Chapitre Trente-Quatre:

Ensemble à la Fin

Christine Daaé entered her dressing room silently, removing her black mourning veil and draping it over the back of a chair. A few candles sat lifeless in a soft, golden glow of the sporadic gas lamps lining the walls, and Christine quickly struck a flame to light them. She then sat down in front of her vanity and began inspecting her makeup. It had been ruined by the wiping away of a few isolated tears. The tears themselves were completely gone, but the damage had been done. She frowned and set to removing the trails of mascara that marred her cheeks.

She had barely finished reapplying her eyeliner when a voice behind her queried, "How was the funeral?"

Christine turned to find that the trick mirror had been pushed back, and Erik was leaning against the frame. She hadn't even heard him approach. His relaxed posture would have gone unnoticed by anyone besides Christine, who perceived this slight change in his usually tense personality. There was no sign of his mask, but Christine didn't even notice. "The entire cemetery was filled with people," she replied. "Mostly noblemen. I felt a bit out of place; though no one said anything, I could feel their eyes boring into me. They suspect I had something to do with Raoul's death, can you believe it? As if I caused his suicide, or something like that…. The de Chagnys have their own mausoleum, did you know that? It's absolutely gigantic. They must have emptied a whole flower shop, what with the mountains of roses that surrounded it. And the managers were there; I don't know what they're going to do now that they've lost their patron—"

"And the Comte?" Erik pressed, stepping into the room. "Does he suspect that his brother's death wasn't suicide?"

She shook her head. "I made sure to talk to him, just like you told me. I waited until after the funeral was over, and most of the people had left. Philippe just stood there, in front of the mausoleum doors, and for the longest time I couldn't bring myself to speak to him. But when I finally did, he didn't blame me for Raoul's death. He said,

" 'I'm sorry that you're being subjected to the cruelty of the gossips' stories, Mlle. Christine. I don't believe that you caused my brother to jump—but nothing I can say will change their minds. Take comfort in the fact that their attention, however painful, will pass.'

"And I felt so terrible—he really did love his brother—but I couldn't think of anything to say. In fact, I almost confessed the whole thing to him, so he wouldn't feel so aggrieved. I started to, actually—but he began to speak, so I stopped. He said,

" 'Soon after you left for Idomeneo that night, one of the maids informed me that she had tripped over the threshold while taking out the wastebasket in Raoul's chambers, and its contents crashed onto the floor—broken glass. I was worried about what had broken, so I followed her up the stairs. I couldn't figure out what it was, and decided that if it had been in the wastebasket, it was of little consequence. But the maid, who was picking up the shards of glass, remarked that they were coated in some nameless substance. I was in the Foreign Legion for quite some time, and I realized that the glass was permeated with something that smelled strangely like the narcotic we used to sedate wounded soldiers. I recalled the unexplainable change in your personality the day after you arrived at the de Chagny house, and realized that he must have been sedating you, Mlle. Christine.'

"I told him that I already knew," Christine continued, "and he said nothing more about the subject. I think it was hard for him to talk to me, because of the dishonorable thing Raoul had done. Anyway, he asked me if I was going to stay at the Opera Populaire, and I said yes. And then I left."

Erik nodded pensively, lines creasing his brow in thought. "It would seem that the Comte knows something of his brother's ignominious actions, and believes his death was indeed suicide as full knowledge of what he'd done sunk in. A plausible series of events, I suppose."

A moment of silence passed, in which neither of them could think of anything to say. Christine abruptly stood and blurted out, "I wish you could have seen Raoul when he and I were children—he was wonderful back then, not at all like he ended up. He was brave, and gallant, and kind…." She trailed off for a moment before bringing herself to finish. "I don't know what happened to him; he grew jealous, and hateful, and frightening…. But he wasn't always like that," she pleaded.

"I don't blame the Vicomte," Erik said softly. "He couldn't help being in love with you." Neither of them spoke. Though it was only for a moment, it felt to Christine like an eternity. Then Erik continued, as if he had never paused, "Now, about Otello—you'll be wonderful as Desdemona no matter what, of course, but I wouldn't want your reign as Diva of the Opera Populaire to start on a bad note because of an inexperienced counterpart. Jerome Rousseau will be a good Otello—he has a strong, commanding voice—but he gets very flustered when he hits an incorrect note, and refuses to continue. There isn't much you can do about that, unfortunately; many of your arias are duets, however, so make sure to keep singing as if nothing has gone wrong."

Christine was about to assure him that she would do her best when a knock came at the door. "Mlle. Daaé," a voice called, "you're wanted on the stage in five minutes for a run through of the first two acts."

"I'm coming!" replied Christine hurriedly, turning towards the door. She started to walk towards it, but Erik caught her hand.

Then, before either of them could think, their lips met and both shadows merged into one misshapen whole. Christine's hands were locked behind Erik's neck, while his were caressing her hair and back. Raoul's demise slowly faded from their thoughts as they became caught up in the glory and magnificence of the moment. Neither could remember another time when they had felt so complete, so wonderfully whole and valued.

Christine was reminded of how lacking Raoul's kisses had seemed to her, in comparison to the overpowering passion that filled Erik's. And then, in that moment, Christine knew. She understood beyond a wisp of a doubt.

Erik was everything to her.

Why it had never occurred to her before she did not know, nor did she care. Raoul was the past, no matter how terrible it seemed. Her future laid with Erik, her true love for all eternity, and she couldn't have been happier that it was so.

The End