charleygirl: (Phantom|Christine|MOTN)
[personal profile] charleygirl
Title: The Garish Light of Day 55/?
Author: charleygirl
Word Count: 4213
Rating: PG
Genre: General, Drama
Characters Involved: Erik the Phantom, Christine Daae
Disclaimer: The Phantom of the Opera is the creation of Gaston Leroux but probably these days copyright to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Summary: Domestic bliss.



DOMESTICITY



It felt strange to Christine, after having spent most of her life (at least the part she could clearly remember) in rented accommodation, to actually have a home of her own. To begin with, in those early days following the wedding, Erik kept having to remind her that the house was theirs, not his, and that if she wished to change anything, to paint the parlour blue and the bedroom pink, she had only to say. He did add, however, that he would prefer it if she left the bedroom walls their current shade of neutral cream as certain pinks made him feel rather bilious, but the wink he gave her afterwards made it clear he was joking. They spent hours looking through pattern books, choosing curtains and soft furnishings: a magnificent oriental rug for the drawing room, fringed lampshades that would look perfect over the dining table, crisp cotton linen for the bed. Wallpaper from Morris & Co of England with its beautiful block-printed designs of jasmine and honeysuckle would line the hall and staircase while the main upstairs rooms were to be painted in pale colours to make the most of the light from the south-facing windows. The decoration of the music room Christine left to Erik, and it was not a surprise when he eventually filled it with dark, heavy furniture of the style that had characterised his former home, the French doors that led to the garden hung with thick red velvet drapes for those moments when he felt the need to shut away the sun and the outside world.

Living together brought fresh challenges for them both; Erik had never shared his home with anyone before and in the years since her father’s death Christine had become used to the life of a single person, to the comfort of putting something down and returning to find it exactly where she had left it. Now when she took a bowl out of the kitchen cupboard and went to the pantry for some dried fruit or a bottle of milk she often found her husband had put it back in its proper place without first checking whether she was intending to use it. In his turn, Erik fretted over her tidying of his music, and gathering the pages of the newspaper before he was done with them. But these were small annoyances, and they paled in comparison with the excitement of the voyage of discovery upon which they had embarked, their growing intimate knowledge of one another.

Though Christine had stayed in the house by the lake on several occasions it was always with the utmost propriety, and Erik had rarely allowed her to catch a glimpse of anything other than the suave, impeccably attired gentleman he did his best to present to the world. Only when he lay recovering from illness or injury did he drop his guard enough for her to see him as he truly was, something Christine found utterly fascinating. He was initially amused by the time she spent watching him shave, her eyes fixed on the wickedly-sharp razor as he wielded it between his nimble fingers; it was fortunate that his beard grew only sparsely on the disfigured side of his face for she thought it must surely be impossible to angle the blade to skim over the twists and crevices of his ravaged skin. More than once a sudden intake of breath from her made him start and almost nick himself, and eventually he ordered her out of the bathroom before she caused him to accidentally cut his own throat.

“You need a haircut,” she told him one morning, running her fingers through it after she had knotted his tie. She enjoyed helping him dress, and Erik had swiftly proved himself to be extremely useful with hooks and laces in return, though he refused to allow her to pull her corset too tight. “It’s getting rather shaggy.”

“I suppose it is.” He finished fastening his cufflinks and reached for his watch, which lay on the bedside table. “I’ll speak to Antoinette about it later.”

Christine blinked in surprise. “Madame Giry cuts your hair?”

“I could hardly make an appointment with a barber, could I?” he asked, eyebrow flicking upwards. “Annie offered, and I accepted. Before that I managed to keep it under control by myself; it was not as if anyone saw me to comment upon its length.”

“Perhaps I could cut it for you,” she suggested. “I used to do Papa’s; it was cheaper than going to a professional. I don’t think I’ve lost the knack.” In a sudden rush of enthusiasm she pushed him towards the chair that stood in front of the bedroom window, pressing on his shoulders so that he sat automatically.

“You want to do it now?” Erik’s expression was startled and more than a little wary.

She shrugged. “There’s no time like the present.” When he still looked unsure she leaned over him and whispered, “I promise not to lop your ears off.”

“Christine, I really don’t think - ” he began, but she was already running downstairs to her sewing box to fetch a pair of scissors, pausing at the linen cupboard on her way back for a large towel. Erik watched her, confused, as she filled a bowl with water and set it on the table, along with a cloth and a comb; draping the towel around his neck to protect his shirt and waistcoat she soaked the cloth and began to dampen his hair. He jumped, the water cold against his scalp, and tried to pull away, insisting, “Really, it’s not necessary, I can - ”

“Erik, it’s no trouble,” Christine said, stroking his jaw in an attempt to calm him. “I want to do this for you. Will you let me? Please?”

He gave a sigh and subsided, though not without reluctance. “Very well.”

There was no sound but the birdsong in the garden and the soft snipping of the scissors as she measured and cut, measured and cut. Erik sat ramrod straight, gaze fixed on the opposite wall, every muscle tense; she could see the veins stand out across the back of his hands as they gripped the arms of the chair. Eventually, however, the soporific monotony of the work and the gentle movement of her fingers through his hair soothed him and she smiled when she glanced down to see that he had closed his eyes, hands now loose in his lap.

He was starting to grey, she realised, finding a few silver strands at his temples, and favoured a style that kept his hair short at the back and sides but left the front considerably longer, something she always found endearing when it was tumbled by sleep and fell rakishly over his forehead. The reason for this soon became clear: in patches across the top of his head, particularly on the right-hand side, the hair grew thin and sparse. He always wore it carefully smoothed back with pomade to hide the deficiency and he did it well; even first thing in the morning Christine had never noticed the balding spots. She made no mention of her discovery, doing her best to trim the hair so that it would fall the right way and aid the deception; it would crush him to know that she had seen yet another of the indignities nature had inflicted upon him. He said nothing as her fingers carded through the thinning strands, but she could tell by the way his shoulders relaxed that he was grateful for her reticence.

“You’re rather good at this,” he remarked when she had finished and he examined the results in a hand mirror she held up. His eyes skimmed away from the reflection of his bare face, something that made her inwardly sigh with a fleeting sadness, but he looked pleased with her efforts. He tapped his left ear. “And I still seem to have both of these.”

Christine pretended to pout, putting down the mirror and reaching for the dustpan and brush. “Did you not believe me?”

“I always believe you, my dear, but I must confess to being a little... attached to my ears,” Erik said, and then he wiggled them at her. She laughed. “Where would a musician be without them?”

“Beethoven managed when he went deaf,” she pointed out, crouching to sweep up the clumps of hair that littered the floorboards.

“Indeed. But we can only imagine the desolation of having music in your head and knowing that you will never hear it played.” He took the brush from her, wide, methodical strokes swiftly clearing up the mess. “But that is a depressing subject for such a lovely morning.” Getting to his feet he regarded the scissors thoughtfully. “Are you sure there is nothing I can do for you, Madame? Return the favour, perhaps..?”

“My hair is not in need of cutting.”

Erik put the dustpan aside and approached, reaching out to take one of her curls between finger and thumb; with his other hand he picked up the scissors, bringing the blades close to her hair. She squealed and pulled away; he followed, scissors snipping at the empty air. “Oh, do stand still, Christine!” he called, a devilish grin on his lips. “I just want to see how you would look with your hair à la Guillotine!”

“No! Erik, that’s horrible!” Christine cried, ducking away. “I thought you liked my hair the way it is!”

“There’s no harm in experimenting, is there? Come here..!” He caught her, one strong arm snaking around her waist and pulling her against him. A squeak escaped her as the scissors wavered over her head, coming to rest just below her chin, a hank of hair trapped between the blades. Erik’s breath touched her ear as he murmured, “What price would you pay to retain your beautiful locks?”

“What price do you ask?” she enquired breathlessly.

His mouth quirked. “A kiss.”

“Only a kiss?”

“It will do for now.”

“In that case, Monsieur, I am happy to acquiesce to your demands,” Christine told him, and captured his lips with her own. She kissed him so passionately that he lost his balance and fell backwards onto the bed, the scissors clattering to the floor.

________________________________________

The tritone from Saint-Saën’s Danse Macabre was drifting down the hall as Christine let herself into the house.

Erik had been practising the piece for the last few days, as it was one he had chosen for the recital with which Messieurs Marigny and Fontaine had decided to launch the new season at the Opera Populaire. Well aware by now that he was an accomplished musician as well as a talented teacher, they pleaded with him to play at the intimate gala they had planned for the most influential patrons in an attempt to draw more investment to the theatre. He was initially reluctant to take part, dismissing the idea out of hand and refusing to, as he put it, ‘prostitute himself before the overfed, self-important Paris elite’, but gradually came round when Christine informed him that she had been asked to sing and would be pleased if he would agree to accompany her. From there it had not been hard to persuade him to perform in his own right, something which she knew deep down had always been his dream. The young man desperate to share his talent with the world was still there somewhere within the embittered Phantom he had been, and it was the fear that he might be laughed off the stage, deluded in his own abilities, that had had him rehearsing every hour God sent. From that moment they both knew that their honeymoon, wonderful as it had been, was over and real life must now return.

A day shopping with an exuberant Meg to choose material from which would be made a dress for the recital was enough to exhaust anyone, and Christine was tired when she opened the door, hanging her shawl on the coat stand and kicking off her shoes. She had hoped that Erik might have started dinner in her absence, his years of living alone having made him more domesticated in that respect than most men, but she could smell nothing cooking and in the middle of the floor lay Bruno, his bowl beside him. As she entered he got up, and taking the bowl in his mouth trotted towards her, depositing it six inches from her feet with an annoyed growl.

Christine sighed. “Has he forgotten to feed you again?” she asked. Just trying to get Erik to eat three meals a day at civilised times was proving a challenge, but worse was making him remember that Bruno depended upon them for his sustenance and wasn’t capable of opening the pantry door and preparing his own dinner. Once Erik became completely caught up in his work nothing else mattered, or even penetrated the magic circle of music he spun around himself and she tried not to imagine what might happen if she didn’t manage to widen his sphere of consciousness before any children entered their lives. “Come on,” she said to the spaniel, picking up the bowl and heading downstairs to the kitchen.

Bruno was wolfing down some leftover chicken and Christine already had a pan of potatoes on to boil by the time the violin fell silent and Erik ventured into the room. She watched him from the corner of her eye as she chopped some carrots; a look of dismay crossed the visible side of his face as he realised how late it had become, and a few moments later he was standing behind her, resting his hands on her upper arms and dropping an apologetic kiss onto the top of her head. “I lost track of time,” he said into her curls.

“So I see.” She put down the knife and turned in his embrace to face him. His expression was contrite. “I could hear poor Bruno’s stomach rumbling halfway down the street.”

“I’m sorry.” He spread his hands helplessly. “You know how I get when I’m working. This gala... it has to be right, do you understand? It has to be perfect.”

Christine smoothed down the embroidered satin of his waistcoat. “Yes, I understand. But you can’t disregard everything any more, Erik; you’re not the only one living here. What’s going to happen when we’re both at the Opera all day? The house will still need to be cleaned, the laundry done, the meals prepared... if I was here, if I didn’t have a career - ”

His eyebrow drew sharply downwards in a disapproving frown. “Don’t you even suggest giving up the stage - ”

“I wasn’t going to. But just think what it will be like when we both come home late at night, hungry and tired out... how will things get done?”

“They will get done,” Erik said firmly. His hands dropped to her hips and he gently moved her aside, taking up the knife and finishing the carrot with a few precise chops. “Even if we have to engage some help.”

“We can’t afford help,” Christine pointed out, relenting when gave her a look and adding, “All right, maybe we can afford it but we can’t be seen to be able to afford it. And besides, would you really want to have a stranger here, poking around and discovering all your secrets?”

He shuddered at the thought and shook his head, reaching for the onion she had peeled. The movements of his long, graceful hands as they cut and diced were almost mesmerising, Christine discovered, unable to tear her gaze away from them. He lifted the chopping board and used the knife to slide the vegetables into the waiting pot and she noted enviously that his eyes were not watering one bit. “If it makes things easier for you, I will endure even that,” he told her. “Our courtship was less than conventional, and I have no desire for this to be a marriage in which the wife is subjugated and chained to the kitchen sink. I will pull my weight, I promise you.” He glanced at her with a lop-sided smile. “You just may have to occasionally... remind me of my duties.”

Christine snaked her arms around his waist and hugged him. “Thank you.”

“You are very precious to me, my dear, and I do not want to see you become a domestic drudge.” Erik’s hand hovered a few inches from her face and he was about to stroke her cheek when his nose wrinkled and he sniffed at his fingers, pulling a face at the offensive lingering scent of onions. She laughed and he shooed her away, striding over to the sink to wash his hands. “Go and sit down,” he commanded, “and later you can show me the hat you haven’t bought that’s in the bandbox hidden under the hall table.”

________________________________________

“You’re worried about this recital, aren’t you?” Christine asked later when the dishes had been washed and put away and they were sitting together on the sofa before the empty fireplace. She lifted her head from his shoulder to see his expression better, glad that he had discarded his mask. Erik had a book in his hand but didn’t really appear to be reading it; his eyes hadn’t moved from the first paragraph in the last ten minutes.

“Worried? No. Apprehensive, nervous, terrified? Yes to all three.” With a sigh he put the book aside, running a distracted hand through his hair. “It will be my very first solo performance; how could I not be?”

“You’ve been on stage before,” she reminded him.

He laughed humourlessly. “For one song before the whole opera ended in chaos.”

“What about the shows you did when you were younger, before the gypsies? You played and sang then, didn’t you? Dazzled them with magic tricks and sleight of hand?”

“That’s true, but those were just rough appearances, on a makeshift stage in a carnival ground or on street corners. And they were a very long time ago.” Erik laid his head back and stared up at the ceiling as if the plaster could provide inspiration. After a moment he glanced at her and there was genuine fear in his eyes. “What will I do if they hate me, Christine?”

“Oh, darling, they’ll love you,” she told him, turning his face so that she could kiss his distorted cheek. “You are a musical genius; how could they not?”

“Anything could go wrong: the violin strings might snap, I could trip and fall walking onto the stage, my voice could crack - ”

“Yes, and all of those things could just as easily not happen.” Christine smiled and rested her forehead against his. “You will be fine, you’re just experiencing the same nerves as every other performer the world over. Before Hannibal I was terrified that my rope skirt would break and fall to the ground in the middle of the ballet, letting everyone see my, erm... nether regions. I made Meg pull on it before we went on to make sure it wasn’t loose.”

“I always did think those costumes were too revealing,” Erik muttered. “I would have left a note for Lefevre about it but his resignation and the arrival of those two new idiots distracted me somewhat.”

“My point is that everyone gets nervous about something.” She curled up against him and he drew her close, his arm around her waist. “Teddy told me that she used to get crippling stage-fright when she was in the back row of the chorus, but now she’s Prima Donna it doesn’t affect her.”

He idly trailed his fingers up and down her stockinged leg, which was stretched across his lap, exposed by her bunched up skirts. “Odd to be scared when very few are likely to notice you,” he remarked thoughtfully.

“I think she revels in the limelight.”

Erik chuckled, doubtless thinking of the shameless little diva. “I think you may be right.” He rested his chin on the top of Christine’s head. “I’m being ridiculous, aren’t I?”

“No.” She settled against him, closing her eyes contentedly. “You’re being human. Please don’t stop.”

“It took me over forty years to start; I have no intention of stopping now,” he assured her, stroking her hair.

“Good.” They sat in silence for some time, listening to the steady ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece. Somewhere outside in the trees a dove was cooing, answered after a few moments by the call of its mate. Christine wondered idly if there were nightingales in their garden. Bruno had been snoozing in his basket under the stairs, but now he came padding into the room, the door creaking slightly as he pushed it open and his nails clattering on the floorboards. She opened one eye to see him sitting beside the sofa, head cocked to one side as he regarded them; he waited for the expected attention that didn’t come, before flopping onto the rug with a huff and resting his head on Erik’s feet.

“A man could get used to this,” Erik remarked with a happy sigh.

“As could a woman.” Christine yawned. “I could stay here all night, but there are things I need to do.”

His eyebrow lifted curiously. “Such as...?”

“I have a pile of petticoats upstairs that won’t darn themselves.” She started to disentangle herself from his arms but he pulled her back; she struggled, laughing. “Erik! Let me go! I am a housewife now, I have responsibilities.”

“Hang the darning,” he said, trapping her against his chest. “I’ll buy you a drawer full of new petticoats; you’ll never need to mend one again.”

“And what about your socks?” Christine enquired, pointing to the long, pale toe that was poking through a hole in the grey wool.

He eyed it with distaste, always particular about his clothing. “I’ll buy some new socks, too.”

“Ah, but that would be wasteful, and wastefulness, sir, is a terrible sin,” she informed him.

The next moment she found herself flat on her back on the sofa, Erik looming over her, his hands resting on either side of her ribcage. “I’m sure there must be worse sins,” he murmured, nuzzling her neck.

“There are; procrastination, for one.” Christine pushed him away, skin tingling from his kiss, and made an attempt to straighten her dress. “I can’t keep putting things off, and you need to learn to control your urges. If we keep this up, the house will go to rack and ruin.”

“Let it,” he declared, but he released her with a grunt of pretended annoyance. She tickled him behind the ear and whispered,

“We can continue this later... if you behave yourself.”

By the time she returned with her sewing box and the pile of mending he had taken up his book once more and Bruno had usurped her place at his side, tongue lolling and tail wagging. With a smile she noticed that Erik had put his shoes back on to hide the holey sock; he never could stand looking anything other than immaculate. Even though the leaves were beginning to turn it was still warm and his shirt collar was unbuttoned, treating her to a fine view of his strong white throat. Feeling her stomach do a flip-flop Christine settled herself in the armchair next to him, spreading one of her petticoats across her lap and squinting in the fading light as she tried to thread her needle. Evidently seeing her struggle, Erik rose and turned up the gas lamps that flanked the chimney breast.

“Will you read to me?” she asked as he resumed his seat.

He looked amused. “You might find it a little heavy going: it’s War and Peace, in the original Russian.”

“I don’t mind. You know I enjoy listening to you.”

With an elegant shrug he began to read aloud, and though Christine understood not a word the rich, velvety sound of his mellifluous voice warmed her and drew her in just as it always had, the strange language tripping effortlessly from his tongue. Eventually it grew too dark to see what she was doing even with the lamps and she put her sewing aside, stretching to try and ease the kinks in her back. As the clock chimed the hour she realised that it was even later than she had thought, and it was only then that she noticed Erik had stopped reading. A glance towards the sofa revealed the reason why: he had fallen asleep and started to snore in that purring, musical way peculiar to him, head nodding onto his chest and the book drooping towards the floor, escaping his fingers’ slackened grip. Smiling fondly Christine picked it up, setting it on the table and carefully marking his place with a piece of ribbon from her basket before brushing his mangled forehead with her lips.

“Come on, sleepyhead,” she said when his eyes fluttered open and he blinked up at her in confusion. Taking his hand she gently pulled him to his feet and, putting out the lights as they passed, he allowed her to lead him from the room. “It’s bedtime...”
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