Phantom of the Opera
Erik/Christine - there are, predominantly, two main shipper bases in the POTO fandom: E/C and Christine/Raoul. To a lesser extent, there's also a few slash bases, too: E/R is one of the more, um... interesting choices, then there's Firmin/Andre (manager!slash) and Meg/Christine. I have a M/C one favourited at fanfic.net, I admit, but only because it was incredibly clever. I digress. Erik/Christine is my 'ship of choice. This does not come from the original novel, at least, not entirely. It's mostly because of the musical and Susan Kay's Phantom, which is E/C shippy in the extreme. Oddly, E/C doesn't seem like the most obvious pairing: beautiful young opera singer and insane disfigured composer, not the best match. ;)
So, why? Because it's angsty, duh. :P And because after reading Kay you fall madly in love with Erik and want to beat Christine up a lot for being an idiot (and in some ways, it's Buffy/Spike in the nineteenth century.) And also Raoul is completely useless and doesn't deserve to get the girl. See, I know Erik killed lots of people and did Bad Things. It doesn't matter. He did it all out of love for Christine (and, okay, minor insanity, but he's had a difficult life...) and that doesn't excuse it, I know, but it should at least count for something. I have no idea what he sees in her, but it's his choice.
Christine's too immature to cope with what he wants from her; that is, undying love, which I'm sure, given time, she'd be able to provide. Unfortunately, he's not big on the giving-her-time thing, and he's really, really bad at ultimatums... She's scared: of his face, at first - but she gets over that and I know she can see beyond it, because it was the Voice she loved before she even knew he was a real person - and of his volatile personality. His anger is easily ignited, and she's always making just the right mistake to set him off. One of Erik's key flaws in that respect is that he continually keeps on scaring her, forgetting that she's not as strong as she makes out - she is, after all, a ballet girl who's had a taste of fame, and her own personality is just as volatile. (These prima donnas. Feh.)
There's only one moment where E/C is truly hinted at in the original book and the musical/Kay. When Erik makes Christine choose between him and Raoul, I honestly believe it was the moment she realised she could love him for who he is and what he is. The choice is basically this: if she chooses Raoul, Erik kills him; if she chooses Erik, he sets Raoul free. (That's the musical version; the original version was to choose Erik, and if not, he'd blow up the Opera... like I said... sanity issues...) So, inevitably, she chooses to save Raoul and stay with Erik. He reads that choice as being, literally, to save Raoul, and in a final act of selflessness, he lets her go. What gets me is the fact that she kisses him (in both versions, though in the musical it's more... well, shippy.) Surely if it was an obligation she had to fulfil, she'd just say "All right, Erik, I'll marry you."? It's the kiss that makes it so tricky, and gives us all hope that she actually chose Erik - and all the fic (and Kay) would have you believe that the kiss turns everything on its head and is the defining moment where she finally realises she's loved him all along.
Now I come to think about it, and remember random bits from the last UK tour, the UST between Erik and Christine is almost X-Filian in scale. The slightest touch - or avoidance of a touch, which is the case in Music of the Night (so many not-quite-kisses. Gah!) - means a lot more than it seems like, probably heightened by the time period it's set in. As for Point of No Return... it's quite possibly the kinkiest musical song ever, excluding most of Rocky Horror. I mean, really. The lyrics are bad enough; when you add the UST between the characters, it just gets ridiculous (especially considering, at that moment in Erik's 'opera', Don Juan is in the process of seducing [successfully, I might add] Aminta.)
With all the angst, you'd think it was impossible to write fluffy E/C fic. It's not. And it's remarkably satisfying to read, too...
This is positively the trickiest fandom I've ever shipped for. The four main 'ships all interlink - that's part of the reason I adore it so much - and I, of course, am in the minority shipper group. But wow, I'm so glad. Such wondrous angst. Anyway, here's those four 'ships - to some degree, I love all of them - in reverse order of preference...
Artie/Betty - this is more of a film 'ship than a musical one, purely because I love Artie in the film. :) He's not used as much in the musical. In the film, though, they are absolutely adorable together. In Hollywood, movie people marry movie people, and they're no exception - she's in the Reader's Dept., and he's an Assistant Director, and they probably met in Schwab's. In fact, they probably met when he spilt coffee over her or something, because that seems like exactly the kind of thing that would happen to Artie... (must... not... fic... it... oh, bollocks... Fine, I'll put it in the chapterfic...) Anyway, it's sort of a Cordy/Doyle situation (hey, Betty did want to be an actress... :P) in that he doesn't have much, but would give it all to her if he had to. And while the idea of getting married in Clinch, TN. because it only costs three dollars may not be the most romantic of gestures, it has to prove something; the other reason was it would save on a honeymoon... so I always assumed he'd seen something amazing he wanted to show her when she got there. There's not much to really say about A/B, and since I haven't delved that deeply into it in the fic yet, I can't make too many suppositions... so we'll move on.
Norma/Max - N/M is one of the underlying 'ships of the film/musical. Even before we find out he was her first husband (which explains a lot...) it's obvious there's something between them. A butler's loyalty is one thing; the protective and threatening edge to his entire demeanour starts to give it away. He is understandably dubious about Joe from the start, but it becomes more and more clear that he's not just concerned for Norma, he's jealous. (I can only begin to imagine what he went through when she married the other two times, although it wasn't made clear exactly when he came back to be the butler. Part of me assumes it would be after the third husband had gone; another part of me reckons he'd go back after a matter of months. I guess we'll never know...)
Max loves Norma; he always has, and always will, but there's nothing he can do about it. He can't be with her any more than she can (honestly and truly realistically, which is a complete bugger considering my 'ship of choice) be with Joe. Of course, she loves him - he's the only one who's been consistently there for her through everything - but probably not in the same way. ennixeve could probably tell you more about N/M, because she's the Max-fan. :)
Betty/Joe - I will make it clear right now that I do not in any way, shape or form advocate the pairing of Joe and Betty. Nope. No way. I don't care how good their chemistry was in the tour. :) See, here's the thing. When I first watched Sunset, I immediately managed to parallel it with Phantom (hence why I put the two fandoms under the same cut) - Norma's the Erik-type role, Joe is Christine, and Betty is Raoul. It's a gender-reversed version, with less confusing Victorian pretentiousness. And hence, because I can't stand Raoul, I was fully prepared to hate Betty, too. Only then I wrote a scene, you see. A scene in Schwab's, between Joe and Betty, a year following the argument in the mansion, and she came out with a few home truths. I had such fun writing it, and discovered that Betty!Angst was a heck of a lot more interesting than I ever could have imagined. She's now one of my favourite characters; go figure.
Betty is an innocent bystander. She meets Joe entirely by accident, and has no idea about his acquaintance with Artie (which is actually a rather good plot twist, I think...) They get off on the wrong foot (naturally), and then, through Circumstances, end up falling in love. Joe has a valid reason - he's trapped beyond his control, and Betty is his only escape back into reality; I understand entirely why he betrays Norma like he does (I don't approve of it, but I understand it) and why he thinks he's in love with Betty. (I'm still not convinced he ever really was, considering the pressue he was under at the time.) Betty's young and naive (though she's definitely not stupid), her fiancé is miles away, and Joe lays on charm without even realising it. Of course she's going to fall in love with him.
It's plausible to assume she goes through a period of hating him, though. :) I wouldn't forgive him for the things he said, either. Time to ignore the canon and head into the world of TUOS (the fic; where've you been the past year and a half?) whereby Joe survives being shot and recompenses for his mistakes (more on that later...) Ordinarily, I wouldn't base these things on fic suppositions (Jonathan Creek was at least based on show suppositions...), but since the fic continues a great story, and since it's made me realise a lot more about the canon, I'm going to include it. Anyway, Betty hasn't forgiven him at this stage, despite a letter that he sends her to explain, because she doesn't understand. He didn't tell her about Norma - not properly, anyway - and all she understands is what she saw that night, which was very little. Joe is unable to explain because Norma doesn't know about Betty (selective amnesia...) and he doesn't want to risk her finding out again for fear of hurting her, and because he's not sure Betty will understand - at this stage, he barely understands it himself. So when she asks if he's in love with Norma, he lies through his teeth and says he's not. And Betty reveals that she's still in love with him, despite the fact that she's now married to Artie and yes, does love him. They part amicably and agree not to tell Artie anything, because what he doesn't know can't hurt him (although he does find out several chapters later, though I haven't decided how to sort that yet...)
Confusing, no? But so much fun. :D What used to be a sideline/enemy 'ship for me has actually become far more interesting, purely because Betty Schaefer is such a fantastic character with a lot of potential. Moving on...
Norma/Joe - right. Here we go. To this day, I still cannot explain what it is about N/J that gets to me so much. I still can't explain why I latched onto like I did, why so instantly, why so emotionally. I only remember a curious 'trailer' at the start of the video, with a clip of the New Year's Eve scene and Norma saying "You don't want me to love you." Something in my brain went 'Ooh.' I watched. Again, my brain said 'Ooh.' I listened to the musical; my brain dissolved. Then I went to see it, and that was the final straw. So I suppose a lot of the blame can be put on Faith and Jeremy, because it was their on-stage chemistry that made it worse than it already was, and it was their fault I wrote the fic.
Remember my comments about Mulder/Scully UST? Well, this was like that to the power of twenty. There was a wall of chemistry. Right from the first scene together, when their eyes meet across the room (or stage, if you're going to be picky about it) there were sparks flying. I've never seen anything like it before or since, and probably won't again, which is a shame. None of this explains why N/J appeals to me, however, and I've said most of it before in numerous write-ups, and I'm keeping translucent up past her bedtime, so on we go...
I think... all it is... is that I'm still convinced that had Betty not been part of the picture (and I do love her character dearly, as the above demonstrates) Joe would have fallen in love with Norma eventually. Betty just happened to come along at the right time and divert his attention elsewhere. I mean, just think about it: he has nothing; she offers him everything. It's not exactly the most healthy basis for a relationship, but under the circumstances, it's as good enough a place to start as any. Given time to get to know her, he could start to feel for her. New Year's Eve is definitely a turning point in the sense that it makes him realise just how fragile she is, and the thought that she might be dead because of him - for him - jolts his brain into reality while he's kidding around at Artie's. I don't think he realises how deep everything goes until then; after that, he certainly sympathises, and sticks around out of obligation and guilt, but he's still trying to get out of it. Probably, he's at least slightly fond of her by the time they set off to Paramount (I noticed, for example, that he takes her hand in the car as she leaves, not the other way around...)
Honestly, I think he's just scared. He's cynical and sarcastic and life has dealt him some crap over the years, but beneath that facade there's just a frightened little boy trying to get out, and Norma sees that (though I admit this is more what I got out of Jeremy's portrayal than William Holden's original...) - whether it's the boy or the man she loves is hard to tell, and the ongoing mother&son theme never quite disappears (to my utter annoyance, since I can't seem to shift it in fic no matter what I do. I even tried killing his mother off...) And Norma herself is a delicate, fragile creature, easily damaged, and she knows full well that Joe has it within his power to hurt her - that's where her power lies. There's always that silent challenge after New Year's Eve, where she's just waiting for him to hurt her again, so she can prove she owns him. And she really, really does own him, which is probably the worst thing about it - if not for the power issue, it'd be so much easier. She thrives on power - it's all she really has - yet she's also willing to relinquish that and let someone else be in charge for a change - usually, Max, and then Joe on New Year's Eve. I've always felt that deep down he does want to protect her from harm - again, New Year's Eve - because he knows what it's like in the world outside 10086, and he knows just as well that it's not a place Norma would like.
I'm totally losing the argument, aren't I? ;)
Basically, it could have worked, had the odds not been completely against them. And seriously, the fluff I can write (and, ye gods, the angst I can write) in fanfic makes the horrible mangling of canon with TUOS so worth the effort. There's a lot more I could say, but it wouldn't ever end, so I'll finish it here. Norma/Joe is the most complex thing I've ever 'shipped for, but I utterly adore it.
There. Done. For now. I'm still convinced I've missed out something really obvious...