Disclaimer: Please don't sue. I don't own POTO... All I own is an overactive imagination.

Summary: ErikRaoul slash. Raoul and Erik meet before the whole fiasco. This is what happens.

Warning(s): homosexuality (that's what slash is people)

Pairing(s): ErikRaoul

A/N: So, let's start the New Year with the ending of the longest chaptered fic I've written so far.

Story note: I think there's a lot of action in this chapter. It's also longer and has more cuts. Fluff included. Still UST though.

o.o.o.o

Imaginary Friends

Chapter 34 – Home

o.o.o.o

By: Lucifer Rosemaunt

o.o.o.o

Last time: Philippe gives Raoul a lecture. Raoul recounts everything that's happened since the very beginning between him and Erik. Erik, who's eavesdropping, breaks down the door to tell Raoul that there's nothing between him and Christine. More awkward moments occur before Erik tells Philippe that they need to stage another kidnapping.

o.o.o

The snow blew harshly in Madame Giry's face; she could barely see what was in front of her. It wasn't so much what was in front of her that mattered though; it was what was behind them that worried her. They needed to run even though she had no idea which direction they were heading. The only thing she did know was that her grip on both Christine and Meg had tightened, or at least she hoped she was still holding onto them. Her hands were becoming numb from being in the snowstorm for so long.

Momentarily wondering if she should check behind them to see if the ghost were still following, Erik's mocking laughter carried through the wind. She shivered from the sound alone. No need to look at all. She knew better than anyone else what Erik was capable of and that look in his eyes earlier had told her everything she needed to know. He was going to kill them.

All this for the patron. She mentally apologized to her daughter and to Christine. She should've told them to stay in the room while she searched for the Vicomte after he'd run off. Then, Erik would never have thought them to be involved. After all these years, she was finally going to pay the price for keeping Erik's existence a secret even when she'd known he was a murderer. She'd thought it had always been self-defense, thought it necessary for his existence. Now, she wasn't so sure. Their deaths were on her shoulders and their burden was slowing her down.

The ghost could have easily caught up to them several times already, and the fact that he had not did not give Madame Giry any hope that they might be able to escape. She had seen him do this to other people, play with them, scare them into a frenzy before killing them. Theirs… theirs were always the most gruesome deaths.

Her legs were beginning to protest such movement. Her lungs hurt and the girls were slowing down as well. She could barely breathe but knew that as long as she could, they were going to run. They needed to find help, but whenever she yelled, the sound was swallowed up by the wind. Only the ghost's voice seemed to be able to cut through the storm. His taunts of their eminent deaths only spurred her on. She could swear Meg tightened her hold on her mother whenever Erik's voice reached them.

Whenever they tried to move towards a building, Erik would cut them off with a hard glare and a swipe at one of them. Both Christine and Meg had been tugged from her grasp. The resulting struggle reminded her of animals that barely escape from a vicious predator, but so far, Erik still hadn't decided to kill them yet. The girls had been roughed up and would probably have bruises for a few weeks, but they were still alive. Madame Giry had had the fleeting thought of maybe just standing their ground and fighting him, but even with the odds in her favour, she didn't think that they'd all make it out alive. The man could snap their necks easily if he finally did decide to kill them.

If they didn't do something soon though, they would simply freeze to death. Madame Giry looked around and her stomach sank at the sight of trees. They were running through some sort of park. She couldn't tell really. Maybe it was a forest, maybe they'd run right out of the city. Suddenly her foot slipped; she managed to stay on her feet, but Christine was a different story. The girl's feet slid from beneath her, completely dragging both Madame Giry and Meg down.

Erik stood several feet away near the last line of trees before this clearing. He was leaning against one particular tree; large as it was, it was leaning perilously to one side, its branches already brushing against the snow covered ground. Snow was building up on the other branches and they, too, bent far down and looked ready to break under the weight.

Madame Giry looked around alarmed. This wasn't a clearing; they were on ice. The wide expanse was now so obviously a lake, one that they'd been heading directly for the center of. The nearest shore was by the ghost, who had, she presumed stopped at the edge of the lake.

The snowstorm had calmed a fraction. The wind's continuous gales had lessened to interspersed bursts of frigid air. The snow at their feet swirled up and around them.

Erik tilted his head after surveying the area. Holding onto a tree branch, he walked onto the lake cautiously.

"Leave us alone, Erik." Madame Giry yelled. She wasn't sure if he heard her, though she doubted it would do any good. She had to try though.

Erik only tugged the branch to check its strength before jumping up. He landed with a resounding thud. Snow drifted up blocking him from sight completely for a few seconds, and a sound almost like thunder split the air.

"The ice!" Meg yelled and scrambled further away from the shore, helping Christine along the way.

If they tried to run back to the shore they would certainly be cut off by the ghost. Their only hope was that the ice on the lake wouldn't break. After that sound though, they all knew that the ice would eventually break and they would fall through given enough time. Madame Giry pulled Christine and Meg behind her, further from the ghost. The tree swayed dangerously as it was buffeted by a gust of wind. Some snow fell from one of the higher branches and Madame Giry could almost swear that she could feel the ice move from the impact. It was a relief to see that even the ghost was having trouble staying on his feet though.

"You have to run," Madame Giry told them, "Head towards shore. I will distract him."

Meg nodded, stumbling a bit as she tried to run too quickly on the ice. Christine was close behind her.

Madame Giry stared at Erik, waiting for his next move. She had to ensure Meg's and Christine's survival. She watched in fear as the ghost grabbed a branch further out into the lake to make chase. She was about to meet him halfway when another sound, much like the ice cracking earlier, split the air. This time it was different. The ghost disappeared for a second and Madame Giry heard a splash. His scream of surprise caught the girls' attention as they stopped making their way towards the shore.

Through the snow that had risen from being disturbed by both the ghost and the wind, Madame Giry saw him enter the water before she noticed that the initial sound they'd heard hadn't been of the ice breaking, it had been a branch snapping. Through the wind, she could hear the creaking and watched as though time had slowed as the branch made its way towards the water right where the ghost had fallen through. The ice crumbled under its weight and continued to crack and fracture towards her. Seeing its progression, she turned and ran from it as quickly as she could, making her way to the girls.

When the only thing they could hear was the wind howling, they turned to look at the wreckage. A huge portion of the ice had been broken; the tree branch had been pulled underwater even though the very end of it still peeked out at the opening near the edge of the ice.

More importantly, there was no sign of the ghost. Slowly walking back, Madame Giry knew that she had to be sure. She'd seen him fall through the ice, but then the snow had blocked much of her view of what had happened afterwards. She half-expected the ghost's hand to suddenly emerge from the water, grab onto the edge and continue his chase of them.

Nothing of the sort happened though. The branch sank into the lake even deeper and all that was left was the lake, the surface disturbed by the wind. Looking intently into the water, she could almost swear she saw a flash of black that could have been one of the ghost's layers of clothing, but as soon as she thought she saw it, it was gone. Dropping to her knees, Madame Giry tried to clear the snow from the ice in order to peer beneath the surface. It was too dark; she couldn't be sure if the ghost were down there.

He'd cried out in alarm though. That much was certain. He'd cried out and then simply disappeared. Looking around her, she stood up and quickly left. She couldn't explain the racing of her heart. She'd seen the ghost die, but she still didn't believe it. It couldn't have been that simple. Numerous men had gone after him and had failed. The ghost could not be defeated by… by what? Water? Nature? Because it was fate that had led them to the lake and fate that the ghost's need to kill them had in turn killed him.

"Is he dead?" Christine asked, more curious than afraid. She was shivering now that they were no longer moving. Her brows drawn in worry; she needed to know if she would have to continue to live in fear. She wasn't sure she could do it.

Madame Giry shook her head; she needed to see his body to believe that he was dead. "I do not know, child. But, we must leave this place." If the ghost still lived, he would surely come after them. They needed to find safety, and the room they had rented seemed to be the best place. There were many people there and a warm fire.

She led them back to the inn all the while looking over her shoulder, still waiting for the ghost to appear.

o.o.o

"What did you just say?" Philippe asked. Raoul laughed and his brother sent him a glare. "You need to not speak right now."

Raoul rolled his eyes but obeyed. The adults need to talk, he groused.

It wasn't as though you and Erik were doing much talking. Erik pointed out.

I didn't know what to say. Raoul replied, Things are a little different now. I'm no longer a child.

Yes, and now that we know he's not here for Christine, we know he's here for you. Erik said, And that makes things more than a little different.

Erik held a hand up to calm Philippe. He was certain this idea would work. They simply needed to make it believable. "We need to stage a kidnapping."

"He's already been kidnapped enough, don't you agree?" Philippe said through clenched teeth. He glared at Raoul, who didn't bother hiding his grin.

"Not really a kidnapping," Erik amended his statement, "More like a retrieval."

Do you think that he wants to stay? Raoul asked.

Erik asked, disbelief obvious in his voice. What?

Raoul replied, He wasn't even looking at me until Philippe asked him that question.

You weren't really looking at him either. Erik pointed out.

I was talking to you. It's difficult to pay attention to everything when you're speaking to me.

Maybe, Erik said non-committally, but if he has a plan, then it seems rather obvious he's going to stay long enough to see it through. Don't you agree?

Raoul momentarily wondered why Erik was beginning to remind him of Philippe. Maybe, he mocked his tone of voice. What do you think his plan is? I don't see how he's going to convince brother.

I don't know. Erik added, Philippe sounds really annoyed. I'm sure he loves the mere idea of another kidnapping.

Yes, I love it just as much, Raoul fought not to roll his eyes.

Erik elucidated, "Madame Giry knows that I gave Raoul to another person. She doesn't know that person was you."

Raoul was tempted to comment that he wasn't just a thing that was passed from person to person, but decided after Erik's scoff in his head, that he should probably listen to Philippe's advice and remain silent.

His brother nodded. There would have been no way for her to know that he was actually working with the opera ghost.

"Well," Erik looked from Philippe to Raoul, eyes lingering a bit longer on the younger of the two, "I chased the girls to the lake and fell through the ice."

"You what?" Raoul sat up and gave the ghost a visual perusal to see if there was blood anywhere. "Are you alright?"

Both Philippe and Erik looked at him. Philippe arched an eyebrow and sneaked a glance at Erik. The man's mouth hung open a little as though he didn't think Raoul would be concerned about his welfare. Philippe rolled his eyes. His brother had taken care of him in the mausoleum. Shouldn't it be obvious that he was worried about his welfare? The look of disbelief was obvious though.

Erik cleared his throat, realizing that he was just staring at Raoul. "I… I'm fine," he stated slowly. "It was nothing, not to mention necessary." He hadn't been expecting Raoul to react like that. Trying to refocus on Philippe so that they could continue with the conversation, he found it near impossible when an errant thought came to mind. He was tempted to ask the boy if he wanted to kiss the pain away.

"And the girls?" Philippe prompted.

"Alive still." Erik forced himself to look away from Raoul. "I can leave everything behind," he stated pointedly. He could leave his old life; he hadn't killed them even though he'd been sorely tempted to. It was what Philippe wanted, and Erik had said he'd do anything for Raoul.

Philippe nodded, immediately knowing why Erik had said it like that. "They suspect you're dead."

"For now, it's probably merely an idea. I simply disappeared."

"It's dark out," Philippe surmised, "and they think you might have simply tried to fool them."

"Exactly."

"What do you think they believe?" Philippe asked. Erik was being completely rational about what had happened, but Philippe wanted to know his opinion. He knew Madame Giry and the others better.

Erik wasn't certain. It had been fortunate for him that the wind had so easily picked up snow to hide his body from their view. Luck had brought them to that particular tree even if the branch hadn't given way the first time he'd pulled on it. He'd actually feared he would fall through the ice before he'd had something to cover him, and when he did fall through, he was only glad that the branch had cracked and fallen into the lake. He'd been convinced he was going to die when he experienced that first contact with the lake water, it was so cold. Even though it had been shallow, he'd almost slipped further in as the ice cracked. He could only hope that the girls believed he actually did die.

He shrugged, "I'll need to do more than just disappear."

He faked his death. Raoul repeated to Erik in disbelief.

Of course he faked his death. He wanted to be with you. Erik replied, as though it were obvious.

But, Raoul hesitated. He didn't know why he couldn't be happier. First assumption, it seemed like the ghost had done it all in order to stay with them, but… It just seems like he still wants to disappear, like he's helping us only to leave again. Like everything is for a new start, a completely new start and we're simply something in his past that needs to be neatly fixed so that he can move on.

Erik didn't reply right away. He had to admit that it did seem like that. Perhaps the ghost's wording could use some work.

Seeing that the ghost was only going to stare at his brother and Raoul was going to continue to stare at the bed sheets, Philippe asked, "So what's your plan?"

"We need to switch clothes," Erik answered distractedly. He wondered why Raoul wouldn't meet his gaze; he'd basically confessed that he'd stop being the opera ghost, "and you need to call your driver."

o.o.o

Finally warm and with almost an entire day's worth of sleep, Madame Giry paced in her room, looking as Christine and Meg slept on. They had locked themselves in the room the moment they'd made it back from the lake. The ghost hadn't shown up yet, and had the ghost survived, he would have known exactly where to find their room. She didn't doubt his persistence or his resources. The man would be able to locate anyone given the right incentive, and murder was always high on that particular list.

They had been trapped because of the weather, and maybe that was what their saving grace was, the storm. They would have to eventually go outside and she feared what they would find once they were out there. Would the ghost be waiting for them there or would he simply terrorize them the rest of their lives? She could see him doing both.

One thing she was convinced of was that if they found the Vicomte then they would know what had happened to the ghost. The Vicomte had always been the ultimate goal, and since the storm had been so terrible, it meant that somewhere in this city the Vicomte was being held captive. Perhaps it wasn't even captive though.

The patron hadn't looked entirely worried at seeing the ghost. In fact, the blonde had seemed relieved. Madame Giry wondered what would happen if she were wrong about the ghost. What if he wasn't going to hurt the patron? What if she had caused more harm than necessary?

She couldn't be wrong though. People didn't change so drastically. She knew the ghost, knew what he was capable of and what he would do to those he was obsessed with. She couldn't help but look at Christine. Christine had barely survived her encounter with the ghost. Actually, the only reason that she had survived was because of Raoul. Once the Vicomte had arrived as the new patron, everything had changed.

Madame Giry frowned, not sure what to believe about Erik. His threat to kill her should have been proof enough that the man hadn't changed, that he would have hurt the Vicomte, but it wasn't enough. Erik had simply been protecting what he believed to be someone he rather owned. He hadn't even hesitated in his threat to kill Christine – that was behaviour she hadn't expected from the ghost. That had been the furthest she expected from the ghost she knew.

It was unsettling.

She could do nothing about it now though. They would soon find out whether the ghost was truly dead or not. The storm was already dying down. They'd search for the Vicomte once morning came.

She just couldn't shake the feeling that maybe she'd made some sort of mistake.

o.o.o

Erik watched the door close with dread. He tried to calm himself, but the very thought that he'd be left alone in the room with Raoul actually made him anxious. Nothing he'd done in his life could have prepared him for this moment, but Philippe had to leave. It was part of their plan. He tugged at the clothes he had obtained from him. It was warm in the room and the layers of clothing were making him hot. The only piece of clothing he hadn't donned yet was the cloak that would cover his face.

This plan would work. It would work and he'd have Raoul. If only he knew what to do with him afterwards. Erik forced his mind not to take that thought further than necessary. As it were, he could already feel the blood rushing downwards. Focusing on remembering how painful falling in that water had been, he turned to face Raoul.

Is he going to stare at the door forever? Erik asked, wryly.

I don't know. What are we supposed to say? Raoul said.

Well, now that he's here, maybe we could ask why he came back. Erik suggested.

Raoul added, And why he also wants to leave?

We don't know that for certain.

It seems like it. Raoul retorted.

Well, things aren't what they seem. Obviously. Erik replied, Why not talk about Philippe?

Philippe? I'm not four anymore. Raoul said. We don't need to talk about my family.

Scoffing, Erik said, Then you think of something to talk about. Oh, I know. He said sarcastically, Why not apologize since you always feel so guilty when you look at him?

Erik looked at the one person in this world that he would move heaven and earth for. "Raoul."

Hearing his name, Raoul sat up straighter, allowing the blanket to fall at his waist. Not having anything else to say, he settled for, "Erik."

That was the first time that Raoul had said his name without fainting directly afterwards. In fact, Erik sort of expected him to suddenly fall into the bed. But no, the boy was still looking at him, rather expectantly.

"I," Raoul admitted, "I'm sorry."

I can't believe you actually apologized. Erik said.

The ghost looked at him in confusion. "What?"

Raoul looked away. He swallowed with some difficulty, biting the inside of his cheek. Maybe this was a bad idea, but the words had already left his mouth. All he had to do was think of what the ghost must have gone through to feel that familiar guilt and use it as incentive to find the courage to continue. Perhaps he hadn't ruined things with Christine, but he had betrayed him in the end. Shaking his head, Raoul mumbled, "I'm so sorry. I don't… I."

Erik was across the room before Raoul could finish his thought, "There's nothing you did."

Raoul actually pressed against the pillows. Erik's presence was almost suffocating, and that intense focus made him flush. He couldn't understand his reaction to him.

Erik took a step back seeing Raoul's wide eyes. "Are you ready for this?" He asked, changing the subject. The blonde had been frightened of him. That was the last thing that he wanted from Raoul, and if he stayed too close, then he was certain he'd do something that would warrant fear from the blonde. Distance would be most prudent for the time being. He couldn't just invade his personal space whenever he wanted. Raoul wasn't the child who'd been so tactile and so willing to be in constant contact with him.

"As ready as I'll ever be," Raoul replied softly. He wanted to ask what Erik meant by what he said, but it was obvious the ghost no longer wanted to speak about it.

Sighing, Raoul mentally checked how he was feeling. Overall, he was feeling better, but his body still ached with a persistent fever. He knew that the sooner they did this the better. If Philippe would allow him to be un-kidnapped, then he knew that he would have to do his best to carry out his part. He could always worry about the ghost later on.

"Let's get you dressed and layered again," Erik suggested, placing the extra clothes on the bed beside him before walking a few steps away.

Raoul kicked the blankets down, watching the ghost closely. He went through dressing without really paying attention. It was slow going since he felt a little weak, but at least it would give Philippe time to get a horse and ride it some distance out of town.

I think I might have done something wrong, Raoul said.

Erik scoffed. When don't you think you did something wrong?

Don't be difficult.

Why do you think you did something wrong? Erik asked as nicely as he could manage.

Raoul saw the stiffness in the ghost's movements, the fact that he kept his distance and wouldn't quite meet his eyes. He looks like he's holding back.

The only response Raoul got was laughter.

What?

Erik refused to answer.

It was only when he was almost finished dressing that the ghost spoke, "It was I who betrayed you."

Raoul paused from tying his cloak before he said aloud to himself, "The pinky swear." His eyes narrowed as he considered the extent of what it meant. "You knew who I was from the very beginning and never bothered to tell me."

Hearing the hurt in that one statement, Erik actually flinched. So perhaps he had betrayed the blonde in more ways than one. He hadn't even realized. He was going to confess about the kiss he had stolen when Raoul interrupted him again.

"I betrayed you, too," Raoul admitted. It wasn't like he could stay mad at him. Ultimately, it always came down to the fact that it was all his fault.

"How?" Erik couldn't help but ask. The mere idea was ludicrous.

Raoul looked at him with wide eyes that were beginning to water. "I should never have left you. I should've made them come back. I should've found a way to make it back to you."

Erik couldn't bear looking at him. He actually felt more guilt at the moment than he'd ever experienced in his entire life. Raoul was the one who felt guilty for not finding a way back? How could he possibly tell him that he'd managed to escape only to choose not to find a way back to him? He just couldn't.

Raoul took his silence for an inability to forgive him. He headed for the door and though he swayed a bit, he stayed on his feet. "Are you coming?" He asked brusquely.

"No, damn it," Erik grabbed Raoul's shoulders.

They stared each other uncomfortably considering their proximity. Raoul looked at Erik's hold on him before staring at him, past the mask, enough so that Erik almost felt as though he weren't wearing one.

"No?" Raoul asked, "It's your plan."

"We're not leaving this room until we settle this," Erik stated.

"Settle what?" Raoul wondered what else the ghost could possibly say to him. It was obvious now. The ghost was only helping because they had saved him from the mausoleum or maybe because of the pinky swear Raoul had forced him into. He actually couldn't forgive what Raoul had done though.

Erik took a deep breath, trying to gather his wayward thoughts. He refused to let Raoul go.

"Firstly, Christine isn't anything to me," he started with something that Raoul should already know. "Not anymore. Not as much as…" you. He couldn't say that aloud. Erik had to remind himself that he couldn't just force himself on Raoul. The boy was different, and he'd never felt so powerless to keep things in his control. That was what the opera house had been, a practice of control. It had been easy for him, the people simply players in a game that he was the master of. Raoul didn't fit into that. Nothing was in his control when he was with Raoul and that left him uneasy. He didn't know how to react to that.

"Not as much as…?" Raoul prompted.

Erik shook his head and said, "Secondly, I can't forgive you because there's nothing to forgive." Raoul looked away at the statement, but Erik continued, "You were a child, Raoul. There was nothing you could do to save me."

Raoul shook his head. "That's a lie. I should've kept my promise. It was more important than a pinky swear, Erik. You remember."

As though he could forget his first kiss. Erik fought a grin both from the memory and from the fact that Raoul had called him by his name again. It sounded so natural. It reminded him of the hope he'd been given when he'd been younger. It reminded him of the gift that had been tossed into his carriage and the boy that not only changed his whole life, but continued to change it.

"No," Erik stated, "I was the one that betrayed you."

"I don't…"

"I escaped not long after you went home," Erik interrupted him. The blonde had to know what had really happened and then, surely he would understand. He was reluctant to say the words aloud though.

"You murdered the gypsy," Raoul supplied.

Erik released him then and realized that Madame Giry must have told him. Why wasn't Raoul more disgusted with him? Why wasn't he running away scared? The woman must have told him about the other murders that he'd committed. He moved to stand in front of the door by instinct. He didn't want Raoul to run, but the brat wasn't running. He was just staring intently at him, waiting for answers, for explanations. Erik couldn't even tell Raoul that they had all been in self-defense. That would be a lie.

Instead of having to explain his actions, he focused on why Raoul could not be at fault. "I didn't leave to find you."

Raoul nodded slowly. He'd hoped that there was more explanation because he couldn't understand what had happened in Madame Giry's story that would keep Erik at the opera house.

"I told myself I would leave to find you after the police search had died down." Erik looked at his hands, gripping them tightly together. He was so old now. So much time had passed. So much time wasted. What was he doing now hesitating? He could be with Raoul; all he had to do was say so. Surely, the brat would gladly accept him.

But, Erik wasn't the same. He didn't just want to be a companion to him. He wanted more and that would certainly become obvious if he explained that he'd been afraid that Raoul had forgotten about him. It would become obvious that the brat meant so much to him that the thought of finding him and learning that he'd been forgotten had been worse than never having to find out at all – even if it meant breaking one of the only promises he'd kept in his lifetime.

Seeing his reluctance, Raoul made up his mind. He walked up to Erik and grabbed his hands to stop them before the nails that the ghost had dug into his palms could do damage. "I don't care about what happened." And Raoul realized that he could live without knowing everything that had happened in the past. He didn't want to force Erik to say something he so obviously didn't want to say. Raoul had lived more than half of his life without a large portion of his memory, searching for that memory, and now, he was willingly telling the ghost to keep his past a secret. It was alright though. It was alright because he trusted Erik not to hide something important from him. He'd trusted Erik as a child, and even though many years had passed, he wanted to keep trusting him.

There was only one thing that Raoul really needed to know. "Do you want to keep our promise now?"

Erik looked at him and nodded. "Yes." He wondered if it could be that simple.

"Then, I don't see why we shouldn't," Raoul responded deliberately.

Erik pulled his hands from Raoul's and pulled the cloak up to cover his face.

Raoul stopped him. "Your mask."

"What about it?" Erik immediately responded, a little defensively.

"They'll be able to recognize the mask even beneath the cloak," Raoul explained.

The ghost looked at him indecisively before turning his face.

Raoul frowned. He'd just told Erik he didn't have to worry about what had happened after they had parted, and now he was trying to hide something he actually remembered. Grabbing Erik's shoulder, he forcibly turned him around.

Erik gasped and looked like he was ready to strike out, but he didn't.

Raoul stared at the deformity. He remembered this face. He remembered the tears he'd shed for him, remembered thinking he'd been the cause of this. He reached up and Erik stepped back.

"I touched it once," Raoul pointed out.

Erik was still waiting for the brat to turn away in disgust. He'd barely been able to look at it as a child.

As though reading his mind, Raoul said, "I'm not a child anymore. I think I understand that monsters didn't do this to you."

"That doesn't mean you have to touch it," Erik retorted.

"Well, I want to."

"Still doesn't mean you can," Erik replied.

Raoul smiled. Good. He felt a little relieved. This was better than the way Erik had been acting earlier. He hardly believed that Erik could act so meek. It didn't sit well with his impression of who the ghost was. In fact, the ghost wouldn't have been this nice at all. He'd be courteous, but he wouldn't treat him as though he could hardly handle a censure.

He is holding himself back. Raoul said.

Once again, for a moment all he could hear was laughter from Erik. Of course he's holding himself back.

Why do you keep laughing?

I think you'll eventually figure it out. Erik added. Hopefully.

To prove a point, Erik grabbed the cloak and quickly wrapped it around his face before Raoul could attempt to touch his face again. He looked at the mask in Raoul's hand pointedly. Raoul put it in the inside of his coat.

"I'll be back for that," Erik stated.

Raoul couldn't help but grin. He mumbled to himself, "I'm counting on it." Erik might have said he wanted to keep the promise, but Raoul wanted a little more assurance.

o.o.o

They'd been searching for hours. Madame Giry for even longer since she'd left early in the morning in hopes that if she did indeed run into Erik that she could somehow convince him to leave Meg and Christine alone. She'd rushed back after a preliminary search through the neighborhood, fearing that he'd decided to go after the girls first. It was now mid-afternoon and the sun would set soon. They had to find the Vicomte faster or else he might be able to leave the city.

Christine had been quiet ever since the ghost had disappeared from the chase. Meg tried speaking with her but she only gave one word answers, if she answered at all.

"Are you okay?" Meg asked again, desperately trying to get Christine to talk. It simply wasn't natural for the girl to be so quiet.

Christine nodded.

Madame Giry didn't know what was going through her mind. Too much had been revealed to her, from the ghost being her Angel of Music to his attempt at killing them to his subsequent questionable death.

"How do we know where to look?" Meg asked her mother, making sure to keep pace with Christine. She felt it was her duty to help her best friend through this time and though she didn't think she was doing a very good job, she knew that she couldn't let anything else bad happen to her. She herself was still confused about what had happened. She actually felt for the ghost; had he not tried to kill them, she would have felt horrible for his death, but as it were, she was only saddened that things had to end as they did.

"He couldn't have left the city during the storm," Madame Giry thought aloud, "I can only hope that we find him."

Seeing the trio some distance away, Erik pulled Raoul against him as was necessary for their ruse. If he was enjoying it a bit too much, then he was only glad there was really no one to notice that he was holding Raoul a little too closely or the fact that he didn't have to actually hold him for this part of their ruse.

So much for holding back. Erik commented.

What?

Nothing. Focus on the plan. Erik replied.

"Are you ready?" Erik whispered in Raoul's ear.

Suddenly, Raoul felt how close they really were. He could only nod his response. Taking a deep breath, he focused on what he was supposed to do.

"Release me at once!" He yelled and jerked away from Erik, tripping rather unintentionally out into the street. Erik winced for him, but paused before running out to try to grab him.

Raoul scrambled away, "Where is he? You said I would see him today. Where are you taking me?" He swayed where he stood, partially acting, partially still weak from his illness.

Right when Erik grabbed Raoul's hand, Madame Giry and the girls turned to see it.

"Raoul!" Meg yelled.

Raoul looked between Erik and the girls in indecision. Before he could react further, Erik pulled his arm, tugging him close before running away.

Arm around his waist, Erik supported Raoul as they ran through the back alleys of the city. He was focused on getting to the meeting point they'd made with Philippe. Raoul couldn't help but feel like he was four years old again and they were running from the police. The alleys passed with increasing speed. Light. Dark. Flashing as they moved through shadows and the setting sun. He could hear the girls' footsteps as they followed.

Whispering to Erik, he asked, "How was that?"

Erik spared a glance and was glad that his face was covered. The brat was looking up at him expectantly; he grinned at the boy in his arms. "You're perfect."

Raoul smiled back.

The chase continued for a while, and even though Erik carried him most of the way, Raoul was already out of breath. They turned a corner quickly and hid in the shadows. Raoul leaned heavily against the ghost, listening as Madame Giry, Meg, and Christine stopped running.

"Which way did he go?" Meg asked.

Christine was looking around, close to them. Raoul held his breath. Erik pulled him even closer to him into the shadows.

"They must be here somewhere," Madame Giry replied.

After a few more moments, Meg asked, "Why is he staying with that man?"

"Probably," Madame Giry guessed from what they'd heard, "because he believes that he will take him to the ghost." She really didn't know the answer, but the man had apparently taken care of the Vicomte. The boy had been given more clothes and looked better.

There was silence after that where Raoul assumed the girls had moved on. He relaxed against Erik.

"Where is…?" Raoul started before he heard a horse passing by.

Erik closed his eyes. Philippe had impeccable timing. The girls would still be nearby and they'd be able to see Raoul's brother. Erik had also just begun to think that perhaps he could really just kidnap Raoul again. He would be able to take him, leave this place, and simply disappear. Raoul's warm presence by his side, in his arms, was too tempting not to want to steal away. It wouldn't be too difficult, but just like the last time they'd been in this situation, Raoul was waiting for his family to come and save him. Even though it was his plan, Erik suddenly regretted suggesting it.

Raoul called out, "Philippe!"

Erik's hold on him immediately tightened, instinctually knowing this was the man who had taken Raoul away from him before.

The blonde looked up at him questioningly.

His throat convulsed, and Raoul's voice snapped him out of his memories of the past. "Erik?"

Releasing Raoul, Erik reminded himself that this was all part of the plan. He just couldn't seem to convince his body of that fact. It was all too familiar. He watched as the blonde stepped away from him and headed towards Philippe.

The horse neighed as Philippe stopped it. He dismounted and walked towards them. He glanced over his shoulder to see that Madame Giry and the girls were quickly running back towards them.

So, this was to be their parting once again. Erik stood alone against Philippe and people who would keep him from Raoul, and the brat stood in the middle.

Philippe met Erik's eyes and they held him in place. He knew that expression. Sadness and he was once again taking away the most important thing in his life from him.

Raoul hesitated when he saw the girls. He pretended to be wary of them. "Philippe come here."

"Come here?" Philippe replied, voice loud enough to convey outrage. He couldn't bear to look into Erik's eyes anymore, so he focused on Raoul instead. "Get away from that man," he reached out to grab him. "He kidnapped you!"

Raoul managed to shrug off his grip easily, "They kidnapped me." Raoul pointed at the girls.

Philippe paused and looked between the cloak-covered ghost and the ballet instructor.

He whispered rather loudly, "Are you sure?"

Raoul frowned at him and didn't have to pretend. His brother was mocking him in front of everyone. "Yes, I'm sure," he answered irately.

"Then who is he?" Philippe asked, head tilted towards the ghost.

"He's going to take me to the opera ghost," Raoul answered easily, dragging Philippe away from Madame Giry and the girls.

"The opera ghost is dead," Christine stated. Her voice carried easily through the empty street.

Raoul scoffed, disregarding her statement and continued to drag Philippe away.

"She's telling the truth," Madame Giry added. "He's dead."

"He can't be dead," Raoul paused long enough to reply, as though they were idiots for even thinking such a thing.

"We saw him fall into the lake," Meg explained. She looked at him with pity evident in her eyes.

Raoul looked at the girls before glancing towards Erik. "You… you really don't know where he is. I thought…" Raoul let his statement drift off. He could let the girls assume what they wanted about what he would have said.

Philippe pulled him away from Erik and Raoul leaned against him, letting his eyes go distant. "I don't feel well, brother," Raoul said in a small voice. "I… let's go home."

Raoul cast one more glance at Erik, hoping that he would be true to his word and find a way back to him this time, that whatever had kept him away the first time wouldn't be an issue.

Philippe put a comforting arm around his shoulder and pointedly ignored the girls as he mounted his horse before pulling Raoul up behind him. He pulled his horse around and finally addressed them, "I do not know why you took my brother, but I am loathe to inform the police of your actions since you are women," Philippe stated as disdainfully as he could manage. He had a right to be angry with them. They'd endangered Raoul's life again, but he could only hope that they really would no longer bother them after this.

Madame Giry bowed her head slightly, "We apologize, Comte. We thought we were helping him."

Raoul had his arms around Philippe's waist, holding onto him. He'd laid his head on his shoulder, slightly slumped against him. Admittedly, he was tired already, but he was raptly listening to their conversation.

"We see how well that has turned to be. I never want to see you near my brother or our estate ever again," Philippe said with a frown. The woman nodded. "And you…" He looked up at the spot Erik had been a few seconds ago.

Raoul peeked as well. The alley was empty. Meg ran forward and looked around but could see no one.

"He's gone."

o.o.o

Raoul had taken residence at the window seat in the sitting room for the past week. Philippe frowned, looking at his brother from his place by the fireplace. That one time that he'd carried Raoul up to his room; his brother had mysteriously woken up at the window seat in the morning having no recollection of having walked down. Philippe watched him the next night, but Raoul's sleep seemed to go unhindered. He assumed that Raoul had simply forgotten having walked down the stairs. After that incident though, he didn't bother moving him. It seemed rather pointless.

Philippe didn't know what was taking Erik so long, but he knew that if the man didn't show up soon, he was going to go out there and search for him himself and injure him badly for doing this to his brother, a second time.

It was all too familiar, but this time Raoul wasn't crying to him about it. In fact, Raoul wasn't showing very much emotion about how he felt about Erik's continued disappearance. Then again, what more did he need to say or do. He stared out the window all day while holding the man's mask.

Philippe was really tempted to kill the man when he showed up, and it wasn't if he showed, it was when he arrived. He was fairly certain Erik would arrive. After everything, it would take something drastic to keep that man away from his brother. That last look had said it all.

He just hoped Erik would arrive sooner than later, hopefully, before Raoul decided to repress more memories.

He's not coming, is he? Raoul asked with a sigh.

Erik replied firmly, He's coming.

You said that five days ago.

I actually said that seven days ago, but who's counting? Erik retorted. He himself wasn't very pleased that the ghost had yet to arrive.

Raoul looked at the mask in his hands. He didn't like it. It reminded him of how he'd been with Erik this whole time and hadn't realized it. They'd been together and wasted it with fighting. His past had been there, and with Erik gone, Raoul felt like a piece of him was missing.

At least Madame Giry and the others are no longer around, Erik tried to look at the bright side. No more lying.

I didn't mind it. Raoul said.

The lying?

No, Raoul replied with a frown. I kind of liked the opera house.

There are other opera houses.

That's true. Raoul replied, losing interest in their conversation already. He stared out the window. There are.

That and the fact that the Opera Populaire figuratively burned to the ground.

Yes, Raoul answered distractedly. He gripped the mask tight in his hands as he leaned his head against the window. Nothing but snow on the empty driveway. This waiting felt like when he'd been waiting for Erik to return to the carriage after his shows. But I'm not a child any longer. Raoul thought to himself. He's not here to protect us from monsters. He doesn't have to.

It doesn't mean he doesn't want to. Erik said.

o.o.o

Erik stood at the entryway of the sitting room and watched Raoul. The brat had fallen asleep at the window seat that Philippe had informed him had been his post for the past ten days. Erik rubbed his shoulder with one hand – a welcome home present from Philippe had been a punch to the arm. He really hadn't expected such a burst of violence from the elder Chagny. That hit had been accompanied by censure and the threat of death for his stupidity for being absent so long. He had rather expected that latter part though.

He had taken the verbal and physical beating silently. He didn't have a good excuse for his absence and it was obvious that Raoul had been hurting by the look on Philippe's face.

Erik had taken his time returning to Paris. He hadn't been able to bear to watch as the brothers rode towards their home. It was theirs. How could he possibly join this family? It was something he didn't know how to do, to be part of a family. And after everything that had happened, he didn't know if they would still feel the same way about him staying with them once all the excitement died down. So, he'd loitered around the city and every city on the way to Paris. It had been impossible to clear his mind though. The lack of mask had been a constant reminder of who exactly held it for him.

When he'd finally arrived at Paris, he'd gone home, his rightful home in the dead and scarred opera house. How fitting for him. And at the heart of the opera house, several floors down, the fire had left his things untouched. He'd stood there for the longest time, just staring at the destruction that he himself had created. Of course his feet brought him to the one place that was still immaculate. His shrine to the blonde.

He'd realized it then, realized that he was just staving off the inevitable, because it was inevitable that they belonged together. He couldn't let his doubts once again ruin his life.

It had taken him too long to realize that.

"Raoul."

Raoul moaned and shifted.

Wake up! Erik yelled in his head and Raoul opened his eyes immediately since Erik rarely used that tone of voice unless there was something important. He looked out the window expectantly, but saw nothing but more darkness and snow. He stretched out and from the corner of his eye, saw someone else standing in the room.

"Erik." He scrambled to his feet, suddenly unsure of how he should greet the ghost. He knew he didn't want to do it sitting down though. Seeing the mask on the seat, he grabbed it and held it out to him.

Erik stared at Raoul and relaxed. He took in the mussed hair and disheveled clothing and couldn't imagine Raoul being any other way. He wanted, very much wanted to be able to close the distance between them, but he stifled that urge. Stepping forward to get the mask, he stopped an arm's distance away to grab it.

Raoul pulled the mask away before Erik could reach it though. Erik could only stare at him in confusion as he put it down on the seat again.

Just this once. Let me act four years old again. Raoul begged in his head. He practically jumped onto Erik, his arms reaching around his neck to pull him in closely for a tight hug. His eyes closed.

Erik immediately held onto him, desperately. He didn't think he could hold on tight enough. All he could feel was the pounding of his heart and the warmth of Raoul in his arms. He hadn't even known how much he'd missed this until that moment. He hadn't realized just how much he'd been missing without Raoul in his arms, how much he'd failed to feel all his life. He whispered harshly, unable to say anything else, "Brat."

Raoul laughed and didn't know why his eyes were tearing. He could only bury his face into Erik's shoulder and hold on tighter. He couldn't remember a time when he'd felt so relieved.

"Welcome home."

o.o.o

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End of Story

Word count: 8,463

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A/N: Don't forget to R/R (Read and Review)!

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Chapter review: Oh man. At least there was fluff in the end. Never underestimate the length of a last chapter. It took forever to edit this because nothing seemed right. It was ending!

Story review: I was looking back at some of the chapters and wished that I had perhaps kept better track of things because now that I look at it, there are some discrepancies. However, what can you do? It took me like two years just to finish this story. There's so many things that happened!

Keep an eye out in February for the continuation of this fic. In the meantime, thanks for reading and reviewing. It's been quite a journey, hasn't it?

A/N: I've got to thank everyone who's followed this fic. I appreciate your reviews and I usually try to reply to each of you. So, for those of you who don't put emails attached to your reviews, I just want to say thank you now. This fic would never have been finished without you all.