my_daroga: Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera (phantom)
my_daroga ([personal profile] my_daroga) wrote2013-10-10 11:06 am

Fanfiction: Like Everybody Else (10/12) - Phantom of the Opera

Title: Like Everybody Else (10/12)
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 nine

My life had telescoped into the service of two basic urges: creation and pursuit of pleasure. Everything else was beyond my visibility. I stopped going above, even for Christine’s rehearsals, only leaving my work to meet her in her dressing room. When the need for pleasure was assuaged for the time being I went back to my gears and wires and plans, where I would work until Christine dragged me out for dinner only to whet my appetite for her. An endless cycle, both functions turning me in place without accomplishing anything, like the slow spiral of the stylus on the flat disc I’d adopted instead of a cylinder.

I didn’t even noticed the daroga’s absence until there came a knock on the door one day while Christine was out. I considered not answering it but suddenly I couldn’t remember when I’d seen him last and it made me curious.

“Where have you been?”

“I might ask you the same, Erik.” His eyes held a glittering intensity I recognized, reminding me finally that I had seen him last behind her mirror. Where he’d questioned her worth. “I thought you might be avoiding me. I wanted to apologize for the things I said.”

I waved a negligent hand. “You were just trying to keep me from killing him in front of her. You were right. Besides, I know you know better than to say anything against her at this point.”

He sighed, but didn’t contradict me. “May I come in?”

I laughed. “How many times must you ask before you memorize the answer? But I’ll come out.” I turned and shut the door. It was nearly invisible in the wall and I wondered how he’d found it.

Once I’d agreed to talk, he seemed curiously hesitant, and we walked in silence along the concrete bank of the lake for a few minutes. “How are your experiments coming?” he asked at last.

I shrugged. “Slowly. Something’s just not quite right. I understand the principles and I can build something that replicates sounds to a recognizable degree, but it’s just not… right. I haven’t tried it with her yet. The disappointment would be too much.”

“You’ve set yourself an impossible task, Erik. You can’t ever capture something that personal and complicated.”

“I can!” I replied indignantly.

“You can’t really ever capture anyone,” he said quietly, ignoring my outburst. “Or understand them, for that matter, no more than you can understand yourself or why you do anything.”

“Are you certain you’re feeling well?” I wondered briefly if he was mad, and then I looked more closely at his face. “You’ve been drinking.”

“For some time, now.” He stopped and looked at me. “Shocked?” he asked.

I nodded. “I thought… I mean I’d always assumed… the laws of your faith…”

“Yes, the good little Moslem, I,” he laughed. “It’s worth it to shock you, I suppose. It’s your fault anyway.”

“My fault that I’m shocked, or my fault you’re drunk?” He’d thrown me off balance, I had to admit.

“That I’m here at all! That I came to this tiresome, bigoted country, that I risked my life and lost everything else for you, that I follow you around like a stray besotted puppy—“

“Besotted puppy?” I repeated, not sure I’d heard him right. “It’s not my fault you felt like exercising your overdeveloped conscience on me.”

“It’s not my conscience,” he said with a quiet insistence, as if he was trying to work it out as he spoke but wanted desperately for me to understand. “I had to ask myself why I had done any of it. I never really knew, all these years. At first I told myself it was some kind of principle, some altruistic higher good. Like that was for me to decide. As if by my saying it your sins could miraculously be made to matter less than my sacrifice. As if the balance would be righted somewhere, when in reality I didn’t even care. It’s all so very selfish, and I didn’t even recognize it until I saw you… until I saw you with her, and I realized how jealous I am of her.”

I blinked. “Christine? I never thought you were that fond of her.” Whether that spoke more strongly for his blindness or his sense of self-preservation I wasn’t sure.

“I’m not. That is, I think you—that’s not the point. I’m not jealous of you having her. I’m jealous of her. Of the way you feel about her, the way you look at her, the way everything else disappears for you. I can hardly make you aware of me when I’m right in front of you. I asked for your friendship, Erik, but it’s not… it’s not what I want.” His eyes flicked up to my face and back down and I suddenly recalled all the times we’d crouched in the dark together, the games of chess, the conversations, the utter loneliness that radiated from the man in waves. I remembered the dank little hole behind the mirror and refused to think further about how I didn’t know if he’d left that day because I wasn’t certain I wanted to know the answer. “I know it’s wrong and I don’t pretend to understand it myself. I tried avoiding you but you made it too easy. I could disappear tomorrow and you’d never think of me again but you’ve altered my life irrevocably, and it infuriates me that my whole life hasn’t been worth just one moment of hers.”

I swallowed, uncertain of what to say or even whether to say anything. Surely it would be easier to just walk back home and lock the door. Never see him again. Never have to confront these things he was saying because I didn’t understand them but I didn’t hate him either and that was the part that worried me. “You did get me out of Persia,” I said before I had a chance to think about it. “I didn’t mean those things I said before. Well, I did then, but I don’t now. But I don’t understand what you’re saying. I don’t want to think about this, daroga.”

He snorted at the mention of my name for him, or perhaps it was my easy dismissal of unwanted thoughts. “I’ll go, Erik. I shouldn’t have come in the first place. Go back to her. I’ll… I’ll see you, soon. I value your friendship, Erik. I hope I haven’t lost it.”

I shook my head dumbly and he turned and walked away, alone and suddenly much older looking. I felt pity for him more than anything else, because I had something he didn’t. Rumored dalliances with certain members of the opera company aside, I wondered if he’d always been alone. I knew firsthand the frustration of that. But it didn’t make any sense, I mused as I turned slowly homewards. He’d always been a tower of principle and morality. The only really good man I knew of. Christine, beyond such earthly distinctions, did not count. He must be mad, I concluded. Deceived in his emotions by too many years living alone, as I had been in the madness before Christine came back of her own will. How could I be other than his enemy when I represented the opposite of all he stood for? But he’d said we’d never been enemies and if I cared to examine it I could find a completely valid and opposite reason for all of his actions.

If I cared to. But this was his misfortune, not mine, and while I granted him a sympathy I had never before allowed another man, I had better things to attend to. And perhaps it had merely been the alcohol speaking and he would never bring it up again. Thus comforted, I went back to work. It was slow but I was improving the contraption little by little and I wanted to start recording her with it. I really wouldn’t know until then if I’d accomplished anything at all.

When she knocked that evening to remind me to eat, I asked her to come in. “Would you like to know what I’ve been working on?”

She hesitated a moment, but only just, and smiled. “You have been working a lot, haven’t you?”

I nodded. “I think you’re going to like it.” I presented the phonograph, with modifications, to her. She gazed at it silently, not bothering to mask her incomprehension. “It’s called a phonograph. It records sounds so that you can hear them whenever you want.”

She looked up at me, still puzzled. “What kind of sounds?”

“Any kind. Well, I haven’t finished making all the adjustments, but I don’t see why one couldn’t record anything at all. Birds singing, lectures, books, letters, operas… I suppose eventually one will be able to hear any piece of music he wants without leaving his house. Perhaps even while it’s being performed.”

Christine frowned. “This is what you’ve been doing? But why? You have the opera upstairs, you can go any time you like.”

“I would like to record you, my love.”

“But you can hear me any time you like! Every day. Why do you need a machine to do it too?”

This wasn’t going as planned, but I knew there was no malice in it. Technology, the march of progress, held little appeal for someone who would have lived happily in her past had her father’s death not made that impossible. “Because… because I want to preserve you. Your voice, that is. I want to capture it so it can never be forgotten. You deserve that, Christine.”

Her shrug seemed to imply that the future didn’t concern her any more than it did a cat and I knew it was useless talking to her about it. I would make her a present of the finished disc and then she’d see what a marvelous service to humanity I was capable of providing that did not involve ridding it of useless aristocrats. I could be useful and good and it would be like giving her what she’d given me, which was surely a selfless gesture worthy of even the daroga’s high standards. Which, suddenly, I wondered if I ought to measure anyone against anymore.

“Shall we eat, love?” I asked, and she nodded, also not hiding the relief that seemed to reanimate her once she was freed from my attempts to make her understand my curious and unnatural tinkering. Odd, that the fantastic reality of the world and what it was made of and what it was capable of becoming in our hands meant nothing to her, when she thrived on tales of outrageous fancy. After dinner I told her the tale of Orpheus. She’d heard it before, but she enjoyed it so and I liked the way her head would dip to lean upon my shoulder as I spoke. She thought it was terribly romantic and I was careful to stop before the end because the thought of Orpheus wandering about and charming everyone with his perfect voice while never overcoming his guilt made her more pliable than ever when I led her to bed. I’d noticed that she preferred stories of doomed love or heroine saviors better than princes on white horses. Or at least, I had learned that the former were somewhat more effective, if my interests were taken into consideration.

It was like learning a new instrument, this business of carnal pleasure. Two, actually: hers and mine, and my talent seemed to grow daily. I had plenty of creativity to lend to this new endeavor, and I found I could coax her into nearly anything I could dream about. And that fact, the sheer power mixed with pleasure, was enough to release any guilt I might feel about it. I could make her sigh and I could make her blush and that flush of innocence was all it took to goad me further. And in her infinite compassion she always forgave me. She never struggled when my jealously prompted me to take her as soon as she walked into her dressing room, never cried out when my nocturnal fantasies demanded realization and she awoke already cradling me within her. It was as if her body was the vessel for my sins, a safe repository for things I could entrust to no other because in her they were washed clean and forgotten. Immaculate and antiseptic and every day I was certain I could never want her more but then the next day came and I was proven wrong. But I wondered about something the daroga had said, something about the rage being more manageable, the pain less. Was I good now only because she distracted me from doing evil? Did the fact that the pain now registered as pleasure make it any better?

Oh yes, I decided. Absolutely. There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. Except for Christine, of course, who could never be other than what she was. She could deal out the deepest anguish and I would fall at her feet and beg for more. Nothing could touch her, but anything she touched was good. Even me. Even what I felt and what I did and what she inspired in me. To hold back, I decided, would be to second guess her power. Blasphemy. I had given myself to her and she would have every last drop.

The next morning I was distracted in my work by her humming. It was a pleasant sound, and it reminded me of when I’d wake to the sound of birds calling to each other after a night under the stars. Although I was past the point in my life I’d give up my bed and my home and my comfort for it. Luckily I had it all.

“And what has you so cheerful this morning, my love?” I asked her, coming out to lean against the doorframe. She smiled prettily and I thought perhaps that I would buy her a new dress so as to see that smile again.

“Just excited. Faust opens on Friday.”

I was silent a moment as I tried to remember what day it was. Monday. That gave me five days to perfect the phonograph and have her sing into it, preferably without her knowing what I was doing. I wanted it to be a surprise. I was working on the microphone, the device which picked up the sound itself, trying to find something that would reproduce the sounds more delicately.

“You’re going to astonish them all. Again.” Of course, hopefully not because of another spectacular disappearance from the stage. “With your singing,” I amended.

“You are coming, aren’t you?”

“How could you suggest I might miss it?” I asked in mock horror.

“You’re always working,” she said. “You’re always in there, playing with things.” She didn’t even sound petulant, just confused, as if she really didn’t understand and was just curious.

I drew her to me and held her close. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else, Christine. You know that.” She nodded. “You know I love you.” From here I could see the tops of her breasts and the shadow between them just beyond the collar of her dressing gown. I reached out to trace their contours with the tips of my fingers. “I would never let you go in front of all those people alone. I’ll always be with you, Christine. Remember that. Wherever you are, I am as well. You know that too, don’t you?” She nodded again, her eyes demurely downcast, and my breath started coming faster. It seemed like so long ago that this loss of control had alarmed me; now I welcomed the release from responsibility. It wasn’t a loss of control, really. I was putting myself into her hands, that was all. “Lean over the sofa,” I commanded, my voice harsh and undeniable. I folded her over the arm and slid the silk up her legs. I was confused by the lack of undergarments but I supposed she’d merely been tired when she woke and had forgotten to put them on. It made the dull, faded bruises more apparent. The marks of my fingers that I had tried to heal with my kisses and tears stood out against flesh almost as pale as my own and I was going to make more now, I was certain, the way I was gripping her hips to mine as if I might drown without her to anchor me. I just might. She could swallow me up and I’d never know the difference, and perhaps I ought to let her, come to that.

My fingers dug into her flesh and I leaned over her, my breath moving the tendrils at the back of her neck. “Remember me, when you’re on that stage,” I growled softly. “Remember me with every ovation, every bouquet, every blasted notice you read in the paper. They’re all me, Christine, every last one of them. There is no one but me, Christine. You’ll remember, won’t you? You mustn’t forget… mustn’t forget… Ah god, Christine!”

I forced myself to move when she started squirming underneath my prostrate body. She rose and the dressing gown slipped down again, completing the picture of pristine beauty as she glanced at the clock. “Rehearsal!” she said gaily, kissing me swiftly on the forehead before she disappeared into the other room, presumably to dress. I sighed, satisfaction already slipping away as I turned to the workroom. She darted in before leaving to tell me that she’d convinced them to let her have Box 5 for her “family.”

“They tried to get me to choose another. I think they think I’m superstitious. But I couldn’t have you sitting anywhere else.”

My reaction surprised me. Box 5 was mine to dispose of, and no one else’s. Not even her. The Opera Ghost had really served to sharpen my edge and I was growing duller every day. I resisted the urge to vent my irritation. “That’s very thoughtful of you, Christine. But you know I can afford the seat myself.”

She laughed as if that was the funniest thing ever to come out of my mouth. “But Erik, you don’t need to do all that anymore. I know all about how you got that box before. But you have me now.”

There was no working after that. Inspiration was short that morning anyway, and after she left I found myself thinking only of her on that stage, of what would happen, what would start, on Friday. All those eyes, all those people wanting something from her, while she was intent on providing for me! I couldn’t let her out of my sight, and I finally resigned myself to watching the rehearsal. At least today.

The Persian was already in his accustomed seat. His impassive face was as inscrutable as ever but I wasn’t going to mention yesterday if he didn’t bring it up. I had to say something, though, I supposed. “Who’s that?” I asked of a conveniently unfamiliar man sitting off by the side of the stage.

He looked up at me, silent for a moment. “A painter, I’m told. I’m surprised you haven’t seen him. So far all he does is observe the ballet rats.”

“I thought that was your job,” I said lightly.

“Not anymore,” he muttered, but I had the uncomfortable feeling it was more of a personal matter he referred to than the indignity of being usurped. “Well sit, if you’re going to stay.”

“Such manners, and in my own private box as well.” I sat anyway. “Headache?”

He glared at me, but then his look softened. “Is the phonograph giving you trouble?”

I watched her tiny figure move through the lines of the country dance being rehearsed. “It’s almost ready. I think. It’s not going to be perfect, but then I’ve always expected too much. But it has to be done by Friday.”

“The opening? But why?”

I shrugged. “I keep thinking about them, daroga. About everyone who’s going to see her that night. Who will want her and try to take her from me. I can’t stand it; I had to be here even now, watching her, instead of working where I should be. That’s why it has to be finished. So that some little part of her will be mine forever. She doesn’t understand that about me. She doesn’t know how much I need her.”

“I’m sure she does, Erik,” he said gently.

“She can’t. No one can.” I stared sightlessly in front of me, my voice hushed and urgent. “I think about her all the time, daroga. I can’t think about anything else. It’s worse now… worse than before she came back. Worse now that I’ve had her. I can’t get close enough to her, or stay close long enough, or… It’s torture, daroga, but it’s worth it even if it kills me. Sometimes I want her to kill me. Or to kill her. I can’t remember which right now.” I shouldn’t have been saying this to him, of all people, who knew what I was capable of, but somehow I didn’t mind. I couldn’t talk to her this way. She’d be horrified. And he might be too, but at least he’d listen. No one else ever listened. I risked a glance his way and found his cool eyes studying me. “I don’t want her dead, you understand. That’s not what I—“

He smiled. “I know, Erik. I’m not a policeman anymore. You might remember that I was never terribly effective even when I was. You seem to think I’m analyzing your conversation for signs of wrongdoing. I’m not your conscience or your jailer or your priest. I’m a friend. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you.”

I nodded and looked back at the stage, the silence stretching between us disconcerting in its very comfort. Could familiarity itself be disturbing? Or was it just my pity for him that made me sensitive? I could never have imagined feeling pity for anyone, much less him. But then, I’d never imagined being in position where I had pity to waste on someone other than me. Now that I thought about it, I wasn’t sure pity was the right word, but I didn’t know what it was. I just felt… bad. And I hadn’t even done anything. I certainly had never felt bad about any of the things I actually did. Not for long, anyway, and besides that was all past now and there was no cause to remember sins that old. I didn’t know if I’d been baptized when I was a baby but my crimes were certainly washed away now.

The sound of applause shook me from my reverie and I glanced at the stage in time to see Christine gazing up at the box I was in. She couldn’t see me and I didn’t know if she knew I was there or if she wanted me to be. “He won’t be back,” Moncharmin assured her confidently after a moment, and she turned to him, laughing.

“Then you have lost your greatest patron, Monsieur,” she said lightly. “You owe more publicity to him, surely, than to any of your singers.” She glided off stage then, towards her dressing room, leaving the manager, the daroga, and I staring after her in silence.

“You’ve clearly been teaching her something,” the Persian commented in dry understatement after a moment. “Perhaps the boy had a point the other day. We’ll have a second opera ghost before too long, I think.”

The stare I leveled on him usually sent anyone but him fleeing for the hills. “Christine is nothing like me, daroga. You should know that. If anything, she’s taught me.”

He shrugged. “As you like, Erik,” he said, but the corner of his mouth was turned up in the prelude to a grin, as if he was only humoring me.

I stood up. “I have enough to do without trying to decipher what you’re talking about,” I said irritably.

“I’m not talking about anything at all, Erik. Go home.”

I paused at the entrance to the passage. “Daroga… You too. You must have somewhere to go.”

He shrugged. “I was thinking I might go find Cécile Jammes,” he offered but we both recognized it for the feeble attempt it was. “You get used to being alone, Erik,” he said when I didn’t move. “You should know that.” I nodded, but I wasn’t so certain. My resolution had withered with my first sight of her, and I wasn’t sure I’d know what to do with myself if faced with it again.