6 months later
The crowd pressed all around him, and Erik felt Olivia's hand tighten around his arm. The Théâtre-Français suddenly felt very small, and in it he felt large and prominent. Occasionally he would meet the eye of one of the blushing ladies, or the inscrutable expressions of the gentlemen. As the honored guest, it seemed there was no escape, but thankfully it was almost time for the concert to begin. He glanced down at his wife, but she was engaged in conversation with Monsieur Trouin, one of the teachers from the school, though she had not released his arm for more than a few seconds the entire night. Were he not so grateful for her attentiveness, he might have been embarrassed at her protectiveness, or even amused.
Catching a glimpse of a familiar face weaving through the crowd, Erik attempted to break away from Olivia to receive his sister. Reluctantly she let him go, her eyes filled with mirth as he murmured against her ear. She waved at Emma, and turned her attention back to Monsieur Trouin and his dry humor.
"I'm sorry we're so late," Emma said, leaning up to place a kiss on his cheek. He more than willingly followed her away from the crowd, towards the edge of the room where her husband waited patiently. He gave the Vicomte a civil nod, which was returned without words. "I was wearing a different gown, and Alexi decided to decorate it with her dinner."
"A likely excuse," he replied, smiling down at her.
"Yes, and you'll soon know what I mean in the coming months. It is good to see Olivia out and about. I was becoming concerned. Just last week she looked absolutely wretched. I have never seen anyone so green."
"She's always beautiful," Erik returned, studying his wife from across the room. Silently he agreed that she looked refreshed, her cheeks beginning to bloom and her face becoming full - the welcome signs of motherhood, that both terrified and excited him. "She is only unwell in the morning hours. The remainder of the day is spent keeping my hands from being idle, and my mind from any thought to peace."
"A wife's work is never done," his sister teased.
Secretly he was content that Olivia doted on him so, but he would never admit to it. She had opened her heart to his completely since the death of Robert Joliot, and he now understood why she had kept secrets from him. Her fear had been genuine, and the loneliness and desperation that she'd felt, her longing for freedom, all of it had culminated in near tragedy. It still caused him panic to think of the moment when he had almost lost her, when they had almost lost each other. Even now he wanted to return to her side, despite the crowd of people.
As if she heard his thought, he saw her excuse herself from the teacher and cross the room to his side.
"You look suspiciously secretive in this quiet corner," she murmured, linking her arm through his. "You aren't thinking of escape, are you?"
"Never," he answered, smiling slightly. "I was ordered to come here under threat of injury. I feared for my life."
Olivia playfully slapped his arm, laughing. "Shame! I never threatened to hurt you!"
"I wasn't speaking of you. I was referring to my sister."
Emma's eyes twinkled with mischief as Olivia gave her a reproachful look. "Well you weren't going to get him to come all by yourself. And look at all of this," she said, gesturing towards the lobby, "they have come to celebrate something very special - the opening of the music school, and you are the reason the school became a reality for those children."
"Many people are responsible for the building of the school," Erik protested.
"Yes, but none of them contributed quite as much," his sister returned. "I am not speaking of money, Erik. What you have done, devoting nearly two years of your life building instruments for them - for free. Father would be so proud of you, as proud as I am. And our Mother, who sends her love."
Erik felt quite embarrassed to see tears in her eyes, and in the eyes of his wife. He noticed the Vicomte looked very uncomfortable, and he looked in vain for an escape. The crowd behind him suddenly looked rather appealing.
"Ah, don't be such a man and look so distressed at the merest compliment. Go on, take your wife up to the balcony and let her recover."
Gladly he took Olivia's hand and led her around the edge of the room, reaching the stairs and breathing a sigh of relief as they left the warmth of the crowd for the slight breeze that came from the balcony. She followed him through the open doors, releasing his hand as he leaned out over the rail, peering down at the city. It seemed they were the only ones in the city, despite the sound of carriages moving in the street below and the muted sound of the guests in the theater.
"It's lovely up here," she breathed. "I used to hate this city, but from this view I can see why they call Paris the City of Lights."
"That is not it's only name," Erik whispered, reaching for her hand. "Come, Olivia."
She stepped in front of him, and he wrapped his arms around her waist, his body pressed against her back. She closed her eyes as he kissed the side of her neck, turning her head slightly to meet his lips. He smiled down at her.
"Can you feel it?"
"Yes, and it's quite inappropriate at the moment," she answered, chuckling. "I hope you can wait until we get back to the townhouse."
"We shall see on that account, my love, but that is not what I am referring to," Erik replied dryly. "Close your eyes. Can you feel the magic of this city around us? It has seen countless tragedies, and just as many romances. Thousands of people have fallen under her spell and fallen in love here."
"We did not need Paris to help us fall in love."
"No. But it was here where I realized that I loved you with my entire heart, and I knew that I could not rest until I'd looked upon your face again and found you safe. I will forever regret the stubborn fool that I was."
Olivia turned in his arms, bringing his lips down to hers. "No more regrets. We are together now, and that is all that matters."
"What would you say if I wanted to live here?" Erik asked softly. "At least until after the babe has come."
"Live in Paris?" Olivia looked away, troubled by the thought. She had finally come to terms with her past, and broken free of the woman she had been. The last thing she wanted was a reminder of the Joliots. Erik turned her face back to his, searching her eyes. His expression was fully of worry. "Why do you want to live here?" she whispered.
"Our home in Sarlat is too remote. There are no doctors. If something should happen, I want you - both of you - to be safe. For my peace of mind, Olivia, please consider it."
"I will," she promised, knowing how truly concerned he must be to request it of her, given his discomfort of crowds. Had she known Emma had pressed him into coming this night, she would not have left him alone for even a moment, but Erik had seemed very calm – right up until the moment they had arrived. "Would you like to go home now? We do not have to stay if..."
"I would like to," he said quickly. "But Emma is right. I have devoted two years to this project, I should see the children play."
"I will be right by your side," Olivia whispered, understanding that perhaps this is something he needed to do for himself. It brought joy to her heart to see him tentatively reaching out towards humanity. And perhaps if they did stay in Paris through her convalescence he might even make peace with the rest of his past. Perhaps she could even do the same. She knew the coming months would be bittersweet for him, and the unexpected child who grew within her body would be beyond painful to hold and love. Erik had been stunned to silence when she had told him the news, and she could hardly believe it herself, but there was no denying the burgeoning swell of her stomach once it began.
"And I will always be by yours," Erik said softly. He leaned down to kiss her again. "Both of you."
The first strains of the concert reached their ears, the melody so beautiful it made them both stop and simply listen. Erik closed his eyes at the stirring those lovely sounds brought to his heart - those lovely healing sounds. He was suddenly quite grateful to have his heart seduced and broken by this woman, only to have it repaired with her love. If she had not left him, he never would have found the courage to leave his home in search of her, and never would have come on this night, to hear the wondrous music coming from the theater. He was very glad he had recommended the concert to be here at the Théâtre-Français, rather than the Opera Populaire.
"What are you thinking of?"
"The ruse," he answered, smiling when she began to scowl. He was smiling still as he led her from the balcony towards the music, and towards another new beginning.
I am so very sorry to be getting this to you so late. Without going into details, let's just say that April really really was not my month. On a brighter note, I am beginning my Cowboy Erik story anew. It's going really well too! I hope you guys will come back for more, though I can't say when it will be finished. And I'll finish this one completely before posting - Promise! It was good to be back for this story, even if it was brief & rather to the point. Just glad to know I still know how to "ride a bike".