Erik was bored. Deathly bored.
He had been bouncing around his small apartment for the past fortnight, unwilling to go through the effort of leaving, yet running out of ways to entertain himself within the walls. He tried reading, but eventually the words became a black blur. He attempted drawing, but there were only so many times he could sketch the Pairs skyline visible from his windows, and his imagination was too lethargic to conjure up anything else. He listened to some music, but there was little joy in hearing the dull melodies created by others. This forced him to try and write his own, but he found the worst thing of all: he had no inspiration.
Erik had sat in front of his piano, hands on the keys but no music in his mind. He poked a couple of keys but nothing seemed to flow. After nearly an hour of staring blankly at the instrument, he gave a growl of frustration and threw the pad of empty staves across the room.
At that moment his phone rang and he grabbed at it, grateful for the distraction. He noted the caller without surprise and answered, "Hello, Nadir."
"Hello." the smooth voice of his friend replied, his lilting accent still betraying he had grown up far from the borders of France. "Not interrupting anything, am I?"
Erik glanced at the pad he had tossed to the ground, the blank lines staring accusingly back at him. "Nothing important. What do you need?"
"I don't need anything. You're the one that needs to go outside."
He wrinkled his nose, or at least approximated the expression of other people who were able to do so with ease. "I don't have to do anything of the sort."
"I haven't seen you in over 2 weeks, and I know you're hardly going to visit anyone else." Nadir continued patiently.
"Why would I? I hate people."
Erik heard the answering sigh down the phone. "Let's go out for a meal, Erik. You need some fresh air."
"My windows do open, you know."
Nadir's voice became even more exasperated. "You know that's not what I mean."
"And yet I still don't have to do what you say."
"Last time I saw you, you were complaining about not having anything to compose. You would have used any new commissions as an excuse not to come out, so you don't even have that to entertain yourself. Let me guess: you've started throwing your paper around the room?"
Erik scowled. His friend knew him far better than he liked. "Fine. I'll go out, but only because it's clear you need to feel like a Good Samaritan."
"Of course; thank you so much for your kindness." Nadir's dry tone said plainly that he knew Erik would never admit he was actually right. "I'll come to you in an hour?"
"Make it two; I need to get ready."
"See you then."
Erik made a non-committal noise and hung up, then sighed as he moved towards his bathroom. He was already dressed in clean jeans and a smart shirt - he saw no reason to be sloppy in areas of his appearance he could actually control - but there was still much preparation to do before he could leave the flat.
The bright lights above the sink glared at him in disgust, and he gave his own reflection an equally repulsed look as he uncovered the mirror. This was the only reflective surface in his flat and, when not in use, he slid a screen over it to blend into the rest of the wall. Now, however, he was forced to expose himself to it in order to look even mildly presentable. He gazed in distaste at his reflected face; at the discolouration, the twists and the scars, before dragging his eyes away from the abomination.
With a weary sigh, Erik pulled out the stool he kept under the sink, took the boxes of makeup and plastic from the drawers, and got to work.
He had considered plastic surgery, had even got up the courage once to bare his deformity to someone and visit a consultant here in Paris. The look he got as soon as he lowered his hood was enough, and he flew into a rage to push away the age-old pain triggered in that single moment. He had almost abandoned the idea then and there, but couldn't quite find enough anger to spite himself like that. Once he was calmed down, the consultant regained his professionalism, but said that there was little he could do.
"I could take away some of it, but the resulting scarring could be just as conspicuous. I am sorry, sir, but I just don't believe there's an appropriate operation, not for any amount of money."
After that disappointment, Erik turned to more inventive measures. He purchased a 3D-printer and scanned the healthy portion of his face to produce a mirrored version for the other side. The printout was painted with as much care and precision as he could muster, producing a mask that was almost lifelike. He had also been intrigued by the field of prosthetics and, unwilling to sit under another's close scrutiny for hours on end, had endeavoured to make his own.
He now had a well-practised routine for getting presentable for the outside world: there were several creams and oils to prevent his skin getting nay more damaged by the process, the printed mask to cover the top half of his deformation, then a prosthetic nose to conceal his own malformed one, and a false patch of cheek to hide the distortions of his lower face without restricting mobility. Finally, makeup was used to cover up the gaps between all the pieces, making the whole effect as smooth and realistic as possible.
There was nothing he could do about the twisted side of his lip, but at least the solid section of the mask didn't cover his forehead or mouth, so he could still make reasonably normal expressions. Plus, transplants had allowed his hair to look normal, even if he did sometimes have to dye patches of it from premature grey back to his natural black.
Erik was finished a little before Nadir was supposed to arrive, so he took the time to put away the makeup and mirror, and to tidy up the books and paper he had abandoned around the flat in his boredom. When he allowed any emotion to rule him - be it inspiration, melancholy or simple lethargy - his tidiness slipped, but once he pulled himself together again, everything was put back in its rightful place. He had lived in filth and squalor in his younger days, and he would not go back. Over time, the dirt seeped into one's soul.
He was placing the pad of scores back on the piano when there was a knock at the door. As he moved to it, he checked his watch: almost 2 hours to the minute since Nadir's call. The man was nothing if not prompt and true to his word, never late nor early but perfectly on time.
"You look like a slob." Erik said matter-of-factly as he opened the door, viewing his friend's jumper and trainers.
"Hello to you too." Nadir replied with an amused grin. Bright green eyes sparkled from his dark-skinned face, his black hair slicked back from his forehead. "You're just overdressed; you know I meant a casual meal."
"I dress for myself, not my audience." Erik responded, putting on one of his many sets of smart black shoes.
"Your audience is going to think you're overdressed."
"Everyone else is just underdressed."
Nadir laughed, and Erik allowed a smile to escape too. He would never have let anyone else talk to him like that, but Nadir was like an older brother after all they had been through together - not that Erik would ever admit it.
"Let's get this over with then." Erik said, grabbing the long suit coat he habitually wore and stepping out of the door.
"You know you're going to enjoy it really."
He sighed as he locked the flat behind him. "The first time I enjoy being rammed into a public space with dozens of sweaty, loud, stupid people, I'll let you know."
"How do you know they'll be any of those things?"
Erik arched an eyebrow at his friend as though his answer was obvious. "Everyone but me always is."