A/N: The final chapter. As Christine reaches the end of her journey, what will she find?
The ultimate, fully-formed decision to flee came midway through the rehearsal period for the Opéra's next gala night. The preparations for her departure took an inordinate amount of time, but even if they had been straightforward, Christine would not have abandoned her friends and colleagues before the performance. M. Reyer had been quite unhappy enough after her one-week absence, and André and Firmin were counting on the gala: despite the Phantom's absence, his reputation had nonetheless resulted in reduced ticket sales. The gala would showcase audience favourites, hopefully bringing back the patrons they had lost after the premiere of Don Juan Triumphant. Aside from that, Christine was their star – the famous survivor of the Phantom's final reign of terror – and now their greatest selling point. No, she would not desert them.
Rehearsals flew past in a blur as she made the final preparations. She had decided to keep her plans a secret, for fear of being dissuaded. Raoul would be horrified at the prospect, and Meg distraught. She could not afford even the slightest moment of weakness, and knew that she must be completely selfish. Once the complicated arrangements were made – the boarding passes secured, the temporary lodgings acquired, the carriage booked to transport both herself and her luggage to the station – she set about the task of writing her goodbyes.
She had barely committed pen to paper since learning of Erik's demise; even her diary had remained untouched, for her thoughts were simultaneously tumultuous and apathetic, impossible to articulate. Several drafts were destroyed and re-written before she finally held the finished letters in her hand, each one sealed neatly into its own envelope and addressed to its recipient by name alone. Addresses were not required, as she would hand-deliver them herself.
The first was to Raoul. She arranged to have it left in the anteroom of his private box at the Opéra, for him to find on his departure from the gala. She had struggled immensely with what to say. In the end, she merely thanked him for his kindness and devotion, apologised profusely for their short-lived romance and all it could have promised, and instructed him firmly to forget about her. He was, after all, perhaps the most eligible bachelor in Paris, and it would not be long before some other young thing took his fancy. Despite her best intentions, however, she still could not bring herself to explain why she had broken off their engagement, and could only hope that some day, he might understand.
To Meg, Christine wrote in somewhat similar terms. She would miss her friend dearly and knew that her sudden disappearance would be a shock. She promised to write to her again once she was settled, and hoped that perhaps one day they might see each other again. Christine was absolutely certain she herself would never return to France, but Meg could always visit. Enclosed with the letter were the carefully pressed and preserved petals of some exotic flowers, saved from the bouquets Christine had received over the months. Meg had always been so fascinated by them. The note was left in the dressing room for Meg to find after the performance.
Mme. Giry's letter – left in the same place as her daughter's – was more difficult to compose. She was a formidable woman, but Christine felt an affinity towards her nonetheless. She had treated her kindly, and had kept Erik's dark secrets for longer than Christine could begin to imagine. Even now, she was unsure of how much Mme. Giry really knew, or what her connection had been to him. She was the only surviving link to Erik; Christine hoped that she would understand the decision to run. The memories were too painful, the grief too raw. She tried not to dwell on that too much in the note, and ended the correspondence with cordial thanks for all Mme. Giry had taught her over the years.
Of course, she could not leave without thanking her former employers, and a polite, rather detached letter had been left for the attention of André and Firmin in their office. In this, she thanked them for their part in her career, short-lived though it was, and offered an apology for all the mess that had ensued. She felt responsible even now for the 'accidents' that had befallen the Opéra, and could only hope that things would be quieter in her absence.
Although she had only met him briefly, Christine also felt compelled to write to Nadir, Erik's mysterious Persian friend. (She had no idea where he lived, but enquiries at the box office revealed he was attending the gala and would be picking up his ticket that evening, so she left his note with the clerk.) He had been kind to her during their short encounter at the underground house, and – although he did not know it – the note he had shown her cemented more fully in her mind the decision to leave. Her visit that day had been made in blind hope, and that hope had been shattered. As she had gathered what trinkets she could from Erik's home, the knowledge that she could never return formed fully and completely in her mind. Aside from that, Nadir had obviously been a dear and close friend to Erik, and the thought that he had not been completely alone was comforting.
The final letter was the most difficult. She had hesitated over it for longer than she cared to remember, and even when it was sealed into its envelope, she debated with herself whether or not to deliver it. Of all the things she was escaping from, perhaps the greatest was Erik: the memory of him, of their time together. She had still not allowed herself to grieve, and part of her knew that was because there were too many reminders in Paris; she would never be free to live her life whilst the remembrance of Erik remained. Even so, to leave without properly saying goodbye felt like the worst betrayal she could commit. The letter had flowed almost unconsciously from her pen, all of her thoughts spilling onto the page. She bade him farewell in superfluous terms and explained that she was going away, never to return. He would never read it, she knew; but she left it on the doorstep of his underground house with a sense of finality, and her decision felt markedly less bleak.
The gala arrived. The House was full, almost completely sold out. Despite Madame Giry's ardent protests, the Managers had insisted on selling Box Five along with all the others. Christine could not deny feeling a little uncomfortable at seeing unfamiliar patrons within its velvet confines, where before there would only have been a mysterious yet overbearing darkness.
She sang her part with detached ease, reciting the words without any thought, as her brain ran through the preparations one more time. She would have very little time after the performance to escape. She planned to change quickly, and leave by the Rue Scribe door, where she would board her carriage and depart. There was no time for any delay.
The first Act flew past, then the interval. Christine was to perform the final number of the evening, the show's grand finale. As the moment approached she became entirely aware of her surroundings, taking in all the details she had become so accustomed to: the opulent interior of the auditorium, the backstage passages, the comforting hubbub and familiar smells. To think, she had spent so many of her formative years within these walls, and would never set foot here again…
She began the aria and felt herself fall back in time, to her first performance as a young ingénue. It seemed a lifetime ago, not the mere months it was in reality. As the lyrics spoke of love and hope, she felt an unrelenting, crushing pressure around her heart. Raoul had attended the performance and was watching her with unconcealed admiration and affection, but the empty space in her chest yearned only for Erik. She missed him so dreadfully that her mind could focus on nothing else. As the aria reached its crescendo, she reached her arms towards the heavens and sent the words upwards, praying that he would hear this last, ultimate culmination of his tutoring. The final note burst effortlessly from her throat with perfect soprano tone; in her mind it was nothing more than the anguished scream of a soul in torment.
Afterwards, spent of any useful emotion, Christine accepted her audience's ovation with reasonable grace, and proceeded to her dressing room in a daze. They had moved her, since the "incident", yet even so she stole a nostalgic glance to the full-length mirror. Its glass was silent and cold, mockingly ordinary. She changed quickly and packed the final few items from her dressing table into a valise. Casting one final gaze around the room, she extinguished the lamp and closed the door behind her.
The journey to the station passed too slowly for Christine's liking, and she had spent the majority of it on the edge of her nerves. Whenever the carriage had to slow, she half-expected to come to a complete halt, the doors to open and someone to drag her out, back to the life she was trying to escape. When she had finally emerged from its rickety interior, her bags following her in the care of the driver, she felt the first flutter of relief.
The station was huge, its grandeur overwhelming her, and it took a few moments to catch her breath. Eventually, she regained enough composure to navigate herself to the correct platform. A porter helpfully loaded the more bulky items of her luggage onto a trolley and headed towards the baggage car. As she tried to locate her carriage, she took in her surroundings. The train extended for what seemed like miles in both directions, the plume of steam at its head giving it the appearance of a docile dragon.
After a few minutes' hesitation, she boarded the vehicle and found her allocated compartment, where she stowed her valise neatly and seated herself on the leather seat by the window. The overnight voyage would take her to the north of France; in the morning she would take another carriage to the port. It seemed an eternity before the train finally pulled out of the station, and Christine only allowed herself to relax once the familiar landscape of Paris had blurred into countryside.
She did not sleep much on the journey, catching only a scant few hours. The dreams which had plagued her for so long continued unabated, and she felt certain they would do so until she had reached her destination. It would take a physical ocean for her to be truly separated from her past. Besides, once she was there, she would have an unfamiliar language and local customs to grapple with, which would effectively distract her from her reminiscence.
The journey – from leaving the Opéra to disembarking from the train the next morning – went more smoothly than she had anticipated. By now her notes would have been found, their contents read – all but one of them, at least – but she could not dwell on how her friends might react. Not now she had come so far.
The steam liner was small but sturdy-looking, a little rusty in places, perhaps, but no more than she had expected. It was early yet, and the weather was fine, though there was evidence of dark clouds on the horizon which appeared to threaten rain. Once again her luggage was stowed safely away, this time in the vessel's hold, and as she watched it disappear from sight she forced her suddenly nervous feet to walk up the gangplank and onto the deck. Even at this point, she was wary of the other passengers, avoiding eye contact whilst simultaneously studying their faces for any note of recognition. She had been careful not to be followed, but there was always the possibility of someone coming after her, and she had come too far to be dissuaded now. Finally, as the boat began its slow journey away from the mainland, she felt some of the tension begin to ease.
An hour or so later, the coast of England was slowly approaching through the mist and drizzle. The previous evening seemed a lifetime ago; she barely even remembered the performance. It was strange: all her life she had loved performing and dreamed of being centre-stage… and yet she had left it behind without a backward glance. The music which had once captivated her and filled her heart to bursting with joy now seemed a hollow and empty noise, as bland and uninteresting to her ears as the dull conversations she had endured for Raoul's benefit.
Only Erik's music could captivate her, its intriguing tendrils of mysterious sound weaving through her mind like threads of silk; only that voice – like her father's violin before it – could send her drifting between the planes of consciousness to a place that was somewhere unearthly and beautiful. Handel, Glück, Mozart… none could compare. He was gone now, the music with him… and even though Erik had condemned himself to Hell a long time ago, Christine could not perceive those melodious harmonies anywhere else but Heaven.
She sighed at her own rambling thoughts; it would not do to lose herself now. She was almost there. Just a little longer before she could set foot on solid, foreign land. Then, and only then, could she allow herself the luxury of tears.
For the second time that day, the weather seemed content to mock her: the rain grew heavier once again. She readjusted her hood and pulled her cloak further around herself, shivering slightly at the new chill in the air. Wind was now buffeting the deck, and a particularly strong gust drew her hood away from her, causing her loose hair to fly wildly about her face. She let out a little shriek of surprise and attempted to calm her unmanageable tresses, loosening her scarf so that she could secure the curls beneath it. The ring, threaded upon its golden chain, became dislodged by the disturbance of the garment, and she reached to carefully tuck it within her bodice.
The gale continued to whistle in her ears, so much so that she barely heard the voice behind her.
"This air will ruin your throat."
She gasped in surprise, as she had not heard anyone approach and thought herself alone. When the wind abated and the stranger chose to speak again, Christine felt certain her ears had deceived her, that she had finally gone insane with grief. The words were so simple and yet so meaningful, and the timbre of the voice penetrated her very being; the absolute impossibility of what she had heard was confounded by the yearning, desperate agony of her heart.
"You should be inside, my dear."
- FIN -
A/N: Well, that's it. I intended the ending to be a pleasant surprise, so hopefully I have succeeded.
Thank you to those people who did review the story, and to any lurkers who may have read without reviewing (due to anonymous reviews being turned off or whatever other reason), I hope you enjoyed it.
I think this will be my last story for this fandom. I will attempt to finish my other ongoing story, "Sweet Intoxication", before I bow out forever, but I can't promise anything with the way my writing habits fluctuate. (I do write for several other fandoms, equally sporadically, so please feel free to check out my profile for details.)
Thank you to everyone who has shared my fandom-life here over the past decade or so.
Farewell, my dears.