Christine's eyes lazily took in the watercolor landscapes as she steadily made her way through a corridor of the gallery. With the inheritance left by her father, Christine had been left in a comfortable financial position- thanks to Raoul, she wasn't paying rent on the loft, and her living expenses extended only to groceries, clothing and the occasional entertainment.
She had sought out a job more to keep socially active than for the money; she wanted to meet new people and learn new artistic techniques. She loved Erik, but it simply wasn't healthy to have her world revolve around him. They had both gone in pursuit of their respective interests- while she chose to work at the gallery, Erik had begun to compose and sell his music scores, becoming successful in his own right.
She was proud of him, she was proud of both of them.
Christine took her place behind the front desk and arranged the morning paperwork. It wasn't the Louvre, but she adored the private gallery. She felt that it kept her grounded, and she had met many interesting people in her time there.
The phone rang and Christine hit the speaker button as she opened a file. "Regency Gallery," she greeted.
"Good morning, Christine,"
Startled, Christine lifted the receiver to her ear. "Erik, hello!"
He laughed a bit on the other end. "I'm sorry to call you at work, I know your manager doesn't like it. Today I had to make an exception."
Christine shook her head, "Don't worry about that, the boss isn't even on the floor."
"Even so, I won't keep you long. Simply, I wanted to invite you over tonight." Erik explained, a slight eagerness in his voice.
Christine felt a light fluttering in her stomach. "I…yes, of course I'll come see you. I missed you, it's good to hear your voice again!"
"Wonderful girl. I just got back a few hours ago, and I have a few surprises in store for you tonight." Erik confided.
Christine smiled. "Oh, good surprises?"
"Yes, only the best. I'm glad you are coming, I was…worried that after so much time apart you might…"
Erik had been gone for over a week, away on some kind of business. He hadn't gone into details when he'd told her he was planning to leave, Christine had assumed that he'd left to negotiate the sale of a composition.
Christine raised her brows.
Does he honestly think...?
"Erik, you worry too much, do you know that?" Christine laughed. "I yours forever and everything's fine! Stop worrying, the sky won't fall today. I'll be over at…say, 8?"
There was embarassed relief in his voice. "You know me too well, don't you? You are right, as always. I must learn to relax, I suppose. Yes, 8. This is good. I will see you tonight, Christine."
She smiled and hung up the phone.
"So you're going to see Erik tonight?"
Christine glanced at Meg's reflection in her bedroom mirror. "Yes. I haven't seen him in over an entire week, he was away for business," she explained.
Christine had just stepped from the shower when she'd heard the doorbell- Meg had stopped by since she'd been in the neighborhood, and insisted that Christine come with her to dinner. Currently, she was sitting on the end of her friend's bed, watching as Christine prepared for the night's "date" with her husband.
Meg rolled her eyes slightly as she watched Christine agonize over her eyeliner like some love-struck teen. Well, obviously Christine was in love with Erik, and while Meg could respect that, she still couldn't see how Christine could bring herself to love the man.
Christine once told me that she fell in love with Erik himself, not the package that he came in. He's not so bad, really. I'll just have to spend a little more time with him to understand…
Meg slipped off her pretty shoes and adjusted the skirt of her sundress.
"I do like that dress on you, Meg," Christine said as she brushed on a coat of mascara. A slow, clever smile spread over her face. "I'm sure that your mother will love it."
Meg's wide eyes and shocked expression told Christine all that she needed to know. "Don't look so surprised, Meg. I wasn't sure at first, but all the signs of a set-up are in place here. You, showing up here unannounced, trying to convince me to go out tonight with you instead of Erik, and that dress of yours sealed the deal. How long has she been in Paris?"
Meg recovered her wits and blushed furiously. "All right, fine! You had me at 'hello', didn't you? Erik's cleverness must be contagious."
"This has nothing to do with Erik. My cleverness is my own. Now, out with it, if you don't mind." Christine smirked, fully enjoying her witty victory.
Meg sighed, "She arrived yesterday, she's staying at a hotel near Center Square. She asked that I bring you with me to dinner…she wants to apologize, Christine."
Christine turned back to the mirror and looked herself over in the reflection. Her dress was lightweight jersey, a violet shade just a touch lighter than that of the silks she'd first worn in Tejar. It skimmed her body and hit just above her knees, perfectly appropriate for a summer night.
Erik will love it, she thought before turning back to Meg.
"Meg, I do love you, and I love your mother. She was like a mother to me as we were growing up, you know that. I want her to be happy, and I accept her apology. Pass on my love to her, but I will not be joining her for dinner tonight or any other night." There was a level of certainty in Christine's voice that Meg had rarely heard before.
"I have nothing to say to her, Meg. It's as simple as that. I hope you two have a wonderful meal. Buy her a drink on me, take her to a show. Make sure she enjoys Paris while she's here, but I'm done." Christine glanced over to the clock on the wall. "I have to go meet Erik now or I'll be late. I'll have lunch with you and Raoul tomorrow. Good night Meg."
Meg nodded, "All right, Christine. If you're sure."
Christine hugged her friend, "I'm sorry, but I am sure."
It wasn't in Christine's nature to be so coldly dismissive, especially to the people she treasured above all else in the world. Meg had been her friend since she could first recall; they were closer than sisters and wouldn't have had it any other way.
Christine loved Meg, but her mother's manipulations had caused hellish damage to both she and Erik. Of course, Christine didn't blame Claire for Erik's explosive madness- she had forgiven him, and she forgave Claire, but simply, there was nothing that she had to say.
It would be naïve of her to think that Erik and Claire could forgive each other and retain their places in her life. No, Christine was far beyond that kind of wishful thinking. It would be a choice, and she loved Erik as a friend, a man, a husband.
There really wasn't any choice at all.
"Oh, Christine, you're early tonight," Erik greeted her excitedly at the door.
He was dressed in his customary dark suit, his face covered by a plain satin mask. She hadn't seen him in over a week, she had missed him more than she realized.
Christine moved forward and put her arms around him, breathing in his scent, resting her cheek over his shoulder. The thoughts that she'd been wrestling with fell away when he touched her, and it was then that she knew...
They stood for a moment, simply holding each other. She felt Erik's hands at her waist, drawing up to stroke her hair.
He loved her so.
"I missed you, Christine. Are you all right?" He asked her.
Christine pulled from his arms. "Everything is fine, Erik."
His golden eyes flickered at her from behind his mask. There was concern in his voice when he spoke. "I'm sorry, but I don't believe you."
Christine smiled and rolled her eyes affectionately. "You can see right through me, can't you?"
She walked further into the house, into the front salon, tossing her purse onto a chair. Erik followed her inside the room and strode to the side table, where a chilled bottle of champagne awaited. "Yes, I can," replied Erik as he poured. "It's a skill that's been useful to me. You don't have to tell if you don't want to, I won't pry."
Christine took a flute glass from him and raised her brow. "Champagne? Are you celebrating something?"
"No. We are. I missed you, Christine, even while you were with me- I was surrounded by you, but still so lonely." He said thoughtfully, lightly brushing her arm with his fingertips.
She frowned, "I wasn't with you, Erik. We haven't seen each other in over a week."
"It seemed ages to me! Your pictures don't do you justice." Erik said absently.
Christine snapped her fingers, calling him back to the present. "Erik, what on earth are you talking about? What have you been doing while you were away?"
The man turned to her and ticked his head slightly, the golden eyes shining to her in the soft light. "I went back to find you- I worried that everything would be gone, but it was all there! Come with me, I want to see your face," he said quickly, reaching for her hands.
Christine set down her glass and allowed Erik to lead her upstairs to the third floor of his chateau, to one of the larger open rooms. He paused at the doorway and turned to her. "I would do anything for you. You know that, don't you?"
She smiled, both excited and confused over his behavior. It wouldn't do to stand there and question him; she wanted to know what had Erik so eager. Christine reached forward and put her hands on his shoulders, delighted as she felt him shiver under her touch. "I know it, Erik. You've already done everything for me."
His eyes closed in satisfied pleasure, and he took her hands into his own, bringing them to the lips of his mask. "Not everything, not yet."
Erik opened the door and lead Christine into the room.
He paused in front of her, watching her face, her eyes, as she looked about her.
There it was- confusion, recognition, understanding…joy.
He watched in triumph, sharing in her happiness as she moved away from him to more closely examine the treasures of her past recovered from the island. Nearly everything was there, everything she'd been forced to leave behind.
Christine felt hot, stinging tears in her eyes as she saw the paintings, the photographs and furniture from her home- she'd never thought she would see any of it again. Her heart lurched as she put her hands on what was once her father's favorite chair; she absorbed its reality, the return of her past.
There was a carved chest her grandfather had made by hand; she'd used it to store her most precious memories. Christine moved to it and lifted the lid, sobbing as her eyes took in her own baby clothes, school medals, favored dolls and a smaller photo album that showcased pictures of her parents when they had barely been any older than Christine was now.
Erik stood off to the side, unsure of what he could say. It had not been difficult to have everything released from the custody of the tiny community's police impound, but it had been hellish having everything brought to Paris on time. The chest that Christine was sorting through with such reverence had only arrived an hour before she did!
The girl was crying now, smiling. Erik had never cried from happiness before, though since meeting Christine, he had been very close. He wrung his hands together, fidgeting slightly with nervous energy.
Did she want to be left alone with her possessions? Should he go to her or continue to stand by?
"Erik, this is…thank you so much…" Christine sobbed.
He glanced down to see her staring up at him from where she was kneeling on the floor. He cleared his throat and brought out his handkerchief, moving to kneel down beside her. Carefully, he dabbed away her tears, cupping her face.
"It was nothing, Christine. This is all for you." Erik whispered to her.
The girl brought her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder. "You are amazing. I love you, Erik. Not just for this, I mean, I've loved you for a long time."
Erik closed his eyes with the pleasure of her words, and he stroked her hair. He didn't say anything, he felt he didn't have to.
Christine continued, "I love you, I love you, Erik, but I don't want to do this any more."
He pulled back to look at her, "Christine?"
"I've been missing you- not just when you left Paris. Before that. I don't want us to love each other so much but live apart, I don't want to have any more "dates" with my own husband and I'm tired of sleeping beside you but never with you! Do you understand?"
Behind the mask, Erik gaped at her. "You…you want to come back?"
Christine smiled, "Only if you'll have me,"
Happiness is a wonderful thing.
Even as I watch Christine sleep against me, it's contrary to all I've ever known. Her smiles, her touch, her warmth…she can't be real, can she?
The reality of Christine Daae, to be in my home and my bed…to know that she loves me for myself! It's wonderful! It's terrifying!
I want to rise up and sing our love out to the world, but Christine is asleep, and I will not disturb her for anything. She came back to me last night, she came to our bedroom willingly. We finished what we started the night we were betrayed by my mother…She lifted my mask and kissed me. She was not afraid of me. She has never been afraid of me. Is this real…?
She is so wonderful, so bright and beautiful. I never dreamed to find even a hint of affection, and here I have a wife in my arms! I am the envy of every man, and she has promised her love to me!
Christine is surely mad.
To protect what I have with her, I would fight to the death and I told her so, only hours ago. Christine laughed and assured me that it would never come to that. I want to disbelieve her words, but I can see what I feel for her mirrored back to me in her own eyes.
She laughed, told me that she was mine, and she kissed me.
It's the most dangerous, terrifying, powerful force in the world; this is what I thought I'd never find, what no woman could ever give me. It was bestowed on me, poor, wretched and undeserving Erik.
I'd always thought it was so complicated, but when I look at Christine, the world falls away, it all becomes so simple, so beautiful.
I love you, Christine.
You love me.
If this is a dream, I pray to never wake up...
Author's Note: Thank you so much for the reviews and support. I'm sad the story is over, but at the same time I'm glad- Erik and Christine ended happily, and that's all any real Phantom fan ever wants!