my_daroga: Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera (phantom)
my_daroga ([personal profile] my_daroga) wrote2012-01-22 02:54 pm

Fanfiction: Like Everybody Else (8/12) - Phantom of the Opera

Title: Like Everybody Else (8/12)
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 seven

We did not speak about what had brought us to this pass, the daroga and I. When it came time for me to meet Christine I took my leave and realized on the way to her dressing room that I was calmer than I had been in some time. At least, aside from those few precious moments of lying next to her. I had never been one for nostalgia. Memories I wanted to dwell on were few and far between. But I found myself remembering that indeed, the only times I’d been able to relax at all in Mazenderan were in his presence. He’d been able to make me leave, for a moment or two at a time, the horrors I’d been goaded into perpetrating. He’d never judged me, I realized, even as he made his own moral code blatantly obvious. Could I say the same of anyone else? Even so, I could not think what he’d ever gotten out of it. He had to loathe me and what I was with every fiber of his upstanding, orthodox soul. Naturally, I could not trust a man with no visible motivation. I would remain on my guard. But surely some conversation and games of chess could do no harm. I didn’t see any reason to abandon the relationship completely.

Relationships. From the penal solitude of none to two in such short succession. It made one wonder, really, what I’d done to suddenly deserve membership in humanity. Perhaps it wasn’t a matter of deserving, but just allowing Christine’s goodness to absolve me. Accepting her as my mistress and savior and letting faith do the rest. Baptism in her heavenly body, a body which was now entering her dressing room in all its incarnate glory. Communion at the table of her bedchamber where I feasted upon her flesh until she shuddered with it. Pouring my own confession, a confession no longer of blood and death but only of love, into the air as I pushed her head down between my own legs.

“Such a good student, my love, so good, Christine, my angel, my angel… Oh God…” It was the only prayer I knew but later when her face swam back into view I wondered if I could look at her mouth the same way again or if by pressing it to my flesh I had twisted it out of all recognition and made it unfit to repeat the catechism of my innocent lover. No, she was still the same. She looked the same, blushed the same, forgave my transgressions, and they were many, with the same shy grace as always. As she would the next day too, after nothing would satisfy me but for her to kneel with her back to me so that I could take her like an animal in the field that filled the wall of her bedroom, like the depraved beast I really was. Had been, rather.

Choices are made by weighing rewards against consequences. And the shame never seemed to be as substantial as the pleasure, even if it lasted longer. Most of the time, it didn’t. Lust held sway. My desire for her would last as long, longer, than she would. And there was so little time in which to have her that I felt it my duty to the world to preserve the impression of her perfect flesh on mine as long and as deeply as possible. That twinge of guilt would evaporate like a summer shower which in any event only served to intensify the humidity rather than assuage it.

Christine and I never spoke of it. I wouldn’t have known what to say and she was far too timid (she might have said “well-bred”) to make the attempt. My apologies rang hollow, when I still bothered to voice them, but I gave her whatever she wanted, and most of the time what she wanted was to sing. Norma was playing now and Faust had yet to open but she dug the upcoming season out of Richard. Despite his warning that her continued employment at the Opera was contingent upon her success in the upcoming production (and the absence of anything he termed “funny business”) she insisted upon learning any part she might potentially be called upon to play. Between her voice and her body I was caught up in a delirious ecstasy of Christine. My obsession was made reality, and I found it not a whit less sweet for it. It was a perfect fusion of love and music, everything I had ever wanted, and it was marred only by the vacuum of her absence for several hours at a time, several days a week. Into that breach the daroga slid without comment, indeed without conscious plan. On my part, anyway; he was as inscrutable in his own way as I was reticent.

“And how is the old married man today?” We were in Box Five again; the auditorium was cleaned at night, and so during rehearsals we were in very little danger of being disturbed.

“Failing in his financial duties to his new wife,” I said darkly. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t risk the Opera Ghost anymore; not with Christine’s career and the elder Chagny’s… disappearance. If I were alone, I might be able to manage. I suppose I can’t live forever, after all. But women need things.”

The daroga chuckled. “You were not very subtle, Erik. You had to know it couldn’t last forever. Although it served those witless managers right if they hadn’t the sense to figure it out. You should have tried blackmail. I know, for instance, that Moncharmin and La Carlotta are not altogether strangers to one another in the carnal sense. Or at least weren’t; I’m not certain their passion will survive her recovery from hysterics.” I stared at him in awe. Was this my dogged conscience? “Come now Erik, I was only kidding. About the blackmail, not about Moncharmin’s dubious taste in women. If you’re truly serious, I am sorry for you. You used to be so intelligent. For one thing, Christine is going to be a star. She’s going to be able to command more than enough to keep herself and you quite comfortably.”

“You know that’s unacceptable.”

He nodded. “Very well. At the risk of spelling out something terribly obvious then, I will remind you that the Opera Ghost business was unworthy of you. Parlor tricks and smoke and mirrors. You’re worth more than that, and yet you’ve always survived on your basest talents. I’ve never understood that. How many unpublished concertos and operas do you have lying down there? How many useless bits of gears and wire are rusting away while Edison and the rest make a bundle patenting everything first?”

I stood up angrily. “You’ve never understood? You’ve never understood? Do I need to remind you why I’ve had to ‘survive on my basest talents’?” I gestured to the mask and then, the desire to make my point overcoming my pride, ripped it away. “Because that’s what I am, daroga. Base. Worthless. Unfit for the world the rest of you take for granted. And you dare to judge what I’ve done. You don’t know anything about me, or my life, or what I’ve had to do and become to ‘survive.’” He stared at me, unmoved.

“I never said it was simple,” he said finally. He seemed indifferent to my face, though unlike Christine I didn’t get the sense that he was ignoring the fact of its existence—just used to it. “But you aren’t the only person who’s had something in the way. I don’t pretend to know where you came from or what happened to you, but there are plenty of eccentric businessmen who, for whatever reason, conduct their affairs through intermediaries. Just as there are women who must pretend to be men to find work, or foreign exiles who cannot get the time of day, much less a job, because half the people he meets think he’s given them the evil eye. Of course, these misfortunes are insignificant compared to yours, but you’re more intelligent than the rest of us, or so you’ve always wanted me to believe. You should be able to come up with something.” Through the mocking tone I could almost hear something real, and I wondered for the very first time what he’d been doing the past fifteen years. What he did when he wasn’t at the Opera.

I replaced the mask and sat next to him again. “I don’t know. I can’t seem to think clearly anymore. I can’t think of anything besides her.” I looked out at the stage where she was adjusting a costume for the benefit of the seamstress. The peasant girl bodice hugged her body without a corset to chaperone, and I supposed that peasants couldn’t afford the decreased range of motion and breathing that fashion dictated but did the costumer have to be so realistic? It wasn’t right for the contours of her body to be visible to anyone other than myself. Speaking of which, I was tempted to steal that costume after the run of the show.

“Erik? Are you still with me?” I realized he’d been talking. I turned vaguely back to him. “If you were trying to prove your point, you succeeded. You’ll tell me it’s none of my business, but Erik… Are you quite all right?” He looked at me with such concern it almost pained me, and I didn’t know why.

“I have everything I’ve ever wanted,” I said truthfully.

“Yes, yes, but are you happy?”

“She’s perfect,” I offered dreamily. “She’s so innocent, daroga. So fresh and pure and sweet. You’ve known women, haven’t you?”

He stifled a laugh. “You might say that.”

I shook my head. “Not this one. Innocence you can taste. Can you love someone for their innocence, daroga?”

“Innocence has never held any appeal for me. But I think… I think you ought to love someone for who they are,” he said slowly.

I nodded. “That’s what she is. I’d be dead now, if not for her. But it’s more than that.” I knew I should stop talking but she’d grabbed hold of me. She was singing now, and her voice drew me out like a snake-charmer’s pipe. “I needed her to save me. To make me human. I’m a man now, because of her. Because she accepted me as a woman does a man. My mother never touched me, you know. Not after that first, unavoidable part, and given the choice she’d have prevented that too. No one ever touched me, except perhaps to hit me as one hits a dog because it’s the only language he understands. But she’s the opposite. She doesn’t understand hurt, can’t comprehend pain or deceit or hatred. She can wash those things out of me. She has. I’ve never felt like this, daroga. Never.” I imagined her here with me, both of us entwined on this very armchair of plush red velvet, and shuddered.

From the corner of my narrowed eyes I could see him staring at me but I couldn’t discern his expression. “I hope you’re right, Erik.”

“Of course I’m right,” I snapped. I was suddenly embarrassed at my weakness in confessing all that to him. Whatever momentary spell I’d been under had been broken and it now seemed private and inappropriate.

“Then I am very happy for you,” he said slowly. “You just seem… well, distracted. And very thin.”

I stared at him. “I’m always thin.” And distraction was probably part of being mad, I almost added, but the great detective could probably figure that one out himself.

“And your mood’s always changed directions faster than a sandstorm in the desert, but your clothes used to fit you better. You weren’t always a skeleton, no matter what Meg Giry has to say about it.”

“I don’t see why she’s an authority. She’s never seen me naked. Neither have you, if it comes to that.”

He laughed and fell suddenly silent, to my relief apparently willing to let my feeble attempt at humor close the subject. We sat without speaking for some minutes as the fat tenor below lamented a life spent in knowledge and study. The minute the rehearsal ended, however, my entire body stood as if at attention.

“Well. As fascinating as this has been, daroga, I am urgently required elsewhere.” Or more accurately, there were parts of me which urgently desired to be elsewhere now that rehearsal was over.

He nodded and rose as well. Like we’d been having tea together and it required manners. “I have a name, you know. I don’t go about calling you ‘murderer’ all the time.”

“Once a policeman, always a policeman, daroga,” I called back just before I closed the panel of the hollow column. I heard him mutter “idiot” when he thought I was gone, but he was wrong. The murderer had been leeched from me. I doubted anything could do the same for his sense of duty.

I hurried Christine through the cellars and passages, lamenting not for the first time the distance the secrecy of my home required us to travel every day. Why wait? I thought. Stairs and trapdoors and boats, it was all just wasted time. We didn’t have time. She was going to disappear and I’d never see her again. What difference did home and bed make when we were racing against decay and death, two things I was all too familiar with? I stopped and pushed Christine against the wall.

“What? Is someone—”

I pressed my hand to her mouth. “Shh. Be still,” I breathed in her ear. We were behind a flat of a pyramid and I wondered if the setting conferred onto me any of the majesty of the masked pharaohs. They were entombed with all they needed for their journey into the afterlife, just as I had been for a few short days before the stage lights had lured her away. In any case, she obeyed, and I soon was forced to entrust her silence to her. I had better things for my hands to do. I had to not only hold up the skirts of her dress and petticoats and whatever else but attempt to navigate the treacherous swells of lace and muslin that kept me from my goal. My harbor. The process was much easier for me, but I realized then that she was too short, or I was too tall, and I kicked to her feet the small discarded crate that lay nearby. “Stand,” I ordered, and she did. In the dark I thought I could make out her lack of comprehension, but I couldn’t be sure. She’d know soon enough.

It felt different this way, just as everything was new and different to me where she was concerned, and I had to put my hand over her mouth once more for fear she might be heard. The thought of someone walking by on the other side of the flat, the danger of discovery, made the joy that much sharper and I drew her legs around me to support her with the wall and my hands. I couldn’t suppress my own growls of pleasure but I smothered them in the curve of her neck until, still panting, I handed her down from the box as I had watched gentlemen helping ladies from carriages at the subscriber’s entrance. Her skirts fell at once to conceal everything that had occurred here and I led her swiftly back to the house, my lust only whetted.

When I was finally sated and she lay still next to me I thought again of how beautiful I had once found her in repose and tears came to my eyes. She’d been a sort of porcelain idol to me, free from time’s ravages, but the reality of her death was my constant companion now, adding its voice to the incessant din of desire and jealousy which filled my head every waking moment.

“What is it, Erik?” she asked, finally turning towards me in her efforts to right her clothing.

“You’re going to die,” I said, caught stupidly without another excuse.

She stared at me, as if wondering if I was mad. Didn’t she know? I’d always been mad, and if she had led me from my sickness it was only to a more pleasant one. “I’m not going to die, Erik,” she explained as if to a child. “I’m not sick.”

I shook my head. “But you will. One day, you will die. And I’ll be alone again.” Pathetic, that’s what I was. But she knew it already, so there wasn’t any point in disguising it.

She laughed like one who didn’t believe death existed. “Don’t be silly. I’m not going to die for a very long time. Although,” she amended, changing subjects without concern for my agitation, “I might not make it to the opening of Faust if Richard keeps putting it off.” At one time I would have been the first to know about any changes in schedule. In fact, at one time I’d have been the cause. Now I didn’t even care to ask. Anything to keep her here with me, anything to keep her whole and mine for as long as possible.

Christine left me soon after to bathe, and I lay on her bed, dead to the world, for some minutes. My mind wandered over the years I’d spent here, all but vanished from the face of the earth, or was it banished? Either way, I’d reigned in this little underworld without thought of time or age or death, aside from what I myself brought about. To be conquered at last by that which I had mastered seemed ludicrous. Christine was supposed to be my goddess consort, as permanent as I, but something told me that was fantasy. Unless I did something first. It wasn’t too late to kill her and thus preserve her in her prime. Perhaps after the opening, just after everyone had seen her triumph. Then she could live in the collective memory forever. Or as long as Opera lived and breathed, which would be so close to forever as to make no difference.

But the human brain was an inefficient record-keeper and memory was fleeting. What I needed was to preserve her, the essence of her, in some unchanging form. The body was weak and surrendered too quickly. The automatons I’d constructed for that idiotic sultan were dead things, children’s toys, incapable of matching life in any meaningful way. What was Christine’s essence, I wondered. What had drawn me to her, goaded me into life again? Her innocence? It was eternal, yes, but I couldn’t bottle it. And it wasn’t, I realized, what had first caught my attention. As if in reminder her voice issued from the bath, tripping as lightly as the bubbles I imagined covering her over some made up tune or country dance.

Her voice. If I were to distill her into one quality, it would be that, and it would be a substance of such absolute purity that alchemists of old would envy me from their graves. It matched her perfectly. She was her voice. She’d told me she couldn’t live without singing, and I knew suddenly that though she had said it the way a spoiled child declares he will die without an ice cream it was true. There would be nothing left. And so that was what I would take from her, to keep more safely than she ever could because I understood what it all meant. She was merely the instrument.

I didn’t have the knowledge to do it, though, and I fumed internally with impatience at my lack of options for acquiring it. The next day I was in my box before the daroga was, and when he entered he looked down in surprise at me as I sat expectantly in his usual armchair. Usually I made the greatest pretense of happening upon him in the box I visited every day as if by mere chance, even if had to crouch in that cramped column for half an hour.

“I need you to get something for me,” I began without preamble. “Anything you can find on Edison’s sound machine, or anyone else who might have come up with one. I’ve lost track.”

He sat in the chair next to me and smiled with perfect calm. He’d always taken my abruptness with complete equanimity. Unless of course I was abruptly deciding to murder people or torture small children. “I’m glad to see you taking an interest in your work again, Erik. I was worried, with what you said about—“

“She’s dying,” I said, and though I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth it was vaguely amusing to watch his mask of stoicism slip. I couldn’t seem to maintain any kind of control lately. I never used to surrender my emotions to anyone who came knocking. But then, it had been quite some time since anyone had.

“Surely not, Erik.” He looked out at the stage, torn between pity and skepticism. “She looks quite healthy. A bit tired, perhaps, but she’s been working hard and all the same she’s a young woman in the prime of life. You must be mistaken.”

“I’m not mistaken,” I snapped. “She’s dying a little every minute. Every day she gets older. Too soon, daroga, too soon she’ll be gone and no matter how many souls I’ve sent to Hades I don’t think I’ll be able to go down and get her without looking back. I’ve never had that kind of self control.”

“Ah.”

I waited. “Well? Are you going to tell me I’m being foolish? That I’m much older than she? That in any case I ought to enjoy the time I have with her now?”

He smiled gently. “It wouldn’t do any good. Besides, I cannot tell you how to feel. I understand, somewhat. Living your life, getting on to the end of it and finally realizing what you wanted all along and wishing you’d had the chance to have it, or at least know what it was, before it was too late to enjoy it fully.”

I blinked at him, both relieved at not being laughed out of the room and surprised by his wistful tone. “What do you want, daroga?” I never thought about him needing anything. He just was.

He shrugged and his smile turned rueful. “I don’t know. I suppose that’s my tragedy. But what was it you wanted, Erik? You were asking me for something. I’m going to take a chance and assume that your outburst was not completely unrelated to your request.”

“I want her voice, daroga. I mean, I want to preserve it. If I can do that, I have her forever. Edison’s made a machine that can reproduce sound—“

“I’ve heard of it. Well, I will certainly see what I can find. I suppose you’ll be needing materials as well.”

I nodded. “Yes. Wire especially; there's no electric here except for my home so I can’t steal that as easily.” I stopped suddenly. He’d all but offered to go shopping for me. “Wait. What do you want?”

He laughed. “I have to have an ulterior motive?” He looked at me again. “With you, I suppose I have to. It’s true I’d rather see you doing for yourself. I don’t think it’s good, spending all of one’s time between these walls. But on the other hand, your version of doing for yourself tends towards the destructive. I need some occupation anyway. I don’t mind.”

“You would do this for me?” I couldn’t help but think that his stated intention of keeping me law-abiding was a pretense, and my mind couldn’t accept his offer. I was amazed. He’d wanted to kill me. I thought. Or turn me in, or see me hanged, I never quite knew. Perhaps he’d realized that he’d be even more bored when I was gone.

He nodded. “It’s nothing. Just… just let me hear it, when you’re done.”

I hesitated, then nodded. It was a little enough thing to grant, if that was all he wanted. But I suspected that empires fell by little things, in increments, like my slow retreat into my hermetic sanctuary here. Which over the past year had, in its turn, been moving by degrees towards something more like a railway terminus. Well, it was too late to worry about that now. I had more important things to think about. And he already knew where I lived anyway.

I hardly ever thought about killing him anymore.

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