60

Despite the fact that the performance, as per Garnier standard, staged itself flawlessly, Kayla barely paid attention, letting the colours and movement ripple across her unfocused eyes. The representatives looked impressed as the curtain rose over the stage she designed, and none of the cues were missed. However, the only thing with any clarity whatsoever was the sound of Erik's breathing. Intermission was short enough that Carolyn and the reps simply began a discussion of business, sponsorships for the upcoming season, advertisement, and other such elements outside Kayla's designated department. It was mostly financial, so she flipped through her program, eyes circling over the typed script of her name. Designer de la stage – Kayla Abbots.

The hairs on the back of her neck rose slightly as she felt Erik's exhale. His black hair brushed against hers. It was shorter now, slightly tousled, instead of being slicked back. She smelled parchment, ink, roses, and something else. Something more… masculine.

"Are you wearing cologne?"

He snorted.

"Really, dude? Really? It's kinda unfair at this point, Destler – or Durham, whatever the fuck your name is now, you cagey bastard."

"I never intended to be cagey, mademoiselle."

She turned to look at him. "You have to know that you look good enough without smelling like sex on legs."

Shifting in his seat, he cleared his throat. "I did have a number of my students tell me that I resembled Gerard Butler. I personally do not see the similarity."

"Wait, hold up. You have students? Had students? What?"

"At the Royal Academy of Music. I was a teacher's assistant."

She shoved him with her shoulder. "Goddammit, I've been right across the channel for three fucking years, my dude, why didn't you find me?"

But the music swelled, and he didn't answer. Instead, Kayla let her head drop onto his shoulder.

They walked down the boulevard, arm in arm, and although she felt safe in his shadow, the grip on her arm suggested she was not the one being protected. The street lamps glimmered off the wet road, flickering with the ripples descending from the ebony sky. They walked under Kayla's umbrella, close together and oblivious to the rain. "How did you get back? Or here, rather?"

He stayed silent, so she waited, stepping over puddles and crossing deserted streets, tugging at his wrist to lead him. Melted bronze drip, drip, dripped onto the pavement.

"I don't know how I got here."

Questions bubbled in her throat, but Kayla held her tongue and waited.

"I was there, back home, until I wasn't. I couldn't feel your hand anymore, and…" He paused. "Is this important?"

Kayla shrugged. "If it's any consolation, I just popped up in my car outside my parent's house. On the same day I left." Erik snorted. "And after all that," Kayla continued, "I had to stay up till 1 am because I had to socialize. With humans. At a party." She felt his shudder through their interlocked hands. "It's ok. We don't have to talk about it."

"I found an occupation," Erik said finally, fingers tightening around hers. "At the Royal Academy. I assisted teachers, tutored students. I am not quite sure how I managed it."

"People intensive?"

"People intensive," he agreed.

She let her arm swing, carrying Erik's hand back and forth like a pendulum. "I missed you. I thought you were still back there. The amount of time I wasted on social media trying to find you…"

"I still cannot decide whether your technology is helpful or not. So much information, so many tools, with just the push of a button, but it becomes almost, too much, if you understand."

"But you can work a computer? Send an email? You got recordings to the Garnier, why couldn't you find me?"

"Do you know how many Kayla Abbots there are in the world?"

Kayla shook her head.

"Many. I did not know all of the information required to par down the results."

"I use my middle name on most accounts. Kayla Delaine Abbots."

"One of the few details you never imparted. I never even came close to finding you until I was invited to this evening's performance."

For a number of minutes, the only sound was the patter of water on cobblestones.

"You do seem… calmer?" she ventured. "It's not like you were out of control, or anything, but you were… nervous. You seem more comfortable, right now at least."

"Social anxiety. 'It's a bitch', as the therapist would say."

"Therapy?"

"They have psychological services for staff. I thought that I might as well experiment. If anything, I collected strategies to use with my students."

She smiled. "I'm glad."

He waited in the rain while she disappeared into a café, emerging with two travel cups and a paper bag. Looping her arm back through his, they continued down the boulevard. She stopped at the door of an apartment building, eyes narrowing. "I was going to go somewhere… neutral? But we're here now, so…" Her voice trailed off and she tilted her chin up to look at him. "Do you want to come up?"

Erik stared at her blankly, his shoulders hunched slightly.

She laughed. "I'm not propositioning you, dude, do you want to get out of the rain?"

He blinked, and the uncertain familiarity of the gesture told Kayla the new man in front of her was still the same Phantom. But then he nodded, and Kayla laughed again and unlocked the door.


One year later…

She was in the middle of rehearsal when she felt the burning in the centre of her chest. Brushing her fingertips across carved petals, she stifled a curse and hopped to her feet, muttering crossly into her radio and listening to her assistants crackling back. Running through the halls, her boots thumped on the carpet and hard wood left tingling on her palms as she slammed the door open. The dark figure on the piano bench jolted a foot in the air, whipping around and throwing a cushion with all the force of a grenade. Kayla ducked.

"Désolé, mon fantôme. Mon dieu, je suis désolé. Erik, can I talk to you please?"

Huffing, he scribbled a couple dots of black on the sheets in front of him.

"You know my necklace, right?"

He paused.

"It's warm."

Erik swivelled to face her, arms crossed across his chest. "And?"

"It's been cold as ice since I got back."

He shrugged, turned back to the keyboard, and tapped out a couple of notes.

"Erik, if that's 'baby you're as cold as ice' I am going to change the Spotify password. I swear to God."

Sighing, he stood up, unrolling his shirt sleeves and buttoning them around his wrists. "I take it you are concerned?"

"I think it's postscript time, buddy. The final scene."

He stalked towards her, moving predatorily across the floor. Slithering around her, he stared cautiously at the rose flickering in the centre of her chest.

"Oi. Eyes up here, my dude."

"Do you think that you may be overacting, mademoiselle?"

She hummed. "I thought we'd progressed beyond titles, Erik."

Reaching out a finger, he tapped the edge of the pendant. The room flickered, and they stood on cobblestones. Kayla glared up at the clouds of fog. "Jesus Christ. Now it's gonna be gentle, huh?"

"No falling out of the sky for you, mon petite oiseau. Even travel through realms should have some novelty, non?" She had not broken him of the habit of wearing suits, but he now wore a grey cravat, top hat, and a cape. Kayla snorted.

"And my pretentious little ghost is back." Tugging at Erik's hand, she led the way through the cobbled streets, her skirt rustling through piles of crackling leaves.

"Where are we going, Kayla?"

She pulled him through uncanny streets and alleys, almost the same but not quite, ears full of chatter and the sound of horse shoes on stone and ringing bells and wind. Erik followed her alone the pavement, head tilted down, avoiding eye contact with passerby, but none paid them any attention. There was the pub she had gone to with the set crew, the dress shop she browsed with Meg and Christine, the familiar street lamps and cobbles and street corners. They emerged into a square, across which the Opera Populaire rose with grace to rival Notre Dame. "I told you," he murmured. "It did not burn."

She slowly tilted her head at him, widening her eyes. "Oh my god, would you like a medal?" He only chuckled.

Wheels clattering, a carriage rolled into the avenue in front of the Populaire, and sombrely dressed figures ascended the stone steps. A white-robed nurse slowly pushed a rattling wheelchair up a makeshift ramp. Shining top hat, black wrinkles of fabric, lap blankets. A frail hand shaking through dark gloves.

"Wheeeeee." She glanced at Erik out of the corner of her eyes, a smile crinkling around the edges of her mouth. "He didn't age as well as you have."

Erik's hand tightened around hers. A shaky exhale.

"It must be some sort of meeting. Like, for patrons? Or something?" They stared at the shimmering dome for a moment. "Okay. Let's go." She held up the heavy edges of her skirt, careful to keep them from tangling around her boots. She missed the sound of taffeta so close to her skin. Merely feeling empty air behind her, Kayla twisted back to stare at the edge of the square. Erik ducked his head, staring at the ground. Feet darting like little mice under her skirt hem, she returned to him. "Hey. What's up?"

He gestured at his face.

She stared at him blankly.

"I can't exactly walk into the Opera I haunted for my entire life. Looking like this."

"What?" Narrowing her eyes, Kayla huffed. "Oh. That. Yes. I stopped noticing."

"I'm sure you did."

She punched him in the shoulder. Tilting her head to the side, she pulled his hat slightly across his right forehead. The shadow the brim cast was mask enough. "We'll just keep out of the light, move quickly, yeah?" He nodded and took her hand again. "Ready? One, two, three." They walked briskly, hand in hand, across the square.

Kayla led them, head held high, past the footmen waiting by the lobby doors, who did not question their entrance. Heels clicking on the floor of the deserted foyer, she tugged them into an alcove, and down a narrow passage to the backstage. "My fucking skirt is almost too wide to get down here. Like, did magic seriously think I needed a dress with a metre radius?"

"Language, mademoiselle."

"So it's mademoiselle again? Thought we moved past that."

"Nothing that could not return to my vocabulary."

"Jesus Christ…" When she stopped in the middle of the corridor, Erik smacked straight into her back. Kayla stared at the gold lettering on the door. Ballet Mistress.

"I am terribly sorry, mademoiselle, but can I be of assistance? The backstage is not open to the public." The voice came clearly, wavering with age but still strong and sweet.

Kayla turned. "Oui, désolé, madame –" And her voice trailed off as she locked eyes with the elderly woman at the other end of the hall.

The figure held a walking stick loosely at one side, white hair streaked with little glimmers of gold piled beneath a black hat with a lace veil. Her posture was delicate, regal, graceful. Her hands were dotted with age spots and blue veins, but a gold band shone from her ring finger. If the way her midnight skirt fell around her ankles was any indication, her feet were in fourth position. They stared at each other blankly for a moment, and then the woman peered at the figure behind her. Her lips parted in a grin.

"C'est Mademoiselle Abbots. Et le fantôme de le opera. Mon dieu, c'est magic."

"Meg?"

Meg Giry let her cane rest against the wall and she strode hurriedly towards them. Kayla met her halfway, arms wrapping around the older woman in a gentle hug. "Christ, little Meg Giry, you haven't aged a day," she teased.

The old woman huffed. "It's Baroness Meg Giry Blanchard to you, little mademoiselle, and you're the one who refused to age." Crows feet around her wide blue eyes crinkled. "And Monsieur Angel," she said, gingerly extracting herself from Kayla's embrace and walking forward to peer up at the tall man. "We meet at last."

Erik bowed, letting the light catch his deformed face as he took Meg's hand and pressed a kiss to it. Instead of recoiling, Meg's face glowed. "You did not tell me the Angel of Music was such a handsome young man," she told Kayla. "I would have asked for lessons too." Erik choked, but Meg had already curtsied and returned to the former stage manager.

"What… What are you doing here?"

"James and I are patrons, and I oversee the corps de ballet," Meg smiled. "I danced and was ballet mistress for too many years, but I could not possibly give it up because my bones are old."

Kayla gasped. "James? Blanchard? Jamie's here?!"

"Yes, yes, he will be most thrilled to see you, as long as I am not seeing apparitions in my old age," Meg cackled. "Come along, young ones, we will go to the study and I shall fetch my husband."


The familiar sound of running feet up the stairs did not exactly match the man who threw open the study door. Though his curls were white and thinning, his cheeks framed by white whiskers, his brown eyes sparked just the same. "Well if it isn't Abbots, triumphantly returned. And immortal, I should say."

"Jamie." Standing and rushing at him, Kayla threw her arms around him. He patted her on the back.

"Careful, Abbots, I'm fragile now. I've matured a little."

Meg snorted. "As if."

"My love, I'm trying to make a good impression on a friend I haven't seen in decades, please don't –"

"You told our son just this morning that you were too arthritic to attend his gala but made plans with your old stage crew to go drink –"

"So literally nothing's changed then?" Kayla interjected.

Jamie beamed at her, hands shaking slightly on her shoulders. "No, no, we're fine. Far too old, but fine, Xavier, Clemens, Marius and I. Baptiste too, I suppose, but he is in the New World now. Quebec." He shook his head ruefully. "Your Canadian-ness rubbed off on him, I suppose."

"And everyone else?"

Jamie snuck a glance at his wife, who glared at him. He cleared his throat. "I don't know why time has not passed for you," he said. "And I do not look for explanations, but time passed for the rest of us here."

Kayla stilled. "Oh."

He smiled at her regardless. "We lived our lives, and that is all we can do. And pray, forgive me, I don't believe we've met." He shuffled past Kayla and stuck his hand out to Erik. "Jamie Blanchard, baron and former pain in Mademoiselle Abbot's ass."

"Erik Des- I mean, Durham. Pleasure." They shook hands.

Jamie winked at Kayla. "So. This is your new boy?" He looked back at Erik and paused. "No. Silly me, this is the composer. Apologies for not recognizing you, good man, but a cape does do wonders for the figure."

"Shut the fuck up, Blanchard."

He wheezed with laughter, and wrung a bemused Erik's hand for a few moments more. "So," he repeated, coaxing his wife onto a couch before lounging beside her. "What have you crazy kids been up to?"

They talked for nearly an hour. Jamie told her how the Populaire had changed after Don Juan; the new management, more extensive patronage, more new operas. Who was still alive. Who was not. Madame Giry had died years ago, and Meg, the prima ballerina of the Opera House, had stepped into the role of the ballet mistress. Only six of her set crew remained. Kayla cried. Carlotta and Piangi still ruled the operatic society in Italy, and still wrote to Meg occasionally. Even though Erik became rigid and even more quiet, Meg gently broached the subject of Christine. "Best primadonna the Populaire ever had. She has her own monument now, with the rest of the Populaire's," she said.

"And the Vicomte?"

Meg's laugh pealed with silver. "Oh, Raoul. He did his best. She married him, eventually, but she kept her name, kept singing, took her babies to rehearsals. Oh, it was scandalous, but the Vicomte learned not to complain."

"He treated her… well?" Erik's question quietly cut through the air.

"Oh, yes. They fought for ages after Don Juan, but he learned that she wouldn't respond to him if they weren't equals, so he adapted. They were happy for the last number of years."

In return, she explained everything; the pendant, the travel, getting the job, her knowledge, Erik, and why she had disappeared. The baron and baroness listened attentively, though Meg withdrew at some points to make appearances at the patrons' meeting. "Maggie's better at this people thing than I am," Jamie smirked. "I have a tendency to irritate."

"Whoa, what a startling discovery."

"Hush, little Abbots."

Meg reappeared. "The meeting is nearly over, dear, no thanks to you," she announced, ruffling Jamie's hair.

Kayla jolted upright. "Oh god, we've gotta go. We've got… a thing."

Jamie looked at her quizzically.

"It's one of the elements of this whole looking young thing. Gotta set the stage for another piece of the story, if you will."

Jamie snickered. "Always knew you were a magical girl." As Kayla stood, pulling Erik to his feet behind her, the elderly baron shuffled over to a cabinet. Withdrawing a key from his waistcoat, he unlocked a drawer and drew out a bundle of papers. "Being such prestigious alumni of the Populaire, Maggie and I do get some privileges," he smirked. He held the bundle out to her. "The crew and I wrote you letters. Almost every day. There's a couple in there from the dancers, too. We missed you, and I kept them. I thought you might come back."

Kayla sniffled, running the back of her hands across her eyes. "I'm sorry I can't stay."

Jamie shrugged. "I can say a proper goodbye now. That's all I need." Kayla hugged him again, and then pulled Meg in as well. They stood huddled, then Kayla sighed and let go.

"I love you guys. Both of you."

"Fare thee well, Kayla," Meg said, her papery hands cradling Kayla's.

"Bye, Abbots," Jamie grinned, and for a moment Kayla could see the years fading away into the youthful peers she had known. "And goodbye Fantôme, I suppose," he added with a quirk of his lips. Erik, standing stiffly behind her, somehow managed to smile and bow.

Meg quickly approached and hugged the Opera Ghost. "She forgave you, you know that, don't you?" she murmured. Erik shivered. "It's alright, I shan't push. It does not matter anymore, anyway. But you take care of this one, you hear me?" she continued, pointing a frail finger at Kayla. Erik nodded. "Good."

And with a bundle of letters tucked under her arm, a rose swiped from a passed vase in her fist, and a former Opera Ghost at her heels, Kayla Abbots walked calmly from the Populaire.


Jamie's carriage driver was more than willing to take them to the graveyard, strangely enough. Kayla didn't complain, and the carriage rolled away as soon as the pair climbed out. Staring up at the iron wrought gate, Kayla inhaled deeply. When Erik's fingers threaded through hers, the reassurance forced her forward, pushing open the gate and slipping inside.

The Populaire plot was right next to the Daäe crypt. Kayla stared down at the headstones, her lungs empty and her heart choking in her chest. Erik's hand curled around her shoulder. "I guess I knew? In some way, I knew. It's not like they were still going to be running around the Populaire. But – "

She put her hand over her mouth, and Erik's chin rested on her head. "But you haven't accepted it." The words ruffled her hair.

Shaking her head, she tried to steady her breath despite the salt stinging her eyes.

He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "No one expects you to. Not now."

Leaves whispered over stone as wind sang through the Populaire plot.

In the corner closest to the crypt, a miniature of the brunette opera singer was carved into the marble headstone. Christine Daäe, Vicountess de Chagny. Primadonna. Singer, Patron, Friend. Devoted Wife and Mother. Kayla rested her head on Erik's bicep as he stood over the grave, shoulders shaking, his fist pressed to his eyes.

Together they laid the rose on Christine's grave, the crimson petals fluttering in the wind. Erik slid the ring onto the stem, tying his customary black ribbon around the thorns. Kayla knelt to add her strand of blue. She pictured Raoul, being pushed in his wheelchair, shakily standing to lay flowers and a music box on the grave, fading blue eyes drawn to the burst of red and sapphire. She wouldn't see the final ending, but that was okay.

Reaching out a hand to Kayla, Erik let her pull him to his feet. "May I?" she asked, holding out her arms with a watery smile.

Green eyes glistening with grief, Erik nevertheless laughed and scooped her up. Her arms wrapped around his neck, his arms circling her waist, they clung together.

He lifted her off the ground and spun her. Their laughter floated through the graves, leaves whirling around their ankles. When they finally vanished from the graveyard, the rose and their echoes remained.


xo