Here's the epilogue! I hope you enjoy it, and I hope that it keeps in line with the rest of the story. I'll leave it open to your interpretation. Once again, thank you all so much for your support. It's been a wonderful ride, and your comments have really kept me writing. If I haven't replied to you yet, I will make every attempt to do so this time around.
Read and Review!
Four years later...
Raoul Chagny watched with strained patience as two heavyset men muttered back and forth in Russian, wondering if it was time to change the course of his life.
For the last three and a half years, with the reluctant blessings of his older brother, he had taken any international assignment that came along within the family company. He had helped to establish smaller firms in England, France, and Germany. He had coaxed several Asian nations into making investments in the United States. Now, he sat within an expensive restaurant in Moscow, attempting to get a table of men to see the benefits of Internet commerce.
He'd become adept at the entire charade. He knew how to dress and what words to use, along with the mannerisms of most countries. Phillip had certainly been taken off guard by his success. "Maybe you're not hopeless, little bro," his brother had stated with a grin, looking over some financial statements for the year. He'd been in a better mood anyway, though, since his marriage to Sorelli three years ago. Raoul was only six months away from being an uncle.
When people asked why he was out of the country so often, Raoul simply answered that he wanted to see more of the world. That usually put an end to the questions. With each international travel, however, came an ulterior motive that no one ever knew.
In every country and city, he kept a constant eye out for any sign of her. He would make casual enquires to the locals with her description, only to be met with puzzled expressions. After all, there were millions of blonde-haired, blue-eyed women in the world. On one occasion, he had even made an attempt to describe her companion. All he could really remember to this day, though, was a pair of vengeful golden eyes glaring up at him as he desperately struggled to breathe. Christine's description of the death's face was not something easily repeatable, either.
Unfortunately, Nadir Khan had left the state within a month after the horrific night, leaving no contact information behind. Raoul had never gotten the chance to have a conversation with the older man, and he got the feeling that Nadir was avoiding him. The fact was that he almost believed Christine to be dead. Maybe Mr. Khan had spared him certain gruesome details. If that was the case, then there was no reason to look anymore. Still, he sometimes feared she was being held against her will by that demon of a man...in some everlasting nightmare. It was that thought that kept him searching. In the process, he had learned to be an adept businessman.
At the moment, he was sitting at a long table in some kind of banquet room with fancy lace tablecloths and china silverware. On stage, a balding man in a tuxedo was playing a soft melody on a piano as people softly conversed around tables. The customers were obviously the richer of the country's population. Sitting on Raoul's left was Sergei, an owner of several prosperous businesses, and the only man he had come to know in his several days there. The rest of the men he was unfamiliar with, and some had already seemed to develop a dislike of him. At the very opposite end of the long table was the man who seemed to be in charge of the decisions. Raoul curiously glanced up, not able to get a good view of the dark-haired man's profile in the dimly lit room.
The person on his right, a high-strung man named Artur, finally spoke to him again. "We want to know," Artur began in a thick accent, gesturing toward the table, "how this will all affect the general populace."
Raoul shifted as everyone's gaze fell upon him. He was beginning to get a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. There was something not quite right about this entire meeting. "No negative effects will come from it." He paused. "In fact, it will promote the use of technology throughout your country for those who are able to afford it."
Artur curtly nodded and passed the information along to those who didn't speak English. Raoul sighed. He had already been there for an hour and little was getting accomplished. It was as though this entire thing were a play where everyone was scripted to recite a question. No actual discussion was taking place. Looking up, he swore he caught the man on the end watching him. He tilted his head. "Who is that guy?" Raoul asked Sergei in a low voice.
"At the very end. Who seems to be in charge here. Is he a manager of some kind?"
Sergei ran a hand over his beard and briefly glanced over. "Ah. Someone from government, I believe I was told." He paused. "You should feel very honored, my friend. Usually our officials have no interest in this sort of thing. Your company must have greatly interested him." He nodded in approval.
"Oh." Raoul took a sip of his drink, a bitter wine of some kind, and leaned into the cushioned chair, waiting for the next question to be relayed back to him. He discreetly checked his watch and muffled a yawn. The piano stopped playing for a minute or two, before beginning again with a smoother legato melody. It was obviously a ballad of some sort. Seconds later, someone began to sing what sounded like a love song in Russian. But it wasn't the words that caught Raoul's attention. It was the voice.
He froze in his seat, listening as the soprano voice filled the room. All of the men at his table, along with the other people in the room, had stopped their conversations and looked up to the stage. Very slowly, Raoul turned around and did the same, feeling his heartbeat quicken as he looked up into the familiar face. There she was. Christine.
She appeared almost exactly the same, untouched and unblemished over these last four years. Her blonde hair had been styled into a long perm that swept over her shoulders. A glossy light-blue dress hung loosely over her slender frame, reaching to down near her ankles. Two dangling diamond earrings hung from her ears, and around her neck was a ring of tiny white pearls. Her eyes held a distant look, and a small, dreamy smile played across her mouth. She was beautiful, and yet almost unreal and intangible. "Oh my God," Raoul murmured.
Artur quietly laughed. "Yes," he whispered, after taking a quick glance backwards. "She is a lovely picture, isn't she? Second time I have ever heard her, but she is not a face you forget." He released a sigh of immense appreciation.
Raoul swallowed thickly, his eyes still set upon his old friend. "I've got to see her," he murmured more to himself than anyone else. "I have to!"
Artur chuckled nervously. "I do not think so, Mr. Chagny! Not that girl. If you want women, I will tell you where to find some fine ones! Beautiful ones with everything you could ask for! Just ask me! But not that one. "
"No." Raoul finally turned to face him. "You don't understand. I know her! She's a friend from a long time ago. I need to meet with her."
"Shhh!" exclaimed Sergei, looking at them both with a frown of irritation. "Let us enjoy this performance in peace."
With a frustrated sigh, Raoul obediently turned back around in his seat and continued to watch her. She brushed a strand of hair from her face, continuing to smile without focusing her eyes in any specific direction. The room was completely quiet now, save for the sound of her voice and an occasional awed whisper. Wives were constantly casting glances of jealousy toward their husbands.
Finally, the song came to a soft ending, and the piano fell silent. Immediately, the room erupted into a tumult of applause, several of the men standing and clapping wildly. Christine murmured her appreciation into the microphone and took a quick bow. She then backed up several feet before turning around to head off of the stage.
Raoul started to get up from his chair. He stopped when he saw the strange man at the end of the table suddenly arise first, slightly surprised by his daunting height. Now, Raoul could also clearly see the man's face, and there was something not quite right about it. The skin around the cheeks and nose had an unnatural shine. The entire profile seemed too frozen and inflexible, particularly the lips. Raoul squinted upwards, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. The looming man looked down upon him, before speaking in plain, perfect English.
"Your propositions are very intriguing, Mr. Chagny," he began in an unforgettable voice. "I will consider each one very carefully." Although the man's eyes were small, Raoul swore he saw them glimmer. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have to meet with my wife."
Raoul gaped. Only a few of the other men, including Sergei, seemed slightly surprised by the revelation. "Who was that?" Raoul again asked, after he had found his voice. When all he received were shrugs and side-glances, he shook his head in exasperation and continued. "I need to speak with that woman." He started to get up from his seat.
Artur roughly pulled him back down by the arm. "My friend, let us not walk that path. The lady is married." He glanced around once before leaning in closer. "They say that a drunk man tried to...get a bit close with her after a performance one evening. The next morning..." He made a slashing motion across his neck with his index finger. "You leave that woman alone. Like I said, if you want women, I will find you women. But not her."
"Do not scare the American!" Sergei exclaimed. He sighed. "That is not true. Just a story."
"It was true!" Artur retorted. "I had a good friend whose brother saw the body!" They chattered back and forth in Russian for a second, leaving Raoul to look bewildered between them.
"Who is that man? Her husband?" Raoul finally interrupted, preparing to get up before Christine disappeared from his view.
"Someone you do not ever mess with," muttered Artur. "The rumors are..."
"Would you close your mouth!" Sergei harshly interrupted him and turned toward Raoul. "He is a government official. Nothing more. As I said, it was an honor for him to meet with you tonight. He must think highly of your company."
"Like hell he does!" Raoul muttered, finally jumping up from his chair. He ignored the protests of Artur, quickly walking forward and watching as Christine tightly took the man's arm. Her husband quickly escorted her out of the room and through a back door, as people continued to congratulate her from a distance. Raoul waited several moments after they exited, before darting forward and heading out the same door. He found himself on a sort of landscaped walkway that was situated between the restaurant and a luxurious hotel. As it was early summer, flowers bloomed from scattered patches, and the trees were thick with green leaves. A warm breeze swept through the air, and the sky was growing darker as sunset approached.
For a second, he lost complete sight of the couple and panicked. Turning, though, he saw them slowly making their way over the concrete sidewalk and toward the towering hotel. Keeping his head low and attempting to stay hidden behind the shrubbery and various decorative statues, Raoul began to follow them. Few other people were out, and he prayed that he would remain unnoticed.
"Did I do well?" Raoul heard her hesitantly ask. "I think my voice was flat at the end."
Her husband laughed, the sound slightly muffled. "My dear Christine, you will always doubt yourself, won't you? You brought the room to its knees as you do every time. No man could take his devouring eyes off of you." He seemed to pull her closer to his thin frame. "And yet, fortunately, you remain mine alone."
Christine turned her head, and Raoul could see a small smile on her red lips as she leaned her cheek into her husband's shoulder. "I do," was her soft reply. They walked forward in silence for several moments. Christine suddenly stopped and put a hand up to near her right ear, releasing a short gasp. "Oh no! Did I lose one of my earrings? I can't feel it!"
Her husband gently turned her around by the shoulders to look. "It is merely entwined within your hair, my dear." A note of amusement was in his voice, as he pulled the dangling piece of jewelry out of her tresses and handed it to her.
"Oh. Good! I always seem to misplace things." She shook her head. "What would I do without you?"
Her husband laughed richly, although the sound still sent a shiver down Raoul's spine. "That is something you will never have to dwell on." He looked down upon her as she leaned her head back against him. "Are you very tired?"
"Nearly dead!" she said with a light laugh. "That song was difficult."
He nodded. "Then we will return to our room to rest."
Christine sighed as they walked in the direction of the enormous hotel. "It does seem a shame to go in so early when we're leaving the city tomorrow. We could look around for a while."
Her husband brushed his fingers against her cheek. "You are looking exhausted, my love. We will return to the city another day. Later this summer, perhaps. I think it is best to return to our room this evening."
She nodded in agreement. "Yes. You're right. Maybe another time."
They continued to walk forward, Christine's hair glinting under the descending sun. Her head turned slightly as her eyes trailed over the gardens, a smile still on her lips. Raoul felt a sort of dull sensation overtake him. She seemed happy. The former Christine Daae genuinely seemed content. Still, he continued to follow them up to the door of the hotel, concealing himself behind a tree with a thick trunk. There was still the question of this man. It had to be Erik, and yet there was one obvious detail that said otherwise.
The question was soon answered.
To Raoul's surprise, the man suddenly led Christine away from the entrance and toward an alcove at the side of the building that was partially obscured by pillars. He still had a decent view of them, though. Christine's husband gently took both of her small hands and placed them at the sides of his temples. She looked up curiously, and he nodded toward her. "No one is around, my dear. I wish to feel the daylight before we retire."
A look of delight graced her face, and she eagerly nodded. Raoul then watched in shock as she dug her fingers into the side of his head, before peeling back a rubbery mask from his forehead down to his chin. Christine might as well have been ripping the very flesh off of his face. Raoul felt his stomach clench at the newly revealed sight. It really was the face of death and decay, three dark sockets engraved into sallow skin. The head of black hair was nothing more than a realistic looking wig.
He then observed in horrific awe as Christine stood upon the tips of her white dress shoes and kissed the pale, twisted mouth. It was not a chaste kiss either, but a deep and long entwining of lips. Erik closed his eyes, or at least the yellow dots disappeared for several moments. As her arms tightly wrapped around his shoulders, her husband trailed his hands over her hips and waist, pulling her torso closer to his thin frame. Raoul had to use the rough tree trunk to steady himself from the shock.
He nearly had a heart attack when the yellow eyes then opened and focused directly upon him. For a moment, Raoul thought his life would come to an end right there. The eyes, however, showed no surprise and were fixed only in a steady gaze. Raoul now understood, feeling stupid for not realizing it before. Erik had known he was behind them the entire time.
Christine drew back with a happy sigh. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she turned around, causing Raoul to quickly duck back behind the tree. "What are you looking at?" he heard her ask in confusion.
"Nothing at all, my dear. Simply thinking."
"Oh!" She turned back to face him, her arms still wrapped around his neck. "What were you thinking about?"
"Only of you."
She smiled and giggled, giving him one last kiss on his sunken cheek before pulling away. "Well...I am heading back to the room. I think I'll go straight to bed. I'm exhausted."
"And I will join you," he replied, adjusting the rubbery mask back onto his face and straightening it. Christine pulled open the door slightly, and her husband held it open for her. Erik looked back toward the tree for another moment, an unidentifiable look in his eyes, before following his wife inside and closing the door behind them.
Raoul stood there in silence, wondering how much of that evening had been set up. He guessed most of it...from the 'business' dinner, to Christine's performance, to the walk outside. Erik had been in control the entire time. Was it a cruel form of gloating, to show him that Christine was indeed his, and that she was quite content being married to a man with a skull for a face? Was it a display of power...a warning that Raoul had no chance of getting near to her? Or was there some charity in the act? Erik had shown him that Christine was alive, well, and happy. It had somewhat put his mind at ease.
Even away from the glowing lights of the stage, there was a dreamlike quality to Christine. Whatever Erik looked like...whatever his current unwholesome activities were...it didn't matter to her. Christine was happy, doing what she loved in a world that had been specifically created for her delight.
Raoul understood one thing now, and it was enough to make him keep his distance and stay silent. Christine was safe. Maybe others were in danger of the skeletal hands of this strange man. But Christine was safe. And she was genuinely happy and enamored. And she was undeniably loved in return. That was enough for him, he thought.
He stood there a few seconds longer, before turning around to walk in the opposite direction. A few other people were now making their way around the gardens, a young mother with a stroller and an elderly couple. The wind continued to rustle the leaves of the trees, and the sun continued its steady descent. Even as he neared the end of the walkway, Raoul's mind stayed back by the tree. As he started to turn a corner and exit the gardens, he gave one last backward glance. Gazing upward toward the higher floors of the hotel, he swore he saw a curtain move, followed by a face staring down at him from a window. He stared back for several seconds. The face disappeared.
Maybe it was just a bored guest looking down upon the city.
He turned the corner and was gone.