EPILOGUE: HER TEACHER
My name is Nadir Khan, and I am haunted by a ghost.
…Or perhaps Christine's "Angel of Music" is a more appropriate term.
It is quite fitting that in death, he remains the legend he had longed to be in life. I still hear his voice in my mind, his otherworldly existence penetrating my every thought. I do not believe in apparitions as by rule of my faith in Allah, praise him, and the paradise that awaits his believers after death. But to deny Erik's eternal presence is to deny my own eyes, my own ears…my own heart.
This is something I cannot do.
I have not, nor will I ever, make excuses for Erik's actions. I have never pretended to have any inkling to what went on inside that dark, distorted mind… All I know is that I have forgiven him, and when he weighs on my thoughts, all feelings are ones of brotherly love. He rescued my only son from inexorable suffering, and he abandoned his own happiness for the life of another. He has seen the most devastating brutality in the world, and from that bloomed a mind overflowing with the cruel understanding of the world. I have often wondered if he knew even one moment of pure, unadulterated joy before having met Christine…before having known the tortures and beauty of love.
Erik's death marked the end of an era in my life, a time when I was met with so many new understandings about the darkness of the human soul, the ability to change, and the metamorphosis of my own mind. I have been altered by his existence, and his death has put a few of my guilt-ridden thoughts to rest. Now, without Erik, I have a certain emptiness inside me, a thirst for a perpetual knowledge that will never be quenched.
I do not know how long I stood outside of the de Chagny residence, looking up at the formidable marble pillars with a mixture of dread and morbid curiosity. My presence could be seen as intrusion…perhaps even an unfriendly reminder of a long forgotten past. Would she remember?
"I will not be remembered!" he cried, picking up his rosewood violin in his skeletal fingers and flinging it forcefully across the room. I watched as it hit the wall with a sickening crunch and splintered into pieces. "I will not!" The candelabras met a fate similar to the violin. "I will not!" As did the bookshelf. "No one will recall the name Erik, no one will think of me as anything but a fleeting ghost, and the legend will fade until it is dead and rotting beneath this Godforsaken earth." He threw a small footrest into the center of his magnificent pipe organ before pausing, staring at the devastation before him. I heard a deep sigh escape his lips. "The Phantom will be nothing but a dissolving memory."
He bent over to retrieve a small picture frame from its place on a small table, his movements brusque and uncaring…but then he stopped, looking down at the photograph. For a moment he stood, motionless, simply…stared. His fingers slid over the frame softly, his touch smooth and caressing. With sudden hostility, he tossed it to the floor, the glass shattering into tiny pieces.
I stood in the center of the doorway, shrouded in my dark blue cloak. Even if I had not been there, I am fairly certain he would have raved anyways. He did not acknowledge my presence, and the wild movements of his eyes suggested no awareness. All he saw was a life that needed to be erased from history. He crossed the room with four fluid steps and picked up the manuscript of the opera he had spent almost all his life composing.
"Erik!" I dashed across the room, closing my fingers over the sallow yellow parchment. "You cannot destroy this…"
He looked up at me with burning intensity, and I released the papers without thinking, taking an involuntary step backwards. With his gaze unwavering from my face, he tore the document in two neat, even halves. "Do you want me to tell you the ending?" he asked softly. "Don Juan does not Triumph…he loses everything, and soon, he is forgotten. Do you see the beautiful irony in that?"
He paused for a moment, breathing deeply through his mouth. Slowly he made his way over to the black leather couch, perhaps the only piece of furniture in the room- or the whole house, for that matter- left untouched. With careless grace, he slumped down into the dark bowels of the chair, his elbows propped up on his knees. He rubbed his temples distractedly, and through the eyeholes of his mask, I saw his eyes were squeezed shut.
"He would not let her come…of course he would not let her. What kind of hopeless fool would he be if he permitted his fiancée to come back to the lair of a madman?" he whispered.
I did not respond right away, instead staring at him with heartfelt pity. "She will return…" I murmured.
He snorted indignantly. "I don't want your pity, Daroga. You know as well as I that she isn't coming…" A sigh flew past his lips, his breathing low and shallow. "Why…why would…?" His hand clutched the neckline of his white shirt as his chest heaved, up and down, up and down…
He did not reply, his eyes glazed and unresponsive, mouth quivering. His long, spider-like fingers gripped his collar, a powerful shudder passing through his body. "She…she doesn't…" he gasped, trying to finish his though.
I stood quickly, leaning over him and seizing his shoulders, my knuckles turning a ghastly white. "Erik!"
It began in his hands, this violent jerking of his body. I watched as the uncontrollable tremors traveled up his arms and overtook his chest. I held his shoulders firmly, horror dripping through my system as I watched this man, this unquestionable genius, succumb to his first and only master…slow, unavoidable death. I pulled him to his unstable feet, dragging him uncoordinatedly across the room and into the maze of corridors. I pushed my weight against a door, praying it would be unlocked, and it flew open behind me.
There was a single small, flickering candle in the corner, orange flames dancing across the wick with graceful ease. I heaved Erik onto the bed that sat against the wall, and I saw with relief that the convulsions had begun to fade in their intensity. "She doesn't…love…" he whispered, his eyelids drooping shut as his chest moved up and down steadily.
I watched him for a long time, silent in my awe of his awesome existence. Even now, as he lingered so close to the peeking edge of his life, there was no mistaking his power. It was in the very air that I took into my lungs, and with each drawing of my own breath, I became more and more aware that even death could not completely expunge that everlasting presence…and I knew his longing to be forgotten could never truly be fulfilled.
It's ironic, really, how much I became like the man I had tried so desperately to change. I have made it my business to know things… For example, I knew that the de Chagny's moved to England not long after Erik's death, and that the Vicomte's young bride announced she was with child a few months later…and their son, in turn, grew to be one of the most admired musicians of our era, playing for the royal court before the age of fifteen. A prodigy, they called him.
I also found out that the Vicomtess was dying.
That is why I stood on the doorstep of their English manor, my fist hovering tentatively above the flawless white oak of the door. It was a dreadfully miserable day, the fog so thick that I could barely see the road ahead of me as I drove. The raindrops were as large as the buttons on my jacket, pelting down upon the rooftops in steady, rhythmic beats.
Not for the first time, I questioned my being there.
Perhaps I wanted to put my own memories to rest…perhaps it was a last tribute to a tragically misunderstood man. Whatever it was, it made me ignore the interrogations of my logic and caused me to stand on the porch of a family with whom I had not spoken nor seen in over a decade and a half. 'I hope you are happy, Erik,' I thought to myself with an ironic sigh. 'Even sixteen years after your death, you still manage to take control of my conscience.'
When I knocked on the door, there was a brief moment of indecision, and I seriously considered running back to my carriage and returning to Paris. Before I could get even one foot off the veranda, the door opened and I was greeted by the sight of an utterly exhausted Raoul de Chagny. I stared blankly at him; surely a Vicomte would have a hundred servants scurrying about his residence, eager to turn away unwanted guests such as myself.
There was no moment dedicated to lost memories; I saw in his eyes tired acceptance, no surprise at what must have been an unanticipated arrival. His face had been transformed from that of the man who had been my partner in a rescue mission sixteen years prior; I could see nothing more than a faint glimmer of the young god he had been in his prime. He had the look of a man who had harbored a secret guilt for many, many years…
For a moment we simply stood in silence, staring at the effects time had on the both of us. "Monsieur…" I said quietly, taking of my black top hat and inclining my head to him in respect.
He continued to watch me, hands set firmly behind his back. "You are here to see Christine." It was neither a question nor an accusation…simply a weary statement of the inevitable.
I considered feigning surprise, asking in my ignorance what it was he meant, but when I looked into his eyes, all considerations of falsehood vanished. "Yes," I murmured.
The Vicomte looked down at the ground, rubbing a pale hand over his chin. Slowly, he nodded, refusing to meet my eyes. "This way," he said, leaning against the door and permitting me to enter. I did, looking around at the magnificent splendor that would have caused even the queen to stop and marvel. My eyes swept about the grand foyer, my gaze drawn to the dozens of brilliantly white marble statues, a golden chandelier that rivaled even Garnier's overwhelmingly ornate addition Paris Opera, and a wide, sweeping staircase… Raoul did not acknowledge my awe as he trudged up the steps.
I quickened my pace in order to keep up with him, fearing I would get lost in this maze of hallways that awaited me once we reached the top. I could not catch more than a glimpse of an oil paintings that lined the darkened corridors, feeling the eyes of the de Changy's watching me. The Vicomte stopped outside one of the doors, staring up at the wood with an exhausted sorrow. "What is wrong with her?" I asked quietly, watching as the darkness threw dancing shadows over the deep black-violet bags beneath his mournful eyes.
"The doctors are not completely sure…" he responded, still gazing at the door. His fingers ran over the engravings thoughtfully. "All they know is that she is dying…only a few more weeks of our torture. She is in much pain, Monsieur," he added after sensing my reaction to his words. "And from her pain is born my bitter agony. I can barely stand to look at her…in her suffering…" He sighed. "Charles would not want to see her this way."
He opened the door and motioned for me to go inside. The room was almost completely dark, save the lonely flickering candlestick that sat beside a large, lace-covered bed. Drawing my breath into my lungs, I stepped through the doorway cautiously only to hear the soft click of the door shutting. I turned to find myself alone with a dying woman. The air escaped my lips forcefully, and my legs began to weaken beneath me.
If I were Catholic, I would have crossed myself.
Her voice was so weak I had to strain my ears in order to hear her. I looked down at myself to see that I was indeed dressed in a long cape, shrouded in the darkness of the room. Mentally I cursed myself.
"Erik, is it you? Have you come to take me away like last time?" Her whispers were growing in their strength, and I hurried over to the side of her bed before she became hysterical in her hope. "Have you come for me, Erik…? I have waited for you…"
"No, it is not Erik," I said softly, taking her small, delicate hand in my own. "I am Nadir, Erik's…friend." I could not recall ever referring to myself as 'Erik's friend' before that moment, but I suppose it's what I was. "It was I who brought you to Erik before he…" The word died lingered on my lips, but I choked down the thought before it escaped my mouth.
She was silent for a moment, and in the gloom I could see tears glistening in her eyes. They remained unshed. "Yes, I remember you. You were very kind to me. Thank you." Her voice had become a soft whisper once again, and yet I could still hear that hint of angelic singing in her tone. "You are a good man, Monsieur Nadir. Better than most…"
Silence took over us once again. "Madame…" I began, inching away from her slowly. "I really had no business coming here. My prayers and good thoughts are with you and your family." I moved to stand up, but her tiny fist closed around the corner of my coat.
"Please, Monsieur…I have a question." I turned back to her. She stared up at me with wide, pleading eyes, and before I could stop myself, I knelt once more beside her. "Erik told me the most beautiful story once…a story from Persia…" She released me, confident I would not leave. "Could you perhaps tell it to me again? I was so fond of that tale…about the bird and the rose…"
I blinked in surprise. I had told that story to Erik so long ago, when we were staying in Persia. For all the faults he saw in my culture, he had been intrigued by our fables. For a moment I said nothing, unsure of how to begin. "Once upon a time…" I said slowly, watching her face apprehensively. She closed her eyes as a small smile crept onto her lips. Even though she was dying, in those moments she was exquisitely beautiful.
"Once upon a time, there was a nightingale who fell in love with a red rose. The rose, hesitant of the nightingale's affections, closed her petals to him. But when he sang to her, and she found his intentions to be good and pure, she began to return his love." I heard a light sigh escape her lips, and I continued on. "But Allah forbade them from acting on their romance, for their union was never meant to be. The nightingale and the rose ignored His wishes, and from their love was born a single white rose, the most beautiful flower in all the world." A small tear fell from her closed eye, sliding down her cheek gently.
"But no happily ever after," she whispered. I looked down at her, unsure of what to say. "There is another ending to the story, Monsieur." Without waiting for a reply, she began to recite. "Instead of a white rose, their love created another bird, released from the now-opened petals of the red rose. It was the first cuckoo…and when the nightingale…died…" She said the last word with such emotion that I leaned away from her slightly. "…the rose raised the cuckoo in another bird's nest, and the cuckoo never learned of his true father." She opened her moonlike eyes, staring at me with an unreadable expression. "And that is why cuckoos never live in their own nests…they are raised by another bird…" Her eyes were distant, and she turned to face the window. "The cuckoo is a beautiful bird."
I swallowed with difficulty. "I never heard that ending before…" I murmured.
She did not acknowledge my words. "Thank you, Monsieur Nadir. I had forgotten that story…" Another tear was released onto her porcelain skin. "I had forgotten everything…" A choked sob flew from her lips, and she pressed the back of her hand to her mouth. "I was beginning to forget his face…and his voice…!" I stared at her, lost in the pity I felt for her and an unspeakable shock. "Oh God, I have been here too long…his face is a dimming memory in my mind, and I try to find it, I reach out desperately…and still, I cannot reclaim it!" The grief in her face was almost unbearable, and I wished I could just turn away. "How much longer must I endure here, Monsieur? Is there no mercy? I am ready…I have been ready since the moment he was taken from me, and still I remain here…the sickness is draining me, but the anguish is what kills me, slowly but surely…"
I clutched her hand in my own, feeling my own hot tears crest my cheeks. She wanted to die; I could see it in her eyes. Her fatal sickness was the last crack of a whip that had been steadily barraging her back for a long time. She was in pain, as was her husband…
From my jacket I removed a small vial. A clear liquid swirled about inside, its appearance like water but its effects drastically different… Opening her hand, I placed it onto her trembling palm. When she met my eyes, I saw that its purpose was not lost to her. "It is your decision," I said, closing her fingers over the vial. "If your grief is as great as you say it is, as it appears on your face and in your words…" I hung my head. "I suspect I am committing a crime, an awful sin…I suppose that to Allah, I am responsible …" I met her eyes. "But to allow you two or three weeks of the utter pain you have demonstrated tonight would weigh on my conscience and my heart far more heavily than giving you that." I nodded towards the glass in her hand. I dropped her hands onto the blanket and stood from my spot, gazing down at her. "I feel as though I owe it to Erik."
She held it up to her eyes, watching as the contents churned about in the vial, staring at it as if it were a strange creature from which she could not look away. "It was one of Erik's concoctions," she stated knowingly, still not able to tear her eyes from the glass.
"Yes," I said softly, nodding. "I have only known him to use it once before…and I have never been able to repay him for it…" A tear spilled down my face. "Perhaps now I can." I moved towards the door, pausing as I reached for the knob. "Your husband is suffering, Madame. He cannot bear to see you in such pain." I pulled the door open, turning back to her one last time. "I believe he has accepted the loyalties of your heart. You are not at fault."
The last thing I saw before leaving the room was Christine, her pale beauty serene and gentle, as she slowly uncorked the vial in her hand. Without another word, I passed into the corridor and hurried away. I passed Raoul in silence, stepping down the staircase and out the front door.
I had just passed through the gates of the de Chagny manor when the rain stopped.
A/N: Thanks for any and all reviews…if I made you cry, then I give you my heartfelt gratitude… It's always nice to know of emotional reactions from readers. I hope this last chapter wasn't too confusing for you…it made sense in my mind. If you have any questions, simply email me and I'll get back to you.
P.S: I plan on starting my next phic fairly soon…I have it all planned out. While going back over my other stories, I noticed that I haven't really addressed the conflict between Christine and Erik. So my next addition is to be an ALW movie phic (again), EC (as always), rating probably a T (which shouldn't come as a surprise to any of you who have read both my phics), but this one should be more focused on the first time they see each other after 'the incident.' The title is to be Yearning for Heaven.
P.P.S: I have to say thanks again to all my loyal reviewers…those who have followed me through It's Over and Joys of the Flesh. I remember you all, and I always look forward to receiving feedback from you guys.
You have truly made my night.