The Light of His Life
Disclaimer: Don't own POTO…
A/N: I started writing this a while ago and thought I'd post it now in the New Year. It's set in Britain, and though Erik's a teacher, it isn't much to do with a school. It merely provides him with the opportunity to catch sight of his beloved on a regular basis and the ability to keep her trust. Erik's last name is an English name, and, if I can say nothing else, it has never been used by anyone else before on here, as far as I'm aware. It isn't French like most people make his name – I decided he should have an English name so that he could also have an English background. Of course, in my other chapter-phic, Erik has the same name…
Summary: Erik sees a four-year-old Christine for the first time and can never let her go. She was the light of his life even before she was the woman he loved as a wife. He has to fight for custody of her, for her love and again when Fate threatens to steal her from him once and for all. EC Modern day AU
Please read and review… I'll update soon if you like it.
Chapter 1: The Light of His Life…
In a darkened room in the heart of a grand house in Hertfordshire, early evening, a masked, middle-aged man sat silently and almost in disinterest. He was alone in the living room, enshrouded in the shadows, watching the flames in the fireplace as they started to lull and become ever smaller. With a great deal more interest, he observed as an exquisite young woman gracefully descended the staircase just outside the door, utterly fascinated by her beauty. He watched as she bent forward to pick a soft cashmere scarf off of the chair, her lovely long hair falling forward and blocking his view of her face until she stood again, her elegant hands wrapping the material around her supple neck. At the risk of sounding cliché, he wished he could be that scarf…
Before she had entered his line of vision, he had been watching the fire for some time, reminding him of his life – the excited and enthusiastic start, believing he could be anything at all; then the gradual realisation that he was living a dream and the fading of his passion for life… like he was burning out. Eventually to fade away like the fire, without notice – after all, it would be as before with just one less creature absorbed in self-pity as they went on… just as before. He would not be missed, he was sure… not noteworthy enough to receive the luxury of being remembered. No, he would be overlooked…
But not her – not her…
The young beauty entered the room, catching sight of the man in the armchair. "Oh, there you are, Angel," she smiled.
As the last tiny ember died without spectacle, the man sighed sorrowfully and stood, walking to the precious creature before him as she stood in the doorway, waiting patiently. She was… stunning. And he loved her… had done for years… as long as he'd known her, in fact… She was the light of his life…
Erik Phelps-Jones stood by the window of his classroom, staring out at the precious four-year-old angel who was playing outside in the junior playground with the rest of the nursery class. He had loved her since the moment she had been brought to the school a few months back though he could not explain it. It was confusing to him, having never loved anyone before, to just suddenly love this precious little creature at his first knowledge of her very existence.
His was an unusual school – it served as three levels of education rolled into one with a building for the nursery class, a connected one for the primary classes and another one for the secondary classes. So, all in all, there were children from the age of four up to eighteen taught by different sets of teachers in the school… and Erik taught the secondary classes, which left him little able to have any contact with the angel known as Christine.
Mrs. Ada Giry taught the nursery class and it was especially enjoyable this year now that her daughter, Meghan, was a part of the class. Meghan's best friend and the daughter of Ada's closest friends also started school that year – her name was Christine Daaé and she and Meg had known each other since they were babies. The two of them were born only a couple of months apart and were very close – Meg, the elder of them, even at four looked out for her shier friend and they were often found together.
Today, though, Meg had the chickenpox and was at home being looked after by her father, so, Christine was all on her own and was sitting by herself near the high gates as all the other children ran about happily…
"Sir?" somebody asked, snapping Erik back to reality as he realised that he'd been staring out of the window for some time and his class were wondering why he wasn't doing anything.
He moved quickly back to his desk, offering no apology for his lapse in concentration as he believed that the class should be apologising to him for tearing his attention away from the angel outside. "As I was saying…" he said, pausing because he couldn't in fact remember what he had been saying and rested his hands together in front of him on the desk. "Oh, forget it… just go to study hall for the rest of the period and look over the notes I gave you."
He waited, covering his ears as they noisily packed up their things and left his room. Eventually he stood and left the room, himself, as he became determined to see Christine on her own, without Meg to crowd her.
A couple of classroom assistants were in the junior playground making sure that the children played safely during the break and they nodded at him as he passed, heading towards the lovely little girl playing by herself on the grass. He didn't know quite what he was going to say or what he expected to have in common with a four-year-old… but he could not allay the urge to be with her for whatever amount of time he could get away with.
Stopping by her feet, he crouched down onto his knees in front of her and felt his heart swell with love again unbidden as she looked up at him with her stunning blue eyes. She was absolutely perfect… A perfect little unknowing seraph as she innocently went back to playing with her little doll…
"I'm Erik," he said, lifting her chin with his hand to get her to look at him so that he could delight in her eyes again. "What's his name?" he asked, pointing to the doll in her hands.
It was an unusual doll for a child to have – a figure of a man dressed in extravagant and obviously well-made robes with a full-face black mask bearing two white patches, one beneath each eye. "Cyrus…" she said in her delicate crystalline child's voice – a voice so pure that it caused his heart to swell even more at her perfection. "Daddy says, if I write a wish on his tears, it'll come true…"
"Does he?" he said, moving the corners of his lips up in a way he had not done more than a meagre couple of times in his whole life. He moved to sit down next to her on the grass, spreading his long legs out in front of him and giving in to a cherished urge to stroke her beautiful hair as he leaned back against the wrought-iron fence. "Your daddy's very clever, isn't he? But, why haven't you written a wish yet?"
"Don't have anything to wish for…"
He spent several entirely too brief minutes more with her until the bell rang for the end of break and Mrs. Giry came out to bring them in. Needless to say, she was rather surprised that Erik was sitting out there willingly in the presence of children who – as he thought – were loud and thoughtless and brash…
"Erik, what are you doing out here? You've worked here for twelve years and I've never known you to even step foot in the junior school…"
"I am committing no crimes by being here, madam, and I needn't have to explain myself…" he said, standing up defensively as she approached. He bent down briefly to help the little angel to his left up off the ground and watched wistfully as she walked away from him and back inside the building.
"I wasn't accusing you of anything…" She looked confusedly at the peculiar expression on his face and turned around to see what he was staring at. But, when she looked back at Erik, he was gone…
He brought his hands up to the young woman's shoulders, moving her hair out of her way as he stroked it affectionately. "What can I do for you, precious child?"
"I was going to go see Meg," she said. "Have you seen my black coat, Angel? It's quite cold outside…"
Her coat, he mused happily. That's all she wants… such a domestic request… He loved it…
Leading her by the hand towards the sofa, he picked her favourite coat up off of the back and helped her put it on. She made him feel so paternal, almost, that he surprised himself when he was with her… he'd never felt protective of anyone else before and, since she had come into his life, he had developed an amazing sense of caring and tenderness he had not realised was in him. "I'll drive you, sweetheart… it's dark and I don't want you going by yourself."
"Thank you, Angel…"
He led her to the car and opened her door for her as she got in the passenger side, before heading around to the driver's side, himself.
"Are you going to see Meg for anything in particular?" he asked when they were on the main road towards the Giry house.
"No, Angel, just the usual… actually, we might watch a film or something – I was just bored so I called her and she wasn't doing anything."
"Well, I hope you enjoy yourself… Perhaps, when you get back, we could eat tea together – that is, if you've not already eaten with Meghan."
"I'd like that," she said sincerely, still looking out her window at the darkness outside. "What are you going to do while I'm out?"
"I'm not sure, child, but I expect I'll find some way of occupying myself… When do you want me to come get you?" he asked.
"Why don't you stay…? Meg's mum won't mind and I'd like you there… unless you're busy, of course."
"Never too busy for you, child…" he said, happy that she did not want rid of him.
Christine turned around to look at him as he drove and decided to broach an idea right there, while he was calm. "Angel? Is it alright if I ask Meg and a couple of other people to come over tomorrow? I promise I'll keep them out of your way and you won't even hear us…"
"It's fine, sweetheart…" he said softly, laughing that she thought him so much a recluse that he would not let her have her friends over.
When they got to Meg's house, Christine hopped out the car and hurried off to find Meg as Erik followed slowly behind her into the house. Just as Mrs. Giry came through to meet them, Christine came quickly back down the stairs again as she had forgotten something.
"Love you, Angel…" she said, kissing Erik goodbye on the cheek as was her wont. He had had to get used to those little displays of affection over the years, having never received such before, and he looked forward to each and every time she decided to bless him with her fondness.
"I love you, Christine," he returned as he watched her disappear up the stairs again.
"So she still calls you 'Angel'?" Ada asked.
"It's called a metronome…" he said slowly to young girl next to him as they stood by his desk.
It had been several months since the day in the playground when he had first spoken to her and he had started to visit her on a daily basis – whether it was before school in the playground or whenever he had a free class and she was outside. Sometimes he even had his lunch with her – though it meant he had to bear with Meg's presence too – and he brought her little pieces of mostly exotic fruits that she had never tried before. He had nothing against Meg but he did sometimes find her tedious when she held more of Christine's attention than he did and when she often overshadowed Christine with her own outgoingness.
Today, he had managed to catch Christine on her own at break and was making the most of it by keeping her to himself for the whole time. Unfortunately, the bell rang too soon for him to be satisfied and he groaned, lifting her up into his arms to take her back to the playground.
He rested her against his hip and he carried her through the corridors towards the junior part of the school as she laid her head against his shoulder sleepily.
"That your daughter, sir?" one of his older students asked as he passed a group of the girls in the hall.
He stopped and turned to them. "No…"
But they seemed not to hear him and started fawning over her anyway. "Aw, she's gorgeous… can I hold her?"
Erik was having none of that… nobody would take her out of his arms for such a feeble reason. "I don't think so, Jessica – the first bell has rung and you should be heading to class…" They groaned and huffed away slowly, leaving him to find that the precious girl in his arms had fallen asleep against his shoulder, sucking her thumb. Oh, she was so… adorable.
When he got outside again, he was met with a much more unwelcome sight…
"Erik, what the hell have you been doing with Christine? Don't you know how worried I was when I couldn't find her and nobody had seen her?" Ada shouted, waking Christine up. She blinked at Erik tiredly and he stroked her curls to soothe her.
"I haven't done anything and I was not gone long…" he said defensively.
"Regardless… anything could have happened to her and I am the one responsible for her – not you… I was just about to call the police and her parents… Erik, you can't just take her away like that…"
"What, exactly, do you suspect me of doing to her?" he said angrily. "Maybe you think I'm a sadist and I like hurting her… or a paedophile perhaps… a sexual deviant…?"
"I know you're not hurting her, Erik, but you cannot just take her without a thought for anyone else… And what do you expect me to make of this…? You take a sudden and passionate interest in a little girl when you have never taken any interest in children before…"
"Well, then… that just proves I am not attracted to children…" he said.
"And this one in particular…?"
"I only took her to my car to–"
"You had her in your car…?" she said, cutting him off.
"She wanted to hear what Bach sounded like…"
"Erik, she's four years old… does she even know who Bach is?"
"She has an intelligence beyond her years, madam, and her knowledge of music is extensive… her father has a lot to be proud of for getting so interested so young and for teaching her so much already. She has a voice to make angels weep…"
"That may well be, Erik, but it does not justify–"
"And then, I took her into my classroom and showed her my organ…" he said, ignoring her.
"Oh, do be quiet… your screeching is doing a number on my nerves." He produced another smile as Christine started giggling – smiling was something he found himself doing all the more readily now.
"Angel, I'm tired…" she whispered against his shoulder when she stopped laughing.
"I know, sweetheart…"
"Angel? She calls you 'Angel'?"
"After the Angel of Music her father told her a story about…" he explained, bored at the question. He turned back to Christine, "Goodbye, my little love… I'll see you tomorrow."
As he reluctantly relinquished his hold of her over to Mrs. Giry and started walking away, back into the senior building, she realised that he hadn't even apologised for his behaviour and that he obviously still thought he was entirely in the right. She sighed… there was no changing Erik – he would always take for himself what he wanted and would defend what he believed was his from anything – his own childhood had seen to that.
"It's been thirteen years, madam. What can I say…? Old habits die hard, I expect…" Erik said almost indifferently. Though, secretly, he loved that Christine still called him her Angel and he was always thrilled that she would say it in public and was not self conscious about it.
"Can I get you something, Erik?" she asked. "Christine and Meg will be occupied up there for quite some time, no doubt…"
"I will be eating with Christine when we get home, madam. But, I would not turn down a cup of tea…"
"Alright," she said, leading him into the kitchen as she went about making them some tea and setting out a plate of biscuits. She would not offer to take his coat – which might have seemed rude to some – but she had known him long enough to be aware that the only person he was comfortable having behind him, and in an area he could not readily protect, was Christine. She knew he trusted that girl more than he'd ever trusted anyone… "And perhaps you'll sit down and answer a few of my questions…"
At once, he felt defensive, choosing not to sit anymore but to lean against the counter until she made herself clear. "Questions, madam…?"
"I just want to know how Christine's getting on – it has been so long since you've been in my presence long enough to have a conversation…" He did not often enjoy talking to another person… unless the conversation turned to Christine – a subject, on which, he was rather familiarised and well-versed.
"You know how she is getting on, madam – she is happy… if she were not, don't you think you would hear about it from Meg?"
"I'm not saying that she's unhappy, Erik – so you don't have to be so defensive of her… as you said, it's been thirteen years and she's seventeen now; nobody can take her away from you." That seemed to calm him a great deal and she took the opportunity to get him to sit down and hopefully be a bit less distrustful. "It's been such a long time now, Erik, and I never thought to ask you – how do you think it's gone?"
"You know, this would go by a lot faster if you didn't keep repeating the last word I say…"
"Well, how do you think it's gone then, madam? Do enlighten me," he said sarcastically.
"From my perspective," she said, pausing to make sure she had Erik's full attention. "It could not have gone better… I don't think she would have been half as happy had she stayed with us – after all, she has had you all these years to dote upon her solely… whereas, I already had Meg to look after."
"Glad you think I've not completely buggered it up…" he said in a bored voice.
"Why is it so bloody difficult to have a conversation with you?"
"Yes, well, you are not hanging upon my every word, are you?"
"I'll wait for Christine in the car…" he said coldly, standing up in anger. "I expect you'll tell her and not make her think I've just abandoned her to this place…"
"Sit down, Erik, and stop being so melodramatic. You can be so defensive at times…"
"You have always known that about me…"
"Christine seems able to handle you…" she said. "In fact, when you are with her, you are like an entirely different person."
"And who, exactly, am I then, madam?"
"She doesn't even realise what you are like with everyone else, does she?" Ada said, ignoring his question. "She thinks you're all sweetness and light, all of the time and not just with her, doesn't she? She probably thinks you are the sweetest man on the planet…"
"I can be… with her. But, I did not come here to be insulted as I have been, more than once tonight…" he said, getting up again.
"She loves you," Ada said to get him to calm down again and sit as he waited to hear more.
Actually, he didn't so much sit as collapse upon the chair, his legs having given out beneath him. How does one collapse gracefully? Ada wondered. Well, he managed…
"Do you really think so?" he asked in such a wildly different, child-like voice.
"She tells you enough, doesn't she?"
"There is a difference between saying and meaning, madam," he said, head bowed.
"So, when you tell her that you love her, I expect you don't mean it either, then?"
"Don't be ridiculous… of course I mean it."
"What makes you think that she doesn't? That you are the only person in the world, in fact, who can say it and mean it…"
"I didn't say that, madam, and I detest words being put in my mouth. I merely believe it has become a habit for her to tell me that she loves me and not a conscious decision to say so…"
He could still remember the first time she'd told him she loved him. It had been such a fleeting, natural response for her and a soul-changing one for him. While it had been said in the midst of such tragedy, he was not sure that she even meant to say it… she had been so young.
"They're dead…" Ada sobbed over the phone. Her husband was sitting behind her, stroking her back to try to soothe her. They were both devastated…
"They're dead, Erik… her parents are dead…"
"Where's Christine?" Erik asked immediately without even having to think about it.
"It's alright, she's fine… she wasn't in the car at the time – she was here with Meg."
"Where is she now?"
"We've still got her here…"
"Have you told her? Does she know?" he asked, worried that his little child was upset beyond words.
"She doesn't understand, Erik… she's only four… she knows they're not there and she's upset but she doesn't know why. She thinks they're coming back to get her…"
"I want to speak to her…" he stated firmly.
"Erik, I don't think–"
"I want to speak to her, madam – put her on…"
She conceded and, after a few moments of impatience on Erik's part, the sound of his precious little seraph's voice appeared at the other end of the line. "Daddy?" she asked.
"Oh, sweetheart, no…" Erik said softly, his heart breaking for her. "It's your Angel… you have not forgotten me, have you?"
"No, Angel, I promise," she said confidently. "But where's Mummy and Daddy?"
"I love you…"
"Daddy says that before bed… are you saying night-night, Angel?" she asked innocently, unaware of the grief she should be feeling were she older. He supposed she was lucky this way – not to have to feel that pain…
"Yes, sweetheart – your Angel just wants to say goodnight to you… but I do love you."
"Night-night, Angel… love you."
"Oh," he choked out as his voice became thick with emotion. It was the first time anybody had ever said that to him and he was incapable of telling her just how much it meant to him – even though she had not even said the full sentence and had probably not meant him to take it quite like he had. "Goodnight, my beautiful child… will you hand the phone back to Mrs. Giry now for me, darling?"
"Jonathan's just taken her and Meg to bed…" Ada said, speaking into the phone again.
"What's going to happen to her now? Where will she go?"
"She'll stay with us now, Erik… Michael and Sarah would have wanted that – trust me, she'll never be on the wrong side of a care home as long as I live." She was not to know, however, that one day she might just live to regret her words…
"Hello, Angel," Christine said, coming into the kitchen and kissing the top of his head as she stood behind the chair he was in.
"Are you and Meg finished?" he asked, placing his hand atop hers on his shoulder.
Ada couldn't help picturing Erik as some sort of regal King, sitting in his throne as his Queen stood behind him, both figuratively and literally, sharing in each other's comforting presence. She shook her head to get rid of the strange image and reacquainted herself with the conversation.
"Yes, Angel," Christine said. "And I'm hungry… is it alright if we go home now?"
"Yes, love," he said, getting up to take her out of the kitchen and get her coat. He took her by the hand and waited as she said her goodbyes to Meg and her mother, then escorted her to the car, driving off together back towards their own home.
"What do you want for tea, Angel?" It was perhaps a very normal question, but, Erik rather liked the regularity of family life that was offered him by this delicate beauty. He had never been privileged with such luxury when he was a child himself and, now that the two of them shared it so willingly, he would never be able to go back to how it was before she came into his life.
"Don't you bother about that, Christine – I'll make the tea tonight… you must be tired and I want you to be able to get up for school in the morning. What would it look like if I, a teacher, let my favourite student skive off for a day?" he said, smiling. "Actually, sweetheart… at the weekend, I thought I'd treat you… how would you like to go to your favourite restaurant on Friday?" he asked.
"Oh, Erik, really?" she said happily. She would have hugged him, but assumed that he might find that distracting while he was driving.
"So, I have pleased you then?"
"Oh, yes, Erik… thank you. I think I'd like to wear that dress you bought me…"
Without Christine noticing, Erik shivered, elated at the thought of her wearing the beautiful dress he had bought for her. It was a lovely long evening dress that was modest enough for him to not mind her wearing it around other men but still provocative enough that he would, no doubt, find himself having to consciously remember not to stare at her. He had seen the dress in a shop window not too long ago and had gone right to the sales assistant to buy it without even checking the price so sure had he been that it would be exquisite on her. He loved buying her things – delighted in it, in fact… He couldn't really explain it; he just loved to treat her and lavish her with things he knew she would like.
He wanted to make Christine his whole world and she was the whole world to him… When she was a child, he had been her whole world too… he was aware that now she had others in hers as she had grown to be more independent but he was confident that he would remain a large part of her life – and that was enough for him. He would not be greedy – he had had thirteen wonderful years with her and could anticipate many more, if he knew her at all, when he had expected only to have a few weeks with her when she was first put into his care…
It had happened so suddenly that she had never expected it… and right in the wake of tragedy itself when she was still so busy trying to compensate for the loss of Christine's parents that she had paid little attention to anyone else. How she regretted that now…
Jonathan Giry had had a heart attack not three days after he had found out about his two best friends dying in that car crash. He, himself, had passed away in the early hours of the next morning just as Ada had begun to fall asleep by his hospital bedside.
One day on, needless to say, she was shattered and devastated – completely overwhelmed with the death of the man she loved more than she knew how to say… So distraught, in fact, that she decided she could not cope being in the same house in which she had shared all of her married life with him. She would take Meg, her one comfort in all of this, and head off to her parents' home for at least a couple of weeks until she could bear to go back. She knew she would have arrangements to make in the very near future, but, she felt she had to get away from the house no matter what.
That left her with the dilemma of what to do with the other little girl she was supposed to be taking care of…
"I wouldn't ask… but it'll just be for a little while and it's either you or I'll have to put her into care."
"Don't be ridiculous – of course I'll take her… When can I come and get her?"
"Anytime that's suitable for you… but the sooner the better as I want to head up to my parents' home soon."
"I'll be there in half an hour. What about her things?" Erik said from the other end of the line.
"I've got her bag packed but most of her things are still at her parents' house – I'll give you the keys and you can take what you need… The reading of the will isn't until Tuesday but I think you should take her – as far as I know, the house is paid off and now belongs to Christine… and the rest you will have to find out from the executor," Ada said before hanging up. She would have to explain this to…
"Are Mummy and Daddy coming to get me?" Christine asked excitedly from just behind her, giving her a bit of a start.
How lucky she is, Ada thought. To not know the true grief of not having them near… she and Meg are undoubtedly lucky not to have lost them a mere few years later as it would absolutely destroy their little worlds. Or, perhaps, they were not lucky at all as they would likely never even remember them…
"No, Christine… it's your Angel who's coming to get you," she said, cringing at telling a lie that would blatantly be only of harm to the child one day but without any other option. "You remember your Angel?"
"He sings to me like Daddy… I love my Angel."
"And he loves you, Christine…"
"Is Meg coming too?" she asked sweetly.
"No, Meg has to stay here… but you'll see her at school." Another lie; Meg wouldn't be at school for a few weeks until Ada was back.
"Does he know where Mummy and Daddy are?"
"Christine," she started softly, kneeling down in front of her so that they were at eye-level. "You remember I told you that Mummy and Daddy had gone to Heaven to live with the angels…?"
"With Meg's Daddy…?"
"Yes… with Meg's Daddy," she confirmed, swallowing hard.
"Why isn't my angel in Heaven?" Christine asked, confused.
Ada sighed; already Erik's lies had started to harm the child and he wasn't even looking after her yet… "Because your Daddy sent him to look after you…"
Ada spent the next several minutes trying to get Christine to understand and was so grateful when the doorbell rang signalling that Erik had arrived and would take responsibility of her now. He took Christine's bags to his car and popped them in the boot before Ada showed him how to put her car seat in.
He turned to the little girl standing by the car looking on at them innocently. She was wearing a blue dress that was so beautiful on her that he thought she had never looked lovelier… perhaps it was just because he was being allowed to take her home and he had never been happier.
"Come here, little love," he said, lifting her up easily as she came towards him. Ada helped him set her on the car seat base in the back of his car and he strapped her in. "You're coming to live with me for a little while, sweetheart. Perhaps, we can stop off for a treat on the way home… would you like that?"
"Erik," Ada started. "Just remember… she's not a doll."
"What exactly are you saying, madam? Come, let us not stand within the boundaries of polite conversation… say what you reallythink."
"Erik, I know that you care for her… but you have never looked after a child before – never looked after anyone but yourself, in fact – it is difficult… you can't neglect her as you neglect yourself."
"Your concern is unneeded, madam. I am more than capable of caring for her," he said, getting into the driver's seat of his car and lowering the window. "Besides, if you really thought I were a risk to her, you would not let me take her – bereaved or not…"
"I want Daddy…" Christine said softly from the back as Erik drove away from Ada's house.
He looked at the sweet creature behind him in the rear-view mirror and wished he could bring him back for her just to see her smile. "I know, sweetheart, I know… but Daddy's not here right now – he's sent his very best angel to look after you though." He could not help feeling guilty as he watched her struggle to understand why her parents weren't there with her – why everything had changed so suddenly.
© Copyright of CrawfordsBiscuits, October 2005