INTO THE LIGHT

SUMMARY: Pretty much the same summary as "Freedom From Darkness". This is the continuation/companion piece and has mainly the same plot. I'll write a proper summary when I know where it's going, or when I come up with a title, whichever comes first…

DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters, I have Gaston Leroux to thank for them, and Susan Kay to thank for making them more human and a lot easier to work with. And I am eternally grateful to Andrew Lloyd Webber for writing the music that provokes these thoughts and images in my disturbed brain… and I still want to kill (or at least temporarily incapacitate) antonio banderas, perhaps even more so after writing this… but there's nothing new there…

RATING: I would reckon about a PG. And it's E/C, but you all knew that ;)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: That dang "Freedom From Darkness"! It just will not leave me alone! It won't stop gnawing at my brain! It's asking me, in a voice that very much resembles Erik's, to continue it… of this I am absolutely certain. However, it also wants me to write a companion piece. I think it might be lonely :*( So… here's my attempt to kill two fics with one pencil, and do both requests at once (I really must stop listening to things that shouldn't even be talking…) This is the companion piece, done entirely from Erik's POV, which takes off where we left him and Christine at the end of "Freedom…", and includes his version of events. I don't know where this is going, I just started writing it out in the back of my old Creative Writing book from Primary School (seemed appropriate at the time!) and now I have to type it up because I ran out of pages… Anyway, enough with the rambling! Enjoy!

WARNINGS: To Erik fans. Don't worry! Nothing horrible happens to him! You'll just want to be Christine, that's all… well I apologise, you'll just have to substitute your own names for hers! (Incidentally, I can't remember Christine's eye colour, or if we were ever informed of that, so I've made them grey - just like mine :P Wish fulfilment? Moi?) Secondly, you MUST read "Freedom From Darkness" first or this will make no sense. Thirdly, I wanted to get this up, so I finished it quickly, therefore please forgive any discrepancies. I am only human…

Okay, I'll stop now. Enjoy! And please, R&R!

INTO THE LIGHT

©T'eyla Minh Enterprises 2001

Isn't it curious how Fate works? One moment it dashes all of your hopes to the rocks, the next it leaves you walking tenaciously on air, wondering with a certain dread when the tables may turn again to send you crashing to the ground… An hour ago, I never dreamt I would be sitting here, as I am now, so overwhelmed by that most complicated of emotions - happiness. Nor did I imagine I would be in this carriage - in fact, under different circumstances I would probably have blown it up, knowing whom it belonged to. I especially did not contemplate the person with whom I would be taking this mysterious journey…

Christine. Since the very day she arrived in my life, she has permeated my thoughts, infiltrated my dreams, done nothing but torment my soul! I had watched her from afar as I had everyone, but by chance, I heard her sing… her voice was pure, angelic, and yet lacking in so many aspects. Aspects I knew I could teach her, if only she might permit me to do so. And that, she did. It was her first, and I suppose her only, crime. She let me into her life under God knows what allusions, and in doing so, destroyed me. I fell for her, like a fool.

I loved her at first like a father - the father she saw me as in the beginning - but as the weeks and months passed, as I grew to know her, I realised that, far beyond my need to protect and teach her, I was in love with her. Utterly and hopelessly. I admired her, praised her, helped her… and terrified her. And, somehow, I hoped she would overcome her fear and learn to see me for what I was - what I am - a man. A strange one, I'll admit, and of my own volition, but a man nonetheless, lost in a tumultuous ocean of feelings. Need. Want. Desire. And love - damnable adoration so intense and unexpected that it was agony.

She enthralled and captivated me as much as I did her. I knew nothing good would come of my infatuation - nothing ever does - and yet… for the time I yearned for her, and the short time we were together, I was happy. I think she was, too, but had only to admit it to herself. We were both fearful and curious of each other, and our curiosity might have been our downfall… but Christine's curiosity, right from the start, was a turning point for us both. I forgave her for the time she took my mask, but never told her for fear she would not believe me, and because I know she prefers not to be reminded of it. I will probably tell her, when she wakes up, if only to remove that one burden… one of many I hope to overcome, with time.

And time is something we will have plenty of, from this moment. I'm still not entirely certain what transpired only sixty short minutes ago. Christine is most likely as unsure as I am… but what's done is done, and the past is just that - the past. I cannot change it, nor would I want to. The events leading to this moment may have been painful, arduous, even catastrophic on occasion, but I know I enjoyed every second of them…

Christine: my poor angel. She's physically and emotionally weary from her ordeal. It's hardly surprising, however, considering that I feel the same. I'm so tired, but I have to be strong for her now while she sleeps, I must remain awake to protect her from whatever dangers the night may throw in our path. That's another thing I would never have even dared to anticipate - that she would be lost in slumber, so content, in such close proximity to me… almost in my arms, in fact. Her head close to my neck, and her nose almost directly in line with my clavicle, I can feel her light breathing. It seems to have synchronised itself with my heartbeat, a strange waltz occurring between the two. I can smell her hair, without even attempting to - fragranced lightly with a soft perfume, yet laced with the unmistakable odour of the catacombs - musty and comforting. One presumes the latter is from my home, and the perfume, no doubt ridiculously expensive and likely to be thoughtless, a gift from that boy… but the resulting potion is entirely, and only, Christine.

I would willingly remain in this position for eternity, but my arm, the one closest to her and ultimately the one supporting her weight, is complaining, the lack of sensation creeping to my fingertips. What use is a musician who cannot feel his fingers? I know it will wake her if I move it, but the alternative is cut-off circulation and a dull ache afterwards, so regrettably, I'll have to move.

Oh, I hate disturbing her! Watching her sleep, dreams causing her to smile, is, and always has been, one of my guilty pleasures. Would that she knew, I doubt she would sleep within observation distance.

Her head lifts from my shoulder and I shudder involuntarily at the loss of contact there, but relish the opportunity to stretch my arm. She looks at me through tired eyes, almost accusatory.

"I'm sorry I woke you, my dear," I say, reaching over my head to push on the roof of the carriage in a half-hearted attempt to stretch. She yawns, any accusations forgotten.

"Where are we?" she asks, attempting to look out of the window, seeing only the dark of night.

"I wouldn't have the first idea. You chose the destination."

"Well, please wake me when we get there." She's regressed, almost, to a child-like state, as she lays her head on me again. Almost like resting on Papa for a long journey. It is with a certain pride, and inherent anxiousness, that I notice her face is now mere inches from my own, close enough that she could kiss me with a movement of her head. Or, alternatively, with a movement of mine... but I would never presume... Let that be a lesson, Erik, to never think of her as a child again! She is a woman, with an innocence that turns off and on like a switch.

With some embarrassment, I realise that my arm is still poised ridiculously over my head, and is now starting to complain again. Not only this, I have nowhere else to put it except around Christine. Rather than resemble Atlas, that is where it'll have to go. My old instincts are still present despite our current situation, and prevent me from doing even this simple action, however.

"You may put your arm around me, Erik. You have no reason not to… in fact I'd like it very much if you did."

Her expression of apparent sleep did not falter once - I appear to have created not only an angel, but a monster! Still, a gentleman would not refuse an offer from a lady, and I am nothing if not a gentleman…

The gesture is so meaningless from the outside, and so innocent in it's simplicity, yet I tremble still at the mere thought of touching her. She probably senses my trembling even now, in fact, I'm certain she can, but it seems to comfort her as she drifts into sleep again. I can't help but wonder what she dreams about… Now that her Angel of Music has been revealed as nothing more than a man, does he still bombard her subconscious? Do I dare to imagine she might possibly dream only of me, now? Her nightmares are vivid, so she has told me, but at least I can be here to offer soothing words of comfort, or, perhaps, sing her to sleep again.

In the meantime, I have some time to reflect, to understand what led to this… I was certain it was over the minute I swept her to my lair during the performance. I had a feeling deep within me that it was precisely the wrong thing to do, and when that boy arrived, I could do nothing but what was expected of me. If either of them had not been there, it would have been easy - I could have killed him in a second, if only she wasn't watching. Alternatively, I could have spirited Christine away with me before anyone knew, if he had not appeared at my gate. Ironically, this is all his own fault, really.

Why did I make her choose between us? I knew she would pick him, every time, whether she detested me at that moment or not. I curse myself even now for forcing her to make that decision. Love me… or kill him. Ultimatums were never one of my subtleties…

It was unfair, but, somehow, it worked. I don't mean to gloat, of course, but, essentially, that ultimatum is what brought us here. I knew she would have to save him. Such is the power of Christine's conscience - I often believe she has enough for us both - that she would rather spend eternity with a devil than choose, and subsequently kill, the man she agreed to marry. I will certainly never forget the look on his face, though, when she kissed me. That image will be carried with me to my grave! A pity I did not have time to laugh at him, or even think to do so. All I could think about, in that moment, was Christine, and what she had just told me, with such amazing clarity, and yet without words…

I let them go. Or rather, I let Christine go. The boy merely followed her, too cowardly to fight me now that he had won, and then acted on the pretence of protecting her, bustling her out of my sight like the brave knight he supposed he was. With some amazement, however, I suddenly realised that I no longer harboured the same hatred for him… it was still there, but was greatly reduced. Christine loved him, that much I could tell, and that was precisely what I hated him for… but beyond that, she loved me, in an entirely different way that he would never understand. It was so intense that she only just understood it herself, and I still had trouble comprehending it. That was where my sympathy for him came in.

My wonderful feeling of having performed a saintly deed, releasing my angel to her fiancé, was quickly replaced by a familiar sinking feeling in my stomach. The mob was approaching fast; I could hear them across the lake, making their way around the edge. I sat down, defeated, and played that damned musical box. My soft singing filled the empty darkness for a few seconds, and then quiet footsteps attracted my attention. My heart leapt several storeys, settling somewhere in the vicinity of the flyloft, as Christine reappeared in my doorway. I would have run to her, had I been able to move a single muscle in my body. All I could make my limbs do was straighten, standing up out of automatic politeness.

Instead, she approached me, timidly, quietly, yet determined. I could not ascertain what she was doing… was she returning to me? I dared not think that.

"You came back," I said, somewhat idiotically. She said nothing, simply looked at me. Her stare was penetrating, more than I ever imagined it could be. I believe she was trying to read my very soul in that moment. I wanted, more than anything, to hold her once more, and run with her, far away… but still I was unable to move. As her hand began to rise, I briefly thought she might slap me, as she deserved to do, but the realisation that she was going to touch me was even more terrifying.

At the last second, as the boy's voice sliced through our silence, my hopes were put on hold. She stopped mid-gesture and turned in the direction of his call. Hatred filled me again, and she could see it in my eyes… and it scared her. I scared her. I was still barely able to move as she took the ring - my ring - off her finger and held it out to me. Finding the ability from somewhere, I lifted my hand to hers in order to take it… our fingers touched, briefly, and that familiar electricity ran through me. Seconds later, she was moving away from me. My emotions in turmoil, I did the only thing I could think of: I told her I loved her. I was beyond caring if she believed me, or even that she might reciprocate; all I wanted was for her to know, and, at the very least, for it to be the last thing she ever heard me say to her…

She was gone. However, I was not to be alone for much longer if the approaching voices were any indication. Once more I was on the run, and I had to think quickly. First of all, I had to drop the portcullis, and after flipping the switch that released it, I realised that all I could do was hide while I prepared to watch them destroy my house around me. I concealed myself away, then realised in my haste that my mask was elsewhere. I could only hope I hadn't left it anywhere that might allude to my presence. As I tried to remember where I last had it, I heard the first footfalls nearby. Bracing myself for the imminent smashes, I held my breath. It was with some annoyance that I realised who, exactly, had gotten inside.

Meg Giry: the daughter of the ballet mistress, and a fine dancer, but with a voice that still required practice to build her confidence. How had she gotten in? And, more importantly, why? She was completely alone, and showed no signs of being a 'scouting party'. Besides, I doubted they would bother. She seemed scared and completely lost, and it took her a few seconds to realise that she had fallen straight into my lair. It was so difficult to believe she was the same age as my beloved Christine, she seemed so young and naïve. She picked up my mask - so that's where I left it! - as if it were nothing more than a possession to be tidied, and held onto it. I realised that she must have heard my final wish of Christine as I heard her singing from across the lake, and my voice appeared to be having a similarly profound effect on Meg.

Not wishing to be seen, I remained hidden, hoping she would eventually leave. When it was quite clear that she didn't know how to get out, let alone how she even got in to begin with, I was stuck with another conundrum - let her find me, or reveal myself. I was well aware that time was running drastically short, and that if the mob did find me, there would be no way to tell if this child would take my side or theirs.

God knows how long I stayed hidden. It felt like hours but must only have been several minutes. All the while, little Giry roamed around my home, investigating, searching for a way out, her desperation increasing as she repeatedly checked the same places in the hope of an exit having miraculously appeared. When she finally collapsed against my throne I felt a pang of guilt and a desire to help her. It was quickly overcome when I remembered that she was still holding my mask and any attempt to save her would merely terrify the poor girl even more. Her sobs were desperate and almost unbearable.

Faintly, I heard the mob outside my house. They appeared to be arguing over something, with somebody, but the voices were too muffled to make out anybody distinctly. I heard the words "wrong place" and several other phrases, and then… I froze, my ears attuned to one voice. One female voice. Could it possibly be…? Christine?

Before I had time to ascertain this as fact, I heard the mob going away again. Curiosity piqued, I almost ventured out, but another heavy and loud sob stopped me. Meg. She was so engrossed in her own torment she hadn't heard a thing. I could only sit and wait.

Then, there was a presence I immediately recognised, right on my doorstep. I was thankful for Meg's cries then, to block out my gasp of surprise and disbelief. Christine was back, and she was alone. I realised almost instantly what she had done - somehow she had convinced the boy to turn around, or had fooled him somehow, and had then sent the mob back around the lake. I have never been so proud of her as I was in that moment.

My attention instantly turned to her as I listened, damning myself for dropping the gate and trapping us on either side of it. She heard Meg sobbing and assumed it was me.

"Who's there?" she asked. I wanted to leap out, and shout 'I am here, Christine!' but I knew I had to stay where I was. I would probably terrify both of them if I were to make myself known in such a way. Meg recognised her friend's voice and abruptly stopped crying, getting up to look for her. Christine sensed the movement and I could hear her intake of breath as she hoped it was me. The realisation in her voice when she knew it was not almost killed me. "Meg? What are you doing in there?"

A valid question. Meg ran to her, relief pouring out in her voice. "Christine!" It almost felt like she was talking for me, as her reaction was very similar to my own.

"How in the world did you get in?" The maternal edge to Christine's query was laced with a certain hope that she could follow suit. However, as I suspected, Meg hadn't the first clue.

"I don't know. I came with the others at first, then ran on ahead… somehow I ended up in here. I didn't have a light." So she wasn't a decoy after all. These ballet girls, they are all as damnably curious as each other! Once again, she seemed to mirror what I wanted to say. "Why did you come back?"

"I made my choice… I can't deny it any longer." My heart soared. I was her choice after all! I barely heard the rest of their conversation as I attempted to settle my breathing and stop the pounding in my ears. Images flooded my brain of what the two of us would do with our lives after this moment, two angels living in our own heaven…

My reverie was broken by Christine rattling the bars of the portcullis and then slamming her hand against them. I winced, as she must have done, imagining the bruise that was sure to develop later, knowing from experience. She raised her voice, frustrated with herself, and, I suppose, with me. "There must be some way in! Think, Meg!"

Her poor friend was terrified enough as it was, without Christine shouting at her, and she fell to the floor, sobbing again. Christine's voice immediately softened; she had most likely surprised herself as well. "It doesn't matter," she reassured her. "I'll get in somehow, and get you out." How ironic that they should be in the exact opposite places to where they both wanted to be.

Meg appeared completely unsure which emotion to feel. She was terrified, yet curious, and her tears stopped almost instantly. "Why didn't you tell me about him? Had I known you were being taught by the Phantom himself, why…" Ah, the Phantom. I had almost forgotten about my 'career'. Meg seemed briefly irritated. "My mother must have known everything and never told me. I knew she had some connection to the mystery." I almost laughed. Madame Giry knew of me, yes, and knew more than most, but she had never seen me herself. In a sense, we were close friends who had never met. I continued listening as Meg's brain caught up with the situation. "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?"

"The secret was too great… and you must never tell another soul what you have seen here."

"You have my word." Silence descended as the girls acknowledged their secret, or rather, our secret.

Then, it dawned on me. Now that Meg knew who, or rather, what, I was, she would be slightly less terrified if I was to make myself known. I quickly pondered how, and, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the music box… on the other side of the room. Swiftly, using the permeating shadows to hide me, I made my way over to it. Christine must have heard me, or seen the faint flicker of the candles as I passed, for she frowned and peered deeper inside. I wound the box carefully and set it turning…

She knew in an instant that it was me; the split-second glimmer of realisation was replaced by mock curiosity, and a permanent frown of concentration. "Do you hear that?" she asked her friend. Her whisper echoed off the walls as the two of them stood up simultaneously. They were both holding my mask between them, Christine gripping it so tightly her fingertips were white. Meg barely had time to finish nodding when she added, "How is it working…?" She already knew.

When the music stopped, I waited, thinking what to do next, but watching them both closely. Christine was examining every dark corner she could see, listening to every sound, concentration etched on her features. Meg, however, was merely watching her. Clearly, this change to her friend was something she had only just realised.

Inexplicably, my thoughts became suddenly very negative. It shocked me at the time although I was unable to stop it, and even now I don't know why it came about. Her return seemed far too convenient. She had chosen Raoul over me only minutes before, but, suddenly, she was back. I couldn't help wondering if the mob were right behind her, just waiting for me to let her in so they could ransack my house.

I was doubting her loyalty, and hating myself for doing so. Years of being either hunted or cast out by society had made me all too aware of what other people were capable of, and while, somewhere within me, I knew Christine would never betray me of her own volition, there was nothing to suggest she might have been persuaded into this. I tried to convince myself otherwise, but my paranoia won out. The only way I could believe it would be to test her, much as I loathed it.

My original intentions, to slowly rise from my hiding place, flip the switch and let her in, with all the romance I could muster, quickly changed. I realised that if she was going to betray me, she would not hesitate to if she suspected I no longer cared for her. Furthermore, I knew she would instantly understand that I was testing her, and if she was alone and true to her words to Meg, she would battle me to the end to prove herself.

For this to work, I needed a dramatic entrance. And what was more dramatic than plunging them into darkness? As luck would have it, positioned directly above my head was a lever that, when pulled, would open a ventilation system. It proved very useful in the hotter months, with air coming directly from outside. I opened it, and by sheer chance a powerful gust of wind beat its way through and extinguished every candle in the room.

In the blackness, I sensed Christine tense, and Meg panic. I hoped she would forgive me for this, no matter what the outcome. Moving effortlessly through the darkness, and around my furniture, I reached the nearest candle and lit it with a match, then traversed the floor to light the others. To make the effect all the more surreal, I specifically saved the largest, brightest candle until the end, as I knew it would bring the most light.

I used the time they gave me, blinking the darkness away, to move to the centre of the room, directly opposite them. I fixed a detestably disdainful expression on my face and waited. They finally spotted me. Meg froze, her entire body conserving energy should she need to run. Christine, on the other hand, swayed, obviously light-headed from the shock, and would probably have fainted if not for her own will power.

I was only vaguely aware of Meg's actions after this, my attention entirely focussed on Christine. Watching her, I managed to ascertain exactly what she was thinking - she wanted me to move, just so she would know I was real. Humouring her, I did, holding out a hand towards Meg. Relief shot through her at the action. I adopted the voice I thought I would never use again - the deadly, threatening voice of the Phantom…

"Mademoiselle…" I said to Meg, staring directly at Christine. "My mask…" I saw Christine nod at Meg, some kind of confirmation, her eyes never leaving mine. This game belonged to us both now.

To my mild surprise, she threatened me. "Go ahead. You won't be harmed." The implication was, of course, that if Meg came to any danger at all, Christine would turn and run, and out of sheer stubbornness never return again. Somewhere in my line of view, Meg's shaking hand held out the mask to me. I took it, still staring at Christine.

"Thank you."

Our silent battle of wills continued as Meg watched us. Neither of us faltered in our expression, and Christine's grey eyes drilled into me as mine did her. I made a point not to blink at all so that I could read everything she was communicating. Questions, confusion, fierce determination, brief rage and, finally, a stare so penetrating and full of hatred that I had to look away. Instantly, it was as if the iron fist had loosened its grip on our little world.

Christine scared me in that second before I turned my head. I had seen rage in her eyes before and it failed to faze me because I knew it would eventually dissipate. But hatred had never crossed her features in front of me, and I was unable to tell if she hated me for who I was, or what I was doing to her…

As a diversion, I replaced my mask, seeming as though that was my intention. It appeared that she was able to manipulate me as much as I was her, for when I looked back, I saw the usual placate, yet now awfully drained, expression I had come to adore. I heard her breathe out as she supported her weight on the bars of the portcullis. She looked at me, desperation creeping over her features, the overwhelming urge to just give up and let me win, and a single question: Why?

She started a mantra, almost a repeat of what I had said to her earlier: "I came back… I came back… I came back…" The guilt I felt in that moment was unbearable, but then, she glared at me. I almost smiled. She was waiting to be tested further, and if it proved her loyalty and the outcome was eventually good, I was willing to oblige.

It was time to include Meg into the proceedings. I spoke directly to Christine then, keeping my tone as deadly as before. "It's a curious thing, isn't it, my dear, when a mob sends a child ahead of them." Turning to Meg, I offered my hand to help her up. It never occurred to me to determine precisely why she was on the floor…

Her decision, entirely her own, to trust me, couldn't have gone better if I had orchestrated it myself. She still feared me, but knew in herself that if Christine could find something in me to return to, there must be good in me somewhere. However, paranoia being what it is, I was not going to let her off easily. I bowed. "And you are?"

She curtseyed, the gesture awkward and made considerably worse by her bulky skirt. "Meg Giry, monsieur. My mother is the ballet mistress." Well, at least she was being truthful.

"And how does it feel to be staring the Opéra Ghost in the face?" Instantly I realised the very obvious irony of that question and waved a hand to indicate my mask. "So to speak."

I noticed at this point that Christine was now sitting on the floor very elegantly, apparently waiting for her turn. Meg glanced to her and then back to me again. "I feel most privileged, monsieur."

"Privileged? Sure you flatter me?" I laughed to myself. "Doubtless the rumours are still rife?"

She pretended not to know a thing. "Rumours?" She was far sneakier than I had given her credit for.

"Yes, child, rumours. Are the stories of the hideous Phantom still being told amongst the dancers?" I received a meek nod in response. She had finally realised her part in the game. "And what will you tell them when you return?" More silence as an answer. "Come now, you've been missing for quite a time, my dear." I looked at Christine, satisfied by the jealousy that flashed in her eyes for a fleeting moment. The fact that she was jealous at all was immensely promising. I looked back to Meg, continuing. "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 and contemplated what she would do. "I'll say that I got lost in the tunnels, and waited for the rest of them to come back." That was acceptable. Not that I really minded what she told them, of course; this was just a test. I inclined my head towards Christine again.

"And what about Miss Daaé?"

Almost instantly, Meg replied. "I haven't seen her since the performance of Don Juan Triumphant." I noticed the accused smile to herself, thankful that Meg was trying to help.

I paused then, deciding what to do. I was still not entirely convinced of either of their loyalties, and before I even decided what my purpose was going to be when I got there, I moved towards the organ and sat down. Christine simultaneously stood up, understanding my intentions before I did. I summoned Meg to stand in the same place I had positioned Christine countless times, ignoring the blasphemy my conscience was reminding me of, and opened the first manuscript to hand.

"Tell me, do you sing?"

"A little. I'm not as good as some of the others." She paused. "Not as good as Christine." Clever Meg! Using my own feelings against me without even realising it… very clever indeed. I pointed randomly to the page.

"Do you know this one?"

She practically leaped, bouncing on her toes excitedly. "Oh yes! That's one of my favourites." I remembered then that it was also Christine's favourite, or one of them. I laughed at the sheer irony as a curious thought came to my mind.

"I wonder… should I do a neat swap? Miss Daaé…" I waved my arm in a gesture to encompass her, then waved the other to include Meg. "For Miss Giry?" I heard Meg's utterly appalled gasp and saw the familiar rage in Christine's eyes. New found determination seemed to overtake her, her entire body rising to the challenge as she pulled herself to her full height. She resisted the urge to hit the bars again. With my gaze never leaving hers, I added: "Come now, my dear. Let your friend have a chance to be taught by the Angel of Music."

I flexed my fingers and played the introduction. "Sing." The old command worked as well on Meg as it had done on Christine so many months ago and I was struck with a hint of nostalgia. I shook it off and concentrated on my playing, getting gradually louder so that she would have to sing above me. I played the emotion into the piece, and, as hoped, Meg picked up on it to join with emotion of her own.

We both sensed Christine's look of horror and wonderment, observing what only she had previously experienced, and it brought Meg out of the trance she was entering as she realised what I was up to. Whatever voice I had drawn out of her instantly shattered with her ending screech. By the time I had turned around, she was already near Christine on the other side of the room.

"Bravi, Miss Giry. You have a stronger will than I imagined, stronger even than Christine's, I see."

To my surprise and delight, Christine found her voice, rounding on me in a second. I listened to her berate me, enthralled, and my heart stopped when she said: "…I returned to you out of guilt, loyalty, duty… perhaps even…" What? Perhaps even what? Love? I swore to myself in those precious seconds that if she admitted it, we would all be free, and the charade I had created would end… "Perhaps even… something more." My heartbeat returned, but seemingly fell to my stomach as she threatened to leave me again. Thankfully, she didn't follow it up. There was a lot she needed to say, and most of it against me, but I listened on. Tears glistened in her eyes but she refused to let them fall, keeping her voice steady. Her voice… it still captivated me in its inherent musicality, and the words she spoke I barely comprehended, but filtered for recall later. Until one word that snapped my attention back to reality. "… you might eventually turn on Raoul."

I tensed and she halted in her attack, awaiting my reaction. I had all but forgotten about the Vicomte, revelling only in the approaching hope that Christine would finally be mine. Reality dawned on me - that everything truly did depend on this conversation, and that everything I said needed to be carefully calculated.

I cautiously directed Meg to the location of the switch controlling the gate and waited for its noise to cease before speaking. I forget now completely what I said. I mentioned 'Don Juan' in passing, I believe, and praised her. I pleaded my affections once more, and made what I thought were some very valid points about the Vicomte.

Something was still to be ascertained, however, and only Christine could give me the answer. I had to know who her choice was really for. Clichéd it may be, but I believe our lives depended on her answer.

"What makes you think it was for either of you? It was, quite literally, my choice," she informed me. Whichever way one looked at it, therefore, her choice was me. We descended into silence as the portcullis continued to rise, and then, suddenly, she spoke again. "I had to save him." Ordinarily, this would not have been a good thing, however, she continued. "But by saving him, I saved you."

She argued a very good case, to give her credit. She had saved my life not once, but twice, in the short space of ten minutes. Again my thoughts began to drift, wondering how on earth I had gotten us both into this chaos, until she said something else that caught my attention. "I no longer needed you, nor you me. Our time together was over."

How could she think I didn't need her? Had I not made it obvious enough that she was everything to me? I would not argue that she no longer needed me, but the feeling was not mutual. My expression must have reflected my feelings, and I longed for the gate to clear her head. She explained what she had done - sent the mob and her fiancé around to the other side of the lake on their arrival at my door - and I knew in that moment… I knew she was telling the truth.

However, there was still time. The gate had but a few more inches to go, and I used the time it gave me to fully establish the truth. "Why?" I asked. "Why did you come back to me? After all that I have done to you."

She simply repeated what she had said to Meg. "Because I made my decision. I can't deny it any longer."

Gloriously, the barrier between us finally lifted. We stood there, unsure of how to continue. Then, I realised - it all fell down to me, now. It would be my decision if she stayed or left me again. Opening my arms wide, I simply said: "Welcome home, my dear." I did not move. I had given her the choice, and now it was up to Christine what to do. I noted somewhere in the back of my brain that it was rather like a game of chess - make the right move, or lose your players, one by one.

She did make the correct move, stepping forwards through the seemingly impenetrable and invisible wall that stood between us, and straight into my arms. I held her close, and there we stood, lost for what seemed like hours.

The next few events, I witnessed through a somewhat detached and euphoric haze. I recall handing a sobbing Meg my handkerchief and instructing her to keep it, but very little else. I doubt there was much else occurring. Then, my attention snapped back to reality as all three of us realised the inevitable - the mob were still coming.

I ordered them both to leave. Christine refused, her mind running through all the possibilities and finally settling on fleeing in the Vicomte's carriage. It pained me, but I tried to make her leave me again, if only so that she would not be witness to my grisly punishment. I was trying to make her understand something I did not - why she would leave me when she had only just come back. Somewhere, it made sense.

Our stubbornness was well-matched. She plainly refused to listen to me and would not go, despite my protests. Then, she convinced me in the only way she knew how. It was an old trick, and, thankfully, I fell for it…

(~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~)

With her kiss in that moment, she once again told me everything I never dared believe. She loved me. And, although she had never told me, or said the words, I knew. We both knew. I suspect she is as amazed as I am, and is still testing the phrase in her head. To hear her actually say it, of course, would be utter heaven, but so is this single moment. If I have learnt anything from all of this, it is that having too much of a good thing can only reduce the amount one is entitled to later.

One of her hands is now resting on my shoulder, her arm across my chest. When did that happen? I can't have been paying attention. Taking it carefully in my own hand, I notice the anticipated bruise on her palm. I place a kiss in its place and position it carefully in her own lap.

I still have no idea where we are heading. One assumes as far from the Opéra as possible, and, if I know Christine, on some wild goose chase to throw the mob off track should they decide to follow us. If this is the case, I have certainly taught her well. The view from the carriage as yet reveals no discernible landmarks, only random buildings, trees, the occasional inn… but wherever it is we are headed, it is bound to be Paradise…

~F~I~N~

Liked it? Hated it? Wanted to change anything? Want more? Please R&R. Part 3 coming soon. (I know, it's probably technically finished, but I already wrote part three, so I have to put it up. I promise, you'll like it :D)