Welcome to the further adventures of Erik and Mirielle.

1.

Erik conducted his usual rounds of the Opera in the morning, retrieving the paper. It was on one such morning that the small envelope appeared. He held it loosely, feeling the mediocre texture of the hotel's stationary. The script upon it was in that achingly familiar feminine hand. It was addressed simply to : P.o. t. O.

Tucking it carefully within the folds of the newspaper, he set off to return to the lake house. He'd left Mirielle in bed and gotten up to start the coffee. He would arrive to find her at the breakfast table in her morning wrapper, laying out breakfast. Their comfortable routine of reading over the news and sipping coffee afforded the sort of pleasant happiness he had always longed for. That and someone to talk to.

The journey was never long. He'd even taken to not trying to slip past the cleaning women. That was the sort of thing the mysterious hermit of the Opera was known for. Erik had evolved into something new.

It had started when he began leaving packs of strings on the chairs of the orchestra members, or leaving notes with a few francs for the girls who needed shoes. He'd only started that on a lark, but it grew. The people who cowered in fear began to treat 'the Phantom' with a wary respect. Oh, there certainly were those like little Jammes who delighted in squealing at every shadow. Erik thought the girl might have even kept it up just to annoy La Sorelli.

The Lord alone knew that Sorelli always did have her corset laced too tight. It delighted Erik to no end to hear the woman complain of her 'nervous exhaustion' because the task of keeping the rats in line was so trying. Erik turned a corner with a chuckle. Sorelli might look lithesome, but she was pure iron under that tutu. A cobra looked less calculating.

The Count would revive her with champagne and diamonds. She'd finally decided to move to the home he purchased for her. It was a fortunate act, for his untimely demise left her without a patron.

When Mirielle walked into his life, the world began to treat him different. The horror of the unseen Phantom sloughed away to reveal the man who knew the problems of the cast and crew, and lent assistance to the maintenance people and stage hands. While the Managers earned the accolades, their employees understood who to come to with a problem.

If it was for the good of the Opera and the people who worked diligently, then the Phantom could be relied upon to take care of it. The people who feared him were the thieves, the drunks, and the ones who took advantage of their position. Carlotta was one of those. Not only had she browbeat Christine, she'd turned the entire audience into a gallery of thugs who could care less about the music and more about stirring up trouble for those who stood in Carlotta's way. The woman's talent was misplaced. She would have made a fine Madame. Or despot.

Reaching the quay, Erik stepped back into the boat. While pushing the boat along, he looked down at the paper and the small envelope. It glowed a faint white in the dim light and blazed brighter as the sun's rays that came from the drains lit it. A far away part of himself was pleased she had returned. She really was a sweet and honorable young woman. She was prepared to fulfill her promise as he had asked. Raoul had held her close as they all but ran from the house that night. A part of his fevered mind wondered if she had only placated him, or if it was sincerity in those pale blue eyes.

Erik dragged the boat up onto the gravel. Entering the house, he saw the light was on in his water closet. Mirielle was pinning up her hair. He stepped behind her and placed a kiss upon the exposed neck. She'd donned her morning wrapper over her freshly bathed and flushed skin.

With a groan Erik gave her a hug and stepped away. He slid the envelope out of the papers.

"Oh. A letter?" Mirielle lifted another section of her dark hair.

Erik's eyes watched her hennaed hands. He seriously considered asking her to have her fingers tattooed. Knowing his wife, she'd chuckle at the request. She would also give him a calculating gaze, the sort the lioness gives the gazelle.

How far the great have fallen, he thought. The Phantom of the Opera, the Ghost who knows all, the specter that drives the creative force of Paris, was transfixed by one very teasing smile from his wife. Faugh! Nadir might have a field day with that if it weren't for the fact he was smitten as well.

Rising to the challenge, he settled his tawny gaze on his wife's shoulder and let it slide down her back, letting it stop at strategic places. Mirielle loved his hand against the small of her back. Erik confessed he loved the way she melted as he caressed her there. The gazelle was acquiring a few teeth of its own!

Returning to the more pressing question, he held up the note. "It is Christine Daaé's writing."

"Bless them, they gave us a full two weeks." She turned her head side to side, looking for errant strands. "I can't believe how that young man blushed when you told them about the 'waiting period'."

Erik tsked. "They probably make love with the lights out. The boy has a permanent flush." He lifted a hand. "He has cheeks like a girl."

Mirielle set a hand upon her husband's chest. "Now, darling, we know a real man likes the lights on." She brushed past him, humming under her breath.

Erik glanced at his reflection in the mirror, his lips pinched in distaste. "Mirielle, are you saying you, um, you think it isn't manly to, ah,…."

"Put out the light?" She batted her eyelashes. "Oh, no, dear. It's just a choice."

Erik relaxed a fraction. He never slid off the mask until the lights were all out. As a matter of fact, he'd even surprised himself when he had taken it off the first time. He'd allowed himself to be possessed by some demon, and took it off thinking Mirielle might not even notice.

Actually he knew what demon it was. It was shorter, rounder, softer, and dare he say it, more clever than he was. Its throaty moans a siren's call; he hadn't been able to resist it. Her. Her and her sensuous hands and her lush, welcoming warmth.

With a resigned sigh, he followed her into the warmth of the kitchen. He lay the paper lightly upon the table, chatting about what snatches of gossip he heard while going up into the Opera. For most of their leisurely breakfast, the envelope lay beside his coffee cup, an unasked question.

"Another cup?" Mirielle asked.

"No, I'm fine." Erik folded the paper over.

"You really are resisting it, aren't you?"

"What?"

Mirielle glanced at the envelope. "Erik, you never read the business announcements in the morning, and you certainly never read the race results. You'd looked over both as if you were searching for clues to the mystery that unlocks the universe."

He shrugged. "Never hurts to change one's routine." At his wife's skeptical glance he added, "It saved my skin more than a dozen times in Mazandaran. Ask Nadir. He never tires of reliving some of those moments." He folded the page and lay it down. "Very well. We should see what she wants."

Mirielle picked up the section of the news and looked it over, turning the page slowly. Erik lifted the envelope, noting the embossed lettering of the hotel's seal. It wasn't the class of rooms that he thought the Vicomte would be happy with. Christine had mentioned his aunts. Perhaps they hadn't settled because the old biddies were stingy. It wouldn't be the first time a disapproving relative had tried to force a couple to acquiesce to their wishes.

He pulled the note free and opened it. The message was brief. "She's asking if I am ready to teach again. It seems Raoul has suggested we meet here, at the Opera. In plain sight." His eyes arrested on her signature. It wasn't MadameorMme. de Chagny, it was simply Christine. "She never liked the dark. I suppose her husband wouldn't settle for here."

Erik looked up at his wife. She was studying something in the society pages. "Ah, ha. Who is pretending to be reading the papers now," he crowed.

Mirielle lifted a dark brow and dropped a page so that she could point out the article she was studying. Erik made a disgusted sound as he read it was an art critic reviewing a show that held at least one of Radégon's paintings.

"I suppose I'll never live that down," he groused.

"Not anytime soon, dear."