Nepenthe

For the infinitely lovely Mireiyu Noir, whose talent and sweetness astound me.


His soft laughter drew her attention away from the white clouds coloring the sky.

She lowered her gaze to his form, tall and lean, running barefoot across the unkempt grass of the park. His coat and hat had been discarded and he looked younger now, a child chasing playmates.

Her son squealed in terrified delight as his father threw an arm around the small boy's waist and lifted him easily, hoisting the child over his shoulder. The child giggled loudly and kicked his feet against his father's chest. "Papa! Down!"

"As you command, monsieur." He placed the boy on the ground gently and straightened himself, brushing a touch of dirt off his pristine white dress shirt. His dark blonde hair caught in the sunlight, casting on his face in an unearthly glow. She gazed at him, transfixed by the moment of ethereal beauty set before her.

She folded her hands in her lap, her fingers entwining atop her pale blue skirt. She sat on the bench across from her husband and child, the shade of the oak tree behind her covering her slight form in a cool darkness.

Gazing at them silently, her lips curved into a smile. Her husband in his shirtsleeves and muddy trousers, launching into another gentle attack on his son. Her child, his small face flushed and grinning in the warm glow of the sun.

Watching their matching faces, she felt a streak of contentment, and she absently wondered at the sudden stinging behind her eyes.

The paper that morning had confirmed what she had long suspected. Years she had waited to hear some news of him, some small morsel about whatever had become of the devastating man who called himself "Angel".

"Erik is dead," the paper stated simply.

"Erik is dead," and she wondered why she didn't feel more.

That night never left her. It was burned into her, scarring her mind with its intense sadness, its anger and fear. In every moment, it was there lingering in her heart, casting dark shadows over her happiness.

Even still, he held his power over her.

Her son let out a shriek, drawing her from her reverie. Her husband was running from the child, gasping with comical exaggeration as his son closed in on him. The boy leapt on his father and they were both sent crashing to the ground, a pile of hysterics on the damp grass.

The Vicomte de Changy had never looked so undignified.

She smiled.

Her son's head shot up, an excited expression taking over his features. "John!" he called loudly, wiggling out from his father's weight. "John!"

A boy, smaller and fairer than her son, came running up, clapping his hands in sheer joy. "Gustave!"

The boys chased each other, a childish dance in the field.

Apparently realizing he was no longer needed, her husband stood and brushed at his trousers feebly, walking towards her.

She scooted aside and he sat, immediately relaxing against the backrest of the bench. His eyes slid shut and a smile curved his lips. "It is a glorious day, is it not?"

"It is." She scrutinized him from the corner of her eye. "You're filthy."

He grinned and raised his arms, stretching. Casually slipping one around his wife's shoulder, he drew her close and kissed her temple quickly. "No man ever lay on his death bed wishing he had kept cleaner throughout his life, my love."

"Mmm." She continued to feign disinterest, intently watching her son with his playmate. She ignored her husband's fingertips skating gently over the nape of her neck, his warm breath on the shell of her ear. She turned her head to hide her smile, but he had seen: she could feel his mouth grinning as he pressed it to her neck softly.

"Raoul," she said, slapping his hand playfully, "stop. People can see."

He sighed and sat back up, unrolling his sleeves and searching for his shoes. "Give me a few moments to compose myself, dear."

She shook her head, biting her lip to prevent the wave of childish giggles that were building in her throat from escaping.

Erik is dead and she flirted with her husband.

She wasn't sure why she had hidden the paper from Raoul. They had spoken about the Opera Ghost at length, words exchanged in the daylight, two young lovers clinging to each other as the horror was relived, again and again. Perhaps she did not wish to burden him with such morbid news. Perhaps she did not think he would be concerned.

Perhaps she wanted to keep some part of her teacher to herself... the knowledge of his fate to be hers alone, tucked away in some unseen part of her mind. Even now, she held a love for darkness that she knew her husband could not understand...

Raoul knew no darkness. His only experience with it still haunted him, those hours spent in the catacombs of the opera house, wrapping around his mind like a vice. She knew this. He spoke of it sometimes, when the nightmares came. He would still wake shaking, his hand grasping his throat gently, and she would comfort him, using the voice trained by the damned angel to soothe her husband. She still felt a betrayal in singing to her husband, using her teacher's gift to her to console the man he hated. But Raoul cried, and she couldn't bear it.

Raoul shifted beside her on the bench stretching his legs out and crossing his ankles. He sighed contently as he watched his son, his hand lingering over hers, fingers stroking her palm absently. She glanced down at the touch and stared thoughtfully, marveling at the warmth traveling from his fingertips into her skin.

Raoul's touch, she realized, never frightened her... it never sent a cold shock through her body, never made her flinch or cry or rage, as Erik's had. Her teacher's caresses were of death, ice and want. A desperate need that scared her. She was always a child with him, a terrified girl in the presence of an awesome, ethereal force. A ghost, an angel... a man who wanted more than she was willing to give. There were times during her years with him, before that waking nightmare of a night, when she felt as if he was trying to draw her soul from her body, to keep with him forever. There were times when she nearly let him: easier to appease the Phantom than incur his wrath.

I lay a great and tragic love at your feet.

Raoul had let her keep her self, had let her be silent when he'd rather she spoke, had let her mourn the loss of her angel. Raoul had let her be safe.

She lifted her head and kissed his cheek briefly. His eyes stayed on his son, his lips curling into a smile.

Raoul's touch never frightened her...

The joys of the flesh...

Then again, perhaps her teacher did not want her soul without her body, as well. She could still feel his hands on her, running a path of death-laced heat along her skin. Skating her flesh with his fingertips, whispering his devil's-love music in her ear... Erik's touch burned.

Raoul's warmed.

Erik's hands had pushed, grasped, pleaded and begged. Raoul's had asked, taken and given. Her husband's body never demanded, only requested... never seduced, simply offered. His labored breath and gentle sighs were beautiful to her... his voice only rose in ecstasy, never in anger.

"Erik is dead" and she was alive.

Clinging to her husband, she felt a sadness seep into her... that man, that man who was so desperate, he had tried to make himself holy... that man no longer existed, and he had never known just how much she had forgiven him.

That man with the glowing eyes and ruined face had taken her naiveté, her wide-eyed innocence… he had held her heart and life in his hands… yet he had finally acted as all those who love intensely should.

He had let her wishes, her happiness, her hopes come before his own, and he had let her go.

"Erik is dead" and maybe, finally, at peace with himself.

She shut her eyes and listened to her husband's breathing. He laughed and tightened the arm around her, resting his head against hers.

In the field, their son danced.


Many, many thanks to Chat, the Beta Fantastic, who helps with grammar and titles and self-esteem.