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.
Little Black Book
by Kayla Rigney
His chamber was dark and unkempt. The pipemaster felt badly about this, because in spite of his ragged appearance, he was a fastidious person. He liked to keep his things in order. For the past month, this had not been possible; and Pascal felt defeated. He fell into bed without removing so much as his vest. He cradled his head in his arms and forced himself into something like quiet.
He hadn't seen Max in weeks. At the beginning of the shutdown he left a letter on the table next to the futon: My dearest Max, The community is in the grips of an all-out 'flu epidemic. Father feels it best that I do not see you until the disease has run its course. I am forced to agree. Please don't worry. All will be well soon. Love, Pascal. Her reply was waiting in the tunnel outside Paradise: Dear Pascal, I understand. I love you. MLS." They exchanged furtive notes until Pascal was just too busy to keep up. He did his suffering alone in his chamber. That was his way.
The pipemaster tried not to think about what he'd seen. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't block the image from his mind. His plan that night had been to catch a quick bath after his shift. His shoulders hurt very badly and the only thing that helped was to completely submerge himself in the hot mineral water of the second-level baths. It was past midnight when he was finally able to get away from the pipes. The Tunnels were very quiet. He didn't see a "flag" posted at the entrance to the bath chamber. And he walked in on Vincent and Catherine.
Pascal quickly and silently moved back into the shadow of the hallway; they didn't see him. But he saw them. He didn't understand why he was expected not to see Max, not to touch her, not to make love to her, when Catherine was free to come and go from the tunnels as she pleased. It was yet another example of how the rules did not apply to Father's own. As much as he loved his friend, Pascal could not forgive Vincent's lifelong impunity.
Alone in his bed, he tried to imagine the feel of Max in his arms and could not.
In the days that followed, he'd been too preoccupied and then too sick to feel the pain of being without Paradise. He always felt the dull ache of being without Max. He did not laugh easily without her; so the pipemaster back fell into a familiar shell of grayness. His friends avoided him when he got this way. It made life easier. Tonight, he just felt tired and cold and empty. He pressed his forehead hard against his arms. He was too exhausted to sleep.
He jumped a little, when he felt her cool hand on the top of his head. "It's me, hobbit," Max said, softly. "I brought you some dinner."
Leave it to Maxine Seaton to defy Father's orders. Pascal sighed and moved his hand up to cover hers. Somehow, he found the energy to sit up and give her a soft kiss. "It's so good to see you," he said. He took her in his arms and held her for a long time. It felt so wonderful to touch and be touched. "I've missed you so much."
Max rocked him gently. "I just couldn't bear to stay away any longer," she said.
"I don't want you to get sick, Max," Pascal told her. "This 'flu is nasty bad stuff. I speak from experience." The pipemaster himself had been out cold with it for a week.
"Oh, I never get sick," she replied, laughing. "Besides, Addie's been shooting me full of vaccine for the past two weeks. I've got the bruises to prove it. Want to see?"
"I think I'll pass," he replied. He wouldn't be surprised if Addie got some sort of perverse satisfaction out of shooting her sister full of human disease and leaving a bruise. "Dinner sounds great. I haven't eaten in two days."
"Why not?" Max asked.
"I haven't felt like it."
She leaned out of their embrace and motioned to the floor in front of them. "Enjoy," she said.
Pascal gasped with honest surprise. Max had set out a real picnic on the floor beside his bed --; complete with red-checked blanket and a basket. There were china two place settings and real silverware for him. (Max used chopsticks.) Two thermos bottles poked out of the basket; and there was a loaf of fresh bread. How she'd accomplished this in total silence with him lying on the bed above her, he couldn't even begin to imagine.
"Oh, Max, thank you," he said. He meant it with everything that he was.
Max smiled and slid to the floor. She began unloading the basket. "I hope you like chicken soup," she said, uncapping one of the thermoses. "It's homemade."
Pascal joined her on the blanket. "Did you make it?" he asked.
"Hell no!" she replied, laughing. "I don't touch dead bird flesh for anybody, not even you. Ad made it. It's a special family recipe with extra orange and lemon for vitamin C."
Max poured some soup into china cup and handed it to him. It smelled faintly spicy and very rich. Pascal's hands shook as he lifted it to his lips. "This is delicious," he said, sighing with contentment. "I can't believe your sister made this for me."
"Well, she's decided that you should be allowed to live," Max replied, smiling wickedly. "For now. I don't think she's all that certain about me, however."
The pipemaster laughed aloud. Max's banter warmed him more than the soup did. "Father's going to have your head on a platter," he said.
"As a matter of fact, he won't," she replied, pretending to be absorbed in slicing an apple. "Father sent Mouse to fetch me. Everybody's worried about you, Pascal."
"Because you don't sleep and don't eat and won't talk to any of your friends."
"It's not like that, Max," Pascal told her. "I'm just overworked."
"That stops now," she said, decisively. "You have the next thirty-six hours off. That's non-negotiable."
Fresh bread and fruit and cheeses appeared on the plate in front of him. They shared a cup of sweet hot tea better than any he'd ever tasted before. He noted that Max ate her usual steamed rice and spinach with Feta cheese and peaches on the side. It made him smile. She asked him simple questions about his day and how everyone was doing. Pascal responded with few words. Their time was so easy, so special. His triple shift faded away.
"Do you have any idea how miserable I've been without you?" Max asked. "Last weekend, I got so desperate, I allowed Addie to con me into visiting a Petting Zoo with her and the kids. Let me tell you, never ever give a three-year-old a cup of deer food. It's ugly." She deftly wrapped a string of spinach around her chopstick and pointed it at him. "Did I mention the deer are allowed to rove free? And that said deer are really vicious animals that travel in packs looking to attack the weak and infirm and bark for no reason I can think of? I had to put the baby on my shoulders and smack the mutant beasts to make them leave us alone."
Pascal smiled. "Max, deer bark because they think they've lost their young," he said. "It's not a war cry or anything."
"In your universe, maybe," she replied. "I'm telling you, we were lucky to escape that Petting Zoo with our lives."
Pascal suspected that Addie could easily take a deer blindfolded and with one hand tied behind her back, but didn't say so.
"Anyway, I missed you," Max said. "A lot. And when Mouse showed up, I didn't wait to be asked."
Pascal reached over and touched her cheek with the back of his hand. "I'm glad you're here," he said. "I haven't been myself."
Max smiled. "I know," she said, with great gentleness. "Neither have I."
The pipemaster was so absorbed in the act of being in the moment, that he almost didn't notice Max move behind him. He simply became aware that she'd slipped off his vest and had started slow work of easing the knots out of his upper back. Her hands were very capable and very strong. Pascal leaned into her touch. Tears sprang to his eyes. She did not know and he did not know how to tell her, that she was fulfilling one of his most secret fantasies. He wanted to tell her. He wanted to say this is all I have ever wanted --; to be asked how my day went and to have my back rubbed after a long shift.
He wanted to tell her; instead he became enraged. He pulled away and stood with his back to her, seething.
"Pascal, did I hurt you?" Max asked. She sounded afraid.
"No." The pipemaster heard her get up and walk toward him. He shrugged her hands off his shoulders. "Don't," he said. The rage came from deep inside.
"I don't understand," she said, evenly. "Why are you acting like this? Did I offend you?"
Pascal spun around to face her. He literally turned on her. "Why did you stay away? You say you love me," he spat. "But you left me alone in the dark. Why?"
"Generally, when someone says he can't see me, I respect that," Max replied. She stood in front of him with her arms blatantly at her sides, palms facing him. "I take words at face value, Pascal."
Her acceptance made him even angrier. He grabbed her by her shoulders. Hard. He wanted to hurt her and he didn't know why. He wanted her to be afraid. Pascal dug his thumbs into the tender place beneath her clavicles. She was thin. It was too easy.
"Please stop," Max said, without any inflection in her voice. "Hurting me won't solve anything." He twisted his thumbs until she cried out. "Pascal, what the hell is wrong with you?!" She brought her arms up between his and tried to force them away, wrist against wrist.
Instantly, Pascal realized what he was doing. His sudden rage dissipated, he carefully loosened his grip. Max winced when he removed his thumbs. She put her hands on his forearms and held them there. Pascal began to cry. "I'm so sorry."
"This isn't about me, is it?"
The pipemaster shook his head. He couldn't look at her.
"Hobbit, talk to me," Max said. Her voice, which should have been angry, wasn't.
"I don't know how," he replied.
"Try," she said, softly.
Pascal drew her into his arms. Nothing he could say would change what he'd done to Max. "I'm scared," he said, simply. "I wanted to hurt you, and I'm scared."
Max held him very gently. She slid her arm up to the back of his neck and tenderly caressed him. "Pascal, how long have you been depressed?"
"I don't know," he said, his eyes shut tightly against the dark. "Time doesn't mean much, when I'm like this." It was a relief to have a word for it.
"No, it doesn't," she agreed. "Do you know what started the cycle?"
The pipemaster nodded into her tender neck. "I really can't handle enforced isolation, Max," he whispered. "When it's not my choice, it makes me crazy. It literally makes me insane."
Max ran her hands softly up and down his back. It was comforting --; and incredibly erotic. "Pascal, have you ever told anybody about this?"
"Tell me," she said.
Pascal closed his eyes and tried to calm his mind. She doesn't know what she's asking, he thought. Nothing like my life has ever touched her. Max was the favorite in a close, huggy family. She was coddled and adored on a regular basis. Even when she was lonely, she was never alone. How could she know what hopelessness was?
All of his life, Pascal buried pain. He believed that people simply did not wish to hear about these things. The few times he had opened up, he'd been hurt. "Do you really want to know?" he asked.
"Yes, I do," Max replied.
The way she touched him was incredible. Pascal's body responded with breathtaking intensity --; and not in the way he expected. Instead of arousal, he was hit with a flood of memories; memories he had never shared. His back and arms and legs stung with the feel of them. And the whole time, Max continued to caress him.
"I wanted to be a musician," he said, fighting his own words. "I didn't want to stay in the tunnels."
"Why did you?"
Pascal held on to Max tightly. He buried his face in her neck and in her hair and struggled not to hurt her with his words. "I didn't exactly have a choice," he replied. The bitterness and anger were too close to the surface. He forced them back.
She gentled him to the floor, where they sat wrapped around each other.
"Life here isn't what you think it is," Pascal said. He locked his hands together across her upper back. "Sometimes, it's dark and ugly. I was born here. Believe me. I know."
Max touched him so gently, he ached. She nuzzled his cheek.
"The people who founded this place were all on the run from something," he went on. "From the beginning, there were secrets. Secrecy became not only a matter of survival but also a way of life."
Her hands moved to the base of his spine and pulled him even closer.
Pascal couldn't fight the memories any longer. He was there.
"Why didn't you have a choice?" Max asked.
"It was always assumed I would grow up and take my father's place at the pipes," he replied. "From the time I could walk, I had a pipe in my hand. I spent almost every day in the pipe chamber." He shuddered against the cold. "I liked it. It was like music."
The memories seemed to come from her hands.
"At first, there were good times," Pascal said. "My mother came from a musical family. She gave me a violin when I was three; she taught me to play a little." The memory of his mother was so real; it was almost solid to the touch. "She used to take me Above to concerts. Her family was very-well connected and we always had excellent seats." He let himself see through long-forgotten eyes. "Mom was pretty. Not like me. She had blue eyes."
Max sighed and ran her hands up his spine to the base of his neck.
The pipemaster let the mental images wash over him. They came fast and hard. He forced himself to speak quietly. "Sometimes, we met my Uncle Bram in Central Park. I remember he had a Scottie named Fala, like FDR's dog; and he always bought me an egg cream. He played the violin, too. He'd been a concert master in Europe before the war." He went on. "And when I was six or seven, my mother started taking me to my Uncle's apartment for violin lessons. It was the most amazing experience. Whenever I played, I felt like I was flying. Nothing else mattered."
"What happened?" Max asked.
"After about a year, my father found out," Pascal replied bitterly. "And I never saw my Uncle again. It was as if he had been erased from the face of the planet. My violin disappeared, as well."
"What did your mother say?"
"What could she say? It was against the rules to be seen regularly Above at the point."
"That doesn't make sense," Max said. "What about the Helpers?"
"The Helpers weren't family," he replied. "It was more difficult for the feds to pinpoint where we were if we didn't follow patterns." He fought to keep the pain at bay. He turned his face to hers and kissed her desperately. And he buried his face in the crook of her neck just to feel her pulse. "Those early years were hard ones."
"What happened to your mother, Pascal? Nobody mentions her."
She disappeared, too, Pascal thought. "She died when I was ten. She fell," he said, simply. "I was climbing on the pipes and she was trying to get me to come down." Pascal felt like he was falling into an abyss of memory. "I got my first beating the night she died."
"But it was an accident," Max whispered.
"That didn't matter to my father. He became consumed with grief and anger and&endash;"
He held on to Max for dear life. "I became the object of his frustrations." When he closed his eyes, he saw his father standing before him in the embryonic pipe chamber. He was a big man. He seemed to block the light. "Yet I was expected to follow in his footsteps without question."
"Oh, God," Max said.
"From the time I was ten, I spent every waking moment outside the classroom learning code and maintenance of the network," he told her. "That's when my friends started to think I liked being alone. I didn't, Max. I just didn't want them to see how I lived."
"What do you mean?"
Pascal took a deep breath. He could see and feel everything again. This was excruciating. Holding it in would be worse, he told himself. "If I slipped, if I forgot code or made a mistake, my father would hit me," he said. He felt the grueling pain of his father's fist against his bare back. "He always hit me where it didn't show --; my back, my legs, my upper arms. His favorite method was to beat me until I passed out from pain."
Max was trembling. He could not offer her comfort.
"But even that was endurable," Pascal said. "I had friends. When he figured that out, he began punishing me by confining me to my chamber for days on end. I wasn't allowed visitors or to receive messages. He took my books and my radio. The only recourse I had was to escape into my mind."
"But what about Father?"
"He stayed out of what he called Family Business."
Max held him with the utmost tenderness. He could feel her shallow breath against his cheek. It made him feel almost alive.
"It all stopped when I was 15."
"I got the mumps," Pascal replied. "My father didn't believe I was ill and made me work the line. When I finally fainted on the job, he just lost it. I don't remember what happened next. I woke up in the infirmary. Mary told me I almost died." The pipemaster wished he could disappear inside Max's warmth. "The beatings stopped after that."
"And nobody ever mentioned it again, did they?" Her voice was bitter.
"No," Pascal whispered. "They never did." He kissed her neck softly. "Something died in me that year. I just didn't care anymore. I decided that if they wanted me to work the pipes, I would. It was almost like music."
"It feels like music," Max said. Her fingertips rested gently against his shoulder blades.
"Yes, it does."
The memories faded back to wherever they lived. Pascal unclasped his hands and let himself caress Max's back. "When father called the Quarantine, I understood," he told her. "I did. But it took me back to all those years spent in enforced apartness. I just can't&endash;"
Max gently lifted his face to hers and finished the sentence for him. "--;live without love."
Pascal nodded. "I was angry, Max. You're all I have."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
Pascal held on tightly. "Probably the same reason I never told anybody that my father brutalized me," he said.
Max sighed. She arched away from him and looked into his eyes. Why did you do it? Was written all over her face.
He ran his fingertips over the sensitive hurts beneath her shoulders. He looked into her beautiful eyes and found peace looking back at him. "I think," he spoke slowly, allowing the reason to surface in waves of feeling, "I lashed out because the rules applied to you and not to her." He couldn't bring himself to say the name aloud.
"You mean Catherine, don't you?" she asked.
Pascal nodded. "I walked in on them," he whispered. "All that time, I was without you, Vincent was not without her."
Max held him so tenderly; he almost felt her reply before he heard it. "Pascal, that's not right," she told him. "It must have hurt you very much."
She'd said it. She agreed that it wasn't right. "I was just so lonely, Max."
"I'm here now," she said.
Pascal wasn't expecting what came next.
Max put her mouth next to his ear and whispered, "Pascal, you can't keep everything locked away in your emotional little black book." He felt her smile, felt her fingers in his hair. "Don't you know that talking about hurt steals its power?"
The pipemaster gently turned her face to his.He wanted to hang his head in shame, but he didn't. "I'm not worthy of your love," he whispered.
"You give me so much, and I give you nothing."
Max looked at him with her bottomless violet eyes. "Whatever gave you that idea?" she asked. "Do the words stuff and nonsense mean anything to you?" Now she was angry.
Pascal didn't know what to say.
"You give me you," Max said. "That's enough."
"Max, you give me everything I've ever wanted," he blurted. He was breathing very hard. "When you asked me about my day and rubbed my back like that, it was the answer to years of prayer." There, he'd said it. He told her.
Her expression softened. "Really?" she asked.
Max smiled. It was her warm, open smiled that made him love her in the first place. "Oh, Pascal," she said. "It's all right to accept my love. I accept yours."
"Yes, you do." He felt his body begin to come alive again. All the feelings he buried -- the wonderful ones -- started to break the surface.
"Then try to accept mine," she said. She slid her arms from around his neck and cradled his face in her hands. "May I kiss you?" she asked.
He did not answer. Instead he leaned in and kissed her. It was the single most powerful kiss of his life. He was aware of every inch of his body and of hers; and he caressed her with his lips and his tongue and his voice. He touched her in ways that made her shudder and moan. He kissed her with all he was.
"'I give you nothing,' he says," Max said, wryly. Her voice was so low and warm; it made him tremble inside.
"Stuff and nonsense," Pascal replied. His own voice was shaky.
"Where were we, Pascal?" she asked. She rested her forehead against his and touched his cheek with her fingertips.
"I was eating dinner and you were rubbing my back," he told her, softly.
Max took has hand and helped him to his feet. She led him back to the blanket and poured him a fresh cup of tea. He sat down and she knelt behind him. She seemed to be healing him with her touch.
"How did I get so lucky, Max?" he whispered.
Max worked her capable hands down his upper arms. "Luck has nothing to do with it," she replied. "You deserve to be cared for, Pascal." She wrapped her arms around his chest and hugged him. "Now, finish your dinner, while I straighten up. This place is a sty. Definitely not like you, Pascal. Like me, yes; like you no."
"I'll never hurt you again, Max," he told her. It was the truest thing he'd ever said.
"I'm counting on that."
Pascal did not look at her. He was afraid that if he watched her, he'd say something. So he did as he was told and ate her nourishing food until he was sated. When he finally looked up, his chamber was transformed. Order had returned to the world. Max knelt behind him and started rubbing his neck again. The month's pain slowly drained away. He wanted to ask her, but he dared not.
"I was just thinking," Max said, in a low and very gentle voice. "When I first started working as a tech, I had terrible nightmares. I mean, they were so bad that I still can't talk about them. I got so afraid, I stopped sleeping all together," she went on. "I was twenty-two years old and scared of the dark."
Pascal could not imagine Max afraid of anything. "What did you do?" he asked.
"I tried everything," she replied. " Meditation, biofeedback, pills; nothing worked. Finally, I talked to my mother."
"What did she say?"
"She told me if I looked out my window and sang to the moon every night before I went to bed, I wouldn't have any more nightmares."
"That's sweet," Pascal said. "But did it help?"
"Believe it or not, it actually did," Max replied. He could hear the smile in her voice. "Would you like to hear it?"
"Yes." He leaned back into her arms.
"It's a really old song," she told him. "And I'm a really bad singer."
"Sing it anyway."
"Okay," she said, laughing. "You asked for it."
Max sang in a low, breathy voice. She sounded like she was singing from some faraway place. She caressed his shoulders in time to the music.
Roll Along Prairie Moon, Roll Along while I croon
Shine above lamp of love, Prairie Moon
Way up there in the blue
Maybe you're lonely too?
Swinging by in the sky, Prairie Moon
Dreamily, Pascal realized that she was playing him as if he were an instrument. He became part of the gentle song. Max was drawing him into a safer, kinder place. The pipemaster was miles away from anything that hurt him, including his own past. He was waltzing with Max outside of time and beyond pain. His soul was at peace.
When his body was completely relaxed, Max helped him to his feet and then eased him into his bed. Grayness and exhaustion were replaced by hard-earned tiredness. The sheets were smooth again. The cycle had been broken.
"I like your song, Max," he murmured.
"I thought you would," she replied.
She tucked him in as one would a child. Max ran her fingertips across his forehead and over the bridge of his nose. She smiled and said: "I'll be right back." Pascal watched sleepily as she put away the remains of their picnic.
Max was rarely still and never quiet. She went through life singing and dancing. She simply enjoyed the act of living, a trait Pascal often envied. She'd switched from Roll Along Prairie Moon to Schubert's "Trout," and was swaying to that as she straightened. It was as if the pain had never happened. It surprised him.
Max caught him watching her. "Yes, Pascal, I know Schubert," she said, laughing. "And Mozart, and Bach and Beethoven and Chopin&endash;and even those angstful Russians. But I'm a syncopated kind of gal." She sat down on the bed beside him, still humming "The Trout."
Pascal could no longer keep the words inside. "Stay with me, Max," he said.
Max leaned over and kissed him on the tip of his nose. "I intend to," she replied, laughing softly. She kicked off her shoes and curled up under the covers next to him.
Her laughter warmed him, but left it him wanting. "You don't understand, Max," he said, slowly. "I'm asking you to stay here with me."
"I do understand," she replied, with equal deliberation. "And it's my intention stay here with you."
Finally, Pascal could no longer contain the real question. "I mean, marry me, Max."
Max looked at him with her calm violet eyes. "Pascal," she said, evenly. "You need a wife who can give you a family. I can't give you that. I'm a tech."
"You are my family," he replied. "We fit together." Pascal cherished the knowledge of how well they fit in body and in soul. His heart sang whenever he even thought about being inside Max.
"But I'm a tech," she said again, as if this explained everything.
He traced the outline of her mouth with his index finger. "Why is it you can accept me as I am, but I'm not supposed to accept you? That's not fair."
Max blushed and looked very surprised. "I never thought about it that way," she said.
Pascal moved very close to her. He put his lips next to hers, letting his very words become a caress. "You complete me, Max."
"And you complete me," she replied, softly. He could taste her breath in his mouth.
"Marry me," Pascal said again. It was not a question.
"Yes," she said, smiling.
"Did you say 'yes'?" Pascal asked. He thought she'd said 'yes.'
Max smiled her warm open smile. She leaned in and kissed softly and very deeply. "Yes, Pascal," she said, her voice low and a little rough. "I said, yes."
The pipemaster pulled her into his arms and held her as gently as humanly possible. Simply holding her like this was as erotic as anything he'd even known. "I love you," he whispered.
Max smiled. "You have my heart," she replied. "I love you very much."
Pascal melted into her embrace and she became part of him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could still hear her faint, low voice --
Far away shed your beams
On the one of my dreams
Tell him, too, I've been true, Prairie Moon
He sighed with happiness, and for the first time in three weeks, truly slept.