A/N: Well…I've finally written this chapter. It's quite different from how I thought it was going to turn out, but I think it works. Very intense…I think I cried a wee bit as I wrote it. I knew I should not have named the town doctor Etienne, forgetting about Dr. Etienne Barye in Kay's Phantom, so I went back and changed it to Jean. And there is a strong reference to Kay in this chapter, but it popped up in my head and I realized I had to use it.
Disclaimer: Oh, please
Marguerite did such a good job of convincing herself she was not really going to have a child that several more days passed, and then a week, until the idea was shoved into the back of her mind. It was very nearly forgotten.
One evening, in preparing supper after another hard day's work, she was cutting up onions. The pungent odor drifted up to her nostrils, and very quickly a wave of nausea swept down her throat, into her stomach, and back again. Dropping the knife to the table, she turned around and barely made it out the back door before she leaned against the stone wall and retched. There was very little to bring up, most of it burning in her throat.
Here, again, was something else that had never happened to her before. The signs seemed to be trickling in, and soon she could not even attempt to ignore the blatant evidence. She coughed and sank to her knees, wrapping her arms around her flat belly, a strange mixture of wonder, joy, and terror sweeping through her.
I'm going to be a mother, she thought immediately.
The second thing that came to her mind was, Since when? A month, then, probably a little more? Her heart, her very breath, seemed to cease when she realized…The last night beneath the opera house…
I prayed to you, Mary, she thought. Heavenly Father, I begged You, I begged You! Did You have to do this to me? Oh, please, please don't let this happen. I asked You nicely…and still I conceived. God had a reason for everything, she had always believed. Even now, she had to cling to that belief, or she would die with anxiety.
Her thinking drifted then to her husband. How am I going to tell him? She sat there, completely frozen, trying to think of the best way. However she did it, he was not going to be happy. Would he lay all the blame at her feet? It was not as if he tried to do anything about it, except to tell her he was absolutely certain that his child would be cursed as he was. After all, he himself had been born that way, without apparent cause.
If you found yourself with child, I would provide you with a remedy to end it. I learned much from the gypsies, you see…
Oh, surely not. Surely he would never try such a thing. She would never allow it!
She could go up to him right at that moment—as he was experimenting on the piano, away from the fierce glare of a sun just preparing to set—and get it over with in a rush. Or she could drop hints, warming him up to the idea, before clarifying it. What if she just let it go, not saying a word until he put all the clues together and came to the conclusion on his own? She doubted he'd had much exposure to expectant mothers before; perhaps he would not recognize the signs until it was too late to do anything about it. Perhaps.
He had to appreciate the idea, at the very least. He had to be open to it. Could she possibly make him want a baby as much as she did? She turned and stood with her back against the side of the house and brainstormed until her forehead ached. Erik was playing something surprisingly sweet; she could just hear it drifting from across the house.
Giving herself more time, she bent down to the ground and dug a hole in the loose soil, kicking in the mess that had been in her stomach until only a few minutes ago. She dunked her hands into a nearby bucket of water and wiped them on her apron before going back inside. Supper was momentarily forgotten as she crossed to the other side of the house. She stood in the doorway of the parlor, watching Erik play. How much more she preferred the piano's sound to the organ!
"Erik," she whispered.
He stopped playing and twisted in his seat to look up at her questioningly. She smiled vaguely, moving to sit beside him. She looked down to see his hands still resting on the keys and gently covered one with her own, leaning against him to place her head against his shoulder. Now grass and sunshine was added to Erik's scent; eyes closed, she drank it in. With a clench in her stomach, she remembered what she had to tell him, and the lovely feeling faded away. She looked up into his face. His smile was slight.
"I love this house, Erik," she finally said. "I love being here with you."
"When did you decide this?" he asked.
She chuckled softly, "I've always thought that. I've just been distracted by all the work." She reached up to brush her fingers against his lips. "We're safe now, aren't we? No one's going to find us out here. Everything is going to be all right."
His brow became slightly furrowed. "Yes, it's all right."
"Thank you," she said, feeling tears fighting their way to the surface. She moved her hand up to his head and took a gentle hold, her eyes pleading. He moved his head down to kiss her determinedly, if gently as well. She felt as though he were reaching down and taking the air right out of her chest. It was impossible to deny the comfort she gleaned from being so close to him, even when her heart was so troubled. And even then, she knew he loved her. God willing, it would hold steady, even when she had to deliver such a blow to his peace of mind. That is, if he ever did have peace of mind.
"We can build another life out here, Erik," she whispered when their mouths had parted ways once more. "You can start all over again."
"That's what you wanted all along, wasn't it?"
"Yes." She wrapped her arms around his middle and placed one cheek against his chest. "If only you wanted children." She held her breath, waiting for the slow, irritated intake of his, the inevitable stiffening of every muscle in his body. She hardly had to wait at all.
"You certainly know how to freeze a man's passion."
"If only I knew why—"
"Why?" His voice was low and hinted at surprise. He took her shoulders and pushed her slightly away from him, so he could look down into her face. "You have to ask me why? Have you not seen enough? Have you not heard enough? Mon dieu, I don't even know why I was born this way. Must I pass it on to a child who will suffer as I did, when not even one person should have borne such misery in a single lifetime?" When a few silent tears rolled down Marguerite's face, Erik pulled her to him again. "This is just a whim," he said, more softly this time. "Just a little whim of yours, and it will pass."
"I could be the mother you never had, Erik, for your own child," she said, choking. "You could be the father who was never there. Your life could have been so different if your mother showed you love."
"Perhaps," he said. "But it did not happen. And now is not the time to speak of it."
"There will never be a better time."
"True enough. Then we shall never speak of it." Erik closed his eyes and sighed, standing up from the piano and crossing over to lean against the fireplace. "I wish you would just forget about this."
She had. For a few days, she had tried, but was jolted back into reality. Soon Erik would be, too. "I wish you wouldn't try to forget it," she said. "Do you think me so petty that I would not love a child of ours if he were born with…?"
"No," Erik said, "but you don't need that burden. And neither does a child."
"Then I am weak and could not bear it?"
Erik gritted his teeth and turned his head away from her. She was completely missing the point! "I did not mean that. Loving me is hard enough, I'm sure, so I don't know why you would want to inflict any more onto yourself. To me, it seems to be a superfluous trouble. My own mother could only just barely keep herself from beating the breath out of me. Sometimes I think she dared to try it."
Marguerite shook her head. For now, she did not want to hear any more about Erik's childhood. Neither of them had the greatest parents, though she knew she had gotten the better pair, but the opportunity to be superior had arrived. How was she going to convince him to even accept the idea of fatherhood?
"But I want to love! Erik, I promise you I will love our child with everything you never had, and neither of you will suffer for it."
Her eyelids stretched open almost beyond their ability. Her hand flew to her mouth as though to stuff the words back inside, but there was no returning them now. Erik snapped his head back to stare at her skeptically, and then his eyes narrowed—very slowly—in suspicion. She felt slightly queasy again as the blood rushed from her face as though released from a dam. Time had stopped; the air hung thick and tense, but not another word passed between the two of them. Erik stared at her in disbelief, and she wore an expression of utmost guilt.
"I hope," he finally said, slowly and deliberately, "that was merely an ignorant and untrue slip of your tongue." He waited for her confirmation, but it did not come. She only shook her head, just as warily.
"I was only trying to make you attuned to the inevitable," she said.
"No," he hissed, "not inevitable. It ends now."
"You can't do that, Erik. You can't take this from me!"
"Damn it, woman, don't you understand what you are doing? A madman's—a demon's spawn has taken root in your womb, and you would give it life?"
"Yes, because it's yours, and you are neither!"
"That child will not thank you for letting it live. You are doing it a grave disservice." Marguerite bent her head, not in submission, but simply because she could no longer bear to see the intensity in his eyes. Erik paused, his gaze roving the room and finding nowhere else to alight. "Well, I shall remedy it soon enough," he added, sweeping from the room.
When the door closed, she dashed to the window. He was headed to the stables.
Nadir was startled from his reading when he heard the well-known burst and slam of the doors. Quickly recovering, he got to his feet with surprising agility for his age. Coming around a corner, he saw Erik digging frantically in a pile of loose hay, uncovering several crates and a dark bag from Paris. His visible lack of control was weird and alarming; the Persian was loath to interrupt it. He hung back and watched for a moment, until Erik abruptly stopped moving and turned his head up. Their eyes met immediately, with not so much as an askew glance from him, giving Nadir cause to believe Erik was aware of his presence the entire time. The man's acuity was truly frightening.
"What are you doing, Erik?"
"I must assemble a potion," he said, turning back to a crate and wrenching it open.
It was probably foolish to ask, but Nadir did it anyway. "For what purpose?" He received another glance which plainly told him that if Erik answered, it would be with reluctance.
"To spare certain individuals from unwarranted grief." He saw Nadir's confusion, but did not say anything else to clarify. Silently he held up vials one by one, examining their contents. Three of them were set aside. When he was satisfied, he gathered them up with a meaningful nod to his friend and left. Nadir was suddenly filled with alarm, and he pursued him out into the stretch of grass between stables and house.
"Erik, what in the name of Allah are you doing?"
Erik stopped and turned to him with a falsely bemused expression. "Marguerite is not herself. I'm merely giving her my most knowledgeable and—humble—assistance."
"What's wrong with her?"
"Nothing that doesn't affect most women at some point or another. But she doesn't need the extra trouble. She doesn't want my help, either, but she's going to get it anyway."
"She is with child, isn't she." It was not a question.
"You catch on quickly," Erik said.
"I was married before, Erik, and I had a son, if you'll recall. He adored you."
Erik pressed his lips together. "I remember. What has Reza to do with anything now?" He ignored the pain that passed through Nadir's dark, depthless eyes.
"I had a son whose life you took."
Erik's face went slack. "I saved him from so much pain. He was in a terrible condition. And you. You knew he was never going to recover."
"And yet there was some time he still could have had on this earth. I never stopped wondering if I had done the right thing in allowing you to feed him that…whatever you used. I still miss him, Erik. My only son. I would give anything to have him back, even for that brief time he would have had left, had you not seen fit to take matters into your own hands. Anything."
Erik was silent. Nadir watched his Adam's apple move as he tried to swallow.
"You had years with Reza. Marguerite will never have to grow attached to a…baby. She will never see it, or the horrible disfigurement I surely have passed on."
Nadir glared at him, finally comprehending. "Is that what this is about? Your own sullen, sorry pride?"
Erik came very close to baring his teeth like a cornered wolf. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course not. I never do, it seems…when I've gotten to the heart of the matter."
"I don't think Marguerite will let you do this. So what will you do, Erik? Tie her up and force that concoction down her throat? Betray her trust forever? She'll never be grateful to you if you make her part with her baby before the proper time. Her love might not survive it, did you consider that?"
This last spouting was too much. Erik lunged at Nadir, closing his thin, powerful fingers around the dark throat. Nadir gagged and tried to form a decent hold on Erik and break the grip, but he could not. Erik pulled him down until he was flat on his back, Erik's half a face hanging over him, contorting and spitting with fury.
"Don't speak to me of this!" he bellowed. "Leave it alone, do you understand? Stay out of it! You've always done this, daroga, always, intruding where you don't belong, telling me what you think when I never ask you. It ends now, do you hear? It ends…now!" With that, he stood up abruptly, and Nadir's hands went to his own neck as he coughed and desperately pulled breath into his lungs. Erik snatched up the bottles he had dropped, amazingly unbroken, and continued on to the house.
The Persian waited a few seconds before getting back up to follow Erik. When he went through the back door, clutching the bottles, Nadir hung back. There was about a minute of dangerous silence, and then the crash of an upturned table. Adrenaline coursing through him, Nadir sprinted to the door and flung it open. The kitchen table was on its side, onions scattered all over the floor, and a knife lying ominously in the doorway. Erik was nowhere to be seen, but when Nadir headed toward the parlor, he heard his footsteps upstairs. He must have been almost hysterical if he allowed his feet to stomp.
The Persian looked up to see Erik coming down the staircase, stopping halfway, his hand gripping the banister with twice the strength he had just used on Nadir's throat.
"She's not here."
To Be Continued…
Or, The End, if you don't like the story enough to read the sequel. ;-)
A/N: And so, with this evil cliffhanger I just know I will get Punjabbed for, I part with the last chapter of my beloved story…my first fanfiction, my first story that I actually finished. Thank you to everyone who read this—you have no idea how much it means to me. I've loved writing it, and I'm sad to let it go.
But then, I do have the sequel coming! I don't know when it will be posted, but I've got a good start on the first chapter. Plus the E/C, as well. Cheers, everyone!