The Girl Next Door

Christine sat on Erik's sofa, pouring over the newspaper with a frown on her face. She circled a picture and turned the page. And then she jumped as Cat leapt into the newspaper, clearing miffed at her neglecting him.

"Cat! C'mon, move…" She shifted him onto the arm of the sofa, where he lay glaring until she stroked him into submission and warm purrs issued forth from him. Christine smiled at him and then looked up as a light kiss touched her forehead.

"Found anything?" Erik asked, moving around the sofa to sit beside her, one arm around her shoulders. Christine showed him the houses that she had marked out.

"These ones are in our price-range and what we're looking for in size and location. I think we'll have to go and see them before we decide." She said, shuffling over into his embrace. Erik examined the ones that she had chosen and turned the page, continuing to peruse the possibilities.

Much had changed in the last year and yet so much seemed the same. Erik's fame seemed to have tripled in the short amount of time it had taken him to write and produce a new opera, as well as begin directing a classical one, Cose Fan Tutte. Regular articles were starting to appear with information about him. He had even appeared on national news, giving a characteristically brief interview and getting a lot of publicity for the Hawthorn Theatre.

Christine, in the meantime, had not been idle either. Whilst the Hawthorn productions still took up the majority of her time, more and more requests were flooding in from authors, bands and even the occasional film studio for her assistance with promotions and advertising. As well as that, Firmin had further promoted her to assistant manager of Populaire Advertising, so whilst she was still directly involved with the graphics department (where Jammes was flourishing daily, having taken over the Piangi and Lefevre projects) Christine found herself holding a lot of influence over most of the other departments as well. Needless to say that her workload was considerably heavier but Christine couldn't say that she wasn't happier than she had ever been.

And now Erik and Christine had reached the unanimous decision to leave Gaston Place. The time had come, they had decided, to find a house instead of living in separate apartments, for their own comfort and for further reasons. So Christine had taken on the task of finding their new lodgings.

"We want somewhere quite large. Most of these are four bedrooms." She said, signalling to the ones she had marked out. Erik nodded and tapped another one.

"This looks hopeful. We'll need at least one large room to store the instruments."

"I wonder if we really need three pianos." Christine said thoughtfully.

"The designs are very different on all of them. It wouldn't hurt to have three, for referencing in my work." Erik said, turning the page again. Christine smiled, knowing in truth that he was refusing to part company with any of his instruments. His hand slid to grasp hers as he spoke again. "And we need the bedrooms for the child."

"That's if the agency ever get back to us." Christine said quietly.

"Once we've got a proper house and we've settled in, they will get back to us." Erik said, stroking her hair back from her forehead. "I know that our jobs are hard but I can work from home if needs be."

"I hope so." Christine murmured, marking out another house.

Adoption had, once again, been a mutual agreement. Erik's feelings were abundantly clear when it came to the subject of reproduction – he would, under no circumstances, inflict his face onto another being. His own experiences had been more than enough to prove just how cruel humanity could be. But he knew that Christine wanted a child and after seeing how happy Nadir was, had also expressed the desire to be a father. It had been nearly four months since they'd contacted the adoption agency in search of a baby. After countless interviews, they had been put on the waiting list as long as they ensured that they provided an appropriate home in which to raise a child. A floor of an apartment building with one partner owning an apartment each apparently did not qualify as an appropriate home.

"Christine, why don't you go and have a shower and I'll start dinner? You're going out with Meg and Sorelli, aren't you?" Erik said as they marked out all the possible houses (so far numbering up to five altogether). Christine nodded and looked at her watch.

"No problem. I think Sorelli wants to relish her last full weekend as a free woman." She said, folding the newspaper. Erik smiled.

"I think that effectively went out of the window when young Tristan arrived." He commented. Sorelli had become the very image of the doting mother, taking great pride in her young son. Christine smiled and shrugged.

"I don't know. I do know that she's absolutely thrilled about the wedding."

"As are we all." He said dryly. "But if I have to hear Nadir talking about flower arrangements and catering once more, I may spontaneously combust."

"You poor suffering artist."

"Indeed. Steak and Kidney pie?"

"Sounds good."

"A toast to Mrs Sorelli Khan." Meg said, holding her glass up. Christine held hers up too and Sorelli beamed.

"Not until next Sunday, but hey. I deserve it. To me!" She clinked glasses with her friends and they all drank. Christine lowered her glass and said,

"Is everything sorted for the wedding now?"

"Just about. There's nothing more that I can actually do until the day." Sorelli said, chewing on a couple of peanuts. "Your dresses are ready, mine's arrived, the flowers are ready, the food and reception are organised… there's nothing left to do. Oh, but you should just see the adorable little suit that I got for Tristan!"

As Sorelli proceeded to relate exactly how adorable this suit was, Christine went to fetch them all more drinks. She stood at the bar, waiting to catch the attention of one of the bartenders. A young couple stood nearby, laughing. Christine watched them for a moment and smiled at their simplistic happiness.

"Are you going house-hunting this week?" Meg asked as Christine passed the drinks around. She nodded and replied,

"Yes, Erik and I were looking through the paper this afternoon. There are a few we've got our eye on, but we really need to go and see them before we make a decision."

"And then you go and get your baby!" Sorelli said, smiling happily. Christine returned the smile, but forced herself to keep it calm.

"That's if there is a baby. Some people have to wait years before they can get a baby through adoption. And I think Erik sometimes worries about his age. He's going to be forty next year, he's worrying that by the time we get a baby and it's grown up he's going to be in his sixties."

"Big deal." Meg shrugged. "It wasn't a problem for Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas, was it? Now there's an age difference for you."

"I think and hope that'll be the first and last time that Erik and I are ever compared to them." Christine said thoughtfully. Sorelli snorted with laughter and, after calming herself, said,

"I just want to thank you two. You've really been great friends; ever since I first found out I was pregnant you looked after me. You've been there for me and you've been generally amazing. I'm so glad you're going to be there on Sunday."

"How sentimental. God, look at us. We're like a group of old women." Meg moaned. "We're not even thirty yet."

"Last time I say thanks." Sorelli muttered, reaching for her drink.

The conversation turned to Meg and Matt's planned trip to Hawaii.

"It's the first step towards moving in together. We've talked about it but we're going to see how the holiday goes first." Meg said.

"That's a great idea." Sorelli said admiringly. Meg beamed and then nudged Christine.

"I wish you and Erik were tying the knot. I always had it planned that I'd be your maid of honour! Haven't you ever dreamed of that fairytale wedding?" She said, trying to tempt her friend. Christine, however, refused to be tempted.

"I don't want a fairytale. I did the whole big white dress thing with Raoul. I'm not looking for a knight in shining armour to come and sweep me off my feet."

"What about happily ever after?" Meg demanded. Christine smiled.

"That part I'll take. I don't need a handsome prince though. I'm happier than I've ever been with Erik and if he ever tries to sweep me off my feet, I'll let him know that it's a waste of time."

"You don't mean that." Sorelli said.

"Oh, I do. I've got everything I ever wanted. I don't need sweeping off my feet." Christine said simply. "More drinks?"

Christine was surprised, when she got home, to see Erik still sat at the piano, scribbling furiously on a piece of paper. She hung her coat and caught up Cat, who was skirting around her ankles.

"You're working a bit late, aren't you?" She commented, kissing his temple lightly. He glanced up with a half-smile and said,

"I felt inspired. Did you enjoy yourself?"

"I did." She grinned. "And I had a little more to drink than was completely sensible. Therefore I'm in a rather fantastic mood and you should probably take advantage of me."

"Oh, really?"

"Mmm hmm." She put Cat down and pushed her face into Erik's hair from behind, closing her eyes and sighing. Erik smirked and turned to pull her around into his lap, crashing his lips down onto hers. When they separated she blinked at him in astonishment.



"I… wow."

"I thought you wanted me to take advantage of you."

"If you're going to be this enthusiastic, I really do!" She grinned. His smirk intensified and he stood, Christine still in his arms. She laughed and held onto him tightly as he carried her to the bedroom.

He really could be quite motivated when the situation arose.

"Can I have a word, Christine?" Sophia said, standing in Christine's office doorway. Christine looked up from her keyboard and smiled.

"Sure. Come in." She shifted some papers off her desk. "Sorry about the mess, I've got that film commission due next week and it's all sort of fallen down around my ears."

"Will it be finished in time?"

"They always are, even if I have to work til three in the morning." She smiled as Sophia took a seat, her pregnant stomach protruding. Sophia rubbed her stomach as she handed Christine a piece of paper.

"This is the budget for the graphics department."

"I haven't overspent, have I? I was really careful." Christine said, a little panicky. Sophia smiled warmly.

"Christine, you've got another eight grand to spend in the next three months. You've been a little too careful. How's the house-hunt going?"

"I'm leaving a little early today so Erik and I can go and see a couple." Christine said. "How are you doing? Is Bianca excited about being a big sister?"

"Absolutely thrilled, of course. She's decided that it's going to be a boy and if you dare argue with her, may God be with you!" Sophia laughed, standing. "I'll see you later then."

It was the second house that they went to see that proved to be the jackpot. It was about twenty minutes drive from work for both Erik and Christine, skirting the edge of the town on a charming street. The estate agent led them from room to room and Erik felt Christine's hand squeezing his as the excitement built within her. He knew exactly what she was thinking and feeling.

"I'll let you have a wander around." The estate agent smiled. Once she was gone, Christine turned to Erik excitedly.

"Erik, it's perfect. Look…" She pulled him into one of the rooms. "This… this could be the music room. It's so light and we could soundproof the walls. And the room at the front of the house could be the sitting room. The kitchen and that room over there; that could go through into one big room! It's just… it's been waiting for us. And there are enough bedrooms as well; we could have my study upstairs and… Erik, this is our house."

She stood in the middle of what she imagined to be the music room. It was so easy to see it here. The piano could go over there, by the windows. They could paint the room a cheerful colour. Erik would stand over there with his violin, or sit at the piano. The cabinets with the instruments could line up along that wall. There could be a desk over in that corner for Erik to sit and write music. Christine stood still for a moment, imagining their life in this house. There they were, standing by the windows, Erik sat at the imaginary piano as she sang from imaginary paper. And a small, featureless being was running across the room, arms outstretched as his parents bent to catch him up in their arms…

Christine bit down on her lip. Erik put a hand on her shoulder, not knowing what she was seeing but able to make an educated guess. She smiled up at him.

"This could be our home, Erik. We could have a family here. We could live here happily. What was the name of the street?"

"Leroux Avenue. You would care to live on Leroux Avenue?" He murmured. She nodded.


"Then I suggest we inform the estate agent that we have made our decision."

Sorelli officially became Sorelli Khan that Sunday. Not being of any particular religion and Nadir being Muslim, the wedding had become a blend of both cultures. Whilst the ceremony itself consisted of the Islamic readings and vows from the Qur'an, Sorelli had insisted on having the white-dress wedding that she had dreamed of, something that Nadir had willingly agreed to. It was a small price to pay for him to be joined to this woman that he adored so much.

Meg and Christine, of course, were bridesmaids. Clad in pale pink satin with bouquets of pink roses, they beamed as Nadir and Sorelli kissed. Tristan was stood with his two godmothers and, whilst he didn't exactly understand what was going on, certainly seemed happy enough. Nadir knelt and held out a hand for him and he left Meg and Christine to run to his parents. He didn't really know what had just happened. As far as he was concerned, Nadir was his daddy and that was that. Erik was Nadir's best man and stood beside his friend, thoroughly unruffled and paying serious attention to all of the goings-on. Christine watched him as the ceremony ended. She was a little concerned. Was this still what he wanted? They had assured each other many times that marriage was not what they needed. Why go through so much effort and hardship to be together, only to have some more traditional people demand that they sign a piece of paper? Their relationship, Erik had said firmly, was their own. It was private and he did not intend to display it for the world to gawk at as they pleased.

The reception was being held at The Pinewood Hotel, the same elaborate building in which Carlotta's birthday had been situated. After posing for what seemed like a thousand photographs, Christine went to find her estranged partner, who had disappeared as soon his picture had been unwillingly taken. She found Erik standing by the long table where they would be sitting with the others. He smiled and stood to kiss her.

"Do you know how charming you look?" He asked. Christine smiled sweetly.

"Only as much as you do. You look incredible in a tuxedo." She said, reaching up to kiss him again. A familiar voice broke them apart.

"Put her down, Erik, you don't know where she's been." Meg said cheerfully. "Chris, Sorelli's throwing the bouquet!"

She dragged Christine away. Christine threw Erik an exasperated look, but he merely seemed amused. They joined the group of other young women. Sorelli beamed at them all and then turned, throwing the flowers over her shoulder. For a moment it hung above them all before falling into the merciless crowd. Christine watched as they scrabbled over the flowers until, hair rather mussed, Meg jumped to her feet, triumphantly clasping the flora in her hand. She skipped over to Matt and kissed him.

"You know what this means, don't you?"

"It means I need to get you very drunk until you forget all about this." He said, pulling her to the bar. Christine grinned and went back to Erik, who was talking with Nadir, Tristan riding piggy-back on his father's back. Christine kissed Nadir's cheek.

"Congratulations, Nadir!"

"Thanks Christine." He swung Tristan around and held him happily. He was fortunate in that he took after his mother in looks, with her strawberry blonde hair and huge blue eyes. He was an energetic and friendly boy and, to Nadir's utter delight, fascinated by the theatre in which his father worked. Christine smiled at the child.

"Are you having fun, Tristan?"

"Fun party." Tristan agreed solemnly. Sorelli scurried over to hug her son.

"Here are my boys!"

"There's my wife." Nadir said, pulling her to him. Sorelli giggled sweetly and Christine smiled at them both.

The speeches were kept, thankfully, short and sweet. No expenses had been spared on this occasion and the guests were provided with delicious food and lavish music. After a good four hours, the celebrations showed no sign of ceasing. Christine put her hand on Erik's.

"Want to dance?" She asked. He looked down at her.

"If you wish." He replied, getting elegantly to his feet and guiding her to the other dancers. Meg had snatched Nadir for a dance and Sorelli was holding Tristan, his small arms wrapped around her neck as they swayed to the music.

Erik held Christine in his arms and they began to dance slowly. Neither of them spoke, there was no need to. Christine was filled with thoughts of their new home, which they would be occupying in a fortnight. Erik was preoccupied with his new opera.

This particular opera was one that he had been thinking about for some time. It had the perfect plot of love and loss and promise. He had begun composing some time previously, several songs were already completed. It was not quite as extreme as Hannibal or Il Muto. But The Angel would still stun his audiences, as his music always did. He had never written an opera based on a poem before but with a muse as lovely as Christine, it could do nothing but flourish beneath his fingers. He would even fulfil Christine's wishes that the poem had not managed and would grant the Maiden Queen and her Angel an ending of love.

Sorelli and Nadir were taking their honeymoon in New Zealand for two glorious weeks. Tristan was obviously going with them and the family departed for their long journey the next day. Christine and Meg commiserated each other on the fact that whilst Sorelli was enjoying luscious sunshine and it was pouring rain outside Populaire Advertising, soon Meg and Matt were taking a holiday to Hawaii and it was only two weeks until Christine and Erik moved into 27 Leroux Avenue.

So, the following week, Christine turned her attention to packing. Their things were scattered between apartments 5a and 5b so she combined the boxes and over the following days, packed everything that was not immediately required. They were also forced to go shopping for furniture, since their apartments had been ready-furnished with much of the kitchenware. They had revisited the house several times to decide where to put everything. It was eventually decided that Christine's chairs and sofa would go in her study and Erik's would go in the sitting room, which would be decorated accordingly. Christine's table and chairs would go in the dining room/kitchen as Erik hadn't had those. This table would be going in the music room, that cabinet would go in the sitting room… Erik was incredibly grateful to Christine for taking charge of the situation and providing him with the free time in which to compose. As she had rightly said, "My work can be done anytime. You have to compose when you're inspired".

On their final day in Gaston Place, Christine left work a little early to make them a nice dinner. Part of her was filled with sadness to be leaving the place where she had met Erik and had established herself as a person in her own right. Within these walls she had changed from the ex-wife of Raoul de Chagny, the orphan of a suicide to Christine Daae, employee of Populaire Advertising and proud woman of the world. In this place she had laughed and cried, loved and lost, been heartbroken and been so happy that the world could have ended and she would have smiled still.

Cat was notably unimpressed at the large number of boxes that had appeared. After inspecting each one thoroughly, he had come to the conclusion that this was some peculiar game and had taken to hiding in various boxes. He emerged from the box labelled CD's and DVD's as Christine arrived home, carrying a bag of ingredients. She smiled and put the bag down to hug him as she pressed the play button on the answer machine, taking off her coat and shoes.

And then she froze as the information on the machine began to make sense in her head. Long after the beep had ended the message, she continued to stare at the small, grey machine that had just proclaimed her to be a mother.

Erik arrived an hour later to the smell of delicious food. A glass of one of his particularly favourite wines was awaiting him. Christine came out of the kitchen, flushed with the heat of cooking and looking incredibly thrilled. He smiled at her.

"Did you have a good day?"

"It got much better when I came home." She said, clearly wanting to make him work for the information. But she simply couldn't wait to tell him. She reached over and pressed the play button again and he paused to listen, his wineglass halfway to his lips.

Hello, this is a message for Mr Destler and Miss Daae from Naomi Peters at the adoption agency. I thought you might like to know that a child has been found for you. A little girl, three weeks old and very healthy. You've got my number so if you want to call me before six, we can organise a meeting. Thanks.

Erik stared from the machine to Christine, who was watching with bated breath. And then he put down his glass and pulled her into his arms, not kissing her but holding her so tightly that it almost hurt. Christine held onto Erik as well and didn't say a word. For an eternity they stood, holding each other and loving each more than one would have thought it were humanly possible to do so before they separated, kissed and went to plan their next step towards their life together, phone in one hand, number in the other, Cat prowling around their feet and an array of possibilities as to what could come next to give them what they both desired. It was such a small thing to want, after all that they had experienced. An eternity in which to be with one another was not a huge demand from God. The rest of their lives in which to love each other was hardly a taxing request. That was all they wanted.

And that was what they would have.

Love seeketh not itself to please,

Nor for itself hath any care,

But for another gives its ease,

And builds a Heaven in Hell's despair.

A/N: Excuse me a moment – (wails hysterically). Ahem. OK, well, that's it. It's over. Oh, and before I get any further let me establish one thing!

The beginning of Chapter One has Erik with a women and she agrees to marry him. That woman is NOT Christine. It is ANNA. I've been getting a lot of abuse over that one! I thought people would figure it out, but apparently not. Anyway, yeah, Anna. Not Christine. Anna.

And here come the thank you's. First of all I want to dedicated this chapter to the following people: TheAngelCried, Killer Veggies, Nabira, Greenified, Twilight28, TheElfLives, EireMeg, Tigerlily, Hikari-no-tsubasa, Cricket Spinner, unviedamour, Kainaku Hotaru, Sporkish Fiend, Gondolier, Monj and SadisticSidhe. They are my POL buddies and have squeed again and again for this story. My undying luff to them all!

Of course, an enormous thank you to everyone who has reviewed, praised, critiqued and generally helped with this story. You are all simply wonderful people to have taken the time to read this story and I don't think it could have turned as well as it did without your constant support. A big thank you to IheartPOTO for her constant stream of phanart, as well as to everyone else who has given me art. And here, for your pleasure, is another couple of pieces that arrived:

http/ i42. photobucket. com / albums / e317 / IHeartPOTO / Christinecopy . jpg

http/ img.photobucket. com / albums /v159/ Squirrelie/Art /cat.jpg

And finally, I would like to Mr William Blake for writing 'The Angel'. He truly is a genius.

Love, hugs, appreciation and phantom-shaped cookies. You were all wonderful people.