Author's Notes: Hota: Apparently, we are zombies. Thanks, Ghostie, for being an emergency beta!
Sporky: I'd like to give lots of loving to Ghostwritten for emergency-betaing this chapter. Without her wonderful assistance, it'd be an even longer wait for an update. Not like another few days would have made a difference when you've been waiting for what, a month?
Important notes: We've edited chapter two. It was truly awful, but things have hopefully been fixed up. Nothing drastically important was changed, but it still wouldn't hurt to re-read it. However, if you don't want to, I'll summarize what we changed here. It's no longer blatant movie quoting. Carlotta does not shriek anymore. She's a good singer who has worked her way up to where she is. I confess to having written most of the chapter, and then I confess wanting to die once I read it. Sorry guys. As for major changes, Raoul's parents are dead now and he doesn't remember much about his transformations. They're like foggy memories. It's explained in this chapter a bit, so read on, loves!
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"Raoul, I missed you at Madame Hare's dinner party last week! Pray tell, how did the business in Spain go?"
"Bien, señorita, muy bien."
Jeanne Avadare whacked his wrist lightly with her fan, giggling as she leaned forward flirtatiously, her petite face alight. "Silly, you know I can't understand that! What was it anyway, German?"
"Why would I be speaking German? I was in Spain! It was Spanish, my dear, Spanish. Or español, if you want to say it in their language."
"How perfectly dreadful! I wouldn't be able to stand a day where people didn't speak in a decent language, let alone over a week!"
Raoul chewed on his cheek for a moment, unsure of what to say. "Perfectly dreadful indeed." he murmured, and excused himself from the short woman's presence.
I suppose it's not a quality of fine ladies of society to be educated, he mused. He watched Jeanne blend in with the rest of the gathering, becoming another splash amidst the sea of colors that occupied the room; her voice blending in with the vapid discussion of who did what with whom.
Calling on his elementary grasp of Spanish, Raoul had bluffed himself a week in which he could succumb to the crashing force within him, the fierce addiction to his potion. He had a vague memory of the past week — he had been at the Opera, he knew that, but what was he doing? Like an old memory, it hovered on the edge of his mind, but he couldn't conjure it. He remembered the mask, yes, he always remembered that, but….
With a moan, Raoul led himself to the bathroom, stretching his shoulders. He was always achy after taking the potion. Cupping some water in his hands, he prepared to splash himself with it. Through the ripples, he could see his face, flushed with heat from the warm room. His eyes were darkened by black circles around his eyes, remnants of a last night's lack of sleep. He'd had one of those dreams again.
Shatteringly lifelike, they haunted him every so often. He would dream of awful things, horrible things. One night, he had caught a whore in a back alley and had his way with her, watching as she had writhed underneath him with a mixture of pleasure and pain, victim to his vicious will; in another, he had killed two people with his own hands in an alleyway. Last night, he had dreamt of Christine.
She's huddled in the lab. My lab, but it's not like mine at home. I can almost smell her fear. Even though it's dark, I can tell by her breathing that she's in the corner. I'm angry at her. Why? Now I'm yelling at her, telling her to leave. No, Christine, don't cry! Christine, I'm here, you remember me, don't you?
I'm lost… why am I in her bedroom? What am I doing? I twist a curl around a finger—my finger, even though mine are not near as pale— and whisper in her ear. "I will never leave you, my angel…. You will never be alone…." Words of comfort, why does she shiver in her sleep? Christine, it's me!
Raoul shook his head. Of course, it's perfectly natural I dreamed about Christine; I just saw her! But... what was I doing to her?
With a final glance at his tired reflection, he threw the cold water onto his face and walked back out to the parlor.
It had happened again. She could hear him speaking to her.
"Calm down, Christine," she muttered to herself. "He doesn't come out of the opera." Shakily, Christine pushed herself up from the warm pillows and sat up, listening through the walls to the comforting sound of Mama Valerius's soft snoring.
"He doesn't leave," she said firmly, shaking her head. Christine walked to her wardrobe and pulled a mauve dressing gown on over her white nightgown.
Softly, she paced around the room to clear her thoughts. Try as she might, she could not get her mind off of him. Whenever she shut her eyes, she could see his mismatched two staring back at her. When she started humming, it was always one of the songs from his lessons. Why would she not stop thinking of him? His music inspired her, his kidnapping made her fear him, and his kiss still lingered with her. Unwanted and uninvited, she remembered it just the same.
She shook her head again, causing several clusters of dark unruly hair to get in her face. Absentmindedly, she brushed them away with the back of her hand.
"Papa would always read, maybe that will distract me…." she started muttering again.
The passage of several hours found Christine in the library, curled up on the rug near the banked fire reading a book of Greek mythology. Nearby, several half-opened books lay on the ground, each varying from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, to a crumpled, paper copy of A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. Oddly enough, she found the play stashed in Hugo's book, and both of which she found dreadful and abandoned after five or so pages. The mythology, however, held her interest with it's fantastical tales of heroes and lovers. She was midway through the tale of Hephaestus and Aphrodite when Marie-Louise opened the door.
Christine and the maid both gasped and started uttering apologies.
"Terribly sorry, mademoiselle, I didn't realize that you'd be in here, I'll go—"
"Oh! Marie-Louise, I didn't think you'd be cleaning so early! I'll just get dressed and—"
They both stopped and blushed. Christine gave a giggle, and hurried out of the room to let the maid do her work. When she reached her room, Christine was rather shocked to see that the sky was graying outside. It must nearly be five o'clock!
"How could I have stayed up that long?" she murmured. "I'm not even tired…."
Christine took off her dressing gown and put it away. She crawled back under her sheets and tried to rest on the now cold pillows. She tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position to attempt to sleep in.
After staring at the slowly-lightening sky outside her window, Christine gave up and dragged herself from her bed once more.
"That's it. I'll just have to tire myself out." After dressing in a light green dress, she dragged a brush to try and separate her curls and added a few pins to keep them out of her face. Christine quietly left her room, grabbed her cloak from the coat rack in the foyer, and stepped out into the brisk, predawn air.
Raoul leaned heavily against the carriage interior, gazing aimlessly through the window at early morning Paris. Philippe slouched in the corner opposite him, either asleep or unconscious.
"A little get together between friends." That's what Jean had called the party that the Aberdeens had hosted. So little, in fact, that only half of the Parisian socialites were invited, yet nearly three-quarters of them came. Dinner at ten, followed by coffee at midnight. Then, you danced until you could no longer stand.
Society be damned.
Raoul sighed wearily, leaning his forehead against the cool window.
A lone woman walked down the street in a green dress, with a dark cloak covering her shoulders. She looked up as the carriage approached, and the two met eyes.
Shocked, Raoul stared at her for a moment, blinking. Then, realization hit him. It was Christine, who he had just seen at the Opera not a week ago!
Philippe jerked awake when Raoul whacked the roof of the carriage.
"What the devil are you doing, man?" Philippe growled at him sleepily.
"Wait a moment, Philippe," Raoul muttered, while rapping on the partition harder. "Driver, stop here!" He called, much to the chagrin of Philippe, who clutched his head and moaned at the noise.
The carriage rattled to a stop, and Raoul bolted out of it, slamming the door against the side and shattering the window.
"Christine!" He shouted as he ran across the cobbled streets toward the young woman. She started and turned around to face him, confused. "Monsieur?" she murmured, eyeing him carefully as he approached her.
"Mademoiselle Christine, surely it has not been so long that you do not remember me?" he asked, sweeping his hat off and bowing deeply.
"Raoul!" she cried joyfully. "Oh, Raoul, it's so good to see you!"
"And you, as well, Christine! God, it must have been ten years, at least!"
"Seven," she replied coyly. Raoul grinned and apologetically knelt in front of her, making dramatic gestures.
"'But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
Iti s the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
who is already sick and pale with grief
that thou her maid art far more fair than she.'"
Christine laughed softly. "Still fond of Shakespeare, I see."
not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green," he grinned again and raised an eyebrow, eyeing her dress..
"My dear, kind Raoul, I do hope you are not trying to dissuade me from my favorite green frock."
Raoul stood and his green eyes twinkled. "Of course not, my sweet. If I were to dislike the color green, I surely would have gouged my own eyes out."
"That, monsieur, is a horrible sentiment."
"Is it so? I thought it was rather cheerful, actually," Raoul offered her his arm, and she gladly took it.
"Where are you taking me?"
"Christine, you can hardly expect us to recount the past seven years standing in the middle of the cold street. I am taking you to the carriage, and we shall go to my home and have tea. Just ignore Philippe, he'll most likely say something vulgar."
"Hmm. Tetchy bastard."
Raoul stopped and looked at Christine, who blinked demurely. "To the carriage?"
He laughed. "Christine, it's been far too long."
"What the bloody hell is that hooker doing in here?" Philippe slurred as the carriage jerked to a start.
"Not much use in a gentleman taking one in the street now is it, Philippe?" Raoul replied breezily. Christine glanced between the two men, affronted. Raoul simply waggled his eyebrows, causing her to stifle a giggle.
"Actually, dear brother, she is not a whore. I trust you remember that one summer you visited the manor in Perros-Guirrec?"
Philippe grunted something unintelligibly.
"Just as well, but this young lady was the daughter of the fiddler there. In fact, he gave me my violin lessons."
"That Norse fellow?"
"The very same."
"That still doesn't explain why you brought the hooker in the carriage."
Raoul sighed, defeated. Christine laughed quietly behind her hand.
"Fine, Raoul,I'm sure you need a break from whatever the hell you do in the basement, but please be sure to pay her. They get mad if you don't…" After a few minutes, Philippe's snores could be heard and the two immediately started talking.
"How have you been, Christine?" Raoul started.
"Very well, for the most part."
"And the other part?"
She smiled sadly, "It's with Papa."
Raoul held her and whispered in her hair, "I am so sorry, Christine."
"It's alright, Raoul. It's been a long time." She pulled away and looked up at him. "I'm working at the opera now."
"I was there at your first performance, Christine! What a marvelous singer you are," he relaxed his arms and shifted uncomfortably. Why did I say that? She'll wonder why you didn't come down and see her! Hell, I hardly remembered what happened after I realized she was Elissa!
Christine blushed furiously and looked down at her hands. "Thank you, Raoul." She glanced across at Philippe uneasily. I can't tell him. Not yet. "And what about you, Raoul? What have you done with yourself?"
Thank God. "Father wanted one of his sons in the military, and I was volunteered for it by our good Philippe. They tried to put me in the navy, but apparently I don't have sea legs." He laughed. "After about three weeks of being out to sea for training, my commanding officer brought us to port, and when I finished kissing the ground, he told me to go home. And that's precisely what I did. I have no wish to ever get on a ship again, I hope my father, may he rest in peace, will find it in his heart to forgive me."
"What about your little potions and glass bottles?"
"The chemistry set, you mean?"
"Yes, that. You used to be fascinated by those, I remember."
"Well, I went to school and became a doctor."
"That's marvelous, Raoul! Where do you work? Or does your… class not permit you to practice?"
"I can practice well enough if I don't go around proclaiming who I am. I don't give a damn about what everyone thinks about me. And as for where, I work at Pitiê-Salpêtrière Hospital."
"Ah, that sounds very—ahem—interesting," Christine tried to remember if she'd heard of that hospital.
"Well, seeing as its main patients are a bunch of crazy former prostitutes… It really is rather interesting."
"Then I suppose it's a good thing that I didn't know that hospital."
"Very. As much as I enjoy seeing you, I would hate to see you there."
"I'm very glad you care."
Over tea, the conversation continued.
"After leaving the navy—thank God, you don't want to know how sick I was on those ships—I went to a school for medicine. It was interesting enough, but you remember how I was with that chemistry set."
Christine laughed. "Yes, you were quite dangerous, if I remember correctly. I consider it a miracle that your house didn't burn down."
"Well… yes, it is. Medicine interests me, but not for the love of curing people. Finding out how people work, why they work, and what compels them to work is what I am most interested in. It's a nearly perfect blend of chemistry and medicine. I believe that a balance of chemicals in the body can be accounted for every action, every decision."
"Is that so?" Christine sipped on her tea, looking interested.
"I believe it. We are ruled by our body. The brain is just another organ which can be altered with chemicals. For instance, let's say that you are lonely. You recognize that you are lonely, so your brain produces lonely chemicals. Ideally, chemists would have made an anti-lonely chemical, and you could, ideally of course, go and get some of the anti-lonely chemical and not be lonely any more. That's a very basic version of the concept, but it's the principal."
"But there are other ways to alleviate problems other than chemicals. If I was so lonely, why could I not find someone so I wouldn't be lonely anymore?"
Raoul thought for a moment. "Perhaps that was a bad example. Maybe it wasn't loneliness caused by the absence of people in general, maybe by a specific person. Grief. Have you ever thought of what life would be like without the pain of the death of your father?"
"Well, yes, all the time! But certainly there is more to a person than only a composition of chemicals. What about the soul?"
"Ay, there's the rub. That is one thing that I do not know about. I have tried to get a subject to test some of my hypotheses on, but certain… complications… got in the way." He smiled weakly. "But I've never let those stop me before. My research is currently my main occupation now. Just think, Christine! If my plan works, we could get rid of the evil in the world! No more murder, no more treachery, lies, or deceit! Christine, we could re-create Eden!" He grasped her hand in excitement, his eyes shining with a vision of the future.
Christine stared at him, bewildered. It was a strange, erratic idea; a wild chance that she dared not believe. Not knowing what else to do, she picked up her tea and took a sip.
"Anyway, enough about me. What have you been doing in these last few years?" Raoul asked.
"Oh, nothing near as glorious as you. After Papa… after Papa died, Mama Valerius took me into her house. Remember her? She used to come and visit, just like you. I came to France with her and went to a Catholic school. The choir teacher insisted that I take lessons to improve my voice, but I wasn't very eager. You see, Papa had always given me my lessons, and I was loathe to replace him with anyone else.
"I did, though, but I didn't put much effort into it. I was accepted into the Conservatory of Music a few years back. I wasn't anything special through school, yet I managed a job at the Opera in the chorus."
"But you weren't a chorus girl last week. How did that happen?"
Christine stiffened. "I… I have a new teacher. He has… done wonders for my voice. If I still believed in the fairy tales my father told," she shook her head sadly, "I would say that he was the Angel of Music. But he's not. As for the role, Carlotta walked out one day during rehearsals, something to do with the Opera Ghost. I simply stepped up to take her place. I will be back in the chorus when she returns."
"That is the saddest thing I have heard in weeks. Who is this ghost? I've heard some things, but nothing concrete."
Settling back in her chair, Christine smiled. "That's because there is nothing concrete. It all started one day when my friend Meg Giry was trying to skip practice. She was going for a walk underneath the Opera in the cellars, and came back up frightened half to death by some ghost. She said at first she thought it was a stagehand trying to frighten her, but he was too skinny to move a set. His eyes, she said too, practically glowed from behind a mask that covered his face. Of course, I thought that it was some foolishness of hers.
"It wasn't, though. She had lost her hair ribbon in her terror, and somehow, in the midst of a dormitory full of frightened girls, it was returned to her with a letter signed by Monsieur le Fantôme de la Opera."
Raoul blanched and felt sick. The Angel of Music. The mask. The Phantom of the Opera. The hair ribbon. Erik.
"Raoul, are you feeling all right?" Christine jumped up out of her chair and put her hand across his pale forehead. "You're freezing cold!"
"It… it's nothing. I've been out all night at a blasted party. Yes, that's it, the party. I'm extremely tired, Christine, I hope you don't mind me ordering the carriage to take you back to Mama Valerieus' house; I think I would fall asleep on you if I were to go anywhere except to bed."
Shakily, he stood up. "I would very much like to see you again, Christine. Old friends are comforts that are hard to come by."
She nodded quietly before giving him a tight hug. Snuggling into his jacket, she relished the feeling of his arms around her. "Raoul, I've missed you."
"I've missed you too, Christine, I've missed you too."