Chapter Seventy-three: Matchmaker

Mirielle pulled at the covers. Reaching out, she noted the lack of one warm body. Was it morning already? As she peered out from the covers, she saw a wavering glow approaching. Remembering what had happened last night as the candles went out, she pulled the satin over her face.

The glow traveled next to the bed, and a fingertip traced her shoulder. She lifted her hands to the top of the material, and pulled it down slowly to her chin. Erik looked down at her, with the mask on once again.

"I didn't mean to wake you," he said softly.

"I think I awoke because I was cold," she pouted.

He adopted a chagrined look. "Little rogue. Am I your hot water bottle now?" He grinned as he finished.

She stuck out her bottom lip. "I miss my husband. Isn't that a good thing?"

Erik sat on the bed. "Yes. It is a very good thing." He pulled the cover away and nipped at her shoulder.

They were both silent for a time, letting the quiet speak the words that would only fall useless. How does a woman thank a man for a great gift? Not the one that still rested upon her breast, or the ring upon her finger, but for the moment when the candles had guttered and died, leaving them together in the complete darkness. The silken slither of the mask had sounded so faint she might have mistook it over their breathing. But the feel of his strange flesh against her cheek had pierced her heart and made her curl up beside him and let drop quiet tears in the night.

Beautiful in my eyes…

Perhaps the inscription had sealed the truth inside his heart as much as it had in hers. She had been intrigued by the irascible curmudgeon who called the Opera home, and had fallen in love with the tender and lonely man who had allowed her a glimpse of his true self. Love meant that one saw with the heart. Or at least felt with the cheek the strange, rough texture of her husband's face.

Regardless of the light being out, he had ventured to pull the mask off in their moment of passion. Mirielle didn't doubt she looked like the cat who ate the canary.

"Do you need anything before I put the light out?" he asked.

Mirielle batted her eyes and pulled aside the sheet. "Just my husband."

When she finally got out of bed, Erik pressed a cup of coffee into her hands, and guided her to an already steaming tub. They had each dressed quietly and then met before the door.

Erik pulled it open. "We'll have about an hour before the trains leave."

"Thank you, Erik." Mirielle paused to look out at the lake. Across its smooth glasslike surface glided the boat. "How do you do that?"

Erik took her elbow and guided her to the edge of the water. "The siren is bringing it over."

"The what?"

"The siren."

Mirielle glanced down into the darkened water only to see her own quizzical expression looking back. "Are you saying you have a fish in there?"

"No, no, no. A siren. You remember those mythological creatures who sang so sweetly that sailors were lured to wreck their ships." He turned away before she could assess if he were being playful.

She looked down in the water, seeing neither rope nor any other means which might have brought the boat over. She had never seen any current to speak of as they had crossed. Erik turned a wrist, his long fingers opening slowly. "Shall we?"

Mirielle settled on the small bench. Despite believing Erik was up to some mischief, she did cast more than one glance down into the water as it eddied around the boat.

They said goodbye to Paul and Hilaire first. Mirielle helped Henri into the sweater she knitted and Erik offered him a small carved boat. Grandpapa held him until his wife insisted they had to get Josette on the train.

Radégonde had filled his sketchbook while Josette had talked to Catherine and Galina about Russia. Alexei Sviatoslav settled the bill with the hotel while Vasili Romanov chivied the porters to see the luggage to the trains. In one short half hour, Erik and Mirielle stood in the train station once again saying goodbye.

"Would you like to have lunch somewhere?" Erik asked.

His wife glanced around the station. "Oh, I don't care. I haven't made any plans, have you?"

Stepping out of the station, the church bells chimed over the roofs of Paris.

"No." Taking his wife's arm he looked up into the brightly lit sky with its light dusting of white clouds. "Do you really think that Christine and Raoul were unhappy?"

"I thought they might be uncertain, and that would lead to unhappiness. I know you wouldn't want that for her."

"No. I meant for her to be happy. I truly did. Even if it was with that--."

"Now, darling."

Erik smiled at his wife. "You are too generous, you know that."

"I am?"

"Yes you are."

"Is it so wrong to offer a little happiness to others?"

"Not in my case," he replied happily.

"Thank you, dear man. You know, you aren't so bad at it yourself."

"What? Me? What on earth do you mean?"

"Well, you saved the Opera."

"Certainly. Anyone would do that."

"You courted me."

"Well, there was my biggest mistake," he teased. His wife threw him a pouty look.

"There's Nadir and Catherine, and Ursulé and Clement, and then there is Denis and Dragos. You've turned out to be quite a matchmaker."

Erik halted on the sidewalk, peering at his wife. "You think I'm responsible for all of that?" he asked incredulous.

"In a roundabout way you are," she agreed. "It is all a result of us."

Erik chuckled. "Never pictured myself in the role of cupid."

"Maybe Eros?" she teased.

He adopted his fiercest look. "Is that a challenge, little rogue?"

Mirielle didn't answer. Erik had a superb memory. He'd remind her of her teasing when they returned to the privacy of their bedroom.

Erik guided Mirielle across the street. The Phantom of the Opera and his wife went for a walk in the park.

The End

A/N: Yes. There it is. Thank you so much to all my readers and reviewers. A simple 'I'm reading' now and then is what inspires the authors on. For those ofy ou who wish to see the missing Mature chapter sections-my web page is now up. Masters of night dot com. Look under the 'Fiction' tab.