Author's note: This Leroux AU came to me quickly and completely unexpectedly last week, after reading a fantastic story in another fandom with the prompt: "Soulmate AU where you wake up on your 18th birthday with the first words your soulmate will say to you tattooed on your body so you'll know them when you meet them." I've taken some subtle liberties with the specifics of the rules of such a universe - but it was fascinating to imagine the added dimension such a thing might give our story.

I've taken numerous liberties with Leroux. (Purists, please forgive me.) I've written Erik and The Persian to have a more convivial relationship, with The Persian as an exasperated but caring figure. I have also presumed that Erik - for reasons you will come to understand - was sufficiently distracted by Christine's presence in his home that he did not confront the Persian on the banks of the lake in chapter "Interesting and Instructive Vicissitudes of a Persian in the Cellars of the Opera." Instead, I've supposed that upon Christine's return to the Opera Garnier after her first visit to Erik's home and the unmasking, our dear Daroga ventured down to give Erik an earful. Enjoy.

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The fingers of my left hand traced a continuous path along the wall, and my right hand hovered slightly above my view of the corridor's dimly-lit horizon; such was the approach to Erik's house under any set of circumstances. Whether I was stopping by for an evening of tea and recollections of our various emprises in Persia, or dropping in uninvited to reprimand my most difficult friend for his larcenous proclivities, it was never without risking life and limb from his nefarious system of booby traps.

Today's visit, I suspected, would be even less welcome than was habitual, and I rounded the final corner fully expecting him to intercept me in person with a weapon and a scathingly worded admonishment, as he had so many times before - but I was soon knocking on the closed door of his strange abode and waiting with heavy heart for him to answer.

Some moments of silence passed before I dared try the doorknob, and finding it unlocked, approached cautiously through the foyer, uncertain what wretched state or black mood I would find him in - but I was entirely unprepared to find his thin form lying prone on the chaise with his shirtsleeve-clad forearm draped over his brow… wearing no mask at all and smiling blissfully at the ceiling.

I cleared my throat, the first time I had ever needed to signal my presence to one who was by nature so perceptive - but Erik just called out lazily, "So it is you… Daroga, everything has changed... most unexpectedly..."

He dropped the arm covering his forehead and turned toward me, eyes bright.

...Even having seen Erik's unfortunate visage on any number of occasions during the tenure of his employment with the Sultana, it was still a horror to perceive. I bit my lip to prevent any sign of my surprise from evidencing itself in my expression - but for once, he seemed completely oblivious as to another soul's reaction to his face.

"...Erik," I began uncomfortably, "What came to pass between you and Mademoiselle Daaé?"

"A miracle," he said rhapsodically, staring out into the middle distance as though his mind were somewhere else entirely - then he seemingly snapped back to the present circumstances. In an instant he was sitting upright with both hands pressed forcefully against the edge of the seat, and seemed unable to contain himself as he emphatically proclaimed, "I would apologize for making you see Erik's face - but oh! Daroga! I cannot take responsibility when it was she who burned the mask."

"She is at this very moment sobbing inconsolably on the Giry girl's shoulder," I said grimly, suddenly hating the sense of duty and good sense that had compelled my visit, and attempting to soften my tone. "Forgive me - I am loathe to extinguish this happiness - but my friend, Mademoiselle Daae has fallen into paroxysms of distress. Madame Giry and her daughter have been tending to her since she returned from your home."

A shadow of concern, or perhaps doubt, flickered across his face, and I considered how rare it was to see his expressions firsthand, instead of inferring them from his body language as I was so often forced to do.

The desire came, quickly, to cross the few remaining steps between us and put a hand on his shoulder in comfort - but before I could dare, the cloud had passed, and his posture was confident, his affect nonchalant and unconcerned. "I made a good many… mistakes, Daroga, it is quite understandable that she might be rather… ill-pleased... with me."

"What did you do?" I asked softly, dread gathering like knot in my stomach as the facade of self-assuredness flickered and a profound worry crept into Erik's countenance, the expression made almost more intense by the rawness of his poor features. His discomfort was clear, and I was once again torn by sympathy, as I quickly began speaking to fill the difficult silence. "I blame myself for ever letting it get this far. I knew full well she was in your company - forgive me, I should have stepped in much sooner."

But my feeble attempt at compassion only seemed to bolster his mercurial mood, and straightening his shoulders he stood, and strode across the room confrontationally to stand before me.

"What an uncharitable thing to say! Daroga, even if you had decided to meddle in such an obnoxious and unnecessary manner, it wouldn't have mattered in the least - because fate promises that I will have the opportunity to make amends."

"Fate," I said trepidatiously, his voice echoing in my ears. "You cannot possibly mean…"

He looked at me with a gaze that could only be described as content.

"Erik, if this is about those infernal tattoos - I showed you the words on my skin fifteen years ago and you laughed that a man of my experiences would still believe in superstition! You never spoke of your own."

"I never believed in any of it," he said calmly. "You know I have never been one for cabalistic pursuits, not when there was the comforting objectivity of logic... I was convinced it was all the stuff of sentimental old wives' tales. And then when mine appeared - Daroga, you must understand I spent decades believing it was the vilest of jokes, some sadistic way the universe had of telling me I would be alone forever... For who would ever say something like that, to Erik…"

A chill crept over me, as I recalled various phrases I had heard amidst her crying, and I began to realize what must have occurred during the poor girl's visit - and the fear that had been gathering around me like growing vines seemed to change form, as I became less concerned for Christine Daaé's situation and more afraid that this could only end in Erik's heart being irrevocably broken.

"Christine - did she... reveal the nature of her distress?" he interrupted me in a transparent attempt at clinical detachment, feigning that it was a small matter while quite obviously caring with painful depth. "I… I imagine she might think me a rather… unsuitable soulmate - but it will all be so different now. With her in my life - by my side, Daroga! What a different man Erik could be!"

I never should have come - this was not news I wanted to give. It was too much, to have to dash a man's hopes like this, to try to be a friend but only to obliterate joy in the process. His look grew more anxious, and I said hoarsely, "I believe… it sounded as though Mademoiselle Daae thought she had already met hers. A young boy at the seaside, some time ago; apparently he said something that must have been very similar to the words on her own marking..."

"Yes, and - and?" he asked me, with an impatience that bordered on frantic. "What did she say that it was?"

"I don't know precisely - I was only able to ask her a few questions before Madame Giry insisted I leave - Miss Daae was sobbing one moment and furious the next. She kept repeating 'don't be afraid!' …. something about a lost scarf." My gaze drifted to the ground, as I struggled to remember, but something in his words put a halt to my musing, and my eyes darted quickly back to his. "...Do you mean to say you haven't seen her own tattoo?"

"How ungentlemanly do you imagine Erik to be?" he retorted indignantly. "I'm certain it resides somewhere perfectly ladylike upon her person, and I wouldn't presume to ask."

"Did she tell you what it -"

"Of course not," he cut me off. "I hardly needed to see hers when she had quite obviously spoken mine."

Saying this aloud seemed to soothe him; his confrontational posture relaxed, and I dared to pursue this line of questioning further. "My friend... the ballet rats have been gossiping for months about Miss Daae's mysterious teacher; surely your first words to her were some time ago?"

"I first became aware of Christine... five months, twenty seven days, and fourteen hours ago. I felt such a thunderbolt when I first saw her, that I almost dared to hope - but when I finally gathered the courage to speak to her, even in a rather indirect manner - her first words to me were only to enquire if I was the Angel of Music; some envoy from her recently deceased father. I was gutted... and then almost relieved, relieved that this must only be lust, a passing infatuation, not at all something that would consume me whole." He ran a hand across his skeletal brow and twisted his fingers in the thin strands of his hair, before turning on one heel and walking toward the liquor cabinet while continuing his story.

"But fate - fate must have such specific rules." He removed two glasses, and poured a measure of brandy in each from a crystal decanter I was quite certain I had previously seen in the managers' office. "Who would have ever known destiny to be a stickler? For it wasn't when we first spoke, or even when she first learned I was not in the least divine. The only logic anyone knows about all of this tattoo business has been translated so many times in the centuries since the first explanations, how could I have expected that the meaning would be so precise? 'The words inked on your skin will be spoken the first time your soulmate sees you…'"

Erik looked over at me and his golden eyes softened at the corners, as though he were wistfully remembering something very dear. "Daroga, I will owe her a lifetime of apology - how I screamed at her for doing it - at the moment, I was out of my mind with grief. The poor girl! She said nothing, nothing save weeping, and I raged on at her abominably - and soon it was only weeping for us both."

One of the glasses he held out to me, absent-mindedly, while taking an urgent swig from his own. "The feeling in my chest - the devastation, the shame - it was all so dire that I had to blot it out, to feel anything else - and with my morphine supply depleted the only option was to fill my veins with music. I staggered to the next room and took my misery out on the wretched piano; I was so lost in the music that I didn't hear her enter until she was standing almost directly behind me."

He drained his glass, and his hand trembled, slightly, as he set it on an end table and continued, his voice hoarse with emotion. "...You must imagine what I felt upon her return to my presence - that she would willingly approach me ever again! That alone was enough… was more than I had ever imagined. I stood up from the piano bench, too afraid to turn around and look her in the eye for fear I would weep - but then she spoke the words. Never in my life had I dreamed of such a thing. To have a soulmate at all, Dargoa! To have it be her!" He nearly choked on the words; an incredulous joy reverberating in his tone.

"Erik," I began gently and coughed, finding my voice suddenly dry and my eyes quite wet. "Is it possible you misunderstood something she said? Some people have words in these supernatural tattoos that are quite common, and must go their entire lives wondering which person that says "good evening" is the one…"

Calmly, he raised his left arm in a gesture, and reached over with his other hand to slip the cufflink free and begin rolling up his shirtsleeve.

"You'll understand why I thought it impossible, and how unmistakable it is now."

Burning yellow eyes met my own, eager for the comprehension he expected to follow, as he pushed his sleeve up the final distance of his narrow arm to reveal the phrase, inked in a refined cursive script :

"Show me your face without fear…"

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So, yes - this was completely a departure for me. Never written anything supernatural, never written from the Persian's POV, haven't written Leroux or anything period in years. Hope you enjoyed it! I would love to hear what you think. The title, if you hadn't recognized it, is from the novel - the phrase is used five separate times to describe Erik's notes, and I can only imagine any worthy soulmate tattoo would appear in his signature color.

And now, I'm back to working on Volee chapter 13, I promise. :-)

(And, if you're curious about the story that was so good that it inspired me to write my own in the same AU, check out Indelible Ink and An Ever-Fixed Mark by the talented Lady-of-the-Refrigerator in the Blacklist fandom. )