It seems that it's impossible for me to resist writing, especially now that school's out. So here is Quiet2885 with another story. I have to admit that I'm nervous about this persistent plot bunny. It's very AU, and I'm honestly not sure if I can make it work. But if you're looking for something a bit different from the usual then you've found it. There will be mostly POTO, along with touches of Beauty and the Beast and some old horror movies. It's not really a horror story, though. More of a mixture of mystery, suspense, and romance. POTO influences will be primarily Kay/Leroux, with a slightly younger Erik. With that, I'll let you start reading this first short chapter.
Note: This story was originally rated T. After some consideration, I decided to move the rating up as a precaution. There is no strong sexual content, but there is fairly graphic violence and disturbing situations.
Disclaimer: I sadly do not own the characters of The Phantom of the Opera. Everything belongs to Gaston Leroux. Phantom is owned by Susan Kay.
Read and Review!
Was it old age that caused his joints to ache and swell as he stepped over the creaking wooden floorboards? Was it merely age that bore down upon his slumped shoulders, making his hands shake and his skin tingle with cold? Or had his conscience finally caught up with him?
Sometimes he wished for the end to come, particularly at this unnerving moment, as he walked up behind the turned back of the looming shadow. There was no longer a craving for justice in his veins...no more hatred of those who had wronged him. Somewhere along the journey, Nadir Khan had lost his ardor for the entire mission. At some point, he no longer cared what happened.
The others did care, though. And the shadow that stood before him cared very much. And he was bound to the shadow for the rest of his life. After all, where else would he go? It was far too late to begin life anew, and he didn't want to try. There was only this mission. That was all he had left.
The shadowy man did not acknowledge his presence. Still, Nadir dared to speak. "Chagny has been located. In Asia." He paused but received no comment. "Should I make arrangements?"
The shadow did not turn around. "No," he replied in a terrible voice just above a whisper. "We will not travel that distance for one pathetic excuse of a man. Did you not read any of the literature I gave you?"
Nadir hesitated, tiptoeing around the accusatory question with the utmost care. "I have been occupied arranging everything for the first assignment. I'm sorry."
"Or perhaps you are busy staring out windows for long hours and bemoaning the passage of your useless life?" A chuckle. "No matter. All that is needed to get to the elder Chagny is directly in front of us. Right in the form of his younger brother. Such a brave boy, too!" The voice grew bitterer with every word. "Constantly exposing himself to public attention without a care in the world!" Sarcasm oozed from the icy voice. "And he donates to charity! Isn't that delightful? What a noble citizen! A treasure to his community, he's called! I present to you the renowned Raoul Chagny! "The shadow finally whirled around in a swirl of blackness and nonchalantly tossed him a newspaper clipping.
Nadir caught it and looked down. A young man, around the age of twenty-five, smiled up at him, cropped blond hair framing a handsome face. Beside him was a golden-haired female, also the societal ideal of beauty. She was wearing a lavender sun dress that revealed a pair of slender tanned legs, smiling at the camera as her blue eyes glinted in the daylight. He could not help but momentarily smile back at them. They seemed so distant from his current world. "Who's the girl?" he quietly asked.
"I do not know, nor do I care," replied the shadowy man, waving his hand with disdain. "Likely a spoiled wench clinging onto his arm and taking what she can. I am only interested in him."
He swallowed and stared down at the happy couple. "It seems a shame to..."
"Oh, do not start this nonsense again! Damn your conscience!" The shadowy man stepped forward, the yellow eyes inflamed with hatred behind the black mask that covered his entire profile. "You care for their welfare!? Why? Tell me, old friend! Will you ever awaken to the presence of your wife again? Will you ever lay eyes upon your newborn son? Is there really any more reason for you to live? Is there purpose to your excuse for a life? Is there?"
"No," he sickly whispered, his hands trembling more from despair than fear. "There isn't."
"Then why should you care anything for their welfare?" he hissed. "It is they who are the cause of our misery. You will never see your wife again! I will never be able to walk down a street in the middle of broad daylight without a lynch mob following behind! We have no purpose, my friend. We have nothing. Only this..."
"Yes," Nadir whispered, subconsciously crumpling the picture in his hand and squishing the faces of the couple together. He suddenly hated them, too. For their happiness. "Only this purpose."
"We will finish what we started," whispered the shadow, a hint of grief now present within the rage. "Four more requiems. And then we will be vindicated."
"Yes." He tucked the clipping into his pocket. "We will finish what we have started."
Tucked away in the heart of Chicago, the brick building was only thirty-three stories tall, almost minuscule compared to the skyscrapers that surrounded it. Still, when the elevator was under repair, getting to the twenty-second floor was a struggle. Raoul Chagny was out of breath by the time he had climbed over a dozen flights of stairs. Panting heavily, he paused for a moment at the top, looking left and right down the empty corridors. After figuring out the direction of his destination, the young man adjusted his tie and quickly turned left.
He'd been there once several years ago, immediately after his brother had suddenly abandoned the company and disappeared to some obscure corner of the earth. Despite his generally positive mood, Raoul frowned as he remembered the confusion and tumult of those strange days. Really, the building hadn't changed much since that time, although it did seem in need of repair. Several of the lights in the corridor had gone out, and the carpet was in need of vacuuming. A musty smell hung in the air, a mixture of dust and cleaning fluids. Or maybe he only noticed now because his mind had been so occupied during his last visit.
Finally, he found room 2207. Taking another breath, he walked into a receptionist's office. Metal file cabinets lay to the sides, and a pine green leather sofa sat in the middle of the room for guests. Several clocks and calendars hung on the whitewashed walls. "Good morning," greeted an elderly secretary from a small desk behind him, causing Raoul to turn around. "Do you have an appointment with Mr. Lawrence?"
"Maybe," Raoul answered with a polite smile. "He called me yesterday. I don't know if I have an appointment, though. We're...old friends."
She nodded curtly and pushed her glasses back up on her nose. "I'll ring for him, then, if you want to take a seat."
"No need to do that!" exclaimed a deep, hospitable voice. The door to the connecting room opened, and an older man in a three-piece black suit stepped out. A friendly smile lit up his wrinkled face, although his eyes looked tired. Permanent lines of age were engraved into his brow, more than even a man in his late fifties should have had. "Come on in, my boy," he said, holding out a hand. Raoul shook it firmly and stepped into the plush office. A large mahogany desk with a flat screen computer atop it prominently sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by book-filled shelves that were likely more for decoration than anything else. "So how have you been?" Mr. Lawrence asked, taking a seat in a cushioned chair and motioning for Raoul to sit across from him.
Raoul blinked in the bright spring sunlight streaming through the picture window. "I've been great," he replied, maintaining a cheerful tone. "Work is going well. We may put up another small firm in Toledo by next year. And...Oh, did you get my invitation?"
"Yes. I did actually!" he replied. "Congratulations to you! Next month, eh? I'll try to make it. She sounds like a fine girl."
"Christine is completely amazing. I swear she's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Mr. Lawrence laughed at the enamored young man, maybe recalling a time long ago when he had first fallen in love. "I'm happy for you, Raoul. Not many men are so lucky to find that kind of love this young."
"Yeah. I'm meeting with her later today. We're still getting the details of the big day worked out. Catering and everything. I think I've finally got the honeymoon planned, though. Should be a surprise for her!"
"Well, that's the most important part, anyway. I'm glad you've found someone. It's only too bad your parents aren't around for the big day."
"Yeah. It is. I'm hoping my brother will come. But…."
A silence fell over the room. The older man's smile slowly disappeared and was soon replaced with a small frown. His gaze momentarily fell over to the window and out toward the bustling city.
Raoul shifted, sensing a tension in the air. "So did you want to discuss something with me? On the phone, you sounded like there was something specific."
The older man hesitated, before clearing his throat and glancing back up again. "Oh. Well, I just wanted to make sure that everything was well with you."
He slowly nodded. "Yes. Everything's great. I..." As he saw a cloud of concern pass over Mr. Lawrence's face, Raoul finally understood. An unpleasant sensation began to well up in the pits of his stomach, but he quickly suppressed it. "Oh. I see. No. I haven't really heard anything about it for years. I don't think about it. I try not to."
"I see." Mr. Lawrence paused and rubbed his chin. "Well, it's always good to keep an eye out. Just to be on the safe side."
Raoul looked down to the desk momentarily before bravely making the next statement. "Mr. Lawrence. Don't you think it's time for us to put it all behind us? My father...he didn't even know what was going on until it was too late. And I had nothing to do with any of it."
"I know, Raoul. I know. But your brother did. You think he's in Japan for leisure?" Mr. Lawrence shook his head in distress. "He was afraid for his life after..." He sighed. "I'm sorry. I worry about these things. Your father was a good friend of mine."
Raoul nodded in agreement. "Phillip did mess up. But he was young at the time, too. He didn't know all that had happened. The only ones who did were the guys at the top. And they died years ago. Gruesomely. I want to leave it behind me. I want to start a life with Christine and forget. It was terrible, but it's over now."
"Well, of course, we want to forget! Hell! I wanted to forget years ago." Mr. Lawrence calmed down and softened his voice. Raoul could see that his wrinkled hands were visibly shaking. "Look, my boy. Maybe you are fine. Maybe you have nothing to worry about. But there are some who will never forget. Never. Hate is powerful. And it's unrelenting. I'm just telling you to keep an eye over your shoulder. For your sake and for the sake of your fiancée."
Raoul nodded, more alert now at the mention of Christine. "I will. I'd protect her from anything, but I really don't think we have to worry anymore."
"I hope you're right," the man softly replied, rubbing his hazel eyes tiredly. "I really hope you are." Both were silent for several moments, lost in somber thoughts.
Raoul finally attempted to change the mood, while also preparing to make his departure. "So can I expect to see you at the wedding?"
Mr. Lawrence managed a smile. "Yes. Of course. Wouldn't miss it for the world. My wife would probably love an excuse to get dressed up."
The young man nodded and smiled. "Excellent. I can't wait to introduce you to Christine." They shook hands, reaching a silent agreement that the meeting was over. "I'll see you there." Raoul stood up, somewhat eager to get away from the gloomy atmosphere and back into the sunshine.
"Have a good day, Mr. Chagny." Mr. Lawrence silently leaned back into his chair.
"You, too." Raoul nodded and walked out of the office, shaking off the negative energy that had come from the odd meeting. His cell phone rang just as he entered the corridor. Seeing the number of the caller, his mood immediately brightened. He smiled and quickly answered. "Hi, Christine! I'm on my way right now."