Note: Well, it had to end sometime! I really don't want to give anything away, for now or the future, so I'll just shut up for now. It has been an absolute pleasure to write this for you all, all 39 frippin chapters of it, and thank you SO much for being patient, and awesome, constructive readers. Thanks for letting me have fun with this. :)
The world comes slowly upon Raoul again, a sleepy rise back into the comfort of his dreary, surrounding dark. By this time he knows that he should be alone, but there is still presence beside him. He reaches up and rubs his eyes, breathing in and expanding his ribcage enough to lean back and brush against another body. He lingers in hesitation a moment longer, and when he is certain that he is not dreaming, and that Erik has not reeled from him, Raoul gently pushes himself into the other mans space. The back of his head touches what feels like the back of Erik's. Interesting. Erik does not usually change his positions when he sleeps.
Raoul makes no move to turn around. He can only surmise that Erik prefers it this way at the moment. It means something, that Erik has stayed. For better or for worse, it means something. "You haven't left," he says, sleepily. There is nothing from the man beside him. He pauses, then, "Are you leaving?"
Cords of muscle from beneath the warmth of Erik's back move, ever so slightly. Perhaps he is on the very edge of sleep, verging on consciousness. Pale, inexplicable alarm builds somewhere in the distance of Raoul's perception. "Soon," Erik murmurs, quiet, so faint it is hardly a voice, a shell of words.
It is a reply, nonetheless. The alarms lull into nothing and Raoul leans again into Erik's back, arching into it and closing his eyes. "It must be morning," he says. "You told me you would be gone by morning."
Erik's shoulders moves, a slight vibration of the muscles under the skin. A whispered laugh, a shudder. It opens Raoul's eyes, and it begins to occur to him that the only warmth in this bed, on these sticky damp sheets, is the heat from his own body. He rolls his head leadenly on the pillow, and strains his eyes to try and see as far behind him as he can. There is only the back of Erik's head, his shoulders, dark hair spilling over the deformed side of his face. Another shudder, a soft laugh.
"Raoul," he barely utters an audible whisper of the name, one he seldom uses. From the corner of his eyes, Raoul can see the dark head slip slightly on the pillow, bent. Resigned. "It is too dark to be morning."
Raoul pulls himself up to sit, and candle light spills onto his naked body. His arm he holds before his face, and mixed with the glow of yellow are smears of dark red blood, to his elbow, down his side. It smells thick, and old, and panic rises in his throat as he scrambles around to Erik. His nails scrape against the others arm, tearing, and he turns him over. There is even more on Erik's side of the bed, black in the red sheets, splattered and stuck to his ribs and his stomach, down into his trousers. Raoul cannot tell how much he has lost, but Erik is only so awake. He moans, irritably, and tries to pull away from Raoul but the boy only persists.
"What did..." Words will not leave his throat, and Raoul can only gape and feebly attempt to form them. Erik tries to turn back on his side, and his eyes lazily roll back into their lids, tiredly. He is past the point of pain, far past that point, and now will barely lift his head off of the pillow. Even in a moment as this, when his life is leaving his body and he is half-naked and bleeding, helpless before the eyes of another, Erik is still arrogant enough to try and turn his back on Raoul's concern.
The panic fades, dissipates, shatters into raw anger. Red streaks across his vision and all Raoul wants is to jar Erik into consciousness, somehow bring his mind back before his body is too far gone. He forces the Phantom onto his back, shoulders in both his hands, and slaps the sides of his face, printed with the blood from his fingers. Erik can hardly seem to keep his eyes open. He looks more like he wants to just sleep the rest of his life away, but Raoul knows that if he sleeps he may not wake again. He finally backhands him hard enough on the twisted side of his face to snap him back into his senses.
Erik blinks hard, rapidly, and stares at Raoul inscrutably. It is as if he can hardly recognize the younger man.
"What did you..." Raoul trails off when Erik tries to shove him off, and he catches one of the arms in a shaking hand. Imbedded within the butchered flesh are shards of glass, some the size of Raoul's thumb, others small enough to only catch the faint light. "You broke a mirror," Raoul murmurs, stupidly, and with a frightening and unexpected strength Erik shoves Raoul, hard, off of him, cries out at once in the agony of misusing his injured forearms. They are clotting with dried blood, and he moans as the pain returns full force. Raoul watches as he plucks a few of the larger shards from his flesh, and feebly lets them fall about him. Raoul fears it is already too late.
"Boy," Erik spits, nothing of the gentleman he was the previous evening, no hints of kindness or attachment in the strained lines of his face. Only agony, and animosity. He curls within himself, with his sticky red hands over his drawn features, wet with spit and tears. He hides to die. "Do not ruin this."
"You will die!" Raoul hollers, and his hoarse voice breaks in the middle. He cannot understand it, this sudden fit of madness. Erik has not betrayed such turmoil in so long, almost a year, and yet now, as he feebly rips up pieces of sheet to bandage the other man's open wounds, he can only bellow loud, choking, irrational, sorrowful sobs and obscenities. He says things that Raoul cannot make sense of, as nothing about this makes sense. Erik is deteriorating before his eyes, but as he becomes more lucid he becomes more aware of himself.
He viciously snatches his arms back from Raoul, ribbons of severed flesh and gore, and snarls something horrible at him before shakily moving out of the swan bed. Relief washes over Raoul, at least he can walk, but as Erik stumbles past the curtains and out of the bedroom Raoul realizes, chillingly, that Erik does not wish to live any longer. The boy hastily scrambles into his trousers, and follows. Erik has fallen to his knees, and his head hangs between his shuddering, sunken shoulders. He is beside the bank, so close to the lake, but Raoul's fear does not stop him from coming to crouch at Erik's side.
"You have ruined this," Erik breathes, low and demonic. His words do not come entirely coherent. He has lost a lot of blood, and new pain grates at raw nerves. His face is something Raoul can hardly recognize, streaked and printed with blood, white, shadowed beneath sunken eyes. "Denied me – all I wanted, only ever-" his voice becomes a shout and cuts off. He has lost his balance, and Raoul catches him, knees grinding hard into the rock, but he holds onto Erik nonetheless.
"That's not true!" he protests, shouts back words that rattle in his dry throat. He does not understand, he wants to understand, but Erik will not tell him. To Erik he has given what he has given to no other, for this man, this monster in Hell he has given all his pity, suffered pain and humiliation for his comfort, to make him stay. All and willingly. "You know it isn't, there-" Heat prickles up to his face, and his eyes glaze with glassy hot tears. Age old shame, chagrin. "There's nothing I-"
"Naive, ignorant boy," he cradles his forearms to his white shirt, and keeps his head hung, so Raoul can hardly hear what he is saying. "I gave you all I can, and that is your freedom- you have taken that chance from me, denied me all I could ever give you," Erik tries to stand now, and fails, but manages to keep in Raoul's trembling grip. "Fool," he snaps. "Now we are both condemned here."
"No," Raoul shakes his head, hard, and keeps Erik's heaving frame to his own, keeping his arms to his chest and pressing his cheek into the top of Erik's dark head. "You know that is not true, don't say it, just- you can still leave this place, like you said you would!"
"Get off of me," Erik writhes, jerks forward. Raoul lets him go, and watches as the Phantom shakily pulls himself to his feet, minding his off-set footing.
"Just leave," Raoul implores of him, hoping sense can penetrate this fit of madness. "If you don't leave you will always be here, and you will never leave Paris," his voice begins to crack again, but rises in a desperate, scratchy shout. He grips Erik's shoulders, and the older man stares at him, unreadable if not irrational. "You'll always live in this horrible place, this hole in the ground and nothing will ever change!"
"Nothing changes!" Erik screams back, so deep and reverberating and horrible that Raoul almost recoils, expecting a blow to the head, but there are only words. "Nothing in this world may change, boy, nothing! I cannot change!"
"But you can!" Raoul hisses back. "You said so yourself, get out of here, change, find liberation- for us both, in the world, side by side-"
"There is nothing in the world for us, there is no power for us!" Erik turns his back on the boy, and walks, raggedly away from him. "No more than we have here! No power to change, no power to see things, no power but over ourselves and that is all the reason we go mad!"
Raoul stands there, staring, helpless by the bank. He shakes his head, and his expression and resolve break simultaneously. "It doesn't matter," he mutters, and Erik stops, but does not turn to look at him. "I have..." Words fail him. They always fail him, and Erik steps to him in quiet regard, breathing hard and clenching his teeth against the pain. "There is something here, it keeps me here. I can't break it, it's like a chain I can't even see anymore, but it keeps me here with you. I feel something. For you, I don't know what it is, but it's strong... and I know that I can't watch you rot here," Raoul angrily swipes at childish tears. "I can't."
Erik stares at him, chin dipped, eyes laced with red and teeth bared with every scrap of effort it takes to keep him on his feet. Raoul cannot know what he is thinking, or if he is even moved in the least, but he wishes he could just stop his own tears. He wishes, for once, that he could be strong. Erik speaks, slow, and pointedly, as if explaining something to a child. "I have opened every door for you," he says, quietly. "If you cannot watch me rot in this Hell then do not any longer. I wanted to make it easier for you, but you denied me even that. Now go, to the exit." His chin ducks further, eyes rolling up to combat menacing, lowered brows. "Or we will both die here."
Raoul shakes his head, mouth a thin, tremoring line. He holds his ground, and his reply is deep in this throat. "No."
"Now is not the time to finally start behaving like a man," Erik warns, a thin growl. Raoul only stands before him, watching, waiting, afraid and alone. Erik's face twists again in rage, and he throws a bloodied arm off to the side, revealing the open passage opposite the steps to the organ. "Leave now, or we will both die here!"
"Leave now!" Erik snarls, and Raoul hardly even feels the other man seize him with all of his remaining strength, and he almost loses his footing as he is half-dragged up the rock and over the rise beside the organ. "Let me burn in my Hell, get out and leave me now!"
Raoul grunts in pain as one of his legs falls beneath him, and his bare feet scrape the rocky cavern floor. He resists Erik, but Erik will not be resisted, and drags him even faster, forcefully. The exit appears to be a vault, already open, and Erik rips it open even wider with one of his weakened arms. He throws Raoul on the floor just before the opening, and the boy stumbles into it.
"Everything, everything has come to its end, it is over!" Erik has never screamed like this before, howled, and his voice has turned from melodious to demonic and enraged with unbelievable sorrow. "Get out of here!"
Raoul hesitates, but turns to look down the long passageway, and for the first time since finding Erik half conscious and bleeding upon the sheets he realizes that he is free. Erik has set him free, and if he does not go now, something horrible will happen. It has happened, and he will never have another chance to escape this place again. He stares at Erik, brokenly, and does not recognize the gleam in the mans eyes, rimmed with a terrible purple and caging tears. He does not remember it this way, and with another hard shove from Erik's bloodied arms he turns, and tears into a clumsy run down the passageway. He knows he cannot look back, or he will never truly leave this time or this place.
Behind him Erik howls again, as he slams the vault door closed. It shakes around him. "It has ended!"
It is the last thing Raoul hears, but Erik's agony does not stop there. He screams, and screams, a low, baleful noise seeming to come from the very pit of his insides as he moves from exit to exit and shuts them all off with sorrowful ferocity. Erik locks them one by one, iron latches and steel chains, and when he finishes he comes to lean exhausted and spent beside his organ.
Slowly, the sobbing, the screaming begins to fade into a low moan of broken spirit, and Erik breathlessly picks his heavy black cloak from where it lies, folded on the seat. Closing his eyes, he drags the bandage across his cheeks and rids the tears, wrapping himself up in the cloak, and falling with tattered grace against the organ. He slides down the side, until he is seated beside it, entirely covered by the fine black material. After a long while the ragged, drawn-in rhythm of his breathing slows, and the Phantom becomes still and quiet, folded inside the comfort of darkness. Here, at last, he may bleed without shame.
Raoul does escape. He crawls through the long passageway, as Erik had instructed, knowing it will lead him back. He goes for hours in darkness, unsure of where he even is, only knowing to keep heading on the same path. At the very end of the way he runs into a circle of pale silver light, collecting at the bottom of a wet tunnel. Water drips periodically beside a set of rusted bars. The bars are in the stead of more darkness, and above them spills out what feels like only the sun does.
Raoul has not felt light as this in almost a year. He cannot remember it, and yearns to remember what it is to feel such warmth, so he climbs up, up, up until he is able to push at the thick bars of the grating and find the sun.
An yet, even as Raoul crawls out from the gutter, spit up from the pits of the underground, the sun does not welcome as he dreamed it would. Around him the people gasp, and speculate, and someone calls for help, but the sun remains motionless in the sky above him. It bears down hard, blaring, harsh, and white. Raoul has finally found the sun, and it burns hot along the tainted planes of his skin.