Disclaimer: Nope, characters aren't mine. Just borrowing.
A/N:This one is for Chatastic, just because we all need a Kitty in our lives.
Although it seemed that something was out of place, he could not name it. The shadows about him thrummed with their usual energy, the sounds of the night betraying slight secrets. He felt creatures lurking about him, all minding their own business and unwilling to mix with the matters of others as they had their own unspeakable midnight affairs to attend to. In the distance, a clock tower chimed the late hour and announced the arrival of a new day. Still, as he walked, he could not place the odd feeling that was playing at his senses.
The day had been a clear one, but the moon now refused to show its beams. Clouds had swept in to clothe even the night in more darkness than was its wont. He could not contain the resentment that flared within him. Would the moon also turn its face from his own?
He pressed a gloved hand to his right cheek, tracing his fingers along the line where porcelain met skin. Slightly angry with himself now, he bitterly forced the thought from himself, knowing that thinking such things would surely do him no good. It did not help that such thoughts invaded his mind every waking hour that he was forced to endure upon the Earth. Would he never find distraction, however small?
As he walked, he rebelliously pushed the hood of his cloak back from his face. Here in this alleyway, there was no soul who would see him. He was left to his thoughts, musing upon idle things. Indolently, he wondered who the little chit that Madame Giry had brought to the Opera that morning was. It appeared that she had acquired yet another ballet rat, seemingly an entirely unremarkable creature with soft brown curls as her only distinctive feature.
He turned another corner, eager to return to the comfort of his home and music. Untamed melodies played through his mind as he walked and he ached to bind them to paper before they were forgotten. Yet, as he moved into the familiar shadow of the Opera House, he finally sensed the cause of the strange sensation.
The cry of a small child pierced the chill air weakly, entirely out of place within the customary fabric of the night. It was a quiet weeping, melancholy in its uneven hiccupping. Against his better judgment, he did not slow his pace and continued to advance to the source of the cry.
As his eyes were well-accustomed to the dark, he saw her before she noticed him. In the shadow of the Opera House knelt a small girl, her long hair tangled messily before her bowed head. Through her tears, she did not notice him, and for a time he was compelled to leave it that way. He withdrew further from the scant light and felt himself strangely fascinated by the image of a child kneeling brokenly. For the moment, it did not hit upon him to wonder why she was there at all, nor did his mind question why she wept. Rather, he indulged in a spectacle that oddly, dare he admit it, moved him.
Tilting his head, he observed her for he knew not how long. It appeared that the child was bending over something that she held in her lap, rocking back and forth on her drawn-up knees. When she lifted her head, what captured him the most were her wide glistening eyes, full of a sadness that only a child could possess. Every tear falling upon her cheek glistened with a damaged innocence, and despite himself, he was curious about the cause of her pain.
The child was dirty, he found. Dark streaks littered both her skin and a dress which once was white. Frowning, he perceived the garment to be the simple nightshirt that all ballet girls wore to bed. When the girl cleared the rest of her hair back from her face with a tiny hand, his eyes widened with interest, for it was a little rat he knew well.
Meg Giry was her name. As a favor to her mother, he had always tried to frighten the girl less than the other children, although if he didn't know better, she seemed to enjoy concocting fanciful stories of the infamous Opera Ghost all on her own. But what could the mischievous Meg be doing out of her bed at so late an hour? Surely it was not with the consent of her mother, for Madame Giry was one of the most stern women he knew when it came to discipline.
Not that he knew many women.
His mouth quirked in a bitter smile, he cautiously adjusted the folds of his cloak about himself to shut out the chill of the night. He could see the puffs of air escaping from his warm mouth as he breathed and wondered if the child was cold. Still, he did not approach her.
Then, somehow, despite his caution at not being seen, she saw a flutter of fabric and cried out in fear. Drawing herself up straight, the young ballerina clutched the bundle in her lap close to her chilled body and met his eyes.
"The Ghost!" She cried, sitting back on her heels and regarding him with wide eyes.
He saw no reason to hide now, yet he continued to hover across the alleyway, regarding her in silence. The moon began to peek out from the clouds at last, throwing them both into slight illumination for the first time. He decided to remain still and to let her observe him as he was, without a hint of movement to influence her fear of him.
Her weeping had abated somewhat, and after her initial cry, it seemed that fear had turned into a type of curiosity for her as well. They looked at each other for a time, his face one of neutrality and her features turned in puzzlement. Now that she sat up with her pale hair brushed back from her face, he saw that what she held in her lap squirmed slightly.
Meg caught his glance and looked back down at the creature. A small cat was wound in her skirts, its eyes shut against the night. Its fur was rich with a glistening black shade, but he noticed a faint trembling in the kitten's side as it breathed. As if protecting against his look, Meg drew the cat further into her arms and tenderly hid the animal against herself.
"What's wrong?" He found himself asking just as much to his own surprise as hers. Why should he even care?
"Please, don't hurt her," the child intoned. Her words were soft, but there was a firm bravery to them that intrigued him. She appeared to fear the famed Ghost, yet she held her ground and did not run nor scream as many a ballet rat in her place would have done.
As many an adult in her place might have done.
"I won't," he replied simply. He molded his tone into a low and soothing lilt, although he hardly knew why he was bothering to make the child feel at ease. He despised children and their endless questions; why should he be kind this girl, despite the promises that he had made to her mother?
Why was it that there was a change in her eyes and it looked as if she were ready to trust him? Meg nodded twice, although she still considered him with a measuring gaze from a distance. She seemed to think of something and then she asked, "Are you really the Ghost?" The words were spoken almost sheepishly, as if she believed that she had made a mistake.
He thought about her question for just a moment, replying only, "Perhaps."
Meg frowned at this, still looking directly at him. "You're supposed to be all shiny and white."
"Pardon?" He did not know how to digest her new and rather bold words. If it had been any other child, he might have attempted a trick to scare away the little imp, but he was not tempted to do so with Meg. He found himself rather enjoying her frank manner.
"You're not at all like what I imagined," she informed him. Then, tilting her head in thought, she declared," I don't think you're a ghost at all."
"Then what am I?" He could not help but ask.
Meg suddenly drew back against the wall and she broke the gaze they had been sharing for some time. She looked down at the kitten still sleeping in her hold and finally decided upon a reply.
"Scary," she proclaimed. "You're scary."
From another, the words might have seemed harsh. Yet when they came from the lips of the small child, he found only amusement in them. "Scary, you say?" He moved toward her slowly, but she did not attempt to run from him. "And why is that?"
Meg's eyes grew wider as he crouched down beside her, yet she remained in place. He waited for her to comment on the presence of the mask upon his face, but she was silent for some time.
Pausing and biting her dirty thumb slightly, she finally told him," I don't like your big cloak."
"My…cloak?" He could not restrain the hint of amusement in his voice now. "It's not all that frightening," he confessed to her, suddenly taking note of the fact that she surely must be very cold in the chill of the late hour. Half-wondering why he bestowed such benevolence upon the child, he brushed the cloak back off his shoulders and rested it gently on her thinly-covered back.
Meg straightened in surprise, but her childish need for comfort overcame her suspicions and she settled back into the warm garment. Arranging the cloth, she took care to wrap the kitten in a thick fold of fabric. Pursing her lips as she rubbed a small palm against the delicate fur, she returned her gaze to him and innocently asked, "What's your name?"
He thought about the question for a moment. Would it be foolish of him to attach a name to the persona of the Opera Ghost? Would that ruin the perfectly terrifying image that he had built up around himself through the years with the occupants of the Opera?
"I am simply called the Ghost," he finally told the child, settling against the wall beside her.
"But you're not a Ghost!" she protested.
"I'm not?" He was beginning to feel slightly baffled by this child.
"No." The prudence of a few minutes ago all but gone, Meg tugged on his sleeve curiously and then poked a finger in his arm. "See?" She prodded him several more times as if she were trying to convince him of the fact that he was not a Ghost.
Out of habit, he drew back slightly at the contact. He hated it when someone touched him, even if it was a gentle brush. He had grown so used to cruelty that he found it difficult to accept any contact at all.
Meg twisted her head in surprise at his withdrawal, her hand hovering in midair. Then she dropped it and looked away in what appeared to be shame, for he could distinguish a faint blush about her cheeks. He saw her clench her little fists in confusion and proceed to pat her kitten furiously.
He frowned at the creature in her lap and cautiously waved a hand in its direction. "What ails her?"
All in a breath, Meg forgot her embarrassment and hugged the kitten to herself once more. She shook her head wildly, her luminous eyes brimming with new tears. Her fear of the Ghost having been abated, her mind returned entirely to the plight of her cat. "Kitty was sick," she hiccupped by means of explanation.
"Some beastly dog tried to eat her!" Meg sniffled noisily through copious tears. "I saved her, but maman won't let me keep her! If I don't protect her, the stupid dog will surely try to eat her again!"
He looked at her then, entirely fascinated by the emotions upon her face. There was an attractive simplicity in them; the straightforward grief of a child for a pet. It intrigued him and he felt compelled to offer her comfort, for he too had once known the love of a kitten.
There was not much time for him to muse upon it, however, as another cry pierced the air. It came this time not from the child, but from an elder and more severe voice.
"Meg Giry, where are you!"
The little girl scuttled to her tiny feet, tripping over the heavy material of the cloak upon her thin shoulders. He noticed that at her full height, she scarcely reached above his shoulders while he knelt. Meg, however, could only look at the kitten nervously, unsure of what to do with her.
"Oh, maman will be furious if she finds Kitty! But I can't leave her to the dog!" Meg looked about herself madly, as if searching for a place to hide her friend until she could return.
"Meg Giry! I know you're with that ghastly cat again!"
Shaking her hair back from her face fretfully, Meg suddenly turned to him and thrust the kitten at him. "Take care of her for me?"
He stared at the cat, which had just woken up from its nap. The black creature blinked shining lamplight eyes at him and yawned right in his face, apparently bored with the world and more interested in its nap. Meg shook her gently, pushing the animal toward him urgently.
Somehow, he could not deny the pleading in little Giry's voice coupled with the amusing stare that the cat was giving him. Hesitantly, he reached out for the kitten and accepted her into his arms. The cat immediately curled up comfortably against his vest, seeking the warmth of a living body as protection against the cold air. Upon finding an acceptable position, she began to purr deeply and settled into his lap.
Almost on its own, his hand reached out to pet and scratch the small kitten behind her ears. At this, she purred ever more loudly before falling soundly asleep once more. He smiled faintly at her actions, indulging in the sweet and practical way a cat's mind worked. She had sought out her comfort and found it, with no thought for appearances. Perhaps this was why he appreciated animals, for they, unlike the humans who so placed themselves above all other creatures, were indifferent to superficial things.
He frowned when he noticed the scars lining her sleek body. Meg had been right, for it seemed that the kitten had seen a fair amount of trouble in its time. He wondered if the silly and oftentimes fluff-headed girl had really managed to nurse the animal back to health. Perhaps there was more to little Giry than first met the eyes.
"Meg Giry! I will not ask again!"
Madame Giry's voice was closer now than before. Meg winced and almost sprang away before she remembered the strange garment she still wore. Almost reluctantly, she slid the welcome warmth from her shoulders and held the cloak back out to her new acquaintance.
"Thank you, Ghost." She smiled prettily at him and jumped on her toes nervously several times, in fear of her mother.
While one hand still cradled his new charge, he accepted the cloak in the other. Some impulse seized him and he gave her a mock bow, smirking lightly in response.
She frowned and paused in mid-step. "Erik?"
"That is my name."
"Meg Giry! I --,"
"Coming, maman!" Reluctant to depart, Meg darted forward to leave a final kiss on the kitten's forehead. Then, she moved back and flitted in place anxiously as she turned to him one last time. "Thank you, Monsieur Erik." Meg giggled and wrapped her arms around herself, "It's a nice name -- but I won't tell any of the other girls! None of them would be frightened of the Ghost anymore!"
Before he could blink again, she was no more than a tiny wisp of white cloth fluttering away through the shadows and into the arms of her displeased mother.
Dear Madame Giry,
Please accept this as a gift for your daughter's seventh birthday. Should she reject my present, I will be severely displeased and she will fail to dance at all in the next production.
Your Obedient Servant,
Madame Giry blinked and read and reread the two simple sentences. She glanced at the covered basket that had accompanied the note. An elegant red ribbon was tied about a cloth that served as a type of curtain for the small basket. She frowned when the basket moved slightly on its own.
Teasing at the cloth, she began to pull it apart in interest. A tiny, dark nose peeked out from under the burgundy curtain and a pink tongue met her prying fingers in welcome. Madame Giry hastily retracted her hand and fought the urge to hiss in her displeasure. A furry body followed the nose and tongue and soon the kitten had draped herself over the edge of the basket so that she could better study the astonished ballet mistress.
Madame Giry glanced at the note one more time. It seemed that Meg had at last found an accomplice in her childish antics.
"Cheeky bastard," she proclaimed to the kitten. "He doesn't even know when my daughter's birthday is."