A/N: Nearly four years, sixty-some chapters, and continual writer's cramp later… welcome, my friends, to "Evergreen!"

SETUP: This story takes place approximately one year after the chandelier disaster. Much has happened since then, and all will be revealed in time, but just so we're clear – although this is decidedly E/C, there will be absolutely no Raoul-bashing in this fic. I love the guy, and respect his relationship with Christine. But for reasons that will be revealed soon enough, that relationship is incapable of being continued.

RATING: This story is very deserving of its M rating – for violence, sexuality, and language. The Phantom's tale is one of passion, murder, and desire, and to deny any of those aspects, in my mind, is to dilute the story. But please do be mindful of the rating, and if you're too young to be reading this stuff, please come back again when you're a little older. I'd like to be able to fall asleep at night without the guilt of corrupting innocent twelve year old minds.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: My characters are based on the physical representations of the actors in the 2004 movie, but that's not to say that you can't picture them as whichever versions you like. I use several incarnations of the story in this fic; I draw references from the movie, the original Leroux novel, Kay's "Phantom," and the ALW stage musical. Credit, of course, for all of the characters (save the OCs), borrowed lyrics, the plot thus far, etc., goes to the aforementioned creators.

The title of the story, if you hadn't guessed, refers to the (movie version) lyrics from "Think of Me": we never said our love was evergreen, or as unchanging as the sea

Huge thanks to the lovely ladies who offered their services as betas for this fic: Marianne Brandon, for the first half, and Hriviel, for the better part of the second. I couldn't have done it without their knowledge and support!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the astounding number of readers and reviewers who have stuck with "Evergreen" for so long. I'm continually blown away by the response to this story!

Without further ado, buckle up and enjoy, you guys – it's going to be quite the roller coaster.

Hard sheets of rain ripped at the small, broken figure as it stumbled blindly through the heart of Paris. Cloaked passersby were too hurried, too distracted by the violent storm to take any note of the woman as she ran, her head ducked against the storm, her chemise soaked through with rain and blood. Her calves seared and trembled from the effort, and twice she fell to the slick cobblestone streets with an anguished cry, only to struggle back to her feet and continue as if the Devil himself were on her trail. She paused only once as a wrenching pain sliced through her abdomen, and hunched over the crumbled brick wall of an abandoned bakery to retch violently.

The faint wail of sirens in the distance caused her red eyes to fly wide, however, and with a dry sob, she launched forward again. If she stopped, they would find her… they would take her back…

It seemed decades before her bleary eyes finally caught the glint of gold on Apollo's Lyre, a glittering speck on the gray horizon. Propelled forward by relief, she managed to double her speed – a feat she would have considered impossible an hour ago. Ducking through crowds of tourists huddled against the rain, she all but flew to Rue Scribe. Only there, in the shadow of the once-magnificent Opera Populaire, did her strides falter and finally cease altogether. It was as if the weariness of her journey suddenly hit her with one staggering blow, and she collapsed against the stone wall, panting between broken sobs.

"Oh God," she whispered, sliding down the wall and hugging her knees to her chest. What am I doing here?

She closed her eyes and prayed for death. Perhaps the Lord would be merciful and allow her to slip into blissful darkness…

The clatter of an approaching carriage was enough to jolt her from her tormented reverie. She lifted her head wearily to look, and slumped in relief when she saw that it was only a hansom cab, looking for customers still out and about in this terrible storm.

It would be so easy, she thought for a moment, staring darkly at the carriage… so easy to throw herself beneath the wheels and end this madness once and for all…

But she was too exhausted to clamber in front of the carriage, and she watched after it helplessly as it turned a corner and drove away, leaving her alone with the rain and her thoughts.

Every muscle in her frail body throbbed, but she leaned her weight against the stone wall and slowly pushed herself back to her feet. A fresh trickle of blood seeped down her thighs, and she shuddered involuntarily. It took every last ounce of strength in her frail, bleeding body to lurch forward, one hand still pressed to the wall for support, and slip through the crumbled brick wall to her right, out of the pouring rain and into darkness.

Silence pressed in on her like a living, breathing force as she staggered through the underground labyrinth. Slowly and tentatively, she placed one foot ahead of another, trying to ignore the layer of gritty slime that covered the stones beneath her bare feet.

It seemed that she walked for hours in the blackness, straining her ears for even the faintest whisper of sound to assure her that she was not alone in this hellish tomb. Her panic grew with every step. Surely he would have found her by now… surely she should have been met with either one of his death traps or the golden glow of candlelight from his lair…

Although she heard nothing, she stopped all of a sudden, the breath stolen from her lungs. The air around her was suddenly icy cold, and a quaver built at the base of her spine, pushing upwards until it erupted in a violent shudder.

He knew she was here.

The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as she stumbled blindly forward, trying in vain to see in the pitch blackness. She had never in her life been afraid of the dark – nighttime had always been welcome, for it brought her Angel of Music. But now… now it was the Angel of Death who resided in these tunnels. Steeling her shoulders, she strode forward as calmly as she could. She had been a coward her entire life; let her say that she had, at least, died with some sense of composure.

But even that last scrap of dignity was ripped from her as she walked head-first into a solid, warm wall. A scream of surprise rose in her throat, but never took voice before a gloved hand clamped over her nose and mouth. She trembled like a leaf in Death's grasp, squeezing her eyes shut and mentally offering up her last confession and prayer of forgiveness.

So this was it.

Her prayers said, her duty as a Christian complete, she relaxed beneath the gloved hand, willing death to come soon. Why did he not simply strangle her, as he did everyone else? That, at least, would be fairly quick – one snap of catgut and she would cease to breathe. Her broken heart would still in her chest, and at last, at last, she would be free from her self-inflicted hell.

Raoul, forgive me…

Despite herself, she allowed her mind to turn to her husband, and in the darkness she pictured his sad, ocean blue eyes. Maybe her prayers, her confessions, would make no difference. Perhaps God would see her for what she was, and cast her into the fiery pit of hell for the rest of eternity.

A sob hitched in her chest, and a single tear slipped down her cheek. At the sound, the gloved hand suddenly jerked away as if it had been scalded. She felt, rather than saw, the owner's eyes boring into her.


Nothing but her ragged breathing filled the silence.

A/N: And clearly I had to begin with a cliffhanger. ;)