Strong Enough Part 3
Christine pressed her lips gently to the skin just below his ear then tilted her head so she could see his face. Erik's eyes were closed tightly, almost in pain. He swayed on his feet and she felt him trembling in her arms. Afraid he was going to fall, she quickly dropped the cape she still held on the ground. "Come," she said, "let's sit before we collapse."
Erik slid down the wall behind him to rest on the floor, his legs splayed. Christine knelt between his knees, cradling his face in her hands. He finally looked at her then, his gaze a mixture of emotions, hope and love fought with fear for dominance. He held her eyes for a moment only and looked away. It had been enough, though, for Christine to see what he had been through these past weeks.
He had been dying; the same as she had before she had made up her mind to return to him. That goal had given her something to work for, a reason to be. She had begun to eat again, to take care of herself, to force herself to face the daily unpleasantness that was the de Chagnys knowing that there would be an end to the hell she had created. For Erik there had been only the prospect of never-ending darkness and the knowledge that if the one who knew him better than any other could not love him then no one could.
Lifting his chin, Christine kissed his mouth softly. His lips were almost too warm, and rough against hers, but a thrill went through her as he responded to her touch, his hands fisting in her hair as he returned the kiss. Breathless, they broke apart, Erik staring at her as if noticing her for the first time.
"You love me?" he finally asked, his voice halting and soft.
She nodded, feeling her eyes fill with tears. "I love you. I should never have left you. I should never have put you through the pain I did."
He swallowed and tried to turn his face away from her, but she still held him captive in her hands. "I don't deserve your love," he finally growled. "Though you have left the boy, it still doesn't change what I am--a monster not fit to look upon you, let alone touch you."
Christine let out a growl of her own and was pleased when his surprised gaze returned to her. "Stop it. I will not have anyone speak of my future husband that way."
His eyes grew wide and his mouth opened and shut several times before he stammered, "Your husband?"
She smiled at him, letting go of his face to run her hands through his hair then clasp them behind his neck. "My husband. I think far too highly of you to dishonor you by making you my lover." He made an inarticulate sound then wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close as he hid his face in the curve of her shoulder.
"Oh, Christine…" he moaned, and he shuddered in her arms, sobbing quietly against her neck. She held him tightly, one hand on his head, the other around his shoulders. Leaning her cheek against his hair, she closed her eyes. Finally, after so many years of feeling alone in a crowd, of an aching emptiness she had always thought had been her father's loss, Christine knew what she had been missing for so long. It was the love of her Angel, her Erik. She embraced his love as she embraced him, and felt complete...except she couldn't feel her feet.
"Erik, I need to move," she said quietly. He looked up at her, his eyes tired but joyful. "My legs are asleep." He blinked, nodded, and let go of her enough that she could change positions. She sat down on the floor between his knees, wiggling her toes as she leaned against his chest. Hesitantly, Erik encircled her with his arms, breathing a little sigh as she rested her head on his shoulder.
They stayed that way until the last of the sun's rays faded beyond the horizon and the pale, cool light of the full moon limned the wings of the stone angels as they kept watch over the dead.
"Where do we go from here?" Christine finally asked, lifting her head from his shoulder. "Back to the opera house?"
He shook his head sadly. "I haven't lived there in weeks, not since--that night."
She reached up and touched his cheek. Closing his eyes, Erik pressed his face into her palm. His heavy beard stubble itched against her hand, and she rubbed at a bit of dirt on his chin with her thumb. What had he been through in the weeks that they had been apart? "Where have you been living then?"
Blinking, he gazed at her, his eyes bleary. "The catacombs." At her horrified expression, he hastily said, "It's not so bad, almost like my home on the lake. Not quite as comfortable, but safer than the streets."
Christine didn't know whether to be horrified that he had been living among the bones of the dead, or angry that he had taken so little care of himself. She settled for hugging him tightly. "How in the world did you ever find me here? Even I didn't know I was going to end up here when I found out you were dead."
Erik tangled his fingers in her hair. "I went to the church. I wanted to see you one last time before I left. I wasn't going to interrupt the ceremony, just watch from the choir loft." He looked away from her, a soft sigh escaping his lips. "I wanted to know I did the right thing in letting you go." His gaze found hers again, his expression confused. "But you're here now, and not with--was I wrong? Should I have kept you with me that night?"
Christine pondered his question. It was the same one she had been asking herself for weeks. "I think we both needed for you to free me," she answered softly. "In that moment, you discovered what kind of man you truly are, as did I. You are not the black-hearted monster the world wants to paint you, but a good man, an honorable man, who would give up what he wanted most in the world out of love." Tears stung her eyes and she tried to blink them back but failed. "I knew in that moment that you truly were my angel. I should never have left you. I don't know how I could have."
Erik straightened from his slumped position against the wall, embracing her. "It doesn't matter now." He wiped away her tears with the side of his finger. "We are together, and I have no intention of ever letting you go." He tilted her face up, bending down to touch his lips to hers gently. He pulled back a bit to look at her, and she could see fire in his eyes. He kissed her again, his mouth moving from hers to the side of her throat as she leaned her head back.
Christine closed her eyes, Erik's touch sending a forbidden thrill through her. She shivered as his hand cupped her breast. She felt the same heat she had the night of Don Juan Triumphant when he had sung to her of seduction, had run his hands over her nearly naked body, each touch leaving an inferno in its wake. Oh, how she wanted the flames of love to consume them, but not on the cold marble floor of her father's mausoleum.
"Erik," she murmured, and he lifted his head from nibbling at her collarbone to press his mouth to hers. His tongue swept across the seam of her lips and she opened to him, tasting him for the first time. The raw intimacy of their tongues sliding together sent a flood of pleasure through her. An aching need rose within her, centered at the join of her thighs. She gasped into his mouth, her fingers tangling in his hair, pulling him back enough so she could breathe. "Erik," she tried again and this time his gaze focused on her. "I want this, I do, but not here."
She stroked his face with both hands. "I want our first time to last for hours; I want to touch and kiss every part of you, to love you as you deserve to be loved, not to just quickly couple in this most inappropriate of settings."
He swallowed, nodding in agreement.
Kissing his cheek, Christine rose to her feet and he followed her, picking up his cape and fastening it over his shoulders. When he looked at her again, his gaze was intense. Grasping her by the waist, he crushed her body to his and she clutched at his shoulders to keep her balance. His hips moved against hers. She couldn't stop the moan that escaped her lips as the hard evidence of his desire for her pressed against her belly. He kissed her roughly, almost painfully, then stepped back from her, his breathing ragged, his eyes glowing eerily in the silvery moonlight.
"Do you still want me, Christine?" he rasped, "Now that you have felt my wicked desire for you? Would you truly join with this greedy creature who would ravage you and claim you as his own?"
It pained her to see the shadow of doubt in his eyes, to know that he still feared she would change her mind and abandon him once again. Christine wrapped one arm around Erik's neck, standing on tiptoe to brush her lips over his. Her other hand slid down his stomach and came to rest on what he had deemed his "wicked desire". His mouth opened in a silent cry, but he controlled himself, keeping his hands at his sides as she touched him. "I love all of you, Erik. You are my love, my Angel, and no one else's," she whispered forcefully.
He kissed her tenderly then, his desperate need draining away at the reassurance of her love. "Will you marry me, Christine, now, tonight?"
She nodded eagerly. "Yes. There is a chapel on the other side of the cemetery. It's early evening yet. Perhaps the priest is still there."
His face lit up with delight at her words and for the first time Christine saw him truly happy. The emotion transformed him, the sorrow and pain lifting from his face, his body. He stood taller, his eyes sparkling with joy and he picked her up, raising her so high off the ground that she let out a squeal and clasped her arms around his neck. He twirled them around then finally set her back on her feet before opening the mausoleum's gates.
Taking her hand, Erik led her out into the night, walking nearly backwards through the gravestones unable to take his eyes off of her. She laughed in delight at his eagerness and hooked her arm through his, tugging him close to her side. Something he had said earlier came to her and she asked him a question. "You said you were at the church to see me before you left. Where were you going?"
Her words seemed to sober him slightly, and Erik slowed his rapid pace to look down at her. "Anywhere but here. I was going to just pick a direction and keep going until I could go no further."
Christine hugged his arm. "Now you will not have to travel alone."
The grin reappeared on his face. "I suppose not. Where would you like to go?"
Before she could answer, a shout echoed to them through the tombstones. "Christine!" A second voice joined the first. "Christine, where are you?"
Christine and Erik gazed at each other in horror. "Raoul," she whispered, "he's found us…."
Erik's grip tightened on her hand. "Run!"