~Phantom~

Love Never Dies

"Beneath A Moonless Sky"

Christine:"Queries"

I opened the door, praying Raoul was not home, and entered the suite.

He was mercifully absent.

A cosmic amount had happened in the past few hours, and I did not know what to think or how to feel. All I did know was that I wanted – needed – silence.

And Brandy.

The calming elixir would soothe my frayed nerves and thundering heart. The heat felt wonderful, and almost immediately my heart slowed and began to return to its normal rhythm. I poured myself another glass, drank deeply, then put it down and made my way to Gustave – there was no putting it off any longer.

I found him awake, sitting up in his bed waiting for me, the lamp beside him burning bright. When he saw me enter his eyes took me in with narrowed suspicion.

"What took you so long?"

I did not want to lie to him but for obvious reasons, there was no way I could answer that question honestly.

"I – we, Mr. Whye and I – had some matters that needed to be discussed. He feels very terrible that he frightened you."

Silence.

My son eyed me as though he were the adult, being forced to listen to the child's tale of lies.

I started to sweat.

"Gustave." I walked to his bed and sat at the foot of it. "I am so sorry that I did not tell you sooner that Mr. Whye is different. But, Gustave I–"

"Stop it, Mother. Stop!" Gustave shouted, breaking his silence at last. He was neither harsh, nor cold; he sounded tired, sad. "Please, Mother. Who is he?"

"I told you–"

"No! I know him – you know that I do!" His anger grew and I watched as the gold of his eyes began to simmer. "He's the man from my dream, Mother. I don't understand how I didn't realize it at first, but the moment he removed the mask I knew – my dream had told me so, only . . . it wasn't a dream, was it? What I saw all really happened, didn't it? That's why you will not tell me, isn't it?"

So many questions and not one of them held an easy answer. And still he went on.

"That's why you sit here now, white as a sheet, trembling because you know you cannot lie any longer. I want the truth. And I want it now, Mother!"

Cruel tears burned in my eyes. Gustave had never spoken to me like that before. Nor had I ever seen him look at me as he had; the 'perfect mother' illusion he had held for so long had been shattered – and all that he was left with was me, who never was and never would be perfect. I never felt so wretched in all my life.

He was right. I would not lie any longer.

I wouldn't tell him that Erik was his father, but I would tell him the rest. All of it. As intelligent and advanced as he might be, he was still only ten and was going to need time to take in what he was about to hear. I would not encumber him all at once with the whole truth.

"Yes," came from my lips in a ghost of a whisper. "He is the man from your dream."

He took that in, silent a few moments, and then asked, "Why didn't you tell me before we came? Mother, what does this all mean?" He was outwardly disturbed, and I could not blame him.

"I did not tell you, because at the time of your dream I had believed him gone, never to return to my life, and felt there no point in bringing up the painful past."

I was having second thoughts. How was I ever going to be able to tell the tale of The Phantom of the Opera to my son and have him not hate me for the coward I was – the coward I am – when I finished the sordid story?

I could only tell it to him the way it happened. No more, no less. So that was what I would do.

"I've told you that when I was a little girl of seven, my father – your grandpapa – died of consumption, yes? And because I had no living relatives to care for me, my father's last wishes were that I be placed in the care of the Paris Opera House and its head ballet mistress, Madeline Giry?" He shook his head in confirmation so I went on. "Well, my father had been close to Madeline's late husband and when he asked, she agreed to watch over me.

"I went – there was no other choice. It was the opera and Madame Giry, or the streets. At first I wept. I would cry throughout the days, the pain of my father's loss never leaving me. The loss of one's parent is not a sorrow I would wish on anyone. After a time, I conditioned myself to hold the grief in until the privacy of night when I could give myself over to it completely.

"One night, many weeks into my stay there, as I wept alone, I heard a voice."

Gustave was listening with great attention, a different intensity of some kind sparked his eyes amber.

Swallowing down the lump of anxiety that clung in my throat, I went on. "That voice, it was so gloriously beautiful and so heartbreakingly sad all at once. It began to speak to me at night, and I found that I was no longer alone.

"'Do not cry my child,' said the voice, and all at once I believed I knew who it was that was speaking to me. You see, before my father died, he told me that I would be protected by an angel – an angel of music. I was young, of course I believed him with all of my heart. So, when I asked the voice if it were the angel my father spoke of, it replied, 'Yes. I am your Angel of Music.'

"That night, and every one after, the Angel of Music was there. As the years went on, I began to hear his voice during the day. He was my tutor, and I can say from the very depths of my heart that my voice is only what it is because of it, because of him."

I stopped, struck by a memory.

I reflected upon a time, a long ago moment in time when I was fifteen, blissfully ignorant and in love with the idea of love.

And he was there.

He was always there, if not in voice then in spirit. The thought of him never left me. . . .

Late Christmas night, so very late that it seemed as though all the world was asleep save for me, I lit candles for my parents, knelt down upon the cold stone floor of the chapel and prayed. I was still too young, too foolish to realize that the things I prayed for God had no control over.

"Can you not sleep my angel?" asked the soft voice that seemed to resonate within my mind.

"I am not tired." It was a lie, I was exhausted, but I was not yet ready to leave behind the magic of Christmas. Even with no family to share it with, the day was one of wonder. Even as a grown woman – a mother – the day still held that childish enchantment for me.

"Something is plaguing you. What is it?" I never knew how, but somehow he always saw through me to the truth.

"It was nice spending today with Meg and Madame, but sometimes . . . I miss them so much." I did not have to tell him who 'they' were – he knew.

"I am sure that you do miss them. And that, I am afraid, is something you will always do. Just as wherever they are now, they continue to miss you."

"Do you have family, Angel?"

"I did. Once. Long ago. Why do you ask, sweet girl?"

"Do you not miss them?" We had never discussed anything of the sort and I found I was suddenly very curious to know more.

What I did know, without him saying it, was that he was as alone in the world as I. I had never thought of a melancholy angel. They were beautiful creatures of light, ones never depicted as being sad. But my angel was; a deep sorrow hung in his every word.

Sighing heavily, the sound full of woe, I heard, "No, Christine. I do not miss them; I cannot. For my grief over their loss is so great that I if I allowed it to, the weight of it would crush me."

"Are you not tired of living alone, Angel?"

"I used to be sick with loneliness, but not anymore."

"Why not?"

"Because I have you."

The clarity of that moment and the love I felt for my sorrowful angel, would never leave me. . . .

Bringing myself back to the present, to Gustave and our story, I drew in a deep breath and went on. "I did not see the Angel of Music until I was seventeen. It was then that I realized it was no angel after all, that it was in fact, a very sad and lonely man. It was Erik. I should have loathed him for his lies, but I did not – I could not. After so many years of his presence, I dared not think of a life without him in it.

"And when I came to know him, to understand his woes and the reason for his solitude, his deception and lies, I began to fall in love with him. And at that very same time, Raoul blew back into my life and created a gust of change that none of us could have been prepared for.

"I met Raoul, first" I was suddenly unable to say your father, "when I was a little girl in Sweden. He was on holiday with his family for the summer. It was the same summer my father played violin by the sea, where the people there would pay him for the joy of hearing the melodies he effortlessly played. He was very talented, your grandpapa." I smiled, but did not receive one in return. All that radiated from Gustave was rapt attention.

"I was wearing a red scarf, it had been my mother's, when a strong salt-smelling gust of wind picked it up and began to carry off and into to the grey sea. A platinum haired boy raced into the churning waters after it crying, 'I shall retrieve it for you miss!' He did, and came out of the sea sopping wet to hand me the scarf." I paused, swallowing over the large lump emotion stuck in my throat.

Suddenly I wondered why? Why had he raced into the sea? Why do such a thing for someone he had never met? It stung to admit it, but somewhere deep down, a part of me wished very much that he never had saved the scarf at all. All of us would have been so much better off if that scarf had been lost to the tides.

"We spent the summer together, laughing, playing, dancing, singing, reading, but what we loved best was to hear Papa's stories. They were always so exciting. For hours we would sit and listen to Papa. Raoul called me Little Lotte then." I added with a sad smile. "I'll never forget that summer, for in many ways it has been one of my happiest. But when the summer was over, he left and though he promised to write I would not hear or see from him again for eleven years.

"I was seventeen and had been given my first lead role in the opera Hannibal. After all the years of hard work my angel and I – Erik and I – had put in, I prayed there would be nothing to mar my, no – our – moment in the light. For the glory belonged as much to him as it did to me; my voice was everything it was because of Erik. And yet, it proved to be the exact moment when Raoul came back into my life, and without thought or care, I fell in love with him. And foolishly, carelessly, heartlessly – I turned my back on the person who had always been there for me.

"I want you to understand, before I go on, that people change Gustave. No matter what anyone says, people are capable of change. It is true that the only thing in this world that is constant is change. The person Erik was, and the person he is now are two different people."

Gustave spoke, breaking his silent thoughts. "But how can you justify killing, Mother? He did kill, didn't he?" Those golden cat-like eyes dared me to lie.

"There is no justifying murder. However, people that commit crimes when they are not sane, not right of mind, cannot be held accountable for those crimes. You've heard that, haven't you?"

He shook his head.

"Well, Erik went insane, I cannot explain it better. All rational thought had left his mind and the things, the horrendous acts that took place, were not done by the same man I had known almost all my life. On that I pledge my soul." I stared into his captivating eyes, willing him to believe me. "He is not that monster any longer, Gustave, can you believe that?" I needed him to say yes.

Instead he shook his head and said, "I do not know what to believe, Mother. In one way, I cannot see how someone who creates the beauty that he does could in any way be evil. However, I know who the man was in the end of my dream – vision – whatever it is you want to call it – and after what he did to you and Father, I do not know if his crimes are forgivable, no matter how much he has tried to right his wrongs."

I sighed, putting my head in my hands. If only I could make him understand. . . .

"You love him, don't you Mother?

My head shot up with a start.

"Gustave–"

"No more lying, remember?"

Yes, no more lies, I thought.

"Yes, Gustave, I love Erik. I came to find out far too late that I had always loved him. I could not help it any more than I could help the rising and setting of the sun." I felt a single, cool tear fall from my eye.

Though I wanted to, I could not tell what Gustave was thinking, his eyes were guarded gold.

He is so much like Erik. . . .

"Do you love him more than you love Father?"

"No."

"No?" he came back, suspicion coloring his tone.

"I love them both in very different ways, do you understand?"

That was the root of it all. I did love them both.

"I think so." He said at last, and I thought my heart would burst with relief as I watched his chilly façade melt.

"Darling, please believe me when I say that I am so very sorry that I kept all of this from you, but I have faith that you are wise and understanding enough to see that it was only because I thought it best for you."

"I forgive you, Mother." It seemed as though it had been forever since I had seen him smile, and when he did, I wanted to cry; it was so beautiful . . . he was so beautiful.

I stood up, and walked over to hug him, but he put his hand up stopping me from doing so.

"Is the rest of the vision true – the end in particular, that he let Father and you go?" It seemed very important to him that this be true.

"Yes."

"All right," he said, though it was more to himself than me.

He sat up, kissed my cheek, turned off the light beside his bed, pulled the satin bedspread up to his chin and closed his eyes.

"I'm tired, Mother. I think I know what I needed to now. Thank you for your honesty."

I was taken aback by his sudden nonchalant behavior. I muttered, "You're welcome. Goodnight, I love you." I was closing the door when I remembered Erik's request. "Gustave?"

"Yes, Mother?"

"Your father wanted me to tell you he loves you."

"I love him, too Mother. Goodnight."

I shut the door to his room with tears in my eyes, and couldn't help but think that he was taking it all much better than I had ever dared hope.

I made my way back to the sitting room. Once there, I poured myself a drink and opened the French doors that led out to the balcony for some fresh air.

I was swallowing down the last of the warm, soothing liquid in my glass – imagining the ecstasy of a hot bath – when the turning of the door knob, a bang, followed by a faint curse, shattered such dreams.

"Son of a . . ." Once again the knob turned, but the door would not open. Then he was yelling. "For the love of God let me in! Christine? Christine let me in!" The banging began again in earnest. "Are you there? Can you hear me? Open the door!"

I sighed, setting the empty glass down on a table near the sofa, and opened the door.

Looking at Raoul in his rumpled suit and tousled hair, I could tell immediately that he was drunk. But given the cold, scathing awareness that was in his eyes, I was certain that he was not yet dead drunk.

"Well, well," he drawled walking in, pushing me to the side and slamming the door shut. "Look who's finally home."

"Me? I've been home! What about you? Where have you been!"

He had already filled a glass full of the amber liquid he seemed to love and cherish so, and turned narrowed eyes upon me. "I have been home too, waiting for you, my dear wife. I came back to apologize and take my family out to dinner. I waited and waited, and finally – those three freaks –" he raged, more angry now than I had seen him in some time. "brought Gustave home, crying, no less, I couldn't get the boy to tell me one damn word, and through all of this, his mother is nowhere to be seen!" He was loud, very loud, but his next words were slow and lethal in their delivery. "Now tell me, Christine – where have you been!"

There was no point in lying. "I was with Mr. Whye."

"You mean you were with him," he said, making it sound dirty. I had no idea how he found out about, Erik.

I didn't speak a word and that in and of its self, spoke volumes.

I knew the shouting had only just begun, and I wanted to get him out of the suite before he aroused Gustave and Bridgett. I looked around for a place to go and saw the open doors to the balcony.

"Raoul I–"

"You what Christine? WHAT!"

I was slowly making my way out of the sitting room and edging out to the balcony as he unknowingly followed.

"I am sorry." We were half way to the open doors, and I was confidant no one would hear us outside. I stole a glance over my shoulder and saw the lights of the city sparkle invitingly beyond.

"Sorry? You're SORRY!" In his heated rage, he knocked over an armchair and the table beside it with one swipe. I heard the distinct sound of shattering glass.

"Raoul, please – I beg you, Gustave is–"

"Sorry. Sorry," he ranted on to himself, ignoring my pleas. "She's sorry!" His behavior was beginning to frighten me. He was acting as though he were mad.

Finally, I stepped over the threshold and brought the argument outside; I felt that I could breathe a bit easier.

"Tell me, dear wife – have you known all these years that he was alive?"

While I had stopped in the middle of the horseshoe-shaped balcony, he still advanced. Instinctively, I moved away from his fury filled eyes, but soon found that I had very little room remaining between myself and the iron railing that kept me from plummeting to my death. A few more steps and my back would be flush against the rail. I was never an enthusiast of heights, and the prospect of coming so close to the edge unnerved me.

Perhaps coming out here was not such a good idea after all, I thought nervously.

I had not answered him, so he shouted, "WELL? Have you known all this time!"

"No, Raoul. I swear it!" It was not a lie, and I felt that at the moment, with him so close to snapping, it was best to keep my answers short and simple.

I thought wrong.

"Can you not speak all of a sudden? Has the cat got your tongue, Christine?" There was going to be no reasoning with him in the state he was in. I would have to weather out the storm as best as I was able.

"I can speak fine, thank you." I simply could not help the curt, clipped tone that crept into my response.

I was angry and scared – a bad combination. He was cornering me like an animal in a cage and I in no way appreciated it. My back made contact with the cold rail and I stood stiff and tall.

"Raoul, you need to calm down. Please let me by because I am going to bed. We can discuss this in the morning when you are more yourself."

I went to move around him, but he angrily caught me and threw me against the unyielding rail. I cried out as a sharp pain radiated throughout my back.

"You are not going anywhere until you tell me what I want to know. Why are we here? What have you done!" His sweet, noxious-smelling alcohol filled breath blew past my face as he grabbed and shook me, making my stomach turn.

"Raoul, let go of me!" I attempted to yank myself free, but it was useless.

"Not until you answer me!"

"Raoul–"

"ANSWER ME!" He shook me like a rag doll; my body crying out in pain each time it collided with the unbending iron rungs of the rail.

Crying.

Just as suddenly as he was shouting, he was weeping.

"Oh, God. Why Christine? Why must you always love him?" He clung to me in desperation, a little boy who's heart has been broken.

And no matter who he had been only a moment ago, I felt myself fill with guilt, with grief. It seemed that no matter what I did, I would inevitably hurt him in the end.

"Christine. Oh, Christine. . . ." He wept on. I put my arms around him, wishing desperately for a way to heal the wounded creature before me, yet knowing that there wasn't one.

"I love you, Christine – so much. Why is it not enough!"

"Darling, it is enough. I love you, you know that–"

"But not enough." He said flatly, his tears quickly ceasing.

"Not enough?"

"Not enough to forget him! Don't you see – he's the reason our lives have come tumbling down around us! And now he's got us right where he wants us!" The sorrow that consumed him seconds before vanished, and the anger and hatred that beleaguered him earlier, returned with a vengeance.

"Darling–"

His mouth was suddenly upon mine, halting any further speech.

His rapid change in mood so shocked me that I stood frozen. When I did not respond as he wanted, he buried his hands in my hair, pulling my head back to expose my vulnerable throat.

"You can do better than that." He brought his lips down – and bit me!

"Ow!" I struggled to pull free.

"Now I've gotten a reaction out of you, haven't I?" He smiled cruelly.

Before I could respond, he threw me to the ground, knocking the breath from me.

When at last I could breathe, I stormed, "Are you crazy!" I was well beyond the breaking point, and I began to get up to face him.

"YES, I AM! And it is you who has made me so!"

He was down on the ground beside me – on me – pressing my tender body into the stone floor.

"What are you doing!" I spat, fighting to move his larger body off mine.

"What's the matter, Christine? I thought you liked your men dangerous." He snarled in my ear.

His grip upon me was vise-like and I realized that my struggle was fruitless. He was far stronger than I and unless he willed it, I was going nowhere.

For the very first time in our ten, almost eleven year marriage, I was actually afraid of him. The enraged, brutal man in front of me now was not anything like my husband. I did not know what this new creature would or would not do, but I suddenly felt very foolish for choosing to go outside where no one could hear us, could hear me. . . .

I had to remain calm, had to talk some sense, some reason, back into this stranger, but before I could do that, he was kissing me. It wasn't hard and domineering like before, it was soft and urgent with passion – it was how he kissed me earlier in day when he had seemed for a moment like the person I had fallen in love with.

"I can't!" He breathed in agony, suddenly wrenching himself from me.

I was confused and very frightened; his Jekyll and Hydeperformance was downright scary.

"What do you–"

"You've been with him! I can smell him all over you. You make me sick!" He spat in disgust.

Now that he was away from me, I rose to my feet. Before I could blink, I was back down on the floor. He had slapped me.

I brought my hand to my stinging cheek in a stupor of disbelief.

He hit me.

Raoul hit me.

Something inside me, that had mercifully remained unscathed until then, was torn.

"Christine, I'm sorry – so sorry! I apologize! I didn't mean to, I–"

"You bastard."

A haze – a fog – of fury came over me and before I could think I was on my feet and advancing on him. Now it was he who recoiled.

"YOU SON OF A BITCH!"

I took all the strength I could muster and slapped him in return.

His reaction was anything but what I had expected. He somehow thought this was an invitation to kiss me. When I could finally pull free, I slapped him again.

He understood.

This was no passionate fight between two lovers who would kiss and make up. I wanted nothing to do with him, and that was plain.

Enraged was too simple a word to describe the person who threw me to the ground and was now wrapping his large hands around my fragile neck and squeezing. . . .

"How could you! Why? WHY!"

I didn't know what 'why' meant, but I cried out as his hands tightened their hold, a stupid thing to do; as soon as I exhaled I found I could no longer inhale. As I began to choke to death all I could think was, This is Raoul . . . sweet Raoul . . . the boy who fetched my scarf from the sea. . .

My vision began to fade;I was going to lose consciousness any second now. . . .

"WH–"

His weight was no longer upon me. He was gone. But where could he have. . .

Erik.

It was Erik.

I looked on, the scene wavering in and out of focus as I fought to catch my breath, stunned to see Erik as he picked Raoul off me and hurled him with staggering force into the iron railing, nearly sending him over.

"Are you okay? Christine, are you hurt?" Erik turned to me, his eyes filled with panicked worry as they scanned me for injuries.

"No, I'm fine."

He looked me over again, confirming with his own eyes that I was unharmed, and rose before me like a black panther defending its mate. A raw wildness had seeped into him, and danger radiated from him in plumes.

Raoul turned, blood trickling from his nose, using the railing for support."How dare you!" He glanced at the blood which had soaked the sleeve he held to his battered nose in astonishment.

Before I could shout for him to stop, he ran towards Erik with his fists raised. And just like before, with one quick, deft blow Raoul hit the floor as Erik loomed over him.

"Stay down, de Chagny. If you know what is good for you, stay down." His voice was glacial.

Raoul, though loathing to lose, remained where he was.

"Christine." Erik breathed as he fell upon his knees to take me into his arms.

"Erik, I am fine. Really," I stressed when he shot me a skeptical eye. "Please, I just want to go inside and–"

Black!

Gray!

White!

Light!

An explosion of light.

And pain!

My head was exploding!

But then I realized that it was not exploding, it had been smashed to the stone floor as two bodies collided. Somewhere nearby those bodies were in a dance of some kind; no, not a dance – a fight.

Oh, God!

I tried to lift my head and nearly blacked out from the intense pain. I concentrated, willing my body to cooperate with me so I could at least open my eyes. I did, and at once I shut them again for even the dim light of the night hurt. I slit them open a fraction and saw that Raoul was again on the floor as he held his bleeding face.

"If you get up this time, I will kill you," snarled the panther above him.

I believed the prey would obey and remain subordinate, but it did not. I watched in horror as Raoul flung himself at Erik's long legs, bringing him down in a tumble.

"YOU kill ME? You've ruined my life! I'll kill YOU!"

I had to stop this. They were going to kill each other. Or more likely, Erik would kill Raoul – either way I had to put an end to it.

Managing to stand – albeit unsteadily – I cried, "Stop! STOP!"

They didn't hear me as they stood and began to circle one another. Raoul wiped the blood from his face, and where it welled out of a significant cut above his left brow. Erik, it appeared, was unscathed save for his disheveled hair and clothes.

"PLEASE STOP!" I could have screamed it as loud as a freight train whistle and still they would not have heard me.

I knew there was only one way to put an end to all this madness; I was going to have put myself between them.

"STOP! STOP!" I shouted, my arms outstretched, warding them off on either side.

At the end of each arm stood a raging, fuming, gnashing man; both brought back to their most basic of instincts – kill or be killed. But I had successfully split them up, and prayed the situation would begin to cool.

I was wrong.

"Look at you, monster! Pretending that you belong in society? What a joke!" Raoul seethed. "How dare you drive us here to this FREAK SHOW and how dare you think, even for a moment, that you can take what is MINE!"

Erik laughed, the sound black velvet. "Yours? She belongs to me – she always has. And that is what drives you so mad, is it not?" Erik smiled, showing his predator's teeth. He was playing, toying with Raoul now. "No matter what you do . . . she will never be yours."

That was all it took for Raoul to shove me out of the way so he could get to Erik.

They're not going to be satisfied until some gets killed. That was all I could think before I felt a cold rail, and myself gliding over it. I was falling backward. . . I was sailing right off the side of the. . .

A warm, urgent hand grasped mine, and how – while I was in midair – it caught me, I shall never know.

"Hold on, damn you! Christine, I said HOLD ON!" I realized that the frenzied voice above wanted me to grip as tightly as I could. Instantly, I obeyed.

I looked up and saw two golden eyes that commanded my attention at once.

"I'm going to pull you up. Whatever you do, do not let go! Do you understand me?" He growled.

"Yes, I understand! Please, hurry Erik!"

I was swiftly losing my calm as I became aware of just how precarious a position I was in. The more I tried to battle the panic, the more I panicked. I managed to keep my composure long enough to do as he asked, and then I was being lifting me up and over the rail and into his arms. Once there, I wept.

"My God. You almost – I almost did not get to you – dear God it would have been Luciana all over again!" He clung to me, wrapping me in the comforting span of his arms.

Raoul.

What had happened to Raoul?

I opened my eyes to look over Erik's shoulder, and saw a very white version of my husband. But when Erik kissed me, and murmured a thanks to God, his color began to return.

"Look at the two of you," Raoul uttered emotionlessly, the agony of it all lay in eyes. "Have you no shame – no compassion?"

Turning around with me still in his arms, Erik said, "It hurts, doesn't Comte – knowing that the one you love is in love another? That the thing you cherish most will leave you–"

"Christine's not leaving!" The white was completely gone from his face now, replaced by the fuchsia color of fury.

"Perhaps not, but the uncertainty of it wounds, does it not?" He smiled wickedly.

He was enjoying this; that betraying ring of pure bouillon – larger, much larger in size than his son's – was burning bright with satisfaction.

"You are wrong. There is no uncertainty. Christine is mine! Mine by law and by God. This argument was settled long ago!"

"Ah, but we were playing a different game then, Comte. The rules have changed."

"You filthy, son of a–"

"No! No, Raoul!" I cried, as I again placed myself between the two raging bulls.

For some enigmatic reason I will never know, Raoul listened. "Fine. I won't touch him. I'm leaving before I kill him!"

"Yes, do run along. After all, you might as well get used to walking away now." Erik purred.

Raoul stopped, turning around in the doorway. "This isn't over – not by a long shot."

"No, it isn't."

Both men glared,each waiting for the other to break eye-contact first. In the end it was Raoul who turned and walked away. A few moments later I heard the front door slam shut.

"Let me see your neck," he barked, his hands on my shoulders moving my hair to the side.

"Erik, it is fine."

But he was not taking my word for it as he continued to assess the damage.

"No, you certainly are not fine. Your neck will be a tender bruised mess comes tomorrow, to say nothing of what your head and the rest of you will feel like. That ignorant drunk could have damaged your voice . . . he could have killed you." I heard the sharp intake of breath as this fact washed over him.

While I was not going to come right out and admit it, I had been frightened for the same reason. I was truly afraid for my life tonight, and the more I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that it was Raoul I was frightened of, the more confused I became.

"I do not know what happened to him, Erik. I'm scared for him. I have never seen him like that."

"How many times has he hit you, Christine – before tonight?" The question was short, clipped, and the tone was deadly.

"Oh God, never! Raoul has never laid his hands on me until this night, I swear it." For some reason I could not explain, it was all of a sudden extremely important that Erik believe me. I needed him to know that Raoul was, despite his recent downfalls, a good man. "After I left you, I came back here, spoke with Gustave, went into the living room and that's when Raoul came home and I think you know the rest. As soon as I admitted to being with you, he lost control." I was deeply worried for him – what if he had some kind of mental breakdown?

"You, my dear, are unbelievable!" Erik laughed humorlessly, shaking his head in amazement. "You are actually worried about him, aren't you?"

"Of course I am concerned for him, Erik! The man has been my husband for over ten years, and despite what I feel for you, I still love and care for him. I fear coming here might have been his undoing. What happened here tonight was not all his fault – he just lost control – he didn't mean to."

"Listen to you!" he cried, throwing up his hands in exasperation. "You sound like a common battered wife!"

"That is not the case and you damn well know it!" His previous comment had stung and I found the anger within me suddenly growing. "There are circumstances involved here that have to be taken into–"

"Circumstances? You are making excuses for behavior that has none!"

I went to speak but he held up his hand, so I remained silent.

"I do not care," he began shaking his head. "It does not matter. Anything you are about to say in reference to him, is pointless, for it does not matter. Not after tonight – not after what he has done to you. Do you have any idea the control it took for me not to kill him? I could have done so easily – and I wanted to – but I did not. But he is out of control – can you not see that? What will it come to next, Christine? There is no way you can stay with him after this!"

"I cannot simply leave him, Erik!"

"You cannot stay! I will not allow it! Gustave is as much my child as he is yours, and under no circumstances will he ever bear witness to a scene such as the one which transpired here tonight."

I was fuming. He infuriated me for being so stubbornly narrow minded when it came to my marriage – to Raoul!

"You are worried that he shall be tainted from witnessing Raoul and I fight, but what about you – what about what you showed him tonight? You nearly frightened him to death! What in God's name were you thinking, Erik?"

"I cannot apologize for that enough. I truly have no idea what possessed me to think it was acceptable to show him who I was so soon." He spoke softly, earnestly – but quickly added in a temper, "That is irrelevant! I will not have my son – my son – around his influence. I will not!"

I was furious with him! What kind of parent did he think I was? As if I would ever allow Gustave to see anything like what had happened here tonight. The nerve of him – the absolute gall!

"You have some nerve to even think that after all these years of your absence you're going to waltz back into our lives as if nothing has ever happened! And you are severely mistaken if you believe, even for a second, that you can make demands involving my son – mine. I carried him, gave birth to him and it has been my job, Erik – not yours – to care for him as best as I have been able. If he belongs to anyone, it is to me!"

I saw the great struggle within him as he fought to remain calm, to not make it obvious just how angry he really was, but those traitorous eyes that burned with fury said it all. He was murderously mad.

Well, good! I thought. I don't care if he is angry with me – Gustave is my child!

"Christine," he began slowly, choosing each word carefully. "That child, by right of God, belongs to me as much as he does you. You would do well never to forget that." His voice was a dangerous mixture of satin and velvet.

"He is mine, Erik. You cannot take him from me." I said between clenched teeth.

"Christine–"

"You have no rights to him!" It was suddenly dawning on me that perhaps Erik would try to take Gustave away from me.

Well, let him try, I thought. No one on this earth will ever succeed in doing that.

"You have no say – not after leaving us!" I hadn't realized until that moment just how much I still resented him for leaving. And out of nowhere, I began to cry.

"Oh, my love – my sweet love. Please do not cry, I cannot bear it when you cry," he begged, taking me into his arms. I did not fight him – I could not, for the security of his arms and the blissful peace which they contained, was precisely what I needed.

"I will never forgive myself for leaving, for being unable to stay. I will hate myself for it until I die, you must know that. But Christine . . . I am here now, and I vow on my life, that if you wish it to be so I will never leave you again." His lips brushed my cheek, sending a thrill through me. "You know that this is right . . . that we," he breathed into my open, waiting mouth, "are right."

I was not sure if I was suddenly lightheaded from my injuries, the events of the day and night, or from intoxicating nearness of him. I wasn't myself in his arms and yet, I was never more so. My mind was swirling as he placed his lips on mine.

He was right.

We were two halves of the same whole – there was no way to deny it. But I also knew what I felt for my husband, and there was no denying that either. I was just as confused as ever before.

It was some kiss, for it gave me the feeling that my legs were falling out from under me.

"Christine, are you all right?" My legs apparently really did give way, if it had not been the security of his arms I would have fallen.

I felt extremely faint, and not at all in a pleasant way. "Erik, I think I need to lie down."

No sooner had the words left my mouth, was he picking me up and depositing me on sofa inside.

"I will be right back, sweetheart, give me but one moment and then I will be back to ease some of your pain."

"Erik?" I asked, taking hold of his hand so he would not yet leave. "How did you know I was in trouble?"

"I was dropping by to speak with your husband – as you can see we still have a few matters that need settling – when I heard a murmur of commotion. I let myself in, followed the sounds, and once I saw the mess in here," he swept his arm out showing me the broken glass and toppled furniture, "I knew something had happened. Then I heard your cries and ran as fast as I could to you." Pain welled in his eyes as its liquid grief ran down his face.

I knew why he cried. He was in some way blaming himself for what Raoul – not he – had done.

"I want him dead, Christine," he growled lowly. "I came temptingly close to nearly doing the job myself, but I managed to stay in control. Next time . . . there is no telling what I shall do."

"You need not worry yourself on it any longer, for I assure you that tonight was the first and last time my husband will ever hit me."

Smiling, with a look I could only name as trust, he said, "I believe you." He gently squeezed my hand in reassurance. Then dropping it, declared, "Now, allow me fetch a few things that will make you undoubtedly more comfortable."

"Oh no, Erik – it is late, and I am so very tired. All I want to do is sleep. If you could just help me to my bed, then you could leave–"

"Leave? I am afraid I am not going anywhere while our dear Comte is in such a state. I will not leave you and my son to deal with the beast alone. Nor, will I go anywhere until I see that you are as comfortable as I can make you." His tone left no room for argument.

As he turned and left, I closed my eyes and though I was tired through and through, I could not make sleep come. Too many unanswered questions ran through my mind and the loudest, most commanding one of them all was, What I am I going to do . . . which man will I forsake?

He returned with some ice wrapped in a towel for the back of my head, a cool wash cloth for the front of my head, and to aid sleep he brought with him a glass of warm milk. I did not ask how he had done all of this so speedily, I was thankful and I gratefully took the warm mug he offered.

I tried again. "Really, I'll be fine now. I am going to go to sleep and prepare for tomorrow. I have quite a day ahead of me, do I not?" I smiled weakly, for the activity of it hurt.

What I had just jestingly said, was perhaps the biggest understatement I ever uttered in my life. Tomorrow was the day I would have to break someone's heart. Tomorrow was the day I was going to make a choice that would affect us all and the thought of it made me sick.

"Yes, you do have a big day tomorrow – I believe we all do." Easily he had picked up on my train of thought.

Was I really so plain to read, a mirror that held no secrets? Or was he just simply that astute at reading my mind? I pondered this as he picked me up and carried me into the bedroom, softly laying me down upon the bed.

"It's a little of both really." He smiled devilishly as he answered my thoughts.

"How did you?"

"For me, who has so many years practice, you are not hard to understand. I need but one look in your chocolate eyes and I see what lies beyond."

He turned and came back with a wooden chair which I assumed came from the desk in the room, and placed it next to the bed. He sat in it, his one hand in mine, the other lovingly caressing the side of my face.

I looked into his eyes and could not have looked elsewhere if I had wanted – which I did not. I could not help but think of how very much I loved him, and what all the long lonely years had been like in his absence. Could I get through, not just another ten, but who knew how many years without him? A deep shiver overcame me – which he had seen and thus proceeded to pull the blanket up higher, so that it was tucked right below my chin.

He's so good to me, I thought drowsily.

"Thank you," I murmured yawning.

"I wish you would not thank me. I am only doing what I must. I have always felt it my duty to watch over you. I suppose that is why any time you have ever been hurt, I respond so poorly. I feel as though I am letting you down and that is something – above all others – I wish never to do."

I was exhausted, and my arm – as I lifted it to stroke the side of his face – was heavy with sleep. But I had to touch him, to commit ever trace of him as he looked now to memory.

"Please, don't lay any blame upon yourself for what happened here tonight. You are in no way at fault." I was struck by a memory. "Do you remember when I was fourteen and Meg tried teaching me to go on point, only I didn't have the right ballet slippers and ended falling right off the stage and breaking my ankle?"

I watched as some of the heaviness left him and he smiled. "I remember that when I found out I had wanted to wring Megan's neck, until I realized that it was an accident and it had not been her fault. It was mine. I was your guardian, your protector, not she."

"But do you not see, my love?" I was very tired now, my tongue and eyelids felt heavy, and I was having a hard time controlling them, but I could not go to sleep until I made him understand. "That was no more your fault then, than it was tonight. The sooner you realize that you are not to be blamed for everything that happens – the sooner you will put my heart at ease." I was losing focus fast. "There are so many terrible things . . . tragedies . . . that can befall us . . . any given day . . . you never know what tomorrow may bring . . . kills me . . . think of you wallowing . . . away . . . in grief . . . if . . . accident . . . happened to me. . . ."

"You are ready to sleep now, love. Shh, just sleep – I will not leave you. No accident shall befall you while I am here."

Somewhere through the fog of sleep, I felt his hands grip mine.

"Why . . . me?" I managed, though I didn't know how, to mumble.

"What do you mean, sweet girl – why you, what?"

"Why . . . pick me . . . when . . . so many other. . . ."

I could not finish the question, nor could I open my eyes to look at him as he answered, but I could hear him clear and true in my dozing mind.

"You are the only one I have ever loved . . . you're the love of my life, sweet girl. There never was and there never will be anyone else."

With those words playing over in my mind a deep, peaceful, query free sleep claimed me. . . .

*Author's Note:

I hope you guys liked this chapter. It was one that seemed to be almost completely written by the characters, all the outlines I had for it went out the window once I began writing.

I believe that what I'm going to do comes the end of the story is write both two different endings; one where Christine dies, and one where she does not. It'll sort of be like a chose your own adventure book. YOU can decide how you'd like to end the story, not me, lol! What do you guys think of that idea?

As always, a huge thank you to each and every one of you who read and review. Please, please take a moment to review. I live for the reviews and can say with absolute honesty they're the only reason this story is still going. So like I just said – PLEASE REVIEW! :)

xo

-Shannon*