Disclaimer: I do not own the Phantom of the Opera characters, but I do own the slightly AU world of this story.
Summary: Christine finds beauty in the darkness – at a price.
Rating: K+ (PG)
Author's Note: This is what is known in the Xenaverse as an uber: a story where the setting is changed somewhat, but the essence of the characters remains the same (a bit like AU, but stranger). It is partly fantasy, partly allegory, partly a perfectly ordinary story about ordinary people. How much would you suffer to be happy? What would you give up so that someone you love could be happy? And would it be worth it?
Dedication: This story is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, who taught me to see beauty in darkness, to hear music in words, and to love without regrets.
They said Raoul de Chagny had sold his soul to the devil for a wife like Christine, and did well out of the bargain. But then, gossip cannot always be right.
First they said Christine de Chagny was foreign, and that was true, but not in the way they meant it.
Then they said Christine de Chagny was beautiful, and that was true, but not in the way they meant it.
Later, they would say Christine de Chagny was happy.
Her days began a minute after sunrise. She would kiss her husband, slip on her dressing-gown and see to her toilet, have a word about dinner plans with the cook, then run lightly back upstairs to the nursery, indifferent to the pain in her back, in time to see the children wake up. There was nothing more beautiful to her or more precious than those first fleeting moments: their fuzzy heads lifting heavy from the pillows, the little fists rubbing sleep-misted eyes, that first joyous cry of 'Mama!' that greeted her from the two of them. Twins, a boy and a girl. She had never known wonder like the moment when she first held them and knew that they had come from her, that she had protected them with her own flesh and bones. It was the first time she had felt proud of what her body could do. It was the first time she had understood herself.
Mornings passed in supervising the children's lessons and seeing to the house; afternoons were when her husband returned and they shared a pleasant meal together, or sometimes a stroll through the park before dinner. They loved autumn best of all, its sweet loveliness of rustling gold laid out for their steps, the black lattice of branches overhead fringed with the last of the sunlight, and the leaves waltzing down towards them. The gentle clarity of October air turning finally into the sharper chill of November as the trees shed their drying tears. It was a beauty rarely appreciated by young lovers, but they had been children once, and together had learned to see the truth of things.
The days were short in autumn, and so dinner was a brief affair, and hurried. They sat at the table in the dining-room, the four of them, the children in their best velvet and lace, wide-eyed and hushed. They talked in subdued voices, Christine and her husband, of things they wanted the children to remember, later. Under the table, her right foot was toe-to-toe with his left. Delicious smells of roast goose and potatoes clouded the silverware with steam, hiding its mirror polish. After dinner, the children went upstairs, and she tucked them into their cots. In the white-painted frame of their little nursery window, the sun would be setting: a red beacon wavering on the jagged edge of the forest, tainting the clouds rose and violet, muted by the bluish veil of the coming winter. She liked the light in her eyes, she never flinched away.
She would draw the curtains tightly, bringing night to the nursery early so that she could see the way her children looked in the darkness. Dark eyes and trembling lashes, her son's face lost in shadow. Grey eyes and waves of hair like autumn, her daughter's. Both watching her with the careful intensity of the very young.
Some evenings when there was time, they sang, simple songs in the language of Christine's childhood that she could not understand any more than they – but which she recalled sung in her mother's unseen voice, and had heard again in the lament of her father's violin. Her children's voices were sweeter than her mother's, livelier than her father's violin, kinder than that that other, most beautiful, voice she had known. When they sang, they closed their eyes. These were things Christine knew she must remember always, store away against the day when they would no longer be hers. Etched on her soul, they would be proof against the temptation of age, when in a moment of grief, she might utter with helpless bitterness those final words that are the admission of defeat – "If only!..."
In her own chambers, the window would be open, white curtains floating out into the gathering evening and drifting on the breeze like a bridal veil on dark waters.
"Come," murmured the big maple outside her window, holding out its many pleading palms.
"Come to me," whispered the dusk, caressing her warm fingers on the window-sill, breathing stillness into her hair.
"It is time," beckoned the moon, peering shyly over the trees.
"Christine..." sang the darkness beyond the glowing warmth of the house, "Christine..." sang the night.
Then her feet would find the chair by the window and the window-sill above it, and her hands would find the tiny hooks on the back of her gown, and open them one by one.
When she flew, her wings did not cause her pain.
"Christine..." called the voice of the air, rising and falling above her, soaring just out of reach and then dipping suddenly down into the abyss below. And she went plummetting after it, wings folded tightly to her body, the wind whistling in her ears and a cry of terror in her mouth as the earth came from the shadows to end her. She could see each treetop and chimney, each white night-flower in the grass. Then they turned, and veered upwards in a crescendo, so that the fear turned to thrill in her lungs, and they were rising, rising, until they found the air current together where to be still at last, and float.
There was warmth between them, trapped between skin and wings. It was hers, and she shared it gladly, knowing his days were not like her own, but cold. In the rustle of great black wings there was a percussion of claw and bone and feather, an accompaniment to his tales of the lands he had seen. He told her of cobras, sinuous and swaying, and the men who could charm them with their tune. He told her of great palaces of the Orient, where diaphanous veils hid-revealed the beauty of the women, caught like jewels in opulence not of their making. He spoke of these things as wonders, and took exception to her laughter.
She told him of the leaves on the ground, crunching with frost after the first chill. She told him of winter sunlight reaching timidly for a child's brow, turning the snow around her to a thousand broken rainbows. She told him what it feels like to draw breath from a kiss. He could not understand, so she showed him, and then he did.
They left the slow current and gathered speed, launching themselves into blackness. Beyond the forest, away from the lights of the great city, beyond the first of the rivers, was the deepest night. They plunged through it, skimming trees, wings so close to sharp branches that they could shred in an instant – but always safe, just out of reach. He knew the way of the night and she followed unhesitatingly, moving as he moved, wingbeat against wingbeat, until the branches opened wide and there before them lay the great lake.
They landed beside it. There was moonlight in the water, glittering and moving, lapping gently at the pebbled shore. They stood in the tall grass, cold with dew and wet against her bare legs and feet. When she shuddered, he began to sing, wrapping her with music. She joined him then, and they rose again with a gentle current, their bodies more sinuous than the charmed serpents of the Orient, their wings diaphanous as the jewelled veils of desire. When the song ended, they simply flew, together, in the silence of moonlight and the distant murmur of willows in the lake, benevolent as spirits over the land that slumbered under their wings.
In the cold dark chambers, Raoul de Chagny sat unsleeping in the hard chair by the window, and watched the curtains drifting out and in, between moonlight and the four walls of the room. He never shut that window. It was not his to shut.
He picked up the dress that lay discarded by the chair, turning the open seam to see dark stains on the lining, blood where her shoulder blades were. The stains were in layers, new upon old, the older ones faded to brown. The newer ones were violet, almost beautiful in the dark. Raoul lifted the dress from the floor, and picked up the quill that fell from it, a black quill dipped in ink.
He lay in bed with his eyes open for some time, the bed-curtains open so he could see the window. He laid the quill he had found near his cheek, on the empty pillow beside him, and inhaled the fragrance of Christine's skin, breathed it in until his chest ached from the fullness. He put the tip of the quill to his lips and sucked the taste of her blood from it, one drop to last until morning.
Sometimes, he woke shaking and frozen in the small hours, afraid he had shut the window, or the servants had, or the wind. Then he rushed to Christine's chambers, heart pounding – only to find the window open as always. The white curtains swaying gently. Everything at peace. He would return to his room and sleep restlessly until dawn, dreaming of black wings crashing into a shuttered window, of violet, beautiful stains on the glass.
Other nights he woke hot and ill with sweat, and thought it was the wing-fever, like Christine's. He would leap from bed, pulling off his nightclothes haphazardly, desperate to get to the mirror. But there were never any twists in the flesh of his back, nor bruises, nor cuts; not a sign of the bloodied wing-buds growing from his body to join him to Christine. Only the old scars, from when they had been children and Christine had tried to cut his wings out for him with his pen-knife, not knowing they would not grow. He would put his damp shirt on and climb back into bed, and dream instead of the closing window.
The window was open wide when Christine stepped through, and the dress lay folded neatly on a chair. She put it on, smiling as she crushed her wings beneath the bodice, while the darkness fell away behind her aching back, and a faint light cast a blue spell over the horizon. The birds were crying as she had cried, for the night that was over. A new day was here, and soon the birds would sing. It was reason enough to be happy.
She turned, briefly, and the light from the rising sun pierced her eyes. She smiled.
Her days began a minute after sunrise. She would kiss her husband.