Two weeks…. Two weeks should never seem an unending period of time, especially when one was so preoccupied that there was barely a minute left for reflective thought. But Christine knew the passing of every cruel second even if the vast majority were spent onstage acting someone else's life. Two weeks alone were far more difficult to endure than six months alone had been, now after knowing what it felt like to freely love Erik. She was mourning and in a grief for her very soul, and she was certain that beyond her attempted façade, Raoul must have sensed it as well. His suspicion likely accounted for his reluctance to leave her side; she was never without him, it seemed. Always on guard, always attentive to every sound and portent; if she had to be backstage for any reason, he was practically in her shadow, ready for attack. He had had the managers reassign her to a different dressing room and had had the full-length mirror within the new room taken out as a precaution. That had been a compromise on her part when Raoul's initial desire had been to also disassemble the one that led down to the catacombs and go after Erik already. She had used tears and a ridiculously overdone breakdown to convince him not to do it, as she created exaggerated lies of the traps and perils Erik had set below for anyone who dared intrude. Her hysteria must have been plausible enough, for he had never mentioned the mirror again or any attack beyond his impending scheme.
Death threats and operas and life-changing events, and she was so consumed in an agony of longing that none of it could compare. With the Vicomte as a constant companion, she never saw Erik, not even his shape in dark corners, and even though she told herself that it was due to her own convincing, part of her was surprised that he had actually chosen to go along without argument, half-expecting to be swept off into shadows at any given point. And would that truly have been so terrible? When those shadows had hands and lips to devour her and a heart so completely hers that just a recollection of the adoration always in his eyes made her ache with a desperation to see its beaming brilliance?
It was the night before the performance, and Christine had once again used exhaustion as a valid excuse to retire to her room in the de Chagny mansion and avoid Raoul's presence and any attempted embraces that would have come from it. Two weeks shirking free of his hold and ducking away from kisses with one contrived defense after another. Only twice had she been caught unaware, two affectionate kisses from a man who sincerely loved her, and all she'd been able to consider was the other man who loved her and how she was betraying him even if she had not consented to do so. She tried to tell herself that it was another role to play and that as an actress, kisses were constantly and rather flippantly granted onstage, but it was almost impossible to detach herself and not know that they were Raoul's lips against hers. After learning the power of Erik's kiss, she had to wonder why she had ever foolishly run from it when the alternative gave nothing but the tangible reality of lip to lip, no surge of fire, no soul-consuming fullness within. No, Raoul's lips weren't Erik's, and how could she have endured the rest of her life with only mundane kisses and hollow embraces? It seemed a ridiculous means of denying her soul.
Clothed in her nightdress, she was at her vanity mirror tying back half of her curls when a knock at the door startled thought from her head. Jittering in her every step, she scurried to answer, already with an idea who her visitor would be, and as suspected, the instant she opened the door, the Vicomte was striding within her room as if it was his right to do so without an invitation.
"Raoul? …Is something wrong?" she asked with a wave of apprehension that peeked through the fatigued cracks that came from playing an unwanted role for far too long.
"I wanted to check on you," he insisted, but she remained skeptical and read the more he did not say.
"I'm fine," she retorted in an attempt to catch him in his lie. "But tired, and with the performance tomorrow, I need to rest." It was an urging to leave, and the door held yet open by her hand was further inclination.
To her annoyance, he caught her by her shoulder and guided her back into the room, closing the door to any other intrusion as her frantic mind sought some other way to rid herself of his presence.
"Raoul," she tried with an unusual sternness, "I really must go to bed. Tomorrow is going to require every bit of strength I have."
"Tomorrow," Raoul repeated distantly and captured her hands in his, forcing her to meet his eye. "I wanted to be sure that you understood what's going to happen. This is not going to be a typical opera performance."
"No, you're hoping to catch a murderer," she stated for him and knew her true perturbation was being readily displayed.
"No," he corrected, "we're hoping to kill a murderer."
There was no shock to his revelation; Erik's assumptions on the subject had prepared her for it, but she was optimistic that any plan Raoul had would fail. "Do what you wish, Raoul. All I know is that I must sing tomorrow night, and I need to indulge in some decent sleep before that. Will you please leave?"
But he hesitated yet, rubbing her knuckles with his thumbs as he said, "I just want you to understand that I'm doing this for you, because I love you."
It was ironic to her. He was justifying murder with love, and yet Erik was allowed no excuse or defense for his own crimes. Why then was Erik the condemned one between them? "I never asked you to kill anyone for me," she said coldly.
"I want you to be safe, Christine, and after this is over, I want us to leave this place and go on with our lives…once he's dead and can't come after you again." Drawing her acquiescent form close, Raoul wrapped his arms around her and softly bid, "I know you've been afraid of that monster for so long, and after seeing myself what he truly is, I can only imagine the horror he put you through before you told me about him all of those months ago. My God, Christine, his face!"
She cringed in his embrace, purposely setting her cheek against his shoulder so he would not see the rage twisting within her. Erik's face…, Erik's face was hers, and as far as she was concerned, Raoul had no right to have ever seen its distortions.
Rubbing the length of her back with his hands, the Vicomte insisted, "When this is over, you'll be safe, and he'll never be able to get to you again. I promise you. I realize how awful this situation has been, and you've had to hold your head up and be brave as you sing his dastardly opera. I have been so proud of your spirit. Be strong one more time and get through the performance tomorrow, and I promise, I will be the brave one between us from then on."
Had she loved Raoul, his sweetly-spoken offer would have seemed like an endearment, but considering how long she had suffered as weak in his presence, it now only seemed another attempt to keep her ignorant and naïve as the Christine he preferred, the one whose heart he thought he could control.
"As you said," she softly replied, "it's nearly over. I will do what I must to get through every trauma in store."
"That's my dearest girl." Urging her back, he bent to kiss her, and in an effort to pacify him, she permitted one kiss before pulling free with that irrepressible wave of guilt ebbing within her chest.
"Please, Raoul," she pushed. "I need to try and sleep."
"Of course." With an affectionate smile that she weakly attempted to return, the Vicomte set one more kiss to her brow. "I love you, Christine."
Thankfully, he did not wait for her to lie; he left her bedroom, closing the door behind himself, and Christine's bravado fled her with his retreat. Yes, she reminded herself, it was almost over, every bit of this pretense and every deception attached, and hopefully, its sacrifices would be worthwhile in the end.
Within minutes, she turned out the lights and climbed beneath the covers of her bed as moonglow streamed through every partition in her curtains and illuminated in pale streaks along carpet and furniture. Perhaps if she had been able to find sleep, then she would have missed it the moment that moonbeams lengthened and shifted their typically undisturbed pattern. Some streams were blotted out by the sudden appearance of a shadow, and she watched its approach with her head upon her pillow and a heart that prayed it wasn't only a dream.
Erik crept to her bedside and halted, staring down at her with longing eyes as he softly said, "I told you how I did this once before. The night of the chandelier fall, I entered this room exactly the same; no one saw me come or go. And I stood in this spot as you slept, and I watched you. You had cuts." His fingertips extended and barely traced the recalled images, one thin line along her brow, one at her jaw, one at her cheek, feather-light, only a hinted touch. "They weren't deep; I knew they'd heal to nothing, and you'd likely forget. But I never would. They showed me the true damage my love could cause. I never touched you that night; I only brushed the air above each mark because I was so sure that if I found skin and learned its gloriousness, I would never be able to stop touching you again. Now I know how right I was." Finally, he permitted resistance to dwindle to nothing and caught her cheek in his palm, marveling over the elation that met him in her gaze. "Dear God, Christine, I'm not living my life without you. Two weeks in the grave. Say my name please; say you love me. Return beats to my heart with your voice and let me have more than the echo of a memory I have had to sustain myself."
"Erik, I love you," she dutifully replied, eagerly sitting up beneath her covers and opening her arms as he caught her in his embrace. Her heart jumped, frantic and thrilled in her chest as she breathed his scent deeply into her lungs, intoxicating herself on him and every substantial detail that she had had to live without.
"I have been lost without you," he declared, pressing a kiss to the crown of her silken head, "and aching so desperately to see you. My head has been torturing me with doubts and denials; it has been adamantly insisting that I created your love, that I fantasized every moment we shared. And I almost believed it; that's why I had to see you as if it was a necessity to survive. I would have considered my fears to be true to spy him kissing you." He tensed against her with the image as it erupted in his memory. "If you had said you loved him back, I think it would have killed the man before you now and left only insanity behind."
"I love you, ange," she insisted, curling her fingers tightly in the material of his jacket.
"Do you? Do I know it, and is it true? Or has all of this been to keep me from killing the Vicomte?" Even as he muttered the agonizing suspicions of an uncertain mind, he never released her from his arms; not even his suspicious nature was strong enough to deny his heart what it needed so desperately.
Christine drew back enough to meet his eye, and with the touch of a smile upon her lips, she lifted her restless hand to the mask and easily pulled it free to reveal that face she so adored. As her fingers found its distortions and traced them into existence for her own desperate mind, he suddenly leaned close and claimed her lips in a fierce kiss that put an earlier manipulation of the same act out of her mind completely. This was the way this intimacy was supposed to feel, this burning, this consuming suffocation of so many pure emotions at once that it was in its essence, almost terrifying for such a meager contact to hold so much.
One kiss was his only indulgence, but even though he pulled his lips away, she was laying her own kisses to his misshapen cheek, welcoming it back where it was meant to be, as hers. "Are you through doubting my devotion?" she asked between caresses and added a long paused hold of a kiss against his contorted upper lip. "How else would you have me prove it to you?"
The provocative implications and ideas conjured in his mind nearly stole rational sense away, and it was with a reluctant groan that he recalled his intentions and sought a modicum of control. "Don't forget that question. I want it answered tomorrow night when all of this unpleasantness in between is over and done, and you are only mine."
"Raoul wants to kill you," she stated somberly with idle grazings of her fingers along his scars.
"I know; I heard from the balcony. And may I argue that just because he wants to doesn't mean that he'll succeed at doing so. He's far too inept to kill me; you above all people should know that frilly, arrogant Vicomtes and incompetent opera managers do not defeat the almighty Opera Ghost. I pity them for trying."
"Erik, please," she bid urgently. "Promise me that you will not attend the performance tomorrow. Please, I don't want anyone to be killed."
"Please," she interrupted before he could finish the protest that was forming. "You don't need to be in Box 5 to hear it, nor do you need to be a face amongst the crowds to receive the accolades you'll deserve for its brilliance. Don't put this upon my shoulders, ange. I can't sing and worry over you at the same time."
His palms were running up and down her shoulders and suffering her tremble with her as he insisted, "You truly are afraid, aren't you? My pride would take it as insulting that you doubt my skills at self-preservation, but my heart is too intrigued. I've never had anyone to worry over me before or to love me so much that my demise would matter."
"Please, just promise that you'll stay away."
"Sshh," he crooned gently and stretched out on the mattress beside her, clutching her close against him. "Your only worries should be high notes and keeping character with Piangi, singing your every desire to him as if he were me instead. I expect you to shine tomorrow night, Christine."
Shaking her head fervently as her brow lined in her horror, she accused, "And you intend to be there, don't you? No matter how many in that very theatre will be there in hopes of seeing you dead."
"It would be rude of me not to attend my own premiere," he nonchalantly posed in return.
"No, no, hush now; go to sleep."
Any refusal she longed to give was silenced as he began to softly hum to her in that beautiful voice she had once called an angel's. Gentle, soothing, golden and rich, it weaved mysteriously about her and encouraged her to relax against him and simply listen to its gloriousness in rapt adoration. Had she ever known any stronger temptation than that heavenly sound? She had committed heart and soul to its first graceful notes all of those months before, and still she would follow anywhere it led her as though it carried salvation in its unearthly existence.
It did not take long as her anxiety eased away for Erik's lullaby to lull her to sleep, and even after he knew she had surrendered, he remained and held her. His heart yearned to bundle her in his arms and carry her home without consideration to anything else, but the end was so close that he felt it would be foolish to spoil it with impulsiveness, not when he had the potential to have both his opera and the woman he loved when all was over and done with…. Of course, that was if he played the situation to his advantage. Yes, and if things went in his favor, then it would be a happy ending indeed.
Performing on the stage was an inherent trait that was engrained and flowing through Christine's blood. No matter the dark connotations of the current situation, in the instant the opening chords of the overture rang through the full opera house, a thrill raced up her spine and a tingling excitement that carried from heart out to each extremity of every limb. As always, it left her with such an unarguable certainty that the opera was where she was meant to be and singing was what she was born to do. …If only this could be the same as every other production and she could lose herself in her role and not have to worry over her own thoughts and feelings; but the thick lushness of every melody soaring over the heads of the orchestra members and flowing out of every instrument insisted over and over again whose opera this was, and her heart remained attached.
The first two acts went smoothly enough although during her beautiful aria, she could not help but notice the sudden guardedness of the many armed gendarme in attendance, as if her voice in that one brilliant piece would call their expected devil out of hiding. Fortunately, Erik did not appear, and though her composure was shaken, Christine was able to finish the song without folly. Foolish men! She knew without doubt that if Erik were intending something, he would never chance to ruin her perfectly-composed aria; he was a musician first, and she was his protégé to show off at his will.
Act 3 began, and Christine was waiting for her entrance for a passionate duet written to accompany a fantasy; fantasy, no, now reality. She was beaming to consider that every word was hers as she abandoned the wings and played her part, the amorous coquette seeking out the man she desired.
Piangi was supposed to be singing; the awkward silence was her first realization that something was wrong as the strings elongated their chord prompting an entrance that did not come. Her immediate conclusion was that the battle had begun, only she had yet to hear shouts or gunshots; no, nothing but an agitated chord, a flustered conductor mumbling curses beneath his breath, and a continued unrehearsed delay that left her no choice but to fill in the peculiar gap as if it was planned, roaming the detailed stage and toying with random objects, giggling to herself as her character anticipated onward. And she must have been doing well at her impromptu stalling, for she saw no response from the observing Vicomte or the managers sitting in the box with him to insist that they suspected anything.
And then Don Juan raised his voice, and every logical thought evaporated from Christine's head. She knew. She knew it from very timbre of the very first note; maybe even before that, carried on the very aura her partner brought onto the stage. Erik…. Characterization crumbled beneath her. This was their duet, and they were suddenly just Christine and Erik, and he was singing to her of the real passion in his soul.
Explanation and rationale were ignored. She only grinned ever so slightly as she met those mismatched eyes that were devouring her in their stare, and she let herself be as much a willing victim as the audience watching to that ethereal voice, golden and yet laden with a husky desire he could not hide. She consented without reservation and fell beneath his spell.
Desire was a living, breathing thing as it pulsated between them through chords and melody, through voices that joined and weaved together as one being, through hands that granted idle, innocent caresses dripping with a more intent need. It was all combined as a seduction so powerful that Christine was quivering over every bit of her flesh in a desperation for his touch. More, more, and it wasn't enough. There were too many boundaries that they were not allowed to cross, not even a kiss when a mask posed its own intrusion, and she longed to be rid of an audience so that he would be hers alone. Singing with all of the fiery fervency in her body, she sought to tell him that.
It had been a decision in development since he had haphazardly sung this duet with her weeks ago in his home. This was his role, his opera, his fantasy. For so long, his life had consisted of denials and sacrifices; this was the one time he was taking instead of giving up. And the glistening light in Christine's eyes encouraged him further for more random touches and grazed fingertips along skin, for a hand that trailed the length of her throat and made her shiver. And all of this had been conspired in two weeks of loneliness down to the last detail.
Catching her loose curls in his hands, he twined them about his fingers as if it was all still a part of the production, but the demanding look in his eyes was genuine as he softly breathed, "Prove that you love me, Christine."
She hesitated only a moment, caught in the web of his stare so intently that she never gave their audience a thought as her hand slowly raised to his mask. Fitting her fingers about its edge, she carefully lifted it away with never a refusal; no, his gaze provoked her and begged for more. More, and in the midst of horrified gasps that resounded through a shocked theatre, she leaned close and pressed her lips to his misshapen ones, kissing him desperately, too lost to care about anything but him, his love, his lips.
One kiss, and at its essence, there was a choice made and proclaimed, and she was being the strong one to declare it. Pulling away from her eager hold, Erik cast a quick look out over a frantic and horror-stricken audience, applying apathy when shrieks of 'monster' and 'demon' filtered over the crowd. How could such things matter when the woman he loved was his in heart and soul and was claiming him in return without hesitation? He instead focused on the wide-eyed Vicomte, who was waving frenzied commands to the gendarme, and he practically posed battle in one fixed stare, a challenge and God help him if he took it.
Turning back to his expectant love, he added a quick kiss to her frowning lips and said, "I love you, Christine."
"Erik, what-" Before she could devise a full question, he was gone in two steps and a leap, escaping through one of his many hidden exits, this one a trap door down into the depths below the stage. "Erik!"
She was contemplating jumping after him, no matter what lay at the bottom to await her. Trap doors and darkness, but she was willing to cross whatever she must to have the desire of her heart. Before the decision could be acted upon, the Vicomte was on a stage full of rushing performers and chaos, and catching her hand in an unbreakable hold, he yanked her behind him into the wings as sounds of pandemonium trailed their exit and shouts to armed guards to pursue the Opera Ghost.
"Let go, Raoul!" she shouted, twisting and fighting against him. But he would not listen, dragging her through crowds and giving her little choice but to stumble after him. "Stop! Where are we going?"
But a handful of feet ahead, and she knew; she would have called him crazy if not for the fact that in some strange way, she understood his reasoning: take her to a place where he had been all that mattered to her. Of course, he was unaware that a scene on a rooftop had been rewritten two weeks before, and that those were the predominant memories blazing in her head as he pulled her up narrow flights of stairs and out into the frigid night atop a fresh layer of snow.
"We escaped him once by coming here. Up on the rooftop, closer to heaven and as far away from the darkness as we could be. Do you recall it, Christine? It was your idea," Raoul reminded as he abruptly released her in the exact place they'd been once before. "You chose me that night; you begged me to rescue you from him."
"No," she somberly corrected, refusing to meet his aghast eyes. "I begged you to give me something safe to love instead. …I was afraid of what I already felt, what I still feel now."
The Vicomte de Chagny was pacing back and forth, making contrasting footsteps through the same few feet of snow, atop and crossing one another like a wanderer on a wayward path without aim. "The way you sang with him and the way you kissed him. …Am I to believe that such things were only just indulged for the first time?" Shaking his head, realization began to emerge as pieces soldered together. "I knew you weren't yourself, but I attributed it to the opera, to the threat in our background. But…you've been avoiding my every embrace for weeks. …Have you been carrying on with that monster this entire time? While you lived under my roof? Wore my ring?"
His pacing had grown stale and left him to face her furiously as she shifted in her only created footfalls marring snow's bed and softly gave reason enough. "I love him, Raoul; I'm sorry."
Even a spoken admission wasn't enough to pierce his anguish as he continued, "But I did all of this for you, to save you from him. I did everything I knew to love you; for six months, I sought to help you move beyond what I thought were traumas on your soul. And now you tell me that this entire time everything you said and did and supposedly felt for me was a lie? …Did you spend the last six months just seeking your way to get back to him? Six months as I loved you and carried on an engagement, and you were never there with me, were you? You were supposed to love me, Christine. I gave everything for you; why wasn't that enough?"
"I'm sorry," was all she could manage to say as silent tears glistened off of moonlight above them and snaked their paths down her cheeks.
"And now," he tightly went on, "you make me a laughingstock before the entire city by that display onstage. I had to watch you practically seduce another man with a room full of people; and that would have been difficult enough had it been all a ploy in the end, but you kissed him and chose him while armed guards were waiting to shoot him to protect you."
"I never asked you to kill him," she suddenly declared her most adamant point, forcing dwindling strength not to flee her grasp. "And I can apologize a million times over for hurting you, Raoul, but I won't apologize for loving him."
"Won't you? Even if loving him means destroying me." In a determined step, Raoul halted before her, searching her eyes as he demanded, "Have you no regret for any of this, Christine?"
"Regret? Of course, I regret!" she exclaimed adamantly. "You have no idea how it has torn at me; I have been the cause of so much pain, of everyone's pain. Had I been strong enough from the first day, I wouldn't have run from my heart like a coward. I caused all of this damage, and I broke your heart with my own weakness."
"And what am I to do now?" the Vicomte snapped at her. "Let you go? Let you be with him? …No, I can't; I won't, not after everything we've meant to each other. You loved me once; I know you did. It couldn't have all been a lie. And you can love me again when we're away from this God-forsaken place."
The horror of his claim was registering in her addled brain, and she stammered nervously, "What do you mean? I'm not going with you, Raoul."
"Yes, you are. An ultimatum laid at your feet for you to decide how many more lives you will destroy." His stare never wavered, and she saw nothing in it of the man who had claimed to love her as he posed his choice, "Leave with me now. We'll marry and start a new life and forget any of this nightmare ever happened; or I will call together the managers, the gendarme, a mob of enraged civilians if I must, and we will flood the catacombs through that entrance behind your own dressing room mirror and kill him as we should have done to begin with."
"What?" she gaped, shaking her head desolately. "How can you put such a choice before me? You already know that I love him."
"No, I know that you are confused, that he has made you confused. Do you remember that night we stood on this rooftop, Christine? You begged me to save you and to love you, and I never hesitated. I gave you all that you needed; I was your salvation," he pushed, searching her eyes for an imprint of those same feelings. "I'm not forcing you to leave with me, Christine; I'm not carrying you off like that monster would have done were he in my place. I'm trying to be fair to you."
"Fair? You're manipulating the answer you want. How can that be fair?"
"Perhaps," he conceded, "but if an ultimatum is what it takes to make you see reason in all of this madness, then so be it."
"Ultimatum? Surely you realize, Monsieur Vicomte, that you are in no position to be proposing ultimatums."
Christine could not conceal the relief that lit her features in the instant Erik appeared, but it was limited when his chosen persona was the Opera Ghost as within the moment, the Vicomte had a rope pulled tight about his neck.
"Erik, don't," she warned even as she continued to absorb the uncovered details of his bare face.
"I'm just laying my own ultimatum in place," he justified, tugging the rope a bit to make the Vicomte choke and cough. "Don't worry, petite. The choice this time will be his." With all of the arrogance that his reputation deemed him to possess, Erik faced his victim and told him calmly, "You choose, Monsieur. You will either die by my hand momentarily without a qualm from my own sense of regret; or you will leave alone. You can tell every last one of them below that you killed the Opera Ghost, play the hero, as you like; I don't much care. But you never come after Christine and me. You leave us in peace. You see, Monsieur, life-altering choices are my specialty; as the notorious phantom, they must be nothing less than stellar. Make a choice quickly before you are out of breath. I'd rather not kill you for Christine's sake, but…accidents happen when you dawdle. Will you leave us be, Monsieur?" he reiterated forcibly.
"Yes, …fine," Raoul rasped against the rope's hold, gasping air in between each utterance, and within the moment, he was dropped to the snow-covered ground, sucking in a necessary breath as the rope gave way.
"Go," Erik urged, watching apathetically as Raoul stumbled back to his feet, and edging closer to Christine, he captured one of her hands securely in his, squeezing lightly to draw her eye.
Glancing between the two of them, Raoul shook his head in disgust, his hands still rubbing at the sore flesh of his throat. "And what would be the point of fighting for her if she doesn't love me anyway? I'm not going to die for someone who won't care in the end. …God help you, Christine," he somberly stated. As he turned to go, Christine called his name, but he never looked back, fleeing rooftops and phantoms and the fickle heart of love.
It was in the very instant that the Vicomte was gone that Erik pulled her in close to his chest, fitfully kissing her brow over and over again, and she had the fleeting thought that perhaps his arrogance toward the Vicomte had been as enacted as her love.
"Did you plan all of that?" she asked in awe as she stroked his face.
"Most of it. You're fortunate that the Vicomte is quite transparent. I knew given the right impetus, this would be where he'd take you. I preferred the idea of facing him alone rather than in a theatre full of armed gendarme. What was unexpected was his desire to give his own ultimatum. Threaten my life, and I've little doubt that you would have consented to go with him."
With a reluctant nod, she agreed, "I wouldn't have allowed them to come after you." Glancing to where the Vicomte had vanished, she nervously bid, "Do you believe he'll keep to his word?"
"I gave him compensation, you do realize. I let him be the one to rid the world of the Opera Ghost." Despite his seeming assurance, his grip on her had unconsciously tightened. "However, we leave at dawn. I take no chances now that I've acquired something worth losing." His hand was brushing through her hair possessively, every pore in his body satisfied to have her near, and bending to breathe against her ear, he said, "I adored singing with you tonight. That was the exact image of my fantasies brought to life. Loving you, desiring you, singing with you; it was perfection."
Her cheeks warmed with the memory, and with a shy grin, she bid, "And you intended that all along as well, didn't you? Usurp the leading role and witness your opera firsthand in its very creation?"
"I wanted it performed as I'd seen it in my head, and that was always you and I. It will always only ever be you and I. …Piangi may not have agreed when I locked him in his dressing room with curses on my head shouted in boisterous Italian, but his opinion on the matter is inconsequential." His hands had not stilled against her, moving up and down her back with a constant need to feel her. In a hesitant voice, he asked, "You don't regret your choice, do you, Christine? As I've told you before, this is forever."
She drew back enough to meet his eye, and smiling tenderly, she whispered back, "Regret would have been a life without you. I have no doubt where I belong."
"I love you," he vowed vehemently, leaning near to brush kisses along every feature of her face and whispering in between, "You gave me everything I've ever wanted tonight, and now you give me forever besides. You are an amazement, Christine."
"I love you, Erik," she replied in hushed echoes as his lips found hers, and moonlight streamed over them at every angle and illuminated love. Every luminescent beam sparkled upon a layer of indented snow on the rooftop and created silver that twinkled in reflected stars. It was a portrait of stilled time as frozen as the winter world, and a moment of sheer bliss that would lead to a million more.