Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Immokk

Part 28 of 39

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The days following Antoinette's death went by in somewhat of a blur. He had made arrangements for her to be taken to a church where she could lie in peace and after that had found himself at an utter loss. It was peculiar the way things worked; he had not seen Antoinette in almost ten years and yet now that he had experienced his friend back in his life, he felt truly adrift without her.

He neatened his long, black coat, choosing to leave his cloak behind, and slipped in at the back of the crowd, underneath the concealing shade of an oak tree. He could see the back of Christine and he noted that Raoul's arm was very firmly hooked around his wife's shoulders. He almost snorted in disgust, but remained silent.

The priest, an elderly, gentle man, spoke some thoughtful words as the dirt drifted down onto the coffin at the bottom of the grave. Erik wished for a moment that he could be nearer to the front so that he could offer some words of his own and yet as quickly as the thought arrived at his mind it vanished. Erik knew that she was not there. No words could bring her back, his mumblings and musings were as useless to her now as they had often been in her life, and so he settled his back against the tree and listened to the kind words of the priest.

He was not a religious man and had no desire to become one but he enjoyed listening to this priest, if only because the tone of his voice was so pleasing. It was soft, almost powdery and yet not so wispy that it was lost on the chilly breeze. Erik briefly wondered if the man had ever turned his hand at singing.

The thoughts moved away as soon as the mourners did. For someone who had spent such a short amount of time in her new country, Antoinette had attracted quite a band of admirers and friends. He used to envy her ease at gaining people's respect but he soon found his own ways of doing the same.

Perhaps Antoinette's methods were better, though, in hindsight.

When the crowd turned he slid behind the wide trunk of the tree and allowed its shadow to hide him from view. As they walked towards the church he saw Christine glance over her shoulder and around.

Was she looking for him?

Erik let himself believe that she was.

The balance of their relationship was forever altered and he had felt the shift the day she had found him at Antoinette's home. He could still feel the gentle warmth of her hand on his shoulder and the softness of her breath in his hair. At the time he could see nothing but sadness but when he looked back, he wondered how he not reciprocated her hold… he had yearned for it for so long.

Grief was a strange demon indeed.

He watched as she walked away and felt a tug at the strings of his heart, the same feeling he got every time she wandered out of his sight. He could honestly say that in all of his years; travelling Europe, living in America, the delights of Paris, in all of that time he had never found a view to compete with that of Christine's radiance. It angered him, sometimes, that he had been so unable to let her go, that she was still the centre to everything he did, everything he lived for. And yet...

He shrugged the feelings away and turned his back on the congregation. Jack was waiting by the carriage on the small road at the side of the church. Strangely, Erik had expected to see him, although had not asked for his presence.

'Jack,' he said, with a nod as he climbed into the carriage.

Jack did not follow him in but he held the door open and, for a moment, a look of complete unease crossed the younger man's face.

'What is it, Jack?' Erik asked firmly, in reference to his clearly pained expression. His patience was not his best quality, even in the most ideal of situations.

'I was just…' he coughed to clear his throat. 'I was just wondering how you were,'

Erik stared at him, astounded by his concern. 'I'm fine,'

Jack stood there quietly.

'Anything else?' Erik asked.

Jack shrugged his shoulders and smiled, closing the carriage door and leaving Erik to ponder the peculiar exchange. He prompted the driver to move off and glanced out of the window at the back. Jack was walking towards the church, to do the job he was paid for, and Erik was confused by his worry.

Their relationship had never been a particularly close one but, he supposed, as time had gone by they had become something akin to friends. Jack was like Erik in many ways, he saw this the first time they had ever met, but there were also many differences. Jack rarely used much initiative; not that he was incapable, he just chose not to. Jack was also not as skilled as Erik, nor as subtle as Erik might like him to be. Occasionally, things had been known to get a bit messy. Still, he did rather a good job for the most part and he was sometimes necessary company. He was Erik's eyes and ears in the de Chagny house and he had been invaluable at times.

As much as he hated to admit it, he needed Jack now nearly as much as Jack needed him.

Jack went back to the de Chagny home with some of the other mourners. It was clear to him that Raoul's invitation of drinks at his home had not gone down particularly well with his wife. In the months Jack had known her he had learned to read Christine's face and, although he was hardly an expert, he actually considered himself pretty adept at it now.

He slunk in through the back and watched as the few mourners that had accepted Raoul's invitation gathered in the parlour room for drinks. Jack turned away from them and followed Christine through to the kitchen.

'Do you need any help?' he asked as the door swished shut behind him.

Christine jumped at the sound of his voice but composed herself quickly, 'I think you should start wearing a bell,'

'I'll choose to take that as a compliment,'

Her eyes narrowed. 'Helen will be putting together something for the guests to nibble while they talk, so no, no help from you,'

Jack stared at her and although he was slowly getting used to her remoteness from him, the icy tone of her voice and her stiff body language, it did not mean that he had to like it. From all others he would simply take it in his stride but he had made every effort to show her that he was sorry for the deception. She seemed to have forgiven Erik and, so far as Jack was concerned, he was the instigator of the whole thing. A far worse crime than Jack following orders.

'Perhaps Helen would like some help?' he said, turning to the cook with a smile. He liked Helen, she was quiet and pretty and an excellent source of information, even though she didn't mean to be.

Helen glanced over and smiled back but said nothing. There was no way that she would defy her mistress.

Christine was looking at him, 'Thank you for your concern, but you should join the other guests,'

'I really would like to help,' he said.

'There is nothing for you to do and I am sure the other guests are missing your dazzling presence,'

This brought a smile to his face. The last couple of months, Jack had seen a side of Christine that was cold and indifferent with an edge of sarcasm that even the wittiest of all society would be proud of. He turned to see Helen carry a tray from the room and as the door closed he said, 'We could at least try to be civil,'

Christine glared at him, 'I have no reason to be civil to you,'

'I have never hurt you,'

Her eyes widened in disbelief, 'You have wormed your way into my home…'

'On Erik's orders and yet you seem to have forgiven him,'

He watched as she took a breath, 'I have known Erik for many years and, although what he has done is wrong, he did not lie his way into my family home where I have always previously felt safe,'

Jack said nothing.

'You have climbed the walls of my sanctuary, Jack,' she explained. 'I trusted you… I didn't trust him. Your betrayal is by far the biggest crime here,'

He opened his mouth to launch yet another defensive statement but the door swung open and Raoul wandered through with a glass of wine in his hand.

'There you are,' he said, smiling warmly at his wife.

Christine returned the smile and, although her face softened, her eyes lacked the warmth of her husband's. Immediately Jack felt guilty again for making her feel so tense that she could not even smile at her own family properly.

'Hello darling,' she said, placing a soft kiss on Raoul's cheek as he approached.

'Are you alright?' Raoul asked, completely ignoring Jack's presence, which was fine with him.

'I'm fine,' she said. 'Jack was offering his assistance in the kitchen,'

Raoul turned and raised his eyebrows, 'Really? You don't strike me as the culinary type,'

Jack forced a smile, 'I thought I could help but Christine and Helen have things under control,'

Raoul smiled.

'Where is Benoit?' Christine asked.

'In the parlour room looking rather bored, unfortunately,' Raoul said. 'I was thinking about taking him and the guests out onto the beach… then at least he can play,'

Christine nodded, 'Do keep your eye on him, though, you know how he likes to wander,'

'Are you staying in here?' he asked.

She nodded. 'I will just finish helping Helen and then I will be out,'

Raoul smiled, kissed her cheek again and turned to leave.

'Keep your eye on him,' she insisted.

'I will,' Raoul told her.

'And take Jack with you,' she said. 'He is lurking,'

Jack grinned at her but left anyway, following Raoul through to the balcony and then down the steps onto the soft sand of the beach. The sea was choppy and it was cool but not raining. The guests all looked tired but they had begun to smile as they discussed their recollections of their shot time with Antoinette Giry.

If Jack was honest he had grown quite fond of the ballet mistress himself. He had found her a strong, capable and honest woman, who was not at all afraid to speak her mind. He would probably miss her quite a lot.

Jack scanned the crowd and spotted Raoul at the back, shuffling Philippe de Changy onto the bench. Apparently, he had had a little more to drink than was strictly appropriate. Then he let his eyes drift across the rest of the mourners until he suddenly realised that he could not see young Benoit. He turned around and looked behind him, glanced into the house, looked across the back of the yard but still he could see no sign of him.

Then, as he turned again, he saw the outline of a shape in the water. Slowly he began to move towards the sea until he realised, to his horror, that it was indeed Benoit struggling to stay afloat on the tremulous waves.

He broke into a sprint, the closest to the water's edge by quite a long way, and shouted back for help as he did. He flung his jacket to the floor and threw himself into the water. The cold made him gasp and he sucked in air desperately trying to compose himself. He looked up just in time to see Benoit drop below the surface and so Jack swam.

He swam as hard and as fast as he had ever thought possible. His arms wound, his legs pumped, his heart raced and he swam with everything he had. His trousers were clinging to his legs, making them heavy, but it didn't matter as he forced his way through the waves, salt water pouring across him. Forcing himself to keep his eyes open he dipped underwater.

It was murky and he could barely see but just in front of him he made out the shadow of what he hoped was the young de Chagny. He reached out and grabbed material, heaving it back up to the surface with him. It was heavy and when he made it, he pulled Benoit into his chest and began to swim backwards with him.

He had no idea if the boy was still breathing or not but there was absolutely nothing he could do for him in the middle of the sea. As he got closer to land he felt hands on him, and then the weight of Benoit being taken away.

Lying on his back, feeling sand beneath him, he coughed and choked and tried to regain his breath. When he managed to open his eyes they stung with the remnants of the salt and focused on an unfamiliar face staring down at him.

'Are you alright?' the man asked, his dark eyes black with worry.

Jack didn't care, 'Where is Benoit? Is Benoit alright?'

The man reached down and helped him to his feet then pointed over at the house. 'They took him inside… he was breathing… you saved his life,'

Jack broke into a run that he did not think that he was capable of and burst through the crowd of onlookers into the parlour room. Benoit lay wrapped in towels and blankets on the settee, Christine knelt at his side stroking his wet hair with an affection she had clearly never afforded anyone else. Raoul stood stock still behind them, staring through wide eyes, pale and shaking.

When he heard Jack he turned, 'Jack,' his voice was barely above a scratch.

Christine turned her head. 'How could you, Raoul?'

Jack closed the door, shutting out the rest of the crowd.

Raoul shook his head, unable to speak.

'I told you,' she said, her voice high and strained. Panicked. 'I told you to watch him, I told you!'

'I know,' Raoul managed to say.

'Just…' she took a breath but it didn't stop her voice from shaking. 'I can't look at you,'

Raoul's white face twisted with sadness and he simply turned and left the room, leaving Jack alone with Christine. Finally she turned her gaze to him. She stared at him for a long, long time and he had no idea what she would say or what he might expect. Suddenly she stood and walked to the cupboard at the back of the room.

When she walked back she was holding towels and blankets. She threw one of the towels around his shoulders and handed him the blanket.

'Please,' she said, her eyes meeting his. 'You will freeze to death,'

It was only then that he realised he was not wearing his shirt. 'I'm sorry,' he said, glancing down, embarrassed and suddenly feeling very cold.

She touched his arm, through the towel and he glanced down at her fingertips. 'It doesn't matter,'

He looked up so that he could see her face because without seeing her eyes he had no idea what she was referring to. What didn't matter?

She must have seen the look of confusion on his face because she sighed and said, 'I forgive you,' and that was when Jack saw the tears building in her eyes.

He resisted the urge to reach out to her, an urge he had felt so few times in his life, and instead asked, 'What for?'

'Everything,' she told him. 'I forgive you for everything, I forgive you… I… you saved my son… and... I forgive you,'

A sob escaped and Jack was again forced to resist the instinct to hold her, she looked so fragile, more fragile than he thought he had ever seen any woman.

'I don't know what I would have done,' she looked down at her son. 'How could I have gone on without him? What if…'

'Don't think about that,' Jack said, quickly, because he knew what 'what ifs' could do to someone. He knew how they ate at you, burrowed away in your mind and stole your soul, he knew that the more you allowed them in the bigger the monster became until the 'what ifs' became your life, your every waking moment.

Christine blinked the tears from her eyes and said, 'I don't know how to thank you,'

'We're even,' he said with a small smile, his attempt to lighten the moment. 'You don't need to thank me for this,'

Without another word she flung her arms around him and squeezed him, he felt it as another quiet sob moved her body and he timidly placed a hand on her back and rubbed gently.

'I am forever in your debt,' she said as she regained herself and let him go so that she could tend to Benoit.

'You owe me nothing,' Jack told her, and he meant it.

'He is my world,' she said and turned to look at Jack. 'There is good in you Jack Aldridge,'

He shrugged with a slight snort.

She smiled, 'But there is… because this, you did on instinct. Not to gain anything or win my trust, you dove into that water based on your instinct to save a life,'

He said nothing.

'There is hope for you yet,'


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Immokk

Part 28 of 39

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