The house in Paris was lit up like a beacon in the night. Rain pelted down in heavy torrents against the windows. Erik paced in the study. In the parlor, Stuart, Reggie and Lily were seated, tense and silent. Eutacia was seated in a wheelchair. She coughed harshly, and thumped her chest, then continued breathing in small shallow gasps. Alice, the old woman's personal nurse, stood nearby ready to administer any necessary assistance. The servant girls bustled between the kitchen and the parlor, serving tea and tiny cakes. Milton hovered in the foyer, raising his eyes periodically to door above on the second floor. Madame Giry stepped out momentarily and everyone, hearing the door open, rushed out into the foyer to hear of the newest arrival. Madame Giry shook her head gravely and requested more towels, which Stella had kept warm on the kitchen stove.

Erik stepped from his study at the sound of voices. "Is the baby here yet?" He asked, hopefully. Milton shook his head. Erik returned to his study, closing the door. Leaning with his back against the door he removed the mask and buried his face in his hands. It felt suffocating and hot. His fingers traced the creases in the soft loose skin where the mask had been. Would his child bear the same mark? A chill ran through him like a cold clammy hand squeezed his heart and froze there spreading its icy touch throughout his body.

He'd been able to think of nothing else since Meg's labor began just after the stroke of midnight seventeen hours earlier. The midwife had been sent for instantly and she arrived just a few hours later. Meg had decided she wanted to have the baby in Paris and so several weeks before the time she was expected to deliver, they had traveled to Paris. Erik would have chosen to remain at the chateau, but it was not fair for him to make that choice. Meg said she wanted their child to be born in Paris to be close to her mother. Erik had suggested that Madame Giry should come to the chateau, but Meg argued that she didn't want her mother at the chateau just yet. It made little sense to Erik, but Meg was insistent.

Earlier that day when Meg's labor was still in the early stages, there had been a festive atmosphere in the house. Word was sent to Lily and a short time later she appeared with Stuart, Reggie and Michelle. The house staff began baking and the smell of delicious treats filled the house. Eutactia, who had not been well for weeks, insisted on getting out of bed and sitting with the guests in the parlor. Only Madame Giry and Michelle were allowed in the room where Meg was giving birth. The midwife insisted upon it, stating that only women who had gone through the experience could endure the sight. She took another look at Lily's abdomen where a tell-tale swelling implied another child was on its way and grew more insistent that Lily should not be present during the delivery.

As the hours dragged on, Erik found the company of the others difficult to take. They meant well and he was secretly pleased that Meg had good people who cared, but he needed solitude more than anything. He needed to think and more than once, he'd prayed. The waiting was agony and the longer the time grew, he worried about Meg. How much could a woman endure before the pain killed her or what if the child was too large and Meg died from being ripped and torn as this person forced its way into the world. His thoughts were becoming darker and increasingly morbid. As a rule, he knew nothing about human childbirth, but he'd seen horses die because the fetus became stuck or the animal hemorrhaged. For such a relatively short journey in distance, the trip out of the womb was undoubtedly the most treacherous adventure one made in life.

In all his experience, nothing had prepared Erik to be a father. So many questions plagued him. The most obvious being how would he explain his disfigurement? Naturally curious, a child would expect an honest answer. It seemed horribly inappropriate to tell a child that the reason Daddy's face looked like a dog had chewed on it was that dear Granny had tried to kill him before he was born.

The temptation to blame it on the Creator came and went. It was hardly plausible to expect a child to believe in and worship a loving God who would deliberately create a monster, and Erik no longer hated God for the deformity. Right now, he forgave God for everything on the condition that Meg lived. Erik no longer cared that his child may be born scarred or deformed. He just wanted his wife and child to live. He needed God, because there was no one else who could help Meg like He could.

It was late, though Erik had lost track of time. Sometime after the sun went down, he'd stopped looking at his watch and watched the rain splattering against the window. A tap on the door indicated someone seeking him. He put the mask on before answering the door. Milton stood outside with a covered, silver tray.

"I brought you dinner, Monsieur." He said. Erik stepped aside, allowing the butler to enter.

"Is there anything that you can tell me?" Erik asked, ignoring the tray of food.

"Not anything in particular. Eustacia has retired for the evening, but your visitors remain. Should I have someone prepare rooms for them. The weather is not permitting easy travel and it could be a long night yet." Milton inquired.

"Yes, but I will invite them myself." Erik entered the parlor where Lily and Stuart had made themselves comfortable to pass the time. Lily was doing needlework, while Stuart perused a thick leather-bound volume of French history.

"My apologies for abandoning you. Please forgive me. There are rooms being prepared for you to stay the night. You must be very tired, and I thank you for your vigilance. I will send someone to inform you if there is any change or news. I understand it is quite common for a birth to take many hours and sometimes days." Erik said, his manner formal. "Has Reggie left?" He asked noticing the absence of the younger man.

"He has not gone far. I believe he is sitting on the stairs." Stuart said looking up from his reading. "How are you? We are concerned about you also, my friend, and wish to lend our support and encouragement."

Erik blinked. Unaccustomed to such forthright declarations, he stiffened, immediately suspicious but quickly hid his reaction by pretending to look for Milton and clearing his throat. It was still difficult for him to be in the company of the other couple without Meg. She was the connection between these people and as much as they appeared to desire a friendly relationship, Erik remained skeptical. It was for her sake that he welcomed them, but Stuart's open concern had affected him in a way that was both disturbing and comforting. Was it possible that Stuart and Lily really cared about him and not just Meg? Erik quickly dashed the thought from his brain. He'd learned from past experience that few people were trustworthy and each time he'd forgot it, it cost him dearly. The awkward moment was saved by a joyous cheer from the stairway.

Erik rushed to the foyer and looked up at Madame Giry standing in the open doorway of Meg's room. Garrick and Reggie, the parties responsible for the cheering, were standing on the stairway, eyes raised upward and smiling in relief and wonder.

Erik froze. This was the moment. Madame Giry was smiling, her countenance as bright as a sunny day. It had to be a good omen.

"Come and meet your son." She said, beaming.

A son. Suddenly, life, and his life in particular, had meaning and purpose. He was no longer the wasted monument of potential, he'd compared himself to in the early morning hours after the fire at the Opera Populaire. This was why he was born, why he lived when he thought he'd be better off dead. His son would inherit the title, property and responsibilities which had been thrust upon him so unexpectedly. Now, he understood what motivated Eustacia. Family, it was what made the world more than a giant, spinning piece of rock in a endless void. He felt unusually light as though a great weight had been removed from his very heart and soul.

Impulsively, he embraced the nearest person, Stuart, who clasped his in a great bear hug. Michelle appeared in that moment holding the baby swaddled in a pale blue shawl. Erik up looked in wonder, then raced up the stairs to meet his son. Reggie and Garrick stepped aside to let him pass. He'd forgotten his fears and hesitation. He would accept his son on any terms. The baby was alive and by all outward indications, Meg had survived the ordeal, as well.

Madame Giry took the child from Michelle and placed the tiny infant in its father's arms, still glowing with pure joy and grandmotherly pride. Erik gazed at his child with awe and marveled at the sight. Why were tears streaming down Erik's face, freely and unashamed? What had caused such a well to spring forth, when he'd never been so happy in all his life? The baby was red, wrinkled, and cried out passionately for the whole world to take notice of his arrival. Not a single blemish marked his countenance, and a thick thatch of dark hair covered his head. He was perfection in every way.

Michelle and Madame Giry stepped apart from the open doorway to allow Erik in the room to see Meg. She rested against many pillows, half sitting in the large bed, looking pale, but nonetheless alert and content. Great pride swelled in his chest as he held the tiny baby in his large hands and looked at his wife. She was so beautiful and strong, radiant with her new title of Mother that Erik felt humbled in her presence. What had a man ever done to compare with the woman who gave him life? Erik was speechless, not for the first time in his life, but never because he felt such an overwhelming sense of joy and love. It was as though God, himself, had opened up the heavens and poured out more love than the world deserved upon Erik, the least deserving of all, but still God gave, holding nothing back. It was that indescribable love that came with being a father that Erik knew he had a Father, who loved him unconditionally. The evidence was in his hands as tangible and real as anything he'd ever touched or seen with his own eyes.

"What will you be naming the young master?" The midwife asked. "It is best if I have the name now and can fill out the legal paperwork."

Erik looked at Meg. He'd not given the matter much thought. Even when Meg had asked him the same question earlier, he hadn't been able to give her an answer.

"I like the name, Ravenne but I also like Gunnar and William." Meg said, smiling wanly.

"Thaddeus." Erik said looking at his son. "Thaddeus Ravenne de Leon." Erik corrected himself, when a brief look of dismay crossed Meg's pale features. She smiled her approval.

"Go and introduce him to the others. They have been waiting a long time for this." Meg waved him away and settled back against the pillows.

Erik did so. Stuart, Lily , Reggie and the remaining household hovered about the door, eagerly crowding around to see the baby. It was surreal. For a moment, Erik wondered if he dreamed the event. It wouldn't have been the first time, he'd dreamed he held exquisite joy in his arms and awoke to find his happiness was only an illusion. Gradually, the infant ceased wailing and looked into his father's face. Large, dark pupils held a steady gaze as they took in the mask, then the child yawned as if there was very little to occupy his attention.

Little Ravenne, as his mother already called him, was returned to Meg's arms to receive nourishment. Cigars and brandy were served in the parlor to everyone, including the household staff, just after the stroke of midnight as a small celebration. Shortly afterward, everyone retired, except Erik. He sat in a comfortable chair in Meg's room near her bed, watching her sleep, the baby lying next to her.

Eustacia woke several hours latter to the news that she was a great-grandmother. She received the announcement calmly, but tears filled her eyes when she beheld the sight of the newest member of the family. "I have waited so long for this day. You have made me proud, Erik. Our family name will live on." Sixty two days later, the old woman passed on, surrounded by her family. Meg and Erik remained in Paris during that time, and Erik came to admire Eustacia for her devotion to her family. Family pride was one of the few things they could share without arguing. Erik learned about his father, his interests, preferences and dislikes. The man, who's portrait hung in the study, was very different than either his son or his mother, but rather took after his own father. Eustacia's husband Roger was a mild natured individual who was well received by all who knew him. Erik concluded he must have gotten his own cynicism from his dear grandmother, Eustacia, for as much as he wished to love her for her endearing qualities, he was far more annoyed by her stubbornness and unsubstantiated political opinions. She refused to acknowledge that the nobility was losing their power and privilege and predicted her great-grandson would reign in power as a great leader in the future of the European continent. Erik gave up trying to dissuade her.

It was still early summer when Erik and Meg returned to the chateau de Bagen with Ravenne. They had just settled into a comfortable routine when suddenly Meg found herself planning a wedding for late September. This wedding would be a small affair on the knoll where the couple had met that fateful November morning when the bride-to-be had sprained her ankle. Lily and Stuart arrived at the chateau two days before the wedding with their tiny twin daughters, Ruth and Raquel. The chateau was full of guests and there was hardly a moment when Meg and Erik had a moment to themselves. Meg was so busy, she didn't even have time to complain. Erik seemed to disappear from time to time and Meg could only wonder about it. He never said anything about where he'd been and he wasn't gone long enough to cause Meg to worry. Ravenne was napping, and the wedding was just hours away, but Meg's curiosity got the better of her. When Meg saw him leave, she followed him into the basement. It had been a long time since she went down there and was unprepared for the changes which awaited her.

Hand carved, gold-plated candelabras surrounded a church organ; sheet music lay spread out on a nearby table. It was strangely reminiscent of the Phantom's Lair at the Opera Populaire. Meg cleared her throat. Erik half turned to see her.

"I see that you've been busy." She said, waving her hand about the room.

"So have you."

"It's almost over. Does it bother you to have so many people about that you come down here to get away?" Meg wondered aloud.

"You could say that I like my friends in small doses. Have I neglected anyone?" Erik asked.

"No, Stuart and Lily have their hands full with the children. Reggie and Michelle don't know anyone else is alive. The staff are running themselves ragged. The wedding will be wonderful." Meg sighed.

"Will you marry me, Meg? This time, it will be a proper wedding like Michelle's and Reggie's. We'll even invite your mother. You didn't have much of a wedding and I'm sorry. I should have been more considerate." Erik was sincere. Meg wanted to laugh and cry at once.

"No! I won't hear of it. Though our wedding may have been rather sudden and I was soaked to the skin, I wouldn't have it different for anything in the world. It had more drama and adventure than anything I could hope for. I loved it and I love you. One day I shall tell our grandchildren about it and I wouldn't want to spoil the story with anything so ordinary as a perfect wedding!"

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Shari & Naomi