Chapter Forty-Three
Stay With Me

He breathed in—only once—and his chest barely moved.

I watched, my breath hitching in my throat as I told myself again and again not to cry.


I leaned over him, pushing his wild dark hair off his forehead. Whenever he had become very agitated before, his raven hair had had the tendency to fall forward over his stormy brow. Now, strands of it lay across his forehead, as limp and nearly lifeless as the man to whom they belonged. I gently threaded my fingers into his hair and caressed my palm along his pale cheek, trying to revive him.

Stand up, Erik, I pleaded with him silently. Stand up, and be all right. Prove them all wrong! I know that you are not dead, that you cannot die! Stand up and show me that everything is going to be all right...Please...

His skin had taken on a deathly pallor now, and his lips were becoming tinged with grey. Thick, scarlet blood showed inside his mouth when he tried to take another breath.

Oh Fates...

He couldn't look at me. His eyes wouldn't focus. Tears slipped down my face from my own eyes, swiftly followed by more and more. I didn't bother to wipe them away. Now he was struggling to keep his eyes open, his shallow breath taking on an agitated note. I could scarcely bear the sound of it. He was shaking: shivering as though cold gripped his entire body. I wanted him to look at me. I wanted him to smile...

"Oh, Erik."

I sobbed and gathered him swiftly to me, holding him tightly against my own frame, trying to impart some of my warmth—my health—my life—to him. If it could have saved him, I would have given my fallen Angel every last drop of my life's blood. I pressed my face into his ragged, sweaty dark hair, and placed kiss after tender kiss on it, weeping all the while.

But I couldn't save him.

The front of his black shirt and vest was wet with much blood!...and I was no healer. I hadn't any magical powers that I could summon to my aid, to save him. It was too late for turning back, too late for all cries for help, too late for any useless prayers for pity.

Nothing could save us now.

I suddenly felt a heavy, gloved hand on the side of my face and opened my stinging eyes. Erik stared back at me, his blue eyes dazed.

"Christine..." he whispered. "It's really you..."

A thousand words crowded against my lips, but I couldn't utter a single one of them.

"Yes," I choked. " one"

"Shh..." he said, and brushed his fingertips against my lips, silencing me. I trembled, even so. "Don't cry...Christine, please don't cry. I can't bear it."

But I don't want to let you go!

He squeezed his eyes closed with a bit of a noise as another spasm of pain gripped him, and then gasped, with pauses between every few words, "You're here. That's all that matters. You promised…"

"I'm sorry, Erik..." I whispered against his mask. My tears ran down from my eyes and slid onto the white porcelain surface. "Forgive me, please forgive me. I would have come back sooner—I tried, but they…I-I didn't mean to…"

"Shh..." he soothed, and caressed his hand along my face. "I know…I know. You don't have to apologize, love. You don't have to say goodbye…just let go…"

How could he be trying to reassure me now? He was dying…

"I can't..." I whimpered. "I can't let you just go away from me, not now, not after all that's…"

I shook my head, choking on my tears again.

"Erik, don't you know how much I care? Don't you see how you've changed me?"

Strange how I finally see!...I've found're my home...

"Please..." I begged, and cupped his face in my hands, pressing my forehead to his. "Stay with me..."

His lips curved in the beginning of a smile…and then his eyes glazed over, as another spasm took hold of him. I snatched him close again, burying my face against his and clinging to him as he shuddered all over. All I could do for a few awful moments was cry soundlessly as he fought for breath.

There was still so much that I wanted to say. I'd thought that I would have had time to say it, to tell him. I'd thought that I would have him forever, but I wouldn't.

All that I could hear then was our breathing, the sound of the rain pattering down from the cloud-swathed sky, and the distant rumble of thunder.

The storm had passed. Now, all was still.

Erik breathed in—shuddering and agonized—and placed his hand on the back of my neck, pulling me towards him. I wouldn't look away, even as I wept. If I closed my eyes, I would miss him, and this time, it would be forever.


He almost sang my name.

"I love you..."

I gasped out a sob and put my lips to his.

Then I kissed him as never before.

All my passion—my tangled emotions and desire for him—came surging to the surface of my being in that moment, and I felt my mind catch on fire, my senses burning alive. His mouth tasted sweet and bold, the touch of his lips searing into mine. I felt him responding ardently to my embrace, and he even sat up slightly as I kissed him. His arms tightened around me, willfully, powerfully...

And then...they began to weaken.

He was letting go of me...

As I brought my mouth away from his, he sighed, and his breath transferred swiftly from his lungs into mine. I couldn't help but feel that some part of his soul had entered mine with that last kiss, and the sigh that followed it. He smiled softly.

"Thank you...Christine..."

He closed his eyes.

"Erik," I whispered.

I touched one hand to his cheek, trembling.


Then I held him to me, rocking back and forth, weeping as my heart shattered.


He was gone.

Erik is dead.

I hadn't been able to save him.

Erik is dead.

I hadn't stopped the sorceress from wreaking her final vengeance on my poor love. I had come back too late, and though the sorceress was wasn't enough.

Erik is dead.

My strength left me and I collapsed on the floor beside his body. I turned my face aside and buried it against the thick black velvet of his shirt, breathing in the smell of him. Sandalwood, incense, fire, strength and warmth—but no longer within him.

And, finally, in that darkest moment...

I said the words.

"Erik...I love you."

The whispered syllables vanished and I placed my head back on his shoulder, drawing his lifeless arm close and pulling it around my shoulders so that his black velvet embrace enveloped me entirely. I huddled against his side and closed my eyes.

Since death had reached him...the world could be done with me as well.

"I love you..."

Suddenly a burning, brilliant white light split the air, and I found myself entirely engulfed in it. Sound seemed to become null--I felt myself crying out in fear but I heard nothing. Some incredible invisible force caught me up and spun me around and around. I saw nothing but that whirling whiteness—

What is happening?!

Thousands of whispering voices swirled around me, creating a strange melody of their own. I felt a cool, refreshing breeze swirl around me, enlivening my senses and washing away my tears and pain—

I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I LOVE YOU...!

Then it was over.

I opened my eyes and found myself lying on the marble floor of the tower room at Shadowrose Castle .

I noticed, absently, that I was clean and bereft of all my scratches, bruises, and fatigue. I wore the Diamond Gown and gem-ridden jewelry that sparkled brightly in the light of the brilliant morning sun. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Around me, all of the roses had burst into bloom.

Beside me lay my fallen love.

...And he was breathing.

Evil cliffie, right? More to come soon. And again I owe a huuuuuuge thank-you to Lilliane, for her stellar beta-reading skills. For all of you who haven't read her Tale of Rigoletto yet...get thee hence! Read it, straightaway! Shoo!

But leave me some comments on your way, would you?