Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 3 of 24

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"Take him out," Christine said to him, almost begging. She looked pale and worn, far too tired to be dealing with any of the day's affairs. "He needs distraction."

Erik glanced at Gustave, seated at the piano but not playing. The boy looked just as pale as his mother, and had been listless since the police sergeant had been to question him. Christine had tried to tempt him with books and games, but nothing had enticed him from his misery.

"He won't want to leave you," he said, absolutely certain of it given Gustave's behaviour so far this morning. But he looked at Christine, saw how exhausted she was, and he couldn't refuse to try, at least.

He approached the piano and sat on the bench beside Gustave. He played a few notes, let his fingers linger on the keys, and Gustave lifted his head, looked up at him.

"Your mother needs to rest," Erik said, choosing his words carefully. Gustave turned his head to look at Christine, who was reclining on the couch with her eyes closed. "Would you like to come and explore with me?"

Gustave shrugged but didn't say anything. Erik stifled a sigh, picked out a melody on the piano and waited. Eventually Gustave would speak, whether to agree or refuse. Until he did, Erik could wait. He had learned patience, in the last decade, and could think of no more appropriate situation to practice it than with his son.

His son. He held his breath for a moment, as if breathing would shatter that fragile thought. His son, his beautiful, perfect son. The child that he and Christine had created.

Never again, he swore to himself, would Gustave be in danger. Never again would he have to watch as someone threatened his child. He would make sure of it, somehow.

"I don't want to leave Mother," Gustave said at last, barely above a whisper. He bit his lip, a nervous habit, and Erik turned to him, brushed a hand over Gustave's fair hair, the urge to touch too irresistible.

"I know," he said. "But look, Gustave. Look how tired she is." Gustave nodded, reluctant, and Erik waited once more.

"Where would we go?" the boy asked after a few moments, clearly swaying towards agreement.

"Wherever you like," Erik said, and then he amended his statement at Gustave's sudden, ill-concealed look of fright. "Not too far. Close enough that we can return quickly." Gustave hesitated still, unwilling to leave his mother, and Erik sighed. "Gustave," he said quietly, "I will not allow harm to come to you. Or to your mother."

At last Gustave nodded, at last he agreed, and he slipped off the piano bench, went to kiss his mother's cheek and then came back to Erik, held his hand out expectantly. Erik took it, revelling in the feel of the small hand in his, and led Gustave to the door. He glanced back at Christine, found her watching them with weary eyes.

"He will be safe with me," Erik said, assuming she needed some reassurance. But Christine smiled a tired smile and rested her head against the cushions behind her.

"I know," she said. "I've never doubted that." Her faith in him was warming. She trusted him – perhaps loved him still, perhaps would stay with him now. It was more than the nebulous hope that had lived within him for years, it was a vivid possibility now, and although he knew she needed time, Erik would not be idle while she grieved.

He closed the suite door behind him, looked down at Gustave. "What shall we do?" he asked. "You seemed to enjoy my workroom, we could return there if you wish." Gustave brightened at once, smiling up at Erik.

"Mother said you write music," he said. "I have a song in my head – could you help me write it?" Erik nodded, pleased. It would have been surprising if Gustave didn't display musical ability, but Gustave had clearly inherited his own musicality, something that Erik had always believed was unique to him. It was something that had always isolated him, perhaps almost as much as his deformity, and he wished nothing more than to cultivate it in Gustave, to show him how wondrous it was.

He wondered, just for a moment, how Raoul had responded to Gustave. Whether Raoul had made any attempt to understand, or had just left the boy to Christine's care and tutelage. Certainly the Comte had believed quickly – perhaps too quickly – that Gustave was in fact Erik's son and not his own. Erik wondered if Gustave had felt loved by the man who had raised him.

Gustave clutched at his hand, looked up at him with a sudden frown. "I don't know what to call you," he confessed. It was not something Erik had thought of before. Gustave had called him by his title yesterday, had called him Mister Y before he knew the truth, but Erik knew well enough that Gustave would not easily be able to call him 'father' – not yet, at least, not for some time to come. Less than twelve hours since Gustave had been told the truth, less than twelve hours since Raoul had died. No, Gustave could not call him by the title still held by Raoul.

"My name is Erik," he said at last. "Perhaps you should call me that."

"But…" Gustave looked up at him, still frowning. Erik could almost see thoughts forming in his head, the love for his father and yet the recognition of Erik as kin.

Erik offered him a smile, made it easy for him. "Gustave, your father has died," he said. "I don't expect to replace him." Eventually Gustave would come to love him – he hoped. But for now he could not expect too much, would not demand too much from the young boy.

Gustave looked at him for a moment more, almost measuring him, and finally he nodded. "Alright," he agreed. "Erik. Will you help me write my song down?"

"Of course," Erik said, and he led Gustave down the hallway towards the lifts. "Is it the song you played for me yesterday?"

"Yes," said Gustave with another nod. "I've had it in my head for ages and ages. Since we came from France on the ship." He hummed a few notes, rocked forwards onto his toes and then back. "I didn't know all of it at the beginning," he continued, "but I think I know it all now."

The lift arrived, the bellboy within barely batting an eyelid at the sight of his employer with a child, and Gustave was silent until they reached the top of the hotel and the lift doors slid open to reveal Erik's home.

"I do like it here," he said with a happy sigh, and almost ran from the lift in his haste. Erik watched, amused, and followed his son up the winding staircase that led from the living space into his workroom. It seemed that Christine had been right; a change of scenery and a suitably distracting activity was enough to keep Gustave's mind off yesterday's events, at least for now.

"Oh!" exclaimed Gustave, faltering at the top of the stairs. Erik hastened to join him, held his hand out to pull Gustave behind him if necessary, but a quick glance around the workroom revealed only Fleck, sitting at his desk.

"What is it?" he demanded, impatient at the intrusion. Fleck rose, less steady than usual, and Erik scowled when he realised she'd been crying. He had little patience for distressed employees, usually left such interactions to Madame Giry. But Madame Giry had not shown herself today, and Fleck had been loyal to him. Much as he might like to, he could not turn her away.

"What is it?" he asked again, gentling his tone.

"I'm sorry, Master," she said, "for coming here without your permission. But I – I had to tell you – to apologise. I should have stopped Miss Giry." She looked at Gustave, her expression full of relief. "But the child is unharmed."

Erik sighed, touched Gustave's shoulder. "Go to the piano," he suggested. "I'll join you in a moment." Gustave nodded and ran to the piano, knelt on the piano stool and started playing his melody. Erik motioned for Fleck to join him at the far side of the room by the window that overlooked Phantasma. "You are not to blame," he said bluntly. "You had no idea."

"I knew she had no business with him," Fleck said, refusing to retreat from her miserable stance. "I knew he is your – " She cut herself off, looked up at him with a little fear. Erik stared at her, waiting to see what she would say. He wasn't surprised she knew – Fleck had always been perceptive – but he wouldn't confirm it, not until he'd spoken to Christine.

Fleck dropped her gaze, looked down at her feet. "I'm sorry, Master," she said timidly. Erik didn't answer, looked across the room at his son, found the boy looking back at him. Gustave was unharmed – or would be so, once his grief had run its course. And Fleck had nothing to apologise for, nothing to feel ashamed over.

"You didn't know," he said at last, and turned back to her. "As you said, Gustave is unharmed. As is the Comtesse de Chagny." She nodded, clearly still unsure, and Erik sighed. "Of all of us, you are least to blame," he told her. "Misplaced guilt is pointless." She nodded again, and he was pleased to see that she seemed to accept his words. "Now," he went on, "enough of this. I'm sure you have things to do."

"Yes, Master," said Fleck, and she offered him a small, watery smile before limping to the stairs and descending. Erik waited until he heard the sound of the lift arriving before going to Gustave's side.

"Is she alright?" Gustave wanted to know. "I like her." He moved along the bench to let Erik sit next to him. "She looked upset."

"Fleck will be fine," said Erik. He reached out for blank manuscript paper, found a pencil among the papers. "You know how to read music?" he asked.

"Mother taught me," said Gustave. "Father doesn't – " He stopped himself, aghast; his eyes went wide, his mouth hung open. Erik carefully looked away, gave the child time to recover from his slip. "Father didn't like it," Gustave corrected himself finally, quieter now. "He used to. When I was younger. But he doesn't like me writing music. He says…" He paused, straightened his back. "He said I'm a de Chagny and it would only ever be a hobby. If he caught me, he…" He stopped again, gave a quick glance up to Erik and then looked down again. "He was upset," he ended, but the words were stilted, as if he'd meant to say something else.

Erik stifled his first, angry retort; it wouldn't help Gustave, might only serve to drive him away, and he refused to allow that. He had to be careful, had to think what Christine would want him to say.

"I'm sure he only wanted the best for you," he said at last, and if he was lying, Gustave would never know. "It is no surprise to me that you enjoy writing music. Your mother is the greatest singer I have ever heard, and your grandfather was an extremely talented violinist." He paused, glanced at Gustave and found the boy's head bowed low. "And I am a composer," he added, gentle and careful. "I have written a great deal of music. For me there is very little that gives me more pleasure."

Gustave nodded but said nothing. His hands slipped off the piano keys, came to rest on his knees.

"What is it?" Erik asked. Gustave shrugged; Erik waited for a moment more, and then put the manuscript paper onto the music stand. "Begin your song," he suggested. "I'll write it down, and then we can work on it together."

"And then we can show it to Mother," said Gustave. He straightened, looked up at Erik. "I think she'll like it," he confided.

"I'm sure she will," said Erik, and lifted the pencil. "Now, begin."

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 3 of 24

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