my_daroga: Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera (phantom)
my_daroga ([personal profile] my_daroga) wrote2013-10-09 12:37 pm

Fanfiction: Like Everybody Else (9/12) - Phantom of the Opera

Title: Like Everybody Else (9/12)
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 AO3.

Chapter eight

Over the next several days I eagerly received an education in piecemeal, the daroga feeding me with morsels taken from journals, newspapers, even a few monographs which had been written on the subject of sound reproduction.

“How did you find this?” I asked him, glancing over a thick packet of results from various experiments.

He returned my gaze stoically. “I’m not without resources. There’s a university library close to where I live.”

“And they let just anyone walk in off the street and take their manuscripts?” By then I had begun to detect guilt. “Daroga, you didn’t! How could you, as an upholder of the law?”

He snorted. “All the better to break them. You really are quite dense at times.” My smile grew wider as his frown deepened and I began to laugh. “It’s not funny, Erik. I’m not the complete puritan I sometimes think you make me out to be.” By the time he finished he was laughing too and as I left I shook his hand.

“Welcome to the land of the damned,” I said. “I must return to my laboratory in hell. I want to start experimenting with her voice soon. If you keep up your life of depravity I suppose you’ll be joining me soon enough.” Still chuckling, I returned home. I hated leaving her alone but I had things to do and I found it difficult to concentrate with her in the house.

My mirth was short-lived, however. I had followed Edison’s plans initially, knowing I would improve upon his model but sensing the value of standing on another man’s shoulders. It was quite clever really: it relied on the conversion of sound vibrations to mechanical ones and then, when played back, converting the mechanical dips into vibrations which reached the ear as sound. The sound, shouted into a cone which caused the waves to hit a diaphragm which moved a stylus up and down in a sheet of tinfoil wrapped around a cylinder which was turned with a crank. The playback needle merely read the bumps in the foil rather than making them, and the precise reproduction of the diaphragm’s movements was supposed to faithfully imitate what was put into it.

But it didn’t. While Christine was out, I made my initial test:

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
In the sepulcher there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

It was the first thing to come to my mind. I’d been reading Poe lately, trying to get Christine interested in him. With the giddy impatience of a schoolboy ten minutes before a holiday I replaced the stylus and turned the crank. What came out was a pitiful, scratchy, thoroughly weak echo of my one true glory. Its ugliness shocked me, offended my ears and my sensibilities and shattered (momentarily) my ambitions. This was the great invention? This? It was nothing, meant nothing. As a tool of communication the printed word was eminently more suitable. If one wished to hear a person’s voice, to know them through the qualities of pitch and timbre and range, this was useless. It had nothing of the character of human speech, nothing to make it worthwhile.

Unless. Unless this was a faithful reproduction. Who knew what the ears or the brain might create in one with so much imagination? Perhaps my voice was my greatest delusion, and any joy I’d received from it had been one grand illusion designed to give me something, anything, to feel good about. Or perhaps it was sheer vanity. The need to have one gift to set me apart from humanity so that I could ignore the fact that they had set me apart from themselves.

The thought brought me to my study and my chair, my hands twitching from desire to destroy the blasted thing. It was simply too horrible to consider, but I did it anyway, substituting that tinny growl for what I had considered my only beauty. Was that the voice of a ghost? Had I seduced the minds of queens and molded the wills of princes with that ungodly howl? What is it, mother? I’d asked her when, in a spiteful fit, she’d dragged me to her full-length mirror. That’s you, you stupid child! I knew you were the ugliest brat who ever walked the earth. Didn’t the devil see fit to give you a brain inside that filthy head of yours? Then, as now, I’d refused to believe the reflection had anything to do with me.

But unlike then, I didn’t have her standing over me and yelling. I could think properly. I had to. It couldn’t be right, I reasoned. I was the Angel of Music. I had enough external evidence of my vocal prowess. I’d made my living on it, and no one would pay for the kind of din which had emanated from the machine. I rose slowly and went back to my workshop to stare down at the hated contraption. Looking at it now, it seemed primitive indeed. Now that I saw how it was put together, I could also see how it could be improved. If one was careful about insulation, there was no reason one could not install a motor in it and avoid hand-cranking, which would lead to distortion of the sound when it was replayed at a different speed than it was recorded in. I had enough experience with gears and electricity to do that, easily. And the materials involved: if its operation was dependent upon sound vibrations, clearly very subtle in their differences, the materials to catalog their changes had to be capable of subtlety as well. Why tin, after all? It was a question of delicacy. And another thing, the inscribing itself. Edison had the stylus moving up and down, like a woodpecker. This required a greater force than if the stylus was positioned to move back and forth over the surface, creating its account like a stone skipping across a pond, and I reasoned that taking that burden off the instrument would increase its ability to record more accurately.

When I had calmed down enough to read the other papers the daroga had brought me, I had still more ideas. Some poet here in Paris had dreamed up a similar machine which used etched glass, and Edison himself had first considered waxed paper instead of foil, or a flat disc as a recording surface, which he had since abandoned. But there might be something to them.

It took so long, though. I’d never noticed the hours I spent in perfecting my little projects, because they filled my time and my thoughts and I’d always worked at something until it was done. But now there was Christine to take care of, and the thought of her shadowed my every move, lengthening every moment spent without her until it felt like perpetual twilight when she was away, that time of day your eyes can adjust neither to the light or the dark.

“I made dinner!” I glanced up, startled. Christine stood in the doorway of my study in a dress of pale pink I could not remember seeing that day, but then I couldn’t quite remember which day it was or how long I’d been toiling away at this ultimately pointless venture.

“Christine. When did you get back?” Had I forgotten to meet her? It was incredible; the travesty of the phonograph had dulled my brain as well as offended my ears. It would likely make me deaf too if I kept at it. The rest of my body had not been similarly afflicted, however, and my blood leapt up as if to meet her. A lonely dog left too long without its master.

“You weren’t there,” she pouted. “So I came down and I heard you in here. I know you don’t like being disturbed, so I cooked instead. But I worry about you, Erik. You don’t eat enough.”

“I believe your ideas of how much is ‘enough’ were warped by whatever farmwife brought you up, my love.”

“But I wasn’t… You’re making fun of me again, Erik.” Well, I supposed it was too much to expect her to grow a sense of humor.

“Yes, I am. Besides, it’s your fault. You drive all thought of food right out of my head.” I drifted closer, project momentarily abandoned though I suspected it would continue to cycle through my thoughts at an uneven speed roughly analogous to the hand crank which powered it. My obsessions had to fight for audience these days. “You’re so much sweeter,” I whispered, my head bent to bring my mouth level with her ear. “I starve without you, my angel. Every minute you’re away. That’s what you should worry about. Not food. You’re all I need.”

My body pressed itself to hers of its own accord, convenient given that it saved my will the bother. “I made dinner,” she offered feebly, but I was deaf indeed. The sensation of feeling her this close, but still as far away as several layers of clothing could keep us, was maddening. Just as maddening as that stupid toy in there, as maddening as the daroga’s pesky little inquiries, as maddening as the world I no longer had even the desire to rejoin, despite what I had told Christine of my plans if only she’d consent to be my wife. It was all a lie, because once I had her I desired nothing else. I had the sun and the moon and when I removed her clothes the light of both blinded me even as I guided her to the piano bench. I laid her down along its length so that she was completely exposed to me, on display like a rare butterfly never discovered before or since. Mine to claim and catalog and name.

No, not a butterfly. A bird. A songbird, a golden canary, in a cage of marble I had built (with some minor aid of M. Garnier, of course) before I’d even known of her existence. Whose voice I’d fallen in love with before I ever knew of what else her lovely mouth was capable. But I had quickly remedied that ignorance and now she complied to my silent demands without a murmur. As much under her spell as I was I was still in control, at least here and now. I could do anything I wanted, have anything I wanted, feel every nuance of her body in every cell of mine. I could conduct her here as I always had in our lessons. I might be enchanted by her, but she belonged to me.

And yet it was never enough. Or rather, I always wanted more. Peace lasted mere seconds, and then my doubts and obsessions and plans and fears returned, redoubled and regrouped in military formation. I was no match for them. Even now, as I sat with my back against one leg of the bench, I was contemplating the coming night and the rehearsal schedule and the phonograph and the daroga and when, in all this, I might get to taste her flesh again because like a drug too long taken I found myself craving her more every day.

“Erik?” I glanced up sharply. “Are you alright?” Her skin was flushed and she looked as if she’d been running outside in the cold. Well, except for being naked, of course. She touched one warm hand to my shoulder, which happened to be within reach.

“Fine, Christine,” I said, then amended, “Perfect.”

She smiled and began drawing her clothes to her. “Dinner’s probably still good,” she said, then wrinkled her nose. “Well, I’m not sure if it started out good. But I’m getting better. Aren’t I?”

“You are,” I assured her. “Much better. Do you enjoy it?”

“I enjoy making you proud of me,” she said. “Sometimes I like it.”

Sometimes? I wanted to bury myself in her until she screamed for me, and—but we were talking about cooking. “When I don’t forget things and ruin all that work.” I tried to bring my thoughts back to the matter at hand, which was apparently food. Nothing could shake her sense of mealtime. “You’re doing wonderfully, Christine.” I pulled my trousers on.

“How would you know? You never eat anything I make.”

“I don’t eat anything at all, my love. It’s not you.” I wondered how we were having this conversation in the aftermath of passion, with clothes decorating the landscape like lost sheep after a raid by wolves and flesh still peeking immodestly from around corners. “Wouldn’t you like a bath first?” I suggested, trying to preserve some level of decorum. I thought baths were decorous. Certainly with the plumbing I’d perfected they counted as one of the modern world’s greatest triumphs.

She shrugged and tossed her hair loose only to begin pinning it up again. “I can take one later.” Did any of it matter to her? Or was this a testament to her level of comfort with me? I didn’t know and couldn’t ask and so my mind oscillated wildly between delusional optimism and the most suspicious despair, leaving me somewhere in the middle with no firm ground to stand on.

So I swallowed down what she gave me and listened to her chatter on about rehearsals and gossip and despite the fact that the food seemed to be descending into a bottomless pit completely unconnected with my digestive system, I decided that she was comfortable with me. She was comfortable here. She had what she wanted, didn’t she? Or anyway she would once the production opened. She looked alive. Not like the withdrawn, simple girl I’d seen first who seemed to be intent upon following her father into the grave. And while I had loved her then, I could also love her easy prattle, her innocent enthusiasm, her unselfish ambition.

Not for long stretches of time, however. Soon the unsolved problems of the phonograph began grumbling at me, the pitch rising to the squawking buzz of the lines it had recited back to me. There was only so much I could hear about who was courting Cécile Jammes now, or what silly prank Meg Giry had played on her mother, or the string of men who came and went out of La Sorelli’s dressing room. Although I suspected that the illustrious dancer’s protestations of cards and company told something less than the whole truth.

I finally let Christine pull me from my workshop to bed that night, but not without making my own demands in return. I’d never slept very much, and I was increasingly restless now unless I made some effort at achieving calm.

All the next morning I spent in the workshop until, coming across a sketch I’d done on some blueprint, I remembered Christine. I vaguely recalled her knocking and me brushing her away like a tiresome child, but I supposed she’d gone to rehearsal. I hurried above, wondering how I could have ignored her absence for so long. When I arrived in my box I discovered that rehearsal had just ended, so I went swiftly to her dressing room, risking the door rather than the mirror for the sake of expediency. She wasn’t there. She hadn’t been on stage. Panic rose within me and I was about to throw the door open again, heedless of anyone in the corridor, when I heard voices. Two voices; hers and a man. A voice I knew all too well.

“Get in here, you fool!” The mirror opened and I had a view of what it must have looked like to that stupid confused schoolboy when I whisked her away before his eyes. An arm snaked out and drew me into the dark space, and in my surprise I did not resist.

I blinked in the half-light at the daroga. “What are you doing here?”

“Shh! They’re coming.”

The door opened and a flustered looking Christine entered, followed closely by the last man I ever wanted to see on earth. I put my hand out to trip the mechanism again but my companion was faster and I found the way blocked.

“Get out of my way or I’ll kill you too!” I said. I was furious and heartbroken and I hated him in this moment, hated anyone who kept me from killing the Vicomte de Chagny as was my duty.

“I won’t.” Even in the dimness his eyes glittered. “You’re not going to kill him.”

“The hell I’m not!” I cried, but my attention was caught by an answering shout from the other side.

“You’re being foolish, Christine. I demand that you give up this childishness!” The blond Adonis was ugly when he was angry, I noticed. All blotchy and red. Like he’d been drinking.

“I told you I never wanted to see you again, Raoul. Not here, not outside. Nowhere.” The coldness in her voice was something I’d never heard from her before.

“Goddamnit, daroga, let me kill him! Even you know he deserves it.” Why was I arguing with him? I didn’t need his permission. I started struggling but he was doing a fairly good job of holding his ground. It might take a few minutes to get past him. I wrapped my fingers around his throat.

“But why, Christine? I love you. You love me. I don’t understand.”

“You never understood, Raoul. That’s your problem. I can’t give this up. If you knew me at all, if you loved me, you’d know that.”

“He’s not worth it, Erik!” the Persian whispered. “And if you ask my opinion, neither is she.”

I tightened my grip on his throat until I could hear the air struggling to pass through. “You ought to know better, daroga. I’ve killed men for far less than that.”

“What? So I should let you strut around on stage like… like one of my brother’s whores?” My chest tightened at Chagny’s words. Death, however slow and torturous and humiliating I could make it, was too good for him.

Her eyes seemed as bright as gas flames. “Is that what you think of me? No wonder I left! You say you love me, Raoul, but it’s not enough to get beyond that. That’s what I am. This is where I belong. I’m happy to be a wife but it’s not enough.”

“It used to be, I’d warrant. Until he came along. That’s where all this is coming from, isn’t it? My god, you even sound like him. He’s dead and you’re still letting him dominate you.”

When the daroga spoke it was barely a sigh. “I didn’t risk my life to save you only to have you throw it away again.”

“I see. So this is for my benefit?” I asked. “Because I thought you had come out of retirement. You’re a little out of your jurisdiction, aren’t you?” My grip was slipping as I watch the two behind the glass. I still wanted to kill the little bastard but part of me wondered what she would say.

“That’s not who I am anymore, Erik. You saw to that. You have no idea what I want.” The Persian’s vehemence matched Christine’s and their words seemed to mingle and feed off each other in a strange organic symbiosis.

“He has nothing to do with this, Raoul,” Christine spat. “Except perhaps in showing me what I was missing with you. He loved me for who I could be, not who I was ten years ago.”

“Perhaps you will enlighten me, then,” I goaded him. “Perhaps you’ve come to make sure your little charity case hadn’t gone and made your sacrifice a mockery.”

“In a way, yes. But not in the way you think. I risked my life so that you could have one. There is so much you are capable of. I couldn’t be responsible for denying you or the world another chance. I was trying to make sure you didn’t throw away your life. The life I gave you.” So damned earnest. What cause did he have to believe good about anybody?

“So, what?” my other nemesis was asking. “Some monster gets a hold of you for a few nights and now I’m not good enough anymore? He’s warped your mind, Christine. You don’t know what you’re saying. What are you hiding from me? Where have you been? Did he… did he do something to you, before I got there? Was I too late?”

“What do you want me to say, daroga? That I’m grateful? That I never realized what my life was worth until you so beneficently granted it to me? Or that half the time I wish you’d killed me so I wouldn’t have had to live through the past fifteen years? She’s the one who saved me, daroga, not you.”

“You?” she laughed. “You have me to thank that you’re still alive. You only made things worse. I saved you.”

Raoul shook his head. “You’re insane, Christine. Or should I say, Mademoiselle Daae. I didn’t expect you to be like the rest of them. I thought you wanted a normal life. I thought you were the girl with the scarf. But you’re not. You’ve changed, and your father would be heartbroken. Do you know that? You don’t have to worry about me coming back here. Does that make you happy?”

“Is that so? Tell me, Erik, is it any different now? Is the rage any more manageable? Is the hurt any less?”

No, I realized, not really, just channeled differently, funneled into her like a cyclone permanently touched down on one hapless family’s home. “Why do you care, daroga? You’ve already ruined your own life over me. Why spend the rest of it fussing over what I choose to do with mine?”

He stared at me, a doubt I’d never seen in him clouding the usually smooth contours of his face. “I don’t know!” he shouted finally. At the same time the door to Christine’s dressing room slammed shut and she looked up, startled, as if she’d heard us. It was as if a spell had been broken, and all my murderous rage, assuaged by the other man’s sleight of hand, returned in force. I shoved him against the wall and let go.

“Get out of here,” I growled and stepped through the mirror, not waiting to see if he followed my command. I didn’t care anyway. He could watch for all it mattered to me at this moment. This was about me. And her.

“Erik!” She looked frightened, and that was all it took to push me over the edge.

“Lock the door,” I commanded quietly, and she obeyed without a word, glancing over her shoulder at me as she crossed the room. “What am I supposed to make of this, Christine?” I asked rhetorically. “You asked him to come here.”

She shook her head, her back to the door. “No. He came here, he followed me back. I told him to leave me alone.”

“You must not have told him clearly enough.” I knew I was being unreasonable. I wasn’t completely insensible of it. She had gotten rid of him, and my blaming her for his attempt to win her back wasn’t going to work in my favor. But the part of me that could act, could speak, wasn’t in communication with the rest of me.

“But I did! He even mentioned you and I didn’t say anything. I don’t want to go back to him, Erik. I’ve told you so many times. I’m staying with you. I don’t go back on my word.”

“But you did, Christine, you did! Remember, on the roof? All your little plans with him, all your broken promises to me.” I was drawing closer to her and like a shark after a shipwreck I smelled blood.

She shook her head stubbornly. “I was wrong then, I know. I was confused and scared but I still came back.”

“Two weeks later. That’s quite a lot of time, Christine. Are you sure I heard the whole story just now? How do I know nothing else happened? How can I be sure?” I was directly in front of her now, and she stumbled back and caught herself on her dressing table.

“You were the first, Erik. Honestly.” She was right, of course, it was obvious, but logic just wasn’t that important to me anymore. How I felt was, because it was as if I had a furnace inside and every word she said, every gesture she made were like fuel only as usual I had no idea if I was supposed to fall at her feet or break her neck.

“And the last,” I whispered in her ear, my breath disturbing the tendrils around her face. “Say it.”

“The last,” she repeated breathlessly. Suddenly she drew herself up, her previously evasive and unfocused eyes targeting mine. “I sent him away, Erik. If you were listening, as I assume you were, you should know that.” I was a bit startled by her calm, but there was something arousing about her show of strength. I picked her up and deposited her on the red velvet divan she used for naps before shows, or whatever divas did to relax. Her clothes were the work of mere moments, as were mine, and then I was inside her, hotter and faster and more vital and basic than ever. She was so beautiful, laid out on the plush cushions, red as the blood which had made her mine in the first place.

“Mine… mine… mine…” I repeated, not sure if I was speaking aloud or not but reaching for something I needed more than anything in the world. And wonder of wonders, she reached for me, holding my face in her hands as she stared into my eyes.

“I’m yours,” she said simply, and I thought I heard her cry out but it was drowned by my own shout of completion.

I looked down at her, still propped with my hands on either side of her, and saw tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. Guilt hit me instantly. “Christine, did I hurt you? Oh god, forgive me. I shouldn’t have accused you. I should have listened. Can you ever forgive me?”

“You didn’t hurt me, Erik,” she said, but she sounded sad and tired and drew me down to lay with my head on her breast. I could hear her heart beating quickly and I remembered how mine always did so during a fight. Did our bodies not know the difference?