Author's Note: This story has been three of four years in the making, and I think it's high time I finally churn this thing out in its entirety. The thought of it just lying around unposted literally gnaws at me at some point every single day, so I'm hoping that with a little bit of your encouragement, I'll be able to post chapters weekly. Now, more than ever before, I would love your reviews. I'm admittedly a let's-wing-it sort of fic author, but I've had the plot for this story planned out for AGES. Somehow, this little nut of a fic just became really near and dear to my heart, and your feedback is going to be my motivation to finish it and not let it go on for a fifth year! :)
For those of you who would like a little bit more information about this story: it is set shortly after the incident at the Opera Garnier. And no, I was not mistaken in any of my story labels. Trust me!
"And he hated himself and hated her too, for the ruin they'd made of each other."
― Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
Aurora slammed the door of the café behind her, taking perverse pleasure in the buttercream on her fingertips. Monsieur Petit, in an outburst that was most ill-fitting to his name, had made it quite clear that she was no longer a working woman—so with a wave of her hand, she'd sent his prized dessert sailing to the floor. That had been the end of that.
But the night was dismal and the wind stung her skin, and suddenly sharing a kitchen with the little dictator didn't seem like such a trial. A few more flying pastries would be sure to put him in his place, anyhow. But for the time being, there were only soiled fingers, and one long cobblestone pathway home. She walked, hoping the air would clear her head.
A man raced past her, mumbling in frustration, clutching his top hat against his breast.
The corpse of the Garnier, collapsed once more? Well, what a shame.
Never once had she been inside, but immunity to the grandeur of the Opéra Garnier was a hard thing to come by. Supposedly, it looked like the palace of Versailles – as if the comparison had any bearing on someone as ill-traveled as her! – and was eternally filled with splendid sounds. It boasted the daintiest corps de ballet in all of France; its symphonic orchestra was composed of only the most decorated musicians in the country; and there was something about the opera's very own prima donna that seemed vaguely familiar.
A voice as big as her head…
Carlotta, was it?
But the glory had not come without its fair share of horror, legends of a ghost that reigned the Garnier's performances and haunted the flies. The notorious spirit himself had set the opera aflame a few months ago, and the city still reeked of smoke. Richard and Moncharmin had long set sail, abandoning the Garnier like a bastard child for the reigns of their scrap metal business back North. Those who had made a home in the opera house were long gone too, a few of them dancing on the streets for coins instead of on the stage for roses. And all this because of a ghost, Aurora mused. Perhaps she should have outgrown ghosts, left them behind with dolls and tea parties with biscuits, but still Aurora wrapped her arms around herself, unbuttoning and buttoning her coat for good measure.
The journey home was always silent. It was usually dark, occasionally warm, but always silent. It was the perfect time to ponder, reminisce, regret, or simply place one foot in front of the other in a timeless, thoughtless, cadence. Tonight, it was no such thing, and Aurora found herself annoyed.
At first, she'd been annoyed. The precious absence that she'd always thought fondly of had been ruined, and on a night when she'd needed the clarity. She had patience for little more than the howl of the wind, but the sound had grown louder with each passing step, and had she possessed the sympathy of any other woman, it surely would have brought her to tears. Instead, she paused, her lips parting in awe and wonderment.
Not the typical response to sobbing, she was certain. Not the normal response to sobbing, a small voice scolded. Though a strange reaction was fitting for such a strange sound. She cocked her head in thought. No, never once had she heard anyone cry like this, let alone a man!
It was beautiful, and the thought disturbed her more than she liked to admit. What he wept for in sorrow, he matched in musicality, and she decided that if she ever had to explain the sound, she would liken it to that of a rock skipped across a water bank. It was lonely, calculated, and hopelessly infinite.
Mon dieu, was she actually enjoying it?
She bit down hard on her lip, as though the pearl of blood would serve as some kind of penance for her impertinence. It was better this way, in any case – the man would mourn just fine without her charity. She was certainly in no place to pity…
Before Aurora could finish her thought, footsteps had drowned out the man's sorrowful moans. She was struck by how vulgar the sound was in comparison, and was awarded only a moment of stillness before an arm swung itself around her neck, pulling her flush against a tall, warm frame. Hers was a shout of terror, but a calloused hand clasped itself across her nose and mouth before she could scream.
So she'd found her precious silence after all.
She squirmed wildly against him as he pressed his lips against the nape of her neck, drawing small, obscene circles there with his tongue. Her hands flew to his arm in a desperate attempt to pry it off. Oh, to breathe, to breathe! Her eyelids grew heavy as her mouth grew dry, and the man loosened her buttons from their eyelets.
Perhaps she had been wrong. Most went mad at the end of their lives, but here she was, all of twenty-six, unmistakably delirious with anger. This man—no, this monster would take her until he was sated and leave her pale and limp on a cold Parisian street. She felt her eyelids close and mumbled senselessly against his palm.
Oh, to be young and terrible. But to be young and dead!
A flicker of yellow caught her eyes before she fell to the floor.
The Phantom could not recall the last time he had wept.
He had cried, certainly, more times than he could count on his two gloved hands, but weeping was another matter entirely. Bouts of tears had come and gone, in moments of pain and in moments of hatred, but he was certain that tears like this had only been shed on precious few occasions.
Perhaps the first time had been when he'd carried in the bloodied corpse of his dear spaniel back when he was just a boy. He'd tenderly picked out the pebbles and twigs from her fur – gifts from the neighborhood children – and wiped at her wounds with a square of damp terrycloth. He had buried her in a grave fit for any good Christian, but his lungs had burned and his eyes had stung as he'd packed the damp soil upon the pitiful carcass.
The second time he'd wept, he'd been a young man, eager to bed the young harem girl despite knowing the foolishness of his desire. Two times he had wept, in regard to her. Once, after he'd dismissed her, knowing that not even the khanum's threat of death was enough to persuade her to touch him, and again, after she'd been killed – her corpse a still and bloodied reminder of the fate which she had preferred.
The Phantom clenched his teeth and wiped his mottled brow.
Tonight, he wept for Christine.
The very name seared his insides and sent him doubling over in agony. He ran a long, thin finger over his misshapen lips, finding the memory of her kiss there, and withdrew it quickly, letting out a great moan of sorrow. His lean breast heaved while he instinctively clutched the catgut in his cloak.
Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche was a quiet place, a place of solace that the Phantom had sworn by for years. Every now and again when the dankness of the cellars had grown to disgust him, he would roam the dim corridor, his hands trailing the walls absent-mindedly as he walked. There were blessed few intruders – his looming presence had garnered the street a haunted reputation, as it were.
Tonight he sat among some crumbling bricks, legs bent at the knees and tucked against his chest. He adjusted his hood around his bare face – what a sight the Phantom was tonight! – and steeled himself against the distant odor of smoke. With a grimace, he wiped his hands together, as though to rid himself of some forgotten soot, and let his head fall back against the cold, stone wall.
He hadn't realized he had a visitor until her low shout had shattered his reverie. A mangled sort of cry it was, not entirely coherent, and yet no less understandable. A deeper grunt accompanied the sound—a frantic whimper—the ripping of fabric. The Phantom furrowed his brow.
Leaning forward, he peered down the road. If his eyes served him well – and they rarely failed him – he made out two figures in the shadows. The first was vaguely familiar: tall, pale and slender, with wild, billowing arms and frightened eyes that glistened beneath the lamplight. The second stood behind her, face buried in her neck, hands working roughly at the seams at her side. The man let out a sickening moan of pleasure, and the Phantom turned his head, repulsed.
He would be the man, he decided morbidly, if he had to choose between the two figures before him in some sordid opera. The role of the figure in peril had never been very appealing, and the woman seemed to be a thing of beauty anyway. That alone surely cast him as the gnarled savage, who now seemed to be loosening the band of his trousers.
He had never ruined a woman before, certainly not with his body. With his voice, perhaps… with his lies…
The name set his blood aflame once again, and with trembling hands, he seized the braided snake at his side and let its venom seep past his fingertips. How long would he be forced to serve out his sentence of unrequited love? The very thought brought tears to his eyes. His temples pulsed. His legs grew strong and he regained his footing. The Phantom's black heart beat against his chest to an even darker rhythm.
The man's throat felt like bliss beneath his fingertips. The silvery sound of his gloved hands against the brute's flesh gave him a perverse sort of pleasure. With familiar ease, the length of rope replaced his fingers, and the man choked on his own breath as the snake constricted his throat. The woman tumbled out of his grip, while the Phantom watched with a note of glee as the man's face turned the color of a glorious sunset before fading to the pallor of dawn. He slipped off the catgut, and tucked it back into his cloak.
The Phantom's task was complete.
His hood had pooled around his neck from his efforts, so he quickly readjusted it around his face. The lasso had served to alleviate some of his pain, as it always inexplicably did, and he used the moment of clarity to peer down curiously at the face of his second visitor.
She appeared to be delirious, mumbling nonsense when her tears would allow it and desperately gathering the scraps of her clothes. His eyes wandered over her chest and bare legs – she seemed to be fine, save for a few bruises and scrapes – until he looked away suddenly, feeling wicked.
He would leave her here, he decided quickly. She would come to her senses shortly, shed a few more tears at the sight of the bloated corpse beside her, and then be well on her way. And he… well, he would remain a ghost, or perhaps find the Gendarmes and let them perform their beloved execution. The world held nothing more for him, it never had - surely a bullet through his hideous heart would end even the worst of his troubles.
He put the idea out of his mind, attributing it to his current state of emotions. What use did he have for this woman anyway, this weak creature who could hardly protect her own body? She would be a nuisance, a traitor—
Wandering child, so lost, so helpless…
He inhaled sharply. No, no, he was being a fool. She was pointless, useless—
Farewell my fallen idol and false friend…
The Phantom pressed his eyes shut and clasped his hands across his ears to silence the sounds in his head.
Say you'll share with me, one love, one lifetime…
"Christine," he whispered, tears pricking his eyes, as he wrapped his arms around the slight figure and cradled her against his chest. "Oh, Christine."
Onward he went, muttering sweet nothings into her hair, while his footsteps lulled her to sleep.