Deeper Than All Roses

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Disclaimer: I own nothing that does not reside in my own imagination . . . Gaston Leroux created the tale of the Phantom Of The Opera. Many writers have taken that tale and given a piece of themselves to it, I merely do the same. Loosely based off of the Susan Kay version, but with an alternate ending.

Premise: A few months after Erik and Christine's wedding, an old friend drops by to see our favorite diva, and she notices he's taken an interest in someone new. Also, Christine returns to the house on the lake with some . . . interesting news.

Timeline: April 1882.

Part of the "Love Comes To Those Who Believe" universe. E/C warning!

Feedback: Sure, why not? All constructive criticism and high praise readily accepted. Flames? I have marshmallows and sticks at the ready; I do so enjoy a good roast!

Though I did not have this beta read, I felt it only fair to thank once again all the people who read and reviewed this story's predecessor, "Love Comes . . ." because if it weren't for you guys, I don't know that I'd undertake another one like this. As I said before, my muse is a fickle creature; she gave me one short ficlet in this universe because of an unanswered question, and now this one because life of course, goes on after the story is over! I don't know how long this one will be, but here it is for all of you who wanted to read more!

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Prologue: A New Life

Christine Laramie, nee Daae, sat at the vanity in her dressing room. So many things had changed for her in the past two years she had spent in at the Opera. Her mind drifted back to her early days as a dancer in the corps de ballet. For then, she had known Erik merely as her Angel of Music, and now . . .

'Now, I think I almost know him better than I know myself.'

She stared at the reflection in the mirror, so familiar, but still so changed from the young ingénue she had been back then. Now, there was a special softness, the kind only brought on by love. The sparkle that had been missing for so long after her father's death had finally returned to her. And a perpetual smile had replaced the worried creases around her mouth.

A knock sounded on the door, and Christine called out, "Come."

"Are you almost ready?" Meg Giry asked.

Christine turned to face her friend, and found her already in her ballet costume. "Yes, it's almost time, isn't it?"

"Just about. After all, this is the last performance for a month!"

"Yes, I know, I think we all have a bit of the jitters tonight. A whole month off, just think Meg!"

"Do you and Erik have plans for the month?" Meg asked as Christine closed the door behind them and they walked along the bustling hallway.

"We're leaving for Rouen in a few days, actually. Marie and Gerard have written several times, and they seem to miss us."

"I'm not surprised," Meg returned Christine's smile as they both remembered the time spent at Degardeau cottage that past Christmas. "Do give them both my best! But why not leave tomorrow?"

"Well, that you would have to ask Erik," Christine replied. "He won't tell me, other than he has some things to take care of before leaving."

"Is he always so cryptic?"

"To a fault, but it doesn't matter."

"Oh, I know it doesn't, it only makes you love the man more," Meg giggled as they reached the backstage area. "You would think after four months of marriage the honeymoon would have started to wear off!"

Christine chuckled, "I should hope not, Meg."

"Is he watching tonight?"

"Yes, he promised to be here."

"Good."

"Meg Giry!" the imposing voice came from behind.

"Yes Maman?" Meg nearly squeaked as Madame Giry made her way around the two girls and came face to face with her daughter.

"Have you warmed up?"

"Yes Maman."

"Are you in position?"

Meg ducked her head, and repeated the words her mother had used against her time and time again, "No, Maman, I belong with the other dancers, not gossiping with the singers."

"Then go take your position with the other dancers!"

Meg scurried away from Christine and Madame Giry. Madame Giry then turned to look at Christine, her face stern.

"And have you warmed up?"

"Yes, Madame Giry."

"I know you will do wonderful tonight, fear not." Madame Giry replied, and she walked over to where the dancers were lining up.

Christine sighed with relief, and then took a deep breath. And then, she heard in her head, the voice of her angel, her Erik, giving her confidence as he always did, as only he knew how, and she walked to take her place in the wings as the curtain rose on La Traviata.

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She felt his presence even before her hand reached for the doorknob of the dressing room.

"You were magnificent, mon ange," he whispered very near her ear.

She smiled, and turned to face her beloved. Since their return to Paris, he had become braver, coming out in the light of day more and more, even though he still haunted the bowels of the Opera. That had become a private joke amongst them in a way, that only four people backstage knew that the man in the proper gentleman's attire and white mask who was now known as Erik Laramie, husband of Christine Laramie, was indeed the same person who used to reign terror on the entire establishment.

"And was it you who started the standing ovation tonight?" she joked.

Erik pulled a bouquet of red and white roses from behind his back, "If I had not been in Box Five, I would have. For you."

Christine blushed, even now, after four months of marriage; his more romantic gestures could still make her blush.

It was a quality her husband found very attractive indeed.

"Thank you, mon amour," she whispered.

Erik reached around her, and opened the dressing room door for the both of them. Once ensconced inside the privacy of the room, they found themselves wrapped in each other's arms.

"A month off," she sighed.

"I think we will find something for you to occupy your time with," Erik chuckled.

"The thought of time off does not distress me as it did a year ago, Erik," Christine murmured. "Not anymore." Her hands reached up to caress the cheek covered in the mask, her fingers playing along its edge so that she could feel his skin.

A slow shudder went through his tall frame, and his grip on her tightened. "There really should be a lock on that door, you know."

"Indeed, am I sensing indecent thoughts in you Erik?" Christine smirked.

Erik slowly withdrew from her embrace, yet took her hand in his own, and brought it to his lips with a flourish. The twinkle in his eyes revealed his thoughts, thoughts his wife knew all too well.

"Let me get changed," Christine whispered, and withdrew her hand and made her way behind the dressing screen. Five minutes later, she came out from behind the screen, dressed in her street clothes, and carrying her cape over her arm. "The Rue Scribe entrance tonight?"

"You know full well that I can not operate the mirror from this side," Erik winked.

"So you've told me, but somehow, I shall always wonder about that," Christine replied as she took the arm he offered, and they exited the dressing room once again. "What happened to the man who once told me he could make anything disappear if he really wanted to?"

"He's on vacation for a month," Erik smiled behind the mask as they walked down the now nearly empty corridors.

"Well then, we shall just have to find something else to occupy his time with. You wrote to Marie and Gerard already?"

"Yes, and Nadir delivered their answer this afternoon, they can not wait to see us, or so they said in the letter. I know that you miss Marie."

"Yes, I do," Christine smiled. "And as much as you hate to admit it, you miss Gerard as well."

"Perhaps," Erik answered cryptically. He looked Christine in the eye long enough for her to know that he was evading on purpose.

Christine merely smiled back at him knowingly as they walked down the Grand Escalier and out the front of the Opera house.

"Do we have any prior engagements before we leave?" Erik asked.

"Only a dinner with Meg and Madame Giry tomorrow night, as far as I know," Christine replied.

"No way of getting out of that, is there?"

"No, we promised her. She's as stubborn about getting you back out into the world as I am, you know that."

"Yes, I have become quite aware of that fact over the past few months. Between the two of you, you've done a pretty good job of it, haven't you?"

"Well . . . she still thinks you need to get out more."

"I've been working."

"Yes, I know you have my love. Too hard sometimes, I think."

"Better to be doing something useful instead of spending my days haunting the Opera, am I right?"

"That's my line," Christine laughed. "Although it is funny to me now when we hear the ballet rats talk about the Phantom, it's all Meg can do sometimes not to laugh."

"My reputation still supercedes me then?"

"I doubt you will ever be completely rid of that reputation, Erik. You played the ghost for too long."

"Six years," Erik sighed.

"Still, it's long enough for a legend to begin, and you made quite a legend. Meg, from time to time, adds tales you know. She says the place is a bit dull without the Phantom, though she knows now the man behind the myth."

"Meg should be a Gothic writer."

"Perhaps one day. Right now, she wants to dance, until she can't anymore." Christine glanced over at Erik once more, and she could see his eyes roll behind the mask. "You don't believe me, ask her yourself tomorrow."

"I've heard some of Meg's tales, remember? I still say she is better suited to writing Gothic novels."

"That's your opinion."

Erik sighed as they finally reached the banks of the underground lake. After helping Christine into the boat, he pushed off the shore, and the rest of the journey continued in a comfortable silence. Once on the other side, Erik tied the boat to its dock, and helped Christine out of it, and they entered their home.

Gone from Erik's suite was the coffin, replaced with a magnificent four poster bed. In Christine's old suite, which she no longer used, still sat the bed Erik had been born in, which was now there in case they ever did have company. Meg had spent a night or two in that room since the marriage, and once Nadir had passed a night there, but they never entertained anyone else in their secret house. Erik was adamant that no one else know the way to the underground lair.

Now that they were alone once more, Erik took Christine in his arms and welcomed his wife home in a proper fashion.

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