Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 23 of 24

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"I need more nails, Gustave," said Erik, and didn't bother hiding his smile as Gustave leaped up and ran to the toolbox. It was a sunny spring Saturday afternoon, a week shy of Gustave's birthday, and it had finally been warm and dry enough for Erik to begin work on a treehouse in the garden for Gustave. He'd suggested to Gustave several weeks ago that a particular tree in the garden would be well-suited for such a thing, and the boy's pleased reaction had been well worth the hours it would take to build.

It would be safe, of course – he'd reassured Christine of that, when she'd looked a little doubtful. Everything he built was safe, robust enough to withstand the rigours of a growing boy.

More than one, he thought, because Gustave had made friends, would want them to visit soon enough.

Gustave returned, walking now with a handful of nails, and he reached up, offered them to Erik.

"Thank you," Erik said gravely, and glanced over at Christine. She was sitting close to the house, having tea with Madame Giry. The sun fell across her face, her hair shone brilliantly.

He turned back to the tree, took the nails from Gustave and finished hammering into place the boards that would be footholds for climbing.

"You'll be able to climb up here easily," he said to Gustave. "No, not yet," he added, laughing as Gustave reached for the foothold closest to him, reached out and caught him by the collar. "We've barely begun."

Gustave sighed loudly. "Alright," he said. "What next?"

"Next I'm going up the ladder," said Erik. "And you're staying on the ground." He waited for Gustave to nod agreement, and then he turned to the pile of planks he'd leaned up against the tree. "Do you think you can lift some of these up to me?" he asked.

"I think so," said Gustave, and he tried lifting one of them, heaved it up and over his head. Erik smothered another laugh, put a handful of nails into his pocket and scaled the ladder. The branches of the tree were thick, would easily hold the weight of the treehouse, and he sat astride one of them, leaned down to take the plank from his son and settled it across two branches.

There was so much pleasure to be gained, he had realised, in doing things with Gustave. They had a music lesson several times a week, and Gustave was an attentive pupil, but there were so many other things too. Gustave asked for his help learning his school lessons, sought him out for conversation, shared confidences and worries.

He was, he thought with no little amount of pride, becoming a father more and more with each day.

And soon he would be a father once more. He glanced through the branches of the tree, found Christine again, and smiled to himself. The baby was due in three weeks, so close now, and then he would have another child.

"Hand me one of those thin ones," he said to Gustave. "On the right." Gustave picked up a long, thin piece of wood, held it aloft and narrowly avoided swinging it against Erik's leg.

"Sorry," said Gustave, looking up at him. "That's for the – the frame, right?"

Erik nodded, took the piece of wood. He'd made a plan for the construction, had showed it to Gustave and explained everything, and it pleased him that Gustave had remembered.

"Once I've built the frame and put the floor down, you can come up," he said. Gustave grinned, and Erik set the wood into place, took a nail from his pocket and hammered it into place.

"Will it take long?" Gustave asked, leaning against the ladder, and Erik slid further along the branch, put another nail in the piece of wood.

"Several hours," he said. "It needs to be safe for you," he added, when Gustave looked about to frown. "Your mother would never forgive me if you fell because it wasn't safe." He would never forgive himself, either, but he didn't say so to Gustave.

"Alright," said Gustave, with a long-suffering sigh.

"But you are helping me a great deal," Erik said. "If you weren't passing me the wood, it would take much longer." He sent a quick smile down to his son. "Another of the thin pieces, Gustave, if you will."

Gustave fetched another piece of wood, stretched his arms up, but before Erik could reach for it there came a pained cry from near the house – from Christine.

Erik descended from the tree in moments, strode across the lawn towards her; she was leaning forwards in her chair, hand on her stomach, face pale and mouth tight with pain.

"What is it?" he demanded. "What's wrong?"

"Stop panicking," said Madame Giry, who had risen to her feet. Christine was breathing hard, but the pain seemed to ease, she seemed to regain some composure. "Is that the first, Christine?"

Erik looked between them, confused for a moment, but Christine shook her head, looked up at the other woman.

"Through the morning," she said faintly, "but not badly."

Realisation dawned, and Erik took her hand. "It's early," he muttered, and a hundred thoughts flew through his mind. "She's not due for three weeks," he added, and Christine gave a breathless laugh.

"Well, you can tell her to wait, then," she said. She leaned back in her chair, smiled at him. "I'll be alright," she said, and he wished his worry wasn't so obvious, wished he could be the one to reassure her, but she knew how anxious he was, knew his fears.

"Women give birth every day with no harm to themselves or the children," said Madame Giry briskly. "Help her inside, Erik, and then send for the midwife." She turned to Gustave, and Erik glanced at him as well, saw him watching them with a worried expression.

"Gustave," said Christine, and Gustave approached, bit his lip. "Gustave, it's alright," she told him. "Will you carry the tea things in?" Given a job to do Gustave was happier, and Erik nodded slightly, concentrated on Christine, helped her to her feet.

She gave a pained cry again before they reached the house, had to stop, gripped his arm tightly and Erik bit his tongue hard enough to taste blood, wished he could take the pain from her.

Moments passed and then she began walking again, leaned on him heavily as they climbed the porch steps, entered the house. He didn't think she should try the stairs, but reckoned without her stubbornness, trailed behind her as she ascended, clinging to the banister.

"I won't get into bed," she told him, when they reached the bedroom. "Not yet."

"But you should –"

"It could be hours," said Christine, shaking her head. She sat down on the edge of the bed, gripped the bedclothes, and he stood before her, watched helplessly as she breathed through another contraction. "Or maybe not," she had to admit. "The contractions are quite close."

"You should have told me," he said, but without real force. She'd been quiet that morning, pale, but she hadn't slept well and he'd assumed she'd tell him if something was wrong.

"I might have been wrong," Christine said, and she reached to unbutton her blouse; Erik intercepted her, pushed her hands away gently and did it for her. He fetched her a nightgown and her dressing robe, helped her into it.

"I'll send Laura for the midwife," he told her then. "Do you need anything? Can I get you anything?"

She smiled wearily at him, shook her head. "No, my love. Thank you." He leaned down, kissed her forehead, left the room. Madame Giry was climbing the stairs, a pile of clean linens under her arm.

"Don't panic," she advised him again, pausing to give him a critical look.

"It's early," he reminded her. "That could mean –"

"Absolutely nothing, and three weeks is nothing to cry about," she said, impatient with his insecurities, as she always was. "It will likely be small but healthy. Now go and send for the midwife, and for goodness sake pull yourself together." She had the last word, swept into the bedroom and closed the door firmly. Erik shook his head, twisted his mouth, went down the stairs.

Laura met him at the kitchen doorway, wiping her hands on her apron.

"Would you like me to go, sir?" she asked him. "I know where the midwife lives."

Erik nodded at once, relieved; he didn't want to leave Christine, although he suspected there was little he could do, and the midwife lived a good twenty minutes' walk away – if she was even at home, which was not guaranteed.

"Thank you, yes," he said.

"Madame Giry told me to put the kettle on for hot water," Laura added. "I'll just run and get my cap and shawl, sir, then I'll go." He nodded again, stood aside to let her pass.

"Is she going to be alright?" Gustave asked him then. He was standing by the kitchen table, tracing patterns on the wood with one finger. "She – she isn't going to…" He trailed off, uncertain, and Erik could see his fear he was trying so hard to hide, stepped towards him, caught him up in an embrace.

"She won't die," he said, forced a reassurance that he didn't, couldn't, feel himself, and Gustave clung to him for a moment, wrapped his small arms around Erik, pressed his face against Erik's chest.

The kettle boiled; Gustave detached himself unwillingly.

"Can I do anything?" he asked, and Erik shook his head, smiled faintly.

"I don't think so," he said. "I need to take the kettle upstairs." He tried to think of something for Gustave to occupy himself with, some way for him to keep busy. "You haven't done your practice today," he said at last. "Why don't you go to the music room?" Gustave nodded agreement, left the kitchen, and Erik took the kettle off the stove, went upstairs again.

Christine was still sitting on the bed, watching as Madame Giry laid a fire in the grate.

"Hot water," Erik said, and Madame Giry nodded, gestured for him to put the kettle down on the hearth. "Laura's gone for the midwife." He sat on the bed next to Christine, took her hand. She leaned against him, silent, rested her head against his shoulder.

"I don't think it will be long," said Madame Giry then, turning around to look at them. "The contractions are close."

"I'll be glad if it is," said Christine, and she looked up at Erik, tried to smile. "Gustave took over a day to be born," she told him, and Erik nodded, tried to speak but found himself without words. Her grip on his hand tightened, almost unbearably tight, as another contraction hit her, and she moaned, closed her eyes.

"I need to stand up," she said, when at last the contraction passed. "I need…I need to move. Erik, help me?"

"Of course," he said, and rose, let her use him to lever herself up. She leaned on him, he steadied her as she took slow steps about the room, to the window, back to the bed, following the same path over and over, pausing only when another contraction hit.

"They're getting closer," said Madame Giry. "You should lie down soon, Christine." She checked her watch, pursed her lips, and Erik glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece, tried to remember when Laura had set off for the midwife, tried to work out when she would be back – if she had found the midwife at home.

Christine cried out again, almost stumbled.

"Lie down, Christine," Erik urged her, and she nodded weakly, let him help her back to the bed; he pushed the blankets aside, found pillows to help her be as comfortable as possible.

He hated this, had known he would hate it, would always hate being helpless when it came to Christine. And there was nothing he could do to ease this, nothing he could do to help her or hasten the birth. He could only watch, and wait, and hope that the child's early birth meant nothing ill for either of them.

And then the door was opened, the midwife came in – stout and matronly, Christine had met with Mrs Johnson a few weeks before, had seemed happy. Erik hadn't met her, but he'd checked her credentials, had made sure she was more than good enough to help Christine through the birth.

"Well, dearie, how are we doing?" she said, bustling over to the bed, touching Christine's forehead, pushing the blankets further away from her. "You're not due yet, are you? Still, sometimes those that come out early cry the loudest." She looked at Madame Giry, raised an eyebrow. "You're her mother? Good, you can help. And you!" She turned to Erik, smiled broadly. "Out you go. You've no place in here."

"I won't –" Erik began to protest, but Madame Giry cleared her throat, shook her head, and somehow Erik found himself ejected from his own bedroom before he could finish speaking.

Gustave was sitting at the top of the stairs, hugging his knees, and Erik joined him, listened to Christine's pained cries and waited.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 23 of 24

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