Here it is, the final chapter of "Stronger". The song used here is the final trio from ALW's Phantom of the Opera, lyrics by Charles Hart, revised lyrics by me.
Don Juan Triumphant
In the cold light of dawn, Don Juan lay dying in the land of the dead. Betrayed by his second, Passarino, he had come alone to the cemetery to answer the challenge of the husband of one of the women he had so carelessly defiled. His sword had failed him and he had fallen, bested by a man who spat on him and walked away. For the first time in his life, Don Juan was frightened.
A tall, featureless figure in a black, hooded cloak separated itself from the shadows and glided toward him over the frozen ground. Don Juan crawled backwards away from it until he ran up against a tombstone and could retreat no further. He put a hand to his wounded side. "Who are you?"
"Fool! I am the Angel of Death, come to see you burn in hell for your sins!" boomed the thunderous voice of the Teatro de Fenice's bass, Antonio Guioletta.
Angel as Don Juan cringed at the sound, but regarded him proudly from behind his black mask. "I will not go easily, sir."
A barefoot girl clad in rags appeared outside the cemetery gate upstage center. "Don Juan!" she called, her hands clenching around the bars of the locked gate, tugging futilely at it. "Don Juan!"
Death's attention shifted to the girl as Don Juan cried, "Aminta...Aminta...Let me see her!"
"Be my guest, sir." He waved a bony, gray hand toward the fence.
The gate swung open. A look of fright crossed Aminta's face but she squared her shoulders and entered the graveyard. Seeing Don Juan lying injured on the ground, she started to run toward him.
"Señor, you should not worry. Did you think that I would harm her? Why would I make her pay for the sins which are yours?" Death flicked his fingers and flames sprung up around Don Juan, keeping Aminta from him.
Angel watched from within the circle of fire as Christine as Aminta stopped safely outside the flames, wringing her hands helplessly. Death's voice caught his attention again, and Angel turned his head toward the hooded figure.
"Where are your amigos now? Give up this fight, for your life is done. Nothing can save you now—except perhaps Aminta!" He turned his blank countenance upon the girl. "Give your pure soul to me, buy him Heaven with your love! Refuse me, and you send your lover to Hades! This is the choice, this is the point of no return!"
Aminta moved closer to the fire, her gaze catching and holding Don Juan's. When she sang, her words were only for him, the man who had seduced her and tossed her aside, the man she would always love. "The tears that I have shed since we did part, mean nothing now, you have my heart..."
Angel couldn't help the swell of love that washed over him as he looked into Christine's eyes. He held out his hand toward her. "Aminta, forgive me, please forgive me. I did it all and now I'm left with nothing."
"There's nothing to forgive. I love you. Day by day I've watched as my heart shattered..." she told him.
Death interrupted their tender moment. "Too late for turning back, too late for prayers and useless pleading..."
"Give him your soul..." Don Juan warned Aminta.
"...Past all hope of cries for help..."
"... and my life's still over..."
"... no point in fighting..."
Angel's baritone blended seamlessly with Antonio's basso. "Either way you choose, you cannot win..."
"So, do you give your soul to me or do you send him into hell?"
Don Juan pleaded for the girl he suddenly realized he loved, but did not deserve. "Why make her give her life to save me?"
Christine's pure soprano rose over the men's darker tones as she moved toward Death. "Angel of Darkness..."
"For pity's sake..."
Death circled her, sizing her up. "Past the point of no return..."
Struggling to his feet, Don Juan moved as close to the flames as he dared. "...Aminta, say no!"
She fell to her knees in front of Death reaching out to grasp his robe. She shuddered as she touched him, as if he was the foulest thing she had ever felt, but she did not release her hold. "Please let him go!"
"No more chances..." boomed Death.
Don Juan clutched the gravestone to keep himself upright. "Don't throw your life away for my sake!" he screamed at Aminta.
Letting go of Death's robes, Aminta turned toward Don Juan. "When will you see my love?" For a moment that was all Angel could see, so brightly did Christine's love for him shine in her eyes.
"...to repent, a place in Heaven you cannot earn," Death sang over the lovers, bringing Angel's thoughts back to the stage.
"I have used and abused you," he told Aminta, trying to sway her from her decision.
She ignored him. "Angel of Darkness..."
"You've passed the point of no return..."
"...please hear my plea—I give my soul freely..." Though her words were for Death, her gaze never moved from Angel's face.
"She is mine now say your farewell!" Death waved his hand and the flames vanished.
Defeated, Don Juan crumpled to the ground at the base of the headstone. Aminta rushed to his side, lifting him in her arms, leaning his head against her shoulder. Angel closed his eyes at the feel of Christine's warm skin against his cheek. Her fingers eased under the edge of the mask, and he held his breath as she lifted it away, the deformed side of his face hidden against her body.
She cupped his face in her hand and looked down at him. Despite how often they had rehearsed it, Angel still couldn't stop the shiver that went through him at the moment he gazed back up at her, his face, his soul completely bared.
"Passionate lover of darkness..." she sang, and the rest of the world faded away, no one there but the two of them. "What kind of pain have you known...God give me courage to show you, you won't die alone..." Christine bent over him, her lips meeting his in a kiss of infinite tenderness.
A tear rolled down his cheek as they parted. He curled his arm around her neck, drawing her down for a final kiss as the stage went dark save for a single spotlight on the two of them. His arm slowly slipped from Aminta's neck to rest on his chest. His head lolled back on her shoulder. Don Juan was dead.
For a moment there was no sound in the theater save for Christine's sobbing as the spot tightened to just her. Then a haunting melody began and a soft light lit the stage, just behind where Aminta knelt surrounded by darkness. An angel appeared in the light, wings and gown glowing with an ethereal luminance.
Don Juan stood at the angel's side, looking back at Aminta. "Aminta...I love...you..."
Slowly, Aminta's head came up as if she could hear him. Don Juan reached through the darkness toward her, his hand appearing within the circle of her spotlight. Aminta stared at his outstretched hand, an expression of puzzled joy spreading across her face.
She raised her hand toward him. As her fingers grasped his, the stage went black and the curtain fell on the premiere performance of Don Juan Triumphant.
A stunned Raoul de Chagny sat in his box at the Grand Teatro de Fenice, unable to move, to even applaud after witnessing what he knew had been the performance of a lifetime. Christine, my god, Christine...she was Aminta. This was her story, hers and the Phantom's, a tale of a love so powerful it was capable of saving a man from hell.
For several long seconds there was silence after the curtain fell, then with a deafening roar, the audience leapt to their feet, Raoul along with them, screaming "Bravo!" until his throat hurt. Beside him he could hear his new bride sobbing unrestrainedly, and with a start, he realized tears were running down his face as well.
From somewhere she produced a handkerchief delicately edged in lace and handed it to him. Raoul wiped at his streaming eyes and then dabbed gently at the wetness on her cheeks. "Are you all right?" he asked, as he had never seen his normally unflappable wife cry before.
She nodded. "I have been to hundreds of operas, but nothing has ever moved me like this. No wonder Christine married him." She took the arm her husband offered her. "No offense, dear."
Raoul gave a little laugh and smiled down at her. "None taken. I know now Christine was not the woman for me." Tilting his head down, he brushed his lips over hers. After the cast had taken their curtain calls, and basked in the long and loud standing ovation, he leaned toward her and said, "Come, there's a party downstairs, and with any luck I will be able to introduce you to her."
Leaving the box, the couple slowly made their way down to the main lobby and then to the large ballroom where the party was being held. They had just entered, and Raoul had grabbed two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter, when a tall, dark-haired man with a smallpox-scarred face stepped on a dais at the end of the room and called for the crowd's attention.
"Signors and signoras, I am Gregorio Donato, and as owner of the Gran Teatro de Fenice, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the star of tonight's premiere of Don Juan Triumphant, Signora Christine Noir!"
Christine took the hand the man extended to her and gracefully ascended the few steps to the stage. She was even more beautiful than Raoul remembered, dressed in a red silk dress that clung to her curves and bared her shoulders. Her hair was pinned up with several loose curls framing her face. His wife tugged at his arm. "I must find out the name of her dress designer," she whispered. "Imagine the looks on their faces in Paris if I show up at the next society ball in something like that!"
Christine curtsied in response to the applause and cheers from the room full of opera patrons. As Signor Donato moved forward to speak again, Raoul noticed that her attention had switched from the audience to someone off to one side of the platform.
"And may I introduce a true genius, a man of many talents, the composer of tonight's opera and our Don Juan, the Teatro de Fenice's artistic director, Signor Angel Noir!"
Amid cries of "Bravo!" the former Phantom of the Opera Populaire took the stage, shaking Signor Donato's hand before bowing to the audience. It was as he straightened back up and moved to Christine's side that Raoul realized he was not wearing his mask—and the crowd was not recoiling in horror. He watched as Christine slid her arm around her husband's waist possessively. The Phantom—no, he reminded himself, it was Angel now—bent his head down as his wife whispered something in his ear that brought a wide smile to his face.
The woman at Raoul's side squeezed his arm. "Feeling a last pang of jealousy, my love?"
He met her cool, blue gaze with his own. "Strangely, I am not. I am quite happy for them, and that is something I never thought I would feel." He laid his left hand over hers where it rested on his sleeve. "Let us go congratulate them."
It took nearly ten minutes for them to work their way through the crowd surrounding the opera's stars. Raoul waited patiently until Christine was through speaking in what sounded to him like perfect Italian to an older couple. As they walked away, she shifted her attention to the new arrivals. "Raoul!" she gasped, her expression uncertain, her hand reaching behind her for her husband's arm.
Angel turned round at her touch, his gaze hardening at the sight of Raoul. "Vicomte," he hissed between clenched teeth. "What an unexpected surprise. I thought we had an agreement."
Deciding an answer to that statement would only make the situation more uncomfortable, Raoul drew his bride forward. "Monsieur Noir, Christine, may I introduce you to my wife, Baroness Sabrina de Montenant. Darling, Angel and Christine Noir."
Angel raised an eyebrow but took Sabrina's proffered hand and kissed the air above her gloved fingers. He did not offer to shake Raoul's hand, nor did Christine extend hers toward Raoul. There was an awkward silence that seemed destined to stretch into eternity.
Sabrina, bless her, simply ignored it and plunged into conversation. "Beautiful, beautiful piece of work, Monsieur Noir. I have never experienced anything like it."
"Thank you, Madame," Angel replied gruffly.
"And Madame Noir—"
"Please," Christine interrupted, "call me Christine, and my husband is Angel. I think we know each other well enough to dispense with formal titles. Don't we, my Angel?" Her hand went to the small of her husband's back, and Raoul could see some of the tension drain out of him at her touch. He nodded curtly.
"Very well. Christine, you have a lovely voice," Sabrina continued. "And such wonderful, daring taste in gowns. Do you mind telling me who designed your dress?"
A sly smile crossed Christine's face. "My Angel is a man of many talents."
"So it appears."
Sabrina would have gone on, but Angel jumped into the conversation. "So what brings you to Venice, Vicomte?"
Pleased that the prospect of fisticuffs seemed to have vanished, Raoul answered, "Our honeymoon. We're doing the Italian tour. It was just coincidence that our stay in Venice coincided with the opening of your opera. I trust you are finding Venice to your liking?"
Christine fairly beamed. "Very much so. I think this is the happiest I've ever been in my life."
"And you, Angel?" Sabrina asked. "Are you enjoying Italy?"
He looked a bit startled by the question, but answered, "It is a vast improvement over my previous life in Paris."
Raoul felt a smirk tug at his lips. Had the Phantom just made a joke?
Angel looked down at Christine and it appeared to Raoul that some kind of silent message passed between them. When Christine looked back at them, she said, "As pleasant as it has been to see you again, Raoul, and to meet your lovely wife, I am afraid we are obligated to greet the rest of the guests. I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves tonight, and I wish you all the best in your new life together."
"As do I," Angel added, not a hint of malice in his voice. Slipping his arm around Christine, he led her off through the crowd.
Raoul watched them go, sensing the part of his life he had shared with Christine was over now. Surprisingly, he felt no regret. Christine and her Angel were meant to be together, he could see that now that he had found his own soulmate. He gazed at his wife, feeling a warm surge of love for her. "I'm suddenly finding all this very tiresome. Shall we go back to the hotel?"
Sabrina's eyes lit up. "And make beautiful music together? What a splendid idea."
He had to walk quite briskly to keep up with her as she headed for the exit.
Christine opened the doors to the balcony and stepped out into the humid September night. Walking over to the railing, she leaned against it and looked out over the Grand Canal toward the sea, her thoughts whirling.
It had been very strange to see Raoul again. And married! A smile crossed her face and she shook her head. Why was she so surprised at that? He had been so eager to marry her, why wouldn't he have moved on to someone else? She supposed she had believed he would never get over her, that he would be a lonely bachelor the rest of his life, pining away for his Christine.
Truth be told, Christine hadn't had one thought of Raoul since she and her Angel had come to Venice. There had been the trip there, and moving in, and starting work at the opera house. It seemed like weeks before they had time to do anything besides get up in the morning, go to work, and fall into bed at night. But now that the new season was upon them things had settled into a less hectic routine. Her husband was nothing if not organized, and the theater was running like a well-oiled machine.
Her husband. It still gave her a thrill every time she thought of it. Angel was hers and she was his and no one and nothing would ever come between them. It had been hard at first for him, making the adjustment from a life in the shadows to one in the light. He had alternately been withdrawn and overbearing with both her and the members of the opera company. At last Angel had come to realize that Christine was there to stay, that his moments of darkness seemed to make her only love him more. When he finally felt secure with her, he was able to relax and create at work. He was comfortable enough now that he rarely wore his mask, and his towering rages were a thing of the past. It helped that he had an outlet for his creativity and, Christine thought, his anger had for so long been for the world that had rejected him. He lived in a world now that embraced him, and that made all the difference.
Arms slid around her waist and Christine was pulled back against the solid body of her Angel. He planted a kiss in her hair. "I woke up and was all alone," he said. "What are you doing out here?"
She laid her arms over his where they rested on her stomach. "Too much excitement tonight, I guess. I couldn't sleep."
She felt him tense. "Thinking about Raoul?" he finally asked.
"Among other things. Mostly I've been thinking about us, about how fortunate we are to be here and to have each other." Turning around in his arms, she put her hand on the back of his neck, bending him down for a kiss. He shivered when they broke apart, and she rested her hands on his bare chest, her fingers lightly stroking his smooth skin. "I love you, Angel," she whispered.
He smiled down at her. "And I love you. Now come to bed." Letting go of her, Angel took a step toward the open door to their room.
"I'm not sleepy," Christine complained.
Angel turned toward her. "I don't recall mentioning anything about sleeping," he said with a seductive smile.
Now it was Christine's turn to shiver. Angel held out his hand to her and she was suddenly back in her dressing room at the Opera Populaire, standing in front of the open mirror as the most beautiful man she had ever seen offered her his hand. She took it now, as she had then, and followed her heart without looking back.
A/N Thank you to all who read and hopefully enjoyed my story, and extra special thanks to everyone who reviewed. As we all know, without the wonderful reviewers, we authors would just be posting into the dark void of the internet, wondering if our words would ever find their way into the hearts and minds of readers.
For those of you who have asked if I plan to continue writing, the answer is a resounding "Yes!" I plan on finishing up the last of "Divergence" and then beginning a new story. However, as I have had a few experiences with having a great idea that ends up going nowhere, I will not begin posting until the story is finished, or at least until I have enough of it completed so that I know I will be able to finish it. So it may be awhile before you see a new story from me. Do not doubt that I plan to return, though.
Thank you once again,