This Is The Way We Are

Disclaimer: Alas, I do not own the masterpiece. I only play with it. Another modern day phic.


Arrival

Christine

"... So you see, Ms. Daae, until you are of legal age you cannot live on your own. Your parent's will states that in the event of their death, if you are still a minor, your legal guardian is to be Nadir Khan." The man looked up, face carefully schooled to the delicate balance of professionalism and sympathy. The quiet, businesslike room around them was suffocating. Beige. Brown. Relaxing colors. Dull colors, dead colors. The air seemed stagnant with the smell of leather and a stale cup of that morning's coffee that had yet to be thrown out.

She spoke the first words that she had to him in all of the long, tedious hours. "My father's will."

He blinked at her. "I beg your pardon?" She could see his discomfort, plainly he expected her to be uncomprehending and submissive. Just as plainly, he had expected to have to deal with hysterics and histrionics; the secretary hovered outside of the door, armed with tissues and tea.

My father has peace at last. He won't ever feel pain again. Should I be crying that he won't ever again lay silent and endure pain that cannot be purged with screams? Should I be crying that he never has to wake to the reality of a deteriorating body ever again?

Apparently she was. She couldn't quite understand it. Death was a natural part of life. Death had been so welcome to her father, she had seen the relief on his face as he passed. He was reunited with her mother, beyond suffering. He was at peace. She couldn't mourn for her father. She could mourn for the fact that she had lost him, that she would never share another moment with him- oh yes, she could mourn for that. But how could she be sorry after months of seeing nothing but pain in his eyes, after watching the lines engrave themselves deeper and deeper in his face, the eyes and mind become clouded and foggy under the influence of drugs that did little to dull the pain? That would be... selfish.

She stared back at him. "My mother has been dead for years, sir. And I am well aware of that the sanctity of the law shall not be lightly put aside. I will contact Mr. Khan. You needn't bother yourself further." He dealt with situations like this every day. It had become impersonal for him to offer condolences, to trade in death. She did not want his false pity. The superficial sympathy he had given her was like sandpaper against her ears.

He looked rather like a landed fish. He still expected her to fall into the traditional role of a hysterical, panicky teenager. She wondered idly if the man treated his own children like this. "If- if you are sure you have this under control, Ms. Daae. I understand that your father's death may have come as something of a shock-"

She gave him a pitying smile. "Don't coddle me, sir. I was well aware of my father's illness. I knew as well as he did what would eventually come to pass. Now, if you'll excuse me." Christine rose, leaving the man behind the desk looking poleaxed. He ran a hand through his hair, graying at the roots. He expected her to behave like a child, and instead...

"If you need any assistance, Ms. Daae..."

"Thank you." she said smoothly. She retained her composure until she reached the parking lot. Once inside the car, she rested her arms against the steering wheel and only then allowed herself to cry.

Nadir

Nadir flinched as his phone gave an obnoxious beep. And another.

He flipped open his phone. Yet another business call... How many years until retirement, now? "Hello?"

The voice that issued from his phone, however, was not the voice of a businessman.

"Uncle Nadir?"

He smiled, his boredom instantly dispersed by the clear, sweet voice. "Christine! How are you- and Charles?"

A pause. "Are you sitting down?"

"Christine, what's the matter?" he asked, perplexed. Another long pause.

"Dad passed away. Last night."

Nadir sat down. Hard. What? What did she say? The last time he had seen Charles, the man had been monstrously ill. But Charles was a fighter. Nadir had fully expected him to pull through, to triumph over the disease that ate away at him.

Charles... my God... I should have been there...

"Uncle Nadir, are you still there?"

He blinked. Tried to string two thoughts together. "Yes. I'm still here, Christine. I'm so sorry, Christine, I- thank you for telling me. How are you holding up?" Better not to focus on his own emotions now, hers were vastly more important, as his daughter. As he had been her only family.

"Uncle Nadir, that's not all. Since I don't turn eighteen for a while yet, I'm still a minor. Dad had you as my legal guardian, should anything happen to him."

Nadir sucked in his breath, amazed at her poise. Christine had always amazed him, her vivacity, her aspiration, her optimism. It was hard, sometimes, to remember that she was still a child under the law. It was hard not to think of her as an adult, for all her innocence. Not such a child anymore, I think. Not after this.

He had always thought it sad that Catherine had never lived to see what a beautiful girl she had given birth to. And now Charles was gone too...

Charles...

"It's all right, Nadir." she said softly, kindly. "His pain is at an end. He's with Mom, now."

Nadir was in shock. Charles, why doesn't she scream or cry or blame you for dying? Why isn't she angry at you for leaving her?

Why won't she let me hear her cry?

How is it that she can forgive you for leaving her behind? Nadir was struggling with the feelings that Charles' daughter should have been- and wasn't. He was the one angry at Charles, angry at him for dying, for giving up. And ashamed that he was thinking those thoughts. Sickened. That he was willing to put Charles through so much suffering for his own comfort. Like a child.

He swallowed. "I'm currently in Europe, Christine. I'm afraid I may not be back for a few weeks. You'll be staying with the man who rents the apartment with me. Just- tell him what you told me. I'll call ahead, make sure he knows you're coming." He tried to retain some measure of control.

He felt her warmth wash over him, reassuring him, calming him. "Thanks, Uncle Nadir. It'll be okay, I promise." He was not her uncle- not in a blood sense, but somehow the knowledge didn't matter at the moment. Somehow, he needed to hear that endearment right now. She was his last connection to Charles. Oh, my friend... The scent of summer grass seemed to drift lazily past him.

He felt his eyes burn. "You're welcome, Christine. Please- excuse me." His voice shook, he ran a trembling hand through his hair.

"Goodbye, Uncle Nadir."

"Goodbye, Christine."

He ended the call. Tried to keep hold of his composure as he dialed another number.

"Hello?" The reply was irritated. "Nadir, have you any idea what time it is?"

"You remember Charles Daae, don't you?" Nadir fought to keep his voice steady.

"The violinist? Nadir, what's going on?"

"He passed away last night. His daughter is coming to stay- I'm in his Charles' will as her guardian. She's seventeen."

Sympathy was not the man's forte, Nadir knew. But his voice had softened. "I'm sorry, Nadir. I'll keep an eye on her for you. How are you?"

Nadir breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Thank you." He deliberately ignored the last question, and the man took the hint.

"What is her name?"

"Christine. Her name is Christine." He closed the phone, unable to take another moment of conversation. Nadir buried his head in his hands.

And let himself mourn.

Christine

She stood on the doormat, all her worldly belongings, the ones she'd wanted to keep, anyway, fit into two suitcases. It was amazing how little material things she had collected over the years. She tapped the bell lightly.

Poor Nadir. He doesn't seem to realize that Dad is happier now. Or- maybe he did, but was having trouble letting go. They'd been together since college, had worked together for years. Nadir had been the best man at her parent's wedding. He was her godfather.

It hurt Christine, to know that he was gone. That she would never again hear the beautiful strain of the violin in the night, lulling her to sleep, that he would never again ask her to accompany him, giving her voice wings with the nostalgic notes. It hurt more than she would acknowledge.

At the same time, she could not help but be relieved. The glazed look of pain in her father's eyes was gone. He had died smiling. The dark eyes had held only joy. The skeletal hand had tightened briefly on hers, she saw tears well in his eyes. She could hear the thought running through his head- it's over.

She couldn't deny him peace- he deserved all that and more, for the suffering he had been forced through. The deadly bout of illness that had held him fast in dark, creeping chains. That had reduced him to a skeleton in his last months, a mere wraith of the laughing, lively man who had carried her on his shoulders as a child.

She had so many memories of him- younger and stronger. Vacations by the seaside, where he taught her to swim. Where the salty spray made his eyes sparkle and he would race her down through the shallows in pure exhilaration, the frothy waves breaking around their ankles and the gulls scattering in their wake.

Memories of Christmas, where he had taken her ice skating for her very first time at age five. The giant tree he had insisted on decorating, holding her up so she could perch the gently smiling angel and her shining star on the highest bough. Ripping open the wrapping paper with her, with no decorum or solemnity. Leaving the paper scattered across the floor as he read whatever book it was he had given her.

Simple things. Her sixteenth birthday, where he had thrown her a surprise party, leading her to it with clues all around the house.

Sitting in the audience as she auditioned for play after play. Smiling broadly at his daughter, radiant on the stage. Encouraging her never to stop, acting as both stern teacher and proud parent.

Nursing her through her first heartbreak.

He alone had seen past the mask of a free spirit that was only half of her, the only half that she presented to the rest of the world. To the sensitive girl behind, the girl who still longed for her mother.

Seeing the coffin lowered into the grave had hurt. Despite that she knew he was better off. Despite that he was in a place where pain would never touch him again. She had felt a part of herself lowered into that grave with the heavy coffin. Sinking into cold, impersonal earth.

And now here she was, standing outside a strange apartment, waiting for a strange man to open the door.

Nadir didn't even tell me his name. Not that this greatly bothered her. In the face of all that had happened, why would she worry about mere names?

She heard footsteps approaching, looked up as the door opened.

And froze.