Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Raoul hesitated outside Christine's dressing room. He was a fool - had been a fool for years now. Why couldn't he stop himself from drinking? From gambling away his family's fortune? Why had he wagered with the opera ghost? There was nothing to do for it now - he had to convince Christine not to sing.
Raoul steeled himself and opened the dressing room door to slip inside. Christine was radiant, singing to Gustave as she flitted around the room, getting ready for her performance. His eyes turned to Gustave, his sweet little Gustave, who the opera ghost had said wasn't his at all. Gustave smiled up at Christine and Raoul wondered how he'd never seen before just how much the boy looked like the opera ghost. Christine had a son with the ghost - all these years, Raoul had raised the boy as his own, just to discover that Gustave was never his son.
"Father!" Gustave turned his smile to Raoul. "Doesn't Mother look lovely tonight?"
Shame rose in Raoul's gut. Gustave was his son - blood or not, he had raised the boy, loved him. He hadn't been a good father for the last several years, but Raoul vowed that he would change that. It was ironic, that it had taken finding out Gustave wasn't his by blood to realize just how much he loved his son - and that he needed to step up and be a better father and husband for his family.
"Indeed she does," Raoul smiled back at the boy. "As lovely as she looked the very first time I came to her dressing room door."
"And look at you, Raoul!" Christine looked at Raoul fondly. "You look just like that handsome boy in the opera box."
"Remembering when Little Lotte let her mind wander. Little Lotte thought: am I fonder of dolls or of goblins or shoes? Or of riddles, of frocks?"
"Those picnics in the attic," Christine smiled.
"Or of chocolates?
"Father playing the violin."
"As we read to each other dark stories of the north."
Gustave looked between Christine and Raoul with bright eyes.
"Long ago," Raoul sang softly. "It seems so long ago - how young and innocent we were!"
Christine, eyes wet, sang, "But you're no longer him and I'm no longer her."
Raoul held out a hand to Gustave, who grabbed it, and held out his other hand to Christine. After a moment, she took it.
"I know I haven't been a good father or husband," Raoul said. "I've let you both down. And I must confess - I've let you down once more. Mr. Y said that if you sing, you both stay here with him. If you don't sing, we'll go home together."
Christine yanked her hand out of Raoul's. "Raoul, what- why would you-"
"I'm so sorry," Raoul said. "I was foolish. He told me-"
Raoul glanced at Gustave, then back at Christine, who paled.
"But I love you both, you're my family, no matter what, and I don't want to lose you over a drunken wager made in anger and confusion. I promise I'll turn things around. We can leave tonight - there's a ship leaving for home in an hour, we can book passage and be on our way."
"We're not yours and his to wager over, Raoul," Christine snapped. Raoul knew she was right - yet he didn't think the opera ghost would agree. "I'll sing and still come home. I signed a contract. We need the money."
"I'll earn back every penny once we're home," Raoul promised, panic rising in him. Even if Christine wanted to come home with Raoul and Gustave after she sang, would the opera ghost try to stop them? "And perhaps the ship is looking for a singer to entertain the passengers. Miss Giry can sing tonight."
Christine sat in her chair and put her head in her hands. Gustave went to sit beside her, squeezing into the chair.
"Christine, I'm frightened...please don't do this," Raoul sang, falling to his knees in front of the chair. "Christine, it scares me, don't put me through this ordeal by fire, he'll take you, I know."
"We'll be parted forever, he won't let you go."
Christine didn't say anything for several moments, then sang, "Twisted every way, what answer can I give? Can I go back to my life? But miss the chance to live? Can I betray the man who once inspired my voice? Do I stay here with him? Do I have any choice? But he's killed without a thought, he stole my childhood. I could refuse to sing - yet still, I feel I should. Oh, Raoul - if I agree, Gustave and you and me, could we leave the Phantom's opera?"
Raoul nodded, taking Christine's hands into his own. "Christine, Christine, I promise that I care. My every hope, my every prayer is for you now."
"All I want is freedom from this life of endless night," Christine sang, then grabbed Gustave and Raoul's hands. "With you - always beside me. To love me and treat me kindly."
"Then say you'll share with us your love and laughter," Gustave began.
Raoul continued, "We'll bring an ending to this endless feud. We'll always be with you, right here beside you. Anywhere you go, let me go too. Christine, that's all I ask of you."
Christine was still silent. Raoul considered the thought that he might actually lose her - that his years of foolishness had cost him his family.
"Please say you love me," Raoul sang, frightened to hear the answer, but needing to know.
Christine into Raoul's eyes. "You know I do."
Raoul couldn't help the sob of relief that escaped him. He pressed a kiss to Christine's hand and waited for her to decide.
After another moment, Christine stood from the chair, straightening her shoulders and nodding decisively. "We should leave at once. Raoul - take Gustave and go to the dock to secure passage on the ship. Ask Meg to sing in my place before you go and I'll send someone to collect our luggage. I'll meet you on the ship. Gustave, stay with your father. Don't wander off, darling, not with Mr. Y or anyone, do you understand?"
Gustave nodded eagerly, not quite following what was going on but caught up in the excitement nonetheless.
"Christine," Raoul said, "perhaps you should go with Gustave to the dock instead."
Christine shook her head. "I need to do this, Raoul. Or he'll always be there singing songs in my head. Please, I need him to stop singing songs in my head."
Christine pulled Raoul and Gustave into a tight hug. Raoul had a hard time letting her go when she pulled away.
Raoul gathered up the bags in the dressing room, took Gustave's hand in his, and headed for the door. He hesitated there, looking back at Christine from the doorway. She was changing out of her stage shoes and into boots, quickly doing up the laces and pulling them tight. She looked up at Raoul and he could see a hint of fear for the coming discussion with the opera ghost - but the fear was dwarfed by the determination in her eyes.
The door had barely shut behind Raoul and Gustave when the opera ghost appeared behind Christine. She knew he was there before she saw him - the lights flickered and she felt so cold, the skin of her arms rose in goosebumps.
"I'm afraid I won't be performing tonight," Christine said without turning. "Miss Giry will sing in my place. She has a beautiful voice. She could use a tutor as you once taught me."
The opera ghost didn't speak. Christine went to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear and his hand caught her wrist. She stayed there a moment, hand suspended at the level of her eyes.
"I'll be returning home with my husband and our son-"
"My son," the opera ghost cut her off.
Christine yanked her wrist out of his grip and spun to face him. "Perhaps you should have thought about that before suggesting a cruel wager with my husband while he was drunk."
"Drunk or not, the fool took the wager," the opera ghost said. "You'll sing tonight and you and the boy will stay here, with me." He stepped towards Christine, closing the distance between them. "Close your eyes, start a journey to my strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the life you knew before. Close your eyes, let the music set you free - and then, you'll belong to me."
Christine took a step back, then another when he made to move towards her again. "Angel of Music, you deceived me. I once again followed, blindly."
"Your chains are still mine. You will sing for me," the opera ghost hissed.
"Cynical creature of darkness. Is this the life you have grown? God give me courage to leave you - I'm not yours to own."
"We have a son," the opera ghost said, the bravado leaving his voice. "I have a son. You cannot take him from me. He's mine."
"You live your life in the darkness," Christine said. "Look what it's done to you, my Angel of Music. Would you truly wish that life on your son?"
"Christine-" the opera ghost began, his voice breaking. He closed the distance between them again and this time, Christine let him. He wrapped his arms around her. She could feel him start to shake and a tear fell onto her shoulder.
"You may yet see him again," Christine said. "We could come to visit, and perhaps you could tutor Gustave in music. You can exchange letters. But you must stop these games. Step out of the shadows. You could be an architect, a music tutor, or anything in between."
"I cannot," the opera ghost insisted, pulling away to look at her. "This face, this infection, has poisoned my life."
Christine reached up slowly. She took off his mask and let her hand rest on the warped skin underneath. "Your maskless face holds no horror for me now. It's in your mind that your worth and value lie."
The opera ghost rested his hand atop Christine's, which was still pressed against his face.
"I've heard wonderful stories of the Metropolitan Opera House," Christine said, dropping her hand from his face but gripping onto his hand with her own. "They could use a former opera ghost to tutor their cast. Your talent is unparalleled. With someone like you tutoring them, Gustave could even come study for a summer. But you must work in the light. Build a life that's good - no more killing, hiding, tricking. Do it for Gustave."
"I don't know how."
"Say you'll love him every waking moment," Christine sang. "Let him lead you from your solitude. Live each day for him, each night, each morning. Think of him in all you say and do. Be someone he can look up to."
The opera ghost's face was wet with tears, but he nodded. "You must go. The ship leaves soon. I'll have your luggage sent to the dock."
"Thank you," Christine said, squeezing his hand before letting it go. "Gustave will write you a letter when we arrive home. Should he address it to Mr. Y?"
Christine leaned up to press a kiss to his cheek. "Goodbye, Erik."
With that, she turned and walked to the door. In the doorway, she glanced back for one last look, but the opera ghost was gone.