Chapter Eight: The Realization
The top of the stairs seemed far too far from the bottom step once he reached them. His love, truly, deeply, and undeniably overwhelming finally puttered and saddened. He had looked everywhere for her, up in the dormitories, down at the stable, hidden in the back corner of a practice room. And then, most daftly, it occurred to him that she would be in the chapel. Perhaps it was more than just an error of judgment; perhaps it was a subconscious hope. That was where Christine had first heard the Angel's song and indeed, that was the place that drew her soul most strongly, no matter how much Raoul's soul weighed with the knowledge.
And there she was, fallen in tears on the floor, the glistening crystals dancing with the light as they clung helplessly to her eyelashes. Her dress' skirt was sprawled across the floor with a mournful grace, the line of her body closed in toward the photo of her father. She was a dutiful daughter. She always had been. Her loyalty. Another thing he loved about her.
He could see her react almost instantly to his presence. Whether it was his eyes on the curve of her neck or the flicker of the candles as he entered or maybe the ability to feel his body near hers like he could sense hers, she turned, standing, the hem of the skirt spinning as she struggled to stay composed, her hands almost magnetically drawn to her face to cover her tears.
He embraced her as she buried her head into his chest, her breath shallow. "Raoul, I'm frightened. Don't make me do this," she whispered, choking on her own tears of—fear? She said fear, but her voice, her gaze suggested something else. The Phantom instantly appeared in his mind, the cloaked figure adorned in the guise of red death.
He didn't quite know what to say, and neither did Christine. Her emotions, ever lightly skimming the top, never truly concealed, were pouring—tumbling—cascading out of her, words jumbled. "Raoul, it scares me. Don't put me through this ordeal by fire. He'll take me, I know. We'll be parted forever. He won't let me go." She bit her lip, almost ashamed. "What I once used to dream I now dread. If he finds me"—she looked away from his inquisitive eyes, his plan reeling in her mind with all of the ways it could fail drenching her thoughts—"it won't ever end…and he'll always be there…singing songs…in my head…he'll always be there singing songs in my head…"
He caressed the cream silk of her cheek, drawing her into his strength, however feigned. "You said yourself he was nothing but a man. But while he lives, he will haunt us till we're dead." Haunt me, he thought. Haunt me ever night when in your eyes I see him and not me.
She turned from him—always turning from him! How much more could he take!—and spoke, stronger on each word as her conviction grew. "Twisted every way, what answer can I give? Am I to risk my life to win the chance to live? Do I betray the man who once inspired my voice? Do I become his prey? Do I have any choice?"
The tears now lingered not in her eyes but adorned her cheeks in hot splotches which glowed pink on her delicate complexion. Her eyes were hard, resonating with strength amidst the confusion. Raoul watched as her eyelids flickered from her conflicted hands to the world that lay outside the stain glass window. She was angry now. "He kills without a thought, he murders all that's good; I know I can't refuse—and yet, I wish I could. Oh God, if I agree what horrors wait for me in this the Phantom's opera?"
Anger. Fear. Pity. But most of all, uncertainty. Christine, however independent she liked to think herself, was but a child. He was barely a true man—and what vicomte was a true man when his brother had ruled his life for so long?—but he knew one thing. He had to protect her. Love her. Respect her. "Christine, Christine, don't think that I don't care." Please don't, he prayed, because I love you more than I could love anyone or anything and would give you the world to show you that. "But every hope and every prayer rests on you now."
As he enveloped her in his arms and she fell comfortably into where her body perfectly fit into his, he resisted every urge to betray his jealousy and pain. She was his. She said she was. And she wouldn't lie to him.
The plan had gone as planned. The Phantom had been lured. But while the police were concerned amidst the flames and falling chandeliers that a murderer was on the loose, all Raoul could think about was how Christine looked at the Phantom. She wasn't acting. Her body writhed with sensuality at his slightest touch when she could only offer Raoul a chaste kiss. Her eyes glowed luminously, brilliantly. He manipulated her and she desired him. And Raoul--Raoul was alone. Up in his box. Tears glazing his eyes.
But despite all that he wanted Christine and needed to save her. So he went where no one else would, down to the Phantom's lair. And now he held his last breath as he floated in the trap the Phantom had set.
In looking over his love affair with the opera singer, he felt embued with her gentle but passionate spirit. Whatever physical reaction Christine had toward the Phantom, it could never outweigh the love that Raoul and she shared. It could never match the pureness of their spirits and the beauty and sincerity of their love. The passionate and vibrant memories of their brief romance gave him the power to resist drowning in the Phantom's trap. Christine gave him strength. And he would always cherish her for how she bettered him.
He swam down, trying to find some lever that would stop the grate from crushing and drowning him. Once found, the lever seemed stuck. Raoul panicked, but thought of Christine's beautiful visage and used the last of his strength to move it.
He heard chains move and saw the grate move. He sent a quiet prayer of thanks to the heavens and continued on his way.