Erik was dying. There was no denying it. There was no avoiding it, fighting it, or crying at it.
Erik himself accepted it with a weary resignation. He was accustomed to death. He had been for years and years on end. His hands smelled of dead things. He slept in a coffin. He lived in darkness. He had composed his own requiem.
And now… Don Juan was finished.
Erik looked at the packet of pages dully, flipping through the pages with one pale, trembling hand. He cut his fingers on the edges of the paper, but he did not notice. A life's work: one packet of pages, full of ink blots and lines.
He did not care about it anymore. There was no point to the music, was there? He was dying. He had always been dying, and had reflected in his blackest days, while he composed his requiem, that since he had been born, he had been dying a little each day.
So what was death to him?
"Nothing," he whispered. The word was dry and brittle, like his hands. His voice was raspy and harsh, grating upon the ears. He belatedly remembered that he had not had anything to eat or drink since he last visited his banker, a week ago. A week was a long time to be without food or water. But his music sustained him. Now that the music was finished…what? There was nothing left.
However, the daroga would scold if he knew. Erik dragged himself to the Louis- Philippe room, where he nursed a glass of Cognac.
He looked at it, rather than drank it, as if able to draw sustenance from its image. The brandy was a deep red, and as he twirled the crystal stem of the glass in his dead hands, some spilled.
Normally, he would have been grossly upset. The brandy had spilled onto his black evening jacket, and it was terribly difficult to clean Cognac out of anything. But now… he was fascinated by it. The brown- red droplets trickled over the side of the glass, and some stained his dead hand like blood. It seemed unnatural- he was already dead, why should he bleed? But it clung, and Erik was fascinated. If his hands were still capable of producing music, his cold, dead hands were able to produce anything of beauty any more, he would write about it- the brandy rolling off the glass onto his hand.
Minor key, of course, a string quartet perhaps… not a full orchestra, in any case. Erik considered having an alto sing as well, a warm rich tone over the keening of a violin being played in a tormented, slow twelve-eight, but his hands were shaking in a terribly distracting way, driving all thoughts of music from his head. Erik drank his glass and poured another, looking at his clothes in dismay.
There was brandy all over the previously white linen of his shirtsleeves. It stained like blood and Erik felt a touch of irritation. He would have to throw the shirt away, as the laundress was incompetent and wouldn't be able to get the stain out, and one could not wear brandy- stained shirts to the Opera!
It was an insult to such a noble art, to wear such disgusting clothing. And while surrounded by the cold, unfeeling chill of death, Erik was unaccustomed to blood.
It was not the pale, pearl color of a corpse, or of a skeleton. It was a vivid red, like a bright lyrical soprano singing forte against the minor key and echoing tones of an organ. It didn't fit, and though contrast in music could be tasteful, Erik detested the metaphor. Lyrical sopranos made him think of Christine, and the contrast made him think of when Christine tried to kill herself.
He could not think on his behavior with Christine with anything but shame. It pained him deeply- more than the Persian's accusatory glares, or the familiar haunting taunts of, "Monsieur le squelette!", or the cuts on his fingers, though he had spilt brandy on them and they stung as if he had been attacked by bees.
Christine was a flute and a violin, accompanied by a harpsichord, though the key and the time signature fluctuated each time he saw her. When she tried to kill herself, blood streaming down her forehead, matting her eyelashes, Erik heard the flute and the violin- an anguished duo in triplets and wild sixteenth notes, in the upper ranges of each instrument, as if seeing how high they could play before shattering.
When she first sang, he could hear them playing listlessly, boredly, as if the musicians were half-asleep. The violin didn't play- it seemed the violinist was frightened to touch his instrument. Erik was intrigued and worked on the music. The flute and harpsichord were tuned until they played in perfect harmony, one never overpowering the other, with the violin occasionally playing cheerful solos when she spoke. Then… she saw him.
The flute screamed at him, in wild octave changes, trilling desperate and confused sixteenth notes, the violin was silent, and the harpsichord trembled on diminished cords. He was furiously angry then. Erik had become accustomed to the steady, calm harmonies of the harpsichord and the flute, and had desperately hoped to hear the violin join the duet. To hear the flute scream out of pitch, and the violin become mute was unbearable.
Even worse was when Raoul was around. Erik hated him with a passion. Though he would not admit it, it was because, whenever Raoul was around, Erik could hear the violin play.
It was irritating. Erik thought of everyone as musical pieces. Raoul was mostly a French horn and a trumpet, with a fiddle or a violin. Erik normally heard the fiddle and the trumpet playing a sea shanty of some sort- cheerful and brash, in a major key. Erik hated Raoul's music- it was so different from his usual work and inelegant. But with Christine… as clichéd as the expression sounded, and as much as Erik hated to admit it or say it… the violin played. They both played, in a duet so lovely Erik wanted to cry out and play the organ, sending crashing cords through the delicate entwining strains of the violins.
He tried. He played tune after tune, melody after melody, harmony after harmony, yet the violins always reemerged. They always triumphed- a heartwarming simple melody that grew into a lilting song by a string quartet, then a symphony for strings. Erik tried to drown it out with Don Juan. He played violent, loud chords, writing music in a constant fortissimo, and pouring all the anger and dejection he felt into it.
It only occurred to him later, when he sat in the Louis- Philippe room drinking a particularly bad vintage of Cognac, that Christine never smiled when he was around. The violins didn't play after she had discovered who he was. The harpsichord and the flute would harmonize, stabilize, become confident once more, but the violin never played unless Raoul was around. It made Erik want to tear at his sparse hair in frustration, but he couldn't force the music. It came as it willed, not as he wanted it to.
For a composer, this was undoubtedly frustrating- Erik was used to control. He controlled his music. If he wanted, he could make his tenor Don Juan into a baritone. If he felt the compulsion, he could write a piece in five- four time, full of alternating triplets and duplets, at a 180 tempo, and then watch in the shadows as the bassoonist sighed in frustration and the violinist poked the sheet music with his bow, tongue clenched between his teeth as he tapped out the rhythms. He controlled his managers- with a single note he could change which opera was to be performed, who would sing the roles, which dancer would be featured, or even what costumes were to be allowed.
Erik, in fact, detested not being in control. Memories of the circus still haunted him there- the chilling fear of being forced into a kind of indentured service the kind he had been in at the circus. At night, the jeering laughter of crowds still haunted his dreams and he would push his way out of the coffin, suddenly claustrophobic, and grip the Cognac bottle until his knuckles poked out of the skin of his dead hands like he once gripped the bars of his cage.
He had liked Persia- he was in control. If he wanted to kill someone, he did. If he wanted to build, he had to go through the tedious procedure of hearing what the sultan wanted him to build, and then built what he wanted to anyways. Life was good in Persia- the sultan and the little sultana were usually eager to see any creation of his, be it beautiful or deadly, and most of the times, both, and it pleased Erik in a morbid way.
But Paris- he had more control in Paris than anywhere else. He gloried in Paris, making the opera house his own kingdom, ruling based on whims and capricious desires. Yet… in Paris he also had the least control.
Christine Daäé for instance. He could not make the violin in her play. He could not make her happy. He had told her once, when she was studying with him, and when she had a vacant, tired look in her eyes as if she'd folded up her soul and locked it in a chest for brighter days, that she had to smile when she sang.
She smiled, lifting the tone, but the violin did not play, and the smile did not reach her dead eyes.
Raoul de Chagny, the impudent sailor, for another. He wouldn't die. It irritated Erik. Raoul went about smiling at everyone, often acting before thinking, yet he still wouldn't die. He wouldn't go away. And Erik couldn't make him stop loving Christine, no matter what happened.
It was a strange thing. He imagined what the Persian would say.
"He can't stop loving Mademoiselle Daäé any more than you can stop loving her," the Persian would inform him, ignoring the brandy set before him.
"Would you like tea?" Erik would reply sardonically.
The Persian would sigh one of those weary sighs that shook the depths of his being and made him sound old. "No, Erik. Listen to me."
"I am. You don't want tea, and you're being a great booby in ignoring the brandy- it's a good vintage- 1872." Erik drank his glass of brandy and poured himself another.
"The vintage does not matter," the Persian would reply tiredly, perhaps wringing out his pocket handkerchief if Erik had accidentally tried to drown him.
"Of course it does! The vintage is everything in a brandy, and you're a great booby for thinking otherwise."
The Persian would sigh again, even more wearily than before. "The Cognac does not matter- what matters, Erik is that you and Monsieur de Chagny are alike in the fact that you both cannot help who you are, and you both cannot stop loving Mademoiselle Daäé."
Erik would laugh at that, great, bitter, hacking laughs that would turn into the coughs that had plagued him more frequently as of late. Him and that sailor- alike!
For one thing, Erik was a composer. The sailor was not.
Erik was a genius. The sailor was not.
Erik could sing like an angel. The sailor could not.
Erik could build magnificent palaces. The sailor could not.
Erik could strangle a man without a feeling of remorse. The sailor… could not.
Was that bad?
The daroga, jade green eyes narrowed with worry, would lean over. "Are you all right, Erik?"
He would wave the daroga away, gasping for breath. He hated coughing. It hurt the vocal cords. Erik would down his brandy quickly, massaging the skin on his dead neck, until he could breathe once more. The daroga would wait patiently, with a look of pity in his eyes.
"Erik, you must admit that, despite your differences, you both loved Mademoiselle Daäé. The difference is this, my friend: Monsieur de Chagny was willing to give his life for Mademoiselle Daäé, and you were willing to take lives for her."
"A difference in semantics, only," Erik would growl.
"A difference in sentiment and soul," the daroga would say, very calmly. "Love, Erik, is more than wanting someone to be with you. Love... is wanting the best for someone else; even if it means that you step into the shadows."
Erik did not like talking to the daroga, because it often made him feel unaccountably guilty, so he imagined him away.
Was love really that? Wasn't it sweet, thrillingly fast duets and insurmountable rushes of feeling?
The daroga's voice popped up again. "That's not love, Erik," he chided gently, voice swirling in his head like a whirlpool. "That's obsession."
Erik growled at the thought and downed his brandy. "Get out of my dead, daroga. I've had enough of you and your compulsive moralizing."
"All you do is take," the voice continued, "you never give. You tried to take everything from her, Erik, and that was wrong. She was as empty as you were, and needed to be given love to fill the void, not have her heart and soul taken from her."
He hurled the brandy glass against the wall, where it shattered and splattered red droplets of stinging alcohol around the room. "I was empty too!" he howled, tearing at his dead face with his dead, brandy stained hands. "I am dead! I have nothing!"
"But you can't take things to fill the void," the daroga's voice whispered. "It doesn't work that way. Love must be given, or it loses all meaning."
Erik laughed hollowly, crouching in on himself. "Look at me, arguing with voices in my head. I must be mad."
"It is madness not to forgive them. You let her go, didn't you?"
Erik curled up into his chair, and pulled dead strips of skin off the back of his hands with morbid fascination.
"Answer me Erik."
"I did," he replied calmly, watching a strip of skin drift down to the carpet.
"Why did you do that?"
"I went mad." Erik moved to his fingertips, and tore off the skin around his dead fingernails. He rubbed a piece of torn-off skin between the fingertips of his other hand, and couldn't feel anything. "I'm still mad, since I'm talking to you, daroga, and you're not here."
"No," the voice continued patiently. "You let them go because you realized it was wrong to keep them. You deny it now because you are drunk and dislike being wrong, but that's why you let them go. You realized it was wrong to keep them from loving each other." There was a pause, and then the voice continued reproachfully, "It was also very wrong to drop the chandelier on the audience, and to try and blow- up half of Paris. That was not right, Erik."
"No," Erik agreed dully, picking at the bone of his left forefinger; he had picked off the rest of the skin and wondered why he hadn't felt anything. "It was not. I feel… remorseful to have done so. It was shameful."
"Make your peace, Erik."
He laughed wildly. "Who are you to tell me what to do, daroga?"
"I am not the daroga," the voice replied unwearyingly. "You have made me speak, and everything I have said you have wanted to say."
Erik rubbed his finger-bone. "Why must I make my peace?" he asked, after a long pause.
"Because you are about to die."
That was it. Simple, calm, rational, succinct: he was going to die, so he'd better make his peace.
Erik closed his eyes, suddenly tired. "What if I don't want to?"
The voice sounded amused. "You do. Why else would I exist and be talking to you? I'm part of you."
"I suppose you're my conscience," Erik admitted grudgingly. "You've been quiet for most of my life. Why speak now?"
"Because you are about-"
"Right, right," Erik interrupted sleepily. "I'm about to die. I know. I've been dying since I was born. I now complete the process. I don't see why-"
"You are leaving this sphere, Erik, you will not see these people again." The voice was stern now and speaking very fast. "Make your peace. Accept that they love each other, and let them love each other."
He did not want to.
"You do," insisted the voice faintly.
"I'm mad and dying, so how do I know you're showing me what I want to do?" Erik snapped, opening his eyes and glaring into the isolating, frightening darkness.
The voice was fading. "You do, Erik, you do. You do, Erik, you do, you do, you do…." The voice trailed off and left him alone.
Erik was silent for a long time, staring into the darkness, and rubbing the pearly white bone protruding from his hand. He remembered Christine and Raoul on the rooftop, clinging to each other as if they'd suddenly found shelter in the midst of a hurricane. He remembered seeing Raoul stand in the audience, blue eyes alight with unnamable emotion as he watched Christine sing. He remembered the joy in her movements when she declared she sang for Raoul, the sudden happiness that infected her song and caused it to blossom. He remembered how Christine had locked herself away in the end, so she could stare vacantly at him, and smile vacantly at him, and allow him to kiss her forehead without a shudder.
With him she was empty, he realized, because he had needed everything. He took everything from her.
With Raoul, he admitted, she was full of happiness and joy and love, because Raoul gave them all to her without hope or expectation of return. He gave himself to her, for her use, and did not try to take anything from her because he was so busy giving her his love.
Erik stood, and the room swayed. "I forgive them," he whispered. "I do, I forgive them. I forgive them for being full when I am empty, because they could not help it anymore than I could." The darkness welcomed him now, swirling about him like a warm blanket, or a soft spring breeze. "I forgive them for loving each other, for hurting me, for being happy." There was a soft, sweet song that came from far beyond his reach. It was haunting and charming, like a lullaby, and Erik moved to it, out of the room, to his coffin.
"I hope they may be happy," Erik murmured, startled to find out that it was true. "I hope they love each other even after they die, because letting them love makes me feel full, too. I am sorry for hating them. I am sorry for having a love that takes when it should give. I believe in that love, the love that gives, and I wish I had it."
"That love exists," the music seemed to say. "Come and receive it. Those who seek shall find… and those who believe shall have…" The song caressed him, and the darkness embraced him. For the first time in years, he didn't feel dead.
He felt suddenly, happily alive, and walked onward, towards the song and a sudden pinprick of light, feeling the wind made from the soft gentle beating of angel's wings.