SUMMARY:Part three of the "Freedom" story. Set five years later, Erik recounts the rest of the story…
DISCLAIMER:All the original characters belong to Gaston Leroux, et al. Chantelle and Marguerite belong to me.
RATING:I'm saying PG again. And still E/C, of course. Very much so indeed :)
AUTHOR'S NOTES:This was originally stuck on the end of "Into The Light", but, like it's mother "Freedom…", it started to write itself out of control and was threatening to be incredibly long… And since at that point, the middle/alternative POV wasn't completed, I thought it best to move it and turn it into a story all of its own. When I originally came up with this idea, I was going to re-write the first section from Chantelle's POV, and the confrontation section from Raoul's, but with a brief synopsis in this one… now I'm just doing the Chantelle version. I don't want to write Raoul, I might end up liking him… So, Chantelle's version coming soon… expect more info on Marguerite from her, as well as her thoughts on… well… you'll see :) For now, enjoy the shippiness. I know the ending is ridiculously happy… ridiculously happy endings are my speciality! I was on a major downer when I wrote this, and it cheered me up no end with a warm fuzzy feeling… I hope it does the same to other people so I know it's not just me! Thanks to the person who told me Christine's eye colour. I actually did find out, just couldn't be arsed to change it back… poetic license dictates I shall leave them grey :P
ADDITIONAL:I realised when writing this that I had no idea what age Erik was supposed to be. I've read versions where he's in his twenties, thirties, forties, fifties… but nothing conclusive. Susan Kay puts him in his fifties (I think, I need to work that out again) at the time the musical is set, Frederick Forsythe has him in his fifties by the turn of the century, almost thirteen years later… and quite frankly, I don't know who to believe. Therefore, my readers have free rein on his age. He can be as old or as young as you want him to be… And I couldn't think of a title. Any suggestions?
(c) T'eyla Minh 2001
One cold night in Paris, I was sitting in a carriage. At my side, in a deep sleep, was Christine Daaé. Together, we were fleeing from the life we had known, but I knew not where we were travelling. The mystery, and the journey, was just beginning…
Now, five years exactly from that day, I still remember everything as if it occurred mere minutes ago. Being cursed with a photographic memory can be useful at times…
A pothole in the road made the carriage judder, but Christine blissfully slept on, to my relief. No longer able to resist, as I looked down to check on her, I placed a kiss tenaciously on her forehead, watching her expression change as my action was curiously mirrored in her subconscious. It seemed I did not tremble to touch her when she was unaware of it. I made the decision to catch her by surprise more often.
Slowly, the carriage pulled to a stop. The stillness felt rather odd after all that time being jostled around, and I relished the sudden silence for a few seconds. Looking out of the window, I discovered that our mysterious journey had ended in a non-descript avenue, and I was still none the wiser as to our location. I stuck my head out of the window to address the driver, a small, nervous-looking man with mousy brown hair. I cleared my throat to catch his attention, making him jump, and he turned to look at me. I was thankful I still wore my mask, otherwise he would probably have run off.
"Yes, m'sieur?" he asked, clearing his throat beforehand.
"Is this where we disembark?" I requested lightly, hoping to sway his obvious timidity.
"This is where mam'selle told me to bring you," he explained. "I have no further instructions from her, unless you have any, m'sieur."
"No, this is correct. Thank you." I handed him a small bag of coins for his troubles, then returned my attention to Christine. As per her request, I was now to wake her up; doing so once was bad enough, but twice? I could hardly bring myself to do it. I would have preferred to spend the night right there in that carriage, but I knew it wasn't a good idea. Staying in any one place indeterminately would be dangerous. Sighing, I moved my arm, still curled protectively around her shoulders, and brushed a stray lock of hair from her face, hoping the action would be enough.
Again, there was that brief accusatory glance, quickly replaced by realisation.
"Are we there?" she asked. Her innocent, child-like demeanour, which I knew would vanish at any moment, made me smile involuntarily.
"It would appear so."
"Good." She yawned a little, a hand moving instinctively to cover it, then made to get out of the carriage. As she reached for the door release, my hand met her own and brought it back to her lap. What kind of gentleman would I be if I were to allow her to let herself out? I held up a finger to indicate for her to wait, then got out and moved to her side of the vehicle.
I held the door open and waited for her, ready to offer a hand should she require it. I watched her every move in awe - she examined the threshold, gripped the edge of the doorframe, and reached out a tentative foot to ascertain the distance to the ground. There were no kerbstones, and the road was uneven; the floor of the carriage was approximately level with my knees… far too high should she decide to jump.
I saw the nervousness in her eyes when she realised how high it was, then a certain reluctance to step down… and a sudden determination to leap. She would surely twist her ankle if she did. Before I knew what I was doing, my hands were at her waist, lifting her up, and placing her safely down again at my feet. The gesture took her quite by surprise and her hands moved instinctively to my shoulders for her own support. She shrieked a little at being lifted, but it seemed only for effect. She may not have been a prima donna yet, but she was well on her way.
We stood like that for several seconds, regarding each other, still in the same stance. Christine slowly brought her hands down from my shoulders to rest flat on my chest; I am uncertain to this day whether it was the wind or her touch that made me shiver. Her head turned and she laid it against me, as my arms instinctively wrapped around her. Perhaps it was to keep her close as I sensed she needed, or perhaps it was merely to keep her. She sighed and my I tightened my grip.
"What's wrong?" I asked, concerned. I hoped she had not regretted fleeing with me. My fears were dispersed as she looked up at me with smiling eyes. I noticed it was the same expression she adopted when under my control, except this time I had nothing to do with it. Or at least, nothing I was aware of…
After a pause, she answered. "Nothing's wrong." She sighed again and leaned her head back against me. "I just wanted to make certain this was real."
"I can assure you: it most definitely is."
I spoke the truth. I knew, because nothing in a dream could feel remotely like that moment. In a dream, it's curious; everything is as it should be, perfect and flawless, but… you always know it's a dream, and you always know it's going to end very shortly. Reality, on the other hand, feels quite different. All of the smells, the sounds, everything around you - they make you realise where you are. There are no senses in dreams, only the strange sixth sense that creates them in the first place. The sense of utter euphoria I was experiencing, and the accompanying dread that it might all be unpredictably taken from me again in a matter of moments, could only have been real…
God only knows how long we stood there. Time held no boundaries for us. The carriage was long gone before we realised it, and standing there, with Christine in my arms for the third time that day, on a freezing Parisian night, was the only thing that existed. The world could have been crumbling around us and I doubt either of us would have noticed. Every second seemed like an eternity and time only returned to normal when we finally let go of each other.
We stood apart and recovered from the moment, and then I waited to see what Christine had in mind. She led me by the hand down the street until I followed willingly, all the while still curious as to what she was planning for us.
"Where exactly are we?" I asked. She simply smiled and carried on walking.
"You ask far too many questions."
"I merely possess a healthy curiosity, my dear."
She sighed in mock annoyance at me, and I suddenly realised how very similar to each other we were becoming.
"I know a house here that belongs to an old friend of my father's. She is not one to ask too many questions, and, I hope, may be able to accommodate us for a while."
I felt I was putting somewhat of a damper on the good news by asking: "Then what?" She seemed to speed up her walking.
"We can only pray Raoul does not find us, or that he is at least able to forgive and forget."
Damnably, through no control of my own, my brain kept coming up with questions: "What if he isn't?"
She stopped then, and turned to me, obviously thinking. She had plotted so much from the moment she agreed to be in 'Don Juan', and her mind was turning over all the possibilities. "I suppose… we would have to flee, if the situation became dangerous enough to warrant it. We'd have to leave Paris, perhaps even the country itself." I was silent in response to this, but she continued. "Raoul will stop at nothing to find me in the very near future, but eventually, he will give up. His determination is fuelled by jealousy and lack of understanding, and he can only last so long before he stops looking." That much I could agree with. "However, the people looking for you will not be so easily stopped. They seek nothing but revenge and will only give up when you are dead. If Raoul finds us, so will they…" She did not continue the thought, the implications obvious. We would have to leave, or suffer the consequences. She made to carry on walking, her point made clear, but I called her back. She looked at me somewhat quizzically and questioned me silently as I took her hands in mine.
"Christine, if we were to leave Paris, perhaps even France, who's to say the Vicomte will not follow us wherever we go?" My query seemed negative, but I was attempting to make a point.
"Then… we keep moving. We could travel the world. I've always wanted to."
"And you will never become the First Lady of the Opera…"
I had unintentionally hit a very raw nerve, as tears flooded her eyes and threatened to fall. She barely managed to choke out: "Forget about that."
"No. I can not, will not, let you throw your future away just to protect me."
"It doesn't matter!" She was crying. I could hardly bear it, and would have gathered her into my arms again, had she not pulled from my grasp and turned away. "Nothing matters now except staying together. I am eternally thankful to you for what you have done, and all that you have taught me, but I know I will never be the star you wish me to be."
So that was it! She didn't believe she would live up to my expectations. How could I tell her she had far exceeded them without it sounding like pointless flattery? The chance never arose, however, as she faced me again, tears now dried as quickly as they formed.
"Your teaching has been excellent, but I have been a terrible pupil. I was neither disciplined nor dedicated enough to earn your praise as I have, and yet you continued to teach me. My dreams of the stage, of fame and fortune, were made more of a reality than a hope because of you… but I ruined it for us both in a single action." I knew she was referring to 'Don Juan' - that opera will be the death of me! "I cannot return to the Opera… just as I can never face Raoul again."
I digested all of the information carefully before answering, and, thankfully, she gave me time to do so. Eventually, I replied. "Think of me what you will for saying this, but you were an exemplary pupil, no matter what you believe of yourself. And I would not have taught you if I hadn't thought you would eventually succeed. 'Don Juan' will certainly never be a success, but you will. Don't give up because of one disaster. Don't give up because of me…"
"It doesn't matter what you say; I am not going back to the Opera, and neither are you if you value your life."
"I value it only because of you." I hoped she would understand the enormity of my comment. A silence descended, and then she caught me incredibly off-guard.
"Do you love me, Erik?"
"Of course." Always and forever, Christine, I wanted to say, but the words never came out. Did she not believe me? After everything we had been through?
"Then tell me!" she demanded. I faltered and stammered, the words so simple and yet so difficult. I had managed to tell her before when I never believed she would return it. Now, when there was the distinct possibility that she might, I found it impossible. She grasped the opportunity my uncertainty gave her. "I suppose if we were to sing some lovers' duet you would have no trouble."
Keeping my voice soft, I asked, "What are you implying?"
She sighed heavily. "I believe it is not me you love, but my voice, the voice you created. But take that away and you are left with me. Ask yourself - is that really what you want? Or would you prefer to keep your living puppet?" She appeared outwardly irritated, perhaps even angry, but I knew she was merely frustrated and weary. She was counting on me in that moment to be her Protector again, as she once believed me to be. I maintained a steady tone and replied.
"Your voice drew me to you. It is a part of you, and all I have done is helped you to mould it. Do you truly believe I would risk everything for a voice?" She did not reply. I wondered when we would both learn to stop testing each other's loyalties like this. It was time to be straightforward, and, finding the words from somewhere, I said: "I love you, Christine, voice or no voice." She caught herself before she smiled. "You need never sing another note in my presence and I would still love you. I only urge you to return to the Opera because I wish to share the voice we created with the whole of Paris. I am willing to divide it equally amongst millions… but we shall belong to each other alone… if you will be mine."
A silence filled with anticipation fell between us and I saw her reply in her eyes: only if you will be mine… She smiled weakly; she was and is the only person I have known to be able to argue with me so passionately, with or without words, but every time it left her drained. I should have known better, but believed I was doing what was best for her at the time, as I still do now, on the rare occasions when she listens to my advice.
She dropped her head, and then looked at me again. "Very well. I will return." I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding, as her tone became more urgent. "But, Raoul-"
"We will cross that bridge when we come to it," I answered, my hand moving to her cheek. I was completely aware of my action and trembling like a leaf, as her hand reached up to cover my own. "Rest assured, my dear, you will not have to face him alone."
She smiled gratefully, removed my hand, then turned and began walking. Our mysterious journey was beginning again…
The house we came to was average enough, and in fact seemed deserted at first. Christine knocked persistently on the door, which suddenly opened to reveal an elderly lady in her early sixties, holding a candle. There was a brief silence while she ascertained in the dim light who was at her door, and then she broke into a wide smile, embracing Christine with her free arm.
"Mon dieu, if it isn't little Christine Daaé!"
"Yes, Chantelle, it's me."
"It's been far too long… but what are you doing here so late?" She caught sight of me and I bowed my head. "And who is this?" I had hoped to keep my head down so she would not see me, but Christine stood away from me, leaving me open for introduction.
"This is Erik," she said, as Chantelle shook my hand. "A very dear friend of mine."
"Madame." I kissed her hand courteously. Chantelle then remembered how late it was.
"Oh my, where are my manners! Come in, both of you. Sit down." She stood aside and I followed Christine inside as Chantelle led us to her small living room. Christine sat in an armchair as I stood nearby, noting that Chantelle sat on a piano stool. A pang of sadness ran through me as I contemplated the fate of my own piano at the hands of the mob. "Christine, I haven't seen you since you were twelve years old. What brings you here on such a night?"
"We seek sanctuary, Chantelle. Only for a short while, and then we will find other lodgings."
"Sanctuary? From what? Or from whom?"
"That, I regret, I cannot tell you. I wish I could but I don't want any danger to come to you because of this. You know, though, I would not ask if it weren't important."
"I know that. Of course you may stay. There is a room at the back of the house which should be sufficient." Noting my attire, she looked at me - directly at me. She was the first person I have ever known to look at me and not my mask, other than Christine when she still believed me to be an angel. "I apologise, monsieur… monsieur…?"
"Just 'Erik' is fine, Madame." She nodded and tried again.
"I apologise, Erik, for my lodgings are probably far poorer than you are used to."
I smiled. "Believe me, Madame, compared to some places I have slept, this is a palace."
She then flashed a grin that must have captured many a male heart in her youth, and turned her attention back to Christine, smiling fondly.
"Little Christine… how you've grown! It seems only yesterday you were in this same room, banging out 'Frere Jacques' on these very keys," she paused to run a hand over the piano lovingly, "singing along completely off-pitch." Christine blushed furiously and I stifled my chuckle. Apparently, even angels start life tone-deaf… "But I hear you are Paris' new prima donna now! My, things do change."
"Hardly a prima donna, Chantelle. Hardly even well-known yet."
"But you will be," I reassured her. "I promise you. With my continued teaching you will be the brightest star the world has ever known."
A frown captured the older woman's features as something dawned on her that she hadn't contemplated. Curiously, she asked: "You… you are her teacher?"
Christine answered for me, choosing her words carefully. I was beginning to think she did not trust me. "Yes. He is my tutor and friend."
"Forgive my curiosity, Erik, but I thought…" she trailed off, dismissing whatever it was she was going to say. "You must both be in need of rest; follow me." She got up and we followed suit, moving after her as she showed us to a small room. "As I said, it is very small, but comfortable."
Christine smiled. "Thank you, Chantelle."
"May I pay you for your troubles, Madame?" I asked. She held up a hand.
"No. I am an old woman - I am not wealthy, but I manage. I don't want your money, but thank you anyway." I nodded. "As long as Christine is safe, that is all the gratitude I need."
Christine spoke to her, but looked directly at me. "I will be."
"In that case, I shall bid you both good night. Breakfast will be ready in the morning whenever you desire it." She smiled again, then left, closing the door and leaving us a candle on top of a chest of drawers. We were safe, for the moment, but some how I had the distinct impression that Christine's plan was far from over. I watched her as she moved to the window and looked out, searching for something. When she found what she was looking for, she visibly breathed a sigh of relief and pulled the curtain closed. Yes… she was definitely up to something, and she was going to make me wait to find out what…
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Everything seemed to whirl past like a hurricane over the days that followed, so swift that I barely had time to think. The only memories I have are of hurried plans and secrecy. We were married, at Christine's request, in a nearby church, with Chantelle as the only witness. We stayed at her home for a week, and I paid her handsomely for her help despite her protests; that one week brought the three of us closer and she now resides with us under her own pretence of being a maid. She is really more like a mother to us both…
Christine returned to the Opera as mysteriously as she had disappeared, prepared to fight her own battle with the Managers and with Raoul. However, news of her arrival soon spread and Meg Giry and her mother were quickly by her side. Her place was gratefully restored as the Opera's newest and brightest soprano. For the first two months, everything was glorious for her, and, surprisingly enough, Raoul was nowhere to be found…
Meanwhile, I ventured back into my underground home in the small hours once Christine had convinced them all that I was dead. It was far easier to tell them what they wanted to hear, and, even though the people after me had now forgotten their anger, kept me somewhat safer. I was amazed to discover that most of it was still intact, and the rest repairable with time. However, I realised after my time with Chantelle that the living conditions would not do for Christine any more. She assured me she was willing to live under the Opera, but it was time for a change. With help from an old acquaintance, I found and bought a large house nearby, and moved everything to it. When the staff of the Opéra discovered all my possessions gone, they were thrilled; despite news of my 'death', everyone was still wary of the Phantom. Christine resided in her own small flat, unaware of the house, while I hired decorators and furnishers to complete the interior. When I finally opened the door for her, she was ecstatic. Within three days she had assigned a place for every single one of her own possessions, and most of mine.
For those two months, everything seemed to be going swimmingly… and then Raoul re-appeared. It transpired that, after losing Christine, he had been living with his family in alternating states of rage and despair. His brother, the Comte Phillipe de Chagny, had eventually persuaded him to seek her out, by which time she was already back. His entrance was far from dramatic…
It was in the middle of a rehearsal for the latest production that it happened. Christine was practising her aria, and I was in Box Five, as usual, unbeknownst to everyone but her. It was an arrangement we had agreed upon - she had refused to perform unless I was present, and with a little negotiating from Mme Giry, I was able to keep my old place in the Box. I believe she told the Managers they would make more money if Box Five were kept empty, as a reminder of their late Phantom, and while Andre originally hated the idea of marketing, Firmin convinced him otherwise. They make a remarkably good team, I'll admit, even if they can be as incompetent as each other on occasion…
Christine finished to a standing ovation from the assembled staff and cast members before the musical director went on to fine tune it. Then, from the back of the auditorium, came the unmistakable sound of individual applause… with just a hint of sarcasm. Raoul stood up, stopped clapping, said a single "Bravo" and began to make his way out again. His implication was obvious. He wasn't leaving; he was merely instructing her to meet him.
Christine calmly excused herself to the stunned faces around her, and went backstage to make her way to the foyer. I quickly used my familiar passages and tunnels to meet her halfway, emerging semi-triumphant from a panel in the wall of one of the corridors. Silently, we walked together and met him by the staircase. He seemed surprised to see me.
"Christine," he said, nodding politely. Then, he blatantly ignored me.
"Raoul." She did not offer him a hand to kiss, but merely stood there.
He seemed uncertain how to continue, running through millions of possibilities in his head and dismissing them all. He scratched the back of his head nervously. "I came here to… they told me you…" He floundered somewhat, then found something almost useful to say. "I was informed that he was dead."
"Never underestimate the Phantom, monsieur…" I said. He finally decided to acknowledge my existence.
"I suppose you believe you have won. But I am here to tell you that you have not. I have come to take Christine back with me."
"What makes you so certain she will go?"
Thankfully, Christine intervened before the fight became childish. "Raoul, I know you didn't come here for a fight. Erik is not to blame for any of this."
"Erik?" he asked, disdainfully. "So the monster has a name."
She didn't react. Neither did I. Taking a deep breath, she tried again, as I stepped back to let her fight for herself. "The decision was mine, and mine alone. I know you find it difficult to believe that. Thank you for trying to rescue me after 'Don Juan'; then we both thought you were doing the right thing. But I realised as soon as Erik let me go where I was really supposed to be." He didn't react to that. "I did love you, Raoul." Despite her obvious use of the past tense, I couldn't help the familiar jealousy.
"I did," she re-emphasised. "But not enough, I realised, to marry you. I think if you look within yourself, you will come to the same conclusion about me."
"Now… I don't hate you, you mustn't think that… but the fondness I feel for you is more as if you were my brother." He seemed to accept that, even though it was obvious he did not approve. As I have mentioned before, he is nothing if not persistent…
"What of our engagement? You agreed to marry me and, if I recall, you were quite vehement about the matter."
"That's true, I was… but I didn't understand then what I do now. I was afraid, afraid of what we all thought was a ghost, and terrified of whatever could happen. My fear was misguided." It was evident that no matter how much explaining she did, he was never going to believe that she would choose me over him willingly. She reached into her small purse and produced the ring he had given her so many months ago. Her action echoed exactly what she had done to me as she held it out to him. "You know I can't marry you, Raoul. Take this back, find yourself a good wife, and forget about me."
He took the ring, regretfully, then noticed my own ring… on her finger. He snatched her hand and refused to let it go, anger rising in him. "So, this is why! Marriage! Marriage to a murderer!" Turning to me, dragging her with him roughly. "I suppose you are to blame for this, bewitching her with your voice. Angel of Music? Some angel if you would stoop to common trickery to steal another's fiancée!"
Calmly, I blinked, then answered him. "Monsieur le Vicomte, I would appreciate it if you would release my wife…" Bitterly, and in a somewhat childish manner, he let go of her hand. She cradled it in the other, looking at me through pleading eyes to end this in as short a time as possible. "There are no tricks, no deceptions… just what you see before you." Reaching into my pocket, I produced a small piece of paper. "And this, I hope, should convince you of the truth."
He took the paper and paled. Our marriage certificate, fully authorised and stamped with the notary's seal. He was convinced of the authentication of our marriage, but still refused to believe she would ever marry me willingly.
"I dread to think what you said or did to her to make her agree to this."
"It was entirely Christine's decision."
She spoke again. "There is nothing you can do, Raoul. If the certificate won't convince you, I can think of only one thing that will." She paused, then did nothing other than glance at her own stomach. Then she looked back to him, a smile emerging that she was unable to stop. "I am… with child."
The two of us were stunned - this was news to me as well - and the "You're WHAT?!" came from us both. The situation might have been amusing had it not been so serious. She nodded.
"The doctor informed me this morning. I'm two months pregnant." My brain ran back two months… that could place it on only one night… and it could only be mine, not that I suspected otherwise. I was by her side in a second, and would have kissed her, had it not been for wanting so desperately to witness Raoul's reaction to the news.
He paled even more, if possible. "Well… I suppose…" He stopped, unable to form anything remotely coherent to say. "I should go…" He walked backwards a few steps, bumped into a statue, then stopped. "Congratulations," was all he could manage further, before turning and running from the building.
Silence. Glorious silence.
Somewhere within, I felt the smallest tinge of doubt, that she had fabricated the whole thing to fool him. "Christine, is it true?" The only reply I received was a kiss that told me it most definitely was, before she turned and headed back towards the stage. "Where are you going?"
"In case you've forgotten, there is a performance due next week." Ah, yes, the rehearsal. I had forgotten. I nodded and watched her walk away, before making my own way back to Box Five. Our lives were about to drastically change…
We never saw the Vicomte again after that day. Whether he had finally accepted us or not, I shall never know. Meg informed us that he was now married to a foreign girl of rich blood, but it may just be another of her rumours. She both starts and picks up on so many, it's hard to tell when she's telling us the truth.
The past year has gone so slowly, and yet it seems to have flown past. Christine is well on her way to becoming the most famous singer in the world, headlined almost daily as "Paris' Voice of Heaven". My music is flowing more frequently and fluently than ever before, and every note is for Christine, as always. My life is turning into that which I only dared to dream about…
I often think I may be dead after all. That she never did come back, and that the mob did, in fact, wreak their revenge on me. When I think of all the events, I still find them impossible to believe… that she would choose me, even allow herself to love me after all that I did, that she would run away with me to begin the adventure of a lifetime… that I would be sitting here now, reminiscing about a day five years ago when she managed the impossible and made me love her even more… I must definitely be dead. Nothing this tremendous could possibly be real.
In the other room, I hear a crash, and Chantelle's irate cries, both reminding me that it is, in fact, very real. Another broken vase, or some such ornament, at the small hand of the only person it could be - Marguerite. I hear Christine hurry down the staircase to assess the damage, and get out of my own chair to visit the scene of the crime. I stop, standing in the doorframe, as Christine enters by the other door and stops dead, the sight equally amusing to us both. Marguerite, in the middle of a circle of broken china, and Chantelle scolding her to no effect whatsoever. Eventually, unable to compete with the familiar "I didn't do anything" look on the child's face, she gives up.
"Christine", she says, "that daughter of yours is going to be the death of me. Not to mention the fate of your dining room if she persists in breaking everything around her." Christine merely laughs, kneels, and beckons her daughter towards her.
Marguerite looks innocently at the barrier confining her and then appealingly at Chantelle. The older woman sighs in mock impatience and lifts the small girl safe of the china and onto the floor again, and once let go, she runs to her mother. Christine scoops her up into her arms.
"What have you been up to, hmm?" she asks.
Marguerite adopts a sheepish expression. "Nothing." Chantelle, clearing up the debris, can only laugh.
"Nothing, indeed!" she exclaims, and carries on cleaning. She reminds me of Madame Giry, in a way, strict yet kindly. I continue to watch the scene unfolding before me, remaining silent.
"Now, 'Rite, remember what I said about being careful?" Christine has a firm but fair hand over her daughter, who nods, then pleads her case to a mainly sympathetic judge.
"I was being careful, mama," she says. A twinkle comes to her eyes, indicative of a new fib entering her brain. "The Phantom did it."
Christine laughs. "Have you been talking to Meg?" A nod in response.
"She said there used to be a Phantom."
"There did," is the honest reply. Then, she acknowledges my presence and turns to me, smiling. "But he disappeared."
"Like magic." Mother and daughter rub noses and grin at each other. An angel and a cherub under one roof - who could ask for more? Christine puts her down again. "As for you, it's time for bed."
"Already?" Ah, nothing like a child's sense of time. An hour can last forever, a day even longer, but bedtime always comes too soon.
"I'm afraid so. Now, say goodnight to your father and run upstairs." In seconds, Marguerite is clinging to me, arms around my knees.
"Goodnight, little one." I ruffle her hair, prise her from me and send her on her way. Chantelle is waiting at the bottom of the stairs to bustle her to her room, their usual routine. With Marguerite, the beautiful distraction that she is, out of the room, I can return my attention to the final strains of the manuscript I was poring over. It needs but a few more chords to make it perfect.
Christine follows me back into my study, wordless, as I sit back down and put pen to paper. She sits opposite me near the far wall, examining my every move studiously. I manage to write a few more notes before the other beautiful distraction in this house throws my concentration.
Looking up, I ask: "What are you doing?"
"Because I can," she answers cryptically. I raise my visible eyebrow and attempt to continue writing. A few more harmonies make it to the paper, and then I realise that she has moved her chair forwards and is now less than three feet away, leaning on my desk, still watching me. I place my pen down and look up to face her.
"Christine," I say calmly. "If you want to have something to sing next month, I suggest you let me work." Now, at least, I know where Marguerite learnt her "I didn't do anything" face, and it's doubly irresistible on her mother.
"You can work. I just want to watch you for a while."
The last thing I want to do is hurt her feelings, but I know I must finish this. "You are very off-putting, my dear."
"Oh." She leans back in her chair, putting an extra foot between us, and folds her hands in her lap. "Then I shall try not to be."
I pick up the pen once more and rack my brain to remember the melody I was working on. It returns and I scribble it down. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her casually reach for the first page of music and start scanning it. Then, she starts humming it softly.
I stop what I'm doing completely and give her my undivided attention, sighing in mock impatience. "I do believe you're doing this on purpose."
"Doing what?" she asks, innocently.
"You're deliberately disturbing me. Why?"
Her secret finally out, she smiles. "In my opinion, if the opera does not want to be written tonight, it is not going to be, correct?" I nod, somewhat regrettably. "And our daughter has been spending far too much time with Meg Giry and her tall tales. Any minute now, Chantelle will come down those stairs with orders from Marguerite to hear the whole story of the Phantom of the Opera… and who better to tell her than the Phantom himself?"
I concede defeat and get up, taking her hand in mine as we walk towards the door. "Who better indeed?" She climbs the stairs ahead of me, and the short distance to Marguerite's room gives me a little more time to reflect.
I would never have thought a life so simple was waiting for me… telling bedtime stories, a house filled with laughter and music, our perfect family of three, close friends who visit whether they are wanted or not. If I were to put aside the fact that Christine is the greatest star the world has known, and that my operas are published faster than I can write them, these things are all that matter. To think that years ago I was content to live alone in a dark, underground lair instead of a huge, light-filled house, and that hope of Christine's love was just a distant dream.
I wish for no more and no less of my life than I have right now. As long as I exist, and Christine and Marguerite are by my side, there is nothing else I need. It is almost ironic when I think that this all began as soon as I had condemned myself to never love a single living thing, and then the only thing I could ever love appeared above my very home.
I can only wonder now what else could possibly make everything better.
This scares me… I think it's because every time I proof-read it, I never remember writing any of it. Anyway, I told you the ending was stupidly, ridiculously, happy. Some of my betas have said things like "Why would Erik be able to forget about his previous life so easily?" and so on, and the answer is coming… hehehe, in Part 4, "Chantelle". I know! I've done this to death already. It'll be the last one, I swear! Anyway, whether you loved, hated, or are completely indifferent to this, let me know - please review! With title suggestions as well, if you please :)