Wow. I must be the worst and most cruel author in the history of phanphic. But as I crawl, weeping, on my knees and pull at the silken cloth of your long, flowing gown, feel pity for a girl in her last year of school. I tried to finish this before year 12 started and almost succeeded, but alas, alack, be happy it's finally here!
NB: I am not responsible for any poetry in this story, so thanks to the wonderful Alfred Lord Tennyson and E E Cummings.
The final chapter.
"Et c'est là l'histoire de Manon Lescaut!"
A single tear rolled down Christine's face as she sank back into the arms of a sobbing Piangi, and the audience roared. As Christine waited for the curtains, she lay, strangely impassive, weariness met with elation, pride, balanced into a temporary nothing.
She had sung well, and with an emotional intensity that had surprised her more than her captivated audience. Finally she was confronted with the proof that she had grown during the last month. What perfect timing. The night's performances had barely begun, even as the curtain dropped and the music swelled, met with a thunderous applause that was soon muted behind velvet.
Christine stumbled slightly as Piangi released her, brushing his thick fingers over his jacket, his melodramatic expression of woe disappearing immediately, replaced with the glower that had greeted her all evening. She couldn't ignore the resentful tittering from behind the palms of the dancers, but it was easy to forgive them their jealousy with the memory of her last conversation with Erik floating through her head.
Leaning against that statue on the roof, Erik's thick cloak shielding the delicate material of her dress from a bronze sheen of ice, she had pressed her cold palm to Erik's face and smiled softly. No flinch had shaken her hopes loose, no sudden shield flew across his eyes; no, he gazed at her silently, then turned to kiss her palm.
"Whatever is your surname, Monsieur Phantom?" she had asked light-heartedly, while inside she glowed, effervescent with joy.
Erik had remained silent, smiling, then covered her hand with his glove. Christine had felt his next words through his cheek.
"I know what it will be tomorrow night," he said, gazing tenderly into her eyes, and she had closed them, burying her smile into his chest as her heart ached with happiness.
The thought that her father's name would survive him and continue into the future filled Christine with a deep, unparalleled joy and contentment. She felt her father approved of her unorthodox fiancé, and could almost hear his blessing. Compared to such harmony, the envy of petty girls could hardly make an impression.
But Christine could not allow herself to sink into raptures now; as the music built to a final crescendo, she swept forward to the centre of the stage and curtsied magnificently, her small hand crushed in Piangi's unforgiving fist, the audience climbing to their feet and roaring their appreciation. Christine blinked against the bright light, staring out to the theatre, determined to remember this last, wonderful experience, her final moments upon the stage of the Opera Populaire.
Her heart seemed to drum in time to the graceful flicking of Monsieur Reyer's baton, and she flung her gaze to Box Five only to find it empty. But she knew better than to doubt Erik's attention on this night; indeed, she could feel his eyes burning into her. She looked suddenly into the very front row of the audience, her pulse quickening, and was shocked to meet the gaze of the delighted Inspector, whose beaming smile seemed at odds with his presence.
She wondered at this turn of events; could it be that the tight-fisted Managers had somehow delivered the man's payment in theatre tickets? She doubted that even Andre could manage that, yet she stared back evenly at the cheerful man, and threw a smile at him as she was tugged backwards, and the curtain began to be lowered for the final time.
After all, what did it matter if the Inspector had been summoned in response to Carlotta's performance earlier that evening? She was to leave in less than two hours, leave the Opera House forever. There was no time for an interview. His investigations would procure nothing, and Carlotta would be left in peace- unlike Christine, who was grabbed once more, this time by a radiant Meg, who clutched two enormous bouquets.
"You were wonderful!" Christine cried before her friend could open her mouth, and threw her arms around Meg's shoulders, defying their broad skirts and the bouquets in a tight embrace.
"You were unparalleled as Manon, Christine," Meg said warmly, and thrust a bouquet at her beaming friend.
"Oh, these are gorgeous!" Christine said happily, but as she surveyed the brilliant array of flowers, she suddenly felt nerves wrench at her insides.
Meg towed her friend to the nearest doorway, pulling her past vibrant flocks of dancers and stagehands and into a quiet, deserted corridor.
Christine could feel herself shaking, but the relief of the sudden cold wall pressing into her shoulder blades allowed her to relax.
"Oh, Christine," Meg sighed, tilting her blonde head happily to observe her friend, "You are much too pale for a bride."
"I am much too young," Christine said severely, and the tension in her muscles flooded away as both girls laughed at the impersonation.
"I was rather surprised that Maman did not make a fuss about your age," Meg said, giggling, pressing her flowers into her chest. "Not to mention the age difference!"
Christine attempted to scowl at her grinning friend, but couldn't seem to chase the smile from her lips.
"Don't say that!" she laughed, pulling at Meg's stiff skirt with false resentment. "Erik is… distinguished."
"Twice your age, more like," Meg said slyly, and squealed as Christine batted her with her bouquet.
"How can you say such things on the very eve of my wedding?" Christine huffed.
"Somebody has to."
"You might have let me know of the indecency of my marriage a little sooner."
Both girls laughed, and leaned against each other in a companionable silence, their twin bouquets dangling on their skirts.
"Who are these from?" Christine asked suddenly, twisting her neck to stare at the flowers. "Madame Giry would not have-"
"They are from me, Mademoiselle, and they are a representative of my appreciation for your performance."
The girls straightened immediately as a man's voice finally alerted them to his presence. Christine's mouth fell open in dismay as she gazed up to find the familiar figure of the Inspector blocking the corridor.
"Mademoiselle, you are leaving," the Inspector said, leaving a question hidden behind his statement. When he received no reply from his efforts, he cleared his throat and continued. "I hope things have not been unpleasant for you since the investigation?"
Christine hid her shock as best she could, wrapping her fingers tightly around her bouquet of flowers in case they should begin to shake. However did he know of her plans to leave the Opera House?
Obviously discomforted by the silence, the Inspector reached up a hand to tug uneasily at his moustache. He cleared his throat once more, and darted a quick smile at Meg, who seemed to have found her composure with more ease than Christine.
"The beautiful Carlotta let me know, of course," he said, trying again to tempt conversation from the silent Christine, whose eyes widened considerably at this revelation.
"La Carlotta?" she said faintly.
"The prima donna herself," the Inspector said quickly, obviously encouraged by this response. "She seemed most delighted to inform the guests of your decision to move to the Lyon Opera House. I, of course," he continued, missing Meg's quick mouthing of the words 'Maman's idea,', "was most disheartened to hear the news."
"You flatter me too much," Christine said with more strength, smiling weakly at the man, who shook his head in protest.
"It was a glorious performance," he said, and beamed at both the girls. "It was as if the old ghost was still with us, working his magic, eh?"
Christine and Meg glanced at each other, and nodded as one.
"Simply marvellous," the Inspector said, then excused himself, striding past them and disappearing around the corner at the end of the corridor.
"Madame Giry told Carlotta that I was leaving?" Christine asked Meg as soon as his heavy footsteps had died away, still slightly taken aback by such an unexpected conversation.
"She believed that it would be wiser to create a rumour around the Opera House than to arouse more harmful suspicions if you suddenly just disappeared. Besides, the news certainly distracted Carlotta."
Christine nodded, and allowed herself a small smile, which Meg returned. The next second saw it fly away however, as the girl seemed to remember certain duties that she had neglected, and the skirts barely missed the walls as the two of them raced down the hallway.
Christine reached inside her bodice and produced the large brass key to her dressing room as they turned the final corner, but suddenly found it unnecessary. There was a crowd gathered around the door, which was inexplicably ajar; but out poked the unmistakeable head of an irate Madame Giry, who reached out to accept an armful of bouquets.
"Maman?" Meg called loudly, and the woman's face whipped towards the two approaching girls. As Madame Giry turned, so did the heads of a bustling crowd of handsome gentlemen, and Christine felt a blush sweep across her cheeks.
"The prima donna!" somebody shouted, and Christine found herself having to smile and curtsey her way through the eager men, her costume proving quite the infuriating impediment! As she finally pulled her hand from the lips of the last suitor, a familiar voice rang through the corridor, attracting Christine's dismayed gaze.
"Raoul," she said rather apprehensively, this obvious recognition provoking a jealous murmur from the crowd on her threshold.
"Allow me to talk to you, Christine!" the blond man cried desperately, throwing his empty hands before him in a silent plea. "Please!"
Christine shook her head sadly, ignoring the smirking men before her, and began to push the door closed. But before it clicked into place, she heard the distinctive voice of Raoul once more, crying "Little Lottie!"
"I do hope that he will move on," she said despondently to the two women waiting before her. "I thought that he might have after all this time."
"It has not been so long, my child," Madame Giry said gently, ushering Christine into the centre of the room and beginning to unfasten her ties. "You certainly have a way with men."
Meg giggled, and her mother shot her a reproving glance before smiling herself. Christine threw them both a disparaging glare in the mirror, but broke into laughter at the sight of her own false reproach.
"Be sure to use that face on your children," Meg laughed, "and they will never give you trouble!"
"I will be sure to ask you for constant advice, oh experienced sister," Christine replied sarcastically, gripping the chair in front of her as Madame Giry began to tighten her corset. Manon's costume had been flung over the dressing table behind her, and Meg, who had quickly changed, gathered the white bridal dress into her arms.
"Am I to parade that dress for all the young men outside my door?" Christine asked, horrified at the thought, feeling decidedly uneasy as the two women laughed behind her.
"Of course not!" Meg said, pulling a face. "We have been directed to take you through the mirror!"
Christine glanced back to the mirror, its golden frame as alluring as it always had been. Her eyes fell upon the glass, and she pressed a hand to her mouth as she suddenly caught sight of the rose she had missed, lying unobtrusively next to her costume on her dressing table.
A length of black ribbon shone in the lamplight, tied lovingly around the delicate stem of the flower, which bore no thorns as always. Madame Giry and Meg, who had exchanged glances during the sudden silence, followed Christine's gaze and looked at the rose. The corset strings hung loosely in Madame Giry's fingers, and a contemplative moment passed among the three women, connected by the blood red symbol of love.
Finally, Christine moved her eyes away from the flower, suddenly desperate to see the man who had always provided her with such caring attention, to touch him, to kiss him. Madame Giry seemed to sense the new atmosphere of impatience and began to fasten the corset with renewed vigour.
"You will not be late, ma chérie," she reassured the tensed Christine, whose only response was to return her gaze wistfully to the rose.
And finally the strings were tied, the corset cutting restrictively into Christine's body, and yet she did not notice, could hardly feel anything as the beautiful dress was lifted over her head by Meg and pulled into place by her mother. As the last button was fastened and the skirt had been tugged into place, it seemed that Christine could suddenly see herself as a bride. She took a step forwards, towards the mirror, and gazed rapturously at herself, at the tailored dress, which clung to her body perfectly.
The room was filled with awed silence, and Meg stepped forward almost shyly, smiling faintly as Christine lowered her head to aid her friend. Meg slipped the long, white veil atop Christine's curls, her hands shaking, her eyes welling with tears.
Christine could not restrain the smile that blossomed to her lips, and she grasped her friend's quivering hands with the promise of eternal friendship. Meg fell into the proffered embrace with none of a dancer's grace, and Christine clasped her hands across her friend's back with a new-found sanguinity. She pulled back as the snuffling sounds of tears broke the silence, and beamed at her weeping friend, who wiped her hand across her eyes with a shaky smile.
"You will be happy, Christine," Meg whispered, and it was not a question, and Christine knew that her friend told the truth.
"We must leave," Madame Giry said in a rather muffled voice, causing Christine to turn and gaze at the woman with compassion. In response, she gently released Meg's hands and hurried to the dressing table, picking up the rose with a calmness that seemed to contradict all of her previous emotion.
Madame Giry opened the grand old mirror with an abrupt movement, gesturing for the two girls to step through the revealed doorway and into the shadows beyond.
Christine swept forward, leading the way through the familiar, torch-lit passageway. The women travelled all the way to the lake in silence, the bride-to-be feeling elation grab hold of her insides as the location of her wedding became obvious. At the bottom of the marble stairs, a wide, unfamiliar boat greeted the three women, a polished lamp attached brightly to the front. Madame Giry and Meg allowed Christine to climb in first and settle her skirts safely about herself, facing the other women, who steered the boat through the canals with ease.
She could feel the light of Erik's shore burning into her back before her eyes perceived it, and she closed them breathlessly, abandoning herself once more to subtler senses.
When the boat head rocked gently against the pebbled shore, Christine accepted the hand of her best friend, who helped her to her feet with a grace belying the unsteady nature of the boat. Christine focussed her eyes on the pebbles as she lifted her skirts and leapt to dry shore, almost reluctant to spoil her expectations with true vision.
And yet, when her eyes finally lifted and she saw Erik's glorious cavern once more, her spirits soared higher still. Thousands of candles burned in bright stands along the edge of the familiar rooms, their dazzling number assaulting Christine's astounded eyes. She gazed through the candles, and was intrigued to find that nothing else appeared to have changed since her last visit- though the black covers thrown over various objects had disappeared.
Madame Giry pulled gently at her arm, and Christine followed the woman around the shore, her anticipation building as a trail of roses began to appear along the edge of the lake, each tied carefully with black ribbon.
They turned into the room that Christine knew best of all, a room encumbered with books, instruments, the glorious organ- but lacking its usual clutter of manuscript paper. Those piles seemed to have transformed into roses.
Madame Giry finally released her, and Christine stopped walking, suddenly unsure of herself, of what she should do. Timidly, she lifted her gaze from the roses and looked towards the end of the room, where two pairs of shoes had been demanding her attention. She gasped as she saw firstly Erik, who seemed as utterly transfixed as she felt, and then, quickly, her father's old friend!
"Father Nicolas," she breathed in greeting, keeping her eyes fixed solemnly to the ground, a dark blush threatening to ruin her ivory complexion.
Erik looked magnificent.
She desperately tried to clear her thoughts, and looked up once more.
"However did you manage to find me here?" she asked quickly, laughing suddenly as incredulity overcame her bout of shyness. How on earth had Madame Giry managed to track down their old priest, the man who had buried both of her parents, who had secured Christine her life at the Opera Populaire?
"My dear child," came his response, his voice as familiar and comforting as it had been in her childhood. "How could I not be a part of this wonderful event?"
Christine beamed, her eyes brimming, and glanced to Madame Giry, who smiled tearfully at her from the edge of the room.
"Thank you," Christine whispered to the ground, blinking the tears away. It would not do to cry at her wedding.
When she had found control, she gazed up at Erik, whose presence had cried for her attention since her arrival. He stood next to Father Nicolas where the organ stool could previously have been found, his hands behind his back, his black clothes magnificent, meticulously neat, his hair perfectly fixed, his eyes a maelstrom of emotion, conveying only his clear blue of love for Christine.
She ached with similar love, and she felt the familiar longing intensify a hundred times. Her legs trembled; her cheeks flushed slightly; she gazed only into Erik's eyes and thought of nothing but him.
Father Nicolas cleared his throat, breaking the passionate intensity of the silence.
"Let the wedding commence," he said clearly, smiling softly at Christine, and then at Erik.
A cloud-white crown of pearl she dight.
All raimented in snowy white
That loosely flew, (her zone in sight,
Clasped with one blinding diamond bright,)
Her wide eyes fixed
On her proud Erik, who stood tall beside the smiling priest, tears shining on his joyful face.
It was not the conventional wedding eternally dreamt of by young girls. It had been a fairytale romance, and the beauty was now to marry her unconventional prince, which, as any young girl would agree, was perpetually better. And so, as Christine, grasping the hand of a weeping Madame Giry, followed Meg to the front of the room, her other hand held a single rose to her heart.
The ceremony passed in a daze of joy; for as soon as Erik had taken Christine's hand from Madame Giry, all she could do was stare into his eyes, overcome with love and the sensation of his skin on hers. His gloves had been happily discarded for the occasion.
Christine's heart beat ever faster as the ceremony continued, and finally, as Father Nicolas asked Erik to say his vows, and as she watched him extract a golden ring from his waistcoat pocket, she could hardly breathe.
"I do," he said finally, his voice thick with emotion, and Christine offered him her shaking hand, which he held tenderly, pushing the ring gently onto her finger.
If her engagement ring had been a source of joy for her, it could hardly compare to this slender, delicate, wonderful gold band! Christine could have kissed it. She could have kissed the man who gave it to her forever.
And so she waited almost impatiently for the priest to turn to her, to smile softly in recognition of the poor child's wonderful happiness, to prompt her into her vows. Finally-
"C'est toi pour qui mon coeur bats," Christine said softly, gazing deeply into Erik's brimming eyes.
As the audible sniffling of the two women watching the ceremony grew louder still, Father Nicolas pronounced the radiant couple man and wife, and a glowing Christine leant up for the long awaited kiss, but-
-with a sudden movement, Erik stepped backwards, screwing up his face in determination, and pulled off his mask with a shaking hand!
Christine gaped, the neglected kiss forgotten, and a new flood of tears raced to her eyes, but then her angel swept back towards her and embraced her tenderly, lifting her chin and gazing into her eyes with a pride that could never be rivalled.
A smile sparkled amongst her tears, and Christine wrapped her arms around Erik's neck, leaning in for her first kiss as a wife.
"It is all for you, Christine."
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it (anywhere i go you go, my dear;
and whatever is done only by me is your doing, my darling)
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet); i
want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
A/N: And that was the (true, proper, BETTER) story of Christine and her angel. I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing every chapter!
Grosses bises to all my reviewers, since that first rather short chapter until the fluffy end, and thanks to everyone who read the whole story!
I won't be able to write another story until the Christmas holidays, due to the horribly hectic nature of this year. If you feel so inclined, please take a look at my other phics:
Angel of Mute, a humorous phic including an extremely foppish Raoul, Erik without his precious voice, bongo drums and a kilt.
First Kiss for Two: a two-part fluffy piece altering the scene where Christine rips of Erik's mask in the musical.
Her Father Promised Her: An incomplete phic that I probably shouldn't mention. It turned out that this story took up most of my E/C energy this last year. :)
Thanks guys! And if you live in Australia, feel secure in the knowledge that I will be going to the opening night of Phantom in Melbourne in my formal dress.
Hope to see you there!