Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 14 of 24

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"Madame Giry, stay for a moment."

She turned in the doorway, and Fleck and Squelch paused as well before Erik waved them away. They'd spent the past hour going over the forthcoming Christmas programme for Phantasma's theatre and circus, but what he had to speak to Madame Giry about had nothing to do with Phantasma.

Madame Giry returned to her seat on the other side of his desk, leaned her cane against her chair. She was pale and tired, had aged more in the last three months than she had in the years before, and he couldn't blame her – couldn't harbour anger towards her, because he'd seen Meg, had seen how her child had been so utterly broken that nobody could ever hope to fix her.

Couldn't blame her when so much of the blame lay with himself.

"How are you?" he asked, without quite meaning to, and she looked surprised, lifted an eyebrow and tilted her head slightly.

"Fine," she said shortly. Then, when he didn't look at her, she conceded a little. "A little tired," she said. "But you didn't ask me to wait to inquire after my health."

"No," Erik said, and he leaned back in his chair, avoided looking at her. "I need your help." She said nothing, and he sighed. "Perhaps not. I…have no wish to impose on you more than I already have over the years."

Madame Giry sighed also, lifted a hand and rubbed her eyes in an uncharacteristic show of weakness. "Erik, I have only ever tried to be your friend," she said wearily. "Believe it or not, I do care for your happiness."

He looked at her then, nodded slowly. "I know," he said. "And you must know I never meant harm to you or Meg." She glanced away; her hands were trembling. They had not spoken of Meg since her trial, since she had been sentenced to life in the sanatorium, and Erik could see that for Madame Giry, it was still a subject too sensitive, too hurtful.

"So," she said, just before the silence became too long, too painful, "what is it you need my help with?"

"I…need a house," he said. "For when Christine and Gustave return." He sifted through the papers on the desk to find the letter Christine had sent him, two months ago when she had first left. "I should perhaps have begun making enquiries earlier, but…"

"Of course," said Madame Giry briskly. "You would like me to find some suitable places?"

"Somewhere outside the city," said Erik, nodding. "Not too far, but not in the city itself. I'll need to be able to get here, of course, and there must be a school nearby for Gustave." He opened a drawer, withdrew a list of requirements he had made. There must be room for the three of them, and space for his music, and he was toying with the idea of buying a motor car for his journeys to the city, and so there must be space to store it.

Her smile was thin, but present. "I'm sure something will present itself. I will begin looking at once, if you wish. I presume you wish it all to be settled for when they return in February?"

"That would be preferable," he agreed. They would already have packed up and moved twice by the time they arrived – from the estate to Paris, and from Paris to New York – and he wanted them to be able to settle into their new home as quickly as possible.

"Well, I'll see what I can find," said Madame Giry, taking the list from him, glancing over it with a raised eyebrow. "May I assume you are indifferent to price?" He didn't bother to reply; she knew that he would demand the best for his family, and he had the money to pay for it. "Very well." She paused, folded the paper crisply and tucked it into a pocket. "It's a shame they won't be here for Christmas," she commented then, not quite looking at him.

It was an olive branch, and Erik knew he would be a fool not to take it. As bitter as she had become over recent years, Antoinette Giry had been his ally – and, perhaps, his friend – for longer than anyone else. And she was practically Christine's mother, had raised her after her father's death, and he knew that ten years' separation had done little to diminish Christine's love for the older woman.

"Yes," he said at last. "Yes, it is. But they need the time to wind up their affairs. And we will have more holidays together." He took a moment to think of that, to allow the happy thought to fill him. Christmases and birthdays and other celebrations, they would share them all. His family.

"Try not to spoil him," was Madame Giry's practical advice. "Although if I'm honest, he seemed a delightful boy. I could easily have imagined that Christine might spoil him, but she's done well." For Madame Giry it was high praise, and Erik couldn't suppress a smile, both at the compliment to his Christine and at the thought of his son.

"Well," she said then, "if there's nothing else…"

"No, nothing else," he said, returning his attention to her. "Thank you."

"It will take time," she warned him, collecting her cane and rising. "And you will have to view the properties yourself, once I have found them." She gave him one last look, and then turned to leave.

"Madame Giry – Antoinette," he said, standing up and moving around the desk. She paused, glanced at him with an eyebrow raised in mute query. "Thank you," he said again, and she nodded but said nothing, left the room and closed the door behind.

Erik waited for a moment, let the silence settle, and then he went to the staircase, ascended to his workroom. He started towards the piano, but then detoured to the fireplace. November was about to become December, and it was cold in the workroom, the fire had been neglected for several hours. Once it was revitalised he went to the instrument, sat on the bench but didn't play. Instead he looked at the photographs on the music stand, photographs of Gustave and Christine.

He had asked Gustave for a photograph, but Christine had given him more than one – she had sent over a dozen, some old and showing Gustave in various stages of childhood, and some clearly new, of Christine and Gustave together.

He gazed at them hungrily now. It had been three months since they had gone back to France; three long, lonely months, another three before they returned to him. They smiled up at him from the photograph, his family – his beautiful Christine and their perfect son.

Perfect. He reached out to touch the image, then rested his hands on the piano keys and played idly. He was whole, unscarred, his face unmarred by the blight that Erik had been born with.

If ever Erik had thought of children before Christine had returned to his life, if he'd ever dared dream that he might have them, the thought had always been bitter. He had always assumed any children of his would be cursed as he was, would have some sign of his deformity.

And yet he could remember his parents a little. The memories were bad – he shuddered even now to recall the words and blows that had been aimed at him before he had been abandoned, barely four years of age, with a band of gypsies – but he could remember what they had looked like. Ordinary people, quite ordinary and normal. Whatever had caused his face, it seemed clear it was not hereditary.

Three months. Madame Giry was right, it was a shame they would not be with him for Christmas. Gustave's recent letters were filled with excitement about it, and Erik wanted to share it with him, to know at last the pleasure of sharing the holiday with the people he loved and who loved him in return.

Erik put the photographs on top of the piano, pulled his manuscript paper towards him and tried to focus on composing. He had been working on new pieces – had some idea of another opera, but one less destructive than DonJuan. Christine's voice had inspired him again, as it always had in the past, and he had already tentatively approached the musical directors at the New York opera houses with samples of his work.

He could not imagine that Christine would not want to sing. For ten years she had been forced to set aside her career, only singing by special engagement. She had only once completed a full run of an opera, but had sung at other events, concerts and galas. It was partly, he could admit, because of motherhood – but mostly it had been because of the demands of her station as Raoul's wife. Her voice was perfection, her talent outstanding, and it would be a crime if she were not to return to the stage. And so he composed.

He harboured no doubts that she would be able to gain a position in one of the opera houses – she was still called the soprano of the century, after all, a well-deserved accolade.

And he longed to hear her sing his music again.

It was several hours before he moved again, and then only because the fire had died down again, letting the cold leech into the room. His hand was cramping, his back aching a little, and he moved stiffly when he descended from the workroom to his living space. He went to the fireplace, raked the poker through the ash in the grate and added fuel, coaxing the fire back into life.

He was, he reflected ruefully as he seated himself in the armchair by the fire, getting older.

The lift shaft rattled, and after a few moments the doors opened, admitting a concierge, one of the few Erik allowed in his rooms, a young boy who didn't talk much but who seemed to appreciate music. He bore a tray with tea and a light meal – no doubt sent by Madame Giry, who knew his habits well.

But Erik's focus was on the envelope he could see on the tray; he held his hand out for it, and the boy passed it over before placing the tray on the table close to him.

A letter from Christine – overdue, perhaps delayed by the post.

"Thank you," he murmured, and the boy gave a nod and withdrew. Erik touched the writing on the envelope for a moment, and then went to the desk, found the letter opener and carefully slit the envelope. He paused on the way back to pour a cup of tea, sipped it while it was still scalding and settled back into his armchair.

'We have moved to Paris,' wrote Christine, 'and the sale of the estate will be completed within three weeks. Monsieur Bourtin tells me I am lucky to have sold it so quickly, and completely. The purchaser will take all the furnishings that I would have sold separately. Charles has of course taken a great deal, and Heléne a little. Some has come to the Paris house, to be stored for Gustave's future, if he should wish it. But for now Gustave and I only want our personal possessions.

'Gustave has asked to visit the Opera House,' she continued, and Erik frowned a little, read on. 'He wants to see the place I lived and worked, and where you lived for so many years. I have written to Monsieur Reyer, who remains musical director there, to see if I could be allowed to visit with Gustave. He wants to see more than the public spaces, and I confess I would like to visit again. Raoul did not forbid me from going, but it was discouraged except when I accompanied him, and I should like to show it to Gustave. And now that we are so close to our life together, it feels right to say goodbye to the mistakes we both made in the Opera House.'

Erik put the letter down for a moment, gazed into the fire thoughtfully. Perhaps Christine was right, but he knew that Gustave had still not full connected him with the dangerous – murderous – Opera Ghost. In an ideal world, he never would. Gustave was growing to love him, Erik was sure of that, but he was so unaware of the dark aspects of Erik's past.

But, he reminded himself, the house across the lake was almost certainly destroyed, by the mob that had hunted him if not by the managers afterwards. Christine might show him the lake, perhaps the passage behind the dressing room mirror, but there could be little else. Perhaps Gustave would remain ignorant, and innocent.

The thought that Gustave might turn from him was bitter, and even reading Gustave's letter – cheerful, affectionate and excited – could not dispel the gloom that settled on him.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 14 of 24

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