suspicions; but without deep knowledge of the intricacies of Mlle. Daaé's situation, no one could rightly connect the mysterious Mme. de Becque with it. No one did intercept it, however, and it comforted Meg a great deal to know that her friend was happy.

The other communication between the de Becques and their old companions at the opera-house was of a very different nature. For several weeks a cryptic and sparse ad was placed in a prominent Paris newspaper of wide circulation, long enough that it would surely catch its intended recipients' attention. It too went undiscovered, ironically by the same paper that had covered the tragedy at the Opera Populaire most avidly.

Lotte & O.G. – I keep secrets well & wish you the best. Hope Lotte is happy now. Hope you are truly married. If I hear otherwise, I'll come after you both. Wish I could have said good-bye. Wish things different. Mlle. G. told me some, hope she told me true. Lotte ought to have said. Someday come see me. R.

Though undiscovered, the ad was not ignored. It reached the proper eyes, eliciting a certain amount of relief. After all, Christine had liked Raoul very well, for a time. Her husband responded typically, however: "I have been wrong about people before – yet I wonder what his response would have been if you had told him? I hardly believe he would be as enlightened as he is now." She had already learned to shrug his cynicism off, and it affected her as little as water affects a duck.

Someday, she knew, when he could walk in daylight without fear and had fully established his reputation as an architect and had nothing to be ashamed of any longer, he would come around – and then the Vicomte de Chagny would have some unexpected visitors.

End Story.

Notes: I'd just like to end with another big thank-you to my reviewers, especially thekorapersonality and Sat-Isis. The R-rated sequel to this fic (so it won't be appearing on the main page – which is why you ought to have me on Author Alert!), titled Unexpected Visitors, can be found here: I'd also like to recommend two songs that particularly inspired me (apart from ALW's score): "Left and Leaving," by the Weakerthans, and "Mother of Love," by the Velvet Teen. Apart from that, if you're interested in my original writing (some of which is going to be available online) and fics that don't make it to ff.n, you ought to friend my LiveJournal, . It's been a pleasure to write for y'all!