Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 6 of 24

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"You look tired, Christine."

"I am tired." Christine sighed, stretched her arms out in an attempt to ease the ache that had settled across her shoulders. It had been a long day – two long days, interrupted by a sleepless night. Gustave hadn't wanted to go to bed; in the end he'd fallen asleep on the couch, and Erik had carried him to his room. It was late now, far too late for her to be awake still, but she didn't want to be alone.

Everything seemed to remind her that Raoul was gone. Even Erik – by his very presence, he was a reminder that her husband was dead, because she would never have been able to be with him like this when Raoul was alive.

She was trying not to think about how much pleasure she was feeling in being with him, with sitting with him and eating with him and yes, being held by him. The joy she had felt at supper, watching Erik and Gustave getting to know each other.

Guilt gnawed at her stomach.

Erik came to sit next to her, close enough to touch if she were to reach out. She wanted to, wanted to lean against him and let him be her strength, if only for a while.

She didn't. She couldn't.

"Christine," he said softly, and she looked at him, saw his concern. "Christine, you should rest."

"I know," she said. "I know I should." And then she did reach out, slipped her hand into his and held tight. "I don't think I can sleep alone," she admitted. "I'm so used to Raoul being there. I had Gustave last night, but…"

"If I thought if would help," said Erik carefully, "you know I would offer. To sleep only." Christine thought perhaps she should be shocked, but it was so like Erik to think of her comfort like that. He had always wanted to look after her; as she'd said to him this morning, she hardly deserved it.

She didn't say anything in response – she ought to, she knew. She ought to ignore the sudden thrill that had run through her at the thought of being that close to him, that intimate.

She closed her eyes, held his hand tighter and shook her head. "There are so many things I want," she said. "I want to know about your life and tell you about mine. I want…" She trailed off as he lifted her hand to his mouth, brushed a kiss against her fingers. "I feel so relieved," she said, words tumbling out of her mouth so quickly she wasn't sure he'd understand. "And so guilty about it."

He was silent, although whether he understood or not, she didn't want to guess.

"I wish I could discard it all," she continued, still keeping her eyes squeezed shut. "I wish I could forget that I should be grieving, but…and I do grieve for Raoul, of course I do, but Erik…"

"You are conflicted," he murmured, and she opened her eyes, found him watching her intently. "There is no shame in it," he added. "You did love him."

"Yes," she was forced to agree, "I did. But I didn't love him as I should, and that is why I have guilt." She lifted her free hand, touched his bare cheek in a gentle caress. "I loved you then," she said. "I was such a fool."

"We all were, perhaps," he said, and she nodded, relieved that he seemed to understand what she was feeling, seemed to understand whyshe was feeling this way. "Christine, please try to rest," he entreated then. "You're so tired. You'll become ill."

She had to acknowledge that he was right – if she didn't sleep, didn't rest better tonight than she had last night, she would become too fatigued to do any of the myriad things she was sure she still had to do. Too fatigued to care for Gustave.

"Will you sing for me?" she asked him. "Sing me to sleep?"

He smiled, a faint curl to his lips. "As I did when you first came to the Opera House?" She nodded, and he squeezed her hand lightly. "Very well, if you wish it."

"I've missed your voice," Christine said, quite truthfully. She had missed him, of course, but nothing had ever inspired her like his voice. As a distraught child in the Opera Populaire, his voice had comforted and guided her, and even once she had known who he was, his voice had continued to draw her to him.

He released her hand as he rose, and she reached out for him, afraid he was going to leave her. But he went to pull a blanket from a cupboard, indicated for her to lie down on the couch and then covered her.

"I should make you go to bed," he said, looking down at her, but Christine smiled at him and he perched on the edge of the couch, took her hand again and began to sing. Gentle lullabies and folk songs, music familiar to her from her childhood, and almost without realising it Christine began to drift into sleep.

She woke, briefly, when she felt herself being lifted; she grasped at Erik, rested her head against his shoulder as he carried her through to the bedroom and lay her gently down on the bed.

"Don't leave me," she murmured drowsily.

"Hush, Christine, I'm staying with you," Erik reassured her. "Turn onto your front, let me loosen your corset." She yawned and nodded agreement, pushed away thoughts of impropriety as his nimble fingers unbuttoned her dress, eased it from her body and loosened the corset.

"There," he murmured then, "sleep now." She rolled onto her side, reached out languidly for his hand and felt his fingers brush across her hair.

Christine hadn't dreamed last night, too numb for it perhaps, but she dreamed tonight. In her dreams she was back at the Opera Populaire, lost in the levels beneath the ground. Gustave was there too, always just out of her sight, always disappearing around corners and down dark stairwells before she could reach him. In her dream she searched for him, ran through the tunnels and dark spaces underneath the Opera; in her dream she could hear someone laughing at her, and she cried out as again and again Gustave was whisked away from her by some force.

She came to the lake, but in her dream it was as vast as an ocean, and now she saw Gustave, on a boat too far out for her to reach. Raoul was there, rowing the boat away, and she cried out, tried to wade into the water to reach them, but someone was holding her back – Raoul, her dream making him be in two places at once, and it was the ugly Raoul, the Raoul who emerged when he'd been drinking, the scowling, fierce, violent man who had grown out of the sweet boy she'd once known.

She struggled against his hold, against the hands that gripped her shoulders and held her back from trying to reach Gustave. Someone was saying her name, someone shook her –

She woke. Erik's face was close above hers, his white mask almost shining in the grey pre-dawn light that filtered through the curtains. It was his hands on her shoulders, his voice saying her name.

"Just a dream," he was saying. "Wake, Christine, the dream can't hurt you."

She gave a strangled sob, sat up and flung her arms about his neck. For a moment he was still, as if unsure how to react, and then his hands slid from her shoulders, his arms wrapped around her waist and he held her close to him. Christine pressed her face against his chest and sobbed, the terror of the dream and the emotional burden of the past days overwhelming her at last.

She clung to him for long minutes, and his arms were warm around her, his lips pressed to her hair. Comforting, loving.

At last her tears ceased and Erik eased her back down onto the bed, sat beside her and held her hands in his.

"Only a dream," he said again, and she nodded, closed her eyes for a moment. Her head felt hot and aching, her eyes sore from crying. Erik touched her cheek, brushed away dampness. "Let me get you a glass of water."

"Yes," she murmured. "Thank you." He left her briefly, and when he returned she let him help her sit, sipped the water slowly. "I'm so sorry," she said then.

"Hush," Erik admonished. "There's no need to apologise." He offered her a handkerchief and, feeling a little like a child again, she scrubbed her face dry. "Would it help to share the dream?"

"I –" Her voice choked in her throat, the words refused to come and Erik reached to take the glass from her hand. "I'm sorry," she repeated, and Erik shook his head, put the glass on the bedside table.

"The dream is over," he said, his voice soft and persuasive. "It can't hurt you, Christine."

"I dreamed I was back in the Opera House," Christine said hurriedly. "With Gustave, only I couldn't reach him – he was always just out of my reach." She blinked away yet more tears, pressed her hands to her eyes and took deep breaths. "And then we were at the lake, and Raoul had Gustave on a boat, he was taking him away from me."

Erik was silent for a long moment, and then he exhaled, reached to embrace her again. "Gustave is safe," he told her. "He's asleep in his bedroom, I checked on him just a few moments ago. And Raoul…Raoul is gone." Christine nodded, rested her head against his shoulder. "Just a dream," he soothed her.

"I was so scared," she whispered, and he rocked her gently, stroked her hair. "Erik…don't leave me."

"Never," he promised. "Never again."

"Will you come with us? To France?" she asked him then. Erik sighed, pulled back to look at her and she read his answer in her face. "No," she said, nodding a little. "No, of course. People will remember, it might be dangerous for you."

"Perhaps," Erik said slowly. "There would be difficulties. But solutions could be found, if you wish me to accompany you." He lifted a hand, pressed a finger to her lips. "But not tonight, Christine. You need more sleep. We can talk about it tomorrow."

Christine pursed her lips and then nodded. "Alright," she agreed. "But together, Erik. Please. Please don't decide for us." She couldn't reproach him aloud with the choice he'd made ten years ago – had already done so, when they'd met at last after ten long, lonely years of separation, and she'd seen how it had pained him. She never wanted to cause him pain again.

But Erik knew what she meant; he nodded, looked tired just for a moment.

"Together," he said. "I promise."

She trusted in his promise, and let him ease her back down onto the bed; he pulled the covers up, tucking her in as if she were a child, and the tenderness of the action made her warm.

"Stay with me," she murmured, drowsy again. "Stay with me, Erik."

His lips brushed against her forehead and she slept.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 6 of 24

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