Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 23 of 37

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Stay By My Side

"You'll be able to return to your dormitory tomorrow," said Erik, watching as Christine held onto the back of a chair, lifted herself onto tiptoe and lowered her feet back to the floor again, exercising the abused ankle. It had been three days since she had sprained it, and although it still hurt, she could walk and had begun the strengthening exercises that Madame Giry always ordered for sprained ankles.

"Will you miss me?" she asked lightly, looked across at him, knew the answer without needing a response. She knew he would miss her, knew he liked having her here, liked knowing she was sleeping in his home and under his protection.

He didn't answer, raised his eyebrow slightly, turned back to the stove and stirred the stew he was preparing for their supper. That had been a surprise, when she first started spending her days here – Erik could cook, although his thin frame showed he rarely did so for himself.

Christine sighed, and he glanced at her inquiringly, concerned as always with her wellbeing.

"I'm not going to make you a very good wife," she said. "I barely know how to boil an egg."

"I can cook," said Erik dismissively, and Christine sighed again, leaned on the back of the chair as her ankle began to ache.

"Isn't that what wives are supposed to do, though?" she asked him. "Make a home for their husbands."

Erik stirred the pot once more and then came to her, pulled out the chair and gently pushed her down into it. "Wives are supposed to make their husbands happy," he said, "and I assure you, you will succeed in that."

"Thank you," she said softly, took his hand and pressed a kiss to his palm. "But you know what I mean, Erik. All I can do is sing and dance."

"All," he mocked. "Your voice is incredible, Christine." She flushed at the praise, still so rare from him. But then he grew serious, looked down at her, stared in that way that made her feel so treasured. "Do not doubt yourself," he said. "You must know I do not care about those things."

Christine nodded; she did know. She knew that Erik would happily care for her for the rest of their lives, if she allowed it – he would cook her meals, fetch her entertainment, wait on her hand and foot. If she allowed it.

"I know you don't," she said, "but…I think I do, a little." He didn't say anything, the bare side of his face revealing no more than the masked side. "I should like to think I could be allowed to take care of you, sometimes." She offered him a smile, hoped he could understand. "Would you teach me to cook?"

Then Erik did smile, just faintly, and if she didn't know him so well now she wouldn't have seen it.

"If you wish," he said. It was clear the idea of her taking care of him was novel, but Christine didn't care. She wanted to be more to him than she could be now.

"Soon," she pressed. "Tomorrow. Let me help make our lunch tomorrow." He chuckled, shook his head slightly, went back to the stove.

"If you insist," he said. "What's brought this on?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Christine vaguely. Living with him for the past few days – confined here by her own stupidity – had shown her a little of what it would be like to live with Erik forever, as his wife. Domesticity was strange to Erik, but it was just as strange to her, she had realised. She had spent so long living in a dormitory, with her meals provided and someone to clean the bedrooms and bathrooms, that she had almost forgotten what it was like to live in a house.

She would be far from a normal housewife – even the thought made her want to laugh! – but she could be a homemaker for Erik. She would make his dwelling, here under the opera house, a home full of love for him.

"There are more important things than cooking," Erik went on, almost as if he knew her thoughts, and Christine nodded, clasped her hands together on the table before her. "And you will be performing. It's only right that I should provide a meal afterwards."

Christine made a face. "I won't be performing if Carlotta has anything to say about it," she said. "You know that. Anyway, the next opera hasn't been decided yet. There might not even be a part for me in it."

"We'll see," was all Erik said, and he didn't look at her, didn't turn from the stove. Christine took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, then rose and went to his side, leaned against him.

"What will you do?" she asked.

"I haven't decided yet," said Erik, and he wrapped an arm around her, pulled her close to his side. She rested her head against his shoulder, watched as he added something to the stew. "It will depend on several factors," he went on. "If my opera is finished…" He trailed off, lost in thought, and Christine glanced up at him. "And it depends on you, partly," Erik went on at last.

"I won't stop you," she said quietly. "I – I will hold you to your promise about…about killing anyone. But I won't stop you doing anything else."

"But can you face Carlotta?" he asked dryly, removed his arm from about her and nudged her back to the table. "It's ready," he said. "Sit."

Christine returned to her seat, waited as Erik served the stew, sat opposite her.

"I think I can," she said. "I…will you think less of me if I say I think I'll find it easier to bear when we're married? I know the things she says aren't true, of course, but…"

Erik shrugged a little. "If it helps," he said. "You and I know the poison she spouts is lies, regardless. So do your friends."

"Of course," Christine said then with a mischievous smile, "it helps that whenever she's particularly loathsome I can think of her on stage croaking like a toad." That provoked a laugh, and Christine smiled wider, lifted her spoon and began to eat. The food was delicious, as usual, and Christine devoted her attention to it. The silence was comfortable, and neither of them felt a need to fill it until they'd finished.

Erik didn't eat much, of course, as Christine had come to expect. He claimed he didn't need to eat a great deal, as he claimed to need less sleep than she, and it was obvious that sometimes he ate only because she did, and to please her.

And she could see that it was not always easy to eat with his mask on, and although Christine felt more and more that she didn't mind, couldn't mind, she knew better than to suggest he remove it.

Afterwards he refused to let her wash up, claiming her hands were too delicate to be roughened in that way, but she took a towel and dried, standing beside him at the sink. He rolled his sleeves up to wash up, revealed more skin than she was used to seeing – revealed scarred flesh, and she frowned faintly, tried not to pry.

But Erik saw her glance, and he stilled, his hands submerged in the soapy water. Christine bit her lip, lowered her head and tried to concentrate on drying the utensils.

"You can ask," he said at last.

"I don't need to," said Christine quietly. If he wanted to tell her, she would listen – she did want to know, of course, but she didn't need to know why he was scarred.

"There are things you probably should know," he said, distant as he sometimes was. "But I don't want you to know them. My past is…not pleasant."

"I didn't imagine it was," she admitted, and remembered what he had said about being a paid murderer. There was horror in his past, and she would probably be better off not knowing the details – she knew that, knew he was trying to spare her.

She dried a bowl, put it down on the draining board, turned to him. "You're still afraid I'll be horrified," she said.

"You've known me barely two months," he said, and he resumed washing up, his movements as careful and precise as ever.

"I've known you for eight years," Christine argued.

"Not truly," he decreed. "Many would say the fact that you're still here is miraculous."

"I love you," she said, and she reached out, stilled his hands, brought them dripping from the sink and clasped them in hers. "Erik, I love you, and I will say so every day for the rest of our lives if that's what you need." He shook his head but made no move to pull away from her; soapy water dripped to the floor, splattered her skirt and the cuffs of her sleeves.

"You're a foolish child," he said, but there was fondness there, and Christine shrugged, knew many would say he was right.

"Maybe," she said. "Is it foolish to know, beyond any doubt, that I cannot envisage a future without you in it?"

Erik was silent for a long moment, his eyes moving across her face, seeing her resolve, and then at last he shook his head. "No," he said. "No, that is not foolish." Then he did try to pull away, to disentangle their hands. "But getting wet is," he said. "It's too cold down here for you to get wet like this."

"I'm not very wet," Christine laughed, released him and picked up the towel, dried herself. Her cuffs were damp, and soapy patches were spreading on her skirt. "I'll soon dry by the fire."

"Then go," Erik ordered her. "I won't risk you catching a cold."

Christine thought he was probably overreacting, but it was colder in the kitchen than it would be by the fire in the music room, so she nodded, reached up to kiss his cheek, and then hurried to the fire. Shunning the chair, she knelt by the hearth and held her hands out to the fire's warmth.

Erik joined her shortly, with a cup of her favourite herbal tea; she smiled up at him, took it gratefully.

"Thank you," she said. He took his accustomed seat, and she shuffled closer to him, leaned against his legs and rested her head on his knee. He was stiff, startled by her familiarity, but Christine ignored that, allowed herself the comfort of knowing he was startled only because he was still so unused to any touch.

She wondered what it would be like when they were in bed, felt her cheeks burn as she thought of it, kept her face away from Erik so he couldn't guess the direction of her thoughts. She wondered if he would shy away from her there, whether he would try to cover his scars, or whether he would allow her to see him, to touch him.

Christine knew what happened between married people – had grown up in an opera house, after all, and although Madame Giry had tried to keep them all as sheltered as she could, Christine knew. The dancers talked, after all, and while she and Meg were chaste, most were not. Heléne had talked of trysts with Henri, Giselle had spoken of her few encounters. It was pleasurable, she knew, and she certainly knew Erik could make her feel pleasure. It was evident in every embrace, every daring caress.

She lifted her head to sip her tea, felt Erik's hand brush across her curls and smiled.

"I shall miss you," he said, and she frowned for a moment before recalling their conversation before supper. He said nothing more, but it was enough that he had said it.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 23 of 37

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