|Beyond the Winter Garden
Author: iamphantomgirl PM
Alt to Kay: After Christine's death, Erik claims his daughter at Christine's request. In tow, a young governess with an equally mysterious past enters his household to tend to the child. How will Erik cope with a young daughter and Eva?Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Erik - Chapters: 89 - Words: 178,700 - Reviews: 609 - Favs: 65 - Follows: 22 - Updated: 01-16-07 - Published: 11-16-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3247675
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I do not own Phantom of the Opera
She was dying. I'm not sure when I first realized it, or when the rest of the household staff learned of it. Existing above the rest of them, I had more contact with the de Chagny's than most. Teaching young Charlotte had become my life. From the moment she had been laid against my breast five years ago, a small child with dark brown eyes and soft wisps of curls framing her face, she had become part of me. I couldn't claim her as mine...Christine was her mother, and always would be. But the sweet, cherubic face that possessed such a sweet, innocent nature was something I look forward to seeing each day.
Little Lotte. I'm not sure who first began calling her that...Raoul, or Christine. A loving name, and it made their daughter shine and smile brighter each time that endearment crossed their lips.
Lotte was only allowed an hour or so a day with her parents. The Vicomte was constantly busy, tending to a million things with family business, and Christine had been ill for quite some time. The moment she had discovered she was pregnant with their second child, she had began growing ill with worry. There were whispers that she had been cautioned against having more after Charlotte, and now it seemed those warnings had fallen on deaf ears. Delivering the child had taken its toll on her, and she had lain down the hall in what the doctor described as too much blood for the begetting of children. She had lost what little vitality she had left, and as I stared at her now, in perfect repose, she already looked dead.
If it weren't for the shallow breathing, and the occasional flicker of her eyes, I might have believed she had gone to her reward. Raoul de Chagny sat beside her, inconsolable as the knowledge of the future sank onto his shoulders.
"Raoul," Christine whispered, his name a gasp on her perfect lips.
"Shh," he soothed her, touching her hand with such tenderness, it was barely a caress. "You must not speak, Christine. You need to sleep, my sweet angel."
"I will," she said softly, and the hollowness of the promise brought tears to my eyes.
Yes. She would sleep. The eternal sleep...never to wake again. Never to hold Charlotte, or her unnamed son that was crying with a wet nurse somewhere in this deserted feeling house. I hoped Charlotte was with Madame Cauley in the kitchen, or with Raoul's valet, begging for an endless treat, instead of sitting outside her mother's death chamber. She was such a quiet child...becoming so withdrawn the last few months that I felt I scarcely knew her. The depression in the household was infective, and I admit to being more than a little moody. Seeing the fragments of their marriage dissolving before my eyes was painful.
Raoul would be a widow soon. Perhaps tomorrow...perhaps in a few hours. In a few minutes. I knew she didn't have long.
"Lotte," she whispered, her eyes struggling to stay open. "Lotte...I want her to have her father, Raoul."
"I'm her father," Raoul replied, his mouth twisting in bitterness.
I knew what was coming. The same thing every day for the last few weeks...when she had first fainted, first had a glimpse of cramps and bleeding, indicating what her parturition would be like. She wanted her body returned to Paris...wanted Lotte to be given to her father. To a man, whose whispered name was spoken between them like a secret. A man named Erik, whose existence I had pieced together with each fragment of conversation, with each vehement refusal on the part of Raoul de Chagny.
I had known who she was long before I ever sought employment with the de Chagny's. I had known of her past...the mysterious affair in Paris. It didn't take long to realize who Erik was...who Lotte's father was.
Until it became apparent that Christine would really die, I had not cared. I believed no one could be better for her than Raoul, even if he was never home, at least he wasn't feared by everyone. Why did Lotte have to have a phantom as a father? Why should she have to suffer? This home, and the privileged that went with it was hers! Not only hers now...she had a brother. A father who already loved her. She was too innocent...too sweet. I couldn't understand why Christine was willingly giving her daughter to this madman, but she insisted on it yet again.
"When he comes for her, do not be frightened, Eva."
She was speaking to me now, and I nodded hesitantly. "Of course, Vicomtesse."
"He won't hurt either of you...but you must let him take her, Raoul," she paused, closing her eyes to give herself rest and strength. She seemed to struggle merely to breath, but her eyes opened, showing her clarity and soundness of mind. Personally, I had long since thought her crazy. "You must go with them, Eva. You must continue to care for her...as you have in the past."
Startled, I glanced up at Raoul. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he continued to shake his head. Anger had him clenching his hands, and he struggled not to show it.
"Promise me, Raoul," Christine whispered, her voice growing weaker. "Promise me that Lotte will go to Erik when he comes for her."
"Yes. Erik will come for his daughter," she said, raising a trembling hand to his cheek. "This is what I want, Raoul. This is my choice."
"He doesn't know," he whispered, breathing heavily for a moment as he reigned in his emotions. "I'm her father...please, Christine. God, please don't make me give her up."
"I'm sorry. It's too late...I've already notified him. Erik will come for his daughter...and I want Eva to go with her."
I stared at the Vicomtesse, not having enough power to deny her. I had no intention of going anywhere with a madman, or of letting him near Lotte. She would be helpless against a lunatic...unable to defend herself from his ruthless cruelty. I knew nothing of what really happened of course, but I certainly knew how to read. Whether it was true or not...I didn't care. In Raoul, there was safety and certainty. With this man, this Erik, there was darkness and danger. I couldn't imagine myself for one moment releasing that child to him. I certainly couldn't imagine myself agreeing to accompany her.
"Promise me, Evangeline. Swear to me...on your sister's life, swear to me."
I wanted to call her something repulsive, a trickster, a cheat. How dare she use Rebbecca against me? How dare she, when she knew perfectly well what it would mean? Still, I could not deny a dying woman a last wish. I could no more abandon Lotte to her fate, than I could Rebbecca to hers. Someday I would save Rebbecca. Today, I could save Charlotte.
"I promise," I heard myself say, and the Vicomtesse nodded slightly.
I rose from my bedside vigil and left them, knowing it would be the last time I saw Christine alive. We would most likely be leaving for Paris soon, and I needed to prepare Charlotte for what lay ahead. There was every possibility that this man would not come for her. Every possibility he would not want a daughter...besides...didn't Christine know the Phantom of the Opera was dead?
Crying broke my heart, and I found her inside the hall cupboard, outside her parents room. I knew instantly that she had seen and heard everything. I should have known...should have remembered, or realized that their room was similar to mine. Often I used to wonder how Charlotte knew what I had been doing in my room before I left for breakfast in the mornings.
Then I discovered the cupboard, and the screen that allowed air to filter through from cool passageways within the walls. She was inside, her dress and hands dusty. Her face streaked with tears. How had I not heard her sitting next to her silently dying mother?
"Charlotte," I murmured, lifting her in my arms. She clung to me, her face pressed against my neck.
"I know, Lotte. I know."
"I don't-I don't want to-go!" she whimpered, and I felt her small fists press into my back. She was such a perceptive child, for one so young. She must have obtained her suspicious nature from her father, because I knew Christine never would have been so intelligent as to climb in a cupboard.
And if Raoul wasn't her father...that must mean Erik was the one who possessed such cleverness. Certainly as that mysterious ghost who haunted the theater, he would have done his share of eavesdropping. How Christine could ever trust him after what he had done was beyond me, but I had to make a decision.
Did I stay with Lotte, or abandon her to the fate of a father who might be cruel...twisted? Or worse?
Living here for a little over five years, I had grown accustomed to comfort. What would I be looking at now, if I left with Charlotte? What would Charlotte herself endure? I was well aware of the mystery surrounding why a man had kidnapped Christine, and why he had lived below the theater. I knew...or had heard rather, stories about him. About his appearance.
Fear entered my heart, and I struggled to repress it. I found myself watching the shadows of my room, holding Charlotte close and waiting for him to appear from darkness. It was as if the moment she died, he would come to claim his daughter. Would he come through the front door, as a civilized man? Or would he steal her in the night, never giving me a chance to make good on my promise to keep Charlotte safe?
Desperately I wanted to talk to Raoul, but I knew he was grieving heavily, plagued by guilt. In effect, he had killed her. By placing a child in her womb, he exposed her to the risk that had born repeated warnings, and now Christine was dead. Undoubtedly guilt would drive him to respect her last wish. To give his daughter to Erik, and remove me from their household and place me in his.
I shuddered as I imagined what dank hole he would drag us into. Anything less than perfect, and I would take Charlotte to raise myself. An anonymous life in a country village, where no one could ever find us.
Charlotte rolled to her side, her cinnamon curls tangling in her small hands. She was a miniature of Christine...so alike, it was no wonder Raoul didn't want to give her up, regardless of her paternity. Her brother down the hall would likely resemble Raoul. I had seen the briefest glimpse of blue eyes a soft, downy hair. Of course, the eyes of all infants are blue, but there are none bluer than Raoul's. If Charlotte was taken...would she ever know her brother? Would she remember this place...me, if I was not allowed to come?
It would devastate us both to be separated, especially right now. Charlotte needed me now, because of Christine. She needed a mother figure...a gentle hand, a familiar face.
Me? I would always need Charlotte. She sustains me. Gives me hope...peace...joy. There is no one else I can give my love to, except Charlotte. No one left in my family, except Rebbecca, who I most likely will never see again.
I need Charlotte. Much more, I suspect, than she will ever need me.