Author's Note: Happy AkuRoku Day! This here is a ridiculously overdue commission for the incredibly kind and patient World-at-peace! (Love and a million hugs for her!) It's a Phantom of the Opera story, starring Axel and Roxas! :D This little rendition is a funny mish-mash of versions, I must admit. There are a lot of things you may not recognize from the musical/movie - I probably took more from the book (by Gaston Leroux) than from the Andrew Lloyd Webber version. And then there's parts that are all mine, just to mix things up a bit more! 8D
So then, Don Giovanni lines belong to Mozart, Tristan und Isolde are Wagner's, and this new, made-up story for Don Juan Triumphant is mine. (I figure, hey, there's actually nothing in the book regarding what that musical was about - it was just the Phantom's masterpiece. So if Mr. ALW can pull a plot for it out of his ass, I can do it to!) XD And we have the play within a play. :)
*collapses* Now...on to...the next...fic... *dies* XD
The night sky above Paris never seemed to grow completely dark. The stars never dusted the sky with their true beauty, and the moon was never the most glorious light beaming out over the rooftops of Paris. The Opera Populaire outshone them all, making the darkest night into a splendid, glittering day, even into the early hours of the morning.
On this particular night, the Opera was even more dazzling than was customary. It was the farewell party for the former manager, as well as the welcoming party for the new managers. The old manager, Monsieur Xehanort, was retiring to the tropics after fifteen years in his role. The new managers, Messieurs Xemnas and Saïx, were new to the arts. They had earned a reputation in the medical field for their coronary research, but aged doctors and professors of medicine made for very dull company after a time. The Opera Populaire was the exact opposite of dull. It had divas, dramas, diamonds and wine, royal patrons, red carpets, sensational gossip, mysterious legends – even its very own resident ghost, if the little ballerinas were to be believed. Excitement was something the Opera had in abundance.
The farewell party was no exception – toasts, food, wine, dancing, more toasts, speeches from the leading artistes of Paris, speeches from the management, both old and new, then even more toasting. The celebration lasted until dawn, and everyone went to bed quite drunk. It was, in short, a party only the finest theater in Paris could throw – the dawning of a bright new era.
In the dark and deserted backstage area, a crack of faint light filtered into the narrow hallway from under the door of one dressing room in the performers' wing. The light was nothing more than a single lamp, and the room which passed for a dressing room was hardly more than a closet – one closet among many, given to the most insignificant cast members at the Opera. Along with the filtering rays of light, a soft sound could be heard from under the door – a gentle tenor voice singing a soothing melody.
Within the dressing room, the singer was bent over his washbasin, interrupting his singing each time he splashed water on his face. Strands of golden hair clung to his face damply until he brushed them away with a hand towel as he dried his face. Roxas, a simple chorus boy, had taken advantage of his lack of importance and escaped the party shortly after dinner. The noise and chaos of the crowd was tiring – thankfully, he would not be missed. Rather than waste the evening getting drunk and dancing, he vanished into his dressing room to freshen up. He also wanted some quiet to practice – although he did not sing the more difficult solos, Roxas understudied for several of the other singers. Some he was assigned to as an understudy, but often he studied extra parts, just in case.
Tonight he was singing Don Giovanni. Roxas had no real hope to be cast as a Giovanni any time soon, so there was no need for him to be practicing Lá ci darem la mano, and yet…perhaps he simply liked the song. As he folded and put away the hand towel, his warm tenor voice expressively sang the famous romance.
"Give me thy hand, oh fairest, whisper a gentle 'Yes,'
Come, if for me thou carest, with joy my life to bless."
As he sang the words of the famous womanizer, Roxas loosened his necktie and ruffled his hair, shoving away the uncomfortable stiffness of the party. With a little, self-mocking smile, he even sang the servant girl's lines in a feminine falsetto.
"I would, and yet I would not, I dare not give assent.
Alas! I know I should not; too late I may repent.
Ah! Too late I may repent."
Then he stopped, quite suddenly falling silent in the dressing room, tilting his head as though listening. Had that been an echo? A trick of sound that seemed to be another voice? Was he hearing things now? He could almost swear he heard the next line, "Come, dearest, let me guide thee," fading away in the silence.
Frowning, Roxas stepped to the door of his dressing room, opened it, and glanced around the deserted passage. Seeing no one, he returned inside and began to sing again. "Give me thy hand, oh fairest, whisper a gentle 'Yes…'" The echo suddenly came back, more audible than before, singing Giovanni along with him.
This time, Roxas did not merely examine the passage. He opened the door to the dressing room on the right of his own – it was dark within, but he brought his lamp and searched, making sure it was empty, then did the same in the dressing room on his right. He would have sworn the other voice was close – if not in the room with him, it had to be in the passage or just next door. Yet he found no one, and was eventually forced to return, empty-handed and puzzled. Almost laughing at his own silly fancies, Roxas sang, "Ah! Too late I may repent," again in the playfully high tones of the servant girl.
Instantly, he heard a deep voice follow with, "Come, dearest, let me guide thee." The tones were rich and deep, impossibly beautiful, and yet he did not recognize the singer at all – a strange thing, for Roxas was very familiar with all the lead male singers at the Opera.
Standing in the center of his dressing room, bewildered, he followed with the servant girl's next line: "Maseto sure will chide me!" His playful falsetto wavered uncertainly as he looked around the empty room.
The deep voice followed at once. "Danger shall ne'er come nigh thee…"
Swallowing, Roxas remained silent, moving slowly to sit down. He did not follow with the next line; he merely waited. After a long pause, he heard the voice begin the song again, from the beginning. Softly, it seemed to drift into his dressing room from…he knew not where.
"Give me thy hand, oh fairest, whisper a gentle 'Yes,'
Come, if for me thou carest, with joy my life to bless."
Roxas strained to pinpoint the sound, but he could not. It seemed to be all around him, beside him, near and far at the same time – beautiful. Deep, sweet, and yearning – calling to him, tempting him to play along. Curious, Roxas took up the part of the servant girl again, this time changing key so that he could sing the soprano lines in his own, natural tenor.
"I would, and yet I would not, I dare not give assent.
Alas! I know I should not; too late I may repent.
Ah! Too late I may repent."
At once, the voice followed him: "Come, dearest, let me guide thee."
Roxas did not miss his cue this time. "Maseto sure will chide me!"
The voice answered him, sounding for all the world as tender as a lover. "Danger shall ne'er come nigh thee."
Completing the first verse, Roxas let his own voice take on some of the emotions of the hesitant servant girl. "Ah, that I could deny thee! Oh that I could, that I could deny thee!"
From there the voice led him through the repetitions of those first lines, the music of their harmony escalating as the cadences of the song carried them onward to the crescendo. The strange voice was no longer faint or distant as it sang the final lines, and Roxas listened in awe to the sound that seemed to fill his room without a source in sight.
"With thee, with thee my treasure!
This life is naught but pleasure.
My heart is fondly thine."
The music faded away, the voice vanishing as though it had never been, and Roxas realized that a certain sense of presence had gone as well. He had hardly noticed until it left, but as the unknown voice sang, he had felt almost as though another soul were with him in the tiny room.
Sagging back into his chair, Roxas relaxed – he had not realized until now that he had been tense from head to toe as he listened and sang together with the voice. Blinking as though waking from a trance, he glanced around the still-empty room. Mystified, he whispered to no one, "Who are you?"
The faintest echo seemed to sing again, answering from far away, "My heart is fondly thine."
The Opera Populaire's new season always captivated Paris with excitement. The first season under new management was even more highly anticipated than usual. The whole city was keen to see what sort of productions the Opera would offer under the guidance of Messieurs Xemnas and Saïx. The announcement of Faust garnered the most public delight, but Tristan und Isolde was almost as highly anticipated. Parisians loved a good tragic romance.
For Roxas, the new season meant his first solo. Having only ever been in the chorus, to receive a roll in Tristan und Isolde was a great honor. True, his part was only the "shepherd" and his solo merely amounted to thirteen lines in the third act – for the rest of the performance he would be in the chorus as usual – but it was still cause for celebration. And his childhood friend, Naminé, was delighted with the opportunity to plan a party for him.
"Oh, it is wonderful news!" She clapped her little hands in their delicate, white lace gloves. They were at a café close to the Opera, having tea. "Mother will be so pleased for you. She has always believed in your talent; at last you can begin to be recognized! I must write to Sora at once. I think he shall have a holiday from his studies soon. I am sure I can persuade him to return for a visit so that we can all be together for your party…"
Agreeing to the idea, Roxas let Naminé chatter about plans for a bit as he listened with a fond smile. He and his brother, Sora, had known Naminé since they were all children – since Naminé's parents had taken them in as wards of their family. The Count and Countess de Chagny had stepped in as gracious benefactors to the young orphaned Daaé boys, and had supported Sora's education and Roxas' training in the arts. Naminé de Chagny has been almost a sister to them both. Roxas had always felt that he could tell Naminé anything. Today, when the conversation gave him an opportunity, he had something in particular he wanted to discuss with her.
"And while I was waiting for you in the foyer today, I met little Meg, the ballerina, and she told me she had heard the chorus master comment to her mother that your singing was so much improved, of late, that he thought you really should have been given a larger part, only the managers thought it best to introduce you a bit more gradually. Is not that marvelous?" The lovely young Countess radiated happiness and pride. "You shall surely become the leading tenor one day, I always believed it!"
Flushing slightly at all the praise, Roxas dared to confess, "I have been told I was improving, lately. I did not think it was quite that much, but… Actually," he glanced up at Naminé, assuring himself that she was listening. "In the last month, since our new managers came, I have been…receiving some special instruction. From a new tutor."
Blue eyes lit up even further, delight mingled with a touch of surprise. "Oh! I did not know Mother was paying for additional lessons. Who is instructing you?"
"She is not…that is, I am still studying under the voice instructor she chose, but I have met someone else as well. Someone who wished to offer his guidance without accepting money. At least," his words trailed off into a murmur, not really speaking to Naminé anymore, "I do not think he wants any money…"
A tiny, confused frown appeared on the Countess' fair brow. "Oh? How strange… Who is this teacher?"
"I…do not actually know," Roxas confessed. His expression had become clouded with doubt. "I think you will not believe me but…but the truth is that I have never met him!" He blurted it out suddenly, leaning in and locking his eyes with his confused listener, seeking to wordlessly assure her of his honesty.
"Never met him?" The young lady repeated. "How can that be?"
"You will laugh at me, and think I am telling you a false story…" Roxas shook his head, fidgeting a bit with his teacup.
"I will do no such thing, unless you are telling a tale," the girl declared. "But if you swear your word is true, I will believe whatever you tell me. I have never known you to lie, dear Roxas."
Her sincerity calmed his fears, and Roxas nodded gravely. "I swear I am not lying. This teacher… I hardly know how to begin!" He half-laughed at himself, at his own difficulty in finding words. "A month ago, when I was practicing alone in my dressing room, I heard a voice singing along with me. I did not recognize it, and try as I might I could not find the singer, though I searched the surrounding rooms. Since then, I have heard the voice often, always when no one else is about. He only sang at first, but then he began to speak to me a little, and he offered occasional advice for my singing. Soon, his advice became proper voice lessons, and I could only obey his instruction. His guidance seemed to bring more out of my voice than I had ever suspected I possessed. It is…difficult to describe how he has taught me, how much he has shown me of music…"
Deep blue eyes remained steadily focused on Roxas' face, listening. "And you say you have never seen him? Even now?"
"I have looked for him over and over," Roxas promised, "and I can find no one. The voice is always simply there, in my dressing room with me. No matter where I search, the voice becomes faint and soon vanishes once I leave the room. I cannot find him."
"How very eerie…" Naminé murmured. When Roxas did not answer at once, she glanced at him again. "Don't you think so? Is not it frightening?"
"I…" He struggled for words to help her understand. "I might have thought so, yet…the voice is so beautiful, Naminé. You can never imagine such a deep and strong, yet gentle voice. And his instruction is so kind…" He glanced down into his teacup. "I confess, at first I was a bit uncertain…until he spoke to me. Speaking to him is like…like speaking to an angel. A kind guardian angel who teaches me how to sing the melodies of Heaven itself."
"Like the Angel of Music? From the stories you told me, the ones your parents once told you and Sora?" The Countess smiled at him, yet Roxas understood she was not taking his story as amusing. She seemed to believe him entirely, and once Roxas denied feeling any fear, her expression had changed from worry to happiness for him.
Returning her smile, Roxas nodded. "Very like him, I think. I always thought it was merely a story, yet…of late, I have begun to think the Angel of Music is real, and visiting me in my dressing room."
"Well," Naminé shook her head with a smile, "I can hardly tell you otherwise. If that is what you believe, Roxas, then I can only say, thank Heaven for your Angel! And let us hope he continues to visit you and inspire your voice." Her kind eyes sparkled at him affectionately. Roxas understood her sincere wish for his happiness and success, and though the conversation turned back to more mundane matters after that, he still remembered her support as they parted, and thanked her for it silently with a gentle kiss on her fair brow. It was good to have a confidant such as her – someone to whom he could tell almost everything and still trust that she would not change toward him.
Yet there was one small part of his story which Roxas could not confide, not even to Naminé. He had barely begun to admit it to himself. When that mysterious voice visited him in his dressing room, Roxas could not account for the way his heart raced in his chest, or the warm flush of pleasure that tingled all over his skin, or the painful ache of yearning he felt when the voice left him alone again. What could he do? Although the signs were plain enough, he did not even know if the object of his thoughts was human. How could he ever tell such a thing?
The Opera was in chaos. The chorus master was swooning, the managers were in a panic, the diva, la Carlotta, was throwing a tantrum, the ballerinas were chattering excitedly, the stage hands were gawking at the mess and enjoying every minute, and Marluxia Piangi had stormed out – causing the ruckus and taking himself out of it in one fell swoop.
The Opera's leading tenor had been handed a note by a ballerina just before the start of the dress rehearsal for Tristan und Isolde. The girl could not say who had given her the note, as she had not been paying attention, but it turned out to be a letter, written in Carlotta's hand, to an unnamed lover. One would have thought that the letter was meant for Marluxia anyway, except for a few subtle lines toward the end which clearly referred to the star tenor in somewhat deprecating terms, urging the recipient to keep their affair hidden from the diva's co-star.
Marluxia had instantly made the brilliant, obvious deduction that his somewhat-secret lover, Carlotta, was seeing an even more secret lover behind his back. He had confronted her at once, in the center of the main stage, with a long string of scathing curses and accusations in their native Spanish. Carlotta had screamed back, evidently infuriated at being accused, and the few members of their audience who understood a bit of Spanish had excitedly offered impromptu, patchy subtitling to the rest of the audience. As such, the details of who had wronged whom and how were a bit muddled, but the expletives came through loud and clear.
The curtain fell on this sudden drama when Marluxia switched back to French and announced to everyone that he refused to sing, as he was disgusted to "play the lover" to such a promiscuous… More Spanish cursing followed, but nearly everyone understood enough of that language to know the word "whore" when they heard it. Then, the great tenor, Piangi, left the stage and the Opera, and the theater fell into a panic.
Tristan und Isolde opened in six hours, and no longer had a Tristan.
The managers, knowing very little about opera, immediately began screaming at the chorus master to bring out the understudy. The chorus master screamed back that Piangi could not be understudied and no one else could sing it. Monsieur Xemnas grabbed the actor playing Kurwenal, claiming that he sounded "well enough" – couldn't he do it? The chorus master wept tears of fury and frustration, grinding his teeth and explaining that Kurwenal was a baritone, not a tenor, and he could never sing the tenor's part in… A long list of specific scenes and lines followed, the chorus master's voice climbing to the very heights of insanity as he ranted.
Monsieur Saïx cut him off before he could have an apoplectic fit, pointing to the other male actors onstage. At first, he mistakenly suggested King Marke, causing the chorus master's eyes to bug nearly from their sockets – for that part was for a bass, and Vexen's range was so far from tenor that the suggestion nearly killed the chorus master. But then Saïx, seeing his error, quickly pointed to a few of the smaller parts – the "young sailor," and the "shepherd."
The young sailor immediately panicked and cried out that he knew almost none of Tristan's part, and he began weeping and wailing about the horror of having Tristan singing from cue cards on opening night. He made such a fuss that no one pressed the matter further, and the shepherd was forgotten along with the sailor. Had there not been a quiet tug to the chorus master's sleeve, the situation might have truly ended in disaster for the Opera.
But the tug caught a tiny corner of the chorus master's attention, and a quiet, straightforward voice spoke in his ear, "Your shepherd, Roxas, knows the part quite well, actually. I have heard him singing it to perfection with my own ears. Have him sing it for you."
The chorus master turned with a frown, wondering who was speaking. His frown only deepened when he saw the old lady, Madame Giry, who was in charge of the little ballerinas and who kept them from mischief within the Opera house. "Madame, what are you saying? He is a chorus singer. I have heard his voice; it is not powerful enough for Tristan."
"What? Whose voice? What are you speaking of, there?" Monsieur Xemnas, looking rather wild-eyed, interrupted them.
The chorus master sighed, running two hands through his frazzled gray hair. "This lady claims that Roxas – the shepherd you see there – knows the part, but I simply do not think…"
"Roxas!" Saïx cut him off again, calling to the stage. "Which is Roxas? You? Step forward, boy, and sing a bit of Tristan for us. Yes, step up, step up, and sing something! Now!"
Wide-eyed and bewildered, Roxas was creeping forward onstage. Carlotta took one look at him and wailed, falling on her handmaidens in a swoon. The other performers snickered or stared. Roxas looked blankly at the chorus master, who sighed in resignation. "Act Two, scene two if you please then, Roxas. Start from the fifth movement." To the orchestra he added, "Page seventy-three."
The music began, the tenor who had been blessed to be cast as a mere shepherd opened his mouth, and he sang, "In the grip of madness I could not but yield my heart to that which shimmered round about you in majestic splendor, the glitter of honor and the power of renown…"
The chattering house fell quiet as the solo continued. The chorus master nearly forgot to continue conducting – complete surprise painted his face. This was not the voice he remembered the chorus boy singing with before. La Carlotta woke suddenly from her swoon and sat up, listening with a sharp frown. The managers watched with intense concentration on their faces, struggling to determine if the boy's voice was good enough or not – to their ears, it sounded fine, but then, they were both still a little unsure as to the difference between a baritone and a tenor.
At the end of the piece, the chorus master immediately called Carlotta up, if she was quite well, to sing one of the duets with Roxas. He needed to assure himself that her voice would not overpower the former shepherd's. Surprisingly, it did not – Roxas held his own, with remarkable strength, and his voice matched perfectly with the diva's – an even more shocking development for those who understood opera. That he could sing Piangi's part was one thing, but that he could sing opposite la Carlotta – that was truly wondrous.
The music ended and the house was silent – all breaths were held, all eyes suddenly turned to the managers. Monsieur Xemnas took a quick look at the chorus master, then commanded loudly, "Get him in costume!"
Chattering and frenzy resumed as the Opera sprang to life again – there were quite a few last-minute adjustments to be made. Tristan was suddenly half his former height, shorter than his Isolde.
The moment the curtain closed on the opening of Tristan und Isolde – already being hailed by all present as the Opera's latest triumph, the season's most spectacular "must-see" – Roxas was swarmed with congratulations. His performance had been, according to everyone, flawless, brilliant, magnificent, et cetera. A sparkling girl threw herself into his arms, and it took Roxas a moment to realize that it was Naminé, decked out beautifully to attend his first solo performance, and chattering nonstop in her excitement, wanting to know everything – how had he come to get Tristan, not the shepherd, and why hadn't she ever heard him sing so wonderfully?
Exhausted, Roxas tried to answer her briefly and return her embrace at the same time, still thanking those who offered congratulations over the girl's head, but his first thought and wish was to sit down and take his shoes off. He had been forced into some ill-fitting shoes that had extra thick soles, lending him a few more inches of height. Carlotta, for her part, had been made to exchange her usual heels for flat ballet slippers, and Roxas had barely managed to stand level with her.
By now, his feet were hurting rather badly, but he endured it a while longer, particularly as Naminé had rushed backstage to congratulate him. Her exuberance was overwhelming to the already-exhausted singer, but he could not keep from smiling at her – of all the words of praise being rained on him suddenly, his dear friend's meant the most.
Fortunately, Naminé could see how tired he was. After securing a promise to meet for tea and tell her the whole story, she bid him goodnight. The other performers and theater employees were already beginning to celebrate the success, bottles of wine appearing from hidden stashes. Roxas took the opportunity to slip away from the crowd, limping on sore feet to his dressing room.
Roxas lit a lamp and immediately sank into his chair, sighing as he finally wrenched the miserable shoes off. He was weak with exhaustion, but breathless with lingering adrenaline from the final curtain call. He could not quite sit still. Rising to his aching feet, he went to the washbasin and splashed his face with cool water, cleansing away much of his stage makeup and running dripping hands through his hair. As he finished, he suddenly paused, standing straighter and listening. Was that an echo in his own mind, replaying the just-finished performance? He seemed to hear a soft melody and a yearning voice calling to him, "Let us in untroubled bliss share the Night…"
"Master?" He whispered in the dimly-lit room, waiting with bated breath.
For answer, the singing grew closer, clearer. Isolde's lines resonated beautifully, yet not in a crystalline soprano – instead a deep, murmuring voice sang, "Extinguish the light's last glimmer! That it may fall completely, give Night its signal!"
Eyes falling on the single lamp in his room, Roxas remembered the play. Isolde sang those lines as she waited for Tristan, and she doused the light as a signal to her lover. Then Tristan could come to her, and the lovers could meet in secret… Heart racing and hand trembling on the key, Roxas turned the wick down in the lantern until the flame died. The room was plunged into such total darkness that he could see nothing, yet he was not afraid. Sore feet forgotten, he waited breathlessly, wondering if now, at last, he was going to meet his mysterious tutor and discover his identity. Would an angel truly appear to him? Or would it be someone else? Someone who could answer this longing in his heart…?
He waited, eyes straining in the darkness, seeing nothing but hearing the music continue as the voice sang to him, growing closer and louder. "Do you not know the Love Spirit, not know her magic's power? The Queen of boldest courage, Regent of the world's course? Love and Death are subject to her, she weaves them out of bliss and sorrow, transmuting envy into love." On the final words, Roxas sensed a presence within the room. He blinked into the darkness, seeking the source of the voice but still unable to see anything.
The singing ended, but the presence lingered, and without thinking, Roxas reached out blindly. "Master? Where…?"
A tender murmur answered him from within the walls of his dressing room. "I am pleased, my child. Your performance has done justice to my lessons. Now…" Roxas' heart leapt in his chest as his outstretched fingers were gently brushed. "…Come."
The light touch was solid and warm – fingers wrapping around his own, clasping his hand in a larger one. He is real. Roxas trembled slightly, realizing that his teacher was no angel or spirit, but a physical being…whom he still could not see. A slight tug drew him forward, one hesitating step in the blackness of the room, and Roxas felt lightheaded and dizzy with sudden apprehension. Who is he? And where will he take me if I follow?
Almost as if sensing his distress, the voice began to sing. The tune was soothing and low, not an opera but a lullaby – an old tune Roxas remembered from his childhood, a sweet melody his mother used to sing. His tension eased as the voice sang to him, his body obeying the gentle pull and stepping forward, following the singer in the darkness, forgetting his unease. The voice…he is real. A living man… For the first time, hope flickered to life in his chest.
Like walking in a dream, Roxas let the voice lead him onward. Soon, he felt vaguely aware that he should be walking into the wall of his dressing room – yet his steps continued, following the gentle leading of the singer, and Roxas felt the air around him change, becoming cooler. The space around him shifted too, altering the quality of the voice and the way the music sounded. He felt as though they passed into a place that was quite narrow, at first, but then the air opened out and the voice began to echo off of far-distant walls. The ground slanted downward beneath his feet, and Roxas felt his other hand lifted as well, steadying him and guiding him onward.
Time seemed to fade from his awareness. Though he should have been keenly attentive to every detail of this strange journey, Roxas found himself slipping into a trance as he listened to the soft, soothing melody, sung by the familiar yet unknown voice – the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. It seemed that he could scarcely spare a thought for anything other than listening, enchanted by music, and he forgot time and everything else as his guide charmed his heart and soul with song.
Afterward, he could remember very little. Descending for a long time…a pause, then being led to sit down. A rocking motion and the sound of water lapping nearby, like being in a boat. Then walking again, upward now…softness. Lying down, suddenly weary to the bone, and being covered in blissful warmth. A hand stroking his hair with soothing tenderness, over and over, and the voice was still singing as Roxas fell asleep, the lullaby following him into his dreams.
When Roxas woke, he opened his eyes to the soft, radiant light of countless candles. He glanced around, taking in the sight of a luxurious bedroom from his perch on a massive four-poster bed, draped with a red velvet canopy. The room was empty, and Roxas' heart felt a pang of regret that the voice was not here to meet him.
He rose and walked to the only door he saw, gingerly touched the handle, and opened it a crack, peeking out before opening the door any wider. An even brighter room lay before him – an ornate but inviting room that seemed to be both a sitting room and a music studio at once. Various musical instruments were scattered about, along with soft, comfortable-looking chairs and settees. Stands for sheet music were placed out of the paths of travel, with stacks of papers waiting on them. Food waited on a sideboard – a modest yet pleasant meal.
Venturing into the room, Roxas found all these things standing ready, as if silently waiting just for him. Strangely, however, there were no other doors – the only door he could find joined this room and the bedroom. The walls, too, had no windows, no view to the outside. On the sideboard, he found a note in a shaking, scratchy hand:
"Dearest Roxas, Do not be afraid. Everything is for you. You cannot see me yet, but be assured that I am near, watching over you. Your Faithful Servant, the Opera Ghost"
This signature puzzled him more than anything else. Until now, Roxas had never thought himself haunted by the rumored Opera Ghost – to be sure, he knew of the story, but he had never given it any thought, and so had not connected it with his unseen tutor. If he recalled, it was some morbid and tragic tale often repeated to the little ballerinas, as a warning to behave themselves within the Opera and not touch what they shouldn't or go where they shouldn't.
According to the story, some fifteen years ago a fire had broken out in some of the backstage sections of the Opera – no doubt due to a careless hand knocking over a lantern somewhere. The fire had been stopped before it had grown too large, yet it still devoured a substantial section behind and below the stage. The ghost was said to have been a little boy who worked backstage, most often opening and closing the curtain. He became trapped in the fire and could not be reached by rescuers in time. He was last seen desperately trying to escape when several large, burning beams fell from the ceiling and apparently crushed him – his screams echoed to the high, vaulted ceiling of the Opera, but the heat was too intense, and no one could get close enough to save him. The intense heat was later given as the reason that no body was ever found, and the boy became an Opera legend – his tortured spirit was said to wander through the theater, sobbing in pain as though his flesh were still being burned away from his bones.
What does a child ghost want with me? Why should he provide all this for my comfort and entertainment? Why even bring me here in the first place? Roxas ate his provided meal in thoughtful silence. An Angel of Music would have made more sense to him, though the house where he now found himself and his reason for being here would still be difficult to explain… Yet Roxas felt no fear, even at the mention of the eerie ghost. The voice which had brought him here was no child's voice, and the hands which had touched his own were not ethereal or cold as death. Their warmth had been real, and his heart did not want to abandon the hope which that warmth had given him.
Roxas wanted very much to know where he was and why, but he felt that he would not understand until he met his host, and if so, there was nothing for him to do but wait. And, perhaps, explore the gifts that had been left, apparently for his diversion.
With no way to track the time, Roxas could not tell how long he spent in that room. He played some music on the instruments he was familiar with, and he experimented with the instruments he had never learned the use of. He sang to his own accompaniment, and out of long habit found himself practicing his roles – particularly Tristan.
After a while, he felt weary again and decided to lie down and rest. His host had still not appeared to him, so Roxas returned to the bedroom. The candles had either burned down or somehow been extinguished, and it was very dark in that room. He peered inside nervously, letting the light from the music room illuminate the shadows within. No one was there – naturally. Feeling a bit foolish over his fears, Roxas went inside. However, he could not quite bring himself to close the door and plunge the bedroom into total darkness, so he lay down with the light from the music room shining in, easing his worries and allowing him to slip into a light doze.
In his dreams, he relived some of the shining performance. He was Tristan, and the stage lights were bright on him as he sang his part, hardly aware of the other performers and seeing nothing but darkness out in the theater, beyond the stage. But then, somehow, it seemed that he was no longer the one singing – his lines were carried by another voice, a deeper one that came from the darkness, as Roxas played the audience, standing alone on the stage.
Which shimmered round about you,
to there where she
seemed like the sun
in highest honor's
Isolde withdrew from me!
That which so
delighted my eye
made my heart sink
to the depths of the earth:
in the bright light of Day
how could Isolde be mine?"
The voice shifted, seeming nearer – the darkness of the house mingled with the light on stage, and Roxas stood in a dim twilight, listening to the voice now taking Isolde's part and calling to him…
"I wished to flee
to take you with me,
where my heart would bid me
end all deception,
where the vain premonition
of treachery might be dispelled,
there to pledge to you
to consecrate you to Death
in company with myself."
A shadow hovered on the edge of Roxas' vision, but Roxas could not seem to turn and look properly at it, try as he might. Instead, he found himself taking Tristan's part again, answering the song with his own. He sang with an almost dreamy, wondering voice, and as he did the shadow seemed to draw closer.
"Amid the vain fancy of Day
he still harbors one desire:
for sacred Night
love's bliss smiles on him."
On his final words, darkness seemed to wrap itself around him, along with the beautiful voice which continued singing…and Roxas opened his eyes suddenly. He blinked rapidly, but saw nothing – there was only darkness to see. Darkness…and the voice.
The voice was there, in the room with him, singing Tristan's part again – so softly that the opera could have been a lullaby. There was infinite tenderness in the sweet music, and Roxas held his breath and listened.
"Thus might we die,
enveloped in love,
given up to each other,
to live only for love."
Roxas felt a light touch brush through his hair on the final line, and he tensed, drawing in a sudden breath, eyes wide and searching the nothingness before him. His skin tingled all over with anticipation…but the voice stopped singing, the touch withdrew, and after pause, he heard a whisper in the silence.
"You are awake?" Heart racing, he could not quite bring himself to answer. "I apologize for disturbing you," the voice spoke again, and Roxas knew it to be the voice of his tutor. He sounded very near – beside the bed, if not perhaps on the bed with him.
Swallowing a few times, Roxas finally made his dry throat work. "Master?"
A faint sigh. "Yes, dearest Roxas. Do not fear. You are simply a guest in your tutor's home, tonight. Here, we can become better acquainted. I assure you, you are safe. No harm will come to you."
The words meant to allay his fears were unnecessary. Wistfully, Roxas murmured his more pressing desires, "I cannot see you…" He blinked blindly into the darkness, still trying to find the face of the man he adored.
"No," his tutor answered, a slight smile in his voice, and the gentle touch returned, brushing in Roxas' hair and smoothing over his brow and down one cheek. "Your eyes know the light of day, my dear one. But I can see you, and I will protect you even in the deepest night."
Tentatively, Roxas reached up and placed his own hand over the one that lingered on his face. He could feel the solid shape – large and bony, but warm and quite human. The pounding of his heart quickened again. "Can…can you not light a candle? I have wondered for so long if you were even real…I long to see your face and know who you are."
The deep voice lost the smile. "Alas, child, you may know me, but you must never see my face. Let that be enough for you."
Clinging to the hand which still touched his cheek, Roxas answered at once, "It is enough, Master, I will be content, but…" He turned his head, causing the fingertips of the man's hand to brush across his lips. "…I beg you, tell me your name. Tell me what you want of me, that you have brought me…here, wherever this is."
Silence rang in his ears for a long moment before the voice answered simply, "Axel. My name…is Axel."
Axel? Roxas caught his breath, recognition making his heart skip a beat. "I…knew one called Axel, once…" He hardly dared say more or voice his memory, for fear it was wrong.
"When you were a little boy, lost in the cellars of the Opera, perhaps?" There was a note of sweet hopefulness in the question.
"Yes…" The memory, so long forgotten, came flooding into his mind. He had never connected that incident, years ago, with the angelic voice who had begun to visit him lately. He had been a child taking voice lessons at the Opera, courtesy of his new guardians, and he'd wandered off to explore. "I was crying beside some big crates because I could not find the way out…and it only became darker the further I wandered…and then a cloaked figure appeared and spoke to me…"
"Why are you crying?" The voice in the darkness – Axel's voice – spoke on cue, just as Roxas remembered.
"Yes, that is right…"
"And you said…"
"I'm lost and cold and my legs hurt and I'm hungry and the rats will eat me up." Roxas breathed a faint laugh at the end, amused by the memory of his silly childhood fears. "You were wearing a cloak with a hood…and a scarf or something tied around your face…"
"And you forgot your fears almost as soon as you told me of them, and pointed and asked if I was a gypsy…"
"I had seen the dress rehearsal for Carmen that day," Roxas chuckled.
A shift on the bed that felt like Axel moving closer…and Roxas could just barely feel warm breath on his face, now, when the voice in the darkness spoke. "I told you no…told you my name…"
In a soft voice, he finished for them both, "And you played with me, and drove the shadows away, and then carried me back through the maze and left me in a backstage hallway, pointing me toward my voice class. You patted my head and…disappeared. And no one could ever tell me who 'the man in the cape' was. Small wonder," he added with an ironic smile.
Axel's voice drew closer still, so filled with tenderness. "I watched over you always, after that. Whenever you came to the Opera…I half wished you would wander off again, but you did not. I always wondered if you thought of me at all."
"I did," Roxas admitted, "but…time made me forgetful, soon enough. Yet you came to me again, and you have helped me again. You are…my savior. Speaking with you now makes me so happy…I do not want you to slip away from me again." His voice dropped to a breathy whisper, his heart growing bold as he dared to ask, "Please…tell me I am yours."
A faint moan in the darkness, a soft rustle of fabric and shifting of weight on the bed…and then a second hand joined the one he held, framing his face with a touch that trembled. "Oh my jewel, my treasure, that is all I want. I brought you here for only that purpose, if you are willing. I…I…" The hands shook harder, and Roxas placed his free hand over the second, cradling them both as they cupped his face. His tutor gathered himself, steadying his voice. "For so long I told myself I should not reach for you – a creature of the light was too dazzling for one such as I to touch. Yet your voice called to me, and I thought perhaps…perhaps for music you might leave the world behind. I offer you a paradise of music which you cannot yet fathom – beauty unlike anything you have ever heard. And…and I myself will be yours for eternity, if you will only choose me and forsake the light of day."
Forsake the light of day? Roxas drew in a long breath. Does he wish me to stay here, in these two windowless rooms, forever? His mind shrank a bit from the prospect of such a solitary life. To give up his career on the stage, when he had only just begun to gain recognition… And what of his friendships, his family? Would he be able to see them again? "Why should you not return with me, instead? You have such a beautiful voice…surely the Opera is a better place for us to share our love of music?"
A pause, then… "No. I cannot go; you must stay here."
Roxas bit his lip, confused by the curt answer. Hesitantly, he ventured, "You say you watched over me, so you must be no stranger to the Opera house. Why must you now stay away?"
The pause that followed this was longer, the touch on Roxas' face drawing back slightly. He tightened his grasp, not letting Axel pull away. Finally, the beautiful voice answered with unusual roughness, "We are not 'away' at all, child. We are merely far underground. The Opera is above us, and I have been there often enough, but I cannot be seen by those who walk in the daylight. You will stay here, with me." The voice gentled again, becoming tentative. "A week…you will stay with me that long. After a week's time, you may choose to return to the world above and hear from me no more…or you may stay forever."
The hands Roxas still held were pulled away. The nearby presence left the bed, and without another sound Axel was gone, leaving Roxas to stare sightlessly into the dark after him.
All the following day – or what passed for a "day" in this place, for Roxas had no way to count the time – his host did not return. There was food in the same place, and Roxas ate. The music room held the same pastimes for him – and the same emptiness. The time dragged slowly. Music was Roxas' passion, of course, but it was no companion. Left to himself, Roxas could not seem to fully immerse his thoughts in the songs he sang, and worries plagued his mind. He thought of the Opera, of his family and his future as a performer – and he wondered at the idea of exchanging all that for this little corner, this life of seclusion somewhere deep within the earth, and the mysterious but fascinating musician who had brought him here.
Through his hours alone, Roxas found himself aching for Axel over and over…even if he could bring little more than the man's voice and warmth to mind. His memory from childhood was of a man shrouded in a cloak and scarf, and only two brilliant, piercing green eyes showed from beneath the fabric. He could imagine those eyes…watching him in the darkness that had surrounded them both the night before… Roxas shivered. Let him talk of staying here forever…I will not mind, so long as he comes back to me and speaks with me again!
Occasionally, Roxas would suddenly stop playing or singing and fall still, holding his breath. As if from far away, he was almost certain he could hear music – and the more he listened, the more he felt that this music was unlike anything he had ever known before. The distant strains were so painfully beautiful – he felt that if he could fully hear this music surrounding him, he would helplessly listen in ecstasy, forgetting all time. The music was heavenly. If he could hear it clearly and have Axel's company… Perhaps these two rooms would no longer feel small.
After bearing several weary hours alone, Roxas decided to rest. It was probably too early, for he did not feel sleepy yet. Still, he could not ignore his hope that Axel would return as before – while he slept. Thinking to hasten such a meeting, he entered the bedroom and shut the door behind himself. He had to fumble blindly for the bed, arms outstretched in the darkness. Finding it, Roxas lay down atop the blankets. Staring into the darkness above him, he fidgeted impatiently. He will come, won't he? If he intends to keep me for a week, surely he must want my company for at least part of that time. Why else would he bring me here at all?
As impatient as Roxas felt, however, he told himself that in this place, the darkness around him did not mean night had fallen. There might be hours left before he could expect a visit. A line from Tristan came to mind – "Descend O night of love" indeed. If only…
In the dark bedroom, with nothing to do but wait, Roxas began to softly sing the duet from the second act.
O Night of love,
that I may live;
take me up
into your bosom,
release me from
Falling silent, Roxas listened, holding his breath. For a moment, he thought he had heard a familiar voice joining him, taking Isolde's part in the duet. The deeper tones of the male voice harmonized perfectly with his own – so perfectly that he was not even sure, at first, if someone else was singing. However, even as Roxas paused to listen, the other voice drew clearer, closer, continuing the duet alone.
"O eternal Night,
Night of love!"
Heart racing, Roxas sat up in bed. He is coming to me! He really is! Raising his voice together with Axel's, he let the music entwine them both, drawing them closer as Roxas welcomed his long-adored tutor and long-lost rescuer.
"How our hearts
are borne aloft!
How all our senses
pulsate with bliss!
My breast bursting
with exultant delight!
Broken free of the world,
won for me!
You my only awareness,
utmost rapture of love!"
The voice was in the room with him, and as the duet finished, Roxas felt the bed shift under another's weight. Instinctively, he leaned toward the presence approaching him. Warm arms enveloped him all at once, but Roxas did not flinch away. Resting his head against Axel's shoulder, he sang the final lines, listening to his tutor's voice resonating deeply in his chest.
When the final lines of music died away to silence, Roxas sighed. There was so much he wanted to say – admiration for Axel's music, uncertainty over the idea of staying forever, yearning to do just that…to stay with him and share their love of music. If he could only see Axel, perhaps he could find the words… Perhaps I could tell him what is in my heart. The aching, sweetly painful feeling of desire that made him wish to forget reason and sense and just give himself away…to Axel.
A cautious hand brushed his cheek, cupping his face softly, and Roxas leaned into the touch, closing his eyes – it made no difference if he kept them open, as he could see nothing, yet closing them still felt like a surrender. The arms around him clutched tighter, and Roxas could feel the pounding of the other man's heart. He found all his words dying away to nothing, and instead of speaking his thoughts, he simply reached upward, blindly trusting…and his parted lips immediately met the warm pressure of a kiss. A kiss that had been waiting for him to begin.
All his desires suddenly found their answer in the simple touch, and Roxas pressed eagerly into the kiss, his hands clutching at fabric – probably Axel's shirt front. A soft sound like a sob broke from the other man, but Roxas caught the sound with his lips and silenced it, filling the contact with his joy, instead. His hands slipped upward, wishing to touch Axel in return, but before he could feel warm skin, Axel broke away from their kiss with a gasp. Two hands grasped Roxas' wrists and moved them back down. "No…" The whisper sounded strained in the darkness. Confused, Roxas let his hands be guided to his tutor's ribs. "Like this…" Axel breathed, and then Roxas forgot the momentary interruption as burning lips kissed him again.
Opening his mouth to the kiss, Roxas moaned softly. Large hands lovingly caressed his face, and he let his own arms wrap around Axel's body, drawing him closer. Roxas shivered at the eager caresses of Axel's lips – a strong contrast to the hesitating, almost fearful touch of his tongue as it slipped carefully just within his mouth. Surprised by the man's lack of confidence, Roxas smiled slightly into the kiss…and plunged his tongue into the other man's mouth, ravishing them both with pleasure and showing Axel how to truly kiss the way Roxas wanted to.
Surprised gasps and helpless moans welcomed his advance, and Axel returned the heat Roxas gave him. Roxas abandoned himself to Axel's kisses, to the passionate joining of their mouths. A deep groan vibrated from Axel's chest, and the next moment Roxas found himself pushed onto his back and pressed down into the bed by the heavy weight of the other man on top of him. His heart beat so hard and fast Roxas thought it would break, and he arched into Axel, his hands beginning to roam over the man's back as he kissed him desperately. Heat spread through his body – an unfamiliar sensation, but one Roxas welcomed without a moment's doubt. He had never been so willing in all his life – he did not know what would happen, but his heart and body were screaming for it.
Arching upward, Roxas gasped as his hips met Axel's – and he felt his whole body shudder from the slight friction. He had touched an unexpected firmness – it made him realize that his own body was in the same condition – but before he could move again and explore more of that deliciously thrilling sensation…Axel drew back, breaking the kiss.
"No…no, not yet. Not tonight, my dear one." The words were gasped as Axel moved, shifting off Roxas and settling beside him. Roxas could hear the sounds of heavy breathing – from both of them.
"Why?" Unashamed of his desires, Roxas made no attempt to conceal the disappointment and yearning in his voice. "Please, Axel. I…I love you." Emotion made his voice tremble on those words, yet they were true and sincere.
Another sound like a sob came from the darkness, and a worshipful touch traced over his features. "Oh, Roxas…oh most dear, most precious, my…my love…" A soft, warm kiss pressed to his wet and swollen lips. Roxas hungrily met the touch, but before passion could sweep them both away again, Axel drew back, breaking the kiss while it was still chaste and sweet. "My love, my love…" The whisper in the darkness was repeated over and over as hands caressed Roxas' face. Aching to respond, Roxas reached for the other man, but found his hands once more caught before they could touch.
"Axel…" Confused and saddened, he let Axel stop him. His own desires would be meaningless if Axel did not share them…yet Roxas so desperately wanted Axel to share them, and he did not understand…
The man's hands moved to clasp together with his own rather than restrain them. "I know, love. I am not rejecting you. I have loved you since before you were capable of loving me." Their hands came to rest on Roxas' chest, and Axel left one of his hands clasped in both of Roxas' while the other returned to his face and soon was stroking through his hair.
Squeezing the hand he held, Roxas whispered, "Then…why?"
"Time, my love. You have only known me for who I am since yesterday. Let us learn more of each other first; we have as much time as we need. Nothing need be done rashly or in haste." A soft kiss pressed the bridge of Roxas' nose and he closed his eyes again, simply feeling.
"Will you stay with me, then?" he murmured. "Not just here, in the darkness, but in the light as well? Will you talk with me, and sing with me, and let me come to know you better?"
"I had not intended…"
Squeezing Axel's hand gently, Roxas interrupted. "Please…"
With a moan, Axel pressed more kisses to his face – his cheeks, eyes, brow…lips. "If you ask it of me, I will find a way. I cannot refuse such a sweet request."
Leaning up, Roxas met the lips brushing his own, pressing deeper into the kiss. "Thank you." His eyes drifted open a moment – he still could not see, but he could guess where those burning green eyes were. Perhaps, after all this time, I will finally see them again when I wake.
Comforted by this sweet hope and the other man's closeness and gentle hands brushing through his hair, Roxas drifted off to sleep.
Roxas woke to candlelight…and an empty room. For a moment, he still held on to hope – until he found the music room empty as well. His heart sank at the discovery – he had felt certain Axel would be with him when he opened his eyes.
Ignoring the food, he poked spiritlessly at the keys of the pipe organ that stood against the far wall. His voice lifted only the loneliest strains as he sang folk songs about promises broken.
Between songs, Roxas paused and listened to the silence for a moment…and jumped suddenly and spun on the organ's bench when he heard a voice behind him.
"I do apologize for being late…but I think betrayal is a harsh verdict on a man who was simply detained…"
"Axel!" He cried the name excitedly as he turned, but then froze. His smile of welcome faltered, surprise and confusion clouding his face. The tall, black-cloaked figure who stood by the door to the bedroom was Axel – he knew by the man's voice, and there…if he looked closely, the brilliant green eyes were watching him, the same as he remembered. No…far more bright and deep than I remembered. Yet the first thing to catch his attention was not Axel's eyes – but the mask.
It was almost featureless – it covered the entire face, only leaving small holes for the eyes and mouth. There were painted swirls and patterns covering it – Roxas was almost certain it was actually an old opera prop from a show many seasons ago. The thought flashed across his mind, but he gave little attention to it – he was more concerned with the fact that Axel stood before him, at last, and yet seemed more determined than ever to hide himself from Roxas.
"I…why?" He tried not to let his disappointment show. What can he mean by this? Why does he hide from me? Roxas rose slowly and took a hesitant step closer, his eyes searching green for the answer. He need not fear me…what does it matter how his face looks? The strange concealment was making Roxas realize that, in his heart, he truly adored his tutor, and he would adore him just the same, without regard for his features…but he did so want to see those features even so, if only to have a face to bring to mind when Axel was away and Roxas had nothing but his memories to enjoy.
"It is…necessary." Axel's familiar voice was strangely muted behind the mask – the small hole for the mouth barely allowed air to pass through. "You must…trust me, Roxas." He took a step forward, tentatively extending his hands. "My…love…I can stay with you now. But you must accept this mask, or our meetings return to blackest night."
Sighing in resignation, Roxas crossed the remaining space between them and wrapped his arms around his beloved tutor, leaning his head against Axel's chest. "For how long?" he whispered. "Will I ever be able to see you face?"
A racing heart thudded against his cheekbone as Axel drew in a slow, deep breath. "Someday, perhaps…if you…if you choose to stay…" His voice became more certain at the thought. "Yes, yes, if you choose to remain with me forever…then, then I can show you my face."
And if I do not stay… Roxas sighed again, then leaned back to look up. "I understand," he smiled sadly.
With that, they spoke no more of the subject. Roxas ate, and then he and Axel began an eager perusal of music together. Axel sang with Roxas a little, but his voice did not sound so well, muffled by the plasterboard mask. So instead, he played the instruments – mostly the organ – and Roxas sang for his teacher once again. As he did, Axel would instruct him as before, and Roxas felt awed once again by the genius of the man's understanding of music.
They passed several hours in each other's company that way, scarcely aware of the time slipping away from them. When Roxas' eyes began to droop sleepily, Axel rose and led him to the bedchamber. Immediately forgetting his weariness, Roxas walked to the bed with a racing heart, while Axel stood by the door, letting the light in to allow Roxas to find his way. He did not let the door shut until Roxas lay on the bed – and pitch blackness fell around them again.
A slight shift of the mattress was, again, Roxas' only warning of Axel's nearness – and then his lips were claimed warmly. Sighing, Roxas hungrily met the caresses – he had been yearning for this for hours, but there was clearly no way to kiss Axel's lips with the mask in the way. Now, in darkness, he returned his tutor's kisses passionately. Axel's weight pressed him down, his hands – which Roxas had admired as he skillfully played the organ – worshiped his features, and neither of them spoke nor drew back for several minutes.
Enveloped in an even more intense heat than the night before, Roxas clung to his teacher…his lover. Untainted by fear or shame, Roxas freely expressed his love and desire, kissing Axel deeply and letting his hands caress and his arms embrace him – though he made no move, now, to touch Axel's face. He wanted to encourage the other man to continue; he did not want another interruption, another withdrawal.
Fortunately, it seemed that Axel had no fears of Roxas touching him, apart from his face. The young singer let his hands become his eyes in the dark, exploring the broad, strong body above him, feeling his warmth under the loose black clothing. Roxas' hands mapped arms, chest, stomach, and back, painting a picture in his mind and lavishing Axel with his adoration at the same time. Their kisses were like fire, and Roxas rapidly began to lose his mind to the heat.
Yet, the moment his hands began to wander lower – the moment he pressed his hips upward, seeking Axel's – the man drew back, breaking the kiss with a gasp. "Not yet…"
Arms tightening to keep Axel close, Roxas moaned wantonly, "Why?" Words and arguments failed his feverish mind, and all he could do was let his desire fill the aching question.
Those large hands found his shoulders, ran down his arms, and drew them away. Fingers knitted together with his own and pinned Roxas' hands gently to the bed on either side of his head. Axel's words still came unsteadily through heavy breaths as he replied, "Your desire makes me so happy, love. You cannot imagine… But wait a while more. Until…yes, until then…" A soft kiss barely brushed his lips again. "If you choose me, if you choose to stay – then after that. We will have…our wedding night. I will make love to you then."
How unfair… He sighed, disappointed and frustrated. Still, voice soft with resignation, Roxas only answered, "I understand."
He lay in Axel's arms for a long time before falling asleep.
When Roxas woke, Axel was gone. However, Roxas was not as troubled this time. He knew Axel would be coming soon. Today would follow the pattern of the day before, no doubt, and be spent in shared love of music. And tonight… Roxas shivered with anticipation, even though he knew that the closeness he would share with Axel would end too soon, leaving him in a hell of denied desire. He sighed, thinking again, You are so unfair. You tell me to make a choice, yet hold everything away from me until I choose you. You are making it impossible for me – how should I live if I go back? I would forever wonder; I would never have peace of mind again.
Roxas keenly felt that, although Axel called this a choice, his conditions were beginning to make it no choice at all. And what could Roxas do? At the moment, it seemed that Axel expected him to merely accept this limbo, this world within two rooms – as if a few more days of music and kisses in the dark would give Roxas what he needed to choose between a life of unknown and untasted possibilities…and his own familiar life, his family, his friends.
Perhaps a person of stronger faith could accept such a situation. Or a person of lesser ambition, someone who was accustomed to simply allowing others to direct his life. But Roxas was not such a person.
Before long, Axel appeared, apologizing for his absence. He was wearing a different mask today – the solid part only covered the upper half of his face. A scarf of black silk hung from the bottom, covering the rest of his face. Before Axel could even begin to explain, Roxas smiled in understanding. Stepping close, he grasped his teacher's hands, lacing their fingers together, and leaned his head on Axel's chest. "Did you wish to sing together with me, without any obstruction altering your voice?" Still leaning against Axel, he angled his head back to look up into green eyes, watching him intently from behind the mask's slits.
"Yes…" Axel breathed, and his voice sounded exactly as it should. Roxas smiled and squeezed Axel's hands. Then, on impulse, he raised himself up on his toes and sweetly pressed his lips over the black fabric, just where Axel's mouth would be. The silk was the wrong texture, but he could feel the other man's warmth through it – and the softness of his lips.
"I am glad," Roxas murmured, pulling back and coming down from his tiptoes. "I do love to sing duets with you."
So they did. Together, they passed several hours singing duets – most often romantic ones. Sometimes Roxas sang the woman's part, but sometimes Axel took it, giving Roxas a chance to practice the pieces designed for his own voice. As Roxas sang, Axel would listen intently, instructing him from time to time and bringing more beauty and power out of Roxas' voice. Even when Axel merely sang with him, offering no instruction, Roxas found himself reaching beyond his limits, striving to match the perfection of his partner's singing. At times, when they were reaching a crescendo together, Roxas nearly lost himself in the ecstasy of music, of singing as he had never sung before.
Yet some small part of his mind refused to be swept away. That part remained grounded, reminding him with every glance at his teacher that he had a choice to make, and this fascinating man still refused to reveal his face to Roxas.
They sat together at the organ, Axel playing their accompaniment as their voices rose and seemed to shake the earth above them. Roxas was Tristan, singing with his Isolde, and the passion and desperation of the song filled him as he sang the final lines with Axel: "Let Day
give way to Death!" Then he was gasping for breath as the music continued a few more bars – the lovers would be playing out their doomed romance in silence on the stage. Roxas listened with rapt attention, picturing the tragic scene…yet even in that moment, when he looked at his mysterious lover, he could not forget the thought, What is he hiding from me?
Axel continued to play, the organ's music filling the small room, seeming to press against the walls as though it would burst from such a tiny prison and fill the night sky with passion. And Roxas, unblinking eyes fixed upon his teacher's hidden face, raised his hand – slowly, deliberately – and grasped the edge of the mask, snatching it away in one lightning-swift motion.
The music crashed into silence, a furious scream filling the air instead. Axel flung himself away from Roxas, covering his face with both hands – too late. Even though he had only glimpsed it for a moment, the crystal-clear image was frozen forever in Roxas' mind. Shocked, he sat where he was, mask still gripped in his hand.
Horrible. He gaped wide-eyed at his tutor, hunched over and turned away from him, spitting curses through his fingers. His face…what happened? "Axel…"
Whipping around, blazing green eyes transfixed him. Without warning, Axel flung his hands aside, his voice harsh and venomous as he yelled at Roxas, "There! You wanted to see so badly? Look!" He stood and crossed the distance between them in two long strides. "Traitorous child, look, since you are so determined to see! Do not turn away!" Crushing hands grabbed his wrists, yanking them forward. Roxas could not flee, not even by a few inches – he could only stare into the ruined face before him, now a mask of fury and pain. "Look well, Roxas! I hope you enjoy this sight you were so impatient for, because it is the last face you will ever see. The last! Your choice is made – you will never leave this place again!"
Choking on tears of fear and sorrow, Roxas tried to look into his tutor's face…yet his eyes kept falling to the side after a brief glance. The white-hot rage in those eyes terrified him, and the face… The skin was all uneven, raised webs of white and red, the eyebrows were nearly gone, the nose was crooked, and two dark gouges marked the face unevenly, one under each eye, as though something had sliced downward and narrowly missed the eyes, catching on the cheekbones instead. "Why…how…?" His voice broke on the words.
Some of the fury began to fade, the unmasked man leaning back from Roxas again, but still holding his wrists in a tight grip. Despair filled the beautiful green eyes now, and that pure, heavenly voice was rough with unshed tears. "Fire." Axel swallowed, then continued in a colder tone. "But what does it matter? This face would be the same, no matter how it got this way. And your fate is sealed, now. No one would choose to spend their life gazing at this," Roxas' wrists were jerked sharply, bringing his eyes up again for a moment. "You cannot love me now. The nearest feeling you will ever have is pity." He spat the final word with disgust and scorn. "If you had chosen me first, loved me for myself first…perhaps. But not now. No, now there is only one future for us both – you will be my prisoner for the rest of your life. Welcome to Hell, Roxas…" The lovely voice choked in agony as Axel released him and turned away, "for the constant presence of a sight so gruesome will surely be a torment for you as long as you live."
Axel vanished into the dark bedroom, and although Roxas rushed to follow him a moment later, by the time he reached the doorway and peered into the shadowy chamber, it was empty.
All the rest of that day, Roxas searched for a hidden door. He knew there must be at least one, perhaps more. Somehow, Axel was able to come and go from these two rooms. There was a way out. And he had to find it. His mind echoed the words over and over, "You will be my prisoner for the rest of your life." Whatever his original plans had been, it seemed that Axel now intended to keep Roxas locked here, trapped within two small rooms until he breathed his last. Would his last sight be a view of the canopy over that bed, as he lay there – a withered, ancient man, pale as a ghost from countless years without even a ray of sunlight? Or – Roxas shuddered, but could picture it all too clearly – would his final sight be his own blood, spilling over his hands as he crumpled onto a velvet settee, a dinner knife buried in his chest? Would the madness of this lonely place and this tormented man drive him to the unthinkable – to take his own life simply to escape? God help me, no! I cannot…I must not…!
So he sought for a hidden door.
The scarred, burned face of his tutor had frightened him, yes, but Axel's wrath had been truly terrifying. Choosing between his old familiar life and the one Axel offered had seemed almost impossible, before. But to lose even that choice – to simply accept a lifetime of imprisonment deep within the earth – that was too far beyond imagining. Even if he cared nothing for the stage, he could not simply vanish and leave his brother and Naminé to wonder if he lived. Even if he catches me and drags me back in chains, if I can only speak with Naminé first, tell her that I am alive… It was not the best outcome, but for the moment, it was better than the alternative.
Yet after hours of searching the floor for trapdoors and tapping the walls as high as he could reach, listening for hollow spots, Roxas had to give up. He was exhausted – through every moment of his search, his nerves were on edge, wondering if Axel was about to suddenly reappear. Fearing his reaction if he found Roxas trying to escape. I will rest a bit…then continue after I have slept. Surely…surely he will not return for a while yet. He was so angry…
Exhausted as he was, Roxas could not fall asleep. He tossed and turned for a long time, doubts and worries running around and around in his mind. At last, he began to drift off – yet right on the threshold of sleep, he suddenly felt…no longer alone. A presence was in the room with him. Fully awake again in a moment, Roxas opened his eyes and slowly sat up. The next moment, his hand flew to his mouth to stifle a scream.
A few weak candles pierced the darkness, dimly illuminating the figure standing by the bed – Axel, without a mask. The shadows darkened the scars that crisscrossed over his face – he no longer looked like a man in the shadowed darkness. The eyes watching Roxas were burning from a monster's face.
"A-Axel!" Roxas gasped, fighting down a shudder of fear. There was no smile, no sweetness in the dark eyes – only the flickering reflection of candlelight. In that moment, Roxas realized that he was not sure what Axel had come to do.
"What is this, Roxas?" The voice that answered him was hollow, dark. "You greet me differently tonight." With a sudden lunge forward, Axel was on the bed beside him, leaning over him. Roxas flinched back; his blood ran cold as Axel's expression darkened. "Oh? Why don't you reach for me like before, Roxas?" His tone was biting, harsh. "Why don't you welcome me with sweet kisses? Where are your whispered words of love now?" A frightened whimper escaped Roxas' throat as Axel pressed closer. "I expected you to be happy, Roxas. We can have our wedding night now – is not that what you wanted? Didn't you beg for my touch just last night? Well, you can have it now! Why aren't you happy?"
Oh God, do not tell me he is going to…to force… Roxas choked on a terrified sob; words were beyond him for a moment. Yes, he had wanted… Yet now, with Axel's eyes burning with anger and pain? No. I do not want that.
"Please…" he choked out hoarsely, shrinking away from the threatening form looming over him. He would not. Not after all we have shared… Music, companionship, trust…words of love and yearning kisses in the dark. I thought he felt…I thought he would never hurt me…
A fist gripped the front of his shirt, yanking Roxas back around to face his tutor, throwing him on his back. Axel did not let go, but pressed him down into the mattress harshly. "Face me! Do not turn away!" His other hand gripped Roxas by the hair, words growled from lips that hovered close, so close… "You wanted me – I am yours! You asked to see, you said that you…that you…l-loved…" He choked, his voice breaking, hands shaking violently where they gripped Roxas. "You said you loved…me…" Hot droplets of water splashed Roxas' cheeks. Axel's beautiful voice was flooded with pain as he sobbed, "Why? Oh Roxas…why?"
Heart breaking at his beloved teacher's sorrow, Roxas felt his own tears slip free. His fear melted away, and all he wanted to do was embrace his lover again – kiss his lips as they had kissed in the dark, and show him that Roxas' heart was still the same toward him. I still adore you, oh please…if you will only treat me gently, as before! I was frightened, nothing more…
Opening his mouth to speak, Roxas gasped instead as Axel suddenly stood, lifting away from him swiftly. His voice was rough and brusque, now. "Well. My mistake. I should not have cherished hopes over promises you made before you saw this…my face." He turned, striding toward the door. "I will not deceive myself so foolishly again."
"No!" Roxas cried after him, but the bedchamber door slammed on the word, silencing his protest. Scrambling up, Roxas fought to detangle himself from the covers and stumbled quickly across the room, yanking the door open again.
The music room was already empty.
Hopeless blue eyes gazed around at the furnishings. Roxas sagged, fresh tears slipping from his eyes. "You do not understand," he whispered, bending to bury his face in his hands. "I feared your wrath…but I never stopped loving you. Axel…"
The room did not hear, nor did it answer.