Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 2 of 24

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Christine woke suddenly, startled by something into wakefulness. The room was quiet; Gustave was a warm, heavy weight at her side, his breathing regular and familiar. Daylight shone through the window – she'd forgotten to draw the curtains last night, she realised.

She closed her eyes for a moment but the vision of Raoul's dead body made her open them again, stare up at the ceiling in an attempt to erase it from her mind. Nausea rose in her stomach and she measured her breathing, in and out, to keep from wanting to vomit. It didn't work; she eased herself away from Gustave, got up from the bed and went into the bathroom, knelt before the toilet and threw up.

When she was finished, she rinsed her mouth and washed her face, and returned to the bedroom. Gustave had rolled over into the space she had vacated, perhaps seeking her warmth still, and she was loathe to wake him. He'd been so scared the night before, so unwilling to be parted from her, that she'd allowed him to join her in her bed – in the bed that she and Raoul had shared for two nights.

Christine could admit to herself that she hadn't wanted to be alone, hadn't wanted to face what being alone meant. That she was a widow now, that she would be alone in bed for every night now.

Except…there was Erik. And guilt sprang up at that thought, at the terrible thought that she might have Erik now, that Erik might still want her. She didn't know what she would have done, if Raoul hadn't returned, if Meg hadn't kidnapped her son, but she knew what Erik had hoped. She knew what she herself had wished for, so many times over the years, whilst still hating herself for her unfaithful thoughts.

She had never been the wife Raoul had wanted; but then he had never been the husband she wanted. They had been foolish children, and she had naively assumed that he would make her happy, that his childish devotion would be enough for them both.

Christine shook her head. It would do no good to dwell on those thoughts now. She went to the wardrobe, found her dressing robe and wrapped it over her nightdress. Usually meticulous in her appearance, now she simply wanted to be tidy and decent before leaving the bedroom. She could call for her maid, but dressing would disturb Gustave and she was so loathe to do that.

But she would call for breakfast, for Gustave if not for herself, and perhaps Erik…

She hoped he would be waiting for her, in the sitting room of the suite. He'd said he would be there when she awoke, but she couldn't help being afraid that he had left.

She drew the curtains, closing out the daylight to let Gustave sleep as long as he needed to, and then she opened the bedroom door, stepped into the sitting room and closed the door quietly behind her.

Erik was there, sitting in an armchair, a book in his hands but his attention focused solely on her.

Christine took a step towards him, and another, and then he had risen, crossed the room to her with quick steps, and gathered her into his arms. She wouldn't cry, she told herself, not now, but tears welled in her eyes anyway, and she pressed her face to Erik's chest, lifted her arms around his neck and clung to him.

When at last Christine raised her head to look at him, she found she couldn't find words to speak. Grief closed her throat, grief and guilt because she couldn't deny the happiness she felt at being so close to Erik once more.

Erik shook his head slightly, as if he knew what she was thinking, and he pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead.

"How did you sleep?" he asked her. "And Gustave?"

Christine swallowed against the lump, offered him a faint smile. "I…slept. Gustave is still asleep. I didn't want to wake him, it was so late when he…" Her voice dried up again, and she sighed, tried again. "He should sleep," she said, and Erik nodded.

"Of course," he agreed. For a moment he seemed hesitant, uncharacteristically so, and then he led her over to the couch and gently urged her to sit. "I suspect you won't care for breakfast," he said, and Christine, remembering her nausea, nodded agreement. "Sergeant Gellar sent a message, he will be here at ten-thirty. He wants to speak to Gustave."

"Yes," said Christine softly, "I thought he would." She glanced at the bedroom door, listened for any sign that her son's sleep was disturbed, and then caught Erik looking at her with a strange expression. Her cheeks warmed, she looked away, almost embarrassed but without knowing why.

"Christine," said Erik, and then he paused again, sat next to her on the couch and reached for her hand. "I will not lie to you," he said, voice low, his thumb brushing across the back of her hand. "I grieve that you and Gustave are in pain, but I cannot deny that my hope has been that you would stay with me."

She had known it, of course – known his love and desire for her had not wavered with ten years' distance, had known that something had passed between he and Raoul, known that Erik would want to know his son. But hearing him speak it so plainly…

And Raoul was dead. Her husband was dead. And she had been so unfaithful to him, in so many ways. So far from the wife he had wanted, the wife he had deserved – and now her thoughts were consumed with Erik, her heart swelled with the knowledge that he loved her still and wouldn't leave her this time.

She turned her hand, entwined her fingers with his.

"I know," she said, and couldn't offer him more reassurance. "I know." She looked up at him, the handsome features and the white mask that concealed the deformity that had so scared her, so many years ago when she had been a sheltered little girl living in a world where beauty was prized and idealised.

She hoped that Gustave would learn to understand, learn to accept, as she had. Far too late, but she had learned that lesson.

"Raoul is dead," she said, and had to close her eyes for a moment, had to force herself to keep breathing at the finality of her own words. "I can't…I…not yet, Erik." He was silent, and she looked at him again, lifted their joined hands and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. "Not yet," she said again, willing him to see the promise in what she couldn't say.

At last he smiled, just a little, enough to bring warmth to his face. "That is more hope than I have dared to have," he said. "I can be patient." His mouth twisted, bitter for a moment, and she thought of ten long years. And then the expression was gone, as quickly as if it had never been there. "You should try to eat something," he told her. "You haven't had anything since before the performance last night."

She sighed, shook her head. "I can't face eating," she said. "Not right now. But Gustave will be hungry when he wakes." Erik looked at her, his thoughts plain to see, and she squeezed his hand. "You have always been so concerned over my health," she said softly. "I've never deserved you." He frowned, opened his mouth to speak – but the bedroom door swung open to reveal Gustave, rubbing at his eye with one hand.

"Mother," he said plaintively, "you weren't there."

"I hoped you would sleep longer, Gustave," she said, and held her free hand out to him. Gustave came across the room, shuffling a little in his sleepiness, and stood before them, glancing between them and down at their joined hands. Christine let him look for a moment, and then she reached out and pulled him closer so she could embrace him. She needed her child, needed to reassure herself that he was safe and well.

As well as he could be.

"Good morning, Gustave," said Erik in greeting. To Christine, he seemed hesitant once more, and she could hardly blame him after Gustave's reaction – was it only yesterday? So much had happened since.

Gustave fidgeted for a moment and then clasped his hands together and looked at Erik. "I – I'm sorry," he said, quiet but penitent. "About the other day. I was surprised. I shouldn't have screamed."

Erik stared at him, and it took Christine a few moments to collect herself and give Gustave an approving smile. She'd spoken to him, of course – reminded him that although Erik's face was disfigured, he had shown Gustave nothing but kindness, and reminded him too that she had not raised him to value only appearances. But she hadn't expected him to apologise without prompting; he was, after all, still a child.

At last Erik cleared his throat, glanced away and then looked back at his son. "Thank you," he muttered, and was silent once more.

"Mother, what happens today?" Gustave asked then, and Christine let go of Erik's hand, stood up and rested her hands on Gustave's shoulders.

"The police want to speak with you," she said. "But I will be here. All you have to do is tell them what happened." Gustave nodded, biting his lip. "I promise, it will be alright," Christine said, and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "Now," she continued, "go and get dressed, and then you can have breakfast."

"Alright," Gustave agreed, and he gave her a brief, tight hug before going to the small second bedroom. He paused in the doorway, turned to look at her. "Mother – you're not going anywhere, are you?" Christine shook her head. "Good," he said, and disappeared into the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

"He seems anxious," said Erik, rising to stand with her, a warm presence at her side.

"Yes," she agreed. She turned to look at him, suddenly couldn't resist the temptation to rise up onto her toes and press a kiss to his mouth. She retreated before he could begin to react, feeling her cheeks flush at the way he stared at her. "I must dress," she said, an excuse to leave his presence for a few minutes. "If Gustave is dressed before I finish, would you –"

"I will reassure him," Erik nodded. "Shall I call for breakfast?"

"Yes – just for Gustave," she cautioned. "I don't think I can eat anything." Erik's mouth twisted but he nodded acquiescence and said nothing more as she returned to the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

She leaned against it for a moment, closed her eyes and breathed. She should not have kissed him, she knew. Not yet, not now. Not when Raoul's clothing hung in the wardrobe and his body was barely cold in the morgue.

Wretched and guilt-ridden, Christine went to the wardrobe and began to prepare herself for the day.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 2 of 24

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