Disclaimer: "Beauty and the Beast" and the character Pascal and all the rest belong to Republic Pictures. No infringement is intended. Max and her ilk belong to me. That and all the rest of the legal stuff. 'Nuff said.

 

Leave a Light on For Me

by Kayla Rigney


There was only one chair in the pipe chamber, so Max kicked off her shoes and curled up in Pascal's lap. This made it infinitely easier to share their single cup of tea.

"How's your day?" Max asked.

"Great now," the pipemaster replied, laughing. Her very presence lightened his mood. "And yours?"

Max stretched her legs out over the arm of the chair and pointed her toes. "Oh, the usual," she said. "I was forced to attend a very unnecessary meeting. After four hours of being told why it's not professional to have a cement puma sitting on my desk, I announced I didn't have time to dance the masochism tango and walked out. This did not go over well."

Pascal handed her the tea and eased his arms around her waist. "Maxine," he said, with great mock seriousness. "You promised do that particular dance only with me."

"I know; but it was either that or declare that men invented shoes to keep me from thinking about politics," she replied. "Which just didn't apply under the circumstances."

"I see your point." He laughed easily. Her humor was so like his.

"Besides, Cineplex Odious is an Italian cement puma," she went on. "He looks exactly like the ones in Val Lewton's original Cat People."

"And that makes all the difference," Pascal agreed.

Max gave him a devastating smile. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

He shook his head. "None whatsoever."

"It doesn't matter," she said and rewarded him with warm, cascading laughter.

He let his hand stray to her hair. Her curls were damp; she'd showered before coming to see him. The pipemaster found this concept both comforting and arousing at the same time.

"I'm so glad you're here," he said, softly.

"Have some tea, hobbit," she said, with equal softness. "It's a special blend called Star of Persia."

Max held the cup to his lips and he took a sip. This tea was very sweet and very good. It warmed him in the same gentle way that she did. Pascal was infinitely grateful for both the tea and the woman. He had just enough time for this one short break away from his work; and he silently hoped that nothing would interrupt them.

"The pipes are quiet tonight," Max said, settling in to his arms.

"Yes, they are," Pascal replied.

"I kind of like it."

"So do I."

Together, they sat quietly drinking tea and listening to the almost imperceptible song of the pipes. Then, Max began whispering translations of messages that came down the line. Pascal was amazed that she not only caught on but also enjoyed encoding and decoding. Most tunnel dwellers learned only the basics. Not Max. She had to know it all. He held her closer and kissed the top of her head. The tea was almost gone. He'd have to return to work soon.

"Pascal, may I ask you something?"

"Of course," the pipemaster replied. He was very content. Having Max with him in the pipe chamber completed him.

"What do you call yourself?" It was a funny question, but Max was very serious. He knew better than to laugh.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean, when you talk to yourself," she replied. "When I talk to myself, I call myself Max," she went on. "Or when I really screw up, Maxine Louise. What do you call yourself?"

"Pascal, I guess," he said. "I really haven't given it much thought."

"Hmmm," said Max.

"What do you mean, hmmm?"

Max smiled that smile. "I mean Pascal isn't your given name," she replied. "It's your family name. It's what you do." She looked crosswise at him from under her eyelashes. "Come to think of it, I have no clue what your name actually is."

"Pascal," he said, laughing.

"Oh, yeah, right," Max replied. "You expect me to believe your name is Pascal Pascal. Not even your parents would be so deliberately cruel."

The pipemaster didn't know what to say. He honestly hadn't thought of himself as anything but Pascal for twenty years. Before that, he was usually called Pascal the Younger. Only his mother and Vincent had ever called him by his real name. It sounded faraway and strange. "It's Benjamin," he said, softly. "My name is Ben."

"Ben," Max said, as if trying it out. "It suits you."

"You think?" Pascal asked.

She nodded and looked into his eyes. "I like it," she replied. "It's direct and strong."

"Is that how you see me?" he asked. Before Max, he pictured himself as insignificant and rather ugly.

Max smiled. "Well, mostly, I see you as beautiful," she told him. "But you never believe me. So I opted for direct and strong." She laughed wryly. "Kind of on the off chance you'd be able to accept that."

"I believe you," he said, although he didn't. Not yet.

"Of course, you do, hobbit," Max said. "And pugs are flying out my ears."

"Don't you mean pigs?"

"No, I do not. I mean pugs." She rolled her eyes. "Why on earth would pigs fly? That makes no sense."

Pascal thought that it made even less sense for pug dogs to fly and told her so.

Max gestured to the pipes dramatically. "Why is it the man can see the inherent inanity of flying pugs, but he can't accept his own worth to me?" She leaned over nearly backward and pressed her hand to her forehead.

Pascal balanced the teacup on her flat stomach. "Are you finished yet?" he asked quietly. He resisted the impulse to lean over and kiss her neck.

"Almost," Max replied. Her face nearly as red as her hair. "I was considering ending with a good flail," she said. "But as you seem to be using me for a coaster, I guess that's out of the question." For some reason, this struck her as being hysterically funny, and she laughed so hard Pascal had to rescue the teacup.

"Max, please sit up before you fall on your head."

With a fluid dancer's grace, she righted herself and smiled merrily into Pascal's eyes. "I really do think you're beautiful, Benjamin Pascal," she said, tears of laughter still streaming down her face. "And strong and direct, too." Her voice was very serious and true.

Using only her words, she warms me, Pascal thought. "I believe you," he said.

She raised her eyebrows.

"I believe you," he said again. He meant it with every fiber of his small body.

Max gave him a deep, open grin.

"Don't even look at me like that," Pascal told her. "The cup's empty. I have to go back to work now."

She gave him a slow, soft kiss anyway. She was still smiling when she pulled away and sang:

 

Oh, no you didn't mean that!

She said I love the way you think

But I hate the way you act.

'Cause I always have to steal my kisses from you

I always have to steal my kisses from you.

Pascal kissed the tip of her nose and said: "Later, Max." Later, I will kiss you properly, he thought. Later, I will give myself to you.

Max gave him a calculated and very sexy pout; but she slid off of his lap and stood with her hand outstretched.

The pipemaster took her hand and pulled himself to his feet. "Will you stay until I finish my shift?" he asked, quietly.

Max gave him a lingering hug. "That's my plan," she replied, with her mouth close to his ear.

Pascal reluctantly left her embrace and went back to the pipes. Before he settled in to his routine, he turned and looked at her.

Max was curled up in the chair, watching him, smiling. From her expression, he knew that the pile of books at her feet would remain untouched.

"Max?"

"Yes?"

The pipemaster rocked a little on the balls of his feet. "I've thought about it," he said. "And I mostly call myself Pascal."

She nodded.

"But when I've done something particularly well or something makes me smile, I call myself Hobbit." Pascal could feel his blush rising above his collar. "It just sounds so nice when you say it."

"I'm glad," Max said. She seemed to glow from inside. Her smile was so very real.

My God, Pascal thought. She's the light at the end of the tunnel.

He turned from her then and tried to focus on the job at hand. He could not. There was something more he had to say. "You make me feel strong and direct and beautiful."

"I believe you," she said, very softly.

Pascal didn't have to see Max to know she was smiling. He hoped that later, when they were alone, she'd call him Ben.


Steal My Kisses by Ben Harper © 1999 EMI Virgin Music.