Fandom: Phantom of the Opera
Disclaimer: Please don't sue. I don't own *insert fandom name from above*... All I own is an overactive imagination.
Summary: Let's Rewrite Our History Assumption #4 revisited: war-scarred!Raoul, ie blind!Raoul.
Warning(s): only pre-slash if you squint and look sideways at it, or if you prefer it's just E+R interaction, OCs
Word Count: 3,484
Series: Let's Rewrite Our History (The series where anything is fair game, huge assumptions are made, and you simply have to accept them as fact.)
!Plotbunny has been adopted. :D Go check out Emilx311. The continuation can be found there soon.
A/N: You can thank The Crazed Artist for this oneshot. It's a birthday present (a very late b-day present DX). I'm not really pleased with the final product, but editing has felt even choppier than usual, enough so that it felt as though I was making it worse by keeping it on hand (which is frustrating and disappointing).
Story note: I refuse to give you hope that this is going to be continued, thus the fact that this chapter glosses over several plot points that I had planned to make in the original plotbunny for Eyes Need Not See – btw, reading that fic would be nice.
Look My Way
By: Lucifer Rosemaunt
As was wont the past month since the new patron had been officially introduced, the steady thump-step of the viscount and the rather silent footfalls of his valet filled the hallways as the pair took their pre-show constitutional. Their route took them through every floor of the opera house – even to the roof – through every hallway, and at times, into several of the offices and storage rooms.
Promptly three and a half hours before every evening performance, the viscount, accompanied as always by his valet, would arrive at the opera house. Both men would be impeccably dressed for the night. The viscount, seemingly unheeding of the obvious scarring upon his face, would hold his head up high despite the fact few could look upon his features for very long. He would knock upon the managers' door and thereupon, Messieurs Andre and Firmin would hastily fall into step with the two men as they began their walk. They would use the first leg of the viscount's constitutional to discuss the estimated rate of attendance for that evening's performance, any criticism that they had happened to hear, any last minute setbacks, and concerns the managers could not wait to address in their weekly Monday morning meetings. About thirty minutes later, a time that coincidentally occurred just as they were passing the dormitories, the managers would excuse themselves.
The viscount and his valet would continue without them. Their pace, which never once changed, allowed them to traverse the rest of the opera house and arrive at Box 4 in about two hours, although the time was always dependent upon whom they would happen upon in the hallways. The managers had given numerous warnings to all the residents of the opera house to leave the viscount undisturbed during these walks. Those warnings hardly deterred any of them and just in that first week, it was certain that the viscount had met every resident in the hallways as they purposely crossed paths with him.
Yet, it wasn't the managers' subsequent lectures that dissuaded them from their continued interruption; it was the viscount himself. For every individual who happened upon them, the blond would pause upon his or her approach, move to the side of the hallway, and greet them, bowing slightly at the waist, his valet following suit. At times, he would engage them in conversation, although he always managed never to share anything more than shallow pleasantries about himself. Their prying questions and unsolicited affections were always redirected with pleasant, yet firm refusals to respond, and though he never once made mention of propriety, each left the conversation feeling distinctively chagrined for having overstepped their boundaries.
It mattered little with whom he was addressing, the managers or the stagehands, the viscount treated everyone the same: cordial and distant at the same time. It was merely the content of conversation that varied. As such, they hardly purposely sought him out any longer. However, every now and then, several ballet girls or even La Carlotta would search for him simply to have him bow at them and to hear his voice, cultured and even. To have his attention on them for even just a moment was enough. Yet, even though he heard every word, remembered every story that was shared, and had even gone so far as to begin to memorize everyone's names, his attention always felt lacking, as though his injured eyes and oftentimes roaming focus were more indicative of distraction than injury.
It was the oddest combination of sequestration and sociability, but curiously enough, the residents of the opera house not only attempted to accept his withdrawn nature, but they were also rather protective of him. The gossip rarely mentioned anything untoward about him, and they simply refused to hear any slander upon his name. The ushers even made certain to keep inquisitive attendees away from Box 4 so that he could enjoy the opera unmolested.
By this point, in the eyes of the residents of the opera house, the viscount was more venerated god than the damaged man he actually was – to all but one resident, the one who watched with increasing irritation at the treatment the young man was receiving.
At first, Erik had simply bided his time in his effort to speak with the viscount. He had attempted to focus more on Christine's success, but the fact that the valet had not left the young man's side for even a moment after that first encounter did not pass his notice. The insufferable man had even taken to standing just inside Box 4 during the opera itself. However, this recent development of martyring the viscount had Erik's patience growing thin. The only reason he had yet to simply dispose of the valet in order to directly confront the patron was because of how differently Raoul had acted towards him.
Erik took great pleasure in knowing that so far, he had been the only person to witness the viscount as anything but composed. He had yet to see the viscount sneer at anyone else, to hold his head up in defiance rather than pride, or to see his eyes narrowed in anger. The boy was controlled in every thing he did from the inflections of his voice to the distance his cane swung forward when he walked. He moved in a measured rhythm, one so consistent and so familiar to him now that his recent compositions had the same cadence, songs that inevitably reminded him of the viscount. The distant façade was nothing more than an annoyance but one that had piqued Erik's interest.
How little the others knew of their meek patron.
This evening was pointedly different though. The viscount was once again in his naval uniform, an ensemble that he had forgone wearing after his first appearance at the opera house, and even more intriguing was the off-white cloth wrapped around his eyes, effectively hiding the worst of the scarring. So, Erik was not as surprised as he should have been when a couple of minutes after they parted with the managers, Raoul stopped suddenly and turned to his valet.
"Henri, shall we meet at the box in two hours?"
The older man looked completely unperturbed, as though this were a normal occurrence. "Yes, Vicomte," he intoned before walking down the hall towards Box 4. Erik watched avidly, but the valet never once spared a concerned look back at the now alone viscount.
Said man barely waited for Henri to leave before he continued walking, utterly undeterred by the absence of his normal companion. His head was still held up high and his stride was as certain as it had ever been. Erik had witnessed their constitutionals numerous times and while he noted that the two rarely shared any words beyond a description of the decorations and the content of the rooms, he had always assumed that there had been other signals shared between them that informed the viscount when the turn and when to stop. He was quite interested to see what Raoul was trying to prove by dismissing his valet.
Yet, following him proved to be quite anti-climatic. He did nothing particularly out of the ordinary. It seemed rather unnecessary to send his valet away if he were just going to walk as any other day. However, Erik was not one to let opportunities pass him by. Once he was certain that the hallways were indeed empty, he stopped watching him from a distance, opting instead to trail several paces behind him.
It was not long before Raoul stopped and took a single step to the side. He bowed his head slightly, "Good evening." He folded his hands neatly on his cane as he turned towards Erik, waiting.
Erik scowled, only belatedly realizing the reason for his ire. Raoul had greeted him as he would have anyone else; Erik was simply another resident of the opera house. It was only in that moment that he acknowledged the fact that more than simply seeing the viscount as the others failed to, he had enjoyed being treated differently. It made no sense whatsoever since he had rather hoped to exploit his blindness, to seize this opportunity to be treated as everyone else.
"It is evening indeed," he retorted pointedly, the offhand remark subtly insulting. When the viscount showed no outward appearance of acknowledging the gibe, Erik decided to be more direct. "I'm certain you do not remember seeing me before. Oh," he stopped abruptly, feigning apologies, "poor choice of words on my part. You must not remember meeting me before."
The viscount was still, that unnatural stillness that had caught Erik's eye when he had been seated in Box 4. It was similar, he realized, this meeting and the first one. Except, this time, the viscount was proving to be just as loathsome as he had first imagined.
"Oh no, Monsieur." Raoul's voice was genial and tinged with the contrition Erik could never properly feign. "It is I who must apologize for my behaviour when we first met. I had been having quite a trying day." The only movement he made was a shake of his head. The tails of the cloth covering his eyes fluttered a bit at the movement. "And, it appears that I had taken it out on you. Please…"
In a fit of anger, Erik grabbed the cloth at Raoul's left temple. His touch caused the man to flinch violently away from him and in the process, ripped the blindfold off. With his left hand, Raoul tried to snatch it back. Missing wildly, he hit Erik's shoulder but reacted as though he had meant the action as his fingers immediately grasped the material, jerking them closer together again.
"Monsieur," Raoul chastised through clenched teeth.
Erik did not bother shrugging off his hand. This was the first time he was seeing the man truly angry and even now, his control was admirable. Their proximity was actually quite beneficial as he could better see the blond's injuries. A network of white lines, scars of small incisions that had healed but had not been forgotten were mostly hidden by the welts and bumps that marred his forehead and bridge of his nose. Several of the scars were bad enough that it appeared as though they hadn't been able to extract the shrapnel, or rather, it would have been better to leave it instead of gouging into the young man's face.
From his left temple down his neck, the injury was different; it was the less defined scarring of skin wrinkled and leathery from an intense burn. It was worse near the nape, as though the soldier had turned away the last moment. Not fast enough however. More interestingly, in this light, it was easier to see the blue his eyes might have been without the injury. The left eye was noticeably worse – the milky film more cloudy – and its eyelid drooped the slightest bit. It was only noticeable because Erik was searching for such imperfections.
Exhaling sharply from his nose, Raoul tried in a calmer tone, "Please return it" though it hardly sounded like a request. He had yet to release his grip on Erik's jacket. In fact, he held on tighter as though he was expecting him to run away with the piece of cloth. Erik conceded that would be the easiest way to lose the viscount. There was little chance he would be able to keep up much less have any hope of finding an opera ghost.
The control Raoul exhibited was becoming more annoying than admirable though. Had their positions been reversed and the blond had removed his mask, Erik would have raged at him, screaming and injuring him regardless of the fact that Raoul was blind and was currently unaware that Erik wore a mask at all. Was this man to be better than he in all ways? However, his annoyance was stifled when instead of standing taller as Erik knew to be the common response when demanding something back, Raoul took a slight step back with his left foot. He lowered his grip on the cane as his body tensed, compacting and Erik was faintly reminded of a snake coiling before it attacked.
As fascinated as Erik was to see what Raoul could possibly do in his state, he instead grabbed the hand on his jacket, pressing the length of cloth against it. Even as he relinquished his hold on the material, he grabbed the viscount's wrist instead. "You have walked about without a cover for weeks," Erik noted.
Raoul tried to jerk his hand away, but Erik held fast. "I needn't explain myself to you," he spat out. His furrowed brow accentuated the scarring and at the moment, Erik was darkly pleased to see it.
"You will," Erik replied, jerking Raoul forward in a show of strength. The younger man stumbled a bit. "That is," he finished almost pleasantly, "if you wish to have your hand back."
Erik saw him glance down to where his hand was caught before his eyes closed rather deliberately. Raoul pressed his lips together in obvious refusal.
"You are quite stubborn," Erik commented.
"Take the cloth if you must." Raoul opened his hand and the material fluttered down to the red carpet. He had opened his eyes again for a moment and looked at Erik challengingly so, eyes focused as close to his face as they had ever been.
Erik stared back only realizing how pathetic doing so was when Raoul closed his eyes again, completely unaffected by his glare. He released Raoul's hand simply to pick the cloth up from the floor. By the time he stood though, the viscount was already several paces down the hallway, cane once again mutedly thudding against the floor. He easily caught up and fell into step with him.
He mockingly pointed out, "It is quite rude to walk away in the middle of a conversation. I do believe another apology is in order."
The viscount's jaw clenched but he did not respond. Upon further observation, Erik noticed the obvious effort it took the viscount to keep his eyes closed now, as though anger made him want to open them. The scarring wrinkled further at the bridge of his nose and at the corners of his eyes.
The young man before him was equal parts intriguing and annoying. Yet, Erik was wholly unable to stay away. All their similarities seemed only to breed differences, and for every similarity they shared, Erik despised him for it because each was a kindness that society withheld from him. Raoul avoided others when they so eagerly awaited his presence. They accepted his deformity and praised him for his bravery when they knew nothing of the circumstances that had disfigured him.
"You have no injury to your legs," Erik noted suddenly. There was no hitch in his stride. The cane swung forward slightly ahead before it tapped on the floor lightly and he pushed forward. There was no real pressure upon the cane.
"Indeed" was the curt reply, but the viscount was notably less tense, his control once again being exerted.
"Then why do you have a cane?" Erik asked, honestly intrigued by its presence. He scoffed, "Do you seek to obtain more pity for your situation?"
Instead of snapping at him, the viscount simply gripped his cane tighter, knuckles whitening. He let out a strained breath, head slightly bowed, and soon, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes were gone. As though weighing the pros and cons of answering Erik's question seriously, he spoke slowly, "Have you ever attempted to walk without your eyesight?"
Erik immediately thought to reply that doing so was no hardship. He had traversed the opera house for more years in complete darkness than Raoul had been blind. Mentioning that fact though would surely reveal his true identity.
"And," Raoul shrugged slightly. His free hand tapped his left ear once as he mentioned offhand, "I heard only ringing for about a month."
Erik's mind immediately filled in what the viscount had left unsaid. No eyesight and compromised hearing. It was little wonder that he had needed assistance. However, that was not quite what he focused upon – Raoul's statement suggested that his hearing had improved. Erik could not help but wonder to what extent. After all, the viscount had shown surprising dexterity when it came to locating his position in Box 4.
Raoul interrupted his train of thought by stating, "You are different from the others."
Erik scoffed, "It is you who treats me differently."
"No," Raoul replied with certainty. "You are very much unlike the others." He turned the corner when the hallway ended, and Erik was slightly taken off guard. It was not as though he had been waiting to see if the viscount would run into the wall, but he certainly would have waited until he had been quite close. He wondered now the exact purpose of their constitutionals – was it for health purposes or was it to gain familiarity with the building?
Raoul continued speaking, "It is in the way you walk and breathe." He took a deep breath. "In the way you smell."
Erik took a breath in himself but could smell nothing specific.
The corner of Raoul's lip quirked up. "I've never met anyone who has succeeded in incensing Henri to such a degree. Are you avoiding him? He is not as mean as he looks." He faltered only slightly at the last word of his sentence.
"What?" Erik could not quite follow the tangent.
"You have waited for him to leave and yet I am certain that you have followed us on several occasions," Raoul explained, his ire at Erik completely forgotten. "I had thought you were going to speak with me several times, and yet unlike the others, you did not. There must be a reason you have not approached me until now."
Erik took a slight step away to properly look at him. There had been several occasions when Erik had attempted to speak with him again, but there was no way that Raoul should have been able to know that. He had gotten close in Box 4 several times but the valet was always quick to return after the disturbances Erik created to distract him.
Raoul sighed loudly. In a deadpan, he remarked, "Try to restrain your disbelief of what minute intelligence I have revealed to you by that observation. Your low expectation of me is blaringly loud."
Erik was surprised to find himself stifling a snort of amusement. He glanced down at the cloth. "Stop walking."
Raoul turned his head towards him but eventually complied without question. When Erik moved to stand behind him, he tensed but remained as he was, and when Erik drew the cloth over his eyes, he did not start in surprise.
Raoul quietly explained when Erik began tying the material, "People find my wounds gruesome." He did start when Erik's fingers brushed his forehead as he straightened a wayward fold in the material. He cleared his throat before continuing, "I am to be present at tonight's gala. My intent is to dispel the gossip not create more." Erik dropped his hands from the cloth abruptly, realizing that his touch had lingered. Thankfully, Raoul seemed to notice nothing amiss. "I've been told I have a tendency to… look about. It disconcerts others."
Erik gave a noncommittal noise in response. He rather preferred being able to see the man's eyes despite the lack of focus. In fact, there had been several instances already when they had been disconcertingly focused on him.
Raoul turned around to face him once again. "Who are you?"
And that was the one question that made Erik really pause. If there had been any reason to be grateful for the delay in this meeting, it would be because he had been given time to think. He could be anyone to this man. The question was who he wanted to be. The prospects of not being the opera ghost or an angel to someone had driven him to distraction lately. What he had not expected was for the viscount to already realize he was not simply another resident of the opera house.
"You are not one of them," Raoul added.
Erik did not need to ask who they were, and he had the distinct impression they were not confined to the residents of the opera house.
"It is…" the young man hesitated, searching for a proper word, "a relief."
Erik glanced down the hallway at almost the exact time Raoul did and he hastily replied with as near to the truth as he could manage, "A resident and an outcast."
"But…" Raoul started, turning to naught but empty space. The opera ghost was already quickly making his escape from the group of people that approached.
A/N: Don't forget to R/R (Read and Review)!
Fic Review: Oh, original plotbunny had Raoul and Christine still being childhood sweethearts actually, but I think him not knowing her works just as well. The plotbunny fluctuates between the two – there are good plot points for both cases (I think the non-childhood sweethearts version would actually be more straightforward, of course). If you need an explanation for why Raoul wouldn't have met Christine when he was younger, just believe that he was so intent on joining the military that he hardly paid any attention to Swedish musicians. ;3