Disclaimer:  Who reads these anyway?  It's here because it's here.  We don't own Phantom, or anything about it – we wish, though!  This particular phic is based off the Susan Kay novel, which belongs to… Yes! Susan Kay!

Summary: Young Erik receives an unexpected visitor.

I Noci: by Lady Death & L'Ange de Folie

"When destiny calls you
You must be strong
I may not be with you
But you've got to hold on
They'll see in time
I know…"

-Disney's Tarzan

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The quaint, ostracized little house in Boscherville stood as silent as it always had.  It was always quiet – no one ever bothered to visit the small family that resided there.  No one even really stepped on the grounds except for a short, red-haired woman who appeared frequently, and the old, elderly priest who was beginning to show up less and less.  On occasion, young children would creep onto the grounds and dare each other to run up and touch the door, or sneak close and peer through the dark windows.  Other than that, the house was left alone.  No one wanted anything to do with it. The grounds held a hopeless air of forlorn neglect, like an enfeebled relative who had been forgotten by its loved ones.  

The house was eerily quiet, and gave off the aura of a haunted building, saturated with the supernatural, but it was not empty by any means.

Up in the creaking, dusty attic bedroom rested a small child.  He tossed fitfully in his sleep, whimpering softly and clutching painfully at the thin coverlet that he had completely hidden under.  He curled up into a tight ball, trembling.

It was the dream again.  It was that horrible, miserable dream that haunted and relentlessly tormented him night after night. Ever since he saw the Face, it never left him alone.  It hid in the deepest recesses of his mind in the daylight, but when the night came, it pounced on him and forced nightmare after nightmare upon him.

Young Erik awoke with a violent start, and he pushed his way through his blanket in order to sit upright.  His breathing was ragged and shaky, and the bright moonlight reflected off the tears that streaked his bare face.  He scrubbed at his eyes for a quick second, wishing his breathing would return to normal.

He glanced fearfully about his small room, pulling his knees up towards his chest for comfort.  He instinctively and uncontrollably began to search for the dark shadows and creatures that had begun to populate his dreams.  He found nothing, but there were still some awfully dark corners that he wasn't quite sure about.  The bars fitted along his window cast broken shadows on the walls, which seemed to grow and dance menacingly in the full moon's light if he watched them long enough.

Erik lay slowly back down in his bed, still shaking.  He focused intently on the most questionable of the dark corners, unable to move his sight from the spot.  His eyes widened and he choked back a sound of terror as he something appeared to move slowly along the far wall.

Was that the Face?  Was that a monster?

He felt unable to move.

Was this one of the monsters he had seen? One of the monsters his mask would protect him against?

He was without his mask. The thought terrified him beyond belief.

The mask was sitting a small distance away, resting on the rickety table next to his bed.  He glanced helplessly at it, not daring to reach for it.  He craved for the comfort it would bring – Mama had made him a new one.  It didn't hurt his face as much, and Mama had said the mask was magic… It would protect him.

 He looked at it again.  It was only just barely out of arm's reach, but fear paralyzed him.

Erik managed to pull himself back under the coverlet and tightly shut his eyes.  Oh, how he wished he could call out to his mother, but he dared not make a sound. 

Shivering, his breathing grew heavy again and his mind ran rampant -- imagination beginning to summon thousands of demons from the deepest levels of the abyss to his dark room.  Even while hiding, he still thought he could feel their rancid breath beating down on him, waiting to tackle and claw him into bloody ribbons.

Instead, the gentle, deep sound of a man's voice broke through the silence. "Hush, it's alright, Erik."

Erik opened his eyes in alarm.  With much trepidation, he peered out from underneath his blanket and fearfully - against his better judgment - he scanned the room. It was too dark.  Even he couldn't see what the darkness hid, and he had usually prized himself for his excellent night vision. He began to tremble violently.  It scared him.

He swallowed hard several times before finding his voice again.

"W-who's there?" Erik asked timidly into the dark, empty room.

"It's alright, Erik," the voice repeated comfortingly, appearing to have no obvious source.  "Don't be frightened now – I won't harm you."

The voice had an eerily calming effect on the small child.  He felt his breathing and racing heart slow to something bearable. His shaking had lessened considerably and he felt bolder and more courageous than he had the entire night. 

This mysterious voice was not threatening in any way, other than the fact that he was unable to detect where it was coming from.  It had similar, gentle qualities in it that he recognized from Mademoiselle Perrault's voice, ironically enough.  It was kind – but startlingly familiar.  He couldn't place where he had heard it before…

He sat up in his bed, and looked about curiously for the voice's origin.  It had to be here somewhere!  He glanced toward the mask, should it be needed… It was magic… It would keep the monsters at bay… He began to reach for it.

He flinched unintentionally as a figure stepped out of the shadows in a part of the room he had inspected a hundred times before.  It approached the bed, its features becoming clearer in the moonlight.

It was a man.  He was tall, with well-maintained, thick dark hair.  His eyes were gentle and brown, but glistened with an otherworldly knowledge.  He smiled and silently took a seat at the foot of the bed.

No… It didn't look like a monster…

He… wouldn't need the mask then, he didn't think…

Just a man…

He let his hand move away and back to his lap.

But…

His hand clenched and he began to tremble.

"I'm not so frightening now, am I?" the man asked, subtle amusement in his voice.

"What do you want?" Erik asked, still feeling sudden suspicion towards this person who had intruded on his late night and bedroom.  He shifted away from the man and towards the backboard.

He should go away – Mama would be angry to know anyone was up here…

"I came to see you," the man said.

Erik felt his panic freeze for a moment -- he was stunned. Why would anyone come to see him?  The only person who ever came specifically to see him from outside the house was Father Mansart, and this most certainly was not Father Mansart. 

"Why?" Erik asked, his interested piquing.

The figure sighed.  "I can't stay here for very long.  I wanted to see you before I had to leave again."  The expression in his eyes held an unfathomable air of regret and sadness that made Erik feel uncomfortable. 

"But why would you come to see me?" Erik reiterated pressingly, unable to contain the question his thoughts so urgently wished to know the answer to.  He stared up into the man's face. His fear was gone and he felt curiosity replace it entirely.

"My, you certainly are very inquisitive, aren't you, Erik?"

The child's ravaged face fell as he hung his head; his confidence cracked.  "Mama says I ask too many questions…"

"She would have my head for telling you this…" the man said with an amused whisper, leaning in towards Erik with the air of a person about to impart a great, conspiratorial secret. "…But your mother does not know everything…"

Still nestled safely in his mass of blankets, Erik felt his face break into an uncontrollable, unfamiliar, unaccustomed grin and he had to stifle a laugh at the thought of what his mother's reaction would be if she had heard that.  The man was right -- Mama would have his head.

"You can never ask too many questions," the man continued, smiling as well, now.  "And don't you let her or anyone else tell you otherwise."

He paused for half a moment before continuing.

"You know, I've been watching you, Erik.  You're such a clever boy.  And in her heart, your mother is proud of you -- I know she is.  She just has trouble looking past the surface of things sometimes.  But, don't you worry… She'll come around sooner or later."

Erik began to shake his head, the grin fading from his face just as quickly as it had sprung up.  It was replaced with a look of misery well beyond his five short years. 

"I don't think she ever will…" Erik whispered sadly. "She won't ever…"

"No, Erik, you mustn't believe that."

 The man was quick to respond, but for some unknown reason, Erik felt it seemed to make him feel even worse than before.

"I sometimes wonder if I'm even…hers," he continued on, his voice soft and anguished.  "She doesn't act like I am.  Sometimes, I don't think I'm her son."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the man shaking his head – it was almost imperceptive.

"Erik, please, no, do not believe that for a moment…"

He was mute for a moment, feeling something ashamed before he haltingly began to speak again.

"Sometimes… Sometimes I think she hates me," he said slowly and cautiously. "Sometimes I think everyone does… I just… don't know why…"

"Don't ever think that, Erik," the man said, his grave tone tinged with sorrow, as like with all the times before. "No one hates you… Your mother, least of all…  I know for a fact Mademoiselle Perrault is quite fond of you, as is that priest that comes on Sundays -- Father Mansart.  And I certainly don't hate you."

"The rest of the town does," Erik muttered sullenly.  "They break our windows."

Fighting a sudden onslaught of weariness, young Erik pulled the blankets up around his shoulders and sighed.  "I don't know why they hate me…."

"You will… Entirely too soon," the man said, his eyes closing with weariness himself.  Erik watched him curiously.  He was confused.  He rarely got confused with anything – only with people.  They always confused him.  This man was no different.  The way he was speaking, and the way he was showing concern for him was bewildering him.  It was almost as if he cared…

"You know, Erik," he said suddenly, and Erik realized that he was now watching him intently, an unreadable expression in his eyes.  "I think your father would have been very proud of you…"

In the distance, the old church bells pealed in the darkness.

"Well, do you hear that? It's getting horribly late." The man sighed. "It's time for me to go, Erik."

"No! Not yet!"  Erik exclaimed without hesitation.  He'd only just arrived! He couldn't leave! He struggled to free himself from the blankets that had wound around his body in his efforts to feel safe.

"I have to, Erik.  I told you I couldn't stay for long."  The man moved closer, untangling the small child from the sheets with ease.  He straightened out the coverlet. "Come on, now, into bed with you.  Your mother would be absolutely furious if she knew I'd kept you up so late."

With a sudden and unexpected yawn, Erik crawled back under the blankets with an obedience that surprised even himself at first. Though, again, the man was right. His mother would not be cheerful at all, if she ever was, to find out he had been up this late.  He was usually awake this time of night, but it had never really occurred to him that his mother would get angry over it.

"You will come back, won't you?" Erik asked hopefully, playing with the corner of his nightshirt.

"I'll try," the man answered in return, smoothing the bedclothes down around the child, who yawned once more.  "I'll always be here if you need me, Erik."

"Can you stay until I fall asleep? The Face will come back."  Erik yawned again, feeling oddly more complacent than he ever would have been after mentioning something of that sort, and growing more and more unexplainably tired.

The man smiled down at him.  "Of course I can."

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he continued to idly smooth and press out the wrinkles of the old coverlet, a deeply remorseful expression on his face as he watched the boy drift off.

Had anyone been present in the small, dark attic of the old house in Boscherville that moonlit night, they might have seen a single tear run down the man's handsome face as he regarded the peacefully sleeping child.  They would not have seen the knowledge he knew of the lifetime of hardships the small, unmasked Erik would face.  They might also have seen him brush his hand once across the sleeper's cheek, paying no heed to the horrible, natural disfigurement that would set him apart from the rest of the world, before drifting back into the shadows from whence he appeared.

 He left a whispering, tremulous sentence to echo in the silent room after he had gone.  "Goodnight, Erik… Goodnight, my son."

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(A/N: Aie, we hope you guys are still here…! The muses have become disinterested in 'A Story of Love' for the time being, but we are working like madwomen to get them to return and help out.  They want to work on that phic, and that phic, but not the phic.  But, we're trying!  So, here's a little offering that we've been able to put together to prove that we are not dead! And, for those of your questioning the title, we swear, there's a story behind it but we won't fill the author note with it.  Finally, we'd like to thank Riene for beta-reading this, and for beta-ing most of 'A Story of Love' as well – we've shamefully forgotten to mention her wonderful talents and help and we thank her for every chapter she inspects!)