“Erik sweetie, how are you? Do you need anything …?” Christine asked kindly when she realised Erik had gained his consciousness a little.
“Drink ...” Erik muttered, his eyes still closed. “Please ...”
“Of course ...” Christine smiled, realising with dread that the poor man probably had nothing to eat or drink for over a day. “I have warm tea with sugar, would you like that?”
“Yes ...” Erik whispered hoarsely, his heavy lidded eyes now opened an inch and gazing at her pleadingly.
Christine gave Erik’s hand a loving squeeze and then rose to her feet to get him the much needed beverage. Not even trying to see if Erik was able to hold the cup by himself she placed it to his lips and helped him drink.
“More?” Erik asked hopefully, after gulping down the liquid in seconds. “Can I have more?”
“Of course, sweetie.” Christine smiled stroking his hair.
Rest and hot beverages helped Erik recover a little from the ordeal he had been through.
After a while he was more or less able to explain some of what had happened to him. Between him either falling asleep or bursting into tears several times mid story, Christine was able to assess that all her husband had wanted was to go into town and buy her the Kanelbulle she had desired for her birthday. But how could things go right for someone like him?
Christine’s heart broke upon hearing how cruelly he had been treated by so many and was grateful to hear about the kind Swedish woman. She was certain that had Erik not received some food and tea before his horrific walk home he might not have made it. It seemed that Erik had no memory of most of his journey, lost as he had been in a fog of pain, exhaustion and fear. How he had managed the stairs and the lake upon his return was a mystery. Though he was certain he had blacked out at some point, as the one memory he did have was of laying at the bottom of a stairway and trying to gather the strength to go on. Then he remembered crawling for a while as his legs were shaking too much to stand.
“You fell down the stairs?” Christine asked in horror.
A dazed look came her way. “I … guess I did … I must have ...” and heavy eyelids fell closed again.
Feeling utterly empty after Erik’s story Christine could only stand by his side and stroke his hair. “My poor darling ...” she sighed as his weary head fell against her stomach.
Knowing how long it had been since he ate Christine was determined Erik would have some food before taking him to bed. The moment he lay down would be the moment he would crash and as she looked at him she was certain he might sleep for days. He truly needed something to keep his strength up.
At first Christine had made him a sandwich, but soon realised that even chewing was too exerting for him at that moment. After the man fell asleep mid chew for the third time, she gave up. But he has to have something more nourishing than just tea with sugar, Christine thought sadly. Then an idea hit her: the soup!
Happy about her clever plan Christine reheated the tomato soup Erik had prepared for her birthday and mashed it. Then she sifted out the remaining chewy bits until it was a drinkable mixture that would at least provide him with some sort of sustenance.
“This tea tasted funny.” Erik muttered drowsily after finishing her concoction, his sluggish eyes gazing at her lovingly.
“That was soup, darling ...” Christine smiled indulgently.
“That’s nice ...” Erik sighed as his eyes drooped again. Christine wondered if he had even understood what it was she said. But it didn’t matter, he had drank it.
After the soup was finished Erik simply sat there by the fire for a while with his eyes closed. Christine was certain he was asleep until suddenly she noticed Erik trying to get up from his chair but falling back weakly with a gasp of pain.
“Erik, sweetie, what is it?” she asked as she rushed to him.
“Erik wants his bed ...” Erik said plaintively.
“Oh, of course, why didn’t you call me to help you?” Christine asked as her hand ran circles over his back.
For a second Erik looked at her dazedly, as if his tired brain had to work hard to make his reply reach his mouth.
“Erik doesn’t wish to bother you.” he then said in his hoarse, far too slow voice.
With a sigh Christine kissed the top of his head. “Erik can always bother me.” she stated lovingly.
A wheezy sigh came from Erik as he squinted his eyes as if trying to recall something and when he did it seemed to startle him.
“But … but ...” Erik suddenly gasped in horror as he tried to raise his head to look at his wife: “I missed your birthday … Or is it still your birthday?” Erik rambled in a hazy panic, making Christine worry he might have a fever. As he weakly tried to reach for her and Christine gently took his hands and knelt beside him. As she did Erik begun to pant and moan a little in his upset. “Christine, has Erik ruined your day? If he did, please don’t look after him, but punish him!”
Punish him?! Christine nearly choked with anger at those words. In his odd way Erik was suggesting that he deserved punishment for the terrible way he had been treated. While it was not his fault at all. Had people treated him as any other person Erik would have been home for her birthday early that afternoon needing nothing more than a nap and a meal to recover from his overnight journey. But no, people had abused him mentally and physically, refusing to help him get home and Erik thought that he was at fault here??!
“No-one is punishing Erik,” Christine said firmly fighting back her tears, “I think he has suffered quite enough already.”
But sadly Erik’s self hatred ran deep and he was not placified by her reply.
“I am so sorry Christine, Erik has failed you.” he insisted and this upset Christine even more. Carefully she tried to take hold of his chin to make him look at her which Erik valiantly tried to do, but was nearly impossible for someone who was barely awake.
“No, no you didn’t.” Christine urged.” Erik, you did not fail me, do you understand? You tried to do something nice for me and people treated you horrible. That is not your fault.”
Slowly Erik raised his hand to touch Christine’s face but seemed unclear in which direction he should be going. By now his eyes seemed to stare in several directions at once and not at all. To help him Christine simply took the wavering appendage and pressed a kiss onto it. Erik almost smiled at that.
“If you still want to celebrate … Erik … Erik … could try not to be tired.” he forced out sluggishly his head lolling precariously as his eyeballs rolled into the back of his head. “I … could play for you … read ...” Erik slurred dizzily just as his eyes closed and his head snapped forward onto Christine’s shoulder.
“Don’t be ridicules Erik, you’re shaking from exhaustion and can’t even keep your eyes open for more than a second.” Christine scoffed, taking her husband in her arms. “You are going to bed and take a long, long rest.” A soft sad groan came from Erik.
“Erik doesn’t deserve rest.” Erik near sobbed, his voice muffled by her shoulder. “And he does not deserve Christine.”
That sounded worryingly like the Erik she knew in the past, not her more confident husband and Christine did not like this regression.
“Stop that, please Erik.” Christine said in a choked voice, as she rubbed his back and rocked him. “I love you so much. Please remember that.” When would he realise that there was no need for him to think he was worthless? That to her he was perfect, he did not need to earn her love or prove himself worthy of her.
“How can you love a monster who can’t even shop for his wife?” Came Erik’s broken voice.
Monster …! Oh, he had not called himself that in a long time, but obviously the treatment he had received in the outside world had brought it all back. Her poor husband.
“I can and I do. Please Erik, don’t blame this on yourself. You are not a monster and you did nothing wrong!!”
No reply came from Erik, he just lay limply in Christine’s arms, talking like this had clearly exhausted him even more.
“Are you ready to go to bed now, Erik, dear?” Christine asked after some time and kneeling with him like that was beginning to hurt.
“Please, sleep ...” Erik muttered in affirmation from somewhere near her neck, but he made no attempt to sit up at all and Christine was beginning to feel certain that Erik really was running a fever.
“You have to let me go now, so I can prepare things for you.” she said as she nudged him gently.
“Too tired … everything .., hurts ...” Erik sighed after a feeble try.
“What hurts, sweetie?” Christine asked patiently.
“Everything …” came the apologetic reply. “I’m sorry my angel, I can’t move any-more ...” Then Erik just remained where he was and Christine almost had to laugh at her sweet, hopeless husband.
“My poor Erik, come I’ll help you.” With that Christine carefully eased him into a comfortable sitting position as she rose. “Now just stay put for a little while longer, I will let the bed warmer make our bed nice and toasty for you and get you a hot water bottle as well. Would you like that, sweetie?”
A vague smile on Erik’s pale face as he tried to nod but fell asleep again half way through. That poor man, Christine thought as she carefully tucked the blanket around him, she had often seen him exhausted, but never so utterly, terribly beyond fatigue as this.
“Everything will be al-right my love ...” she whispered gently as she stroked his cheek. “Please don’t ever go off alone again ...” Then she reluctantly left the room to prepare everything so Erik could go to bed in peace.
Soon the bed was warm, the warm water was ready to go into the bottle and there was warm milk with laudanum just waiting for Erik to calm his muscles. Now Christine was ready to help Erik to bed.
It was almost a shame to wake him up simply to bring him to bed again, fast asleep as he was in his chair. But his poor body needed to lay down.
Before she woke him up, Christine thought it best to treat some of his injuries first: his ankle needed support, and his feet needed padding and bandages. Having Erik asleep while doing this was preferable as Christine was in no mood to be dealing with the fussing and self loathing that would undoubtedly pore out of him at the thought of her on her knees taking care of his damaged feet. During her ministrations she could almost hear him sob about how worthless he was, that a goddess like her should not be doing this inside her mind.
Finishing her job Christine carefully slipped his feet into a pair of oversized slippers she had taken from Erik’s costume room. They were from a past production at the Opera and Erik had always liked him, unfortunately they had been too big even for him. Now though, they fit perfectly and she hoped the soft insides would help minimise the pain and pressure when walking and standing.
“Erik, sweetie, are you ready for bed now?” Christine said gently as she carefully shook his shoulder, unsure where she could touch him without hurting him.
A sad little gurgle escaped Erik’s throat before he managed to slowly blink at her.
“Yes … bed ...” Erik muttered, clearly forcing himself to not promptly fall asleep again.
For a second he attempted to rise by himself, which evidently hurt and exhausted him, then he helplessly turned to Christine.
“Do you need support Erik?” Christine asked kindly, happy Erik finally seemed to understand that it was al-right to ask for help. Erik nodded slowly.
“Come on my love, let’s get you to bed.” Christine said as she hunched a little and carefully lifted one of Erik’s arms and placed it around her neck. Then she took his other arm and placed it around her waist.
“Erik, I’m going to rise now, really slowly, and you have to come along, understood?” she then asked.
“Yes ...” Erik slurred, still struggling to remain awake.
Slowly and carefully Christine rose and to her relied Erik cooperated as good as he could. The cry of pain he released upon standing tore through her like a knife and almost made her return her husband to his chair immediately.
“Erik, are you really al-right to walk?” she asked, her voice shaking.
“Have to … have to lay down ...” Erik gasped. “Bed … please … just … quickly.”
But quickly was the one thing they could not manage as Erik’s overworked legs were only capable of the slowest of shuffling, shaky, steps.
The journey to bed was tough on Christine as her barely conscious husband was slumped completely over her and his fast breaths and mumbles of pain upset her to the point she wanted to cry.
It was a moment beyond relief for both of them when they finally reached the bedroom and Christine could help Erik to slowly sit upon the bed. Being able to look at him again made her worry even bigger: his face was twisted from pain and covered with a sheen of sweat while his eyes glistened rather feverishly.
Not saying anything she continued helping him settle: lifting his legs upon the bed and turning him as the effort seemed too big for him. Before she lay him down Christine forced him to drink the warm milk that contained the pain relief. This finished she could finally let Erik have his desperately needed rest. Carefully she lowered his body down, but he was asleep in her arms before she could even lay his head on the pillow.
For a while Christine sat by Erik’s bedside, making sure he was sleeping comfortably. She could not imagine the ordeal he had gone through just to buy her some … Her eyebrows raised: where were those damn Kanelbulle anyway?
Stepping into the hallway sometime later Christine found the pile of Erik’s wet, torn and stained clothing. Among them was his bag: They have to be in there, Christine deducted. And she was right: inside the bag were the Kanelbulle and the Vaniljhjärta. Somehow Erik had kept them dry and undamaged, despite all that had happened to him.
Seeing the innocent looking treats inside the bag finally broke Christine, her breathing hitched and a sob escaped her throat. Suddenly she felt herself sinking to her knees weeping as a terrible grief overtook her. Poor Erik, her sweet wonderful, poor Erik. All he had wanted was buy his wife a treat for her birthday just like any other husband would. But instead he had been robbed, beaten and abused and forced to walk endless miles through the cold and rain to return to her. Why was the world so cruel to this poor man?
It was her fault too, she thought after a while: if she had not been so insistent on her stupid traditions he never would have left. Why was her birthday still steeped into the past? Of course it was a good thing to honour her father and remember her Swedish roots, but when was she going to make new memories with Erik? Would her abiding memories of celebrating her birthday during the time she had with Erik really have to be that he worked himself to exhaustion to make her happy and do what her father did? Would it not be far better if he could simply be Erik and share the day with her as her husband? Then another pang of realisation hit her: she could have lost him today. She could have lost her Erik!! Someone could have killed him, he could have collapsed and died from the cold or exhaustion. She could still lose him if his fever grew worse.
An overwhelming feeling of awareness overtook her: It was time to grow up and be a wife, not a child. It was time to see Erik in his own right, not as an extension of her father. It was unfair to give him the idea that he had to live up to that.
With a sigh Christine decided that she had to end her moment of self-pity. There was no time to wallow: she had to clean up the remains of Erik’s horrific adventure and write a brief letter to Madame Giry to explain what had happened and to ask her for help with Erik’s injuries.
Soon the house was cleaned up. Much to Christine’s regret she had not been able to salvage any of Erik’s clothes nor his shoes. But maybe it was for the best, she couldn’t imagine Erik ever wanting to wear any of the items again.
Once the letter to Madame Giry had been placed on the desk of her office Christine decided that it might be best if she lay down and tried to sleep for a while. Things would get very exhausting with Erik needing lots of care and looking after in the coming days.
Carefully Christine tiptoed into the bedroom, finding Erik still fast asleep, as expected. Carefully she slipped into their bed beside him.
“I love you Erik …” she whispered as she crawled close to him, “so very much.”
She snuggled against him and wrapped her arms around him wishing she could protect him from the world. “I’ll never let you out of my sight again.” Christine thought as she drifted into a deep sleep.