Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 16 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Everyone at the opera house was unsettled for some time after Fournier completed his investigations and ruled Buquet's death accidental. Carlotta returned after just over a week, reclaiming her role and title as lead soprano, and she had insisted that Christine not be allowed even the mute part, so Christine found herself without a role at all, without any part of the production, much to Erik's displeasure.

She managed to convince him to leave well enough alone, for the time being at least, and he had agreed on condition that she spend her days with him instead. It was not a hardship, although she knew her friends wondered where and how she passed her time.

Meg, of course, knew exactly where she was going, and grew quieter with each day, watched Christine with wide, observant eyes. She had not yet discovered Christine's ring, but Christine almost dreaded that revelation, dreaded trying to explain herself to her dearest friend.

Two weeks passed in this manner; Christine met Erik each day in her dressing room and he took her down to his home, where they had lessons and shared meals, and she grew to know him a little better. She wore his ring when she was with him, knew he hated to see her conceal it, and she couldn't deny to herself that she loved to wear it.

It was at the end of one such visit that Meg discovered the engagement. Erik had brought Christine back to her dressing room at the end of the evening, had lingered a few moments, when suddenly the door was flung open and Meg appeared.

She had not clearly not expected to find Christine at all, let alone to find her with the Opera Ghost, and her mouth dropped open, her eyes were wide, and Christine darted to shut the door, glanced back to find Erik disappearing through the mirror.

"Don't scream," she begged Meg. "Please, it's alright, don't scream."

"I – I won't," Meg gasped, staring at the mirror. "Christine – was that – was that him?"

"Yes," said Christine, and she took Meg's arm, brought her to sit at the dressing table. "Please – don't be upset," she said. "You must have known where I was going." She knelt before her friend, clasped her hands and looked up at her hopefully. She didn't want to fall out with Meg, and the odd quiet of the past two weeks was wearing on her. "I don't want you to hate me," she said, and bit her lip as Meg finally drew her gaze away from the mirror. "Meg, please talk to me."

"I don't hate you," Meg said, and Christine could see it was the truth, squeezed Meg's hand in gratitude. "I'm trying to understand, Christine," Meg went on then. "But I –" She glanced once more at the mirror, a fearful glance, and Christine wished there were some way she could reassure her, some way of making her understand that she didn't have to be frightened.

But there was nothing she could say, nothing she could do. Erik was dangerous, and most people were right to fear him. Christine knew that as well as Meg did.

"He's not there," she said instead – knew he wouldn't be lurking behind the mirror, wouldn't eavesdrop on her like that. In many circumstances he wouldn't hesitate, but he knew how she missed Meg, knew she had grieved over their distance recently. Meg nodded, looked back at her.

"I'm trying to understand," she said again. "I – I can see you love him, Christine. But no matter what they say, I know Buquet's death wasn't an accident!"

Christine bit her lip, nodded. "No," she whispered. "It wasn't." Meg made a startled sound, as if she hadn't expected Christine to finally admit it. "But Meg, what would you have me do?" She lowered her head, closed her eyes. "I love him," she said. "I can love the man without loving the sin. I have no choice."

"Oh, Christine," Meg murmured, and she leaned down, turned Christine's face up and kissed her cheek. "I know you love him," she said. "I can see how happy he makes you. But – he blackmails the managers, you know. It's extortion, what he does. And the accidents, and…and Buquet…"

Christine bit her lip, wondered if she could share the secret Erik had given her about Buquet, about Simone. The dancer hadn't left the opera house but she'd been ill for three days, barely able to leave her bed, and Christine suspected she had gone to someone, found a way to destroy the child.

"He won't kill again," she said, and knew it sounded false, knew it sounded like she was denying that he was dangerous. "He promised me."

"But Christine, what did he make you promise?" Meg asked solemnly. "Because – I'm sorry, but I simply can't believe he wouldn't ask for something in return." She shook her head. "Maman was right – she said he would ask more of you each time you saw him!"

"He isn't asking anything I don't want to give," Christine protested. "Believe me, Meg. He isn't – isn't demanding, doesn't ask me to do anything I shouldn't." Meg raised an eyebrow, looking for an instant just like her mother, and Christine flushed. "He behaves as a gentleman," she said, and didn't mention how he kissed her, how she longed for those kisses, for the worshipful way he touched her, when he allowed himself to touch her.

"But you're right," she said then, slowly. "He asked something from me." Meg leaned back, her lips pressed firmly together, and Christine raised a hand to her neck, pulled the chain from underneath her blouse and showed her engagement ring to Meg.

Meg's eyes went round, her mouth dropped open, her gasp was gratifyingly surprised, and Christine smiled, laughed a little, undid the chain and slipped the ring onto her finger.

"Oh, Christine," Meg breathed. "It's beautiful! I can't believe it – engaged!" She frowned then, reached out and took Christine's hand. "But he isn't forcing you?" she asked hesitantly. "You truly want this?"

Christine nodded. "More than anything, Meg," she said. "I admit…I didn't expect him to ask me, not yet, and it was…" She sighed. "I suppose it was partly an exchange," she acknowledged. "I asked him to promise me that he wouldn't – that he wouldn't kill again." She swallowed, remembered the horror of that night, then dismissed it. "Don't think he's forcing me, though. He isn't, truly. I want this. I – I want to be his wife."

Meg frowned at her, turned her hand so the light glinted off her ring. "I have to believe you," she murmured. "I can see how happy you are. And – and Maman did say you might do him good, didn't she?" Christine nodded once more. "But I still think he's dangerous, and you can't make me change my mind," Meg added.

Christine huffed a laugh, stood up and shook her head. "I don't want to," she said frankly. "He is dangerous. I'm not stupid, Meg, I do know that. But…but I love him." She took the ring off again, put it back on the chain around her neck. "You won't tell anyone, will you?" she asked. "I haven't even told Madame yet."

"What would I say?" Meg asked, giggling. "That you're engaged to the Ghost? They'd only laugh." She rose, looked seriously at Christine. "But you should tell Maman," she advised. "The longer you wait, the worse it will be."

Christine nodded, accepted the advice. She would tell Madame Giry, of course she would, but she had found she enjoyed having it a secret, enjoyed feeling the chain about her neck and knowing that nobody else knew about it.

Except Raoul, of course, and she hid a grimace as she thought of how he had tried to see her over the past fortnight, tried to corner her and ask more questions. He had taken issue with the Opera Ghost, seemed determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious letters. She knew he'd tried to speak to Madame Giry as well, because she so often delivered the Phantom's notes, but Madame Giry was well able to take care of herself, and Christine knew she would not betray Erik's secrets, not even now.

"Raoul knows," she said to Meg. "I – he caught me wearing the ring, that day the managers spoke to me about – about the premiere night? He's been trying to see me ever since."

Meg's expression was grave; she shook her head, frowned. "He's been trying to speak to everyone," she said. "He's really obsessed, Christine. He's been asking about the Opera Ghost, and about your teacher, and he even asked me and Giselle if we knew where you're going now you're not in the opera."

"What did Giselle say?" Christine demanded. She knew Meg would have said nothing, but Giselle – although of course she didn't know anything about Erik – was another matter.

Meg shrugged, rolled her eyes. "Not much. She was far too busy trying to flirt with him!" Christine gave a startled laugh, shook her head. "Well, you know what she's like," Meg said. "She wants a patron, like Sorelli."

Footsteps echoed down the passage outside, and they turned as the dressing room door was once again flung open. Jammes stood in the doorway, long fair plaits swinging about her shoulders.

"Meg, where on earth have you been?" she said, impatient. "We sent you for Christine hours ago."

"Hardly," Meg retorted. "I'm sorry, though. We were talking." She turned back to Christine. "I forgot to say," she said apologetically. "Some of the girls were talking about…well, about going down into the basements and hunting for the Ghost." Christine opened her mouth to speak, but found herself with nothing to say, and Meg made a face. "It's Halloween tomorrow," she excused. "We won't go very far anyway, it's dark down there."

"And cold," Jammes chimed in. "And we won't have long before Madame Giry finds we're not in bed, so if you're going to come, we should go now." She disappeared down the corridor, left Meg and Christine looking at each other.

"We won't find anything," Meg said, and she shrugged, glanced at the mirror. "We won't go down very far – Jammes is right, it will be far too cold. It's just a little fun, really."

"I thought you were scared of him," Christine murmured, and Meg nodded, conceded the point

"I am. But that's because I know more about him, I think. The others just want to be scared, you know? They want a thrill." She shrugged once more, turned and went to the door. "It would be nice if you came," she said, almost wistful now. "We never seem to do anything together these days."

Christine didn't say that it was Meg who had caused their distance, wouldn't be so cruel. It was enough that they were together now, and she made sure her ring was hidden, joined Meg and took her hand.

"I wouldn't know the way down anyway," she confided. "Erik has his own passageways."

Meg's glance showed her wonder, and she squeezed Christine's hand. "Perhaps…one day…you could show me," she said. "One day."

Christine nodded, wondered what Erik would make of such a request, and then put the thought from her mind for the present.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 16 of 37

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