my_daroga: Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera (phantom)
my_daroga ([personal profile] my_daroga) wrote2011-01-17 12:12 pm

Fanfiction: Like Everybody Else (5/11) - Phantom of the Opera

Title: Like Everybody Else (5/11)
Fandom: Phantom of the Opera (Leroux)
Rating: Mature (sexual content)
Summary: A sequel to the events of the novel, Christine returns to Erik to live as his wife. But the promises Erik made are difficult to keep, and a kiss is not enough.
Notes: Thanks to [personal profile] stefanie_bean for her editing help and [personal profile] lettered for her support and inspiration. Also available at the AO3 and The Fifth Cellar.

Chapter four

“Who were you talking to?” I turned slowly, not wanting to display surprise. I’d gotten too worked up over his visit. Christine stood in the doorway, dressed in an elaborate dressing gown I had trouble distinguishing from day-wear. Perhaps there were undergarment concerns which differentiated the two.

“No one, my dear.” Realizing that it was not in my best interest for her to believe I spoke to the air on a regular basis, I relented. “My friend, the Persian gentleman I’m sure you’re acquainted with.”

She shivered a little. “Oh. He makes me nervous. All that sneaking about. Everyone thinks he’s mad.”

“The daroga is a very old friend of mine. He’s the sanest person I know. And he saved your boy’s life. You might want to remember that.” Her eyes widened and I realized I’d been speaking to her in that cold, demonic voice I usually reserved for her ex-fiancé. Why was I so ready to leap to that nosy little snoop’s defense? Technically, Christine had saved Chagny. “But that’s all done now, isn’t it?” I said with false heartiness.

She nodded. “I’m sorry, Erik, I didn’t think. I’m grateful to him, of course.” Not too grateful, I hoped, though I supposed I couldn’t fault her for not wanting her lover dead. As long as she never thought about him again. “He just… frightens me sometimes, when I see him in the halls. He asked me all sorts of questions. He was so odd. He’s your friend?” Her brows furrowed slightly in thought.

Odd. He frightened her with his oddness, and here I was, a creature from a nightmare sharing her bed. “I am capable of basic human relationships, however my current lifestyle may deceive you.”

“Of course,” she said automatically. “I didn’t mean… Only that you were going to kill him.”

“It’s complicated, Christine,” I said, suddenly tired of the conversation. Well, it didn’t matter to me what she thought of him, did it? It didn’t change the fact of her presence. I walked towards her, willing my irritation away. It fled before the sight of her, all rose and marble and gold wrapped in sapphire. “Did you sleep well, love?”

She nodded. “You?”

She had no idea, had she? So innocent, so innocent, like me only I had never been innocent, not to mother and not to God and not to myself, no matter how virtuous I wanted to be. In this moment, I wanted her innocence so badly, so fiercely but that was rather a contradiction, wasn’t it? Could this feeling have anything to do with purity? But she had caused it, so it must be good. I realized I was staring at her wordlessly. “It was… wonderful,” I said finally. Let her think I reposed chastely at her side like a saint testing his faith, the way I imagined she thought Chagny would. Let her think what she would, if only I could be there again.

“I’m hungry, Erik. Would you like me to make something?” I didn’t want to eat, foolish girl! But reason spoke and lust gave over reluctantly. People needed food. There was none left in the house. There was nothing for it but to go for provisions.

“That would be lovely. Unfortunately, I seem to have forgotten to go shopping while I was waiting to die. Don’t frown so, it was merely a joke.” Obviously I was a better music teacher than comedian. “Do you think you can find something to do while you wait for me, love?” She nodded. “I won’t be gone long, I promise. Is there anything in particular you would like?”

“Chocolate,” she said decisively. I ought to have guessed. It never changed. Her dear Papa hadn’t been able to afford sweets, or some nonsense, so now she had an uncontrollable sweet tooth.

“Very well. I will dress and then I’ll be back before you know it.”

In my room I bathed and dressed hurriedly. I didn’t want to leave her, even for the short amount of time it would take. I had refined my shopping trips to a science over the years. I could but rarely go out into the markets to get my supplies, and I could not trust anyone to do it for me. Luckily, the Opera always had more than enough to go around and even the current management of “efficiency” was not capable of keeping track of it all. As far as I knew, they didn’t even miss anything. Not that it would have made any difference if they had.

It was early, and the Opera was more or less deserted. There was almost always someone around, but it was a large building and at the moment the pantries were devoid of workers. I slipped in and was about to make off with my usual supplies when something made me pause. Christine did not deserve to live on the same meager fare as I was used to, since at this point food was merely a matter of staying alive. She deserved better, and I remembered how I’d plied her with delicacies in an attempt to win her over like a stray cat. No reason to cease doing so merely because I had succeeded. I found myself poring over the stores, mentally concocting recipes and novelties from other lands as I gathered my plunder.

And then, I thought, should I not bring her back something else? A wedding present perhaps, a token of my gratitude, as insufficient as such a thing must be. There were always plenty of unused bits and pieces lying about the upper cellars, and I began trolling through them. She had gowns and costumes and her beauty needed no jewelry, though I supposed women liked that sort of thing. She liked music, but I could give her that on my own. And then, behind a larger backdrop I found it: a small country scene painted on canvas. It must have been meant for a smaller venue, for it was about the size of a wall in Christine’s bedroom and was too detailed to be useful from a distance. It was fine work, really. And it would remind her of her youth, the farms and villages she’d told me of. It would remind her of the daylight she had relinquished with her promise to be my wife. It would have to be enough.

It took me some time to wrestle the blasted thing downstairs and into the house. I heard Christine moving about in another room, so I did not announce my presence but instead unfolded the unwieldy thing into place along one bare wall. It was almost an exact fit. There was no need to go outside now, was there? She had everything she could want right here. I stared at the new wall for a moment, immensely pleased with myself. It could not have been more perfect if I had painted it myself; indeed, though it pained me to say it, I had so rarely been outdoors the past few years that I had forgotten what a field full of sun looked like. Surely no sky could capture the exact color of her eyes, nor grass the golden glow of her hair, but here it was. Christine as landscape.

“Christine?” I pitched my voice to carry but not startle. I wanted to show her my gift, wanted her to be as giddily pleased with me as I myself was. I set down the bag of groceries in the kitchen.

“I’m in here.” What she was doing in my study I had no idea, but I didn’t care for the moment. “Erik, I— ”

“Come out here. I have something to show you.” I was jittery with impatience.

She came into the parlor and smiled. “A present?” she asked. “Where?”

“After you, madame.” She giggled, I supposed because no one had ever called her that before. And then she walked into her room and her smile seemed to match the bright, artificial day she gazed at.

“It’s beautiful, Erik. It reminds me of a place Papa and I used to… Oh, it’s lovely.” She turned to me and I entered the room. “Did you paint it?”

Her blind faith in my skills sometimes begged to be taken advantage of, but I declined. “I’m afraid not. But do you like it?”

“Yes, of course. It’s wonderful. It makes the room seem like it belongs somewhere else.” Somewhere else. Not these dark, dank, tomb-like catacombs. Well, it couldn’t be helped. I knew she was a creature from above. She frowned slightly. “But where did you get it?”

“It was just waiting for us, love. With the scenery.”

“Oh. But isn’t that… well it doesn’t belong to us, does it?”

I sighed. Where did she think any of this came from? My lucrative position as bank president? Didn’t she know that everything in the entire Opera was mine, including but not limited to her? “If you want to get technical, no, I suppose not. But it’s not being used, and it hasn’t been for some time. It’s not as if I removed it from the building, is it? Honestly darling, you have some of the most naive ideas.”

She bit her lip slightly as she focused her eyes on mine and I felt myself falling into the sky. I had no need for the outdoors. She aroused my desire for the sun and satisfied it simultaneously. “I know I’m not worldly like some of the other girls. Or clever like you are. I know enough to know I’m a simple, stupid girl. Don’t hate me for that, Erik.”

I wanted to shake her for dismissing herself so lightly. “God no, Christine. No. Don’t ever lament your innocence. It’s a valuable thing. You can never counterfeit that. I love you for it.” She was standing so close. I felt like I had been in chains for the last twenty four hours or so, and self-imposed at that. “Among other things.” I deserved a reward for all this needless restraint. Sainthood, perhaps: Saint Erik, patron of sexually impoverished madmen everywhere. Though I’d wager my piano and Christine both that no one would put my statue in a church. I’d settle for a shrine in the basement, though. Her face was closed to me as I drew nearer, and I was left wondering what she was thinking or remembering. I had hurt her, I knew that much. But I’d heard enough talk from behind the walls of the dancers’ dressing room to know that it wasn’t all hurt. It would be illogical at best for women to have been created without the ability to experience pleasure at procreation, whatever the priests wanted everyone to think. A biological paradox. Yesterday had been about me—that I admitted. Today I hoped that I could make her interests and mine not so different from one another.

“Did… did you want me to take off my clothes?” she asked. Ah, but she learned quickly.

“Would you like to?” Did it make a difference?

She blushed. “It’s not proper to discuss such things, Erik. Please. Just tell me what to do.” She sounded so lost and young. A child in school who desperately wanted to please her teacher but didn’t understand the purpose of multiplication. Which I couldn’t remember right now either.

I went to turn off the electric light and lit a candle. I’d diverted power from city lines some time ago and in tinkering with the lighting had found a way to adjust the brightness, but electric just didn’t seem the right mood. Candles would offer both romance and dimness; there was no sense making her look at any more of me than she absolutely had to. I was willing to make it easier for her. When I turned back, she hadn’t moved. Good God, she wouldn’t until I said something, would she? I wondered if it followed then that she would do anything I said. But that little hypothesis would have to wait until later; I was tired of talking.

She didn’t resist as I began pulling at her dress. Desire pulled at me but I kept it at bay and managed all the buttons this time. I kept my own clothes on, mask included. They could wait. I could wait. Perhaps. When she was clad only in her white underthings, I led her to the bed and made her sit on the edge while I continued. I knelt before her, and where before I had bypassed all detours in favor of my goal this time I let my hands trail up her legs, the stockings soft to the touch but in the way. I removed each offending piece of clothing, making sure my hands followed where once there had been fabric. I felt paralyzed with nerves. What if she rejected me? What if I could not give her pleasure? What was I doing here?

I was here now, however, and I had to make the attempt. Mouth followed hands. When my lips reached her breast (so different from the cold, marble variety which had been all I was allowed previously) she seemed to break out of her trance. “Erik, what are you…” I didn’t want her to talk, to ruin this, so I silenced her by moving my hand to the place I wanted the most, the place that now occupied my dreams where before I’d had only vague impressions of her skin and hair and voice. Silenced she was not, but the little gasp, unintended and quickly swallowed as it was, was enough to propel me into my own pursuit. It was all very well, this feasting and fondling, but I wanted something else and suddenly it seemed I would die if I did not have it.

It was different this time. Something had changed. Oh it was beautiful still, Heaven in heat and touch, but she was different. Her eyes opened wide in surprise at first, but then they closed and I watched her face but I didn’t know what exactly I saw there and then it didn’t matter because all at once I seemed to leave my body, coming to rest finally at her side, exhausted, sated, and happier than I had been in my life. I hardly recognized the feeling.

I opened my eyes to find hers still shut. A light sweat had broken out on her face and I touched her cheek tentatively with my fingers. “Are you well, child?” I asked. “Did I hurt you?”

A blush suffused her cheek as I stroked it. “No. Yes. I… No, Erik. I’m fine.” She opened her eyes and turned away as she rose, clutching at her robe as if my eyes were somehow more invasive than what she’d allowed mere seconds ago. “I’d like to take a bath now, if you don’t mind.” Her voice trembled slightly.

I sat up. “What happened? Christine, speak to me.”

“Nothing.” She turned to me and smiled and touched the mask I had forgotten to take off. “I just want to bathe now.”

Perhaps it was a woman thing. Cleanliness. Perhaps it had some biological purpose. I nodded as if I understood. “Of course. I’ll be working, if you need me.”

Working. I hadn’t worked in weeks, probably. I realized, upon dressing and leaving her room, that I desperately wanted something to do. Yesterday I had been awash with new sensations and had only been able to concentrate on the awkward jumble of thoughts and feelings and memories. Today I felt the need to put them to use, put them on paper. Don Juan, triumphant indeed. At last I could finish my opus. I finally knew what it meant.

The manuscript lay on the desk in my study, and I flipped through it curiously. The whole thing was more a chronicle of my emotional journey than a cohesive narrative; the title was really only a feeble attempt at self-irony. I recognized in the childish dots and lines my naiveté, then my frustration, and finally a violent lust that looking back suddenly seemed only half the story. I’d wanted her so badly, so blindly. Not even knowing what it was I was looking for. I carried it out to the piano to attempt to capture between those five lines what I now knew. As if that were possible; I had been callow indeed to think that all that fire and passion and skin and blood could be contained in ink, no matter how red. Better just to play it, let the music take over. Tenderly at first, I recounted her return, my awakening, her sleeping form. Tenderly I meant to recreate our first union, and it started that way but my hands began to move swiftly across the keys, unconsciously finding a tempo and rhythm I had not instructed, had no control over. Music pulsed around me, inside me, and I could only wonder what Christine was thinking in her bath. Did she recognize this for what it was? Did she feel it too? Or was I alone in this unfamiliar territory, this oasis in half a century’s worth of desert?

I recalled the first time I’d played like this with her in the house. Then, I had been attempting to keep the lust at bay, knowing I would not be received and not able to bear the thought of her disgusted reaction. She had not been affected by it then, instead revealing an audacity that seemed out of character until you had observed her over time. Like the moon, she revealed herself in pieces. But then, perhaps she was not as wholly unaffected by the music as I had previously thought. What was her removal of my mask but a completion of the confession I’d begun by pouring my passion into the air? In some subtle way, I’d asked for it. Perhaps I had even wanted her to see me, on some level. I remembered how angry I’d been at her. Uncontrollable rage, which I could still recognize as belonging to me but could no longer understand. I could not imagine being so cruel to her, although the memory of it remained fresh. It had taken every mental trick of control I had ever learned to keep from killing her that day. Killing her! My angel, my salvation, maestro and author of all that was good within me. Tears streamed down my face as I continued to play, the violence gone, leaving only the hope I felt as I mapped out our future together in ascending arpeggios and major chords.

When my hands finally came to rest on the keys, the last few notes fading into the walls around me, I was startled by a hand on my shoulder. “You should take that off,” she said.

“What?” I couldn’t remember who she was at first. Christine. I blinked at her stupidly. I’d forgotten she was in the house.

“The mask. You’ll suffocate.” She was right. The tears were trapped between my face and the mask, where my nose ought to be. It was embarrassing, being reminded like this, by she who I would rather not know of the mundane yet grotesque details of my existence. Sometimes I longed for the days when I was her angel, as grand and untouchable to her as she was to me. She loved me then, I knew. After a fashion, anyway. She’d promised me everything, given her soul to a voice and a fantasy. But I was not a voice or a fantasy. I had a body, as did she, and I had not been content with merely her soul. Souls were nothing, I had learned. It was the body that made you what you were, that dictated what and who you could have or not.

Ridiculous. I had no desire to be untouchable, not now that I had learned that touch could bring something other than pain. Or at least that the pain brought by desire was not an end unto itself but a beginning. I wondered if any touch would ever be enough, or if one day I would burn so hot that we’d both disintegrate into ash, mingling and finally inseparable. Until then, I would take what I could get. Like now, as she eased the mask off my face and produced a tiny, nearly transparent handkerchief. I let her do it this time, did not explode into a rage of betrayal and injured pride but leaned into her touch. “I’m sorry, Christine,” I said. “I’m sorry this is all I am.” I recalled her words to her boy lover, on the roof, initially forgotten in favor of the more pressing matter of their planned elopement. Misery was always more occupying than good, and made for a better story. If he was handsome, what then? he’d asked, like most innocents not appreciating the value of his ignorance. What was it she’d said? A sin at the back of her mind? Was that what I was?

A tiny line had settled between her brows, like she was working something out. I could always tell. “You’re a genius,” she said with utmost, blind sincerely. “You’re my husband. You’re my angel of music. Don’t you remember?” This was enough for her, she seemed to be trying to say, so it better damn well be enough for me. “The rest… the rest is just circumstance.” Circumstance. As if she would ever have used that word before we’d met.

If he was a genius, Christine, what then? The thought came unbidden. What if circumstance had given Chagny just an ounce of creativity? Or a face like mine; who, then, would deserve her salvation more?

Well. It just went to show how much circumstance was worth. I was here now, after all, in spite of Fate and God and every circumstance either could wield.

“Thank you, my dove,” I said. Sometimes I envied the way everything seemed to be so simple for her. Distilled into a formula and followed without doubt. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to write this down.” It wasn’t strictly necessary to write down everything that I came up with, but it was a habit I’d gotten into. One had to maintain a certain amount of discipline, even if the promise of my day in the sun as most celebrated composer in the world seemed dimmer and dimmer every year.

She nodded. “It sounded good,” she said. I watched her walk away to sit on the sofa with a book. She’d never really mentioned my music before, not in any qualitative way, even in such amateurish terms as “good.” What was good about it? I wanted to ask. What did you hear?

But I was a genius. I didn’t require accolades or her approval; I created for the sake of creation. So I did not ask her, but bent to my task. I had to let my mind recreate what my fingers had. Usually the notes flowed, awkward but swift, onto the page almost as quickly as into the air, but I was having trouble paying attention to them. Little things kept distracting me: the rustle of her skirts, the unconscious tapping of her fingers on the cover of her book, and finally, when she got bored, the roaming path she began around the room. Every third note was interrupted somehow and I felt the wild inspiration of my playing slipping away from me. That was an insufferable thought. It was one area I would not relinquish control of.

“Must you do that?” I asked and wished my voice had chosen a slightly less acidic tone to represent me in. She looked up from the books she was rearranging, evening out the spines.

“I just thought—“

I waved a hand at her. “I need to work, Christine. Please, just go… do… something.” I was at a loss as to what, but she was a grown woman. Surely she could do that much for herself. She frowned at me, a girlish little pout that in other circumstances would cause me to melt with desire and repentance, but I had things to do, and at any rate now she was gone and I could concentrate.

She’d closed the door behind her and there was silence in the room but for the scratching of my pen. I could let my mind wander a little now. I wondered how much blood it would have taken to write out this score. I supposed you could only use a little bit at a time, unless I mixed in some anti-coagulate or maybe kept the blood cold. Would blood be fresher if it was stored cold? On the other hand, what practical difference was there between blood and the red ink which imitated it?

Every difference and none. That was what I’d learned in my life. Which made it sound like something of a waste.

I lost track of time as I scribbled away, involved completely in what I was doing, only coming back to myself at a discrete knock on the door. “Erik? I’ve made us something to eat. You must be hungry.”

Hungry? I wasn’t sure. Without anyone here all these years, things like time and hunger had become irrelevant. When I wished to know what was occurring above, I could check the clock or venture forth to find out. But I remembered that other people ate at regular intervals. Mealtimes were a purely human invention, of no practical use in survivalist terms. But then, I supposed I could not hold myself completely outside the human race anymore. Some things I would have to accede to.

She opened the door. Her dress was different; perhaps women had particular clothes for cooking. “Please come eat, Erik.”

“Of course,” I said automatically, trying to shake myself back into conversational mode. “How kind of you to cook, Christine.” She’d never offered that before, either, and it was touching, as much an acceptance of her life here as her body’s acceptance of me as her husband. I wondered how I could have forgotten about her for so long, however long I’d been working. Hunger would not have reminded me; I had no desire for food, not with her around. She walked in front of me the short distance to the table and I could not help but envision her bent across it. There were so many things I didn’t know, hadn’t done and I was afraid lest this end before I accomplished them all.

I drew my eye back to the dishes she was proudly displaying and refrained from asking what it was. I recognized a few vegetables and something like meat here and there. I smiled. “It looks lovely, Christine.” We sat and I gallantly braved the concoction. It didn’t matter anyway, did it, since I could barely taste anything. But nothing had been cooked the proper length of time.

Christine’s face fell as she took her first bite. “It’s awful,” she said sadly.

“No it isn’t.” Surely not even the most virtuous could fault me for such a lie.

“You’re only trying to make me feel better, but you can’t. I can’t do this.”

“Christine. Could you sing The Magic Flute the first time you tried?” She shook her head mutely. “Well then, there’s no reason to think this is going to be perfect the first time either. There’s a shelf full of books in the kitchen. You may use any of them that you wish.” It would give her something to do, and I certainly couldn’t have her messing about with things in my house when she was bored. She really ought to have learned how to cook something by this time in her life. I recalled my frustration with her interruptions earlier. I certainly hoped she wouldn’t expect me to cook every time she got hungry.

“I’m sorry, Erik. I wanted it to be perfect. Like… like a wife would make.” Her apology seemed out of place, considering that she’d left behind the opportunity to never have to cook or clean or do anything she did not wish to again.

“I shouldn’t worry, my dear. There are many ways to be a wife.” She blushed and looked down, moving the food around on her plate.

“Can we sing after lunch?” she asked.

“Certainly. Would you like to work on Aida again?”

“No.” Her tone was unusually decisive and I blinked at her for a moment. “That is, I’d rather sing Marguerite.”

“But we know you can sing that.”

“I’d like to work on it, though. Just to be sure.”

I was not about to curb her enthusiasm, but her strange firmness was slightly confusing. Not that I wasn’t aware she had reserves within her—she’d told the boy off, hadn’t she?—but I wasn’t used to her being so decided in her choices. It didn’t matter; it didn’t make much of a difference whether we sang Faust or Aida, really, and I was happy to comply. After we’d rehearsed and I’d critiqued and praised her I allowed my desire free reign again and in her turn she complied without a murmur. Well, almost, but I somehow thought that certain noises were not incompatible with compliance.

Chapter six

(Anonymous) 2011-04-24 06:17 am (UTC)(link)
I love the way you write Erik, you really captured his voice! Can't wait to see where you're going with this story!