DISCLAIMER:I do not own any of these characters, they belong to Gaston Leroux, Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Really Useful Group, Susan Kay, and anyone else who's ever bought the rights. I wish I owned them though, to make them do my bidding. I REALLY wish I owned Erik :)
NOTES:This should, in theory, slot nicely in just after Erik lets Christine go, and as the mob (the evil, evil mob!) are approaching his lair. If I do this right, and if you ignore all the extra dialogue, it should, hopefully, still fit the original music and words of the musical. I take over the ending - I need closure, darnit! I want to kill Raoul as always (this was my original plan), but that won't work, so here's the other version. If it doesn't fit the music, well does it really matter? It's not like it's going to happen (unfortunately). Although this is written in the third person, there's lots of insight into Christine's thoughts as opposed to everyone else's. I may just do a companion piece to this if I can bear to go through it again… Erik is not mentioned by name in this in keeping with the words of the musical. See, I CAN be technical if I try hard enough :)
FREEDOM FROM DARKNESS
© T'eyla Minh, 2001
He let me go,she thought. I was willing to stay with him, and he let me go. The idea was almost alien to her. By choice she had committed herself to live below the Opéra, and yet Raoul had refused to accept her decision, unable to let her stay. The thought of losing her to a man he had grown to detest was too much for him to bear, and when the opportunity arose for him to take her away, he seized it. She wondered if Raoul still harboured hatred even now for the self-proclaimed Opéra Ghost, after all he had witnessed.
Her feelings were tumultuous; she no longer controlled her actions as she ordered Raoul to stop, nor when she simply turned and left him when he refused. The ring on her finger, a perfect fit, glistened in the faint candlelight. What am I doing? she asked herself. I can't go back, not now… Yet her feet disobeyed her, moving her at a steady, controlled pace back towards the silence from which she left. The ring represented what she had been forced to abandon, and in that knowledge, it was a testimony to her treachery. She could no longer keep both it and her sanity - one of them had to go.
As she entered the previously vacated room, she thought with sudden, unprecedented regret, that he had gone. Had the approaching mob beaten her? Could she live with herself if they had found him…? Just as she was fearing the worst, she saw him, sitting by the mysterious music box, singing a mocking melody, apparently ashamed of everything he was. She moved forward slowly, not wishing to startle him, but his cat-like reflexes did not fail him - he sensed her presence and turned to face her, not quite believing his own eyes.
"You came back…" he said, as if to clarify it. As if, by saying it, he would know she was really there, returned to him, and not a cruel illusion of his tortured mind. She said nothing in return, simply stared at him, trying to read his expression. His curiosity, mixed with absolute, uncontrollable joy at her return, was companion to an innocent pleading with her to stay. She moved a step closer towards him, not certain what to expect as a reaction - would he welcome her into his arms without hesitation, or would he simply remain motionless? More importantly, which would she prefer him to do?
She glanced from the ring to the man she had come to know as her Angel, weighing the odds. She could return to him now and risk the consequences of the mob finding them, or she could run… either way, they were bound to be separated. And if she chose the latter… who would protect whom from a majority of vengeful people with no comprehension of the situation? She looked deep into his impossibly dark eyes, reading his soul, pondering in the silence. She wanted to believe that he could read her thoughts, to know what she was unable to express in words. What have I done to you? I trusted you, accepted your teaching, yearned for your guidance; I made you believe I would follow you anywhere. I called you 'Angel' like some creature of Heaven, thinking you to be a gift from my Father… I feared your wrath, cringed from your touch… yet now I want nothing more than to stay here with you… She moved closer still, watching his expression. If you love me like you claim, do not send me away. I learned to see you as a man rather than a monster despite your actions… I can learn to love you as you dream… As if to prove it, she began to raise a hand, making to touch his face. Fear overtook his features - perhaps he thought she was going to slap him - and as the realisation dawned, his expression softened… his eyes never leaving hers… I wonder, Angel, if you will draw back from my touch as I did yours…
Her reverie was broken by Raoul's abrupt voice cutting through the silence, impatiently calling her back. Still watching, transfixed, she witnessed the man before her as rage flashed in his eyes, and her hand stopped, mere inches from him. He scared her still, and when he realised this he reached out a hand himself in apology, sincerity and deep regret replacing the murderous anger. She took a step back, an instinct she could never overcome, and inclined her head towards Raoul's voice. A life far safer than the one she had chosen was waiting for her, and in the spur of the moment, she decided to go to it. Using her extended hand, she removed the ring from her finger, placed it in her own palm and reached out to him once again. The intention, however, was entirely different. He took it automatically, her rejection all too familiar… His touch, though brief, was still cold, but she no longer flinched, and as they separated one last time, she silently pleaded with him: Forgive me…
She turned and fled, then, back to Raoul, her mind screaming at her to stop, the pain of her guilt seeming to mirror that of her Angel as he pleaded his love. By the time she reached Raoul her tears were flowing freely, beyond her control, and as he tried to get her into the boat his concern was mixed with hate.
"Christine, what did he do?" The question was an unspoken challenge. He was more than willing to fight for her, even though he knew she would not let him. For reasons he could not comprehend, she was protecting a man, who, in his eyes, was nothing more than a monster.
She was unable to answer, but refused his comfort, stepping into the awaiting boat with an expertise gained from practice… practice obtained from similar journeys back to the Opéra. She knew now why she had felt such curious regret each time. Had her grief not been so tremendous, she would have laughed as Raoul stumbled and swayed trying to get his balance in the small vessel. Once seated he started to move them away, at first finding it difficult but eventually managing to pick up speed.
The inevitable happened halfway across the lake - the flame in their lamp finally went out, plunging them into darkness. Instead of panicking, she took comfort in the situation, not really knowing why. Raoul damned the defenceless object, flinging it into the lake in his frustration, and continued to manoeuvre the boat through the water in a direction that seemed plausible. After a few minutes, the distant lamps of the crowd appeared. They should have been a beacon, but to Christine, they represented only a future she was rapidly beginning to dread.
Throughout the seemingly endless journey until that point, Christine's brain was bombarded with memories of her ordeal from the moment she was in the gala. Being taken through the mirror to a strange yet beautiful world of music… revealing the face of her tutor to fulfil her own damnable curiosity… witnessing the changes of his mood, seen only in his eyes… yearning to know him… What am I doing here? Why am I still following this boy? The thought of Raoul triggered another memory, of the promise they had made each other on the roof… she had not dared to mention how she had heard every word uttered by the Voice in the shadows. She had accepted a proposal she knew, in her heart, she could never commit to… not if she was to live with herself.
Lightly, she turned her head to face the quickly diminishing shoreline they had left, and began to sing, softly. I know you can hear me… please be able to hear me… She was unaware of the song until Raoul joined in, and only then did she realise and stop. He did not understand… he never would… but she understood whom the song was really for… As the bank grew smaller and smaller, and vanished into the dark, she let her tears fall freely and silently to the floor.
Unknowing of their presence, the mob made their way around the edge of the lake. Christine watched in awe, as the lanterns seemed to move of their own accord in single file, and started when one of the crowd lost his footing and fell into the murky water. Their cries were distant despite their closeness, and in her head they grew fainter and fainter, as if she was blocking them out. Her inner silence was rudely interrupted by Raoul once again - something she was beginning to become irritated with - as he looked to her for help.
"Christine, you've done this journey before. Have you any idea if I'm going in the right direction?"
She shook her head, forgetting that he was unable to see her in the darkness. A man accustomed to daylight was not acclimatised to the penetrating and shrouding blackness of their surroundings. Christine herself was used to it, she realised with some surprise, able to make out the slight ripples in the lake and, not too far in the distance, the shore they were attempting to reach.
He was nothing except persistent, she noted, and decided that she had better say something before he presumed her dead. The boat was turning… if it would only rotate a few more inches they would be facing back the way they had come.
"I'm sorry, Raoul."
In those three words she said more than she intended. Her mind was awash with a half-formed plan and she was not entirely aware of her words. If we go back… if Raoul doesn't realise it… We'll still reach the shore - the wrong shore - and we might even confuse the mob… oh God, if they reach him before me… She waited a few more seconds until she knew the boat had turned itself around completely.
"I think… if you keep going ahead… we'll reach the shore," she said, innocently, hoping he would believe her. "I'm sure of it."
"That's my girl!" he said, obviously proud of her. Instead of feeling proud of herself, however, she felt incredibly confused. Guilt at leading Raoul astray mixed with anticipation of whether her plan would even work. Her fear of the crowd arriving before her was overwhelming. She was unknowing of her own motives and yet she knew precisely what she was doing. Her thoughts began to wander again as the boat moved slowly - far too slowly - back to the other shore. Why am I trying to return to you…? Look at what you've made me! I don't know who I am any more, I don't know what I feel. Do I hate you? I should hate you after all that you've done… and yet I don't… for some reason, my hatred is not for you. It's not for the people hunting for you, and it's not for Raoul… it may be only for myself. I was weak to succumb to you, and now I have trapped myself in your world. In a world I both want to destroy and reside in… a world of music… How is it you can make such beautiful harmonies and perform such terrible deeds? How can two different beings exist in one man? Is it me who has done that to you? The idea was almost unbearable, that she might have destroyed him without realising in her naïveté. Please be there when I return… Although I know not why, I am returning. I fear you still, but also… what? What is it I'm coming back to? Do I love you? That thought was inherently shocking in its intensity. In asking herself the question, she instantaneously answered it…
Seemingly in an instant, the voices of the mob were loud, as if they had suddenly dropped upon the occupants of the boat. They had reached the edge of the lake at last and Raoul was dragging the vessel onto dry land. The leader of the crowd nearly fell over him, not seeing him in the dim light, and held his lantern up to examine his face.
"Monsieur de Chagny? What are you doing here? You must get Miss Daaé out of here at once!" It was Firmin, one of the managers.
"What am I doing here? What are you doing here, Monsieur?"
"We… that is…" he stopped. Something was wrong. He spoke half to his colleague Andre and half to Raoul. "Are we in the wrong place?"
"I believe you may very well be! It appears you have merely gone around in a circle!" Raoul's logic was almost ironic, but the men believed him. Christine smiled to herself in the darkness - it was working perfectly. Eventually, though, they were bound to figure out what was going on, and she spoke up.
"Raoul, why don't you lead them? After all, you know the way." She cursed herself for sounding so treacherous, then reminded herself that she was lying.
"Yes, I do, but-" he began, only to be interrupted by several members of the crowd.
"Monsieur le Vicomte, you must! You are our only hope."
"Indeed. Show us!"
"We have very little light left, Monsieur. You have to show us the way."
Bombarded with pleas, Raoul held his hands up in a diplomatic manner. "Messieurs!" They stopped and waited for his response. He looked to Christine, who merely smiled back.
"I will be safe here, Raoul. I need to recover my strength and then I will meet you outside in your carriage. You must do what needs to be done."
"Very well. For you," he conceded. Snatching the lamp from one of the men, he struck a dominant pose. "Let's get this over with!" he shouted, then led them off, back around the lake. When she was sure they were out of sight, Christine breathed a sigh of relief and rose from the boat. They had landed on the right shore, but in completely the wrong place, and she would have to find another way in. Carefully, she approached the portcullis, noting that it had been lowered again after her departure…
She looked inside, her breathing slight from anticipation, and examined every corner for some sign of him. Her heart sank when she saw nothing but lonely candles. Grasping the bars for support, she felt her knees about to give way. All that effort… all those tears… for nothing! She knew she should be crying, but no tears came… she felt nothing but bitter defeat.
Then, from somewhere within, she heard a faint sobbing. She listened closely, ever hopeful, but realised with some dismay that it sounded decidedly female. Her curiosity got the better of her.
"Who's there?" she said, her voice echoing dully around the room. The sobbing abruptly stopped and she saw movement from behind the throne. She knew in an instant who the cries belonged to. "Meg? What are you doing in there?"
The girl emerged, her face streaked with tears, and ran over to the portcullis. "Christine!"
"How in the world did you get in?"
"I don't know," she admitted, sniffing. "I came with the others at first, then ran on ahead… somehow I ended up in here… I didn't have a light." She stopped. She could tell Christine had come back for something. "Why did you come back?"
"I made my choice… I can't deny it any longer." She was being deliberately cryptic. Meg frowned, unsure what to think. Christine's thoughts were on only one thing. "Meg… where-"
"I wish I could tell you. He was gone before I arrived, I think…" She suddenly looked almost euphoric, dream-like. "I heard him, Christine. Is this the Angel of Music you told me about?"
"He sang to you when he heard you, across the lake." She looked pained, speaking as though trained to say something. "You are the one, the only one, who can continue his work. His music must live on." Clearly Meg was reeling from the experience, her ears unaccustomed to the heavenly voice, that which had mesmerised Christine for so long. Suddenly, she seemed to remember something, looking down at her hand. She was still clutching the mask, not even realising she had even picked it up. "Oh…"
Christine looked down also, seeing the familiar white object, almost luminous in the dark. Frustrated, she rattled the bars that separated her from the world she had risked everything to return to, and hit her hand against one of them. "There must be some way in! Think, Meg!"
"I… I'm sorry!" The girl was scared, and, though the same age as Christine, seemed very young and lost in the strange place. She fell to the floor and proceeded to start crying again. Her friend crouched down to her level.
"It doesn't matter," she said, reassuringly. "I'll get in somehow, and get you out."
"Why didn't you tell me about him?" she asked, her tears already subsiding with her curiosity. "Had I known you were being taught by the Phantom himself, why… " she trailed off, realising something. "My mother must have known everything and never told me. I knew she had some connection to the mystery." As if to clear her own thoughts, as Christine had done countless times, she continued to talk. "He is no Phantom at all! He is nothing but a man! A man with the voice of an Angel… Oh, Christine, why didn't you say?"
"Because the secret was too great. And you must never tell a soul what you have seen."
"You have my word." A moment of silence passed between them. Christine could sense, somehow, that they were not alone, and had not been for some time, if at all. She strained to listen, at first hearing only the crackling of the dwindling candles, and then, imperceptibly, the faint melody of the musical box…
"Do you hear that?" she asked, barely above a whisper. As one, the two girls rose to their feet, the only point of contact between them being the mask they both held onto. Meg nodded, slowly. "How is it working…?"
They listened in awe as the tune finished and the Persian monkey stopped turning, silence once again descending. Christine's hope was tenacious. Where could he possibly have gone? As they stood there, waiting, Meg could sense a change in Christine that she had never noticed before. She seemed to be a living paradox - sure of herself, but uncertain at the same time; desperate to stay, yet knowing she should leave; in turmoil about her emotions - both hating this man… and loving him, both with an equal intensity she could barely endure. The resulting effect of this combination of feelings left her trembling, a nervous shell of the girl Meg had known so well only seven months ago. She wondered whether Christine had done this to herself, or whether it was the work of her apparent 'Angel'. Something had happened to her, something so intense she was unable to describe or explain it.
Suddenly, the flames that illuminated their surroundings flickered one last time and died, apparently simultaneously. The two girls were plunged into darkness and Meg instinctively panicked, reminded all too quickly of similar things happening during performance.
She whispered in the blackness, reassuring herself: "Christine…?" She was answered with an abrupt shushing and knew instinctively to keep quiet. Barely above a whisper herself, Christine spoke.
"Look…" She did not need to point, which would have been a futile exercise, or even say what to look at… for Meg had already noticed it and took in a gasp of air in shock. Slowly, almost too slow to see, one of the candles appeared to re-light itself. It glowed pitifully, doing nothing to bring light to the darkness. As they watched, entranced, it moved horizontally across the room and lit its companions - the candelabra, those atop the organ, and the countless others. No light seemed to return until the last was burning brightly, and then the room was suddenly flooded with eerie luminescence.
Once their eyes had adjusted to the change, they started. Christine very nearly fainted and Meg was frozen to the spot in abject terror. The room's atmosphere had changed in an instant. The comfort Christine had expected was now replaced by an awful, cold sense of interrogation. Unasked questions hung in the air… questions she was unsure about how to answer.
He was there. He was standing to his full height, seeming to almost vanish into the background except for the white of his shirt. He was motionless, statuesque in appearance, and staring right at them. Christine tried to identify his expression and came up with several possibilities, none of which she particularly liked. He was regarding them with something that could only be described as utter disdain, something she had never before seen when in his presence. Once again she felt threatened, knowing full well what he was capable of, and terrified should he decide to turn against her now.
Inexorably, her thoughts returned to Meg, who was staring at the man before her in a state of familiar shock. Christine was struck with a sense of déjà-vu, recalling with terrible clarity her own reaction to his face. She could forgive Meg, but would never forgive herself, and wondered with desperation if he would forgive them both.
Meg continued to stare, taking in everything and assessing it for herself, before eventually looking away in guilt. He still had not moved from where he stood, still regarding them with the same disdainful expression. He was clearly trying to teach her some sort of lesson. Please… please move. Say something… anything… please.
As usual, he seemed to read her thoughts, shifting position only slightly to hold out a hand towards Meg. She started at the action, looking to Christine for support, and seeing only minor relief on her face. She turned to face him again. Calmly, almost deadly in tone, he spoke.
"Mademoiselle… my mask…"
Meg looked once more at the object in her hand, which Christine had instinctively released on seeing him, then at her friend once more. She nodded, confidently, never taking her eyes off the man for fear of what he might do if she did. In the same tone, she spoke, seemingly to Meg, but only to him.
"Go ahead. You won't be harmed." Her threat was implied - if you harm her, I will leave, and never return. Meg approached cautiously, holding the mask carefully, as if it were a fragile object that would break under pressure. When she was only a foot away, she stopped and silently handed it towards him. She gazed, in awe, between the two of them. Their eyes were locked in a silent battle of will; the energy was so intense she could almost see it, almost reach out and touch it. Without breaking contact with his protégéé, he took the mask from her shaking hand.
"Thank you." She sensed no genuine gratitude, merely fluency, like a rehearsed line. For several more tense seconds the three of them stood in silence. The longer they stood, the more Meg began to feel she was no longer a presence in the room; she was simply an invisible observer of something beyond her comprehension or imagination. It was impossible to decipher the conversation they appeared to be having through their eyes - the conflicting emotions in herself were confusing enough - and she focussed on a point in between them, where she supposed their respective stares were battling out for power. Neither of them was able to move, afraid of what the other might do should they look away, but knowing that nothing good would come of it. The atmosphere was getting tighter; she felt as thought something would explode at any second, and braced herself by falling to the floor and covering her head…
Without warning, he broke the contact, turning away to replace his mask. Christine, defeated and weary, collapsed against the portcullis, leaning on the bars for support. She breathed out all of the air she had not realised she held. Meg looked out from the semi-protective haven of her own arms and took in the damage. Everything was as it had been a few minutes before and the atmosphere was suddenly much clearer. Once his mask was back in place, he dared to look back to Christine, his expression somehow softer, more melancholy. They were both spent, drained of any useful emotion and with barely any energy left between them. With a certain horror, Meg realised he had ended it before they had killed each other.
She returned her gaze to Christine, wanting to get up to help her, but finding herself unable to move. Whatever force had taken them over was working its magic on her as well. She was finally able to read her face, observe the pain and confusion in her eyes… and the deep, overwhelming and terrible love she could not explain or understand.
Christine herself was waiting for the torture to end, desperately wanting to wake up from the nightmare she had led herself into. Why are you doing this? I came back to you. I risked everything to send the crowd away, to lie to Raoul in order to protect you. I came back… and yet you will not let me in. It was you who brought me here to begin with against my will, and now, when I return of my own volition, you shun me. How can I prove to you that my intentions are good?
Realising that she ought to say something, anything, Christine spoke, her voice tremulous. "I came back." Stating the obvious was the only thing she could manage, and she said it over and over again, hoping something would come of it. "I came back… I came back…"
There was horrible silence. She knew he was testing her loyalty, and through the unfairness of it all - he still did not fully trust her after all this time - she let him. Go ahead - play your game. If it's the only way you'll believe me, test me. Watch me suffer. You will only feel the pain of guilt when you realise how wrong you are… she thought, bitterly, doing her best to glare at him despite her fatigue. He accepted the unspoken challenge, initiated by himself, and spoke directly to her.
"It's a curious thing, isn't it, my dear, when a mob sends a child ahead of them." He looked at Meg, still crouched on the floor. He held out a hand. She examined it proficiently, the bony fingers and pale skin, before taking it. At first she started at the coldness of his touch, but allowed him to help her up. Once she was standing, he extricated his hand from her grasp, and bowed politely. "And you are?"
"Meg Giry, monsieur," she replied, curtseying awkwardly. "My mother is the ballet mistress." The explanation was unnecessary and seemed clumsy, but for some reason she felt inclined to include it.
"And how does it feel to be staring the Opéra Ghost in the face" he indicated his mask nonchalantly "so to speak?"
"I feel most privileged, monsieur," she replied, glancing across to Christine. She had taken to sitting on the floor, her skirts arranged around her in a circle. She was watching their every move, her previous threat still implied.
"Privileged? Surely you flatter me?" he said. Meg was certain he might have been laughing, but she could not tell. "Doubtless the rumours are still rife?"
Unsure of how to answer, Meg pretended not to have a clue what he was talking about. "Rumours, monsieur?"
"Yes, child, rumours," he repeated, somewhat irritably. "Are the stories of the hideous Phantom still being told amongst the dancers?" She nodded, meekly, realising in an instant that he was not only testing Christine, but herself. "And what will you tell them when you return?" He was met with confused silence once again. "Come now, you've been missing for quite a time, my dear." He emphasised those two words, and looked at Christine, observing the almost imperceptible pang of jealousy that ran through her. Turning back to Meg, he continued: "Assuming that I let you go and you return safely to your companions, they are bound to be curious. They will want to know where you have been…. what you have witnessed and heard… who you have spoken to. Correct?"
She nodded again, not having thought that far ahead. Before he could ask again, she replied: "I will say that I got lost in the tunnels and waited for the rest of them to come back." He nodded, accepting it. Nodding his head again, this time in the direction of Christine, he added:
"And what about Miss Daaé?"
"I have not seen her since the performance of 'Don Juan Triumphant'," she said. Christine thanked her silently for somehow knowing what was going on. There was no earthly way she could understand the exact situation, but she was doing her best to make it right.
A ponderous silence ensued, and after several seconds, he moved silently to the organ and sat down. Christine stood as he sat, resulting in a curious mirror effect. What are you doing? Is this some childish ploy to make me jealous? I thought more of you than that. She watched in awe as he beckoned Meg to stand near the organ, in the exact place where Christine had practised countless times. Opening a manuscript, he readied himself to play.
"Tell me, do you sing?" he asked.
"A little," she admitted. "I'm not as good as some of the others… not as good as Christine." In her own way she was attempting to turn the tables, by now fully aware of what he was up to.
Pointing to the manuscript, he said, "Do you know this one?"
"Oh yes! That's one of my favourites." Her enthusiasm was unintentional and she instantly regretted it, wishing she had said 'no'. He laughed lightly, revelling in his game.
"I wonder… should I do a neat swap?" He gestured to each girl in turn. "Miss Daaé… for Miss Giry?" Meg was appalled by the idea, overcoming her intense curiosity, and Christine… she was livid. Rage flashed in her eyes at his suggestion. Revenge is your plan, I see. Revenge for my own betrayal. I will prove you wrong; I will not run away in tears like the girl I once was. Do what you must, but know this: only one of us can be victorious tonight, and although I fear it will be you, I know in my heart it will be me… But I hope, with every ounce of my being, that it will be neither of us…
He looked at her, reading her thoughts effortlessly. "Come now, my dear. Let your friend have a chance to be taught by the Angel of Music." After flexing his fingers, he began to play the piece. "Sing." It was a command, not a request. Christine watched, transfixed, as Meg started, just as she had done. As the song progressed, her technique gradually improved and she grew louder and more confident. Is this what he did to me? How strange to observe it from the outside… but I will not let him control her as he did me. This has to stop. As if sensing her thoughts, Meg realised what was happening and stopped herself. She ended abruptly on a high note, and the resulting screech echoed around the room. She backed away from the organ, terrified of what his reaction would be. When he did not turn around, it only served to increase her terror, and in desperation she ran over to Christine, knowing, somehow, that he would not harm her.
Slowly, he turned to look at them both. "Bravo, Miss Giry." Something in his tone was unsettling. "You have a stronger will than I imagined… stronger even than Christine's, I see."
Rounding on him, both frustrated and comforted by the bars that still separated them, Christine spoke. "How could I be strong when you invaded my mind?! I did not ask you to come to me, to teach me, to captivate me! Everything I have done has been because of your wishes and demands, but when I do something within my control, you torment me. I returned to you out of guilt, loyalty, duty… perhaps even..." she stopped. Could she admit it to him? Could she admit it to herself? Collecting her fragmented thoughts, she tried again: "perhaps even… something more. I doubt you would even stop me if I walked away again now." Rather than attempt to prove her theory, however, she remained where she was. "I walked away from you the first time because you made me - I am powerless to resist your demands and you know it! - but the second time, wrongly or not, it was by choice. You have used me as nothing more than a musical box, a mannequin to sing your opera, and still I returned to you once more." She sensed herself becoming emotional and disliked the feeling - it meant that she was losing her control to him again. At the same time, it reassured her… at least it was an indication that she could still feel. "I had hoped for your forgiveness, hoped that you would understand. But how can you understand when I barely understand it myself - see what you've made of me?! I allowed myself to be controlled by you because I feared you so, wondered in anticipation what terrible deed you would perform next. I didn't want to contemplate that you might eventually turn on Raoul."
At the mention of that name, the man before her seemed suddenly more alert, stopping her in her tracks. She knew it was a mistake to bring it up, but she had gotten carried away. Patiently, she waited for a further reaction.
Throughout her impassioned speech he had listened intently, every comment cutting through him like a knife - it was all true, after all. Now, however, he was determined to establish something, and thought carefully how to word it. They stood approximately a foot apart in a similar stance, as if in a stand off. Meg had backed herself further away as Christine spoke and was now positioned at a far end of the portcullis, still close to it.
"Miss Giry," he said, instantly grasping her attention. "Move over to the far wall. At approximately your eye-level there is a switch." She ran over, her feet not making a sound.
"I see it."
"It controls the gate." He had no need to say more. She instantly pressed the switch and the portcullis growled to life, rising slowly. As it travelled upwards, Meg made her way back over to it in the hope of escape; Christine remained stationary, determined not to make her joy obvious. When the lowest part had reached her ankles, the growling and clanging stopped and she, somehow, knew that he was going to speak.
"Today has been… interesting, Christine. The morning I barely remember; rehearsals, I assume. The early evening… well that would be "Don Juan". I neglected to tell you in all this nonsense" he used the term lightly "how wonderful you were. I was so very proud of you tonight." The gate had reached her knees. There was a long way to go yet. "So very proud. You exceeded my every expectation. If it hadn't been for that damned boy and his army of policemen, none of this would have happened. I knew it was a mistake to bring you down here again, but you made me so angry. It was the only way I could think of keeping you." Something about the way he said that implied she was more than a possession, and her own anger dissipated slightly. "Of course, I wasn't the only one, was I? That boy of yours, he's certainly persistent, one might even call him dedicated if he weren't so infuriatingly irritating. I had to know… which of us you would choose. If that meant threatening his life to test your loyalty then that's what I would do… what I did do." He stopped. He remembered with painful clarity how bitterly he had made her choose between them - You try my patience. Make your choice! - and the absolute shock when she had. Something in him changed then, provoking him to let them both leave unharmed. Then, he recalled the agony of having to watch her leave of her own accord, when he was so, so close to having her.
The gate had reached her waist. We're only halfway there… she thought, never taking her view off his continually changing expression. It was difficult to tell under the mask, but she was sure she saw tears glistening in his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he continued. "Christine… I have to know… your choice… was it for me? Or was it for him?"
Almost instantly, she replied: "What makes you think it was for either of you? It was, quite literally, my choice." Knowing somehow that he would understand, she expressed in thought what she was unable to tell him. How could I let you murder Raoul? How could I let you murder anyone? I have lost count of the amount of people who have suffered through all of this - la Carlotta, Buquet, Piangi, those poor Managers. Raoul only tortured himself because he thought I was in danger, when all along I knew… I knew you would never hurt me. I had to save him. In amazement, she suddenly realised her thoughts had cleared, and she was capable of speaking her mind outright without it being nonsensical. Surprising him after the silence, she spoke with clarity and reason. "I had to save him. But by saving him I saved you. What would that crowd have done, do you think, if they found the Vicomte, their patron, dead by your hand? You would not be standing here as you are now. And what might they have done to me when they discovered I was the cause of his death? I might not be dead, but my career would most certainly be over. My choice saved us all." She paused. The portcullis had now reached her upper arms, a few inches short of her shoulders. Something had to happen before it cleared her head, before she was completely vulnerable. "I was going to leave him, run back to you, but common sense took over my thoughts. I no longer needed you, nor you me; our time together was over." This obviously pained him, to hear that she imagined he no longer needed her. She saw his despair, and, conversely, wished the portcullis would hurry - it had now reached her neck. "But how could I leave? Knowing that at any second a crazed, uneducated and ignorant mob might descend upon you… knowing that without me, you would refuse to put up a fight. I realised the guilt I felt for betraying Raoul paled in comparison to that of leaving you… so I came back, sent them on a crazed mission back to where they came from."
It had reached her eyes, partially obscuring her vision. She wondered if he would still be there when the dull grey cleared. Only a few more inches… He wanted to reach out, to hold her, to touch her, but he did not. He waited. "Why..? Why did you come back to me? After all that I have done to you."
Recalling what she said to Meg earlier, she replied: "Because I made my decision. I can't deny it any longer." Again, she was deliberately cryptic, but this time, the meaning was fully understood. The last of the wrought iron spikes rose over their heads, the barrier now broken between them. They stood apart still, the conversation swimming in both of their minds.
Meg had watched the whole thing, completely enthralled. She had completely forgotten her fear and her longing to flee from the strange place. Now she was free to go, she found herself unable to leave, curious as to what might happen next. She felt as though she was intruding, but knew she had not even been noticed. The tension was starting to build again and she found it somewhat annoying, wondering with intense anticipation what was going to happen…
After an interminable silence, he spoke. The words were simple and softly spoken, barely above a whisper… "Welcome home, my dear." The sentence was innocent, but dripped with unexpressed adoration. Silently, Christine stepped over the invisible threshold and bridged the river between them, immediately burying herself in his embrace. It was warm, she realised, not cold as she had expected… but she was unsure whether the warmth was her own or his. Perhaps, she decided, it was simply theirs, the final combination of their anger, grief and euphoria having been stretched to interminable limits. A perfect calm after a storm of emotions, where only one remained, floating high above the rest…
Meg inexplicably found herself crying, although she had no recollection of what had triggered it. Instinctively, she searched for a handkerchief about her person, simultaneously remembering that she had no pockets. She looked up to see one hovering in front of her nose and saw it was his. She hesitated to take it, looking to Christine for support and seeing only happiness on her face.
"Go ahead," she said. "Take it." Everything was briefly correct in the universe, as Meg accepted the proffered handkerchief and dried her tears. She made to give it back but was halted by his hand.
"Keep it, child. Think of it as a memento. A gift from the Phantom." His voice was different… the edge of danger was gone, replaced by something that could only be described as bliss. Meg nodded, smiled, and held the handkerchief close. Whatever it was Christine felt, she was feeling it too, in some small way.
Urgency then ensued as Christine realised something hideous. "The mob… they'll realise what's happened. They may be on their way right now!" she said, panicked. A dark look crept over his features and he seemed to shrink from the girls.
"You should go. Both of you."
Christine immediately realised what he was saying, shaking her head frantically. "No. Not again. I am never leaving you." Her brain tried to plan again. "Raoul… I told him I would wait in his carriage - it should still be outside… We can get away from here, return Meg to the main building…"
He shook his head. "It's too dangerous. I would only slow you down."
"You are as nimble as a cat. If anything it would be the other way around." She was trying to reassure him and convince him that her plan would work. Time was their enemy as Meg strained to listen across the lake.
"I hear them, Christine! They're coming!" she exclaimed. Looking on, she was hit with the same pang of feelings as her friend, as the man she had risked everything for tried to make her leave.
"Christine, you must go. Both you and Miss Giry." He did not want to ask her such things, after all they had just been through. Taking her hands in his, he gazed into her eyes, trying to ignore the hurt and confusion he found there. "Leave me here."
"Why? Why should I let them find you?"
"They believe they are doing the right thing by seeking revenge. Everything I have done has been only for you. I have to pay for my crimes." His voice was calm, a façade to cover the turmoil he was experiencing within.
"They will kill you!" She could hear them now, faintly, approaching with new members of their group. In a few more minutes they would be upon them.
"Then so be it." He gestured for Meg to go to the corner, and she obeyed unquestioningly. There, she found a door, and behind it, a staircase. "That leads to the Grand Foyer." Meg nodded her assent, but refused to leave without Christine. "In a few more minutes they will arrive." His demeanour finally began to crack, and his voice wavered. "They will punish me as they see fit. Leave now so that you do not have to witness it… and so that my last memory will be of you. Know that your Creature of Heaven will love you still, even in death."
Christine's tears flowed freely at his words. There was no earthly way she could contemplate leaving again. She was as stubborn as him, however, and was not going to back down. In a final desperate attempt, she surprised him by suddenly leaning forward to meet him with a kiss. As before it expressed everything she was unable to put into sentences, as time around them halted. While their world stood still, however, she knew it would not stop the oncoming crowd, and ended their contact just as quickly.
"If you love me, you will not make me go, but come with me. Do not make me endure any more guilt, I beg of you, or I may end up dead myself. We can both be free of this world of darkness…" For three painful, arduous seconds, he weighed the situation, looking at Meg to see her silent plea for him to agree, then shifting his gaze to Christine, seeing a myriad emotions running through her eyes before finally finding the one he had been searching for - the one which would mean life or death to them both. As the sound of the mob became clearer, he made his decision.
With his hand never leaving her own, he led the way up the staircase. Meg was the last to leave, shutting the almost invisible door behind her. It closed silently, a split second before the crowd rushed into the room through the entrance left by the portcullis. They stopped as one being, descending into confused and irritated silence as they realised their plan had been foiled.
The three of them emerged somewhere in the vicinity of the Grand Staircase, appearing through a small door built into the wall, hidden until opened. They ran towards the main doors and the awaiting carriage, their chariot out of Hell. Christine allowed him to board first and instructed the driver to wait a few more seconds. She turned to Meg, and they hugged their goodbyes. As Christine herself climbed aboard, she said: "Remember, Meg, tell no-one what you have seen. Not even your mother."
"I promise." As a final gesture of good will, she added: "Good luck." Christine smiled and nodded her thanks, then disappeared inside the carriage. She spoke with the driver and it moved away.
Meg waved once as they departed, then watched until the vehicle had disappeared into the night. When she could no longer see or hear it, she turned and walked back inside the building, realising it was now completely empty and attempting to work out what the time was. It must be past midnight by now she thought, and knew her mother would be angry at her lateness. Shrugging, deciding that a few more minutes would not make much difference, she made her way back to her dressing room. Her walk turned into a graceful dance, as she pirouetted and skipped down the corridors. Before she knew it, she was singing, the same song she had tried not an hour before, marvelling in the discovery that her voice had greatly improved.
She had been witness to a fantastic event, and subjected to the creation of song. Her experience below the Opéra had been both terrifying and exhilarating, and the secret she now held would be with her as long as she lived…
A mile down the road, the carriage of the Vicomte travelled silently, with no sound from its occupants. Freedom was their only destination…
*applause now please* I finished it! And, yes, I know the ending sucks, my endings always do… but at least it HAS an ending! *jumps around the room* I finished it! The story tried to beat me, but I won! I beat it at it's own game and finally completed it! HA! That'll teach things to try and write themselves! I'm the Queen of the Universe! WOOHOO!