Disclaimer: This story is based on a hodge podge of all things Phantom, mainly Kay, ALW, and bits of Leroux tossed in here and there for some wicked fun. I love all of them, own none of them.
Readers, fear not – this story will hopefully please both ECers and RCers. And no, not at the same time, silly! As for EOWers, well, you'll just have to wait patiently in the hall for a different writer to come along (Ha!)
A Cry for Help
Christine didn't like the cold nights that came so early this time of year; especially blustery ones like this. She whirled the damp wool cloak from her shoulders, sending little pellets of rain scattering across the marble floor, rolled it up, and tucked it under her arm.
Cautiously, she took a few steps into the dimly-lit hall, making her way up to the ballet mistress' quarters. How long had it been since she had seen the stern face of the woman who stepped in to guide her after her father's death? Weeks, perhaps? Surely not months. With a start, she realized that she had not spoken with Madame Giry since June….that beautiful, warm June day, with all the lovely lilies and posies, the aristocracy of Paris turned out in their finest black to bid farewell…all the false tears they could muster, gracing their cheeks in mocking sympathy…
She remembered another black day, several years earlier, with no flowers and no mourners, save one. A day of silent mourning for her lost maestro...
"Erik is dead." She had read the small, nondistinctive letters as if it were her own death sentence; not a physical death, or even an emotional one – she had her Vicomte to love, after all, for many years to come. An uncharacteristic smirk graced her lips at the irony.
No, something had died in her that she couldn't even identify. But from that day on, Christine never had the heart to sing again, since her angel would sing no more, either.
Choking back a sob, she forced the painful memories from her mind and focused on the task of finding Mme. Giry's room as quickly and quietly as possible.
Two turns to the right, up the stairs...yes, there they are…now to the left. She still knew this great structure like the back of her hand. It was something solid, unchanging, despite the comings and goings of its performers, patrons, divas. And opera ghosts.
Smiling in silent secrecy, she thought of the stories she could tell. Oh, how we will all marvel some day at the great feats of the Fantome de l'Opera! Trap doors, mirror tricks, croaking prima donnas, and the notes – so many notes!
A hand grasped her shoulder from behind, sternly spinning her out of her reverie. A scream of terror began to rise in her throat, but a hand clamped quickly over her mouth, stifling the shriek before it loosed itself. Hastily, she was shuffled through the nearest doorway, and released.
Christine spun around to face her attacker, the earlier paranoia and fear of her flight to the opera house rekindled. Starting in surprise, she found before her, instead of a ruthless, blood-thirsty criminal, the very person she had been seeking out.
Gasping a cry of relief, Christine threw herself into the arms of her former ballet instructor, hugging her with all the joy she felt at her narrow escape.
"Madame Giry, oh, how I have longed for an old friend these past weeks!" sobbed the young Comtesse into the older woman's shoulder. Mme. Giry grasped her arms, strongly returning the embrace, then quickly pulled the girl out to face her.
"Christine, why in heaven's name are you here, child, roaming the corridors like some lost soul-" the ballet instructor bit back the rest of her words as the other woman's face began to grey. She took a deep breath, changed her wording, and more calmly asked, "Dear, what has happened?"
"Raoul told me I should come to you." Pausing at the confused look that crossed over the other's face, she hastened. "Yes, yes, I know that he is dead. But he left me a letter telling me that in case of any tr-trouble," she stumbled, breathed deeply, and looked pleadingly into Mme. Giry's eyes. "He said I should come to you, and you would help me. He said you would know what to do."
Sighing at the girl's wide-eyed fright, the ballet mistress gently lead a shaking Christine to a plush, overstuffed red chair, firmly pushed her shoulders down, forcing her to sit, and turned to the door. Silently closing it, she slid the bolt, turned again, and wearily leaned against it. She slowly took in Christine's appearance, noticing her sopping wet shoes and skirt for the first time.
"You may remove your shoes stockings my dear, and bring them over to the fire to dry."
Christine bent to do as she was told, her fingers tripping over the wet laces. Wiggling the squeaking leather off of her ankles, she tried to roll down her soggy stockings, "hmpfed" in frustration, and finally yanked them from her feet, heedless of whether they stretched beyond redemption. She placed her discarded items next to the fire the Mme. Giry had stoked, pulled her chair closer to the flames, and tucked her bare ankles under her skirts, careful to not make a mess of the damp hem. Settled, she looked to Mme. Giry for any explanation of Raoul's hastily-scribbled, inexplicable message.
Nodding slightly, the woman opened her mouth to speak, then slowly closed it, searching for words to begin her narrative. Decidedly, she changed her tactic. "First, why don't you explain to me why you are in need of help, and I will see what I can do for you." Christine flinched at the abruptness of her words. She had not meant for them to sound cool, but as much as she loved the girl, she had to proceed with caution, for Christine's sake, as well as her own.
"Madame Giry, I don't really know where to begin." Struggling to maintain her composure, she now thought a moment, then continued. "I knew there was something out of place before Raoul even became sick…he was so carefree after our marriage, we both were. Smiling eyes, laughter, secret kisses behind trees. Our trip to England…we were happy, in love. How he would hold me close, and whisper breathlessly into my ear words of ..."
She broke off, remembering some long-ago moment of bliss that Mme. Giry could only guess at. "Not long after he received the control of the de Chagny estates in place of his brother-"
"Yes," she continued, a bit flustered at the mention of the dead Comte. "At first I thought it was the stress of handling such a vast amount of fortune, business, heritage. All of his travels, business meetings with secret partners; I didn't know what to think. He never grew cold towards me – he loved me too much to shut me out—but he refused to tell me anything of his trips. I would ask him 'What did you see, darling,' and 'Did you discover anything interesting?' He would weakly smile, pat me on the head, and reply 'Nothing of importance. What has my Little Lotte done while I have been gone?' "
Christine heaved a sigh. "He was always sweet and loving in his responses, but in a way that firmly shut the door to my questions. As his trips grew longer more frequent, he grew paler and sicker. He was away when I found the obituary in the paper…" She looked away, her eyes clouding with unspoken grief.
"He was truly sorry that he had not been here to help me when I first read it. I asked to pay my last respects to my maestro…I was refused." Her blue eyes grew bright with pain as the visions of that day, so crystal clear, flew back to her...
"Christine, for the love of God!" cried Raoul. I have just returned home, to find you an inconsolable weeping mess upon our bed. Papi said that you have been in there for two days – will you please look at me? – tell me what has happened!"
She tried to speak, but her words choked in anguish. Concern and love coursing throughout his very being, Raoul flew to her side, stroking the matted hair from her eyes, trying to dry the tears with a soft kiss to each lid…one…two. He slowly, gently lifted her off the bed, and settling her in his arms, stroked her back and comforted her as he would a child.
Finally, the tears ceased to flow, and her body sagged against his in exhaustion, releasing any lingering tension with a shudder that coarsed through them both. Raoul, sensing her inevitable descent into sleep, lifted her chin to fix his eyes on hers.
"Please tell me…" he asked tenderly. Christine broke from the gaze, buried her face into the crook of his arm, silently racking her mind for something—anything other than the truth.
The truth? What was the truth, but a realization come too late? Yes, she had loved her teacher, her Angel, but like the child that she still was, had run from that unbridled passion, the all-consuming fire in terror, clinging to what was certain, and…safe. She had craved some sense of normalcy in the hectic, at times vindictive world of the opera, and would have followed Raoul to the ends of the earth to find the peace she sought.
Yes, she had loved her maestro as well as she loved Raoul, perhaps even more if love had been unleashed and given a chance to flourish… but what did it matter now that he was gone?
So she clung to Raoul, answering him in as steady a voice as possible, "He is dead, Raoul, my Angel has flown away, so it is over now. I must return to bury him."
Christine felt the hard thud of Raoul's head against the backboard of their bed, then the sudden shifting beneath her. "No, no, absolutely no. Christine, mon Dieu, the man is gone. You cannot go back into that madness, not after we have come so far-" his voice cracked.
He began again more patiently. "Listen to me, sweet, it is for the best. It will only cause you more pain. I swore to protect you, to shelter you. I swore it to him, as well…" Raoul halted. No, it was cruel to use that. "I will keep the promise you made in your stead, and have someone attend to…him. You need not feel obligated to perform a task this large. You can grieve here just as well as you could down there."
Snapping to attention, anger flared through Christine, returning to her the strength that had all but extinguished moments ago. "Or do you mean to say that I am too weak to handle this task? That I am feeble, bending and breaking when the tide becomes too strong? Raoul, I must go! You are wrong to keep me away, I cannot grieve from afar – I, I gave him my word."
Christine fell back in stunned disbelief. Where had she conjured the courage to speak to her husband in such a manner? Moments ago, she had risen to defend her very soul against—Yes! Her soul, her angel was still with her, somewhere inside. She would fight for him in death as she had not fought for him in life!
"No! That is final Christine, you will not go against me," cried Raoul, also in shock at the pillar that had risen before him. "Please," he said quietly. "please remember that I also love you very dearly, and to see you go back to him would destroy me."
And as suddenly as it had risen, her pillar of strength crumbled in ruins. She could fight his anger in defiance, oh yes, but she could not refuse his gentle pleading, in some ways, so like the final words of her Angel…
...Christine, I love you…
She again fought back the tears.
That must be the past, she thought with resolution. The choice I make now cannot change the past. I must leave it there. But I can do something about the future. Her decision made, she turned to face her husband.
"Very well, Raoul. If you will please have this placed with him, I will concede to your wishes." Stiffly, she unfolded her white, small fingers to reveal what they had been clutching, so closely guarded. A plain gold band fell from her hand into the palm of her husband's, still warm from her fingers' embrace.
Raoul carefully folded it into his crisp, white handkerchief, almost reverently tucked it into his pocket, and for Christine's sake, said no more. He slowly rose, and moved to the door as if in a trance, to make the preparations for the charge he had undertaken.
Christine glared down into her palm, where the ring had been secreted. A red, swollen imprint remained, a brand forever burned into her flesh. To remind her always of what she had had to relinquish in order to gain her joy.
"Joy…" she whispered, staring down into the fading circle on her hand. A guttural moan escaped from her throat as she clutched the rapidly-disappearing, physical reminder of her loss to her heart…
Startled out of her reverie by Mme. Giry's delicate cough, she continued. "I was refused my request, and Raoul and I tried to carry on as if nothing had even happened. He never asked about Erik, and I never inquired after his mysterious trips. It was our mutual, unspoken agreement." She smiled wistfully. "Then we began our preparations for our little son, Jean-Paul, and the tension melted away."
"Surely it wasn't entirely gone?" enquired Mme. Giry, knowingly.
"No," she conceded. "It was after we had started our family that the secrecy, the fear in his eyes became more prominent, more visible. He wasn't able to hide it as he had before, so anxious was he for me and our little boy. Every sound—a door closing, or a raised voice—caused him to leap to his feet. The paleness and sickness returned. His health deteriorated. Then they found he had the stomach tumors…"
"Merciful father," muttered the older woman. "I had heard that he was sick, but I never knew what it was…so young, and handsome…"
Christine smiled grimly. "Yes, who would have thought? After all we had fought through to, all that was to come, it took something so simple to rip it all away. And in June, too, with all the lovely flowers…" She stood, arching her back, working out the cold from her shoulders.
"But," she continued, slowly lowering herself into the velvety red chair again, "you asked me why I need your help."
"Yes," the ballet mistress murmured. "I have an inclination that it may have something to do with Raoul's bizarre behavior, his mysterious trips. His fear has not died with him," she stated, more than questioned.
"This fear has manifested itself into something very real, and frightening," Christine continued, her agitation and anxiety slowly building into its former glory. "Shadows, whispers, at first…then little warnings, such as dead field mice, and notes…always notes."
Mme. Giry started, panic mingled into every line on her face. The girl chuckled dissonantly. "No, nothing like those notes. They are in black ink, not red..." As quickly as the laugh came, a grim set of face replaced it.
"Then they murdered our little stable hand, Perri. The curiosity that couldn't be stifled in him – so trusting. He was my lady, Papi's son. He was only six." She shut her mind away from the horror, and cleared her throat, determined to go on.
"Here, I have one for you to peruse."
Christine pulled a folded, white sheet of paper from the small pocket of her dress, and handed it to the woman. Mme. Giry slowly unfolded it, careful of the still-damp corner slowly disintegrating into pulp, blurring a few of the words into ink stains. Or perhaps they were tear marks? Shaking her head, she started to read the words aloud.
"Madame de Chagny, you will follow-"
she stiffened in her seat, eyes raising to meet those of her young friend.
"—will follow your husband tonight. Now or never. Au Revoir."
"Aide de ciel vous," she prayed, handing the message back to Christine, glad to be rid of the searing words.
"I am praying to heaven that you can help me. My son…" she swallowed the fear, then looked determinedly at Mme. Giry, all remaining bitterness and anger gone, replaced by a sincere plea for…something.
"I know that Raoul sent for you several times before he died," she whispered hurriedly. "I know you discussed something, but I was not privy to that. He told you of his fears, didn't he?"
"Yes," the ballet mistress admitted, thinking back to that day, the feverish, wasted youth pleading for her help…
"I don't want to drag you and Meg into this, but she will need help. They will never leave her alone here in Paris!" the dying man cried, clutching at her arms. "Swear to me that you will help her; she will have no one else to turn to when I am gone."
"Monsieur, please, tell me what is hunting you so desperately! Then I will agree to help. I must know what I am to fight against," the lady insisted.
Raoul turned his head away, then returned to her face, fixing his eyes on her in grave seriousness. "Please, Madame, believe me when I say to you that it is better you don't know. You will be safer this way." More softly now, his breath rattling in his chest. " If she comes to you, tell her what you have told me. That shall fulfill your promise-"
"And if they do come after her, and she doesn't know why-"
"I will warn her, tell her of all my dealings before I leave this earth. I promise…"
She slipped quietly out of the room, down the hall, to the stairs. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her. To avoid being spotted, she quickened her pace down the stairs, to her waiting cab. She couldn't know that she had visited. Not yet.
"He never explained to you what trailed him, then," sighed Mme. Giry, rapidly seeing the futility of the situation. No way of turning the tide.
"No, only the letter about you. Mme. Giry, please, share with me what you shared with my husband," cried Christine, now inpatient with the wasted time, time she could be using to make her darling child safe.
Silently, resignedly, the woman walked to her small stationary in the corner, took a key, and unlocked the cover. Sliding it up, she reached under one of the bottom drawers, tripping a small spring that revealed a hidden compartment in the side of the drawer. Wordlessly, she pulled out a crisp, white handkerchief, and pressed it into Christine's open palm.
Raoul's handkerchief! A crackling intensity settled into the stale air as Christine quickly folded back the corners to reveal its secret.
A plain gold band.
Startled, she jumped from her seat, mouth open in mute disbelief. She stared at the ballet mistress in bafflement, willing an explanation.
"Oh yes, my dear girl," she smiled warmly. "He is alive. He is very alive. Your Angel shall perhaps come to your aide again, no?"