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Music of the Night

by astolat

Kris shut the door to his dressing room, blocking out the noise of all the people who wanted to congratulate him, the same ones who'd looked straight past him yesterday. The women in their fine jewels suddenly eager to be introduced, the Opera managers suddenly talking loudly of his future engagements—it would be nice if they'd bothered to talk to Kris about those, first. Even Lady Katherine—he'd imagined sometimes seeing her again, talking to her again. It should've been amazing to have her come backstage on her father's arm, smiling at him, giving him her hand, recognizing him. Except she hadn't recognized him in the chorus, the last six months.

Matt knocked on the door and looked inside. "Hey, there's more flowers for you," he said, grinning, and stopped when he saw the look on Kris's face. "What's the matter? You don't look like the new foremost tenor of all Paris."

"No, it's—I—" Kris said, helplessly, and took the flowers. From an old friend, the card said, in Katy's copperplate handwriting. "It's just a little strange."

"Oh, really?" Matt said. "Because I thought most chorus boys woke up one morning and started singing like Rubini without lessons."

"I've had lessons," Kris said, too tired to be cautious. At least no one was going to make fun of him for pretensions of grandeur right now.

"From who, the Opera Ghost?" Matt said, laughing. "I've got to go before my father kills me, he wants the whole orchestra to go over that part in the overture we messed up before he lets us go for the night. I'll come get you for dinner after, all right?"

Kris waved a hand and let Matt go, glad to be alone again. He put the flowers down. "Aren't you going to say anything?" he asked, in the empty room.

"What is there to say?" the voice came, more singing than speech, high and beautiful and unearthly. "It was a triumph. You deserved every accolade. Every flower." There was a little bite to the word, and it made Kris smile a little; the angel could be jealous of anything that took him away from music.

"You said you'd let me see you," Kris said. The voice was silent. "Angel, you promised—"

"I can't," the voice said.

"Please," Kris said. "I've listened all this time—I did everything you said."

"And if what you find isn't what you want to see?" the voice said, dropping low and sad and soft. "If it's not what you imagined, hearing me speak to you from the dark?"

"I still want to know," Kris said, his heart pounding. "Angel, I need to know." He'd asked, and asked, and the angel had never told him what he'd see—a spirit, or the angel Kris told himself it was, or—or something else. He'd given in anyway, and listened, and obeyed. He'd been so lonely and alone, since his mother had passed away. It had been everything when the angel had started to speak to him, whispers in the dark corridors of the Opera, just for him. But—

"All right," the voice said quietly. "Come then, if you will," and the huge shining mirror on the wall, framed in gilt, swung silently open like a door and let in a cool, damp draft that stirred all the flower petals to trembling. The space beyond was dark, but down the hall there was a glimmer of candle-light, held high.

Kris stared, and took one hesitant step, and then paused to look down at himself, nothing but the dressing gown over his breeches and boots from the stage.

A knock came on the door behind him. "Kristopher?" a voice called—clear and familiar. Katy. "Kristopher, I slipped away from my father a moment, can I come in?"

Kris turned, startled, but the mirror shuddered and began to swing shut again. "No, wait," Kris said, but it was closing fast, and he dived through just in time as it slid into place behind him, sealing shut tight, not a faintest crack of light left around the edges.

The candles gleamed, up ahead. Kris walked towards them, one hand on the damp cool stone of the wall, and the light retreated a little, leading him on down a long corridor, hearing muffled voices below, strains of music—the ballet girls talking, the orchestra sullenly practicing. The corridor curved, and the sounds died away. The candlelight led him down a long flight of stairs, always too far ahead to really see, but Kris could start to make out from moment to moment a figure tall and shrouded, and a hand holding the silver branching candelabra, light gleaming off many rings.

Mist rose up in the corridor as they went down, more and more, and then Kris started to hear the sound of lapping water growing stronger. He was stepping out onto a wooden pier, the heels of his boots making a hollow sound, and the figure was standing at the end wreathed in mist, not moving away anymore. There was a boat, bobbing gently in the water.

The angel turned and stepped into the boat and turned back to wait. Kris walked slowly closer, trying to see into the hood, but the angel had the candles held up to the side, casting deep shadows. The angel held out a hand as he came up to the boat, and slowly, Kris reached out and took it.

He would have expected almost anything—cold, undead flesh, or for his fingers to pass right through, or some strange electric shock—anything but the warm, living grip which tightened with startling strength on his when Kris stumbled in surprise, and guided him down the step into the boat, to a heaped pile of silken tapestries and cushions in the bottom.

The angel turned away when Kris was seated, and went to stand in the prow. The boat started to move, gliding over the lake even though no one was rowing it along. Kris heard a low grinding noise like gears somewhere off in the distance, under the regular lapping of the water. The boat was rocking gently, and he was dazed and tired, lying back against the pillows. He faded gradually into sleep, his eyes still on the tall silent figure in the prow.

Kris woke lying in a huge bed, nestled in silken sheets. There were chandeliers hung everywhere, sparkling lights, and the bed was gilded and draped around with purple velvet, outrageously lush. There was music coming from somewhere nearby, and singing, and he climbed out of the bed and crept to the door.

The angel was facing away from him, playing at an enormous organ, pipes rising out of sight overhead into the darkness of the chamber. The hood still hung over the angel's head, pushed back a little, and Kris couldn't help himself. His bare feet didn't make a sound on the cold marble floor, and as the music rose he reached the organ bench and pulled the hood away and down.

The angel startled and jerked away and looked at him—and wasn't an angel at all, was—and then Kris wasn't sure; he couldn't make sense of the face at first. Unnaturally beautiful ice-blue eyes rimmed in kohl, full lips painted and cheeks rouged, not for the stage but delicately, like an expensive courtesan—but the features too strong for a woman's face, with a man's jaw and broad shoulders.

He—he?—was wearing jewels pasted on his face in great sweeps, almost like a mask around his eyes, sparkling, but Kris could see that beneath them they were hiding scars—ridged and shiny skin, as though from a terrible burn, and the burns ran down the sides of his face and beneath his collar. Kris stared at him, baffled and the angel—the man—said, anguished, "Why did you do that? Now I can't ever let you go back."

He rose up from the organ bench, the cloak falling away, and beneath he was in cloth-of-gold and silver, like something out of a fever-dream from the days of Versailles, coat cut away from his chest and falling full-skirted to the floor. "I don't—I don't understand," Kris stammered, taking a step back. "You're—why are you down here all alone?"

The man laughed. "Do you think there's anything for me up there?" he said. He reached out and cupped Kris's cheek. "But there could be something more here," the angel whispered, and the stroke of his thumb somehow made Kris's breath stop in his throat, caught like a bird trembling in a cage.

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