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Burying Ghosts

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The setting sun’s rays shone above them as they walked. It seemed as if with each passing year, the day of their anniversary became hotter than the last, especially when they took their traditional walk all the way to the park where he had asked for her hand. They sat together on the same bench as that night, and Christine sweetly moved some stray hairs from her husband’s face after a few moments of silence between them.

“You’re going gray, my love.” It was true. What had once been hair so sparse and thin that it had nearly no color to its strands had become a head full of black and sometimes silvery hair, growing slowly since their second year together. Erik once told her that it resembled how it had once been during his childhood - it warmed her heart to see his excitement. The scarring that separated onto his head was easily covered now with his natural, dark waves, wigs now forgotten.

“I’ll be turning forty-nine this year,” he replied humorously. “You needn’t remind me of it, Christine.”

She laughed, then sighed in quiet awe. “And I’m thirty-one in a month. I cannot believe it’s been ten years since our wedding.”

He kissed her temple, making her move away playfully; they were in public, after all, although it was mostly children around them, with all of them making the most of the last hours of sunlight and paying them no mind. Christine laced their fingers together instead and took a glance at him. Erik observed the children, amused, and her left hand went to touch her own visibly enlarged abdomen.

“Our son,” she began confidently, her voice taking a mischievous tone with her next words. “Will be named Erik.”

He gave a heavy sigh and shook his head. “Of all possible names... How can you know the child will be a boy, anyway, if it isn’t to be born for another four months?”

“Meg and Victor have had four children, and she guessed correctly for all of them while carrying,” she noted, lovingly patting her middle to calm the kicking she felt within. “It’s a mother’s instinct.”

“It’s a one-in-two chance of being right for each one, my dear. The Baroness was simply lucky.”

She waved him off, smile growing at his annoyance. “Our other two are boys, Erik. Don’t you think that fits a pattern?”

Thinking back on Christine’s first pregnancy, the memories only brought back the horrible morning they had just a week before their second Christmas together. He had noticed certain oddities in his wife many days beforehand, but nothing prepared him for the morning he awoke to hear her crying inside their bathroom; his panic turned to sorrow when she let him into the room, just to see her leaning over their bath, painfully trying to explain that something was wrong.

“I was supposed to tell you on Christmas day.”

Both had mourned in their own ways, each blaming themselves for one reason or another, and their very sudden loss had driven them apart in their grief. It pained him to this day to think how hopeless he’d felt in trying to comfort Christine during that time, with he being unable to feel the physical pain and her despair – however, it had been a turning point in how he regarded his wife’s friend, Alice. She had been Christine’s biggest support and confidant during her healing process, with Erik only being there for whatever he could; though he stayed away from their private conversations to respect that, in one particular occasion he had been walking about their home for reasons he couldn’t remember and had accidentally caught a piece of one of them when Alice gave his wife a visit to check upon her wellbeing.

“I’ve lost four of them, myself.” Alice had spoken so quietly he had thought that what little he heard while passing by had been his imagination. “For me, and my husband, it meant seeing the doctor who would eventually tell us we were most likely to remain childless. Sometimes… sometimes it simply isn’t destined to be. It was neither mine nor Tom’s fault, as your loss isn’t yours or Erik’s. I can only speak for myself, tell my own tale – if you wish to be a mother, all you can do is try again.”

It took them a few months to discuss the matter of children again. While the pregnancy they lost had occurred completely naturally, perhaps in an instance where they hadn’t been careful enough, now Christine knew she was ready to really try to conceive, and that it was the right time for them. Erik took more convincing, however; his biggest issue was the possibility of passing along his deformity, but with Christine’s gentle support he found a doctor trustworthy enough to pose the question – was it possible for his child to be born with a face like his?

“It seems to me that yours is a most unique situation,” the man had answered, going over his notes quickly as Erik placed the mask over his face once again. “It is a combination of circumstances and, if I may, sir, of very unfortunate coincidences. Without knowing your family’s medical history, I’m afraid I cannot give you a specific set of causes for your… affliction.”

“Does that mean…”

“I do not believe it is likely for any child you father to have the same birth defects as you do,” the doctor said, bluntly. “Again, your circumstances happened to be incredibly unique, unlike any I’ve seen before – unless your wife carries those same characteristics from somewhere within her own bloodline, which I highly doubt, the chances of history repeating itself seem impossible. The only thing I wouldn’t confidently rule out would be some birthmarks, perhaps even your mismatched eye colors, but that is it. It would not be severe enough to require something like the mask you wear.”

Christine had been anxiously waiting for him at home, and had instantly thought the worst when he began to weep as soon as he saw her.

“What is it, Erik? What did he say?”

Much to her confusion, he looked at her – then pressed a kiss to her forehead and pulled her into a tight embrace. She tried to ask once again, her voice muffled by his body, but he answered before she could finish speaking.

“He called it nearly impossible for my curse to be inherited,” he finally revealed. He held her face tenderly, looking her in the eye – she had never seen such unbridled happiness in him.

It wasn’t long after that before he agreed to the idea of having a family of their own.

Then, weeks later, Christine was invited to Paris by a fellow soprano to a week of gala performances with other performers in benefit of local charities. If she were to accept, she would be away in France for the whole month of September, alone, as it would be too much of a risk for her husband to accompany her. Though she had been hesitant to leave him behind, he did nothing but encourage her to accept as soon as possible, and she did.

She came back with the slightest roundness to her belly and a confirmation from a physician, back in Paris, that she was with child. They had written letters once or twice to keep in contact before she was to return home, but she had made no allusion to this vital piece of knowledge she had kept from her husband. Christine hadn’t wanted to get her, or Erik’s, hopes up, just in case, but last time she had been a couple of months along as well and not showing at all; only she and Erik (and Meg, who was further along her pregnancy with her first child, and had accompanied her to the doctor’s and caught the first signs before even Christine herself did,) noticed so early on, but it meant that, at least, this pregnancy was coming along well. Only after telling Erik after her return to London did Christine write a letter for the now-retired Madame Giry in order to announce the news – she was delighted, according to her reply, but also quite cross that she and Meg had kept the secret from her nearly the whole time Christine had been in France. It was quite miraculous the wise older woman hadn’t guessed with just one look at Christine; she couldn’t remember a time where she hadn’t immediately known the two girls were hiding something.

While he hadn’t ever changed his mind after agreeing to her desire to have children, as the months passed and her due date got nearer he was a thousand times more afraid than she was. He fretted over her every need, worried himself sick over the chances of the birth harming her or their baby; he could recall, with a shudder, his nightly visions of his perfect wife with a cadaverous-looking child in her arms as he awoke in cold sweat, even when he had the knowledge that such a thing occurring was close to impossible. Her mood swings sometimes made her snap at him and, rather shamefully, he realized only a few weeks before her due date that what he thought was nothing but concern was actually bordering on paranoia. Erik mulled over that thought for many hours and apologized for already being a bad parent, voicing his fears one last time. She only shook her head at what she called silliness and kissed him and such a simple act made him calm for the time remaining.

Their firstborn, fondly named Charles Gustaf after Charlotte Valerius and Christine’s father, Gustaf Daaé, was born one late April night in 1892. When Erik was finally allowed into the room after many hours of restless pacing, he found her pale yet crying with joy, their swaddled child held against her breast. Her heart never felt as full as it did when he hesitantly agreed to hold their boy. Becoming parents wasn’t easy for them - her husband had issues with bonding with him for their son’s first month, but he eventually fell head over heels for Gustaf, who grew easily accustomed to seeing him both masked and unmasked, and seemed to notice no difference when it came to his Papa’s face and others’. The boy grew to be a perfect combination of both, with black curls and his father’s intellect and fondness for cats, as well as his mother’s green eyes, gentle kindness and insatiable curiosity.

Nadir Khan, with whom they had established regular contact some time before, visited them for the first time soon after he heard of Gustaf’s birth, and from there on he had become a constant presence in their lives. Though Erik would never admit it, Christine knew the Daroga would always be his truest friend – and she had grown very fond of him for it.

It was during this time that Christine finally heard news about Raoul; Meg’s husband’s family had always had close ties with the De Chagny’s, and it was through them that Christine got word that he was to marry soon. She didn’t know many of the details – but apparently his bride was a good woman and very beautiful, from a social standing high enough for his brother to approve, and they seemed to genuinely care for each other, according to what Meg saw. It made Christine smile as she read her letter; she had been hoping to hear he’d found happiness somewhere, and it seemed her hopes had been in the right place.

Felix Albert was their second, born three years after his older brother. He was, in turn, named after Christine’s mother Felicia and Erik’s father. Even while unborn, he seemed to show the same sense of mischief he now had, frequently keeping his mother up at night, kicking and squirming within her womb. Both his parents frequently joked that it was his restlessness that caused him to be born a month earlier than foreseen, in October, as if he simply hadn’t wanted to wait for his mother’s due date before his arrival. Felix was nearly identical to Christine, unlike his brother; from brown, untamable curls, all the way to his soft, pretty features, but he had his father’s dark eyes… and the same rough scarring on his lower back, faintly triangular in shape as it sat just beside his spine.

Seeing that mark on his newborn son for the first time had filled him with despair; Erik would spend many nights of those first few months by the baby’s side as he slept, quietly pleading for his forgiveness at having tainted his beauty with such an ugly scar - as if the child could even understand what it was that he apologized for. Christine saw no fault with their child’s body, however, something she frequently made known; feeling her unconditional love for the both of them had eventually allowed Erik to forgive himself. He even grew to see the mark as part of Felix’s perfection, not a stain on it, just as she did – and he had never looked back since then.     

Back in the present, Erik opened his old pocket watch and glanced at the hour. “I believe it’s time for us to fetch said boys. A seven-year-old with a three-year-old partner-in-crime are sure to cause trouble if left to their own devices for too long.”

“Though they adore Alice, we shouldn’t overstay their welcome,” Christine replied, moving to stand with his help. “They must be banging away at Tom’s piano - I wonder from whom they got that from.”  

He laughed, offering his arm. Together, observing the sky as the sun fell, they walked home. Christine thought to appeal to her husband once more about their unborn son’s name - it was the one argument both had remained eternally stubborn about in the past decade.

-

A few months after, Alice and Tom took the children again as, for the third time, Erik paced about their home as Christine gave birth. He had been building his family a new house for the past few months, but with such a delicate, important event happening upstairs he couldn’t concentrate on finishing what few loose ends he had to tie before they’d be able to move in. He rose from his seat when he heard the distant, shrill wails of an infant and waited anxiously for the midwife.

When he went into the bedroom, he took off his mask without a thought. His wife sat there, transfixed at the little one in her arms.

“You were right, my darling,” she whispered as he came up beside her, sitting on the bed by her side, then showed the child more clearly to him. “Meet your daughter.”

He felt tears prickle at his eyes and he studied her: like their other two children, she was absolutely beautiful, and he could see what hair she had was dark, perhaps black like his. A daughter. The little girl held his finger in her tiny fist when he reached towards her, presumably already asleep.

“What do we name her?” He asked, voice quiet as to not wake her. “We only ever thought about another boy.”

Christine had never strayed from her desire to name their next son after him, and they had also decided that, if they could help it, this would be their last child as they were very much content with having three of them. Erik couldn’t help but feel triumphant at that, knowing no son of theirs would bear his name; there were far worthier people in their lives to be named after. With that, perhaps he might suggest his wife’s own name for the child – but that thought was quickly forgotten when he realized she might feel the same way as he did with her suggestion. He could use that to tease her about it sometime soon, however… 

“Marguerite,” he offered after a moment. Christine looked at him in surprise. “Baroness Leberoux is like a sister to you – all our children’s names have been related to both our families. And… it is quite a beautiful name.”

“I love that. Her middle name after her aunt Meg,” she agreed. Erik rose an eyebrow at that. Did she already have a first name picked...?  Then, she cooed as the baby whimpered, again looking down at their daughter. “There isn’t much left to discuss after that, now, is there? She’s my little Erika.”

It took him a few seconds to realize she was being completely serious. Of course his clever wife would find a way to get what she wanted – to name a child after him – even when he had thought it impossible, seeing as said next child had turned out to be a girl. When they next locked eyes, there was a spark in Christine’s green ones; she knew full well what he was thinking. In the end, Erik gave a sigh and an amused shake of his head, signaling his defeat, and leaned forward to press a kiss to her cheek. She simply grinned and whispered a thank you.

Perhaps he should have suggested Christine’s name after all.