I do not own the characters; they are from various versions of Phantom of the Opera.

Hello, all! I have a new story for you. These are the first couple of chapters, and I'll post more of it as I edit in the next few days. This story is like one of my babies; I'm just so attached to it! It's an epilogue story told from Christine's POV. I really hope you like it! :)

SUMMARY: "I made the choice..." Christine makes her choice with love at its core, but in the midst of a marriage with the opera ghost, will Erik ever be able to see her heart?

"Choices and Perceptions"

I made the choice…. I made the choice…. The words were being repeated like a mantra in my head, over and over again, almost like a monotone chant. Rhythmic, soothing in some constant way, they incited the gentle rocking my body had undertaken as I sat awkwardly perched on the edge of the canopy bed in my room in Erik's home, ready to leap to my feet in the instant things changed. Oh, weren't they bound to change….

Chanting up my own courage only lasted so long, as sporadic thoughts continuously burst my trance and returned the tragically unaccepted events of only the past few hours. Hours? …Dear Lord, was it really only hours ago that I had been preparing to perform that ill-fated opera? It seemed like years when so much of my very existence had been shifted. Opera roles and performances were suddenly so mundane in the ultimate scheme of things. Had I actually wasted minutes of my precious freedom feeling nervous about singing onstage before a full audience? Wasted…, I wanted to curse my own naïveté, for it seemed that in solely the past few hours, I had gone from child to woman. Suddenly, life was in perspective, and the fuzzy innocence childhood gave was vanished to nothing.

"I made the choice…." I spoke the words aloud this time, wanting every one of my senses to pick them up and believe them. I had made the choice. I had determined the path I myself would now follow. Coercion was only a gentle nudge toward its end, not the basis beneath as I am certain everyone else was convinced. Yes, Erik had threatened to murder Raoul if I did not choose him, but surprisingly, it was only the final push my heart had needed to accept a decision that had already been made. As I said, no one else would have believed that.

Sighing desolately, I let my fingers idly caress the intricate beading on my skirt. A wedding gown; yes, this was a wedding gown. Well, Erik certainly had not wanted his intentions misconstrued. He wanted me to know that my agreement was permanent…, binding. …Yet seemingly more comparable to a prisoner in a jail cell than a bride. Even if my prison was a bit more luxurious than most, it was a prison just the same.

Within seconds of a kiss that had practically shaken the foundation of the earth itself with its power, Erik had locked me in my room like an obstinate child, and I had not seen or heard from him since. My conclusion on the subject was that he had busied himself getting rid of Raoul's presence, a prisoner himself, though his cell had had the less pleasant distinction of being a torture chamber. And I was certain that Raoul would not have left calmly. No, he would have made some futile attempt to fight for me…. Poor, foolishly misguided Raoul. He was fortunate that Erik was committed not to harm him because without a restriction in place, the Vicomte's life would have been as good as over despite my seeming sacrifices to save it.

So I wasn't permitted a goodbye to the love of my shattered childhood. I doubted I would ever see Raoul again, and under the current circumstances, I only knew a momentary mourning for our idealistic relationship, that same bereavement that I was indulging for my ended childhood. Raoul was a part of it, holding the heart of the little girl I no longer was. After tonight, we would have had no future even if Erik had released me from my choice. I was different on the inside. I doubted Raoul could have understood that. Our stolen goodbye was something I only accepted when looking at it with Erik's eyes. Surely what he perceived could only be a tearful farewell full of kisses and oaths of undying love was best avoided. I could hardly begrudge him that.

…Where was Erik? My mind was asking the question again as my insides were being twisted by a mixture of boredom and queer anticipation. After all, I had no idea what was to come, what our life, one I had freely chosen, would hold, and yet I was convicted to my path. If I had still been the weak child, mourning lost love and freedom, perhaps in this time alone, I would have sought a means to take my own life. Wasn't suicide a better option to a lifetime with a monster? It would certainly make a glorious ending to a tragic opera if this tale were only a work of fiction. Taking my own life…, dramatic, poetic, the fitting finale to a tale of horror. But the ironic twist in my story that, strangely enough, made me stronger than all of that was that I loved the monster.

It was still an oddity to admit such a thing openly to myself when I had kept it buried in denial for so long. But it was true. I loved Erik. Albeit, not the version of him I had had to endure this evening, one bordering insanity and on the verge of murder. No, I loved the Erik I had been lucky enough to know before our world had come crashing down around us. Teacher, friend, mentor, …the match of my innermost soul…. Back before Raoul had reappeared in my life and had convinced me to see things his way, Erik and I had been so very close. We had delighted simply in one another's existence. It had been beyond the music, beyond even the awe I had always known for his genius. It had been a constant longing to be within each other's company, a need to be together. He had been closer and dearer to me than anyone in my entire life.

Why then had things imploded as violently as they had to lead us to this travesty of an ending? …What argument can I make to justify the petty shallowness of an immature girl? Raoul had held my childhood heart, and weak as I was, I had let those fleeting wisps of feelings return and spring back to life. No, I had never loved him, but I had respected and trusted him enough to value his opinions about Erik and his supposed 'control' over me. My God, the Vicomte's charm! When he exuded it, he could have had me believing anything he chose. He had twisted every detail around until it had seemed like I must have been manipulated. Raoul had even had me believing that Erik had used his music to hypnotize me into feeling something for him!

Naïve fool! I shouted at myself now to recall it. And how I had ignorantly hurt Erik! It sickened me to consider it!

Suddenly as I sat there still ruminating on the past's mistakes, the click of the lock being turned made me jump with a start and leap to my feet, terrified for reasons I couldn't find. Erik's eyes were cold when they immediately sought me out, biting furiously beneath the replaced presence of the mask. Oh, how often did he hide behind that manmade barrier? More times than he probably realized. Now it was the face of the phantom, his alter persona and cruelest façade, who stared at me, who ran bitter eyes over my appearance from head to toe for a long disconcerting moment before he strode into the room, …dragging with him a uniformed priest. So…there was to be a wedding, after all…? Did that make me happy or frightened? …Even I myself wasn't sure when the opera ghost was my groom and the Erik I had loved was far, far out of my reach.

The priest was practically heaved to the opposite side of the room, and he scampered to his feet again with wide, horror-stricken eyes that landed on me a long second before raising back to Erik. And what sort of expression did I give to this scene? Solemn to be sure with a clear lack of surprise. No, nothing Erik did surprised me anymore.

"My dear," the phantom sneered with a modicum of spite lacing his golden angel's voice…. Dear…, back when things had been pleasant, every endearment uttered had been saturated in genuine sentiment. Then, he had called me 'ange' as if I was the angel he was supposed to have been. Now… 'dear' felt as cold as an insult.

"Erik." I was ill-equipped at imitating such a tone, especially when the only resentment I carried was solely due to the fact that he was playing a part with me and refusing to give me back the man I actually wanted. Still, I was stronger in composure than either of us had expected me to be, and he showed his astonishment toward such a feat in one solitary moment before he hastily hid it away again.

Straightening his shoulders with that arrogant air that always besot him when he was the almighty phantom, he explained with a certain amount of detachment, "I have taken the liberty of escorting your former fiancé home, and on my way back, I brought us a guest. Father Benedict will perform our marriage ceremony, a real, legal marriage…. Does this surprise you, Christine? You did agree, and surely you couldn't have expected a spoken vow to be enough."

"I did agree," I insisted back. I could guess that he was expecting horror from me, shock, terror. None of which I gave. In fact, I remained stoic and defiantly holding his eye, and so I glimpsed the miniscule breath during which he was slightly rattled by my strength.

"This is all a part of your game, isn't it?" he suddenly accused, and then tossing his hands up in the air, he gave a fraction of that maniacal laugh I had been subject to all evening. "Of course it is! You want to confuse me and intrigue me, take me off my guard so that the first chance you get, you can make your escape. Well, I cannot argue against your attempt, futile as it may be, and you certainly have amused me. No tears and pleadings. It's…unexpected from you."

Unexpected…. Dear Lord, how long had I let the child within me reign supreme? It shamed me to consider that he was right, that his seeming insult had validity enough to leave me inwardly cringing. I let none of it show on my face. No, I didn't want Erik to know of my regrets.

"I am playing no game with you, Erik. I made a choice," I emphasized every word, "and if you are ready, then let us marry and start our life together." I turned to the wary-eyed priest and nodded confidently, "Father, if you will."

The man looked as if he yearned to refuse, but was far too terrified to utter a word against us. And indeed, what could he say? We had both consented to marriage; Erik was not forcing me. The priest's only argument could have come in the form of being dragged here by mediocre force, for this was not a cowering child and deranged murderer standing before him. No. I was determined we'd never fall into those roles ever again.

My eyes slowly rose to my groom, and one solitary twinge of panic coiled in my stomach. And it wasn't even my own! Because for an instant, so quick that only a resonating echo told me that it was even real, I caught a flicker of fear in those mismatched eyes. Fear…. Had I ever seen Erik afraid of anything? He was always so far beyond strong and completely poised at every turn, and had I looked at him in this current breath, fear would have never even crossed my mind. He had buried it away as if it had never existed, and I knew that for now I would have to do the same and wait to ask why, even as my mind suffered with it. Over and over again, I pondered what he could possibly be afraid of…. Me…? I could logically conclude little else.

Putting up a façade that my brain spun mercilessly behind, I extended my hands out to him, my eyes holding his, secretly seeking those unpleasant emotions he never again gave away. Moving with a grace that captivated me as always, he strode the few lengths to stand before me. …Did his hands really tremble in the second before they caught mine? …I couldn't be sure.

His skin was cold, always cold, eternally and basely cold. I had to wonder if moving out of the damp catacombs would change that, or if that was something built into him. …Was all of him so cold? …And yet wasn't it within mere moments that my own natural heat seemed to chase the edge of the chill away? Cold became secondary then as I focused on those hands, on their shape holding mine. To me, they weren't the hands of a deformed murderer; no, they were the hands of a genius, a brilliant inventor, a virtuoso composer and musician. Not even after the events of this night did I look upon them and see a flash of blood or violence. No, I only saw Erik's hands.

At some point I had not noticed, the priest had joined us; I only gave recognition to him at all when his nervous jittering back and forth distracted my peripheral vision. At nearly the same instant, both Erik and I looked away from each other and to his intruding presence, simultaneously giving him our full regard.

"Are you…sure?" Father Benedict stammered, and it was blatantly clear that the question was directed solely at me.

"Without a single doubt," I replied, meeting Erik's eye as it seemed to hold the same question in its depths. "Are you?" I dared to ask my groom as well, recalling that flash of fear I had seen.

Those mismatched eyes narrowed, his stare shrewd and fixed on mine as, disentangling one of our joined hands, he lifted it to draw away his mask, revealing that stark, mangled deformity with a posed challenge to me alone. I heard the little cry of horror our observer gave, knowing that Erik did as well but was giving no consideration to it. No, he was only concerned with me and my reaction to his pitiful excuse for a face.

"No doubts, Christine?" he dared to taunt, tilting that corpse's head to test me so brutally.

But my expression had not changed and neither had the conviction in my heart. If he had thought to shock me, such days were long over. I knew what that face looked like, not only from the times he had vividly put it on display mid-rage at me. I saw it on the blank canvases of my eyelids every time I closed my eyes. Its image was ingrained there so permanently and had been since my first encounter with it, stealing any shock value it had once had over me.

Holding those eyes, one sunken so deeply into its socket and so vibrantly emerald at the same time while the other shown perfect and blue, I replied resolutely, "No doubts," and I saw it shake him ever so slightly.

He left the mask off, and I would have had it no other way, wanting to see the face of the man I was marrying. The priest was the only one of us unnerved, but as his shaky voice resounded around us, Erik and I kept eyes solely on each other, everything else forgotten in the midst of a hazy backdrop.

I barely heard or understood a single word, surprising myself when the time to speak came and I actually managed to utter a committing vow. I was far too engrossed studying the man before me, my groom, my about-to-be husband. How long had it been since the major rift between us? …Six months or so, give or take. Six months…. Six months of changes, six months filled with days that I was not the focus of those eyes, six months of thoughts through his head that I knew nothing about, …six months of pain and loneliness that I had ignorantly caused…. And in six months, though that face was the same as ever, the man and soul behind it were altered in ways I wanted to learn. …Six months of separation, and yet we were ending together. Oddly enough, perhaps it was only due to his forceful, seemingly crazy actions that we had even arrived at this point. If not for his ultimatum, I very likely might have stayed the weak child at Raoul's side and suffocated my own heart in the process.

I had to wonder what Erik was considering as he stared back at me. His expression was unreadable, no smile in his eyes, no elation in his very aura. He remained so dignified in composure and yet gave off the faintest trace of apathy that absolutely grated on me. I knew he wasn't apathetic to this scene. I knew he loved me. …And yet he seemed so determined not to show even a trace of it, making it seem like I could have been anyone standing there with him, marrying him, and it wouldn't have mattered.

As the traditional ceremony ended and we were now legally bound to one another as man and wife, I was expecting something from my groom, maybe relief at least. Instead, I was suddenly yanked to him by the grip he still had on my hands, and as a gasp I could not contain slid out, he kissed me hard. It was nothing like the gentle kiss we had shared earlier, one I had instigated to seal my vow and show him I had meant every word. This was forceful, bruising, an act of possession rather than love. I was his now, and he was making that abundantly clear.

When he let me go with an abruptness that made my head spin, he turned to the priest without even a flash of regard to my presence as the hurt rejection welled up inside of me without my consent.

"I'll take you back," Erik said stiffly to the priest, and even though he tossed one single look my way, it was completely devoid of emotion. And that was all. No words, no explanations, not even a goodbye. Erik half-dragged the priest back out of my room, closing the door behind them and leaving me alone. …Alone on my wedding day. …Practically rejected by my husband. …Ignorantly bound to him for the rest of my life. …Regret, but really what could I regret? I had hurt Erik, and he was making a point. I couldn't regret going through with my vow and marrying him because I genuinely loved him in spite of it all. Regret…, I regretted the past six months. …They had formed the man I had just married. I regretted six months of pain I had inflicted on us both, and now I would have to live with the consequences.

For about ten minutes that seemed far longer to my frantic nerves, I paced my room before I realized with a huff at my own stupidity that I had not heard a click. I was not locked in this time. …Was that an iota of trust now that we were legally married anyway? I would have thought so had I not ventured out into the empty house only to find the one door out into the catacombs locked from the outside. …What could I argue to that? He didn't trust me. Why should he? But being locked in the house was superior to being locked in one room, or so a lingering flicker of optimism thought. But I squelched that optimism in my next coherent moment; squelched, stepped on, shredded to tiny, indecipherable pieces.

With a heaved sigh of my discontent, I wandered the quiet rooms of the house beneath approaching waves of melancholy. I had to wonder now that we were wed if Erik would intend for us to remain underground. To my sun-starved mind, it seemed no way to live. …Dark, dank, cold. I could already fathom catching ill quite frequently under such conditions. The house itself wasn't intolerable. Fireplaces in every room chased the brunt of the chill out, but it was still so…devoid of natural light. I liked the sun and the moon and the stars. Even cloudy days and rain were better to look at than stone walls and ceilings. I couldn't imagine never seeing them again.

Eventually with nothing to occupy myself, I ended up back within my own room, door closed, privacy established. What privacy, though? …This would be my wedding night. I knew a trepidation I hardly wanted to acknowledge creating frantic butterflies in my belly.

I was not ignorant on such intimate subjects, as most women my age were. Being a member of the corps de ballet would have taught me plenty and certainly beyond the basic actions. Those girls were well-versed and not shy to discuss even the most salacious of details, for surely in my quiet observance, as could not have been avoided since we had been together so often, I had learned quite a bit and vivid instructions on acts I felt certain only prostitutes performed. But in regard to the simple mechanics of things, I attributed my education to a father who was desperate that his only daughter would not be taken advantage of. My father had spent most of his career in and out of the theatre scene, and he had known of its inner workings, had known how far performers often went to please patrons and managers alike. Preparing me for a similar career path, he had felt it necessary to instill in me a respect and reverence for my body and the very act of giving it so intimately to another. Oh, Raoul had tried on more than one occasion to acquire such physical pleasures, insisting again and again that he loved me and it was only the natural progression of love, but I had never conceded to more than a few kisses. …And oh, how grateful I suddenly felt for the awkward conversation I had had to endure with my father! Otherwise I likely would have fallen into the same mindset as the other ballerinas and given in to Raoul months ago.

…And now…tonight I would give myself to Erik, …my husband. Quivering from head to toe with an internal nervousness that flushed my pale complexion pink, I suddenly had the urge to busy myself with something, anything to take my mind from the thought. It was too quiet in my room! In the house! Quiet enough for thoughts to reel in my brain.

I decided on a hot bath, determined to relax and calm myself after the extent of an overwhelming evening. Relax, ha! Relaxation of any sort would not come. I was tense as could be even within the deliciously warm cocoon of the water and fragrant bubbles. At some point, I even tried to sing and to concentrate on the way my voice echoed off of the tiles of my bathroom, filling up space. But thoughts kept bursting in, and finally, I had to give up, rushing out of the tub and grabbing for my nightclothes on the wings of a sudden consideration that Erik could simply burst into my bathroom if he so chose and find me bare in my tub. He was my husband, and I couldn't and wouldn't deny him, but I had the irrelevant yet oddly necessary desire to make the moment special, more special than being found in my bathtub.

With shaking fingers, I dressed in a white, silk nightgown, the loveliest one in my wardrobe, and a lace wrap, hoping, even as I blushed to consider such a thing, that Erik would like it. I didn't even know if he desired me in such a way; I had never given any thought about it until now. Back before our separation, there had been a few times when I had suspected that he had wanted to kiss me, but the mask had always stood in the way. It was an obstruction; to kiss me, he would have had to remove it, and at the time, that had been an unacceptable condition. Now…well, everything was changed.

Sitting upon the soft blankets of my bed, I flounced the silk of my skirt and combed through my damp, loose curls with a growing sense of impatience. I truly had no idea how long I would have to wait, and as the determination swelled within me, I knew I was ready and sure. But the longer I sat, the more my apprehension re-flickered to life with every consideration and the more insecure I grew. At some point, I even found myself concluding that my intrepid innocence would seem foolish to Erik, most especially if he had done such things before. Perhaps he would expect me to know how to please him, or at least not to be the timid mouse I suddenly felt like. If I was dealing with the Erik of six months ago, I could say with utter absoluteness that he would have been gentle and understanding, but this new Erik…. I wasn't confident to predict anything.

Minutes of further discomfort ticked by, long, almost unendurable. Then an hour, …then another hour, and I felt I would burst from this waiting. Dear God, what was taking so long? Or was it simply that he didn't want to be here with me? …Or, and this was a torturous thought to my addled brain, had something happened to him? I trusted his stealthy ability to blend with shadows and move about like the ghost they called him, but after tonight, too many people were out for vengeance. Oh, Erik, where are you?

I could remain still no longer, and with bare feet striking a thick layer of carpet that thankfully kept out the chill a wooden floor would have suffered, I crept from my room with no more intent than to wander the house. Locked in, I couldn't very well go and look for him. …Locked in, I would die here myself if something had happened to Erik. Funny that the thought only then occurred to me.

As I passed that prohibited exit, I halted in my very step. There, hung by the door was Erik's black cloak, the very one he had been wearing hours before. …He was here…; he was home. And it astounded and perplexed me that he had not dared to approach me. Better judgment argued to leave things be and return to my room, but how could I? My life had just been transformed this very day; he was my husband. I couldn't consider that we'd begin our marriage so rifted apart.

I sought him out and was summoned by the glow of the fireplace in the sitting room, bright enough to imply that it had been recently stoked. It was strange that it felt so welcoming when the image I got as I paused in the doorway was hardly that at all. Erik was seated in his throne-like chair, staring so somberly at the hearth, mask hiding the vast depth of the pain that radiated from him in the way heat was radiating from the fire. In his hand was a glass of some sort of alcohol; it looked as if he had barely sipped from it, a crutch to numb a pain he seemed more inclined to suffer instead.

Erik never looked away from the flames, never cast one single glance my way, and yet he suddenly commanded, "Go to bed, Christine."

This time my sense won, stifling any protest and snuffing each out before they could dare hit the air. My eyes ran over him one more moment. Dear God, he seemed so broken, and I was only vaguely aware of why. One would have presumed he'd have had an inkling of happiness in having inevitably been victorious, even a bit of his earlier arrogance, but all I felt permeating the room was sorrow. …And though it hurt me, I left him there and went obediently to my room, unsure there was anything that could be said tonight to make a difference. Tomorrow, …yes, tomorrow when all of this seemed a nightmare, then I would mend the gap between us again.