AN: This has been five years in the making, re-written more times than I dare think about. It's not much, and it's only covering what many writers have already done before, but I needed to finish it and put it away. This was a tough piece to write, much harder than I thought it was going to be, as I wanted to try and get inside Christine's head and see how she made her decisions as best I could (or at least match what was being shown during the film). It was going to be a very biased PxC fic, but after watching the film too many times I saw something toward the end which made me re-think where her affections lie. It's still PxC, but I think it's a little more complicated than that. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it for what it's worth. Feedback would be most welcome :)

Burning Bridges

By Perfect Soldier 01

The Point of No Return

An impossible decision lay before me. Tucked away in the small chapel deep inside the body of the Opera House, I knelt beside the rusting candle stand and gazed up at the angelic frescos that lined the walls. I almost couldn't lift my head high enough to meet their faces, so wretched and shameful were the sins that blackened my soul. Yet the memory of their stern expressions was not forgotten, for I had sought refuge here many times before, albeit more often to light a candle for my father and contemplate the foster words of praise from my beloved Angel of Music than to beg for humble forgiveness.

My crime of loving two different men kept my eyes averted, but the small, flickering flames wavered back and forth in the corner of my eye, an ever present reminder of the night ahead of me. Soon the lamps would be lit and the curtain would rise, the beginning of the end ready to strike its chord, and I was no nearer reaching an answer. Relinquishing all my senses to the darkness, I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the world around me, praying that the good angels of heaven would forgive my trespasses and guide me back to the true and righteous path.

But there was no divine revelation, no gentle direction, and the faces of Raoul and the Phantom revolved endlessly in front of me, rolling on one after the other like the eternal glint of the great chandelier crystals until a tight, heavy knot wound itself around my heart, the light of reason never settling on just one of them.

I breathed a desperate sigh and opened my eyes, sinking down into my hands. I knew what the obvious choice was. To anyone else who wasn't entirely dependent upon a man whose beautiful song also raged with the spiteful tongue of a murderer, Raoul would be the clear choice. He was respectable, handsome and wealthy, tender and dependable. His embrace made me feel safe, keeping me warm when all else fell away under the dying, winter sun, and his soft kisses would settle on my skin like the falling snow. His love was secure and steadfast in its affection, enduring from the days even before we had waved goodbye to our childhood, and one wouldn't need to look much further than that to be able to declare with a good degree of certainty that he was the worthier man.

But while Raoul would no doubt ward off any threatening clouds on the horizon, there had been too many occasions when I caught myself longing for those very storms he kept at bay. When the night tempests rattled through the rooftops in my father's attic, the very soul and energy of the world seemed to beat hard in my chest as the rain pelted down above me, and the chill in the night air would shoot down my spine, buzzing through my veins with something I could only have described as a dizzy pleasure of simply being alive. Raoul had never inspired such a feeling in me when we were children, and having weathered the transition to adulthood I was now even more certain that he could not rouse anything of the sort. He was too cautious, almost too gentle. With him, it seemed that the giddy thrill of those distant summer nights had been long since snatched away by one of those passing cyclones and flung to some far reaching corner of the earth, never to be seen again.

But when fortune had granted me the chance to dance across the floorboards of the opera house, there had been a thunderous voice in the dark that had rumbled deep in my ears and echoed just as strongly in the chambers of my heart. The Angel of Music had come to me, just like my father had said, and his songs stifled my throat with something so much bigger than me that I barely recognised that same prickle of childish rapture. He made me feel like every one of those hazy days and stormy nights were within reach again; that the past wasn't so far removed as I had once believed it to be.

But as time moved on there was no longer just a voice in my head reminding me of that age gone by. He would appear before my eyes in my dreams when the moon rose high, and the Angel of Music would take me in his arms, singing a soft yet stirring song as he stroked my hair, winding the tips through his fingers. Sometimes he would kiss my forehead and his lips would linger over my skin, but he would never kiss me on the mouth and I would never see his face.

But when the sun broke his spell in the morning I would still awaken with a start to find my covers on the floor, my skin flushed and the sensation of his touch walking in my shadow for the rest of the day. An aching tide would tear a deeper hole in my heart with every passing hour, and I had feared it might break me in two and burst the bank of my bones. But then he had revealed himself to me, and every fibre of my being became his under his raw, masterful touch and his warm voice. The Angel had become a man, a man who I could love from the innermost regions of my soul, a man who made my heart soar into the heavens and a man who made me feel truly alive for the first time since the passing of my father.

And his face, his beautiful face, had shone with love and tenderness as he held me, his eyes full of heavenly grace as he sang.

I realise now that it was only through my own folly that the devil had risen up and bitten me that day from underneath that strange, white mask. Having wished for so long to see his face, my damnation had been swift for taking a privilege I hadn't yet earned. When the sun closed its eyes on the world those marred, distorted features stung my sleep again and again, and at daybreak I would run like a whimpering child to Raoul, wishing that he could make everything all right again. I cowered whenever he entered my thoughts, and I failed to reconcile how such beauty could be born from such ugliness. He had turned from the face of God to the spiteful grin of Lucifer in an instant, and the hand he had once used to create such wonderful music now gripped the noose of his lasso with bloody and merciless fingers. Everything I knew about him was a lie and I couldn't bear it.

I know it was my own fault; I would be a fool to say otherwise. As foolish as it indeed might sound, I do not blame him for acting the way he did, and in many ways I believe that I deserved such a punishment. I had never found the courage to apologise for my forwardness, preferring instead to hide away in Raoul's embrace without giving so much as a second thought to what stirred beneath our feet. I had been naïve to think he would let me go like so easily. Yet Raoul had stood by me faithfully through those dark winter months, lighting the way with that small diamond ring and his steady smile, and I had wanted nothing more than to fill my memories with the truth that he offered me.

But when blades crossed and blood was split on the snowy earth of my father's grave, the black veil of uncertainty was thrown across my eyes again. As Raoul towered over the Phantom and readied the final blow, the fear that had once made me feel so small suddenly swelled into a crashing wave and had surged from my throat before I could stop it. Both men had looked at me in disbelief that day, and I knew I had thrown myself to the lions. I had spared the Phantom's life without knowing why, and I was now reaping the consequences of my actions.

It was my fault, it was all my fault, and I couldn't choose between them.

Just then the worn strain of Raoul's boots stretched across the stone stairs behind me, and I turned my head to see him framed in the archway, his tall figure bearing down on me with the same severity as the saints behind me.

"Raoul, I'm frightened. Don't make me do this," I whispered.

He didn't say anything in return, nor did I expect him to, for I already knew what response was beginning to form behind his muted lips. Had he said anything at all he would have merely repeated the rigid and unwavering instructions I had so desperately wanted to refuse only a few hours before. The only thing the viscount did was to loosen his expression sympathetically and step towards me, and I could tell from his half, shy smile that Raoul hoped that my fear extended only so far as a little stage fright.

I rose from the floor, the creases of my dark blue skirt returning stiffly to their place by my side, and I hid myself away in his embrace. Nothing was more precious to me now than wanting these last few moments between us to be untainted by my indecision, even though I barely allowed myself the liberty of clasping my hands behind his back. Instead they ventured no further than his elbows, and I was too timid to even lean against him for fear of the Phantom's prying eyes.

"Raoul, it scares me. Don't put me through this ordeal by fire! He'll take me - I know! We'll be parted forever," I mumbled against his chest, though I scarcely knew which fate was worse. "He won't let me go."

I pulled away to see if he would relent, the tears in my eyes in danger of leaping down my cheeks, but his face and his readiness to speak remained unchanged. Pulling away from his grasp, I wandered toward the stained glass window and sat down, hoping that the shimmering light might yet clear my thoughts.

Raoul followed and sat by my side, finally breaking his silence only to repeat the inevitable crux of our dilemma as I thought he would. As he rolled his thumbs over my knuckles, I sighed inwardly with disappointment, his gentle caresses doing nothing to ease the bitter chain of misery that had caught itself round my heart.

But then his arms circled me in a fierce embrace, and I could feel the nervous pulse of his chest falling soft and low like a timpani drum. Though he had said little, it reassured me that he too was just as scared as I was, and the tighter his arms wrapped around my small body, the more disjointed and laboured his breath became, shuddering against my skin in short, penitent fractures. Nuzzling close to my jaw, he whispered in my ear that he would fight to the death if that was what it took to save me, his words heavy with a gritted determination I had never heard before, and my breath caught in my throat.

But before I had a chance to reply there seemed to be activity everywhere, and voices and shouts wandered down the stairway with the clattering and clicking of shoes beating rhythmically somewhere above us.

Time had once again been un-obliging; it was time to begin the Phantom's Opera.

For a small, fleeting moment I managed to convince myself that this opera would be like every other performance I had given. I walked out onto the stage as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and it was only when I looked out into the audience, when I saw the multitude of offended scowls and cynical frowns swarming across the chattering seats, that I realised how very silly it was to try and keep up the illusion any longer. We had barely begun and already everybody wanted it to end, and for the first time in my career I prayed desperately that the audience would have the audacity to walk out in the middle of it all.

Had this been any other night, I would have been keen and eager for the Phantom's opera to succeed. This was his life's work and I was his voice, his muse and his music, and together we would have made a true masterpiece, I was sure of it. His lessons would have been the greatest he had ever conducted, and he wouldn't have stopped until I was perfect.

Tonight, though, everything had already been condemned to the gallows. Don Juan would be swallowed up by the depths of obscurity, and I feared that I too would fall along with it, back into the Phantom's grasp.

"You have come here, in pursuit of your deepest urge,"

I nearly jumped as his voice leapt down from the platform behind me, curling round my skin like a tail of a cat, playful and hungry for indulgence.

It was him, here and now, and my eyes fell to the floor as I tried in vain to compose myself. He had come, just like Raoul had planned – but where was Piangi and why was Raoul letting him continue like this? Could he not tell the difference?

But the audience was completely still, the music playing on, and the pull of his sensuous melody quickly cut through the flurry of questions screaming in my head, compelling me to turn and face him.

"…in pursuit of that wish which 'till now has been silent…silent."

There he stood, the weight of his presence impressing itself upon me with the single lift of his finger to his lips, crushing the power of my voice with ease.

"I have brought you that our passions may fuse and merge. In your mind you've already succumbed to me, dropped all defences, completely succumbed to me."

He overpowered my senses with the same enormity as a violent embrace, and I had to shy away quickly to retain even a shred of resolve. I couldn't give in to him; I had to stay strong, for Raoul's sake. But any confident control I had once imagined to be at my disposal failed to lend me its strength, and I could feel my eyes growing heavy, closing slowly to the horrible irony of his words. No matter how hard I fought against it, I knelt there feeling as helpless as the blind and naked bodies lining the walls of the opera house, the truth of his words unbuttoning every resistance.

"Now you are here with me, no second thoughts. You've decided…decided."

He looked at me slyly, his mask as black as his hair, and my heart raced. I had never heard him sing like this before, not even when he stepped through my mirror all those months ago. He had been master enough of me then, a mere reflection in a sliding mirror, but now it was as if he had been holding himself back all this time, yet to impress us with the greatest secrets of his voice, and his cunning smile lured me to my feet with a smile of my own dancing hastily on my lips, treading the steps of dread and desire to his tempo.

"Past the point of no return, no backward glances. Our games of make-believe are at an end! Past all thought of if, or when. No use resisting! Abandon thought and let the dream descend!"

His steely gaze remained fixed and undeterred, never leaving the wide look I returned as he stalked about me in a broad yet goading proximity. The audience were no longer in focus, the wings had disappeared out of my vision; all I could see was the Phantom before me, the predator before his prey, staring at me with a greedy, knowing grin of victory. And somewhere inside I welcomed it.

"What raging fire shall flood the soul? What rich desire unlocks its doors? What sweet seduction lies before us?"

He pounced, grasping my neck tenderly in his hand as his song resounded in my ears, a deep growl shooting down my skin. His hot, fearless touch spread through my body and a mixture of horror and that old, familiar excitement drove a gasp from my mouth as I closed my eyes, mirroring his grin in spite of myself as his hands tumbled down my arm, setting it ablaze as he hissed the words against my fingers.

"Past the point of no return, the final threshold! What warm unspoken secrets will we learn, beyond the point of no return?"

He led me a few steps across the stage, our hands clasped together while his eyes bored their way inside me with every step. Against all reason, all I wanted was to keep listening to his voice; as long as he sang the world ceased to exist and the deed awaiting me was forever on the distant horizon, the crossroad of my folly removed from the face of the earth.

But suddenly he let me go, and the walls of the opera house crashed back into place. It was my turn to sing, and as I looked away back into the audience I realised with alarming embarrassment that the entire theatre had been privy to the entire encounter. Heads were turning and muttering to each other, grins appearing behind the waving fans and raised hands, and shocked, dainty fingers were rising to lips all around.

I pulled my fallen sleeves back onto my shoulders as though it might somehow erase my shame, and I stole a small glance of him out of the corner of my eye. He stood there, satisfied and smug in my humiliation, eager to hear how his pupil would now fare.

Taking a deep breath, I tried to sing my lines like I had rehearsed them, but they emerged weak and timid, exposing my hesitance for all to see.

"You have brought me, to that moment when words run dry, to that moment when speech disappears into silence…silence."

Daring to gauge the audience's reaction, I suddenly saw Raoul make a move in the box above me, signalling to André and Firmin to ready the guards, and my panic rose. He had seen it all too, every touch and caress, everything hurrying my moment of betrayal into view.

"I have come here, hardly knowing the reason why. In my mind I've already imagined our bodies entwining, defenceless and silent."

But I wasn't ready; every word I sang was pulling me back to into the Phantom's arms, his music weaving its way back into my heart, and I swung my eyes from the man who had vowed to be my protector to find the man who given me my voice. If this was to be the last moment of innocence, I wanted to him to know that I was truly sorry for all the pain and grief I had caused him. It wasn't enough, but it was the only thing I felt capable of giving, and I didn't know why, but a part of me even wanted to warn him about everything that was about to unfold.

But the Phantom was looking elsewhere, his gaze turned to the guard who thought himself hidden in the curve of the box, and a surge of pity nearly brought my voice to a halt. I could see the weariness in his eyes, the tired fighter taking blow after blow as he strived for his life, and the thought of him being caught and beaten within seconds of the curtain fall, no doubt shot or hung with his own lasso only moments after, jolted fiercely in front me. He would be afforded no trial, and the caverns that had once been his home would become his coffin. He would be forgotten, remembered as nothing more than a fairytale, the Opera Ghost he had taken such delight in playing. No one would mourn his passing, and no one would sing for him. I would no longer have a teacher, and they would be killing an angel in the sight of God.

And it sickened me.

Every conflicting voice in my head then suddenly shouted one uniform thought in my ears, and I turned to face him.

"Now I am here with you, no second thoughts. I've decided…decided."

As our eyes found each other again I saw his lower lip tremble and fall from the rigid line of his mouth, my gaze hopeful as I nodded my answer. I would not let them take him, no matter what side of the fence that put me on. I couldn't let him die for my sake.

"Past the point of no return, no going back now! Our passion-play has now at last begun!"

Singing for him and him alone, I could hear my voice growing more and more confident, smiling and shaking my head in time with the words as we advanced toward the wooden stairwells. If this was to be the final song we would sing together, I did not want my performance to disappoint him. He may not taught me this time, but his lessons certainly hadn't fallen on deaf ears.

"Past all thought of right or wrong. One final question: how long should we two wait before we're one?"

I leaned forward and pressed all my weight onto the gnarled support beam, acting out my part as best as I could and filling my song with all the longing it deserved. As long as we kept singing they could not stop us.

But as my plea reached him across the void I watched him falter slightly in his stride. Halting just as I had done, the Phantom stared back at me with guarded eyes, and though it was difficult to tell against the dark pallet of his clothes, his chest seemed to rise higher and quicker than before. But before I let myself think about what it meant I turned and continued rising to the top of the stairwell.

"When will the blood begin to race? The sleeping bud burst into bloom? When will the flames at last consume us?"

The end of our ascent was upon us and my heart was pounding in my chest. With only the length of the bridge between us, we stood before each other as equals then, naked under the shells of our characters, the world limited to just the two of us.

Our voices lifted into one untied melody, and as we began the final duet, I wanted so dearly to tear down the curtain and show the world the face I had never yet had the courage to find. I wanted to show everyone who the Phantom really was, the Angel who had taught me to sing and the man who had given me his love. He did not deserve to die, but if I chose to let him live, I had to give them a reason.

"Past the point of no return, the final threshold! The bridge is crossed so stand and watch it burn."

I grabbed his hips, each of us seizing the other at the same moment as we met in the middle, but the heat from his body was almost overwhelming, as if he himself were about to burst into flames and swallow me whole. I would have gladly perished too, if it meant delaying the fate before us.

But then he took my hands and spun me around, drawing me deeper into his hot, ardent embrace, and I was utterly defeated. I was a child again, and the groaning roof of my father's attic had finally snapped in two, the whole world collapsing about me as the Phantom's arms and hands engulfed me completely.

"We've pasted the point of no return."

Circling my own fingers around my stomach, he pressed me tight against his body, stoking the thriving furnace already blazing behind my skin to an even higher degree. Arching back, I barely heard the music drop away as he slowly raised our interwoven hands over the curve of my breast to the base of my neck. I didn't see the guards appear in the wings, nor did I see the disgust curling around Raoul's gaping snarl. All I saw was the darkness, and all I felt were the shy yet brave caresses of the man I loved.

But just as the Phantom brushed a kiss above my ear his voice suddenly glided through the silence, his song a high, mournful lament.

"Say you'll share with me one love, one life time. Lead me, save me, from my solitude. Say you'll want me with you here, beside you."

The words floated back down the chilly avenues of my memory, whisking me up to the snowy heights of the opera rooftop, the altar to a new world where the stars shone down like tiny candles in the inky shadows of the night. I smiled with a warm glow of remembrance, but then I heard them echo back at me from my own mouth, the very pledge I made to another.

My eyes flew open in fright, my breath hitching in my throat as my own nerves felt the sharp, wrenching pain in his voice. He had heard every word, seen every kiss I had offered and shared, and he had had the gates of our future together shut cruelly in his face.

I waited for an angry, possessive arm to trap me in his grasp, but the Phantom simply tugged gently at my shoulders so I could face him, honestly and without shame, and as he came to my side he humbly enclosed my hand in both of his and held it to his heart.

"Anywhere you go let me go too!"

An anxious march throbbed against my palm, and I could no longer bear to see him suffer alone in such torment. Squeezing his fingers tightly, I cradled the side of his face and prayed that he would realise what I was about to do. He had thrown away all demands and all protest, standing before me to seek the permission that had always been his from the very beginning, accepting every one of my flaws and mistakes, and I hoped that he would let me do the same.

"Christine! That's all I ask of - !"

Before he could finish I slid his mask from his face, no longer afraid of the monsters that lay beneath it. Shrieks of horror pierced the theatre from the floor below us, but an unflinching, unaffected smile remained fast on my lips as I traced the raised and swollen patterns on his cheeks with my fingertips, meeting his look of terror with one of trust.

Yet the disgrace lingered in his grieving eyes, and with a twisted grimace he tore my hands away as if he wouldn't let himself believe or understand the gentle acceptance they offered. Moving in close, he clutched my neck, teeth gritted as the weights of vengeance and compassion slid back and forth on the scales of his judgment. Fleeting seconds of pressure and retreat pushed against me like the hesitant rise and fall of his lungs, and just when I thought his scowl of doubt had finally shattered, his eyes snapped up above my head and an angry growl rumbled deep in his chest.

Grabbing me roughly round the waist, he glanced at the chandelier and threw me from side to side as he whirled around the bridge like a trapped animal. Flashes of the guards and their guns shot through my vision, and I cried out in despair, damning every divine host that had played a part in my spectacular failure and clinging tighter to the Phantom as he unsheathed a hidden sword. I loved him. I truly loved him, but even if I yelled it at the top of my lungs for the whole theatre to hear it would make no difference now. He would kill me, I was sure of it, and he would unleash the fury that he had kept so restrained until now.

I shut my eyes tight and held my breath as his sword sliced through the air above me, bracing myself for the hell that awaited me as all sensation gave way and I fell into darkness.