I really am grateful to everyone who has read this story. Your reviews have meant a lot, and I appreciated every one of them.
Here's the last chapter of "A Winter's Decision."
Two weeks later...
Raoul stared absentmindedly out of the enormous front picture window of his estate at the heavy spring shower. The monotonous pitter-patter of the falling droplets almost made him dozy, despite the fact that he had only awoken two hours ago. A blazing fire roared in the fireplace, sending both warmth and flickers of light throughout the vast sitting room. Somewhere in the back, several of the maids chattered while they went about their dusting and sweeping. The high roof creaked as a gust of wind viciously assaulted it.
The Vicomte attempted to keep his mind occupied with his current work, particularly several land deals that still needed to have the kinks worked out of them. It was rather difficult to stay focused on such tedious issues after everything that had occurred. It all somehow seemed trivial in the scheme of things, and he wondered if he should leave the country for a while...clear out his head. Of course, if he did that, his brother would accuse him of neglecting his duties. Raoul's entire family was still irritated about the whole incident with Christine, even though the engagement had been promptly called off.
With a sigh, Raoul glanced at the silver clock on the mantelpiece and quietly groaned. It was already nine in the morning, and the rain was coming down harder than ever. By the ominous clouds that continued to flood the sky, it was obvious that it would still be pouring by noon-the time of the funeral.
After it became obvious that Laurent's body would never be found and no trace was discovered of him leaving the country, Monsieur Ames was presumed dead. It was decided by his relatives that a service and burial would be held with an empty casket. Speculations still ran throughout the aristocratic circles, but no one could come to any conclusions. Of course, Raoul felt obligated to attend the funeral. In more ways than one, he felt responsible for the man's death, and, even though Laurent obviously had problems, he had considered the man a friend for many years. Plus, if the Vicomte did not attend, it would surely arouse suspicions, as he had apparently been the last one to see Laurent that fateful night.
With a sigh, Raoul got up from the warmth of the velvet cushioned armchair and made his way upstairs, hoping that it would not take too long to find a solemn black dress suit. Putting it on would be difficult enough, as his arm still remained in a sling. Another gush of wind shook the enormous house, furiously rattling the manor's windows. If ever a funeral were to be cancelled, today would be the day to do it.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, far away from thoughts of business negotiations and daily obligations, he allowed himself to wonder how she was doing. Perhaps he always would wonder. But he truly did wish for her to have happiness in her life...even if he was not a part of it...
God knows, if anyone deserved happiness in this life, then she did.
Christine did not know whether it was the steady patter of rain against the roof or the slight twinge in her ankle that awoke her that morning. Oddly, the two seemed to always coincide these days. Whenever foul weather made its way through the area, her formerly broken joint would begin to ache, almost as a sort of reminder to everything that had occurred. It wasn't terribly agonizing but was noticeable nonetheless.
Groaning softly, she attempted to find her way back to sleep. If it continued to pour all day, she would need all of the rest she could get in those last few hours of darkness. From the water stains that dotted the wooden floors, she suspected that there were several leaks throughout the house. Today she would be forced to find them and plug them up somehow...or get an old bucket and at least prevent the wood from rotting through. Given that she knew very little about repairing houses, the buckets would probably have to make do.
After stopping the water from entering the roof, she would need to go outside into the rain and make sure that their possessions were carefully covered. The last thing she needed was a carriage that was rusted and, of course, the horses would need to be sheltered and fed. She sincerely hoped that the brutal wind would not completely destroy their garden.
Realizing how much there would be to do outside of the house, Christine decided that she had better get an early start on the chores that awaited her inside. Cursing the typical spring weather, she turned herself around and climbed out of bed, shivering in the cool dampness of the room. Standing up and stretching, she ignored the pain in her ankle and turned to straighten out the sheets and comforter.
Christine Daae was not a stranger to bouts of fatigue or the aches of overworked ligaments. Years in ballet had given her many a pulled calf muscle or stretched tendon, and she had frequently collapsed into her bed after long dance rehearsals, grateful to give her tired body a rest from the exertion.
This was something different, though. Should she miss a step or fall behind in a practice or performance, the worse that would have happened was a stiff reprimand from Madame Giry or perhaps a chuckle from several audience members. Should she fall behind now, the consequences could be much more dire-starvation to name one.
Each day she had to make sure that there was still enough food within the pantries and enough kindling for the fireplace. If any of the few vegetables that they had grown were ripe, she had to quickly pick them before the ravenous insects had a feast. She was not looking forward to the day when she would have to journey into the city by herself and seek out a place to buy food and supplies. Really, Christine had no idea where the nearest market or produce stand was. She was quite thankful that she had taken up Raoul's offer to have his servants stop by with food every two weeks, though Erik would not have liked it if he had known.
Basic household cleaning was another necessity, including sweeping, cooking, washing, and minor maintenance work. After this storm blew dirt and dust into the house, those activities would increase tenfold. The list of chores went on and on, an unending list of necessary tasks.
But the evenings of the last two weeks had made it all worthwhile. The evenings had made them the best days of her young life.
As the sky darkened and exhaustion overtook her, Christine would curl up on the blue sofa next to her husband, basking in the glow of the firelight and in his company. He would place his arm around her while she read or simply lay there in thought. Sometimes they would quietly chat, though lately silence had seemed more fitting to their moods. It was these moments in those weeks that kept her going-that made her happy with that distant winter's decision.
There was many a day in those several weeks when Erik wished he had made his departure from the earth that one early morning for Christine's sake. Watching her have to do all of the household work by herself, he was almost certain that his accursed life should have ended. He had not felt this helpless since he was a child, confined to a cage in a carnival while spectators gawked and screamed at his horrid visage. Yet he continued on. For her sake, he remained sedentary as the doctor had ordered.
Christine said she was happy with things as they were, and he believed her to some extent. Like at this moment. At this moment, he was grateful that his heart continued to steadily beat. Right now, they sat together in front of the crackling fire in a tight embrace. She had dozed off in his arms with a novel in her hand, and he was simply enjoying the feeling of her lying against him. He watched her sleep, her dark eyelashes fluttering softly as her chest gently rose and fell...her red lips slightly parted.
Christine stirred from her slumber and looked up at him with a small smile of love and contentment. Leaning up, she softly brushed his cheek with her lips and hugged him tightly to her. Slowly he brought his wife's head closer and kissed her more deeply upon her lips. She returned it on instinct, moving her lips against his and grasping onto his shoulders somewhat more desperately than she meant to. Hearing his rapid breath, she quickly drew back.
He hated himself for a moment...for not being able to give her all that she deserved. "You should have let me go," he whispered. "All this can end in is more pain."
"No. No. Do not say such things," she murmured softly. "I do not care about any of that. I love this. I love being in your arms in the evening. I would rather do that for an eternity...than have one night...and then have you gone, Erik. Please believe me." She stroked her fingers over his face, several tears falling down her cheeks. "You will get better soon. You will be strong again. It will simply take time."
They lay embraced for a while longer in the firelight both deep within their thoughts. The rain continued to fall outside, though she thought it sounded as though it were relenting some. After a moment, Christine moved to get up. "I need to see if the roof is still leaking," she said softly, brushing a strand of brown hair from her face. He gently held her back, though.
"Just leave it, Christine." She started to protest and then, with somewhat relief, obediently lay back down. Closing her eyes again, she leaned her head against his chest.
He watched her for a few minutes, realizing how strong she had become in those last months. From the moment she had chosen not to perform in his opera, she had taken their fates into her hands. And now she was keeping them alive. And, despite all his flaws and weaknesses, she loved him dearly. Perhaps he finally believed this.
He felt his heart grow stronger with love for her.
She had made her decision, and now he would make his.
He would live.