Disclaimer: POTO belongs to Gaston Leroux and the Really Useful Company.

Author's Note: Written for Lady Daendre

He waited in the shadows for the crowd to leave, tears still streaming down his face. If he listened hard enough, he could hear snippets of conversations.

"He's probably long gone by now," one officer said.

"If he ever existed at all," another added.

Erik allowed a small smile to escape his lips. If he remained there, no one would ever know if the phantom of the opera had been real or not.

After a few minutes, he heard the voices fading into the distance. Even when the silence finally descended upon him, he couldn't force himself out of his tiny sanctuary.

She was gone. After years of watching her, training her, she was gone. Closing his eyes, he could still see Christine's beautiful face. Her dark curls and her brown eyes were etched in his memory forever.

He could have had her. In that one moment, he was in control. All he had to do was pull harder on that rope. The tight noose would have done the rest. He couldn't do it, though. The moment she kissed him without showing fear or revulsion, he realized he couldn't do it. He had to let her go.

Erik sank to the ground in the darkness. It would be so easy to just shrivel up and die in this small hiding place. Christine was gone; there was nothing left.

"Are you going to stay in there forever?" a familiar voice asked. He looked up to see Madame Giry peering through the mirror. She extended a hand to him. "Come, we need to talk, Erik."

He gave her his hand and allowed her to lead him away from the safety of the darkness. She always protected him before. She always would.


© 2005 Crimson Idealist