By CarolROI

"Raoul, I'm frightened, don't make me do this. It scares me. Don't put me through this ordeal by fire. He'll take me, I know, we'll be parted forever, he won't let me go. What I once used to dream I now dread, if he finds me it won't ever end...he'll always be there, singing songs in my head...."

His footsteps slowed as he drew near the chapel on his way to the cellars from the dome over the theater. He could hear the murmur of voices but it wasn't until he crept up to the brass gate that he realized it was Christine speaking to that boy.

Rage surged through him and for an instant it drowned out everything else. Then torment in her voice jolted him from his angry haze, bringing him back to the scene playing out in the chapel. He pressed his body as close to the opening as he dared, listening to her frightened pleas.

" Twisted every way, what answer can I give? Am I to risk my life to win the chance to live? Can I betray the man who once inspired my voice? Do we become his prey, do I have any choice? He kills without a thought, he murders all that's good. I know I can't refuse, and yet I wish I could. Oh, God, if I agree, what horrors wait for me in this, the Phantom's opera?"

Every word was a razor sharp blade piercing his heart, cutting his soul to ribbons. How could this be? Christine knew him, knew he could never harm her...the boy! The boy had turned her against him! As soon as the thought sprang into his mind, he knew it for the lie it was. He had done this. He was the cause of Christine's fears; he had taken ten years of love, of friendship, and destroyed it with his own hands. She was everything that was pure and good in his world, and he had infected her with his darkness, made her a witness to his evil, murdering soul. No wonder the thought of him terrified her.

He turned away from the gate, hand to his mouth as he tried not to be ill. He managed to force back the bile that rose in his throat, but he could not hold back the tears. Sliding down the wall, he crouched on the cold stone floor, for the first time since Christine had come into his life feeling completely and utterly alone. There was nothing left for him here now, nothing for him anywhere. Even the thought of hearing his Don Juan performed made him feel hollow and sick inside.

He had written it for Christine, to convey to her the only way he knew how what he felt for her. It had been his plan all along to take Don Juan's place on stage, to sing those words to her, to hear her sing her desire back to him. But they were his words, not hers. She would never desire him as a woman desires a man. He was a monster, a creature of darkness, and she was an angel.

Taking off his mask, he pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes in a vain attempt to stop the tears. Christine had loved her Angel of Music, not him, not the Phantom, not Erik. He should have never revealed himself to her; he should have been content to just be the voice in her dreams. She could never love him, no one ever could. He had known that, he had always known that. Why, why, why did it hurt so much? Why could he not have the courage to end this pain years ago?

Pulling his knees up to his chest, he wrapped his arms around them and hid his face, rocking back and forth. Lost in his despair, he did not hear the footsteps coming closer, or the faint squeak as the gate opened.

Christine remained in the chapel after Raoul left, attempting to find some inner calm before she had to start getting ready for the performance. Wiping at her eyes, she wondered who she was crying for, herself or the man she was about to betray. She had told Raoul she had no choice, and truly she didn't feel she had. If she refused, the managers were well within their rights to fire her and throw her out onto the street. Raoul, of course, would take her in, but that would mean marriage and the end of her career, neither of which she felt she was ready for.

She thought she was going mad now, but without her music she would be truly lost. Worst of all, she missed her Angel. Her best friend had become the Phantom, someone she no longer thought she knew. He had always been so gentle and loving with her. He was a strict teacher but she had known his demands had come from his desire for her to do her best. His friendship and belief in her when she had been at her lowest after the death of her father had saved her; she truly believed that. She couldn't help but feel that if her Angel were here, he would know just what to do to fix the situation she found herself in.

But there was no Angel to save her now, only the Phantom, whom everyone said would steal her away which didn't seem such a bad thing the more she thought about it. The prospect of being anywhere but here was very appealing at the moment.

Sighing, Christine closed her eyes and said a silent prayer for her father...and her Angel, wherever he might be. It was then, when her thoughts were focused on the welfare of someone else, that she heard the sound of crying. The noise was faint, as if whoever it was did not wish to be heard. But the peculiar acoustics of the opera house carried the sound to her.

Getting to her feet, Christine went to the open door of the chapel. The cries were not coming from the hallway, and no one was in sight. She stepped back inside the room. The sound was definitely louder here. She crossed to the brass screen that covered an arched opening in the wall. Christine had always assumed it led further down into the cellars, but she had never thought to go through it before tonight.

The sobs grew louder the closer she got to the gate, though they were still muffled. For the first time, she noticed the handle that blended perfectly within the grillwork. Grasping the handle, Christine tried the gate. It opened almost silently on well-oiled hinges. Taking a breath, she stepped through it then paused, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness. Enough light filtered in from the chapel that she could gradually make out the form of a man seated on the ground, his back against the wall.

His head was bowed over his bent knees, his face hidden in his folded arms as his shoulders shook with stifled sobs. Despite this, there was no mistaking the dark hair that just brushed the collar of the white linen shirt he wore and the bit of pale cheek she could see. The sight of him that way, seeming so small and powerless, startled her. Did angels cry? Did ghosts?

It took her two tries before a whisper escaped her lips. "Angel?"

His head came up swiftly and she realized he wasn't wearing his mask the same moment he did. He turned his face away from her, his hands scrabbling on the floor for it. When he didn't immediately find it, he covered the right side of his face with his hand before turning back to her.

Something twisted painfully inside Christine. His face was streaked with tears, his expression one of shame and loss. "Oh, Christine...I never meant...." His voice trailed off and he swallowed and tried again. "I only wanted...only wanted you love me...never hurt you, never."

He seemed to run out of words then, and really, no more were necessary. She could read the look in his eyes easily. It was one she had seen too often in her mirror, of someone whose entire world had been shattered.

Suddenly the idea that she had ever felt afraid of him seemed ridiculous. Kneeling next to him, Christine slid her arm around his shoulders and pulled him to her. He resisted at first, but finally rested his head on her shoulder, his hushed sobs shaking them both. Bringing her hand up to gently touch his uncovered cheek, she rocked him in her arms as she would a distraught child, crooning to him softly. She didn't know how long she held him, but it was long enough for his tears to soak her blouse and for her to realize from the way he clung to her that no one had ever comforted him before.

Tears filled her eyes as everything came together at once, overheard conversations, the story Madame Giry had given Raoul and he had repeated to Christine, and her own interactions with her Angel. He was afraid, she realized, always afraid of being hurt, of being rejected for something he could do nothing about. The thought of going her entire life without being touched, without knowing love or friendship--she would have withered away at a young age.

He had seemed so strong, but now she knew his strength was a mask to hide his lonely and aching heart. "Oh, Angel, what fools we have been," she whispered. "If only we had both been a little bit braver, a little more trusting of each other, we would not be in this mess right now."

His tears had run dry several minutes ago, but he still rested his head on her shoulder, his breath warm against her neck. She stroked his hair, pressing her cheek against his forehead. This was how it should have been, the two of them finding their strength in each other, not pain, not fear. Letting out a sigh, he finally straightened up and Christine reluctantly let him go. He looked awful, both of his eyes red and swollen, his face still wet. She wiped his cheeks with her fingertips, trying to keep her own tears from falling. His eyes were so sad, so defeated that it frightened her. What would he do now?

"You should go, Christine," he rasped. "You should be getting ready." He felt around on the floor for his mask.

She hugged herself, looking away to the still open gate to the chapel. She could not do this to him. Raoul and the managers could go to hell. She turned back to him. "No. Raoul has filled the place with gendarmes and plans to have you shot on sight."

He sat back against the wall, mask in hand. As he brushed the dust off it of it, he said, "Perhaps it would be best if they did shoot me, put me out of the misery I have spent so many years in."

Christine thought her heart could not break anymore, but she felt it crack at his words. "Angel, no, do not say things like that."

"Why not? As far as they're concerned, it would be for the best." He settled his mask in place and got to his feet. Christine sensed him closing himself off from her as surely as if he had shut a door.

"I will not be a participant in what amounts to murder," she snapped, standing up as well.

"You weren't so hesitant before with him," he said with a sneer.

For a moment, she felt hurt, until she looked in his eyes and saw the despair hiding there. The man who had cried in her arms had been real; this coldness, this anger was only the mask. She stepped into him, laying her hand on his chest. "I didn't have a choice then." She cupped his bare cheek with her hand and felt a fine tremor go through him. "I do now, and so do you."

He looked down at her, his expression flickering between confusion and joy. "What are you saying?" he finally whispered.

Christine swallowed, searching for the strength she had felt before. "I'm saying that we should leave here, leave all these petty schemes and plans behind. You are so much more than this, so much more than an opera ghost, a puppet master. You should leave, and I should go with you."

She thought for a moment he would start crying again. "You truly mean that?" he asked.

Her decision made now, there was no more fear. "Yes. For so many years, you were all I wanted, but could never have. Then when I had you, I ruined everything. I want to try again, Angel. I want us to be all the things I dreamed of."

"Oh, Christine," he moaned, and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly to him. "I had so many dreams of you, of us, so many wishes I thought could never come true. I love you, Christine."

Raising up on her toes, she brushed her lips gently against his. When they broke apart, she asked, "So what now?"

He held her face in his hands, staring down at her as if he could not believe she was real. "I--we--they'll be looking for you soon. You have to go." She started to protest, but he shook his head. "No, Christine, you have to perform. Afterwards, when everyone is gone and the opera house has gone to bed, I will come for you then."

"But I don't want--" His fingertips against her lips silenced her. "All right, I will do as you ask, but you must make me a promise."

He pulled her to him again and buried his face in her hair. "Anything, Christine."

She wrapped her fingers in his shirt. "Promise me that you will go straight to your home and remain there until the opera is over and the gendarmes have gone." She felt him stiffen and pull back slightly. She looked him in the eyes. "Promise me, Angel. Swear on my life you will not leave the cellars."

He kissed her forehead. "I think that's fair enough. I swear on your life that I will not leave my home until the opera is over."

Giving him a tremulous smile, Christine kissed him then moved toward the doorway to the chapel. "I will be waiting for you," she told him.

She thought she saw tears glistening once more in his eyes as he nodded then disappeared into the shadows.

Continue to Crossing The River

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