Hesitantly she opens her eyes. It feels as if only moments passed since she fainted in the hallway, but when her searching eyes find Raoul's face, she knows that she must have been unconscious for a long time. He looks strangely haggard and there are unfamiliar wrinkles on his forehead.

She'd like to call him, but she's merely able to breathe his name.

"Raoul..."

He reacts immediately, silently leaving his chair to kneel down beside her and take her hand.

"Christine, my darling!" he whispers "I was so afraid you..."

"Shhh..." feebly she presses his hand "Dearest --- I love --- you --- And Charles..." She holds his view for a few more sconds in which realization drips into his refusing mind.

"No... Christine..."

But she gives in to the strange fatigue that drags her eyelids shut and makes her want to sleep forever. She feels like sinking down, deeper into herself, to the very core of her existence. On her way, memories pass her by like sparkling fish in an ocean of blurred lifetime. Memories of Raoul, of Charles, of happy days in summer and winter. Memories of the day when the owner of her heart died...

Days and days of numbness, sadness and despair had passed. He had sent her away and she simply can't understand why. But perhaps she had just been wrong when she believed that what she had felt in his kiss had been love. He must still have hated her. Even while she gave him her heart.

She had prayed. Day and night had she prayed, mumbling the same words over and over again.

Hail Mary. Why did he send me away? Full of grace. Why didn't you make him love me again? The Lord is with thee. Why did he forsake me? Blessed art thou amongst women. As I was blessed... once... Hail Mary...

Raoul had been good to her all this time, but he never understood her at all. And when finally the day has come on which she can return to Erik, he wants to forbid it.

"If you go back now, there won't be any wedding."

It hurts her to see Raoul like that. For even if she belongs to Erik now, a part of her still remembers the days when she was Raoul's. But she can't show consideration for him now.

If she can't see Erik one last time, she will simply lose her mind.

When she enters the house beyond the lake, her heart beats wildly against her ribs. Surely he doesn't expect her back. Surely he will not be happy to see her. Surely she should have given up her mind. Surely she already has.

The drawing room looks as if a hurricane had raged through it. Erik's furniture, his books, his organ, his scores, everything is torn and broken and scattered all over the floor. The sight takes her breath away.

A movement in the corner of her eye lets her turn her head. It's the Persian, attempting to enter her room with a bowl containing all he needs to inject Erik his morphine. He seems not to have noticed her, so she calls him softly.

"Monsieur..."

Starteled he withdraws his hand that was already reaching for the doorknob.

"Mme Chagny!" he seems overly surprised.

"No, I'm still Mlle Daaé." she corrects him hastily "Is he in there?"

The Persian nods.

"But I wouldn't recommend to go to him before... well..." he gestures explainingly with the bowl.

Carfully avoiding to tread onto the splinters of glass and the pieces of Erik's scores, she starts moving towards the door of her room.

"What happened here?" her voice sounds strangeled "Why did he do this?"

"He didn't think you'd be coming back. His heart is broken, Mademoiselle..."

Suppressing a sob, she tries to get around the Persian and reach for the door, but he holds her back.

"You really should wait until..."

"I'll inject it." she snatches the bowl from the Persian and lays her hand on the doorknob. "He'll explain it to me."

She stops, petrified.

There he lies, on her bed, on his side, in a position that eases breathing.

Where is her mighty dark Angel gone?

"Nadir..." he mutters without turning his head.

His voice causes her to take in the air sharply. He sounds like any old man.

"You seem to think that the fact of me dying keeps me from experiencing the pain of withdrawal, don't you?" He breathes heavily as if these few words had exhausted him.

Hastily Christine walks over to the bed and puts the bowl down onto the nightstand.

"Erik..." she whispers.

A short, choked loughter crawls to her ears.

"You should be flattered, Nadir --- I'm hallucinating that you are Christine."

How he speaks her name! As if it were the most beautiful, yet most painful word there is.

"You are not hallucinating, Erik." she answers amid tears. "I've come back."

The eyes behind his mask grow wide with disbelief. Feebly and shakily his hand reaches for her. She takes it and leads it to her cheek, where she holds it for a while.

"Christine..."

She opens her eyes again.

"Call Nadir, I really need my morphine." It sounds like a desperate plea, and suddenly she understands that his hand doesn't shake because of weakness.

"Can't you explain to me how..."

"Take the syringe, put the needle on it, don't touch --- the part that will penetrate the body, take the little glass --- vessel with the morphine, take in..."

"Not so fast, Erik..." she interrupts him. "Alright, I put the needle on the syringe. Now...?"

"Nine milliliters... The ninth line on the syringe... Take in a little more... Hold it needle up and --- snap your finger against it... press out some drops... Now you need a vein..."

Christine gets ready to pull back Erik's sleeve, but he shakes his head.

"These are all collapsed. Try the right calf, there --- are still some working." He says it without any emotion, but Christine can't suppress a sob. His body is broken; he broke it on purpose.

For a moment she wants to shout at him: 'Wasn't it enough that the world kicked you in the face?' But she just pulls back his blanket and his kimono and a little helplessly glares at his painfully thin legs.

Suddenly the door opens and Nadir steps in.

"You rang for me?"

"Do the injection."

Nadir nods and takes the syringe from a visibly relived Mlle Daaé.

While he searches for an intact vein, Christine kneels down beside the top of the bed again.

Erik's eyes are closed and remain like that, even after Nadir has finished the procedure and takes the bowl to leave the room again.

Askingly, Christine looks at Nadir.

"He's conscious." he informs her "Morphine is a mere pain killer. It can cause euphoria but hallucinations only occur during withdrawal."

She tilts her head. Then she softly strikes Erik's hair. His eyes snap open, but when she smiles at him, he doesn't smile back.

"Why have you returned?"

Taken off guard, she stares at him blankly.

"I... I wanted to, I..." she hesitates. Only when Nadir has left the room, does she speak on: "I love you, Erik."

He groans.

"I'm dying, Christine. Do you understand what that --- means?"

She nods. But it's a lie.

"I don't expect to wake again tomorrow morning."

"Don't say that, Erik! Please, you won't..."

"Christine." He suddenly sounds much stronger than she would ever have expected, and astonished she falls silent. "Is your fiancé good to you?"

She frowns.

"My fian... Oh, you mean Raoul?" She shrugs "We're not engaged anymore. He said if I returned to you there would be no marriage."

"Oh Christine, why..."

"Life without you was hell!" For the first time since he called her from behind the mirror, her voice is overpowering his. "Why did you send me away?" she's in tears now.

Erik sighs.

"I am an ill old man, dearest. It would have been very selfish --- to keep you and scare away your young man --- I don't want you to --- be alone once I'm dead."

"I was alone already, Erik!" she cries, full of grief and anger "Without you I am alone! I thought you didn't love me anymore, I..." she stops and lets her forehead sink down onto the bed.

"I never loved you more than --- the moment I let you go." he whispers, his hand crawling over the sheet to touch her cheek. "I only wanted the best for you."

"See, I love you, damn it!" she shouts against the mattress "You are the best for me! You!"

"I'm sorry." There is so much sadness and regret in these words, that it presses all air from Christine's lungs.

Wiping her face, she tilts and turns her head to look into his eyes. After a moment she pushes herself up, fumbles under the layers of her skirts until she finds the ribbons that hold her crinoline in place and gets rid of it. Her shoes land on the floor next to it. Then she walks around the bed and lays down beside Erik, her stomach pressed warm against his back, one arm embracing him, her face snuggled to his neck.

His hand reaches for hers and holds it tightly.

"I didn't trust your love." he mutters after a long while. "I didn't trust it at all." With a strangeled moan he turns over, first onto his back and after a moment in which he catches his breath onto his other side, to face Christine.

Her eyes are still of a deeper blue than anything he has ever seen before.

"Do you feel pain?" she asks him, concerned wrinkles on her forehead.

But he shakes his head.

"I feel well --- And it's not only the morphine --- who causes this."

She smiles as he reaches for her cheek.

"I want to marry you, Erik."

His fingertips follow the line of her brow, her cheekbone, her jaw.

"We aren't even engaged." he mumbles.

"Have you forgotten the kiss?" her index finger softly knocks against the forehead of his mask.

He tightly closes his eyes and Christine giggles.

Let's play pretend that we are both young and alife. Let's play pretend that we never did anything wrong. Let's play pretend that today is eternal.

"Where is the switch for the bell? We should have a whitness, shouldn't we?"

"My husband..." she whispers, kneeling over his lap, her hands entwined with his.

"My wife." he answers.

They sit there, just like this, for a very long time. They don't talk much. They're just being husband and wife, sitting on a bed, beholding and caressing each other's face, embracing each other every now and then, sharing a kiss or two.

Yet, much too soon, the eternal day passes.

"You should go and --- eat something, dear --- And you should --- get some sleep."

"I won't waste time eating or sleeping." she refuses.

"I will ring for --- Nadir to bring you food --- After your dinner you --- will sleep by my side." He still sounds frighteningly weak, but he has regained his wellknown commanding overtone.

Suppressing a sigh, Christine nods.

After she has eaten, they lie down again, Christine's head resting on his shoulder, her hand on his chest.

She determinedly fights her weariness, but soon her eyes fall shut; just before she drifts away into unconsciousness, she realizes that Erik has been humming to her all the time.

When she wakes again, her still dreamstricken gaze meets Erik's.

In his eyes lies love, mixed with something she has never seen before - a strange hunger. A memory stirs. The memory of an irresistable music...

"Good morning." she whispers almost shyly.

Erik smiles.

"Good morning. How did you sleep, my most beautiful wife?"

Christine chuckles.

"I slept very well, my dearest husband. And yourself?"

"I slept beside you, Christine. This was the most wonderful night I ever spent."

Christine's cheeks begin to glow, happyly, sadly, lovingly... called by something that she can't quite explain...

Gently, Erik's hand reaches for her face, and she reaches out for his, mimicing his caresses as his fingers start a gentle downward slope to her thighs and then climb up again to her back. When he suddenly pulls her close with surprising strength, giving way to a longing moan, she knows that this was only the first sentence of a very deep and beautiful confession.

Afterwards they lie there, resting; her leg across his belly, her arm across his chest, her head on his shoulder. She counts his heartbeats, feeling every irregularity like a glowing knife in her stomach.

"I wish I could give you from my own health. I wish I could give you from my lifetime."

"No..." he breathes, barely audible "You'll --- live."

Alarmed, Christine sits up.

"Erik... Stay with me, Erik, look at me!" she mumbles feverishly. "You can't leave now! You..."

"We --- shared --- everything..."

"No! No, Erik!" Sheer panic. "Not yet, please!"

He blinks a few times, forcing up all strength that is left in his wretched body.

"Dress --- me..."

She has to lean forward, her ear close to his mouth, to be able to understand him.

"... die --- decently --- covered."

She nods, and after she has pulled his underwear and kimono carefully back in place, she slips into her own clothes, ignoring her crinoline and corset.

"Mask..." Erik pleads when she kneels down on the bed beside him again.

"Not yet, Erik. I will hide your face after... after..." sudden tears choke her. "I should never have left you!" a whisper full of despair, muffled against Erik's shoulder.

Suddenly his body begins to quiver. Christine shoots up to see his face twist into an expression of absolute pain.

"No, Erik! Don't go! Don't go! Please!" she cries, grabbing the lapels of his kimono, her voice growing more desperate with every word. But then Erik's eyes catch her view: His look rests on her, calm and almost serene in spite of the agony raging in his ribcage.

'I love you.' that's what his eyes say. 'You are everything to me. I will wait for you. I will wait behind this door, whatever it may take.'

And while the muscle of his heart cramps to perform one last beat, Christine's frame relaxes and the wrinkles of grief disappear from her forehead.

It's not forever. It's not forever...

Ayesha, who spent the last day sitting unnoticed as her master's guard on the wardrobe and jumped off there to pace up and down in front of the bed when Erik's last seizure began, now leaps onto her master's unmoving chest. Small sounds, similar to those of a weeping infant, escape her furry mouth.

Gently Christine closes Erik's golden eyes that now stare at her, emptily and meaninglessly. She places a kiss on his lips and another one on his forehead.

"I love you." she whispers, before she hides his face from the world again. And it's his mortal remains that she means by this.

With nearly trance like movements she fetches her brush from the vanity and rightens Erik's hair, then she straightens the lapels and folds of his kimono again, pulls up his blanket and folds his hands over his stomach. Then she beholds the result for a while, and a warm feeling floods through her body. He found peace, finally.

Only when her tears drop coolly onto her hands does she realize that she is crying. Soon her entire body is shaken by violent yet silent cramps of sorrow. Erik is dead.

Like a lost child she curls up beside him an weeps, swallowed once again by the gaping void of Erik's absence. She feels hollow, blank, cold. She wants to cry forever.

But eventually there are no more tears left, and while the sheet under her head dries, calm serenity settles in her once again. He will wait for her. Whatever it takes. They will be together again.

In the bathroom she washes her face with cold water and rightens her hair. Then she returns into the bedroom and with a smile picks up Ayesha.

"Now it's only the two of us, hm?" she asks, striking the cat's head "What do you think, will Nadir offer us a place under his roof until we find something else?"

"Myyy!" Ayesha whimpers and presses her tiny black nose against Christine's shoulder, her claws fastening her to the only human being that she knows well beside Erik.

Raoul was there for her afterwards. And she was there for him, although - and this she realizes only when she reaches the core of herself - she never really saw him; she always searched for something behind him, behind the life that she was living, happy as it may have been.

Thoughts of Charles circle around her consciousness. Memories of the tiny life growing in her belly, that nearly cost her life, the sweet infant, the clumsy little boy, the strong, gifted, self-confident young man... Erik's wonderful son.

Raoul finally understood it, but he never complained. One couldn't help but love Charles.

Then something happens. Something great, bright and glowing, that seems to expand her core into infinity, yet letting her take back her old shape, gripping the place where her core lay hidden behind her sternum, pulling her out of her body.

She opens her eyes.

She catches her breath.

She can feel that he's there. He's always been there.

One last time she looks at Raoul, who is now crying at the shoulder of her body. One last time she looks at Charles who is far away at his boarding school.

Then she turns around to embrace her true love once again.