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Because I Live

Chapter Text

The days began to fall into a pattern. Odette woke in her nest of abandoned blankets and old costumes, fixed her hair in the window glass, then slowly made her way down, down, down to the kitchen. The cooks were just rising themselves, but yesterday’s bread was left in the box. She took two pieces - one she ate on her way to Don Carlos’ office, and one she pocketed for later. After receiving her tasks for the day, she’s left alone to carry them out.

As much as she can, she avoids socializing. She’d learned to wait until after the corps dinner to claim her own, and she ate at the cooks’ table in the kitchen. As long as she stayed out of their way, they didn’t seem to mind. Once or twice she caught the scullery girl staring at her as she ate, but a quick frown was all it took to discourage her attentions.

Odette knew she would eventually need to find her own lodgings, and she intended to, but so far she’d been too exhausted at the end of a day’s work to venture out into Paris. Tomorrow, she told herself, day after day.

After several weeks passed, Faubergé sought her out as she mopped the entrance hall.


“Oui, Monsieur?” Her face was blank as he strode over her morning’s work.

“I wanted to inquire into your efforts to find lodgings. Have you had any success?”

“Non, Monsieur, not yet.”

He frowned.

“You cannot stay here indefinitely. You remember that it was only meant to be temporary?”

“Oui, Monsieur, I have not forgotten.”

“See that you don’t. It would not do-“

One of the main doors opened. A tall woman with a severe face entered, wrapped in a lush fur coat. Behind her came two men, one short and the other fat. Both were dressed for business. Odette recognized the fat one as the Opéra board president.

“Excuse me,” muttered Monsieur Faubergé to Odette before hurrying over to the trio.

“Monsieur le President!” he exclaimed, shaking the fat man’s hand in both of his own. “And you must be Monsieur et Madame le Haut!” He made a small bow. “It is an honor to welcome you to our Opéra.”

Odette didn’t miss the fawning and politicking, the smiling and simpering. She resumed her mopping, but jumped in surprise when she was again interrupted.

“Odette!” called Monsieur Faubergé. He held Madame le Haut’s coat in one arm and beckoned to Odette with the other. Stiffly, she moved to join them. Monsieur Faubergé stepped away from the trio long enough to thrust the coat at her and whisper, “Take care of this,” before rejoining the conversation.

Odette was still trying to maneuver the coat away from her dripping mop when Madame le Haut’s eyes widened, then narrowed.

“Odette?” she asked. “Odette from Coppélia?” She looked to the president for confirmation.

“Oui, Madame, the same.”

Odette watched Madame le Haut examine her twisted leg.

“My wife greatly admired your Swanhilda,” says Monsieur le Haut into the silence.

“Thank you, Monsieur,” said Odette.

“And now?” asked Madame le Haut, frowning at the mop.

“Now I have a new role,” she said, tightening her grip on the mop. “Thanks to the kindness and generosity of Monsieur Faubergé, for which I am most grateful.”

“Of course,” said Monsieur le Haut kindly.

“Of course,” repeated Monsieur le President. “We are a family here at the Opéra, we look after our own. Now, Madame et Monsieur, if you will be so good as to accompany us to my office-“ He gestured up the Grand Staircase.

Madame le Haut paused before following the men. She regarded Odette with something between pity and disdain, and Odette braced herself for something cruel, but all the tall woman said was “Don’t get it wet”, with a sniff towards the coat, and then she was gone.

Odette hung the coat in the cloakroom before returning to her mopping.

Later that morning, she was on her way to throw out the dirty mop water when Faubergé found her again.

“Odette! The le Hauts are leaving, fetch Madame’s coat for her.”

She left the bucket and crossed the foyer to the cloakroom. Faubergé followed her inside, and grabbed her arm once they are out of sight.

“I have solved your problem,” he said.

“What problem would that be?”

“The one we discussed this morning.” He was too pleased with himself to notice her cattiness. “I have secured accommodations for you.”

“You have?”

“The le Hauts have just moved into a townhouse on Rue des Mathurins. They are, as of this morning, esteemed patrons of the our Opéra house, and they will allow you lodgings free of charge in exchange for intermittent housework. They understand of course that your primary duties are to the Opéra, and I am assured that their demands on your time will in no way interfere with your current work.”

He paused expectantly. Odette scrambled for a response.

“You’re farming me out?”

He snorted.

“Of course not, you’re keeping your position here.”

Odette frowned.

“I don’t know anything about those people.”

“Don’t be ungrateful. I believe Monsieur le Haut is in the restaurant business, and Madame le Haut appreciates the arts, our ballet in particular. But it doesn’t matter what they do. You’re not going to find closer accommodations, not at their price.”

She knew he was right. All the pieces fit, there’s no reasonable objection to be made.

“All right.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Just all right?”

“Thank you,” she conceded, surrendering her stolen liberties as prima to her reality as cleaner. “For going to the trouble on my behalf. Forgive me, it’s just sudden.”

He waved a hand carelessly.

“You are forgiven, and you are welcome. Now, let’s return. They’ll be wondering what labyrinthine depths we disguise as our cloakroom.”

When they emerged, Odette noticed Madame le Haut watching them every step of the way. She turned when Odette approached and Odette helped her into the coat one arm at a time. After checking the contents of the pockets, she turned back to Odette.

“They tell me you finish here at five. Come then and we’ll see you sorted.”

“Oui Madame. And thank you.”

Later, when Odette finally emptied her mop bucket into the alley, she had to resist the urge to try to scrub away the feeling of Madame le Haut’s lingering gaze.