Disclaimer: I do not own Phantom of the Opera

Christine, I decided, was a few lumps of coal short of a load. As soon as we made it back up to the street, and I had attempted to control the sobs that tore through me, for Nicolas's sake, she had leaned close and whispered in a conspiratorial voice, "You kissed the Angel."

I had nodded at her, but didn't say a word.

Nicolas had given me a look, and I had instantly understood that there was much wrong with her.

"Erik..., no, that isn't right is it?" she said softly. "Nicolas? Where are we going? Back to the river?"

"No, Christine. I'm taking you home," he said quietly, placing an arm around my shoulders.

"But...I thought you were going to let me sing," she whispered. "I can't sing at home. I'm so alone."

"Your husband is worried about you," I said sharply. "Don't you think he deserves a little consideration?"

She looked at me a moment, "Raoul?" Her eyes canvassed the street for a moment, looking a little bewildered. "His family doesn't like me. They won't let me sing."

I made a sound of disgust and moved toward the main road. This woman was nothing more than a child! I could hardly blame Erik for being attracted to her...but she was one of those women who would never grow up. I believe the Englishwomen who had this milady simply said they had a delicate constitution. I saw it as weakness, but could not pity her.

If she had the strength to remove his mask, she had the strength to mature. The life of a Vicomtesse was surely more suited to her than the grueling hours she would need to survive in the theater. I didn't know how she had lasted as long as she had...but of course, Erik had been there.

Two souls, each damaged in their own way.

There it was. The connection.

Nicolas had taken the luggage near the entrance, and when I saw Erik's bag, I stopped him.

"That's your father's. It needs to stay," I said sharply.

But when he went to replace it, I stopped him again.

I went to the bag and opened it, and removed a white shirt. I held it to my face for a moment, then placed it inside my own luggage.

"Put it back inside," I whispered, unable to meet his knowing eyes.

He set it in the tunnel and closed the door, then led us to the main street and hailed a carriage. I watched as he paid the driver, and wondered when he had grown up. How had I not noticed my son become a man? He was only fifteen...but he was far advanced for his age.

He was Erik's son, after all. I shouldn't have been surprised.

"Did the Angel hear you sing?" Christine asked me.

"No."

She glanced at Nicolas, "I like you better than him," she said sadly. "He was angry with me. I disappointed him."

"He's my father," he said stiffly. "You shouldn't have removed his mask. I wonder," he paused, "why you didn't remove mine."

"I...I didn't want you to be angry," she whispered. "I thought you would let me stay. To sing."

"Nicolas," I said quietly. "Perhaps we should let the Vicomtesse rest. She has had a difficult day."

He seemed to understand my wish not to hear her speaking again, and Christine seemed to realize that I was very hostile towards her. She didn't say a word until we arrived at the Chagny residence.

It was impressive, to say the least. I hadn't seen such grandeur up close like this, and found myself gawking at the elegance and beauty of the place.

How could she not be happy here?

She had a fine home, a handsome husband who seemed genuinely concerned for her, and a limitless supply of wealth. What was wrong with their life? It seemed so perfect.

When we walked into the parlor, where a distraught, but now immaculate Raoul stood, I heard the most awful screeching noise coming from across the room.

"What did I tell you! I told you she was nothing but a common whore!"

I stopped in shock at the sight of the proverbial matriarch of the family, a woman dressed so severely and properly that she defied all sense of maternal characteristics as she reigned upon Raoul with her criticisms of his wife.

This, I take it, was his mother.

Another gentleman, looking a lot like Raoul, was standing to the side, obviously not unaccustomed to this display.

"Mother!" he said sharply. "Leave her alone."

"I will not! She has been missing for days, and she comes in here on the arm of another man...this...ill kept ruffian..."

I exploded.

"Madame! This is my son you are speaking of...and hardly a man, he is still a boy! You will curb your tongue at once!"

Her hard eyes turned to me, such a cold and lifeless blue. Like Raoul's eyes, only with none of the warmth and kindness his held.

"May I ask who you are, to address me in my home?" she asked frostily.

"I am Madame Sagesse. I have returned your son's wife to him. I don't need your shrieking to confirm I have arrived at the proper residence!"

She was saved, and my ears as well, when Raoul cleared his throat hurriedly.

"Mother, Father, if you would excuse us. I would like to speak with Madame Sagesse, and her son."

With a snort, the mother turned her nose in the air and left, looking decidedly lofty and self important. The Father followed, but gave me a brief bow as he passed, then closed the doors behind him.

I released a sigh, and looked around the room, spying Nadir who had been lurking in the corner. As soon as the doors closed he made his way to us, "Erik?" he asked softly.

"He sent us away," I said quietly.

He rolled his eyes, which I thought was quite unlike him, and muttered under his breath.

"Christine," Raoul said softly, going to take her in his arms. "I was very concerned about you. You gave me a fright. Are you okay?"

"Oh, Raoul, I had such a wonderful time!"

My eyes nearly bulged out of my head at her innocent statement. His blue eyes closed, and I could see that he was not surprised to hear this.

"N-Nicolas took me to the river, and I showed him all around Paris! It was such fun, and this morning, we went to see Madame Giry. She was acting very strange, and Nicolas thought she was quite odd."

I slid a glance at Nicolas, and he was grimacing. He had been caught, had he, by someone who knew he was not Erik? What had possessed him to emulate his father?

"You can't go running off like that again, Christine," he said tightly. "You are a Vicomtesse now. You have to behave in a manner befitting a Vicomtesse."

"I'm sorry," she said delicately. "I wanted to see the Angel...but I suppose he wasn't there."

Raoul glanced up at me, and unsure of what to tell him, I shook my head. He nodded, and pressed a kiss to Christine's forehead.

"Go on up and rest, sweetheart. I'll come see you after you've had a chance to relax."

"Thank you, Raoul," she sighed dreamily, and began humming as she left the room.

He ran a hand over his face in frustration.

"She...she is a sensitive creature," he said quietly.

"You should keep your mother away from her," I said, "she cannot handle that sort of stress."

"We're moving to England," he said flatly. "That is why my mother is upset, and perhaps why Christine ran away. She doesn't want to leave Paris. She has been begging me to take her to Erik...and I have refused."

"A wise choice," I murmured.

"Did she see him today?" he asked, lowering his eyes to the floor.

I glanced at Nicolas, "Yes. Perhaps, as a beginning punishment for what he has done, my son should be the one to explain himself to you. I would like to hear his story myself. I think he has only added to her...sensitive nature...and pray that you can forgive him for his behavior."

As if for the first time, Raoul really looked at Nicolas. His eyes widened, his mouth fell slack, and I thought I detected a faint trembling in his hands.

"Monsieur de Chagny," Nicolas mumbled nervously. "I sent a note to your wife. I apologize for contacting her. I wanted to learn more about my father, and it seemed the best way. I had no idea she was...ill. She was quite insistent that she did not want to return here, or I would have brought her back immediately. I'm also sorry...," he paused a moment and slid a guilty glance at me, "...I heard you last night in the mirrored room. I was afraid to release you."

The words dawned on me and Chagny at the same time.

"You little-"

"Nicolas!"

We both stopped, and I silenced whatever he would have called my son with a look. He clenched his fists, and managed to look outraged, although I couldn't quite fear him after seeing Erik's temper.

"You left him inside there?" I demanded. "That was unpardonably cruel of you. Don't you know what that room's purpose is?"

He nodded. "I found the escape latch. I assumed he would too."

"You were trapped in there?" I choked out. "How long?"

"Maybe five minutes," he boasted. "But not quite."

"You are in a lot of trouble, young man," I said sharply. "I would not be so happy if I were you. I have never been so disappointed in you in my entire life."

The smile slid form his face, and he turned solemnly back to Raoul.

"I'm sorry, sir. I honestly meant no harm."

"What...what did you do with my wife?" he asked hoarsely. "Did you...?"

"No!" Nicolas said forcefully.

"Nicolas, tell the Vicomte about your clever ruse. Tell him how you tricked Christine."

Nicolas flushed, but faced him and said calmly, "I pretended that I was my father. I didn't think she would believe me...but she did, and I didn't have the heart to tell the truth. She was so trusting. I...I felt like I should have protected her...but I let her believe that I was her Angel," he let out a huge breath. "It makes no sense, I know. But Erik is my father, and I love him. I just didn't understand him."

"Christine is trusting," he replied wearily. "She inspires most men to want to protect her, including Erik. She's completely naïve...almost in a dreamlike state most of the time. So detached. But forgive me, I shouldn't tell you these things about my wife. I love her. I have always loved her, but I have been forced to realize that she is going to require greater care than most women. I...I don't blame your father for what he did. I saw...I saw how much pain he was in, and I forgive him for being what he is, for loving her the only way he knew how. I could see today that he has changed...very much...and I hope he can find happiness."

"Thank you," I whispered tightly. "So do I."

Ultimately, it was up to Erik whether or not he wished to be happy. I wondered if he knew that happiness was with us.

I thought about that long and hard as Nadir escorted us to his apartment. I thought about what I could do to bring Erik to his knees, and make him realize his pride was far better cast aside than being in the way of what could be the redemption that he so desperately needed.

I wondered what lengths I would have to go to, to make him understand that he would never be free of me.