watching over two figures...
Chapter 6: Beneath the Wings of Angels...
There was laughter coming down the hall.
She kept her one hand against the wall as she hurried down the passageway, her cane's slight whisking sound seemingly guiding her as she moved it in front of her.
"Sophia, Sophia wait!" She called quickly as she heard the laughter stop. "Amy, Celine..."
She felt them stop and turn around to look at her.
Ann slowed down and approached them a bit more cautiously until her cane touched one of their legs.
"I heard you're going into town."
Silence stretched around her.
Sophia was always the one who answered her when she and her friends where together.
Ann swallowed, a bit out of breath.
"I was wondering whether I could go along." She said hopefully. "Mme. Giry is busy today and..."
Sometimes silence was the loudest sound of all.
Sophia CarrÃ© snorted softy and a faint giggle from the other girls made Ann suspect that something had passed between them that she didn't catch.
She kept her face very passive and friendly.
"Please," she asked again, "I won't be a nuisance."
There was a definitive giggle from the rest of the group. A faint rustle of dress told her that someone had moved.
"You're always a nuisance blind girl." Sophia's voice was filled with scorn. "Why don't you go help the seamstress with our new choir dresses? I heard that she needs some help."
Ann bit her lip, she couldn't let them get to her, not today.
"Sophia, please." She said monotonously. "That's not funny. What did I do to you? I just want to be friends. I'm not that different, I just..."
The touch on her shoulder was almost painful.
"Ann Leroux, you are so naÃ¯ve." Sophia's voice had a little bit more sting in it than usual. "And you are also very arrogant to assume that we will accept you, or anyone here for that matter. You don't see the looks they give you behind your back. You don't see how they whisper to each other when you walk past. Heck, you don't see at all. Now, you're sweet, I'll give you that but, don't expect anything else. Now, run along - go listen to the sweepers or something. And, don't bother to ask us whether you can come along again. You can't, because we don't want your company, and your responsibility. Do you understand?"
Ann bit her lip, unable to keep the frown from knotting up her brow.
The hand on her shoulder gave her a slight squeeze and disappeared.
She stood very still as the girls left, a surge of emotions flowing through her.
Anger, pain, shame... Disappointment so strong she almost wanted to scream.
She turned around and balled her fists, fighting the urge to cry. She couldn't do that... She couldn't allow herself to feel the pain.
So she settled on anger.
He watched the three girls leave her.
The leader, one he knew to the Sophia CarrÃ© - a minor lord in parliament's daughter - squeezed Ann's shoulder and turned around, leaving her standing in the middle of the room. Sophia CarrÃ©'s blond, almost white bangs bobbed on her head as she marched down the corridor. He had noticed her when she came here. She had been a pretty girl. But now her face always pouted too much and her light green eyes were too sharp. And, as she left he once again took note of something he had noticed since the day she walked into the Opera. She had no rhythm, no grace...
And, no respect for the place and the people where she worked.
That would have to be seen to.
He turned his attention back to Ann who was still standing very still. Her face contorted with emotions, so many at once he could barely register them all. When she turned around there was sharpness in her normally smooth movements. She stood still with her one fist balled and the other white on the handle of the cane.
Without warning she let out a frustrated shout and threw it across the hallway.
Ann bristled as she stared blindly in the direction it had fallen.
"Agh!" She snapped suddenly. "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" She stomped her foot in the childlike gesture and slapped her head. "Ann you really..." She shook her head at herself and took a few steps. He watched her as she looked around and slowly went down on her hands and knees. He turned around and started walking.
"You'll never find it now Ann." She reprimanded herself. "You're such a fool. Such a bloody fool."
He heard her all the while he went down the passage way.
"Nobody will help you either you know that?" She was slowly working herself up. "What do we learn from this?"
He opened a door and stepped into the hallway.
For the first time he had a feeling that Ann didn't even notice him. He raised an eyebrow and went over to where the cane was. He picked it up and walked over to her.
"If I didn't know any better I would've thought that you were aiming at me."
Ann squeaked and sat back surprised.
He tapped the handle of her cane against her shoulder.
She blinked surprised and frowned.
"Don't you mock me as well." She snapped and snatched it from his hand. "Heaven knows I've had enough of it for a week."
She stood up and brushed imaginary dust from her dress.
He watched her movements.
"They'll never accept you, you know."
Ann sniffed and glared in his direction.
"I don't see you trying very hard either." She said gruffly. "Anyway, I don't want acceptance I just want a chance. Damn it, that's all I ask."
She turned around and went in the direction that the girls had gone in.
A bit startled by her mood he couldn't stop himself from falling in next to her. He couldn't remember the last time anyone dared to use that tone with him.
"Did they make you that angry?" He began carefully. "Or was it me?"
He didn't know why he added the last part.
Ann's mouth thinned as she half shook, half nodded her head.
She stopped when they came to a fork in the passageway and frowned. Looking this way and that, she finally sighed and leaned against the wall. The anger in her eyes was quickly fading.
Where would she go to now? He found himself wondering. For that matter, what did she do when the older women she hanged out with couldn't keep her company? She couldn't read, couldn't go to town...
He hadn't actually seen her all week or made an effort to seek her out. His arm still hurt...
He sighed softly.
"Should I take you somewhere?" He queried.
Ann sighed and shrugged - a beaten expression on her face.
"Like where?" She asked exasperated. "There is no where that I can go."
He had a moment's hesitation.
A quick glance either way showed him that there were still nobody around in the corridors.
A ghost of a smile flickered behind the mask.
Without a word he took her arm and led her towards the secret passageway from where he had come.
Despite her mood, and despite her apparent anger at him, Ann Leroux still followed him without question and with pure blind trust.
It felt strange.
"I have to apologize for my previous behaviour Monsieur Erik."
She could feel the wind on her face as her hand caressed the smooth stone. A distance and feeling of space she hasn't felt since she came here stretched around her.
"I wasn't being fair. I'm sorry."
She didn't get a reply, nor had she expected one. But, she knew that he was still there watching her. She smiled and turned so that her back could be against the stone.
"How high up are we?" She asked, changing her tone of voice. "It feels vast."
There was a shift of fabric a small distance from her.
"We're standing underneath one of the angels on the corners."
Ann smiled her thanks for the reply.
"It sounds as if you can see the whole city from here."
They sat in a neutral silence.
Ann sat very still as she allowed the light breeze to play with her hair. Feeling a pang of homesickness she smiled and stood up. She could feel his eyes on her as she put the cane in her hand that was closest to the edge and slowly started to explore the small space he had brought her to.
"You come here often?"
"I don't think a lot of people come here."
A moment's silence then...
"It's better than the cellars."
"I'll second that." She said and turned around on one foot. Immediately she felt his presence move.
Frowning, Ann slowly placed down her other foot and realised that she had turned a bit too close to the edge. It didn't daunt her much.
"Sorry." She said cheerfully. "Don't worry, I've got good balance. You should know. Do you read when you're here?"
"Do you ever hold your tongue?"
The reply was quick with a slight snap in it.
Ann frowned and hesitated with her own as she stepped away from the edge.
"Not really." She admitted as she felt a faint blush creep up her cheeks. "I told you this before. Silence to me is... what nothing is to you. If I can't hear or feel you then you don't exist. As I said before, I need people's voices to tell me what they think."
There was a slight change in the way she felt when he looked at her.
Ann shook her head and walked back to the angel.
"Don't pity me Monsieur Erik." She said warmly. "I don't mind being the way I am. Anyway, do you read when you're here?"
There was a slow let out of breath. Ann raised an eyebrow as she looked in her companion's direction. It was the closet thing to a laugh she had heard from him so far. She waited for a reply she felt would come.
Silence moved around her.
Ann began to feel uncomfortable as she wondered whether she should stay seated or look for her Monsieur Erik.
She started to rise.
"You're mocking me, aren't you?"
"I'll throw you off this building if you do."
The voice was right next to her.
Ann yelped and fell back with her back against the angel.
Again, she heard that soft let out of breath. Not a laugh, but not a normal sigh either.
She sniffed and fought not to grin as she stood up.
"You are a cruel man." She said gruffly but a small smile played in the corner of her mouth.
"And you curse in German, why?"
As far as she could tell he had moved back to his old place.
She shook her head and pushed her hair back behind her ears.
"The woman who took care of me when my mother couldn't is German." She said. "Needless to say she... Couldn't keep her tongue either. I... miss them."
This time she could feel that she had made him uncomfortable.
"Sorry." She said without thinking.
A very long silence followed. She began to think that he really had left her when...
"It's only human."
She didn't know what to make of the sentence.
"So, where were you today?"
He noticed that Meg Giry had slipped her hand into the crook of Ann's arm as she walked beside her. The young woman smiled and raised an eyebrow in the woman's direction.
"I don't really know honestly." She said with a grin.
The other woman smiled and shook her head. "Did you ask Sophia whether you can go with them..."
He left them then, assured that Ann was in the right hands.
Strange, he mused to himself, how she suddenly had a name to him.
Truly a strange apparition.
This day had been pleasant, he decided as he followed the dark passageways.
Strange and definitively a far cry from his usual ventures to the roof.
He still couldn't remember what had originally driven him there, so far from his usual dark passages. Perhaps it had been because it had been the only place she had thought that she was safe from him. Perhaps it was because he feels her strongest there, in that place where he could watch out over the buildings of Paris as he wished that he could watch over her. She had been so beautiful there, so content...
Yet so false, so ungrateful, so disillusioned...
Yes, the roof spoke to him about her.
Did he still go there for that? It had been so long he couldn't remember exactly when he had allowed himself to feel anything.
Blue eyes appeared before him, like the treacherous dagger from the Master's play.
What did he feel now? What had driven him to bring her to the roof?
Ann Leroux was a far cry from Christine Daae.
There, he said it.
The two edged knife in his soul.
The name he could not make himself say for more than twenty years.
Strangely enough it had not brought as much pain as he had thought that it would. Longing, perhaps...
He wondered whether he should bring Ann to the roof again. It was dangerous, for him and her. He should take caution not to feel too much but he couldn't make himself feel any less.
One thing he knew for certain is that, despite her talent, he should not turn her into another Christine.
Thinking like that suddenly did bring pain.
She was smiling again in that small, teasing manner.
"You're going to keep ending it just as things start getting interesting." Ann said as she turned her face to him. "Monsieur Erik, I'm going to repeat what I said three days ago. You are a cruel man."
He did not comment as he led her back to her room.
He did not touch her, nor did she walk to close to him, but he could feel the small change between them. He found it interesting that her eyes tended to follow him as he moved around.
A ghost of a smile behind the mask.
A strange apparition in deed.
When they reached the spot he normally left her, Ann lingered back and hesitantly touched his arm.
"Monsieur, may I ask you a question?" She queried. "Or, a favour."
He turned to her and frowned.
Ann pulled her hand back and then turned her palm towards his face.
"I know that you..." She shook her head and started over. "Will you allow me to look at you please?" She queried.
Her fingers stopped mere breaths from his face but it didn't cross that final threshold.
He took a step back and looked at her.
She stayed where she was, trying hard to hide her anticipation.
He sighed and looked around to make sure that they won't be seen.
He brought his hand to his own face and hesitated before he took off the mask.
Moments passed before he gave it to her.
"This is all I am to you."
Ann frowned as she took the strange object and ran her fingers over it. At first both hands explored its curves and edges but then her one hand travelled to her own face as she felt the contours of her own countenance.
"A mask." She whispered finally, her expression momentarily radiating disappointment. It passed quickly though as she held it out for him.
He took it and quickly slipped it back over his face.
Time turned around them as she processed his revelation.
"I can live with that." She said finally and turned around. "Goodnight Monsieur."
She did not give him time to say anything.
Not that he knew what to.
So he found himself moving to the shadows and watching her as she moved down the corridors in her own silent dance.
Her apparent acceptance brought forth strange feelings as he realised quite suddenly that he did not want to spend the rest of his life like a fading, faceless shadow beneath stone angels' wings.