Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 29 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Erik had been almost silent as he escorted her back to his home – silent but watchful, an awed kind of watchfulness that made her feel very self-conscious. Now, as she stood by her dressing table and carefully removed her veil, she could feel his gaze on her still.

He did not come further into the room than the doorway, and she turned, looked at him, moistened her lips and wondered which of them would speak first.

It was not cold here, at least – Erik had clearly made a fire before going to meet her at the church, and her little bedroom was delightfully warm, unlike the rest of the house.

Christine put the veil down on the table, reached to take the pins from her hair, but Erik moved then, came to her, stood so close behind her that she would only have to lean back a little to be pressed flush against him. He gently moved her hands away, pulled the pins carefully from her hair and dropped them one by one onto the dressing table. Then his hands were buried in her hair, stroked through her curls before landing on her shoulders.

She turned her head to look at him, smiled softly. "I am your wife now, Erik," she said. "Are you pleased?"

"You ask me that," he said, and it was clear he was thinking aloud more than speaking to her, "and you chose, willingly, to bind yourself to me…a few months ago I would have been satisfied with no more than a tender smile. I would have been grateful if you had not turned and run from me. And now…"

"And now I am yours, Erik," she whispered. "Just as you are mine." He nodded, his eyes wide and full of wonder. His hand moved then, his fingertips brushing across her bared collarbone. She leaned her head back against him to give him easier access, and he traced circles on her skin. "Erik," she said, "I'm – I'm nervous. Not scared," she hastened to assure him.

"Nervous," he repeated. "I…understand. I have never…" He shook his head, lowered his hand to her waist and pulled her against him. Her breath quickened a little at their closeness, at the way his hand was spread across her waist, her abdomen. "I have never been allowed," Erik tried to explain then. "This face…"

Christine turned in his arms, raised her hands to his face, the warm flesh and the cold mask. "Your face is part of you," she murmured. "And I am your wife, Erik. You are allowed." She licked dry lips, and his gaze went at once to her mouth, he stared at her as if fascinated and she wished away the blush that warmed her cheeks.

Slowly, hesitantly, as if he was afraid that at any moment she would stop him, his hands went to the line of buttons down her bodice, slipped the first one from its buttonhole. Just one, and he looked at her again, and she hated the fear so evident in his expression. He expected her to chastise him, to rebuke him, and it made her heart ache for what he had endured.

She nodded, raised her own hands to his white tie and carefully undid it, left it hanging loose around his neck. She didn't move to undress him further, knew he was still afraid she would pull away at the sight of his scars – she had wondered how extensive the scarring was, how much of him was marred permanently by the cruelty of others. But it was enough encouragement for him, and his fingers moved quickly now, deftly unfastening the rest of the buttons.

Then he slid his hands under the gown, up the line of her corset, and his fingers brushed over the thin cotton chemise that covered her breasts. She wondered, for a moment, if he could feel how her heart was pounding. But then his hands moved to her shoulders, pushed the beautiful gown down, helped her pull her arms from the sleeves. The dress fell with nothing to hold it up, crumpled on the floor, and Christine spared a thought for the wrinkles that would form.

But Erik's eyes on her were hungry, and she could not think of the dress for long.

"You are so beautiful," he said, and he stepped close to her, so close she could feel him pressed up against her. He lowered his head, kissed her, and she lifted her arms around his neck, clung to him when she thought she could no longer support himself. When he pulled away she was breathless, and he scarcely less so as he moved to unbutton her petticoat, let it join the dress on the floor.

Now she only wore her chemise, pantalettes and corset, and even the fire's warmth wasn't quite enough to suppress a shiver.

"You should get into bed," Erik said at once, and Christine shook her head, caught him by his jacket's lapels.

"I'm alright," she said. "Erik, may I – may I undress you?"

He was torn, she could see, between his fear and his desire. He wanted her – and oh, how glorious it felt to know she could at last be with him like this – but experience had taught him to be wary.

She waited, looked up at him patiently. And then he stepped away from her, and she let her hands fall, terrified now that he was going to leave her, was going to give in to the fear. But he went to the sconces set in the walls, blew out the candles, extinguished the lamp on the dressing table. All that was left was the firelight, and Christine knew it would not be enough for her to see him clearly.

But it was something, and when he returned to her, she reached up and kissed him. Then she fumbled at the cuffs of his shirt, removed the cufflinks – he took them from her, put them in a pocket, let her draw the jacket from his shoulders. It joined her own clothing on the floor, and she unbuttoned his waistcoat and shirt by feel, kept her eyes on Erik's face.

He kissed her again then, one hand tangled in her hair and the other tugging at the laces of her corset. His mouth moved from hers, he pressed kisses to her jaw, her throat, his teeth scraped against her skin and she couldn't help a moan.

In moments the corset was gone, and Erik's eyes were fixed on her as he cupped her breast in a hand, fingers brushing across a nipple through the thin material of her chemise. Christine tried to breathe, clung to him, and then he picked her up, lifted her from the pile of clothing and took her to the bed. He laid her down so gently, looked at her, trailed fingers up her bare arm and across her throat.

"So beautiful," he murmured. "You are…so beautiful, Christine." He left her on the bed for a moment, but only to undress, and she watched as he discarded waistcoat and shirt, boots and trousers. Even in the flickering glow of firelight she could see enough to know she had been right – that his body was covered with scars. And when he turned to her, so hesitant, so cautious, she reached out her hands for him.

"You're too far away," she told him, unashamed. He came back to the bed, stretched out beside her and slipped his hand beneath her chemise. She shivered at his touch, gasped as he brought his hand once more to her breast. "Erik," she whispered. "Erik, Erik." She touched him, too, and he allowed her exploration, let her run her hands over his arms, his chest. In some places she could feel thick, old scar tissue, but she didn't allow her fingers to dwell in any one place.

Then he tugged at her chemise, and she raised herself a little so he could lift it over her head, baring her torso to him, her breasts, and he lowered his mouth to her breast and she gasped, arched off the bed towards him.

She had never felt this before, never felt anything even remotely close. With every tiny touch, every brush of his fingers across her skin, he brought her to somewhere she had barely been able to imagine before. And she touched him too, found places that made him gasp and clutch her, touched him in ways that would have made her blush in the light of day.

It hurt, when he pressed into her, but only for a moment, and she grasped at his shoulders, bit her lip hard, and as pain melted into pleasure again she pushed herself against him, met his thrusts, kissed him as he moved inside her.

It was only afterwards, when he was curled around her, his head resting on her stomach, that she realised his mask and wig had come off at some point while they had been making love. The mask lay just underneath her pillow, and she reached for it, rubbed her fingers over the leather and didn't bring it to his attention.

His hand moved in a lazy circle on her hip, as if he couldn't bear to stop touching her now he had been allowed to do so, and she brought her hand to his head, smoothed the thin strands of hair.

He shook against her, his breath catching, and she realised he was crying.

"What is it?" she asked in a murmur. "Erik? Aren't you happy?"

"Happy," he echoed. "Is this happiness?"

She ached for him, for the life he had known that he could not name happiness – but she knew she could not show pity. He would scorn that, would turn away from her in disgust. And in truth she did not pity him, not quite. It was more compassion, and a fervent desire to make his life different now.

"Yes, Erik," she said gently. "This is happiness." She stroked his thin hair, and he pressed his face against her, his tears wetting her skin. Then he came up the bed to kiss her, gentle and almost chaste.

"I could learn to be happy," he whispered. "I could learn this life, Christine."

"I hope so," she said, and she brushed her hand over his face, wiped away the tears that were still falling down his cheeks. "I'll help you. I want to make you happy."

"You do," he said fervently, and he propped himself up with an elbow, gazed down at her in adoration. "Oh, Christine…you are more than I ever dared dream of."

"Tell me," she coaxed, emboldened by his words and by their lovemaking. He smiled, amused at her, recognised what she was doing and didn't deny her.

"I have read books," he said, and his voice was soft, seductive. "I knew what to expect, but I never imagined how it would feel, Christine. To hold you in my arms and feel your skin…to be within you, and for you to respond to me…" He trailed his fingers across her stomach, over the curve of her breast, and she shivered. "You are so eager for my touch," he murmured. "I could never have imagined that. I am…my body is…"

"Perfect," Christine said, before he could complete his sentence. She knew what he thought, and she abhorred it. His body was scarred, but it was his. She felt the same, she thought to herself with wonder, about his face. Distorted, deformed, and yet it was his face, and he was hers – her husband, her lover. She was growing used to the sight of it, and certainly it no longer shocked her. She could not imagine it any other way, and moreover she knew she had no wish to change him, no wish that he looked whole and complete.

She meant what she said, although she knew he would not, could not believe her.

"Perfect," she repeated. "You are perfect to me, Erik." Fresh tears sprang into his eyes, and Christine felt close to crying as well as she tried to explain. "Your face…the scars…if you did not have them, you would not be you, Erik." He looked away from her, and she reached to turn his face back to hers, her hand gentle on his hollow cheek. "My husband," she whispered.

He shook his head, so unable to believe her, and she vowed to herself that she would make him believe her, in time. He would grow to understand, as she showed her love to him every day, as she sought out his touch. He would believe she saw him so, even if he could never understand it.

She shivered then; the fire was dying down, and the room was cooling. Erik reached to pull the blankets over her at once, always so solicitous of her needs, and she curled up close to him, rested her head on his chest.

"My wife," Erik murmured, amazed once more. "My beautiful wife." He held her, his arms wrapped around her, and she loved the feel of their skin pressed together. "I think," Erik said then, thoughtful, "I could grow used to calling you that."

"Your wife?" Christine murmured, sleepy now, warm and contented in his embrace.

"My wife."

And it was possessive, the way he said it, but Christine smiled, closed her eyes and settled to sleep. She did not mind his possessiveness, not really – and it was true, she thought as she drifted closer to dreams. She was his wife, and she belonged to him.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 29 of 37

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