Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 20 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Christine hesitated, glanced at Meg, found no comfort there and steeled herself, lifted a hand and knocked at Madame Giry's door.

It had been a week since Erik had reminded her of her failure to tell Madame Giry of her engagement, and Christine had been trying to find the courage – and the time – to speak to her guardian ever since. But Madame Giry was very busy, supervising the lessons for the younger girls and practices for those who performed, as well as taking care of those who lived in the ballet dormitories.

And Christine hadn't tried very hard, she had to admit. It had taken another pointed comment from Erik, and a promise from Meg to accompany her, for her to get this far.

Madame Giry opened the door, glanced them over and then huffed a sigh, stepped aside to allow them into her rooms.

"Well, what is it?" she demanded, ushering them both to her couch. "I sincerely hope it's not more tales of going down into the basements."

"No, Maman," said Meg, and she clutched Christine's hand, glanced at her expectantly. "Christine has something to tell you."

Madame Giry looked at her, a long, assessing look, and Christine flushed under the weight of it, lowered her head and stared at the floor.

"Any other girl coming to me late at night like this, and I'd be asking if you were with child," Madame Giry said, and Christine choked, looked up sharply and shook her head. "No, I didn't think so," Madame Giry said with a nod, but she looked relieved. "Well, what is it, then?"

Christine pulled the chain from under her blouse, showed the ring to Madame Giry and knew she needn't say anything to explain it when Madame Giry inhaled sharply.

"You're not serious?" the older woman demanded. "How long has this been going on for?"

"Over a month," Christine admitted in a whisper. "Since – since the beginning of Il Muto." Madame Giry shook her head in disbelief, passed a hand over her eyes. "He didn't force me," Christine said then, knew it would be the next thing Madame Giry asked her. "I – I do love him, Madame."

"Christine," she sighed. "Child, I dare not do anything to stand in his way. If you say he did not force you, I must believe you." She shook her head, paced the room, cane thumping down heavily on the floor. "But Christine – do you see clearly? You know what he did that night. You know he killed Joseph Buquet."

"Yes," said Christine plainly, and Meg clutched her hand tightly. "But Madame, I also know about Simone Bonnet." Madame Giry whirled around, stared at her; at her side, Meg made an inquiring sound.

"He told you?" Madame Giry demanded, and Christine nodded. "It makes him no less dangerous, Christine – his sense of morality, it is non-existent!"

"Then I will be it for him," Christine declared. "I can be his moral compass, Madame. He will let me, I think." He had done so for the past month, after all – had refrained from his usual threats and from the accidents that made the Ghost so feared.

Madame Giry sighed, sat down on the chair opposite them. "My dear," she said, "I cannot say anything. I know how you feel about him. I can only hope it will be enough." She sent Meg a sharp look then. "You knew about this?"

"Yes, Maman," she said meekly. Madame Giry snorted, shook her head. "I – I'm sorry for not telling you," Meg tried, and Madame Giry waved a hand at her.

"You are not," she corrected. "Well, it doesn't matter now. There are more important things to discuss. Christine, if you're insisting on this course of action –"

"I am," Christine said quickly, and Madame Giry raised an eyebrow at the interruption; Christine reddened, lowered her gaze at the silent rebuke.

"Then there are things we need to decide," Madame Giry went on after a long moment. "When do you plan to marry, child?"

Flustered, Christine shrugged, glanced at Meg as if her friend could help her. "I – I haven't thought," she admitted. She had rather assumed that Madame Giry would disapprove – worse, that she would refuse her consent, and thus the wedding must wait until Christine's eighteenth birthday and she no longer required her guardian's approval. But if Madame Giry was agreeing, however reluctantly, she couldn't see any reason to prolong the engagement.

She flushed, remembering Erik's heated looks, the way his hands lingered, the way she allowed it. Erik would insist upon a swift marriage, and it would in part be because of his insecurity, she knew. Marriage would be permanent, a certain sign that she would not – could not – shun him, be swayed from him by anyone who could not see past his face.

It would mean something that could not be disputed by Raoul's vehement protestations of protection, of safety. When she was Erik's wife, nobody could take her from him.

She smiled then, smiled at that thought, lifted her head and looked at Madame Giry. "Soon," she said. "I…I should like it to be soon."

Madame Giry's mouth twisted, not quite a smile but enough of one to show her amusement. "Yes, I thought as much," she said. "By Christmas, I daresay we could be ready."

"I have a wedding dress," Christine told her. "That is – Erik has one for me."

"That's something," Madame Giry agreed. "But you need a trousseau, my dear. Practically all your clothes are fit for rehearsals and little else! And living arrangements." She narrowed her eyes in disapproval. "Will you be living with him across the lake?" she wanted to know.

"We haven't discussed it," Christine said, felt chastened by her foster-mother's practicality. She couldn't imagine Erik willingly leaving his home under the opera house – it was safe, nobody could approach without his knowledge, and the portcullis was a protection he wouldn't be able to find elsewhere. It had been his home for so long, as well, and it was so easy for him to go above to the opera house, to pass through the walls and observe.

"I couldn't ask him to leave," she said, and Madame Giry scowled a little, nodded.

"Well, it's beyond me how it can be healthy to live so far underneath the earth," she muttered. "No daylight, no fresh air." She raised her hands, shrugged. "I can see there's no use persuading you otherwise. At any rate, I know you've been spending your days there, and it's not done you any harm that I can see."

"No, Madame," murmured Christine.

"So," said Madame Giry, clapped her hands together. "We will need to go shopping. God only knows what provisions he has down there, but you will need some new clothes at the least, and linens." Meg giggled happily, and Christine glanced at her, felt a little overwhelmed. She hadn't really thought of a wedding in terms of marriage, she realised, and that was what Madame Giry was talking about.

Married to Erik, she thought, and a slow smile crept over her mouth as she tried to envisage it. It would be strange, she knew, so unlike her life had ever been before. And yet…to have Erik with her always, to wake with him at her side, to share each day with him. To spend each night with him.

She couldn't think of anything more wonderful.

"It's no use, Maman," said Meg, giggling again. "She's not listening to a word."

"I'm sorry," Christine said, looked across at Madame Giry with contrition. "May I go and tell him, Madame?

"At this hour?" she demanded. "Don't be ridiculous. You should both be in bed. You're not going traipsing all over the opera house now." Christine nodded, shared a look with Meg as they thought of other occasions when they had managed to slip past Madame Giry's watchful eye when they were meant to be asleep. "I mean it," Madame Giry said. "To bed, both of you."

She ushered them from her rooms, watched until they were in safely in their bedroom, where Giselle and Jammes were both in bed, although not asleep.

"Wait fifteen minutes and then go," Meg said to Christine, ignoring the others. "She'll listen for a while, then she'll think we're in bed."

"Go where?" Jammes demanded, kneeling up in bed. "Where have you two been? What's going on?"

"I hate secrets," Giselle added. "Come on, tell us."

"You hate secrets, that's why you share them with everyone," said Meg, sticking her tongue out as she went to her bed and began unbuttoning her bodice. "It's none of your business."

"Oh, Christine," said Jammes, complaining, "you never tell us anything anymore."

"I'm sorry, Jammes," said Christine, and she peered at herself in the small mirror on the wall, combed her fingers through her hair to tidy it. "I – I'll try to tell you soon." She glanced over her shoulder, smiled at the younger girl. She wouldn't be able to keep it a secret forever, after all. Once she and Erik were married, she would not conceal her wedding ring – wouldn't dream of doing so.

She couldn't think what she would say, when she was asked who her husband was, why she hadn't spoken of an engagement before. She would have to speak to Madame Giry again, she knew, to try to work out some story that would neither deny the truth, nor reveal it.

Fifteen minutes passed slowly, and Meg helped her to rebuff the continued questioning. At last Christine heard the clock in the hall strike quarter to the hour, caught up her shawl and crept from the room.

It didn't occur to her until she was halfway to her dressing room that Erik wouldn't be expecting her, wouldn't be waiting there. She didn't falter though, slipped through the dark corridors and staircases, and when she reached her dressing room she went to her mirror, felt for the secret catch she'd seen Erik use to open the mirror from this side.

Then she did hesitate. Erik had warned her several times about attempting to go down to his home without her, warned her about the dangers of it. And yet she didn't feel she could wait until the morning to tell him the good news, the news that they could be married in just a few short weeks.

A draft blew through from the dark tunnel beyond the mirror, and Christine peered down it, bit her lip. Then, decided, she lit the candle on her dressing table, lifted it high and stepped across the threshold. She turned to close the door, slid the glass into place, and then slowly, cautiously, began to walk down the sloping passageway.

She went slowly, shielding the candle from drafts, making sure every footstep was safe before taking another. She was sure of the way, but unsure of Erik's traps, and she clung to the wall as much as she could until she scraped her arm against rough rock, flinched at the stinging pain.

Halfway down, Christine hadn't encountered any traps and she was wondering, half-seriously, if Erik had only told her of them to dissuade her from coming. It was slower and harder without Erik, stumbling along in the near-darkness without his reassuring guidance and his arm to steady her, but not impossible.

And then she tripped, her foot catching on the uneven floor, and she was flung to the ground, the candle flying from her hand. The flame extinguished; Christine lay on the ground, felt the familiar pain of a sprained ankle. She'd had several over the years, knew it immediately. Knew she could possibly limp on it, but not alone, not in the dark, not all the way down to the lake.

Christine bit her lip hard, tasted blood in her mouth, refused to cry. She sat up, swinging her leg around to feel her ankle gingerly. It was already swelling, and she knew there was very little chance of her limping any distance.

"Bother," she muttered. "Stupid, stupid Christine." She'd been far too headstrong, far too determined, and she was going to pay for it. Erik might not find her for hours – wouldn't find her, unless he came this way for some reason before the time they were due to meet in the morning.

"Christine?" Erik materialised out of the darkness, glanced her over and crouched beside her. "What on earth are you doing here?" he demanded. "No – it can wait." He reached out for her, one arm sliding beneath her knees and one under her arms. "Hold on," he instructed her, and she obediently wrapped her arms around his neck, rested her head against his shoulder and couldn't help a smile at his tenderness.

"Silly girl," he muttered, and she tilted her head up, kissed the bare cheek closest to her.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 20 of 37

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