Continuing Tales

Prelude, Renascence and Denouement

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Christine Reynolds

Part 4 of 4

<< Previous     Home     

"Think of me, please say you'll think of me..."

Pure and clear and bone-chillingly beautiful, her voice seemed to soar through the theatre. The Vicomte de Chagny realized that he was so caught up in the spell she wove that he was barely breathing. With an effort, he forced his attention away for a moment, leaning back and turning his opera glasses to gaze out over the audience instead of at the stage. He was pleased to note that every patron he saw seemed as captivated as he was--that every face was alight with the pleasure of listening to Christine Daae sing.

Raoul smiled humorlessly. It was a painful pleasure for him, a bitter reminder of the life he had lost through his own stupidity, but, despite the pain, he had not missed a performance since Christine had officially become the Opera Populaire's prima donna. Every time she performed, he came to the theatre to hide in the shadows of his private box to listen to her sing, and then, as the audience surged to their feet to applaud, he slipped away down the back stairs to his waiting carriage. He never joined in the ovation; he never rushed forward with the bouquets of flowers that she deserved and that he longed to give her; he never even let her know that he was there. Eight months before, he had promised that he would not trouble her, and he had kept his word, even though it had proved to be the most difficult thing he had ever done.

He had been so sure that she would come to her senses quickly. If he hadn't been, he could never have walked out that day and left her alone with the Opera Ghost. Christine was so young--so vulnerable--and he saw, too late, that she felt guilty over what she considered her betrayal of her Angel of Music. She had even said that she loved the hideous monster. It was that foolish statement which had caused Raoul so much anxiety and so many sleepless nights. He was terrified that the Phantom would take advantage of Christine's feelings and use her to satisfy his perverted lusts. Raoul's hands clenched in denial, and he quickly reassured himself that Christine would never give her body to a creature like that, especially since she had refused him. He wouldn't even consider the idea that she might be happy--that she might have made a life without him. That was unthinkable.

He looked back in time to see her spin, arms outstretched, her curls floating like a cloud about her head, and he felt the familiar mixture of anguish and desire. He sighed. He would never stop loving her and wanting her, no matter what she had done--no matter what she had allowed to be done to her. He would forgive her and take her back, if only she would ask--if only she would realize her mistake and come back to him.

A flicker of movement on one of the catwalks high above the stage caught his eye. He bent forward, lifting the glasses and straining to see into the shadows. He stared at the spot for several minutes, but there was nothing there. He shook his head in self-disgust at his over-active imagination and rose quietly, even though the third act was only half over. He decided to have his coachman drive him to a cabaret where he could find laughter and a different kind of music and a willing female with long, dark curls who would ease his pain. Better a rented fantasy for an evening than his lonely, empty apartment. He looked down at Christine once more, then made his way out into the night.

Erik could almost feel the music flowing around and through him as his fingers moved across the keys of the piano. The tune itself was an old one, composed an eternity before, but the embellishments were new, added to showcase Christine's voice and her range. He smiled to himself, wondering if Arani would mind that he had rewritten her song for the woman who shared his life. He rather suspected that she would heartily approve...could almost hear her whisper, "My Erik, I am so happy for you!"

His hands went still for a moment. That was all so far behind him--Persia, the fair, even the time spent beneath the opera-- that it sometimes seemed as if it all had happened to another man. And, he thought, in a way it had. The pain in his leg was still there--it would always be there--but his nightmares about the fair had ended the first night he had spent with Christine in this house. He smiled to himself. He would never forget the moment he had woken from the dream, shaking with pain and terror, to find her holding him close, comforting him in a way no one ever had. He would never forget the joy of waking the next morning to find himself still safe in her embrace. It was a delight that had not faded with repetition. He wondered if he would ever grow so accustomed to their physical expressions of love that he would take them for granted. He wondered if the joy of knowing Christine loved him would ever fade.

He had just leaned forward to transcribe a passage when he heard sounds at the door. He was on his feet in an instant, heart pounding, looking around desperately in an unsuccessful attempt to locate his mask. He almost overturned the piano bench as he swiftly retreated to the shadows behind the door, flattening himself against the wall as it swung inward.

"Erik?" A figure stepped forward, past him, and he released his breath in a sigh of relief. Christine turned toward him, her eyes sparkling. "Did I startle you? I'm sorry." She neither looked nor sounded contrite.

"It's all right. It was just..." He stretched out an arm to push the door shut and glanced past her at the clock on the mantle, embarrassed by his overreaction. "I didn't expect you home quite this early."

As if sensing his discomfort, she wrapped her arms around him, pressed her face against his chest, and nuzzled gently at his linen shirt. "I really am sorry, angel," she whispered.

"What are you doing home now? It's less than an hour until the evening performance."

"Aren't you happy to see me?"

"Yes, but..."

She tilted her head back to frown unconvincingly up at him. "Or perhaps you've taken a mistress and counted on me being gone for several more hours?"

"Christine, why aren't you..."

"Don't worry, my love. I haven't been dismissed." She giggled unexpectedly. "Your position as my tutor is safe--for a little while longer, at least."

For once he was unable to respond to her teasing. "Has tonight's opera been cancelled?"

"No. I'm just not singing tonight."


"My understudy is going on for me." The total lack of concern in her voice bewildered him.

"Is something wrong? Are you ill?" His arms tightened involuntarily with anxiety.

"I'm fine, angel," she reassured him. "In fact, I've never been finer."

"Then why..."

"You know, Erik, you are so homely," she interrupted him, smiling fondly. She lay her hands on his shoulders and lifted her body against his to kiss first the scarred cheek, then the other, then his lips.

"And you are giddy. I've never seen you like this."

"So homely. And I love you so much." She kissed him again and he felt the tip of her tongue dart forward, then withdraw.

The corners of his mouth twitched, wanting to smile, but he refused to be distracted. "Have you been drinking, madame?" he asked with mock sternness.

"I'm drunk with happiness." She pulled away from him to twirl lightly across the room.


"I wanted to be with you tonight." She shrugged out of her cloak and let it drop across a chair.

"But the opera..."

"I don't care about the opera. Not tonight." She sank onto their overstuffed sofa, turning to pull her legs up and tuck them beneath her, heedless of the damage to her skirt. "I have the most wonderful news, Erik."

With a sigh, he capitulated, giving in to her playful mood. He realized she would explain her actions in time--and in her own way. "That is a most unladylike position, madame," he pointed out.

"Oh, but my dearest love, I'm no lady." She arched her back and stretched, catlike. "I gave up all claim to that title--or interest in it--the day I discovered..." She paused, then gave him a wicked grin. "The joys of the flesh."

"If you've come home just to seduce me..."

"That can wait until later." She patted the sofa invitingly. "Come sit with me now."

He accepted, angling himself so that he could face her, and she caught his hands in hers, grasping them tightly. For a moment, she stared at him intently, her expression sobering so suddenly that he was slightly uncomfortable. "What is it, Christine?"

"How could I ever have run away from you?" she murmured, more to herself than to him.

"Because I'm so homely," he suggested.

"Because I was a fool." She raised his hands to kiss them. "I fainted during the rehearsal this afternoon and..."

He heard himself utter a low, wordless cry of alarm. He wanted to reach out to her, but he found he couldn't move. He felt as if he had just taken a blow to the heart.

Her eyes widened and she shook her head quickly. "No, Erik--it's all right. It was nothing. A momentary weakness. No more than a swoon. I was more annoyed than frightened."

He nodded, trying to accept her assurances.

"I thought my corset had been laced too tightly--you know what those costumes are like." She wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Monsieur Firmin insisted on sending for a doctor. I didn't want him to but..."

"You're their star." Erik could barely force the words out.

"Yes. That's exactly what Monsieur Firmin said." She hesitated.

"And?" he prompted. He held his breath.

"And the doctor discovered I'm pregnant."

"Pregnant?" He felt his mouth form the word, but no sound emerged. Christine was watching him again, her eyes dancing with barely suppressed joy. "You're going to have a baby?"

"That is the meaning of the word, my love," she murmured.

"A...our..." He understood, but the concept was overwhelming--unbelievable. "My baby?" he breathed.

"Of course. Who else's?"

"I'm sorry. Oh God...I didn't mean..." For a moment, he panicked, realizing what he had said--what he had implied--but she didn't seem angry; instead, she seemed amused.

"Are you pleased, Erik?"

"Pleased? That doesn't begin to describe..." His voice caught and he closed his eyes briefly, his fingers tightening around hers. He had a sudden vision of Christine holding a small, blanket-wrapped form to her breast, and he almost sobbed at the beauty of the image. "Pleased?"

"Is that a 'yes,' my love?" Her voice was tender.

His eyes flew open, his gaze darting over her body for some sign of a change. He freed one hand, not really surprised to see that it was trembling, and lay it reverently upon her abdomen. "You're carrying my baby. It's...wonderful...the most...I can't believe... How?"

She laughed then, leaning forward to kiss him. "How? My dearest angel, are you still so innocent after all we've learned together? A baby is the quite natural result of the things we do almost every night."

He blinked, trying to organize his thoughts. "I know, but I never thought about...never dreamed that we might...that you might..."

"Neither had I," she admitted. "If I had, I would have already realized that I was pregnant. I've never felt more foolish than the moment when the doctor told me I was carrying your son."

He tilted his head to one side in question, beginning to regain his ability to think clearly. "My son? Monsieur le Doctor must be very wise if he can tell that it's a boy this soon."

"He couldn't, but I can," she said smugly. "It has to be a boy."


"Don't you want a son?"

"Of course I'd like a son, but I think I'd be just as happy with a daughter--a little girl like you." The idea was foolishly pleasing.

"But all men want a son," she protested.

"My love, I am not 'all men.'" He shifted to pull her onto his lap and hold her close. He pressed his lips to her forehead, and she snuggled against him, sighing contentedly. "A son--a daughter--it doesn't matter. The idea that we will have a child..." He laughed with delight. "I didn't think it could be possible for me to ever love you more, but..." He froze suddenly, his body going rigid. "Christine..."

"What is it, Erik?"

"Christine." His joy began to drain away as he stared down at her. "We aren't married."

"But we are," she responded quickly. "We're married in all the ways that really matter."


"Oh, Erik, that's just a formality. If our love doesn't bind us together, then no words spoken by a priest can. A real marriage comes from inside. And in my heart, I'm your wife. I believe I'm your wife in the eyes of God, too."

"But to the rest of the world..." He knew the pain of being ostracized and shunned--knew it all too well. The idea that she might suffer the way he had was unbearable. "What did they say at the opera? Will there be trouble for you because of this?"

To his surprise, she giggled again. "Trouble? Oh, Erik, I wish you could have been there! Poor Monsieur Firmin almost had a seizure! I heard him whispering to the doctor, asking how long I'd be able to sing and how soon after the baby's birth I could come back to them. I honestly believe he was more concerned with the loss of receipts than with my pregnancy."

"There will be a scandal," he reminded her softly.

"Monsieur Firmin will no doubt point out that scandals sell tickets," she said firmly.

"But what will they say about you?"

"Do you think I care?" She dismissed it with a casual toss of her head. "All that matters to me is that I'm carrying your child." She lifted her hand to caress his throat. "Besides, I'm an actress, and everyone knows that actresses are fallen women."

He thought of her goodness--her virtue--and the idea angered him. "Some are, but not you, Christine."

"Oh, but I am." She tilted her head to follow the path of her fingers with her lips. "I am shamelessly fallen, monsieur, and you are to blame."


"Erik, I'd like...I wish you would...I need you to..."

He was oddly pleased to see that she was blushing. "How can a fallen woman be so shy? And after so long?" His hand slid up to cup her breast and she shivered against him.

"I love you, Erik. I..."

Before she could say anything more, his mouth covered hers, silencing her. He watched her eyes slide shut as he deepened the kiss, marvelling at his power to arouse her. When he carried her to the bed some time later, he made love to her with a new care and tenderness, gently exploring her body, seeking some outward indication of the new life she carried.

"Will you still love me when I'm huge and fat and can't sing?" she whispered.

He pretended to consider, then said solemnly, "I'll probably love you even more when you, too, are...homely."

She laughed and held him to her as if she would never let him go.

"Monsieur le Vicomte!"

Raoul stopped with one hand on the bannister, looking quickly around to see if the manager's overzealous greeting had attracted unwanted attention. "Monsieur Andre," he murmured, extending his hand.

Andre shook it heartily. "I'm surprised to see you tonight."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I didn't think you'd be here. I thought you'd be with Mademoiselle Daae on this most joyous evening." He waved dismissively. "No matter. Since you are here, there are a few details about the next production that I'd like to discuss with you, if it wouldn't be too inconvenient."

Raoul nodded and followed the other man down the corridor to the manager's office. Andre gestured toward a chair and busied himself at the liquor cabinet. "Brandy?"

"Yes, thank you." Raoul sat, leaning back and glancing about the room, his gaze coming to rest upon the large, ornately framed photograph of Christine that sat upon the bookcase. "This new production of 'Hannibal' is going well, isn't it?"

"Beyond our wildest hopes." Andre beamed happily. "Every performance for the next two months is sold out. It's a major triumph, and we owe it all to Mademoiselle Daae. She has the voice of an angel. An angel." He sighed, turning to hold out a glass. "I don't know what we're going to do while she's gone."

"Gone?" Raoul automatically leaned forward to accept the brandy. "She's leaving?"

"Naturally. She'll have no choice. You're to be congratulated on your good fortune, Monsieur. Shall we drink a toast to the future?"

Andre was waiting expectantly, but Raoul could only stare, completely baffled. "Monsieur Andre, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Mademoiselle Daae's condition."

Raoul shook his head. "I don't..."

"The baby?"

Raoul felt the color drain from his face. "Christine's...pregnant?"

"You didn't know? I'm so sorry. So sorry. I thought...I assumed... She only learned of her condition today, when she fainted and we called a doctor but... She left just after he told her. I was sure she was on her way to you..."

Raoul took a sip of the brandy, stalling as he tried to sort out the rush of emotions that tore through him. He told himself that whatever happened he must remain calm--must be careful what he said and did--for Christine's sake.

The shock was staggering. Christine was going to have a baby, and naturally they would think he was the father of her child. They had no way of knowing the relationship was over, and they must not know. His hands clenched violently as he realized what must have happened. The Phantom had raped Christine--God only knew how often--and this was the result. She would be too humiliated to admit her mistake and come to him for help, but now that he knew...


Andre's shocked cry jerked him from his dark thoughts. He looked down at the spilled brandy and the shattered glass, reaching automatically for his handkerchief. "I'm sorry. I've..."

"No, no. Don't worry--the maid will clean it up. Have you cut yourself?" Andre quickly circled the desk to bend over him.

"It's nothing." Raoul opened his hand and let the remnants of the glass fall. If there were pain, he was unable to feel it. He wrapped the handkerchief around his fingers to staunch the bleeding.

"Should I call a..."

"No. I'm all right."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean...I didn't realize..."

Raoul took a deep breath, then said cautiously, "It just came as a surprise. I haven't spoken with Mademoiselle Daae in...some little time."

"Forgive me. I never dreamed..." Monsieur Andre looked decidedly uncomfortable.

"Is she all right?" Raoul couldn't keep the anxiety out of his voice.

"The doctor said she's blooming with health. She'll be able to sing for at least another three months."

"Was she..." He stumbled over the question. "How did she take the news? Was she...unhappy?"

"Unhappy?" Andre laughed. "On the contrary. She was overjoyed to learn of her impending motherhood."

"Overjoyed?" Raoul felt another shock run through his body. "Are you sure?"

"Oh yes. I've rarely seen anyone happier. But that was to be expected, of course."

Raoul rose abruptly, turning his back on the manager. "You..." His voice was strangled. He swallowed and tried again. "You won't dismiss her because of this?"

"Dismiss our star?" Andre was shocked. "Monsieur le Vicomte! Do you think we're fools?"


"She'll continue to sing until her condition becomes obvious," Andre reassured him. "And she'll return as soon as possible after the baby's birth. Unless, of course, you plan to marry her?"

"No. We won't..." Raoul suddenly felt he could bear no more. Reaching for his wallet, he said quickly, "You'll be sure she's treated well? You won't let anyone hurt her or..." He spun and shoved a handful of banknotes at the startled man. "Give her this and tell her..." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Tell her I love her."

"Monsieur le Vicomte..."

"Beg her to remember what I said the last time I saw her. I..." He was barely aware of Andre's farewells. He moved blindly back through the theatre, stopping to retrieve his hat and coat and then going out into the street to find his carriage. There was a pain in his chest which was worse than anything he had ever felt before. He wanted to deny the knowledge...

Christine was happy--overjoyed--and that could only mean one thing. The Phantom had not forced her; she had given herself to him willingly. Raoul's mind shied away from the image of Christine lying in the monster's arms--kissing him--making love to him. It was unthinkable, unbelievable...

But it was undeniable. The Vicomte de Chagny lowered his face into his hands and wished he could weep.

The morning sunlight filtering through the curtains woke Christine earlier than usual. Her brow furrowed, her eyes squeezing more tightly closed, and she snuggled closer to the figure beside her. Erik murmured sleepily, turning slightly to drape an arm across her shoulders, and she was suddenly wide awake, roused by the delightful knowledge that she was carrying Erik's child. She lay very still, savoring the moment, delighting in the feel of his warm body pressed close to hers, the soft sounds of his breathing, and the faint, lingering scent of his cologne. She watched the beams of light dancing upon his cheek and mouth and smiled at the notion that she had ever thought him frightening.

The past months had not been without their difficulties, but Christine had never expected life with Erik to be easy--not even in her wildest and most romantic fantasies. She sighed gently. All their problems stemmed from the fact that the Opera Ghost was still very much a wanted man and, unfortunately, there were far too many people who would recognize him if he attempted to live any sort of normal life. That was her fault; she was the one who had unmasked him upon the stage those long months ago, betraying him and revealing... She cringed from the memory. Even though he never complained, she knew that Erik must despise hiding in their home, a virtual prisoner. In the face of his quiet acceptance of the situation and his gentle refusal to lay the blame where it belonged--upon her--she felt she could hardly complain herself, although she longed to be able to openly acknowledge their love, longed to have him sit in a box at the opera when she performed so that she could sing only for him, longed...

She mentally shook herself. What they were able to share was so much more than either of them had ever dared dream of. The intensity of their happiness astonished her. Their moments together were so full and so precious. Erik continued to train her, basking contentedly in the reflected glow of her fame, and her career had flourished under his tutelage. She knew that her voice had never been better. Amazingly, though, she had discovered that the more her fame grew, the less she cared about it. It had once seemed all-important to her, but now she sang only to please Erik--she lived only to please Erik. The applause from the patrons, the praise, the masses of flowers that filled her dressing room--those were secondary. He was everything.

When she was away at rehearsals and performing, Erik spent his time reading or drawing or composing glorious music that Christine wished the world could hear. When she was here, they shared music and quiet dinners and long evenings before the fire and...the pleasures of the bedroom. And there were occasional walks, always late at night, when Erik's face could be concealed by the darkness and his wide-brimmed hat. She loved those evenings, strolling through the deserted streets arm in arm, talking softly together and sharing their love.

Erik shifted and opened his eyes, and she lifted herself onto one elbow to smile down at him. "Good morning, my angel," she whispered. "I love you."

"Do you ever get tired of saying you love me?" He reached up to drowsily run a fingertip down her cheek.

"Do you ever get tired of hearing it?"

"Never." He laughed and she bent to kiss him. She loved the low, gentle sound of his laughter almost more than anything else about him. He had once told her that he had never really known how to laugh--had never had a reason to laugh--until she had come into his life, and so she cherished his laughter. "You're beautiful this morning," he murmured.

"I was just thinking the same thing about you."

He lifted an eyebrow inquiringly. "Your homely husband?"

She giggled and dropped her head back onto his shoulder. "I'm so happy, Erik."

"I am too." His hand began to slide up and down her back, stroking gently. "Can we spend the day here in bed or are you expected at the Opera this afternoon?"

She sighed regretfully. "There's a rehearsal for the next production at one. But..." She ran her fingers across his chest. "We have this morning."

Late and breathless with haste, Christine hurried down the corridor toward her dressing room. She had found it especially difficult to leave the warmth of their bed, and Erik's firm insistence that she take time for a proper vocal warm-up had put her even further behind.


She suddenly found herself caught and embraced by a slender young woman who murmured, "You sly little minx. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Meg!" Christine returned the hug with a glad smile. She knew--and bitterly regretted--how the changes in her life had hurt her friend, putting an end to their once close relationship. She realized that Meg thought she had become a snob--that success had gone to her head--but she could never tell Meg the truth, and she had been unable to think of even a half-truth that would appease her friend.

"Congratulations!" Meg leaned back, smiling fondly. "I want to hear all about it."

"News travels fast."

"Well, of course. You know that. So? Tell me."

Meg's enthusiasm warmed Christine. "There's nothing to tell."

"Nothing to tell! When's the baby due? When will you be leaving? How do you feel? How..."

Christine giggled, holding up a hand to silence Meg. "I'm fine and the baby isn't due until some time this summer, so I'll be here for a while longer--through the next production at least."

"Is it true that you're coming back after the baby's born?"

Christine felt Meg's grip on her arms tighten. She looked sideways toward the doorway where the other dancers were gathered, eavesdropping. "Yes, Suzette. I'll be back."

"Then the Vicomte really won't marry you?"

"You have no right to ask..." Meg began angrily.

"What do you mean?" Christine interrupted, waving Meg aside and staring at Suzette in bewilderment.

"The rumor is that he refuses to marry you," Suzette replied. "If you're going to come back, I guess it's true."

Christine tilted her head, confused. "Why should Raoul marry me?"

"To give your child a name, of course. To keep it from being a bastard."

Christine felt the color drain from her face as she suddenly understood. "Oh no," she whispered.

"Did the two of you really think you could keep your affair a secret?" Suzette tossed her head. "Your dressing room is always full of flowers and cards from admirers. You have offers from God knows how many men--there's always a crowd at the stage door. But since you turn them all down, we knew you must have a lover who didn't want to be seen in public with an actress. And we've seen the Vicomte at every performance, hiding in his box. We guessed that he..."

"Suzette, be quiet!" Meg snapped.

Christine turned away, unconsciously slipping an arm around her friend's shoulders for support. She felt her eyes filling with tears and was helpless to stop them. Once again, she had been a fool--had been blind and thoughtless. What had she expected, she wondered wildly--that they would accept her pregnancy and not question the identity of the baby's father? Too late, she realized that the only reason the managers had not questioned her the day before was that they believed...

"Are you all right, Christine?" Meg asked gently.

"Oh, Meg." All of them--even Meg--thought that Raoul was the father of her child. Christine's hands jerked protectively across her stomach. She wanted to protest, but if she told them the truth--even hinted at the truth--she would betray Erik again. But to let them believe she carried Raoul's child...

Christine sensed rather than saw the dark figure behind her just before the sharp voice cut through the air. "Mademoiselle Suzette, you are supposed to be on stage now. And the rest of you--go!" As they scurried away, Madame Giry added quickly, "Meg, wait."

"Madame Giry..." Christine looked up, anguished, to meet the older woman's sympathetic gaze. They had never spoken of the results of her search for Erik, but Christine had often wondered how much the ballet mistress had been able to guess.

"I know, child," she said gently, in response to Christine's unspoken question.

"What is it, Christine?" Meg whispered anxiously. "What's wrong?"

Madame Giry answered for her. "I somehow doubt that the Vicomte de Chagny is the father of Mademoiselle Daae's baby."

"But then who is?" Meg asked, bewildered.

"Someone I love, Meg. Someone I love very much and..." Her voice broke. "Madame Giry, what am I going to do?"

"You will do what you must, and you will be strong--because you must." The ballet mistress lay a hand on her arm.

"Mademoiselle Daae!"

Christine lifted her head and forced a smile as Monsieur Andre came hurrying toward them. "Good afternoon," she managed. "I'm sorry I'm late."

He waved her apology aside. "We'll always wait for our star. May I see you for a moment? Alone?" He looked pointedly at Meg and Madame Giry, but the women made no move to leave.

Christine smiled gratefully at them. "Thank you," she whispered. "I'll be all right."

"If you need me, child..." Madame Giry inclined her head toward the manager, then took Meg's arm and led her away, murmuring, "Come, Meg. We must talk." Christine took a deep, calming breath and turned to face Monsieur Andre.

"I spoke with the Vicomte de Chagny last night," he began. Christine bit her lip, clenching her hands at her sides to hide their sudden trembling. "I must apologize for the faux pas I committed. I assumed you had gone to tell him about your...condition, and so I congratulated him."

Christine felt herself going lightheaded with anxiety. "Raoul and I haven't spoken in some time," she said briefly.

"So I gathered. A lover's spat, perhaps?" Christine did not answer, unsure of how to respond, and Monsieur Andre sighed. "It's none of my business, of course. Forgive me."

"What did he say?" she managed.

"He sent his love and asked you to remember what he said the last time you spoke with him."

"Is that all?" She hardly dared breathe.

"No. He left this for you."

Monsieur Andre drew an envelope from his breast pocket and handed it to her. She opened it, peered inside, and looked up, dazed.

"There's so much money here. I can't take this."

"Of course you can. The Vicomte is quite well off. If he chooses to aid you financially, it's..." Andre hesitated, then added indignantly, "Well, he should give you aid! It's only right."

"But..." Christine looked back down at the envelope. Money was yet another thing she hadn't considered; although there had been more than enough so far, in a few short months she would be temporarily out of a job, but there would still be expenses, as well as the added expense of the child. Raoul's money would help, but she was too afraid that it would hurt Erik if she accepted it. She shook her head and pressed the envelope back into Monsieur Andre's hand. "Please thank Raoul for me, and tell him I appreciate his generosity, but I can't accept it. He'll understand." She desperately hoped that he would.

"But Mademoiselle Daae..."

"Tell Raoul that I do care for him. Tell him I'll always cherish our friendship. And tell him if he wants to give my baby a gift..." She forced herself to smile. "I'd like a cradle. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm far too late already."

The remainder of the afternoon passed in a blur for Christine. She forced herself through the rehearsal, vaguely realizing that her singing was not even adequate--the worst it had been since Erik had become her tutor. She couldn't seem to care, not even when the director berated her for missing the easiest notes. After what seemed like a century in the rehearsal hall, she finally managed to escape.

For once, Erik was not at the door to greet her when she stumbled through. She listlessly dropped her cloak and fell upon the sofa, leaning back to close her eyes momentarily.


She opened her eyes and forced a smile. Erik set the tea tray down and bent to kiss her forehead. "I thought you might be tired," he said quietly. "Was it a difficult rehearsal?"

"It seemed too long," she whispered.

"You look exhausted. Would you like to be alone?"

"No," she said quickly, stretching out a hand toward him. "Please. I need you. Don't go."

He sat down and silently poured a cup of tea, adding milk and sugar before he handed it to her. His thoughtfulness brought tears to her eyes.

"What is it, love?" he asked gently.

She lifted the cup, inhaling the warm, spicy aroma of the tea, stalling, unable to meet his eyes. He waited patiently until she had drained the cup and set it on the table before them.

"Something went wrong today."

"Yes." Christine bit her lip. "Erik, they think..." She couldn't go on.

"Tell me, Christine." There was a note of command in his voice that she seldom heard--one that she dared not disobey.

"They think Raoul is my baby's father." She lowered her eyes, unable to bear the pain she feared she would see in Erik's face.

"And what did you expect them to think, my love--that this had been an immaculate conception?" he asked dryly. "Surely you realized that they would wonder who fathered your child."

She looked up in surprise. "I didn't think at all, Erik. I was just so happy..."

"The Vicomte is the natural choice." His tone became bitter. "It would be better if the Vicomte were the baby's father. Your child should have a father who can acknowledge it--not a monster who's forced to hide in the darkness. Your child deserves better."


"Does the Vicomte know?"

"Yes. Monsieur Andre told him."

"And what did he say?"

"That he still..." She couldn't bring herself to say the words.

"That he still loves you?"

She nodded.

"That's how I'd feel, if our situations were reversed. If I were the Vicomte, I'd be willing to marry you, in spite of...anything." He took a deep breath. "Christine, I've been thinking ever since you left--thinking about us and about our baby and about our future. And..."

He hesitated, not meeting her eyes, his fingers slipping forward to toy with the spoons on the tray. "I've been so happy here with you. These past months have been paradise--my wildest dreams come true. But now I think it's time for me to wake up from the dream and face reality."

His words were somehow disturbing. "What are you saying, Erik? What do you mean? What other reality is there?"

"For you..." He faltered. "You have the world before you, Christine. You could have anything you want."

"I already have everything I want," she said firmly.

"Don't you want a normal life? Don't you realize what you've given up for me? I can't be seen in public with you. I can't give you and the child my name. I can't even claim my child because I'm a monster--a murderer."


"Before you came into my life, I had nothing--only pain and hate. I had a life once, a long time ago, but..." He fell silent for a moment and she saw his jaw tighten. "Things happened to me, and I lost what little I had. And then I became the Opera Ghost. I wanted to control others as I'd been controlled--to frighten as I'd been frightened--to hurt as I'd been hurt. You are my salvation, Christine. But now you deserve a chance for a better life for yourself and our child."

"I don't understand."

"You know that the Vicomte still loves you. You know that he'd marry you and raise your child as his own. Neither of you would ever want for anything..."

"Except you," she interrupted, torn between anger and disbelief. "Is this some sort of perverted joke, Erik, or have you gone mad?"

"Don't you see--it would be for the best."

"Best? For who?"

"For you. For our baby."

"And what about you? What would you do--go back beneath the opera house and wait to die without ever seeing your son?"

"It doesn't matter about me."

"Then what about my feelings?" She heard her voice rising. "If I married Raoul, he'd expect me to fulfill my wifely obligations?" Erik flinched at that, and she seized upon it, going brutally on. "He'd have the right to make love to me--and I'd have to let him." He made a choked sound and she realized that he was crying, but she didn't care. "Is that what you want?"

"No, isn't just you or me. It's the baby." He caught her hand and pulled it to the rough scarring on his right cheek. "What will he say when he sees my face? When I'm with you I can almost forget. I can almost pretend that I'm a normal man...that I am only...homely, not..." His face twisted with anguish. "While you were gone today I went into your dressing room and stood in front of the mirror and looked at myself. It made me sick to think that a woman as beautiful as you would let a creature who looked like me even touch her, much less..."

Without stopping to think, she wrenched her hand free and slapped him. His head jerked with the blow and he rocked backwards, his eyes widening with shock. "God damn you, Erik!" she snapped, furious. "Is that what all this is about? You're such a fool! I thought we'd settled that long ago. Yes, you're ugly." She seized the material of his shirtfront to shake him. If she had not been so angry, she would almost have laughed at the way he flinched away from her wrath. "Yes, you're hideous! There's no denying that. But I don't see your face. I see what's inside you. I see someone I love--I see someone who loves me. Our child will see the same thing."

Her anger drained away as quickly as it had come, destroyed by the look in his eyes. She slid her hand up to caress his reddened cheek and spoke more gently. "Erik, I love you. I'm yours. I belong to you, but only for you to keep--not for you to give away. I know you only want what's best for me and your son, but don't you see that you're what we need most, no matter how difficult it may seem?"

His body shuddered with a sob, and she pulled him into her arms, holding him close. "Don't you know I couldn't live without you?" she whispered.

"Christine, what if the child is...what if he looks like me?"

That, at least, was something she had already thought of. "We'll love him just the same--maybe even more." She pressed his hand to her abdomen. "This is our child--yours and mine--and I already love him, no matter what he looks like."

"My mother ran from me in horror." The words were so soft she could barely hear them.

"I'm not your mother." She hesitated. He had rarely spoken about his mother--rarely spoken of his past at all--and she had never questioned him, fearing it would only cause him pain. "A mother should never feel that way toward her child, Erik," she said at last. "You know that as well as I do. I could never run away from my child."

"I wish my mother could have been like you. I remember..." He looked past her, at something only he could see. "She was so beautiful. She had auburn hair and blue eyes..."

"Like you," she reminded him gently.

He gave her a brief, grateful smile, but it faded as he went on, "She could only stand to look at me when my face was covered. She told me once that I almost died at birth, but the midwife saved me. She said she wished they'd let me die. I was...very young...but I never forgot what she said."

Christine's throat tightened with a different sort of anger. "How could any woman say that to her child? How could any woman hurt her child that way?"

"She suffered too, Christine. And finally she...she killed herself."

"Oh Erik," she breathed.

"I was only five. I remember I woke from my nap and I found her lying on the floor. I thought she was asleep. I...I kissed her cheek. It was the only time I was ever allowed..." His voice broke.

"What about your father?" she whispered. "Didn't he care for you?"

"I never knew my father. I don't know if he abandoned my mother or if he died or..." The muscles of his neck went taut. "I'm not even sure she was married. No one ever told me."

"Oh Erik, my love. My dearest love."

"Promise that won't happen to our child, Christine," he murmured urgently. "Please."

Suddenly she felt she understood his fears. "Are you afraid that our child will suffer like you did--that he'll be fatherless and unloved? Is that it?"

He nodded wordlessly.

"It won't happen," she said firmly. "Because this child has a father who will love him--a father that he'll love as much as I do."


"And now, my love, you have to promise me something."


"Promise that you'll be here for us--that you won't leave us or try to send us away from you."

She felt his lips move against her shoulder. "I promise."

She clung to him for a long time before she straightened, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand. "There's been enough of this sort of talk tonight. We should be happy, not sad." She rose. "I need your help with the aria from the new production. I missed so many notes at rehearsal today that I was sure Monsieur Firmin would dismiss me on the spot."

"He'd be a fool to do that." Erik accepted the change of subject, rose, and moved to the piano. Flipping through the sheet music, he began to play. "This one?"

"How did you know?"

"I know your voice. Try it now."

She stood behind him, resting her hands on his shoulders as she sang. Her mind drifted back to the first time she had ever sung for him, and she marvelled at all that had occurred since that day.

"No wonder you made so many mistakes," Erik said mildly. "Your mind isn't on what you're doing. Your breathing is completely wrong."

"I'm sorry. I was remembering." She leaned forward to brush her lips across the top of his head. "Do you remember the night you first came to my dressing room to teach me?"

"You were crying." He lay a hand over hers. "I remember."

"And you asked me to sing...and I was dreadful."

"Not dreadful. Your voice was only untrained. But I must admit you sing much more beautifully now."

"I wish you could hear me sing at the Opera again," she said quietly. "Since you've taught me, I wish you could be there to enjoy the results. I wish I could sing for you."

"Perhaps I could." He tilted his head back to look up at her. "I know the Opera. I know the hiding places. I could..."

"No!" Christine's hands tightened. "Don't even think such a thing! It would be too dangerous. It isn't worth the risk."

"I lived there safely for three years, Christine," he reminded her.

"Yes, but now..." She bit her lip. "There was an accident yesterday. It was nothing--a piece of scenery fell. No one was hurt. But the stagehands and the dancers immediately began to talk about the Opera Ghost."

"It wasn't my doing."

"I know, but..." She closed her eyes briefly. "They haven't forgotten you."

"No. They wouldn't." He looked at her for a long moment, then turned back to the piano. "If you can't sing for me there, sing for me now," he said softly as he began to play.

Christine's voice was as beautiful as ever--perhaps more so, for there seemed a special glow about her this night. Still, Raoul shifted uneasily in his seat, unable to settle down enough to enjoy the performance. He was troubled by the gossip he had overheard earlier--the talk of an accident several days before and the speculation that the Opera Ghost had returned. Raoul's gaze swept the catwalks above the stage. He remembered the shadowy figure he thought he had seen the week before. He had dismissed it as the product of an over-active imagination, but now he wondered. Perhaps he had seen the Opera Ghost; perhaps the monster really had returned. If so, what did it mean? Had he tired of Christine? Had he come back to begin a new reign of terror? Was he insane? Was Christine at risk, blinded to her danger by her misplaced love for the creature? Raoul listened to Christine sing, but his eyes remained turned upward. If the Phantom were there, poised to strike...

Anxiety finally won and he rose to make his way backstage, carefully avoiding the areas where the performers would exit. Moving quietly, he began to climb the ladder to the narrow walkway above. When he stepped out onto the catwalk, he went momentarily dizzy from the height and the feeling of insecurity. He gripped the handrail and took a step forward, glancing down and to the left, to the stage where the play was reaching its climax. There was a riot of sound and color and movement below...

And a quick, furtive movement in the shadows before him. His head snapped around. A figure stood before him--a sinister, masked figure out of his nightmares.

"Monsieur le Vicomte," the Opera Ghost whispered, inclining his head in greeting.

"You! What are you doing here?"

"The same as you, Monsieur." His voice was low, barely audible above the orchestra and the applause. "I've come to hear Christine sing. Like you, I've been here at every performance for the past eight months." Raoul could have sworn that the misshapen lips twisted into a smile. "Do you know that she hasn't realized that either one of us is here?"

"If you've decided to terrorize the Opera Populaire again, I'll stop you." Despite his bold words, Raoul was suddenly very aware of his own danger--of his vulnerability. He tightened his grip on the rail.

"I had nothing to do with the accident," the Phantom said softly.

"Why should I believe you?"

The monster stiffened. "Because I would never do anything to hurt Christine," he hissed. He glanced down at the stage, where she was bending to accept a mass of red roses from an admirer, and his face and voice softened. "I love her." He inclined his head briefly. "Good evening, Monsieur le Vicomte." He turned to go.

"Wait!" Raoul reached out to stop the monster and gasped as he felt himself slip. He was off-balance...falling... Then a hand caught his arm, gripping tightly, supporting him until he regained his footing. Breathing heavily, he looked into the masked face, denying to himself that what he saw there was concern. It was a trick of the light--it was his imagination.

The Phantom stared at him for a long moment without speaking, then released his hold on Raoul's arm and turned away. In seconds, he had vanished. Shaking, Raoul slowly climbed back down the ladder and leaned against the wall, waiting for his heartbeat to return to normal. Impossible as it seemed, the monster had saved his life.

"Beautiful, Mademoiselle Daae!"

Warned by the greeting, Raoul ducked into a darkened corner just as Christine appeared from the stage, holding her bouquet to her breast and smiling at the dancer who played the Slave Driver. "Thank you." Her voice was warm. "It went so well tonight--the chorus was magnificent!"

Almost against his will, Raoul followed Christine down the corridor, carefully keeping out of sight. Neither of them was aware of the disturbance backstage until Raoul heard someone call out, "We've caught the Opera Ghost!" Raoul saw her freeze, and the roses dropped from her arms to scatter at her feet. Shaking her head, her eyes wide, she started toward the sounds, Raoul close behind her.

She rounded a corner and stopped, her hands going to her mouth. Raoul heard her make a soft sound of horror and looked beyond her. The monster was there, his arms securely held by two of the stagehands, surrounded by a dozen others. His head was bowed, and there was blood on his face and on his shirtfront. Christine took a step toward him, her lips parting in a cry of protest.

The creature lifted his head and saw her, and his lips drew back in a snarl. "You!" His tone was vicious. "What are you doing here? Damn you, you bitch! Go! Get away from me!"

"That's no way to talk to a woman."

One of the men struck him and his body jerked backward. Christine screamed. Raoul saw her sway and rushed forward in time to catch her as her knees gave way and she sank toward the floor. He lowered her carefully, then glared up angrily at the monster who had spoken to her in such a manner, who professed to love Christine and yet had called her...

The Phantom's head came up again, a fresh trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth. His eyes went to the limp figure in Raoul's arms, and only Raoul saw the quickly aborted movement he made toward her. His chest rose and fell as he took a deep breath, then he looked away and his eyes met Raoul's. Raoul quaked with the sudden realization that this man was trying to protect Christine--that he had spoken cruelly to her only to prevent her from betraying their relationship. Raoul read the plea in the other man's eyes as clearly as if he had spoken: Take care of her. Then the stagehands were dragging him away and Raoul turned his attention back to the woman he held.

He lifted her to carry her to her dressing room, refusing to think about what might be happening to...him. Madame Giry and Meg appeared and he silently handed Christine over to their care, retreating to pace up and down the hall just outside the door. He heard the movements within as she woke and heard her wail of anguish. The sound tore through him.

"Where is he? What are they going to do to him?" There was a world of pain in her voice. "Are they going to hand him over to the gendarmes?"

"No, child. They've taken him below the theatre."

"They're going to...they'll kill him!"

"Or worse--they'll keep him alive for a while."

"Hush, Meg!" The older woman's voice was sharp.

"They can't. They can't!'ve only seen the Opera Ghost, but Erik is...he's the kindest...most gentle...most loving..." Her voice was rising toward hysteria despite Madame Giry's soothing murmur.

Raoul gestured anxiously, imperiously, when he saw Monsieur Firmin come hurrying down the hall. "See about her," he whispered. Firmin stared at him for a moment, then contained his curiosity and knocked at the open door.

"Mademoiselle Daae, are you all right?"

"How can I be all right?" Christine cried. Raoul heard Madame Giry's voice quieting her.

"I'm sorry you had to encounter this creature again--and in your condition too."

"Monsieur Firmin..."

"The Vicomte de Chagny is outside. He's very concerned about you."

The silence seemed to go on for an eternity before she whispered, "I'd like to see him, please."

"Of course." Firmin stepped back to allow Raoul to enter the room. Raoul stopped just inside the doorway, uncertain, staring at her. There was no color in her face except the remains of her stage make-up. Her eyes were huge and dark with unshed tears, and when she spoke, her voice trembled.

"May I see him alone?" she asked softly.

Almost before the words left Christine's mouth, Madame Giry herded Meg and Firmin from the room and shut the door behind them. Raoul continued to stand there, silent in the face of her anguish. "Did you see..." she whispered.


"They're going to kill him, Raoul, and there's nothing I can do." Her voice was low with a calm that he knew was false, for her hands were twisting together until the knuckles were white. "I have no right to ask you, but... Please help him. Please, Raoul. For the sake of my child, help him."

"Do you love him?" His voice was choked.

"Yes, Raoul," she said simply. "He's my life."

Raoul closed his eyes. The pain was back in his chest. She would never love him as long as his rival lived, but if they killed the Opera Ghost, perhaps she could learn again in time. Unwillingly, Raoul remembered the half-smile--the feel of the hand on his arm, saving him--the look on...Erik's face as he had gazed upon Christine for what he must have known would be the last time.

"Christine..." Raoul shook his head and turned to bolt from the room. As he passed Madame Giry, he snapped, "Take her home. Stay with her." He didn't wait for a response.

The terrible sound of Christine's sobs followed him as he fled down the corridor.

Erik relaxed in their grasp, letting them carry him and saving his strength; he knew he would need it for what was to come. These were not men who wanted to see justice done. This was a bloodthirsty mob bent on vengeance. A door creaked open and he was flung into an empty storeroom. He waited until they set their lanterns down before he drew his legs under him and rose slowly, determined to face them as a man rather than a trapped animal--determined to die as a man. He straightened his spine to stand erect and reached up to adjust his mask as they formed a circle around him.

"Leave it!" Someone struck his hand away. He forced himself to stand immobile as the mask and wig were torn off--forced himself to remain unflinching in the face of their horror and repulsion, although his soul shrank from the exposure.

"God, he's homely," one of the men muttered.

The use of the word which Christine chose to describe him--which she used so lovingly--brought an involuntary flicker of a smile to his face. The man stepped forward, belligerent, and demanded, "What are you smiling about?"

"A private joke, monsieur," Erik replied softly.

"You won't have anything to joke about when we're done with you!"

Erik glanced around, looking more closely at their expressions, and realized with a shock that these men still feared him, even helpless as he was. His shoulders slumped. "No, monsieur. I see no humor here. Only frightened men."

"You're the one who should be afraid." He shoved Erik backward and raised a fist. "This is for Joseph Buquet."

Erik had been beaten before--too many times during his years of imprisonment in a cage--but this was far worse somehow. There were so many of them, the blows coming from too many directions for him to even begin to protect himself, and the savagery of their attack was terrifying. He wanted to fight back, but at the first attempt someone seized his arm and jerked it violently backward. Erik heard the bone snap and the limb fell to dangle uselessly. After that, he made no further attempt at retaliation. He simply endured, letting his body go limp, allowing them to hold him up to strike him and falling to be kicked when they released him. He thought of Christine, bitterly regretting that his final words to her had not been words of love. He wondered if she would understand that those harsh words had hurt far worse than anything these men could do to him now.

He was aware that one of the men had gone for wine only when there was a break in the torment. He lay motionless as they drank, forcing himself to choke back the sounds which would only betray his agony and give them pleasure. All too soon, it began again. The merciless pounding went on and on, until he lost all sense of time. Nothing existed but the present moment, the sound of angry voices cursing and jeering, and the steadily increasing pain.

"Get away from him! Now!"

The men fell silent and stepped back, letting Erik's battered body drop to the floor. With an effort, he lifted his head. His vision was fading, the left eye already swelling, but he was able to see the Vicomte de Chagny standing in the doorway of the room, staring at him with an unfathomable expression. Then the handsome face changed as the Vicomte stalked forward to bend over him, lips drawn back in a snarl. "This thing is mine to deal with."

Erik's eyes closed. Through the roaring in his ears, he could hear an argument, the Vicomte's voice louder and more authoritative than the rest. Then hands seized him, none too gently, jerking him upright. He was unable to hold back a whimper of pain as they hauled him away.

He slowly realized they were taking him back the way they had come and was terrified that Christine would still be there--that she would see this. "Monsieur le Vicomte..."

"Quiet!" Someone cuffed him sharply on the back of the head.

"No more of that," the Vicomte snapped angrily. "I told you he's mine now!"

A blast of cold night air struck Erik as they dragged him from the building, and he began to shiver uncontrollably. He was lifted and thrown roughly into a carriage. He lay crumpled on the floor, unable to move, the pain in his arm and his body almost unbearable now. A shudder of horror ran through him as he heard the Vicomte assure the mob that the Phantom of the Opera would be well taken care of. Then the springs of the carriage sagged as the Vicomte climbed in, and the door banged shut with a sickening finality. The Vicomte seated himself and tapped on the roof. The driver set the team in motion, and Erik sank his teeth into this lower lip to keep from crying out. He heard the sounds of the mob fade away in the distance and knew he was once again alone with his worst enemy--and this time he was helpless.

When he saw the dark shadow bend forward and felt hands grasp his shoulders, he struggled to fight back, knowing the futility of the effort. The Vicomte was too strong, and he was too weak--too badly hurt. He was vaguely aware that he was being lifted effortlessly, then his arm struck something and the darkness blazed with a million stars...

"Monsieur? Monsieur?"

Erik came to his senses to find himself lying on one of the seats, wrapped in a warm fur robe. A figure was kneeling beside him, one hand raising his head and the other offering a flask that smelled of brandy. Erik began to tremble as shock set in, and he fought a sudden, overpowering wave of nausea.

"Here. Drink this. It should help warm you and ease your pain."

It was the Vicomte's voice. Erik was surprised, but he obediently swallowed the burning liquid as the other man went on, "I told my coachman to drive us through the city for a while. I think it might be a good idea to give the mob at the opera time to disperse before I risk taking you home. I've sent my footman for a physician. He'll meet us there."

Erik understood the words, but they made no sense. The fire in his arm and the multitude of pains from every part of his body made it impossible to think. "I don' aren't going to kill me?"

The Vicomte was silent for a moment, then said softly, "I almost wish I could. My life would be so much happier if you were dead--if you'd never existed--but..." His voice trailed away. "No, monsieur. I think you've been hurt enough."

The carriage hit a bump and Erik was unable to hold back a moan as pain shot through him.

"What's wrong?"

"My arm," he gasped.

The Vicomte drew back the shade and leaned his head out the window. "Pull over to the side." The carriage swayed, and then the movement ceased. Erik released the breath he had been holding. He felt hands slide gently up first one arm, then the other. "Is anything else broken?"

"I don't know."

"Drink some more brandy. I'll try to support your arm when we start again."

When the flask was lowered, Erik whispered, "You saved my life. Why?"

The Vicomte laughed bitterly. "Do you have to ask me that? For Christine, of course. She begged me to save you. It seems that I've been wrong--that your...union isn't the mistake I thought it was. I've tried to deny it, but..." He hesitated, then went on with a sigh. "She loves you."

Erik was silent. The liquor was beginning to take effect and dull the edges of his agony. When he finally spoke, his voice was slurred.

"Those the Opera. They think..."

"They think I've taken you away to have my revenge because you kidnapped Christine. When I go back without you, they'll think I've killed you."

"'d allow them to think you're...a murderer?"

"I couldn't think of any other way. There wasn't enough time. And I would have done anything to erase what I saw in Christine's face tonight--even be branded a murderer." The Vicomte was silent for a moment, then whispered, "No matter how much I love her--no matter how much money I have or how many things I could give her--I couldn't make her as happy as you have. How could I let them kill you and destroy her happiness?"

"I owe you my life."

"I only repaid a debt. I couldn't thank you earlier--up there on the catwalk. I didn't want to understand. Forgive me."

"Monsieur le Vicomte..."

"Rest now. We'll start back soon."

Erik's head drooped. He drifted in and out of reality as they waited. It seemed that a long time passed before the Vicomte tapped on the roof again and they started on. The jarring of the carriage was too much and, long before they reached their destination, Erik mercifully lost consciousness.

The knock was soft, almost inaudible, but it brought Christine instantly to her feet. Madame Giry was closer to the door. She flung it open, and Christine gave a cry of relief when Raoul stepped into the room, cradling Erik's limp body in his arms.

"The bedroom?"

"This way, Monsieur le Vicomte." Madame Giry gestured.

"Is the doctor here yet?" Raoul crossed the room and moved down the hall.

"No." The ballet mistress drew back the blankets and Raoul lay Erik on the bed with a gentleness that surprised Christine.

"There's one on the way--someone who can be trusted to keep quiet," Raoul said briskly. "He'll need hot water and cloth for bandages."

Madame Giry nodded and vanished. Christine bent over Erik, stretching out a hand to touch his shoulder, and Erik's eyes slitted open.

"Christine..." His lips twitched as if he were trying to smile. "I'm afraid you're going to scold me for being careless," he whispered. He tried to move and hissed with pain.

"Lie still," Raoul ordered. He glanced sideways at Christine. "His left arm is broken. I don't know how badly he's hurt otherwise. We need to get his clothing off." He didn't explain; he didn't have to. "Can you help me?"

She nodded wordlessly and he turned his attention back to Erik. "We'll be as careful as we can, but I'm afraid this won't be pleasant."

"Nothing else has been pleasant tonight...except hearing Christine sing..." Erik murmured.

Raoul's eyes widened with surprise, but he said nothing, only began to unbutton Erik's shirt. Christine hurried to her sewing basket for scissors and they carefully cut away the ruined suit. Despite their care, Erik was soon panting with the effort to hold in his cries.

"Go ahead and yell if you need to." Raoul's teeth were clenched, almost as if he, too, were in pain. "I'm sorry. I know this hurts..."

Christine saw Raoul flinch, as she had, at the first sight of the scars that covered Erik's back. Raoul's eyes met hers briefly, then he went on. When he drew the trousers away from Erik's right leg, his face paled.

"My God, what happened to him?"

"The fair," she whispered, hoping no further explanation would be necessary.

"An animal must be trained somehow, monsieur," Erik murmured drunkenly. He shivered, and Raoul pulled the blankets up to cover him.

"Christine..." Raoul's gaze moved from the man on the bed to her, and he shook his head.

"Monsieur le Vicomte, the doctor is here."

"Thank you, Madame Giry." Raoul turned and left the room, and Christine could hear the low rumble of his voice in the hall. She stood motionless, staring at Erik, appalled by the damage to his face and body. Now that the urgency of the moment was past, she felt lightheaded and suddenly feared she was about to faint for the second time that night.

"Christine...sit down..." Erik tried to lift his right hand to clasp hers, but it fell back. "Please...don't'll fall on me..." He attempted a laugh, but it came out as more of a sob, and he quickly stifled the sound. "I'll be all right...I've been hurt worse and lived."

"I thought I'd lost you forever." Her voice was choked. "I couldn't bear it."

"I only hear you sing. I'm sorry..."

The door opened and Raoul was back, closely followed by a short, heavyset man who immediately turned his attention to Erik. Christine watched as the doctor leaned over the bed, his gaze going briefly to the right side of Erik's face, then on to his injuries. He examined Erik's arm gently and nodded.

"Broken, as you suspected." He straightened to remove his coat. "Monsieur le Vicomte, if you'll assist me. Madame, I must ask you to wait in the parlor until we're finished here."

"Let me help you," Christine said softly.

"No!" Erik spoke quickly, his voice low but firm. "Even if he'd...allow it...I won't. You've seen enough...too much..." When she wavered, he murmured, "Please go."

She bent to kiss his forehead, heedless of Raoul or the doctor, and whispered, "I love you." Then she turned and fled from the room.

The wait was endless. She paced from the hall to the parlor and back. Every time the door opened--to summon Madame Giry, to ask for water or bandages--she was there, peering anxiously over Raoul's shoulder into the room. Finally he stepped into the hall and pushed the door shut briefly.

"Christine, stop this. Go sit down."

"But, Raoul..."

He lay his hands on her shoulders, grasping them tightly. "That man in there is in so much pain that I don't know how he can bear it--and yet all he can think about is you. He's worried about you and the baby. He doesn't want you to know how he's hurting, and he..." Raoul shuddered. "Don't make it harder on him. Please."

She nodded silently and returned to the parlor. She sat down in Erik's chair, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes. She was sickened by what she had seen--by the thought of what had been done to him--by the knowledge that he had suffered even worse in the past.

At last she heard the door open and the doctor's footsteps in the hall. She was on her feet in an instant, one hand on the chair for support as the man entered the room.

"How is he?"

"He's been badly beaten--cuts, bruises, cracked ribs, a broken arm, but there's nothing that won't heal with time and care."

"Thank God."

He handed her his card. "Send for me if he becomes any worse. I'll come back tomorrow morning to check on him. I've made him something to help with the pain, but he wanted to see you before he drank it. See that he doesn't wait too long."

"Thank you." She was already halfway down the hall, leaving Madame Giry to show the doctor out.

Raoul was standing by the bed, staring down at Erik, when she entered the room. He turned to go, but she reached out to catch his arm. "Wait--please. I need to talk to you."

"I'll be in the parlor." There was a sadness in his eyes that she had never seen there before. "Go to your...husband now. He needs you."

She nodded and turned to lean over the bed. Erik's eyes were swollen almost shut, but the tiny portions she could see were glazed with pain.

"Please don't scold me..." She knew him well enough to realize that he was trying to joke with her, but his voice broke.

"Scold you?" Her own voice was shaking almost uncontrollably at the sight of his torn and discolored face and the splint that immobilized his left arm. "I'm not going to scold you...I'm going" She couldn't go on.

"I hope you won't be so...indecisive when it's time to...discipline my son," he whispered.

She felt the tears gathering in her eyes and determined to hold them back. "What happened tonight?"

"I was careless."

"What were you doing there?"

His head moved restlessly upon the pillow. "I'm always there."

She closed her eyes, suddenly even more terrified at the realization that he had put himself in danger time after time. "You're a fool, Erik Duquesne."

"Christine...forgive me...for what I said. I didn't mean...I was so afraid for you...and I said...and then I was afraid I'd die and you'd think..."

She forced back a sob. "Didn't you know that I'd understand, my love?" She lovingly caressed his forehead, being careful of the gashes in his scalp.

"The Vicomte...I thought he was going to kill me...but he saved my life...he said he could never make you happy."

"He was wrong. He made me happy tonight, by bringing you back to me." Christine reached for the glass the doctor had left. "Rest now, my love," she murmured. "You're safe. I'm here." She held the glass to his lips as he drained it.

"You too...for the child."

"I will."

He was asleep almost immediately. Christine heard a sound behind her and looked over her shoulder. Madame Giry was standing in the doorway.

"I'll sit with him while you speak with the Vicomte," she said quietly.

Christine nodded her thanks and numbly made her way back down the hall. Raoul rose quickly as she entered the room and, without stopping to think, she wrapped her arms around him, pressed her face against his shirtfront, and let the tears come. She felt his chest heave and his arms circled her protectively. He held her, stroking her hair and making soothing noises until she quietened, then released her immediately and stepped back. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't have..."

Raoul smiled ruefully. "Isn't this what...friends are for, Christine?"

"We are friends, aren't we, Raoul?"

"Of course we are."

She lay a hand on his shoulder. "If things were different..."

"But they aren't," he interrupted her. "Tell me about Erik." He gestured toward the couch; she sat gratefully and he stood before her.

"What do you want to know?"


"His name is Erik Duquesne," she began without further questions. "I know very little about his early life..."

Raoul was grateful for the dark interior of the carriage. He was unbearably weary. He leaned back against the plush seat and closed his eyes, even though the ride ahead was a short one. For a few moments, as he had waited in the parlor for Christine, he had considered instructing his coachman to take him to his country estate, where he could put distance between himself and what had happened this evening. But then he had realized that there was no escape. He would carry the memory with him for the rest of his life.

For too long, he had forced himself to be blind to the truth, because it had not been a truth he could accept. Now he could no longer deny it. His dream of a reconciliation with Christine was over. He had never had a chance for anything more than her friendship. He could never have her love, but he could content himself with the knowledge that he had been able to give her happiness by saving the man she did love.

Erik was no monster after all, only a very, very ugly man--a man with the capacity to love, to be loved, to be hurt... And how he must have been hurt in his life. Raoul shuddered at the memory of the scars upon Erik's body, which were somehow worse than the scars upon his face, and he wondered how the man had survived the brutality which had left those scars. Remembering Erik's courage this night, he thought he knew. Raoul's hands clenched at the memory of Erik's refusal to utter even the slightest sound as the doctor had set his arm, although he had nearly fainted from the pain. Erik's concern for Christine, even in the face of such agony--even in the face of death--awed Raoul.

Unexpectedly, he wished there were something he could do to help them.

The first thing he was aware of was pain. He lay very still, hovering between a deep, drugged sleep and unwelcome wakefulness, assessing the damage. His left arm throbbed, his body seemed to ache in hundreds of places, and his entire face felt swollen.

He forced his eyes open as far as they would go and looked around, reassuring himself that he not in a cage or in a small hotel room or in the depths of the opera house--and that he was not alone. Christine was curled in the chair beside the bed, dozing. He frowned at the sight of the dark circles under her eyes and, with an effort, he parted his lips to whisper her name.

She woke, her gaze turning immediately to the bed. "Erik. I didn't mean to sleep."

He saw her blink back tears and, for the first time in many months, she seemed unable to look at his face. He realized it must be even worse than he had imagined.

"How do you feel?"

"Exceptionally well, for a dead man." His mouth twitched. "However, I fear my good looks will be spoiled for some time by this."

"Oh Erik." He saw that she was torn between pity and laughter. Then, as he had hoped, her face lit with a smile. "When you've recovered, I'm going to beat you worse than this myself, just because you're such a fool!"

With an effort, he held out his right arm and she came to him. He drew her to his chest, embracing her despite the pain it caused. "Spare me and I swear I'll never do anything so foolish again."

She brushed her lips against his and even that light pressure was painful. She must have sensed his discomfort, for she gently pulled free, straightening to stretch. "Do you think you can swallow some soup?"

He worked his jaw, testing, and nodded slightly.

"Raoul sent someone to help me look after you. I'll ask her to make..."

"What?" The idea of a stranger in the house was alarming and he tried to sit up. "Christine..."

She smiled and eased him back down. "Raoul and I had a very long talk last night. Things have changed, my love. I feel..." Her eyes lit with happiness. "I feel that I've regained my old friend. It won't ever be the same--we can't ever be the sort of friends we once were--but at least he can accept the way things are now."

"I'm glad. He's a good man." Erik was surprised to realize that he meant the words. Reassured by her presence and by the knowledge that his enemy had become their friend, he slept again.

The rest of the day passed in a blur of sleeping and waking. The only thing that Erik was really aware of was Christine's constant presence. She had sent word to Firmin and Andre that she needed time to recover from the shock of seeing the Opera Ghost again and remained at his side the entire day, caring for him and surrounding him with her love. By the next morning, Erik was able to sit up and move awkwardly about the house. The pain and his unaccustomed clumsiness made him irritable, and he ordered Christine to go back to the opera so that she would be spared his bad temper. When she refused to leave him, he snapped at her, then apologized in tears. The third and fourth days were much the same...

"You have to go back sometime!"

"Yes, but not just now." Christine was busy with a skein of fine blue yarn and a crochet hook. "Do you think I'll ever learn to do this?"

"I don't see why you should. Surely we can afford to buy our baby a blanket."

"It wouldn't be the same," she said placidly, as if that explained everything.

"Christine, if you miss many more rehearsals..."

The knock at the door interrupted him. Christine dropped her needlework and rose quickly to peer out the window. "It's Raoul."

Erik smiled to himself at the irony of her words--once threatening but now casual--as she moved to open the door and greet the Vicomte. "Come in."

The Vicomte hesitated just inside the door, nodding a quick greeting to Erik. Erik inclined his head in response, fighting against the urge to fling his hand up to cover his face. Even though the Vicomte had already looked at his face at length--even though the injuries to his face made it impossible for him to bear the weight of a mask--he was embarrassed. He was equally determined not to let his discomfort show.

"Christine, I'm sorry to bother you, but I've just come from the opera. They desperately need you there for today's rehearsal."

"But Raoul..."

"I was just attempting to convince Madame Prima Donna that she should at least make a token appearance," Erik interrupted her.

"I can stay here with Monsieur Duquesne, if you feel it's necessary. You can take my carriage. It would only be for a few hours."

She shook her head, but Erik added quietly, "Please, Christine. It would do you good to get away for a little while."

"If you're sure..." She looked anxiously from Erik to the Vicomte then back. Erik nodded reassuringly. "All right. I'll try not to be too long." She quickly patted her hair into place, gathered up her handbag and cloak, and left.

Even after she had gone, the Vicomte continued to stand awkwardly at the door. Suddenly uncomfortable, Erik motioned toward the sofa. "Monsieur le Vicomte, please..."

"Thank you." The Vicomte sat, perching uneasily on the edge. "How do you feel?"

"Better. I'm healing."

There was another long, tense silence. Then the Vicomte leaned forward, clasping and unclasping his hands between his knees. "Monsieur..." He seemed as uneasy as Erik. "I didn't really come here to send Christine to the opera or to ask about your health. There are...things that I'd like to discuss with you, if it would be convenient."

"At the present, it seems that I have nothing but time." Erik waited, curious.

The Vicomte looked down at the rug, then lifted his head to meet Erik's gaze. "This isn't easy for me. I've spent so much time hating you--thinking of you only as the monster who stole the woman I love--that now it's difficult..."

"I understand, Monsieur," Erik began, but the Vicomte interrupted him.

"I was wrong. You the woman I love, but you aren't a monster. Yes, you've done some...some..."

"Monstrous things," Erik supplied.

"But now I realize that perhaps you were driven to do what you did by the things that had happened to you. I spoke with Madame Giry and she told me..." Erik flinched, and the Vicomte let the sentence remain unfinished. "I began to wonder who I am--why I should sit in judgement of you, when I've never known anything even remotely like the things you must have endured. Whatever you did in the past doesn't matter now. I think Christine was right when she said the Opera Ghost died in the cellars of the opera. I think I owe you an apology."

"Thank you," Erik said quietly. "That means...a great deal to me."

"Are you aware that..." The Vicomte looked away, flushing. "Do you know that everyone thinks that I'm..." His voice trailed away.

"The father of Christine's child? Yes. I know."

"I never said anything to make anyone think...I never implied..."

"I know. But a baby must have a father, and you were the only visible candidate."

The Vicomte shrugged helplessly. "What should I do?"

"What do you want to do? Do you want to tell them the truth?"

"What I want isn't important. What do you want me to do?"

"If you don't mind the scandal," Erik said softly, "it does seem to have helped Christine's situation. It's far better for her to bear the illegitimate child of a nobleman than that of a monster."

"Christine doesn't think of you that way," the Vicomte protested. "And neither do I."

Erik stared at him in surprise. "Monsieur le Vicomte, you astound me."

"May we dispense with formality? My name is Raoul."

Erik nodded, then smiled as much as his still-swollen mouth would allow. "It does seem foolish to maintain so much formality between a murderer and his victim."

Raoul laughed and, for the first time, leaned back in his seat. Despite the discomfort it caused, Erik forced himself to rise and walk stiffly to the sideboard. "Would you care for a glass of wine?"

"Yes. Thank you."

Erik was grateful that the other man did not offer to help him as he unstoppered the crystal decanter and filled two glasses. Moving carefully, he brought one to Raoul, then retrieved the second for himself. He leaned against the mantle for support and took a sip of the liquid.

"Erik, I know that this shouldn't be any of my business, but since Christine has no father--no family..." He laughed shortly. "I may be a rejected suitor, but I'm also her oldest friend, and so I feel that gives me the right to say this. Since she's chosen you, I wish you would marry her instead of living in..." He faltered.

Erik's head jerked involuntarily and he bit his lip to hold back a sound of pain. "Don't you think I would if I could?"

"Why can't you?"

"It's impossible. My past..."

"It would be difficult, but it wouldn't be impossible."

"You don't understand."

"Forgive me, Erik, but maybe you're the one who doesn't understand. It would be easy enough to find a church outside Paris, where no one will have heard of the Opera Ghost. And as for your appearance..." He shrugged. "A donation to the church treasury and the priest will be willing to overlook almost anything. It might take a little time, but it could be arranged."

He hesitated, then went on, "I was thinking of the child, too. Even if your marriage had to be kept secret, at least the child would be legitimate." He paused to sip at his wine. "Do you want to marry Christine?"

"How can you ask?" Erik stared at Raoul in disbelief. "Yes. More than anything."

"Then will you let me help you? I'm somewhat more mobile than you are. I don't think you'll be able to travel for a while yet, even in a carriage."

"I..." Erik felt overwhelmed. "I don't know how to thank you," he murmured at last.

"Let me give the bride away." Raoul's voice softened. "I was very fond of Christine's father. He was a good friend, and I think...that's what he'd want." He shook his head and abruptly changed the subject. "Madame Giry told me that you're an architect as well as a musician."

"I am. Rather, I was." Still stunned, Erik could barely respond, but Raoul's next words brought him fully alert.

"I hope this won't make you angry, but I took the liberty of speaking with an old friend of my father about you. His name is Francois Giroux."

Erik caught his breath. "Monsieur Giroux? The architect who designed the Opera Populaire?"

Raoul nodded. "I know it was presumptuous of me, but I thought I could trade on his friendship with my father to help you. I thought perhaps if he needed an assistant..."


"Yes. And when I mentioned your name..."

"I have no doubt that Monsieur Giroux remembered me," Erik said bitterly.

"He did indeed. He said your designs were some of the most beautiful he had ever seen. He told me how disappointed he was that you weren't able to work together on the final plans for the opera house."

"Did he tell you why?"

"No, Erik," Raoul said quietly. "And I didn't ask."

Erik lowered his eyes, absently swirling the wine in his glass, torn between the surprising desire to respond to Raoul's overtures and the inability to let go of his control long enough to give in to that desire. Then, with a swift, decisive movement, he raised the glass, drained it, and set it down upon the mantle. "Monsieur...Raoul..." He took a deep breath. "Many years ago, I was an architect with a...growing reputation. My work came to Monsieur Giroux's attention, and he hired me to help with the designs for the opera. But then..."

Erik moved to sit again. His arm was beginning to ache and he suddenly felt very tired, his momentary elation draining away. "On my way to Paris, I was abducted by three men who ran a travelling fair. They had heard me play in a cafe and when they saw my face they decided they wanted me to perform for them. When I refused, they cut my leg so I couldn't run away, and then they..." He felt his throat closing, but he forced the words out. "They found a way to insure my cooperation. I spent the next two years in a cage, playing the violin. Being stared at." He heard Raoul's sharp intake of breath, but he couldn't bring himself to look at the other man. "I was starved and abused and beaten more times than I can remember. I became little more than an animal. Finally I...I killed one of them to escape, and when I was free again, I found I was...I couldn't..." He let his head drop against the back of the chair. "The plans for the opera were finished anyway, and so I took a job as a common laborer, until I went there."

"Did you tell Monsieur Giroux what had happened?" Raoul's voice horrified.

"No. I've never told anyone. Not even Christine."

"I'm sorry, Erik." Unexpectedly, Raoul leaned forward to place a hand on Erik's knee. Erik was able to look at him then, and the concern he saw in the other man's eyes brought tears to his own. He quickly lifted his hand to hide the rush of emotion, but Raoul saw and rose in alarm.

"Are you in pain? Can I get something for you?"

"I'm...I'll be all right. Could you get me another glass of wine, please?"

Raoul retrieved the empty glass and hurried to refill it, and Erik used the moment to regain control. When Raoul turned back to place the glass in his hand, he was able to whisper, "When you asked Monsieur Giroux if he needed an assistant, what did he say?"

Raoul's face lit with a smile. "That he'd be more than happy to work with you at last, if you were willing."

Erik's breath caught in his throat. "Willing? Oh God...yes. To have a chance to begin again--to make a life..." He felt the tears threatening once more and took a swallow of the wine to distract himself, his breathing quickening as hope built within him. "I won't be able to write or draw for several weeks, but I can listen--and plan."

They talked for a long time, until Erik's head drooped with weariness and pain that he barely felt in his excitement at the prospects of a future.

Erik was absorbed in sketching the design for the arch above the stage of the theatre when he felt Christine's hand on his shoulder. He covered it with his, continuing to draw, and nodded at the paper. "What do you think? Is it too ornate?"

"It's beautiful. Erik, do you think you could leave your plans for a little while?"


"Because I think your son is ready to be born."

He dropped his pen and spun to look at her. "Are you sure?"

She nodded. "The pains began two hours ago."

"Why did you wait so long to tell me?" He rose, lifting her easily in spite of her bulk. "You shouldn't be up."

"I'm able to walk, Erik," she protested.

"But there's no need." He lowered her onto the bed. "Lie still. I'll send Madeline for the doctor."

Pausing only to snatch up his mask and fit it over his face, Erik hurried through the house, silently blessing Raoul for his thoughtfulness. As Christine's time had drawn near, the Vicomte had insisted that one of his more trusted servants stay there to help them. Erik sent the woman on her errand, then returned to his wife. Christine was sitting up in the bed, breathing in quick, shallow gasps, her forehead filmed with perspiration.

"What can I do for you?"

"My hair--it bothers me. If you'll hand me my brush..."

"Be still. Let me." He took her brush from the dresser and began to pull it gently through her hair in long, rhythmic strokes. "Shall I braid it for you?"

"Please." He could only guess at her anxiety; his own threatened to overwhelm him and he was grateful for something to keep his mind occupied. As he had dozens of times before, he separated the thick mass of her hair and began to plait it. To his surprise, she laughed and murmured, "Who would believe this? The Opera Ghost as a lady's maid."

"The architect of the Theatre Bleu as lady's maid," he corrected her. "I have many hidden talents, my love."

"I know. And some not so hidden." She touched her swollen stomach.

He secured the braid and began to massage her shoulders. She relaxed beneath his touch, leaning back against him. "I'm so glad you're here with me."

"Where else could I be now?"

"Pacing up and down in the parlor, smoking a foul cigar. Most men..."

"Must I always remind you that I'm not 'most men?' And I abhor cigars."

She stifled a cry as a contraction shook her. She jerked her hands up, lacing her fingers through his and gripping tightly, pressing her head back against his chest. "I know it's foolish, but I'm scared," she whispered when the pain had passed.

He sat down on the bed behind her, pulling her into his lap. "You aren't foolish, my love. Everyone is afraid of the unknown. We were both frightened once. Do you remember?" He made his voice low and hypnotic, the Angel of Music's soothing voice. "I was afraid that I'd hurt you through my own ignorance and inexperience, and you were afraid as all brides are afraid--and with more reason than most. I did hurt you, but you told me that the result had been well worth the pain. Beauty and joy will come from this pain too. Our baby..."

Her back arched, and he held her tightly until the moment passed. "Go on. Keep talking to me."

He went on softly, knowing the words themselves were not as important as the sound of his voice and his presence. "I thought you were so beautiful that day, standing in front of me and offering yourself to me--then giving yourself to me. My bride, my wife, my love. I never thought I'd see anything more beautiful, but I did, the day we were married. I was so happy, Christine--so full of pride. When you stood by my side, your face was radiant. You didn't see the way the priest looked at us. You were looking only at me. But his expression... I know he was wondering why such a beauty would chain herself to a man forced to wear a mask to hide his face. I saw such love in your eyes, even though you knew what was beneath the mask."


He lay his cheek against the top of her head and rocked back and forth with her as she whimpered with pain. "These past months you've become more beautiful to me every day. I've watched your shape change--watched your body grow as our child grew within you--and I've felt as if my heart would burst with the love I felt for you. If I could bear this for you, I would. If I could take the pain and spare you..."

She cried out, and he wept silently for her, but his voice remained firm and sure as he continued to hold her, murmuring words of love and reassurance. After an endless time, he heard the sound of the front door opening and sighed with relief as the doctor entered the room, followed by Raoul's servant. The next moments were busy; the doctor examined Christine and barked orders at the other woman, who hurried to obey.

"Erik," Christine whispered.

"I'm here, my love."

"Don't leave me." Her fingers tightened on his in a grip that was painful.

"I won't."

The doctor turned to frown at him. "You can't stay here."

"Why not?"

"It isn't proper."

"Not proper? Damn propriety!" Erik stiffened, his eyes narrowing. "This is my wife. How can you even think about trying to send me away from her when she needs me?"

"But most husbands..."

Christine's laugh interrupted him. "Monsieur le Doctor, this man is not 'most husbands'," she murmured. She brought Erik's hand to her lips. The doctor looked at her for a moment, then, shaking his head, gave in.

Watching Christine suffer and knowing he could do nothing to ease her pain hurt worse than anything Erik had ever endured before. He began to understand why husbands preferred to pace in the parlor and smoke, but he remained by her side, holding her hand, loving and encouraging her until, at last, it was over.

Trembling, Erik could only stare as the doctor placed their baby in Christine's arms. Her lips curved upwards in a tired smile as she looked from the baby to her husband. "He's so beautiful."

Erik tentatively caressed the baby's cheek with a fingertip. "He looks like you," he whispered. "Thank God."

"But he has your auburn hair."

Erik nodded wordlessly. Unimagined emotions--undreamt of depths of love--swirled through him as he watched her cradle the baby to her breast.

The doctor finished his work and rose, smiling. "Most husbands would join me in a brandy now, but I suspect that you're going to be otherwise occupied."

Erik looked up, startled. "I'm sorry. May I offer you..."

The doctor waved him back. "Monsieur Duquesne, I can see that you've already forgotten my existence. I'll take the brandy when I return tomorrow to check on your wife."

"Thank you." Erik's gaze went back to the small form nestled in Christine's arms. He was not even aware of the doctor's departure.

"Would you like to hold your son, Erik?"

He was startled by the idea. "I'm afraid I'd drop him. I've never..."

"You'll learn, my love." Before he could protest further, she transferred the baby into his arms. "You learn so quickly."

Erik held the tiny bundle awkwardly, scarcely daring to breathe. The baby yawned and squirmed and Erik's grasp automatically shifted to accommodate the movement. He heard a sound and glanced up to see Christine smiling fondly at him, her eyes soft with love.

"Christine..." He moved to sit beside her, slipping an arm around her shoulders to draw her close. She lay her head against his chest and covered the hand supporting their son with her own. "Christine..." Choking with emotion, he was unable to say more, but he knew that words were unnecessary.

He sat there for a long time, holding his wife and son, crying unashamedly with joy.

Prelude, Renascence and Denouement

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Christine Reynolds

Part 4 of 4

<< Previous     Home