He was trying his best, Erik would give him that. Raoul had learned music was Erik's best distractor, and failing that, copious amounts of brandy and chess were the prescribed cures. Since the younger de Chagny son seemed to be woefully tone-deaf and hopeless at the pianoforte, brandy and chess would have to suffice. Erik's tense, feverish regard settled on his brother as he contemplated the ivory and ebony patterned board between them. London society agreed with him. Perhaps it was the pretty London ladies charmed by his accent and shyness, or that he had finally settled into the role of Vicomte and no longer acted if his cravat was trying to strangle him. Either way, day by day Erik saw less of the wary, hurt, hunted stable-boy Raoul had once been.
A muffled screech bled through the walls, and Erik closed his eyes. God in Heaven, she had been struggling for hours. The pains had begun in the wee hours of the morning, and had escalated into labor before luncheon. Now as the day stretched on into evening, Erik's nerves were fraying. How much longer could she hold on? He must have uttered a truly pathetic sound, because Raoul grasped his wrist.
"She'll be all right, Erik." Dark blue eyes were grave and sympathetic, though Erik could see his pallor and the sheen of perspiration in the weak sunlight peeking through the London rain. A pretty lie. Irrationally angry, Erik shook off his brother's grip. Brandy made his temper short and his tongue loose.
"You don't know that. She and the babe could . . ." Erik choked on the end of that sentence; it sat in his throat like a burning coal. He had seen the blood and sweat and pain it took to bring a babe into the world and had tasted the poisoned horror of seeing a dead child, of seeing glassy blue eyes pierce him with their helpless misery.
Shaking hands clutched fistfuls of his hair and tugged, the pain anchoring him. A sob shook his frame, shook his soul. Christine . . .
"The midwife is with her. The physician too." The knowledge brought no solace. His eyes fell on the teak and ivory box on his study desk. Would he add another requiem before the day's end? It was his fault. He'd put that child in her belly and now she was suffering for it. Choking back a whimper, Erik regarded his brother with bleak eyes.
"She's so small, Raoul. Smaller than Claire. If she starts bleeding . . ." A muscle ticked in Raoul's jaw.
"She won't. Christine's strong." The almost truculent stubbornness in Raoul's voice reminded Erik of their father.
"Yes. Yes, she is," he whispered. Yes, his love was brilliant and strong, a diamond.
"At least Jacqueline and Elise are at the library with Madame Villon. I wouldn't want them-" Raoul's sentence was cut off by a short shriek, this one full-throated and sharp with pain. The gunshot to the chest had been less painful than that sound. Before he had even made a conscious decision to move, Erik had burst from the study and was scaling the stairs three at a time.
"Erik, don't-!" Raoul's voice chased him up the stair, but he didn't care. He just needed to see her, just once more . . . please God, don't let her . . .
The door's fragile lock gave way under his determined heave. Christine lay on their bed, limp and panting with the physician laboring between her blood-smeared thighs. The midwife flitted about, and caught sight of Erik looming in the doorway.
"Sir, you cannot be in here!" her low, drawling voice snarled.
Pain-glazed brown eyes opened and she beheld him. A look of profound relief creased her beloved features and she opened her arms. He could no more deny her than he could cease to breathe. He settled behind her, leaning against the headboard, combing her sweat-soaked hair and peppering her feverish brow with kisses. Their fingers twined, and Erik felt how she trembled.
"I'm here, love. I'm here. I'm not leaving you," he crooned, nostrils flaring at the scent of sweat and blood.
"Oh Erik. I wanted you here. I need you here. Please stay," Christine whimpered, nuzzling his throat. Erik turned a baleful eye on the midwife, daring her to utter one more word.
"Erik . . ." Christine's voice was hoarse and weak, "She won't come. Our baby. She won't come!"
"What is the matter?" he snapped. Damned fools, they were utterly worthless! The physician's blue eyes were steady, calm.
"The babe's shoulder has not descended properly. We need to-" the physician's words were cut off by Christine's low moan as the contraction shuddered through her. The fine white lawn of her nightgown clung to the ripe mound of her belly, and Erik could see the muscles shiver. Her head thudded against his shoulder, short fingernails digging into his palms. He was grateful to share some small measure of pain with her.
A long, wrenching shudder wracked her body, leaving her limp and panting in his embrace. Erik saw the horrible truth. Christine would rapidly exhaust herself like this. Trying to choke down his terror, he nuzzled her cheek, crooning to her through the interminable hell of sweat, contorted muscle, wracking pain and Christine's screams. Words were such weak, small things in the face of such agony.
Erik's hands moved to stroke her belly. Christine's slender, white-knuckled fingers kneaded his upraised knees, knotting in handfuls of his trousers.
"Please, please little one. Help your mama. Come now, your papa and your uncle and your aunts want to meet you." Christine's watery laugh sounded like a sob.
"Here's the head!" Between Christine's thighs, Erik caught a glimpse of a dark tuft of hair, slicked with fluid and a whitish curd-like material. Was it breathing?
"Now Countess, you must draw up your legs and push on the next contraction." Dr. Watson's French was clumsy, but Christine nodded. The physician's blue eyes blazed with urgency, thick hands cradling the precious head of their little one. Christine blazed too, gathering her flagging strength with such valor that Erik stood in awe of her. Their fingers braided on Erik's legs and her cry shred the air as the next contraction struck.
"Erik, is she out?" Christine voice was nothing but a reedy whisper. Eyes fixed on that tiny tuft of hair, Erik could see no progress. Oh God . . . oh God please . . .
"Right, now we need to pull her legs up. As close to her chest as she can get them. Mary, when I say, you must press down just above the pubic bone."
"Yes, Dr. Watson."
"Just a little longer, love. She's almost here. She's almost ready." Erik whispered, watching as Mary the midwife climbed onto the bed and braced long-fingered hands on Christine's belly.
"Once more, Countess. Once more now!" Dr. Watson shouted. Christine pushed, Mary pressed, Dr. Watson tugged and Erik could only watch in wonder as his child slid into the world in a gush of fluid and blood. Working quickly, Dr. Watson raked a finger through the babe's mouth, then slapped it smartly on the back. The little one offered a weak hiccup, then began to cry in earnest. Tears blurred the image and Erik blinked them away.
"My baby . . . oh Erik look . . . look at her!" Christine found the strength to lift herself up, reaching for their beautiful, perfect child. The cord and afterbirth summarily dealt with, Erik could only stare in blank, dazed relief.
"Not 'her,' Countess. It's a boy. You have a fine healthy son," Dr. Watson's thick mustache twitched in gentle amusement, the midwife winding a warm cloth around the tiny body before laying their son in Christine's outstretched arms. Words were such weak, small things in the face of such joy.
"A son. Look at our boy, Erik!" Christine had never looked more beautiful, sweaty and flushed and weeping with her arms full of their baby.
"He's beautiful," Erik choked, admiring the red, scowling face, exhausted with the effort of being born.
"What shall we name him? We were so certain it was a girl," Christine laughed.
"Gustave. For your father," Erik pronounced. Tears slipped down Christine's cheeks and she said, "Yes. Gustave Thomas de Chagny."
A/N: Sniff sniff. It's finally finished. Thank you everyone for playing along with my crazy AU-germ of a story.
Reviews are welcome.