This story was originally published in the Phanzine, but it somehow disappeared from my old FF.n account. Re-posting to try and get my new account in order with all my work, so I can start writing new stuff.

Many thanks to my beta reader back in the day, Rink Ghost.


Where Hope is Infinite

She stepped out of the coach onto the cobblestone street, and waited with impatience for the driver to retrieve her valise. Twisting her gloves between her hands she watched anxiously as he slowly-too slowly!- climbed to the vehicle's roof, rummaged among the other luggage, and finally produced her small bag. She had packed lightly, left quickly and at the moment she possessed only a faint idea of how to proceed. A multitude possibilities had crossed her mind during the journey- she had imagined leaving a letter in box 5, or waiting in her dressing room as she had so many times, or hundreds of other feeble plans… but the moment had arrived and she was so uncertain about what to do now that she was here… Here, where a boulevard from every direction swept from the far corners of Paris to finally meet five others like spokes of a wheel at Avenue de L'Opera, her stomach fluttered. The realization flickered in her mind that she, too, had been inevitably drawn back, and her knees trembled slightly in anticipation.

L'Opera Charles Garnier loomed before her. She knew there were many Parisians who criticized the Opera- they claimed its architecture was unoriginal, that from the ground level it squatted like a toad and that one had to be far away to see its stately domes. Still others protested that it was only built to satisfy the Emperor's need for obvious opulence, and that in trying to appease the tastes of wealthy patrons, the productions were often mundane. But she pushed these thoughts from her mind as the sight of the familiar building brought to the surface the swirling emotions and memories that had flooded her during the days since she had made her decision. She drew in her breath and raised her eyes to its proud columns, to its doorways framed by sculpted arches to the angel statues that stood poised on the roof, ready to swoop down and watch over the mortals… or ascend to heaven… L'Opera was magnificent as always, the roads extended outward from it like points of a star and made it a center of activity even at this hour of night.

Glancing about at the warm glow of lights from the restaurants surrounding the square, she was immediately reminded of the old Parisian adage- If you sit in a café on the place de L'Opera for an hour, at any time of day or year, it is inevitable that someone you know should pass by. Taking her bag and pressing a coin into the hand of the driver, she stared over at the building, her thoughts in a place still yet unseen, far from the twinkling lights of the cafes, far below the ground... How uncomplicated life would be, if she could merely wait at a corner table with a cup of tea for the one she hoped desperately to meet… The reality of her situation prevented further reverie- there would be no simple rendez-vous that night. If it was to happen, the encounter would have to be of her own doing, she thought, and with determination she set off walking across the plaza toward the majestic building, her light valise in hand.

The bells of nearby Eglise de Sainte Trinité began to chime the late hour, and without knowing why, Christine Daaé hurried. She quickened her stride beneath the dark, heavy traveling coat and her steps clattered over the square, tapping a staccato beat in-between the eleven chimes of the church carillon. The rhythm of her footsteps against the stones hastened until they were only fleeting taps and she was running to the door. It was inexplicable, she thought, this need to be there now, at this second- she had been absent a long time. Three months, she mused with a sigh, time lost, wasted. It was a period that she now had a frantic desire to obliterate, to somehow erase the days as though they had never passed…but nevertheless a few seconds more surely couldn't make a difference now.

Christine hurried up the marble steps and reached for the heavy door, fully expecting it not to budge when she pulled. But to her surprise it opened, obviously still unlocked, and she rationalized that perhaps the efforts to repair the mob damage were happening at all hours. Likely as not they were hurrying to be finished by the time the new production opened… Raoul had sent to Paris for the newspapers while they were away, and during the carriage ride she had read with interest every story about the rebirth of the Opera Populaire from the most recent of the journaux. She read about the damage wreaked on the entire opera house by the mob, and the restoration that was now occuring… but nothing about the ghost whom the enraged citizens had been chasing.

She darted through the freshly painted doorway, feeling acutely foreign to be coming in via the stately main entry, no longer one of the cast or even the chorus. Once inside, she willed herself to slow her pace. As much as she wanted to run to the house on the lake, to calm her turbulant fears, to be out of this purgatory, she reasoned that saving a few seconds wouldn't do her any good if she make a racket, causing the workers to throw her out as an intruder. When she had begun this journey the idea that he wouldn't be there wasn't a possibility in her mind… and yet now her hopes flickered wildly against the thought. Even now as she was surrounded by scaffolding, it was almost impossible for her to fathom that anything had changed- indeed, in her immediate absence from the Opera, all had been preserved intact in her mind up until now. The thought that the mob had ravaged his home, perhaps even chased him from it, and the knowledge that the Opera had closed entirely for weeks after the disastrous Don Juan Triumphant were unwelcome intruders in her musings. He would either be there or he wouldn't- nothing she could do now would change that. And yet she wondered, walking through the grand foyer as quickly and silently as possible, how much of fate consisted of merely chancing to be the right location at the proper moment… Her mind was moving almost as quickly as her feet were now, as her train of thought leapt from one conclusion to another. Had she never gone to the beach six years ago with that damnable red scarf, how different her life would have been at the Opera. Or, she thought with aching regret, perhaps destiny was determined by strength of spirit… She frowned fitfully in self anger- if she had only been more steady in her acknowledgment of her own feelings during her days here, or even if she'd been stronger in her insistence to stay with him at the very end…

Would she be in Erik's arms now?

Christine caught her breath in her throat at the thought of it. She paused on the grand staircase, halting her movement from the lobby toward the long corridors that ran the length of the theatre.

In the past months, even before she had left Paris, she had been entirely unable to deal with these feelings. She'd been so confused, utterly unequipped to comprehend the surge of emotions that this man brought about. And yet they were there, feelings powerful enough even now to make her grasp the railing of the stair for balance until the waves of regret and longing subsided. She struggled to regain composure as tears welled in her eyes; with her heart urging her on, she hurried along toward the end of the hall, toward the stage.

She slipped silently through the door and began her descent. The stairs to the first level were broad at first, carpeted with red velvet, and lined with smooth wooden handrails. The splendor of her surroundings waned as Christine passed into areas beyond public access, until finally she proceeded through several hallways, and was at the level of the dancers' rehearsal hall, where the nearby corridor of dressing rooms extended before her. She shifted her valise to the other hand and continued on, unwinded and undaunted.

She stopped in front of the last dressing room in the corridor, wondering vaguely if it belonged to another singer now, as she dropped her bag and reached to open the door. The knob didn't budge, and tears of disappointment threatened to well in her eyes. She didn't have the key to the Rue Scribe, she didn't remember which trap doors led to the underground, and a feeling of helplessness and futility began to overwhelm her. She gave the knob a furious pull half out of sheer frustration, and was surprised when it creaked and budged, and then tilted haphazardly off its hinges as she pulled again.

The door had been rather hastily nailed shut, and with a few good tugs Christine managed to pull one side open far enough to slip through. The room inside was only faintly lit by the splinters of light from the gas lamp down the hallway. Fumbling for the cabinet door she knew should be to her right, Christine let out a single exclamation of pain as she stumbled over a fallen bureau. She knelt to the ground, fumbling at first for the knob of the drawer, then tentatively sliding her hand inside, hoping no spiders had decided to take up residence in her absence. Her fingers finally touched upon the smooth wax of a candle that was fortunately still inside, and the tin of matches beside it. She opened the small container and lit a candle, its yellow light illuminating a distorted scene that made her wince. Her old dressing room, place of so many lessons, place where she had so often pondered her future, was in ruins. Furniture was toppled and lay leering at her in disjointed angles, her fine costumes and practice clothes were gone, and the mirror… it was shattered. Christine now sadly understood why the door had been shut- to keep the petite rats and other curious ones out of those dim corridors revealed in a looming tableau framed by shards of broken glass.

She let out a sad wisp of breath, and looked at where the mirror had been, remembering how her rapidly heart had beat the first time she had heard a voice float out from it… her thoughts drifted, to the final time she believed she had heard the song of an angel, before she had known she heard the voice of a man. After her success at the gala Christine had been riding high on waves of elation, thrilled at what she and her angel had accomplished, happier than she'd been since her father had died. Eagerness to share her joy had kept her from socializing with the others, and instead she had rushed to her dressing room. Even now she shook her head at her own foolish, childish ideals, at how naively she had waited in her dressing room, thinking herself in impossible love with a celestial being, only to become afraid of the very possible love offered her once the illusion was gone.

Christine set her bag down and sighed- if she had but known then what she now knew. Now that she knew the man, knew his feelings, his soul, his heart… her own- thinking back on the first encounter made her ache with shame and remorse at her actions. How happy he must have been that night, what fleeting joy must have filled him when she took his hand and stepped through the mirror. Christine was now woefully aware what little human connection he'd had in his life, how anxious and afraid he always was to touch her… She wondered if his heart had beat then as hers had, at the shock of first contact…

Setting the candle firmly into a holder, she took a deep breath, and stepped over the frame into the tunnel, just as nearly a year before she had done so for the first time. But there was no dark figure to guide her this time, no cool hand with a trembling touch upon her wrist. A gust of air swept up from nowhere and rolled down the tunnel toward her, causing her to shield the candle flame and to gaze the dark distances with pounding pulse, wondering if the shadow of a man would appear before her. After a few moments Christine let out her breath in disappointment, and knew that she couldn't have possibly come by redemption that easily.

Sinking further into the depths of the Opera house, Christine descended several flights of stone stairs and continued along a narrow corridor. She prepared to lift the hem of her wool coat and gingerly step over the wire that would trigger one of the perils Erik had often warned her of, only to see that the cord lay snake-like on the floor, obviously cut. A tremble coursed through her as she realized that the even the tricks of a genius might not have been enough to save him from a mob of 20 or more, and the beat of her footsteps quickened.

Images began to chase one another in her mind, fragments of memories and feelings, pictures that flashed before her eyes and mingled with the dull stone walls of the lowest basements. She turned a corner past a small well and hurried along a cold gray passage… her mind glimpsed quivering arms supporting her by that very pool, eyes that wavered, glowed damply and the innocent embrace quickly withdrawn… contrition, apprehension. Christine held the candle low to see the steps as she began down a long winding staircase… the image of a dark figure kneeling before her, voice of an angel filled with tears, …confession, supplication, undying devotion. She spiraled lower and lower, ever quickening heartbeat, racing footsteps… tranquil tableau, moments past a kiss, faces hovering of their own volition mere breaths apart, light in the long-dark eyes… revelation, absolution. She threw open the final door and long strides carried her to the edge of the waters, she wondered now… resolution?

The boat was there. On the near side of the lake it bobbed gently by the dock, waiting. She was certain the mob had gone around the edge of the lake, because she and Raoul had taken the boat when they'd left… meaning… well, meaning nothing! Either the boat had been floating there, abandoned since that night… or that Erik had signaled the mechanism to bring it back to the house and then taken it across the lake to depart, himself… two such opposite possibilites, one holding nothing but grief, but the other… the other held her only chance for happiness. But enough thought already, enough worry… it would take action to let her know at last… to find what she so hoped to find…

Without further hesitation she stepped into the boat, took up the single oar and began drawing it through the calm waters. She made slow progress; though paddling as fast as she could, her arms were soon stiff and aching, making her fingers numb, and her grasp weak. The oar slipped out of her hand and splashed into the lake. Reaching over the edge to retrieve it before the lake currents carried it away, she upset the boat's balance- in an instant, a rapid flicker in the corner of her eye made her look back, to see the candlestick rocking wildly on its base. A single motion followed, lunging for the paddle and candle seemingly at once, and just as her fingers closed triumphantly around the wooden handle of the oar, her sole light source fell to a puddle in the bottom of the boat and died. Christine sat stunned for a moment in silence, the darkness vast before the boat and all around her, seeming palpable like damp velvet. She wavered, feeling lost and helpless for a moment, until she felt the deadness in her tired arms fade away. In the past hours her newfound energy and strength had amazed her, as though purpose had given power to her being...

...She had felt drained of all life the night she and Raoul left the cellars- he'd had to drag her away at first, then once they were on the street her legs failed beneath her, and she'd collapsed, forcing him to hail a cab. The rest of their journey she remembered only in snippets seen as she drifted in and out of consciousness. Raoul had wanted to leave Paris immediately, catch some northbound train and flee to Sweden or Belgium or someplace far from Paris and its phantoms. However, he had finally settled for Monaco when the weary attendant at the Gare du Nord had told him that it was the only train leaving at that hour.

When they were already halfway to their destination and it occurred to him to ask, Christine told Raoul truthfully that she cared little where they went. In those hours she consciously desired her destiny shaped by an outside force; she was tired of making decisions, of worrying, of crying from confusion and not knowing her own desires, much less anyone else's. She relinquished control of her life to the golden haired boy who wanted so eagerly to recapture their childish happiness, and she fell into a deep dreamless sleep, undisturbed by the rocking of the train.

Christine woke nearly a day later to find herself in a hotel bed, feeling no peace but rather overwhelming fatigue. She dressed and seated herself by the window in the harsh sunlight, looking out over the ocean and the cliffs of Monte Carlo. The afternoon passed before she heard footsteps and looked up to see Raoul's frantic face, his words scolding her for not coming to find him in the lobby the moment she had awakened. A weak smile and the claim of recovering from excitement excused her, and he waited with impatience while she made herself look suitable (in his eyes) to go to dinner.

The following days and weeks went similarly- Raoul, in all his youthful eagerness wanted to be married immediately, but Christine had delicately protested, not sure why. He rented a small apartment, compete with a maid, for her, while he took up residence in the guest manor of a cousin's chateau. Each day he appeared on her doorstep, ready to hire a coach to the beach, take her to luncheon, or to watch her try her hand at the card tables. She accompanied Raoul at first, trying to resume her role as happy fiancé, but she came to see as the days passed that she was indeed merely playing a role. Sitting at beachside cafes where glaring white sunlight flooded the streets, making buildings and carriages and even people look harsh and angular, she found herself more and more often desiring to hide her eyes from the life she'd chosen and weep. The feelings grew stronger each day within her, a sentiment not of any particular love or hate, but rather complete, all-encompassing emptiness. Its echo rang in her ears when she was alone, the noise of nothingness and solitude, broken only by the too-sharp sounds of the city around her.

Furthermore, Raoul began to scold her in his mild way- for her incessant melancholy, for never wanting to go out, for always wearing such dark dreary clothes when they went to galas or parties at the chateaux of his distant relatives and fellow nobles. He bought her fashionable dresses in every gay color of the moment, yet she found only the ones in black or dark blue suited to her tastes. Her behavior, Christine found, was as much a mystery to her as it was to him - she felt that she ought to be trying, and yet there was part of her that found this life had no significance, no worth, no… soul. It did nothing to fill the gaping void within her, the dull pain and emotional unfulfillment which began at waking and didn't cease until sleep overtook her. It was shallow, this string of one party after another, each one playing the same tired waltzes, no powerful music to captivate her, no people to interest her, no love to hold her.

No love… that had been her first shock. She hadn't realized it all at once, but slowly over the course of two difficult months she began to recognize that Raoul was more interested in an ornament than someone to love and share his life with. Despite all his brave (and admittedly ineffective) endeavors to 'win' her, he had never loved her - there was never any look or action to convey any feeling on his part stronger than mere affection. Watching the young Vicomte at yet another grand event, surrounded by festivities and glittering laughter, Christine felt as though she were an outsider, stranger in a world to which she didn't belong and increasingly desired not to be a part of. One of those women with long white evening gloves dripping from elbows to fingertips and false smiles playing across their lips ought to be poised on his arm, not her. And yet for weeks, she made no effort to free herself from the silken cocoon of the stifling choice she'd made, feeling as though she needed to be strong and resign herself to the pragmatism of reality; a reality characterized by a shallow butterfly existence.

One afternoon the view framed by Christine's bedroom window of sharp, bleached, sunlight gave way to heavy purple clouds on the horizon one afternoon. With a feeling she hesitantly admitted was relief she noted that Raoul hadn't arrived to take her to lunch and it was likely as not that he wouldn't be there until dinner. Christine paused by the window as she heard the whistling voice of the growing wind, looking outward into the heart of the approaching storm and feeling an unexpected surge of emotions. The waves near the manicured shore grew savage, and she found herself strangely enthralled, quickly dismissing the maid who appeared in the doorway to ask if Madame wanted the shutters closed. The gale was over the land now, and Christine moved quickly about the room throwing open windows, thinking for one instant that Raoul would be angry and then realizing the next that she honestly didn't care. He could never understand her as she was now, feeling the cool flurries lift her hair from her neck, and watching in excitement as the billowing white draperies flowed into the room and fluttered like enormous flags in the wind. Her heartbeat quickened as the song of the storm grew to a crescendo, and the tide of emotions within tossed her about on the crests of its swelling waves. At the moment that the storm was overhead, filling her ears with the melody of its cries, the first raindrops plunged to the roof, and Christine fell violently into a chaise and wept.

She let her forehead fall against her folded arms on the chair, and her shoulders heaved… shaking, shuddering, sobbing. Suppressed feelings of almost three months surfaced in seconds, the unacknowledged sorrow, despair, and longing filling the gaping emptiness she had felt for so long. Sobs caught in her throat, and Christine gasped for breath, feeling as though she might choke on the cries she had swallowed in silence, as a torrent of thick tears drenched the velvet of the chair. Each time that she thought she had wept more sentiment than the human heart could hold, she discovered new crimes she was guilty of, new sorrow in her situation, new tragedy in her choice, and found herself crying again. Raising her eyes slightly she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall- the body in the high-necked black dress, quivering with sorrow, the pale face pained with the birth of each grieving wave, the name whispered and whimpered- altogether she looked like a young widow.

In that same mirror several hours later she saw Raoul enter the dark room and move toward the chaise where she sat, moments before she felt his hand claim her shoulder and shake gently, as though trying to wake her from sleep. She took brief notice of his presence as he walked around the other side of the chair, obviously surprised to find her awake and scanning the distant horizon. He blandly said her name once, and she raised her eyes, but remained silent, and resumed looking out the window- not from willful disobedience, but because she couldn't think of a thing to say to him.

She heard her name was repeated in the tone that an ignored child would use, and drawing a deep breath she looked up.

"I'm not happy, Raoul." she looked at him calmly "I think that over the past few months you have probably guessed that. I don't enjoy the soirées, the people, the… the frivolity of it all. This life- it isn't for me."

"What -" he said slowly, incomprehension furrowing his brow, "What do you mean? My life - that is to say, our life is, well, enviable! I thought, you chose-" he broke off, shaking his head, looking incredulous and confused as she rose and went into her bedroom, taking a valise from the wardrobe. She set the bag on her bed and looked over her shoulder at him as he moved toward the chamber.

"I chose incorrectly. The easy choice." she turned her attention to folding her chemises, keeping her eyes on them as she spoke. "I was naïve, I was scared, Raoul, you had such simple, happy answers. But they weren't the right ones for me." she moved to the other side of the room as he approached, removing dresses from the wardrobe and laying them out.

"You're right- there are many women who would envy my life, many who would dream of being a future vicomtess. Of being your bride."

"But, you mean to say you're not one of them?" he slowly interrupted from across the bed, as though the meaning of what she had said was just now reaching him. He rubbed his forehead with one hand while bracing himself against the footboard of the bed with the other, as though seeking balance after the unsettling force of her words. Then, all in a rush, he said, "Christine, I don't understand what you're saying, and I can't fathom what in God's name brought this on, and…" he broke off, suddenly taking notice of what she was doing. "And what do you intend to do with that bag?"

She looked up at him, composed and certain. "I'm leaving, Raoul."

"What?" he leaned forward and rested his hands on the bed. "You can't- we're to be married! Listen to me Christine…" he looked at her and she returned the glance, cool and unyielding. He seemed to soften, looking suddenly aware that she was indeed speaking seriously. "I know that perhaps… you haven't been delighted here. I notice how you never smile, and how tired you always are, but these are trifling matters, indeed! Tell me what's wrong here and I'll have it fixed- or we can go somewhere else entirely! I could take you home to Sweden, or to America. Perhaps outside of France our differences in society would be less obvious, and we could be happy together again. Because it doesn't matter where I am, I'll be happy as long as we're together- because I love you."

She swallowed and drew a breath. "I don't love you, Raoul." she ceased putting items into the valise, and looked at him with genuine sympathy in her eyes. "I'm sorry. You don't love me either-" she paused and gave him a significant look as she snapped the valise shut. "But it will be a while before you realize that." When she finished speaking, he was visibly defeated, and for an instant, she felt guilt. He looked old, and made no protest, standing in shock, as she gathered up a dress and a coat for traveling and went into her dressing room to finish packing and change.

"Where will you go?" he asked in a dazed voice from where he sat, sprawled in a chair, when she withdrew from her room a half hour later. He looked at her with a dull expression, eyes slightly glazed over, and Christine discerned the strong scent of brandy from the open flask in his hand.

"I think you would rather not know," she said slowly, trying to spare his feelings, "…but I will be somewhere safe and… happy, with music." "Oh God…" he breathed, her words seeming to sober him momentarily. "You're going back, aren't you? Under the Opera? Back to…"

"..to him? To Erik?" she finished his sentence, and gave him a frank look as he slumped in his chair.

"Yes, I- I am. I sent for a carriage and I'm leaving, Raoul, as soon as it gets here." Her unwavering resolve surprised even her a little- a fortnight ago she wouldn't have had the strength to act like this. But it came so naturally now, she could scarcely imagine how weak she had been to ever act otherwise.

"Now? This is goodbye?" Raoul said, looking as though he had come into a state of passive, almost indifferent acceptance. Christine looked at him with a slight sadness, then glanced out the window as the clatter of horses' hooves approached.

"You've always been my friend Raoul, and in a sense you still are- but we're simply… different now, different than we were as childhood playmates," she began in a voice that seemed strangely wise to her, "I hope that the memories- our memories- won't be ruined by what I have to do. I have to leave- I'm sorry. Part of me misses what we had, but it's been a long time since our young days… and we're adults. We both need different things now. And I need to go back. Goodbye, Raoul."

"The memories... they are safe. Farewell, Christine," he said, looking up at her with sadness in his eyes. Then he said again more quietly, with finality, "Farewell."

With a nod, she then picked up her bag and left the apartment, climbed into the waiting coach, and as it lurched to a start she held tightly to her seat...

...She sat motionless now, not wanting to upset the boat again, still on the dark lake. Drawing her thoughts back to the present, Christine decided that she had no regrets for her actions that evening. As much as she hadn't wanted to hurt Raoul, there was one whom she had done a far more grave injury, one that she still had the chance to make right… she drew a breath, bit her lip, and took up paddling before she lost her way.

A faint blue haze appeared in the distance as she drew closer and she could weakly discern the presence of the opposite shore, instants before she felt the boat shudder and the bottom scrape against the shallow lakebed. She had no idea where the dock was, but her sense of urgency overcame propriety, and she tossed the oar on the banks of the lake.

Stepping out of the boat with an unceremonious splash into the frigid waters that came to her ankles, she trudged to shore with her heavy skirts slowing progress. On the dry bank at last, she ran toward where she thought the house should be, not hesitating to wonder what she would say, how she would explain… She began walking with arms outstretched, trying to discern the direction of the house, but minutes passed and she did not encounter it. It was entirely dark and now she wasn't even sure of the direction from which she had come… perhaps she had been walking in circles… A sudden instinct told her to step forward, and her left hand brushed something solid. She trembled for a moment, wondering what exactly it was; she moved closer and felt the exterior corner of the house beneath her fingertips. One step to the right and she would have missed it entirely. She stepped to the left, trailing one hand along the wall until the felt the cool metal of the doorknob. Taking a deep breath, she pulled the door open.

No light came from within- if possible, it was even more black than the lake had been, and the silence was startling to Christine, since she had always known it filled with music. She swallowed hard; within she was torn between crying out his name, and wanting to find him first, see him, see his eyes the instant he understood that she'd come back… She moved silently forward, slipping on papers strewn about the floor of the entryway, and she breathed a silent prayer that it was Mozart or Bach beneath her feet and not his Don Juan Triumphant. She inched through the darkness, walking blindly to where she remembered the door of the sitting room was… certainly he would hear her now, would run to her, happy at last. Troubled thoughts grew with every step as she remembered how perceptive he was, how he always knew before she was there, how he could hear everything in the opera, surely he should know she was here by now… She recalled as she now stumbled on debris, that the mob must have ravaged his home. It gathered in her chest, she fought to keep it down for an instant, but it fluttered there, born out of fearing the worst, and then it surged and escaped, and the cry woke the air.

"Erik!" Sightless still, she ran for the door of the sitting room, stumbling and getting up and running again until she felt the door beneath her fingertips, and flung it open, shouting his namr, "Erik?" She met with no response and cried out again, the scream of her voice echoing throughout the basements. Finally she turned to the wall, looking for the gas lamp she knew would be there… fumbling, tripping, despairing. Her fingers met with broken glass and she and she bit her lip to keep from sobbing with the pain and the fear that the men who did this damage had harmed him as well. Moving along to where she knew the next lamp should be, she finally felt its smooth globe, and it took her but instants to draw a match from the holder and pass its fire to the lamp.

Calming slightly as a soft light filled the room, Christine drew a slow breath and turned to open the door of his bedroom. She scanned the empty chamber, then spun on her heel to check the music room. The faint illumination from the sitting room lamp spread through the sliver of open door into the parlor. Her brow wrinkled in confusion as she saw that in this room furniture had been set upright, the floor swept, debris and rubble still in the corners, the piano sitting at an awkward angle, but the music room itself having the impression of an oasis among the ruins. She puzzled for a moment, and gradually concluded that efforts had been made to tidy his favorite chamber...

She hovered in the doorway, immobile, peering in through the narrowly opened door, only her eyes moving about the room, trying to piece together what had happened… surely he must have evaded the mob, must have fixed this room… surely he was here somewhere. Absent-mindedly Christine noticed she was growing warm and she let the black traveling coat drop as she walked into the room, musing like a detective. As the coat fell stiffly to the ground, the door opened a fraction of an inch further and the beam of light extended, spreading to fall upon the chair where he used to sit, and finally the low table next to it. There, a scrap of white glowed, paper perfectly creased in half and standing like a small triangle. She drew closer, heart pounding as she saw, written in graceful curves of crimson ink, "Christine."

She closed her eyes and breathed a fleeting prayer… fearing what confessions it held… surely he wouldn't have chosen death over solitude…the note leapt to her fingers and she opened it, devouring the words inside with frantic apprehension.

"My Dear Christine,

I write these words with great uncertainty as to whether you shall ever read them. When we bid one another farewell, such as it was, I believed it to be forever- it was I who told you to leave, a choice I have cursed and mourned and ultimately accepted, though it was against my heart it was to do so. You gave meaning to my existence, inspiration to my music, and for a fleeting moment, joy to my life, and this I can never lose, however dark and painful the days are now.

In the depths of my being, where hope is infinite, I still believe that perhaps the impossible wasn't- that perhaps happiness could have been ours. The thought that you might one day come back held me to these basements for a time, but I can no longer live where such thoughts haunt me. I am leaving my home of so many years to find a place far away from the pain and despair that fills my days, a place where I can live in peace with my memories and my music.

If your eyes are ever to see these words, it could only be because you returned- because your heart was willing and brave, because you truly are the angel I thought you could be. I believe it is too late now to save me, but Christine, whether you read my message when the words are fresh on the page, or when the paper is aged and brittle, know this- wherever I am, I love you yet.

Erik"

Slowly, achingly, her legs failed beneath her and she knelt to the ground, the thin whiteness of her dress billowing out around her. Christine clutched the note, reading it again and again, before letting it flutter to the floor, its ink smearing across her fingers…

In an instant, the scope of her world narrowed and she noticed no details, feeling suddenly tired and old. She bent her head and finally let the tears fall from her eyes; thin and small, the drops escaped without effort. Exhaustion overwhelmed her, and she quietly wept defeat, without heaving sobs or anguishing cries, but rather the most intense feeling of futile tragedy. A slow creak approached, one wavering noise after another. Her tears continued, her body motionless but consumed in the melancholy flood of feelings, of the resolution being born to spend the rest of her life searching... The door fell open completely and light fell upon her closed eyelids.

"Christine."

Wonder, hoarse pain, emotion, sudden joy, and love, all in a word.

Trembling at once, she glanced down, blinking at her ink stained fingertips- significance dawning on her- and she swiftly looked up. The figure silhouetted in the doorway filled her vision, the figure that distractedly dropped a valise… trembling, scarcely believing, barely breathing. The dawn of a smile was on her face; she slowly let out her breath, and looked into his eyes.

"Erik."