Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 30 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Christine rolled over, expecting to feel Erik – her husband, she thought with a thrill of pleasure – but found nothing but cold sheets.

She frowned, sat up. The bedroom was dark, but she didn't need light to see that he wasn't there, and she felt forlorn, abandoned. She knew he slept for far fewer hours than she did, but she had not expected him to leave her on this night. On their wedding night.

She slipped from the bed, found her slippers and dressing gown by the dressing table and donned them. It was far too cold to think of wandering around Erik's home – around their home, she corrected herself – without more than just her nightgown, and she hadn't worn that, had fallen asleep naked in Erik's arms.

The bedroom door was open, and a light shone from the music room; she padded down the passage, her footsteps soft, and paused in the doorway to look at Erik.

He was seated at the organ, but his hands were still and the instrument was silent. He seemed to be gazing down at the sheet music on the stand, but he wasn't working. He was not fully dressed, lacked his normal waistcoat and the robe he often wore here in his home, but the mask and wig had been replaced. She went across the room to him, and he looked up at her, almost startled.

"You weren't there when I woke," Christine murmured, and he flinched, although she hadn't intended to reprimand him. "I was worried," she added, and she hesitated for a moment, then ascended the step to his seat, sat on his lap and rested her head against his shoulder. His arms came around her, held her tight, and he pressed a kiss to her forehead.

"I did not want to wake you," he said, his voice equally soft. "I would have come back. It's early still, Christine, you should return to bed."

"I'm not tired," she said. "I would rather be with you." His breath hitched, and she lifted her head, smiled at him, bestowed a kiss. "Or do I disturb you?"

"I wasn't working," he said, and he glanced her over, saw how little she was wearing. "You'll catch cold," he chastised.

"You'll keep me warm," she said, and his eyes were full of desire as he looked at her, his gaze moving from her face down the line of her throat, the bare length of her legs, the way the dressing gown didn't quite cover the curve of her breasts.

"You cannot be real," he murmured. "You are a dream. I have dreamed you into being."

"If it is a dream, it is a good dream," Christine returned, and she kissed him again, felt him relax beneath her. His mouth was warm and gentle, and he only let her retreat when she needed to breathe, was panting a little. Then he trailed his fingers up her bare leg, pushed the dressing gown aside as he touched her.

"A good dream indeed," he muttered, and she sighed happily, leaned against him, closed her eyes to concentrate on the sensation of his touch. "I suppose one day I shall grow used to this," he said, and his hand went higher, came to rest on her hip.

"To what?" she asked, a little breathless still.

"Touching you," he said, pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Being allowed to touch you." Christine nodded, wondered if she too would grow used to it, if one day his touch would become commonplace. She couldn't imagine it, and as he undid the belt of her dressing gown, she vowed to herself that she would never allow herself to become accustomed to the way he touched her, to the sensations he created in her body.

And then he lowered his head to her breast, and she thought of nothing but his touch.

He sent her back to bed afterwards, fretted over hands and feet that were white with cold despite their activities.

"I won't allow you to become ill," he said firmly, when she would have protested. "Faust premieres in barely a fortnight. Go. I'll bring you breakfast." But he kissed her before she obeyed, his stern words softened by a caress, and Christine went back to her bedroom, found the nightgown she had not worn during the night and pulled it on, climbed back into bed and admitted to herself that perhaps she had got too cold.

Erik didn't take long; within ten minutes he came to her, bearing a tray piled high with food, more than she could possibly eat.

"Drink this first," he directed, giving her a cup of tea. "Are you warming up?"

"Yes, a little," Christine said, cradled the cup in her hands and watched as he carefully placed the tray on the dressing table before going to the fireplace and raking the ash from the grate. She smiled to herself as she watched him, felt as though her heart was too big for her chest as she remembered once more that he was hers now.

He lit the fire, returned to the bed, reached to tuck her hair behind her ear. His hand lingered, fingers trailing down her cheek, and she turned her head, kissed his fingertips.

"I love you," she said, realised she hadn't said it yet today, and he smiled at her, always so pleased to hear her say it. She loved his smile, loved how it transformed his face. It was something she was sure he never showed others, something that belonged to her alone.

"What are you thinking?" he asked, sat down on the side of the bed, and she drank her tea, shrugged her shoulders.

"That I'm happy," she said. "That I love you." He nodded, but didn't seem quite satisfied with her answer. She reached out, took his hand, raised it to her mouth and kissed his palm. "That I know I made the right choice," she added softly, and tension eased, his shoulders slumped a little, as if he had been afraid she would say something different.

"I am glad," he said, almost inaudible, "that you are sure. Because I will never let you go now."

Christine shook her head, clutched his hand tightly. "And do you suppose I will let you go?" she demanded. "There is nothing that can come between us now, Erik. You are my husband now." She kneeled up in the bed, ignored the cup that rolled down the bedclothes, wriggled closer to him. "We are both sure," she said, stroked his cheek with cold fingers.

He closed his eyes at her touch, but he was smiling, just a slight uptilt of the corner of his mouth. It was enough for Christine; she could see that he trusted in that, at least. Trusted that she would stay with him, now she had made a commitment before God.

Erik rose then, went to the dressing table and returned with the tray, settled it on her lap. There was fruit and toasted bread, a glass of fruit juice, even her favourite pastries. She looked at him with a smile, hoped he could see her gratitude, and he nodded, sat down carefully, so as not to disturb the tray.

"Eat," he directed, and Christine reached for a plate and a pastry, paused for a moment and looked at him.

"Won't you join me?" she asked, and Erik shook his head. "You must be hungry," she said, tried to coax him, and was rewarded with another smile, but faint this time.

"You know I require less nourishment than you," he reminded her. "I will eat at lunch. Eat, Christine."

He watched her as she ate, and she thought it should have been uncomfortable, should have made her self-conscious – and in a sense it did. She was very aware of how he watched her, the way his eyes were drawn again and again to her mouth, and when she licked her thumb clean he gave a slight noise, almost desperate, that made her feel suddenly very powerful.

It was a strange feeling. She had always found Erik so powerful, so in control, and herself so caught up in his power. But of course, she reminded herself, she did have power over him. She'd said as much to Madame Giry, had declared herself his moral compass. He had promised her something, and she could hold him to it. That was power – although a different sort to the kind she now exerted over him.

She finished her breakfast, drained the glass of juice, settled back against the pillows. "Thank you, Erik," she said. "You take such good care of me." He nodded, took the tray and went to take it back to the kitchen. He paused in the doorway, looked back at her.

"It is still early," he said. "What would you like to do today?"

"I should have a bath," said Christine, combed a hand through her tangled curls, thought of the deep bath in her bathroom, of the hot water that poured from the tap and seemed never to run out.

And Erik thought of it too, she could tell – he fixed his gaze on her, so intense, and she couldn't help a blush. She wrapped her arms around her knees, lowered her head so her hair fell across her face.

Erik returned to her then, parted her hair and placed two fingers under her chin, lifted her head up again.

"Don't hide from me," he entreated – not a command, although she half-suspected he would like it to be one. But it was not a command, it was a plea, and she nodded before she could really question it, before she could think that it was a little unfair for him to ask that when he hid all the time behind his mask.

He kissed her then, distracted her easily, his hand tangling in her hair. She clung to him, clutched his shoulders, tried to bring him back into the bed with her. Erik resisted, laughed softly against her mouth.

"Go and have your bath," he said. "I'll make sure the music room is warm enough for when you get out."

"Will you play for me?" Christine asked eagerly, caught his hands as he retreated. "I love to hear you play."

"I think you know by now that I would do anything you asked of me," said Erik, and he gazed at her for a long moment, made her blush again. Yes, she knew that – knew she could ask him to bring her the moon on a plate and he would try to do it for her. She also knew how dangerous that could become, if she let it. His love had an obsessive edge to it, it was clear in the way he looked at her sometimes, in the way he grew jealous over her friendship with Henri – and enraged over her few, chance meetings with Raoul.

She had not told him about the way Raoul had tried once more to dissuade her from marrying Erik, and she would not tell him about it. It would do no good, she knew – Erik would be furious, would rage and snarl and turn that anger onto Raoul, who was often enough in the opera house to be an accessible target.

So she smiled at him, nodded. "Yes," she said softly, "but all I want now is for you to play for me." She released his hands, let him pick up the tray once more and watched as he left. She stayed in bed for a moment, thinking about all that had happened over the past few hours.

Then she forced herself out of the warm bed, tiptoed across the cold floor to the bathroom, turned the taps and watched as the tub filled with water. She could think about her new life in the bath, she told herself firmly – where she could be thoroughly warmed, could enjoy relaxing in the hot water, could ease the slight ache she felt from muscles unused to the exercise of the past night.

Christine blushed again, alone in the bathroom, pulled off her nightgown and climbed into the bath. Would she ever change so much that she didn't blush? she asked herself, and hoped she would not.

For the way Erik looked at her when her cheeks were flushed, if for no other reason.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 30 of 37

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