Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 10 of 24

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The journey from Coney Island to the docks was far too swift for Christine's liking; she sat in the carriage, Gustave opposite and Erik at her side, and felt herself growing more heartsick with each rotation of the carriage wheels.

Erik kept Gustave occupied on the drive, pointing out famous landmarks or interesting features, but his hand kept hold of hers throughout. She was glad of it, glad of the comfort he was trying to give her.

At last – far too soon – they arrived, and Christine leaned forwards, peered out of the window and leaned back again hastily before the gathered crowd of journalists and photographers could see her. She'd hoped to leave America without attracting the attention of the press, who still clamoured for details of Raoul's death. She was sure they could smell a scandal and wanted proof, wanted more to publish than the hints and rumours that she'd seen in the gossip columns over the past week.

She glanced at Erik; he'd seen the crowd as well, and nodded slightly at her. He knew what it meant – knew that they couldn't risk a public farewell, not if she was to return to Paris with her reputation intact. A single photograph could ruin her, if it got back to Charles de Chagny. She was going to have trouble with him even if he did believe that she was…innocent.

But Erik understood. He squeezed her hand gently and then released it, leaned forwards to speak to Gustave.

"We must say goodbye now, Gustave," he said gravely, and Christine almost winced at the desolate look that crossed her son's face. "Or au revoir, perhaps," Erik corrected. "Since we will meet again, and it won't be long before we're reunited."

Gustave looked at him for a moment and then lowered his head. "I don't want to go," he muttered, almost inaudible. "I don't want to leave you." He looked up again, frowning. "I want you to come with us!"

Christine felt helpless; she'd tried to explain to Gustave why it had been decided that Erik could not return to France with them, but she'd been unwilling to tell her son that his newly-discovered father had murdered people, had been sought by the police and would certainly be arrested if he were discovered in Paris once more. Gustave knew the stories, of course – knew that the Opera Ghost had been a murderer – but she was sure he hadn't fully connected the Phantom of the Opera with his father Erik, and she didn't want him to confront that until he was older. Wanted him to retain some little of his youthful innocence.

"You know that isn't possible," said Erik, breaking into her thoughts and saving her from trying to find words for Gustave. "For many reasons." They looked at one another, father and son, and she watched silently. "Will you do something for me, Gustave?" Erik asked at last.

"Yes, of course," said Gustave with an eager nod.

"Will you look after your mother while we are apart?"

Gustave brightened then, proud of the duty laid to him. "Of course," he said. "And – and I'll fill my new book with songs." Erik smiled at him, and then turned to Christine.

This was the moment she had been dreading; the moment when she must say goodbye to Erik. Tears sprang into her eyes, she reached for him blindly and he held her, muttered something that she couldn't quite hear. She clung to him, closed her eyes and bit her lip to keep from crying.

"I know," Erik said. "I know." And he did know – she didn't have to say anything because he knew what she was feeling. The shared burden calmed her a little, but she couldn't let go of him, couldn't force her fingers to relax their grip. "It's not so very long," he murmured. "We'll be together again soon." She nodded, and pulled away enough to look at him, to see the pain in his expression. "Soon," he repeated, and brushed his fingers across her cheek, wiped away a tear.

"Six months," she said, and caught his hand in hers. "I don't know how I shall bear it," she admitted.

"You shall," said Erik. "You must." He smiled a little, but there was no humour in his expression. "We both must." He glanced away from her, across to Gustave, and Christine turned her head to see their son watching them anxiously. She tried to smile, to bear it for his sake. Erik was right – they must bear the separation, and their reunion would be all the sweeter for it.

"I'll send a telegram as soon as we land," she said to Erik, and he nodded. "And write as soon as I can. It will take several weeks to reach you, I think."

"Believe me, Christine, I would wait far longer than a few weeks for a letter from you," he said, and for a moment they smiled at each other.

"I'll write too!" said Gustave, and Erik's smile widened, just for a moment, just for long enough that Christine could see how much pleasure Gustave's letters would bring him.

She pressed close to him again, kissed him, and tried to commit the feeling of it to memory. She raised her hands to cup his cheeks, flesh and leather under her fingers, but she made no attempt to unmask him, not now.

"I love you," she murmured, when at last they had to part.

"And I love you," he said. He glanced out of the carriage window and she followed his gaze, saw the clock set above the customs building. "It's time, Christine."

Christine took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and wiped away the tears from her cheeks. "Alright," she said. "Gustave?"

"We'll be alright, Mother," said Gustave, and she smiled at him, smiled at his earnest desire to make her feel better.

"Yes," she agreed. "I'm sure we will be." She made sure her hat was straight and looked one last time at Erik. "Don't wait until the ship's gone," she said to him. "I can't bear the thought of you sitting here waiting for us to go."

His smile was slight but real, and he nodded. "If you like," he said. "I confess, it would not be easy." He turned to Gustave, hesitantly held his arms out. Gustave slid into his embrace easily, and Christine could see how tightly he held onto Erik. He had already grown to care for Erik more deeply than she could have hoped for.

Erik released Gustave, gave her one last brief glance and then turned away. "Go," he said, voice thick. "Go quickly."

Christine nodded, opened the carriage door and ushered Gustave out. She understood his command, understood that prolonging it any further would only increase his hurt, and hers too. Gustave seemed to sense it, or at least he didn't question why Erik had sent them away so abruptly; he followed close behind Christine as she went to the entrance of the customs house, where Elise was waiting for them.

Once they were aboard and installed in their suite, Gustave asked to go on deck to watch as the ship left port.

"I know he won't be there," he said Christine, "but it was so exciting seeing New York when we arrived. I want to say goodbye to it." He looked up at her, a determined tilt to his chin that she recognised. She smiled faintly, nodded to him.

"Alright, Gustave," she said. "But Elise must go with you. I don't want you to be alone." Gustave looked as though he wanted to argue, and she knew what he was thinking – that ten years was far too old to be escorted in that way. But she was still loathe to allow him to be alone, to be without someone. The memory of that night, that awful night, was still too vivid.

Gustave nodded, and Elise left off unpacking to accompany him out of the suite. Christine waited until the door was shut and then sank into a chair, covered her face with her hands. Her breathing came in great ragged gasps but she didn't cry. She felt too empty for that.

She would have to be stronger, soon, would have to conceal her grief at being parted from Erik. She could write to him, and would do so often, but for Charles de Chagny, for Raoul's sister Heléne – for everyone in Paris except Gustave – she must be a grieving widow.

But Christine was an actress; she had acted a part for ten years, and she could certainly act a different part for six months.

It would be harder for Gustave, she knew, and although she had spoken to him about the need to keep Erik out of their conversation when amongst others, she wasn't sure he would be able to do so entirely. He was only ten, and had become so fond of Erik.

She would speak to him again, but not yet – not until the end of the journey, she decided. That would be soon enough.

Christine rose then, went to the suite's master bedroom. She needed to be busy, and although Elise would no doubt disapprove, unpacking would distract her, at least a little. Some of her clothes had already been placed in drawers or the closet, her jewellery box was out on the little dressing table. There was another box on the table as well, smaller – and a letter, addressed to her in Erik's handwriting.

She paused before opening it, counted her breaths in and out, willed herself to be in control of her emotions. Erik must have placed it in her luggage this morning, or perhaps asked Elise to do it for him.

'My dear Christine,' the letter began, 'You asked me last night to offer you a ring. I know you cannot wear it, and I did not want you to conceal it. But I find I cannot let you go without it, and my promise to you that when you return, if you are ready, I wish nothing more than for us to marry.'

Christine put the letter down, opened the box and looked for a long moment at the ring inside. She had worn a ring concealed on a chain around her neck once before – had concealed her engagement to Raoul from Erik, from everyone except Madame Giry and Meg. To do the same now felt wrong; she would hide her engagement now, but she didn't think she could bring herself to wear Erik's ring the same way. It felt like an insult to both men.

No, she decided, the ring would stay in its box. And yet she couldn't resist taking off her wedding ring and trying Erik's ring on. It still fit her, just as it had ten years before when Erik had forced it onto her finger. She returned to the letter, the glint of the diamond distracting only a little from Erik's words.

'I am filled with more hope and happiness than I have ever felt, and I shall count the days until your return. Your days will be more difficult, I think. Remember that I love you and our son, and be as strong as I know you can be. Yours, always, Erik.'

Christine found herself smiling, and she looked at the ring on her finger again. Erik was right – her days would be difficult, but she would get through them, as would Gustave. And in six months they would be reunited, and she would at last become Erik's wife. The wrongs of the past ten years would be made right.

The motion of the ship changed, the thrum of the engines barely perceptible, and as the ship began its departure, Christine put the ring back in its box, folded Erik's letter, and returned to unpacking.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 10 of 24

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