Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 14 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Christine slept well in the bed, far larger and more comfortable than her little bed in the ballet dormitory. When she awoke she stared at the ceiling for a few moments, trying to remember where she was; then she sat up, glanced around at the bedroom he had created for her, remembered the events of the previous night.

Remembered Carlotta, remembered Buquet. Remembered Erik pulling off his mask, holding her tight, proclaiming himself to be a monster.

She slipped from the bed, fumbled the few steps to the dressing table and lit the lamp there, gazed at herself in the small mirror, as if she expected to see some change. But her face was as it had always been, no outward sign marked the turmoil within her.

There were brushes on the table, and a comb, and she sat down, brushed her hair, tied it back with the blue ribbon she found in one of the drawers. It matched the blue dress Erik had given her, but the dress was upstairs, in her dormitory room.

She wondered what the girls had thought when she didn't appear for the night, if Giselle had made insinuations. If Meg had gone to Madame Giry, if they had worried about her. Of course they had, she told herself. They knew Buquet's death was no accident, they must be terrified that the Ghost had done something to her, too.

She heard a violin then, a mournful tune only just audible through the rock walls of the house, and Christine rose, went to the door and paused with her hand on the doorknob. It was Erik, of course, and her instinct was to go to him, to try to comfort him, but she was only wearing a nightgown, would feel too self-conscious to find him without more clothing.

The wardrobe, although not full, offered Christine a selection to choose from, and she found a plain skirt, a white blouse, laid them out on the bed. The hem of her chemise had been quite wet when she had taken it off last night, but it was dry now, and she donned it quickly, laced her corset and put on the clothes Erik had left for her.

She checked her appearance in the mirror one more time; she was pale, but neat and presentable.

Christine opened the bedroom door, walked with quiet steps down the hallway to the door at the end, pushed it open and stepped into the music room.

He was facing away from her, stopped playing as soon as she entered the room but didn't turn to face her. He lowered the violin, laid it down carefully on the table before him.

"Good morning," he said. "Did you sleep well?"

Hesitant, unsure how to react to him in this setting, Christine took a few steps towards him.

"Yes, thank you," she murmured. "Very well." He turned then, faced her, and it was evident he hadn't slept at all. She wondered, just for a moment, if guilt had kept him awake. But she dismissed the idea; he'd shown no hint of it last night.

"Do you still want to know why?" he asked abruptly, and it took Christine a moment to respond, to force herself to nod. "You know Buquet's reputation." She nodded again. "It isn't common knowledge yet," Erik went on, "but Simone Bonnet is with child."

Simone was one of the dancers, the leader of a row – she was widely agreed to have tremendous talent, and although she wasn't a particular friend of Christine's, they got on well enough. She was sweet, if a little freer than Madame Giry liked, but the idea of Simone with Buquet was repugnant. Christine couldn't see how it were possible, and she shook her head, began to speak.

But Erik held up his hand and she silenced herself.

"She was not willing," he said, and he was gentle now, leading her to the inevitable conclusion.

Christine closed her eyes, measured her breathing, counted to ten. Buquet had forced himself on Simone, and now Simone would have to leave the corps de ballet, leave the opera house – unless she found some way to destroy the child, and Christine knew such things had happened.

"There have been others, too," Erik added. "There is a reason Madame Giry warns you all to be on guard."

She nodded, opened her eyes to look at him again. It was a reason, and although she could not admit that it was a crime worthy of murder…still, it was a reason.

"Thank you for telling me," she said, and Erik inclined his head.

"They'll say it was an accident," he said. "Buquet's usually drunk, he easily could have slipped."

"But he didn't," she whispered. "You killed him." She lifted a hand to her head, thought of her father and what he would say of her now, felt faint.

"Sit down," Erik said, and he came to her, directed her with a hand on her arm to her accustomed seat by the fireplace. "You need breakfast," he decided. "I'll return in a moment."

"Erik, wait," she said, and her hand fell short of touching him. "Please, I don't – I don't want to be alone," she said. "I need to…try to understand. Please." He stood above her, looked down, and the white mask seemed bright in the candlelight of his home. "You said you'd killed others," she said at last.

"Yes," he admitted. "Many years ago. In Persia." She watched him, waited for some explanation that she was sure he wouldn't give, and he looked away from her, his jaw clenched. "I was a paid murderer, then," he murmured. "I would never have told you that, except…you know me, now. You know what I am."

Christine bit her lip, nodded. She knew him, knew what he was capable of, and she knew she must find some way to reconcile this new facet of the man with the angel she had loved, the man she had come to love.

"I consider myself a good Christian," she said, the words tumbling from her mouth. "I believe in God, Erik, and the words of the Bible."

He nodded, stepped away from her, his fingers clenching and unclenching several times. "Yes," he said. "You will tell me now that you could never care for such a godforsaken creature as I. A murderer."

"I'm trying to tell you that I love you," she burst out, and he almost flinched, almost ducked away as though her words were blows. "Despite your past, whatever it might have been. And – and God help me, I love you despite last night!"

Erik was silent; he stared at her wildly, and Christine kept her gaze on him, refused to look away.

"I cannot imagine my future without you," she said. "But you must give me time, Erik."

He stepped close, dropped to his knees before her, took her hands and pressed kisses to her palms, her fingers, her knuckles. It was a supplication, a plea for forgiveness. Christine could not give that to him, but knew he would not seek forgiveness in a church. He had sins, and they were part of him.

"Will you promise me something?" she asked then, tentative. "You promised before, that you wouldn't hurt Carlotta." He nodded, still at her knees. "Will you promise me something else now?"

Erik's lip curled a little beneath the mask. "You would have me promise not to kill," he guessed, and Christine nodded, said nothing in reply, nothing to persuade him to agree. "And if I make such a promise, what will you do for me in return?"

"What would you have me do?" she asked cautiously. He looked up at her, his beautiful mismatched eyes wide as he looked at her.

"I would have you wear my ring," he murmured. "Yes…yes, I would like that. An engagement. For you to belong to me." He clutched at her hands. "Yes, if you do that, I will make the promise. I would do anything." His voice turned soft, seductive. "And I would make sure you never wanted for anything, Christine. Anything you wanted – dresses, finery, you would only have to ask. And you would be loved, Christine – so loved!"

Christine's thoughts swirled. A ring, an engagement, to proclaim to everyone that she had a fiancé, a suitor. To belong to him, as surely as he would belong to her.

The fiancée of the Opera Ghost. His wife, eventually. It was an odd proposal, certainly nothing like she'd ever imagined, but it would be more than just a means to keep him to his word. It would mean so much more.

"Give me the ring, then," she said at last, and smiled at him. Erik stared for a moment, his mouth moving soundlessly, and then he lifted his right hand, pulled a ring from his little finger and held it out to her. She presented her hand, and he slipped it slowly, carefully onto her finger.

The weight of it was odd; she looked at it, the candlelight glinting off the small diamond, and looked at Erik, kneeling before her still, gazing at her with awe.

She couldn't help laughing then, and reached out to catch at his shoulder before he could retreat in dismay.

"I'm sorry," she said, tried to stop laughing but couldn't contain her joy. "I'm happy, Erik." Perhaps she shouldn't be, perhaps she should be thinking of Erik's sin, of Buquet's death, of her future complicity if she were asked questions. But Erik looked at her with such happiness, such love, and she couldn't think of those other things now.

Her smile faded as the clock on the mantelpiece struck the hour. It was eight; she had slept too long, would be missed upstairs.

"I should return," she said, and Erik nodded, clearly reluctant. "They'll have missed me," she went on. "The girls, and Madame Giry. I – I suppose I could say I fell asleep in my dressing room." A thought occurred to her and she looked up at him. "Will Carlotta be alright?" she asked. "What you did – it isn't permanent, is it?"

He smirked at her then, held out a hand to help her stand. "Unfortunately not," he replied. "If I had my way she would never torture another audience, but her voice will recover in a few days. Longer if she doesn't keep quiet."

Christine smiled, rose and stood just a little too close to him. "Perhaps a week, then?" she suggested cheekily, and was rewarded when his smirk turned into a smile, softening the lines of his face, warming even the cold white of the mask. She looked at him, almost awed by the transformation, and he leaned towards her, lowered his head as if he meant to kiss her.

But then he pulled away, glanced at the clock once more.

"You should eat before you return," he said. "You've had nothing since supper last night."

"I am hungry," Christine admitted. "If you're sure I wouldn't be a bother."

Erik shook his head, caught her hand and lifted it to look at the ring on her finger.

"You could never be that," he said softly. "Not you, Christine." His gaze was admiring, and something more – something darker. There was lust there, she realised, and it almost made her shiver. He could devour her, she thought, and felt dizzy for a moment. He could devour her if she let him.

Then he turned away, went to the kitchen, and she breathed deeply before joining him.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 14 of 37

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