Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 8 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

It was amusing to see Christine supervising Gustave's piano practice. Christine had a rudimentary knowledge of the instrument, enough to know when Gustave made an error if not always enough to correct it – but she was a stern taskmistress, keeping Gustave's attention on his scales when he tried to begin something new, refusing to allow his smiles to tempt her into being lax.

They both wore black now, his son and the woman he loved. Five days had passed since Raoul's death, and Madame Giry's seamstress had been prompt in furnishing Christine with mourning outfits. It made them both look pale – Christine paler than her son, the dark circles under her eyes showing that she was still not sleeping well.

Still, she was beautiful, and Erik found it hard to look away from her. She was still elegant and graceful, just as she had been ten years ago, although her figure was a little fuller from childbirth. Her hair was upswept, revealing her creamy neck, and her mouth was tilted in a smile as she watched her son.

He loved her; how he loved her. And yet tomorrow she would depart, tomorrow she and Gustave would leave New York and sail back to France.

She had promised to return – had sworn it to him, her expression pleading with him to believe her. And he did believe her, didn't truly think she would be so cruel to them both now that, at last, nothing stood in their way. She loved him, just as he loved her. And he was Gustave's father, she had promised him that he would know Gustave.

So many things had changed in such a short space of time.

"Come now, Gustave, just concentrate for a few minutes more," Christine said, breaking into his thoughts. "Then you may play whatever you wish."

"I hate scales," Gustave said crossly, even as he began another repetition, and Erik had to smile at the petulance.

"I'm sorry to say I don't care," said Christine, and she turned then, glanced at Erik with a smile. "Ask Erik, if you want. Learning an instrument requires endless repetition of scales and exercises. It helps you play the music you want."

"You never learned the piano properly," said Gustave, and his fingers moved over the keys easily. "It's not fair for you to tell me I have to do it this way."

"I learned to sing, Gustave," said Christine, a laugh in her voice, and Erik knew what she was thinking as her smile brightened. "The voice is an instrument, like the piano. And my teacher was very strict," she said then, teasing. "I sang what seemed to me entirely pointless, boring exercises for hour after hour and he was never satisfied."

"How unfair of you," Erik observed, rising from the couch and moving to stand next to Christine at the piano. "You had such potential, I merely wished to see you reach it." He rested a hand next to Christine's on the piano top, let their fingers brush together. "You exceeded my expectations many times, once you realised the necessity of the…boring exercises."

"Such high praise," she said, and she swayed a little closer to him. "Admit it, you always thought I could do more."

"No," said Erik, and for a moment he saw her as she had been ten years ago, on the stage at the Opera Populaire, singing his opera. Singing with him. "No, I have always thought your voice…perfection."

They gazed at each other for a long moment, and he only looked away when a flush rose in her cheeks and she turned back to Gustave.

"One more scale, Gustave, and then you may finish," she told him. "You've half an hour before supper, so you may play if you wish."

"I want Erik to play," said Gustave at once; Erik was pleased and flattered by the request, and he nodded agreement. "And Mother, will you sing? The songs you used to sing, before Father started to dri–" He cut himself off and Erik looked sharply at him. It wasn't the first time Gustave had cut himself off before saying something about Raoul, and Erik had growing suspicions about what the boy was concealing.

About what Christine was concealing.

Suddenly he decided he had to know; he could allow them to dance around the subject for the rest of his life, but he would always wonder, would always have that nagging thought in the back of his mind when he looked at them.

And he'd seen how stinking drunk Raoul had been, that morning before Christine's performance.

He put both hands flat on the piano and looked straight at Gustave.

"What did your father do, Gustave?" he asked quietly. He heard Christine's sharp inhalation but ignored her, kept looking at Gustave, who sat at the piano, hands still and eyes downcast. "When he was drunk," Erik continued, "what did he do?"

"Erik, don't," said Christine, and any doubts Erik had harboured fled – if there had truly been nothing, if Gustave were hesitating because he missed his father and was grief-stricken, Christine would have said something, anything, other than 'don't'.

Don't ask.

"Gustave," he said again, "what did he do?"

Gustave lifted his head, looked worriedly from Erik to Christine and back again. "Mother," he said, and now Erik did glance at her, saw her white face and large eyes and regretted that he was causing her pain in pursuit of the truth.

But there would be time for apologies later; he turned back to Gustave, knew the boy well enough by now to know it was only a matter of time before Gustave submitted and revealed all.

Gustave's shoulders sagged, his hands slipped off the piano keys and onto his knees and he bowed his head.

"He stopped Mother singing sometimes," he said, barely more than a murmur. "And I had to be very quiet. If he was drinking."

"Why?" Erik demanded ruthlessly. "Why, Gustave?"

"He didn't like it," said Gustave, an echo of things he'd said again and again over the past few days. Father didn't like it.

"Erik, enough," said Christine. Her voice was strained, she was practically shaking. "Enough," she repeated.

"Did he hurt you?" Erik demanded of her, reaching to grasp her shoulders. He didn't shake her, but he almost wanted to when she refused to answer him. "Christine!"

"Don't ask me that, Erik," she said after a long, tense moment, and Erik spun away from her, went to stand by the balcony doors, stared blindly out. He dimly heard Christine sending Gustave to his bedroom, but he focused on keeping his temper under control.

If he lost his temper now, he knew he might lose Christine. He knew his temper, knew the violence he could cause, and if Raoul had hurt Christine, had hit her…

He could not be, would not be anything like Raoul de Chagny.

"Erik," said Christine softly, by his side now, and Erik shook his head, closed his eyes.

"I cannot hear you make excuses for him," he said, forced out through gritted teeth. "Just answer me truthfully, Christine."

She sighed, touched his arm gently and he almost flinched away from her.

"Do you need to know, Erik?" she asked him. "Truly?" He made no answer – had none to give her, because perhaps she was right, perhaps he didn't need to know. But it was Christine. And Gustave – the thought of anyone raising a hand to his precious, beautiful son was almost more than he could bear.

"I won't say he didn't mean to," said Christine at last. "He was always sorry afterwards. And it wasn't often. He had a club in Paris, he used to drink there more than at home. But yes. Sometimes." Her hand dropped from his arm, she turned to stare out of the window and Erik wished he had the courage to take her into his arms. "He never touched Gustave," Christine continued then, her voice a little firmer. "Not once."

"Oh, Christine," Erik sighed, and he imagined a hundred different times when she might have interceded between her husband and her child. Then he found his courage, he turned to her and pulled her close. She came willingly, wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head against his shoulder.

"Please don't be angry, Erik," she murmured, and Erik's mouth twisted in a faint sneer. Christine still knew him well, knew the rage that was burning beneath his skin, screaming for release.

And yet there was no target for his anger: Raoul was dead. So he breathed, slow and deep, and held Christine with his arms around her waist.

She pulled away at length, tilted her head up and chastely pressed her mouth to his. He revelled in it, their bodies pressed together and her lips warm and pliant against his.

"Christine," he breathed, when at last they parted, "I love you." Her smile was brilliant, her happiness evident, and he wanted nothing more than to keep her so happy for the rest of her life. "I'm sorry," he said. "I should not have made Gustave speak."

Christine sighed, lifted a hand to her throat to play with the crucifix hanging from a chain around her neck. "Perhaps not," she agreed. "But…maybe it's better this way." She glanced at Gustave's bedroom door, shrugged a little. "Out in the open."

"I…" Erik turned away from her, felt her gaze on his white mask. "I've hurt you too." Christine didn't deny it, kept looking at him, and Erik felt compelled to continue. "My temper is perhaps one of my greatest flaws. I'm sorry for it. And for what it has caused."

"The past is gone," Christine said. "We can't change it. We can only move forward, together." She slipped her hand into his and he lifted it to press a kiss to her knuckles. "Erik…how I shall miss you. I wish we didn't have to be parted."

He sighed. "I think I'll miss you more now than I have these past ten years," he admitted, and was rewarded with a smile. It would be six months before Christine and Gustave returned to him – only six months, and she would come back, and yet it would seem an eternity when he knew that at last she would be his, at last they would be together.

"My Christine," he said, and cupped her cheek in his hand. "So beautiful." She blushed, but turned her face a little into his touch, as if she wanted more.

He wanted more.

He pulled away from her, avoided her gaze. "I'll make sure Gustave is alright," he said, and headed towards his son's bedroom door. "I thought perhaps after supper we could go up to my workroom. I have a gift to give him."

"Yes, of course," said Christine with a sigh. "That sounds wonderful."

Erik paused, glanced back at her and found her watching him with a forlorn expression. He couldn't work out what it meant, so he put it aside to think about later, and knocked on Gustave's door.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 8 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>