Disclaimer - I don't own phantom. *weeps*
Summary - What if Erik managed to escape the gypsy camp early on and got taken in by a foster family? What if Gustaav Daae hadn't died all those years ago? How would the story have changed?
A/N - Erik doesn't wear a mask in this story for reasons that will be explained later on. His is deformity is based (loosely) on Von Recklinghausen disease so would look more like the design in the stage musical than the book. Confusingly I ended up using the book a lot for Christine's character, making her a bit older than the musical and a bit more...qualified?
In the smoky chaos of the Gare de l'Est stood a rather unusual figure. He emerged from the billowing steam of the overnight train from Zurich, his long woollen coat almost touching the ground and his wide brimmed had pulled down over most of his face but not quite obscuring what appeared to be the excessive scarring underneath. There was no doubt that this was the man Monsieur Reyer had volunteered to meet. The man appeared to be about twenty years his junior, but in spite of his unfortunate appearance his eyes held an authority that dissipated any pity Reyer might have been feeling. He had been well informed about the details of the talented young conductor and occasional composer and had known what to expect, but he dreaded to think about how the rest of the company would react.
Erik Johan Spielmann was undoubtedly a rising star in Vienna, although a certain degree of prejudice and more than a few professional enemies had hindered his career. People would find any excuse to cut a person down it seemed, because from what he had heard of the man's symphonic works Reyer could not believe that kind of talent could be so underrated. When the stranger had applied for the position of musical director at the Opera Garnier after the announcement of Monsieur Reyer's retirement, the older man had not hesitated to recommend him to the new management. It was a controversial choice perhaps, hiring a foreigner; a penniless composer with Jewish roots and a visible handicap, but Reyer had won in the end and through some strange instinct he knew that the Opera would be left in capable hands.
"Herr Spielmann, I presume." He said cheerfully holding out his hand.
"You presume correctly, and you must be Monsieur Reyer." The younger man replied and awkwardly shook his hand. His manners were polite yet strained and his French was excellent but still held traces of an accent.
The pair left the station into the mid-morning sunlight deciding to visit Herr Spielmann's lodgings first to drop off his luggage, then straight to the opera for an informal tour. Reyer was surprised that the new director had come alone and without a manservant but thought it rude to ask. The cab driver kindly helped them with the heavy trunk and cases and earned a generous tip in doing so. They quickly arrived at the Rue des Rosiers, where Herr Spielmann explained that a friend of his father's had agreed to rent a room to him. The area was unfamiliar to Reyer although it was within walking distance from the opera. It was the kind of place that had once been majestic but had become shabby from years of neglect. As he listened, not a word of French could be heard from its inhabitants that surrounded them but a mixture of German dialects that he did not understand. The room in question turned out to be above an antiquarian book shop, its dusty shelves carrying a respectable but mostly foreign collection. As they entered the building they were greeted by a wizened Austrian gentleman mostly hidden behind a cloud of wispy facial hair, Reyer assumed this was the family friend come landlord. There were introductions, and handshaking and keys exchanged and conversations that Reyer only half understood with his rudimentary German. "How is your father's health?" ect.
"It doesn't matter much to me, but my father insisted that I live here." Herr Spielmann explained once the little man, whose name was Herr Oppenheimer, was out of earshot. It might have been Reyer's imagination but it seemed as though he was a little embarrassed at the humble room they had just entered. "...Something to do with embracing the familiar."
Reyer nodded. "Well, I suppose he'd want you to be reminded of home in a strange city."
"Home is a state of mind, monsieur." His companion said. "Its location is relative."
Erik carefully inspected the room like a cat exploring uncertain territory. It was small but clean and well maintained, simply decorated in white with dark wooden furniture. There was a brass bed, a wash-stand, a desk, a wardrobe and chest of drawers and to his amusement someone had moved an old upright piano into the corner, Frau Oppenheimer most likely. In a way it didn't matter what was in the room. Erik was a man of very few possessions, the type of man who only returned home to sleep and spent the rest of his time working. Erik had many acquaintances and colleagues but very few true friends. He was well thought of back in Vienna, but never truly respected. Whether it was his face, his status as an orphan or the religion of his foster family, someone would always put him down. It frustrated him to no end that he would receive praise on his work as a conductor or on his compositions but be disregarded thanks to something so insignificant. Erik had learned a long time ago that he would always be faced with a certain degree of persecution. It had left him hardened and self contained and as stubborn as a barnacle.
There had been a time when he had wanted nothing more than to hide away forever, perhaps wear mask and sink into an eternal state of anonymity. There had been a time when he had wanted to end his own life which was most likely the reason why he had been pressured to stay with a family friend instead of living alone in a foreign country. That fact that one person cared for his welfare in such a way was the very reason he had not been able to go through with it. One of the few certainties in Erik's life was that if it hadn't been for his foster father, he would have died a long time ago. It pained him to remember his early life, abandoned at birth in a foundling hospital, sold only six years later to a travelling carnival, always moving, always hungry. They had travelled all over Europe although he hadn't seen any of it, but as the caravan had approached Vienna his jailers had met with disaster. A disaster for them, but a blessing for him for at the end of it all he found himself taken into the care of a man named Dr Johan Spielmann and his ageing mother and the nameless 'devil's spawn' had finally found a home.
"I suppose it shall do for now until you can find somewhere larger." His companion said cheerily, perhaps little too cheerily. The man obviously felt nervous around him, after all there weren't many good things about the persona he put forth. "And of course you'll have plenty of reading material."
"Yes, that is bonus isn't it." Erik replied. "Now, I believe you suggested paying a visit to the opera."
As the two men strolled the short distance to the Palais Garnier the conversation slipped onto the easy topic of work. Actually, work was probably Erik's only conversation topic since it was all he did and was certainly the only means in which he interacted with other people. So when Reyer revealed that the managers would most likely be throwing a ball to celebrate his appointment the new director could only groan slightly in annoyance.
"It's only to appease the patrons, Herr Spielmann, so they can meet you in person. You know what they're like, they always want to think they have a say in things."
"I think it's fairly obvious that they won't like me. Perhaps they should skip the festivities and save some time."
"Ah, but half of them are only there for the festivities. Any excuse really." Reyer joked.
The opera house had only been finished a few years previously. He was briskly shown around the empty stage and orchestra pit, the rehearsal rooms one of which was filled with chattering ballerinas and the offices. Everything was exquisite but such a grandiose investment needed to be a success and Erik was fully aware that the management had taken a considerable risk in appointing him. The magnitude of the job hit him, even more than leaving Vienna or living in a new place. This was what everything depended on, his ability to pull the finest performance possible from the well oiled machine that was the orchestra and vocalists. The creative director could weave a story, the designers and seamstresses could create a world of illusion, but if there was no music the opera would be reduced to nothing.
"Gustaave! Don't tell me she roped you into accompanying the dance rehearsal again." Reyer's voice interrupted Erik's neurotic train of thought as another gentleman passed them in the foyer. He was older than Erik although perhaps not as old as Monsieur Reyer. He was thin and had a sickly look to him that his cheerful smile couldn't quite conceal.
"I can't exactly say no to Mme. Giry now, can I? The woman's powers of persuasion are quite terrifying." The new arrival replied taking a pair of gloves out of his coat pocket and slipping them on.
"Herr Spielmann, allow me to introduce you to Gustaave Daae, arguably our most talented violinist." Reyer said with a wry smile.
The violinist, Gustaav Daae, was visibly startled by Erik's appearance but the conductor was used to that kind of reaction. The collection of growths that covered more than half of his face weren't pleasant to look at. The other man would then either try not to stare out of awkward politeness, or openly gawk at him. Thankfully, Daae did the former and hesitantly shook his hand.
"Wonderful to finally meet you, Herr Spielmann, the whole company has talked of nothing else all week." Gustaav said, his unease quickly giving way to the kind of condescending cheerfulness that people often greeted him with. It used to get on Erik's nerves, but he had learned to tolerate it over the years.
Erik's condition, which had only recently been given a name, was an inherited disease. The main symptoms of this were a number of benign tumours and lesions on and under his skin, the worst of it appearing on the right side of his face and down his neck and right shoulder blade. His right eye whose pupil should have been greyish blue like its partner was freckled with unusual spots making the eye appear brown from a distance and rendering it almost blind. His forehead was larger than average which only seemed to enhance the distortion and he had once been prone to fits as a child.
"How do you do?" the conductor replied "Forgive me Monsieur, but weren't you one of the late Professor Valerius's protégés in the Royal Academic Orchestra?"
"Oh, you knew the professor?" the older man's seemed taken aback at this and seemed to relax a little, as if to imply that any friend of the Professor's must be worth knowing.
"He was staying in Vienna when I was a student. He was a truly inspirational man." Erik replied. The eccentric aristocrat turned professor of Music Theory had been an invaluable friend and patron at the beginning of his career.
"I think a lot of people would agree with you, Monsieur. Now if she ever manages to escape from those chattering ballerinas, my daughter and I were about to have lunch. Perhaps you gentlemen would care to join us?" Daae continued suddenly seeming eager to discuss the subject of their late mentor further, Erik was about to make his excuses and politely turn him down when from across the foyer he caught glimpse of a pre-Raphaelite angel demurely descending the grand staircase.
Erik had never had many opportunities when it came to meeting women. He generally kept his distance knowing that he would probably repulse even the most saintly of females, and kept his professional interactions with singers and performers as brief as possible. So when he was faced with the vision before him in a black cord jacket and dark blue skirts all thoughts seemed to simultaneously leave his brain and he knew that he was in trouble.
She couldn't have been more than eighteen years old and bore a great likeness to the ageing violinist before him; the same blue eyes and the same broad smile.
"Ah Christine, there you are." Daae called and gestured for the heavenly creature to join them. "This is Erik Spielmann, he'll be taking over as musical director next season."
Erik could almost feel the mortification building up inside him as the girl looked up at him nervously, expecting her to scream or faint at the sight of him. He wasn't being paranoid, things like that had happened to him before. Instead upon hearing his name the beautiful creature suddenly brightened and even held out her hand with a shy "Good day, Monsieur." He did not dare kiss it; for fear that he would surely infect such a beautiful offering even through her kid gloves. He shook it instead, feeling the warmth of her skin even through the two layers of soft leather they were wearing, but the moment was over far too soon and he was left feeling awkward and terribly rude for greeting her so bluntly.
"Well gentlemen, shall we be off?" he heard her father say cheerfully, and instead of declining as he had planned, Erik could only nod dumbly hardly able to tear his eyes away from that curious smile.
Whenever she thought back to the first time she met Erik Spielmann, Christine would always feel slightly ashamed that the first thing she felt was pity. While his face had played a part in this reaction, she had imagined how difficult having such a handicap must be in such an unforgiving world and had felt it.
She also noticed how uncomfortable he looked in that wide and golden foyer with its sculpted angels, as though he wanted to disappear into himself and hide away. She could have lied to herself and named the feeling compassion or sympathy but in the darkest recesses of her conscience she knew that it was pity and nothing else.
How foolish she had been to pity such a brilliant man. Her father had brought her into the circle, his hand resting lightly between her shoulder blades, overprotective as always, and had introduced them. And all at once she had realised that the strange and shy man she had pitied was in fact someone she had known for years, not in person of course, but through her studies.
This was the creator of some of her favourite pieces that obscure though they were and in spite of their simple composition were maddeningly difficult to play or sing and filled her with satisfaction upon mastering them. His music was filled with a strange folksong-like magic, a timeless beauty that reminded her of many a carefree summer by the sea during her childhood. It reminded her of the Swedish market towns and weary travellers. And all at once she found herself unable to speak, she often felt self-conscious at the best of times but this sudden attack of shyness seemed extreme even for her.
Throughout her time at the conservatoire, Christine had felt that this was the direction that music should be taking. It was the driving factor behind her decision to study composition in addition to her voice lessons. She had been given the luxury of a generous allowance for her studies left to her in Dr Valerius' will, more than enough to simply train as a singer as they had originally planned. So she had decided to expand her studies and put the money to good use.
Raoul had laughed when she had announced it, saying surely she had enough work to do already and what on earth would she want to write music for of all things. But then Raoul didn't really understand the arts, he had tried to learn the violin once when they were children but even her father who was the most supportive man in the whole world had gently told him to put it down and never touch the instrument again. As much as she loved her oldest friend, the young man's obvious privilege had begun to drive a wedge between them. Things like class didn't matter when you were children, but as they had journeyed into adulthood it would often rear its ugly head. In spite of their tearful goodbye as he had left with the navy, Christine had not missed him as much as she thought she would.
The four of them ate a simple lunch at one of the cafes nearby and talked about the upcoming season over generous portions of soup d'Indo-Chine and brown bread. The three men mainly discussed the current production of Anna Bolena. Erik noticed that Christine had remained silent throughout the meal, although whether it was through shyness or boredom was debatable. Either that or his face was beginning to put her off her lunch and she was too polite to say anything. The thought made him paranoid; perhaps all the horror stories Reyer had been regaling them with about the company's resident diva, La Carlotta had made him anxious. He was normally good at dealing with difficult performers, in fact he had earned a bit of a reputation as an absolute tyrant, but this was a new theatre in a foreign country. What if nobody respected him?
"But who knows, perhaps in a year or two Mlle. Daae will be joining the company. It will be good to finally have some new talent around." Reyer said, the mention of the girl's name suddenly bringing him out of his neurotic daze and back into the room.
"You're a singer?" he asked, turning to look directly at the quiet young woman beside him.
"Yes, but I'm still studying." Christine replied, barely above a whisper.
"My daughter is a promising talent, monsieur. We're all very proud of her." Daae chimed in making the girl blush "Promising, yet extremely modest. Dr Valerius left us a portion of his will for her to attend the Conservatoire de Paris."
"That's very generous." Erik exclaimed, if the doctor had been willing to fund her education then it was fair to say that the girl possessed a formidable musical ability.
"Yes, I'm very grateful." Christine nodded; very few women were able to complete their studies at the conservatoire.
"Yes, I was asked to give a lecture there in a few weeks. Perhaps you'd like to attend." He replied, and perhaps it was his imagination but he could have sworn that her eyes lit up.
"It would be an honour, Monsieur. That would be wonderful."
A/N - Well after a long period of writing art history papers and subsequently having writer's block I finally had an idea. Is it worth continuing though, that is the question. Please read and review and I'll love you forever.