I do not own the characters; they were borrowed from various versions of Phantom of the Opera.
OK, so I promised a longer story, and here you go. I actually wrote this one 5 years ago! I can't believe it's been that long, but I have spent a LONG time editing it and brushing it up. You wouldn't believe how much your writing style can change in 5 years! Anyway, this particular story is really a happy ending story that starts where the musical ends. It is rated mature for upcoming segments, not these first couple of parts. This one means a lot to me because this is the story that I always go to when my insomnia kicks in; I just think through its scenes, and for some strange reason, it calms me down! I really don't know why! So I guess you could say that this one really holds a special place in my heart and my irregular sleep patterns!
I am posting the first two segments of this one today, and during the next week, I will put up the rest in a couple more posts. I did say it was long! It's like a mini-novel! Also, for people who have been very nice about reading the stories I've been posting pretty much on a weekly basis, I have to take a small hiatus from posting anything new for the next few weeks after this story. I really need to start writing my new novel, and for some reason, I can't creatively write one thing and edit another at the same time. My brain won't work that way! So I hope you enjoy this story, and I promise more new stuff in a few weeks!
SUMMARY: After the final scene, Christine returns to the opera to save Erik and is once again torn over what her heart truly wants.
"In the Presence of Angels"
"Go! Leave this place! Leave your fallen angel in peace! Go now!" Erik's beautiful voice roared and echoed off of the damp walls of the catacombs. This was a command, and Erik's commands were never to be argued with, as Christine well knew. But why argue? Wasn't this what she and Raoul had been fighting for? Wasn't this the ending that they had wanted? …And yet why was there nothing but a despondent aching attached to its reality? And why wasn't happiness even an option to consider at the moment…?
Even as she was hesitating, Raoul did not pause to give Erik the opportunity to change his mind. He could already hear the callings for blood from the impending mob. They were getting close…, too close. He would have killed the disfigured freak himself if he had had the opportunity, but he had little doubt that the mob would certainly succeed where he had not and end this nightmare for him.
Grabbing Christine by the arm, the Vicomte de Chagny in the wet and tattered remains of his finest suit with rope burns marring the flawless skin of his throat began to pull her toward the lake. That stupid monster had trapped himself here to await his own demise by insisting that he and Christine take the one and only means to escape. And as far as Raoul was concerned, it was only justice being served.
"Wait, Raoul, wait!" Christine suddenly shouted at him as they arrived at the boat haphazardly resting on the shore.
"We have to go now!" he yelled back at her, retaining his viselike grip on her arm even as she struggled urgently to pull free. "Come on!"
"No, wait!" Christine was frantic. Her gaze was locked on Erik, who stood somberly just up the shore with eyes that never left her silhouette despite the foreboding noises of danger echoing about them. He wouldn't flee the mob's approach; she was already certain of that.
"Damn it, Christine!" Raoul was yelling as she yanked and twisted in his hold. "We can't wait any longer!" Before she could manage to break loose, the Vicomte abruptly caught her around the waist and nearly heaved her over the boat's side, warning as he did, "Stay put! I'm saving your life, or are you so eager to die at his side?"
It was the bitterness and the utter blame in his voice that kept Christine from arguing even as every bit of her screamed to leap out and race back to Erik. Raoul was hurt, and he was angry; she knew that he had every right to be. He had been a step away from death's door tonight, and as he had fought to hold on to life for her, to save her, he had had to watch as his faithful fiancée had chosen another man and had sealed her vow with a kiss. It couldn't have been pleasant, to say the least.
Raoul shoved the boat into the water and climbed in with her, poling inexpertly away from the shore's sandy bed, and as the boat jolted and rocked in an erratic bob, she couldn't help but compare his awkward skills with the smooth grace of Erik's on their every trip to his home.
Erik! Scooting to the very edge of her seat, Christine turned back and met her angel's anguished eyes. He had made no move to hide himself, as if all ability had left him with her. Even with the growing distance between them, his mismatching eyes were bearing into her, branding her skin and searing her to her core. It was as if he was touching her with eyes alone, and not just one touch in one place, but everywhere all at once. Never did he try to conceal the depth of his emotions, never hiding the contorted features of his malformed face as though to insist that in letting her go, he had killed himself already. He wanted her to see what losing her was costing him, and how her heart throbbed in the deepest recesses of her chest in resounding reply!
The boat was moving toward a tunnel. Christine knew that her view would soon be severed completely and lost, but as she was still a willing spectator to a scene already in progress before her, she caught a glimpse of the glow of torches coming from an opposite tunnel. Within moments, splashes met her ear intermixed with vulgar shouts and murderous death calls as the men leading the mob through the catacombs came into view like actors emerging from the wings in their grand entrance.
"Raoul, the mob!" Christine called desperately over her shoulder without ever looking away.
But the Vicomte was too preoccupied muttering curses beneath his breath and fighting to keep the boat moving onward to give her much notice. It was a nearly impossible feat to refrain from veering sideways at every stroke of the pole through the water's dark, ink-like surface, and one more swerve to the right brought another inaudible string of indecent crudities huffed through a clenched jaw.
With the shouting of the mob ringing in her ears, Christine could do nothing more than beg through a shared, unbreakable gaze alone for Erik to run. Tears poured down her face as she desperately shook her head, watching in muted horror as the first ones of the group made their way onshore. The men did not hesitate or wait for the others to join them; they simply went after Erik, fists bared, vengeance begun.
"No!" Christine screamed in terror though no one heard or cared. But Erik never looked away from her horrorstricken expression, not even when the first punch struck his gut or the second one or the third. No, it was not until the full mob closed around him and therefore barred his view of her that their stare was broken.
"Raoul!" Christine shouted, turning only then to grab at the Vicomte's tattered remains of a shirt with desperately clawing fingers. "Turn back! You have to turn back! They're going to kill him!"
"Good riddance," the Vicomte snapped with a sneer of impatience as the boat once again careened sideways out of his control.
"How can you say such a thing?" she retorted, yanking incessantly on his sleeve. "You have no right to decide if he should live or die! And neither do they! Now turn around, Raoul! We have to stop them!"
"Stop them? You naïve fool! You're right to assume that I don't care about his worthless life, but I do care about yours, and I'm getting you out of here." He didn't dare pause in his poling, steering them forward again, as he continued to insist harshly, "That mob is out for revenge, and they want blood. What do you think they'll do to you if you go back there to defend him and in his wedding dress of all things? They'll likely string you up right with him. They don't want words and explanations, Christine; they want violence and death. I will not let you die for that monster!"
"But, Raoul-," she protested, still clutching his sleeve with hands that would not cease in their constant shaking.
"Sit down!" the Vicomte roared back at her. "Before you get us both killed!"
She wanted to argue, to scream at him, to jump off the boat even if she drowned in the lake in her folly of an attempt. At least she'd die trying to save Erik instead of sitting helplessly and idly in this boat knowing that he could be dying at that exact moment. But then she looked at Raoul; he was so focused on getting her to safety. If her foolishness got him killed as well after all she had put him through, she knew that she'd never be able to forgive herself. She was already doomed to carry the guilt for what she'd mercilessly done to Erik upon her narrow shoulders for the rest of her life...; she was sure that she could not endure to hold anymore.
Weary to the bone, she sank back down onto her seat. They were within the tunnel now, and out of view of the mob, but the shouts still rang deafeningly in her ears, blotting out every thought or mental escape. …She was listening to Erik die….
With tears pouring silently down her cheeks in unending rivulets, Christine hung her head in her hands and covered her ears tightly with her palms to block out the noises as she rocked inconsolably back and forth on the cushioned seat of Erik's boat, alone….
"Music is not about the notes on the page or the pitches we sing. It is about what is inside of the soul. It is about baring the innermost essence of yourself. And it is about letting it into your very being beneath skin and bone, deeper yet until it possesses every bit of you…. When you can do that, Christine, when you can let music play through the very heart of you, then you'll be the greatest singer ever to grace the opera stage…." Erik's words played in Christine's head as she gazed distractedly up at the high canopy of her bed in the de Chagny mansion.
It was nearing dawn; the sky was just beginning to show some form of brightening off in the distance, but she had yet to fall asleep. She couldn't even make a half-hearted attempt. Every time she closed her eyes even just for the briefest moment, she saw the mob etched to perfection behind her lids, saw them as they surrounded Erik, saw his sorrowful eyes as he watched her leave, uncaring to the peril he had placed himself in. She couldn't make the visions cease or quit the uncontrollable unraveling of the torturous thoughts that they brought with them and the desperate need to know what had happened after she had lost sight of the scene.
She hadn't been able to discuss her agony with Raoul. He had brought her out of the opera house and to his home in utter silence, and his only parting words had been that she would feel better and more like herself after a good night's rest. Didn't he understand how impossible that was? Or that no amount of sleep could make her forget what had happened? It was a trauma scarring her soul for the rest of her life.
Minutes dragged by, each laden with more weight than the last, and as the sky grew lighter with the impending sunrise, Christine started to hear footsteps creaking the floors beneath hers, and hushed voices that carried like a droning hum through the thin walls. She had little doubt that she herself was the topic of much of the bustling conversation through the servant's quarters. When she and Raoul had arrived the previous night, only a few of the many staff had still been awake to greet them. Surely by now, everyone would be talking about the strange late night return of the Vicomte de Chagny and his opera singer fiancée clad in a dirty wedding gown upon their arrival.
And what of the papers? Their morning headlines were certain to be filled with news of the bizarre premiere of Don Juan Triumphant and the disfigured, murdering singer who had usurped the lead role midway through the halted performance and had carried off the star soprano. Dear Lord, the scandal of it all, and her name would be right in the center of it! And if Raoul had considered that he had brought such cruel gossip upon his family and their good name by announcing that he would wed an opera singer, now…now it could only be far worse….
Christine sighed to herself and cuddled deeper beneath the covers of her bed. No, she couldn't think of those terrible things now, not Raoul, not the consequential reaction of the rest of the world. The entire situation seemed like some horrible nightmare that couldn't possibly be real, and she could feel in the deepest depths of her soul that it was not yet over. There was still more to come….
As the sun came over the horizon, its warm rays gleaming over the snow-covered landscape of early winter, the exhaustion of the night's events finally started to take its toll, and despite her aversion to sleep, she felt herself slipping away into its arms, lacking the strength to resist it any longer….
Her eyes shot open, and she darted up in bed with a start, clutching the bedcovers to her chest with violently shaking hands. She couldn't seem to remember how to breathe, gasping in great gulps of air as her heart raced at a frantic pace against her ribcage.
It was a dream, only a dream, and yet it felt so real that reality still felt blurred at its corners. Had she truly slept long enough to dream? One glance at her table clock showed her that it had become midday at some point. How could that be? She only remembered dawn and closing her eyes for a brief moment…and in a flash, a dream….
What had she seen in that surreal, intangible state of faux existence? Was it a vision of what had truly happened, or was it only a figment of a tortured mind lacking conclusions? She had been back in the catacombs with Erik as he was forcing her to leave with Raoul. Even though the events had unfolded exactly the same and she had reluctantly obeyed, a part of her had remained behind. Like a wayfaring spirit, she had watched Erik as he had stared after the boat. …And then the mob had come, a dark plague suffocating life in their onslaught, and as she had watched, they had attacked Erik with fists and kicks. She had seen every punch, every assault. She had seen Erik fighting to catch one more glimpse of the boat even as they had forced him to the ground beneath their strength, shouting obscenities at him and vulgar names under an unending barrage of punches. He hadn't fought back; he had only taken their assault like a bitter poison, stoic always, even as his body endured every hit. Never a tear, never even a glance in their direction. Observing this beating without the ability to interfere in its course, she had heard the revolting crashes of fists into flesh, the cracks of bones, the splashes of blood, and she had silently cried tears for his pain, the ones he himself had not shed. Finally, as the mob had given up, leaving him a lump of broken flesh on the hard, cold ground, she had thought it to be over and him to be dead when suddenly without warning, his mismatched eyes had shot open, and he had called her name in a haunting whisper, breaking dreams and stirring her back to consciousness with the hollow timbre of a once-golden voice.
She was still shaking; her body couldn't seem to relax, and in her mind's eye, she could see that last vision from her dream of that disfigured face and the blazing intensity of those eyes. He was alive; it had been her first thought upon awaking, and she had felt so sure in that moment that it was true. Now as her wits were returning, she bore the fleeting wisps of doubts over the validity of such a revelation. It was a dream; rationale argued that it had just confused an already tormented mind. And yet…. The feeling was still so acute even when the words were contradicted. Was it possible?… Could he have survived such an assault?… If he was indeed alive, then he wouldn't be for much longer, not if he was alone and injured, not without anyone to help him, …to save him.
Throwing back the covers, Christine stumbled out of bed and began to search for something to wear, knowing her wardrobe currently consisted of one torn and dirt-smudged wedding dress and the meager undergarments she had gone to sleep in. Part of her had concluded the wedding dress as her only option, and yet conveniently enough, there was a gown awaiting her, draped nonchalantly across her chaise probably brought in while she had slept. It was odd to her to be around such a luxury as money. Most likely, the Vicomte had sent out his servants to buy her new clothes that morning as if it was the simplest of things. And when she married Raoul, she would have such frivolous liberties at her own fingertips as well. …Strangely, it did not please her.
Hasty in her actions, Christine washed and dressed with fingers that fumbled in their rush and inability to cease shaking. The pale blue gown was made of the softest, richest material she had ever felt, and yet to her, it only felt confining as if the de Chagny name and title were equally as fitted into every stitch and yard. The style befitted the status of a future Vicomtesse, and standing before the vanity mirror as she combed through her tangled curls and tied them back with a simple ribbon at the nape of her neck, she refused to fully acknowledge a view of the girl looking back; she would only appear a stranger.
Quickly finishing her task and draping a cloak over her arm without a thought to its sudden appearance as well, Christine hurried out of the room and down the hall with steps that barely whispered across the plush carpet.
"Mademoiselle?" one of the maids called out sharply just as she reached the foot of the stairs with escape in plain sight. "Where are you off to?"
Christine could easily see that the girl was not very fond of her or her presence in the house, but she forced herself to stand tall and stately and adopted the role her current costume entitled her to hold as she insisted, "I have an errand to run. Will you tell the Vicomte that I will return shortly?"
Shaking her head haughtily in abrupt retaliation, the maid retorted, "No, the Vicomte is not at home at the moment, and he said that you were not to leave until he returned."
Christine could not hide her disappointment and her sudden flare of anger. It may not be a mature reaction to throw fits of tantrum, but she had the hardly repressed urge to stomp her foot in irritation. It hardly seemed fair for Raoul to set such a command over her…, unless, of course, he had thought that she would do just this and run back to the opera house at the first chance she got.
Straightening her shoulders with an actress' air of confidence in place, she demanded, "And when do you expect him back?"
"I cannot say, Mademoiselle. He left right after he had his breakfast and did not reveal his plans. He only said that you were not to leave under any circumstances."
"…All right," Christine reluctantly conceded with a soft huff. "I will await him in the study. Please send him to me the moment he returns."
"Yes, Mademoiselle." The snooty maid gave a meager bob as her curtsy and went off to continue her work, glancing idly over her shoulder at Christine at every step.
As soon as the girl was out of sight, Christine's noble stance deflated with her first breath. Was this what she had to look forward to when she married Raoul? Would the servants always treat her so rudely? Of course, she was well aware why they did. She was an opera singer, a public entertainer, and they were the servants to one of the richest households in Paris; they saw their place to be above hers. To them, she would only ever be an imposter to the role as Vicomtesse…. Maybe they were right.
For over an hour, Christine impatiently waited in the study. She couldn't keep herself still, jittering from one end of the room to the other, sitting, then standing, then pacing, then sitting again. She felt like a caged tiger, forced to denounce its natural tendencies.
Finally, she heard a carriage pull to a stop at the front door, and racing to the window, she peered out in time to see a grinning Raoul emerge and stroll idly up the front walk. Before the maid had even entered the foyer to welcome him, she ran to greet him herself, throwing open the front door and darting halfway down the walk to his side.
"Christine!" Raoul exclaimed with surprise at her sudden presence. "You know, we have maids to open doors."
She knew that he was only teasing, but she couldn't keep a blush of embarrassment from lighting her cheeks. "I…I know, but I was waiting for you, and-"
"Yes, I missed you, too," he interrupted with a sweet smile, catching her hand in his. "Come to the study with me. I have wonderful news."
It was foolishly ridiculous of her to consider that his news could be about Erik, but that was her first thought as she let him return her to the confines of the house and back to the study, overhearing the snickering of the maids in her wake from the foyer's far shadowed corner.
"Were you going someplace?" Raoul apprehensively asked, and she saw that his attention had landed on her cloak lying unthreateningly across the couch.
"No, …well, maybe," she stammered, dragging her hand from his and clenching both fists in the material of her skirts to keep him from noticing how they continuously shook. "What…what is your news?"
"Oh, yes." Raoul seemed to quickly forget the cloak as the smile returned to his face and brightened every dark line that the past months and their traumas had created. "It's wonderful news! Wonderful indeed! I wanted to surprise you. I have been out this afternoon, arranging passage for us on a boat to London. I thought that we could marry once we were there and go on an extended holiday, first London, then Spain, then Italy, and anywhere else that pops into your head. We'll see the world over if you like. How does that sound?"
"Leave?" Christine was adamantly shaking her head from side to side. "No, …no, Raoul, we can't. I-"
"Why?" the Vicomte interrupted and came to stand before her, catching her hands again and prying her fingers from her skirts to clasp them in a necessary hold. "Christine, you're trembling…. What's wrong? Did something happen?"
His concern was endearing to her in its genuine air, and yet no amount of sweet words or kind gestures could calm her racing pulse.
In a soft, hesitant whisper, she revealed, "Erik is alive."
"What?" Concern was transforming to anger, and his grip on her impulsively grew tighter until his fingertips were digging into her knuckles with his hold. "What do you mean? …Was he here? Did he come to see you?"
Christine was staring at him with wary eyes, unable to reply for an apprehensive breath; she had expected protests from him, denials perhaps, but not anger. Finally finding a wavering voice, she stammered, "No, it…it was…. I had a dream, Raoul, …but not just a dream…, a premonition. He's alive; I know it to be true. I can feel it. And he needs…help; …he needs me."
As quickly as the rage came, it vanished from sight, and with a heaved sigh of relief, the Vicomte smiled at her once again, loosening his grip as if he had never lost his temper at all. "A dream. Christine, you worried me so much; I thought I was going to lose you again." Smiling even brighter still, the Vicomte leaned in close to press a tender kiss to her forehead. "My poor, addled girl. You've been through quite an ordeal these last few days, and your poor mind is confusing you. He's dead, my darling; he'll never hurt you again."
But she shook her head with her undimmed determination and abruptly insisted back, "I'm not confused. I know it as sure as I know that I myself am living and breathing. Erik is alive, Raoul."
It was plain on the Vicomte's face that he didn't believe her, but he softened skepticism to a continued cajoling and gently bid, "He's not. It is only natural to have nightmares and to be afraid after such a ghastly ordeal. I know that you're terrified that he will come after us and carry you off to his underground prison, but you needn't be, Christine. I'm going to protect you from any dangers that ever try to touch us, and I'm going to make all of your nightmares disappear for good. That is why I want to take you away from here, so that you can learn what it is to feel safe and happy again."
"Is dead," he interrupted with a bit of impatience. "That mob beat him to death."
"You don't know that for sure."
"We heard it; hell, we practically watched it happen." Taking a deep breath for calmness' sake, Raoul released one of her hands to cup her face in his palm lovingly, stroking his thumb delicately along her cheekbone as if she were made of glass. "Leave all the worrying about monsters and darkness to me. I'm going to keep you safe, I promise. Now we must get ready to make our ship on time. Let me just collect a few things, and we'll be off."
Staring at him somberly, Christine pulled out of his grasp, backing away slowly a step at a time with knees that shook beneath her weight and her forced attempt at bravery. It was certainly new and uncommon to put such conviction in place, but she could not continue to be the lifeless marionette, letting everyone else pull her strings to one place or the next, not on this issue at least. "I'm not going, Raoul."
"What do you mean?"
She straightened her posture, taking on the confidence that she had spent far too long lacking and proclaimed firmly and resolutely, "I'm going back to the opera house to look for Erik."
"Christine-" Raoul began to protest.
"No, Raoul, no!" she interrupted, clenching unbreakable fists in the air between them. "I haven't lost my mind, and I am not confused. Erik is alive; I know it, and I will not be able to live the rest of my life or even marry you until I go to him. I will not abandon him to die. …He doesn't deserve that."
"But the people he killed did?" Raoul demanded, matching her tone without regret. "Even if he is still alive, and it is a far chance to even consider he could be, what do you propose to do, Christine? Go to him and nurse him back to health until he is strong enough to kidnap you and force you to be his bride all over again?"
"I haven't thought about that yet!" she nearly shouted. "All I can think right now is that he is alone and he is in pain, and I can't leave him to die. I already did that once."
The Vicomte did not mistake the bitterness in her comment directed solely at him, sharply explaining, "I was protecting you. If we had gone back, we would have been killed as well."
"Maybe," she replied softly. "Maybe…." Tears were rimming her blue eyes, and for the first time, she let Raoul see the true extent of her pain, like a gaping wound in her chest as poignant as any physical malady. In a hushed whisper, she breathed, "I can't live my life until I see, Raoul. Please understand that. And if I am wrong, …if he is…dead, then I need to see that as well…. It will torture me until I know."
The Vicomte was silent for a long moment, his expression unreadable, but when he finally spoke, all he said was, "All right, Christine, but I am going with you."