It is here! The Update! Hurray! Hope you all enjoy it! Thanks to Terpsichore once again for her great editing!! (Oh and P.S. she took part in a round robin story that you might want to check out.)
Oh and I also posted a one shot story called "Hands of Fate" that is about how Erik got the stuffed monkey while he was in the gypsy camp. So check it out!!
Chapter 7: Into the Unknown
Following Daniel's gesture, Erik looked at the final name on the last headstone in the clearing. Reading the inscription over and over again he could not quite believe what he was seeing. "Daniel…" he whispered through numbed lips, the answer to his question, the very answer which had been tickling the back of his mind since he first laid eyes on his temperamental young guide, beginning to rise to the surface of his mind. "Why is your name here?"
"Remember how I told you that your life somehow affected my birth?" the boy asked quietly.
"Yes…." Erik murmured with his eyes still riveted upon the stone.
"It is because you are supposed to be my father, Erik. Without you… I will never be born."
Erik's jaw went slack as he gaped down at Daniel, hardly seeing the weakly earnest expression upon the boy's face as his mind ground to a complete and utter halt. A moment passed where he struggled in vain to restart the murmurings within his head, vaguely aware that he should say something, say anything in order to ease the misery he saw burning within Daniel's troubled blue eyes. Eyes, he suddenly noticed, that were the exact color and shape as his own. How could he have not noticed that before? Choking on his next breath, and then the next, Erik felt a thousand tiny pinpricks stabbing into his head, the lack of oxygen and complete breakdown of conscious thought adding together to drive him to the verge of fainting.
"Erik?" Daniel's voice questioned quietly, sounding muffled and distant over the pounding echo of Erik's own heartbeat. "Erik?"
Erik was unable to respond as a quick rushing of blood burned a path straight to his head, dimming his vision until he could see nothing but the glittering blue of his young guide's eyes. No, not his guide any longer, his son's eyes. And like a match being struck in a darkened room his mind jerked back into motion, spurred into reanimation by that one thought. My son….
Blinking to clear his vision of the gray curling about its edges, Erik felt all the air rush from his lungs in a sudden and wit-saving gasp. Sensation in his outer extremities slowly began to return to him as he was finally able to catch his breath, the soothing brush of the cool graveyard breeze quickly reducing the sting of the flush staining his cheeks even as the feel of the damp earth under his hands brought his flighty thoughts back into sharp focus. The intricate cogs and spindles of his powerful intellect sped up until they raced to comprehend the monumental information that Daniel had just revealed to him. Strange that such an impossible thing could be summed up so easily in just a few words.
"You are supposed to be my father… my father… my father…" Daniel's words chanted insistently within his mind, echoing to the farthest recesses and darkest corners of his psyche like a prayer in a shadowed cathedral.
"You must be mistaken," he murmured dumbly before he could stop himself.
Daniel went utterly still at Erik's words, then slowly he let out a shaky breath and squeezed his eyes tightly closed. A small, sickly smile pulled up at his blue-tinged mouth, but it did nothing to hide the expression of grief darkening his young face. Opening his eyes slowly, as if even that small action tired him, Daniel blinked an over-bright gaze up at the gloomy sky above, the dark circles under his eyes only highlighting the desolation growing within him. It was painfully apparent that Erik's denial was not what the boy had been hoping to hear.
"Oh no…no. Please don't say that," Daniel whispered brokenly, his image blinking out of focus as a faint rush of aggrieved color momentarily rose to his pallid cheeks.
Cursing himself for his own stupidity, Erik raised his hands in an automatic gesture meant to soothe the pain etching itself across Daniel's face, his palms hovering uselessly just above the boy's shoulders. With a fine tremor shaking through his body Erik shook his head from side to side. "Please do not speak. You are only getting worse," he pleaded, for the first time in his life finding that he was not above begging, and he felt no shame in doing it now. "Please… just… just lie still."
Ignoring Erik, a weak flash of anger worked its way into Daniel's gaze, the defensive temper sharply reminding Erik of himself. "I warned you… but you insisted. You had to know… And then… then… you deny it."
"It was a stupid thing to say. But this is the first time I have ever been confronted with a son, so forgive me if my articulation is slightly lacking!" Erik snapped, wincing at the bold-faced sarcasm he heard in his own words. What is wrong with me? he wondered with a panicky sort of desperation. Can I not keep my mouth shut for five minutes? Can I not say something nice for once?
Feeling his lips pinch into a tight line, Erik frantically catalogued the gut-wrenching signs of imminent death stealing over Daniel's young features. He recognized the taut, gray skin and glassy eyes, had seen it on enough faces to know that the boy didn't have much time left; and he also knew with a sinking heart that this was his fault. And yet, he found his heart rebelling against this grim knowledge. With every nerve and every fiber of his being he fought against what his mind knew to be true.
"For the love of God lie still so I can think!" he barked, raising his hands to run through his hair. "There has to be something… I just have to think… there is always an answer… if I can just… just think."
His voice petered off into silence and his eyes strayed to the ground as he fought to control the panic wrapping like bands of iron about his chest, but his body just wouldn't stop shaking and his mind just wouldn't settle no matter how hard he concentrated. He could not allow Daniel to go without a fight. The boy had been the one person to ever treat him like a human being even without the comforting disguise of his mask, to treat him with kindness and sarcasm without the ghost of pity haunting his words. It had been in Daniel's company that, for the first time, he had not felt like a monster. And now that he had found someone he could amazingly consider a friend Erik knew that he would rather die than to sit back and watch the boy wither away. There has to be something! Think Erik! You have never failed to think before. You are the God-damned genius… so… just think!!
"You do not believe me," Daniel murmured, his voice quickly drawing Erik's attention back from his inner turmoil.
Cursing under his breath, Erik felt the terrible fear within him rise, threatening to completely break what little control he had left. "I do not see how I can," he answered in a slightly distracted tone. "It is so sudden… and I… I…" Stopping in mid stutter Erik suddenly realized that it wasn't disbelief that had him choking on his words.
Shockingly enough he believed Daniel wholeheartedly. The truth had been staring him in the face the whole time after all. Unconsciously he must have suspected something to accept the truth so quickly. The boy's sharp wit and quick temper were so similar to his own that he now doubted his own intelligence in not realizing sooner what Daniel had to spell out for him. I should have noticed. And worse yet, looking at Daniel's unnaturally bright eyes and imperious features was eerily like looking into a mirror. Daniel, Erik now knew, is what he would have looked like at eighteen had he not been born with his deformity. The boy was quite literally the very best of what Erik was. I should have noticed!! I should have noticed!!
But worse than the suddenness of the revelation was the responsibility now pressing down upon his shoulders. It was amazing how quickly it had come upon him. Almost as soon as Daniel had revealed his secret, Erik felt years of uncertainty spread out into his future. He knew less about children than he did about women, and that was saying something. How could he be expected to raise a child when he had no guide, no book to use for reference? The prospect of having the life of another human being solely relying upon him was terrifying. Surely, the boy would wither and die in the shadows of Erik's soul. Daniel wouldn't have a chance under his care.
"Your doubt is growing… tiresome…" Daniel muttered between clenched teeth, his words sounding oddly hollow.
Taking a steadying breath, Erik clasped his hands together to keep them from trembling. "I am not a good man…" he blurted out, a sick need to throw off this sudden responsibility pushing the words out of his mouth. I cannot allow him to do this to himself. He said they get to choose. I will just have to convince him to choose someone else. I cannot do it… I cannot be the one. I would ruin everything! "I have done terrible things. I am a murderer… I have killed people."
When Daniel didn't seem fully disgusted by that, Erik pushed on. "I have blackmailed and terrorized people for years. I… I have taken pleasure in causing other people pain. I hate every other living thing because not once have I been shown a scrap of kindness." Wracking his mind for more crimes to add to his list, Erik nearly missed the spark of hope begin to fade from Daniel's gaze.
"Never once?" Daniel wondered aloud, his lips barely moving with each word. Slowly turning his to the side, his eyes skittered over to stare at his name boldly printed upon the nearby headstone. "Do you really still believe that?"
"Now is not the time…" Erik replied tersely. "I know my memories… do not worry about it. Worry about yourself."
"Was I wrong to put my faith in you?" Daniel whispered quietly, his voice shaking with a vulnerability that Erik had never heard from the boy before. It touched a part of the masked man, this tender uncertainty, imparting to him just how difficult it must have been for Daniel to keep this secret for so long. No wonder the boy acted so strangely upon occasion. The poor child had had to put up with Erik's nasty comments, knowing the whole time that it was his father blackening his name. If Erik hadn't already felt a brooding sense of respect for Daniel, that alone would have surely earned it.
Unable to answer immediately, Erik felt an instant and consuming spear of guilt pierce straight through his gut. His instinctual answer to the question was yes. Agreeing would solve everything. Daniel would see that Erik wasn't worthy of the role and be free to move onto someone better, someone who wouldn't cast a pall over his future life as Erik was sure he would. But somehow he sensed that if he voiced this confirmation it would utterly destroy the tenuous friendship between them. Just thinking about the hopelessness he could now see slowly dimming the light in Daniel's eyes nearly broke his heart.
Torn between the two alternatives, Erik couldn't seem to make a decision, and for the first time he found that he did not know his own mind. How was it possible for a man who prided himself on a steadfast will to turn into a vacillating imbecile in so short a time? Rationality and sentiment collided on every level of his blackened soul, a problem he had rarely ever come across.
Even with Christine he had not fought so hard to come to a decision. She was the love of his life and there hadn't been this epic internal battle. There had been no fissure between reason and emotion because, quite simply, he hadn't really been thinking of anything at all; there had been only a chaos. But now he couldn't help but think, his mind raced right along with his rolling feelings, because he couldn't let this end as so many things in his life had ended, in ruin. He refused to allow another disaster to stain his life, or, more importantly, to mark Daniel's. A decision had to be made.
He would do what he thought was right. He would convince Daniel to his way of thinking. Letting out a deep breath, Erik could feel the leaden sky above pressing down upon him like a shroud. Though his expression remained impassive he silently grieved the coming loss for Daniel would surely never forgive him. It was selfish, he knew, but despite his convictions he didn't think he could bear losing the one honest connection he had ever established with another human being. Savagely beating back the longing he still felt in his heart, Erik steeled himself for what he knew he had to do. This isn't about me. For once do something good, Erik! Convince him to move on… for his own sake!
"Perhaps you did," Erik heard himself saying in a flat, even tone. "As I said I am a walking disaster. It would be best for you to choose someone else."
Clamping his mouth shut after his short speech Erik was amazed he had been able to say as much as he did. Based upon the frenzied thoughts shooting haphazardly within his skull he had been almost certain he wouldn't be able to form an intelligent sentence. Lowering his gaze to the ground, Erik waited patiently for the angry retort Daniel was sure to throw back at him. Most likely the boy would be upset at first, but surely given time, hopefully a great deal of time, Daniel would get over it and be able to live a long and happy life. But as the minutes ticked by in silence, and Daniel didn't stir himself to speak, Erik began to grow anxious. Dragging his eyes hesitantly back to Daniel's face Erik saw something far worse than anger or hatred taking up residence there. He saw despair.
"You do not understand…" Daniel finally murmured, his entire outline fading until the ground underneath him was clearly visible. "There is no other choice."
"There has to be!!" Erik argued, his voice rising with the panic in his blood. "I am not the right man!! I cannot allow myself to harm you as I am sure I would! There has to be another choice!!"
"Why…" Daniel mouthed, only a barely audible sound escaping his lips.
"Everything I touch withers away!!" Erik shouted as he watched Daniel's left hand completely disappear. This is wrong… he is getting worse!!
"And you care?"
Stunned that Daniel would even have to ask, Erik hesitated for a moment, his eyes still glued to the spot where the boy's hand had been resting. "Of course I do!! What are you talking about!!?" Lowering his voice, Erik began to feel a suspicious burning behind his eyes. Trying to hold off the threat of tears, he desperately clutched at anything but the grim sorrow tearing at his insides.
"Funny way… to show it."
"Daniel, I am only trying to do what is best for you!! You do not understand… I would turn you into a monster. It would be inevitable… It is all I have known. You have been good to me… I will not condemn you to a life under my tutelage."
"You sure… that it would be like that?"
Opening his mouth to respond immediately, Erik found that no sound came out. Unbidden the memories of the time he had spent traveling through the world without him rose up in his mind. The image of his mother's beautiful face smiling at another child floated before his eyes and for a moment increased the razor-edged pain in his heart. Shaking his head, Erik pushed the thought aside and tried to concentrate on the present, but his rebellious mind turned to another memory and then another. He saw Christine's pitiful face, her natural splendor dimmed by insurmountable grief. It was unbearable the emptiness that lay within her eyes, because he knew from real life experience how very pretty she was when she smiled. I could usually get her to smile during her lessons…I lived for those smiles. She never once smiled in this world.
Lost in the memories now assaulting him, Erik helplessly recalled the rapturous giggles of Aria Donovan as her mother chased her across the room and how the small Irish family had teased and bullied each other with love in their gazes. It made him feel warm inside, this memory, as if just by being nearer to their light he was somehow bettered by it. With a jolt the sight of the frozen lake swam before him and the warmth fled, leaving him as cold and empty as the water where Aria was destined to die. She was so young…it doesn't seem right. I wanted so badly to… to… do something.
Suddenly feeling bereft, Erik tried to focus his thoughts but he couldn't stop the sight of Brielle Donovan, widow and then mother to a dead child, blankly rocking in her chair, her large rain-colored eyes broken and hurting. I know that sort of hopeless pain… I do not know her but I know her pain. No one should have to feel so… so… bleak. If only… If only…
Coming back to himself with a suddenness that left him reeling, Erik realized something, something impossibly important. If only I had been there to change it all…
Sucking in a deep breath, Erik's eyes widened in shock, and for the first time he felt as if his life was not so much of a cruel accident. He had done something good when he took Christine as his student, even if it had been for completely selfish reasons at first. Being with him had somehow given her the wings to rise above her heartache to stand up for herself. What higher purpose could a man ever hope to have? He had been noble and decent, even without meaning to. And apparently he wasn't finished yet. Daniel said that I could somehow help Aria… and prevent every other disaster that he showed to me. Daniel said I could do it… and… and I believe him now!!
His gaze instantly shot down to the boy lying at his feet, and to his horror he saw that Daniel hardly remained visible at all. All the giddy bliss of his revelation fizzled out as he frantically noticed that his young guide had all but disappeared. "No… no…" he growled to himself as he leaned forward, instinctually moving to take Daniel's quickly vanishing shoulders in his hands. "No, no!!"
Keeping his gaze beseechingly upon Erik's, Daniel parted his lips as if about to say something, but no sound escaped his weakened throat. Tears broke free and splashed down his translucent cheek. He moved his mouth again with some considerable effort and this time managed to force out one ragged word. "Good-bye…" he whispered, the corners of his lips jerking down into a grimace.
Shaking his head violently, Erik refused to acknowledge Daniel's farewell. "No…NO! Do not say that! You cannot go! I will not allow it!! Do not go!!"
"Too late," the boy silently mouthed a reply, his eyes slowly falling closed as his face went slack and expressionless.
Raw, mind-numbing panic gripped the masked man's throat as he stared at Daniel's lifeless expression. Raising his gaze from his guide, Erik frantically searched the clearing about him for some miraculous form of help, but he saw nothing except the vacant forest and silent tombstones pressing in around him on all sides. There would be no help, and soon he would be alone. Despair, blacker than the deepest corners of hell, began to bleed through the cracks in his terror; pushing the panic aside and leaving Erik trembling in its wake. Raising both hands up to tangle in his hair, the masked man let out a strangled sob. Erik tipped his face up to the unforgiving sky above and took several gasping breaths, his vision blurring as he watched the clouds move over him. No...no!!
Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, he felt two burning trails sear down his cheeks. Lowering his fingers to his face, Erik brushed away the wetness there. Alone… I'll be alone again… And Daniel will never know that he was right all along. Stilling at the thought, Erik dropped his hands to his sides. The hell he won't! There is still time… maybe just enough for that at least.
Hurriedly bending forward where Daniel's dimly outlined head still rested upon the grass, Erik cleared his throat. "You were right. You were right all along! I was just too stupid to see it. I cannot claim that I am at peace with my life… but please do know… that it is because of you that I have finally realized that perhaps… perhaps I did serve a purpose. That I did some good and that I may do some more before I die. I cannot fully regret my many lonely years now… Finally, I believe you!! I believe!!"
As Erik's final word broke off into a sob Daniel's eyes flew open with a jolt. Instantly settling on his charge's agonized expression, the blue of the boy's gaze flashed brightly in his faded face. A gentle smile curled the corners of his lips as he watched Erik blubbering above him. "I am glad…" he breathed on a long sigh.
And for a one heady moment Erik hoped that Daniel would make a full recovery, but then the boy closed his eyes again and disappeared completely. Frozen in mid-motion Erik stared, dazed, at where his young friend had been resting. Not quite believing what his eyes were telling him, the masked man felt paralyzed from the inside out. This was not the end he had imagined. Deep in the most secretive parts of his soul he had been hoping for a miracle. Where was the happy ending?
Letting out an animalistic howl, he dove forward and pounded his fists into the ground with all the rage his pain could produce. Screaming obscenities at everyone and no one he lay in a disheveled heap in the dirt and sickly clumps of grass. And when finally he could think of nothing else to abuse he lay still, the simple act of breathing in and out becoming a terrible chore. Closing his eyes, he let the pain roll over him in leaden waves, feeling bruised and broken in each new emotion's wake.
What seemed like an eternity of silence settled in around him then, and so dim were his thoughts that even when he opened his eyes he could see nothing but impenetrable darkness. The pain in his soul soon spread, transforming into an almost physical ache in his outer extremities. Coughing raggedly to clear his throat, the masked man struggled to draw in his next breath. The air around him seemed to solidify, and press in from all sides. Gagging when the stink of wood smoke filled his nostrils, Erik tried to raise his face from the chilly stone floor beneath him. Blinking rapidly at his surroundings, he could make out only a dark, unending night.
Feeling groggy and disoriented, he tried to puzzle out where he was and what he was doing there, but the answers seemed to slip away like the smoke brushing past his face. I lost something… I lost something very dear to me… what was it? he wondered vaguely as he lowered his face back to the chilly floor. Focusing his thoughts he was just barely able to recall a field of unending wildflowers. Someone was waiting there… Someone was there… but… perhaps it was just a dream. And then the comforting image was gone. A powerful fatigue settled over him as he moaned incoherently into the darkness. Giving up on trying to grasp at the memories which seemed to only dance ever further out of his reach, Erik felt a muffled sob escape from his raspy throat. Maybe I will just sleep for a while and it will come to me… yes… I will just sleep for a little…
"Hello?!" a woman's voice suddenly called out from the shadows, causing Erik to immediately halt his wretched noises. "Is somebody there? If you are injured I can assist you."
Wishing only to be left alone, Erik made no move to draw attention to himself. The sadness still pulling at his tired mind was enough to make him wish he were dead already. No need to be saved… I have already lost everything… The distant sound of footsteps hesitantly pattering towards him down the underground corridor indicated that his attempt at staying hidden was not working. His mind cleared slightly as a distant spark of resentment ignited his thoughts. The blasted woman called out again, her words ending on a croak as the smoke caught in her throat. Erik could hear her shuffling about nearby but he tried to stop his ears to the sounds, determined to wallow in his self pity and angst despite the disturbance. Her voice faded in and out as his foggy mind shifted close to unconsciousness.
The cool, soft touch of a hand unexpectedly brushed over his forehead, soothing the heat burning there. "Monsieur, are you injured?" the gently accented voice inquired again, her softly spoken words drawing his mind out of the pit of indefinable despair in which he had been drowning.
Turning his head slightly to the side, a biting retort ready on the tip of his tongue, Erik glared up through the darkness at the woman bending over him, all thoughts of other worlds and sarcastic spirit guides slipping to the deepest depths of his mind.
Perched comfortably atop a rock, Daniel gazed out over a vast sea of gently swaying wildflowers. Leaning his head back until his face was warmed by the sun, the young man smiled to himself. A light step sounded behind him, causing him to turn slightly toward it. His smile grew as he caught sight of three young women now approaching him from behind. Waving a greeting, he waited until they had come up beside him before he spoke.
"Well hello there," he murmured, his unconcerned tone making two of the three girls glare at him with glittering blue eyes; the third, a grey-eyed beauty, held back.
"What is the matter with you? Talking like this is any other day and grinning like an idiot…" the youngest of the young ladies asked, her dark curls bouncing as she waved her arms in the air impatiently.
"Yes," the oldest of the three agreed, her sharply intelligent blue eyes flashing. "What happened! What did you say? What did he say? Where did the both of you go? What did you see? What was he like? How did you get along?" she asked in a rapid fire series of questions, practically bouncing on her toes with her excitement.
The third new arrival stepped forward then, her calmer presence silencing the rapid fire questions of her companions. Reaching out she affectionately laid a hand on Daniel's bended knee her smiling gray eyes turned up toward him. "Allow him to catch a breath," she said serenely. "After all… we have a great deal of time to talk. There is no need to rush."
Pulling a face, the curly haired brunette shook her head. "Just because you can wait for our brother to take his blessed time doesn't mean that I can!"
Ignoring her more impatient siblings, the grey-eyed sister merely smiled up at Daniel. "What do you think, Daniel?" she asked in a far more patient manner than her sisters. "Will he be all right now?"
Patting the hand on his knee, Daniel gazed off thoughtfully into the distance. After a moment he let out a breath and gave a decisive nod. "Yes, yes, I think he will."
Oh and by the way I am having another vote as to what story I should work on next. I have two big ideas and several smaller ones.
Category: Fruits Basket (An anime if you were wondering.)
Bloodlines: The Sohma family has been living under a terrible curse for centuries. Every generation there are twelve who are doomed to live their lives possessed by the vengeful spirits of the Chinese zodiac, which means when they are embraced by the opposite sex they transform into an animal. But now that Honda Tohru has come into their lives and begun to heal the wounds they all foster they are beginning to ask one very important question. What is the source of the curse? But are they really ready to find out the terrible truth of their family's blood history? Or will the knowledge of what their ancestors did to another family undo everything Tohru's friendship did for them?
Category: InuYasha (Another anime)
The Darkside of Forever: InuYasha and the gang have been in search of Nuraku, their arch enemy, and the Shikon jewel for three years now. But it seems as if their journey will never end. Naraku has disappeared, taking his portion of the jewel with him, and Miroku's cursed hand is growing worse. If they do not find Naraku soon their friend will certainly die. But just when things seem hopeless tales of a hidden city in the mountains tell them of a legendary healer. Could this be Miroku's only hope at forestalling death? InuYasha and his friends are willing to take the chance, even though the rumors also tell of a great evil that lies sleeping, sealed for hundreds of years, within the very mountains to which they must travel. (This is just a very basic storyline… keep that in mind. )
The other shorter stories are all Phantom related. But anyway tell me what you think!