Disclaimer: I do not own Phantom of the Opera

Erik concentrated on breathing slow, and kept his eyes on Mirela. She couldn't stop crying, and her dark eyes met his, full of shame. He felt numb inside, knowing now what she had endured. All these years, and she had been right under his nose.

"It's alright," he murmured to her.

"Don't – " Mirela pleaded.

Susanna and her mother were staring at one another, and Erik glanced up to see where the gun was pointed. It was back on him, but Guin wasn't paying attention to him any longer. She was pale faced, and looking at Susanna, with hate burning in her eyes.

"It wasn't my fault," Guinevere hissed. "It was his! He was always getting your brother into trouble. And it was your father's fault, for ever getting involved in Francine's affairs. I hate both of them!"

"No," Susanna insisted. "You should have been a better mother. If you hadn't been more concerned with revenge than watching your children, Derrik would have gone to his room as Papa ordered him to. And Erik...," she looked at him, and met his eyes, hating the defenselessness she saw there. "Erik wouldn't have been hurt. I wouldn't have lost my family. He wouldn't have lost us for all these years."

"Look at him! He's horrid!"

"No," Susanna breathed, and stepped around her mother, placing herself in front of the gun. "I love him. I love him with all my heart."

"Susanna, no," Erik said tightly, grabbing her hand when she stepped away from her mother's wavering hand. He pulled her behind him and stood, shielding her body with his. Her blue eyes filled with panic and fear, and he wrapped his arms around her, praying Guin didn't shoot him in the back.

"Get away from my daughter! Get your hands off her!" Guin demanded.

"I am not your daughter," Susanna said quietly, looking into Erik's eyes.

Erik felt his spine tingle as he heard Guin's shriek of outrage, and he pushed Susanna down to the floor as hard as he could. He should have warned her not to anger a woman with a gun pointing at his back. He closed his eyes and waited, but the shot came two seconds later than he expected.

Two agonizing seconds, that might as well have been two hours.

Because in that two seconds Susanna had met his eyes again, looking hurt and confused, her dress disarrayed over her legs, her hands braced on the floor. His body tightened, because he knew...he knew that she was going to shoot him.

"Erik," Susanna breathed, her ears ringing from the explosion.

"Oh, God," he whispered, and sank to his knees again. His legs failed him, and gave way so quickly they felt like water washing over sand. "Susanna."

- -

Susanna watched him fall, and then beyond, her mother fell too. But Guin fairly flew forwards, her limbs flailing out in front of her, and the gun scattered across the wooden floor. Erik was still on his knees, his face white with shock. He clutched his chest slowly, an odd look of confusion on his face.

"No...no...," Susanna whispered, crawling across the floor to him. He looked in shock, staring into her eyes as she ran her hands over his back, his head; everywhere. "Erik...?"

"There's no pain," he said reassuringly. "No pain...I love you, Susanna."

"You're not dead!" she exclaimed. "Erik...I don't think you've even been shot."

He looked at her doubtfully. "It's alright, my love. I don't hurt."

"Of course you don't hurt," a dry voice said behind them. "You weren't shot."

"Jackson!" Susanna cried, and Erik found himself abandoned as she ran across the room and launched herself at him. He turned, seeing Guin's lifeless eyes, and he looked away. In death she even more closely resembled Susanna, and it pained him to see the blood pouring from beneath her body. He lifted his eyes to his brother's, watching as Susanna kissed his brother's cheek.

Jackson set her down and tucked a pistol inside his waistband, then pulled her outside. His hands began to tremble, and he found himself unable to look Susanna in the eyes.

"I'm sorry," he whispered to her. "Susanna...I'm so sorry."

"Don't," she said gently, placing her hand over his. "You saved his life..."

"She was going to shoot him," he said sadly, his eyes filled with tragedy.

He turned as he heard Erik standing in the doorway, and they both looked up to see Mirela in his arms. Erik stepped down from the doorway and set her down gently, then pulled Susanna to him. She went into his arms, and he squeezed her tight.

"I thought...I thought I was...," he stammered, pressing his face against hers.

With a chaotic stir in his heart, he at last remembered that he was unmasked before them both. He pulled back and looked into her eyes, and realized with utter relief that he already knew what he would find there in her eyes. Love.

Susanna loved him, as he had known – deep in his heart – that she would. She loved him, and he smiled at her, even as her eyes drank in every last detail of his face.

"No," she murmured, closing her eyes and pressing a kiss against his chest, then opening them so she could caress his face. "Never that. I love you. I won't let you leave me. Not ever."

Three days later

The mourners strolled away, leaving their families standing over the grave of Guinevere Allard. Only Henri had wept, though it was more out of loss for what hadn't been, than the death of his former wife. Then he had ushered the children down the hill into the Talbot's carriage, sending them off with Emma for a day or two while he grieved in private.

Susanna and Erik moved away from her grave after they had all left. To a smaller grave, very near it. Where Derrik was at rest, though not perhaps with Guinevere. Or perhaps in death, with the madness gone from her troubled mind, she had found peace.

It was the first time either of them had visited him, and they both knelt silently, reading the epitaph of their friend and brother, lost to them so long ago. The gray curved figure of an angel rose above the earth, seeming to pray over the bones of the dead child, who lay there eternally, his name cast in stone alongside his mother.

"I miss you," Susanna whispered, holding Erik's hand tightly as she traced his name. "Sometimes I thought I might die from missing you so much. I'm...I'm so sorry I didn't know how to save you. I wish you were here, and you could see my children. That you could see us all together. That you had gotten married...that...that I were best friends with your wife, and our children played together. I wish..."
She stopped as Erik took her by the shoulders and pulled her close, and she cried for him. For everything that he had been, and everything he could never be. Death had parted them forever, but he would live on in her heart.

"Susanna," Erik murmured, rocking her gently. His throat closed all air supply to his lungs, and he held her tighter to stifle his rawest urge to cry.

And for the first time it failed him, and he buried his face against her neck, breathing in her sweet smell, and so overcome he could no longer stop. He felt her hands drift up to his hair, and to his mask, silently asking permission to remove it for the first time.

"I don't...I don't know," he said, looking around slowly. "Someone might see..."

"It's just me, Erik," she whispered. "Just me."

He bared himself before her in the warm, summer daylight. Beneath a French sky more beautiful than any other before, or any other after.

Because he knew in that moment with his future bride, that he had never been freer in his life.

- -

The lake was inviting, and naturally they slipped down there to sit on the bank. To kiss lazily, with more clothing cast aside than was modest or proper, and without the mask and the black hairpiece. Susanna loved to see his natural hair color in the sunlight. Loved the way she could see all of his face when he was smiling, and the look he had in his eyes before she kissed him.

"Is your father greatly upset about Jackson leaving?" she asked softly, lying back against the grass.

"Yes," Erik said quietly. "He's very upset. More so because he left without telling anyone but me that he was leaving. But he took it much better than Lily."

Erik stared out over the water, wondering where his brother was at the moment. Jackson had left the night before, saying he couldn't attend Guin's funeral. He felt guilty because he had killed her, and Erik knew it would take some time for his brother to come to terms with it. But he would, he thought. He would deal with it, and come home where he belonged. And face the wrath of a sister who was completely devastated by his leaving. And the guilt of a father who hadn't ever said the right words to him – not once in his life.

"Do you think Mirela felt comfortable traveling all the way to Paris with him?"

"I don't know," he said, frowning. "I wish she hadn't gone so soon."

"So does Rand, I think," Susanna whispered. "I feel bad for him. But he doesn't seem to be all that saddened. When you told him, he just sort of smiled. I wonder what really happened while she stayed with him."

"Love, I think," he said gruffly, then offered her a wry smile. "It does strange things to a man, you know."

"To a woman as well," she said demurely. "I think his brain is addled though. If you left without saying goodbye, I certainly don't think I would be smiling."

He leaned over and placed a kiss on her chin, then her lips, then her nose. "The lady has issued a challenge, I believe. And I think Monsieur Vallee is more than willing to accept it. I don't think we've heard the last of those two."

"You don't?" Susanna giggled, "And what about us, Erik? Where are we going from here?"

"I hope," he murmured, nuzzling at a spot just above her breast, "that we are going straight...," his lips traveled down a little further, "to the altar."

"I could be pregnant, you know," she said merrily.

"Could you?" His hand settled on her stomach, warmed at the thought of a child there.

"But I think we should wait at least three months to get married."

"Do you?" he asked, not sounding in the least bit perturbed.

"Unless of course," she gasped as he fondled her, "I am already with child. In which case...Erik! I am trying to...to..."

"Three months it is," he agreed, nipping at her throat. "I do have the right to speed things along though. Because there is every chance you could not be with child. In which case...I will do my best to get you that way."

"Erik!" she scolded, but his wicked charm had her laughing as well.

"Did you need something, Susanna?" he whispered, looking her in the eyes, his face composed into a perfectly innocent smile.

"You, Erik," she said, her breath hitching at the look of desire in his eyes. "I need you."

And Erik Dessain – always eager to please his future bride – did just that.

Twice.

---

I am going to update my profile page (soon) and let you know what is going on with the rest of this story. I hope you enjoyed it, but (gasp) Erik and Susanna are through. Not that we won't be seeing them again...somewhere...