This fic is based off of the 2006 movie version of The Prestige and a combination of versions of Phantom, with some ideas from Kay, Leroux and ALW. The timeline shifts back and forth and between stories; although it was fairly difficult to gauge precisely when events occured in the 'Pretige-verse,' most dates after 1887 were approximated by what Jess' age seemed to be.
And for those who have not seen/read both works - there will be spoilers.
Mistakes had been made, somewhere along the line. What made them worse was the sense that it was clear at the time that a mistake was being made, but it happened anyway. Bad decisions willfully chosen, bad ideas followed through to their completion and when there was a price to be paid, regret took hold.
Julia did not have much time to think about her mistake, the one little head nod that signaled to Borden that she could handle his knot. It was over for her in less than five minutes, less than three even; her lungs felt as though they would explode and yet there was no air to be drawn. The image of Cutter - distorted through the water - came in her last moments as he desperately tried to shatter the tank's glass. Yet she blacked out before it shattered and did not even get to feel her husband's hands upon her face as he tried to wake her.
The drowning had been agony; yet for all that, it was over quickly. Her husband's trial would be much longer and mistakes of his own were waiting to be made.
Years earlier, another error had been made.
Although he could not bring himself to admit it openly, there was times when Erik caught himself musing that perhaps his last encounter with Christine had been a mistake. It preserved him from dying a virgin, he supposed; but it wasn't real or lasting and in some way it taunted him with thoughts of what he couldn't have. Regret at losing her was not the only result, however.
He watched her. It was an obsession of his, watching Christine from afar, and though he could not approach her as he had done once before, he could still make sure that she was doing well; or at least that was his rationalization. Though he had given her up so that she would be happy, he still envied Raoul for winning in the end and gaining what he could not. It had only been a dim jealousy, however, until he realized not long after their final meeting that Christine was pregnant.
Even after the girl was born there was no way of knowing for sure if it was his. Some days he thought he caught himself in the shape of her face or the glint of her eyes; other times she was void of all such resemblance and looked to be solidly a de Chagny. He wondered if that would change as she grew; yet whether it did or not, it kindled old feelings regardless. When he saw her with them, when they were a family and she was being held, he gritted his teeth and felt injured and owed.
She could have been his child. She should have been; he would have trained her properly from the very start. He would have shaped her into the most brilliant instrument the world had ever know. After all, being as she was Christine's child, surely she would inherit her mother's better qualities. It was unthinkable that she should not. As as for the paternity - Raoul's inadequacies could be overcome and if he were the father, then so much the better. Her voice was sure to be the most splendid sound ever, he assured himself. Even her cries were musical and it would only develop as she aged.
He knew he had promised to leave them alone. A child, however, had not been part of the discussion. And if it was his, then was it not his right? Had he not lost enough, was he to lose his only child too?
And so he had determined that the girl would be his, one way or another.
It had been a mistake, not using a plant. He'd been warned, too, that it was a mistake. Borden winced as his wife poured alcohol over the bloody stumps of his fingers and then bound them up again. In the background he could hear Jess fussing and his mind was wracked with pain and sound.
However, as much as he disliked the experience, at least his was over; in his workroom there was a chisel and a bottle of vodka prepared for the pain yet to come.
Six-year-old Phillipa de Chagny, named for her father's deceased elder brother, was concerned; her parents were arguing again. They spent many nights arguing, though the subject of their disagreement was not known to her. She only ever caught snatches of their conversation and had no idea what it meant.
He is dead! I am sure of it! I saw the body, the Daroga confirmed it...
I don't believe it! He is an expert at trickery! Besides, did you really thing he would keep such a promise?
Yes! You weren't coherent, you don't understand - he really meant it Raoul!
Well I don't trust it!
So what then? You're going to move us again just because you jump at shadows?!
No - because I am not naive and am concerned for her well-being.
Phillipa clutched her doll and closed her eyes, trying to pretend she couldn't hear. It was no good, however. So she stuck her head under her pillow and hummed to herself so that she could not hear them. Eventually she fell asleep and the maid came in and resettled her head atop the pillow. As she slept a figure in the tree outside stirred.
"I would not treat her as such," Erik muttered, ignoring the fact that he had been the source of the argument so distressing to her. He took one last glance then dashed off into the night.
"I need to know!" Angier vented again at Cutter. The old engineer sighed; he had already sent Olivia away and yet was not content to simply wait for a reply.
"I still think it unwise to continue the trick with the double," Cutter spoke up. "And this attempt to figure out how he does it is a fool's errand. But as you wish."
He heard a knock at the door and went away for a moment, leaving Angier to his fretting. There was a young lady standing there, dressed cleanly and smiling. She was young - still a teenager, most likely - but pretty enough for their purposes.
"I heard you were in need of an assistant?" There was a French accent to be discerned in her speech, but it was only slight. Cutter nodded and waved her in.
"What's your name, child?"
A psuedonym, like as not, but then again who didn't use one in this business?
"Angier!" He called. "There's a girl here for the job!"
Frustrated, the magician sighed. He stormed over to her and looked her over. He then lead her to the cabinets they used and had her demonstrate her ability to perform a few simply but necessary tasks.
"You'll do, I suppose. You agree to the pay advertised?"
"Fantastic. You'll start next show. But you'll need an outfit."
"Oh, I have one sir," she informed him, pointing to the trunk she had with her. A tall, lanky man who'd been waiting with it by the door hefted it in, dropped in down and gave her a nod. She turned and dropped a few coins in his hand and with a muttered thanks he was gone.
"You have your own costume?" He stated flatly.
A blush spread over her cheeks.
"I have... relatives in theater. I learned to sew."
"I see." He paused. "Well, get it on and we'll see how it looks."
She dragged the trunk behind the screen used for dressing and began to change.
"So will you be doing the trick tonight, sir?" Cutter sighed.
"Of course! We can't stop, not when he's right across the street. I just wish there were a way I could be the one..."
"Well there's not. You have to speak before the trick and the double sounds nothing like you. Besides - there's no time to switch you before the trick. And even if there was, and even if he could, it does not solve our problem of his demands!"
'Charlotte' stepped out from behind the screen in a red and black costume, a flower in her hair.
"I need some help with my bodice. I can't quite tie it in the back."
Angier walked over and began to tug at the strings from behind.
"It could be done, you know," she told him softly. "With a mechanized device."
His hands stopped as he was looping a knot. "What could be done?"
"Your transporting trick could be done with only one man."
He regarded her with a critical eye and finished the knot. "Go on. I'm listening."
Outside, the man who'd helped her with the trunk went and purchased a ticket with the money she'd given him to see the show across the street. At first, selecting the magician had been a random act; she needed a job to tide her over and because Danton was French she'd decided to look there first. The random selection, however, seemed to be quite fortuitous. He was a man desperate, obsessed - a man who needed and therefore could be used.
The first thing, however, was to examine the competition.
Across the city of London, people moved like pieces in a game, each obsessed with his or her own concerns. Obsessed with revenge, obsessed with triumphing, obsessed with proving themselves, obsessed with fame and fortune and love. And even as they presented their pledges, they hid secrets from each other, secrets lying in wait until the completion of the trick.