When we arrived at the Seine River, Madame Giry softly ordered her daughter to accompany her to watch the river's activity while Raoul and I discussed things alone. Of course, a disappointed Meg met this request; but she followed it anyway. In the Sun's dying light, Raoul and I each took a deep breath before meeting gazes and beginning down the boardwalk.
"So, why did you meet with him?" he asked. I was greatly relieved that his urgent and frightened self had disappeared. He was now calm, trying desperately to understand. It killed me though, as I realized that he was slightly withdrawn from me. He had his hands firmly tucked into his jacket pockets, not around my shoulder as they usually were.
"I wanted to him to find some clarity," I explained. But things only ended up more confused, I thought to myself.
"About what?" he asked. I suddenly felt like he had lost his warmth towards me… his questions concise, his responses wordless and shallow. I knew he would feel betrayed when he found out, and I still acted on it. The word "stupidity" seemed labeled to my forehead, and shame strove to hang at my ankles like a ball and chain.
"He was in love with me, Raoul, you know that. I wanted him to know that I couldn't return his affections, but I was so angry with him that the message was lost," I explained. The words were hard to force out of my mouth. Why was it so hard to tell Raoul about this?
"How did it become lost through your anger? One would think that it would be all the more clear," he stated. I wasn't completely sure, but I had to find an answer. I couldn't bear Raoul feeling like a stray cat abandoned by its owner. It slowly tortured me, pressed smoldering rods into my heart, and I blamed my instinct for compassion.
"I hurt him. I broke him by yelling words that I perhaps shouldn't have; or should have with a different tone. And, Raoul, you know how I am. I couldn't take it… I might have left him with the impression that I still cared for him!" I cried, now stealing a chance to make eye contact with him. He still faced forward, but his gaze dropped.
"Christine, there's only so long that a man can live while denying himself that his fiancé might love another man," he breathed, clearly heartbroken. His words shattered my soul into the smallest shards.
"Raoul, I don't…" I tried to explain, but he finally turned to face me, brows furrowed in part by frustration and in part by devastation. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and held mine in his own, holding my gaze. I had to look away, the shame was unbearable.
"Christine," he began. "I love you. But this has to stop, this nightmare has to find its end… we have to wake up."
My heart died as the sensation of his emotion building on mine pulsed through my every vein.
"I'm trying, Raoul, I'm trying. I thought that I could help by clarifying things with him… and I ended up just making it worse. I don't know if I'm strong enough to endure any more torture," I cried, a desperate sob looming over each of my words. A long pause followed as we held a silent conversation with our eyes.
"Just, promise me," Raoul finally said. "Promise me that you don't love him," an urgent tone in his voice.
I could have answered immediately with an assuring "no", but somehow I knew that then there would be room for my mind to consider if it was the right answer. As I paused, I filtered through every one of my thoughts, meticulously pondering my answer. The child that my mother and father had given life to desired deeply to show love to this broken man, but the woman whose life now fed itself upon her fiancé's love wanted for him to be out of their life. The giddy ingénue in me begged to keep him as a teacher, but the woman of society pleaded to move on and allow him to move on as well. I realized then that I did not love him, but rather pitied him and held him in the highest respects. I considered ways of compromising; from holding him at a distance while still having him tutor me, to "adopting" him into our home as a son and not a lover, even though he was older than both Raoul and I. Finally I came to my conclusion.
"No, Raoul, I do not love him. But we have to help him start anew," I carefully said, choosing my words like an orchard worker picking only the best apples. My response was met with great confusion on Raoul's part. "Without the opera house, he's lost. He helped build it, and with it he built his life. We have to help him build a new life," I explained. I held my breath waiting for Raoul's answer, expecting him to turn away from me and furiously shun me from his life. He would tear the new ring from my finger and order me to take my dresses that he'd bought elsewhere. But I did not get that kind of response… at all.
He simply took a deep breath and met my pleading gaze, finally speaking.
"Okay, but I'm running out of room in my living room for visitors," he smiled. I finally released my withdrawn breath, and kissed him, holding onto his shoulders.
"I love you," I said, finally taking my lips away from his. "I always will."
We met Madame Giry and Meg back at the carriage, and on the way back to Raoul's flat we explained what we were to do. Both women were sincerely shocked that Raoul and I should come to such a conclusion, but Meg more so. Madame Giry, after defeating her shock, praised especially Raoul for caring about Erik's fate. Meg still tried her hardest to understand, the concept not quite registering yet in her mind. She was about as close as she'd ever be to understanding it, and we were as close as we would ever be to making it clear to her.
As we each exited the carriage under the ethereal light of the moon, every one of us took a deep breath as we realized that Erik had fallen asleep on Raoul's doorstep. I laughed a little to myself, for it was an amusing sight indeed. Cautiously, we congregated around him, wondering just how we were to get him into the house.
I bent down and rested my hand on his shoulder, a careful attempt to wake him. He did not wake, and now it was clear that he was not only asleep but passed out. He would not wake if the world were being destroyed all around him.
"Raoul?" I quietly said. He had agreed to the idea but, understandably, wasn't completely comfortable with it. Begrudgingly, he handed me the key to his flat and bent down to take the sleeping man into his arms. I smiled a little as Erik's body simply flopped over Raoul's arms.
I placed the key in the lock of the door, and twisted it, opening the door. I allowed Madame Giry and Meg to pass by first, and smiled a "thank you" to Raoul, who stepped sideways through the door to carry Erik and himself inside. I followed, closing the door behind me. I met up with everyone in the living room, where Meg sat intently on the edge of the chaise and Madame Giry stood with her lips pursed in contemplation. Raoul shifted his arms under Erik's weight, and huffed a little. He was clearly heavier than I had been.
"Lay him on the chaise," Madame Giry offered. "I can sleep on one of the chairs." She pointed to one of the plush velvet lounge chairs on the opposite side of the room from the chaise.
"And I'll sleep on the floor again," said Meg. "Except, do you think he would be offended if I was on the other side of the room near my maman?" she asked. Of all of us, Meg had the least experience with the Phantom- Erik, I mean; he wasn't a Phantom anymore- and so did not know how to act around him. She was so overcautious and curious; it was amusing.
"Of course not, Meg. To be honest he would probably wonder more if you were right next to him," I joked. She smiled and blushed, something she'd been doing a lot of ever since we introduced the idea of bringing Erik into our home and helping him start over.
Surprisingly gently, Raoul strode over to the chaise and lay the sleeping Erik down. He shook his arms out after; Erik must have been very heavy. Meg picked up her blankets from their spot next to the chaise and timidly laid them down next to the red lounge chair where Madame Giry sat with her eyes relaxed. Meg offered one of her blankets to her mother who sleepily accepted. I would have fetched a blanket for the curled-up Erik who now had his back to us, but he appeared to be fine on his own.
"Let's head upstairs and get some rest," Raoul said, resting a hand on my shoulder and walking over to the base of the stairs. There he waited for me, and I followed him, holding his hand. We finished our nightly rituals of shyly dressing for bed, and slipped under the covers. Raoul still had a bit of a cold edge to him, so I lightly drew a finger down his chest and then rested my hand on his stomach.
"Thank you," I said, smiling sleepily. One side of his lips curled upwards as he looked at me and turned on his side to cup my face in his hand. He seemed to take in the sight of me finally somewhat at peace and breathed it in deep.
"It's going to be an interesting next while," he stated. It was a perfectly legit statement. Erik, the man who had, not once, but twice tried to steal me away from him, now slept on the chaise on the floor just below us. I prayed that Raoul would be kind to him, and that he be kind to Raoul as well. But above all, I prayed that my heart would remain faithful to my fiancé. I shall have to teach Erik not to make sexual advances on me.
I sighed, and Raoul kissed my forehead and smiled. He then closed his eyes, and I watched him sleep for a little while before falling asleep myself. In my dreams, visions of Raoul's death no longer haunted me, but instead they were replaced with dreams of love. I suppose it comforted me to know that Erik was truly just a man.
"Monsieur, please calm down."
"Where am I? Why have I been brought here? Why are you here?"
"This is the Vicomte's flat. He has allowed you to stay the night here."
"Madame Giry, the last place I desire to be is in the Vicomte's flat! Tell me where I truly am, and why my head hurts so bloody much!"
"Monsieur, please; sit down."
This confusion was what I awoke to. I opened my eyes, only to shut them against the blinding light of the sun. Rubbing the proof that I'd been asleep away from my eyes, I groaned as I remembered that Erik would not likely remember anything that had happened the day before. He was undoubtedly hung over, the enormous headache he felt giving it away.
"Tell me where I am!"
"I told you, you are in the Vicomte's flat. You were terribly drunk yesterday, and we found you on his doorstep."
"I was not drunk! I haven't drank in years!"
"Please, Erik; I realize this must be a little frightening for you, but you were drunk, and you are in the Vicomte's flat. Now please, just sit down and calm yourself."
I laughed a little at Erik's denials and frustration. I heard him huff loudly as he likely sat down. Seeing Madame Giry actually have authority over him made me laugh, as he was acting like a lost child. I knew she was waiting for me to wake up to really explain all, and so I quickly tied a lace robe around my nightgown and laid a kiss on the still sleeping Raoul's temple. At this, he cracked his eyes open and let out a questioning moan, gaze directed right at me.
"Stay up here for a little while, okay? We don't need him lashing out, he's already frightened enough," I explained. He closed his eyes once more and nodded slightly.
Slowly I made my way down the stairs, gently pulling at a knot in my hair. I finally reached where I could see the activity in the living room and smiled. Madame Giry was sitting on the chair that Raoul had slept on a few nights ago, having obviously pulled it back over near the chaise and facing it towards the frustrated Erik. She was clearly a little exhausted as well, as she continued to try and calm Erik down further still. Meg was, amazingly, still asleep next to her mother's lounge chair; barely visible beneath the multiple blankets she layered over herself. Suddenly Madame Giry caught sight of me, and Erik in turn faced me as well. The look of shock in his eyes was priceless.
"Good morning, Erik."
He was clearly stunned by my presence, as he cautiously clung to the edge of the chaise and pushed himself back against it. His mouth hung open as he strove for words that he knew were required in such a greeting.
"Good…morning…Christine," he finally squeezed out. Suddenly he turned to Madame Giry with a questioning eye. "Did the whole opera house just go and move in here?"
Madame Giry simply shook her head and looked at me in an invitation to explain. Slowly, I made my way down the final stairs and stepped into the living room. I sat at the end of Erik's chaise, causing him to freeze completely.
"Erik, Raoul… Raoul brought me here after you released us," I began. "I thought you knew?"
His pensive expression gave no proof, but Madame Giry attempted to explain.
"Perhaps in his hung over state, his mind hasn't completely started working yet."
"My mind works perfectly fine, Madame," he bitterly shot at Madame Giry who replied by giving him threatening eyes- not the violently threatening eyes, but the eyes a child sees on their parents when they're doing something wrong. They were the eyes that threaten with, at the very least, a slap on the wrist if their behavior doesn't improve.
"Perhaps now is not the time to try and explain," I offered. Erik reached for his back and began rubbing it, clearly being sore from sleeping on the chaise.
"Is the Vicomte here?" he asked, dropping his voice.
"Yes, he is just upstairs. I told him to stay up there until I told him to come down; which, at this rate, will be just before breakfast," I answered, being careful with my words. There was no need to rub salt on his wounded heart. If we could avoid it, I swore to myself that we would.
Erik gave a slight huff as his mind took this all in. Here he was, having apparently been drunk, slept in his enemy's flat, and now he was discussing breakfast with the one who had previously held his heart.
And a beautiful thing it was, because this was the birth of his new life; his rebirth.