A/N - Well, here it is - the last chapter. Thank you so much to everyone who's reviewed throughout the course of this story; that's Myotismon13, T'eyla Minh, Avelera, Felicia, Maya :), Angela, Sara, T'Res, AnandaStarChild, Chanita, Paige/ Whinnfaer, LadyRoquiesha, Moria, Jill, Peridot, Veronique, Rilar Cray, guenevereandromeda, Mulder&Scully'sBogusJourney, Moira Brennan, Laura Holmes, Chindra, Silver Space, Lisa, Alexis, Jedi Skysong, Magpie, Melissa, Rhia, KT Malfoy, L'ange de la Nuit, ink'n'imp, morgaine, snapdragon, Azaria, krazychibikatastrophe, Phantwo, isiswhit, Christine Persephone, Horserider, Lil' Nell, Rae, kelly, Nightshade Darkholme, Phantom of the Basement, Gremlin Raven, Hank Riddle, ImperialGirl, Jewel, ja ne, Melissa 'Darkheart' McLaren, Rai, Mitsukai.
Thank you all so so much! It really really does make my day to get lovely reviews from all you wonderful people. :) I love you all very very much.
I'm so sorry this has taken so long! But I find it so hard to actually make them open up and admit they care about each other ... damn insecurity complexes!
I hope it's worth the wait. :)
I've had a few people ask me exactly why this fic is so cliché. I guess the answer is very simple; because that's how I wanted it. I wanted to take a very trite and overused plot (Raoul turns evil, beats up Christine -- returns to Erik and all live happily ever after) ... but to do it differently. Did I succeed? Tell me if you review! :)
Check out my new fic when it's up! (Or when my Muse stops being difficult and gives me something to work with ;)
Lisa; Um, yeah, I think he got changed ... much as I'd love to have him walking around topless (joke! don't kill me!) I don't really think that's him ... ;)
(Oh, I just had a thought - this is chapter thirteen! Do you think that's unlucky?!)
Love peace and E/C forever,
"True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen."
François de la Rochefoucauld
The expressions of pure shock on their faces were really quite amusing; in other circumstances, I might have laughed. It would of course not have occurred to either of them, their both being inherently good people, that their conversation might have been overheard. Really, they hadn't been discreet at all, they deserved to have a thoroughly dishonourable person like me eavesdropping ...
Suddenly aware that my hands were shaking, I folded my arms beneath the cloak it had occurred to me to slip on before leaving the room; the conversation I had overheard was not the one I had feared it would be.
Perhaps it was ungenerous of me to put so little trust in Nadir, and after all the years we had known each other ... but I have less faith in human nature than almost anything else I have ever encountered, and the conversation I had overheard at the cafe had affected me more deeply than perhaps I had liked to admit.
I knew they had seen the paper announcing her husband's death; silently cursing myself for not destroying it as I should have done the moment I had satisfied my morbid curiosity, I had known with a sudden sick certainty that she would not be unattached long ...
She cast one frantic glance at Nadir and rose automatically, crossing the room in a few small, frightened steps and reaching out to brush my cloak away.
"Erik ..." She cast around for words then continued in a distinctly maternal vein; "You should be lying down, you need to rest ... how do you feel?"
I sighed internally; she was determined to make this difficult? Very well ...
I brushed off her anxious queries with an apathetic gesture of my hand, dismissing her concern and keeping her at arms' length. The look she gave me almost broke my heart; hurt and confused, like a small child being pushed away from anticipated affection. She turned and crossed the room, her voice sounding strangely distant, and I could sense her withdrawing from me, summoning all her reserve to stay detached and unhurt by my apparent coldness.
"You do realise that you've been stabbed?" she asked quietly, her back to me and her hair obscuring her face.
"It's nothing serious," I replied mildly. I've had worse ...
She laughed very softly, a sound utterly devoid of mirth that was almost more like a sob. Her retort surprised me; she doesn't get angry and snap at people, as a rule ...
"Oh, don't be impossible, Erik! Do you have any idea how worried we've been?"
"Really." I glanced at Nadir, who met my gaze, looking decidedly uncomfortable, a silent witness to emotion and bitterness he didn't understand.
She turned sharply, her face a picture of incredulity.
"How can you say that?" I wanted to kick myself; she looked like a lost and forlorn little puppy upon rejection, and I cursed myself silently as I caught the glimmer of tears in her eyes.
She sighed, her anger dissipating as she sat down in a chair, her slight figure dwarfed by the high arms and imposing back and smoothed down her tangled cloud of hair, brushing it carelessly back over her shoulders as she buried her face in her hands.
I swore silently at myself, cursing the sarcasm in my nature that renders me unable to give a straight answer to anyone asking anything even resembling a direct question.
"Don't cry, my dear," I said softly. I hate to watch her cry ...
I crossed the room, knelt in front of her, and handed her a handkerchief. However many crises she passes through, she has always been incapable of procuring a handkerchief and keeping it safe about her person for more than about ten minutes.
"I'm not crying," she managed.
I smiled slightly. "You know, my dear," I said mildly, "for an actress, you really are a very poor liar."
She smiled tremulously, rubbing her eyes with her fingers. Even when she has a handkerchief she is incapable of using it!
She sat very still for a few minutes, looking very small, as she recovered her composure, until suddenly Nadir spoke up. His voice gave me a start; I had quite forgotten he was in the room at all, and I would have credited him with better taste - and more prudent judgement - than to interfere in a situation such as this.
I looked up in slight surprise as Nadir made a quiet request of Erik, drawing him away from me over to the other side of the room.
Nadir addressed Erik softly in a foreign language, his voice questioning, in a tone which clearly anticipated a "yes" answer. Erik glanced briefly at me and replied in the same odd Oriental language, his tone wary but the answer clearly the one Nadir had expected.
Nadir was nodding, evidently satisfied by Erik's hesitant assent. His next question sounded almost more like a challenge than anything else. Erik reacted with a soft expletive, for once looking almost embarrassed, turning so that Nadir could no longer see his face. Nadir persisted, his voice soft but urgent, and suddenly I'd had enough.
"If you two don't stop I'll just scream!" I burst out. "I can't stand this; did no one ever tell you how rude it is to conduct private conversations with a third person in the room? If you must have your little arguments, please do it in a language I can understand!"
Erik turned to look at me, the eyes behind the mask quietly amused.
"Forgive me, my dear," he said finally, a touch of amusement flickering in his eyes. "Nadir was just ... interfering in my life. As usual."
Nadir rolled his eyes and made a short comment in his own language under his breath which Erik studiously ignored.
I sighed and looked around the room.
"Nadir ..." I began finally. "I don't mean to be rude, but ..."
"Do get out," said Erik quietly, his back to both myself and Nadir as he faced the black fireplace.
Nadir sighed and glanced back at me.
"Don't cross wires, mademoiselle," he said softly, before leaving the room and closing the door behind him.
A heavy silence seemed to grow until I could stand it no longer.
"All right," I said finally. "Last question."
He raised one eyebrow, a signal for me to continue.
I drew a deep breath and began. "Do you love me?"
He looked up slowly and for once his defences seemed completely beaten down, his heart written in his eyes.
"Yes," he said, very softly. "Always." He turned away, and I could tell by the tremor of his shoulders that he was in tears.
I felt myself go limp with the most acute relief I had ever felt.
"Oh, my God ... thank you ..."
He looked back at me and suddenly, I knew I was going to cry. That he should still care, even a little ... after everything ...
I was aware that he was still watching me warily, waiting for my response to the confession left unsaid for so long, and with a sudden weak relief, I began to cry.
He closed his eyes and drew a deep, shuddering breath before rising and crossing the room to kneel beside me.
"Please don't cry," he said very softly, a trembling note of his own emotion wavering in his voice.
I looked down at him, and began to laugh through my tears with sheer relief. Even now, he misunderstood me ...
"You are ... impossible!" I managed finally, dropping to my knees beside him and burying my face in his starched white dress shirt, pulling him close to me with one arm around his neck.
I could feel him shaking as he put one arm around my shoulders, burying his face in my hair and breathing in deeply as if to calm himself.
"I don't understand," he murmured softly, drawing away to look at me and brushing a lock of hair out of my eyes.
"I do," I whispered, reaching up to his face. I slipped my fingers underneath the mask and pulled it gently away, ignoring his instinctive reaction to shy back. I touched his face lightly, brushing away the tears which spilled out from his yellow eyes.
He pulled me close again, his fingers stroking my hair with a gentle tenderness alien to his usual rigid self-control.
"I love you," I whispered into his shoulder, linking my fingers with his and feeling a tremor run through him at the words.
He was shaking all over by the time we drew apart.
Finally, he rose and walked over to the dresser, opening a drawer and withdrawing a small jewellery box.
He turned back to me and knelt beside me, taking my hand and stroking it with one long finger, not meeting my eyes.
He took a deep breath and opened the small black velvet jewellery box.
"Will you marry me?"
I stared at him for a moment in stunned silence, in which time his eyes took on a horrible flash of doubt, and I could tell he was steeling himself for my rejection and cursing himself for so far disregarding his own harsh boundaries. He closed his eyes and turned away, one hand reaching for the mask, before I caught his hand and tilted his face upward until his eyes met mine.
"Yes," I whispered.
He looked up at me for a moment in shocked uncertainty, then hesitantly reached out and slipped the plain gold ring onto my wedding finger.
I leaned forward and leaned my head against his chest, feeling his arms close around me as his breath escaped in one long sigh and he buried his face in my hair.
I re-entered the room cautiously about an hour later, carrying cups of Erik's bizarre Russian tea.
I nearly dropped both cups at the sight which greeted me.
Erik and Christine were both seated on the floor next to one of the black armchairs, their arms wrapped around each other, Erik's face buried in her hair as she slept. Her breathing rose and fell in harmony with his as he rocked her gently back and forth.
As my eyes went over them one last time, I caught sight of a simple gold ring on the fourth finger of Christine's left hand.
I turned and left the room, closing the door behind me and smiling slightly.
It was as it should be.
~ FIN ~