Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 35 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Erik met her at the Rue Scribe entrance, dressed once more in his accustomed attire, and as soon as the door was locked behind them he caught her up in his arms, brought his mouth to hers as if he would devour her, pressed one cold hand to her shoulder and tangled the other in her hair.

Christine lifted her hands to his shoulders, made a startled sound when he pressed her against the wall, covered her body with his own. The sound was swallowed in his mouth, his hand slid down her arm and across her throat, down to rest over the swell of her breast.

She didn't think she had ever seen him like this, so – so lustful, so intent on his desire that he discarded all his usual insecurities and hesitancy. Her eyes slid closed as he lowered his mouth to her neck, licked and sucked at the spot he knew made her feel as though she was melting – she did not complain of it, she thought hazily, but they were in the cold passage, the stone at her back was hard and uncomfortable.

"Erik," she murmured, and she brought her hand to his head, tried unsuccessfully to make him listen to her. "Erik…"

"Do not deny me," he whispered, and he looked at her then, his eyes sharp in the dim light from his lantern. "Do not, Christine."

"I don't," she said at once, soothed him. "But not here, Erik – I'll get too cold." Appealing to his protective instinct might, she supposed, remind him that they had a comfortable home below – and indeed it did, for he nodded, looked a little ashamed of himself. Christine kissed him then, tried to show that she shared in the fire that burned between them, and when they parted he nodded again, accepted it.

"Down, then," he said, sparing only a few words. "Come quickly."

And quickly they went; Erik grasped her hand and almost dragged her along, as he had not done since that first night he had taken her down to his home. But this time Christine did not hesitate, did not stop to look back the way they had come, and although his hand around her wrist was firm, his pace fast, he was still careful to make sure she could keep up, made sure she didn't trip or stumble.

He kissed her again when they reached the boat, kissed her feverishly, as if he would never be able to have enough of her, and Christine pressed herself against him, clutched at his jacket. His hand tangled in the laces that fastened her bodice, and she shook her head, pulled away from him, was almost ashamed to hear how her breaths came in pants.

"No," she said, and he growled, reached for her once again. "Just across the lake," she said, her words stumbling over each other in her haste to speak. She could feel every inch of her skin, and her dress felt too tight, too constricting. She ached for him as much as she knew he ached for her – but in a few moments they would be home, they could be in the bed, and it would be so much more comfortable.

She stumbled into the boat before he could reach for her again, turned and looked up at him.

"Just a few minutes more," she coaxed him. "Come, Erik." It took a moment, but he nodded, stepped into the boat and caught up the pole. They crossed the lake, and Christine tried to calm her breathing, watched for their approach to the far shore. When they arrived, she reached out to loop a rope through the iron ring on the lakeshore, fastened the knot the way Erik had shown her.

He caught her up in his arms, carried her out of the boat and into the house, barely paused to slam his hand against the switch that lowered the portcullis. The music room was still warm, although the fire was dying – and Erik placed her down on the low sofa, knelt over her and kissed her, a hand at her breast.

"If – if you tear my dress," Christine managed, when his mouth moved from hers, down to lick and suck at a spot beneath her jaw, "I shall be cross." Erik chuckled, and the feel of it reverberated through his body as he pressed close to her. But he listened, he obeyed her unspoken command, and retreated to let her up, to let her turn away from him so he could unlace her bodice. She reached down to unlace her boots, just enough to pull her feet from them, and then Erik's impatience overtook him again.

In moments she was bare, and he undressed himself with haste, left his clothing with hers on the floor beside the sofa. He covered her with his body, it felt like her skin would burn where he touched her, and she matched his urgency with her own.

Afterwards, cradled between Erik and the back of the sofa, Christine closed her eyes and rested her head against his chest.

"My Erik," she murmured, contented. "You were magnificent tonight."

"Hmm. I'm glad you think so." He stroked a hand over her hair, down to rest on her hip. "I do so enjoy scaring the fools who work here," he murmured, and Christine opened her eyes, smiled at him.

"I could tell," she said. "I've never seen you so –" She cut herself off, hesitant, and Erik looked at her, frowned a little. If she held back, she knew, he would assume the worst, and so however he took it, she must say her thought. "So unafraid to touch me," she said at last. "So often you still think I will refuse you. No, don't deny it," she added quickly, when he made to speak. "I know you do. You're so terribly afraid still, Erik."

"Do not blame me for it," he muttered, and although he did not turn away, he could not look at her. Christine lifted a hand to his cheek, stroked it gently.

"I do not," she said, reassured him. "Not at all, Erik. But that does not mean I do not hope you will come to be sure of me." She lifted her head, brought her mouth to his and kissed him gently. "I will never flinch at your touch," she murmured then. "I will never refuse you."

"I cannot trust in it," Erik said eventually. "Not…not yet. In my whole life nobody has ever willingly accepted my touch – certainly not after seeing my face. And you…" He shook his head, closed his eyes. "If you knew how I ache for you," he whispered. "Constantly, Christine."

"I know it, Erik," she said back, her voice just as soft as his, and she did not blush. "And one day – one day you shall trust me." He nodded, slow and hesitant – he wanted to agree, she saw, wanted that day to come, but couldn't believe it would. She would make it happen, she vowed to herself. One day he would know he could touch her without being afraid of a flinch or a blow.

"We will talk of other things," she declared then, refused to let him dwell on his insecurities. "Tell me how you will make the managers put on Don Juan, Erik."

He smiled then, knew what she was doing, but he allowed it. "There are two options," he said. "One is simpler, but I suspect will earn your disapproval. I can simply threaten them, and ensure accidents happen, until they agree."

Christine pursed her lips. It was not a plan she approved of, but she had said to Erik that she would not ask him to stop his games, his mischief, and she would not go back on her word.

"What is the other option?" she asked, and rested her head once more on his chest, traced the line of a scar on his stomach for a moment.

"It would…expose you to gossip," he said slowly, stroking her hair once more. "But if you were to present the managers with a copy of my deeds of ownership…they would see that they have no choice." Christine said nothing, and her thoughts jumbled together as she tried to understand what he meant, what this plan would mean for her. If she showed the managers that Erik – her husband – owned the opera house, they would know that she was married to the Opera Ghost…and that knowledge would not be kept secret for long.

"Of course, Raoul already knows," she murmured, felt him tense at the name but offered no apology. It was a fact, and one he already knew. "And…and after all they do not have to know everything, I suppose…"

"No," said Erik, relaxing a little. "No, we would fabricate a story. Your husband, the eccentric owner of the opera house." She smiled at the description, knew it applied more than he would admit. "As for my salary," he went on, "what they call blackmail is simply my fee. It's written into their contract, for my artistic and musical direction. I have designed many of the sets and costumes, as well as instructing Reyer in casting decisions."

Christine could not help but be relieved at that. Raoul had called Erik a criminal for his blackmail if nothing else, but if Erik spoke the truth – and she had no reason to believe he would lie to her – it was nothing of the kind, and Erik was breaking no law.

An eccentric, she thought, who amused himself by playing minor practical jokes on the cast, and by creating a falsehood about an opera ghost.

"Do you approve?" Erik asked her then, his tone light but his anticipation clear. "As I said, you would become a subject for gossip, at least until the novelty wears off."

"Yes," Christine said, "I know I would be. But…but I think I could bear it, Erik." Yes, she thought she could bear it. It was the safer choice – presented with proof of his ownership, and of his right to the monthly salary, the managers could not go to the police, as she was afraid they might if Erik threatened and blackmailed them into obeying him. It would be far safer for him, and if she could help ensure his safety, she would.

She yawned then, couldn't help it, and Erik chuckled, low and deep in his chest.

"Bed, my wife," he said, and rolled away from her, off the couch, rose and bent to carry her in his arms. "Time enough to decide tomorrow."

Christine wrapped her arms around Erik's neck, clung to him as he lifted her easily, carried her down the passage to her bedroom. He laid her out on the bed, drew the blankets over her and then left her momentarily to extinguish the lights in the other room.

He returned swiftly, joined her in the bed, and Christine curled up close to him, stifled another yawn. It was late now, long past midnight, and although there was no performance on New Year's Day, she would no doubt be called to attend a meeting by the managers following Erik's appearance at the masquerade ball. She should go to sleep, and yet she lay in quiet contentment, traced a pattern on his skin and relished the feel of him against her.

"I meant it," she murmured. "I think I could bear the gossip, if it meant your opera would be performed."

Erik was silent for a while, his arms tight around her, and Christine was almost asleep before he spoke.

"I know how you hate it," he said, voice low and soft. "You hate to be talked about. You hate the gossip. Would you truly be willing to accept that, for my sake? You have given up so much for me already."

Christine scowled, lifted her head to look at him, startled back into wakefulness. "I have given up nothing," she declared. "Why would you say such a thing?"

Erik looked at her sadly, stroked a hand up her bare arm. "You could have had another," he reminded her. "Someone without…" He gestured to his face; he wore his mask still, although he would take it off soon, she knew, because it was too uncomfortable to sleep in. "A home above ground…you should be in the sunlight, Christine."

"I don't want another," said Christine, tried to be patient with him, knew he only spoke so from his own insecurity. "Erik, I love you, and I have sacrificed nothing to be with you. I can have the sunshine whenever I wish – you hardly keep me prisoner here!" She bit her lip, looked at him, raised her hand to caress his cheek. "I have everything I want, Erik. Nobody else could give me what you do." She eased his mask off, cast it aside, and he did not stop her. "I love you," she whispered, "and I love your face, because it is yours and you are my husband."

"My wife," he said, and he smiled a slight smile. "You speak so prettily."

"It is the truth," Christine insisted. "I'll take the deeds to the managers tomorrow, Erik. I don't care what anyone says about me, as long as I have you." She curled closer around him, rested her head on his chest. "I love you."

"And I love you, my brave Christine," Erik said. "Now go to sleep."

Christine obeyed, closed her eyes and drifted easily into sleep.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 35 of 37

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