The choice was made. She had made it in the moment when Raoul had gathered her into his arms in the chapel as she cried, when she had felt the safety, the security there within his embrace.
She knew that there would never be such security in the embrace of the Phantom, a man who had never even told her his name. A man who hid in darkness and shadows, who achieved his desires through terror and trickery, who knew no love nor felt any—except for her.
He loved her. Christine knew that, and yet, as she stood before the mirror in her new dressing room, she tried to forget it.
She looked around the spacious quarters, the elaborate room usually given to La Carlotta as the star soprano, and felt a mixture of guilt and pride.
Tonight, she was the leading lady. Not a chorus girl dragged in out of necessity, not a talent pushed to the background by the raucous demands of a temperamental diva. No. She was the star in an opera written for her voice, for her talents, written by a man obsessed with her to the point that she feared him and what he might do.
And for the first time in her brief career, she had not wanted it.
She had taken the role for Raoul, for the sake of their futures, of the life she believed that she wanted and the love that she believed was safest, purest, and best. With it came the posters blazoned with her face and name, the articles in L'Epoche, the spacious dressing room.
In order to gain recognition, opportunity, and a secure future with the man she loved, she need only do what she had desired to do all her life.
It was the thirty pieces of silver given to Judas, the apple offered to Eve, the reward for what she was to do tonight.
But as with all betrayals, there was a price for hers.
Since the afternoon in the chapel when she had made her decision, her sleep had been plagued by nightmares. In each and every one, she found herself on the stage, surrounded by the lush trappings of Don Juan Triumphant, looking up into Box 5, where the Phantom stood, surrounded by the gendarmes Raoul had hired. His eyes met hers, and he knew.
This nightmare was to come true.
He would know that she had betrayed him. He always knew. He knew her better than anyone else…even Raoul…
Raoul still thought her a child. He had replied condescendingly when she spoke of her tutor, had passed off the frightening encounters with the Phantom as mere nightmares, as though she didn't have the sense to determine what was reality and what was dreaming! She was still his Little Lotte, as much a child to him as she ever had been to her father.
And yet, Christine knew that there was truth in the way Raoul saw her. She was still very much a child, however adult she might feel. For the mere promise of safety, she was tonight to turn a blind eye to the suffering of another. She would deny her angel the only chance he would ever have for happiness, and send him away to be caged again, and…
She closed her eyes in pain. He would be hanged for the death of Joseph Buquet. She knew it, and yet, she also knew that she would walk out onto the stage tonight, sing the role of Aminta and let the gendarmes take him away.
And his blood would be forever on her hands.
She was about to betray a man who had given her everything and asked nothing in return.
The door opened and Madame Giry walked in. Christine knew that she could have had a maid to help her, but she preferred to have the ballet mistress help her with her laces. The older woman always had words of encouragement, but tonight, there would be words of support. Words to strengthen her resolve that she was doing the right thing.
And after, there would be words of comfort.
"Seal my fate tonight…"
He lifted the wig from its stand, discarded the white leather half-mask in place of a full, black mask.
"I hate to cut the fun short, but the joke's wearing thin."
He tightened the string that held the mask in place, lifted a candle from the stand.
This was it. This would be the end of all the games, the masquerades. He would take Christine tonight from that stage, and she would be his. That silly boy had no claim on her, none but the memory of happier days and childhood nostalgia.
He had Christine's soul. He held the key to what made her who she was, her love of music, the gifts instilled in her by her father and brought to fruition by a lonely tutor. She would not deny him again.
"Let the audience in…"
Doubtless the foolish Viscomte had some plan for his demise. But no one, not even Christine, suspected the Phantom's plan.
He looked down at the miniature stage, the small wax figures of the actors.
"Let my opera begin!"
A ring of flames erupted.
Christine turned to face Madame Giry.
"You look beautiful, my dear."
Christine touched her hair nervously, smoothed the fabric of her dress. "It is so scanty, Madame. I feel as though I have nothing on."
"I have seen much worse, believe me. You are quite modest."
"Raoul will not like it."
Madame Giry touched Christine's face comfortingly. "There may be many things tonight that Raoul will not like, and in your future too, perhaps. No matter how it has come about, this is your dream, and it is about to come true. You are the prima donna, a star in your own right. No matter what happens, do not let it be ruined."
And then, Madame Giry held out to her a single, long-stemmed red rose, a black silk ribbon tied around the stem.
Christine looked at the ballet mistress in confusion.
Madame Giry smiled. "He knows you will do well tonight."
Raoul took his seat in Box 5, a gendarme on either side of him. When the Phantom came to see Christine sing, it would be all over for him.
Then Raoul would take Christine away from here when the opera was finished, away from Paris, to the country, perhaps—the de Chagnys had a lovely chateau there—and the horrors that had plagued them for so long could simply slip away.
They would be happy together, as they had been as children. He would protect Christine, give her as long as she needed to recover.
He loved her. He knew that much. And he would do anything for her.
It never occurred to him that the Phantom felt the same.
Just over an hour later, Christine stood at the edge of the stage, her heart having ceased its wild racing. Nothing of any consequence had happened during the first act, or the majority of the second. Now they were fast approaching the end, and she had ceased to worry, and given herself up to her role.
Only once had it occurred to her how strange it was that Raoul sat in Box 5, and the Phantom had not come to hear her sing in his opera.
But there was no room for thoughts beyond her role. It was a difficult role, the music and lyrics much harder and very, very different from what she was accustomed to.
And the audience was not lapping it up as they so often did. In fact, some looked utterly repulsed by the content of the opera, which was hardly subtle. And, she thought wryly, far less so in the final piece.
And there was her cue, the booming laughter of Don Juan—although it was more of a loud cackle from Signor Piangi—as he slipped backstage.
She stepped out, her voice ascending beautifully to the notes that the Phantom had composed with her in mind.
"No thoughts within her head but thoughts of joy! No dreams within her heart but dreams of love!"
The Phantom straightened his mask, fixed his cape, and looked down at the body of Signor Piangi.
Let the dream begin.
He stepped out of the curtain, for the first time in twenty-four years in front of living people who were not Madame Giry, Christine, or her ill-fated lover, the Viscomte de Chagny.
"Passarino! Go away, for the trap is set, and waits for its prey!"
The actor hesitated a moment, then slipped away, but the Phantom could not miss the confusion on his face. He winced. The difference in height, build, and voice had not occurred to him in all of his contriving, but he was here, and would simply have to make the best of it. There was no going back now.
"You have come here, in pursuit of your deepest urge—in pursuit of that wish which 'til now has been silent…silent…I have brought you, that our passions may fuse and merge. In your mind you've already succumbed to me, dropped all defenses, completely succumbed to me. Now you are here with me, no second thoughts, you've decided. Decided…"
He approached her slowly, the dissonant chords of his opera ringing in his ears as he sang the lyrics that he had composed.
The game must be played perfectly, or he would lose her forever. It would be only a matter of moments before the charade was discovered. But the choreography of this scene was perfect for his plan. A moment longer…only a moment…
"Past the point of no return—no backward glances, our games of make believe are at an end! Past all thoughts of if, or when, no use resisting—abandon thought and let the dream descend!"
She rose slowly to face him and his blood raced hotly through his veins at the sight of her, the Spanish dress clinging to her frame, the lacy sleeves hanging off of her shoulders, leaving the creamy skin bare to glow under the stage lights.
He reached for her, drew her roughly into his arms, against him, her body flush with his, her skin hot against his own. He felt her head fall back against his shoulder, her body begin to tremble with desire, saw her eyes close as he drew his hand over her hair and trailed his fingers over her throat.
She was his.
"What raging fire shall flood the soul?"
In that moment, Raoul knew. She had only ever reacted so to one man's touch, and jealousy burned hotly within his soul, warring with anger, and sorrow at the knowledge that she would never be entirely his.
He'll take me. I know. If he finds me it won't ever end.
"What rich desire unlocks its door?"
He motioned to the gendarmes, but there was no chance of shooting the Phantom now without possibly harming Christine as well.
The Phantom drew away, running his fingers down her arm and bringing the hand to his lips. Her eyes were wide with shock at the sensations, a small smile at the edge of her parted lips.
"What sweet seduction lies before us?"
"Past the point of no return, the final threshold—what warm unspoken secrets will we learn? Beyond the point of no return…"
Madame Giry stared, wide-eyed at the stage. Never in her wildest dreams had she thought that the Phantom would go to such lengths to secure Christine's love.
"Maman?" Meg said, touching her mother's arm. "That is not Piangi."
"I know, Meg." Madame Giry answered, closing her eyes in silent prayer. "I know."
Christine turned away from the Phantom, her mind whirling, spinning with a thousand possibilities.
"You have brought me to that moment when words run dry—to that moment when speech disappears into silence, silence…I have come here, hardly knowing the reason why…"
She looked up and saw Raoul, hurt and rage mingling in his eyes, and she remembered then why she was here tonight, on the stage.
But the Phantom was drawing her perilously close to betraying Raoul, instead.
"…In my mind I've already imagined our bodies entwining…"
Her eyelids fluttered and she felt her heart begin to race at the very words, the forbidden images that the lyrics conjured within her mind. There was passion in the air tonight, lust hanging thick and heavy in the air. Could she give this up, this desire that raced hotly through one's veins and caused one to give oneself up to the sweetest abandonment?
Did she want to?
"…Defenseless and silent…now I am here with you, no second thoughts…"
She turned back to face him.
With that last word, she gave an almost imperceptible nod.
She had decided.
She saw the look in his eyes, disbelief and joy mingled together.
Yes, she had decided.
He could hardly believe his eyes.
She had chosen him.
And he could see it in her eyes, her sultry smile, the way she moved as she began to sing again and they ascended the stairs together to the balcony, one step at a time, as the flamenco dancers wove themselves together behind them.
"Past the point of no return—no going back now…"
There was no going back. If she left with the Phantom tonight instead of Raoul, there would never be any going back.
Nor would there be if she went with Raoul. The choice was hers.
The choice was final.
"Our passion play has now at last begun! Past all thought of right or wrong…"
Christine did not know what was right and what was wrong any longer. But as she looked at the man ascending the stairs opposite her, she thought she knew what her heart's desire truly was.
Raoul rose from his seat, as though he could stop what was happening on stage before his very eyes. He was losing Christine, his beloved Christine, and there was nothing he could do…
He signaled the gendarme. In a moment perhaps, they could safely fire.
Christine could not blame him for carrying out what they had both planned.
Tears rose in his eyes as he watched them, unmanly tears, but he could not staunch them.
No matter what happened tonight, he had already lost her.
Perhaps he had lost her long ago.
"One final question, how long should we two wait before we're one? When will the blood begin to race, the sleeping bud burst into bloom?"
She faced him now, at opposite ends of the balcony, and she felt her blood begin to race as his gaze burned into hers, inciting a raging fire that could never, never be extinguished. This was where she belonged. This was what made her complete.
She approached him, a seductive smile spreading across her face, her voice deepening.
"When will the flames at last consume us?"
He flung his cape aside, moved towards her in a single graceful motion, and pulled her against him, her hand intertwined with his, moving slowly over her body, his lips a hairsbreadth from her throat as they sang together, and Christine felt fire race through her blood, consuming her mind, body and soul.
"Past the point of no return—the final threshold, the bridge is crossed, so stand and watch it burn!"
Christine knew that she had crossed the bridge and in a moment, only a moment, it would burst into flames.
"We've passed the point of no return."
For a moment, a long moment that seemed to stretch into forever, there was no sound but the chords throbbing through the air, and Christine was lost in the music enveloping her, his rough but gentle hands caressing her face and neck, loving her with his touch. A slow smile spread across her face, her head laid against his shoulder, her soul alight with this feeling, so new, so foreign to her. She loved this man.
And then, he began to sing.
Madame Giry stared, wide-eyed, at the balcony, denial in her mind and on her lips.
So this was the answer to all her prayers. The Viscomte would not take Christine away tonight as she had hoped, but instead Christine would be spirited away by the Phantom.
And Madame Giry knew that she was powerless to stop it.
She motioned to the gendarme in the wings, her heart breaking at the betrayal that she had become a part of.
"His blood is no longer on your hands, Christine. I saved him, it is only right that I, in the end, should be the one to condemn him."
He would never know what possessed him to sing those lyrics to her. It was not part of the opera, not part of the plan. But in that moment, it seemed like the most obvious plea in the world.
"Say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime. Lead me, save me from my solitude."
Christine's eyes opened, the spell broken. She was suddenly torn in two directions, between the man her soul loved, and the man that her heart still belonged to. She wanted to go to the Phantom, wanted to burn her bridges and slip away with him forever, but her eyes caught Raoul's. She saw the pain there, and she turned to face the Phantom, tears rising in her eyes and spilling down her cheeks.
She didn't know the difference between right and wrong any longer. Before tonight, before this moment, she had seen the lines drawn so clearly. But now, what had seemed so terribly wrong seemed like the one thing in the world that was right.
"Say you want me with you here, beside you."
Christine bit back a sob.
His voice rose in a daring crescendo, and she felt her heart breaking even as her heart turned back to return the way it had come.
"Anywhere you go, let me go too! Christine, that's all I ask of…"
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a gendarme, his rifle pointed at the Phantom.
And she did not know whether she did it to save him or to betray him, but she ripped his mask from his face.
Members of the audience began to scream in horror and fright, and the attention of the gendarmes was then directed elsewhere, if only for a moment.
She had saved him.
But there was betrayal in his eyes.
And behind it was rage, and Christine knew the meaning of terror.
She caught one last glimpse of Raoul, his face contorted in horror, before the Phantom unsheathed his sword, caught her up in his arms, and then everything was moving far too quickly, and she did not know what choice she had made any longer.
She could smell the acrid scent of smoke as they disappeared through a trap-door that she had never known was there, and her only thought was that she had burnt her bridges just when she wanted most desperately to go back.
The man who was spiriting her away was not the one that had sang so beautifully to her a moment ago, not the man who had touched her so lovingly.
She did not know who he was—the angel, the demon, or perhaps just the poor, pitiful man who had cried when she had taken away his mask once before, because he did not believe that she could see his face and still love him.
But the night was yet young.
Perhaps she would find out.