Christine's arms were tired, stretched as they were across the tabletop, but the warmth of feeling his arms gave her strength, even though his hands and fingers were, as ever, deathly cold. They hadn't spoken in at least five minutes; he had not met her eyes for that whole time. She was not afraid to move. It was just that the moment was so…what?
Holy, her mind supplied. The muscles in her arms shook, trembling, but the weight they bore and the strain they carried was only partially physical. The tension in the air, the expressed emotion and the hints of real trauma that lay in his past…it was a weight of responsibility that bore down on her nerves and made her long for escape.
He was relying to her to be strong, to bear up under his weakness. She could do this. She had to do this.
His fingers tightened around her wrists, as though sensing her internal struggle. She squeezed his in answer.
"I'm here, Erik,"
She had not realized she'd spoken aloud until his head jerked up.
"I'm here," she repeated, squeezing his wrists again in encouragement, "I won't go anywhere."
The two thin lines of his mouth tightened, and he looked off to the side. The motion of his head was sudden and sharp, and Christine could tell that her words had shattered the moment. She bit her tongue and kept her hands where they were. God, she had a lot to learn as a therapist.
"I'm sure you have places to be," Erik said, not looking her in the eye as he let his fingers slide through hers. As the last cold digit left her palm, Christine felt more a pang of regret for its loss than relief at the way her arms were finally free to stretch and move. She felt somewhat at a loss.
She settled for nodding slowly and getting to her feet. The motions felt wrong, somehow; at odds with the cool stillness of the previous minutes. She was pulling back again, when he'd done the work and moved forward.
But how much could she lose herself to this? The question was one she posed to herself at the start of each professional relationship, but she had never had as much difficulty answering it as in this particular case. Very few other patients made her agonize like this, made her think of them day and night. Yes, Erik was special, yes, she wanted to give him special treatment; but what exactly did all that mean in practical terms?
Despite the resurgence of her artistic side, Christine Dale was still eminently practical. She gathered her bag from where it hung on the back of her chair.
"May I show you one thing before you go?"
She turned back to face him, but his eyes resolutely refused to meet hers. He still stared through the kitchen windows, trying to keep his tone casual. Christine could tell, however, how much her answer meant to him.
"Of course, Erik," she said.
He rose in one smooth motion and took her by the hand. Her body relaxed as she felt the familiar comfort of his grip. She needed no encouragement to follow his lead.
He led her up the winding staircase in the middle of the house, past the second floor up to the third level of the building. Little oddly shaped windows looked over the forest behind the house, and Christine smiled at the sensation of being a bird among the branches.
They crossed the landing and Erik opened a pair of double doors into a broad room. Christine gasped; the space must have taken up at least half the floor, and the entire thing was flooded with gorgeous late-afternoon light. The very dust motes in the air gleamed gold as they twisted in the air, flirting with the breeze from the open windows.
The air was still cool, and Christine shivered slightly; even in June, New York took a little while to warm up. The sun however, warmed the space well.
Erik was a careful and considerate owner, she reflected. Certainly if he wanted to leave the heat off, he knew that the air temperature would not harm his instruments.
The room was a shrine to music; wherever she turned, she saw something beautiful. Three large pieces dominated the room; a spindly harpsichord that looked like it had made the crossing from Europe more than once in its long life, an organ that looked salvaged from the ruins of a cathedral, and a piano, its wood so brilliant and gleaming black that it served as a mirror for the sun, reflecting its light in a hundred rainbows across the ceiling and floor.
In between these giants stood harps of several different sizes and varieties, cellos and basses resting on upright stands, tables which housed violins and violas, glass cases that stored flutes, piccolos, and all manner of wind and brass instruments…everywhere she looked, Christine saw something new.
She breathed deep, mouth open in wonder. Her hand ghosted over the surface of a gorgeous old violin; the wood's surface showed what must have been centuries' worth of wear from careful fingers. The neck of the thing almost bore the imprints of its owners…she shivered as she saw where they had left their marks.
It was spectacular.
"Erik," she breathed, looking back at him with her face alight, "this is…incredible."
"Isn't it beautiful?" he asked. As he spoke, he didn't look around the room at these proud, regal tools of artistic beauty. He looked directly at her. She felt a tremor run up her spine at the look in his eye; she shivered and turned away, masking her sudden uncertainty by taking a closer look at a glass case that housed museum-worthy flutes and recorders.
"Where did you get all these?"
"Most of them were left to me by my mother," she could not face him as he spoke, but in the glass of the case, she saw him moving closer to her, "she was an avid collector. But I have made my own contributions to the collection, certainly. In fact…"
The long line of his chest came up suddenly against her back and her breath came short at his closeness. Did he know what that did to her? Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the raised corner of his lips. Bastard. Of course he knew.
The fact that he was being snarky and taking advantage of her being off-balance—again—gave her the bravado to face him as he removed an old flute from the case.
"This is one of my favorites. I found it moldering away in a cathedral in Ireland; no one had played it for fifty years. But the tone of it," his lithe fingers tightened the instrument along its joints, the movements sure but loving, "must be heard to be believed."
He moved to replace it in its holder.
"No," the word was out before she thought, "play something."
He smiled, and she smiled back at him, planting her hands on her hips.
"Yes, your evil scheme worked," she said, watching with pride as his smile stretched almost to become a grin, "but my resolution holds; I'm not opening my mouth."
"Very well," he said, almost laughing the words, "I will not test the strength of your resolve. But please," he motioned her to the piano bench, one of the few seats in the room, "relax."
She sat on the bench, letting her fingers drift over the smooth, sun-warmed wood. She wondered how many times he had sat where she was; in how many moods of joy, despair, or aggravation he had taken this seat to drain himself of emotion?
His history would weigh heavily on the instruments he owned; who would inherit his burdens when he passed?
She shook these thoughts off as he sat a few feet away from her, perched comfortably on the harpsichord's stool. He loosened his shirt's cuffs and rolled down the sleeves. She followed the motions of his mouth—too closely, she was sure—as he moistened his lips and set them to the instrument.
But when he started to play Greensleeves, her brain shot so far away from him—and herself—so quickly that her hands tightened against the bench's edge as though her grip could prevent her from losing her grasp on her mind.
Shivers raced up her spine, her arms; she felt her lips shaking. The tone, he'd said—yes, the tone was true and glorious, like the wind whistling through a cathedral at night, or moaning between the gravestones in a moss-covered churchyard—but it was more than that. In her fancy, she saw the first owner of the flute, wandering over the green hills of Ireland and playing away his loneliness as he lay out under the stars…
Then the second owner, a pious man who gifted his father's flute to a young altar boy in the church, who took the instrument and charmed the congregation with it every Sunday morning, in the gray pre-light of dawn when each man and woman in the crowd felt their souls lift and tremble, yearning towards the God who was made tangible to them through each shimmering note…
Down through the years, this flute had traveled. Down the years, through the hands, catching memories and history and dragging them along with it until finally it rested in Erik's hands and played to her…would she too, in this moment, be sealed in its black resin skin and carried forward in time?
The hard edge of the bench, pressing the blood out of her shaky fingers, brought her back to reality. She breathed again.
Your imagination's running completely away with you, Christine, she told herself firmly, get a grip.
She did. After the first surge of enchantment, Christine managed to listen to the rest of the song and appreciate it merely for Erik's artistry and the instrument's divine tone.
As the last notes faded, Erik lifted his head slowly, as a diver comes to the surface after an underwater sojourn. His eyes seemed heavy lidded as he turned his gaze back towards her. She felt the meaning behind his glance and felt her face flush, sudden and uncontrollable.
"That was beautiful," she said, wanting nothing more than to follow that with 'I have to go'. "You play so well."
"I have to," he said, keeping his eyes on her as he continued, "if I want to be the worthy owner of something such as this."
He held the flute lightly between his strong, masterful fingers. Christine stared at them, her gaze sliding slowly from the long bones to the defined knuckles and finally to the callused, rounded tips. She swallowed.
"I have to go."
"Yes," he said, standing suddenly. The spell between them was not so much shattered as dropped; she could tell that he had seen her first wild reaction to his playing, and she knew he would not forget it.
She was grateful that he was pretending to ignore it, for her sake. It was a generous thing that he probably would not have done during their first few weeks' acquaintance.
She waited for him to replace the flute in its case and followed his lead out of the room. On the landing, she paused for him to close the doors of the music room, but then she led the way back down to the first floor—out of the treetops—and to the front door.
Once again, she had no idea what to say.
"I'm glad," she began, and stopped.
The corners of his lips twitched, but he was not laughing at her, or mocking her. The expression only seemed…she could not tell.
"Myself as well."
She walked to the curb and got in the car, looking back only once she was turning the key in the ignition.
He lifted his hand in salutation as she drove away.