Part II  Epilogue

Riding over in the carriage, David Carron looked across at his friend and mentor.  "What do you really know about this man, this Monsieur de Becque?"

"Not a great deal," admitted Charles Garnier, leaning back against the cushions.  "He is a native Frenchman, though he speaks several languages.  I know he spent some time out in the Mid-East, and that at some point he learned no small skill with tools.  Make no mistake, David, he knows the profession from the ground upward.  I've seen him step in and demonstrate to the workmen just exactly how the stone was to be laid or worked.  Electrical, gas, stonework, chemical, I never came across a field he was ignorant of, or a problem he could not solve given sufficient time.  I've even seen him perform skilled emergency care, once when we had a cave-in at the site.  I owe him the success of that building, you can be sure."

The younger man was silent a minute, quietly digesting that information.  "But you say his face is…misshapen?"

Charles Garnier gave the other man an oblique look.  "Yes, but you'll never see his deformity.  He wears, or at least he did back then, a mask to conceal his face.  I would not inquire about it, were I you.  He had a formidable temper back then."

"But he is married?"

The architect smiled.  "Very much so.  I think you will possibly even recognize his wife."

The carriage stopped before a small estate in an outlying quiet part of the city and the driver leapt down to test the gates.  They swung open silently at his push, and the two men inside disembarked from the carriage.

"We'll walk from here, thank you," David called up to the driver.  "Call for us again in three hours."

The man nodded agreement and touched the reins lightly to the horse's back, chirping at the animal.  The carriage drove off as Charles Garnier turned to his companion.  The younger man looked at him with a quizzical expression.  "Shall we?" 

They set off down the tree-lined, winding lane toward the house, barely discernable in the evening twilight.  From here, the music coming out of the open windows drifted seductively toward them out into the soft evening air.

"You didn't mention that he was a musician as well," David murmured, surprised. 

The architect shrugged.  "I didn't know.  But it makes a certain sense, for his wife is an opera singer.  Perhaps it is how they met."  They mounted the stone steps and stood a moment, listening to the sweet soprano voice and the accompanying rippling piano notes.  He raised a hand and seized the heavy brass ring of the griffin's head door knocker, and rapped it smartly several times.  Abruptly, the music inside ceased, and the faint patter of swift footsteps came tapping toward them.

The door opened and David found himself looking into a woman's expressive dark blue eyes.  Charles stepped past him into the softly lit foyer of a pleasant, gracefully appointed dwelling, greeting the young woman warmly and David followed suit, glancing about.  Smooth paneled walls gleamed golden in the soft lighting and a carpet of deep green ran the length of the room and up the stairs to the left.  Through open doors past the stairwell he could see a long piano in a formal room lined with laden bookshelves.  The lovely woman turned to him and smiled.

"You must be Monsieur Carron."

He nodded and Charles Garnier hastened to make introductions.  "Mme. de Becque, this is the engineer of whom I spoke, David Carron.  M. Carron, Mme. Christine Daaé de Becque.  Mme. de Becque, where is Erik?  I have looked forward with much anticipation to meeting him again."

"As I have looked forward to greeting you as well."  David turned at the sound of that deep voice.  The somberly dressed man walking toward them looked like no musician, nor any architect that David had ever seen.  Tall, with wide shoulders and graceful hands, he gave the impression of tightly-leashed power and control.  Black eyes, blazing with intelligence and some stronger emotion contrasted sharply to the startling white porcelain mask which covered half of his face.

"Erik!"  Beside him, Charles stepped forward, his arm outstretched to that tall and intimidating figure. 

Erik reached out and clasped the architect's hand in his powerful grip, emotion flashing momentarily in his eyes.  "Charles.  Or perhaps I should say Sir Charles.  I read of your appointment some time back." 

For a moment the two faced each other, gripping each other's hands, then the architect shook his head.  "You ought not have left me, Erik.  I could have used your assistance on my next project."

"I had not much of a choice, my friend," he said dryly.

"It is of no consequence now.  Erik, I am truly glad to see you again, after all of these years.  And you are married!  And to such lovely bride." 

Christine blushed and Erik smiled slightly.  "My fortunes do seem to be improving.  Is this the engineer of whom you spoke?" 

"It is.  Erik, this is David Carron.  David, Erik de Becque."

Cool, faintly derisive eyes assessed him as David endeavored to meet that sardonic gaze.

 "M. Carron?" the other man said mockingly.  "Shall we go discuss why you are here?"

Erik led the way past the double doors that led into the library music room, soundlessly crossing the foyer to the smaller room that served as a parlor.  The four seated themselves comfortably and Erik offered the men vintage cognac.  David noted that this intimidating man chose a heavily carved black chair in the corner where he sat partially concealed in shadow, his black eyes watching the visitors with wariness.  He leaned back in his chair and templed his fingers; when he spoke, his tone was challenging.  "Do tell us about yourself, M. Carron."

"I am a graduate of the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, and I have some experience in the building of railways, train stations, smaller churches, bridges, and viaducts," he said stiffly.  "I hope to be able to expand into theatres, concert halls, and centers of commerce soon, and it is with that thought I agreed to meet with you.  I regret you cannot ask M. de Lesseps about me personally, for he is currently with the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique in Columbia, working on a new project, but I am certain that M. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel will speak most highly of my abilities."

Erik waved a dismissive hand.  "I am not asking for a letter of introduction.  Charles' recommendation is sufficient."

Nettled, David asked, "May I see more of your work, M. Erik?  M. Garnier has shown me the engineering copies of your ballast and pumping mechanisms, as well as your designs for the proscenium arch and the grand tier."

Silently, the tall man inclined his elegant head in David's direction, then rose and left the room.  Christine turned to the rugged, deeply tanned engineer and smiled.  "Tell me about yourself, M. Carron.  Are you married?"

He was silent a moment, staring down into the amber liquor in his hand.  "Not any longer, Mme. de Becque," he said quietly.  "I left my wife and infant son buried out in Columbia.  She did not survive childbed.  I wanted to send her back home, to her family, but she would have none of it."  He drained the cognac in one swallow, raw pain in his voice.  "I couldn't bear to remain in the Americas any longer.  The malaria, the lack of amenities…" he shook his head.  "It was just too much.  I returned home to seek a position here.  It's my belief that canal attempt will fail anyway, and do please call me David."

She touched his hand gently, her voice and expression sad.  "If you will call me Christine.  I am so sorry about your family."

Their conversation was interrupted by Erik's return.  He carried a portfolio of drawings and plans and with a deft flicker of his fingers, spread them out across the low table.  The men gathered around the renderings, and the talk rapidly descended into a discussion of the technical aspects of architectural design.  With a smile, Christine placed her aperitif glass on the tray and slipped from the room to see about dinner.

By the end of the evening, David found himself no longer distracted by the sight of Erik's impassive face and grave demeanor.  The man's designs were brilliant, his mathematics superb, and his understanding of the underlying complexities of support thorough.  It was entirely possible that from a technical aspect, this partnership just might work, but it remained to be seen how it would function on a personal level.

The elderly, crippled tailor looked down once more at the bandbox in his hands and sighed.  His patron was due here tonight, as per their agreement, and he wondered if he would have the courage to actually go through with this idea that had come to him so suddenly a few weeks ago.  Reluctantly, he sat the small box back on the shelf.  He would simply wait and judge his client's mood.

Years ago, the enigmatic man had come to him, slipping silently through his darkened doorway late one evening.  His long body had been angled into the deep shadows of the recesses by the door, his height and the hat he wore pulled low over his face effectively concealing his identity. 

Jacques Lachaille had been startled and alarmed at this unexpected intrusion, for the political turmoil of the Commune had led everyone to walk in fear.  Then the man had spoken, and Jacques felt his fear lessening as his interest increased at the sound of that warm velvet voice, so filled with hesitancy.

The man had asked if he were a tailor, his tone implying that he already knew the answer, then inquired if he had time available to perhaps make a suit of clothing for a new customer.  At his assent, the stranger stepped hesitantly forward and cautiously raised his head.

The first sight of the white porcelain mask had effectively startled the tailor into silence.  His hands had tightened on the back of the chair, but he forced his voice to remain level as he watched this silent man.  He could not afford to turn away any custom in these dark days.

"Monsieur, you must tell me first what it is you want me to do, and you must be willing to pay a bit toward materials."

The black eyes of the stranger had narrowed a bit, but then he nodded abruptly.  "That is fair enough."

Through the years they had met often, whenever the man—he gave his name only as Monsieur Erik—had wished to replace or acquire new garments.  Jacques, while never completely comfortable in his presence, soon learned the man was unfailingly courteous, but unwilling to engage in social intercourse or answer any questions.  It became a pleasure to dress him, for the man's physique was superb, his taste in style or materials excellent, and he always settled his bills promptly.

Tonight he appeared silently, as was his wont, slipping quietly with his stealthy, inhuman grace into the shop, standing before the elderly tailor.  As always, he politely thanked Jacques for agreeing to his eccentric demands of meeting at this late hour.

After discussing his request for a half dozen new shirts, his patron turned to go, and Jacques steeled himself to go through with his plan.

"Monsieur Erik?" he said quietly, "Would you do me the courtesy of remaining here a moment?  I have something for you—a gift."

The tall man whirled, his cloak swinging out in a graceful arc around his lean body.  His black eyes narrowed watchfully.  "A gift?  You have no need to give me a gift, Monsieur Lachaille."

Jacques shook his head.  "True, but I have a wanting do to so.  You have been coming here for many years now, Monsieur; you are one of my oldest clients.  You have always paid me well, and far more than was needed for my time, my small skill, and for the materials.  I have never asked about your…face, Monsieur, but tonight I have a reason for doing so.  Will you bear with me?" he asked softly, seeing the anger flare in the other man's dark eyes.

Erik clenched his teeth, a muscle twitching in his jaw, schooling himself for patience.  This elderly man deserved his respect for his age and his years of service.  "Yes.  What is it you wish to know?"

Jacques swallowed and continued, determined to complete this, now that he had begun.  "Your mask—I assume it conceals some injury or deformity?" he asked carefully.

The black eyes glared as he answered in a short, clipped voice.  "Yes."

"May I also assume the…injury is long healed, and is not painful?"

"You may."

The tailor rose then and retrieved the small box from the shelf, feeling the icy gaze boring through him.  "Monsieur, I have taken a liberty, and for that I apologize," he said quietly.  "When you came here some weeks ago with your fiancé, this idea came to me.  I thought perhaps I could make for you a new mask, one that is not quite so…obvious, so that you might more easily walk with your lady in public."

Erik drew in his breath sharply.  Whatever he had been expecting, it was not this.  Slowly, he reached for the box and lifted the lid.  Inside lay a mask, like his first gift from his mother, a gift it seemed to be his destiny to receive.  But this mask was different.  It assumed the same shape as his own, but was made of a fine, thin, supple leather, with a stiffened framework about the edges to retain its shape, and padded with soft material on the inside where it would lie against his face.  Two covered wires led from the edges, so that it could fit easily behind one ear and around the other side of his head, hidden in his hair.  But it was the appearance of the mask that astounded him into silence, for the leather had been tinted as close to a flesh tone as it was possible to make, and colored faintly with gradual tones to approximate his own skin.  It was a masterwork of artistry.

He looked up, stunned and grateful for the elderly tailor's human consideration.  "Thank you," he whispered.  "I am more pleased than you can know for this gift.  How did you make it?"

Relieved that he had not angered this mercurial man, Jacques smiled.  "I cut and shaped it myself, and had an acquaintance do the coloring, for I am no artist.  I was not certain that you would accept it."

"Oh, yes," Erik answered quietly, dawning possibilities dancing through his mind.  To walk with Christine, to accompany her to the Opera, to walk about like a normal man, to perhaps dine in one of Paris' many restaurants.….  "What do I owe you for this?"

The look on his patron's face was more than enough reward for his hours of patient, difficult labor, and Jacques smiled.  "Take it with my blessings, my lord.  I want no recompense for this.  It was truly a mitzvah, and a pleasure."

Carefully, Erik replaced the delicate mask in the box and rose.  "Thank you," he said again simply, and departed into the night dark streets of Paris.

Erik stood before the mirror in their room, willingly looking into it for the first time in many years, turning his head side to side appraisingly.  The mask fit very well, lying smoothly against his skin.  The leather and fabric felt oddly lightweight, after the heavier porcelain.  Oh, he could still see where the edges lay against the "normal" flesh of his face, but at a passing glance, or if viewed from a distance, this new camouflage would work very well indeed, he thought. 

Erik turned his back to the mirror before replacing the mask in its small box.  He would say nothing to Christine just yet.  He would make a couple cautious forays into the streets of daylight Paris first, to see how many pointed looks he attracted, and to ascertain how well the wires secured the mask in the wind.  Perhaps if all went well, he would surprise his love with an outing….

After the blissfully calm interlude during late spring and early summer, life at the Opera House began to pick up its usual frenetic pace.  The new operatic production for the fall had been decided, and the principals began attending regularly scheduled meetings.  Preliminary set designs were discussed, roles were assigned, and measurements were taken for new costumes.

Christine lay curled against Erik one pleasant night, her cheek resting on his shoulder.  The windows were open and the filmy draperies fluttered, letting in the softly scented, cool evening breeze.  Erik lay with his face in shadow, enjoying the feeling of fresh air across his bare skin, and of Christine's small hand tracing idle patterns across his broad chest.

"You are most preoccupied tonight," he murmured, pressing his hand gently against the small of her back.

Christine sighed softly and moved her hand to tighten around his waist.  "I'll be gone all day again tomorrow, Erik.  I was just thinking about you being here alone so much."

He was silent a moment, then answered quietly.  "Christine, for many years I was alone, under the Opera, with nothing but more empty years to look forward to.  Now, I may be alone during the day, but I have the evenings with you.  Do not worry about me, my love."  He turned his head, kissing her forehead gently.  "You must concern yourself with the new opera, and not with me."

She looked up at him, seeing the shadows lying in black hollows across his face, feeling his warm, lean, solid body.  "I don't want you to be lonely," she whispered, knowing how trite it sounded.

Erik shook his head.  "I am not lonely," he murmured.  He turned toward her.  "My architecture keeps me occupied, Christine, as does my music.  I have much to do these days."  He raised a hand to lovingly stroke her cheek before kissing her again.  "Goodnight, my love."

She snuggled beside him.  "Goodnight, mon ange."

After some hours, Erik rose from the piano and looked out the bay windows.  The June sun shone down on a brilliant summer morning, and only the gentlest of breezes stirred the tips of the leafy crown of trees outside.  This would be a good day to try out the tailor's gift, he decided after some deliberation.

Erik chose his new gray suit, feeling odd not wearing his habitual black.  There was a boulangerie and a magasin de fleuriste that were quite close to one another on the Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle.  He would surprise his Christine with a rose, and perhaps a petite gateau

He was pleasantly surprised to discover that this mask indeed attracted less attention, and the pearl gray suit caused him to blend in effectively with the midday pedestrians along the sidewalk.  Erik quickly purchased the blossom and continued along his chosen route.  The unaccustomed heat and brilliance of the summer sunlight on his shoulders and head was mildly uncomfortable, and he stopped under an awning for a brief respite.

Ahead of him in one of the small sidewalk brasseries sat a man and a woman in a rose-colored dress, talking and sipping drinks at a small round table, and Erik froze.  He abruptly turned to the nearby shop window, feigning interest in the elegant clocks displayed therein.  Though the woman's back was to him, it was clearly Christine, conversing earnestly with another young man.  The gentle breeze blew stray wisps of curls across her slender neck.  Erik moved slightly closer to them, studying the sandy-haired man narrowly, his preternatural hearing easily catching bits of their conversation.

She sat her glass aside and leaned forward.  "My husband knows nothing of our arrangement, and I prefer he not find out."

The man smiled, crinkles forming at the corners of his blue eyes.  "I understand your reasons, though you really shouldn't let this go on much longer without informing him."

Stubbornly, Christine shook her head.  "Not yet."

"As you wish."  He rose and Christine smiled brilliantly up at him. 

"Thank you for everything, Michael."

The handsome younger man raised her small white hand to his lips and gently kissed the backs of her fingers, and Christine blushed.

He could watch no more.  Erik moved quickly away, a dull thrumming in his ears, his chest tight with pain.  She had said she would be at the Opera all day!  Who was this young man, this handsome young man, who so casually, familiarly touched his beloved Christine?   Slowly, he retraced his steps homeward, his errands forgotten.

Once back home, Erik moved with painful steps toward their bedroom and slowly removed the new mask and suit, his thoughts whirling, torn between rage and an abrupt, chilling fear.  Christine and this man clearly knew each other, had some prior agreement and arrangement to meet today, a meeting she had made no mention of.  He felt the painful, familiar tightening of muscle tension across his shoulders and neck, as the shimmering, dancing effects began at the edges of his vision, and his head began to throb.  Oh Christine, he thought, anguished.

Half-blinded and nauseated from the intense spikes of pulsing pain in his head, Erik gave up the thought of groping his way to the cabinet for the medicinal herbs that eased the agony of these attacks, and went to lie on the bed in the darkened room.

Christine walked toward the café, feeling a pleasant tingle of anticipation.  Some weeks ago she had conceived of the idea to bring her beloved a surprise, and today she would meet with Michael Vernier so he might bring her the publisher's decision. 

He was waiting for her as agreed at a sidewalk café and quickly rose to pull out her chair, smiling a welcome.  Christine smiled at him in return, accepting the offer of a cool glass of lemonade.  "You look as though you have good news for me, Monsieur!"

"I do."  He paused, studying her with interest.  "You realize it is highly irregular to have a contractual agreement with the wife of the composer?"

"Oh, yes.  But the composer is an architect by profession, M. Vernier.  Music is his passion, his hobby, if you will.  I truly want to surprise him with this."

"Your husband is a man of great talent, Mme. de Becque, and do call me Michael.  Our resident pianist and violinists were most impressed with the sample works you brought us.  I hope we shall be seeing more from him, as well as meeting your husband soon.  Frankly, if you were not quite so well known, I doubt your proposition would have made it past the front desk.  We really need to have his signature and permission."

She sat her glass aside and leaned forward, frowning slightly.  "My husband knows nothing of our arrangement, and I prefer he not find out."

He smiled at her, crinkles forming at the corners of his blue eyes.  "I understand your reasons, though you really shouldn't let this go on much longer without informing him."

Stubbornly, Christine shook her head.  "Not yet."

"As you wish."  He rose and Christine smiled brilliantly up at him. 

"Thank you for everything, Michael.  This means a great deal to me, and I appreciate it."

The handsome younger man raised her small white hand to his lips to gently kiss the backs of her fingers, and Christine blushed.  "I'll be in contact with you soon.  Au revoir, Mme. de Becque."

Christine arrived home to a strangely quiet home much later that afternoon.  She paused in the foyer, removing her hat and gloves, listening intently.  It was unlike Erik to not greet her upon her return from the Opera.  She looked about the warm room.  A dark red rose bud lay in shadow, forgotten on the table and withered slightly from lack of water.  A tiny frown of concern drew her brows together and Christine tossed her outdoor attire onto the chair then turned to climb the stairs.

She was home.  He could hear her dainty footsteps pace as she called his name, telling himself it was not concern he heard in her voice.  The baffled rage of earlier was gone, replaced by a lacerating pain in his heart.  Erik flung an arm over his eyes, gritting his teeth at the agony in his head.

Christine steeped into their cool and darkened room, feeling a stab of fear at the sight of him lying motionless upon the bed.  "Erik!"  She rushed forward and knelt beside him, raising a hand to gently clasp his as she brushed her lips across his forehead.  "What is the matter, my angel?  It frightened me when you didn't answer.  Are you ill?"

"A headache, my love, nothing more," he whispered, stricken by her proximity.

Her soft cool hand gently brushed the hair from his forehead.  "Have you taken anything for it?  A tisane, a powder, perhaps?  I can bring you something…."

Erik shut his eyes.  "Thank you…perhaps if you would…."

She went to prepare the herbal drink, remembering the first time she had ever seen him thus afflicted.  It had been during the initial fortnight spent underground, and Erik had tried to hide the illness from her.  His physical robustness had never crossed her mind until that time.  He was always a vigorous, healthy man, seemingly indifferent or impervious to the all-too-human frailties of illness, hunger, exhaustion, and cold.  To see him lying helpless in the grip of pain had deeply frightened Christine.

She brought him the tisane and waited near him while he carefully sat up and sipped it, grimacing.

"Erik?" Christine asked softly, worried.  "Would you like me to leave you alone to rest, or would you rather me stay with you?"

His burning, exhausted eyes locked onto her face as he reached an unsteady hand toward her.  "Stay with me, Christine," he said softly.  Always and forever.  It's all I've ever asked of you…

Christine slipped off her outdoor shoes and eased herself down on their bed bedside him, trying not to unduly jar it.  Gently, she urged Erik to place his head into her lap, and he did so, burying the ravaged side of his face against the smooth silk of her dress.  Her small cool fingers gently swept across his forehead and down his neck, trying to soothe the pain and tension away.

"Tell me about your day, Christine," he whispered, catching her free hand and pulling it down to hold it carefully in his, against his heart.

She smiled.  "There's not much to tell."  Combing her fingers through the strands of his soft dark hair, Christine proceeded to talk softly about the events of her day.  Hélène had had problems with an intricate passage in the score, the pianist had been very late and had earned a scolding, and a funny little man had come again to sit in the wings of the theatre and sketch the dancers, but at no time did she mention leaving the Opera.  Erik felt the tension growing vise-like about his shoulders and he shifted restlessly under her touch.

"Christine, perhaps it would be best if you went back downstairs.  I'm sure you have things to do."

Surprised, she paused with one hand lying still against his hair.  "Are you certain, my love?  I don't mind staying with you."

"No, just leave me," he answered curtly.  "I need to sleep."

Christine rose then, blinking back the sudden bite of tears, wondering what she could have done to have given offense.  "All right," she said softly.  "Call me if you need me, Erik."  He did not open his eyes until her footsteps faded down the stairs and from his hearing.

She did not see him again that afternoon.  Erik was asleep, or at least appeared to be so, when Christine crept up the stairs some hours later to see if her husband would be interested in dinner.  She ate alone that evening, and occupied herself later with the mending basket, reflecting ruefully that sewing would not ever be an area she enjoyed, or was particularly proficient in.  Eventually, Christine put aside the mending and curled her slim legs under her skirts, gazing into the fire, lost in thought.  When he had still not come down to her by evening, she reluctantly walked about the house once then wearily climbed upstairs.

Erik heard her slow footsteps as she gradually ascended the stairs.  He stared out the large window that looked out on the gardens, but showed from this angle only the tops of the moon-lit, wavering trees.  Christine entered their room quietly and crossed to the boudoir.  He listened in silence as she washed and removed the pins from her long hair, then shut his eyes upon hearing the sibilant noises of her undressing.  She did not speak to him, and Erik could only imagine her unwillingness at once again having to share a bed with him, at having to awaken each morning next to the horror that was his face.

He was sitting up in the bed when Christine returned from the small dressing room and she stopped, her face softening instantly.  "Erik?  Are you feeling better?"

"Yes," he said quietly, and she came to put her arms around him, relieved.  He slowly moved one arm stiffly around her, but forced himself to not to draw her close. 

She pulled back and searched his face, noting his watchful gaze.  "Erik?  What is wrong?"

"Nothing," he whispered.  "I am sorry that you have spent the evening by yourself."  Ask her, fool.  But he remained silent, fearing the answer.

Christine sighed.  "Well, I kept myself occupied.  I missed you," she added softly, and felt him stiffen, but he made no response.  Studying his dark eyes she frowned.  "Erik, what's wrong?  You aren't yourself tonight."

"Perhaps it is my headache," he said lightly.  She turned away, blinking in shock at the untruth in his voice.  He had never lied to her, not since he had first let her believe he was the Angel of Music.  Stiffly, she untied the belt of her robe and draped it across the foot of their bed.  At once he stood slowly and walked quietly away to the boudoir, undressing and washing, dreading the moment when he would have to come back to her.

Erik did not attempt to touch her as they lay in bed, neither speaking, neither asleep.  She lay stiffly beside him, weary and heartsore.  Finally she heard his deep, uninflected voice, a near whisper as he said quietly, "Good night, Christine."

Christine lay staring blindly at the morning light as it crept down the far wall.  The worst had come in the night, when finally overcome with fear and remorse, he had turned to her, seeking to apologize and hold her.  A rising tide of anger from the strained silence and vague nausea from her solitary meal had caused her to recoil from his tentative caress, and Erik had flinched as though she had struck him.

"Don't be afraid of me, Christine, or to tell me the truth," he snapped.  "I can see you do not wish me to touch you.  Don't worry--I have never forced myself on a woman, and I'll be damned if I'll start with you."  He flung back the covers and rose, striding to the window and glaring out of it.  Talk to me, Christine! he demanded silently.  Tell me why you have lied to me, why you've been meeting this other man!

Incensed, she sat up and glared at him, clutching the soft linen sheets around her shoulders.  "How am I expected to feel, Erik?  You've been less than honest with me this evening.  I'm not avoiding you—and I don't feel well."

Instantly he turned, a look of concern in his face.  "Christine, I'm sorry.  What can I do?"

"Nothing!" she snapped, furious.  "Just leave me alone!"

For a long minute he loomed above her, the Opera Ghost's intimidating manner, before his features settled into a chill, disdainful expression.  I have been less than honest?!  "Your commands, my lady wife, are always my desires as well," he said, his voice a harsh whisper.  With that, he abruptly turned and left the room.

Erik did not return to their bed that night, and though she later cautiously sought him throughout their house, did not find him.  Exhausted, Christine finally fell asleep toward dawn, and when she awoke, found Erik sitting unmoving and silent in the chair across the room, watching her with a tight, flat expression she could not identify. 

He looked at her with cool black eyes, wary of her mood this morning, and angrily, she turned and went downstairs, not speaking.  He followed her somewhat later, and breakfast was eaten in near silence.  Erik's unhappy, accusing gaze reproached her, and Christine flushed, a sign he could only interpret as guilt. 

As a result of this tension Erik threw himself into his new work, desperate to fill the sudden silences and the void that had grown between them.  He drove out to the bridge site with David on the next evening, in order to better decide on the proper course of action.  Many nights he spent down in the study, pouring over plans and specifications, notes on elevation and sub-surface soils, or photographs of the building sites, rather than come upstairs to their shared bed.  They slept stiffly side by side, not touching, and Christine was often gone when he awoke in the mornings.

His old nocturnal habits came into play again, for as he was unable to sleep for more than an hour or two beside his wife, Erik stalked the rooms of their silent house.  Several times he sat on the back terrace, fingers steepled and staring broodingly across the night dark lawn.  Though his body hurt for her, his soul shrank from any more overtures at reconciliation.  Erik sighed, glancing up toward their darkened windows.

Even David had noticed the awkward and constrained silence between them, but given his partner's reticence to discuss any subject connected with his personal life, did not inquire.  Erik walked about like a man suddenly grown old, deep lines etched around his eyes, and his mouth drawn into a forbidding line.

The only contact they had any more it seemed, was through music, for Christine, unhappily seeking any method by which she might yet discover the problem between them, had asked her husband to resume her lessons that she might be better prepared for the new opera.  Erik himself played by the hour, his music speaking to her, telling her what he dared not say.  She heard his unspoken questions and impossible longings, voiced by the piano or the aching strains of his violin, but could not fathom how to phrase an answer.  It was as though they had been transported somehow back to the days below the Opera House, during that first painful fortnight spent together.

Christine moved her hands to place them on her lower back, elbows out and arching backward to release the strained tension in her spine.  Her lower back had been painful for days now, between the tension of her strained relationship with Erik and the rigorous new rehearsal schedule. 

In the music room, Erik made an abortive movement toward her but forced himself to stop, knowing his touch was unwelcome.  Clenching his fist, he turned back to the piano and reached stiffly for his pen. 

She shook her head and stared blindly into the now tepid mug of tea.  It had been days now since Erik had touched her, days since he had treated her with anything but this aloof courtesy.  This sudden coldness and reserve after weeks of happiness was intolerable, but she could see no way out of it.  Erik was always incredibly taciturn about his feelings, and this wall of impenetrable silence seemed insurmountable.  She knew him well enough to know he would not approach her again, that she would have to be the one to breach this crack in the foundation of their marriage.  For her part, Christine knew only she had failed him somehow, and thought perhaps their problems stemmed from the amount of time she had left him alone in recent days, due to her opera schedule, yet her offers to spend more time with him, or to go out in the evenings for walks to the Bois or along the Seine were gently but firmly rebuffed.  Erik seemed to be more and more withdrawing into the cold and cynical man he had been when they first met.  She was unaware he had followed her once more to a meeting with Michael Vernier, and that angry pride prevented him from speaking of her betrayal.

Meg noticed her abrupt silence on the subject of their home life and questioned her gently one morning when a few quiet minutes could be found between their differing rehearsal schedules.  She drew her friend into one of the many small lounges scattered around the magnificent building, her sea-blue eyes concerned.

"Christine, you've been so quiet lately.  I never hear you speak of Erik or your home anymore."  She covered her friend's hands with her own.  "Is something wrong?  I'm worried about you."

Christine's eyes filled with tears, and in spite of her vow not to discuss their problems, found herself telling her troubles to Meg. 

"Oh, Meg, Erik is unhappy with me, over something, I don't know what; he won't talk to me.  I can't think of anything I've done; all I can think is that I've somehow disappointed him in some way.  I hardly ever see him anymore.  He spends hours with David working out the problems with that bridge, or down in his study.  He never comes to bed until he's sure I am asleep.  He hasn't even touched me in days.  Oh, God, Meg, I don't know what to do."  She buried her face in her hands, choking back the grief.

"Oh, Christine, I'm so sorry," breathed Meg, wrapping a comforting arm about her oldest friend.  "I wish there was something I could say."

"If I knew what to do, I'd have done it by now," Christine said savagely.  "I can't believe we've been through…all that we've gone through, just to have it end like this."

"All marriages have their times of trouble, Christine."  Adele Giry said behind them. 

"Madame!"  Christine stood quickly, out of long habit. 

"Mamman, this was a private conversation," Meg said, her eyes flashing.

Adele sighed.  "I am aware you meant this to be private.  I was seeking Mme. de Becque myself."  She turned to the young woman, and Christine raised her chin defiantly, refusing to cry in front of this proud woman who had been her teacher.  "My child, you have not been yourself lately, and I came to see how I could help."  Her dark eyes looked over at her pale daughter, standing protectively by the singer.  "Megan, go and shut that door that we may have some privacy."

Flushing, Meg dropped her stormy eyes and went to do as asked, returning defiantly to sit on the sofa, where her mother had urged Christine to rest.

"Christine, you have been married for some months now, and this has been a time of great change for you both.  Can you think of any event that could have caused this sudden strain between you?"

Christine caught her lower kip between her teeth and shook her head violently, not trusting herself to speak.  "No, Mme. Giry, I cannot.  Erik acts as though I've done something truly reprehensible, but I haven't, and I've been so tired and cross lately that he just avoids me."  She took Meg's silently proffered handkerchief and scrubbed at her eyes.

Adele Giry sat quietly, thinking, observing her daughter's friend closely.  After a minute she smiled very faintly.  "My child, come with me.  Perhaps I can help clarify matters."

Returning to the Opera that sunny afternoon, Christine found herself being hailed by a hearty voice calling her name.  Turning, she saw Michael Vernier sprinting up the carriage ramp toward her, waving a slim package in the air.

He panted to a stop, smiling widely.  "Mme. de Becque, I'm glad to have caught you.  I was on my way to the Opera to deliver this to you."  He tucked the parcel firmly into her hands and she looked up at him, her blue eyes shining. 

"Is this what I think it is?"

He grinned down at her, pleased.  "Yes, it's the very first copy, bound and printed.  There's also a contract with it for your husband to sign."

Delighted, she squeezed his hands gratefully.  "M. Vernier, you could not have brought this to me at a better time.  I'll let you know very soon about the contract and the publication rights.  Thank you so very, very much!"

He lifted his hat to her.  "Mme. de Becque, I look forward to doing business with you and your retiring husband.  Au revoir!"

Christine watched him go, then turned and hurried inside the building.  She would beg the afternoon off, to go be with her husband.

Erik rose from his desk and glided silently to where the grand piano sat in a pool of flickering shadows, as the sunlight scattered through the leaves of the great oak tree outside the bay windows.  He bent over the instrument, trying out a passage for his new composition, his Persian Suite.  For some years now he had been toying with the idea of setting the moods and essence of that country to music.  Stacks of creamy thick composition paper were scattered across the lid of the piano, covered with swirls of black musical notation.  Erik rose from the bench and seized the pen, adding to and correcting the measures involved.  This was to be a symphony, and would reflect the staccato hammer of war drums, the slurring of granulated sands across miles of empty desert and stone, the wild ringing of foreign instruments at court, and the lonely wail of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.  Distantly, he was aware when the front door opened, his sharp hearing automatically registering those particular footsteps as Christine's.

She entered the room bringing a swirl of outside scents, noting the evidence of his morning's work; music scattered everywhere, the black spark and furor of creative genius in her beloved's eyes.  Deliberately ignoring the strain of the past few days, Christine stood on her toes to kiss him exuberantly and took his hands in her own, drawing him down beside her on the piano bench, her face flushed and her blue eyes sparkling.

"Hold out your hands, Erik, I have something for you!"

Doubtfully, he gazed at her a minute before dutifully closing his eyes and doing as she asked.

The look on Erik's face when she placed the bound, printed collection of his sonatas in his hands made the weeks of trouble more than worthwhile.  For a moment, he could only stare blindly at the dark crimson cover, printed with his name in gold leaf, before slowly opening the folio with trembling hands.  There before him lay his music, the haunting melodies he had composed during the years of his exile in the underground house beyond the lake, now published and publicly acclaimed.

Inside the cover lay a signed document, a contract listing the upcoming publication dates for other compositions—the Arias, the Vocal Exercises, and his Symphony #2 in D Minor, awaiting only his signature of permission to proceed.

"Oh, Christine," he whispered, stunned and moved beyond words.  He carefully, reverently placed the music folio on their piano and pulled her to him.  "My music, for the world to see…" he broke off, unable to continue.  "How?"

Delighted with the effectiveness of her surprise Christine told him quickly.  "I took them, one at a time to the copyist.  I knew the publishing house where our music is ordered, and I made an appointment to see a representative there.  I'm afraid I played rather shamelessly on my name," she admitted, "but they listened to me."  Christine stopped and dropped a kiss on his upturned face.  "They asked their resident pianist to play parts of each composition, and I sang with a few of them.  They agreed to publish the Sonatas immediately, and asked for more submissions of your work.  I've been slowly sending them each piece.  They would like very much to meet you, Erik, but I've told them I'm not sure it's possible."

He lifted the folio again, reading the contract, noting this time the name that had been clawing at the edges of his mind, the name signed at the bottom as a representative of the publishing house.  Michael Vernier.  Slowly, he pulled in a deep breath, and tapped the name with a long forefinger.

"This man…what does he look like?"

Puzzled, Christine answered him.  "Michael?  He's not as tall as you.  He has blue eyes and sandy hair.  He's handsome enough, I suppose.  Meg adores him."

"Meg adores everyone," he replied dryly.  "Christine, I must apologize," he continued stiffly.  "You met with him once, in a café, did you not?  And you've met with him several other times."

Searching his tight face, she nodded.  "Yes, of course I did.  We had to go over the contract, and I had to bring your music to him.  You didn't think…Erik, you didn't mention this to me, that you'd seen us together.  Is that what's been wrong between us, these last several days?  You thought I was seeing another man?  That I had betrayed you, and our marriage vows?"  She whirled away from him, her momentarily elation eclipsed by sudden fury.

Erik could hear the low anger building in her voice, and the emotional strain of the last week cost him his precarious grip on his temper.  "What was I to think?  You've never been secretive before.  And he is a young and handsome man, Christine!  I saw the way he looked at you, how he touched you, that day in the café!"

She lifted her chin, tears welling up in her blue eyes, her lovely face devoid of expression.  "I have no idea what you are talking about.  Michael only ever kissed the back of my hand one time.  He's married, for God's sake, and so am I!  What are you implying?"

His deep voice reached her easily from the other side of the room.  "I didn't know what to think, Christine," he said tiredly.  "I only knew you were not being truthful with me."

Christine watched him move restlessly to the piano, seeing his broad shoulders bent under the shroud of sadness and strain, the proud angle of the head he kept turned away from her.  He was Erik, her dark angel, and she was forcibly reminded again how the man he had become had been shaped by a lifetime's experiences of betrayal and rejection.  She swallowed hard and said softly, "Erik, you weren't supposed to think anything of it.  I meant it as a surprise, and I'm sorry.  I wish I'd realized weeks ago that you knew.  I would have told you then, rather than cause this difficulty between us." 

She took a step forward just as Erik turned and swiftly crossed the space between them, grasping her upper arms tightly in his powerful hands.  Black eyes blazed down furiously into hers.  "Damn it, Christine, I asked you not to go without my knowledge and do something like this again!"

Tears filled her eyes.  "Erik, you're hurting me!"

With an obvious effort, he released her arms and spun away, glaring out the window into the painfully bright garden.  Do you have any idea just how you have been hurting me?

Christine stood there, rubbing her upper arm with one hand, seeing his rigid posture and the tense set of his jaw.  He was extremely angry with her, she realized.

"Erik," she said in a small voice, "do you want me to go away?"

He turned around at that, stalking toward her, as intimidating and frightening as he had been during the Ball Masque, and she shrank back from him.

Erik seized her again, pulling her tightly into his arms.  "Never say that again, Christine, you are mine!" he said fiercely.  He bent his head and claimed her lips, kissing her with an unaccustomed possessiveness.

Limp with sudden relief, she pulled slightly away from his fierce embrace.  "I've never been anything but yours, Erik.  Are you pleased about the music?"

"Of course I am pleased."

Relieved to have found a temporary ease in their tumultuous, strained silence, she raised her face to his again.  The stress and tension melted away under the searing passion of his kiss, erasing the grimness from his face.  Erik effortlessly gathered her into his strong arms, lifting her tightly against him, and she buried her face against his neck.  "Christine, never, never do that to me again," he murmured.  "I have lived in hell for these last few days.  I could only imagine that you had grown tired of me, had tired of our life together.  I should have trusted you more."

"Oh, Erik, I'm sorry, and I promise," she said penitently, then raised shy blue eyes to his.  "My love," she said, blushing, "Do you think we might go upstairs?  I've missed you so…."

"Of course, mon ange."  He swung her up into his arms with ease and Christine curved one arm around his neck.  As they climbed the dark green carpet up to their bedroom, his black eyes never left her face.

 "I need to tell you something else, Erik." She whispered against his chest, much later.

His arm pulled her closer.  "What, cara mia?" he asked lazily, his fingers moving gently over the surface of her nightgown.

Christine raised herself up on one elbow, seeking his brilliant black eyes where he lay still partially in the shadows.  "I know why I've been so tired and cross with you lately."

"Mmmm?" he made an encouraging noise.  "And what would that be?"

She took a deep breath.  "Erik, you're going to be a father.  I'm going to have a baby."

Time stopped and stood still as her words penetrated his mind.  Christine heard the sudden sharp catch of his breathing.  "A baby?  Our baby?"  He stared at her, temporarily shocked.  The implications of a child whirled through his mind, and Erik felt a new paralysis of horror. 

"You look so surprised, my love."

"Christine, I never thought I would father a child; I thought, I had hoped, that perhaps I could not," he whispered. 

She turned his head with a gentle hand to look into his eyes.  "Why, Erik?  Surely a child is the natural outcome of our love for each other."

He leaned his cheek against her hair.  "After so many months passed and you did not become pregnant, I dared to hope this would not happen."  His arms tightened about her.  "Christine, what if…" he could not bring himself to complete the sentence, his throat closing tightly.

She sat up, understanding his unspoken fear, and looked at him fiercely.  "I hope if it is a boy, he will look like you!"

"Christine!" Erik said, stricken.

She leaned her forehead against his, and smiled lovingly.  "I hope he has your black eyes and dark hair, your white teeth, your tall strong body and broad shoulders!  I hope he will be as talented and as intelligent as the man I love!  Why wouldn't I want him to be like you!"

Erik pushed her gently away from him.  "You are teasing me," he said gravely, a smile lurking around one corner of his mouth, but his tense expression remained tight with trepidation.

Christine kissed him fondly.  "Of course I am, my love."  Her voice sobered as she said quietly, "Erik, there is no reason to think any child of ours would be born with… problems.  I am healthy and I promise to take good care of myself and our baby.  And, should it occur, we will love him and care for him as best we are able.  Our baby will have two parents who love him and each other very much.  He will never be alone," she said gently.

Erik nodded once, accepting this.  "But what of your career?"

"I'll have to take the spring season off, of course, to be here during the last of my pregnancy, but perhaps I can go back some time next fall."

Still stunned, he made no reply, and she looked at him, a faint line of worry between her eyes.  "Erik, are you angry?  I thought you'd be pleased."

"Pleased?" he whispered.  "I cannot begin to tell you…  A child of ours…"  Tenderly, he drew her toward him and kissed her gently, as though she were now somehow fragile.  "How do you feel, my love?" he asked with concern and she smiled serenely at him.

"I'm fine, my love."

Wonderingly, he laid a hand carefully across her abdomen, as if to somehow feel the small spark of life she carried deep within her body.  She snuggled against him, radiantly happy at his acceptance.

"Erik, what shall we name our child?"

He considered.  "If it is to be a boy, I would like Stephan, for your father, and if it is to be a girl," his voice softened, "I would like to call her Rose."

And so their lives passed from the world of the fairy tale into the lives of ordinary men and women, for after all, to the unloved child who grew up to be the Phantom, and to the lonely orphan who grew up to be Christine, an ordinary ending was for them, the fairy tale they had always dreamed of.

--Fin--

@}~--'--,---'---,----

Author's note—I'm so sorry this story is over.  I've enjoyed every minute of writing it and rereading it.  I feel like I've met some new friends through FanFiction.Net.  I'll keep an eye out for your new submissions, and who knows, maybe you'll hear from me again one of these days….--Riene

Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger

You may see a stranger, across a crowded room

And somehow you know, you know even then

That somewhere you'll see her again and again.

Some enchanted evening, someone may be laughing

You may hear her laughing, across a crowded room

And night after night, as strange as it seems

The sound of her laughter will sing in your dreams.

Who can explain it, who can tell you why

Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.

Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love

When you feel her call you, across a crowded room,

Then fly to her side, and make her your own

Or all through your life you may be all alone.

Some Enchanted Evening--1949

R. Rodgers and O. Hammerstein II

And a final quote:

"It's over now, the music of the night…"

Erik, final scene, The Phantom of the Opera, of course.