Shelby froze when Erik emerged from the bathroom. The black T-shirt she gave him fit snugly, showing off his muscular chest through the fabric, and the black jeans…well… they complimented him nicely, she decided, trying very hard not to notice. "You ready to go?" she asked.

"I suppose so," he replied in his rich, smooth voice. If chocolate had a sound, it'd sound like Erik. Damn, how could one human being be so sexy? Shelby wondered. Then she shook her head. He was Natalie's husband, and even though she hadn't seen her friend in years that was just one of those things you respected.

"C'mon then, we need to get out of here. It's about a twenty minute drive, and since he's seeing you out of the kindness of his heart, it'd be extremely rude to be late." She shoved Erik out the door, paused, then grabbed the Gameboy and dropped it in his lap. "Here, we'll be going on the interstate and I'm pretty sure you're going to want something to distract you." As she hopped into the car, she saw the question on Erik's face. "And no, you don't want to know what the interstate is until we get there."

About ten minutes later, she turned onto the exit to the interstate. The more pressure she put on the gas pedal, the greener Erik's face became. "Oh yes, this is the interstate. I told you, you wouldn't like it," she said. "It's the easiest way to travel long distances because of the higher speeds you can go."

"Just how fast are we going exactly?" he asked.

Shelby glanced at the speedometer. "We are going seventy five at the moment."

His eyes widened. "Seventy five what?"

"Not scared are you?" she snickered. "Seventy five miles an hour. Just take a deep breath and close your eyes. We're almost there, but no panic attacks allowed in my car."

"This isn't possible," he muttered under his breath.

"Says the time-traveling fictional character," she retorted. ''Luckily for you, we're turning off now. It's right up here. Here we are. Let's go Ghost Boy."

She led him inside, and found Dan waiting inside for them. Her boss raised an eyebrow at Erik before sighing. "Alright Shelby, hasn't this gone far enough?"

"Excuse me?" she asked in surprise. "I thought you were okay with doing this."

"I agreed to help your cousin because he had a deformity. I did not agree to have my time wasted by you and some guy in a costume," he snapped.

Shelby reached up and ripped Erik's mask off his face. The Phantom grabbed her wrist with a snarl, but it was too late. He tried to pull the mask out of her grip, but she wouldn't let go. With his free hand, he reached up to hide his face, but Shelby grabbed it. "Look at him Dan!" Shelby ordered. "That's not make-up. That's not a costume. That's real!"

Dan and Erik started at each other in horror. "That's…that's real?" her boss stuttered.

Erik turned away. "Unfortunately." He ripped his mask out of Shelby's hand. "Let me spare you the pain of having to look at it any longer."

"I've never seen anything like it before," Dan said breathlessly. His scientific curiosity was clearly visible as he cautiously approached Erik, who remained frozen although he clearly wanted nothing more than to run and hide in an opera house basement. "Is it just that one spot?"

"Not quite," Shelby replied. "Erik, show him." Erik looked at her with pleading eyes, begging her not to force him to give up what shred of dignity he felt he had left. "If you want him to help you, he has to know exactly what he's dealing with."

He hesitated, before slowly removing his wig, his eyes closed so he wouldn't have to see their reactions. "Jesus," Dan whispered. "And you've been like this your entire life?"


"I…I don't know what, if anything, I can do. I don't even know what this is, what it'd be called. This should be brought to a dermatologist for study. Find out what it is, how to prevent it, if it's just a fluke, if it's genetic, if it will lead to something worse."

"I don't want it studied," Erik snapped. "I want it gone. Can you fix it or not?"

Dan paused for a long while. "I've never seen anything like this ever. It would be like nothing I've ever done before. I'm not entirely sure if I could change it for the better or just make it worse, and that's not a risk I am willing to take."

That sounded like a no to Shelby, but the Phantom wasn't going to accept that answer. "But what if I am?" Erik asked suddenly. "What if I'm willing to agree to it despite the risks?"

"If something were to go wrong, well, I don't think I could have that on my conscious."

"I've had to live with this my entire life!" Erik shouted. "You are my one chance to get rid of this cursed face. I would do anything to get rid of it! Anything!"

Shelby turned to Dan, wondering how he was going to reply. The doctor was chewing on his lower lip, obviously thinking hard on what to say. "Well…"

Today was the worst day so far. Natalie felt nothing, just empty. She couldn't even find the energy to get out of bed. Raoul and Christine had come in several times trying to talk to her, but Natalie hadn't even processed what they said to her, and eventually they gave up.

She wasn't sure how long she had been lying there when the door opened again. Natalie didn't move, just waited for someone to try and coax her out of bed again. Instead she felt something wiggle into her arms and snuggle up against her. Forcing herself to come back to reality, Natalie realized it was her daughter. "Mommy," she whispered. "Are you sick again?"

"Not quite sweetheart," she replied, hugging her daughter. "Not quite."

"Then how come you're still in bed?" Celine asked. "It's not nighttime anymore."

Natalie had to smile. Being six was so simple. She thought for a moment on how to reply to her daughter's question in terms she could understand. "Because I'm tired." Tired of life, tired of feeling abandoned, a voice in her head finished.

"Oh," Celine said. They were silent for a moment. "Are you going to stay here all day?"

"I suppose not," Natalie answered, realizing how pathetic she was for letting her kids see how weak she was. She sat up swung her legs over the edge of the bed. "C'mon sweetheart, let's go. You're right, I can't stay here all day."

"Do you want to come play with me and Madeleine?" Celine asked, holding up the doll.

"I would love to," Natalie replied with a soft smile then knelt next to her daughter. It was amazing how her children could make her feel better when she felt her worse.

Erik couldn't believe it. Finally after all these years of misery, he was finally going to be able to change his cursed face. Shelby walked out of the kitchen with two brown bottles in her hands. "Here you go," she said, offering him. "I thought since you're so happy about your surgery, we'd celebrate with a beer." She tapped her bottle against his. "Here's to two more days before you get a new, hopefully nicer face!" Erik cautiously took a sip and felt the burn of alcohol. He had an aversion to alcohol for a long time after drinking too much one night, but as long as it was just one…

Several hours later, he found himself laughing, yet he wasn't quite sure why. Then there was a woman pressing herself against him, her lips against him. She pulled him so she landed on her back on the couch, and Erik toppled on top of her. "I love you, Natalie," he whispered. Suddenly she shoved him away, and he crashed to the floor. Shelby stormed off and disappeared into her room, as Erik realized the table was covered in empty bottles. So much for just one. A sober corner of his brain realized what he had said and what he had done. "Oops," he whispered, before everything went fuzzy.

Alright anyone else mad at Erik or is it just me? He's off worrying about his face and having fun and Natalie is sobbing her heart out? Anyway, just wanted to check in, say hi, cause I feel like I haven't had much to say to you for a while. So hi! Thanks for reading still! Read and review cause it fuels my ego cause I know that someone actually likes my writing. XD