Christmas in Darkness
Summary: Entry for Phantom's Christmas One Shot Challenge. Set after Erik moved to the cellars of the Opera but before the events described in "The Phantom of the Opera". Leroux-verse.
Jaques didn't mind the cold. It didn't feel cold any more after the years he had spend here. He knew much icier coldness. The darkness bothered him even less. Jaques always lived in darkness, since that fateful day 1871 during the war.
He had lost his sight. At first being blind was horrible. He had been absolutely helpless, unable to eat, to drink, unable to care for himself, had needed help with every move. One day he had been a respected man, a father, working hard and providing for his family. The next day he was a burden to his family.
The medical treatment he got at the hospital was expensive. His wife had cried when they got the bill. It was more than they had. Without his income and him utterly dependent on the help of others, the family could no longer pay for the room they were living in. They had to leave with nothing but the clothes at their body. He didn't even know what he was wearing then, he had not yet learned to find his clothes alone.
His children had to drop out of school and go to factories to work there and earn their lifelihood far too soon in their lives. He and his wive were cast out in the streets. His wife might have a chance to work at a factory, but then he would be alone 16 to 18 hours a day - and at that time he hadn't known what to do. He still was disoriented and helpless.
So they became homeless beggars, living as clochards in the streets of Paris. In summer, his wife told him she would go to see their children while he was sitting somewhere in the elegant quarters, begging for coins. But she never came back. She was just gone and he had difficulties to find out where she had left him. It must have been in the elegant quarters, he could tell from the stones of the sidewalk he was sitting on, from the noise of the carriages rumbling by, from the coins he had been given.
Somehow he found a place to sleep under a bridge. In summer, together with other beggars, he could survive like this. By autumn he had learned the way to his place, where he could sit and beg. It was a hard life, beggars fought among themselves for the best places and he was blind, but he learned quickly. He learned to tell by the noises around him, by the slightest movement of the air around him, if he was in danger. He learned to avoid blows. He learned to use his stick to defend himself. Blind or not, if he hit someone with it, the opponent felt his strength. Jaques was blind, but still strong.
When winter came he found that he did not possess warm enough clothing. He could barely remember if he had any when his wife left him or if someone had stolen his warm cloak before that. Stealing from a blind man must have been easy.
He didn't know when it was, sometime in autumn but before it was really cold. He had been at his usual place, begging for money, calling out his "Please help a blind man, help a blind man, help a victim of the war..." when the hard click of a cane right beside him had stopped him. Someone had nearly tripped over him.
"Out of my way, stinking beggar!" the man had shouted, obviously he was in a hurry.
"I'm sorry, sir, I am blind..." Jacques apologized. As a beggar he had to apologize for existing, he knew that. Better apologize than risk being beaten or arrested. But something in the voice that had yelled at him was familiar. It was a dark, melodious and commanding voice. A voice that seemed to sing even when he was just speaking or shouting. "Master Erik, sir?" Jaques asked, uncertain if he had been mistaken.
Jaques had been one of the foremen working under Master Erik, the engineer and contractor. He had quite often heared that voice shouting at him, scolding him for mistakes. But he had also heared that voice praise him for good work. Master Erik had been a hard but fair.
"Jaques? Aren't you ashamed of yourself? You, one of my best foremen, a stinking beggar?" Erik's voice dripped with contempt.
"Master Erik... I am blind..." Jaques was close to tears now, ashamed of himself yet unable to do anything about it. What could he have done? Killed himself? No, that would have been a mortal sin. No, he would have to wait for winter to kill him. Another beggar found dead in the morning, a body to be disposed of.
"And?" Erik asked, "Where's the problem?"
"Master Erik, you don't understand... I lost my sight in the war. I can't even tell if it is day or night now. I think it is daytime because it is warm..."
"Stop pitying yourself! Get up and come to work."
"Work?" Jaques asked himself if Master Erik had lost his mind. Many had after the horrors of the war.
"Get up. I always need men at the building site. Come, we have an Opera house to finish."
"Master Erik, the new government... the new government doesn't..."
Erik snorted in his own way. His snort didn't sound like a normal snort because he had no nose. "I never cared about any government. Jaques, you need a bath and new clothes. I'll give you that at the building site."
The Opera house was already equipped with gas and water, even had a room where an electric generator would soon be installed. During the war the Opera house had been used as a hospital and storeroom. Jaques got up. He followed Erik, followed the click of his cane. Soon Jaques noticed that Erik was deliberately using his cane to lead the way, making a noise Jaques could follow.
"Go to the restroom, wash yourself," Erik ordered when they reached the building site.
"Blind, not demented. You helped building the walls, you know where restrooms are."
There was no pity, no understanding, just a command that had to be obeyed. Jaques did as he was told to. It took him long and he was crying with frustration as he finally found the restroom, wondering why he hadn't encountered any laborers here. Why was he alone in the building? Why was it that silent? The building site should be buzzing with activity. Jaques was on hands and knees, fumbling to find any clues where exactly he was. But this was a restroom and as he found a sink he found it working. There was running water, only cold, but it was water.
Despite the silence in the building Jaques didn't hear any footfall. He jumped when he feld a hand on his bare arm. "It's me," came Erik's voice, gentle this time. The next thing he felt was a large towel pressed into his hands. "I took your filthy rags away, they will be burned. Fresh clothing is in the room that will soon become the manager's office."
"Master Erik, I am naked," Jaques protested.
"Yes, and you will stay that way until you find the room and your clothing," Erik replied. Jaques thought he heared a smirk in his voice.
So it began, a strange game between them. Erik lured Jaques to the cellars with several gifts like clothing and food. Even a room to live in. Jaques didn't know how Erik had done that but there was a room, there was a stove, running water and a sink, even a toilet. Indoor plumbing, a luxury. Just one room, a mattress and blankets, but that was enough for Jaques then.
When the work at the building site began again, Jaques fled from the noise. He found that losing his sight had sharpened his ears and the noise of a building site was too much for him now. He continued to roam the cellars and whenever he found some lad who had lost his way during a test of courage he brought him back upstairs.
When the Opera house was inished the managers offered him a job. Jaques knew the cellars very well by then, being able to navigate through them in the total darkness. They wanted someone to regularly control the cellars to make sure no beggars would make their lair there, no one would get lost down there and if something was wrong with the walls he should report to them. Being blind Jaques could not write reports, but he could do this job.
Jaques went to the room where he knew he would find Master Erik. The dreaded Phantom. Jaques had known for a long time who the Phantom was and kept silent. He would never harm the man who had saved him. Erik was already there, the warmth of the candles told him as he entered the alcove.
"Master Erik?" Jaques asked.
"Who else do you think knows of our little salon?" Erik's voice was gruff, he sounded angry, depressed, full of self-loathing. "Why do you insist on celebrating Christmas with me?"
Jaques sat down and put the basket on the table. He had cake and cognac. Their own Christmas tradition. While Jaques carefully laid out the glasses and plates so he would easily find them on the table, he replied carefully: "Because it is a holiday to be celebrated. You are alone, I am alone, why shouldn't we celebrate together?"
"Holiday to be celebrated!" Erik snorted, the snort told Jaques that Erik's face was bare. It sounded different with a mask and Erik never did it when he wore his fake nose. With Jaques being blind, Erik could take off the mask. "What is there to celebrate? The world is hell and will stay like that and I am just another one of the damned. Celebrate the birth of our savior - only that I am beyond every hope of redemption. I am already dead, buried alive, not really dead and not really alive, somewhere between Purgatory and hell. How can I celebrate?"
Jaques smiled as he slieced the cake and pushed a large piece on a plate towards Erik, then poured a glass of cognac and put it on the table. "Stop pitying yourself, Master Erik. I am the blind man, not you. Maybe I should blow out the candles to remind you."
Erik sighed heavily. "No good deed goes unpunished. I should have left you to die."
Jaques didn't answer to that. "Do you know how they call me now? They call me the Shadow. Some think I am a ghost."
"Welcome to the club," Erik replied dryly.
Jaques raised his glass. "Merry Christmas, Monsieur Phantom."
Jaques could feel the smile at the other man's lips. "Marry Christmas, Monsieur Shadow."
Merry Christmas to you all!
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