Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 1 of 37

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Stay By My Side

He led her up through the darkness to the light, up through the opera cellars and basements, up little-used staircases and back corridors, and along hidden passageways that she was sure only he knew about.

"You can find your way from here," he said at last, and Christine looked up, glanced around, nodded. But he didn't see her, turned and held the lantern high, looked at her keenly. She almost flinched away from his gaze. "Christine?"

"Yes," she whispered, and realised she hadn't spoken since before she had…since before. He hadn't given her a chance to speak, first raging and then pleading, and then at last, when he had his mask on again, calm and resolute, bringing her back across the lake and away from his home.

"You're sure?" he pressed her, frowning now, the expression half-disguised by the mask. "You're shivering." He stepped closer, she flinched again and he stopped, lowered the lantern. She thought he was hurt by it, wondered for a moment why she should care when he had – when he –

"I'll take you the rest of the way," he decided, and his hand reached for her again, fingers clasped about her wrist before she could shrink away.

He pulled her along another corridor, through a door hidden in panelling and into another secret passageway, and she thought she recognised it from the night before – how long ago had it been, she wondered, since her Angel had revealed himself, since he had whisked her away from her dressing room? The opera house, from what she could see, was dark and empty. It was still night, not yet dawn, but the opening night celebrations must be long past.

The back of the mirror loomed, the glass shining in the lamplight. She could see through to the little dressing room that had been assigned to her, the hastily-discarded costumes, the dressing table with the costume jewellery still strewn across it.

And Madame Giry sitting at the table, waiting for them. Christine gasped, bit her lip, and he – the Phantom – muttered a curse, pressed something at the side of the mirror and let it swing aside.

"Here she is," he said, and there was a sour note in his voice. "Safe and unharmed." He tugged at her wrist, brought her into the dressing room, and Christine stood silently, eyes downcast, aware that he and Madame Giry were glaring at each other. "Take her home," he said at last, an order. "She's overwrought."

Then the mirror swung closed; the lamplight vanished. Christine glanced over her shoulder at the mirror, wondered if he was still there, if he were watching them, waiting to see what she would say.

"You must be freezing," said Madame Giry, and Christine jumped a little, turned back to her guardian and felt her cheeks warm as she remembered how she was dressed. "Get changed, and then I'll take you back to my room for tonight."

Christine knew better than to protest, to suggest that she could go back to the small dormitory she shared with a handful of the other girls in the corps de ballet. Even if she dared to do anything but accept Madame Giry's order, she wasn't sure she wanted to go back to the dormitory, wasn't sure she wanted to face the questions, the talking, the gossiping of the dancers.

Not tonight. Tonight she was cold, and shaken, and she would not object to sleeping on the couch in Madame Giry's small apartment. Would not object to the meagre comfort offered by it.

She went to the corner of the room, to the small wardrobe where her day dress was hung up, and she changed quickly, stripped off the remains of her costume and the dressing gown, donned the warmer dress. She looked at the white dressing gown for a moment; the hem was damp, a little dirty, and she wondered if she would need to look at it tomorrow, to see proof of what had happened. Wondered if after she slept it might all seem to be a dream.

"Don't dawdle, Christine," said Madame Giry sharply, and Christine shoved the dressing gown to the back of the wardrobe, closed the door, clasped her hands together.

"I'm ready, Madame," she murmured, and Madame Giry nodded once, gestured with a hand for Christine to go before her from the room.

They walked the familiar route to Madame Giry's rooms in silence. The opera house was dark and quiet, everyone gone home or to their beds, the lights turned out. Christine thought it was almost as eerie as the walk up from the Phantom's home, was glad of Madame Giry's prosaic presence, following barely a step behind her.

Madame Giry unlocked her door, held it open for Christine, and then closed it firmly, went to light the candles.

"Are you alright?" she asked, abrupt, as she turned to look at Christine – almost inspecting her, Christine felt, and she was very aware of the remains of stage make-up on her face, of the state of her hair, of the way she was still trembling.

"No," she whispered, and she couldn't help crying, great sobs that wracked her body, and Madame Giry had to physically move her to a chair, wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, held her and did not, as Christine feared she might, say that she was too old for such scenes.

At last the tears ceased, and Christine leaned wearily against her guardian, exhausted beyond anything she had felt before.

"There, now," said Madame Giry, and her voice was unusually gentle. "Go and wash your face, Christine, and you may use my hairbrush tonight." Christine nodded, stood up, but Madame Giry halted her, touched her wrist and Christine shuddered, remembered how he had clasped her wrist, had almost dragged her from his home after she had –

"Christine," Madame Giry said, "did he harm you?"

Christine shook her head at once. No, he hadn't harmed her, not physically, at least. She'd thought he was going to, thought he would strike her in his anger, had cowered away from him in terror. But although he'd touched her before then – oh god, he'd touched her, and her cheeks flushed as she remembered it, remembered how it had felt – he hadn't harmed her.

Not physically.

"But he scared you," said Madame Giry, and she sighed, stood up. "Wash your face," she instructed. "I'll find you something to wear to bed."

Christine went to the basin, cupped water in her hands and brought it to her face, used a flannel to scrub the makeup off, remove the evidence of her tears. She thought of the Opera Ghost, thought of all the stories, wondered if he was watching even now.

She couldn't think about that.

Madame Giry brought her a nightgown, clearly one of her own, and a glass of something – brandy, Christine realised, when Madame Giry indicated for her to drink. It burned in her mouth and throat, warmed her from inside, and she went to the couch, helped Madame Giry arrange blankets for her bed.

"Now sit down, and tell me," said Madame Giry when at last the bed was ready and Christine was changed. "You're sure he didn't hurt you?"

"I'm sure," Christine murmured. "At least – oh, Madame." She looked up, felt miserable and wretched, felt as though her life had become a lie. "You knew, didn't you?" she asked, agonised. "Why did you never tell me?"

"That your Angel and the Phantom are one and the same?" Madame Giry offered a helpless shrug. "Oh Christine, what could I have said? You would never have believed me."

Christine looked down, sipped the brandy again, thought of her Angel, thought of the voice that had taught her for nearly five years now. More than a teacher, though – he had been her friend. She had gone to him with her problems, spoken of her hopes and dreams.

Foolish, foolish idiot, she thought to herself. She should have realised, should have asked, should have done anything other than what she had done. She had pushed away all questions, had believed that even if the voice were not an angel, he was at least good and kind and –

"Perhaps I should have tried," said Madame Giry then, "but you are not the only one he has scared, Christine. To tell you against his wishes would have been foolhardy." She reached out, took Christine's hand. "But I do believe he means you no harm," she said firmly.

"Yes," said Christine, nodding slightly. "Yes, I know that. He – I cannot believe he would hurt me." She looked at Madame Giry again, moistened her lip, wondered once more if he were listening, if he had tunnels behind these walls, if he could hear her even now. She wanted to speak of her actions to Madame Giry, to tell her that she had taken his mask, to explain how he had scared her so.

She shuddered again; he had been so very angry, so very betrayed. They had betrayed each other so much in just the space of a few hours, and she didn't know how to make any of it right.

His face had shocked her, yes – had horrified her, that anyone could have such a face, that it could be real – but that shock had faded so quickly into fear, not of the man's face but of his temper.

And she was so scared still.

"Oh Christine," sighed Madame Giry, shaking her head. "You need to sleep. Don't bother waking up in the morning. Monsieur Reyer will want you for rehearsals, no doubt, but I'll put him off."

Christine hadn't even thought of tomorrow, of what her days would be like while Hannibal was showing. She'd had only a few short hours of rehearsal that afternoon, Monsieur Reyer rushing through all the scenes – she'd known the music, of course, known all Elissa's cues, but he'd had to rehearse the blocking with her, and he would of course want to rehearse further, to make sure the opening night's success was continued.

But Hannibal was only due to run for four weeks – after that they were to present Il Muto once again, and she wondered, briefly, whether she would be able to audition for a part, whether she would even be continuing as Elissa or whether Carlotta would return.

She thought of the accident, of the backdrop that had fallen on Carlotta, and she caught her breath as she realised it had been the Phantom, her Angel, who had done it, and she knew why, she knew he had done it for her.

Christine looked at Madame Giry, finished the brandy and saw fear in her guardian's face.

"Thank you," she said softly. "I'm feeling much better now. I – I'd like to sleep."

Madame Giry looked as though she might protest, as though she might ask more questions, but then she nodded, sighed, took the glass and rose.

"Well," she said. "Sleep well. I'll find someone to bring you a tray in the morning so you can eat when you wake." And she left, went through to the other room, shut the door and for a few minutes Christine could hear her moving around, preparing for bed.

Then all was silence. Christine blew out the candles, lay down on the couch and stared into the darkness until at last fatigue pulled her into sleep.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 1 of 37

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