Welcome to the stuff that got cut out, edited out, or wasn't used at all! Some of the stuff is merely 'Wow, I'm glad I deleted this crap' stuff, while others fall into the 'Oh man, I really don't want to cut it out but I have to' category.
Alternate version of Chapter 20
This was the original version of Chapter 20 for quite a long time, and I am very, very glad it got cut out. If it had stayed I probably would have hated it later and not wanted anyone to ever read this story ever - rather like my first Bat Boy story. Anyway, it was a very climatic and action-packed chapter, but ultimately I wanted Gustave to go back to Erik of his own free will and not have the "Oh, he saved me, guess I'm going to stay with him now" mentality that pervades a lot of fiction I won't name. The only thing I slightly miss is that the idea of a fire is grounded in history; several parks did in fact have huge fires, which I researched and based Phantasma's fire on.
Also, this chapter probably explains why I, say, mentioned that the rollercoaster was being repaired (electricity) or why there were construction workers around (rebuilding the park). I also had this thing where Gustave was scarred, being more like his daddy, and mentioning said scarring throughout the rest of the story, blah blah blah symbolism... but yeah, also cut out. It's for the better, trust me.
Sometime while Gustave was thinking, one of the electrical lights suffered a malfunction. The wires and bulbs shot out small sparks of electricity, and these landed on the rickety wooden structure of the rollercoaster. It had been a particularly dry week, and the wooden boards were furthermore coated with an incredibly flammable substance. In minutes, the entire structure was aflame. The only mercy was that no one had been using it when the fire started.
The fire spread quickly, leaping from the ride to the stands, the tables, the tents…
Soon, Phantasma was engulfed.
"Oh my God! Oh my God!"
"Get out! RUN!"
Pounding of steps outside…screams…
"Water! Get some water!"
A splash. Hissing.
"It's not working!"
"It's too big!"
"Run! Run, now!"
Erik flew down the steps to the door. As soon as he flung it open he saw – his entire park aflame.
"Master!" Fleck screamed. "Fire!"
He threw her aside, already running towards the flames. "Call the police! Call the fire marshal! Promise them anything, call in any favors I am owed, but get them here!"
Fleck cried out, for he was running into the park. "Master! No! Don't go in there! You can't-!"
But he was gone.
The smoke was heavy in the air.
He ran to the rollercoaster, around a swirling ball of fire that had once been a food stand. The orange flames spat sparks out, then, as if sensing him nearby, roared towards him. He felt the heat on his skin and instinctively dived to the ground, rolling. Winded, Erik, clambered back up and continued running, though the sweat was running down his face and the heat growing ever more oppressive.
He could not even recognize his own park in the fire…
There was nobody left. He was alone.
Him and his son.
He dove through the smoke and landed in what remained of the rollercoaster. It was in ruins, aflame. The entire ride had toppled as the fire consumed its planks; there was nothing left to even suggest what it had once been.
"No…" He crawled towards it, throat hoarse from screaming. "NO! Gustave!"
He scrambled to his feet again, intending to go through the entire structure to find his son, dead or alive…his fingers were about to grasp the first piece of wood, blackened and crumbly, when he heard a scream.
He whirled around.
Gustave spun about. All around him was fire and flame, their heat searing him. He ran in one direction and was met with the thick, heavy cloth of the tent, on fire too, trapping him – he turned and ran elsewhere and was met with an inferno, a blazing wall that forced him back –
He screamed, regretting it immediately. The smoke was all around him, blinding him, burning his eyes. It roiled down his throat until it was parch, and his screams could not be heard.
He wasn't sure if he was imagining the voice or not. Again he turned, running to his left, fleeing there. At that moment, one of the poles holding the tent upright shattered. With a terrible crash the wooden bracing fell in front of him, only barely missing the boy. Wooden splinters flew through the air, disappearing into the flames.
He could not have imagined that. He turned, screaming. "Help!"
Above him the tent walls were flapping incessantly as their holdings gave way, one by one. Over the crackling, roaring flames, Gustave could hear more thunderous crashes, more creaks and slaps of the cloth against one another as the tent started to collapse….
"Gustave! Where are you?"
Gustave shouted at the top of his lungs, "I'm here! I'm here! Help-"
The tent – only one part of it – collapsed, coming down. Gustave screamed, running forward heedlessly into the flames before him…he knocked his arm against the collapsed pole and felt the fire burn through his shirt and sear his skin and his breath rip through his throat, and there was no air to breathe as he ran, but that was nothing to the agony of the flames all around him –
Then he was gloriously free, though he knew he was hurt. He could feel the slow increase of pain as his adrenaline faded –
A roaring behind him made him turn.
That was the last he heard before the tent came down upon him.
"Gustave! Gustave! Gustave!"
Erik sped through the flaming tent. He could hear the boy, so close, so nearby…
He heard something snap – a rope, he would later realize, breaking loose – and then his mind was one blank of horror as he saw the roof of the tent come down, come closer –
And then he heard a scream…
Erik would never be able to recall what happened later. He only remembered noises, flashes of images, bits and pieces of memory – the tent moving like a flag in the wind…then the wind in his ears…the smoke rising before him…
And later, innumerable seconds later, clutching Gustave to his chest.
Then there was only the stinging pain in his hands and his own forced gasping…and at last, the entrance, and the ground rushing up to meet him as he collapsed.
A cough. Erik opened his eyes.
There was a heavy weight on his chest. He shifted slightly and felt it move.
He sat up suddenly, grabbing at the boy. It was so dark. How long had he been laying here? Long enough for the fire to have gone out? No…it was still burning, in the distance. But the lights of Phantasma were out, and there were only the stars and moon to illuminate him.
"Gustave…Gustave…" Erik patted the boy's cheek. His fingers came away wet. His heart started thudding in his chest. It could not be blood… He touched again, gently, and felt peeling skin and flesh…Gustave moaned.
Burns, said Erik's coldly logical mind. He was badly burned. A doctor, he needed a doctor right now… Erik hoisted the boy up, clutching his body to himself. That one resolution was the only thought in his mind, going on an endless loop that drowned out any other coherent thoughts…
Even Coney Island had to have doctors! Erik forced his mind to think, to remember.
Yes, there was one, though he was streets away, far from the noise of Phantasma. But it would have to do. He ran, clutching the boy now. Gustave's head was on his shoulder, lolling, mouth close to his ear; every few steps Erik would feel the boy's breath on him. Sometimes he would also hear a moan.
He skidded to a halt and slammed his palm on the door, hard. When it didn't open fast enough Erik almost punched it down.
"Open up! God damn you to hell, open-!"
The door opened a crack.
"I have an injured boy!" Erik shouted, hoisting Gustave up. "He's been burned. Can you help?"
The doctor appeared at the door, holding a candle up to them. His eyes widened upon seeing the two.
"Burns, you say?" asked the doctor.
Erik growled, "Yes, burns! And God knows what else! Now stop standing there or I-"
"My apologies!" The doctor quickly stood aside, still staring at them. "It is late, that is all…I am not used to seeing patients at this hour…"
"You are a doctor, are you not?" snarled Erik, still holding Gustave. "Get used to it!"
The doctor, a stooped over man in his fifties, grunted assent. "Put him on there," he muttered, indicating a worn out old table. Erik did as told, shushing Gustave when he whimpered.
The doctor moved slowly around to get his medical bag, too slowly for Erik's comfort, who slammed the bag so hard he heard something shatter within.
"You are wasting time!" shouted Erik. "My son is wounded!"
"Learn some patience," the doctor snapped. "The boy is burned, yes, but it is, fortunately, nothing that won't heal in time." He tore open the ash-blackened shirt Gustave was wearing, then the pants. "It seems confined mostly to his left side," the doctor continued. "Above the waist, too." Gustave tried to move; Erik stopped him. The doctor examined the burns closely. In the light, Erik could finally see the extent to which they ran – most along Gustave's exposed arm and shoulder, with lighter patches on his chest, waist, neck, and face.
"They are not serious," said the doctor. "Though if you could tell me what happened…?"
Erik ground his teeth; what did it matter what the damn cause was? But he said, "Some…cloth caught on fire. It fell on him. That is all."
"Cloth?" the doctor repeated. "What do you mean-"
"I mean cloth!" Erik raged. "Now do your work and stop interfering in my business!"
"The boy's health is both our business, sir!" the doctor answered sharply. He wet some rags and placed them over the burns; from the bag he pulled out familiar white gauze bandages and started to unroll and tear off strips. "There is not much I can do. Keep him warm, covered with blankets, and feed him plenty of liquids. If he was caught in some 'cloth', as you say, then there will be no risk of smoke-"
"Smoke?" interrupted Erik. "What about the smoke?"
"He may have inhaled some. You will know when he starts coughing, bringing up phlegm." The doctor wound the bandage around Gustave's arm. "Nothing for that. Just let him bring it all up, however he wants." He tied off the bandage and snipped off another.
"Is there medicine? Anything you can give him?" asked Erik, trying to modulate his tone and failing. He himself was running frantically through all the medical treatments he had learned, and nothing, Oriental or Occidental, had ever been developed to accelerate the healing of burns.
"There is the hospital-"
"He is more likely to die in that hospital than if he were at home!" sneered Erik.
"Morphine, opium, may dull the pain-"
Erik turned away in disgust. "Addicting substances. Best think of another solution, 'doctor'."
The doctor spread his hands in deprecation, ignoring the slur. "There is really nothing else." He cleared his throat, eyes flying to Erik's face. "And it is not the boy I am worried about," he continued, tying off the last bandage. He placed some more over Gustave's face. "It is you. You are injured as well."
Erik only spared a momentary gaze at his own arms, burned as he ran through the park. "I need nothing."
The doctor followed Erik's gaze and frowned. "I can see that. I was speaking about your face." He indicated the right side of his own.
Erik's hand flew to his face. His mask was gone.
Quickly he went over the past few hours. Surely he could not have forgotten it back at the Aerie. No, he was sure he had it then… he must have lost it while searching the park. Possibly he had whisked it off in the flames, and it was gone… And how many people had seen him without it? Nobody, he thought frantically, the streets had been empty… and it didn't matter, none would connect him with Mr. Y…
"Sir?" queried the doctor. "Your face? Am I correct in assuming that it is no injury?"
Erik covered that portion, turning until the doctor could only see the good side. He had forgotten how terrible it felt, to be exposed to the world's uncaring eyes.
"Sir?" repeated the doctor.
Erik suddenly swooped down on Gustave, scooping up the boy in his arms. Holding the shaking body tightly, he strode towards the door, keeping his face in shadow.
"Thank you for the help. I will make sure you are paid."
"Sir! I do not think you should move the boy when he is so injured! Perhaps time here, or at a local hospital, would be best!"
"I will take care of the boy myself!" said Erik, not bothering to turn around. "You will receive payment in the morning. Good night!"
He flung open the door.
"Sir!" The doctor had regained his senses and was running after him. "Sir!"
Erik pulled Gustave up against his chest and disappeared into the night.
Erik was shaking by the time he reached the Aerie, not only from carrying Gustave on top of his own injuries, but from having his face seen again. It was the first time this had occurred in ten years, outside of Christine and Gustave. He hated being stared at.
The door to the tower had been left open; Erik closed it and locked it behind him, then flew up the flights of stairs. It was a relief to be back in his old home. It looked normal, unchanged since he had left it. The same could not be said of Phantasma. Erik, of course, did not give a damn about any of that.
He lay Gustave down on his bed and stood indecisively over him. The boy had fallen into a restless sleep. There were bandages running up his entire left arm and shoulder, part of his torso and neck on the same side, and over his face. He had to be in pain; he kept turning over, and Erik had to push him flat on his back, over and over.
First, he had to retrieve a mask. He could not have his son waking up and seeing his mess of a face. There was a spare in his room. Afterward he was covered, he dragged in a chair to the bedroom, trying to be as quiet, yet as fast, as possible. Even a few moments of leaving Gustave alone made his heart rate increase in fear, but he did not want to wake him either. Pulling up the chair, Erik sat down beside the bed, determined to wait out Gustave's healing.
He had forgotten about the letter.
The first week, Gustave developed a fever. His skin was so hot Erik could not stand to touch him for more than a few seconds. Gustave spent many nights moaning, tossing about. His words were incoherent, though Erik caught the words 'Mother' on many occasions. Or perhaps it was 'monster'. Erik did not care to find out.
He did as the doctor had ordered. Gustave was rarely conscious, and Erik took the few opportunities he had to force down as many liquids as possible. It was not too difficult after a while; Gustave seemed constantly thirsty and would drink almost too fast for Erik's comfort. When he could he would sometimes feed him some pieces of fruit, a bit of candy, honey; sweet things for energy.
At one point, Erik was afraid his son was dying. That day, Gustave had not moved at all, and his breathing had become quick, short gasps for breath. When Erik nervously put his fingers to the boy's chest, he had felt a heartbeat as thin and fluttering as a bird's. That night, certain his son was about to die, Erik had wrapped Gustave in a blanket and held him to his own body, waiting for the inevitable.
That was another time he would not remember too well. Perhaps it was for the best; perhaps his mind knew that if he remembered it, he would not be able to live under the strain of 'what if's' and 'what might have happened'. But he knew there was a moment when Gustave was completely still in his arms and Erik had curled over the boy and felt his mind break under the grief and the guilt.
Then he had whispered into the boy's ear, constantly, not caring what he said. It might have been a prayer, it might have been pleading, begging for forgiveness, it might have been sobs…he did not know. For hours it seemed he did only that, clutching Gustave's body to himself.
But that tenacity Gustave had shown as an infant was still with him, and he continued to cling to life. Hours passed, the boy alternately shivering and sweating in Erik's arms. Erik himself floated in a half-daze, sometimes seeing his son, sometimes seeing other things…images from the past, mostly, dreams of a future that could have been… At one point, he found himself opening his eyes suddenly. In a panic, he had checked Gustave, knowing it would be utterly fitting for his son to have died while he was sleeping, but the boy was still alive. He had promised to remain awake then…and to force himself to remain that way, he had hummed mindlessly, not caring anymore for music…
When morning broke, so did Gustave's fever.
He was still sick, but no longer so bad as the last few days. His breathing slowed, deepened, his heart rate too; his skin no longer burned, though it still felt hot. Sometimes, Erik would even see Gustave open his eyes, just a bit, before closing them again. Sometimes he even spoke. Once, Erik heard,
Erik swallowed, tried to pat the boy's sweaty hair back. "Christine – I mean, your mother…she's not here."
The boy blinked, eyes bright and glazed. "Father…"
Erik held his hand. "Your father's not here, either," he whispered.
Gustave suddenly sat up and coughed, a wet one that brought up a great deal of phlegm. Erik wiped away the mess on his son's mouth and left to get some clean sheets. Along the way, he examined the handkerchief he had used to clean up Gustave. There were many black specks in the mucus Gustave had coughed up. Erik tossed the cloth away, hearing his son coughing wetly once more. He was awoken from his naps throughout the next few days as Gustave's body fought to rid itself of the soot and ash it had accumulated.
When he returned, Gustave was feverishly crawling to the end of the bed. Erik ran the last few feet and pulled his son back from the edge.
"Gustave-!" he started to say, until the boy, using his last reserves of strength, pulled free and vomited onto the floor.
After cleaning up another mess, Erik returned with some water and an apple, carved into slices.
"Gustave…" He hesitated, unable to get a good grip on his son from the edge of the large bed, but not wanting to sit next to him either. "Gustave, have something to drink." He sat down on the bed – only to help his son – and let him take the water in little sips. Then came the apple slices, one by one, showing a patience he had never displayed except when he was teaching Christine.
"Shh…it's me, it's Erik…"
Gustave blinked at him before closing his eyes and curling up in a ball.
Another time, Gustave awoke and tried to crawl from his bed. Erik, only half-awake, almost gave himself whiplash from the speed he sat up in his chair.
"Gustave!" He scooped the boy back up and put him in bed. "Don't move. You need rest."
Gustave grabbed onto his arm and did not let go. Erik tugged at his fingers, hissing at him to release his sleeve. After some twisting, he managed to get free.
"Go to sleep, Gustave," Erik whispered. "I'll bring you some water to drink."
Gustave grunted something that sounded quite close to, "Don't want that". Erik shook his head and told himself he was imagining things. And later, Gustave did drink down the water.
It was during the second week that the fever broke. Erik felt hope flutter within his chest when he felt Gustave's forehead. But he quickly rid himself of it. The burns had yet to heal. Every day he checked the dressings and changed them when needed. Now he examined them again, ignoring Gustave's whimpers of pain. The burns were still red and blistered, but no longer looked as swollen and inflamed as before. Some patches, in fact, were healing, showing smooth new skin. It reassured him.
Near the end of the second week, Erik saw Gustave awaken fully and turn to look at him. He sat up and started to lean over, then stopped. While Gustave was unconscious, he could go about his business and pretend the mess of the last few days had not happened. But with Gustave awake, he could not forget the argument that had caused the entire ordeal.
They stared at each other for a full minute. Finally, when Erik could not stand the tension any longer, he said lamely, "You're awake."
Gustave didn't speak. He did, however, try to turn over so as to better face his father. Erik stopped him once more.
"Lie on your back," he said. "You can't move too much, or your injuries won't heal."
Gustave nodded as much as he could with a bandage on. He frowned, lifted his left hand to feel his face, then stared at his own arm, surprised at the bandages and at how stiff and painful it felt to move. Erik came around to the other side of the bed and moved his arm back down.
"Don't move too much, either," he said, feeling like he was having a conversation with a mute. "Your skin is healing, and you will irritate it if you move."
Gustave opened his mouth to speak but, after smoke inhalation and a week of unconsciousness, could not make any sound other than a croak. Looking disgusted at himself, he settled down on the bed (Erik thought he heard a sigh), and closed his eyes again.
Later, Erik returned with some water. Gustave grimaced but drank it anyway, clearing his throat a few times. About halfway through he seemed to tire of being treated like a baby, and demanded to hold it himself (through gesture, mostly). Erik ignored him and continued to treat him the same way as before, much to Gustave's displeasure.
A day later, Gustave finally spoke to him.
"I heard singing," he said weakly.
Erik gazed at him blankly. "Singing?" he repeated.
Gustave nodded. "You were." He coughed, struggling to regain his breath. Erik came over, worried, but Gustave went on, "I heard you, and I tried to listen to it more…" Another cough.
"Rest," Erik ordered, starting to put a hand on Gustave's head, then stopping himself. "We can talk later."
Gustave shook his head with as much fierceness as he could muster. "You rescued me," he said.
Erik stared at him. "Of course I did," he said slowly. "You're my son."
Only when the boy was asleep did Erik remember the letter and what Gustave had somehow tricked him into saying.
Cut out portions of Chapter 21
This is mostly Gustave recovering. It would have been spliced in with the other father-son fluffiness of Chapter 21, but obviously it wasn't, because it would have made no sense.
A day later, Gustave was sitting up in bed and eating on his own. Erik could finally leave his spot by his bed, a move he felt both worried and grateful for; his son was well enough to sleep on his own, yet like a coward he was avoiding any other awkward conversations with Gustave.
Just a day after that Gustave, bored in bed, got up left his room without Erik's knowledge. He didn't do anything terribly excited – he sat on the sofa and read a book – but when Erik found out he swept down on him, shook him, yelled at him for quite a while, then put him back in bed. Albeit with book in hand.
Of course, when that book was finished, he was crawling out, bandages and all, and going back to the bookshelf. Though the piano (somehow immune to Erik's destructive tendencies) was what really called him, he could not exactly play when an entire arm and half his face was wrapped in gauze. He could barely read as it was.
"Gustave!" He had not even made it to the bookshelf in time. Though this time it was because Erik was sitting outside, almost as if lying in wait for him. He was grabbed and put back into bed.
"But I don't have anything to do in here!" he cried as Erik tucked the covers around his body.
"I will get you another book," his father muttered, already rushing out. Gustave huffed and sat back on his pillow. His father had not said more than a few sentences to him at time, actually. He had no worries; Erik had said he was his son, and that meant he was not going anywhere. Right?
Maybe not. Erik did not think like other people. Now worried, Gustave crawled out of bed and ran back outside.
"Gustave!" Now his father was angry; Gustave could see it in every movement Erik made. Erik snapped, "I told you to stay in bed! I would get you-"
"Erik, am I going back to – to France?" Gustave interrupted.
Erik reeled back, not expecting the question. Unable to look the boy in the face, he turned around abruptly, speaking to the wall. "If – if you wish." Why would Gustave not? he thought bitterly. After all that happened, it would be surprising if he did not.
Gustave spoke to his father's back, "Do you want me to?"
Why did he insist on repeating the question? Erik wondered. He didn't answer, but moved to the piano, taking the letter.
Gustave stared at it, wondering what his father planned to do. Mail it? Rip it up?
Erik, too, was looking at it, brow creasing slightly. Gustave waited.
Making a decision, Erik kneeled next to Gustave and handed the letter to him. Gustave was so surprised, and so unsure of what to do, that he didn't take it until Erik lifted his hand for him and placed the letter between his fingers.
"This is your choice," said Erik gently. "I should not have decided without asking you. If I had known…" He let his words trail off, though the way his eyes raked over Gustave's injuries was telling enough. He sighed and went on, "I…can understand if you should…choose someplace far from here. I would not stay with me." He smiled as if it were a joke, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Your choice, Gustave." He closed Gustave's hands over the letter. "Choose wisely."
It was one of the most civil conversations they had had. But Gustave was left in a torment. Erik, thinking he could not decide if he was staring at him, walked away to the piano, playing with the keys. Gustave uncurled his fingers and held the letter up with his injured hand. Over and over Gustave read the letter, hoping to find the answer between the spidery lettering.
Go back to the man who had been his father for ten years? Or stay with his real father, who had, even at his worst, taken him in, rescued him, and cared for him? He knew that was unfair; Raoul would undoubtedly have tried to save him as well. No, he thought, Raoul would never have gotten the two of them into that sort of situation.
Erik accidentally pressed down on one of the keys, sending a note through the silence. It crystallized in Gustave's mind, freeing his thoughts. He had already decided, that terrible night his mother had died, to stay with Erik.
With his father.
He went wordlessly to Erik, who was struggling desperately to conceal his hope and his fear. Gustave hesitated; what could he say, what gesture could he do, to prove what he really felt? Realization came slowly. There was nothing he could do. Only time would prove him right.
But one gesture would be a good start.
So Gustave sat down by Erik. He placed the letter on the piano and turned it over to his own composition on the back, and started to play, clumsily and with only one hand. After a long moment, Erik placed his hand over Gustave's and stopped him. Then he played the piece himself.
It was a good moment.
A few days later, a very surprised doctor found an envelope filled with bills – not one dollar bills, either, but large denomination ones. There was no address, no letter, no indication at all of whom it came from. If it had not been nailed to the door (and how that could have happened without waking him up, the doctor did not know), the doctor would have assumed it was someone else's money they had lost.
But it was meant for him. He took it, and used the money to buy further supplies. Later, he would use these medicines to cure the son of a wealthy businessman from an unknown disease. The businessman was so grateful he offered the doctor a lucrative job, as head of a new, state-of-the-art hospital on the mainland. The doctor accepted and built the hospital into one of the best centers in the East.
A few days after the envelope was pounded onto the doctor's door, Phantasma, left alone for two weeks as smoldering wreckage, showed signs of new activity. Within a few months most of the stands and games had been put back up, their owners back as if they had never left. A few weeks after, performances resumed at both the freak show and, for the more cultured, the concert hall. A year later, all the rides had been rebuilt and construction had started once more on expanding Phantasma. The park was as it should be.
After all, Erik did not want his son to lose his inheritance.
Erik forced him to keep the bandages on for another week, even when Gustave stopped feeling any pain and started to itch instead, even when he was sure he had healed.
"May I take it off now?"
"Another day, Gustave."
"No. Be patient."
Another day passed. Gustave rubbed constantly all over, increasingly irritated by the discomfort. His father did not seem to mind when he sat by him on the sofa and fidgeted, but it annoyed Gustave more and more.
"Father!" he cried. "Please! I'm sure I'm well!"
Erik looked at him. "No, Gustave. I am your father, and I know better." He beckoned him over. "Come here and read this passage with me…"
Gustave sighed and sat down. Today, his father's distraction worked. The next day, it did not.
"Please, can I take-"
"Gustave." His father's tone was a warning. Gustave shrank back against the cushions. Seeing this, Erik sighed.
"Very well." He stood, replacing the book on the shelf. "Let me help you."
He gently pulled off the gauze taped to Gustave's face. Gustave's left eye immediately started watering; three weeks in darkness, and even the negligible light of Erik's home was too much.
"Ah…" He clasped his hand over it, feeling tears run. "It's so bright…"
Erik removed his hand. Gustave tried to keep both eyes open but the left was stinging so badly he could not help but close both of them. Hence, he did not see his father's expression.
"Are you going to unwrap my arm?" he eventually asked, puzzled by the long silence. And it was his limb which was itching the most.
He heard Erik stir slightly. "Yes. Let me…let me get my scissors." Gustave listened for his father's receding footsteps, then smiled as they drew nearer once more.
"Hold still," said Erik. He cut away at the bandages, then unwrapped them. When they were free Gustave immediately started scratching at them.
"Gustave…" Erik grabbed his hand away. "They are mostly healed, but don't irritate them, or you'll just injure yourself more." Wryly, he added, "You don't want to spend another few days under bandages, do you?"
The itch was overwhelming, a prickling all up and down his arm. But Erik, holding both his hands prisoner, was not letting go. Gustave sighed. "No, Father."
"Why are your eyes closed?"
"My eyes hurt."
A strangled laugh escaped Erik. "Well…it's for the best." He lifted Gustave's shirt and started to take off the bandages from there as well. "There now. You are free from your imprisonment."
Gustave grinned. "All healed?" His eyes remained closed.
"…Mostly. Some patches here and there…"
Gustave ventured to open one eye, and when it did not pain him, the other. He blinked several times in rapid succession, trying to get the tears away. He smiled, glancing down at his arm and waist. His father had spoken true – there were red parts all over, but he knew that they would fade in time. He was merely glad to be out of the bandages.
"Come," said Erik. "We can read, or play some proper piano…and you can try a hand at composing again…"
Gustave nodded and followed. He rubbed at his eyes and frowned slightly, feeling some bumpiness around his face. A bit of exploration with his fingers told him that it went all around the left side of his face, to his scalp almost, where some of his hair was missing, and down his neck and shoulder.
"Father?" he said. "Is there a mirror?"
Erik tensed. "A mirror? What for?"
"My face feels a little strange…"
"It is fine," answered Erik too quickly. "Do you want to try the violin? I brought-"
Gustave pulled away to the bathroom, where there was a large, full-length mirror. Erik did not try to stop him.
"Oh," said Gustave. He touched his face. There were red and pink patches on his face, looking raw and open, like scabs he had picked out and exposed the skin out too early.
Erik came up behind him. "It will heal," he said quietly. "They will go away and no one will notice them, or even know they were there."
Gustave took his father's hand. When he thought of Erik, he knew he had nothing to complain about. And as Erik had said, these were temporary. He looked down at the ones on his arms. They looked worse – mottled red and brown, bumpy scars – but those could be covered.
Now he understood, if only on a small level, how his father felt, had felt, for every day of his existence. And he knew also that it was only Erik who could really understand what he was undergoing.
Gustave pulled at his father's sleeve until he was kneeling down beside him, then pulled off the mask.
"We look the same, now," said Gustave. He knew they didn't, he knew they were very differing levels of deformities – but the emotion behind it was what was truly important.
Erik held him, understanding. "We do."
Deleted Chapter, formerly Chapter 22
This chapter was meant to show just how the other people who knew Christine were recovering, show Gustave and Erik coming to pay their respects at Christine's grave, and show some of Gustave's reactions to his father's old lair in the opera house (I happily admit that I failed at the last part). But there was too much conflict in the last portion for a chapter meant to show a winding down of action, and it just felt like I was dragging on the epilogue too long.
The only part I miss was, as I said, the first portion at the graveyard, particularly with Raoul, Meg, and Madame Giry. Poor people; they're either greedy bastards and prostitutes or cut out entirely.
The wind blew light feathers of snow over the ground. The white flakes were barely visible against the gray, overcast sky.
Raoul thought that it befit his mood.
The wind tugged at the bouquet of flowers at his feet, threatening, but not quite managing, to scatter the flowers from their wrappings. He did not think he would ever find the energy to move them back if they should do so.
He heard a light step behind him, then saw a flash of curly blonde hair hidden beneath a dark hood. Meg Giry looked at him from out of tear-filled eyes. Joining her was her mother, in her usual black attire.
Meg offered her hand to Raoul, who stared at it before deliberately refusing it. She let her hand drop.
"It was my fault," Raoul whispered.
She looked stricken with grief. "Monsieur, do not blame yourself. No good will come of it."
He shook his head, though her reassurances touched him the way his own family could not. But they had never approved of his marriage, and every time they murmured their comforts he could see a gleam of triumph masked within. None knew how exactly Christine had died except for Meg and Madame Giry, but he knew his family suspected only the most sordid of tales.
They would not be far off, either.
He had come back to France with the body of the greatest soprano of the century in his arms, and laid her to rest in a private funeral. There had been few visitors and little that was grand or pretentious about it. Christine would not have liked that.
Beside her grave was a worn down, much smaller stone – that of her father. Raoul picked a flower and placed it before the grave as well, glad that the name was too worn down to make out. He did not want to think of the other member of his family, one whose fate remained unknown to him.
"Come with me, Monsieur," Madame Giry said behind him. She gestured to her daughter, who took Raoul's arm in her own light grip. "You have spent far too much time locked within your own home. It is time you had some company."
"I don't-" he started to protest.
"Company with those who knew Christine well," finished Madame Giry.
Meg offered a watery smile. "Please, Monsieur le Vicomte." She touched Raoul's shoulder. "It was not your fault."
She wondered why she was no weeping with the Vicomte. Christine had been her best friend, had danced and giggled and whispered stories with her in the Paris Opera House. Perhaps her tears were too frozen, numbed within herself. It still seemed surreal. A few weeks ago she had bid Christine goodbye, had watched her leave for America. Then, little more than a week later, the Vicomte was back, his son gone and Christine in his arms, dead of a gunshot wound he had proclaimed was his own…
Only her mother seemed unaffected, except for a few more lines around her eyes and mouth. Her mother had been the one to pull together a funeral, to force the Vicomte into attending, and to harry and encourage and force the two of them – Raoul and Meg – from their grief/
Raoul shook off Meg's comforting hand. "I killed-"
"It was an accident," Meg whispered, feeling tears slide down her cheeks.
"I brought her-" he insisted.
"She agreed to be brought there," interrupted Madame Giry. "And you agreed too…. And Erik's letter brought all of you there… and we can go on and on. What is done is done. We have to pick up the pieces and keep on living."
Raoul felt rage simmering within him. "Live for what?" he snapped. "My wife is dead… and my… my… Gustave… is no longer here…"
Meg led him away, flicking the snow from his sleeves. "Live for the rest of your family," she said quietly. "Live for your son."
"He was your son for ten years," said Madame Giry before Raoul could interrupt again. "Do not forget him. You raised the boy, shaped him, helped him. Live because he is with someone who loves him as much as you did, and live because that person too may die before Gustave is grown."
That was the only mention of Erik they made.
Raoul did not respond, but allowed them to lead him from the cemetery and to their own small home.
As they left, Madame Giry noticed a flicker of movement. She turned her head slightly, giving no indication that anything was out of the ordinary. Then she gave only the briefest of nods before leaving.
Silence swept over the cemetery. The wind had stopped, allowing the snow to fall gently down, settling on the stones, the ground, the flowers of the bereaved.
From out of the shadows stepped a man and a boy.
Erik gripped Gustave's shoulder tightly as they walked to Christine's grave. He held nothing; it was his son who placed the single red rose on her grave and stood, clutching his father's hand equally hard.
She had given him a voice for his music, a transcendent love, a reason for being. For one terrible moment he wished it was he lying in the earth and not her, for surely a woman such as her, who had done so much good and who had held love for even the most wretched of beings, did not deserve to die.
Gustave grabbed his father's arm and leaned into his body, wiping away his tears quickly. Erik bent down and silently handed the boy a handkerchief. When Gustave mumbled a refusal he sighed, and cleaned off Gustave's face himself.
It felt so terribly wrong, not to be close to this one final piece of Christine, to leave only a single rose as a parting gift.
He knelt down, then, pulling off the ring he had worn, had continued to wear for the last ten years, and placed it on the grave.
Gustave stared at it, then looked back at his father. "What are you doing?"
Erik stood, not answering. Gustave rushed to the grave and picked up the ring, holding it out to him.
"Keep it," he pleaded. "Mother would want you to keep it."
Christine had left him with her own parting gift.
He took it, placed it back on his hand, then cupped Gustave's cheek in his own hand.
"Come," he said at last. "I want to make one last journey."
The Paris Opera House was not as Erik remembered it. After the fire it had been rebuilt, with subtle changes that only he, who had wandered its hallways for so long, could notice.
"The Opera House?" queried Gustave, staring up at its ornate decorations. "Why are we here?"
Erik sidestepped the question: "Have you been here before?" he asked instead.
Gustave nodded. "Mother and Fa-Raoul took me." He started for the front door and was promptly jerked back.
"We are not going through the front entrance," said Erik, leading him around. It had been ten years, but he doubted the legends of the masked Phantom had died down. No doubt they were still being told to frighten young ballet rats.
"Where are we going?" panted Gustave, rushing to keep up with his father.
Erik slowed down slightly and answered, "To the back. I know of another entrance." A pause. "I used it when I was about your age."
Gustave followed in increasing amazement as Erik led him to a grate which opened on shrill hinges, past what looked like a small chapel, and through a piece of wall which moved back when he pressed a certain brick. When it had closed behind him, trapping the stale air within, Erik laid a hand on Gustave's shoulder and said, "Stay here. I will be back shortly."
And before Gustave could voice any thought he was off. The boy stood in stunned shock, then cried "No!" and went dashing after him.
Erik whirled around. "Gustave!"
"I want to come!"
"You most certainly cannot come here!"
"This is a dangerous area!" replied Erik furiously. "It is full of traps and other dangers!"
"But what if you get into trouble?"
Erik just stared at him. Having someone concerned for his well-being was still new to him; having that someone be his ten-year-old son was unnerving. Regaining his voice, he said, "I can take care of myself. I know this place well." I designed it was his unspoken (and rather grumpy) thought.
"But…" Gustave did not voice his thought – that he was frightened of being in the dark, echoing chambers of the opera house, that he did not want to be alone. He could not say it, not in front of his father.
But Erik seemed to guess it anyway. Something in him softened, at least, for he said, "Very well, you may accompany me, but only until we reach the edge of the lake."
Erik took his arm and led him through a maze of passages and corridors, hidden corners and rooms; then they were through a hidden panel and going down a long flight of stairs.
"Be careful," cautioned Erik. "Follow only in my footsteps."
Gustave looked down and crashed into the wall. Erik sighed and simply picked up the boy.
"I can walk!" cried Gustave, struggling. Erik lurched dangerously close to the edge of the steps, and though there was a thick foot of wall separating the two from the long fall below, Gustave did catch a glimpse of the darkness. He screamed.
"Stop moving!" Erik snarled, trying to keep hold of the wildly flailing boy. "Stop – Gustave – STOP!" He held the boy out so that Gustave was kicking in the air and not at his ribs or other tender parts. "Gustave!" he thundered. "Stop struggling and let me explain!"
Gustave went limp, eyes wide.
Erik released a breath he had not realized he was holding. "All right. It is a long way down," he silenced Gustave's squeak with his hand, "and there are many of my own little tricks along the way – which is why you should have stayed above – but if you let me hold you and stop moving so damn much then we can move through here safely, is that clear?"
Gustave nodded, body shaking in Erik's arms from the force.
"Good." Erik held him closer, noting his son's weight. It would be difficult maneuvering through his catacombs with a ten-year-old boy in his arms.
"I am leaving you by the edge of the lake," he said, making his way down the stairs with careful steps. "And you will stay there."
Gustave didn't answer.
When they entered more level ground, Erik put his son down. Once he had torches illuminating the way; they had been long put out, and they went through in pitch darkness. With Gustave's hand firmly in his, he led the way, feeling the rough edges of the wall to find his way through.
"Don't let go of me, Gustave. There will be light in a few moments."
"Parts of this place are falling apart. They will be open to the daylight."
Sure enough they started seeing dappled patches of clouded sky overhead, providing brief, wondering flickers of illumination. Gustave could sometimes make out, in the gloom, brackets that may once have held torches, now long since gone out.
"Here we are." Erik stopped. He shuffled around, then hit a switch. With a vast creaking ache the tunnels were lit up as lights emerged from out of the walls, flames shivering violently.
"I am surprised these are still working," Erik murmured, letting go of Gustave's hand and looking around with an air of discontent. "Still, I did design them to last…"
He moved around, and only then did Gustave see the water's edge but a few inches from his feet. He gasped in wonder as he observed the long passages of water ahead of him, turning around a corner.
"I had a gondola, but I'm sure that is gone," continued Erik. Without hesitation he leaped into the water, and when the splashing had subsided Gustave could see that it was not deep, perhaps chest-high for Erik.
"Stay here," his father ordered, then continued on.
Gustave yelped "No!" and leaped in after.
Erik turned and shouted, "GUSTAVE!" Quicker than Gustave thought any man could move in water his father was diving on him; both went under the water and bobbed back up in time for Gustave to see what looked like an explosion in the place where he had just been standing. That terror was soon forgotten when Erik's looming form hurled Gustave bodily onto land, both soaking wet.
Gustave crawled back, terrified and spitting up lake water.
"I told you to stay!" roared Erik; the whiplike motion of his arm sent drops spraying over his son. "I told you to stay on land. To stay behind! Why didn't you listen?"
"No!" Erik grabbed the front of his son's shirt. "When I tell you to do something, you obey, do you hear me?" He shook his son and then flung him back. "Well, do you?"
Gustave started to cry, curling against the wall in terror. Erik yelled something best drowned out by his own echoes, then flung himself about and kicked at the ledges hanging over the water. A stone flew loose and rapped against the opposite walls, then plopped into the water.
Gustave continued to cry as his father, back to him, stared into the distance, shoulders heaving. After a moment, he saw Erik's head turn slightly towards him. This tiny movement alone forced Gustave to speak.
"F-F-Father?" He heard Erik sigh and gulped back his tears. "I – I'll stay. Really." He wiped at his face. Erik didn't move, except to drop his head. "I'm sorry I went after you…"
Erik's sigh seemed to echo all the way down the lake. He turned and heaved himself onto dry land, dripping water. "Gustave…"
Seeing he was forgiven – or at least not being screamed at – Gustave huddled next to his father, not minding the cold or the dampness of Erik's shirt.
"I just want to be with you," he said miserably.
"Why?" asked Erik in frustration. "This is no place for a child. And I would not be gone long."
Gustave did not answer. There were no words for this strange fear that seemed larger and more nebulous, more dangerous, than his fear of drowning. All he knew was that he wanted to be with Erik all the time, that he wanted his father within sight or hearing, that he did not want to be alone.
But… "I'll stay. I can stay." He tugged at his father's sleeve. "Don't be gone too long, all right?"
Erik looked at him, then into the watery hallways. He slipped into the water and managed to move a few feet ahead before Gustave saw him stop and groan.
"All right! Come over here – not into the water, over there!" He jerked his hand to Gustave's left. "Good. Now hold still – hold still, do you hear? – and let me help you."
He lifted Gustave into the air and deposited him on the dry ledge hanging over the water. It was so narrow Gustave had to cling to his father's shoulder to balance and walk on it, bent over almost sideways. When he took a hesitant step it was to almost slip off the mossy stones.
"Careful!" Erik pushed him back up, gripping his side so that Gustave could stand properly. "Now, just follow me. Let me lead."
"I can come with you?"
"Yes, what do you think you're doing on there? But don't go on ahead! I have nasty tricks planted into these walls-"
Gustave asked, "Why don't you let me go on the other side?"
Erik answered, "Because there are even more traps there."
"Why are there less here?"
"The ones here are more dangerous." Erik started to walk, holding his son upright. It was a slow journey through the lair, with only the sloshing of the water and the dripping from the walls making any noise. Many times Gustave had to duck slightly to avoid hitting the torches. Sometimes Erik would let go of Gustave and walk around a certain area, avoiding a spot. Other times he would, without explanation, lift his son from the ledge and hold him for a period of time.
"We're here," Erik said at last. He placed Gustave on yet another ledge and disappeared briefly, giving the boy time to examine the looming gate, encrusted with dried seaweed and various other underwater creatures. Beyond that he could see nothing.
With a groan the gate lifted, protesting loudly all the way with a series of creaks and screeching of metal against stone. Erik emerged and picked up his son again. As they entered the cavern, candles rose out of the lake bottom and lit up, sending a dull orange light everywhere.
"I am amazed these still work," commented Erik, dropping Gustave on dry land at last while looking at the candles. "Ten years is a long time."
Gustave shook the water from his pants and scampered to the top of the overhanging ledge. "What is this place?"
"My lair." His tone was brusque, and Gustave knew well enough to let alone. He merely followed his father about as Erik examined metal candle holders, papers scattered along the floor that were wet from the lake air and overgrown with moss, shattered mirrors, and a ruined organ.
"Father?" Gustave said tentatively into the silence. "What do you mean by' your lair'?"
"Not now, Gustave," was Erik's short answer. He let his fingers run down the keys of the organ. The ivory pieces were broken, or otherwise smudged with dirt and dust. He did not know himself why he had bothered to make the long journey down. Perhaps to see what remained. Perhaps to see what had changed. But the truest part was his hope, that if he stayed long enough, held all the sights and sounds and senses of his old realm within his mind and simply did not let go, he might go back to another time… before Coney Isle… before Don Juan, before the chandelier, before the unmasking… to when Christine was still alive, still with years ahead of her, and only wandering curiously around his lair.
Erik sighed and turned away, stopping when he saw his son. His hand drifted over Gustave's wet hair, but did not make contact.
"Let's go," he said at last, dropping his arm. "There's nothing here." There never had been.
Gustave gripped onto his father's shoulders as Erik lifted him up and they started the long journey back. Uncomfortable with the silence, with his father's constant brooding, he asked, "Why did we go there?" He frowned. "Did you live there? You said it was yours, right?"
"Yes. It was my home for… a long time."
Gustave peered around further, craning his neck over his father's back to get one last view of the lair. Ruined, shattered, almost devoid of its past magnificence, yet Gustave could still see some remnants of beauty, some sign that his father had made the place and lived there.
As they walked back, Gustave felt a drop of water splash onto his face. Erik snorted but looked otherwise the same when Gustave turned to glare at him.
"Father? This is below the Opera House, right?"
"Mother used to live here, didn't she?"
"So…" He struggled to put it together. "Did she meet you, here? Did you meet her here?"
Silence. Eventually, "Yes."
Gustave's initial excitement – at his working it out, at Erik's confirmation – quickly burst at the short answer. Knowing he was treading on dangerous ground, he asked, "What happened?" Quickly, for explanation, he said, "I asked, but she never said…and now…I can't…"
Erik was silent for a long time. Only the sloshing of water, the dripping of the walls, could be heard. Gustave thought that his father would never answer, until he said,
"I heard her singing, once. She had a friend, a ballet rat, urging her on. She sang and…" He sighed, closing his eyes in wonderment at the mere memory of that beloved voice. "…and it was breathtaking. Untrained, but so much potential."
He paused, lifted Gustave from the ledge, and continued on in silence until he had reached a safer area. Depositing the boy once more, he continued, "And then I taught her."
"She said she had a good teacher," said Gustave tentatively. "Once, I asked her where she had learned to sing… and she said her teacher had taught her in only a few months."
Gustave waited, but his father did not continue. He worked up his courage once more to ask, "And then what happened? Mother said she sang when the old singer left."
Erik's lip quirked slightly. "Left. You could say that…"
"And?" prompted Gustave.
"And I was proud of her… very proud… but then…"
Erik turned away. "I brought her down here."
Gustave smiled. Was that how his parents had fallen in love? He guessed as much. He had seen the splendor of Erik's lair even in its state of disrepair, and he couldn't imagine his mother being anything other than overcome by the place, by his father, in its full glory.
But… he remembered Raoul. His mother surely could not have been in love with Erik if she had stayed with Raoul. And then he looked at Erik, whose face remained hidden in darkness so that only the mask gleamed back at him… and he thought of himself. And it came together.
"Mother saw your face, didn't she?"
Erik's silence was enough of an answer.
"I'm sorry," he said lamely.
Erik twisted around to look at him. "There is nothing for you to be sorry about," he snapped. Turning his attention back to the water, he murmured, "It's in the past. It's best not to think of it."
Gustave hopped over a protruding stone. "But she loved you anyway, right?"
"She did…she did…
They had reached the end. Erik helped Gustave onto the stairway, the pair making their way back to the surface.
He searched Erik's face. "Can you tell me what happened? All of it?"
Erik's expression closed. "No. Not today."
Gustave was disappointed, but not surprised. "Why not?"
"It is not a happy story."
They stopped halfway through when Gustave had to catch his breath. Erik walked the steps with his usual smooth, long strides, but Gustave was half climbing the steep stairs, panting as he tried to keep up with his father. Oftentimes Erik would pause and wait, or reach out a helping hand where the stones had crumbled or were particularly high, but despite this Gustave was quite fatigued and more than willing to sit down.
"Father?" he said between gasps. "Why – why did you want to come here?"
Erik leaned back against the steps, looking up at the circling stairs. He said, "Memories."
"Yes…and more…" He rubbed the left side of his face jerkily. "To see how much had changed… how much had stayed the same…"
"Alone." Erik was talking to himself. "Nobody there…as always. Nothing remains…"
Gustave moved closer. "What about changes?"
Erik started back at his voice, then looked down at his son. He smiled ever so slightly. "A few…" He touched Gustave's face. "A little." As if feeling uncomfortable being so affectionate, he stood, brushing the dirt from his clothing. "Are you rested?"
Gustave wasn't, but he didn't want to admit it. "Yes."
Erik looked him over critically. "You are not. Come here." He scooped him up. Gustave pulled away.
"Put me down!"
"You are tired."
"I'm not! I can walk!" He struggled, though not so hard that he might rock Erik and knock them both into the lake far below. "Put me down, right now! I'm not a child!"
"You are to me," said Erik, shifting the boy over. Gustave huffed indignantly. Erik looked at his irritated face and said pleadingly, "Gustave, let me do this for once. I missed ten years of your life. All right?"
Gustave grouched and struggled and moped and felt horribly small and embarrassed, but he let him. He spent the rest of his time in the opera house resting in his father's arms. Only when they reached the surface, and a sun setting beyond the horizon, Erik let Gustave free. The boy scampered around, shaking off the feeling of pins and needles from his legs.
"Are we going to leave?" he asked mournfully. France felt familiar; it had been home for ten years, and he could not resist the urge to look longingly towards the direction of the de Chagny estate. Once they left Paris, left the opera house and his mother and grandfather's grave behind, he could not come back. In a way, it was as momentous as when he had held that letter and decided to stay in Coney Island.
Erik stepped behind him. "Yes. France is not my home." He did not say 'not your home'; he knew what his son was thinking. And Gustave knew that if he should decide to go running back to Raoul, even now, Erik would not stop him. He could see, from his father's perfectly calm demeanor, that he still expected the boy to leave.
He took Erik's hand then. "All right. When will we leave?"
Erik looked down at him, and months of living with Erik, with his mercurial temper and sudden changes in mood, were enough to detect a slight softening, a concealed relief that Gustave still chose to remain with him.
"Whenever you like, Gustave. Whenever you like."
Gustave smiled and ran to him, grabbing his hand. "Tomorrow? The day after?"
And there we have it.
Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed, both here and on other sites. This really was my first story in a fandom that has many incredibly devoted fans, so it was a little scary - would it fulfill expectations, or would it bring them crashing down?
I want to say that this is not my last story in LND or POTO, but I have a bad habit about keeping promises like that. I'll simply say that I have a bunch of ideas in both fandoms, and I hope that I'll be posting new stuff soon.
And since it is the final two chapters, please review! And thanks again for reading!