A/N: I'm so sorry for the appalling wait, all I can say is that it has been a very crazy couple of months full of many ups and downs. I've been trying to finish this chapter for so long and now (while not totally satisfied with it) here it is at last. I hope some of you are still interested in reading my little story. Sorry for how some of the writing, breaks, punctuation etc. is positioned - when I uploaded this chapter it uploaded all messed up and wouldn't let me fix some of the mistakes, so forgive me for the ones you may notice.

It begins in Madame Giry's POV and ends in Raoul's POV. Sorry if this seems like a bit of a filler since there's no actual E&C in this chapter but there will be next chapter I promise.

Anyway I hope you enjoy it! Please review and let me know what you think. :)

Chapter 18
Don't Shoot The Messenger

I remember our little family reprieve did not last nearly as long as I would've liked. Though they were visibly exhausted, Madame Giry refused my offer of a room. They had left with all the suddenness of their arrival (though there were many embraces and perhaps a few secret tears). "Many pressing matters to attend to." I remember that was Madame's explanation for leaving as she shared a pointed look with Erik. As I kissed the cheek of this stern woman who had for so long been like a mother to me in her own way, I remember wondering, not what the pressing matters were but rather - would I ever see her, or Monsieur Khan even, again?
The wondering saddened me greatly…
- Extract from Christine's Diary

As I embraced my young charge for the last time I could not help but acknowledge the sadness that was brewing inside me. I did not know when we would meet again. However, the helpless little girl that I had tried to protect all these years had grown up. Christine was not so fragile any longer. I could see the fire in her eyes now no longer obscured by endless childish tears. And like any proud mother I had to put aside my own needs and let her go out into the world to find her way as a woman.
Though I will admit as I turned to regard Erik, my resolve faltered.

Letting Christine go would be difficult, but letting Erik go…I will admit it to no one but I believe my heart broke a little in that moment. Who would believe that the cold and reserved Madame would be capable of so deep a feeling as heartbreak? But all things were possible where Erik was concerned. To think of life in the Opera House without the feel of his presence in the air seemed somehow incredibly lonely to me. He had been with me for so long and through so much, and now we were to part ways for who knew how long. I had never imagined that I would face such a day…perhaps I was cruel or selfish in such thinking but still to have to face parting with him now was made that much more painful by such thoughts. I knew one day Christine would leave, either to marry or further her career, but Erik…Ghosts were supposed to remain and haunt a place forever. I had thought…hoped…that the Opera Ghost would be no different. But Erik was human. He was a man now and men moved on.

I went to him without a word, for what could I truly say now? There was so much to say and suddenly I had not the slightest idea where to begin, and so I remained silent. I hoped that he would see the sincerity of feeling in my eyes through the glimmering sheen of tears that I would forever deny and hoped to never let fall, at least not amongst company.
I pretended not to notice him flinch as I embraced him wordlessly. We had never touched like this before. I had never before had the courage to reach out to him in such a way, even when he had seemed so lost…It was something that shamed me deeply and now in this last moment I felt compelled to rectify that. Perhaps it was partly out of a somewhat selfish need to lessen that shame, but there it was…
I had expected him to stand completely rigid and painfully still before eventually recoiling. Erik's life had been unbearably cruel and human contact had only been another source of pain for him, so I was prepared for his rejection of my affection. However, I was to be surprised instead as I felt him relax in my arms. He did not reach to hold me as well, not as others would, but in a way that was uniquely Erik I knew that he returned my show of affection. One lone tear slipped unbidden from my eye but it was unseen by all and dried quickly on the shoulder of my oldest and, in many ways, dearest friend.

I did not watch as Nadir made his goodbyes. I knew he would feel the loss of Erik just as profoundly as I, if not more so. He had a father's affection for him whether Erik allowed himself to see it or not. They were linked by past events that I had little understanding of but it was a bond of great strength as in the time since I had known him, where Erik was, Monsieur Khan was sure to be. How he would cope with Erik's absence I did not know…but I vowed then and there to see to it that he would not face it alone.

It was heartbreaking to have to leave my precious children in such a hurried manner but their continued safety was my primary concern at that point. And perhaps the safety of the Vicomte as well… I felt the duty fell to myself and Nadir to ensure that Christine and Erik were not disturbed by the arrival of Christine's would-be protector. Erik seemed quite the changed man but I was not so naïve. I knew that it all hinged on Christine's continued presence in his life. If the young Vicomte succeeded in making a misguided attempt to 'free' his beloved childhood sweetheart, I shuddered to think of the consequences. I had not forgotten that, much as I cared for him, Erik could be the most dangerous of men when pushed.

"You know what we must do now, I trust."
Nadir turned from the brougham's window, his expression grave and his eyes betraying a sadness that alas, it was not yet the time to speak of.
"Do you think the young man will listen?" he enquired, wasting no time on preamble - a trait I found most admirable.
"I have a message for him from Christine. He will listen."
"Perhaps, but will he understand, Madame? Will he heed our warning, or merely see us as consorts of the madman he believes he hunts?"
I did not answer. I did not know how. Instead I closed my eyes as Nadir turned back to gaze out into the darkness. I closed my eyelids and tried to ignore the turmoil behind them.

I think I may have slept, I may have even dreamt but my mind did not care to remember of what, though my heart told me that it had not been pleasant.
It was light out and I could see that we had once again returned to the city.
"I have informed our driver to take us to the De Chagny estate rather than the Opera House. I thought it best to get this little meeting over and done with as soon as possible. I take it you are not opposed to this?"
I nodded silently. My heart plummeted to think of what was ahead of me but I did not share this with Monsieur Khan. I believe he shared my feelings on the matter.

All too soon we arrived at the gates of the sprawling De Chagny estate on the city's outskirts. We sent our driver (or Erik's borrowed driver, whomever the man was) to inform the manservant that we wished to speak to the young De Chagny regarding La Daae in our brougham if he was available to receive us. It seemed best to give our message outside of the main house considering its delicate nature.

Raoul did not keep us waiting long. In fact he bounded into the brougham with all the unreserved excitability of an overgrown pup. I thought then how easily he could have found himself face to face with Erik waiting here instead of myself and Monsieur Khan. He had not checked to confirm the driver's story before entering. He had shown no caution at all, which revealed a childish lack of sense that put him dangerously below Erik's level of cunning. He was still just a boy in so many ways, he did not know the world as we did. He did not see it as Erik did and had not learnt it as Christine was.
I could almost read the reproof and the worry in Nadir's eyes. If this had been Persia…But it was not and we could only pray that Erik would not be tempted back to such dark ways. But I was no fool, for Christine Erik would do anything…I do not think Raoul quite understood what that meant.

He looked at us with such unreserved hope that again I felt that gnawing at my heart. How to end the fairytale I could see he still believed his life with Christine would be?

Raoul's POV

My search was getting me nowhere and with each passing moment I could feel the strain it was placing on my hopes. The cruelty of searching house after house and feeling that in each empty room the Opera Ghost was laughing at me as time slipped by. My resolve was still steadfast but every night that passed without my Little Lotte seemed darker and darker.

It is an unnatural darkness that seems to gather around me and twist at my heart, one that is beginning to linger even as dawn approaches. Sometimes I could almost believe it has a voice, whispering…whispering terrible things…things that can't be true. Sometimes the voice is harsh and cold but other times it is soft and musical…Christine's voice…
I dream of her every time I close my eyes now. She speaks to me, always from far away, always smiling and crying at the same time. I can never remember what it is that she says to me but I wake up hearing Goodbye ringing in my ears….
…It could drive a man insane…

Last night had been a difficult night. Very difficult…
So I could not believe my luck when Frederick approached me in my study to inform me of who awaited me outside. It had to be a sign. This was the answer to my prayers - a way to find what that fiend had taken from me. Little Lotte. They would not call upon me for no reason. They had been searching for her too, I knew.

I sprang into the brougham with little grace or reserve and was greeted by the weary faces of the Persian and the ballet mistress. Their grim, almost pitying expressions barely registered in my mind. My heart was racing and my mind was too full of images of my blissful reunion with Christine. Perhaps she was already back in the Opera House. Perhaps she was here. Perhaps…

"Where is she?" It burst from me, sounding less like a question and more like a demand. "Have you found her? Is she here?"
I must have looked quite ridiculous, my gaze frantically searching the rather small interior. I am quite sure that by this point I was shaking slightly. My hasty dash had even loosened my shirt from my trousers, lending an unkempt quality to my appearance that no doubt matched the wildness in my eyes. I had never before been seen in public in such an uncontrolled state.
As I realised this, it occurred to me briefly that in my devoted search for Christine I was losing myself…
But the thought passed and I did my best to pretend to forget it. I had once had a talent for pretending when I was a boy. Pretending I could not see Christine peeking out when we played hide and seek. Pretending I did not know how the story ended when Christine's Papa re-told them to us almost every evening.
Pretending not to see, pretending not to know…

"Monsieur!" Madame Giry began sternly before visibly softening "Raoul…" I could not understand why she sounded so sad. This was joyous news, was it not? Monsieur Khan remained silent and solemn. He would not look at me but instead had turned his gaze to the little window. I wondered what held his attention so rapt as the street was quite empty at this hour.
"Please if you could compose yourself. We have a matter of great importance to discuss. I have a message for you from the…" At this, Madame paused and a far-away look seemed to creep into her eyes. For a breath of a moment she was somewhere that I could not reach her, like Christine in my dreams…
But almost as soon as it occurred the moment passed and she straightened suddenly in her seat.
"From Christine," She finished hurriedly, "I have a message from Christine."

"A message? Could she not deliver it in person?" I did not understand this at all. If they had found Christine surely she would be here with them to speak to me. She would be as eager as myself to be reunited at last.
"If she is worried that I am angry for her disappearance and the worry it has caused you must make her understand that I know it was against her will. I am not angry with her though I will of course be seeking retribution on that fiend…for her sake of course you understand…"
As I spoke frantically I began to notice again the pitiful look with which I was being regarded. There was a sadness in Madame Giry's eyes but it was hardened. She seemed to pity me yes, but she did not sympathise with me…And for the life of me I could not figure out the reason for such a look…
"Madame with all due respect I thank you for coming here at such an hour but if I could only speak with Christine myself, if I could just…"
"That will not be possible, Monsieur." Monsieur Khan's voice cut through my entreaty with a quiet authority impossible to ignore. I instinctively obeyed his unspoken command and ceased speaking.
"Madame Giry has a message for you and you would do well to listen, for after this we will speak of this matter no more. Do you understand?"
I did not and yet I found myself nodding. Monsieur Khan seemed to be a man used to commanding respect and attention…and yet the wearied look in his eyes seemed to suggest that he did not always receive it…

Strangely, as I turned to regard Madame Giry once more and receive Christine's message, I felt as though I was about to receive a court sentence - was I to be set free or put to death?
Madame Giry sighed deeply and then she began. Her voice steady and earnest. But her words poison in my ears…

"Young man I am afraid you will not like what I am about to tell you. However, they are the very words of the woman you claim to love and so you must accept them…though they are not what you had hoped, they are true and they are final.
Christine is leaving…she is gone and she will not be coming back. She asked me to tell you that she has made her choice and she has made it on her own. She will not see you again and for this and everything she has put you through she is so very sorry. But this is goodbye, you must not look for her any longer, she is not lost…rather she is found…She has grown up your Little Lotte and now you must go on without her. Forget her and be happy - that is her wish. Be happy as you could never have been with her. It was not meant to be and now you must accept that."

I could not move. I could not breathe. I felt claustrophobic as those words sunk into my skin. This was not right, this was not what Christine was supposed to tell me. She would not tell me this. My Little Lotte was not gone, I just had to find her and make her see sense. We were meant to be together, we were always meant to find one another. I had to save her. I was made to save her. Without her, I had no purpose.
Without her…without her…without her…

"Vicomte? Raoul? Please you must see that she was never truly your's! You cannot fight this. It is fate. She has chosen Erik."
Erik? Erik! That beast! No, no, no she would not choose him, she could not! He lied to her, manipulated her! These were all lies! Suddenly I could move and think and talk again as anger flooded my veins and scorched away the cold that had tried to settle in them.

"You lie!" I hissed, my voice hardly recognisable, "She would never choose that madman! He terrifies her, repulses her! He used the memory of her dead father to make her trust him. He lied and lied and now he lies again through you! Both of you! You are on his side! You are hiding her from me now as well! Leaving her trapped with him! Oh you nearly had me, nearly! But I know she would never willingly choose that monster over me, not after begging me to keep her safe and love her! So where is she? I demand you tell me!"

I was raging now, towering over Madame Giry in the cramped confines of the brougham, full to the brim of fire and anger. I had never before shouted at anyone the way I shouted now. Hate was clawing its way up my throat and spilling out into every syllable I spoke. Madame Giry looked at me with wide eyes as though she did not know me…I did not know myself… I was a man possessed by the image of one person and the shadow that clung to her.

Monsieur Khan tried to lay a restraining hand on me but I could not hear what he attempted to say to me to calm me. I shrugged him off. I was more forceful than I realised as my shrug caused him to hit the side of the brougham hard.
"Nadir!" Madame Giry called in worry.
"I am fine, it's alright." He wheezed in response.
Seeing him struggle to catch his breath caused a feeling of shame to course through me chasing some of the madness from me. But I could not quite rid myself of it all.
"You will tell me where Christine is!" It was not a question but a demand, and yet they stayed silent. How could they remain so loyal to this deranged man? It made no sense! He was a murderer, a thief and now a kidnapper! How could they let Christine rot with him? How could I find her? Looking out the window, a sudden flash of inspiration hit.

"Well if you will not tell me…"
Quickly I jumped from the brougham and grabbed the driver, who was standing nearby, by the lapels. "Have you have been with these two for their entire journey?"
The man was startled indeed but he had the sense to respond quickly.
"Yes, Monsieur Vicomte, as far as I know…"
"Where did you take them? Where are they coming from?"
"Monsieur, I cannot, please…" I shook him violently, that mad haze back again.
"So help me man if you do not tell me I will have you arrested for aiding a known murderer and his accomplices!" I spat the words at him, throwing him to the ground.
"The woods, Monsieur, that is all I can say we were in some woods! I…"
"Driver!" Madame Giry halted the man's words by employing the tone I had often heard her take with her little ballerinas. She looked shaken but her voice still carried enough force to affect the driver. "We are leaving. Now! And you will say no more!"

Quickly the man scurried back to the brougham. "No!" I shouted, "I am not done with you yet!" I made to follow the man and pull him back, but instead was shoved to the ground myself. The fall knocked the wind out of my lungs somewhat. Looking up I was faced with a stern Monsieur Khan. My behaviour seemed to have lost me his pity…
"You will stop this madness now. It is finished. If you continue with this you will lose yourself completely. And Erik is no stranger to such madness. He will not tolerate your interference. He will make you pay for it."
"I will kill him." I tried to imbue my voice with all the certainty and righteousness that I could muster from my position on the ground.
"To kill him would be to kill Christine as well. Is that what you wish to have on your soul? You must stop chasing something that does not exist before you cause more damage than you can mend."

His words shocked me.
Kill Christine? How could that be? I would never harm her!
They took advantage of my momentary stupor to set the horses in motion and before I knew it the brougham was leaving. I thought briefly of following but found I could not. So I remained sitting where I had fallen. The last thing I saw, before the brougham was out of sight, was Madame Giry's face looking back at me, pale and luminous against the dark interior. I think she may have waved farewell though I could not be sure.
Watching them leave I knew a moment of regret - whether it was for the lack of information I had managed to get from them or for my wild reactions I could not say for sure.

I sat there until Frederick came to usher me back into the house. My insides were churning and my mind spun endless circles. I could not truly fathom what had just happened. My behaviour worried me but not as much as the behaviour of Madame Giry and Monsieur Khan. What had been their game in coming here? Why had they tried to feed me such lies?

They wanted me to give up my search. That must mean that I am close and perhaps that Erik is scared. He knows I am coming for him. I am coming for what is mine. I will find Christine and we will be together, as we were always meant to be.
And now, thanks to the driver, I had a clue as to where to look. They had come from the woods. Thinking quickly, I felt somewhat certain that there was only one of Erik's properties that I knew of in such a location.
There was no time to lose, not now that he knew I was hunting him.
I would leave as soon as possible. It was time to end this.

I had been so certain I would finish the whole damn thing that very day. I had been wrong, so very wrong…If only I could have changed things…

- Extract from the Journal of Raoul de Chagny

Well there ya have Chapter 18 - finally! Hope you enjoyed it! Please review and let me know your thoughts, they're very much appreciated! :)