Title: Lost Days of the Dead
Series: Let's Rewrite Our History (The series where anything is fair game, huge assumptions are made, and you simply have to accept them as fact.)
Author: Lucifer Rosemaunt
Summary: Let's Rewrite Our History assumption #9: Erik is an actual ghost haunting the opera house.
Fandom: Phantom of the Opera
Warning(s): one-sided het, char death… sort of, Erik's a ghost (obviously, he died), more pre-slash than anything
Word Count: 11,180
A/N: I got this plotbunny last Halloween/All Souls' Day, but never had a chance to write it until now. Why is it so long!
Story note: I could do a lot with this plotbunny, but this little scene just so happens to be my favorite. It's also condensed (it's like three chapters worth of information squished into one). I don't think I'd actually start a multi-chaptered fic with this particular chapter, although it's a good start and pretty much has a kernel of everything I wanted to add in the plotline. :)
"Please listen to reason, Christine," Raoul implored. "There is still time to return. I am certain the carriage has not left yet."
Catching her departure from the opera house had been less of a coincidence than he had pretended it to be. He had learned of this excursion two evenings prior when she started packing provisions, hoarding scraps of rope and stashing a lantern. He also may have wandered past her room during her lessons to accidentally hear her speaking to her tutor about their plans.
When she simply ignored him and continued walking, he tugged the coat around his shoulders tighter and reluctantly started after her. Her heavy, blue cloak looked obsidian in the night; it swayed gently as she picked through a circuitous route to a destination he was not privy to. A harvest moon hung low and bright, but he could barely see beyond the last headstone that they passed. The air was heavy with a thick fog that enveloped them and dampened even the moonlight.
"I worry for your sake," he called after her.
While an excursion such as this would have once been completely baffling, these past weeks had altered his perceptions of her, the opera house, and life as he knew it. So much had changed that all he could do now was expect the worst and brace himself for what was to happen next.
He'd had the misconception that she would listen to reason. He thought he could convince her that it was not only against simple propriety for a lady to traipse around a cemetery at such a late hour but that it was also quite unsafe. Being forced to follow her here made him bemoan his failure and his, at the time, noble decision against paying the carriage driver double to make sure she did not make it to the cemetery at all, as he had first wanted to do. He knew she was headstrong, but this was bordering upon reckless. He had a responsibility now to ensure her continued safety.
He kept a respectable distance from her, but she was the only one with a lantern between them and he refused to dally longer than several paces. She was already nothing but an orange spectre picking her way through the rolling mists though. He cursed his imagination for that unfortunate image, especially since the real ghost floated in the space between them.
The Opera Ghost. Monsieur OG. Christine's Angel of Music. Said ghost made a point of acting as a barrier between them – not a very effective physical one, but his rather impressive, menacing glare did a good enough job to discourage him from walking any closer. His presence only served to remind Raoul of how Christine simply refused to believe that her Angel of Music was, in fact, just a dead man.
He thought he had made a compelling argument when he informed her that her angel looked as though he was going to attempt to injure him – he had decided that telling her the ghost looked murderous would have been too violent to share. Still, she insisted that her angel was no ghost and certainly, angels did not glare, much less act violently. She took his threats to be a sign of over-protectiveness and since she could not see him, she could not see the glares. That did not mean they did not exist. Raoul now knew that many things, even if you did not see them, apparently existed. Those glares for one. And, the Opera Ghost for another.
Even now, he could not completely wrap his mind around the apt description of the man who terrorized the opera house. He had believed in the Opera Ghost after only his first week as patron of the Opera Populaire. He had believed it insofar as he had adamantly insisted that a man, most likely a stagehand and least likely, though still an option, one of the managers had been playing off everyone's general superstitious nature to pretend that such a ghost existed. No one had ever seen him. Joseph Buquet told many stories about a gentleman in a suit, about a face that was not really a face, but Raoul had always doubted his veracity because of the sheer pleasure he obtained in scaring others. The ballet corps screamed and ran away at the slightest sounds, and accidents do happen, contrary to what La Carlotta would like to believe. There had been several items floating about and an eerie, distant disembodied voice, but both events could have easily been staged.
It was a brilliant plan; Raoul had appreciated such ingenuity. Legend and gossip had laid the groundwork. He suspected that the previous manager had begun the actual manipulation. The man used the ploy not only to embezzle twenty thousand francs a month under the guise of bribery from a 'ghost' but also to keep all the actors and stagehands in order. After he had accumulated enough money, the next step had been to sell the opera house and leave all his secrets with the new managers. It had made perfect sense.
Then, Raoul spent time with Andre and Firmin. They were shrewd enough when it came to budgets – at least Andre was – but they were far from conniving. The managers were horrible liars and too disorganized to make an extensive ploy such as the Opera Ghost work. To confuse matters more, Raoul had been forced to take into account Christine's stories about her angel of music and the tutoring she received. Those facts shook his certainty for a second about ghosts, but she had always been prey to flights of fancy. Her stories convinced him that the ghost was a stagehand, maybe one with hidden talents who was using his knowledge of the opera house to remain hidden while he vocally tutored her.
He would have gladly continued believing in this theory if he had not accidentally stumbled upon Christine talking to no one. She had a full one-sided conversation, as though someone was indeed answering her, and when asked, she had insisted that she was speaking to her angel. Raoul had heard no one respond but she persisted, claiming that only she could hear her angel because her father had specifically sent him to her.
He had been so concerned about her welfare that he nearly called a doctor to have him examine her. It was only his desire to protect Christine and her pleas for him to believe that she was well and more importantly finally happy again that made him pause. He had conceded at her obvious earnestness, having been unable to be the cause of unhappiness for her. He pretended he had not worried for her sanity.
Somehow, in the span of several weeks, the ghost had gone from imagined angel to diaphanous phantom to arrogant antagonist, and Raoul was forced to question his own sanity. As he momentarily lost sight of Christine because of the ghost, he questioned it once more. In a nearby tree, an owl hooted suddenly and he started at the sound, stumbling slightly. The ghost looked amused, and somehow despite the mask, Raoul could tell he was being mocked.
He frowned at the spectre before breaking the disconcerting silence, "Christine?" Their footsteps were the only sound to be heard and he grimaced at the thought of it being the dead of night. They had been walking for quite some time now and he wanted to make sure she knew he was not encouraging her in any manner. He did not trust the ghost or his plans. "Shall we return now?"
"Raoul," she admonished and finally looked over her shoulder, looked through the Opera Ghost. Despite her ability to hear him clearly, she did not know that he always lingered there by her side, watching her, while Raoul was forced to tilt his head to the side just to make eye contact with her. It had not been until a week ago when she had eagerly held his hands and asked him to describe her angel that he had realized she was not able to see him. He had faltered, not only because the ghost had taken a threatening step towards him but also because he did not know how to respond. He thought she would be devastated to learn that her angel was nothing but a man in a suit who was in his forties. His black hair was slicked back and a white mask covered half of his face. He was tall and lean, had very expressive eyes, and quite distinct lines framing his mouth when he scowled, which he did often. Now, he knew those fears were unfounded since she hardly cared about the particulars of her angel's appearance, just that Raoul could in fact see him.
"We are not returning." She pursed her lips before adding firmly, "Trust me."
Her voice drew the ghost's attention, as per usual. At first, Raoul had not considered him dangerous, mostly because her angel had been so focused on her that he had been summarily ignored. When the ghost finally realized that his ability to see him was not going away, he would spare any time not filled with Christine to actively glare at him. Sometimes, the ghost would use her to relay messages of the general tone of 'stay away from Christine' accompanied by a threat. Even as she said the words, she believed her angel was still just being cautious. Raoul begged to disagree because the ghost looked completely serious when he made those threats, and by the aggravated looks the other man gave her, Raoul was certain that she was prone to paraphrasing what he really said.
"It is very difficult to trust you." When he realized she was no longer paying attention because the ghost was whispering to her, Raoul rolled his eyes and muttered in annoyance, "You carry a satchel of questionable contents while sneaking about because you have been encouraged by a ghost."
Said ghost spared him a look and he assumed he had not been muttering quietly enough. Raoul was feeling defiant enough not to care what was thought about his statement though. He was cold and tired and was allowing Christine this madness against his better judgment. In fact, he was still uncertain if he should not be calling a doctor for himself. He was being entirely too calm about this recent development.
But, if he was being completely honest with himself, the opera house was not the first time he had encountered supernatural phenomena. It was not as though he believed in ghosts or angels. It was just that… maybe a small part of him used to believe it was possible. The small part of him that had still been a child, wondering what his mother sounded like or what her hand upon his head would feel like; that babe had believed. After all, only his imagination could be used to supplement the single portrait that his father had not hidden in the attic and the empty bottle of her perfume that smelled faintly of jasmine that Philippe had stolen for him.
That child had been comforted by her presence, a presence that he had believed to be his mother. He had never seen her like he was seeing the Opera Ghost now. No, but for a long while, he thought he could hear her humming a gentle tune that seemed to echo as it lingered in his room. He would feel a cool breeze brush his bangs aside as he laid in bed and hear a distant bubble of pleased laughter whenever he accomplished anything small or large. His first memory was of that laugh, a joyous sound that filled him with such aching sorrow because even that had sounded so distant.
He was never certain if it had been age or the shock of his father's death – perhaps, it had been a combination of the two – but he had stopped feeling her presence soon after his father's funeral. He had not realized how much she had been there for him until she no longer was. For long months, he had mourned the loss of them equally.
It had been his brother's sage words, explaining to him that their parents were finally together where they belonged, that soothed his pain. Even though he had never witnessed it firsthand, Raoul knew his parents had loved each other with such wholehearted devotion. He had only ever witnessed how that love had turned into desperation and longing after his mother had passed. Philippe and his sisters had often tried to explain how their father had been a different man before his birth, as though all of his joy and love had been buried with their mother and all that had been left was the bitterness and anger Raoul remembered all too clearly.
There had been times, very few times that his father had allowed himself the weakness of overindulging in liquor. Knowing the attic was where his father would eventually go, Raoul always made sure to hide there because he never felt as near to his mother as he did when his father drank. And he would drink, drink himself into a stupor, and it was as though alcohol removed a blindfold from his father's eyes and he could finally sense her nearby as well. He would whisper to her with tears in his eyes and apologize for so many things, mostly the birth, Raoul's birth, and causing her to carry once more. When the tears were spent, he would reminisce and laugh at memories that Raoul had eagerly listened to and kept hidden in his heart, and then he would fall into a deep sleep half-buried in a pile of her clothes. It was as though he was only ever at peace with her there.
Raoul had been forced to admit that it would be selfish to keep them apart any longer, to want his mother to stay a spirit trapped with him. Her place was with her love; he knew that lingering spirits, both living and dead, suffered a far worse fate than he could imagine.
Since then, there had been passing moments that had left him wondering whose ghost had the misfortune of remaining here, but it was easier to say the past had all been the imaginings of a lonely child who had killed his mother at birth. It was easier to convince himself that things such as ghosts or spirits were figments of his imagination.
Only in the opera house had the feeling occurred with such frequency that he had not been able to completely ignore it. Only the decade of practice he'd had allowed him to be able to disregard the feeling that someone was watching him or that a presence lingered. It helped that no one else seemed to feel the phantom, feel how the very air felt different at times. No one else could sense him before backdrops fell, notes were delivered, or threats were made. Christine herself always seemed surprised as well and the most activity he had ever felt was whenever she was near. He would see movement out of the corner of his eyes and shadows if he let his gaze unfocus long enough. He had considered those anomalies as nothing more than tricks of the sunlight catching the windows or the candles glinting off the gold that was prominent throughout the opera house. It had been easier when he could convince himself that ghosts did not exist. Now, he truly could not deny what was literally right before him.
"Well," Christine said, "If you do not trust me, then you should trust my angel."
The ghost moved from his post between them and hovered by her side. He reached out to put a hand to her shoulder as though in encouragement for her show of devotion to him, but his hand passed through. She did not react. Belatedly realizing that Raoul had probably seen the action, he turned to glare at him with renewed hatred.
"He is a ghost," Raoul corrected automatically, "not an angel."
She had explained to him how she first heard her Angel of Music shortly after her father's death. Her nights at the opera house had been filled with tears and aimless wanderings. Then, one night, the mostbeautiful song she had ever heard coaxed her from her misery. It had filled her with a peace she had only ever known in her father's presence. In an instant, she knew that he had kept his promise to send her an angel, an angel of music. Years had passed with this small comfort before her voice lessons actually began, before her angel had spoken to her directly.
Raoul was convinced it had simply taken that long before the ghost realized he could be heard without straining himself.
"He cannot be an angel," he reiterated, pointedly staring at the ghost.
He did not know why she refused to listen to reason when she knew he could see her supposed angel. This man happened to have no physical body and was currently hovering in the air. He had feet. Raoul had seen them after all, but he had quickly learned that when the ghost did not feel like walking or feel like holding his complete form, he simply did not exist from the knees down or the waist down. It was all so very confusing because Raoul wanted to stare at him all the time, wanted to poke and prod him at the same time that he wanted to deny his very existence. It was amazing and frightening, and he was left wondering exactly how much he had been willfully ignoring for more than half his life if he had this ability to see ghosts.
The weeks leading up to All Hallow's Eve had been a lesson in trusting his first impressions. The ghost had slowly but steadily begun to solidify before his very eyes. He used the word 'solidify' lightly because although he could not see through the ghost, he was able to see him walk through walls and furniture. He thought he had been going crazy, but then he saw Christine speak to him, saw the ghost's lips move even though he could not hear the words yet and he finally made the connection between the opera ghost and her angel.
She replied with her own automatic response, "Because he looks like a man does not mean he is not an angel."
Raoul had seen the ghost try and fail to touch Christine numerous times. She did not notice how his hand simply went through her hand, her arm, her shoulder, or her back, but Raoul had noticed enough for the both of them. In his opinion, the ghost attempted to touch her too much. And it was just Christine. The ghost never tried to touch the others. In fact, he made a point of avoiding the others completely, choosing to walk around them even when he could very well just walk right through them.
Moreover, the ghost looked nothing like an angel even if angels could look like men. At least, Raoul was almost certain angels should not look like that. He wore a mask, and the mask really confused him. He could not understand why a ghost would have to wear a mask or how he could since he was already dead. Even beyond that, he had no wings, had no patience whatsoever, and looked angry most, if not all, of the time. He looked dangerous.
"It is not because he is a man…" he trailed off. If the mask and his previous warnings had not convinced her, he did not know what else he could do to make her understand the potential danger she was in, putting her trust in a ghost who would willingly let her believe he was an angel. He found it rather odd that she would believe in angels and not in ghosts, and he blamed her father for that entirely.
"He was not invited," the ghost said. "Do not believe a word he says."
Raoul had to force himself to not react to his voice. He had only begun to hear it that morning and it still caught him unawares whenever he spoke. There was a disorienting moment before he could connect the voice to the ghost that always made him pause. He had expected him to sound gruff, all gravel, harsh whispers, and echoes. The ghost simply sounded like a man, a smooth tenor whose voice lowered significant octaves when he was angered.
There had only been one major occasion when Raoul had heard the ghost's voice before and that was when the managers and the company had angered him enough to warrant a threat. His voice had had a manic edge to it and each word had been clipped and harsh even as it seemed to echo from a great distance, travelling throughout every hallway, room, and office in the building. It had been a most disturbing effect. At the time, Raoul had suspected that it came from the cellars and had been tempted to investigate, but all he could think of now was of his mother's distant laugh echoing in his memories.
In an uncharacteristic move, the ghost spoke directly to him, "You are not invited."
Raoul was better at pretending to be deaf to the ghost's voice than he was at not seeing him. All he had to do was look confused and not react to the taunts. However, now that he could hear him, he could not help but wonder what was happening, if something had happened to him without his realizing, or if he were dying. He tried not thinking about that last option, and the only source of answers was right before him. He refused to ask directly and reveal his secret about being able to hear him though. He doubted the ghost would be willing to answer him anyway.
"Leave, you meddling little fool," the ghost ordered.
It was best that the ghost be forced to use Christine as a medium.
When Christine simply continued walking, the ghost said, "Tell him. He is not invited and that he needs to turn back now before I force him to."
"You are not invited, Raoul," she dutifully repeated, ignoring the rest of the statement.
"He should not be here at all." The ghost continued, "We already warned him. Warn him against following us further. We can make his death look like an accident."
Not wanting to hear what Christine might repeat, Raoul interrupted, "Please explain to me again why we are here. And please do not simply say magic." He refused to believe such a vague answer. They were here for a purpose and Christine had been particularly obscure with her answers so far, which only worried him more.
She stopped walking to point at him. "You refused to listen to me when I tried to explain earlier."
"Do not bother explaining to this fop," the ghost interjected.
Raoul was glad he had practice ignoring the managers whenever they spoke simultaneously; he could carry on the conversation with Christine without faltering. "You were yelling out of your carriage while I was riding beside you."
"He does not deserve an explanation." The ghost moved around her, pacing.
"That was when you had asked me," she retorted.
"I told you we are late." The ghost floated before her and looked into her eyes. He held perfectly still, attempting to will her to see him. She turned from him and continued walking, taking heed of his words even if she was not going to repeat them. "You hadn't needed to explain it to him then either."
"I apologize." Raoul explained, "It had been a rhetorical question at the time. I did not expect you to answer right at that moment."
The ghost stopped trailing after her and turned around to stand directly in his way. Raoul hesitated. He could walk around him, but he knew that would be a concession that the ghost would take advantage of. He simply refused to walk through him though. He cringed at the thought of accidentally touching him; it was less about fear and more about being unwilling to profane the memory of a cool brush across his forehead.
Stalemated, they stood, staring at each other for a long moment. The ghost did not speak, but his entire demeanor expressed enough.
Raoul stated firmly. "I refuse to leave."
The masked man looked rather unimpressed, but he did eventually turn and allow both of them to catch up with Christine. Luckily, she had stopped not several paces away, just off the stone path. Crouching, she placed her bag on the ground and began to clear a circle to dig a small pit. The ghost was crouched beside her as well, whispering directions to her. He pointed to a nearby grave, and she obediently walked to it to grab a handful of moist dirt. When she returned to her original spot, she carefully sprinkled it in a circle that encompassed the pit.
Raoul tried to hold his tongue, but he was dreading what the ghost would make her do next. "Christine. This… this is madness." He walked past her to make sure there was no one else around. There were always tales about grave robbers and he had initially expected them to be ambushed, thinking that the ghost had wanted Christine to join him in death. He still did not want to be caught unawares even though he now wondered exactly what they were doing here utterly alone at night.
Directly behind where Christine had stopped was a mausoleum. Because of the fog, Raoul was forced to move closer in order to read the engraved letters above the gated entrance. 'DAAE.' He glanced at her and for the first time this night, wondered if this was more about her father than her angel. "Christine." He wanted to offer some condolence because he had never found the right moment to do so before.
She paid him no mind though as she pulled rope out of her bag and began to strip it from one frayed end. Tossing the fibers into the pit, she explained distractedly, "I need to build a fire."
The ghost moved so that he was blocking Raoul's line of sight. "You must focus. Ignore the boy. He has already wasted much of our time. We must hurry."
Raoul simply moved to stand across the pit from them, sparing a single unamused glance at the ghost. He, too, crouched down so that he could look her in the eyes and said in his most gentle voice, "Why do you need the fire, Christine? Are you cold?" He tried to see if she looked feverish. The night was uncommonly mild for this time of year, but it was still chilly; had it not been for the fog, it might have been pleasant.
"Think," she ordered and hastily reached through the ghost to grab the lantern she had put down. "What is tonight, Raoul?"
He wondered if he should play along even though she was being intentionally obscure. She was focused and seemed intent on seeing this through, and now that he did not think the ghost was trying to kill her, he was curious to see what she hoped to accomplish. He watched as she lit the end of an extra coil of rope she had brought then drop it into the pit. As she quickly added more rope to build the flame, he finally noticed that they were tied into Punjab lassos.
Realizing she was not going to continue explaining unless he answered, he said, "The night of November the second?"
"The evening of All Souls' Day," she corrected.
"Hurry." The ghost glared at him from across the fire and Raoul found it odd how the porcelain mask seemed to be tinged red. "Stop patronizing him. We haven't the time."
"I can do both," she replied as she reached into her bag to pull out her next item.
Raoul wanted to be incensed at her response, how she implied that she was simply patronizing him, but he was distracted by what she held in her hands. "Is that a dead pigeon?"
"A dove." She cradled it in her hands for a moment before roughly tugging off several feathers. When Raoul jerked at the sudden motion, the ghost laughed. "A pure white dove."
He was almost afraid to ask. "Why were you carrying a dead bird in your bag?"
She tossed the feathers from her hand into the fire. "Because we need one for this to work."
"For what to work?" Raoul pressed more urgently now.
She ignored his question in favour of digging a second hole directly in front of the pit and placing the dead bird there.
"Thank goodness," he muttered. He had almost thought that she was going to cook the bird and eat it.
While she was burying the dove, she explained, "The veil between life and death is thinnest at midnight, this very night. Just once every year. My Angel said that there is a ritual that can be done to give physical form to a spiritual being." She glanced up and said excitedly, "An actual physical form that you can touch and see." She pulled a knife out of the bag.
Raoul moved closer upon seeing it. "What…?"
"You must do it," the ghost said at the same time.
Holding her hand in front of her, she moved to cut herself, but Raoul quickly reached across the pit to grab her hand, stilling both it and the knife. "Don't."
The ghost stepped forward through Christine to hover over the fire and grabbed her hand as well, or at least attempted to. His hand slipped through both of theirs and settled on the hilt of the knife. Raoul jerked away, stumbling backwards onto his rear. He could not explain what had happened exactly, but he could not have continued holding onto her even if he had wanted to. A chill worse than the coldest of winter nights had enveloped his hand. There had been no gradual loss of sensation, not even the burning touch of ice. All feeling, all sensation, or pain became nonexistent in a moment. One second he had felt Christine's hand beneath his; the next, there was nothing.
Staring at his hand in surprise where it was placed on the ground, he tried to flex his fingers. They would not respond. He moved his arm and saw his hand drag across the dirt, but he could not feel it. He would not have believed he was touching the ground had he not been looking straight at the movement of his hand. He scrambled back further and clutched his right hand to his chest; both Christine and the ghost looked at him in surprise.
"Raoul?" She lowered the knife.
He could not even feel his body under his hand, though he could feel his heart racing against the pressure of it on his chest. He glanced down only to see his wrist at an odd angle. Lowering it slightly, he drew it away to try to flex his fingers again, to try bending his wrist, but he could not.
The look on the ghost's face and Christine's worry convinced him that neither of them understood what had happened either; so, he held it loosely down. Now was not the time to dwell on it when Christine was going to cut herself. "Just." He tried to ignore his panic, the thought that he would never feel his hand again crossing his mind. "Why can you believe what this… angel" – he scowled as he said the word – "of yours is saying when he wants you to hurt yourself?"
"It is only a little blood," Christine explained, and the ghost moved away from her, stepping out of her body. He moved to stand beside the pit between her and Raoul. His expression was unreadable as he looked at each of them.
"Meg and I have made pacts like this before," she stated matter-of-factly.
When she moved to cut her hand once more, Raoul pushed himself forward onto his knees, wobbling slightly because he could use but one hand to do so. He made a grab for the knife and it was only because she did not wish to hurt him that he obtained it.
"Does it have to be your blood?" he asked.
She hesitated and looked to the ghost for an answer.
The masked man narrowed his eyes and looked at Raoul appraisingly. "No," he answered finally, shaking his head. "It need not be her blood."
Raoul hefted the knife in his left hand. It felt odd in his grasp, and before either of them could stop him, before he could reconsider, he pressed the blade into his right palm and watched the blood well up. Glad he could not feel the pain, he calmly asked, "What do I do?" as he stared at the cut he had made.
Christine gasped and grabbed his wrist and held it over the mound of the dead bird. "What have you done?" She let several drops fall on it before moving his wrist over the fire. Silently, they both stared at the fat droplets of blood that steadily dripped into the fire, making it splutter and dance.
"I am not going to let you hurt yourself," Raoul stated firmly. "No one should ask that of you." He glanced at the ghost, expecting him to glare once more or perhaps look pleased that he was bleeding. Instead, the ghost stared at him blankly, apparently lost in his own thoughts.
She chided him before he could wonder why the ghost was acting oddly, "We needed but a bit of blood." She let him go long enough to rustle through her bag to produce several strips of bandage. Moving around the pit to kneel beside him, she pulled his hand away from the flames. She dabbed away the excess blood so that she could inspect the wound. "Oh, Raoul. I think you cut yourself too deep."
Raoul tore his eyes away from the ghost to stare at his hand. He could not feel Christine's hand upon his, could not feel the blood dripping down his palm though he saw it. She hastily wrapped the bandage around his palm and forced his hand into a fist to hold it in place. She did not notice how his hand naturally sprung open again. He was surprised when she did not comment upon it feeling as cold as he expected. Letting the knife in his other hand simply fall to the ground, he pulled his injured hand to himself. Sure enough, it was warm to the touch. He stared down at it numbly, observing it as though it were someone else's hand somehow attached to him.
Distantly, he heard the nearby church bell being to toll. This snapped the ghost out of his trance.
"Quickly. The knife."
Christine fumbled for it and Raoul was too stunned to do anything but fall backwards in surprise, heart fluttering nervously as she raised the knife. She buried it into the mound of the dead bird. Raoul stared at her wordlessly and the ghost stared off in the distance towards the church, head tilted just so to hear the bell toll. She was still poised over the dove's grave when the echo of the final bell of midnight dissipated.
When nothing immediately happened, Raoul nudged Christine gently, his bleeding hand still clutched to his chest. He was planning to comfort her since she looked shocked at what she had done, but he looked up towards the ghost and froze. Something was happening; he was sure of it. Or maybe it was blood loss because even though he kept pressure on the cut, he could feel blood dripping down his arm, making his sleeve stick to him uncomfortably.
Still, he used his elbow to get her attention, unwilling to look away from the ghost, and she finally looked up at him, too. They stared at each other. The ghost looked different. Raoul could not quite place why until the masked man took a step forward. He had a certain weight to him that he hadn't before. The air moved around him; the ground shifted beneath his feet. He looked younger, less weighed down and defeated than he had looked before.
She stood up slowly, gaze fixed ahead of her. Tears clung to the edges of her eyes and her mouth was slightly ajar as she took stuttering breaths, the kind that precluded weeping. The ghost stopped in front of her, but even though she hesitated for a moment, she continued walking. She continued to move forward until she walked directly through him, not seeing him at all.
"Christine?" the ghost cried out desperately, hands grabbing at air. When he turned to see where she was going, Raoul finally saw what or rather, at whom she was looking. The fog seemed to lift slightly, to pull away from their small clearing so that they all could see clearly.
"Father?" she whispered and her voice caught in her throat.
"Your father?" the ghost echoed.
Raoul struggled to his feet to see better and surely, directly in front of the gate of the mausoleum was Christine's father, not as Raoul remembered him, but older with greying hair. He was stooped over slightly but moved easily down the few steps without the tentative and deliberate motions of the elderly. The old man only had eyes for her. He held his arms open and that motion spurred Christine to break out into a run. She flung herself bodily towards him without any concern for her well-being and Raoul expected her to pass right through him. Instead, she hit him solidly and wrapped her arms around him. Sobbing loudly, she nearly wailed as she tried to bury herself in his arms. She mumbled 'never leave me again' over and over as they sunk down to sit on the bottom step.
The ghost took an aborted step forward towards them. "Christine?" The defeat in his voice was so plain to hear that Raoul could believe almost it was a physical ache due to her abandonment of him.
"I, uh," Raoul could not bear the silence, could not bear to hear the muttered conversation as Christine basked in the presence that was her father, her most beloved person. "That was not how you wanted it to happen?" He had meant to say it as an opportunity for the ghost to explain what exactly had happened and why.
Instead, the ghost's head whipped towards him and he yelled, "You ignorant little fop. You have no idea what you have done. You have ruined everything."
"I did not ruin anything," Raoul defended before he could stop himself, before he remembered that he was pretending to be deaf to the ghost.
"Of course you did, if you had not…" The ghost stopped mid-rant in order to look at him closely. He stepped towards him and Raoul took a step back and kept walking back until he hit one of the angel monuments that decorated the cemetery. The ghost stopped far enough that Raoul was given the slightest bit of hope that he could possibly run away if need be. Instead of becoming angry though, the ghost merely said, "I feel you are accustomed to being underestimated. This" – he motioned at him with his fingers - "is…" He stopped, apparently not knowing where to go with the thought.
Raoul considered playing dumb and continue to feign deafness but decided it was not worth it. Even though this would be the first time he was alone with the ghost, he was not willing to spend the rest of the evening in a cemetery not speaking to the only other person around. Christine deserved to spend time with her father and he hoped that the ghost was amenable to answering his questions now that both of them had been abandoned.
The ghost scrutinized him. "So you have been able to see and hear me since the beginning."
Raoul shook his head.
"No?" He cast a lingering glance at Christine one last time and Raoul took the opportunity to see the side of the ghost's face that was not hidden behind the mask. Upon closer inspection, he looked to be perhaps a decade older than Raoul, but considering how long the rumours had been circulating about the opera ghost, he wondered just how long the masked man had been waiting for tonight. He shook his head and Raoul could see the second he gave up on her, if only for the moment. The ghost turned back to him to say, "Care to elucidate?"
Raoul considered how he wanted to respond and felt surprisingly bold. "Only if you tell me how you did… this." He gestured at Christine and her father. She was holding onto his hand, bringing it to her lips to kiss as she laid her head on his shoulder; the tears had yet to subside. Her father smiled fondly at her and there was nothing in the world besides them for the moment, and Raoul felt glad for her.
His boldness was the wrong approach though. "Why should I answer your queries?" the ghost raged, "Your impudence is astounding. Where is your dead?"
Raoul shook his head, completely confused by his last question. "My dead?"
The ghost looked around, stalked several paces away towards the pit where the fire still burned and then back. He was looking for something and Raoul could not help but look with him. The cemetery was empty save for Christine and her father, both of whom seemed completely unaware of the noise being made.
"What else do you hide from me?" The ghost stopped his search and approached him with the look of violence that Raoul had grown accustomed to seeing in the past week.
Raoul glanced left and right. He started sliding against the statue, hoping to gain some maneuverability. The ghost followed him.
"You felt my touch earlier," he accused. "What do you do here?" Each word was a step forward and by the end of it, Raoul was still pressed against the statue, trapped by a ghost.
"Do you plan to steal her from me?" The masked man punched the stone by his head to punctuate his last question and some dust fell onto his hair.
Raoul flinched, hands raised to protect his head. He slowly lowered them and was faced with an irate ghost who moved to reach for his shoulders as though to shake him. He still could not feel his right hand; only his other hand holding it assured him that it was still there. He could only resign himself to lose feeling in his shoulders now, too. So close to his heart, Raoul wondered if the ghost's touch would be able to kill him. He took a deep breath and stood taller, waiting for what was to come.
"Did she send…?" The question ended when he grabbed his shoulders.
To both of their surprise, nothing happened besides the ghost grabbing his shoulders and shaking him.
The ghost shook him again for good measure. "Who are you?" he asked and flexed his fingers, a flicker of surprise crossing his features. His hold became something more of an exploration, fingers rubbing against the material of his coat, feeling the bones in his shoulders and in his arms, an action that pulled them closer together.
Raoul, who had stilled completely, could feel his cheeks burn. He did not even think to try to free himself. He was still processing the fact that he could touch the opera ghost. The ghost was somehow solid and was touching him. Raoul tried to make the connection with what Christine had been saying, but he was entirely too distracted and relieved to think beyond the fact that he was still alive.
Not waiting for an answer, the ghost asked again, this time with less vehemence, with less searching, "Where is your dead?" He sounded honestly confused.
"I?" Raoul started, but the ghost's hands were moving down his arms and the ghost himself was as distracted by the movement as Raoul was if not more so. Again, he wondered just how long. How long had the ghost been waiting for this moment, for someone to believe him, for someone to hear or see him so that he would have this opportunity to feel again? Raoul did not know, but he did know that despite his sympathy, he could not let the ghost continue touch him so freely, not when his hands had moved away from his arms and were now touching his sides. Raoul tried to move then and that finally caught the ghost's attention. It did not stop him from touching; instead of the surprised, focused exploration, the ghost pinned him against the statue firmly.
"Do not make me ask twice."
Raoul could feel the masked man's breath against his face. It was warm compared to the chill of the night, and he distantly wondered how that was possible.
The ghost snarled, "Answer me." He shook him, hands grabbing his hips firmly and Raoul braced himself by grabbing onto the ghost's arms, at least one hand grabbed, the other just settled on his arm. His touch made the ghost pause long enough for Raoul to speak.
"I do not understand what you ask of me." He pushed the ghost away, at least slightly. The other man did not remove his hands, but he was keeping further distance. Raoul glanced around, hoping to find something that would help him. He had no weapons and he was at a clear disadvantage in terms of positioning. He could surprise him with an attack, but then what? He could not leave Christine, although she looked to remain safe from the opera ghost. She was certainly having a better evening than he was.
With narrowed eyes, the ghost explained, "The ritual brings forth the spirit of those you desire to see."
Raoul took a moment to digest this information. He thought aloud, "Christine had wanted to see her Angel of Music, but she had wanted to see…" he glanced past the ghost.
"Her father more," the ghost finished with a scoff.
"He will tell her you are no angel," Raoul observed.
The ghost looked as though he had not considered that outcome and he turned to look at them. Raoul was almost certain that he was going to go there to tear them apart, but the futility of the effort seemed to dawn on him. He stayed as he was, adjusting his hold on Raoul. Not knowing exactly how to respond, he said instead, "The gypsy who was a medium, she gave birth to a dead son. Death gradually grew within her, month after month, and her sight grew with it. When the boy came out blue and still, her talents with the spirits had been fully formed and she saw both body and spirit of her long deceased newborn."
Raoul tensed, not completely understanding the purpose of sharing such a story, but knowing it disturbed him. Hands slid to his stomach and the ghost grinned maliciously.
"How has death touched you?"
Fear gave him strength and Raoul threw himself forward, shoulder connecting with the man's chest. The move was so sudden that they both stumbled. While the ghost fell down, Raoul managed to stay on his feet. Letting momentum take him forward, he ran headlong until he positioned himself so that a large headstone stood between him and the ghost.
He huddled behind the meager barrier, hands cradled against his stomach. He felt a little lightheaded and suddenly desperately needed to know, "How long do you have form?" He glanced at Christine, knowing he could not in good conscience leave her here by herself, but he felt so very tired, tired of being confused and afraid for his life. He knew she needed this time spent with her father, but he was quickly realizing that he did not want to have any dealings with the mercurial ghost any longer.
The masked man remained sprawled on his side on the ground. Looking completely at ease, he ran his fingers through the dirt and gravel, drawing five parallel lines and adding dots haphazardly. It looked like he was composing music, and when he finished several bars, he answered, "Until the sun rises. When it rises, everything returns to as it was." Almost. The word was unspoken, but the ghost punctuated his sentence by looking at Christine. She would certainly never be the same.
Raoul was struck by how strange it was. When the man was not glaring or pining, he looked lost. Only sensations transformed his expression to one of pleasure and maybe a different type of longing than he had with Christine. He was rediscovering feeling, the rough texture of dirt, the give of the ground, the chill of the fog. It made him look less threatening, less of a dangerous apparition and more human. In that moment, Raoul wanted to ask him why me, but he was certain the ghost did not know the answer to that particular question. As human as he looked, he could not forget that the ghost was proving to be quite unpredictable.
Needing to refocus, Raoul looked down at the headstone, but the brief respite from their repartee was all that was needed for him to be assailed by a sudden realization. His throat tightened at the story of the gypsy, at the meaning behind it, and it was all too clear now why he could see the ghost. He desperately wanted to ignore this insight, but all he could think of was his father and if only the baby had died. It was better for the child to die. He nodded to himself, feeling exhausted.
The ghost's question of 'where is your dead?' echoed in his mind. His dead would not want to see him. Even though he missed his parents – and that was an ache that never fully went away –, he would never want to separate them unnecessarily, not for selfish reasons. He could not help but wonder though, if just once he could see his mother himself, hug her, tell her he was sorry and say good-bye.
So caught up in his thoughts, he did not notice the ghost approaching him, moving silently, until the masked man was directly in front of him. The headstone between them seemed smaller now, but Raoul was grateful for the distraction. He did not want to follow where those thoughts led. The ghost placed his hands on the stone, nails dragging across the surface even though it was obvious he wanted to reach across it.
"A gypsy?" Raoul asked and his voice cracked. The masked man raised an eyebrow but did not say anything. His hands twitched, and Raoul questioned if he would be able to survive such torture of solitude and touch-deprivation. It did not take long for him to decide that he would not. "Was she the first to see you?"
The ghost considered whether to respond, and when it became obvious that he would not, Raoul changed his question. "What would you have done with Christine had your plan gone the way you desired?"
This garnered a response, as Raoul knew it would. He had a feeling Christine would always garner a response. The ghost laughed and it was a bitter sound full of self-loathing. His lip curled up in disgust though there was no one around but himself to direct it. "What intentions does a ghost have with any living person?"
"Possession?" Raoul guessed.
The ghost smirked. "Hardly. Old wives' tales."
"Then?" Raoul was simply glad that they had managed to exchange words without yelling at each other. He might not be able to get all the answers he wanted, but at least he would discover more about this ghost's life and his intentions toward Christine.
"You ask me what I would have done with her," he gestured towards the pair. Christine had pulled her father's arm around her shoulder, and she looked younger like that, swimming in her cloak and curled contentedly as her father spoke to her. "I would have her see me, have her look me in the eyes. I would have" – he slammed his fists down on the headstone – "touched her, held her hand within mine, brushed her hair from her face."
That expression of loss felt familiar, the sentiment too close to his own heart that Raoul reached out to share his pain even though he knew it was Christine the other man longed to touch. He placed his hands atop the ghost's fists on the headstone, prepared for an unfavourable reaction, but the ghost stared at their hands. He neither relaxed nor did he pull away.
"I am sorry," Raoul whispered.
The masked man surprised him by saying, "You are not completely at fault."
"I am not at fault at all," he retorted. He shrugged. "But I am sorry nonetheless."
Raoul waited for the ghost to move away first, except the man was lost in his thoughts as he stared at Christine and her father and Raoul was left staring at their hands, feeling more uncomfortable the longer they remained as such. The makeshift bandage wrapped around his hand was soaked through with blood and he watched as the red gradually overtook the beige cloth completely. Soon, he would be bleeding on the other man and he wondered if that counted as poor etiquette. He doubted the ghost cared so instead, he shut his eyes, just to rest them for a moment.
He opened them again when the world felt as though it shifted beneath his feet and someone was supporting him beneath his right arm. It was odd because he had not felt the ghost move, much less move around the headstone in order to catch him, and he was sure he had closed his eyes only a second ago. He cleared his throat, the 'thank you' he knew such assistance necessitated caught in it, and tried to stand on his own, but the ghost refused to release him, much less let him stand. He seemed to have other ideas and forced Raoul to sit on the ground. It was only because he was tired did he go without a fight.
The ring finger on his right hand twitched where it rested on the ghost's shoulder. The other man immediately noticed the movement and finally slipped out from beneath his arm. Raoul lifted his injured hand in front of his face to stare at it as he tried to make it move again. It was not coordinated, but his fingers did twitch. "It is not so much blood," he mused aloud. At least he was beginning to gain more control. If he focused, he could almost begin to feel his hand again, and though it was only the burn of the cut he had given himself and not the bandage, it was progress.
The ghost grabbed his hand while he was still inspecting it and he could not stifle a cry of pain at such abuse. The man hardly looked moved by his pain, but he only jerked his hand roughly one more time as he undid the bandage. Raoul was further surprised when the ghost hissed several epithets under his breath upon seeing his injury – Raoul was sure he did not mean for them to be heard – before leaving his side.
Left alone, Raoul stretched his legs out and stared at the open wound on his hand once more; it was still bleeding. It did not look too horrible. The twitching of his hand made the edges of the wound tug painfully outward. It simply looked as though it would take a long while to heal. He could not remember exactly why he had thought cutting his dominant hand had been a good idea.
He was given no verbal warning when the ghost returned and without fanfare grabbed his hand roughly. The warmth of his touch only momentarily distracted him; then, all thoughts flew from his mind when the ghost tipped over a flask and poured alcohol onto the open wound.
"Ah!" Raoul elbowed him. He hissed between clenched teeth, "That hurts."
He tried to pull his hand away, but the ghost held on tightly, nails digging into his skin, dangerously close to his wound.
"Good," the ghost retorted and poured more. "Be still or I'll cauterize it as well."
Raoul stilled immediately and dutifully kept his hand out, fully convinced the ghost would follow through with his threat now that he had the body to do so. He briefly wondered why Christine had a flask of alcohol stashed in her bag of supplies as he watched the ghost rewrap his hand in a clean bandage. He was surprised to see him being more thorough and adept at it than Christine had been; it was neater and tightly bound. When he was done, Raoul tried to take his hand back. The ghost simply sat down beside him and continued to cradle his injured hand on his lap.
"What are you…?" he trailed off when he saw the challenging glare given in response, one that dared him to do anything but acquiesce. Raoul did not think there was any choice but to, considering his position. The throbbing in his hand was just beginning to subside and he feared just how painful it would be when he finally regained complete feeling in it. Moving was not an option, but he did want to know why the ghost wanted to continue helping him. "I just…"
"We need to stop the bleeding," the ghost interrupted.
"But, I," Raoul was going to point out that he was capable of applying pressure himself, but the words tapered off when the ghost squeezed his hand, tight enough that Raoul flinched in response. He let the other man keep his hand for now, let him pretend that it was Christine that he was holding.
Once the ghost was sure that Raoul would stop questioning him, he looked straight ahead and began to pointedly ignore him again. However, he was trying to avoid looking at Christine as well.
Raoul, on the other hand, watched her avidly. She was speaking animatedly to her father, and every now and then, he would touch her hair, cup her cheek and simply smile at her. He hated to admit that the longer he watched them, the more bitterness he felt towards her relationship with her father. Watching them and feeling angry was better than feeling the warmth that seeped in through his side where he was touching the ghost.
He intended to stay awake the entire night, to be a tireless sentry. He was equal parts worried for Christine and for his own sake if he fell asleep. However, the pain in his hand had become negligible and the steady inhale and exhale of the body pressed against him was enough to lull him to sleep, if the heavy silence would not accomplish it first. His eyelids kept drooping and his head nearly dropped forward several times as he struggled to stay awake. The ghost gave him a sidelong glance that made him think he was doing a poor job of not letting his chin drop to his chest, and instead of speaking to help him remain awake, the ghost continued to ignore him.
Some time in the night, between the soothing murmuring of Christine and her father speaking and the sturdy shoulder upon which he leaned, Raoul bargained with himself that he would only take a short nap and finally allowed himself to succumb to his fatigue.
He dreamt of his mother vaguely and she called his name, her voice echoing in the distance. He strained to hear it again, to hear her voice, but the next time his name was called, it was a man's voice whispering by his ear, "Raoul." The air in front of his face shifted and his hair was brushed from his face. The shoulder he had slumped onto jerked, waking him up further. He lifted his head only slightly, his cheek rubbing against a moist jacket as he tried to wake up. He moaned softly, eyes struggling to open.
"Viscount," the voice called again and Raoul knew he was forgetting something. His mother would not call him viscount. His bedroom was cold. He was groggy, and his mind simply refused to catch up. He put his hand down to push himself up and winced, pulling his hand back to his stomach, and before he could sit up properly, the body supporting him left his side. Raoul tilted over and simply collapsed to the ground since he was too slow to put his hand out to catch himself.
Waking up after that was considerably easier. "What? Where?"
He levered himself up with his good hand, tilting his neck to stretch out the crick that formed. The first thing he saw was the back of a man whose black suit remained perfectly clean and pressed despite having spent the night on the ground. His back was stiff and Raoul stared at it in wonder as he gradually began to dim as though Raoul were looking at a faded painting. The previous night and weeks prior came to mind, and he felt a mixture of relief and pity for the ghost. He was surprised when the masked man did not only dim, but grow fainter and fainter until Raoul could see right through him to Christine.
She clawed at the air in front of her, shouting, "Papa. Papa!" Her father tried to placate her, tried to catch her hands that simply moved through him. She cried out louder and threw herself on the floor where her father had just been as the sun crept over the horizon.
The ghost's eyes were fixed on her. Raoul climbed to his feet ungracefully, his legs stiff from the long night. He lifted his hand to touch him but paused upon seeing the bandages wrapped around his palm. He easily recalled the solid warmth of his shoulder, of two large hands grasping his own, but the fog had cleared and though he could not see the sun directly, the sky was bright. He could finally make a fist with his right hand without it taking much effort, and it ached something terrible. He backed away.
The sun had risen and it was finally over, maybe completely over if the ghost steadily vanishing was any indication. As he waited for the ghost to leave from his sight, he glanced through him to see how Christine was doing. She was curled up, hugging herself as tears watering the steps to her father's grave. He only shifted his attention when he realized that the ghost had turned to look at him, an unreadable expression on his face once more. Raoul could not look away, caught by that assessing stare. He wanted to apologize again for not being Christine, for wasting his year and probably every following year now that she knew she could see her father, but he could not find the words. The sun climbed over the distant buildings so that its rays could warm the ground. The ghost seemed to hold his form for a beat longer before he disappeared from his sight.
Raoul breathed out heavily, taking a moment for just himself. Only after, did he dart forward to go to Christine. She clung to him, sobbing into his shoulder. He whispered soothing nonsense, not even sure what he was saying. He told her everything was fine, especially now that she had finally been able to see her father again, to say goodbye. He told her that her father would have been proud of her, of everything she had accomplished. He looked around to see if he was still present but saw no sign of the older gentleman of whom Raoul only had fond thoughts.
She muttered shakily into his coat, "You saw him as well, right?"
"I saw him." Raoul nodded. "Yes. He was here. He was here for you."
She smiled, and she looked precious with her eyes red and cheeks streaked with tears. It made her look more delicate, like someone that should be protected and cared for. He gently coaxed her to her feet.
"Let us go home. You are chilled."
He knew she was exhausted when she followed along without another word. Soon, she would return to the stubborn and headstrong girl he knew, but for now, she needed him. Sniffling every now and then, she leaned her head against his shoulder.
He would be glad to return home and considered sleeping the day away but he was forced to admit that he no longer felt tired. He could question Christine now that she knew the ghost was not her angel; perhaps, her father had explained everything to her. The only problem was he could not think of anything to ask her, not any longer. He knew too much already and needed to think upon all he had learned. He did not completely understand why the ghost had disappeared. The only explanation he could think of was the weeks leading up to All Souls' Day had given him an abnormal increase of clarity or having had the ritual performed on him, he would no longer be able to see the opera ghost. For some reason, he could not shake the sense of loss he felt – whether it was for the ghost or for himself he did not rightly know.
Christine stopped suddenly and he stumbled, almost tripping them both. Gesturing back to where they had been, she said, "Raoul."
The bag and its contents were scattered by the pit, where the fire had long since gone out. He let go of her only after making sure she could stand on her own. Jogging back, he covered the makeshift pit with dirt and threw the excess bandages and ropes back in the bag. He hesitated with the knife still buried in the ground before gingerly removing it. That, too, he wrapped and placed into the bag. When he finished, he stood up and hesitated.
There was someone hovering by Christine though pointedly not looking at her. It was not a glimmer, not a spark. It was a ghost he could clearly see. A man in a suit, wearing a porcelain mask.
When both looked at him in unison, wearing twin expressions of expectation, he jerkily shouldered the bag. He dropped his gaze and rushed to them. He wondered how long it would take the ghost to realize he could still see him and he found himself grinning.
A/N: Don't forget to R/R (Read and Review)!
Fic Review: dead!Erik with significantly less angst. Sort of. More plotty though. I love this plot. I say that a lot, don't I? Because I love every single one of them. XD
Also, stupid capitalization issues with Opera Ghost. I kept it as so because it is a title. Maybe if I were talking about an opera ghost, I'd keep it lower case. Just random thoughts here. Also, screw editing. I've edited this the past two days and I know I should give it a rest and then come back fresh to reread it but I hate having marginally finished fics on my hard drive without posting them. I tried though. Tried.