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

Summary: ErikRaoul slash. Post-POTO. A bit of R/C (yeah). General discontent runs through the characters as they are forced to adjust their views of happily ever after. I guess a bit of E/C as well (but that's usually unavoidable)

Warning(s): slash (that's homosexual content for those of you who don't know)

Pairing(s): ErikRaoul

A/N: Hey it didn't take me two months to update. Success!

Story Note: Final chapter. Let's hope Erik and Raoul don't end their story like L'Homme Qui Rit does. With a chapter title like that, you'd hope not, right?

The separations are time differences. This chapter could be read in two ways I guess: 1) as though the events happened all in one day (or something close to it) or 2) rather spread out between weeks. I choose the latter interpretation.


Reluctantly Willing

Chapter 28 - … to love


By: Lucifer Rosemaunt


Shading his eyes from the glare of the sun, Raoul stared out over the ocean. He'd mostly kept to the forests since Erik had bullied his way back into his life, and even though he heard the ocean from the cottage every day, he'd forgotten just how overwhelming standing so near it could be. He'd forgotten how breathtaking the view was, how absolute its presence was as sound, smell, and feeling assailed the senses.

If he closed his eyes, it would be easy to pretend that he was alone. He kept them open. He'd had enough of solitude to last him a lifetime, and he couldn't deny the fact that as much as Erik watched him, Raoul couldn't help but watch him in return to make sure that he was really there.

He let the small grin show when he saw Erik standing rather defiantly a few feet behind him. As much as Erik had been willing to walk through his estate, he had a distinct aversion to direct sunlight in such an open space. Raoul assumed that vulnerability was a large factor. There was no place to hide with sand all around, an ocean on one side and the forest too far away to do any good.

"You needn't follow me this far." Raoul had to raise his voice in order to be heard.

Erik rolled his eyes, halving the distance between them, feet kicking up sand unnecessarily. He'd known he didn't have to. He didn't have to follow Raoul anywhere, but he did. Moreover, this was the closest he'd seen the younger man to the ocean again and he was certain that meant something, something he had to be present for.

Raoul waited until the unmasked man had stopped before pointing out, "I only wanted to swim."

"At noon." Erik glared at the sun before turning the withering look towards Raoul.

The blonde could only smirk, "I like the sun." Not bothering with the buttons on his shirt, he tugged it over his head. "Are you joining?"

"I haven't any swim clothes," Erik remarked dryly.

Tugging at his pants, Raoul laughed and Erik reveled in the sound. It was only just recently did Raoul begin to laugh again and while there was still tension between them, those moments when Raoul did laugh felt like a welcome call each time.

"I haven't either." As Raoul discarded the rest of his clothing, he ran nude and unashamedly into the ocean.

Erik stared after him; Raoul had been returned to him. It had taken some time, often felt like lifetimes, but Raoul was talking, smiling, and laughing with him again. Yet, just as with everything else, it was simply a proximity of what they'd once been; close but never the same. Erik wondered if going back to that time was even possible anymore.

Would there always be those moments when Raoul looked at him with distrust, when they'd lapse into such uncomfortable silence, it was as though they were enemies still, or when Erik mentally calculated the distance Raoul could reach before he wouldn't be able to catch him? Even with Raoul's change of attitude and as much as those moments were decreasing, the mere fact they existed was enough to disturb Erik's peace of mind. They were still divided; so close, yet nowhere near enough. But, as difficult as it was, he tried not to linger on those discouraging thoughts because Raoul had been more receptive as of late even with Erik growing impatient enough to push harder against those boundaries that Raoul had created.

Raoul cut through the water with easy strokes, glad to force his body to focus on this one task, not letting the fear of the past or the future for that matter mar the cold trying to permeate through his limbs as water enveloped him completely. He realized that feeling he'd had as a child was still there; he wanted to swim to the horizon, swim until he found the nearest ship and chase after it. He almost felt as though he could at the moment.

Glancing back at the shore for just a moment, Raoul saw he'd swum quite a distance already. Erik stood close enough to the water that at times, the waves would crash at his ankles; he stared tensely, tracking his progress. Raoul doubted he even realized he'd moved at all.

Sometimes, when he was being fanciful enough, Raoul imagined that there was a string between them. If he moved a certain distance away, Erik was certain to move closer. It was always the same; he had tested those boundaries and by now knew just how far that string ran. He knew there was a finite distance; yet somehow, it was that same string that had brought Erik back to him even from such great a distance as Paris. He wondered if that string was fate or destiny, maybe even love.

Looking away, Raoul told himself he didn't care about that string or whether or not Erik ended up drenched. He dove down, kicking with all his might and kicked even further down. He kept going until his lungs began to hurt and didn't let up until he feared that he wouldn't make it back to the surface. He was almost right; as quickly as he propelled himself up, by the time he broke through the surface, he was feeling lightheaded. As he gulped down mouthfuls of air, the relief that flooded his body was a feeling he did want to drown himself in. It was simple. Instinctive and uncomplicated. He was alive and that was all that mattered.

He started when he felt hands clamping around his biceps. Struggling to push the hair from his face, Raoul coughed and spluttered as a wave hit them and water went up his nose.

"Erik?" He had a wild look on his face, and Raoul realized belatedly that Erik was the reason he'd inadvertently swallowed water in the first place. The man was barely staying afloat, his erratic motions against the waves almost comical if they hadn't been so far out in the ocean and clinging to each other. Erik had yet to say anything. "Can't you swim?"

Erik let go of him and paddled backwards, further away. He struggled slightly against the waves, as though he wasn't quite sure how to react as wave after wave passed him by. Raoul supposed that the water was a little choppy, but it wasn't anything too challenging.

The only words in explanation Erik had was, "I lost sight of you." He really meant. I thought you drowned. And that sentence was enough of a distraction for a wave to pass and make him swallow a mouthful of salty water and drop beneath the waves. He resurfaced before Raoul could even react.

Quickly assessing the situation, it didn't take long for Raoul to make up his mind. Shaking his head, he took pity on the man and swam towards him. He easily grabbed Erik's wrist and headed towards shore. He deemed it easier to swim one handed with the knowledge that he was a strong enough swimmer to support Erik than it would be to let Erik attempt the distance back to shore alone and help him if it were necessary. They'd probably both drown that way.

Erik didn't argue, allowing Raoul to drag him along. He still was swallowing more ocean than he'd like, but it was considerably less than what he knew he would have been swallowing had he tried to make it back alone. He wasn't even sure how he'd made it so far out. One moment he'd been watching from on shore and the next, he was grabbing Raoul.

He'd never had the opportunity to swim in the ocean before and hadn't given thought to what the addition of waves might do to his normally adequate swimming abilities. All he had planned to do was watch that spot of ocean where Raoul had been before diving down. He'd stared a long while, holding his own breath in Raoul's absence. He hadn't even waited for his own air to run out before he was stripping his clothing and racing into the water only to realize belatedly that he'd lost the position where Raoul had been. At least, he thought he had until the blonde resurfaced perfectly alright. Erik had wanted to drown him then, and he would have if he hadn't been passionately cursing Victor Hugo and the ideas that had been planted in his head by his novel.

When they could finally stand up, he waited for Raoul to release him. He didn't and Erik counted this as a victory; Raoul very rarely initiated prolonged contact. It wasn't until the water was at their knees and Raoul realized that Erik was wearing just as much as he was did he let go. He'd done so with a glance at his nude form before releasing as though his very touch burned.

Huffily, Raoul refused to meet his eyes as he stormed towards his clothes. "Do you not know how to swim? You lived by a lake for most of your life."

Embarrassing as it was already, Erik replied heatedly, "Perhaps the differences between an ocean and a lake elude your comprehension. The…"

Raoul bent down to pick up his clothes and Erik momentarily lost his train of thought. He quickly recovered, shouting, "What were you doing going under for so long? Diving for pearls or something?"

The clothes clutched in his arms barely covered his genitals, but Raoul didn't care. Erik had seen him naked numerous times already. It was one of the consequences that occurred when a person never left his side. Raoul scrutinized him.

Erik refused to fidget under that gaze, but it would have been easier if Raoul were glaring or even leering at him. Instead, those blue eyes stayed solely on his face, searching; for what, Erik wasn't sure, but he realized that Raoul had been doing that a lot lately: examined, dissected, and appraised what he said, how he said it, what he did, just on Erik himself. And Erik could only hope that Raoul wasn't displeased with what he saw.

Raoul opened his mouth to say something and stopped. After letting out a long exhale through clenched teeth, he said, "Thank you." He glanced out into the ocean and didn't meet Erik's eyes when he finished, "for coming after me." Turning around abruptly, he strode towards the cottage, not bothering to see Erik's reaction. He dressed as he walked.

For a moment, Erik could only stare after him; then, he quickly picked up his strewn clothing and jogged to catch up to Raoul, making sure to stay a few feet behind him. He was afraid to hope that Raoul hadn't just meant for right now.

Raoul wasn't even certain why he'd said those words. Erik had looked half-drowned standing there in front of him. Besides that fact though, he'd looked healthy and alive and so different from the first time Raoul had seen him naked. Different, but somehow the same: maskless, unashamed, and almost vulnerable despite his capability to hurt him. This was the man he'd nursed back to health and the one who, in a way, nursed him back as well. Erik had left him to die only to come back and almost die trying to save him – even though Raoul could have done well enough without Erik's assistance in such matters. They should be even by now, shouldn't they?

But it wasn't that simple. It could never be that simple.


It was the middle of the night when Raoul found himself wide awake. He'd been deep asleep seconds before, but waking up like this wasn't abnormal.

As usual, Erik's arm was draped over his waist, his breaths caressing the nape of his neck, and his heat providing more warmth than the thin sheet that covered them. He could tell from the way Erik's arm was only loosely on him that he must be asleep; otherwise, that arm would be pulling him closer.

Slipping out of Erik's half-embrace, Raoul cautiously scooted off the bed trying not to move the bed too much. Once standing, Raoul took a moment to look at him. Erik looked peaceful, different when he was asleep than when awake. Raoul knew it was his fault. The older man was normally tense; he was constantly worrying and vigilant. At first, Raoul had been glad to see him suffering in such a small way, and now, well, he wasn't quite sure what he felt.

He was halfway across the room, moving silently across the wooden floorboards, when Erik woke.

He groaned and patted the bed beside him in confusion. He had to roll over before he saw Raoul. "Where are you going?" Erik murmured, the words barely distinct from one another.

Sighing, Raoul gave what Erik could only guess was an exasperatedly fond glance. "I need to relieve myself."

"Again?" Erik nodded before rolling back to his original position, his arm splayed out over Raoul's half of the bed. "Hurry."

Raoul sighed and went to the bathroom. Finishing shortly, he snuck back into the room and slipped into his side of the bed, close to the edge since Erik's arm occupied a lot of space. Erik lifted his arm in invitation, and Raoul peered at him through the darkness. Erik was still half asleep, his eyes closed; he didn't know the significance of what he was asking with this small invitation.

Too many thoughts bombarded Raoul. It was too late at night or too early in the morning for so much to consider: the pros and cons of moving closer, wanting to and not wanting to, scoffing yet so tempted. Raoul was always so laden with thoughts that he never knew why he did what he did any longer. The reasons were all there somewhere. Somewhere buried under the uncertainty and confusion and through all the layers of those reasons that should have convinced him to act otherwise.

He moved closer without a second thought, facing Erik so that he could place his arm over the older man's waist as well. He slid as close as possible, close enough to hear the contented sigh that came from Erik before falling asleep himself.


Erik stretched languidly, waking slowly. It was too early in the morning to be awake; the sun had yet to begin to rise. He was certain that even the servants were still asleep. But half of his bed was cold. Once again, Raoul was not asleep.

"Raoul?" He called aloud before muttering to himself, "Again? How many times in a night…" He paused when there was no answering response. Raoul was usually quick to respond, whether it was some unintelligible moan or an exasperated retort. Smirking, he pushed himself up with some effort. "Did you fall asleep again?" Climbing out of bed, he headed directly for the bathroom.


It was only then that he started to worry. He scanned the bathroom a second and third time before walking back into their room. Everything was in its place, except for Raoul. No. The word repeated in his head as the worst possible scenario finally filtered through the haze of sleep and disbelief. No!

How many months had it been? How many weeks since Raoul had been speaking with him, laughing with him, willingly sleeping in the same bed as him? How many – he couldn't count them.

The whole wall shook when Erik swung the bedroom door open. In the corner of his mind, he noted that something had broken but he didn't have time to care. He was already down the hallway, opening every door on the way to the stairs. They were all empty. He pounded down the stairs and distantly, he heard the others waking because of the noise he was making. At least he supposed so, he couldn't quite be certain over the sound of blood pounding loudly in his ears.

Foregoing checking the ground floor, Erik headed directly to the one place that would tell him everything he needed to know. The stable. It was the only escape; it was the first place Erik would have gone if he were trying to leave. Trying to leave. The thought jarred him. Raoul was going to leave again. If he hadn't already.

On his way to the stable, he focused more on berating himself for wasting so much time going through all those rooms than on what ifs. His mind raced, thinking of all the possible directions Raoul could have taken. He immediately disregarded Paris and that general vicinity as a destination. Raoul wouldn't choose a place Erik knew – he accepted that as fact even though it hurt just to acknowledge it. Raoul was explicitly running away from him. Last night, Erik would have been just as certain that Raoul would be in bed come morning. But he figured that had been the point.

His entrance to the stable was no less violent as his exit from the house. The horses whinnied, the stall doors rattling as they nervously moved about. Erik paid it no mind. Only one thing mattered, and as he scanned every stall, he couldn't quite believe it. All the horses were there.

Had he been wrong? Raoul could have left on foot, but he would never get as far as he could have with a horse. Erik walked deeper into the stable, mind still trying to shuffle through the countless possibilities. And though he knew he should tell the others what had happened – they would probably be willing to help –, he approached Raoul's favorite horse intent on finding the blonde himself. The white stallion had helped him find Raoul the first time he'd disappeared, and Erik was willing to believe that maybe he would help a second time.

So lost in his thoughts and preparations, Erik was already in the stall before he realized that he wasn't alone.


The blonde had one hand on the saddle and the top of his head pressed against the horse's neck, his face hidden from Erik's view. When Erik moved to try to get a better vantage, the horse refused to cooperate, moving its head to further block its owner. Instead of moving closer, Erik stood between them and the stall door. His body would do little to stop a horse from running through him, but maybe he'd be able to grab the reins or something. The fact that the horse was saddled and ready to go made him more than a little wary. Erik eyed the satchel; he could barely make out some clothes, but knowing Raoul there would be food and money there as well; he'd have everything he needed to start a new life, all contained in one small pack.

Erik wanted to be angry; truly, he did. He wanted to rage at Raoul, threaten him, and remind him that leaving was pointless. He wanted to ask why. Why would he want to leave? But he couldn't. He couldn't bring himself to be angry, couldn't ask those questions because he knew why. Fear could turn to love but hurt and broken trust was another story.

He almost let out a bark of laughter. It was their story. They weren't Gwynplaine and Dea. They were Erik and Raoul. They were a born monster and a well-loved aristocrat. Their ending would be different.

"Did you mean it?" Raoul's voice was muffled, but he knew the slight tremor was still audible.

He'd been ready, had planned it all so that Erik wouldn't figure it out before it was too late. He'd had hours. Hours. And, it had been easy. He'd dressed, grabbed his satchel, already pre-packed, grabbed some food and saddled his horse. The motions had been easy, not a single wasted movement because he'd played and replayed it all in his head for weeks now. All that was left was to mount the horse and go. Just go, and he'd be able to disappear completely. He'd be able to start a new life and shape it to be whatever he wanted, completely unlike the days and years that seemed to stretch out before him in this routine Erik and he had somehow fallen into. He hadn't hesitated until that last step; it was as though he'd been rooted to this spot.

Shaking his head, he argued near silently to himself. It was a familiar argument, one he'd put on pause while he'd told himself to bide his time with Erik. "How could you though? There's no way you could've meant it."

"Mean what, Raoul?" Erik said cautiously and wondered just how long Raoul had been out here, how far he could have been while he'd been so ignorantly sleeping.

Raoul turned to him, furious at himself for being unable to leave. Taking two quick strides, he pushed Erik hard. "I'm not Dea!"

Erik stumbled backward out of the stall, just barely managing to stay on his feet. Still, he had to fight the urge to grin; he couldn't ignore the flare of hope that grew within him at hearing Raoul's outburst. "Dea?" Of course Raoul had known.

Raoul took a swing at Erik's face only to be sidestepped, the momentum spinning him so that Erik could grab him from behind and pin his arms down. He screamed to block out anything Erik might have said. "I'm not!" Viciously jerking out of Erik's grip, he stumbled to the ground towards the stall, just barely breaking his fall. "I hate you!" He leaned against the stall door. Dropping his head in defeat, a curtain of blonde hair hiding his face, he whispered to himself, "God, why can't I hate you?"

"Raoul." Erik approached him as though he were a wild animal. He crouched so that they would be eye level, trying to make eye contact so Raoul could see the veracity of his statement. "I left Christine to be with you."

There was no pause in Raoul's response. "I thought that the first time, Erik. I did," he said, voice faint and with a sad smile, angry at himself all over again for that misconception but too tired to scream about it.

Erik could accept that; Raoul didn't trust him. What he couldn't accept was that Raoul would never trust him. "What can I do to make you understand?"

"I don't know." Raoul shook his head and laughed – a disconsolate sound that made Erik flinch from the wrongness of it. "You can't. You just can't erase our past, Erik."

If there was anything Erik had learned from this experience, it was that wishing you'd acted differently in the past was a practice in futility. There was nothing he could do to change the past, but he could change their future. "And if I said I would chase you anywhere you went?"

"You've said that already." Raoul finally looked up at him, pushing his hair back. Seeing his expression, seeing how the determination and stubbornness that should have looked charming and so fitting on someone like Raoul was tainted with resignation made Erik almost believe that the time they'd spent together in the cottage had never happened. Raoul said so sensibly, as though he were stating facts for a situation so removed from his own life, "You're an obsessive person. Once you set your mind to something, you'll do it. I just don't know your motives."

Biting his tongue, Erik reminded himself the only thing that mattered was that Raoul was still here. It didn't matter that all the effort and patience he'd managed to exhibit had all been for nothing. He'd changed everything he'd been from removing the mask to his very behaviors. He'd stopped himself from becoming violent when Raoul had been unreasonable, stopped drawing and composing because he simply couldn't split his attentions, and stopped trying to control everything Raoul did. For nothing.

Apparently, he'd chosen the wrong tactic from the very beginning in approaching Raoul. He would have to be straightforward, and if Raoul ran away, well, at least Erik wouldn't have fooled himself to believe he'd never do so. "I have no idea where Christine is," he pointed out.

Raoul scoffed. "I can't read your mind, Erik."

Erik wracked his brain for facts that might convince Raoul he was being candid in his affections. "I've only ever kissed Christine once, and that was in the opera house before you both left me."

"That was twice." Raoul was quick to point out.

Erik nodded, softly saying, "Yes, yes it was. But after that, not once."

"And you could be lying." Raoul shrugged, discounting that fact just as quickly as the last one. He added, "Not that it matters since if you're going by kisses, then you would still love her more since we've never kissed, Erik."

Dropping the short distance from the crouch to his knees, Erik moved forward and steadied himself with one hand right by Raoul's head so that he couldn't turn away from him. "We can remedy that," he boldly suggested. Making his intentions quite clear, Erik slowly closed the distance between them, searching Raoul's face for any signs of shock. Instead of trying to move away from him though, Raoul stared at him expectantly. Erik briefly wondered if he'd been set up before deciding it didn't matter. He rested his other hand on Raoul's neck, hand caressing the nape of his neck as he gently pulled Raoul forward. He didn't want to do this wrong, but distantly, Erik knew he could stay like this for an eternity: their breaths mingling, Raoul warm and pliant beneath his hand, focusing solely on him, and the tingling in his lips as he could almost feel Raoul's lips against his own even before they'd yet to make contact. He tilted his head slightly and Raoul had yet to close his eyes; he briefly wondered how he could bear to stand his face this close.

When he finally pressed his lips against Raoul's, he lingered there, unwilling to part even though Raoul wasn't kissing back. He wasn't surprised; a small part of him was glad that Raoul hadn't tried to make the kiss something more. It would've reminded him too much of his first kiss – something violent and desperate. He didn't want that between Raoul and him. He pressed his lips against Raoul's softly a second time and third time, just to feel them against his own before retreating a short distance, far enough to be able to look at Raoul without straining his eyes.

Raoul's expression hadn't changed.


Raoul licked his lips and Erik's eyes immediately zeroed in on that action. "I'm not convinced." He shrugged off Erik's hand, and Erik did his best to hide his disappointment. Falling back into a crouch to give Raoul more space, he let out a frustrated breath. Raoul continued, either not seeing or not caring about his reaction. "I thought I would be, but I'm not." Raoul's lips still tingled though. His stomach was still clenched tight with the thought that Erik had actually kissed him. Three times. And again, he wanted to give in, tell Erik that nothing but this moment mattered. But there were very few moments when he didn't want to just give in to Erik; that had been the problem from the very beginning.

The stricken expression so plainly clear on Erik's face almost made Raoul falter.

"There's no way for you to know, is there?" Erik asked rhetorically, the frustration affecting his tone. He stood up and Raoul followed suit. "You don't want to know," his voice growing louder as his already fragile control broke, "You just want to push me away."

Raoul laughed again, brokenly. He bit his bottom lip. His eyes shone with unshed tears and he didn't rise to the challenge. He nodded, a self-reproaching smile that was too difficult to contain in place. Quietly, he agreed, "Yes, Erik. That's exactly what it is. I don't want to know."

His reaction removed all possibility of Erik being able to build momentum in his rant. Instead, he thought back to the moment he left Raoul and every moment in between, searching for confirmation or even contrary instances to substantiate the realization that was solidifying in his mind. "You do love me," Erik said breathlessly. His allegation, his bluff from the very beginning had been right. It was not all lost; Raoul had stayed because he loved him. Then again, Erik wasn't quite sure what that changed since Raoul had left that first time despite the fact that he loved him. Regardless, he pressed, "It's not about knowing. You're too afraid to do anything about your love."

"I," Raoul spat out, leaning forward to punctuate his point, "I would do everything and anything for love. Don't ever say otherwise."

Erik actually hesitated. He wanted to refute that statement, but knew he'd chosen the wrong thing to say. Although there was cause for joy in the fact that Raoul hadn't denied his love, the veracity of Raoul's claim made him rethink his approach because it was irrefutable; Raoul would do anything for love. He'd support, chase, and live in the same house with an emotionally unavailable woman. He'd let a man blinded by his own obsessions think he could be happy anywhere but by Raoul's side and then continue to live on because that was exactly what he'd been told to do. He'd do anything and yet, that had been the cause of his suffering.

"Well, you're quitting now."

Raoul stared at him in disbelief. "What do you want me to do? Continue this farce?" He motioned violently in the air. "You want me to stay here and pretend nothing's wrong? Fool myself into believing that you're here for me and just for me?"

"Yes." Erik placed a hand on Raoul's arm to curb his gesticulations, but Raoul knocked it away. Undeterred, Erik continued, "That's exactly what I'm asking you to do because I am here for you."

"So, I keep you here with that fragile, shallow happiness wondering whether it's going to be: an hour, a week, months, years," his voice rose with every word, "before you suddenly realize again, you suddenly decide that I'm not the one you wanted all along!"

"God, Raoul." Erik scrubbed a hand over his face, eyes pleading with Raoul to understand. "I'll take whatever you'll give me. One more day, one more minute just to convince you that no matter where you are, I'll be there too. I'll always want to be there."

Erik's plaintive supplication made Raoul pause. He wanted to believe, as though hearing the words come directly from Erik was enough of a balm to ease the worries away, but Erik was known to have larger machinations than simply fooling one man into believing he was in love.

Raoul was so scared, too scared to let himself believe this could be true. The past few weeks had been torturous. He'd allowed himself to believe that Erik had been there just for him. He truly had, slowly but surely burying his fears under an already well-practiced weight of denial. And in the end, weeks ago, he'd compared Erik's actions to their time before. He'd compared the Erik who'd left him to the Erik who'd promised to stay, and there simply hadn't been enough of a difference.

The only difference had been Raoul himself, and maybe that was what mattered. What if the defining part of their relationship wasn't how Erik felt about him? What if it was Raoul's feelings that dictated it? Erik had left after Raoul had been quickly coming to the realization that Erik meant a lot to him. And now, Raoul was truly in love yet withheld it from Erik and the man stayed. It seemed that when the opportunity arose for Erik to inflict the worst pain, he would do so. And now that there could be no doubt that Raoul loved Erik, what was to happen if he gave into the tempting impulse to just accept that Erik supposedly loved him?

"Raoul," Erik held his face between his hands, too fast a movement for Raoul to have moved away from. He forced their eyes to meet, and Raoul had a moment to wonder how Erik could have gotten so close. He could feel his cheeks burning up and his chest hurt with the effort it took to just not melt into his touch. Erik spoke unhurriedly, putting as much of himself in the words that he could manage. "You run. I'll follow. You hide, and I'll find you. You don't believe my words." He shook his head slightly. "I'll say them every day. You don't believe my actions. I'll be here to show you constantly. I'll do anything you want."

Raoul almost found himself nodding, but forced himself to stay still. It was becoming harder and harder to rebuff Erik's affections, true or not. He managed to reply the same time as Erik amended, already expecting Raoul's reaction.

"Then leave me alone." "Anything but that."

"You'll do anything?" Raoul repeated.

"Anything but that," Erik stroked Raoul's cheeks with his thumbs before letting him go, and Raoul finally felt like he could think again. "I'll do anything but leave you."

Through the warring emotions within him, Raoul let out a short bark of disbelief. "Again, you mean."

Erik winced, sucking in a deep breath. He momentarily wondered what might have been had he not left in the first place. Raoul loved him; he had to wonder just for how long that had been true. It couldn't have been the entire time. Could it?

"Alright." Raoul ordered, "Then, never lie to me."

Taken aback for a moment, Erik was slow to answer. He nodded. "I'll never lie to you." If that was all it took for Raoul to believe him, Erik would never let another lie pass his lips.

Still disbelieving, Raoul asked, "And you'll never leave me again?"

Erik replied firmly, "Yes, Raoul. Again. I won't leave you again. I simply hadn't realized then."

"And this sudden epiphany occurred…?" Raoul scoffed even though what he wanted to yell was for Erik to stop looking earnest and saying all the things he wanted to hear.

"Because I'd left to start with." Erik was truly at a loss for what to do. Raoul was simply not listening to reason. He wasn't used to this kind of argument. The urge to physically make Raoul see reason was so tempting, but he held himself back, his mind finding the only thing left. "You are my Dea."

"I hate that book," Raoul retorted and meant it. He hated that Erik was his Gwynplaine, leaving him for another woman and only coming back in the end when it was too late. It was too late. Perking up suddenly with false cheer, he added vindictively, "Then perhaps we should've drowned in the ocean."

Erik scowled. Abruptly, he grabbed Raoul and dragged him towards the entrance of the stable.

"What are you doing?" Raoul struggled in vain. Erik's vice-like grip was bordering on painful and his struggles were making it worse.

Copying Raoul's tone of detached reason, he answered, "If what it takes to prove my love for you is both of us drowning in the ocean, then we'll drown."

Raoul dragged his feet until Erik finally stopped near the doorway. "Are you insane?" He was certain Erik would have followed through with the action.

"No." Erik shot back, raising his eyebrow, "In love."

"Damn it, Erik." Raoul tore away from him, taking a few steps to create some distance between them. He couldn't do this. His emotions were shifting too much, he couldn't keep up. "Can't you understand? I don't know how to love you like I did anymore. I'm too afraid, too hurt, just too damn tired to love!"

Erik shook his head. He didn't believe him, couldn't accept what he'd said. Sure, Raoul might be tired, and he was certainly hurting, but from what he'd seen of Raoul, he would never be too tired to love. "Then at least tell me."

"Tell you what?" Raoul asked suspiciously.

"How did you love me? What did you love about me?" Erik asked in all seriousness.

Raoul, wide-eyed, took a step back. "What?"

Erik moved closer. "What did you love about me? I want to at least experience it once."

A slow shake of Raoul's head was his only answer. He'd never said the words aloud, didn't know what would happen if he did.

Clenching his fists, Erik hated himself a little for how hard it was to say what he now knew he had to say. "After all the miles I've travelled and all the chasing across the country, I love you. I love your laugh and how I can tell almost everything you're thinking without you having to voice it." He took a step towards Raoul, but Raoul took a corresponding one back even as they maintained eye contact. "I love it when you're barefoot and walking across the estate or when you're concentrating on your work and you don't realize you've smudged ink on your face. I love that you care and you try so hard to be good when it's obvious it comes as second nature to you." Erik moved closer and Raoul forgot to keep the distance between them. "I love the absurdly long time you spend on your hair every morning and I love the way you fit against me when we're in bed."

Raoul couldn't bring himself to look away even though he knew that just looking at Erik during his impassioned speech affected him more than he thought possible. He blinked uncertainly before putting to words thoughts he normally shied away from. "I-I loved your eyes." He said slowly, eyes darting from feature to feature on Erik's face. "And your grin." Erik grabbed Raoul's hand and raised it so that he could trace his fingers across the features as he spoke. Lost in the past, his eyes were distant and a little sad. "I loved your voice." He trailed his fingers on Erik's lips. "I loved the way you always raised your eyebrow at me," he grinned a little as he said it. As his hands traced over Erik's deformity, his eyes cleared a bit. "I love how you aren't perfect but pretend to be anyway." He continued touching Erik even though his words no longer corresponded, not realizing he'd stopped speaking about the past. "I love our afternoon walks, love the way you worry about me and the way you're horrible at hiding interest in the things I do. I love your passion." Raoul sighed, his hands falling to his sides. "I lov-loved you."

Erik hadn't missed the way Raoul had lapsed into the present tense, and even though Raoul had sounded so certain in the end that the feeling had ceased, Erik knew he was wrong. "When did you give up on me?"

"I…" Raoul shook his head. He'd tried to give up on loving Erik and had failed. He had loved Erik, and despite his better judgment, he still did. He didn't want to give up again; he didn't want to go, not after he'd experienced life with Erik, not after he'd slept in the man's arms and finally kissed him. And Erik's declarations of love and devotion for him were enough to make even thinking about leaving painful. Every word tore at his resolve, tore at his fears and uncertainties until there was nothing but tatters. Raoul didn't know what would be left if Erik continued.

Erik grabbed him then, forced his eyes to focus on him, on the present. "I love you." Raoul let out a small whimper, and Erik continued, "Just say the words and I will do anything for you."

Raoul knew Erik wouldn't let this go; he'd be persistent and annoying. He'd ask over and over again and Raoul couldn't keep fighting; he didn't have the energy and will that Erik had. Erik was obsessive and… Raoul finally let himself hope and pray that Erik would never stop obsessing over him.

Hesitantly, Raoul reached up to grab onto Erik's arms and just as hesitantly let himself believe, let his guard down. If Erik did hurt him again, he was right, there was always the ocean. He whispered, "Stay" fervently hoping Erik would keep his promise to never lie to him.

Erik pulled him closer still, so that Raoul's arms reached behind him.

Raoul pressed his face against the crook of his neck, hugging Erik as tightly as he could manage, unwilling to let go. "Stay with me," he said a second time, more forcefully.

Erik hung on to Raoul just as desperately. His voice was rough when he answered, "Forever."


End Chapter 28

Word count: 6,820




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

Story review: Could that have taken any longer to finish? I struggled so damn hard to get them to stay together. Raoul and his insecurities went haywire in the end and Erik was totally running out of things to possibly do to convince him. I'm not pleased at all with the ending, had to rewrite it only about five times. :( I was just trying to stay true to the title of the fic.

What's with all the hugs ending fics?