A/N: Continuity is Lloyd Webber ("Phantom of the Opera"/"Love Never Dies") with sizeable helpings of the Leroux novel for the backstory where not actively contradicted in the musicals: the only thing I have deliberately changed from the musicals is that Raoul's parents both died (as in Leroux) while he was still a boy (although as per Lloyd Webber, he holds the title of Vicomte and not Comte de Chagny!) Specifically, the story is dated very precisely to 1907, which is supposedly the setting for "Love Never Dies" (whether or not this is consistent with the time-period for "Phantom"...) It is also tied definitely to the events and lyrics of the original London production, rather than the revised version - largely because a number of the specific lines I referenced here were among those subsequently removed in revision. I suspect this may have some relevance to the colossal struggles I myself had in getting this stuff to work together!
Chapter 1: What Little We Deserve
Christine de Chagny unclasped the single string of pearls she had worn at dinner, laid them carefully aside into the worn shagreen case that had once held the de Chagny rubies, and began to loosen the pins from the piled masses of her hair. Far below, men toiled in the stokeholds of the great Atlantic liner, and vast masses of machinery rocked back and forth with the regularity of clockwork in the beating heart of the ship; but the power that sent the ocean churning far astern in the Persephone's wake made itself felt only as the faintest of steady vibrations in the staterooms high above, and the electric light above the mirror glowed without a flicker.
Nothing but the best for the great soprano Christine Daaé... first-class tickets from Cherbourg on the Hamburg-Amerika Line, flowers in her cabin as she boarded, dinner tonight at the captain's table... Her eyes met those of the weary reflection in the mirror, and acknowledged the bitterness there. That young man, von Enck — would he have paid all those fulsome compliments to the simplicity of her taste if he had known just how few jewels she had left to wear? Would that pompous English colonel have shown her quite such marked attentions if he and the other guests had guessed the true extent of the Chagnys' debts? And would she have been spared the constant, gushing expectations of enthusiasm for all things American — and for her great future in the New World — if they'd had even the slightest idea of the sordid mercenary necessity that was taking her across the Atlantic, on a contract she had simply been unable to refuse?
Raoul — she and Raoul needed the money. It was as simple as that. So Christine Daaé had been hired, body and soul, by the highest bidder; tickets and bouquets dispatched, in a show of favour, to tighten the gilded chains. And now she was to sing in New York, for a preposterous fee whose very size would doubtless be blazoned as an attraction on the billboards: "The Soprano of the Century, At Enormous Expense"... Bitterness deepened at the corners of her mouth, where two fine lines had begun to form.
And Raoul — Raoul, descending one step behind her on the grand staircase yet again, as the young officers jostled among themselves to escort her to the table — Raoul, who on that polyglot table had let slip no word of anything but French, and no hint save for the ever-refilling depths of his glass that he understood one half of what was being said — Raoul had endured the evening at her side with the same savage, impotent misery that was devouring the husband she had so much loved, that was driving them apart month by month and year by year.
Christine let fall a handful of hairpins one by one, and dropped her head into her hand, fingers massaging unconsciously at her temples. Von Enck had showered her with flowery praises. Raoul de Chagny had not even returned her tentative smile.
She got up abruptly, leaving her toilette half-finished. In the far room, she could hear the sound of trunks being opened. "Célestine?"
A gruff sound in return that might have been "Madame", or simply an unspecific retort. Christine wished, yet again, that they could have brought Mathilde: Mathilde, who had spent her life down at Chagny under the old Vicomtesse, and who had welcomed and befriended her new young mistress in those first uncertain weeks in the great house with its staff. Mathilde, who had chased after Raoul when he had been no more than a tubby tow-headed infant, who had recited tales of his boyhood exploits with a relish that raised a blush to the grown man's cheeks for Christine to kiss away, laughing; Mathilde, whose wisdom had calmed Christine in the months that the child grew within her, whose gnarled hand had held hers during the endless all-consuming struggle of his birth, who had tended her through the long months of weakness that followed; Mathilde who, twenty years older, had let a toddling Gustave run rings around her even as Raoul had once done, and who had whipped him soundly on the one and only occasion when he had escaped her vigilance, at the age of seven, and terrified his mother by almost falling into the lake. Mathilde, who had somehow known the secret, these last few years, of easing the harsh lines from Raoul's face, granting whatever absolution he seemed to seek, at times when even Christine was shut out; it had hurt Christine more than she could admit, then, to find herself powerless, but it was to old Mathilde's influence that she had owed those last snatched weeks of happiness down at Chagny, when Raoul had laughed again, a little, and smiled at Gustave's nonsense instead of snapping, and on one, long-lost occasion — locked deep and precious and painful in her heart — had dropped suddenly to one knee before breakfast in the dew on the terrace, and poured out a passionate, incoherent avowal.
A tear spilled over, treacherous and hot, and Christine thrust the memory down almost violently, piling on top of it long, stifling weeks at Monte Carlo with Raoul plunging deeper into the grip of the table-sharks, endless empty evenings left waiting alone in their town-house for his return, concerts he could only endure in a haze of drink, and mornings made hideous by the uncertain temper and sore head that ensued... If she could only pile up grievances — if she could only pretend, even to herself, that this was the real Raoul, not the husband she so desperately missed — if she could only keep from crying —
Christine de Chagny wiped cold cream across her cheeks and forehead with a steady hand, pulled the rest of her hairpins free with a tug, and coiled her hair swiftly at the nape of her neck. Mathilde was too set in her ways now to travel to Paris, let alone to America. Already six months in arrears with the servants' wages, she could not advance them the money needed to induce them abroad. So it was the unsatisfactory Célestine — or nothing.
Sometimes Christine thought she would have preferred nothing. Célestine Bribot, second cousin to Raoul's valet, had sold up her milliner's shop to emigrate to America, where her nephew, who had sent for her, had set up a thriving business of his own. In return for a free passage, she had grudgingly agreed to help look after Gustave — "only on the voyage, mind" — but she was at pains to let it be known that she had never been 'in service' in her life, and was not about to start now. It was her insistence on making this status clear to Madame de Chagny at every opportunity that was wearing, to say the least.
More crashes from beyond the inner door: if the woman didn't take care, she would wake Gustave. Sighing, Christine pulled a wrapper around the shoulders of her dress, and went to find out.
Gustave, by some mercy, was still asleep, curled into his customary nest of blankets despite Célestine's perpetual determination to 'tuck him in'; he had slipped one hand beneath his cheek in an unconscious echo of Raoul. They were so very alike in so many ways — as if to mock her, Christine thought, smoothing back the fair curls with a tenderness that belied the old irresolute ache. So very like... and how could she be certain, after all? A small Gustave had worshipped Raoul — had made them all laugh, modelling his every gesture on the young Vicomte's own — but surely, surely her son had never woken to see Raoul nestled into the pillows just so? So many mornings in those long-ago sunlit uplands; so many awakenings... and so long gone.
Her husband slept late now, in his dressing-room, and left her to wake alone. And Gustave's father... showed more clearly in the boy with every year that passed. The cheeks, the eyes, the sturdy limbs, the sunny curls: all could so easily have been Raoul's, and she'd told herself for years that it might still be true. Hoped, even; double betrayal.
But the likeness only mocked, these days, taunting with its might-have-been. She knew, too well, what to look for... and she was sure, all but sure. Before the sunlight, there had been darkness, and pity, and loneliness become drowning intoxication. And now — and now, there was Gustave.
She bent to brush a kiss gently across his forehead and turned to reprimand Célestine. The woman had their trunks standing upright all over the cabin, opened concertina-fashion, shoes and bags spilling out: she had stopped short at festooning Gustave's bed in her search, but everything else from the washstand to Célestine's own berth was draped with dresses, chemises, spencers, and underwear of all descriptions. And she was continuing to slam open drawers and pull out books in an obviously fruitless frustration.
"Really, Célestine, you should make less noise... and what on earth is it you are looking for?"
"Monsieur Gustave has no clean shirts." A self-righteous sniff that conveyed a clear suggestion of satisfaction at finding Gustave's mother wanting. "Only two days on board, and no fresh linen to be found — the son of a Vicomte, and no better provided for than some ill-begotten brat —"
"Enough!" Ten years had given that Vicomte's wife a measure of aristocratic hauteur when she chose; and besides, Célestine's words had fallen all too apt upon her own thoughts.
"Perhaps Monsieur Gustave's clothing is in Monsieur le Vicomte's luggage?" she suggested, more gently, as the older woman bridled. "We packed and left in some confusion — there may have been a mistake —"
"Some mistake," Célestine said under her breath, hands on her hips as she surveyed the chaos in the half-open trunks, and Christine's own expression hardened.
"Doubtless you will be able to put things in better order, madame. I leave it to you — unless you would prefer that I do so, and that you should take the part of approaching Monsieur le Vicomte? No, I had thought not."
But any satisfaction at seeing Célestine momentarily quelled ebbed, even as she drew her skirts about her and closed the door, with the knowledge of her coming confrontation with Raoul. She sat down again a moment in front of the mirror, trying to gather her courage; trying to ignore the jeering voice that wondered what had become of their marriage.
And just when did every question become a confrontation? The face in the mirror was strained and pale. Oh, Raoul.
Christine de Chagny pulled the wrapper more closely around her shoulders, took a long shallow breath, and slipped out of her stateroom into the corridor outside.