Status September 22, 2007: This story is currently being revised although the process is being put on hold until I can find enough inspiration to give it the attention it deserves. In the meantime, I hope you will still enjoy reading it, but know that some little details may not match up... Christine's hair color changes a few times, I believe.
Our takes place in alternate universe 19th century Paris, in the world of Erik and Christine. But also the world of two other characters: feared by all and welcomed by few. You can probably guess by the first sentence in the paragraph what my preference is when it comes to pairings, but I have never been one for simple stories. If you can't stand the idea of Raoul as a decent human being, this story is not for you.
This phic will more or less follow the musical faithfully, with a few twists thrown in. Although this is more or less a crossover, I'm not going to reveal the identities of our "other" characters until later, because I don't want to lose any readers because they feel they "don't know the other story". You really need to know nothing about the other story, especially since they've been thrown into another era altogether, although knowing may help you appreciate some of the inside jokes.
Last updated: August 15, 2006
An Unexpected Visitor
Christine Daaé was tired.
Tired would be an understatement, she thought, as she applied an unhealthy amount of makeup to the dark circles under her eyes, I did not believe it was possible for a human being to be so exhausted.
However, given the choice between rest and her current situation, she would gladly have put sleep off until she was dead.
She brushed her hair, humming a few bars of an aria in the process and thanked God that her voice was not in the same condition as her body. Gradually, the humming evolved into a lilting melody. Her hands drew her blonde locks into a tighter and tighter bun even as her mind began to loosen and drift among the scattered memories of the past few weeks.
She needn't have worried about her voice. It could not have been better after the training it had undergone. She knew now who the presence was that lingered within her dreams, even after the voice had bid her goodnight. She knew why she awoke every morning feeling physically tired but mentally happier than she had ever been since her father had died.
"Angel of Music…" she sang absently as she inserted several bobby pins with practiced ease to hold the bun in place.
Last night, however, had been different from all those before. She had seen him at last.
There had been a particularly violent storm, and she had been sleeping in her dressing room, afraid to venture home in such awful weather. Her Angel had been singing to her, his hands parting the dark cocoon of her dreams like cobwebs as he withdrew pain from her heart like venom from a wound. She had opened her eyes then and had seen a face, white and bright as the light of Heaven. The expression of the face did not change as she looked upon it, but she imagined it had smiled.
She had only glimpsed half of her Angel's face; the other half had been hidden within the shadows of sleep. And before she could move to look upon him fully, the voice had died away and Christine's eyes opened moments later only to gaze upon her reflection in the mirror across the room.
Now, as she pulled on the long flowing skirt of a Carthaginian slave girl, her bright blue eyes sparkled, and she laughed aloud. Despite her bloodshot eyes and drawn skin, she had never felt more alive. Her dear father had kept his promise at last!
A pounding on the door interrupted her reverie – insistent and peevish – an undeniable sign of an incredibly impatient young woman.
"Christine! Rehearsal starts in five minutes. Ohhhh, you're going to be late!"
Throwing a scarf around her hair, Christine made a few last adjustments to her appearance. "I'm on my way, Meg. Don't worry about me, go on ahead!" As the sounds of retreating footsteps announced her friend's departure, Christine looked once more into the mirror and officially labeled her eyes a lost cause. Still, it wasn't as if the director would be worrying about her; she was, after all, only part of the chorus. She smiled wryly as she headed for the door. Even seeing Carlotta today would not be able to dampen her mood.
As the door to her dressing room closed behind her, the shadow on the other side of her mirror retreated back into the catacombs of the Opera House. In the darkness of the underground tunnels, its small smile could not be seen. The girl's joyous mood had not gone unnoticed. The plan was progressing like clockwork, as his plans always did. He made his way through the labyrinthine tunnels by memory and began walking up the passage that would take him to his private box.
In the sweltering summer heat outside, a woman stepped from the black carriage parked alongside the Place de l'Opera. She was given a wide berth at once. The vehicle pulled away after the woman had finished speaking to the occupant inside, and onlookers everywhere breathed a silent sigh of relief as if a dark shadow had just passed with the carriage.
The stranger stopped in the middle of the square outside the Opera Populaire and looked around her. The people she caught in her gaze either slid silently into various shops and alleys or glanced back warily.
Her careful posture and fine dress gave away her identity as an aristocrat. Although her figure was poised and slender, one glimpse of the sun-browned face within her shawl quickly informed anyone that she was not of the classic simpering, powdered stock. Her eyes were blue and gleamed with something bordering on ferocity. Several strands of long auburn hair could be seen pressed to the side of her face with sweat.
A black smudge high on her left cheekbone would have been mistaken for dust at first glance.
The heavy layers of her dress concealed the wiry strength that lay within her body, something that she was content to keep hidden until the need presented itself.
Her posture made her seem taller than she was and her rich blue dress and sparkling sapphire earrings garnered not a few awestruck glances from passing noblemen. Until their wives noticed. For that matter, the aristocrat women regarded her with a mixture of jealousy and suspicion. The presence of such a beautiful unescorted woman evoked much whispering behind lace fans.
But all furtive glances melted into utter shock when the woman, glaring at the sun as if it burned with the very fires of hell, proceeded to remove her shawl without a second thought and roll up the constricting sleeves of her dress!
Unsuccessfully stifled gasps could be heard all around the square, and the woman smiled at the commotion she was causing. Her husband had informed her of the likely reception she would receive (as well as reminding her not to call too much attention to herself, all the while knowing it was a fruitless request), but she never expected that it would be this much fun.
Exposing her face gladly to the unmerciful summer sun, the woman twirled her unused parasol like a baton as she walked toward the front doors of the Opera House. She flashed grins at the noblemen she passed on her way, and they ogled like goldfish as their wives shot looks of smoldering hatred at the stranger who had dared disrupt their lives. All this led the woman to smile all the more broadly as she climbed the stairs and entered the dark coolness of the Opera House.
The darkness lasted for only a second as she passed from the entrance foyer to emerge at the foot of the Grand Staircase. She tried but failed to stifle a gasp of awe as she tilted her head back to see the ornate candelabras and marble arches that climbed up the walls to disappear into the darkness high above her. At her level, several torches burned brightly and threw the gleaming onyx and bronze of the stairs into sharp focus. The likes of this place would never be matched in the States.
How wondrous this must look on the night of a performance! As she turned in an ungraceful circle to take in the sight, sweat trickled down the nape of her neck despite the coolness of the Opera interior.
"Take care, Madame. You have not even laid eyes upon the auditorium yet!"
The woman whirled around and blushed lightly to see an old man dressed in scuffed trousers and a faded shirt approaching her with a concerned expression upon his face. Had her gawking been so apparent? She smiled at the man as he stopped six feet away from her out of courtesy.
"Indeed monsieur, I have never before seen such a magnificent piece of architecture." Her French was fair, although a bit bookish and stiff, obviously not her first language.
The man smiled at her. "But of course. Only something of this grandeur could satisfy the pride of Napoleon."
The woman's eyes went wide. Surely this exquisite building was not that old? Why, the bronze did not even bear a hint of tarnish!
The old man laughed, his ample belly shuddering. "Goodness no, he would not have been able to see over the rims of the boxes. No, this building was constructed by order of his late nephew Louis Napoleon."
The woman half-raised an eyebrow, mildly surprised at the way this man spoke about the former emperor. His eyes were anxious now, as if he feared he had spoken too freely in front of someone who very well could be Bonaparte's granddaughter. She reassured him with an indulgent smile. "Perhaps you would like to show me the rest of this magnificent building? I fear I would become quite lost, Monsieur…"
Her deftly phrased request worked like a charm. Buquet flustered. "Oh goodness," he said, and his hand reached reflexively to his head to remove a hat that was not there. "My apologies for neglecting proper introductions, Madame. My name is Joseph Buquet, stagehand here at the Opera House. And whom do I have the honor of meeting?"
"Madame Fell. A pleasure, Monsieur."
Now it was Buquet's eyes that went wide. "The wife of the new duke…?"
The expression on her face quickly let him know that he was treading on unwelcome ground, and Buquet looked at the floor in chagrin, twisting the imaginary hat brim in his hands. Then he coughed and said, "If you would please follow me? I would be delighted to show you around. I was on my way back to my post in any case."
He turned to walk up the Grand Staircase and the woman followed him up two flights of stairs and into the grand foyer. The long hallway was dark, but that did not prevent her from admiring the many chandeliers and ceiling frescoes reflected infinitely in the mirrors paneling the walls.
"You're in luck," said Buquet, "There is a rehearsal taking place at this very moment in the auditorium."
"Oh?" she asked. "And what is the name of the production that they are rehearsing?"
"It is called Hannibal."
The woman tripped on the thick carpet but quickly regained her composure. "The Carthaginian general?" she asked lightly.
The woman did not respond but resumed her perusal of the luxurious foyer. As they passed through the Dome of Night and down another flight of stairs, finally approaching the doors that would lead them into the main auditorium, the woman heard faint singing that grew louder as Buquet pushed open the doors.
The man obviously expected her reaction and paused in his stride as the woman stopped dead at the sight. Draped in shadow, the auditorium of the Paris Opera House was a scene of subdued grandeur. The darkness near the ceiling was lit only by the muted lamps of the massive chandelier as her eyes tilted up and up to peruse the red velvet-lined opera boxes.
As her eyes alighted upon a box far, far stage right, she briefly thought she saw something inside it, something darker than even the shadows.
Then her thoughts turned back to the stage as both women's and men's choruses broke out into full-throated song. She watched as a corpulent man dressed in full armor, apparently the one playing the role of the ill-fated pachyderm-riding general, approached an equally large woman.
This woman had to be the prima donna, as evidenced by the three-foot radius around her where no one dared to tread and the extravagance of her costume, which out-glittered all others. The Duchess shuddered slightly as she saw the prop that the woman was carrying. It was a severed head.
"That is Carlotta Guidicelli," said Buquet. She nodded slightly in acknowledgement and watched as three important-looking men proceeded to walk out onto center stage. In the commotion that resulted, she learned then that two of the men were Andre and Firmin, the new managers of the Opera House. The other man was the previous manager who was resigning his position. ("Why?" she asked. Buquet shrugged and did not speak.)
She watched the scene unfold on stage until the ballet mistress angrily rapped her cane against the stage and ordered the new managers off. At that point, Buquet indicated that they should move backstage.
"Christine Daaé! Concentrate, girl!" snapped Giry, the ballet mistress, as she rapped her cane against the stage again.
Christine muttered a quick apology and fell back into correct step for the dance, shaking her head at Meg's questioning look. She had been watching the woman who had walked into the theater with the stagehand. Something about her elegantly disheveled appearance and her sparkling eyes drew her gaze. She kept the woman in her peripheral vision as she danced, smiling slightly as she observed the woman's reaction to the extravagance of the auditorium. Christine's reaction had been the same the first time she had seen the Opera House. She had clutched her father's hand as she took in the beauty around her with delight and fear. She had known then exactly that she wanted to stay here the rest of her life.
Not that her position was much now, but it would keep her happy. Ever since she had heard her Angel, she knew that she would be happy.
When the stranger looked towards the stage right boxes, Christine's eyes followed hers. And saw the shadow. Her body shuddered and she fell out of step.
"Think of me, think of me fondly…"
Carlotta was singing. And Madame Fell's hands were twitching. The prima donna's voice was not bad per say, but she could not help wincing at the arrogance that dripped from every note. Carlotta sang for the same reason, as she later discovered, that the diva had five-inch heels custom-made for each of her costumes: so that she could look down from her glory upon the commoners. Perhaps it was time to discuss the Opera's arrangements with her husband, if only to prevent the catatonic shock that would surely result should he ever be subject to such a performance.
The woman tripped on the rickety staircase in the rafters that she was climbing and shouted as her feet dangled over empty space, her hands wrapping instinctively around the central pole of the winding staircase. Buquet was beside her at once.
"Madame, please take my hand. Oh dear…" The woman grabbed his hand and succeeded only in pulling off his glove. "I never should have let you come up here." He grabbed her again and this time was successful in seizing her left wrist. The woman swung herself back onto her step with surprising grace and rebalanced herself on the stairs, her hands searching for support. Her right arm knocked against a cable, and Buquet heard something become unhooked.
"Merde," he cursed softly as the woman steadied herself. Both of them watched as the backdrop she had knocked loose fell and crashed to the stage floor, inches from Carlotta's head.
Pity, thought the woman, a few more inches to the left and I wouldn't have had to listen to her again for awhile.
And then the shouting started.
He's here: the Phantom of the Opera!
The woman turned to Buquet questioningly. He shrugged. "A story made up by the ballet girls to scare each other. They say there is a ghost who has made the Opera his home. And if the Opera is not run the way he likes, bad things start to happen." He snorted. "In my opinion, all the ghost has done is to increase everyone's paranoia. You might want to get behind me, Madame. They will be looking back here."
She nodded and stepped behind Buquet on the staircase, her blue dress blending into the darkness of backstage. The backdrop was raised, revealing her guide just as Buquet hurriedly snatched up some ropes in his hands and tried to look busy.
The former manager was beside himself. "Buquet! For God's sake, man, what is going on up there?"
The woman heard Buquet shout something back at them in a tone that clearly said: A ghost, what does it look like, you dunderheads? Although not in so many words.
"Might as well indulge them," he said after the backdrop was let back down. "I think it would be good if you didn't stay around. Lefevre might believe me, but those new managers aren't as gullible yet."
The woman was going back down the stairs and suddenly stopped. "Is that why he is leaving? Because of some Opera Ghost?" She turned back towards Buquet, but he had gone, clambering up the rest of the stairs and was in the process of retying the backdrop. Her eyes narrowed as she made her way back down. She could hear Carlotta making another scene on stage and heard her storm off. Good riddance. More arguing from the other side of the backdrop.
"Christine Daaé could sing it."
She heard the sentence, muffled by the barrier. Brief silence and then she heard the voice. She stopped dead in her tracks and did not move until the disembodied voice had finished the song.
She heard the muttered sounds of approval and a brief smattering of applause. She winced. Her mind was still spinning from the glorious plane to which the music had elevated her and the tinny sound of clapping hands was grating. In the weeks before they had moved to Paris, Madame Fell had been subject to thorough lessons in more culture and music than she had believed existed. If her tutor had been anyone other than her husband, she might have died of boredom before they had finished the Baroque era. Instead, she had grown to appreciate the exquisiteness of her new indulgence and had developed an ear nearly as refined as her husband's. Yes, this was music.
The so-called Opera Ghost certainly wasn't doing his job properly.
He had stayed silent in Box 5 through it all, raising an eyebrow when the ballet girls had started shouting. He did not know what had occurred, his eyes having been focused on her on the stage, but this was a most fortunate turn of events. He had heard his Christine sing as the main role. He had watched the reaction of the managers; they had been impressed. No doubt they would let her sing it for the gala. It would be disastrous to cancel the event. There was no way the new managers would stand to leave such a tarnished first impression upon the socialites.
Idly, he wondered if Andre and Firmin would follow the good advice of Mme. Giry. Lefevre had been a most faithful patron, and he was irked at his departure. It was such a bother to engender proper respect in new managers. However, he didn't deny that it would be fun. It had been such a long time since he had acted as a proper ghost should.
A flash of blue, stage left. He who missed nothing that occurred in his Opera House (he conveniently chose to ignore the falling backdrop), shifted both masked and unmasked eyes toward the woman who was carefully leaving the auditorium. She was a stranger to him. He allowed his eyes to linger upon her retreating figure for a few more seconds before turning away. She would be back. He had seen her face: it had been aglow with the power of music.
After casting one last look at Christine, the Phantom of the Opera left his box via the hollow column and made his way back to his lair. There were several notes he would need to pen soon.