AN: Here is the terribly delayed chapter 31. People still reading will be pleased to know that the story is now finished, and I will be posting the final chapters in the coming weeks. For emotional continuation, it might best to re-read chapter 30, as this is a direct continuation.

"I've always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, just as he or she is,

and not as you would like them to be."

― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

oOo

Time and Tide

oOo

Christine removed her head from her hands and looked up at the clock. It seemed as though an eternity had passed since Erik walked out, closing the door quietly behind him. But in reality it was only ten minutes.

Her mind surged with fragments of conversation, of her actions, of his words. She bit the inside of her mouth and closed her eyes – only unclamping her teeth when she thought she might draw blood. Did she mean all of the things she had said to him? Images overlapped and changed in her mind: a mask in her palm, eyes that burned with sorrow and love, soft whispers against her hair... and a pile of bloodied bodies with a young man sitting beside them, weeping.

A hot, sickly tide washed through her and bile stung her throat. She ran to the kitchen and stood heaving at the kitchen sink, trying desperately not to vomit – to breathe, and to force the image of all of those corpses from her mind. How could he have ever done that? How could anyone do such things?

She could not allow herself cry; for some reason her tears of horror, pity and remorse seemed like a mockery of all those lost lives. How many had there been? He had not given her an exact number – she had said she did not want to hear any more, that she did not want to know – but now all she wanted were answers to the most horrific questions.

She had always known there was more to his story, more than her and the Opéra. Such a darkening of the soul must begin somewhere: everything has an origin, even the impulse to kill. But she had imagined... she shook her head, she did not know what she had imagined – she did not know if the small germ of knowledge that had existed in the back of her mind was worse than all he had told her.

Distant images surged into her mind of a world she did not understand; a land of sand, bloodlust and torture. It was impossible to imagine that the man who could hold her so tenderly, could whisper her name with such reverence, could also claim it had once been his instinct to murder. That the man she... the man she loved had slaughtered countless lives. But hadn't she always known that? How could she forget the deaths of the Stage Hand and Signor Piangi... how could she forget the way he had once strung Raoul up by the neck, forcing her to watch?

But her tormented mind had made a strange kind of peace with those other deaths and that other time. She had blamed herself as well as Erik; she had blamed the entire world on his behalf! The hot pity in his eyes had the power to eradicate every cold memory... And somehow, because she understood the circumstances, it made it all a little easier to bear. But this new information was harrowing, because she did not understand – she could never understand this! How had the adoration in his eyes blinded her to it all that he was capable of?

He claimed that it was all in the past, that he would never do such things ever again... and, despite herself, Christine believed him. No act of deception could imitate the disgust that she had seen in his eyes; in those moments his revulsion of the past had burned brighter than any declaration of love.

Perhaps the worst thing of all was that his confession had not altered the way she felt about him. It should, she knew, it should send her screaming from the very thought of him. But she had struggled against her feelings for so long; she had dragged them through a mire of fear, desire and pity. She had been appalled at the call of her own soul and banished every feeling for two years. But now she had stopped fighting, her feelings had emerged from the darkness and nothing could force them back. She felt the heat of their love inside her, burning the surface of her skin.

She walked back into the sitting room and began to pace back and forth, stopping in the spot where moments ago she had touched his face. He was real; she had touched him and, dear God, despite everything, she wished he had not gone away! She wished she had kept him here and let him tell her all that was in his heart. The pain in her soul was not sated by this fresh heartache, it seemed to plunge deeper and stretch out into a vast and everlasting void.

Even as the sentiments of devotion and forgiveness swelled in her chest, the edges curled with sorrow. Some things could not be overcome, and she did not know if she was strong enough to ever rise above what he had told her. She did not even know where to begin. It was not her forgiveness he needed but her acceptance. He needed her to pledge to love him in spite of the atrocities he had committed, to take his hand and walk with him out of the darkness – away from the night.

This was the test of her love, to try and battle the frightened little girl who wanted to cower in a corner. Was her love for him so frail that it could be crushed before it had even begun to fully take wing? She thought of him again, just as the man he was. The man he was now, not what he had been or could be in the future. He was stubborn and infuriatingly proud. He could be arrogant, irritable and even terrifying when he lost his temper. He was not the sort of man mothers would encourage their daughters to love… in fact; he was probably precisely the opposite. Christine put her arms around her knees, pulling herself together; one cold tear trickled down her cheek. It could not be helped – her heart still ached for him.

"I don't care..." she sobbed, shaking her head. "Idon't care..."

There was nobody else in the world who she could love so much. He was hers - completely hers. Nobody else had a claim on his affections. He was abandoned in this world, an orphan of Fate, just as she was. Christine loved Meg and Madame Giry but they had each other and were bound by blood in a way she could never be. They were her second family and meant more to her than anything in the world, but Erik had been right all along: she belonged to him, with him… and he belonged to her. Only her.

"I am his, and he is mine." she whispered to herself.

She remembered the morning and all that had passed before his fateful visit. She had risen early and was surprised to find that Meg was awake, too. They had both been stunned by an early morning call from Peter. He was upset, agitated, and tired. He had clung to Meg with a sorrow that could not speak and explained the events of the previous night with slow, angry words.

He told them of Edgar's confession, of meeting his real father – a man who seemed worse than the Devil himself. He told them of trawling the streets with the gendarmes... and finally of waking to news of Henry's suicide.

Peter had apparently forgiven Edgar for his lies and maintained that he would always look on him as his true father. But in his eyes there was a rage that seemed to burn. Christine had left them alone, allowing her friend's tender words to try and soothe Peter's grief.

Christine had felt restless when she returned to her room – but also ashamed. Ashamed, because the agitation she felt had been entirely selfish. Erik was involved in this chaos somewhere; she had known it from the moment she had set eyes on Peter. The whole ghastly tale had made too much sense; it was too much of a coincidence to be otherwise. Peter had left Erik out of his narrative, but the way he had looked at Christine when he spoke of Henry had made her skin ripple into gooseflesh.

She had then sat on her bed and calmly taken out Erik's note, after the first line she had felt a hard jolt, it read:

Christine,

I have deceived you...

The rest of it was not long. Simply an account of all of his dealings with Henry Cranmer, he had not tried to alleviate himself of any blame and there was no false innocence. He had not tried to beseech her with words of love – he had written it as though she were a complete stranger. Christine did not know if this had softened her anger or solidified it.

Meg had come to her room and told her through the door that she and Peter were returning to Edgar's – and that she would not be back until late.

Christine had willed tears, any emotion at all! But all she had felt was a deep and cold betrayal. She walked around the house in agitation and finally had finally taken a seat at the divan.

Moments later, Erik was at her door.

Everything that had followed seemed now like a dream, a mute Opera acted out with whispers and tears. She regretted sending him away... had she sent him away, or had he left her? She knew that if he had beseeched her, if he had told her he had changed – she would have believed him. She would have kept him with her and never let him go.

If she attempted to sever this bond again, this time it might break. This wasn't just about now; it was about the past – about the future. This could be her last chance at happiness and she had just sat and watched as it walked out of her door. There were terrors to overcome, horrible terrors, she knew this, but surely anything could be conquered – even a past as dismal as his. The alternative was to know in her soul that she could never feel for anyone the way she felt for him.

That was why she had let Raoul go, that was why she could not marry. Why she had been so appalled when Mathieu had declared his love for her. It was all because she had pledged her heart to another, on a long ago night when she had met her soul in the dark depths of a mirror.

"No..." she whispered. No, she could not let him go, not now, not again.

The next few moments were a whirl of distress and fear, she ran about the house trying to find suitable gloves and a hat, and in the next instant abandoning the need all together... what did gloves and a hat matter when she had let her future walk away!

She was a foolish, foolish girl!

She ran back down the stairs, almost tripping on the last two. She wrenched the front door open and then came to a dead halt.

Looking back at her was the shocked face of Madame Giry.

oOo

Erik walked out of Christine's house. His actions were mechanical, he did not know why his legs moved and yet his heart remained in that room. His footsteps echoed inside his mind like blood, he waded through the red mist, trudging back through the blistering haze of the subterranean lake. An insufferable, desperate voice kept calling for him to return and claim the heart that was now rightfully his. To put an end to this madness, once and for all!

There was no Vicomte this time, nobody to rival him for her affections. These obstacles were nothing more than ideals, fanciful morals that he had to apparently measure up to before he was worthy of her love.

His mind ambled back to that awful night almost three years ago. He remembered the boy hanging by the neck and Christine's pleas for mercy... and only moments ago, her sad eyes and quiet declarations of love. There were no tangible barriers this time, and yet the outcome had remained the same.

But she loved him now! Wasn't that enough? Did it not mean that she belonged to him now – even if she hadn't before? Something in his twisted mind screamed that she was his! That he was a fool for leaving her like this... But another voice, one that now grew increasingly louder and irritated him with its clarity, said that she was not. It whispered that the battle was only half-won, that he must earn the right to fully possess her heart.

He stopped and turned, walking a few paces back towards the house, ignoring that rational voice. She loved him, she had said the words... he would walk back in there, fall to his knees and place kisses to her pale hands. There was no reason for this separation. Anything could be overcome. He would not let her remove herself from him ... not again!

But then he remembered the hurt in her eyes when he declared he could not remove his mask. That he could not face her as a man...still. He touched the cold thing that covered half his face and knew that even if the underneath warped back into something more human, he still could not remove it. Not yet.

How dare she demand such a thing of him? It was cruel to throw love at his feet and then rip it away, leaving him alone in a dark, naked with hope and yearning... Her words came back to him, cold and cruel.

'A man owned by a mask is a man I cannot love...'

He turned again, walking away. Her words made him feel an angry flourish that was too much like shame. Why must he always be walking away from her? Why could he never stay – why did she never beg him to?

The streets were grey to him; he passed people with masks of stone – each one a cold replica of his grief. None of them had visible features; there was only a cold blur of melancholy over each and every visage. They were all like him: faceless, soulless wraiths of despair.

Erik sneered, striding faster and with renewed purpose. He would not go back. She had sent him away and he would obey, for now. But he would defy her wishes and continue to love her; he would tackle the pain that now surged through his body and conquer it.

He would not allow this new shell of determination to send him back into the darkness; instead it would propel him forward. He would use it to show her exactly who he could be! His gait quickened in anticipation. Soon she would see exactly who it was that she had dismissed; soon she would cling to his heart the way he did to hers and use it as the anchor for her life.

He would find his own purpose; breathe life into the lungs of Erik Larsson – the man he had not intended to create, but the man whose flesh he would now live in until the end of his days.

The darkness would drip away from him like a lethargic shroud, leaving his humanity to shine like a newly awakened dawn.

The determination ebbed slightly with his long walk, and it was with a heavy heart that Erik realised what he must now do.

For the rest of the way he found himself looking back – hoping Christine had followed him.

oOo

"My dear, whatever is the matter?" Madame Giry asked, slightly aghast. She ushered the girl into the sitting room as she untied her bonnet. "You look as though you have seen a ghost..."

"I – he...oh, Madame Giry!" Christine fell back onto the divan; her face was in her hands.

The older woman was at her side in an instant. "Who? Child, who do you speak of? What on earth has been happening?"

Christine sobbed. "Do not make me say his name. You know who I mean..."

"Ah, so he was here, then." The older woman said, grimly.

Christine looked up, Madame Giry's lips were set tight, and her eyes were focused on the hat and gloves that still sat forgotten on the table.

"Oh," was all Christine said. She, too, sat staring at the forgotten objects.

"My carriage passed him on the way here," said Madame Giry, "he was striding along with the glare of the Devil on his face. I thought that perhaps his being in the area was a mere coincidence..." she shook her head, "I take it whatever passed between you was not pleasant?"

Christine's eyes were suddenly wild and alive, "Which way did he go?" She stood and ran for the door, only stopping when Madame Giry grabbed her arm.

"No, Christine! I will not have such hysterics as this! Whenever that man is near you turn into something wild..." she saw the tears fall from the young girl's eyes and softened her tone. "Tell me all that has happened, child. I saw the look on his face and I know that man – it will be best to avoid him while he is in such a temper..."

"I am not afraid of him." Christine said.

Madame Giry regarded Christine carefully; something disturbing had happened here. Christine seemed altered from when she had left. She felt a strange surge of fear; she had known this day would come. She had waited for the dreaded day when Christine would once again confront her feelings for Erik. She could not forget the fear in the girl's eyes on that night two years ago, 'It burns...' Christine had said, with fear and longing aflame in her eyes, burning like some form of obscene talisman. The depth of this emotion scared Madame Giry, but she was determined there would be no more theatrics. It was time to pacify this situation, once and for all.

"Come, tell me... I have been gone only a few weeks and I return to find out that the world is apparently ending! I am sure nothing has happened that cannot be put right. Allow the dust to settle before you go charging off after him. I fear the years spent living in an Opera House have had their effects on all of us... "

Slowly, she coaxed Christine back into the sitting room; she noticed how the girl kept glancing over her shoulder at the door, and then at the hat and gloves on the table. Christine sank back onto the divan and closed her eyes, she took a deep breath. When her eyes opened they were bright, and she appeared to be somewhat calmer.

"I need to find him," Christine said. "Not because I am hysterical, or mad, or for any other reason... only because I love him, Madame Giry."

Madame Giry was shocked into silence. So, she had been right all along – Christine loved her erstwhile teacher. The thought filled her with a cold sense of foreboding, but also something else;; was it relief?

Christine continued to speak, all the while staring at the floor.

"I sent him away just now, and I regret it! So much has happened since you left that I barely know where to begin... but he has changed," she smiled slightly and a faraway look descended upon her face, "perhaps not as much as he would like to think, but he has..."

Madame Giry patted the girl's hand gently. "Tell me everything, from the beginning."

So, in slow words, interspersed by sobs, Christine recounted the events of the last few weeks to her adopted mother – with some details conveniently mislaid.

Madame Giry stood and walked about the room, sat back down, and then stood again.

"Why, that is a great deal to take in. Oh my... poor Peter ... poor Edgar..." she looked at the floor for a few moments and then hurried back to sit next to Christine. "...and my Meg? Where is she?"

"With Peter, she took him back to Edgar's this morning... I think she was hoping to help reconcile them."

Madame Giry shook her head - lies and deceit, everywhere! And at the centre of it again was that damnable man! Once again he was causing fear and longing in her dear Christine. She remembered his cool, arrogant face on that night only a few months ago, when he had declared that he no longer cared for Christine, that his reason for being back in Paris had nothing to do with his once-beloved pupil. Pah! She wanted to scream. I knew it, Erik; I knew you could never leave her be!

But now Christine loved him, or was finally admitting that she loved him... How was such a situation to be dealt with? One thing at a time, Madame Giry thought, Meg appeared to be helping the Lockhart men overcome their differences – so it was up to her to help Christine.

"Madame Giry?" Christine said, pulling the older woman from her reverie.

"Yes, my dear?"

"I am sorry to burden you with this... I am being quite selfish. How is your cousin?"

"A little better, though I fear I shall be called back again before long."

Christine gave her a weak little smile. Madame Giry sighed.

"My dear, about your... feelings for Erik... you are quite certain of them?"

Christine's chin began to tremble, but she held back her tears. "Yes, I am certain. I'm afraid I have felt this way for quite some time, although I have not always been aware of it. I have been trying to free myself, but I cannot..." she shook her head and rolled her eyes, "that must sound so foolish."

Madame Giry's tone was sympathetic, she tucked a wayward curl behind Christine's ear. "Not so foolish. Human beings have a talent for self-deception. But Erik is not the same as other men... He does care for you, of that there can be no doubt. But, I do not know if he will ever be able to live in the world and take a wife as other men do... he is –"

Christine gave her a sad smile. "I know what he is, although a part of me wishes I did not..."

"What I mean to say, child, is that should you choose to follow your feelings through to their conclusion – you must understand that your life will not be easy. I do not wish to sway your mind either way, but you must be sure of what you want. You cannot chase after a man such as Erik with only half a heart – it will take a great deal of devotion to love him for an entire lifetime."

Christine nodded, her cheeks turning slightly pink, she looked down at her lap.

Madame Giry remained silent, waiting for the girl to speak. Christine needed to face the world as a woman, not as a child with her head in the sand. Hearing these things might be difficult, but rushing hastily into a relationship in which she was out of her depth would destroy her.

"You are right," said Christie, "Erik has told me of his past and the things he has done. It was awful to hear... and the life he has lived...is, is terrible..." she shook her head, "I'm not sure how to begin to move past it all, but all I know is that I want to try. I cannot let him go. I don't want to let him go... not again."

"A life with Erik would not be simple. It would be complicated at best, impossible at worst! Do not make the mistake of thinking that because he is trying to change, that he is suddenly a good man. Erik will always be a law unto himself."

Christine was staring at her adopted mother, her confusion almost palpable. Madame Giry decided it might be wise to change tactic.

"All I mean to say is that you must face up to the things he has told you, my dear, and the reality of who he really is. There can be no romantic fantasies, no music, and most certainly no angels. He is only a man, and a difficult one at that! You cannot hide as you have done these last two years; if this is truly what you want it will take a lot of courage to go after it."

"I know," Christine said quietly "but...I feel as if I have no time... I want to see him now, to talk all of this through. I know him, he will do something foolish. We did not part on good terms earlier. "

"If he loves you half as much as he professes to, he will allow you all the time you need."

Christine made a horrible little sound. "But that's just it! I would not allow him time; I demanded that he show me how much he had changed, as if such things could be done immediately! I was cruel, Madame Giry, very cruel... I ordered him to stand there and remove his mask, knowing full well that such a request was probably still beyond him. It seems that I can be just as cruel as he... I need to see him; I need to make him understand."

"Leave him to calm down, send word tomorrow if you must, and ask him to meet with you. It will give both of you the chance to put things in perspective. Please, my dear, think through any decision you make very carefully."

Christine was looking at the hat and gloves again, her expression unreadable. Madame Giry stood up and began to potter around the room, she gave a tut at the mess the girls had apparently been living in during her absence.

"Now, I am going to make a pot of tea and fix us both something to eat – you look famished. Heaven only knows what you girls have been eating while I was away."

oOo

Christine slumped back with a small huff. Madame Giry was right about all of this, she had always been right, ever since she and Meg were small...

But...there was a small nagging voice that Christine could not ignore. She could not escape the small knot in her stomach that told her she needed to go after him now! She wanted to be in his arms again, to let him whisper and sing in her ear...

Tears welled in her eyes... oh God, Erik, what have I done?

She was a grown woman, and this was her life. She had told Erik he needed to change – but what of her? She needed to change too, to find the courage to follow her own instincts, to not be swayed by others; no matter how sincere their intentions were.

Sunlight filtered into the room and a small sparkle caught her eye. She stood and walked over to the window sill. It was the keys Erik had left; Christine didn't know how she had forgotten them. She picked them up and traced the cold, smooth metal with her fingers. Attached to the key was a small pouch, Christine opened it and pulled out a business card. A name and address were inscribed in gold lettering, it read:

Monsieur, L. Armand,

Solicitor

18, Rue de Beuvelot

Paris

Christine studied it carefully. She turned the card over, and recognised at once the handwriting on the reverse:

For you, Christine,

Erik.

Christine felt a lump bubble up in her throat. What madness was this? Why would Erik give her a card and a set of keys? "A ghost's final atonement," he had said. She clutched the keys to her heart – there was only one way to find out. She could not sit at home and wait for the morning to come. She needed to find him now.

When Madame entered the room moments later, carrying a plate of sandwiches and a pot of tea, she found the room to be empty.

She smiled; it was just as she had expected it to be.

oOo

"Well, I said it before and I will say it again, Monsieur," the solicitor grumbled, "This is a very strange arrangement!" He looked over the desk at his stony faced client, he held up his hands in a submissive gesture. "But... it is up to you, it is your money."

"Precisely," said Erik, he was sitting back in his chair with his hands folded together in his lap. "Now, I really must be going, do you have everything you require?"

The old man continued to shake his head with disapproval; he looked down at the checklist he had been making. "Yes I believe so – except for a forwarding address for you."

"I do not have a fixed address at this time," said Erik, standing and straightening out his jacket. "Any correspondence you have for me you are to send on to my bank, I will collect it from there as and when I need to."

"And what am I to do for any urgent business? I must protest, Monsieur Larsson, this is most unusual!"

Erik glared at the man. "So you said, monsieur, several times. However, I'm afraid I will be travelling, so will not be able to correspond. Not with anyone."

The solicitor's mouth fell open. "Travelling? Well, may I suggest you give me the name of someone I can contact in case of an emergency? You leave behind rather a hefty sum of money, not to mention –"

"For anything urgent, may I suggest you contact Monsieur Lockhart" Erik said, cutting off the old man. He massaged his temple as if trying to rid himself of a headache "Do not trouble Miss Daaé; I do not want her life to be interrupted. But you will assist her with anything she might need. That is what I am paying you for."

"Ah yes, the famous Mademoiselle Daaé. I look forward to her visit. May I ask as to the nature of your relationship with the young woman – is she a cousin, sister, fiancée...? I would hate to 'put my foot in it' as they say!"

"She, She is ... she is my..." Erik shook his head irritably, "she is of the greatest importance. That is all you need to know. Please give her the letter when she calls, I anticipate it will be sometime today."

"Very well," said the solicitor, getting to his feet. The two men shook hands "...and if the young lady should enquire after you?"

"She will not. But everything she needs to know is in the letter. Under no circumstances are you to tell her any more than what I have specified."

"Very well, sir. Good day to you, I wish you a pleasant onward journey; wherever it is that you might venture to."

Erik nodded once in farewell. "Indeed. Good day to you, sir – until we meet again."

Then he was gone. The solicitor continued to state after him, shaking his head.

oOo