Summary: What if the Phantom (Erik) hadn't guessed that Gustave was his son?

Christine stared at the man before her, not knowing what to say. She didn't trust her own ears - this man, who had claimed to love her only moments before, now tried to blackmail her into singing for him. He threatened that her son would "disappear" on Coney Island, if she wouldn't sing. How could he? If he loved her, how could he blackmail her like this?

It had never occured to her that the Phantom would commit such a crime. She scolded herself for being so very naive. She had seen the Phantom of the Opera kill, he had killed Buquet, he had killed Piangi - even if Christine learned about that only later - and he had made the chandelier crash, killing and injuring more people. He had kidnapped and blackmailed her before.

Why had she ever thought she could love this man?

She pitied him, pitied him for all he had to endure just because of his face. At least she had thought that, had believed him. He had not hurt her badly, when she had been afraid he might rape her, he had not done that, he seemed to have absolutely no interest in raping her, he wanted love, not sexual gratification. When he finally set her free even after she told him that she would stay with him - not really out of choice, she had done so to save Raoul's life - she thought that she loved him, the Phantom. That he was capable of being a good man, of true love, of sacrificing his own happiness for her's.

And now that. Now he stood there, claiming to be her "Angel of Music" and at the same time threatening to kidnap and most likely kill her son. Was this his way of expressing his love? Taking a hostage, making it quite clear he was willing and capable to kill, if she didn't obey his commands? Did he realize the irony?

She wanted to tell him that she hated him, that she despised him and that he deserved to rot in hell and she'd be glad to send him there, but she did not dare. What would he do? She knew what he had been capable of when someone did not obey his commands. People died. Here on Coney Island he didn't even have to hide himself. He could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. The Phantom had left the dark hidden corridors and walked around at daytime without any restrictions. He had many people on his payroll to do his bidding.

What could she possibly do? Tell him that she wouldn't allow him to blackmail her? How could she protect her son then? The tall man was so much stronger than her, he could just strike her down and take the child. Raoul wasn't there to help her, but she doubted her husband would have any better chance now than he had back then. Raoul was brave, but unfortunately terribly untrained when it came to actual fighting. He would end up with a noose around his neck again and the Phantom would have two hostages instead of one.

Better not to anger the madman. If she wanted them to survive this ordeal she had to pacify him, do what he asked.

"What do you want me to sing?" She was quite sure he wouldn't ask her for something less than what he considered perfect music.

He handed her a score and told her he wrote that song for her, he offered double the money Hammerstein would pay her for singing in an opera for just one song. When he called the offer a princely fee he was correct - she doubted any primadonna ever got so much money for just one song. But was that all? Just one song? This couldn't be. Why would he go through so much trouble and even blackmail her like this when he just wanted one song? If he had simply written a letter that Mr. Y asked her to sing one song and offered so much money she wouldn't have said no, especially when she was in New York anyways. She would have learned the song and come to Coney Island for one performance. Why didn't he do it like this? Why? What did he really want?

Christine stared at the score with a dreadful sense of deja-vu. The Phantom had asked her to sing Aminta in his Don Juan, he hadn't asked more than just that she sang, to make her career progress. But in truth he had planned from the beginning to kidnap her and blackmail her into - what exactly? Marrying him? He hadn't even asked that. He had told her that he wanted her at his side for the rest of their lives. Whatever that meant.

What was he planning now? Another abduction? There was no need, all of Phantasma was his secret lair, there was no need to kidnap her, he already had her, she realized with dread, her, her son, her husband. He already had all three of them.

"Will you let us leave then?" she asked, not knowing if he would tell her the truth. He had told so many lies before.

"Of course. I just want to hear you sing this one song, then I will pay your fee and you and your family are free to go. I will have a formal contract signed tomorrow with your husband, to make sure everything is legally binding and all obligations are quite clear and agreed on in detail."

He sounded formal, business-like but she didn't believe his act. How could he go from a lovesick pitiful admirer to a cruel ruthless extortionist and then to an honorable businessman in mere moments? What was an act, what was real?

The Phantom vanished silently as was his habit. Some things never change, Christine mused.

Shortly after that Raoul came back to their suite, angry that Hammerstein hadn't been there to meet him, hadn't send a message and no one in the bar knew anything about Hammerstein.

"Raoul, we have to talk," Christine told him, "Mr. Y has made an offer, paying double what Hammerstein would pay for just one song. He will have the contracts ready by tomorrow, if you agree?"

"Double?" Raoul could barely believe what he was told, "He must be mad. So much money for one song! Well, who am I to complain about that? I will accept that."

It was a contract like so many others Raoul had read and seen in the past. There was Mr. Y's lawyer who had written the contract and he had made sure to have a translator there so Raoul would not be able to claim he hadn't understood the text before signing. The text was in several languages, English, French, Italian, German. Obviously Mr. Y hired people from all over the world and had a standard contract where he just had to fill in the names, the fee and what exactly they would be doing and for how long. The contract wasn't so different from the usual contract he signed for concert halls and opera houses.

Name: Christine de Chagny nee Daae, one aria, the date of her performance, the fee - Raoul checked that several times, but the number was correct and it was written out too to prevent forgery - and under "special agreement" there was that Christine would be allowed to keep the costume and the jewelry she was to wear for the performance, that she and her family would have free board and lodging at the hotel and could use every attraction in the amusement park for free, except certain named ones Raoul didn't even know what that might be. Raoul was quite sure that the jewelry would be cut glass.

The translator informed him that these not-for-free attractions were nothing were honest men, women or children should ever go. This was of course agreeable.

There was a penalty clause. Should Christine fail to fulfill the contract, she would not only not get any payment but she would have to pay precisely the same sum as her fee would be. There Raoul insisted upon an additional agreement: He would only accept this penalty clause if it was restricted to deliberately breaching the contract. Should she not be able to sing due to something that wasn't her fault - like illness - there wouldn't be a penalty but she would get another chance to fulfill the contract. The lawyer left the room, obviously to talk to Mr. Y, and soon came back to write down this agreement.

To Raoul the contract - and Mr. Y's willingness to bargain and accept reasonable clauses - was nothing to worry about. Mr. Y just seemed like an eccentic rich man to him who used his money to get what he wanted. And since Christine wasn't available for vaudeville shows it was reasonable that Mr. Y would have to pay an exorbitant price for a singer of her class to even set a foot in a vaudeville show.

When Raoul learned who Mr. Y really was, he was furious. He had to talk with his wife in private and reproached her for not telling him. He was sure she had known all along who Mr. Y was.

Christine told him the truth - yes, she had known, but only last evening when he came to their suite. She confessed to Raoul that she had recognized him immediately - well, who wouldn't? - and that she had promised to sing for him only after he threatened to kidnap their son Gustave. When she learned that the Phantom only wanted her to sing one song and then they would be free to leave she had agreed.

"Stupid!" Raoul yelled at her, "Why didn't you tell me? I would never have signed this damnable contract!"

"And risk him kidnapping our son? Raoul, please, be reasonable. If all he asks is one song and he is even willing to pay for it, I don't think it is worth the fight. Please. Don't risk provoking him!"

Raoul barked a laugh. "Or what? He won't crash a chandelier in his own theater!"

Christine shook her head. "I don't know what he is capable of. I really don't know and I do not want to know. Just... let me sing for him. One song and then we leave Coney Island, go to Hammerstein and I sing in his opera house too and we leave New York."

"Are you sure he will be contend with just one song?" Raoul asked, suspecting foul play from his old adversary. Why would a man like the Phantom, Mr. Y or whatever he called himself now, go through so much trouble just he hear Christine sing one song? Surely he could just buy a box in Hammerstein's opera if all he wanted was to hear her sing. This would be by far easier and cheaper. No, there must be some scheme he, Raoul, failed to see now, but there just had to be something. But since he didn't know, how could he possibly hope to counter it?

Madame Giry burst into Mr. Y's office with an enraged cry: "Are you mad?"

The masked man looked up from his desk. "Do you really expect me to answer this?" he asked coldly. He knew that the more the woman showed her temper - and o, she had a temper, he knew by now that her temper was sometimes worse than his own - he better stayed calm and composed because that angered her even more than if he yelled back.

Madame Giry sank into a chair uninvited. "You can't be seriously offering her that much for just one song! Are you utterly crazy? The show and her singing won't bring in the money she costs! You can't afford that!"

"Since when are you my bookkeeper?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Erik, you know that we are barely even and there are still investors to refund."

"I am aware of that but not one of these debts is due this year."

"Even if they are due in two or three years we need to put money away or we won't have it then when it comes due."

Erik sighed. Why did Giry always treat him like a child? Of course he knew that. But he didn't care much. He barely survived one day now, he didn't even dare to think of months or worse, years. Living from one day to another was all he was capable of for now - he had survived ten years like this and wouldn't change that. This was his chance to get his Christine back, he wouldn't give up on that for saving some money for problems this old hag was seeing in her paranoia. He had forbidden himself to think of problems that might or might not be real, he had enough to do dealing with imminent troubles and there were plenty. His first priority was to get Christine to stay with him, everything else was utterly insignificant compared to this one goal. "You have absolutely no idea what this is about!" he snapped, "So go back to your dancing girls and make them look good for the evening. Leave the important tasks to me. I know what I am doing."

It was astonishingly easy for the trio - Fleck, Squelch and Gangle - to fetch Gustave. The boy sat bored in the hotel lobby, knowing his parents were quarreling again and wanted him out of the way. They usually tried to keep their fights secret from him, but he knew. They were fighting more often in the last months, even if Gustave had no idea they were doing that. They just had to tell the boy that Mr. Y was now ready to give him the promised tour of Phantasma and Gustave followed them. The boy didn't show much enthusiasm, he looked rather sad. Gustave knew that Mr. Y had promised to show the park and his mother had agreed, so he didn't think much when someone came to get him, he was just disappointed that it wouldn't be the magician himself - whom his mother called her friend - but his servants to show him everything.

"Don't worry, Mr. Y will give you a personal tour," Squelch promised as they led him towards a building close to the hotel, where the quieter area of the park was. There was a large office building and several blocks of flats housing the employees. They led the boy into the office building, which was as normal and boring as any other office building. Only the large elevator caught his interest because it announed each floor with a short melody. Gustave had seen elevators before so that was nothing new in itself, but the little melodies fascinated him.

When he went into Mr. Y's office the first thing he noticed was the grand piano. He hadn't expected a piano in an office. The rest of the office was disappointingly boring. He had expected a magician to have a special office, something like an alchemist's grotto. And Mr. Y wasn't experimenting with interesting chemicals or automatons but reading normal paperwork. "Just a moment, young Vicomte, I need to finish this," Mr. Y said politely.

Gustave sat at the piano. "May I?"

"Do you play?" Mr. Y didn't even look up.

"Yes, but... usually Father doesn't want me to because he has a headache."

"Go ahead," Erik told the child, wondering if he too would have a headache soon. A child this age wouldn't be able to play good. Erik was surprised when he heared the boy playing rather well for a child his age. He got up from his place behind the desk and sat on the piano bench beside the boy. "Talented like your mother," he told Gustave.

"Yes..." the boy didn't stop playing, "That's what father says. I don't understand why he only wants me to play when he is not at home. But he always says he's got headache. Mr. Y, do you think his headaches cause him and mother to quarrel so much?"

Erik picked up his ears. This was interesting information. From what he had learned the de Chagnys were the perfect family, but obviously under that facade they had troubles they managed to keep secret. "Pain might cause people to be cranky," Erik replied, watching how the boy automatically continued playing despite them having a conversation. This was rare. Usually having smalltalk caused even good pianists to interrupt their playing. "Ready for the tour?"

Gustave enjoyed the tour very much - which ten years old boy wouldn't? Mr. Y - by now allowing the boy to call him "Uncle Erik" - showed him everything, allowed him to use everything as much as the boy liked and accomanied him in everything, especially in the tunnel of horrors or the rollercoster which weren't allowed for children that age. But with Mr. Y sitting next to Gustave or directly behind him the boy could do everything.

The boy had no idea his parents were frantically searching for him as he finally began to grow tired. Erik decided to take the boy with him to his penthouse on top of the appartement building to invite him to eat with him. It wasn't easy to persuade the boy who wanted his mother now that he was finally showing few signs of growing tired. "Don't you want spun sugar with me in my roofgarden? Do you want to see my aquarium? I have some paradise fish in the most interesting colors."

Raoul and Christine frantically asked where their child Gustave was and soon got the impression that the helpful employees surely must have been instructed to avoid answering. Christine spoke not much English, Raoul's English was very good, but it was tiresome to give the same description of their son again and again and employees telling them that there were hundreds of boys who matched their description and the boy might just be here or there enjoying himself.

Christine berated Raoul for signing a contract that would legally allow the boy to enjoy the park as much as he wanted for free otherwise Gustave would have had to return to the hotel as soon as he ran out of money and when they finally learned that a boy had been seen in the company of Mr. Y himself, Raoul blamed his wife for allowing that. Of course the naive boy went with Mr. Y if Christine introduced him as her friend! Gustave was used to being with friends of the family! The phrase they used most that time was "how could you...?" until they split up, not wanting to fight in public.

Erik nearly fell asleep on his couch as Gustave sat on the floor with his spun sugar, watching the fish in the aquarium. Erik's idea had been to wear the boy down and right now he found himself close to passing out while the child showed only mild signs of fatigue. The boy would easily go on like that for another two hours - Erik knew he himself certainly wouldn't. The only alternative he saw now was to give the boy a mild sleeping drug or the child would soon demand to go to his parents again. Especially when Gustave felt tired. Erik got to his feet with a groan. "You want something to drink?" he asked, knowing the sweets would make the boy thirsty.

Gustave nodded. He still sat on the carpet, his sticky fingers smearing the expensive fabric. It would be difficult to clean and maybe Erik would have to replace the carpet, but he didn't care about that as he went to the kitchen to fetch some orange juice and mixed a mild sleeping drug into it.

Gustave didn't think anything bad when "Uncle Erik" came back with two glasses of orange juice and handed him one. He just drank it. "You didn't show me any magic today," the boy complained, "You are a magician, aren't you?"

"Tomorrow," Erik promised wearily, "Today I just wanted to give you this tour. Tomorrow I show you some magic." This boy's stamina was remarkable, even if he was a well-educated nice boy and Erik found he liked him. He found much of Christine in this boy, especially his friendly naivete and blind confidence.

"But you can do real magic, can't you? Not just vaudeville stage magic?"

Gustave's innocent question caused Erik to stiffen. He only could do tricks, real magic wasn't possible. "I can do many things but some are simply impossible," he told the boy, not wanting to promise something that would distroy the boy's faith in him. "Is there a special spell you want me to cast?"

Gustave yawned. "Yes. My parents... I want them to be like they were. I want my father to play with me again. I want mother to laugh again and I want them to be happy again."

Erik sat down and watched the boy falling asleep on the floor, deeply hurt by the innocent wish of the boy. It told him that even if Christine and Raoul were not at best terms now there had been a time when they were very happy together. The masked man gently picked the sleeping boy up and placed him on the couch, took off the boy's shoes and covered him with a blanket. The child wouldn't sleep much, maybe an hour or two, but that would be enough.

He went to the next room where his three most trusted servants waited with a large grin on their faces. Erik sank into a chair and took off mask and wig to wipe the sweat from his face.

"We were wondering who wears whom down," Gangle said.

"Stop that. We don't have time. Now it is time to get Christine here. You know what to do now!"

"Of course. But, sir, we... it would be easier for us if we knew what your goal is?" No one else but Fleck could ask Erik that, not even the Girys. Erik liked the short woman and knew that she supported him in everything. If he told her he wanted to wipe out the entire population of New York she would just point out that he would need more armed men to do so. "You told us how terrible it was to live without Christine Daae, so... we do not think one song would change that."

"It will," Erik told them, "She will sing, she will experience who she really is, she will feel alive again after being dead for ten long years. She will crave that again, she will stay because she will finally be free."

The three looked at each other. "And if she chooses not to?" Mr. Y's plan had a terrible flaw and they knew it, but pointing that out to him would do no good. They knew the story, Erik had told them several times and all three knew that Christine would never stay with him of her own free will. She had her husband and her son, her family. She wouldn't give that up for a man who had kidnapped and blackmailed her, finally had left her, sneaking away while she was asleep. Which woman would want such a man as a husband or partner or whatever he wanted to be? He was incapable of having any real relationship, in that he was like a narcistic baby. If any woman wanted to be with him, he panicked and ran away, they had seen that several times in the past ten years.

It wasn't that his face made it impossible for him to win a woman. Yes, he was ugly and yes, most screamed when they first saw him, but after a while one got used to his face. He wasn't the only man with a severe deformity in New York and there actually were women who showed genuine interest in him, even if most of them were somehow handicaped themselves and just wanted a man who could provide for them. Or women like the Girys, mother and daughter, who saw his genius, knew of his violent past and his suffering and somehow thought they had to save him. Fleck had no such illusions: There was no saving Mr. Y by spoiling him. He would need to finally develop some sense of responsibility and accept that he was responsible for his fate and not the world, humanity or whomever else he chose to blame.

As long as he did not accept that he had to change his ways, that he had to give up his selfishness and develop some thoughtfulness, he had no chance of a real relationship. And of course he had to stop his childish fantasy of a happy end and a happily ever after. Somehow he was terribly naive for all the corruption of his soul, he still seemed to believe that some day a fairy godmother would come and all his troubles and problems would vanish and he would be happy forever.

He of all people should know better, but somehow he was like a small child. Maybe it was this ability to dream of a better future what had kept him alife during the worst days of his life.

Only his choosen fairy godmother had absolutely no intention of saving him or staying with him, she herself needed someone to save her from Erik.

"She wouldn't," Erik told them firmly, "She will realize that music is what keeps us both alive, that we can't live without each other."

It was Gangle who spoke first. "There is a certain risk..."

Erik shook his head as he put on the mask and wig again. "There is not. If she doesn't see reason I will have the boy."

The trio frowned. "You... what? Sir, with all due respect, you certainly wouldn't...?"

Erik stared at them. It took him a while to realize what they suspected now. "What? No! Certainly not! I would never want any child in my bed, much less a boy! I would raise him like my own son!" A collective sigh told him that this was exactly what they had been afraid of. That he would sink so low to take a child when he couldn't have a woman. But he wasn't like this and he didn't want to hold Gustave hostage, he wanted Christine. "Go before I lose my patience!" Erik snapped annoyed. It hurt that even these three whom he trusted above everyone else suspected him of being capable of such a heinous crime.

Christine was close to tears. Where was Gustave? Had the Phantom already kidnapped him? Was the child in some dark and cold dungeon? The tall man who had brought her to Phantasma, who had been at the port, approached her and told in heavily accented French that her son was well, just tired, and took a nap.

"I want to see him!" she demanded, close to being hysteric.

"Of course, Madame. Mr. Y sent me to show you the way."

"I need my husband."

Gangle frowned. His master certainly wouldn't like that. He wanted her alone and not with her husband, but when Christine saw Raoul who looked rather distressed for he too hadn't found Gustave and was terribly worried. Gangle had no choice of taking both with him and lead them to his master's office. Erik didn't want Christine to know that Gustave was asleep in his flat - and certainly not where this flat was. Right now Fleck was with the boy to keep him calm should he wake up too soon.

Christine's trembling hand took Raoul's as they were led to Mr. Y's private flat.

They were led into a modern parlor and immediately saw Gustave lying on the couch, peacefully sleeping. Erik sat in a chair, watching the boy. When Christine and Raoul were led into the parlor, Erik got up with a bit too much pretense of being startled by their arrival. The masked man gave them a deep bow. "Madame, Monsieur, it is an honor that you come to my humble abode."

It certainly wasn't a humble flat. His penthouse was large and the furniture expensive and hight of fashion, some even a bit avandgardistic.

Christine let out a gasp as she saw her son lying on the divan. She was not sure if the boy was alife or not. After Mr. Y's threats she was not sure if he was capable of murdering a child.

"Good day," Erik greeted them with a formal bow, "I am honored to finally meet you face to face."

"What did you do to my son?" Christine demanded, trembling.

Erik shrugged with a sardonic smile. "Giving him a tour of Phantasma, as I promised I would. As you, my dear, agreed to. It seems he enjoyed himself greatly and is now just tired. Let him sleep for a while."

"Nothing else?" Raoul asked, mistrusting the Phantom.

"Of course not!" Erik indignantly snapped, "Your son is a fine young gentleman. I am an honest man now, running an amusement park for families. It is audacious that you accuse me of a crime against a child!"

As Raoul carried the sleeping boy back to the hotel and put him to bed, leaving it to his wife to undress the boy and tuck him in. When Christine was done, she found Raoul sitting on the couch, a glass of whiskey in his hand. Raoul did not even look up as she entered the room. He stared into his glass and asked in a toneless voice if they could leave now.

"Leave now?" Christine asked worriedly, "How?"

"Just walk out of the park. Forget about the luggage, clothes can be replaced," the Vicomte suggested.

Christine went to the desk and took out the contract, reading it carefully. "We are already in troubles, Raoul. If I break the contract, he can sue us. The penalty clause. Leaving now would mean deliberately breaking the contract."

Raoul shook his head. "He can't follow us to France. If he sets one foot into a courtroom, he would be arrested immediately."

"Think, my dear husband! Think!" Christine fought hard not to yell at him. This was just a typical Raoul de Chagny solution. He always acted faster than he could think, this was the main cause for their troubles. "He would not even need to come to France for a court trial. Here. The choice-of-forum clause. He could sue us in New York and we would be forced to come here to defend ourselves."

"Would a verdict from New York be enforcable in France?"

"How should I know?" Christine sighed "I am not a lawyer. But... it would be possible. And even if it wasn't, Raoul, what would it do to our reputation if he informed the right people that we breached the contract deliberately? He could destroy us. Financially and socially. Our only chance is that I do sing. He has already checkmated us. Whatever we do, he can use it against us. We have only one possible path left - I sing his song and we demand our payment and leave. That is the only way."

"Are you sure he is going to play fair?" Raoul asked, gulping down his drink, "I doubt it. A man like him is capable of everything."

"Yes," Christine replied tonelessly, "He is. That is why we must not provoke him."

The next day Christine had to go to the rehearsals, she and Raoul had agreed that Raoul would come with Gustave to watch the rehearsals. It was a risk, but what could they do? If Raoul and Gustave stayed in the hotel, Christine would be alone. Raoul was the only one who could protect them - at least he hoped he would be able to. The last time he had not been able to do much - the Phantom had caught him with his noose before the fight had begun. Raoul had a revolver in his pocket now, hoping he would be able to use it. He would not give the Phantom a chance to come close enough to catch him with the lasso again.

Christine and Raoul wondered about the rehearsal they saw. It was absolutely nothing they would have expected from a man like Erik. Christine had always told Raoul what genius the Phantom was when it came to music, how much he loved the arts. And this... this was vulgar. It was something Christine had never seen before, it was... something maybe the disreputable vaudeville shows might stage. And they were in areas where Christine would never go, she was a decent lady, even before she became a Vicomtesse. Christine was shocked to see what Meg was doing on stage, the choreography Madame Giry was staging to a music that sounded much more like the cheap music drunken people in ill reputed inns would sing.

Christine turned to Raoul, expecting him to sit in one of the back rows of the auditorium with Gustave, but Raoul was alone. "Raoul? Where is Gustave?" she asked, silently cursing her husband for his inattention. A few women in revealing dresses lasciviously dancing on stage and he forgot to watch their son!

Raoul looked around startled. "Gustave?" he called for the boy, "Gustave! Damn it! He was sitting next to me only one second ago! Gustave, where are you?"

Madame Giry glared at them. "Kindly do not interrupt my rehearsal."

"But Madame Giry, my son Gustave... where is he?" Christine asked worriedly, using a from-one-mother-to-another tone.

Madame Giry's eyes softened. "Maybe he just went to the bathroom?" she suggested, "Do not worry. I know that he is save here. He cannot leave this building without the porter seeing him."

"That is right," Dr. Gangle told her, "He might just be in another rehearsal room. Madame de Chagny..." he looked something up in his skript "Do I pronounce your name correctly?"

Gustave found the rehearsals utterly boring, at his age the show was just that - boring. Nothing happened and the music was not to his liking, but his father seemed to be fascinted by the dance. So the boy was quite happy when he saw uncle Erik at one of the doors beckoning him. He got up silently and walked to Erik, who gestured for him to be silent. This was nothing new to Gustave, he knew that during rehearsals one was not allowed to interrupt the singers and dancers. He spend too much time of his young life being silent for his taste.

Erik lead the boy to another building. "I'll give you a backstage tour," he offered, "I show you where we build the automatons and props."

"But I want to see real magic!" Gustave demanded.

Erik chuckled. "And you shall, young Vicomte. This is where my magic is created." It was more or less a large hall in a rather boring building and it looked like a very large workshop. Several men and women were busy working on various things made of wood, steel, leather or simple fabric, some even used paper. "This is where everything is made."

Gustave looked around. He did not understand what the things were for and was only confused. "What is this?" he asked, pointing to an automaton that was ready with the mechanics but undressed.

"This is going to be a mechanic horse," Erik told the boy, "Does not look like much now, but in few days one can ride it."

"Why would one want a mechanic horse if there are real ones?"

The boy's logic astonished Erik. "Well... because it is something no one else has. Technology, science. We are at the beginning of a new century," he answered, a bit uncomfortable at the child's question. He was used to people watching his automatons in awe, not questioning their practicability. He picked up a card deck - a special deck that was lage enough to show the trick on a stage - and handed it to Gustave. "Please shuffle the cards. I will turn my back to you and you pick one card, memorize it and put it somewhere into the deck."

The boy did as he was told. Then Erik turned back and took the deck, looking through the cards. "This one is yours," he stated.

"Wow. How... how did you know this?" Gustave asked.

"I read your mind. Do you want to see more?" Gustave nodded eagerly. Erik handed him a slate and a piece of chalk, instructing him to write down an animal on his slate. Erik turned his back to the boy again. Gustave wrote: "dog".

"A dog. You wrote dog," Erik said. Gustave tested this a few times, then asked again how this worked.

"Do you really want to know?" Erik asked, "Usually people are disappointed if I tell them how it works."

"I won't be. I want to know!" the boy demanded.

"Very well. Come here. Do you see the small mirror op there? From where I stand I can see everything in this room. When I turned my back to you I just looked at the mirror."

Gustave's face fell. "But then... that is no magic. Just another trick!" the boy complained.

"Look at this," Erik showed Gustave a box. It was a magic box for a disappearance trick. Carefully he explained how the trick worked - the box was much larger than it appeared to the audience and it had a hidden trapdoor. "So, if you want to disappear you just press this button and fall through both trapdoors, the one in the box and the one in the stage, while everyone thinks you are in the box."

"But... it is still just a trick," Gustave complained.

"Well, yes, it is. No see this." Erik showed the boy a device that produced electricity and impressive lightening bolts between two wires.

"Wow" was all the boy said. He was even more impressed as Erik held a glas plate with some colors on it between the wires and the lightening licked over the glass plate seemingly painting a picture.

"I hope that I will soon learn how to really paint and not just make some colored blotches," Erik told Gustave, "Magic is hard work and much practice."

"How do you make lightening bolts?" the boy asked.


Gustave's face fell. "Just electricity? But... but... then it is just science?"

Erik knelt down and put a hand at Gustave's shoulder. He wanted to be at the same level as the boy now. "Gustave, everything is just science if you know how it works. As long as you do not know it, it is magic. But you forget that with all magic the magician knows how it works or it wouldn't work at all. Do you understand?"

Gustave nodded. He did not really understand but was too proud to admit that. "But I need real magic!" he insisted, "Real magic to make Mama and Papa stop quarrelling. To stop Papa's headaches and Mama's crying. I want Papa to play with me like he used to do."

"There is," Erik promised, "There is a chance, but... it does not always work. There is a certain risk that it won't. And you have to help me, I cannot do this without your help. If you want to help your parents, you have to be brave."

"I am brave!" Gustave promised.

Erik took Gustave to his flat, they sat in the parlor as Erik started to question the boy and take notes. Erik found the boy to be naive and trusting, much like Christine. Gustave gave away as much as he could, answering Uncle Erik's questions as good as he could, even telling things Erik did not ask. It did not take long until Erik could figure out the problem:

The old aristocratic family had missed the industrialization, running large estates that had been very profitable in the past, but were not now at the turning of centuries. They should have invested in factories and other modern technologies decades ago. When Raoul took over managing the estate he found the problems immediately and tried to change things, selling landed property, investing in factories and ships. Gustave did not know any details, just that his father told him that he would bring the estate from the middle ages to the twenteenth century. Soon after that Raoul had become irritable, overworked, had needed his drink in the evening - and some time later the headaches appeared and his bad mood when he could not endure any noise. Soon after that Christine had begun to sing again. Erik did not need to know much more, he did not need the details. Raoul de Chagny had taken over running the estate when the investments were already outdated, had tried to change everything in a rush and failed. Well, that was to be expected. As much as Erik knew the Vicomte had always been one for rash decisions. Small wonder his investments had not turned out as profitable as he had hoped they would. The stress had caused the young man to seek relief in a bottle like so many others. And the change in her husband caused Christine grief and she was now the one to have to support the family, this humiliation caused the Vicomte do drink harder - well, how very fortunate for him, Erik, who saw a chance to win Christine back now that she was not really happy in her marriage.

"There is a way," Erik put down his pencil and stared at his notes, "There is a way, but it will be difficult and I will need your help."

"Everything!" Gustave exclaimed passionately, "Everything to make Mama and Papa happy again!"

"Very well. You have to tell them that you do not want to be with them but stay with me from now on."

"What?" The boy was shocked. "But... I don't want to stay with you! I want to be with them!"

Erik smiled patiently. "Gustave, trust me. Tell them that you won't stay with them if they keep quarreling, if they keep telling you to be silent when you want to practice at the piano, tell them that you want to stay with me."

"But... what good would that do?"

"Very much. People only realize what they have when they are about to lose it - or already lost it. So they will start to think, they will see their errors and change their ways." It was not entirely true und not really a lie. Erik spoke from experience but his idea was that Christine would stay in America with him too when her son wanted to be with him. The Vicomte wouldn't be a problem. The young fool could always disappear - either going back to Europe on his own or... well, he could always claim that the boy was back in Europe.

Gustave stood there, staring at the window, but he did not really see much. He as deep in thought. "Uncle Erik?"


"You... you told me it does not work always? What if... what if it doesn't?"

Erik lowered his head, he needed a moment to think about this. Should he tell the truth or was this too much of a risk? He finally decided that another half-truth would do. Enough truth to allow him to show real emotions, just enough to convince the child of his story. He got up and offered his hand. "Walk with me a bit, will you?"

Gustave followed Erik to one of the buildings in the park. It was called "Lilliput City". It was a hall in which little people - none of them taller than 1 meter and 10 centimeters - pretended to be living in some sort of fantasy castle. There was a tiny king, a tiny queen, the knights - on Shetland-Ponies - and the ladies. The visitors had to stay on certain paths. It looked rather like the visitors were climbing on some sort of comfortable deer stands and looking down into the small fake city.

"Why do you show me this?" Gustave asked.

"I thought you'd like to see the knight's tournament," Erik replied. The knight's tournament was a good riding show, the fun came from the fact that the riders and ponies were that small.

"They are good," Gustave remarked, "I've seen the white horses in Vienna, they are doing much the same... only much more elegant than the ponies."

Erik nodded. "Good point. But you are right, this was inspired by Vienna. A little bit."

"You didn't tell me what happens when your magic does not work," Gustave insisted. He was not easily distracted if he wanted to know something - especially if he knew just how important it was.

Erik sighed. "If you tell them that you'd rather stay with me than watch them quarrelling... if they do not want to stop treating you unfair, like telling you to shut up and be silent when you do nothing wrong but are a good boy and just want to practice your music, when they rather want to get rid of you, then you know that they do not really love you. And if they do not love you, they do not deserve to have you in their lives."

Gustave lowered his head, trying hard not to cry but he did not manage.

Erik handed him a handkerchief. "I know, the dust... sometimes it burns in the eyes and the nose." He knew perfectly well that this wasn't causing the boy to weep, he knew what the boy felt. "You love them, don't you?"

"Yes, and I want them to be happy. But... they aren't. Papa's constant headaches, Mama's tears, and sometimes..."

" feel like you were just an extra burden to their misery," Erik finished the sentence and the way the boy looked up told him he had made the correct guess. He led Gustave to the beach, to his private part of the beach. He had a part of the beach walled off with a large picket fence that was about two meters high and the wooden boards were close enough they provided privacy. It was his private beach, his little wooden pier leading to his private yacht. It was a sailing vessel with additional steam engine.

"My Papa had such a ship," Gustave said sadly, "But he sold it."

"What a pity. Well, I have this. It helps greatly if I want to get something for my collection of curiosities from all over the world." He did not tell the boy that he seldom used the ship to travel anywhere, knowing all too well in how many countries he was a wanted man and how high the bounties on his head were. When he noticed just how sad Gustave looked, he cleared his throat. "Well... you asked what will happen if it does not work and your parents do not want to change to keep you. Sometimes... sometimes parents do not love their children. Then it is better for the child to leave them and find new parents who want the child."

Gustave studied him a long while, long enough to make Erik uncomfortable. Maybe he had overdone his statement, allowed too much genuine emotion to come through. "You are speaking from experience," the boy stated, suddenly not sounding like a child but like a young gentleman.

Erik shook his head and forced himself to smile. "Yes, but it worked in a certain way - it made all our lifes better. My parents and mine. I do not think this will happen because your parents seem to be good people, if they realize that you are telling them that they have to choose between changing their behavior or losing you, they will prefer to have you. It may take some time and you are welcome to stay with me until they come to their senses. I will give you whatever you want to make your stay comfortable." Erik assumed the boy would ask for toys, for other children to play with, for a pony or even for a trip with the boat.

"A piano," Gustave asked, "And a music teacher. Papa stopped my lessons, telling me he couldn't take the noise when he has his headache. But I want to play! I want to become a pianist!"

"Then I will teach you. I am a pianist myself. I was your mother's voice teacher, did she tell you about that?"

"You should have taken care of Gustave!" Christine yelled at her husband. They were in their hotel suite but her well-trained voice was loud enough other guests could hear them. Fotunately for Christine and Raoul there were no other Frenchmen on the same story as them - except for the woman who sat at a small desk at the end of the floor. She was waiting for guests to call her and ask for something. Every service person in the hotel spoke several languages.

"I was! And stop screaming like that! I've had enough of your hysteric fits! I did watch him, he was right at my side, I have no idea how he could disappear, but we both know who is master in making someone disappear!"

"Why do you make this sound as if it was my fault?" Christine retorted angrily but in a much lower voice.

They were still fighting when a knock at the door startled them.

Raoul went to open the door and involuntarily stumbled back a few steps when he saw Mr. Y standing there with Gustave at his side. "Monsieur de Chagny," Erik said smoothly, "If you have a domestic quarrel, I suggest you do this somewhere were other guests are not disturbed. I would be happy to provide such a place..."

"I never thought I'd hear you tell something that is undoubly the truth," Raoul snapped. Of course the Phantom would enjoy a private show of them fighting, but the Vicomte would never give Mr. Y this satisfaction.

Christine took Gustave's hand. "Where were you? We told you to stay with your father!" she berated her son.

Gustave shook off her hand angrily. "I'm not a baby! I am old enough to wear long trousers!" He ran to his room and slammed the door shut.

"I am sorry..." Erik said, feeling awkward for being witness to this scene. Not because of the Vicomte, he loved to see this man humiliated, but for Christine. By now Erik knew enough about them to know that the Vicomte was far from being perfect. The young man was handsome, but that was all. The Vicomte did not have a talent for business, he did not have a talent for keeping a child under control and he did not show much talent as a husband - at least in Erik's eyes. Erik's idea of a perfect marriage was that the husband kept his wife content and happy so she would never have any reason to complain, so every quarrel was a failure at the husband's side. He did not know much about women. "Madame, you have to take care of your voice. You are to sing tomorrow."

"I won't if you keep abducing my son!" Christine was already furious. Right now she wished she had never met one of them, not the Phantom, not Raoul - all men could go to hell if it was up to her to decide.

"I am not abducting anyone," Erik defended himself, surprized to find himself suddenly target for her anger, "Gustave is my guest, as are you. I would never harm a hair on his head."

"Just... just leave us alone!" Christine begged wearily. She suddenly understood why her husband sometimes felt the need to drink to calm his nerves. Right now she would have asked for a drink as well, but as a lady she knew she could not do that.

Meg was sitting in her flat, reading a book when Erik suddenly came into her room. She knew this. Erik could enter every room all the time and he had little respect for privacy. He never had, she knew that now. All the one-way-mirrors and secret peepholes in the walls at the Opera in Paris. Meg knew enough about men in general by now not to be naive enough to think he had the decency not to take advantage of the girls unaware of his presence. Of course he had watched them changing their costumes. She put down her book a little annoyed by his casual indading her privacy. "Yes?" she asked, "What do you want?"

Meg had long ago given up trying to find out what he was thinking. She had accepted that it was her's and her mother's duty to keep him happy at a minimum level so he could function and would not do something foolish that would endanger their own lifes and income. And they could never expect him to thank them for their trouble - he took them for granted. Somehow Mr. Erik Y seemed to think the whole world was his to do with as he pleased and it was terrible unfair that people did not accept that. He behaved like the worled owed him some great debt and refused to pay just to annoy him.

"I want you to have an eye on Gustave de Chagny tomorrow during Christine's performance," he told her.

Meg's eyes widened. "And how am I expected to do this? I have my own shows tomorrow, three, if you remember the schedule you set. How am I supposed to baby-sit?"

"Christine is singing at the end of the day. Your show will be over 30 minutes before she appears on stage and your late night show will be done by your understudy. I trust your understudy to keep the drunken fools who stay that late entertained, but I do not trust her to watch Gustave."

"But why...?"

"You are not to ask why. You are to take Gustave de Chagny to the pier, is that understood?"


"Miss Meg Giry, do I have to remind you who is in charge here? Tomorrow you go and re-establish your friendship with Christine, spend time with her and her son so he will follow you when you ask him to. That is an order that is to be followed to the letter or you know the consequences." Meg shuddered. If Erik went directly to threatening her he was already on edge and ready to kill. She knew better than to ask what he wanted with the child.

Raoul stood in the wings as Christine sang. He just had to be there, had to make sure she would not disappear from the stage. He had a gun with him but wasn't sure if it would do him any good. If the Phantom wanted to kidnap her, he could easily let her fall through some hidden trapdoor in the stage. Absolutely no problem, the Phantom had most likely build the theater building. It was a fake. Well, a good fake, but it was no real theater building. Not much stone, mostly painted wood. Cheap things in the right light to make them look like the real thing. Cheap stucco instead of marble carvings.

A cheap show. Vaudeville. Where was the musical genius, the artist Christine had described to him? What Raoul saw now was something for the notorious variety shows in the outskirts of Paris. This was no art.

And then Christine appeared on stage. She was led there by Mr. Y himself who introduced her to the audience. The Vicomte smirked as he suddenly realized how much the Phantom suddenly sounded like a typical theater manager.

Raoul looked at Gustave who stood beside him. The boy smiled happily. He so much loved music. Sometimes Raoul wondered how a boy that age could love music so much, but then, he was Christine's son.

Mr. Y retreated to the wings on the opposite site of the stage and Christine sang. She sang like she had done when she gave her soul to her teacher, but her eyes looked in Raoul's direction. Blinded by the light she did not really see much. She could see several people but which of them was Raoul she did not know, but she was sure he would realize that the words of love she sang were meant for him and him only. Not the dark man lurking in the shadows on the other side of the stage. For her husband, the Vicomte.

Raoul did not see Meg Giry approaching Gustave, gently tapping his shoulder and gesturing to follow her. The boy did, he had spend all day with his mother and her best friend Meg so he trusted her. When they were in the corridor, Meg told him: "Mr. Y wants to see you."

Gustave nodded. "He's going to do some magic, I know. Where shall we go?"

Meg did not know why the boy went with her so easily, she could not know about the deal Erik had with the boy. "The pier. Do you like ships?"

"Not as much as I like music."

They stood at the pier, waiting for something to happen. The ship was prepared and ready, Meg saw the whole crew on deck. Was Erik taking the boy on a trip with his private luxury yacht?

Christine bowed to the standing ovations and cheering of the audience. She was exhilarated, happy, and worried at the same time. She barely heared the words Erik spoke to the audience before leading her away from the stage.

"You were wonderful, my dear!" Erik whispered, his face very close to hers.

"Thank you," Christine said, shifting uncomfortably as he closed the door of her dressing room behind them. She did not like to have him so close, especially because she felt drawn to him now. He could seduce her with his music, she knew that, but the spell would break and she would fear him again soon. She was a married woman and a mother! She should not be alone with him now!

"Christine?" Raoul tried to open the door. Of course, he had seen her being led away and followed them immediately.

"Don't..." Erik said, but Christine did not obey. She opened the door and sank into the arms of her husband.

Erik felt like Christine had ripped out his heart again. He stood there, paralyzed in shock and pain. It was the very same pain he had experienced before - at the roof of the opera house, at the graveyard, when he had heared her agree to lure him into a trap. And now this again. He could not stop the tears, he stood there, the pain in his chest physical, making it almost impossible to breathe. He suddenly pushed his way out of the room, pushing Raoul and Christine away from each other roughly. He made it appear as if he just wanted to leave and they were in his way.

"Where is Gustave?" Christine asked.

Raoul flinched and Erik stopped dead in his tracks.

"O no, not again!" Christine was now yelling at Raoul, "Nonononono! You idiot! You senseless, careless excuse for a father! How could you?"

"I told him to stay at my side! I told him! He's in for a good trashing now!" Raoul was clearly angry at his son's disobedience.

A smile briefly flashed over Erik's face. Perfect. They were enraged, this would just serve to convince the boy that they did not really love him. "Madame, Monsieur, I bid you a good night. You are welcome to stay at the hotel, if you like to, or leave Phantasma. Whatever you prefer."

"Wait! Where is my son?" Christine grabbed his sleeve to hold him back.

"At my private yacht, I assume. I invited him and he came."

"I want to see him!" she demanded.

"Be my guest."

Raoul nearly threw up as the horrible deja-vu sank into his mind. The Phantom was playing exactly the same game again! The very same! "Christine..." he whispered.

"Shhht! We must not provoke him."

Gustave and Meg sat at the pier, watching the sailors prepare the ship for departure.

"What are we waiting for?" Gustave asked.

Meg shrugged. "I don't know. Mr. Y told me to bring you here, that is all I know."

Gustave nodded. He knew more than Meg did, he knew that Mr. Y would try to cast the spell he had promised. "Miss Meg?" he asked.

"Yes?" Meg was slightly annoyed by the constant questions the boy had. She did not like to babysit and wondered why Erik asked that of her.

Gustave looked at the ship and not at Meg. "Uncle Erik is very lonely, isn't he?" the boy asked innocently. He had noticed that despite all his wealth Uncle Erik had no humans in his life. To the child this was obvious - a man who was at least as old as his parents and had no wife, no children, no parents had to be terribly lonely.

"Yes..." Meg wondered how the child had such insight. She had no idea that Gustave and she had very different ideas about Mr. Y and what him being lonely really meant. She looked around and saw Mr. Y approaching, behind him trailing Christine and Raoul. She got up. "Gustave, your parents..."

The boy jumped to his feet and turned pale, Meg was immediately worried the child would be sick. The boy stood there, his hands clasped behind his back, silently saying something, it seemed like he was praying, then Raoul reached the pier first.

"Gustave!" he yelled, "Where have you been? Why did you go away? I told you to not to leave my side!" He grabbed the boy's shoulder and shook him. Gustave flinched and raised his arms over his head, expecting a slap in the face. His parents seldom used physical punishment, but they did when they thought he had committed a major transgression. The boy did not understand what he had done wrong now. Usually his father liked when he left him in peace.

"That's quite enough, sir!" Erik held Raoul's wrist in a tight grip. Even if Erik was feeling his age, his grip was as strong as it had ever been.

"Unhand me!" the Vicomte demanded.

"Unhand him!" Erik retorted mockingly, "I do not want any child to be punished unjustly."

"Don't! Stop it!" Christine begged as she finally arrived, completely out of breath. Unlike the men she couldn't really run with her dress. Being a woman required her to wear many things that made it almost impossible for her to move about as freely as men did.

Raoul let go of his son and Erik released the Vicomte. The masked man pushed the Vicomte aside roughly and stepped up between Gustave and his parents.

"Is that what your beloved son has to expect from you? Unjust punishment?" Erik demanded, "Were you really going to punish him for your own failure?"

Christine yelled at Erik: "I am fed up with your scheming! I did as you asked, I sang for you, now let us go as you promised!"

"Of course, of course, my dear!" Erik sounded genuinely offended, "I keep my promises."

Christine bit her lip. She wanted to tell him that this was the most audacious lie - Erik was a liar, had always been, and she doubted he would let them go easily now, but she would not tell them.

"So, who else wants to go? Monsieur le Vicomte, I assume you want to go with your wife?"

Raoul struggled to find any sense between the Phantom's words. This certainly did not make any sense. What game was this man playing? "Yes..." It seemed like the sensible answer, but Raoul felt like he had just sealed their fate.

"And the young Vicomte, Gustave? What do you want, my friend?"

Gustave understood that Uncle Erik was giving him a clue. "That depends on my parents," he replied, "Mama, Papa - I don't want to come with you now."

"What have you done to my son?" Raoul yelled.

"I've done nothing, Monsieur. You did," came the Phantom's smug reply as quickly as if he was playing out a skript.

A skript that existed only in Mr. Erik Y's head and nowhere else, Christine and Raoul had a very bad feeling about this. What was the Phantom's scheme? What did he want, what did he really want apart from all his pretense and lies and false informations?

"Gustave, come here!" Christine ordered and Gustave instinctively moved, but Erik's hand on his shoulder stopped him. Not that the masked man held him back, he had just lightly touched him, that was enough to remind the boy of their plan.

"No," Gustave said, "No. I want to stay with Uncle Erik."

"Gustave!" Christine gasped.

Raoul screamed in impotent rage: "What did you do to our son, monster!?"

Erik looked down at the frightened boy at his side. "I did nothing to him, you did, Monsieur. Tell him, Gustave."

The boy took Erik's hand and hid behind him a bit. Briefly a triumphant smile flashed over the masked face before he controlled himself again and looked like a worried fatherly friend. "This is your chance, Gustave. Tell them."

Gustave mumbled something, then, as he realized all adults were finally listening to him, began accusing his parents that they did not love him. They did not want him at all so he would rather stay with his Uncle Erik who surely did want him.

"Gustave! Stop this nonsense and come here!" Raoul ordered, sure that the boy was under some dark spell.

"No! You always yell at me! You always tell me to be silent, to go out of your way, to leave you in peace! Now that I am leaving you in peace you are angry with me too - what do you want, Papa, what? I want to become a pianist, but you cancelled my lessons and whenever I play you tell me to be silent. You do not want me any more - fine. Then I stay with Uncle Erik who wants me!"

Christine stared at her son, shocked to hear that. "But Gustave, this is not true!" she exclaimed.

"It is!" the boy screamed, "You always cry, father always has headache and whenever I try to approach you you send me away! I am staying away now!"

"Gustave, stop that nonsense. Come here, we are leaving!" Raoul had absolutely no patience for his son's outburst that came at the worst time it possibly could. He suspected this all the be a scheme of the Phantom who had somehow managed to manipulate the child.

"That is quite enough from you, Monsieur le Vicomte," Erik cut in sharply, "You are upsetting my most appreciated guest. I have to ask you to leave my property."

"Erik..." Christine was begging now.

"My order to leave was for your husband, my dear, not you. You are welcome to stay as long as you do not upset Gustave."

Now it was quite clear to Christine and to Raoul what the game was - the Phantom planned to hold their son hostage and the boy was too naive to see that, on the contrary, the boy thought 'Uncle Erik' was a friend.

"Gustave, this is a misunderstanding. Your Papa and I love you dearly. I'm sorry you felt neglected, dear, but... we did all we could. Gustave, we love you!" Christine knew how to talk to her son when he felt unloved. "We are going through difficult times. Your Papa is working very hard, as am I, so we do not have the time for you. And sometimes we are just tired from work, so we don't appreciate your music as you would deserve it. But that is just because we work so hard, not because we don't love you."

Gustave's eyes narrowed. "That is not true," he stated, "I am no toddler who believes in such stories. Papa has headaches even if he'd been at home all day and they only become worse the longer he stays at home."

Erik smiled. "Your son is very perceptive," he remarked. He was really enjoying this right now, "You ought to be proud of him, not hinder his progress by cancelling his lessons."

"We cancelled his lessons because we couldn't afford them," Christine finally admitted, even if Raoul protested that she should never tell that to anyone. His own wife was shaming him in public. Christine completely ignored him, knowing she had to convince her son. "Gustave, dear, we only want what is best for you. But we cannot give you something we do not have, do you understand that?"

Gustave nodded. "But Papa's headache? Your crying?" he asked.

"Dear, your Papa has so much headache because he is thinking so hard how to ensure that you have a better future than we do. How to make sure you get to archieve your goal and become a world-famous pianist. This is not easy. We sold his beloved horse, my jewelry, but not your piano, even when we would have needed the money."

"Is that true?" Gustave sniffed.

"It is," Raoul reluctantly agreed, "We do love you."

Gustave was crying and wanted to rush towards his parents. Of course he loved them and he had never wanted to stay with anyone but them. But an iron grip on his arm held him back.

"What a wonderful family reunion, my dear," the Phantom mocked, "It seems I am a better magician than I give myself credit for. Well, Gustave, it worked. Your parents love you. Wonderful, isn't it? But... before we come to the 'happily ever after', there is one more thing... Two of you will leave, which two will it be?"

"Two? You promised..." Christine gasped.

"You liar!" the Vicomte shouted, furious that the dishonorable Phantom had cheated them again, he reached for his gun - and found it gone.

"Are you looking for this?" Erik asked mockingly. He had stolen the gun when he had pushed the Vicomte out of his way at the theater. Now he held the gun in his hand, but he did not point at Christine or Raoul but at Gustave.

"Uncle Erik, what...?" Gustave did not understand why Erik suddenly turned against him. He had thought that man was his friend.

"Maybe you need to know what it is like to live without the one person you cannot live without," he said, adressing Christine.

Christine's first impulse was to tell him that he was the filthy scoundrel who had left her when she had been ready to stay with him. But she knew it would do no good to provoke him, not now, not when he had a gun and a hostage. Her son's life was in danger. "Don't!" she screamed, "Don't!"

"And why should I have more mercy than you do?"

Christine could have pointed out that this was certainly no love he felt, that he must hate her to be so cruel, but she did not. Her thoughts raced. There must be some way to ensure Gustave's safety, something... anything...

"You wouldn't kill your own son," she whispered, trembling.

Erik nearly dropped the gun. Now the gun was pointed at the wooden boards of the pier. "What?" he gasped, but didn't let go of the child.

"That cannot be true!" Raoul exclaimed.

The Vicomtesse turned round to glare at her husband furiously before she turned back to the masked man, her face showing no fury but fear, defeat and shame. "It is true. Unfortunately. Erik, Gustave is your son."

Erik's grip on the child was by far not as strong as it had been before. He was trembling slightly. "Christine..." he whispered, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"How could I? I thought you were dead!" Well, this was true. He had been gone and she had assumed that he was killed by the lawmen while trying to escape arrest.

Erik dropped the gun and let go of the boy. He was stunned, this was so unexpected, he could not find any coherent thought in his head.

Christine took advantage of the situation, took her sons hand and ran, Raoul followed her close behind, every so often looking back at the masked man who stood there like a malfunctioning automaton. The Vicomte wasn't sure what this had been about, but he surely did not want to ask any questions now. He just wanted to get away from Phantasma, the Phantom and America in general.

Erik just stood there, staring at them. He tried to think, but no coherent thought would form in his brain. A son? His son? He had a son? He did not react at all as one of the ship's crew asked if the departure was cancelled, he did not react as Meg confirmed that and took Erik's hand to lead him away from the pier.

Meg was shocked to see Erik in such a state. He moved and acted like a mindless automaton, mute, unable to have his own will or mind. Never had she seen him like this before, never, even when she and her mother had found him under the opera house where he hid to escape the police and the mob who were hounding him.

When the de Chagny family reached a hotel close to the opera house in Manhattan, they sighed in relief. Finally away from the Phantom, from the scary Mr. Y. Christine somehow managed to calm her son so she could put him to bed before she returned to the master bedroom of their suite to see her husband.

Raoul sat on the bed, a very angry expression on his face. "Why did you tell him Gustave was his son?" he demanded to know.

Christine sank into a chair with a sigh. "To protect our son, Raoul. I would have sworn every false oath to save our son."

"That much I understand - but why did he believe you?" Raoul was not naive enough to think Erik wouldn't know how a baby is sired. Of course the masked man knew, either by experience or at least he knew the theory. Never would Erik believe that he was the father when he had not slept with Christine at least once. Raoul had never asked her before, he knew she had been kidnapped by Erik, he would not put it past the masked monster to drug her and abuse her in her sleep so she had not even known it ever happened, but when Christine was sure Erik would believe her, Raoul realized that she must have known. The Vicomte had never asked her, but now he had to know.

"Because..." Christine shifted uncomfortably, "I betrayed you. One time."


Christine had expected the question to be 'when?' so the 'why?' startled her and she had to think carefully before she answered. "I got a note from Madame Giry. She told me where he was and that this was my last chance to tell him goodby. Erik was... in a terrible state, physically and mentally. Desperate. Dehydrated, malnourished. He looked like death, even more than he usually does. He wept when I came... we both wept and... well... things happened. When I woke up in the morning, he was gone. I thought he had been forced to run so the police wouldn't catch him, that he had run to make sure we were never found together... I thought him dead. But Raoul, Gustave is clearly your son. Fortunately for us Erik never bothered to find out his birtday."

"What do you mean?"

"I betrayed you few days before our wedding. Gustave was born five months after the wedding and he was fully developed. I have already been with child when I betrayed you."

Raoul sat there on the bed, counting several times. If she told the truth... if Erik had slept with her only one time and that when she was already pregnant, Gustave had to be his. But if she lied...

"Raoul, I know that you do not trust me now, but... please believe me that I love you and Gustave loves you and... hopefully we will be able to go back to our normal life soon," she begged.

"Normal?" Raoul barked a laugh, "I hope not. If our debts are paid, I do not plan on making new ones. But... what if Gustave... is not my son?"

"He is, you silly man! He clearly is! Just look at him, really look at him carefully! Isn't it obvious that he is your's?"

Raoul thought about this. The boy clearly did not look like the deformed Phantom. There was nothing wrong with Gustave. But the boy came mostly after his mother, so this was no argument in Raoul's eyes. "Gustave looks like you, my dear, so please don't use that argument."

Christine sighed. "Yes, he does. And he has a talent for music - just like me, my father, and you. Raoul, don't you remember that you too are talented? You took lessons as a child, but stopped when you had to join the navy for the sake of your familie's reputation. Raoul, Gustave is your son. There is absolutely no way he would not be!"

"There is no way to find out the truth," Raoul sighed.

Christine felt like slapping her husband, but she controlled herself. "And what will you do now? Send Gustave and me away? Raoul, if you do that, we would have no choice but to return to the man you just saved us from! We would have to ask the Phantom to take us in - I am sure he won't turn us down and he won't question fatherhood. Raoul, this man always lived in some kind of illusion, as long as everyone plays along he does not dare to break the illusion falling out of his self-appointed role."

Raoul stared at her, thinking about that. "So you expect me to do nothing?"

"I expect you to take the contract and demand the payment he promised. Sue him, if you must, do not let him dictate the rules of the duel. Take the fight to a place of your choice, honorable and legally, that is what he cannot deal with. As long as you allow him to choose place, time and rules you will lose against him for he is the master of illusion. But if you strip the illusion away, he is just a man, broken, scared and desperate. He will not even dare to fight, he will run and hide."

Raoul studied his wife. He had not seen her like this before. Never. "Do you... hate him?" he asked.

Christine shook her head. "I do not know. I am confused. I feared and pitied him and yes, loved him, but... seeing him threaten to harm Gustave... I don't know. What kind of despair drives a man to sink so low?"

Raoul did not point out that maybe the masked man was just a habitual criminal who could not even think of doing anything like normal men did. He was thinking of what he could do now. To learn that his wife had betrayed him was a shock and despite everything he could not stop wondering if Gustave really was his son. But... did it matter? He could not divorce his wife and disown Gustave. He just could not. "I won't let him win," the Vicomte decided, "Not after all we've been through."

Meg asked her mother for help. They had to do something, they needed to wake Erik up from the apathy he had fallen into. Erik did not care about anything, not about himself, not about Phantasma, nothing. If the Giry's hadn't forced him to eat and drink and eventually wash he would have died in the weeks after Christine left.

It was Madame Giry who signed the transfer of the money to Christine de Chagny's bank account. She did not want a fight, knew that Erik was likely to do something stupid if he even got to read the letter demanding the payment. But she knew that she had to find out if Gustave could really be Erik's son. Erik was in deep depression and just wanted to die and leave everything to his son, but if the boy was not Erik's son at all it was quite possible that he would come to his senses.

It was not too difficult to hire a lawyer in Paris and ask him to find out about the birthday of Gustave de Chagny. The lawyer's letter came months later, telling her the exact birthday of Gustave and of his siblings. Raoul and Christine had four children. And the oldest son was born far too soon after their wedding.

With that information she went to Erik, who just sat in his chair, the curtains closed, he wanted to see nothing, hear nothing and feel nothing. So he was not happy about Madame Giry disturbing him in his solitude.

"He is not your son," she triumphantly told him, "Erik, Christine tricked you. Gustave cannot be your son, it is impossible. A child born after only five months could never have survived. Christine must have been pregnant when she came to you."

Erik blinked. He had never expected Christine to lie to him, not about something as important as this. "But why would she lie?"

"Because you were holding a gun to her son's head. Erik, she is a mother. A mother would do anything, would tell any lie, commit every crime to save her child. Believe me, I know that. Please, Erik, come to your senses! Stop this! She... she never deserved you. She never loved you. She never saw your genius as I did. Erik, please, you..."

"Leave me alone," Erik turned his head to the side, "Just leave me alone. Leave me in peace."

Madame Giry shook her head sadly. "Erik, you won't find peace until you accept reality. Look around - look at what you already have. You aren't alone. You aren't poor. You are a successful businessman, you have so many friends who look up to you, who love you. Don't throw that away, please. Don't throw everything away. Please. You have so much to live for."

"I don't have music..."

"But you could have, Erik! Don't you see it? With all the money the vaudeville business and sideshows make you could build up your own opera house or concert hall! You can build up everything to match your dream. You just... need to dream again. Your own concert hall, wouldn't that be something worth living for?"

"A concert hall..." Erik mused, "A concert hall... that... I would need someone else as a front man, I need to stay in the background. But... a concert hall might... maybe..."

Madame Giry sighed in relief. Even if Erik was dreaming of somehow luring Christine back to him - he was dreaming again and that meant he had another goal, another reason to live. The old woman could not imagine losing Erik. So many decades dedicated to this man, fighting to keep him alife. Sometimes she asked herself why she did this. Maybe she was as mad as him. She was living an illusion, the illusion that Erik cared for her and her daughter, that he loved them, that some day he would prove himself worthy of every sacrifice they made for his sake, to save his genius. Maybe he did care for them, but certainly nothing more than he felt like any of his employees or pets. But as long as she could keep up the illusion she would stubbornly do so. In that Giry and Erik were much alike.


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