A/N: Hmm, I'm starting to wonder if I am getting predictable! I'm glad the last chapter didn't cause too much disappointment. I will get around to writing review replies over the next week, as I am very grateful for all of the support. This story has been a long process but… I actually think it turned out okay and did basically what I intended.
I hope you're all happy with the final chapter, it has been re-written more times than I care to admit!
'Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.' Send in The Clowns from 'A Little Night Music'
Just because it's brilliant…
Erik stood, watching the expression change on Antoinette Giry's face from pleased to something akin to horror. She had visibly paled and her eyes were wide, almost with surprise. It had changed so much that Erik found himself looking around, thinking she had spotted something that he had missed. There was nothing, though, except for the sounds of birds and the raging summer sun.
'What is it?' he asked, now concerned that there was something wrong with his friend.
'Nothing,' she answered after an eternity. She wasn't a convincing liar, she never had been, and now he felt only more worried that whatever ailed her was something she could not tell him. In the past, she had told him almost everything, even if the favour was rarely reciprocated, the fact that she was holding back now made his heart hammer in his chest.
Erik was about to protest when the garden broke into chaos and several children burst in, giggling and rolling around, chasing each other in the scorching heat. He slunk back, into the shadows and out of sight but one of the smaller boys had seen him and continued to stare in his direction in surprise.
They stared at each other, two sets of blue eyes locked together until his friend's voice broke the through the numbness.
'Erik,' Antoinette said, but the sound was now behind him as he made his way to the back gate. 'Wait!'
He turned briefly, 'I must go,'
'You are safe here, Erik,' his friend called after him. 'Please wait,'
Her objections fell on deaf ears as he felt the all too familiar urge to escape, now regretting that he had shown himself in the daylight at all. Where there were children there were undoubtedly parents, and he did not want any mishaps.
He paused at the gate, cold steel cutting into his palm as he squeezed the bar. The voice was not his friends. The voice was glorious and unmistakable and made his heart cease to beat. He swallowed, fighting his instincts and opened the gate to leave.
'Is this how it is to be?' she asked, and this time her voice was closer. His stopping had given her time to get nearer to him.
He closed his eyes and slowly he turned.
When he found the courage to open them again, Christine stood there, splendid in a white summer dress, eyes dark yet bright as ever, hair smooth, like the most expensive silk. She held her hand up, a gesture intended to ask him to wait, and ushered the children away, pausing briefly to wipe the boy with blue eyes' face.
Erik did not move.
When she turned back to face him he found that he could not utter a word, his mouth was too dry, like cotton. He could only look at her. She had rendered him utterly speechless, as she always did, just by being.
'You're alive,' she said and if he had not known better he would have sworn he saw the beginnings of a small smile tug at her rose lips and then fall away.
'I'm glad,' she said. They stood looking at each other for a long moment, their eyes locked in a perpetual battle… Erik, heart or mind…
She glanced down at herself and a blush crept along her cheeks. 'Messy… I know…'
'No,' he said. 'Beautiful,' he swallowed. 'Wonderful,'
The blush deepened and she stepped closer. He fought the urge to turn and bolt, to back away.
'I was worried,' she said, eyes never leaving his. 'It's been…'
He closed his eyes briefly, 'Three years, four months, thirteen days,' he said quietly, the words sticking to the sides of his throat. He remembered that day like it was yesterday.
She stared at him in silence, her eyes soft and deep, watching him… the quiet between them grew, neither able to move and yet neither able to speak. Eventually, his head took over and he sighed, turning his back.
Again he made it to the gate and again her voice stopped him in his tracks. 'Oh Erik, where have you been?'
Facing her he said, 'I'm sorry,'
'I thought you were dead,' there was anger there but also, something else. Something deeper. 'How could you let me think that? After everything… how could you let me think you were gone?'
'It was for your protection,' he explained softly. He glanced briefly over her shoulder, noticing that Antoinette and the children were now all gone from the garden and the back door was closed. They were alone, out of sight at the back of the garden… completely alone.
'And now?' she asked. 'Today?'
He didn't know what to say.
'You would leave without speaking to me, you would let me go on believing that you had died?'
He gritted his teeth together; sorrow, pain, distress… love… 'And what good does this do us?' he asked.
'It eases my mind, Erik,' her anger so blatant that it shook him. 'I thought you had died because of me!'
Before he could stop himself the words poured from his mouth. He wasn't sure where his composure had gone, his restraint, but alas it was nowhere to be found. 'You should not be sad for that, Christine. You should know that I would happily die for you,' he said simply, with a half shrug of his shoulders. 'Happily. If it would save you, I would die for you.'
She looked at her hands, delicate and smooth, 'I know,'
'Your life would have been simpler for never knowing me,' he said, heart aching. 'Better,'
Her head shot up and she stared at him. 'How can you say that?'
'And yet here I stand, begging you not to go,' she said. 'Does that tell you nothing, Erik?'
He could not reply, he did not know how or why or what, he knew only that she was there and as it had always been, all he could see was her.
'Perhaps my life would have been simpler… but better?' she stared at him, eyes intense and dark. 'I would rather have had you in my life for one day… one single day… than live a lifetime without knowing you, without music and without art,' she swallowed. 'Without love,'
He said nothing.
'Without you loving me,' she stepped closer and though his mind screamed at him to move away, he could not. He was stuck, frozen. She reached up and touched his cheek. 'Without loving you…'
Gently she pressed her lips to his cheek, warmth spread through him and he closed his eyes, letting the sensation linger on his skin.
'I've missed you so much,' she said, tucking her arms around his waist and resting his head on his chest. 'I can't even tell you how much…'
Carefully, he wrapped his arms around her, letting her squeeze him to her body. She felt thinner than he remembered, but just as lovely, and he allowed himself the moment in her arms, pretending he had never been anywhere else.
Pretending that there simply wasn't anywhere else to be.
'Forgive me,' he said gently, not really knowing what to feel or what to think. 'I should have written but I was afraid of putting you in danger,'
She nodded against his chest. 'I really thought that you were gone,' he could hear the tears in her voice. 'I thought I would never see you again,'
He moved her away from him and looked into her eyes.
'I could hardly bear it, Erik,' she said, as tears slid from her eyes. 'I never realised…' She stopped. 'Have you thought of me?' she asked.
'I think of you every day,' he replied honestly. 'And have done so every day since I first met you,'
She smiled that smile that made his heart beat, 'Do you know, Erik?'
'Know what?' he asked, confused.
She smiled again, a little wider. 'I think Madame Giry knew it long before I did,'
'What?' he asked gently.
'That I have always loved you,' she said, without breaking eye contact. 'That I love you now, that I loved you all the time you thought that I didn't, all of the time I thought Raoul was… I loved you always,'
With those words his heart stopped, his mind paused, he could not breath and he could not speak, he simply stared. They were the words he had wanted to hear for so long, words that he had dreamt of, words that never came. He had wanted them so much, needed them almost, that now he heard them he was incapable of responding. Incapable of even moving.
'No one could ever love me more than you have, Erik,' she said, taking his hand in both of hers. Stroking the skin of his palm with her soft thumbs. 'I understand that now, everything you have done for me, all these years, because you loved me… more than anyone could imagine. More than I could imagine,'
Erik stared down at their hands, together, his breathing slowly returning to normal, his heart bumping softly in his chest.
'And I…' She smiled, lifted his hand to her lips and pressed a kiss to his palm. 'I never even realised that I was capable of… of such love, I didn't even know it existed.'
'Christine…' he said, his voice hoarse.
'Please…' her eyes worried, she said, 'Don't leave me, don't walk away,'
He didn't know what to say to her.
'I understand now,' she repeated, eyes pleading. 'And we can go wherever you need to, anywhere, just don't leave,'
'I could not make you live your life the way I have lived mine, Christine,' he said softly, heart tearing as he spoke.
'Then we will find a middle ground,' she insisted, her tone earnest. 'We will go somewhere in the countryside, not too far but not too close to others… Erik, I know now that anything is possible.' She smiled at him. 'You make anything possible,'
Forcing his eyes away from her face, he glanced over his shoulder at the partly open gate, at escape, at the life he had always known.
'You're worried for me but I know my own mind,' she said, when he turned back to her. 'I have had years to think about this moment, to think about what I would do if I should ever see you again.' She touched his chest. 'This is what I want,'
He opened his mouth to speak but no words were forthcoming, all of his rational thought was gone and he was left with nothing to say. He knew that he should walk away, that he could never truly make her happy, but she looked so honest, so vulnerable that his feet were sinking into the ground. The more she spoke, the further he sank.
It wasn't an unpleasant sensation.
'I love you, Erik,' she whispered. 'Don't leave me,'
And in that moment it was decided. Not because it was right or because he could be a better man, not because he felt pressured or because he felt pity but because he loved her. To him there was not now, nor had there ever been, anything else worth living for. Since the moment he met her he had loved her with all of his heart, all of his soul, and today was no different to then.
He slipped his arm around her back, showing confidence that belied the nervous churning in the pit of his stomach, and pressed his lips to hers. They were soft, as he remembered, and her body was warm and moulded to him. He felt as her arms embraced his neck and pulled him closer, he knew that he could never let go now.
When the kiss ended, and she leaned away, everything seemed different. This kiss was not the end, not this time, not as their other kisses had proved to be. This was only the beginning.
'I'm sorry,' she said, gently, as she pressed another kiss to his lips. 'I will make it up to you, all of those years, I will make it up to you,'
'You have nothing to be sorry for,' he said. 'There should be no more apologies between us.'
She nodded, eyes sparkling under the beaming sun.
'What is in the past should remain there,' he said, and for the first time in his life he actually believed that he could let it go. 'From now on, for us, there is only the future…'
'And you won't leave?'
He smiled. 'How could I ever leave you?'
She broke away from him and slipped her hand in his. 'Follow me, I have something to show you,'
He hesitated, as he knew that he often would, until he learnt not to. Until she taught him not to.
'Trust me,' she whispered.
He nodded and slowly followed, hands clutched together as their hearts had always been.
'Madame Giry will want to see this,' Christine said, holding their linked hands up. 'And I think it is time that you met your son,'
A/N: Hope it wasn't too soppy! I'm not great at fluff.
I know that I am not supposed to do this but who cares. I'd just like to give a special, public thanks to:
Mels4: for encouraging me and being so kind when I was going through perhaps the toughest period in my life. For sticking with this and my other fics.
Mominator124: for reading the whole thing, every time, and leaving such good, in depth reviews.
They have both read at least the last two of my stories and review nearly every chapter. Not only that, they encourage me when I feel down. All of the reviews are very much appreciated and I will reply to all of you but I just wanted to say an extra special thanks to the two reviewers above!