Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 21 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Christine winced as she finished changing into her nightdress, wriggled her way up the bed and lifted her swollen ankle onto the pile of pillows Erik had arranged. He'd left her in her bedroom to get changed, but he would return soon, and she knew he would be displeased with her.

Still, she thought ruefully, trying to arrange the blankets over herself without disturbing her ankle, she was going to pay for her mistake.

"Christine? May I come in?"

"Yes," she called, and Erik entered, bearing a basin and a pile of cloths. "I'm so sorry, Erik," she said at once, and Erik shook his head, came to the bed.

"I'm sure you are," he said dryly. "Why did you try it? I've warned you about the traps. You were lucky I'd neglected to set them tonight."

"I know," muttered Christine. "I – I wanted to see you." She caught a flicker of a smile, just barely visible beneath his mask, and she patted the edge of the bed, encouraged him to sit. He glanced from her to the bed, nodded slightly and put the bowl and cloths down on the dressing table before returning. He sat down slowly, tentatively, as if expecting to be rebuked at any moment. Christine reached for his hand. "I spoke to Madame Giry," she said.

He scowled at once. "And?" he demanded. "Did she demand you stop seeing me, call me names?"

"No," Christine said. "I think she wishes I didn't feel this way, but she understands that I can't do anything else." She smiled at him, hoped he would be as pleased by the news as she was. "She gave permission, Erik. She says we can marry by Christmas."

He was very still then, utterly silent, his eyes on her flashing with some emotion she couldn't quite name. And then he nodded, just once, clutched at her hand as if it were a lifeline.

"Yes," he murmured. "Before Christmas. Yes…I should like that." He released her hand then, rose and went to the dressing table. "I need to examine your ankle," he said, avoiding looking at her. "It might be worse than a sprain. Will you permit me?"

"Of course," Christine said. She couldn't help a flinch when he moved the blankets, careful though he was, and he paused, glanced at her.

"Are you in much pain?" he asked, and she pressed her lips together, wouldn't admit to it. "Hm. I'll get you something in a moment." He reached for her ankle, hesitated, and then his cool fingers brushed across her skin. "This might hurt," he warned her, and he pressed gently at various places. Christine bit her tongue to keep from making a sound, refused to make him feel guilty for helping her, as she knew he would. "Just sprained," he murmured. "I'll put a cold compress on it, then fetch you something for the pain."

"You're so good to me," Christine said quietly, and he spared her a glance before going to soak a cloth. "I'm sorry I was so silly."

"I should be pleased you wanted to see me so badly," said Erik, and he wrung out the cloth, brought it to the bed and folded it over her ankle. And he was pleased, she could see that, even though concern for her was overriding his pleasure. "You'll have to stay here tonight," he said. "And possibly tomorrow night. You mustn't put weight on that yet."

"I know," said Christine, sighing. "I'm so sorry." The cloth was cold on her ankle, and she shivered, pulled the blanket closer about her. "I'm being such a nuisance." Erik shook his head.

"Never a nuisance," he assured her. "Stay there. I'll return momentarily." Christine nodded obediently, although they both knew it would be several days before she was able to move without assistance. Erik left, and she leaned back against the pillows, wished she hadn't been so determined.

He returned shortly, gave her a steaming mug of some kind of herbal tea, watched as she drank it and smiled a little at her grimace of distaste.

"It will help you sleep," he said. "Do you need another blanket? I know it's cold here." He stood beside the bed, glanced her over, and she shook her head, patted the side of the bed again to coax him to sit. "Do you need anything?" he asked, and he sat, took her hand in his again, looked at her as if he couldn't look away.

"No," she said. "No, I'm alright. Just…" She hesitated, felt her cheeks warm at his gaze.

"What, Christine?" he asked her, and she bit her lip, glanced down.

"Please don't leave me yet?" she asked, shy, and his fingers tightened around her hand, a smile warmed his expression. "If you're not…too busy."

"Never for you," he said at once, and she raised an eyebrow, shook her head.

"I know you've been composing," she admitted. "I – I saw the papers on your organ. I didn't mean to pry," she added hastily, but Erik didn't chastise her. He looked away, fixed his gaze on something only he could see.

"Yes, I am composing," he said, and his voice was distant but not cold. "It is my great work. My opera." Christine held her breath, didn't speak, wondered what sort of work it could be, what sort of opera a man like Erik would create. Then Erik looked back at her, and his smile was gone entirely, he stared at her in a way that made her flush, made her aware of every inch of her skin. "I once thought it would burn, Christine," he murmured. "I thought it would consume me."

She looked at him, and nodded. She knew that feeling, she thought. Not as Erik did, perhaps – at least not for music. But she sometimes thought that Erik could consume her, his desire and his love and his devotion. If she allowed it, he could devour her and leave little behind that would still be Christine.

"And now?" she asked, her voice almost hoarse.

"Now…it will not," Erik said, and he kept staring at her, his mismatched eyes so intent on her, and she blushed once more, shifted slightly – and gave a choked cry of pain as she inadvertently moved her ankle.

"I suspect you won't be going anywhere tomorrow," said Erik, frowning. "You won't be missed, at least. I suppose we should be thankful you won't be missing a performance." His tone made it clear he was still angry about her absence from the stage, but Christine shook her head, distracted him.

"I will be missed," she admitted. "I – well, Meg knows I came, and Giselle and Jammes know I'm somewhere. But Madame Giry…" Erik smirked at her, knowing. "She probably still thinks I'm in bed," finished Christine, and she ducked her head, let her hair fall across her face.

"Naughty Christine!" he said, and he was laughing at her, reached out to push her hair back so he could see her. "No doubt Mademoiselle Giry will inform her tomorrow, but I can leave a note, if you wish."

"It might be easier," said Christine with a nod. "I may need help tomorrow evening to return to the dormitory." She yawned suddenly, covered her mouth with a hand. "Excuse me," she said. "I – I didn't think I was tired."

"It's the drink you had," said Erik, and he rose, went to take the cold compress off her ankle. "You must have this on again tomorrow," he told her. "But it would be too cold tonight." He carefully drew the blankets over her ankle, made sure they didn't weigh too heavily on the injured joint. "You should sleep soundly," he said then. "But if you wake in pain, I will be just in the next room."

"I'm sure I won't," said Christine. Whatever he had given her was already easing the pain, as well as sending her to sleep, and the cold compress had helped as well. She yawned again, smiled up at Erik. "I am sorry," she said. "But…I had to tell you. I couldn't wait."

His mouth twisted upwards in a smile, he came close to the bed, bent over and pressed a kiss to her mouth. He was still so hesitant in this – hesitated to kiss her, as if constantly waiting for a rejection. It was usually she who instigated their embraces, brazen in a way she had never been before. He touched her, yes, a hand on her waist, fingers brushing across her cheek…but his kisses were hesitant.

Christine caught at his shoulder to keep him with her, felt him lean against the bed as she parted her lips. She didn't want him to go, wanted him to stay with her…knew she must resist, at least for now.

He pulled back, as reluctant as she, and stroked her hair, touched her lower lip.

"I should like to keep you like this always," he murmured, and Christine couldn't smile at it, couldn't tease that he would not keep her in pain, keep her unable to walk.

She knew what he meant.

"Christmas is in seven weeks," she said, caught his hand and pressed a kiss to his palm. "By then we shall be married, Erik. I promise."

And then she yawned again, and Erik chuckled, left her side. "Sleep, Christine," he said. "Tomorrow you may talk as much as you wish."

"Alright," said Christine, and in truth she wasn't sure she could stay awake much longer. Whatever Erik had given her was potent, and she was fast slipping into sleep.

She watched as Erik went to the dressing table, extinguished the lamp there. He was barely visible in the light that spilled through the doorway, and she couldn't seem to keep her eyes open anyway.

"Erik," she murmured drowsily. "I love you."

He came back to the bed, tucked the blankets around her once more. "And I you, Christine," he said. "Sleep now."

She closed her eyes obediently, and he left her, left the bedroom door open and a moment later she heard him playing the violin.

The sound of it accompanied her into sleep.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 21 of 37

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