Summary: What would have happened, hat Erik (the Phantom) really changed and became a better man? How would that change LND? Story begins with the de Chagny family arriving to New York. Written mostly from Raoul's point of view.
It had been a strenous travel. Raoul hated to travel on luxury ships. Most passengers loved the luxury, the private appartements, the ship's own theater and restaurant. Raoul didn't. He missed his days in the Navy. He preferred research ships, exploring the unknown oceans. But of course he couldn't take his wife and son on such a dangerous mission.
Now he was forced to doing nothing, being more or less locked up with aristocrats who looked down on him for marrying an opera singer. For allowing his wife to sing on stages even after their marriage. If one married a singer, it was at least expected that she would turn herself into the perfect Comtesse and a Comtesse doesn't sing on stages.
His son Gustave was constantly bored. Of course, they had hoped to give the boy some education, but he didn't like to study. He hated his books. He didn't want to do his homework. Neither Raoul nor Christine could find something to get him to sit down and concentrate on his studies. The boy was bored, stared at the wall and spend hours daydreaming. If Raoul sat down with the boy to help him with math, the boy just didn't listen to his explanations, so he got all the wrong results again. Gustave didn't like anything he had to work for. Either he could do it immediately without any effort or he lost all interest and didn't do it at all. Gustave had inherited his mother's talent for music, but that seemed to be all he was interested in. Music and playing games. It worried his parents to no end.
Arriving in New York had been even worse. Like all travels over the atlantic no one had been able to calculate the precise arrival. It dependet too much on unforseeable things and during the travel there was absolutely no communication possible. So when they arrived, there was no one waiting for them. Christine was nervous, like always before a great performance, Gustave was as annoying as he could be, constantly demanding attention, while Raoul had done his best to keep their luggage together and see to it that they were at the correct gate for departure. They were first class passengers and didn't want to mix with the other passengers.
He hadn't expected a mob of jornalists to more or less ambush them. Christine was pale, nervous, unable to concentrate. Gustave had seen something and wanted to go exploring - exploring in a foreign city where he didn't even speak the language! Again, it had been up to Raoul to protect them from the journalists who asked audacious questions and guide them to a place where he hoped Hammerstein's carriage would pick them up. The carriage arrived late, forcing them to wait for hours. In the chaos at the harbor at customs control one of their suitcases had been lost or more likely stolen. Raoul couldn't remember which items they had stuffed in that suitcase.
When they were finally in the hotel, Raoul wanted nothing more than collapse on the bed and be left in peace. He was exhausted. Only that his family didn't leave him in peace. His wife chose precisely that moment to begin a discussion about their situation in general and Gustave demanded that he wanted to play. Christine couldn't play, she was too nervous and felt slightly sick.
"Did you do your homework? No? Then we won't play!" Raoul decided. The boy had to learn that duty came first, leisure time second. If Gustave wouldn't understand that soon he'd never be able to build up a life for himself.
Gustave sat sulkig in a chair but didn't touch his books. Instead he began tapping a rhythm that gave Raoul a headache. "Stop that!" he snapped.
"I'm doing nothing..."
"Stop tapping! Start learning!"
It was the usual discussion, soon Christine joined in and demanded that they mustn't quarrel and she needed some rest before the rehearsal the next day. Raoul had enough. He had to leave or he would not be able to contain his frustration. Of course his wife disagreed, like always. She didn't understand that he had to leave before he would do or say something that hurt his family.
He went to the bar. Where else could he go that late at night? He was in some god forsaken hotel in a god forsaken city on a god forsaken continent. Somewhere among criminals and barbarians. A country full of people who had been cast out of society in Europe. Cast out for good reason.
He sat at the bar and asked for a glass of cognac. The barman told him they had none and offered whiskey. Raoul didn't like whiskey, but ordered it anyways. Maybe it helped ease the tension and the terrible headachhe. If he drank enough he might even be able to sleep at night.
He didn't know how long he had been sitting on the barstool. Maybe he had been already half asleep, when he noticed his glass was empty again. He told the barman to refill it.
"I think this gentleman has had enough!" Raoul heared a voice to his right. He noticed a gentleman in a black dress suit. The man must have come from the opera, if his attire was any indication. Raoul fully turned and was about to tell that insolent man to mind his own business - but the curse he wanted to shout never left his lips.
The Vicomte stared at the face from his nightmares. Right next to him, not even at arm's length, was the masked face of his most deadly enemy, the dreaded Phantom. He pushed himself away from that terror and would have fallen off the barstool and maybe even broken his neck if the masked man hadn't grabbed his arm and held him in a firm grasp.
"I doubt that's for you to decide..." the barman intervened, not wanting a fight in the bar.
The Phantom put a bunch of dollar notes on the bar counter. Raoul saw the barman's eyes widen, then the barman took the money and assuered the Phantom that he would obey his every command with pleasure.
"We are going to the private room. Bring us coffee and orange juice."
"I'm not going anywhere with you!" the Vicomte protested, but he found himself unable to resist. The Phantom easily twisted his arm back and forced him to walk straight to the private room. The Vicomte tried to struggle, but the pain in his arm was unbearable, whatever he did, the iron grip oft the masked man became even stronger, causing more pain. Raoul gave up and allowed himself to be led to the mentioned room.
The Vicomte found himself in a comfortable chair, a small table between them. The Phantom sat in the other chair, relaxed, but cautiously studying the younger man.
The barman brought them coffee and orange juice and left in a hurry. Obviously he knew what was best for his health.
"I wonder why you are drinking," the Phantom asked. His voice sounded genuinely concerned.
Raoul wondered if he had fallen asleep and this was one of his nightmares. The Phantom haunted him in his dreams, that never stopped. Christine seemed to suffer too, she too often woke up crying, but they never talked about it, not wanting to burden each other. But this was new - usually the Phantom in his dreams taunted him, never sounded concerned. "None of your business. You are dead!" Raoul snapped, "You are dead and buried, leave me in peace!"
The Phantom chuckled and touched his mask as if he wanted to make sure the mask was in place. "Correction, Monsieur le Vicomte. The Phantom is dead. I live. I found it rather convenient in the past to fake my death if I wanted to begin a new life. It always worked nicely. Currently I am Mr. Erik Yves, at your service."
"Your true name?" Raoul asked, neither he nor Christine had ever heared the Phantom's name.
Again the Phantom smiled. "No. Just a name. Now, Monsieur, if you drink some coffee and orange juice you will get sober sooner and your hangover will not be that bad tomorrow."
Raoul didn't understand. "What the hell... what do you want?"
The Phantom sighed like a teacher dealing with an extremely stupid pupil. "Talk, Monsieur. Just talk. I saw you arrive, I watched you coming to the hotel, I saw you going to the bar. I am just curious."
"You are stalking us again? What are you doing? Are you behind this? Are you blackmailing Hammerstein?"
The Phantom just grinned at the accusations. "O no, of course not! I am one of Hammerstein's patrons! I don't take money from him, I am a member of the board which funds the opera house. I make my money elsewhere and spend it here."
"Why would I believe you?" Raoul asked, "You've only told lies, from the first day Christine heard you!"
The Phantom flinched as if he had been slapped. "Yes, that's been one of my many mistakes. But I assure you, Monsieur le Vicomte, I am a reformed man. When Christine kissed me, I decided that I would do everything to become worthy of her love. That I would change my life. And I did. I am the creative manager of one of the amusement parks on Coney Island now and have some other enterprises beside that. I am a honest man now and a successful one."
The Vicomte didn't care about how the Phantom lived now. That man could be President or mobster or whatever, he didn't care, he just wanted him to stay away from Christine and Gustave. "And now you want to kidnap my family?" Raoul asked angrily.
The Phantom shook his head. "No, I just want to hear her sing. I have a box at the opera. I never intended to reveal myself to her or to you, had I not seen you today at the bar. Something is wrong and I want to know what it is. I just want to ensure Christine's happiness and she should never know I am still alive."
Raoul leaned forward, suddenly no longer afraid. "Don't give me that bullshit! Do you really think I'd be stupid enough to trust you? You, of all people?"
"No. I never gave you any reason to trust me, Monsieur le Vicomte. But I do read newspapers. And I do read gossip columns. So I am well aware that you aren't the rich man you have been a decade ago. You are a bit short of domestic bliss, aren't you? I just want to help you, so swallow your pride and tell me."
Raoul laughed. The situation was too absurd. "Now you are playing the role of the angel again, aren't you? I can't believe you are really trying that! But it won't work, I won't tell you anything!"
The Phantom leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "I know what I see, Monsieur. I see that you are living the perfect life. You have the perfect wife, the woman you love, the woman you were willing to die for. You have a wonderful son and you travel around the world with your family, visiting the most beautiful places, enjoying the most wonderful music. You are living the perfect life! You should be grateful! But I find you here, drinking like some miserabe wretch!"
"Perfect?" Raoul laughed bitterly, "My life is far from being perfect! What do you know of what I've been through? My family cancelled my allowance when I married her. I had some savings, but they didn't last long. I tried to find a decent job to provide for my family like any honest man does, but soon I found that I had never been taught something useful. I never graduated from any university. I didn't have the necessary skills for a good job. I wasn't too proud to ask for other jobs, but my name prevented it. Who would hire a Vicomte as a servant or secretary? Who would give a Vicomte a job as carriage driver? Who would accept a Vicomte as common guardsman? I was turned down every time. Finally Christine offered to go back to singing for a while so I had some time to study or find a job. But soon she was asked to go on tour. To sing in the most renowned opera houses all over the world. I couldn't let her travel alone, could I? Far too dangerous for a gentle woman like her. But the more time we spend travelling, the less chances I had to find a job, any job at all! I'm trapped. I know what they talk about me. They call me a worthless gambler. I'm not. I'm not gambling, I'm not drinking, I'm not living from my wife's income because I was lazy! No sir, I'm not like that. I just don't have a chance to get out of this."
The Phantom smirked. "One might argue about the drinking..."
Raoul grunted and swallowed his coffee. He couldn't very well deny that he had been drinking this evening, but he refused to acknowledge the insult.
"Thank you for your honesty, Monsieur. Now I understand better. Do you want to know my story?" the Phantom asked calmly.
"No!" Raoul had absolutely no interest in any of the Phantom's lies.
"I'll tell you anyways. I am living the so-called American dream. I came here with nothing but the filthy clothes on my back. I worked hard and with some help and some luck build up a new life, became a businessman. Well... that's not the whole truth. When I became the creative manager of the amusement park, I met the right men. They needed some business to launder their money. So we pretended that the amusement park was a success, even if it wasn't, just to launder money. Fate has a strange humor, because the more we pretended the park to be a success, the more successful it became. It is really successful now so my partners and I are really making money out of this now. I am rich and live here quite openly. People know Mr. Erik Yves. I am a respected member of society. I have friends among high politicians. But I would give all of that to switch places with you for just one day. I would give my life to be in your place for one single day."
"Ha! You would not survive one single day of my life! You cannot even imagine the humiliations and mockery I am forced to endure - to read in the gossip columns daily! You have no idea how difficult it can be to raise a child and keep a nervous primadonna from having a crying fit at the same time, to teach a boy who refuses to be taught, to arrange everything for a family and protect them and no matter what I do it never is enough!" Raoul was screaming now.
The Phantom just shrugged. "Doesn't sound that bad to me."
"Really? Fine. Then you get Gustave to do his math exercises. Without beating him up, without yelling and without killing him." The Vicomte was at his wits end. He was no teacher and he had no idea how to get his son to learn maths if the boy definitely refused to even look at the books.
"Gladly. Only that I can't. Neither Christine nor Gustave should ever know that I am still alive," the Phantom replied, "But I learned something I want to share with you. Maybe it helps you."
Raoul shook his head. "You are the reason for our misery! My wife and I never recovered from what you did to us! She's still scared of you, thinking you might lurk in some shadow, then she pities you and bemoans your cruel fate, feels guilty for leaving you. Do you have any idea how many nightmares we suffered in the past ten years?"
The Phantom lowered his head in shame. "I regret all the suffering I caused you." He sounded honest, so very honest, even Raoul didn't doubt that the Phantom was saying the truth. Then he straightened again and looked Raoul straight in the face. "If I could change the past, I'd do so. But I can't. Monsieur le Vicomte, I learned a very valuable lesson here in America. If I cannot change something, I have to make a philosophy of it and rub it in everyone's face. I can't change who I am. But I can enter a political campaign to fight for the rights of deformed people. You can't find a job. Your wife works and you take the load off her so she can concentrate on her career. Instead of wallowing in self-pity you could generally become a strong voice for women's rights, telling everyone that you are the best example that it works, that more rights for women doesn't destroy families. Embrace you fate. Don't fight it."
"I don't believe you. I don't believe that you did that," Raoul replied, but he wasn't sure what he could believe now.
The Phantom laughed. "No. You are right, I am not that good. I made this up to help you."
Now Raoul had to laugh too. "As if a good story would help me, but thanks for trying." Had he really just said that?
"As for your boy and maths - do you know carrot and stick policy? Use that. It works. Tell your son he has a job now and let him do some calculations that are really relevant in life. Like if you go shopping, you tell him how much you want to spend and he has to calculate what to buy. Or let him correct every bill you get. Something like that. He will learn that it is important to be able to calculate or other people will swindle you. Pay him something for doing his homework. You will soon see how quickly he can correct you if you give him less than promised."
"How do you know about teaching children?" Raoul asked. He couldn't picture the Phantom as being a teacher or a father.
The Phantom smiled. "Who do you think looked after Meg when Madame Giry was dancing? Did you think she left a toddler utterly alone in the dressing room? Until Meg was old enough to enter school, I was her nanny and teacher. She doesn't remember, she was too young then, but it is still a fond memory."
"I find it hard to believe that you really just try to help us." Raoul couldn't figure out what the Phantom's game was now.
"Will you believe it, if Hammerstein doubles your wife's fee tomorrow? I can't give her the money personally, I have to stay hidden."
"I believe it, when I see it."
The Phantom nodded. "Fair enough." He reached into his pocket and handed Raoul a calling card. "This is my adress. If you ever need anything, don't hesitate to ask. Whatever it is, ask, and it will be yours. Please. I sacrificed everything I ever dreamed of for Christine's sake. I trusted you to make her happy, but maybe I overchallenged you, maybe you had to bear too much responsibility too early in life. All I want is to see Christine happy. I can't do that without your help. It seems you need my help too. Feel free to ask whenever you need something."
Raoul stared at the card. He put it in his pocket, but he shook his head. "No. Monsieur, I think you are genuine, you really want to be helpful. Unfortunately we both know where this led to the last time. I won't accept any obligations to you, I won't allow you to worm your way into our family again, even if you just do it by proxy, by sending money or whatever else. No. Stay away. The Phantom is dead, let him rest in peace. You stay out of our lives. I can and I will manage alone."
The masked man swallowed hard. It was obvious that he had to struggle not to show his sadness. His voice was slightly quavering as he answered: "I promise. The Phantom is dead. I won't trouble anyone of you again."
Raoul held out his hand. He didn't say anything. He just allowed the other man to shake his hand.
Then Raoul got up. "Farewell, Mr. Yves."
"Farewell, Monsieur de Chagny."
Raoul returned to the hotel suite. He sighed when he saw Gustave happily eating sweets. The boy would soon get sick, he knew that. "Where's your mother?" he asked.
"Bathroom. Travelling sickness again."
Raoul sighed. Christine didn't suffer travelling sickness, but she did suffer stress induced migraine. He knocked at the bathroom door. "Darling?" he asked gently.
"Just leave me in peace! And make sure Gustave doesn't eat the chocolates one of my admirers sent!" she called out, unwilling or unable to leave the bathroom.
"Too late..." Raoul sighed and returned to his son. "Gustave, you should have been in bed hours ago. And what possessed you to steal your mother's chocolates?"
"She can't eat them. She's sick. And they are so good!" the boy exclaimed.
"Theft is theft. You know that stealing is a crime. So how are you going to refund her?" Raoul tried another approach. He was tired and wanted to sleep, but he already knew it would be several hours before he would finally get some rest.
"Don't know..." Gustave didn't have any money.
"Let's make a deal. You can earn a centime a week if you do your maths exercise properly each day. As soon as you have enough you can buy your mother a new box of chocolates." Raoul offered. It was worth a try, but he was quite sure the boy would be grown up before he had enough coins to buy anything.
"Can't you just slap me and be done with it?" the boy offered.
"Absolutely not. I am your father, I decide. Don't make that face, it won't work. Go to bed. Now!" Yes, Raoul was the father in the family now. And sometimes he didn't like it. But he would certainly not give the Phantom - or Mr. Yves or whatever name he would find himself - the slightest excuse to intervene! Certainly not!
Christine's debut in New York was a great success. Again she proved herself as the primadonna assoluta. Raoul was proud of her. He always was, always had been. He loved to hear her sing. If only... if only she could just sing for the pleasure of singing. If only they didn't need the money. But then - would their lives be so very different if he had more money?
In one of the boxes a man sat hidden in the shadows, his face covered in a black mask so he was invisible in the darkness. When he saw how radiant Christine looked, how happy she was, how the audience applauded her, he smiled. It hadn't been in vain. She was happy. She had her family, her career, she had everything. And maybe Raoul too would learn to appreciate what he had. Christine deserved that. She deserved a husband who stood at her side and supported her.
Yes, that was the life he had hoped Christine would live. Only that he had hoped to be the man at her side, but thinking of all he had done in his life he understood why she preferred the Vicomte. That's why he had finally set her free. He had given up the place at her side to ensure her happiness. His sacrifice had not been in vain.
Thanks for reading and please review.