A/N: Hey, it's been a while since I updated this story. I hope that doesn't deter you from reading this chapter! As I no longer have a beta, I hope my spelling and grammar aren't too horrendous and don't take away from the story. Enjoy! :)

Chapter 3

"For the last time, Christine, you're going to do perfectly," said Meg, her red lips turned up in a smile. "Stop jumping or you just might fall through the floor."

Christine gave her best friend a glare as she bounced nervously. Her stomach was doing somersaults. What if she got sick on stage? Or she forgot the words? Or suddenly her voice didn't reach the notes? Great, she was trembling violently now.

"Shh," Raoul said, wrapping her in his arms from behind and placing a kiss on the top of her head. "Stop shaking, Lotte. You've been practising forever. You will outshine everyone else. They have no chance."

"Yeah," said Christine, trying to fake the confidence in her voice and failing miserably. "And I will become an overnight sensation with a billion dollars."

"Of course not," said Raoul. "Maybe only a couple million."

"When you do, remember your best friend in the whole wide world, and how much she really wants a new phone…and a convertible," said Meg.

Christine rolled her eyes but couldn't help laughing. Remembering that her mother and father were sitting in the audience along with many music producers and agents brought her relaxed laughter to an abrupt end. The concert was a closed ceremony, meaning that only chosen agents, producers, and an allotted amount of friends and family of each performer was allowed. Christine, of course, had invited her parents, Meg, Raoul, and Phillipe who was in the audience with her parents. She had invited Sorelli as well, but she was visiting a friend, and Raoul's parents were on a trip to Hawaii.

"Good luck, Christine," said Charles, a baritone singer also chosen specially for the performance. He had a goofy grin and shaggy hair that expressed his outgoing nature.

"Thanks. You too," said Christine with a smile. As other performers passed them, Christine tried to stop her shaking. She couldn't let herself look weak compared to them. She had to stand out, and not by puking all over the audience.

"I think it's time for us to go," said Meg as other performers' friends and family were shooed away by the director, a man with a goatee and an obnoxiously loud voice. He gave Raoul and Meg a rather nasty look.

"Yup, that's our cue," said Raoul.

Meg squeezed Christine's hands. "Good luck, chica."

Raoul gave Christine a small peck on the lips. "You'll be amazing. You always are."

Christine blushed and watched as her friends left backstage. When they disappeared from view, she found herself fiddling with the fabric of her dress. Meg and Sorelli had helped her pick it. It was dark green, strapless, with a hem that fell to her mid-thigh. It was a bit more revealing than she was typically comfortable with, but the two girls had insisted it would look great with her dark brown hair and eyes. Fortunately, they let her pick her own footwear, so she went with a pair of cute black kitten heels instead of the red stilettos they wanted her to wear. Christine argued that she wouldn't be comfortable enough to walk out on stage in them, much less perform in them. Besides, how could anyone look at red and green without thinking of Christmas?

She heard a few loud lip trills from nearby and looked up. Across the room, Carlotta was warming up in a bright pink dress with sky-high high heels and a lot of makeup. However, she looked amazing and Christine knew that she would have the most eyes on her, though that was missing the entire point of the showcase. Carlotta's father was a famous actor and director, so not only was Carlotta rich, but she was also a well-known soprano and model with even a few parts in movies. All in all, she was likely to get many offers from music producers and agents tonight.

Christine tried to ignore this but it was hard when she knew she would never measure up to Carlotta. She gave a small sigh. Oh well. She would still do her best. That's why she was picked. She would try her hardest to impress, not only the people watching, but herself as well.

She felt sick when the headmaster and musical arts director went out to introduce the performers and talk about the school. She reminded herself that she was near the end. This was neither comforting nor frightening. It just meant she'd have more time to think about her performance which meant more time to panic.

She clapped along with everybody else after each performer. They were all so good and this only made Christine more nervous than before. She wondered if compared to them she was good enough, but then scolded herself. She would forget comparisons and just feel proud of her classmates. Hopefully they would each get at least one offer tonight. They all deserved it.

When Christine's turn came, after Carlotta's as luck had it, she walked on timidly, passing a smug looking Carlotta. The bright spotlight blinded her and she smiled nervously, not sure whether it would be less unnerving to see her audience or not at all. She knew the audience was waiting expectantly as the first few bars of her song were played by the pianist. At her cue, she took a deep breath, opened her mouth and just sang the song as she had a hundred times before. She found herself smiling, forgetting about the audience or, from her point of view, lack of an audience, and just enjoyed the beautiful music and reveled in the fact that she got the chance to perform it.

As the last notes faded, the audience applauded loudly, and when the light dimmed she could see some even getting to their feet. Christine grinned when she finally spotted Raoul, Meg, Phillipe, and her parents in the fifth row. Meg gave her a cheesy smile and a thumb up which made her giggle. She gave the audience a little curtsy and left the stage, still hearing the applause as they disappeared from view.

Christine was congratulated by many of her fellow performers backstage whom she thanked humbly and congratulated in return. Together they listened to the last performance, except for Carlotta, who stood with her hands on her hips, waiting for the show to finish so she could go talk to the agents that were certainly waiting to speak with her.

When the last performer was done, they were all called out to take their bows to thunderous applause. With a wide smile on her face, Christine walked elatedly into the main hall where her family and friends were waiting for her. A few feet before she got to them she gave in to her childish urge and ran into her Papa's outstretched arms.

"My girl, you were amazing!" he said.

"Oh stop, Papa," she said with a smile.

"Christine, I wish Sorelli had been here to see you. You were superb," said Phillipe sincerely.

"Thank you," she said, her cheeks turning a rosy pink. "You're too kind."

"Stop being so humble," chirped Meg. "You were fantastic."

"It was really great," said Raoul, giving her a peck on the cheek.

"I have to agree," said another voice. Christine turned around to see a handsome dark-skinned man in a business suit. Beside him was a younger man, about Christine's age, also dressed quite nicely. Surreptitiously, Christine smoothed her dress down. This had to be an agent of some kind.

"You were quite splendid, but your friends seem to have assured you of this fact," the man continued and reached out his hand for Christine to take. He placed a quick kiss on her knuckles, making Christine smile. What a gentlemanly gesture!

"Thank you so much," she said with a sweet smile. "I was so nervous before." Maybe she shouldn't be telling him that. Would that ruin her chances of him helping her? There was something so open about him that made her feel like confiding her fear.

Luckily, he just smiled. "It's a common reaction, one which I doubt anyone perceived from you." He glanced at the man beside him. "Oh, beg my pardon! I have seemed to have forgotten my manners. This man is Darius Macale, my right-hand man," he said, gesturing to the man beside him. "And I am Nadir Khan, the owner and a recording producer at Rose Records."

"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Macale and Mr. Khan. I'm Christine Daaé. I have heard of you," Christine replied. "You are quite popular here. And, of course, you were the producer for my favourite performer since I was a child. You see, my parents are major fans and have passed it down to me as well," she said with a knowing smile at her parents.

"Hello," he said, reaching out to shake hands with Christine's parents and friends. He appeared to be a pleasant man. After introductions, he turned back to Christine. "Really?" He asked. "Fans of whom?"

"Erik Destler," Christine said with a wide grin. She had all of his music on her iPod, all his albums and CDs. She even had some rare videos downloaded from YouTube when they weren't for sale anywhere.

There was a glimmer of something in Nadir's eyes when she said that. She took it as surprise. Though Erik was popular with mostly classical musicians her parents' age, he isn't heard of as much anymore. Really, Christine only learned things about him through her parents and extensive research that usually brought up nothing. All she had found was that he was a very reclusive man and very secretive.

Or maybe it was pain she had glimpsed in his eyes. Christine recalled that Mr. Khan had been the one to deal with Mr. Destler the most, and they might have been very close. She cursed herself for mentioning it. It was probably hard for Mr. Khan to think about. She wondered if he knew anything about his disappearance-but of course, she wouldn't ask.

Just as quickly, the glimmer passed. "Oh yes. An extremely talented musician," Mr. Khan said with a wide smile. "Incomparable. Now," he began, changing the topic. "I was wondering if you would consider an interview."

"An interview?" she asked. Meg grinned at her and her parents smiled at each other. The music producer of Erik Destler wants me?

"Yes, we would really enjoy the chance to work with you," said Mr. Macale, nodding along with everything Mr. Khan said enthusiastically. Christine wondered if he was eager to impress his employer or was just very passionate about music.

"I'll have to think about it," she said with such a mature air she surprised herself. What she really wanted to do was tackle him with a hug for offering to make her dreams come true. If Erik Destler had signed with him, Christine was certain the company would suit her more than perfectly. However, she supposed she should take some time to think it through.

Mr. Khan smiled. "Yes, of course. Here is my card," he said, handing it to her. The information was written elegantly, making Christine think that Rose Records was not the typical pop music, one hit wonder recording company. "Please inform us of your decision when you make it, and don't be afraid to call for clarification about anything."

"Thank you, Mr. Khan. I will certainly contact you in the near future," said Christine, trying to sound calm and collected.

"Very good. It was lovely meeting you all," he said, smiling at the close-knit group.

"You as well," said Christine.

With another smile, Mr. Khan and Mr. Macale departed. Christine watched as they left the building. Was she really the only one he had wished to speak to? Christine felt a rush of pride.

"Oh my gosh!" squealed Meg, running up to her friend and speaking without a pause for breath. "Did you hear that? He wants to sign a contract with you! You will, right? Of course, you can't possibly decline! He worked with Erik Destler, your idol!"

Christine laughed at Meg's excitement, paralleling her own as colour crept up her cheeks. Erik Destler, known to his fans as The Phantom for his ghostly demeanor and eerie music, was still her idol and inspiration from when she was a little girl. Every opinion she had on music, or even life in general, stemmed from what little she knew of him and what she felt when listening to his music. She was heartbroken when news reports had said he was missing, some even assuming that he was dead. She had no choice but to believe them, as there was no hint at him being alive for the last couple of years. Yet, she had always felt he might still be alive. It was probably just wishful thinking. Christine knew she was being ridiculous. Erik Destler was dead and had been for ten years.

"I'm so happy for you, Lotte!" exclaimed Raoul, pulling her into a hug and kissing her on the cheek, satisfactorily pulling her from her depressed thoughts. His smile was genuinely happy for her, but Christine could see a bit of sadness in his eyes.

"I'm so proud!" said her mother. "My daughter, signing a music contract!"

"I haven't decided yet," laughed Christine, but they all knew she would inevitably go with Rose Records. "So, it was Mr. Khan who worked with Mr. Destler?" In her head, Christine thought of him as Erik, but it felt impolite to refer to him as so out loud.

Her mother nodded. "It was Mr. Khan who first approached him. Erik Destler was his best client. In the beginning, Mr. Khan independently produced Erik's music. Erik made quite the impression and instantly hundreds of people went to get their music recorded at Rose Records, a name Mr. Khan and Erik supposedly collaborated on," explained Mr. Daaé, talking about Mr. Destler as he always did, as if he knew him personally.

"Before Mr. Khan, Erik had never performed before," Mrs. Daaé added.

Christine grinned. "What a coincidence."

"Not a coincidence," said Meg. "Fate."

"Fate?" Christine giggled. Meg always enjoyed being so dramatic. Sometimes Christine wondered if Meg should have minored in acting.

Meg nodded. "The music producer for your idol wants to sign with you, and only you, out of everyone here? My dear that is what we call fate."

Christine just shook her head with another laugh. "Do you do palm readings, too?"

Meg scowled playfully. "I'm telling you, something big is going to happen."

"I think it just did," said Christine, waving the card in her hands.

Meg looked ready to retort when another gentleman in a suit walked up to Christine. His offer of yet another contract was delivered less friendly and openly than Mr. Khan's. Christine spent the next twenty minutes being shuffled around for people to congratulate. She was also made another offer, this time by a woman with long blonde hair, but neither of the offers came as appealingly as Mr. Khan's.

When Christine finally made it back to her family, she gave them an abashed look. "Sorry about all that. We can head back now if you want."

"No apologies necessary," interjected Phillipe. "You are more than deserving of all the praise you're getting tonight."

"Now," said her father. "Let's all go out for dessert to celebrate."

That night, Christine couldn't sleep, and it wasn't because of Raoul's snoring beside her. Actually, she found it quite endearing and cute. She figured her sudden insomnia was leftover exhilaration and nerves from her performance that night. She picked up Mr. Khan's card from the bedside table. She had thrown out the others. The moon shone through the window, giving off just enough light for her to see the words. She ran her finger over the rose in the background. Would she take the offer? She had been waiting for this her whole life, so the answer should be easy. But the decision was life changing.

Christine remembered her crush on Erik Destler as a child. He was her first crush, even though she had never met him. All through her teen years she had adored him, amongst the very few boys who had caught her eye. They were all immature and, according to them, had better things to do than to listen to classical music. Christine quickly grew annoyed and bored with them. That's when she had broken up with them, if they hadn't already broken up with her for being "weird".

Even when she became older and finally had to stop ignoring the many rumours that Erik was long dead, she still harboured a small crush on him. How couldn't she? But she also grew up and met Raoul who was wonderful and everything she or any other girl could want in a guy.

Christine remembered Mr. Khan's face when she mentioned Erik Destler. What had flickered in his eyes could have been many things and she should have just forgotten it, but it kept resurfacing to her mind. Did Nadir know something about Erik's disappearance that he wasn't telling anyone? Christine never truly believed Erik had died. To her, he would always be the powerful, immortal, invincible person she saw performing on stage through her television as a child. Was Erik still alive after all this time? And did Nadir know where he was?

She put the card back down on her bedside table, her mind swimming with questions. Not only about the monumental offer, but also about the man who had changed her life by influencing her with music. And the strong feeling she had that he was still alive.

When Nadir once again stumbled into the boy's mansion it was pitch black and freezing, just as it had been every time he entered the house. While others may have simply not returned to the forbidding place, Nadir barely considered it. Erik was stubborn and selfish, but Nadir was the closest and only friend Erik had ever had, though Erik would never admit it. The guilt would consume Nadir if he left. No, it was better to deal with it. Besides, Nadir still blamed himself for Erik's downfall.

Using his phone as a flashlight, Nadir tried to find his way back to the room Erik had given him to put his stuff away. However, the phone gave off little light, and after five steps the sound of his collision with the wall echoed throughout the cavernous house. Nadir clutched his face and his phone fell to the hard ground with a smack. Groaning, he tried to swipe the blood trickling from his nose and bent to reach for his phone, the light shining off the polished floors.

Another hand picked up the cellphone and snapped it shut with a click, turning off the only light in the room.

"You're cellular device is fine," said Erik, his typical velvety voice drifting through the darkness.

"Thank you," said Nadir, blindly reaching out for it. The phone was carefully placed in his hand. Erik always made sure he had no contact with other peoples' skin. He must not be wearing his gloves, Nadir realized. Although, even with the black leather gloves Erik did his best to avoid contact.

"Follow me. I'd rather not have your blood dripping on my floor."

Nadir's eyes adjusted slightly as he followed Erik through the house. He would never had the supernatural ability to see perfectly in the dark as Erik could, but at least he was able to not walk into any more walls. At the end of the hallway, a light flicked on in a room.

"For you, my poor blind friend."

Nadir walked into the well-lit bathroom. He knew Erik had electricity and that he just preferred to live in darkness or use fire for the little light and heat he needed. Some weird artist thing, Nadir had always assumed. Perhaps that was what helped him write his music, and if it was, Nadir could not complain.

"You may clean up in here."

Nadir sighed as Erik left the room. He had not been expecting a warm welcome upon his return, but he had hoped Erik would be interested enough in his only friend's affairs to at least ask how the concert went.

Nadir waited until his nose stopped bleeding before cleaning up the blood. It had made a rather grisly mess of his shirt. On leaving the bathroom, he still needed to find his bedroom. He tried to retrace his steps to the front door and find it that way, and ended up getting lost again. Why couldn't Erik just turn the damn lights on, if only for Nadir? He probably just liked watching Nadir struggle.

"Do you need something, Nadir?"

Nadir jumped, almost stumbling over his suitcase. Erik stood behind him with a candle and a questioning look.

"I'm going to get you a cat bell for Christmas," muttered Nadir.

"Don't be foolish, Nadir," said Erik. "I don't have any cats, nor do I celebrate Christmas. Now follow me to your room."

Nadir tried to keep up with Erik, trying not to show he was wary of Erik's apparent dark mood. Nadir doubted Erik was ever not in some intense mood, be it angry, violent, passionate, dark, self-critical, and the all-around, good time, get-out-before-I-smite-you mood. That one had Nadir locking himself in his room all day, besides carefully sneaking his way into the kitchen to eat. Usually Erik would escort him to his meals, but in his darkest times it was better for both of them if Nadir went to get it himself.

It was somewhat ironic, Nadir thought, that people with small houses would proudly give you a tour of it, whereas Erik had a mansion, practically a castle, and Nadir has barely seen any of it. He rarely had the chance, as he had only been once before, for only two days. Once or twice he complimented something about the house-Erik was quite the architect and built his house himself-and Erik would talk about it if he was in a good mood, a rare occasion indeed, but more often than not he would simply look at Nadir. That look that made a person feel so insignificant and stupid. It was almost always too dark to get a good look at anything anyway, and Erik would never accept any compliments.

Once Erik deposited Nadir at his room and informed him of when dinner was going to be-not that Erik ate in Nadir's presence-he left Nadir to put away his stuff. Who knew how long Nadir was going to be here?

With the lights on, Nadir could see the room was different from the one he used last. Nadir imagined that was because while Erik was a proud man and would not show-off as some men would, he took pride in what he did, and giving Nadir a different room made him see all Erik had accomplished. Perhaps there was still a bit of child in Erik, leftover from the non-existent childhood he had that just wanted someone to be proud of him. Moments like those reminded Nadir of what had brought him to Erik in the first place, and why, even when Erik was almost dangerous to be around, Nadir still thought of Erik as a child. Even in old age Nadir doubted he'd see it any other way.

Nadir looked around the room, noting it was rather nice. No, it was very nice. The solid oak floors gleamed and the handcrafted wooden furniture in the room matched so perfectly Nadir thought it could all be cut from the same tree. The covers on his bed were navy blue and a large painting above the bed depicted a raging sea in the middle of a storm. Surely, it was not the most uplifting painting, but it was stunning and Nadir knew Erik had painted it himself. He would not be surprised if Erik had made everything in this house himself, from the structure, to the furniture, to wirings, and everything else. He was a genius; that was for certain.

Nadir walked to the window and pushed open the heavy blue drapes covering the surprisingly large windows. There, Nadir thought to himself as he let the golden sunbeams shine in. It almost looks like a normal bedroom in a normal house. Nadir's definition of normal had been swayed by meeting Erik. Possibly, his idea of normal had been swept away, for was there really a normal? And this "normal" Erik claimed to want was certainly never going to be met by his actions. A cozy house with a wife and his friends nearby was what he truly wanted, Erik had confided a couple years back in a rare calm state after finishing another musical masterpiece of two years' work. Try cold, lightless mansion in the middle of nowhere. Nadir felt sorry for the boy as a child and now as an adult, although he would never, under any circumstance, let Erik know that.

At dinner Erik escorted him down in his usual solemn fashion, giving Nadir the feeling that he was being escorted to a prison or his own death sentence. However, the grand dining room had many candles, lighting the room up in a pleasant way. Seeing that food had already been set on the table, Nadir turned to Erik with a smile that was not returned.

"Thank you, Erik," he said jovially as he sat down. "This looks delicious. I could have gotten my own food, but thank you very much."

"What host would I be if I didn't supply my guest with a meal?" said Erik, taking a seat a few chairs away from Nadir. Never too close yet never too far away. It seemed that was the closest he would get to someone and that saddened Nadir. Was there no one in the world that Erik could approach without fear of being rejected?

Sometimes Erik would sit with Nadir, or rather, away from Nadir, occasionally with a cup of tea. Sometimes they'd talk and sometimes they would be silent. Sometimes Erik would leave the room until Nadir was finished. Nadir knew never to push things, no matter how much he wanted to. He used to give advice to Erik and influenced him on what to do. Heck, the boy used to at least converse with other people and go out in public. But ever since the accident, since that dreadful night, Nadir knew better to hope for anything more than what Erik had now.

"Erik," said Nadir, halfway through the meal. "Do you want to know how the concert went?"

Erik blinked back at him. "Why not? Entertain yourself."

Nadir took the chance. "Most of them were fairly good. There was this singer who was rather talented, but she was dressed so flamboyantly. Her song choice and dancing just weren't for Rose Records. I think I know her from T.V., I just can't remember what."

"What is her name?" asked Erik.

"Carlotta Guidicelli," said Nadir, making sure to pronounce the name properly.

"I have never heard of her."

Nadir shrugged. "I think she's also a model or something."

"Anyone else?" said Erik. "Someone actually worth our time?"

Letting the snide comment by, Nadir nodded emphatically. "Oh, yes. There was this girl Christine Daaé. A soprano, actually. She performed a wonderful aria."

"Really?" asked Erik, not sounding particularly interested. "What aria?"

"Casta Diva."

"Oh," said Erik flatly. "Just something to dazzle, I suppose. Trying to impress people without having to work for it."

Nadir thought his friend was being a bit harsh, although he always was. If only he had heard the girl sing, he of all people would understand. "Of course she was trying to impress people; the concert was held mainly for the performers to attempt to gain an agent. And that she did. She had three offers and word of her has spread. I don't know why I haven't heard of her before. She was sublime. Still needs help with certain things, of course, but with more training and specific direction she will do very well."

"I see you are very sure of this Daaé girl," observed Erik.

"You would agree with me, Erik, if you had heard her."

"So you have offered her a contract, I suppose?"

"Of course!"

"I guess I will listen to see how well she does myself," concluded Erik.

"Or you could hear her sing live," offered Nadir. "The school is doing another concert, though this one is not closed, meaning there will be plenty of students not up to your-ah-standard. She is already signed up for it. I really think you should go-"

"Nadir, I told you the first time. I am not leaving my home just to see a bunch of students, including this girl you are so taken with, bopping about on stage."

"Fine, Erik," said Nadir, finally giving up. "Here is a ticket if you change your mind." Nadir placed it on the table and got up to put his dishes away.

"I will get those, Nadir, you are a guest. I will not be taking the ticket, nonetheless." Erik was truly a good host in some aspects, Nadir noted, though leaving the lights on would be nice.

"I know," said Nadir, about to leave the room.

"Nadir, don't go traipsing about with the lights still out. I will turn them on for you in a minute, you stubborn fool."

Nadir hid a smile. He knew his constant walking about Erik's home bothered him and if done enough Erik would have no choice but to put the lights on. He'd rather deal with light than risk Nadir stumbling upon anything he was not supposed to.

A few minutes later lights illuminated the halls. Nadir blinked several times, now having to adjust to having light.

"I don't understand why you couldn't have just turned the lights on in the first place," said Erik, sounding vexed.

"I can't see in the dark to find the light switches," said Nadir, feeling irritated.

"That really defeats the purpose," mused Erik as Nadir walked, well, anywhere since he didn't know where he was going.

"What does?"

"Needing light to find the light switches that operate the light in the first place."

"It does," agreed Nadir, trying to hide a smile. "Erik, where is your library located?"

Erik sighed as if he was dealing with a small child. "Follow me, Nadir. You really need to learn to find your way around. However do you drive about in the city?"

"There are signs, Erik. There are maps, people and light."

"Yes, but all that is unnecessary if you only use your head, Nadir. This is why people are becoming less intelligent with every passing year."

Nadir did not argue.

At the library, he convinced Erik to play him in a few games of chess. Erik won four times in a row, but Nadir expected that. Sometime around the third game Erik relaxed a bit more. It didn't do much, except Erik made more conversation, much of it consisting of his cynical comments. Nadir was just glad Erik was talking at all. Sometimes it felt like he was trying to lure a tortoise out of its shell.

Eventually, Erik grew tired of the games and when Nadir asked about the reason he called in the first place, Erik waved his hand and said it was none of Nadir's concern now.

This persisted for the next few days, Nadir asking about the phone call and Erik dismissing it as if it no longer mattered. But finally, one the day Nadir had to return to work, Erik asked to see him in the library.

Of course, instantly Nadir was nervous. Erik had seemed no different than normal, almost relaxed, even. But Erik had called him, and that meant that this was going to be momentous. Nadir could only wonder. His thoughts went to the worst possible thing: he had committed another crime. It was that horrible night all over, but this time Erik had to flee the country. Or maybe he was caught! Nadir's palms began to sweat as he entered the library. Maybe, after all these years, the police have caught on to what had happened that fateful night.

Nadir took the chair in front of Erik and waited for him to speak.

Erik steepled his fingers and looked at Nadir inquisitively. Finally, he spoke. "Nadir, obviously I have asked you to come here for a reason."

Nadir nodded. "I have been here for a week, Erik. Could we not have spoken earlier?"

"No," he said sharply. "I had work that needed to be done before telling you. You see, I had called you in a rare state of…"

"Panic," supplied Nadir.

Erik's eyes flashed. "No, not panic, Nadir. Pity. Pity drove me to call you, as I wondered whether I should tell you in person. I was going to leave a letter, but who knows what could have gone wrong with that."

"What do you mean you were going to leave a letter?" asked Nadir suspiciously. "Where are you going?"

Erik chuckled darkly. "I have wondered the same thing, my friend."

"Erik, please stop this nonsense and just tell me."

"Fine, Nadir. I have come to the conclusion that I have experienced all that I have needed to on this earth and there is nothing left for me. I have matters I need to resolve but that should all be taken care of within a year. I will speak to you in the future as to what should be done with my possessions."

Nadir sat gaping at the masked man who behaved as though they were speaking about the weather. "Erik, you can't possibly mean-"

"Death, my friend, has always been within me. Why, look at my childhood, my teen years, even now, my life has been filled with death. Now, it is time for death to take me, my friend. The Angel of Death shall return to his home in Hell."

"You aren't serious," said Nadir, ignoring his friend's dramatics. "Erik there is still so much left in life for you. You are not old, my friend. You have many years yet."

Erik scoffed. "My dim-witted comrade, can you see beyond a foot in front of your face? I am living on my own in this giant house, day after day. I do not wish for company and company does not wish for me. Stop making this sound like a soap opera. For once I am doing something that will benefit others. Is that not what you have always wished of me?"

"Erik-"

"I believe, Nadir, that it is time for you to return to work, yes? I cannot have it crumbling simply because you get distracted. However, will it be sustained when I am not here to remind you of your responsibilities? Well, it will not be my problem anymore, but I do wish the best for you."

"Erik, please rethink this. Are you sick? Are you depressed? We can get you medication for that. Or perhaps you'll meet someone, if it is company you desire. A cat would be sufficient company, would it not? I know you don't like dogs, but cats are rather nice animals. It would leave you alone while you were working." Nadir knew he was babbling but he could not think of anything to say to convince Erik to not go through with his plans. Really, there was nothing that could deter Erik from his plans when he decided on them. And why should Nadir complain? He knew Erik was not happy and it would be selfish to want to keep him here. Besides, Nadir hardly ever saw him.

"What about the company?" asked Nadir, grasping at straws. "You are the reason we have done so successfully."

Erik waved his hand. "I'm sure you will do fine, Nadir. You do have a good enough ear to make money for yourself. I will meet with you again in a few months to finalize what to do with my possessions."

Nadir sighed, knowing nothing could change Erik's mind. However, he had one more card to play. "Well, I suppose if you have decided with this there is nothing I can do to change it."

"That is correct."

"Well, as a last request and a favour to our company, I ask that you come to the concert. Maybe pick a talent or two that will keep the business going when you are…gone." Nadir felt sick saying it out loud. How long had Erik been planning his own death?

Erik sighed irritably. "You are a pain, Nadir. I suppose if that is what you request I will fulfill it, only for you, my misguided and disgustingly trustworthy friend."

Nadir tried not to show his relief. Maybe if Erik could see how much help the music industry still needed he would feel the need to stick around. Okay, that was unlikely, but maybe if Erik saw what Nadir had seen in the Daaé girl he would stay alive to help manage her, if only for a little while. She would be his last hope. He recalled the curly haired woman with the sweet voice, the spotlight seeming to form around her like a halo. An angel to save the devil.

"Thank you, Erik," said Nadir.

"Yes, yes, now I believe you should get ready to leave tomorrow morning. I do not need you getting in an accident on the way back because it is dark, leaving our company to your pitiful assistant."

"Alright, Erik," said Nadir, knowing there would be nothing left to say. Finally Erik had explained and Nadir didn't know whether to feel relieved or panicked. What would it be like to live without having to worry about Erik living up here all alone? Calmer, perhaps. All past wrongs Nadir had let Erik make without reporting them would die with him, as would the guilt, or so he hoped.

In the morning, Nadir took his suitcase down to the front hall by the door. He thanked Erik for being a good host. Erik only told him that he better not screw up their agency, though in less polite language. Erik closed the door behind Nadir, and as Nadir walked to his car, he couldn't but help feeling like he would never see Erik again.

Get a hold of yourself. You have a year.

Never had that sounded like such a short time.