Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 5 of 24

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"Yes, Gustave, what is it?" asked Christine, absent-minded as she re-read the telegram in her hand.

"Mother, are we staying here with Mister – with Erik?"

Christine looked up at Gustave, paused to remember once again how very thankful she was that he was safe and unharmed. For ten years, Gustave had been the bright spot in her life. He had been her dearest joy and her greatest delight, a solace as Raoul had increasingly turned to gambling and alcohol in his quest to escape the unhappiness of their marriage. A reminder of her time with Erik, as well.

She folded the telegram and put it into her pocket, and then patted the couch beside her. "Come here, Gustave," she invited. He joined her eagerly, sat on the couch and looked up at her. She spared a moment to remember the days when she'd had to lift him onto seats, when his little legs had dangled over the edge of a chair. Then she smiled at him. "Do you remember what I told you about my life before I married your father?" she asked.

"You lived at the Opera Populaire," said Gustave with a nod. He looked confused, not sure how this related to his question. "You trained to be a singer."

"A dancer, first," Christine corrected him. "I was part of the corps de ballet there, and then my teacher found me. He trained my voice, taught me everything I know." She waited to see if he would connect things, and then she continued. "That teacher was Erik, Gustave. He was my dearest, closest friend as well as my mentor."

"You've never mentioned him," said Gustave uncertainly.

"No," she agreed. "Your father…didn't like it. You see, Erik was the Opera Ghost." Gustave's eyes widened, his mouth opened in surprise, and Christine smiled. "Yes, I know you've heard the stories. Raoul wanted to keep it all from you, but it seems even now everyone in Paris know about me and the Phantom."

"But everyone says the Opera Ghost was awful – a murderer," said Gustave slowly, dropping his gaze.

"Erik frightened them," Christine said, choosing not to answer directly. She loathed lying to Gustave, but avoidance wasn't the same thing. "And Raoul…didn't like that I was friends with him."

"Did you love him?" Gustave asked, and Christine couldn't quite meet his eyes, couldn't look at him while she told him the truth.

"I did," she said. "Very much."

"More – more than you loved Father?" Gustave asked, tentative, and Christine exhaled, lifted her gaze to meet his.

"I loved Raoul very much also," she told him. "But in a different way." She sighed, raised a hand to smooth down his fair hair. "We were both so very young then, and…I think I became infected by everyone's fear. They were afraid of Erik, and so I began to be as well, a little. And Raoul swept me off my feet." She smiled faintly. "No, Gustave, I did not love Erik more than I loved your father. But I loved him in a very different way."

"I know you and Father weren't happy," said Gustave, and she lowered her hand, cupped his cheek. He bit his lip, looked up at her anxiously. "I know you weren't. I saw how he…" He stopped, changed his words. "Was it because of me?"

"Oh, Gustave, no," she said quickly. "Don't ever think that." She wanted to reach out and embrace him, but he was sitting stiffly, as if he didn't want to be touched. She recognised it, withdrew her hand. "Gustave, I love you more than anything else in the world. And your father loved you as well, of course he did." She could tell he didn't believe him. For the last few years it had been increasingly difficult to persuade him that Raoul loved him – and she was sure that Raoul had loved Gustave. Even at the end, even when he'd known that Gustave wasn't his blood, he'd loved Gustave.

"I know you don't want to hear this," she said finally, choosing her words carefully, "but there are things I have chosen not to tell you, Gustave, because I have believed you too young for them."

"Is that why you never told me?" he demanded, voice tight with anger, and he reminded her so much of Erik in that moment. "Mother, why didn't you ever tell me about my father?"

Christine was helpless, stared at him and shook her head. "Gustave – "

"He never loved me," Gustave interrupted, and he was near tears now, full of conflicting emotions that she could do nothing to soothe. "He never – he didn't – " He cut himself off and flung himself away from her, stood up and went to stare out of the window, arms wrapped around himself.

Christine knew this anger, knew how to deal with it. Gustave had inherited Erik's temper, and she was wiser than she had been as a young girl, had the experience to draw the hurt from the anger. She rose, went to join him at the window but didn't attempt to reach out to him.

"Raoul loved you," she said, working hard to keep her voice serene, to keep her own pain away from Gustave. "He held you when you were born and cried with happiness. He did not always understand you, but that didn't mean he loved you any less." She paused, glanced down at him. "And Erik loves you," she continued then. "He will understand you better than even I do." Gustave made a sound in his throat, but Christine ignored it. "I lost my father when I was younger than you are now, Gustave, and I was left all alone in the world. You have two fathers, who both love you very much."

Gustave muttered something; she didn't ask him to repeat it.

"Now," she said, "I must answer this telegram, and then you and I must visit Madame Giry's seamstress. Please get ready to come with me."

And then she left him at the window, went to the desk and began composing a reply to her telegram. It was from Raoul's uncle, Charles de Chagny, and although telegrams were hardly a good medium for expressing emotion, she could read through the short, terse lines. He blamed her for Raoul's death.

She had to compose a reply, even if she didn't send it today; the cost of sending a telegram across the Atlantic was prohibitive, and she still didn't know what ship she and Gustave would return on. Sergeant Gellar had said they could leave in a few days, once a judge had accepted that their evidence would be presented in their absence, and Christine was anxious to go back to France, to wrap up her affairs there and then –

And then. And then, if she could assuage her guilt, if she could accept that loving Erik didn't mean she grieved any less for Raoul, then she would start her life anew. With Erik, with Gustave. A new family.

"Mother? I'm sorry."

Christine capped her pen, put it down, and looked up at her son.

"It's alright, Gustave," she said. "I understand why you're angry. But thank you for the apology." She gave him a soft smile that seemed to ease his guilt. "Fetch your coat, then, and I'll get mine."

"But Mother – will we be staying here?" Gustave asked, not moving away. "Forever?"

"We'll be going back to France for a while," Christine told him. "But yes. I think so." Gustave nodded and didn't say anything else, went to the coat stand by the door and took down his coat, stretched up to take down Christine's hat. "Thank you, Gustave," she said, rising. "If we're not too long at the seamstress, perhaps we can find somewhere to have an ice cream. Would you like that?"

"Can Erik come?"

She was amused and pleased by his request, but had no answer for him. "He has some business to take care of this afternoon," she reminded him, putting on her hat and coat. "But he's joining us for supper."

"I know," said Gustave with a sigh, clearly disappointed. Christine found her purse, checked that she had American money and the room key, and ushered Gustave out of the suite.

She handed the key in at reception and asked for a cab to be called.

"Of course, my lady," said the receptionist with a polite smile. "You have some messages; would you like them now or when you get back?"

"I'll take them now, please," said Christine, frowning a little. She wasn't expecting any letters, and Charles de Chagny wouldn't send another telegram so soon. The receptionist passed her several folded notes and calling cards, and Christine read them quickly, her indignation growing with each piece of paper.

"What is it, Mother?" Gustave asked, looking up at her. "You're upset."

"No, Gustave, I'm fine," said Christine absently. The messages were all from the press: notes requesting a statement, business cards of journalists. She remembered the photographers waiting when they'd disembarked the ship on their arrival. They'd been more interested in her than she'd liked, but it seemed Raoul's death – the death of a French Comte – was causing an even greater stir.

"Your cab's here, my lady," said the receptionist, and Christine glanced up, saw the doorman standing at the glass doors of the entrance waiting for her.

"Thank you," she said. "If any more journalists leave messages for me, please – " She paused, tried to think. "Tell them I'm unavailable and put the messages in the bin," she finished at last. She wanted to tell the journalists to leave her alone, to leave her family alone in their grief, but she had experience with the press. Being rude wouldn't do anything but make them more eager.

"Why do they want to talk to you?" Gustave demanded, scowling. "You gave an interview yesterday morning."

"I know, Gustave, but…things have changed," she said with a sigh. For a moment she thought he would say something else, but then he nodded, small mouth screwed up in distaste. "Don't worry about it, Gustave," she told him. He seemed to have grown up too much in a short space of time; as if his father's death, and the revelation of the truth, had forced him to age. Her innocent son seemed more worldly somehow.

She didn't want him to have to worry, didn't want him to grow up this quickly. He was only ten years old. He should have had longer to be a child, and her guilt over Raoul and Erik was compounded by her guilt at Gustave's new-found experience.

"Come on, Mother," said Gustave then, tugging at her hand. "The sooner we go, the sooner I can have ice cream."

Christine laughed a little and let him pull her to the door and out to the waiting carriage.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 5 of 24

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