Author's Note: I've been a Phantom fan since I first heard "Music of the Night", at about age 9 - I knew I loved it immediately, but was a bit too little to really understand why. It was a few years beyond that before I listened to the musical score in its entirety and figured out that the guy who sang that song didn't actually get his girl. It was moderately traumatic (hey, I was 12). I've been an Erik/Christine 'shipper since - though I'll admit to being troubled about it. Erik is violent, unstable, and obsessive. Not traits one ought to seek out in a significant other. Still, I find their story compelling - so, here I am contributing yet another alternate (improved?) ending to their tale. I hope to actually deal with those issues that make me uneasy about them; I'll let you reader-type people judge whether I've done it well.

What spawned this particular story . . I recently watched the 2004 movie. (I've still yet to see the musical performed live.) It bugged me - it made me want to yell at the screen - that Christine seemed perfectly happy (or at least resignedly miserable) to let everyone else do her thinking for her. So here . . she doesn't. This is what might have happened if Christine had hit her point of no return in a slightly more timely fashion.

First few lines/lyrics are borrowed, to set the scene . . you should be able to recognize where it starts to be mine [hint: it becomes prose and not lyrics . . though I wove in a few lyrics, too. Hell, if you're reading this, you know what's not mine.

"What you heard was a dream and nothing more... "

"Yet in his eyes all the sadness of the world; those pleading eyes, that both threaten and adore.. "

"Christine, Christine... "


Christine flinched at the sound of that voice, eyes going round. No – no, not up here – She waited for it to come again. There was nothing but the frigid wind, but it made no difference – he was here, she could feel it now. Oh, Angel, why –

Then Raoul was in front of her, his hands warm on her shoulders, his eyes unwavering and real before her face. "No more talk of darkness," he murmured, clearly thinking to sooth her. "Forget these wide-eyed fears." She met Raoul's gaze, her heart battering against her ribs like something trapped. This cold cannot be doing my voice any good. The Angel would not approve. She felt a bubble of hysteria floating up through her gut, dizzy lightness filling her head even as bile rose in the back of her throat. Raoul's hands were so very solid on her shoulders, but his eyes –

He did not believe her.

"I'm here," he pressed, voice hushed and low, a tone to be used with a frightened animal. "Nothing can harm you."

It was almost enough – it almost didn't matter, that he clearly thought her mad. She felt mad, teetering on the edge of a dream, and wasn't this what she'd wanted for so many years? Hadn't she imagined this so often, that her Raoul would come to spirit her away? Hadn't she imagined, as she wrapped her bleeding toes and prayed to do better the next day, prayed not to be thrown out in the street, the life that he must have? No living being could have had so perfect a childhood as the Raoul in her head – an untouchable, sparkling existence, free of death and pain, to which she might escape at any moment. He would remember her, she knew, some day. He would come. Hadn't her angel of music come?

But her angel had fallen and Raoul, who had loved her father's stories as much as she, did not believe her tale. His hands on her were suddenly heavy, the warmth of his eyes a leaden weight. She remembered the brightness of his smile when he appeared in her dressing room, all the boyish mischief she remembered still there, and if he was arrogant, it was endearing. It was only to be expected, wasn't it?

But he hadn't come for her; he'd been delighted and amused to see her, yes - but if he'd remembered her, it had been only in that moment. She had only to see the consternation on his face now to know that no ghost of little Lotte had shared their years apart with him. He had not imagined what her life might be, and he did not now. This creature she had become confused him, troubled him.

It would be so very easy to let him sooth her anyway – to let him take her away and shelter her, as he was so fervently promising. Yesterday, when she believed in angels, it might have been enough.

She stepped away.

"Christine?" Raoul's frown deepened. It looked very strange on his handsome, unlined faced.

"What must you think of me?" Christine asked, with a watery little laugh. When he reached for her again, she raised her fingers to her eyes and scrubbed away her tears – just happenstance, that it put her elbows up between them. "Listen to me, babbling about nightmares and dreams."

"You've had a fright," he insisted.

"Yes," she allowed, squeezing her eyes shut until she saw stars, then blinking, tears gone, the world settling back into focus. "Yes, but I think the cold air has done me good. It was very kind of you, to let me drag you out here. I was raving -"

"No," he assured her, far too quickly, and didn't reach for her again. "You were understandably distraught, after - my God, Christine, I could think this not a theatre but a madhouse! I will speak -"

She laughed – an inelegant, half-thwarted giggle – and then clapped a mortified hand over her mouth.

" – to the new managers," Raoul finished, something reticent creeping into his voice.

"A madhouse," she repeated, sighing unsteadily and hoping he could see in her eyes how sorry she was; she should never have brought him up here, but some part of her had clung to this, the very last promise of her childhood. "It – it is, I suppose, though -" she struggled to find the right words. "- it is a strange sort of madness, a kind of chaos that can be clarity all its own, that can be full of energy and life and -" He was frowning at her in utter lack of comprehension. "Oh, Raoul, it's always been mad, only – only masked," she tried to explain; she twisted her fingers fretfully, feeling as though something was missing. Her rose, she realized, looking down at her empty hands – she'd dropped it. "What you saw tonight is only what is always there, behind the curtain, at least until -" Christine swallowed queasily. She could feel tears gathering again, and pressed the heels of her hands hard into her eyes. She sensed Raoul's hand lifted towards her, and backed away, shaking her head. "- until poor Buquet," she concluded, forcing the words out on a shakily expelled breath. "Poor Buquet," she whispered. "That I cannot explain away."

"Buquet," Raoul repeated blankly.

"The man who died," Christine responded, soft and level.

"I hadn't thought – of course you would have known him," Raoul said, looking momentarily relieved to have an explanation for her hysteria. Then he frowned again. "I suppose I hadn't really thought of you living here, among -" he stopped, and seemed to think better of his words. "- all that," he finished lamely, gesturing at his feet.

No, Christine thought, lowering her eyes. You hadn't thought of me at all, until you saw me on the stage, bright and shining enough to belong in your world – but it's only paint and mirrors. Only clever masks.

"I heard a voice," Raoul ventured pensively, staring off into the snow. "All the theatre did, but I say it was only a man's voice, no spirit or specter. But perhaps -" he his frown deepened. "- perhaps a different sort of fiend, only a man, but a murderer -"

"No!" Christine responded instantly. Raoul turned back to her, brow still furrowed in determined concentration.

"Did you not just say -" he began.

"I dreamed," Christine insisted. "I dreamed Raoul, it was just as you said – I believed -" she looked down at her tangled fingers; they were growing white with the cold, her nails a deathly shade of blue. "- you will think it very foolish of me, but I – I dreamed that my angel of music was real." His hand settled on her shoulder, and she allowed it; her insides felt as wrung and twisted as her fingers, and as cold. "But the dream, it turned to nightmare – angel turned to monster -"

"But this voice," Raoul protested gently. "Christine, are you certain -"

"It was only in my mind that they were one in the same," she responded in a low murmur, eyes still downcast. "It was only the memory of my horrible nightmare that made me think of murder. This Opera Ghost, he has always been here – as long as I can remember, leaving his notes – but he only makes mischief, and very often, his interference is for the best in the end. I – I cannot think he would have killed Buquet. What sense is there to that?"

Her voice rose and trembled on the question, her mask of calm reason wavering; somewhere down in her throat was a banshee's despairing wail – what sense, what sense? Why? Angel, why? Yet she could betray him no further, holding her frail silence and keeping her eyes at the level of Raoul's very fine coat.

"You are describing a madman," Raoul objected. "What sense would he need?"

She wished fervently that she knew.

"We're all mad here," Christine whispered. "Isn't that what you said?"

"No, Christine, I never meant -"

"I know," she reassured him hastily, giving him a sad smile. She untwisted her fingers and brought one shivering hand up to his cheek. He was only dear, sweet Raoul, who had been her childhood friend, and could not understand that childhood had ended. It was a folly she understood well, and thus forgave easily – it was not his fault at all that she preferred the memory, the ghost of him, to the man before her. "I know, and I swear to you, I am now perfectly sane. There have been accidents like Buquet's before. The ghost is just – a peculiar sort of consultant, you might say. It is hardly his fault that . . that his voice became tangled up with my sorry dreams."

Raoul sighed; he stood close enough that his warm breath ruffled her hair. "An accident," he repeated, resigned. He reached up to take her hand and hold it before him, clasped in both of his. He studied it, as if her chill, pale fingers might give their own explanations. "I'd never thought of a theatre as a dangerous place."

"You've never climbed up into the flies," Christine pointed out. "You saw the commotion – he must have been running. He must have tripped, and the rope -" She could not finished the sentence; she wanted so very desperately to believe it. There had been other falls – feet caught in the ropes –

It was very quiet; his hands felt almost hot, compared to the iciness of her own skin.

"Christine, I'm so sorry about your father," Raoul confessed to her shivering hand. "I'm so sorry I wasn't there."

"There was nothing anyone could have done," Christine managed to choke out, though her throat wanted to close, and she had to blink furiously to keep her tears from falling.

"I could have been a friend to you, as I'd promised," Raoul insisted. "I can see - I won't make you speak more plainly, you've been through enough tonight, and I can see that you . . you love this mad place. I can't understand it, but swear to me you're safe here, and I won't interfere in it."

"I am safe here," Christine whispered, and prayed that it was true. "And I thank you."

"Will you allow me to fulfill my promise now?" he asked, releasing her hand and tilting her chin up to meet his so very earnest gaze. "Will you let me be a friend to you?"

"Of course," she answered, voice wobbling. "Of course we will always be friends."

"My little Lotte," Raoul said, and smiled; Christine felt vaguely as if her heart were shattering into a thousand shimmering pieces. He did not think of me, all the time I dreamt of him – but here stands little Lotte's ghost before him now, hovering between us, so that he cannot see me at all. She smiled back as best she could, and his whole face brightened – reassured as easily as that, that everything was now put right between them. "And as your friend, I should take you inside where it is warm. Your lips are turning very blue, little Lotte, and you're shivering like – like a struck gong. Do you have such a thing, here, in your orchestra pit?" He took her hands again in his, chafing them gently for warmth, and pulled her towards the door.

"I believe we do," Christine replied. She let him guide her, just for a few steps, but when he would have led her inside, she drew her hands away.

"Would you give me a moment alone?" she asked.

"Alone? Up here?" His brow furrowed again.

"Just a moment to compose myself," Christine hurried to explain. "A moment to go through my exercises, before I sing -"

"But I'd love to hear you sing," Raoul countered, smiling winningly. "I will stay here with you, and hold your hands, so the frost does not bite at your fingertips." It was such a dear, clever, Raoul sort of thing to say; Christine found that the bits of her heart could break all over again.

"No, Raoul, please," Christine retorted gently. "I need solitude, just for a few moments – you will hear me sing very soon."

"From my box," Raoul protested, "like everyone else! Let me hear you first."

"Please," she said simply; his face said clearly that he did not like it. He frowned, and Christine thought he would argue, but then the frown slid into a sad, off-kilter little smile such as she had never seen before on his face; he looked suddenly so much older.

"As my lady wishes," he acknowledged, and gave her a deep and courtly bow; he pulled the door softly shut, watching her through the narrowing crack all the while. It closed with a soft click, then silence; a long moment later, Christine heard brisk footsteps descending the stairs.

She turned and leaned back against the door, splaying her hands flat across the frigid surface, inhaling shakily, and closing her eyes. Across the rooftop, she head soft footsteps crunching in the snow, emerging from behind the furthest statue. Christine opened her eyes and saw an elegant figure in black watching her; she exhaled, and her breath was a plume of smoke.

"A fine performance," he acknowledged, and bowed his masked head to her. "But for whom was it given? Myself? Your Vicomte? Or perhaps you've assigned parts to us both – so who shall I be? Angel? Demon? Or, what was it – oh yes – a peculiar sort of consultant. How very tamed that sounds." There was a growl to his tone.

I should be afraid, thought Christine, but was only cold. "It was no performance," she answered quietly. "Or if it was, I forgot myself in the role." She pushed herself shakily away from the door, and walked to him. He was very still as he waited, but up close she could see that he was trembling. His breathing was rapid and shallow, his posture rigid, his fists clenched. The unmasked side of his face was pale and sallow, particularly about the mouth, which was ever so slightly parted. His heated breath created a small fog about his face, through which she could see him watching her almost fearfully.

All together, he appeared more as one who had just received a terrible shock, than one who had delivered the same. She reached out and took one of his gloved hands; he flinched violently, trying to jerk away from her grasp, but she clung, and waited, looking up into his face. He met her gaze with the wild, dilated eyes of a captured animal, staring as if spellbound, panting audibly. She could feel his pulse under her fingers, even through the leather glove.

A creature trapped and panicked may bite, even the hand that would free it, whispered a voice in the back of her mind as she waited, her own pulse rising to match the furious rhythm of his. She thought of Raoul, waiting in his box, warm and comfortable and surrounded by velvet and gold. She was mad to be here. We are all mad here. We are all masked specters, all attended by ghosts. Her angel's breathing slowly quieted, though it remained quick and tense; her pulse quickened its step as she looked down at his hand and carefully, gently pried his fingers open.

There were thin, sharp fibers embedded in the soft leather of the glove – little fragments of rope.

"Christine -" he whispered, and it was almost a sob. His shaking turned to shuddering, his whole body wracked with it; she wondered how he could even stand. A strange, frozen calmness had settled in the center of her body. Her pulse settled; her breathing came even and untroubled. She pressed his hand closed again, and then wrapped both of hers around it and pulled it to her, above her heart, so that when she ducked her head his knuckles were beneath her chin. So near to her lips, as near as she dared – she would have kissed his hand, as one kisses a child's hurts and promises to make them better, but there was the leather of his glove between them. "Christine -" he choked, seeming robbed of all language, save for her name.

"When I was very small," Christine began, "My father told me stories of many things – tales he heard as a boy, in the land of his birth. I remember it very little – I remember cold, and candles, and his voice speaking of things fey and wondrous, beautiful and terrible. When I came here -" her voice wavered. "- I imagined all of them living just under my floor, making the walls creak, whispering from the corners. I was so frightened, so sad. It was easy to conjure monsters – and easier to conjure friends than to find real companions." She looked up at him then, his hand still clutched tightly to her chest. "But you were real, flesh and blood, all this time – I imagined you, and you imagined me, and we're neither of us -" her breath hitched, and there was something hot about her eyes and cold on her cheeks. She hadn't realized she was crying. "- neither of us what the other imagined. You were sovereign of my fairy-tale kingdom, my Angel of Music – but you're not – you're not my angel -"

She hadn't meant to sound so accusing, or so heartbroken. She'd only intended to explain the horrible things she'd first said to Raoul, word she thought she had spoken in shock, in terror, in confusion. It was alarming to realize she felt neither frightened nor confused – she felt betrayed and abandoned and lost, just as she had when she first knelt in the chapel and prayed for the angel her father had promised her.

"Christine," he murmured again, miserably. His hand tugged free of hers and reached up to brush at her tears. The leather was cold.

"You killed a man," she said, and could have choked on the shame of that conspiratorial whisper, hating him for it. "Why?" She wailed, but so quietly.

His hand drew away, and he stepped back from her. His posture changed; he seemed almost to shrink. Her angel was a broken, shaking, beaten creature before her; she swallowed down a sudden wave of revulsion, all stirred together with love and pity and loneliness, all of it curdling in her gut.

"Why?" she demanded again, more sharply, and loathed herself for the touch of hot satisfaction she felt at his wince. She stepped towards him, so that they stood once more close enough to touch. "Why?"

"Would you have me caught?" he asked hoarsely. "Are you no different than all the rest of the world? Should I be caged like a dangerous beast?" His voice rose as he spoke, ending in a shout, his back straightening. She took a nervous step backward, suddenly uncertain.

"Caged?" she asked, frowning, shaking her head in confusion. "Angel, I don't -"

"I am no angel!" he thundered, looming over her; she stumbled back and tripped. He caught her elbow and pulled her hard against him. "I am a creature from the deepest pit of hell!" he raged, his face inches from hers.

"I don't understand!" she protested, shaking her head furiously, trying to pull away. Her hair whipped about her face. It caught on his mask, and the porcelain slipped, just a fraction of an inch. With a strangled cry he threw her away from him, his hand flying up to his face, holding the mask in place. She scrambled backward, lurching and stumbling; she stopped, sprawled in the snow, perhaps three paces from him.

He stood, shoulders hunched and clutching the mask, staring at her in stricken horror. Christine could only gasp for air, each breath a great, hiccoughing sob. She cradled her elbow to her chest.

"I am the Devil's child," he whispered. "Christine -" he reached for her, and she flinched; he pulled his hand back as if burned. "I – he – he pursued me! Hunted me!" His voice was rising again, not in anger now, but rather a desperate, panicked wail. "He'd seen me – I knew he'd seen me, he'd seen my face, I heard the sordid tales he told -" He was frantic, speaking almost too quickly to be understood. "- stories to frighten pretty girls, pretty girls – Christine -" His voice faded out, his hand lifting once more as if to touch her, and he took half a broken, thwarted step towards her before he reigned himself in.

"He was too close, Christine, too close, and tonight he followed me – followed me, chased me, just steps behind me, he would have hunted me down like an animal – I would have been caught -" he stopped, and swallowed shakily, and his voice went even softer. " – but that's not right," he confessed, in a strange, frightened tone. "Not right, is it? He ran. He found me out and – and he ran! He ran from me! I chased – I chased him, Christine, he was frightened – frightened of this monster who belongs in a cage -" His voice was horrible, a rasping, inhuman hiss. " – he ran, and -" He looked down at his hands, open before him.

Christine drew her knees up to her chest, huddling in her skirts and shaking her head in denial, crying.

"I felt -" He still stared down at his hands, but his voice had changed again. It was cold and hollow as the wind now, as quiet, as inexorable. "Christine, I felt – in that moment, he fell away – just fell away – and I felt – no one would ever cage me again. I was a god. I was free." There was no joy in his words, no human feeling at all. "No one would ever cage me again." He said it so softly she almost didn't hear. "Christine, I never meant to. I never meant to." He drew in a deep and ragged breath, and straightened, hands dropping limp to his sides. He faced her silently, awaiting her judgment.

Christine pushed herself to her feet with shaking hands, swallowing and blinking, forcing back her tears. On legs that seemed too weak to hold her, she walked to him. He did not reach for her, nor she for him. For a moment they just stood facing one another. All our ghosts have fled, Christine thought, abandoned us to inherit this terrible, senseless world. We are all mad here. "Who ever caged you?" she asked.

He did not answer, though she felt him tense, and begin once more to tremble. She waited.

Then he turned, so abruptly that she gasped, his cloak swirling around him like dark wings, and disappeared over the side of the roof.

Christine was, at first, too stunned to move. Gradually blood seeped its way back into her frozen throat. "Angel?" she whispered. The wind and the snow and the deepening dark did not answer her. "Angel?" Her voice rose in alarm and she ran, heedless of the ice, to the point from which he'd leapt.

There was no body on the ground below, no gathering crowd. Christine swallowed, and swallowed again, trying to force down the awful, almost painful pounding of her heart. He must have alighted on some ledge, or perhaps swung into a window. She started to lean over the edge, hoping to see where he'd gone. A gust of wind buffeted her, and her hand slipped on the edge, one fingernail catching on the stone and cracking down the quick. For a moment her fingers clutched empty, frigid air, and she felt herself go weightless, her feet just feathers beneath her, easily swept away. The vast distance between her and the earth below gaped wide and cold – her heart did not beat, her lungs forgot their purpose, her voice went still in her throat.

She lurched backward, stumbled two steps, and found her feet had grown solid again. Her throat worked, devoid of moisture. The air stung her wide, round eyes.

Christine stood perfectly still for several seconds. Then she cleared her throat, turned very deliberately back toward the stairs, and began to sing a tremulous scale. In a moment she was cursing herself that she had not done as she'd told Raoul she would, and exercised her voice. All that crying and shouting could not have helped. When the door shut behind her and the warm air of the theatre closed around her, it was difficult even to breath.

"Christine?" Meg Giry peered into the dressing room. "Christine, are you still here?"

"Here, Meg," Christine called from the farthest corner, beside the mirror. She sat curled into the wall, wrapped in her dressing gown and wrapping a bit of black ribbon about her fingers. A deep red rose lay on the floor beside her, beginning to whither.

"It's so late," Meg protested, tiptoeing across the room to her friend. "I was worried you'd gone missing again." Meg's eyes darted to the mirror, but Christine paid her nervous glances no attention; instead she made a sound that was half a laugh and half a sob, and shook her head in fervent denial. "You were so brave tonight," Meg pressed on determinedly, hoping her words would be a comfort. "I don't know how you did it. It was hard enough for me to remember my steps, I know I could not have sung a note."

"My voice was not its best," Christine argued quietly, still staring down at the ribbon. Meg reached out and took hold of those tangled fingers; they were terribly cold. "Meg, you were right," Christine suddenly blurted out, her voice cracking.

"About what?" Meg asked gently.

"That – that stories -" Christine choked, swallowing rapidly, obviously trying to hold back tears. Then she gave in, and flung herself on her friend. Meg gave a small cry, startled, but Christine didn't seem to hear, sobbing desperately. Meg had not seen her so undone since they were little children; she wrapped her arms carefully about Christine's back, stroking her hair.

"Shhhh, it's alright," Meg murmured as best she could, though she felt unsteady and overwhelmed herself.

When Christine had first come to the Opera House, she'd done nothing but cry, and the other girls had mocked her – even Meg had gone along with it, she was shamed to remember, despite her mother's disappointed glaring. Gradually Christine had settled in, changing from their little banshee girl – a nickname a temperamental red-haired dancer had given her, for all her wailing, keeping them all awake at night – to a pale, silent little ghost. She never spoke to anyone, never sought their company.

It was only in the past year or so that Meg had begun to seek Christine out, finding something compelling in the quiet, serious girl – something the rest of her fellow dancers seemed to lack. Meg had taken a certain amount of grief for it, but she didn't mind – perhaps it was due to having her mother about, as none of the other girls did, but at times she felt years and years older than all of them. They cared about nothing but rich men and stolen booze, creams to lighten the complexion and pilfered cigarettes. One day Meg had found herself scolding a young girl with a new lover, exasperated at the girl's foolishness – yes, he gave her pretty things, he'd promised her an apartment and a life away from here, but what if he got her with child? She didn't believe him, did she?

It wasn't until the entire room full of flushed, painted faces had turned on her that she'd realized how very much like her mother she sounded. After that, Meg discovered she much preferred Christine's northland fables and talk of angels to the other dancers' gossiping – perhaps it was more childish still, but Christine was careful and solemn and serious about her voice. She never kept company with men, didn't smoke, and liked to read. When Meg wasn't dancing and Christine wasn't practicing her singing with her strange, reclusive tutor, Meg would ask her to read aloud, and she would, her voice full of the magic of foreign places and strange times. Meg's mother approved of her daughter's new pastime very much.

Meg wished her mother were there now; her mother had always seemed to understand Christine in a way that Meg, fond of her as she had become, could not. Christine was dear to her now, but still unfathomably strange. "Is it Buquet?" Meg ventured tentatively; she'd never noticed Christine to be particularly fond of the man, who was old and gnarled and altogether not that appealing, but then, Buquet had liked to tell stories, and this was Christine. Who knew what might turn Christine's head?

Christine shook her head no, tossing her hair into Meg's face. Meg reached up and plucked a few wayward strands from her lips, then resumed her soothing stroking of the other girl's back. "What, then?"

"You were right," Christine said again, between hiccoughs; Meg sighed as quietly as she could, and wondered if there was still anyone in the ballet who might like her well enough to share whatever manner of drink they'd found. Tonight, there would surely be plenty going around, and Meg thought that Christine might benefit from it. She'd be unused to it, and it'd likely put her straight to sleep.

"Tell me," Meg insisted gently.

"There is no angel," Christine confessed, in the saddest, most pitiful whisper Meg had ever heard. Half of her wanted to roll her eyes in exasperation – was that all? She'd finally realized her father's stories were only make-believe? But the strange, new piece of herself that had led Meg to befriend Christine in the first place heard her friend's heartbreak and mourned. It was inevitable that Christine would someday have to step into the real world, just as it was inevitable that foolish little dancers' lovers would leave them, and that in the sort of chaos that had reigned earlier, someone was bound to be hurt. It was simply the way of the world, and Meg was not often troubled by it – but there was something awful, something wrong about the idea of a disillusioned Christine.

"Hush," Meg ordered softly, pulling her friend tighter. "Hush, none of that. Of course there are angels, real angels up in heaven, even if the one you thought you heard was only a dream. It was a wonderful, useful sort of dream regardless, if it taught you to sing."

Much to Meg's dismay, that only made Christine cry harder.