Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 16 of 24

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"Are you alright, Mother?" Gustave asked anxiously, as Christine sank down into a chair. He closed the dressing room door and came to kneel on the floor in front of her. Ever since she had told him of her pregnancy, once the first few dangerous months had passed, he had become even more careful of her, even more mindful of Erik's request that he look after her, and Christine couldn't help but be charmed by it.

"I'm fine, Gustave," she said, smiling at him. "I'm sure there never used to be so many stairs!" He nodded, still watching her with a grave expression, and she reached out, touched his cheek gently. "I'm fine," she repeated, and then looked around. The dressing room had hardly changed. It was only a small room, sparse and bare; the most significant item within it was the large mirror, and she wondered now if Erik had installed it on purpose or whether it had always concealed the passage behind.

"It's very small," said Gustave, and he got up, went to investigate all the corners, opened the drawers of the dressing table as if he could find some secret hidden somewhere. "Was this always your room, Mother?"

"No, not always," she replied. "When I was younger we didn't perform, and then once I joined the corps de ballet properly we shared a large dressing room." She looked around, smiling at the memories. "This room became mine after I became a singer. There is a large one, closer to the stage, for the prima donna, but that was Carlotta's, and so I was given this room." She rose, went to stand before the mirror and remembered that night, remembered finally seeing Erik – the Phantom, her Angel – on the other side.

She wondered if this passage had been discovered; the mob had not come down this way, she knew, and although Raoul must have known there was a way through here, she didn't think he'd found it, didn't think anyone knew…

"Shall I show you a secret?" she said to Gustave, who had come to stand beside her. He nodded eagerly and Christine stepped close to the mirror, pressed her fingers along the ornate frame, trying to find the precise position of the hidden button. The first time she'd gone through the mirror, Erik had taken her – but she'd searched afterwards, had found the mechanism that made the mirror slide open, although she'd been too scared to go down the dark passageway.

"Aha," she murmured, and pressed the button, moulded to look like part of the frame. Gustave gasped when the mirror moved, and then he laughed, clapped his hands.

"Oh, can we go through?" he begged, and Christine hesitated a little. They had no light, and she thought she remembered the way, but the tunnel led deep beneath the Opera House, and she couldn't be certain, didn't want to get them lost. And besides that, she wasn't sure she could bear to see the destruction that the mob and time would have brought to the house across the lake.

"Did Father build this?" Gustave asked, and Christine was breathless suddenly. Gustave had never called Erik that before, and he did it now so carelessly, so without ceremony. As if he had always called Erik his father, always known him as such.

"I – I'm not sure," she said at last. But Gustave wasn't paying attention; he had started into the tunnel, and Christine followed him, called for him to wait. "We can't go down there without any light," she told him. But Gustave returned, brandishing a lantern.

"I found it over here," he said, "there's a shelf." He led her to it, and she found matches, lit the candle and closed the lantern door.

"Alright," she said, "but hold my hand. Don't let go." She wished she had some way to mark their passage, but she had to trust that she remembered how to get down to the lake, and then how to come back.

She held the lantern high to give them as much light as possible, but somehow, impossibly, she remembered the way. Through passageways, down staircases, along walkways, her feet led her as surely as if she'd come here only yesterday. She couldn't explain it even to herself – when Erik had brought her this way before she had been scared, excited, more aware of him than of the way he took her. And yet she knew the way.

They reached the lake at last, and she shone the lantern over it, let Gustave see as far as he could. It was colder down here than above, the water leeched all the heat and her breath misted as she exhaled.

"And Father lived across there?" Gustave asked, an awed note in his voice. "How did he get across?"

"There was a boat," Christine told him. "And I think there was another entrance, as well, that led to the street. But I never went that way." She stepped along the shore, searched for the boat. "It's probably gone," she murmured, more to herself than to Gustave. "Stay back from the edge," she added, louder. "It's deep."

"There – look, Mother, there it is!" exclaimed Gustave, and he waited for her to bring the light, pointed at the small craft bobbing up and down gently on the lake. It was tethered with rope to a metal ring set into the floor, the knot tight with age and disuse, and Gustave tugged at it futilely.

"Here, let me," said Christine, and she kneeled on the cold floor, set the lantern by the knot and took a hairpin from her hair. She used it to loosen the knot a little, enough that she could pry it apart with her fingers. The boat seemed sturdy enough, and a paddle had been left across the seat, so she nodded for Gustave to get in, held it steady for him and then joined him.

"Hold the lantern for me," she said, and used the paddle to push the boat away from the shore. It was barely enough light to see by, but it reflected off the water, and it wasn't long before she caught sight of glittering reflections from the far side – from things that had been left in Erik's old home.

The boat bumped against the shore, and she took the lantern from Gustave, searched for a way to secure it. She found another metal ring, tied the rope to it, and they carefully climbed from the boat.

The lantern was enough to show the destruction that had taken place. Mirrors were smashed, the candlesticks and candelabras had been taken, and a heavy layer of dust lay on everything. There were papers still, old and faded, many of them torn; she knelt and picked up a sheet, blew the dust from it and tried to see what music had once been written on it.

"This – I thought it would be different," said Gustave, and his voice sounded forlorn. Christine rose at once, turned and wrapped her arms about him.

"It was different," she said firmly. "It was beautiful here, Gustave. There were candles everywhere, and mirrors, and an organ there." She gestured to the place where the organ had stood, wondered for a moment what had happened to it and then returned her attention to her son. "It wasn't a house as you or I might think of it, perhaps, but it was his home," she told him. "And it was beautiful. All was light, and somehow it was filled with music."

It was dark and empty now, so empty without Erik's presence and belongings. She had made a mistake in allowing Gustave here, she knew. There was nothing here of Erik – only ghosts, or perhaps shadows of the Ghost…

"Mother," said Gustave, looking up at her with wide eyes, "Mother, did – did he really kill people?"

Christine was silent, couldn't look at him for a few moments. She had half-expected this, and in a way she was glad it had happened now, when she could try to explain it to Gustave and wouldn't have to see the shame, the sorrow on Erik's face as Gustave tried to understand.

"Yes, my darling, he did," she said gently. Gustave didn't say anything, didn't protest or cry as she half thought he might. He pressed his lips together, watched her with those eyes that reminded her so much of Erik's – Gustave's were not mismatched, but they were the same shade of blue as Erik's left eye, the same shape. She hesitated, tried to decide what to say. Tried to work out if there was anything she could say.

"Is that why you didn't stay with him?" Gustave asked at last. "Because he…killed people?"

"Oh, Gustave," she sighed, and she let him go, put the lantern down on the floor and hugged herself. How to explain to him, when even now she couldn't be sure what she'd been thinking then? "No," she said at last. "Or at least, that wasn't all of it. He scared me, but then everyone was so scared of him. I was so swept up in it." She turned, stared across the dark lake. "I knew he would do anything for me, and it scared me," she said softly. "And then there was Raoul. He was…he was safe, and he loved me, but it wasn't…" She lowered her head, felt the weight of her mistakes. "I loved Erik despite everything," she said at last, loud enough for Gustave to hear. "I still do. Yes, he killed men. But then, he had suffered so much. He never knew love before he met me, Gustave." She turned back to him, found him watching her still. "Before us," she clarified. "He is different because of me, and because of you."

Gustave nodded slowly, and he stepped towards her, leaned against her with his arms around her waist. She hugged him again, closed her eyes against tears.

"But he would never hurt us," he said quietly. "I – I do love him, Mother."

"I'm so glad of that, darling."

They held each other in silence then, the only sound the gentle slap of the waves against the shore, the occasional thud of the boat against the stone. And then, for a few brief moments Christine almost seemed to feel him – mere moments, but she felt Erik with her, felt his love and adoration for her and their son.

And then she felt something else, a flutter in her womb, barely a movement but enough to it to be real.

"Oh," she gasped, and pressed her hand to it. "Oh, Gustave, she's moving!" She took his hand, brought it to her abdomen. "Can you feel?" She hadn't felt movement before – she was barely four months pregnant, hadn't expected it for another few weeks, but she could feel life now, could feel the child she felt sure would be a girl. She laughed from the sheer delight of it, and the sound echoed around the underground cavern, rippled back to her from across the lake.

"I can't feel her," said Gustave, almost pouting, and Christine kissed his frown away, clutched his hand tightly.

"She will move more strongly soon," she promised, "and you'll feel her then." She laughed again, and Gustave laughed with her; the echoes mingled and rebounded and she suddenly couldn't resist singing, had to share her joy with this place that had housed Erik for so many years.

She sang a carol – Christmas was a week past, it would be the new year in just a few days, but she'd been singing them so much lately that it was the first thing that came into her mind. Her voice rang out, the echoes building up and multiplying, and Gustave joined her, his high, sweet voice sounding so lovely singing the carol with her.

They finished, fell silent and waited for the echoes to die away.

"I can see why Father lived here, now," Gustave said at last. "The organ must have sounded wonderful." He looked up at her, smiled. "Less than two months now, Mother."

"It's getting very close," she agreed. "But now we must get back, Gustave – it may take some time to find our way back to the dressing room, and don't forget we're meeting Monsieur Reyer for supper."

"And then the opera," said Gustave gaily. "But nobody will sing as well as you do, Mother." He picked up the lantern, went back to the boat. "I'm going to write to Father tomorrow and tell him we've been here," he said. "Do you think he'll mind? It's still sort of his, isn't it?"

"I suppose it is," Christine agreed with a smile. Even if Erik no longer lived here, it was plain the Opera Ghost still kept others away. "And no, Gustave, he won't mind." She helped him into the boat, cast one last look over the Phantom's home, and then pushed the boat away from the shore.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 16 of 24

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