Bantering Through Christmas
Entry for 2nd annual Christmas Phantom One-Shot Contest. Based on Leroux and Kay. Set before Erik gets to know Christine.
Erik loved the winter. He could go out as much as he liked, a shawl conceiling his mask. He could wear either a hat or a woolen knit cap to shield his ears from the icy wind. The older he became the more he appreciated warm clothing above elegant. There was no one to impress, so why should he not wear a warm knit cap? Of course a hat would look much better, but then he risked infection of the middle ear from the icy storm.
It was an unusually cold winter day, Erik felt the powdersnow under his boots and listened to the noise every step made. It was daytime but a grey winter day. The powder snow flakes were like icy needles as the wind threw them at him - at least where they could hit his skin. Right now he was as covered as everyone else, trying not to show one inch of skin. He even wore glasses to protect his eyes from the wind.
The carriage drivers coarsed the snow that made their work so difficult. The horses disliked the snow and the wind and were unusually stubborn and bucked at the worst possible times. The carriages weels didn't have much grip on the icy streets and sometimes slided out of control until something - like the cerbstone or another carriage - stopped them.
Erik passed them, glad that he was not between the panicked horses and the carriage. He wouldn't risk his health helping anyone, no one ever helped him.
To him this was a nice walk because no one looked twice at him. He silently mocked the ridiculous tawdry decorations people put up. It was unnecessary work to put them up, to keep them clean, to remove them. A waste of money and time. He could hear some children listlessly singing a christmas charol under the strict watch of two teachers. These children would have a terrible cold after screaming their lungs out in the icy wind and torturing passers-by with their noise. Some people even gave them coins for one or another charity. Whatever.
Erik's steps took him to his old Persian friend's home. He smiled grimly. At least one man who didn't partake in that ridiculous cheesy Christmas nonsense.
At least Erik thought so. When he opened the door to his friend's flat he closed the door immediately, thinking he was in the wrong floor and the wrong flat - but the number on the door told him that he was not mistaken. So he opened the door again. Of course Erik had no key and knew that his friend regularly bought the newest and best locks, but he welcomed the challenge and learned to pick every one of them.
The flat was decorated for Christmas, even more than a common flat in Paris ought to be. It was as if someone was trying to surpass all other inhabitants with decorations. But what for? The Persian wasn't Christian, the Persian had no friends who would visit him except a certain Living Corpse, but Erik never considered himself to be a friend who would pay the lonely Persian a social visit.
"A merry Christmas to you, my friend!" the Daroga's bass voice greeted him.
"What the bloody fucking hell are you doing here, you old pig-headed fool?"
The Persian frowned. "That is not the appropriate greeting for a Christmas visit, is it? Erik, this is beneath you. Usually you know how to conduct yourself."
Erik gestured wildly. "This... this... what is this? Have you gone mad, you old fool? Is the exile slowly damaging your brain? What are you doing?"
With a shrug and an amused smile the Daroga replied: "You ought to know. You informed me about Christmas traditions."
"In Persia! I insisted on a Christmas celebration to annoy everyone! It was an act of defiance!" Erik was almost screaming now in his frustration.
The Daroga shrugged and smiled with one eyerow raised. "And?" he asked innocently.
"Are you trying to annoy me?" Erik snapped barely able to restrain his fury. He really wanted to punch his old friend. No one but the Persian knew him well enough to make him that angry.
"It is my home, you are free to go," the Daroga stated matter of factly, "Or you sit down, have some cookies and punch. And you may even stay for the roast lamp."
The storm threw icy snowflakes against the window that was already covered in ice so one couldn't really see through it well. Erik was cold and the idea of hot punch was much better than the idea of having to walk back to the opera immediately. Even the thought of his cozy flat beneath that building wasn't appealing right now. "I'll take the punch. Make it strong enough so I forget that you made a complete fool of yourself decorading your flat in this ridiculous way!"
The old Persian smiled as he watched his masked friend taking off his cloak, cap, muffler, gloves, another pair of gloves beneath them. Erik was growing old and the older he became the less he could tolerate coldness. Especially in the joints of his sensitive pianist's hands the cold gave him unbearable pain. The former Daroga knew that. He knew Erik would need to warm his hands before he went home. It was a miracle Erik had left the opera house at all. The Daroga knew what that meant - Erik was growing claustrophobic being all alone in the monumental building. Erik could not take the silence and loneliness any longer. It happened seldom, but it did happen. And then Erik came to him for he was the only one who knew him and accepted his eccentric behavior. Erik had no one else he could visit.
The Persian manservant brought them two cups of punch. Erik took one in both hands, still wearing the thin leather gloves he had worn under the thick woolen mittens, smiling involuntarily as the coldness slowly left his aching knuckles. Then he tried the punch and noticed that Nadir had added some fine cognac to it. "Alcohol?" he asked, wondering.
"Why not? If I understand Christmas correctly it is mostly a Birthday celebration, isn't it?"
"And you were the one who always insisted that alohol is a terribe vice and a sin," Erik replied with a grin.
The Daroga shrugged. "Do you want to start comparing our sins or enjoying a nice Christmas evening?"
"If we are playing who-is-the-bad-guy-here I suggest you don't even enter that competition." Erik's statement was completely emotionless. He showed neither pride nor shame or any kind of guilty conscience. It was a fact and he had accepted it.
The Daroga could not suppress a shudder as he remembered that the man who looked rather frail and weary was by far the most dangerous man he had ever met in his life. What Erik's body couldn't do any more - and there was absolutely no doubt that the last 25 years since they left Persia had taken their toll on Erik too - Erik's mind compensated with much experience and by far more sophisticated scheming. He briefly wondered why he had not left Paris the day he discovered Erik there. But then... he was almost as lonely as Erik. Except his faithful servant he had no one, no friends, no families. Nothing. Maybe that was what caused Erik's visits to him. They both sometimes just needed someone to talk to. The Daroga watched as Erik made himself at home. Which meant, he sat in the most comfortable chair by the stove he could find, he threw his wet cloak just onto the settee and the cap followed. "I guess this is one thing we can agree about."
They sat in silence and waited for Darius to finish cooking.
It was the Persian who spoke up first, pointing to a book on his table. "Do you know this?"
"Hmmm?" Erik was half-asleep. The Persian suspected that his friend hadn't eaten or slept enough in the past days so the not really strong punch was enough to make him sleepy. The masked man looked at the book. "Charles Dickens? O come on, old friend, do you really read such stupid trashy novels?"
"Shall I call you Ebeneezer Scrooge from now on?" the Persian teased.
Erik chuckled. "You may call me whatever you want to. One name is as good as another. And I still think that novel is absolutely stupid. It was clearly written with the sole intention to manipulate the feelings of the readers, to get them to abandon all rational thought and follow only the emotions the author wanted them to have."
"If it makes the world a little better - why not?"
"It does not," Erik sighed, "It makes some stupid women feel better if they give some alms. But that does not change anything. Humans are cruel beasts and always will be. And what is the message of that book? Be an idiot and give away all you have to buy the love of poor people? It does not work like this. Believe me, I tried to buy friendship and love. It does not work, no matter how much I am willing to give. It does not work."
They sat several hours discussing the book, it was obvious that Erik had read it too - he knew even more details than his friend did - but the masked man still scoffed at the idiotic novel and the stupid celebration and everything humans did in general. The more punch he had the more he complained and the Persian endured his ramblings, knowing his friend well enough to know what this meant: Erik was deeply touched by his friend's gesture and willingness to celebrate Christmas with him and just didn't allow himself the slightest gratitude or being moved so he needed to fend off the frightening feelings with sarcasm and complaining about everything.
Erik stayed. He stayed for dinner - all the time complaining about everything - and he stayed after dinner as the Persian insisted that he wanted to hear at least one christmas carol and if he had to sing it himself.
"That's blackmail!" Erik complained, "And this time you win - before I endure your caterwauling I'll sing something for you."
He sang seven Christmas carols and even allowed the Persian to extinguish the gaslight so they sat only in the light of some candles. Hearing Erik sing was a pleasure that made up for all of the black mood and complaining the Daroga had to endure from the masked man that evening.
It was very late at night when Erik - slightly drunk - had decided to go home. It wasn't necessary, the Persian pointed out that he could as well sleep on the couch, but Erik refused. He would not sleep in any other flat than his own where he felt safe.
The Daroga stood at the window and watched the lonely figure in the dim light of the gas-streetlamps.
"Was it really worth all this trouble?" Darius asked his master. When they were alone he slipped from the role of the servant to the role of a trusted friend.
"He was complaining all the time."
"He loved every second of his visit here."
"He does not even understand the meaning of this holiday."
"On the contrary, Darius, I am sure he understands more than most people. He understands enough to made me see it. And for that I am grateful."
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