A/N: This is the second of the two alternate endings and thus ends the journey.
I hope that from start to finish it met your expectations and that you have enjoyed reading it.
Thank you for all of the reviews, the PM's, the e-mails and feedback... I said at the beginning that writing isn't about the reviews but they certainly make me smile and I think they act as a prompt... thank you!
Final Chapter – Version 2
It was a beautiful day.
The sun was high and bright in the sky, it was warm but not suffocating, the breeze was cooling and yet not too cold. Inside the theatre he was once again reminded of its conception, the splendour of the old building's lines, the height of the magnificent dome, the smoothness of the marble underneath his feet. So little had changed with the building in the years since its creation; it was still the place to be in New York, it still attracted the most sophisticated of stars and guests alike, it still sold out on every night, it was still beautiful... still... contemporary and yet holding onto its traditions.
The theatre was everything he was not.
Inside the auditorium rehearsals were taking place and the sound of the orchestra tuning made a small smile appear on his lips. The familiarity of the opera house was something he would never tire of. Over the years since the fateful night on the pier he had often been reminded of all of the things that he was unable to control. For example, mostly, life and death were out of his remit as was the weather and, of particular significance, other people's impulses were far beyond his reach.
As usual, the thought of not being in control made him shiver and he turned from the auditorium and made his way to the stairs.
The theatre held so many good memories for him, memories of this time, this time in which he was accepted in a country that cared little about his mask and eccentricities but it also reminded him of the things in his life that had gone horribly wrong.
There had been many of those.
Losing Christine... Raoul's murder...
Another memory sprung up and he thought of how awkward the aftermath of Raoul's death had become and how difficult it had been to manipulate. Still, if nothing else he was at least skilled at that. By the time the police had arrived a plan was in place. The gun gone, the witnesses gone, Raoul's life gone and the assailant gone, all he really needed to do was weave a simple story.
It was strange how some recollections were stronger than others, how some moments were as vivid in the mind as the day that they had happened. Like his conversation with the detective that night. It was as though it was only yesterday, he could still feel the cool breeze on his back, could taste the spray from the ocean on his lips.
'Well, because you're who you are, we'll keep it low key,' the officer had told him, after Erik had explained how he happened upon the body of Vicomte de Chagny. 'We know you wouldn't want to be publicly involved in something like this, sir.'
'Indeed,' Erik had said. The irony of the statement had not escaped him.
Erik claimed to have been taking one of his late night walks on the beach when he came across Raoul who was alone and bleeding on the pier.
No, he had not seen anything.
Yes, he had tried to save him.
No, there were no other witnesses.
Covered in Raoul's blood, Erik had felt the rather strange sensation of loss. At that moment he had suddenly realised that, for all of the threats, all of the anger, he would never have killed Raoul de Chagny. The opportunity had presented itself so many times over the years and yet the only time he had ever been remotely tempted to take it had been that night in the cellars.
The Vicomte was, after all, just a boy.
He was again reminded that he had not seen Christine since he had sent her away that night. He had instead communicated through Philippe de Chagny, who was shocked that night into becoming a responsible human being.
Erik had expected some sort of retaliation but Christine had clearly explained what had happened. Philippe was level minded and fair, he helped with the arrangements, he spoke to the police... he grieved as, Erik assumed, all brothers do.
Erik never saw the way Christine reacted to the news of her husband's death and he was glad of that. He could not have comforted her in any way and so his presence would only have served to make things worse. It would not have been for the first time.
She wanted to take Raoul back to France, it was a difficult arrangement to make but Erik and Philippe both used their influence and managed to quickly secure a passage for Raoul back to Europe despite the captain's legitimate protests.
Erik had read about the funeral in the international pages of the newspaper and was relieved to see that no morbid photographs had been included in the piece. He no longer had the stomach for such things.
Each month Erik wrote once to Christine and transferred, by way of telegraph, a portion of money into her bank. He never knew if she spent the money and he rarely received any correspondence from her.
When he sat down in box five, with the door closed and the music reaching up to him, he eased forward and leaned with his forearms on the ledge of the box. He looked out over his creation and as the music swelled he heard only notes that he had written. For the first time since he had opened the opera house, the performance would be of an opera written by him.
The first he had written in many years.
The first since Don Juan.
There were, of course, notable differences between the Erik of then and the Erik of now. The music, if nothing else, showed this. He could still draw on his suffering but the whole plot, the whole theme, was so much lighter. Don Juan had been a dark view into his darker mind and was, in spite of what Nadir might have thought, a masterpiece but that did not mean that others should ever have been privy to it.
There were few things from his past life that now remained; the mask, the opera, his love for Christine and Don Juan. He had kept the score safe when he fled and it was the only material thing that he truly, genuinely treasured.
As he closed his eyes to listen to the music he was surprised to hear the door to his box click open. Whether he was more taken aback that the theatre guard, George, had let anyone up or that he himself had only just heard them, he did not know.
'I asked George not to let anyone up,' he said, with his back to the door. He was in no mood for conversation, he was listening to music and he simply wanted to get lost within its peaks.
'I sidestepped him.'
'Could I possibly be forgiven?'
Slowly Erik opened his eyes and he gripped the ledge of the box, almost afraid to turn around lest her voice behind him be some sort of twisted delusion.
A moments silence past before she asked, 'Why won't you look at me?'
'I...' he swallowed and evened out his shaking breathing. 'I'm afraid you might not really be there.'
'There is only one way to know for sure,' she told him.
Gradually, he began to turn his body, taking it little by little until he was sat, facing Christine. Her long brown hair was free and hung in loose curls that touched the tops of her shoulders, her eyes were deep yet soft, full of what Erik wanted to believe was affection. She smiled the smile that thawed him, melted him from the heart outwards until he was warm all the way through, head to toe, heart and soul.
'You haven't changed,' she said as her eyes studied his face. Suddenly, he was conscious of his mask and even after all of this time he needed to force himself not to turn away.
Again, she smiled.
'Beautiful,' he whispered. 'You look beautiful. You look like heaven.'
She stepped into the box and it was only then that he saw moisture shimmering in her eyes.
'It's so good to see you, Erik,' she said.
'You have no idea...' he managed to say, although the words threatened to catch in his throat.
'Are you...' she paused and he watched as she took a deep breath. 'Have I left it too long?'
Erik was puzzled by the question, he had no idea what she meant and the look on his face must have told her because she added, 'Are you married?'
The question, so out of the blue and so ludicrous, immediately broke the tension he felt within. He laughed out loud for the first time in years and only stopped when he realised that Christine was deadly serious.
'Me?' he asked, just to clarify that she realised who she was talking to and what she had just said.
'Yes,' she said, her focused stare unwavering.
'Of course not.'
'It isn't so ridiculous,' she said earnestly. 'You aren't the same...'
'It is ridiculous,' he said with a forcefulness he had thought long gone.
'Why?' she demanded. 'Because you wear a mask... because of your past...'
'Then why is it so ridiculous?' she asked, her voice gentle now, its softness reminding him of goose feathers, the way it felt on his skin, the way her voice sounded to his ears.
'How could I Christine?' he returned, his eyes fixed to hers, their gazes locked.
She did not reply. Instead, she nervously felt behind her, pushing on the door to ensure that it was tightly locked. He wondered for a moment what she thought he might do but he quickly realised that the nervousness was not born of fear.
It something entirely different.
'How could I?' he asked her again, rising from his seat. 'There is only you, for me, Christine.'
As he said her name she closed her eyes and took a breath, placing her hand on her stomach.
'You waited,' she said, as her eyes opened again and she peered at him from under thick lashes.
'There was hope.'
'And if there wasn't?'
He stared at her. 'I would still have waited.'
A small smile graced her flawless lips. 'It was last from Pandora's box.'
He nodded. 'There is always hope.'
She, too, nodded her head.
'I would always wait,' he explained. 'I will always wait. For me... for me there was always the hope that you would return...' he sucked in a breath, '... that you would come back to me.'
She moved closer to him and reached out, holding her hand there, in between them. Erik slowly moved his hand and touched her fingertips with his. Whorl against whorl.
'I always come back to you,' she whispered, so softly that the words floated to him. Their eyes met and she smiled, 'Even when I don't mean to.'
He returned her smile and in that moment, their hands touching, he wondered how he had ever survived all of those years without her, how he had ever woken up each day, how he had breathed in and out... how he had existed.
He glanced down at their hands, fingertips just touching, bridging the gap between them. Questions swam his mind but none surfaced, he could not speak because words could not do this feeling justice, this feeling of wonderment, the sensation of her skin, this feeling of love.
Gently, Christine slipped her fingers between his so that their hands were finally locked together, palm against palm, as it always should have been. She stepped into him and placed her head underneath his chin, pressed herself to him and wrapped him into her arms.
'I always come back to you,' she repeated gently, sighing against his chest.
In an instant it did not matter how long they had spent apart, or how many lives had crossed their paths in between. It did not matter what oceans they traversed, it did not matter what route they took on their journey... it did not matter because they were together now.
All that mattered was now.
He pressed his lips into her hair and kissed gently, taking in the smell of soap and cherries, the smooth, softness of her hair. It felt like the most normal thing in the world; to be holding her, to be kissing her... and yet only moments earlier he could not dare to dream that he would ever even see her again.
At his back he could feel his jacket pull where she had bunched it into her fist, holding onto him so tightly he wondered if she would ever let go. Gently, he stroked the small of her back, a gesture to tell her that he was there and that this, if she wanted it, was forever.
'I've missed you,' she murmured into his shirt. 'I was worried that you... I was afraid you might not want me anymore.'
'I have never loved anyone else,' he said softly. 'I never will.'
She pulled back and looked into his eyes. 'I should have come sooner.'
'I understand,' he told her and meant it. Years ago the idea of empathy was so foreign to him he could barely even imagine it. Now, having lived through what he had, after witnessing Raoul's sacrifice, after meeting his son... his perspective had changed.
'And then fighting broke out...' Christine sighed, her eyes drifting from his for a brief moment. 'We fled, as I told you, to England.'
'I believe I owe Meg's husband a debt of gratitude,' Erik said.
'We needed somewhere to go and he let us stay with him... both of us.'
'How is he?' Erik asked.
She smiled, 'Benoit is... he's wonderful.'
'Is he here?'
Christine nodded, 'He is at the Met.'
Erik placed his hand on his heart in mock offence. 'Why not play here?'
'He didn't want you to take him because he is your son.'
Erik stared at her. 'You told him.'
'Of course I did.'
Erik's arms dropped to his sides. 'What about Raoul?'
'He loved Raoul but he has the right to know,' she explained with a sadness in her smile that made its way all the way into her eyes. 'He remembers you with fondness, Erik.'
She placed her finger gently against his lips, stopping the words before they came. 'He always insisted that you were kin... in some way or another. He knew there was something different about you.'
They stood there with the music from below playing around them but Erik knew that neither of them really heard it. He smiled to himself because the only thing in the entire world that could make music pale into insignificance was Christine, was the way he loved her.
Erik paused before asking his next question because he simply was not sure if he truly wanted to hear the answer. He turned it over in his mind and finally asked, 'Does he want to see me?'
She slipped her hand down his arm and grasped his hand. 'Of course he does.'
He wasn't sure whether he should feel pleased, relieved or terrified but he nodded and said, 'I'm sorry...'
'It's in the past,' she said softly.
'All of it,' she insisted. 'It's gone. This is a new start. For us.'
She leaned up and brushed her lips softly against his. They tingled as she moved away.
'If you'll have me,' she added, with a smile.
Erik looked at her, there in the flesh, willingly grasping onto his hand. He had not forced her, he had not manipulated her, he had not threatened nor kidnapped her... she was there because she chose to be, because she wanted to be. He looked at her and with a deep breath and a lot of courage said, 'I think we should get married.'
She stared at him, the stunned silence surrounding them until she began to giggle. Which, although a little perplexing, was perhaps the most wonderful sound he had ever heard.
'What?' he asked. 'People get married. That's what they do.'
She nodded and pulled him close to her. 'I don't think people tend to propose like that though.'
'Don't they?' he asked, because he genuinely had no idea.
She shook her head as she released him from her hold.
She took his hand and said, 'They say... will you marry me?'
'Right,' he nodded. 'Will you marry me?'
She rolled her eyes. 'How romantic.'
'Oh, I see, its romance you want,' he said as he swept her into his arms. He looked down into her eyes until he saw that she knew he meant it. When she tilted her head, he did not need any more hints. He gently pressed his lips to hers and held her to him. She threw her arms around his neck and returned his kiss with such affection that he was left without doubt about her feelings.
When she finally broke the kiss he noticed that her cheeks were flushed pink and her lips had reddened. Holding her there as she leaned back in his arms, he whispered, 'Christine...'
'Yes,' she said gently. 'Yes.'
Now he was stuck for words and so he simply kissed her again and then again until she stopped him by placing her fingertips on his lips and said, 'I don't even know where we live.'
'It's dark... the house,' he said. 'We'll find somewhere new.'
She moved out of his embrace and to the door.
'Where are we going?' he asked.
'Anywhere,' she said. 'Everywhere... we're going to do all of things we couldn't do before.'
Erik stared at her.
'Walking on the beach together,' she said, holding her hand out to him. 'The theatre... together...'
As he grasped her hand in his and she tugged him through the door, he was reminded of a time where he had led the way. It was he who guided her through doorways, their hands locked together, it was he who directed her, protected her, loved her beyond all reason.
For once in his life he felt washed with an overwhelming contentment to be shown the way, to not be control, to let Christine love him the way she wanted to. He felt loved and at ease.
He gladly followed her through the corridors and out onto the New York Street, she did not let go of his hand but slowed to walk by his side, their fingers interlocked. He should have made a million apologies to her, thousands of explanations but he realised now that her love was such, that these were unnecessary.
She had hurt him once, betrayed him and almost broken him but he had loved her so much that he forgave her, without question, and loved her still.
She had been forgiven, rather quicker than he had ever intended. That was the thing about love. It really did conquer all, it could make you remember and forget in equal measures the rights and wrongs that had been done. It could make you happy and it could make you feel immense sadness, but above all it could make you better.
Because he had loved her, she had been forgiven.
And because she loved him... so, now, had he.
A/N2: I will reply to all of you individually as soon as I get chance. Thank you again.