Winter's Gift

A Mlle. Meg Production

(A/N: Yet another R/C story from one of the few, the proud, the brave R/C fans. If you don't like it...well, tough. That's what the 'back' button on your browser is for. This story features Raoul and Christine HAPPILY married, and centers around the birth of their first child. Which actually IS Raoul's, thank you very much. *glares at Meadows, Forsyth and Kay* The usual disclaimers apply.)

Just who in his right mind decided that fathers couldn't be present at the birth of their children? You'd think that if anyone should be there, it would be the father. My brothers-in-law had suffered similar affronts from supernaturally calm midwives, doctors and nurses. I supposed it would have been arrogant to assume that I should be any exception.

So there I was, sitting outside Christine's bedroom, listening to her cries of pain and the reassuring murmuring of the doctor attending to her. I stared out the window, watching the snow come down outside.

Cracking my knuckles like mad--a bad habit left over from childhood-- I fought the impulse to deck my footmen and the housekeeper, and vault into the bedroom to reassure Christine myself.

Though there probably wasn't anything more I could say or do. What difference could I possibly make?

This sharp pang of helplessness grew, reminding me of those agonizing hours I had spent in Erik's dungeon, chained like an animal. Those had been the longest hours of my life, not knowing whether the woman I loved was safe, happy, or even still alive.

Erik wouldn't have killed Christine. Three years later, I now understood that. He loved her. The boy of twenty-two couldn't fathom that one person could love someone else and hurt them at the same time. The man of twenty-five was finally seeing the events for the first time, and almost understanding his rival.

Almost. I said almost. I couldn't like him, since he was more or less responsible for my brother Philippe's death. But nor could I carry a grudge, because I was also responsible. Philippe believed I had lost my mind. He never would have been in the cellars of the Opera Garnier if not for me.

I wanted him so badly right now. Someone older to reassure and advise me, and entertain me with jokes and stories, to keep my mind off of my beloved wife's moans from the next room.

My worries were not groundless. My own mother had died in childbirth with me, and my father hardly saw me. The servants talked when they thought I was asleep, and they said it was because of my resemblance to Mother, and her death brought about by my birth, that he could not stand to look at me. I had often wondered, on the rare occasions that I saw him, if he hated me. If he blamed me for Mother's death. I never had the nerve to ask him.

Would I hate my child if Christine died? I had to wonder. If Christine died...the woman I had risked everything for, the woman who I still would gladly die for...I don't know how I could continue living myself. But if I had a child, that was different. I would have to live, for them.

"Raoul!" Christine's voice cut through the fog of my thoughts, and I leapt to my feet.

"I'm here, love," I called back through the closed (and, I suspected, locked) door. I wanted to break down the damned thing, though I probably could have done no worse than give myself a nasty splinter.

And then I heard it. The sound was so vivid that it brought tears to my eyes.

A child's first cry.

I had tried to forget Erik, but I could not. He was always with me, at the back of Christine's mind. He had made the ultimate sacrifice for her. Oddly, it was probably what I would have done--it's strange to think of myself as having anything in common with Erik! And yet we had loved the same woman.

Would his joy have equaled mine, had he been in my situation? Would he, too, have been ecstatic at the shrill cries coming from the next room?

Just then, the door swung open. The nurse stood in the doorway, a glowing smile on her face.

"Monsieur le vicomte, it's a boy!"

"May I go in?" I asked.

She nodded, and I dashed past her to Christine's side. My wife looked exhausted, but her blue eyes were shining with happiness. The doctor and two of the nurses went into the next room to clean the child off.

I sat beside her on the bed, and kissed her on the forehead.

"You have a son, my dear," she said, her voice slightly weak. I put my arm around her shoulders, and kissed her again.

"We have a son," I corrected. "You're very strong and brave, Christine. I hope our son inherits those traits from you."

At that moment, the doctor returned, and placed the small bundle into Christine's arms.

"He's beautiful," she said, her voice choked with emotion.

I was almost too overcome to speak myself. "He has you for a mother, Christine. What else could he be?"

She buried her face in my shoulder, and I could feel her tears soaking through the fabric of my shirt. My own tears glided down my cheeks, and landed in Christine's fair hair.

I reached out, and touched the baby's face gently. Though it was still early to tell, I could see vestiges of myself and Christine in his features. He had his mother's ears and mouth, and my brow and nose. I wished that he would open his eyes, but then, after his journey, I could hardly begrudge him a rest, now could I?

"He needs a name, my love," I said at last, swallowing my emotion. "Did you have anything in mind?"

Christine studied the baby for a moment. "My father said that if he'd had a boy, he would have named him Jean."

"Jean is a good name," I replied, looking down at my son's sleeping form.

"Yes, but a little plain," she agreed with a smile. "It needs something else. I had also thought of naming him for you."

I thought for moment. "That might get confusing. Perhaps if we combined the two..."

Both of us looked down at our son, who stirred in his sleep.

"Welcome to the world, Jean-Raoul de Chagny," I whispered.

"Hello, Jean-Raoul," Christine said softly.

Jean-Raoul's eyes opened, and now I could see that they were a deep, cornflower blue. I leaned down and kissed him on the nose. Suddenly, I laughed.

"What is it?" Christine asked.

"I just realized something," I said, turning to her with a smile. "Did you realize that it's Christmas?"

"I confess I forgot," Christine replied, smiling also. "Merry Christmas, darling."

"Merry Christmas, my love."

I hoped that I would be a good father. I hoped that I could teach my son to avoid the mistakes that I had made, to have better sense and judgment. Perhaps, with Christine's help, I could also teach him that the true measure of a man lay far beyond his face, but in his actions.

I could not imagine a better Christmas gift than that.