Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 11 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
Stay By My Side

Christine hurried to her dressing room eagerly, released at last from the duties of unpacking and relating their two-day excursion to her friends in the corps de ballet. Nearly two hours had passed since they had returned to the opera house, and Christine wanted to see Erik, to talk to him.

To tell him she had missed him, and perhaps more.

The backstage areas weren't busy; most people were taking advantage of the time off, so the only people around were the young dancers and the craftsmen, still busy preparing for the following night's opening of Il Muto. Christine slipped past them all, intent on her destination.

He was waiting for her, of course, and she couldn't help smiling when she saw him. She shut the door behind her, reached out for him, and he hesitated only a little before holding his arms out for her, letting her hug him close.

"I missed you," she said, pressed her face to his shoulder and revelled in the feel of his arms around her. He said nothing, but he turned his face into her curls, pulled her impossibly closer. And then he slid his hands to her shoulders, pushed her to arms' length and looked her over critically.

"You look less tired," he murmured. "I suppose that's something." She smiled wider – he had missed her too, she knew, but he wouldn't say it. It was enough that she knew. "Are you required elsewhere?" he wanted to know. "Or would you care to come downstairs with me?"

"I am not needed," she said. "And I would very much like that." His hands smoothed down her arms, as if he didn't want to cease touching her, and then he took her hand to lead her through the mirror.

Christine had been this way many times by now, and thought she could probably traverse it alone. Erik had warned her several times, however, of the traps that he disabled before bringing her down, and there was only one boat, so Christine would only be able to reach the near lake shore without assistance even if she managed to get past the traps safely.

She wasn't quite sure why she wanted to be able to come and go freely. Certainly she didn't want to intrude, to arrive unannounced and invade Erik's privacy. Still, she thought he might see it as what it was – a gesture of her desire to spend more time with him.

The house was warm when they arrived, the fire blazing in the hearth and candles lit everywhere. It felt cosy, felt like a home, and Christine settled into her usual chair and sighed contentedly.

"I'll fetch tea," Erik announced, and went through to the kitchen. Christine had been there, once or twice, but Erik always ushered her out again, refused to allow her to help him. She had wondered if he thought her incapable, when it had first happened, but dismissed the idea – he wanted to take care of her, wanted to do these things for her, rather than thinking her unable.

He returned with a tray, set it down on the table before the fire, sat down across from her, a little uncomfortable as he always was when they relaxed together like this.

"Pastries," Christine exclaimed, delighted. "Oh, Erik, my favourites." She smiled at him, and he inclined his head, a silent acknowledgement of her pleasure. "You did miss me," Christine dared then, leaned forwards to pour the tea. His china had improved since they had first shared tea, but she didn't think she particularly wanted to know how he ad acquired a matched set.

"Did you doubt I would?" he asked then, accepted his cup. His fingers brushed hers, almost by accident except she knew Erik's movements were so controlled, so careful, particularly around her.

"I hoped you would," she said, and he nodded, thoughtful, said nothing. Christine bit her lip, chose a pastry and leaned back in her chair. She was trying to decide whether she could ask him a question, whether she dared do so. She had spent much of the past two days thinking, working out what she was feeling, and she felt ready to speak to him – but she didn't quite know how. Whether she was right, and he cared for her the same way.

"You're very quiet," Erik observed. "Is something the matter?"

Christine shook her head at once, could sense the hidden trap in his words. He was so wary of being rejected, and she knew four weeks could scarcely begin to make up for a lifetime of ill treatment.

"I'm very glad to be here," she said. He looked at her, his visible eyebrow lowered in a frown. "I've been…thinking a great deal," she went on, slowly. "I would like to ask you a question, but…" She shrugged, bit her lip. "I promised myself I wouldn't ask questions," she admitted then. "That if you wanted me to know things about yourself, and your past, you would tell me when you were comfortable."

He was not comfortable now, that much was clear: his whole posture radiated tense anticipation, his face was as expressionless as the white mask that covered the left side.

"How very forbearing of you," he said sarcastically, and Christine flinched, knew at once that there was no way this could end well. "Well, what is it you want to know? Come, I'm an open book to you."

She shook her head, put her teacup down. She couldn't turn back now, knew he would press on until she asked her question. But the words stuck in her throat and she couldn't look at him, couldn't face that blankness, that anger.

But she had started this; she must finish.

"I was wondering why you had a wedding dress here," she whispered at last. Erik inhaled sharply – he hadn't been expecting that, and she glanced up at him, saw him rise and turn away from her. He stood by the fireplace, rested a hand on the mantelpiece. Christine shuddered, lowered her head. "I'm sorry," she offered.

"Ha," he muttered. "Sorry, for asking about that. Well, I know your curiosity – how you must have worked to keep it under control these past weeks! No, of all things to ask…" He turned back to her, almost glaring, and she shrank back in her seat, tried to be brave but his sarcasm was new, unexpected. "Why, Christine? Why does anyone possess a wedding dress? For a bride." He stepped towards her, leaned over her and Christine held her breath, stared up at him. "Does that shock you? That a creature such as I would dream of a bride?"

"N-no," she managed. But he shook his head, mouth twisted in a sneer.

"You're a better actress than that," he derided. "You knew why I have the gown. Why bother asking a question to which you already know the answer?"

Christine swallowed, shook her head. "You're scaring me, Erik," she whispered. And at once he pulled away from her, snarling, went to his organ and sat. He didn't play; his breath came in great heaves, and Christine slowly stood up, crossed the room and stood beside him.

"My apologies," he said after long, silent moments. "Like you, I made myself a promise. That I would not scare you again. But I'm afraid, my dear, that I have a temper." Christine nodded, said nothing. "You'll want to go now," he said, bitter, but he didn't move. His hands rested on the organ, his fingers still.

"I don't want to go," Christine said, and he looked up at her, incredulous. She looked straight at him, refused to glance away, let him see whatever was in her expression, and Erik stared, his eyes darting over her face. She licked her lips, nervous; his gaze went at once to her mouth, and she flushed under the intensity of it.

"Torture," he murmured. "Do you know how you torture me? Is this some new cruelty you've dreamed up to inflict upon the living corpse?"

Christine inhaled sharply. "Who called you that?" she asked at once, ignoring her self-imposed promise to curb her curiosity. "How could they?" She reached out, stopped short of touching him, knew he wouldn't welcome it. "I'm not trying to be cruel," she said, and he shook his head, his bloated lip twisting downwards in a scowl, but said nothing. Christine hesitated just for a moment, and then she took his hand, lifted it from the organ and entwined their fingers.

"I asked," she said, "because I was afraid of the answer." He tried to pull away from her, but she held fast, finding strength she hadn't possessed before. "Because I was afraid I was wrong."

"Wrong," he echoed, dully. "What are you talking about?"

"I wanted you to be real," Christine told him. "I was happy to have you as an angel, but to have you as Erik…" She squeezed his hand gently, hoped he could understand what she was trying to say.

But Erik shook his head, tugged his hand from hers. "Speak plainly," he snapped. "Or desist speaking."

"I know the dress is for me," she said. "And…and it doesn't shock me."

Silence reigned; Christine clasped her hands together, lowered her head, waited for his reaction, whatever it might be. He would not believe her, she knew. It would take weeks, months even, for him to trust her. To trust that she did care for him.

That she loved him.

He rose abruptly from the organ, and she stayed still, trembled a little as he stalked around her, as if she were his prey. His hands drifted across her shoulder, down her back, parted her hair so he could trail cool fingers across her neck. She shivered, closed her eyes, couldn't pretend even to herself that she didn't want more.

"You can barely stand to be touched by me," he muttered. "You're disgusted by it. And you expect me to believe you would welcome my attention?" He drew away from her and Christine turned, reached out for him, clutched at his sleeve.

"No," she said. "You're wrong. It's not disgust I feel."

They stared at each other, and Christine wouldn't look away, wouldn't be ashamed. Her skin was tingling where he had touched her, and for the first time she truly understood what the other girls had talked of, when they spoke of their lovers.

She loved him; she desired him. Couldn't bear to be without him. She could only hope he felt the same.

"Christine," he whispered. "Be sure."

It was a warning, she knew, and she slowly stepped closer to him, rested her hands on his shoulders and felt his settle at her waist. She lifted her face to his, stretched up, pressed a gentle kiss to his mouth. The mask was cold, jarring when compared to his warm flesh, but she made no move to take it off, couldn't do that to him.

He didn't respond, didn't move – she thought perhaps he didn't dare. She drew back, looked up at him again and waited. The look on his face was almost heartbreaking; had he ever, she asked herself, known love? Known kindness?

"Erik," she murmured, "don't you see? It's you. It's only you."

And he shook his head but brought her close to him again, pressed her to him, and slowly – so agonisingly slowly – lowered his head to kiss her. Sweetly, chastely, but she closed her eyes, felt his hands heavy on her waist and knew this was the right choice.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 11 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>