Persephone1:I happened to see the Phantom of the Opera movie about a year ago, and immediately fell in love with the music and the story. As I am apt to do with any movie, book, television show I happen to like, my mind immediately applied it to Code Geass. So when, months later, LawliPop,my friend and fellow PotO fan, asked for participants in a CG/PotO rp, it was as if it was meant for to be. After a long stream of PMs discussing the ideas and mechanics, the thing grew into a full blown collaborative fic. So that's the story. Anything to add, Lawli?
Lawli: I think that pretty much covers it... Seriously though, I've been waiting ages to write some kind of Phantom crossover - but one that wasn't just an obvious re-casting of the movie/musical. I think (hope) we've done a nice job making it original while still keeping key elements from the movie, musical and books alike. ^-^ But I guess that's for the readers to decide, haha...
Rated M for future chapters.
He couldn't remember ever being so cold. The wind whipped at him, trees groaning under its force, and each drop of rain stung like the prick of a needle. But even as his clothes clung to his body, chilling him to the bone - he felt none of it. His awareness had been left behind, frozen at the top of a grand staircase at the sound of gunshots.
People passed him by, uncaring of how the little boy shivered. In their eyes, he was just another homeless child, attempting to con others out of their hard earned money by inspiring pity and tugging on heartstrings. There were others like him huddled on every street corner, and whether or not he froze to death alone in the night was none of their concern. After all, he wasn'ttheir child.
He pulled his cloak closer, the hood veiling his eyes. Once it had offered sufficient protection, but now it was drenched and useless. He may as well have been wearing a blanket of ice as the frigid drops beat down on him, cold and unforgiving, just like the world.
And then it stopped.
Surprised, the little boy looked up, unable to comprehend the unexpected miracle. The first thing that registered in his mind was: green. Wide green eyes, so out of place among the blacks and muted grays, blinked owlishly down at him. The boy was about his own age, tiny against the people and buildings but somehow infinitely more substantial. He'd never truly believed in a higher power, but it could only be a messenger of God who stood before him, holding out an umbrella, unfazed bythe rain now soaking through his own thin clothing.
He didn't know what to do. Adults were cruel, and children more often than not crueler still; so he just stared at the boy, half-expecting him to laugh, revealing the cruel joke. But the boy merely took a step closer, urging the umbrella towards him until, fingers trembling with uncertainty, he took it in his own grasp.
There was a flash of teeth - a smile that lit up the boy's entire face, making his eyes sparkle - before, quickly as he came, he disappeared into the crowd.
The handle of the umbrella was warm from use. He cradled it against his chest.
He'd never received a gift before, and belatedly he realized that he had never even thanked his savior or asked for his name.
Who is this Angel?
The only memories Suzaku had of his mother were of her playing the piano. He used to sit on her lap and watch her long fingers glide across the keys. Sometimes she would allow him to assist her (in his own, toddler-like fashion) but he had always preferred to listen. There had been something magical about the way the sounds resonated throughout the room, as if his mother had channeled all the beauty and wonders of the world through her hands and lovingly guided them into existence.
He was older now, but music had never lost its magic for him. After his mother died, it became the only connection Suzaku had to her. He could no longer recall her face or her warmth, but he remembered her songs, and could feel close to her through them, even if she remained a stranger in every other way.
It was for this reason that he loved his job. He had undergone many changes of employment, especially for his young age of nineteen. Finding a job wasn't so easy nowadays. Since the occupation, Britannians had taken over the management of nearly every business, and they didn't look kindly on natives. Suzaku had been fired more than he could count, the number only surpassed by the amount of times the door had been slammed in his face all together.
But the frustration and humiliation had been worth it, for all those failures were what led him to the Avalon Opera. As a child he had despised the building, once a palace of ancient emperors, turned into an ostentatious symbol of how Britannia was gradually taking over. But he had been foolish then. The Opera was a home of music, and music was universal, blind to matters as trivial as race.
The people,of course, were another manner entirely. They hadn't wanted to give Suzaku this job, but they had needed stagehands, and the strength of Suzaku's body had factored more heavily than the color of his skin and the shape of his eyes.
And after seeing Suzaku up in the rafters, pulling on ropes and arranging sets, any idea of letting him go swiftly departed. He moved up there with the grace of a cat, perfectly balanced on the thin wooden beams and maneuvering more easily than most did on solid ground. The stage director had even remarked that he might be better off joining the circus with the gypsies.
But Suzaku wasn't going anywhere. In the two weeks he had been employed at the Opera, he had found a home amidst the rafters, surrounded by the music he loved. In his opinion, there was no better seat in the house, and he rather enjoyed the adrenaline rush he received from looking down at the world from on high.
"If you keep your head in the clouds like that, you'll lose your balance," Rivalz, his fellow stagehand, chided him.
Suzaku raised an eyebrow. "You think so?" he asked, dangling a foot precariously over the edge.
Rivalz's eyes widened in alarm. He grabbed Suzaku's arm, pulling him towards more solid footing. "Are you insane? Do you wantto fall?"
Suzaku glanced at the ground. "I don't know, it might be kind of exhilarating. After all, there's not much difference between falling and flying. It's just a matter of perspective." At Rivalz's dubious expression, Suzaku laughed. "You worry too much, Rivalz."
"One day, your recklessness is going to kill you," Rivalz warned, rolling his eyes.
"But not today!" Suzaku replied cheerfully. "Now hush, rehearsal's starting."
Rivalz made a face. "Come on, it's not as if we haven't heard Clovis's rendition of Hannibal for the past two weeks. You can hear him from his dressing room, and that's bad enough."
Suzaku signaled for him to be quiet and Rivalz cut his complaint short, shaking his head. It wasn't Clovis he cared about hearing. The music to Hannibal was breathtaking, and the orchestra was all Suzaku needed to drown out Clovis's voice. Suzaku turned his gaze back to the stage - but not before a flutter of material caught his attention near the cyclorama. Interest piqued - he and Rivalz were the only ones allowed up here during rehearsals, so what on earth could it be? - He stepped away from the guard rail and made his way across the intricate plywood bridges that crisscrossed the stage from above.
Upon arriving upstage he found nothing. The ropes securing the boards he stood on swung with his movement, but other than that the rafters were still.
Heart leaping into his throat, Suzaku rushed back to his post, watching as Clovis emerged from underneath a collapsed backdrop.
"What the devil is going on up there, Eleven?" cried the stage manager.
Suzaku swallowed, unsure of what to say. There was no-one up here besides Rivalz and himself, and before the start of rehearsal he'd seen to it that all set pieces were properly secured.
"Don't look at us," Rivalz called out in response. "We've been at our posts the whole time!"
Even from far below them, Suzaku could tell the opera manager did not seem convinced. "Well if not you or the Eleven, who else could it have been?"
Rivalz grinned. "Maybe it was the ghost."
Suzaku blinked curiously, but before he could ask Rivalz just what he meant by that an outbreak of whispers erupted below him. The chorus girls talked frantically amongst themselves; Suzaku picked out select phrases such as, "he's here!" and, "the Opera Ghost!" - but it all made very little sense to him, and to the Opera's new manager, apparently.
"You're all obsessed," Bartley said, exasperated as he wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. "Clovis, I apologize for the... stupidityof our stagehands. But you must understand that occasionally these things happen."
Clovis pulled himself to his full height, adjusting the headpiece of his costume just-so. "These things happen," he repeated, voice low.
Beside him, Suzaku noticed Rivalz grip the guard rail as if to brace himself. As Clovis began to throw his tantrum, Suzaku quickly understood why. He'd never heard a grown man produce a sound quite so... shrill.
"- this is sabotage!" Clovis screeched, gesticulating wildly at Bartley as his voice reached octaves Suzaku was sure the leading sopranos would be jealous of. "I won't stand for it! And until you can stop thesethings from happening, this-" at this, his gestures turned to his own throat, "-does not happen!"
"Remind me to thank the Opera Ghost if we ever meet him," Rivalz whispered to Suzaku.
Bartley, however, did not seem to agree. "Please don't say that, Clovis," he begged. "We need you!"
There was something very pathetic about seeing a grown man groveling on his knees, especially to someone half his age.
"No!" Clovis yelled, crossing his arms petulantly. "I mean it, Bartley! An artist should not have to feel as if his life is in danger whenever he sets foot on the stage. I cannot work under such stressful conditions! I won't sing another note."
"Fine, then don't."
Both Bartley and Clovis turned their gaze towards the director of the choir.
She was known only as C.C.; no one knew her real name. She had joined the Opera about ten years ago, and veterans of the business claimed she hadn't aged a day since. Rumor had it that she was an immortal witch, over four hundred years old.
Bartley may have been the manager in name, but everyone knew it was C.C. who kept the place running. Nothing escaped her knowing amber gaze, and there wasn't a better eye for musical talent in Britannia, colonized areas included. Clovis's shrill bullying may have had an effect on Bartley, but he wouldn't scare the Witch of the Opera.
Clovis's eyes narrowed. "What did you say to me?"
C.C. smiled. "I'm sorry, I wasn't aware you were hard of hearing. Though, it does explain a lot. What I said was, if you have no desire to sing, then don't do it. We'll find someone else."
It was not only Bartley and Clovis who took exception to her words, but the conductor of the orchestra as well. Clovis was the Opera's leading male; there had never been an understudy cast for his roles. Bartley shook his head frantically, trying desperately to smooth over the horrible situation. It was three days until the opening night of Hannibal and the performance was already sold out; he would be expected to refund a full house! "No! She doesn't mean that, Clovis! No one could possibly replace you!"
"Everyone can be replaced," C.C. drawled amidst the rising voices of the chorus. "It shouldn't be too hard finding someone to sing Hannibal's part. I'm sure there are at least one or two people in the chorus who have been practicing the role, just in case such an opportunity arose." The whispers immediately stopped, none of the chorus members wanting to be accused of such a thing. No-one knew knew Clovis's part, did they? No-one would dare rehearse it and face the man's jealous wrath! "Who knows? We may even discover a diamond in the rough and eliminate the need for you altogether."
Clovis made a face as if he had just swallowed something very slimy and bitter. "That... won't be necessary," he said stiffly. "I'll sing."
"Don't force yourself," C.C. said sweetly. "If the conditions are too much for you..."
"N-no, I'll do it," Clovis insisted. "I want to."
"All right then," C.C replied, smiling brightly. "From the top, maestro!"
Rivalz groaned. "Should have known that wouldn't last."
Suzaku nodded dully, but his mind was still on the fallen backdrop. He was certain that he had secured it properly; he had even double-checked just to make sure.
And then he remembered the flutter of fabric he'd spotted out of the corner of his eye. There was no possible way that someone could have gotten up to the rafters without anyone noticing. It had to have been Suzaku's imagination, but he couldn't get Rivalz's words out of his head.
"Maybe it was the ghost."
The Avalon Opera was haunted.
Even those who were not regular patrons knew of the ghost's existence, although no one - not even the crew members who had been around since the building's construction - could honestly claim to have ever seen it.
"Of course you can't see him. He's not visible to the human eye. But he's certainly here. He has his own ways of making his presence known... today's rehearsal, for example."
Perhaps the most invested in the old horror story was Milly Ashford, headstrong prima donna of the Opera house. It was rumored that the Opera Ghost was the one who helped with the advancement of her career, catapulting her by means of 'amiable letters to the management' from background dancer in the corps de ballet to leading lady.
"So these letters are the only proof you have of his existence?" Suzaku, who had lingered backstage after the rehearsal in hopes of getting some questions answered, did not look convinced. "How do you know they're not fakes?"
"They're not." Milly removed some of the pins from her hair, allowing the curls to fall loose. Suzaku opened his mouth to protest, but she interrupted him. "You don't have to see something in order to believe in it. But if you really need convincing..." her lips curved into a daring smile, eyes darting to the upper galleries of the house, "perhaps you should spend some time in Box Five."
"Box Five?" Suzaku repeated, following her gaze.
It looked no different than any of the other boxes, but now as he thought about it he realized that he'd never actually seen that box sold for a performance.
"That's his box," Milly explained. "He comes to every performance, and if he's pleased he'll leave a token."
There was something in her voice that sent a chill down Suzaku's spine. "...And if he's not pleased?" At this point he wasn't even sure he wanted to hear the answer, so he was somewhat thankful when she was called away by the choir director to go over notes from the rehearsal.
The Ghost appeared to be the Opera's favorite topic. So much so that Suzaku couldn't believe he hadn't heard about it beforehand. Everyone claimed to have had encounters with him, felt his presence or heard his voice. It wasn't strange, as theatre folk were notoriously superstitious. What Suzaku took issue with was that everyone seemed to expect him to know all about the subject.
"I'm sorry," he said to a group of ballerinas, admirably hiding his irritation, "but I have no idea how to perform an exorcism."
One girl pouted. "But you're an Eleven, aren't you? I thought you people knew all about that sort of thing. Unless," her eyes narrowed, "you're in league with it. I bet your people summoned it here!"
"Leave the poor man alone!" a voice barked harshly, making the corps de balletjump.
Kallen Stadtfelt, the prima ballerina, was known for her sharp temper and sharper tongue. She was also known for her long legs, which she regularly used to execute both graceful pirouettes and roundhouse kicks to anyone who dared to cross her. Her most notable claim to fame was, upon discovering her hair was getting in the way of her performance, rather than pulling it up into a bun as was customary, simply grabbing a pair of scissors from the costume room and hacking most of it off.
The little ballerina turned to her leader, holding her head up bravely (meanwhile she was visibly shaking in her pointe shoes). "Well, we have to find some way of defending ourselves. This place is haunted! It's only a matter of time before one of us gets attacked!"
Kallen rolled her eyes. "Why would anyone want to haunt you? You're not that interesting. And anyway, if you have time to waste with foolish superstitions, you should have time to practice, right? Or are you in your tights simply to turn heads?"
The girl flushed brightly and, with one last glare at Suzaku (as she didn't have the courage to do so at Kallen), she exited, taking her little entourage with her.
"I'm sorry about them," Kallen sighed. "All this ghost talk has destroyed whatever small amounts of reason in those girl's silly little heads... I swear, someone comes into the dressing room every week screaming about a sighting."
"It's okay," Suzaku assured her, a little surprised that she was actually talking to him. In the theatre hierarchy, stagehands were the lowest of the low, especially foreigners. First tier members didn't usually associate with him (Milly was an exception; she talked to everyone).
"So," Suzaku began hesitantly, "you don'tbelieve in the ghost then?"
Kallen shrugged. "It's not that I don't believe in it, I've just never seen it. No-onehas. I don't doubt the possibility that ghosts may exist, but if I'm going to believe something, I have to see it for myself."
Suzaku nodded. "Yes, exactly!"
"Of course, there's a very simple way of proving or disproving his existence," Kallen said. "Someone would just have to investigate Box Five. Milly's been daring people to go up there for years, but no one ever does. They're all too afraid that there is a ghost, or too afraid that there isn't one."
"Why haven't you gone up there?" Suzaku asked.
"I suppose it's the latter reason," Kallen replied. "Whether I believe it or not, I like the novelty of the idea. After all, what's a theatre without its ghost?"
Suzaku nodded in understanding.
Kallen smiled, and it was very special because, as far as Suzaku could tell, it didn't happen often. "But I can tell that you're different. You honestly want to know the truth, and I admire that. My only request is that, when you look at Box Five, you keep your discoveries to yourself. The truth would only destroy the mystery, no matter what conclusion you come to."
Without waiting for his answer, Kallen turned away, presumably heading towards her room. For a brief moment Suzaku watched her go, but then he turned his head upward. Box Five loomed up in the first tier. He couldn't believe something sinister was going on up there, but he couldn't help his curiosity. He had seen somethingin the rafters, he was certain of it; and if Box Five held all the answers, he was going to find them.
He waited until night fell before sneaking back into the theatre. The boxes were always locked when they weren't in use, so rather than taking the conventional method of the stairs, Suzaku simply started at the lower sections and climbed his way up. Each box had its own balcony which he used as a foothold. There wasn't too much distance between each level, and his fear of heights was pretty much nonexistent, so the task was easily accomplished.
Box Five was probably the most ideal seating in the house. The high vantage point offered an excellent viewing angle, and it was directly opposite of the stage. Keeping it empty for every performance must have cost the manager quite a sum of money. But aside from the view it was completely ordinary, and completely empty.
For whatever reason, however - call it anxiety; maybe Milly's words were getting to him, and maybe that had been her aim all along - he couldn't shake the distinct feeling that he was being watched, and Suzaku's instincts were rarely wrong.
"Hello?" Suzaku called. "Is anyone here?"
No answer, and of course there wouldn't be. There was no ghost! Suzaku had just heard one too many ghost stories, and he laughed at his foolishness. Although, if Suzaku had truly been honest with himself, he would have been unable to discern whether that laughter was relieved or disappointed.
Shrugging, Suzaku leaned over the balcony. So this is what rich people saw. The view was good, sure, but he would have to say he still preferred the rafters. There was no way of getting any closer to the music, save for actually being on stage. It was actually kind of amusing, people paying huge amounts of money for what he not only got for free, but was paidto be there. Truly, he had the best job in the world.
It was still interesting to see the stage from this side of the curtain though, and impulsively Suzaku climbed onto the railing, curious at what the highest point in the Opera house (aside from the roof, which people weren't allowed to climb, he'd already asked) felt like.
Smiling, Suzaku stretched out his arms. This was probably the closest he would ever get to flying, unless he actually didplummet over the edge like Rivalz always warned him he would.
"If you're absolutely determined to jump to your death," a voice suddenly interrupted, "I would be much obliged if you waited another half hour."
If it were not for the countless hours up in the rafters improving on his balance, Suzaku was certain that tumbling to his death would have been his fate. The unexpectedness of the voice did in fact make him stumble, but luckily for him he was near enough to a marble column to grab hold of it and steady himself. Heart hammering in his chest, Suzaku held his breath, wondering if that had just happened or if all the stories coupled with the darkness of the theatre were just fueling his imagination.
"Or," suggested the voice from absolutely nowhere, "perhaps choose another location entirely. Blood is a difficult stain to remove, and velvet a very delicate material."
There were a million things Suzaku wanted to say as he cautiously lowered himself from the balcony's railing - the most obvious being to ask who the voice belonged to (though undoubtedly it belonged to a man, making the ghost, if it really was the ghost, a male like everyone had assumed).
But instead of all the profound things he could have asked, the first thing he blurted was an accusation: "If I did fall, it would have been your fault."
The voice sounded amused. "Oh?"
Suzaku nodded, although he was unsure if the ghost - or whatever it was, maybe just another stagehand playing a prank - could even see him since he had no idea where the voice was coming from. Cautiously he began another slow inspection of the box, touching each of the velvet-cushioned seats as if to determine whether or not an invisible spectre inhabited one.
"I wasn't planning on killing myself." He didn't know why he felt the need to explain himself to something that may or may not be a product of his imagination, but nevertheless he continued. "I've never seen the stage from anywhere but above. I wanted to look from the best seat in the house. It was your voice that startled me."
"Startled you? But surely you know this is my private box."
Now Suzaku was really convinced this was an elaborate joke. Any moment now he expected someone to jump out from behind the curtains and cry 'boo!' Trying to keep his footsteps silent, he approached the curtains concealing the doors of the box; maybe he could give them a little surprise in return. "And who are you?"
Without waiting for a response, Suzaku threw back the curtain - discovering only the locked doors behind them. The box was completely empty, or so it appeared. A shiver ran down his spine and he asked again, an edge of nervousness to his voice, "Who are you?"
The fact that Suzaku no longer knew if he was dealing with an ordinary prankster or a supernatural being was more than enough to make him follow the command. Pressing his lips together, he moved back over to the railing, the sound of footsteps capturing his attention.
C.C. made her way across the stage, her long hair flowing behind her. Suzaku watched as she situated herself at the piano. In a matter of seconds, music filled the still air of the theatre.
"This is Faust," Suzaku said, recognizing it instantly. "Marguerite's ballad."
"You know it?" The voice sounded genuinely surprised.
"Yes." Of course he knew it. It was a tad insulting for anyone to suggest that, working in an opera house, Suzaku would be unfamiliar with such an acclaimed opera. "It's the King of Thule." It was one of the songs he remembered his mother playing so often on the piano, the sad song of being faithful to a lover even long after their death.
"And here I thought the stagehands just liked to look at dancing girls."
Suzaku couldn't help himself; he blushed. "That's an unfair assumption." Although it wasn't completely unfounded. He couldn't count how many times he'd caught Rivalz drooling over Milly.
The voice said nothing further, and so Suzaku contented himself with leaning against the marble column and listening to C.C. play out the final measures of the King of Thule.
"You should be on your way."
It was not the voice that spoke to him now, but C.C.; she'd finished the song and now stood beside the piano, staring out into the house. Suzaku blinked, wondering if he had been talking that loudly - and also curious as to whether or not C.C. heard the voice he had been conversing with. What was she doing in the theatre so late at night, anyway?
Realizing she could very well demand the same question of him - and, if she so desired, get him in a lot of trouble for snooping around the private boxes when they were supposed to be locked - Suzaku decided not to press his luck. Giving Box Five a final sweep with his eyes, Suzaku climbed back over the railing.
"And just how do you plan on getting back down?" came the voice again.
Suzaku smiled. "The same way I got up."
And he jumped.
"Was that wise?"
For as long as he could remember, C.C. had been an unfaltering presence in his life. She was his caretaker, his confidante; and as such he always valued her opinion even if he did outwardly find her frustrating more often than not.
She had been the one to rescue him from a harsh life on the streets, assist him in building his sanctuary within the bowels of the Avalon Opera. She was the one who ensured all the rumors of his existence remained only that: rumors. And for the past ten years she had been completely successful in all of it. He was eternally grateful for her, for the charitable kindness he still did not understand (she was clearly not afraid of him, so why go to such great lengths to assist him?) which, before meeting her, he had only experienced once before - with the little boy and the umbrella. That night so many years ago, the strongest memory of which he retained was the color green.
For years those eyes had haunted his memory. The boy was a regular visitor in his dreams, smiling and offering, instead of his umbrella, his hand. And he would take it, and he would let that boy lead him anywhere. To the ends of the earth - to unspeakable joy or unbearable sorrow - he would follow.
C.C. did not think it wise, but what luck to come across a pair of eyes so strikingly familiar! He hadn't believed it at first. He knew all the performers, everyone from the leading soprano to the background dancers. If they had performed on Avalon's stage, he knew their name as well as a rudimentary knowledge of their history. But he had never bothered to learn about the stagehands. It wasn't that he didn't view their job as important, he just never had an interest. While it was true the actual spectacleof the performance would not exist without them, they had nothing to do with music.
Who would have thought the daredevil scene-shifter, who scaled walls and quietly accepted constant derision and criticism from his superiors, could possibly be the savior from his memories?
But those eyes, they were unmistakable.
In all his life, he had never encountered an Eleven with such unique eyes. Only his savior. The rest of the boy's features were familiar as well; grown and matured, but undoubtedly the same as that little boy in the rain. It was him. After all this time, all the years pining to see him again - he was here.
And he was...
Dimly, he heard C.C. approach. "So, boy, what do you intend to do?" she asked.
For the first time, he realized he didn't know.
Suzaku was being watched. He could feel eyes on him, up in the rafters, while he was assembling sets, and whenever he was alone. It wasn't constant, but he felt the gaze often enough that it was beginning to scare him. He was not stupid enough to believe that the sensation starting right after his little exploration of Box Five was merely coincidence.
The truth was, Suzaku still wasn't sure just what had gone on that night. If it hadn't been for the continual feeling of eyes on his back, he may have chalked the entire evening up to a prank (it wouldn't have been the first time the others had tried to mess with the Eleven). But no one in the Opera would have gone as far as to actually stalk him.
Besides, the Ghost (if that was truly what he was) hadn't seemed malevolent. All the stories had led him to believe he was this mysterious, dark figure who ate souls and allied himself with the devil, but in Suzaku's conversation with him, he had seemed so...normal (or as normal as a disembodied voice couldbe). A tad annoyed, yes, but definitely not evil.
It took a physical nudge from Rivalz to make him realize he had missed his cue to fly in the backdrop for the next scene.
"Eleven!" the manager barked.
Why can't anyone learn my name? Suzaku thought dully.
"I'm sorry, sir," Suzaku apologized. "It won't happen again."
"It better not!" the man warned. "Do you realize that Hannibal opens tomorrow?"
How could he forget? Bartley only reminded them every thirty seconds.
"I believe that's my concern, Bartley," said Asplund, the stage director. "Why don't you go back to your office and do..." He made a waving motion with his hands, as if it was unfathomable to him just what a manager of the Opera actually did with his spare time, "paperworkor something?"
Bartley shot the director a dirty look, but nevertheless complied.
"All right, now that the mother hen is gone, I want to go over that last scene! Strings, you've been lagging behind! Don't think I haven't noticed, Weinberg!"
The orchestra started up again, and Clovis emerged at his cue.
"All right, Hannibal is on set!" Asplund looked skyward. "Lord help us."
As Clovis began his (agonizingly) long solo, Rivalz turned to Suzaku. "Hey, are you okay? You don't usually lose your head on set like that."
Suzaku nodded. "Yeah, I just haven't been sleeping well these last couple of days." That at least was true enough.
After rehearsal, just as Suzaku was about to help cleaning the stage, the director called out to him.
"Kururugi, may I see you for a minute?"
"Uh...yes, sir," Suzaku replied, a bit nervous.
The man led him to a spacious office made impossibly small by clutter. There were papers scattered on every available flat surface with no discernable filing system, old tea cups, their contents long drained, lying on the desk, and what appeared to be mathematical formulas written directly on the walls.
"Director Asplund-" Suzaku began.
"Call me Lloyd," the man cut in.
"Uh...okay, Lloyd. If this is about the backdrop-"
Lloyd interrupted again. "I don't care about that. What I'm interested in is your body."
Suzaku blinked slowly. "...What?"
"I only want to borrow it for a while," Lloyd said. "I promise I won't damage it too badly-"
This time, it was Lloyd who was cut off by a sharp smack to the head with a libretto.
"Lloyd! I thought we talked about rehearsing sentences internally before speaking," cried a pretty young woman with short hair.
Lloyd pouted, rubbing his bruised skull. "I did!" he protested. "This one passed!"
"Well, maybe a good rule of thumb would be that if youfeel it's appropriate, you shouldn't say anything," she responded. And then she turned to Suzaku with a smile on her face. "Hello, Mr. Kururugi. I'm Cecile Croomy, Lloyd's assistant."
Suzaku nodded, a bit unnerved that the woman's mood could change so fast. "Hi."
"Yes, yes, introductions all around! But back to what I was saying before, I truly believe that your body could greatly contribute to science! If you would just-"
"He wants you to be a guinea pig for his experiments," Cecile explained flatly.
"Experiments?" Suzaku repeated, puzzled.
"Yes! I am a scientist!" Lloyd informed him cheerfully.
"Oh...but, if you don't mind me asking si-Lloyd, why are you directing the opera then? Suzaku asked.
"What is music if not a science? It's a numerical organization of sounds that, depending on the tone, invokes an emotional response from the human brain! I find it all fascinating!" Lloyd answered, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet.
Suzaku had never really thought about it that way, but the man was right. However, hearing music referred to in that manner, dissected into numbers and biological responses, stirred a deep wrongness in his heart. It was so much more than that!
"But you disagree, don't you," Lloyd said, glasses gleaming knowingly. "You're one of those sensitive types. I don't suppose you're a musician as well, Kururugi?"
Suzaku shook his head sadly. "No. I've tried, but...I guess I just don't have a knack for that sort of thing."
"A pity," Lloyd sighed. "Well, I suppose you should go now, but do think over my proposal!"
Suzaku nodded. "I'll do that." Not too hard though, because it sounded a bit sketchy.
By the time he departed the director's office, the theatre was dark. Presumably all the stagehands and performers had left for dinner.
Suzaku shivered. He could feel them again. The eyes following his movements, making the hair stand up on the back of his neck. This was getting ridiculous. Why would a ghost take such interest in him? He was just another stagehand, not important by any means.
Well, his teacher had always taught him that, when dealing with a problem, it was best to face it head on.
Frowning, Suzaku scaled the rafters, scanning the vast expanse of the theatre for his watcher. Nothing.
"Come out!" he called. "I know you're there!"
Something fluttered into his line of vision. Suzaku felt a pang of anxiety as he remembered the material he knew he'd seen the other day. Perhaps it wasn't the smartest thing for him to challenge his pursuer to reveal himself when he still didn't know exactly what he was dealing with. The thing (the Ghost?) could attack him at any given moment. It hadn't seemed violent that night in Box Five, but Suzaku could hardly judge its character based on one conversation. Suzaku swallowed, bracing himself.
A note drifted down from above, landing innocently by his feet.
Warily Suzaku picked it up, turning the envelope over in his hands and noticing with a small amount of apprehension the red wax skull that sealed the folds together. It reminded him too much of blood, which he was sure was the intention, so he quickly tore it open in order to not have to look at it any longer.
The letter was penned in red ink, from what appeared to be the hand of a young child. Suzaku likened it to his own clumsy attempts at grasping the Britannian written language. On the other hand, it was well-worded.
Please find Box Five available this evening for your viewing pleasure.
Your humble and obedient servant,
Against what Suzaku believed to be his better judgment, he found himself that night in Box Five as the note had politely requested. As it did the other night, the box appeared to be completely empty, and when several minutes passed and O.G. (Suzaku snorted at that ill-disguised effort to be clever) did not so much as offer a word of greeting, Suzaku became frustrated not only with the obvious trick being played on him but also at himself for allowing it to continue this long.
"I mean it now," he said, slowly, because he knew someone was there even if they were too cowardly to show themselves. He could feel those eyes on him, even now. "Stop following me."
There was a beat, and then: "I'm curious to see how you would exact that threat when you don't even know where I am."
Suzaku was not amused. Gritting his teeth, he swung a leg back over the balcony ledge. They were goading him, probably trying to make him lash out - hoping for him to destroy the box, or react in some other violent way - in order to get him fired.
"The box is unlocked," the voice said, conversationally. "As it has been since I sent your invitation. I'm sure you're aware, you must have seen the key in your angry inspection several minutes ago."
It was true. He had seen the key, and the obvious setup behind it. They wanted to frame him as the Opera Ghost.
"So I must wonder why it is you insist on putting your life in danger," the voice continued, either unaware or choosing to be unaware of Suzaku's growing anger. "Do you hope to one day fall?"
Suzaku climbed back into the box. "If you really think you can frighten me out of this theatre, you're mistaken." This was his job, and he was staying no matter what this person did to him. He wouldn't let them intimidate him.
"Frighten you?" There was a short laugh. "That was never my intention. I invited you here, did I not?"
"As a setup," Suzaku accused.
"No," the voice corrected him. "Because you enjoy Faust, correct?"
Suddenly, Milly appeared on the stage, illuminated only by the gaslights at the foot of the apron. Suzaku felt a stab of panic as she stepped forward, opened her mouth and...
-started to sing.
It was beautiful. Marguerite's aria, but never as he'd heard her sing it before. She took no notice of him, or of anything, really. It was as if she was in a trance and the only thing she knew was the music. It filled the air, made Suzaku's heart heavy in his chest. But even as the music overtook him he couldn't shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong. Milly's eyes... there was something about her that didn't seem right.
"Where are you?" he demanded, hardly above a whisper.
Milly's voice climbed higher and higher, the song reaching its climax and then, abruptly, it stopped.
Her eyes turned to Box Five, but still she didn't seem to notice Suzaku's presence. She curtsied, blew a kiss, and if not for the red that rimmed her irises (had she been crying?) Suzaku would have thought she was back to normal.
She began another song. Suzaku recognized it as the aria from the second act of Hannibal.
"Please don't misunderstand," the voice said, and it was incredible how just the sound of it was able to calm him despite the fear that had so strongly gripped him. "You are in no danger here. I only wanted us to enjoy a private concert together."
Suzaku sighed, feeling the anxiety peel away, leaving only a peaceful contentment as the song continued to its second verse. He moved without realizing it, situating himself in one of the velvet-cushioned seats - beside the second from the left, where it was rumored the ghost himself always sat.
"Milly sings for you often?" Suzaku wondered.
"I've promised to help her career progress. Some nights she sings for me, and I give her advice on how to improve. In return, she keeps my secret."
He couldn't imagine Milly keeping anyone's secrets. "She's the only one who knows you're real?"
"And now you."
Suzaku hesitated. "...Areyou real?" Was this really happening? The Opera Ghost was really here, talking to him - it wasn't just a trick?
"I'm certainly not a product your imagination," said the voice, indignant.
Suzaku didn't know why that made him laugh, but it did. Maybe it was just the whole ridiculous situation. Here he was, sitting up in Box Five - the box that was never sold, no matter what - conversing with the Opera Ghost, while the prima donna gave them a private concert in exchange for a vocal lesson! It was madness!
"Why me?" he had to ask, once his laughter - which the Ghost did not join in on - had subsided. Out of all the fascinating performers within the Opera, why would the Ghost take interest in a lowly stagehand and invite him up to his box?
The Ghost was wryly amused when it replied. "You're speaking with a disembodied voice, and that is what you want to know?"
Suzaku flushed. He'd thought it was a rather legitimate question...
"I think that is why I like you."
Suzaku laughed again. "Seems to me that you're hard up for conversation. Are you lonely?" The question slipped out before he could rein it in, and Suzaku cursed himself for asking something so personal.
There was a long pause. "...Perhaps," the voice admitted quietly.
The answer was honest, unexpectedly so, and Suzaku found himself following the voice's example. "Me too." And that in itself was surprising, because Suzaku hadn't realized he was lonely until now. As much as he loved the opera house, he couldn't help but be acutely aware that he was an intruder (ironic, considering that he had been here first). There was Rivalz of course, but Suzaku had never felt as if he could really talk to him. Not about anything that mattered.
"Maybe we could keep each other company, sometimes?" Suzaku suggested, without thinking or really knowing why.
"I'd like that," the voice answered, after a brief silence.
Somehow, Suzaku knew that the Opera Ghost was smiling.
Persephone1: This is the end of the first chapter. Updates should be fairly regular, since we're actually ahead a few chapters. Unless we hit collective writer's block. I'm sure LawlipOpwould say something too, but I really want to post this, and I don't want to wait for her to come online. Sorry, Lawli!
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