Let Me Be Your Hero
Disclaimer: Don't own POTO… but I do own Dom and Cyrus.
A/N: I got fed up waiting to post a new story, so I decided to so today. I've got a few more almost ready too, but one at a time… Let me know what you think.
Please read and review…
Chapter 1: No Trait Ever So Evenly Attracted and Repelled as Perceived Weakness…
Erik paused just inside the door to the flat he shared with his oldest friend, Dom, and – until the end of term – Dom's son, Raoul. Currently, however, he was distracted by the curious presence of someone else in the flat… a truly rare thing indeed as neither of the two older men ever had any guests and Raoul rarely brought anyone there to see two stuffy older men – besides, Erik didn't exactly have any good feelings towards his friend's son and Raoul could plainly see that. It was true that Erik found the boy unbearably flash and vain – even, more than a little obnoxious. So Raoul didn't exactly hang around his father's friend for any length of time, and he certainly didn't bring friends round often.
Besides… there was another reason his father's friend was always so loath for strange company – he had a terrible and debilitating nervous stutter which surfaced in the presence of people he did not know, large crowds or when he was particularly stressed. Its only cure was familiarity and a huge degree of peacefulness – though such a rarity almost never occurred outside his home. Regardless, sometimes Raoul did bring a girl inside just for a few minutes if he wanted to change and then they'd be gone without a word to anyone and Erik would never so much as see the same girl again – though they all looked the same to him anyway…
But now there was a goddess perched upon the arm of Erik's favourite chair and he could not work out how exactly she had gotten there. I am being visited by an angel, he thought stupidly for a brief moment. Certainly, more curious than the angel herself, was the Alsatian sitting next to her which had only briefly come to his attention. An angel with a dog, he amended as he regained his ability to move and finished his motion of placing his briefcase down on the floor of the entrance hall and removing his coat to place on the coat stand. Protection for the divine and delicate soul visiting a dangerous and imperfect world…? he wondered.
She hadn't noticed him yet and he took the opportunity to approach her slowly, watching, observing as the long-haired beauty studied his bookshelves from her place on his chair. It was curious then seeing this glorious young woman in his place, with his things, looking at his music books. To tell the truth, he felt a peculiar urge to pick out a volume of musical styles, sit down brazenly in the same chair as her and read to her. But the large dog's presence kept him rooted in reality and he ignored his urge, instead, his foot managed to find something solid to bump into and he drew her attention with the sound, though she appeared more inquisitive than startled as she turned to smile at him. "Hello," she offered sweetly, her lilt surprising and pleasing him both at once.
He nodded at her, not quite trusting his voice yet, and he walked into the kitchen, keeping his eyes on her until he was standing by the worktop, Dom chopping vegetables in front of him. "Who is that?"
"That – that is Raoul's girlfriend. Just ignore them – he only brought her over while he gets changed and then he's taking her to dinner and the opera, of all places."
"I know. She must be something special is all I can say…"
"She must be…" Erik murmured when what he was really thinking was that there was no doubt whatsoever in his mind that she was the most breathtaking creature, by far, he had ever laid his eyes on. "What's the dog for?"
"Why are you asking me? I only live here – it is not my place to question when a canine turns up in my living room, attached to the arm of a beautiful girl. Though I saw his harness… perhaps she's blind."
"Blind? She looked right at me!" Erik argued.
"You never know… these people have amazing senses – perhaps she heard you."
"She didn't hear me and she's not blind." Of that he found himself so sure. He couldn't explain why – but how he knew that that was the case because no one had ever looked into his eyes with such clarity, and he didn't want to give that up at the sake of an illusion.
"Then I don't know, do I? I can never give you an answer you're happy with, can I?"
"Has he known her long?" Erik asked after a long pause, trying not to sound too bothered.
"No – this is the first time he's taken her out. They met at the Opera House this morning… she is an enthusiast and he was bringing me my briefcase that I'd forgotten. He's love-struck, I believe, so he – well, he didn't exactly tell her the whole truth…"
"He lied to her?" He found himself watching her from the doorway, unable to pull away.
"Well, you've gotten very moral all of a sudden."
"What did he lie to her about?"
Dom laughed softly and put his knife down as he turned the kettle on. "He managed to convince her that he had your job, actually…"
"And I think he would like your help to find something of substance to tell her during the intermission…"
"Why doesn't he ask you? He will get no help from me…"
Dom had learned to get used to the frosty relationship between Erik and Raoul. He didn't like it much as it didn't make for a very good living environment. But it would only be while Raoul finished this term at university… so he put up with it. And Erik had always been unsocial anyway… it was hardly a surprise that he didn't like his home being invaded, as he called it, by a student who did nothing but upset his quiet life. "Oh, come on, weren't you ever madly and desperately in love?"
"No," he answered honestly, soberly.
"Well, perhaps not madly, nor desperately, but you must have been in love once…"
"A first girlfriend you're nostalgic about? Your first serious relationship? A woman you, at the time, thought you'd die without but then you grew up and it didn't matter anymore…? Any of this would fall under that category…"
He shrugged. It was not a big deal to him – he had resigned himself to being alone his whole life. And that's how he had been. "I socialise as much now as I did when I was his age."
"Oh." The only times Erik went out was when he went to work or to something work-related – and when he did benefits at the theatre, he turned up comfortably alone and never danced or flirted or so much as made light conversation. He was an all-or-nothing kind of man – the kind of man who would, when he found the right woman, love her completely and forever with no room for anyone else ever coming in between them, or he would love not at all and ignore and overlook and forget. "Well, Raoul has his fancies… the girl out there clearly caught his eye, and it is hardly surprising, is it? She is quite beautiful – so what if he had to exaggerate his abilities just to win her round?
"Exaggerate his abilities? This isn't like telling her he can cook a delightful apple crumble and really he doesn't know the first thing about setting the oven… he completely fabricated a career for himself – my career. She need only suffer him singing in the shower once to know that he is bloody tone-deaf!"
"She will get to know him and it won't matter."
"Oh, it will. It so will…"
"I know you and Raoul don't get on very well, but let him have his mistakes… he'll learn and grow up a bit in a few years – she shouldn't bother you for the length of time she's here – just let him have his fling and you'll likely not see her again after a week or two at the longest. You don't even have to talk to her."
"It's not her that bothers me and I don't see why you would allow your son to go on thinking that it's alright for him to just use her until he gets bored and then drop her as though she never meant anything."
"Erik… she's eighteen – I hardly thinks she's looking for someone who'll make a good husband at this early stage."
"Perhaps she is – and how would you know? She doesn't seem like one of those girls who walks around outside in her underwear and bats her eyelids and is only looking for a good-looking man to parade around and suck the face off in public until the next one comes around two seconds later. She seemed sweet – demure – she was well-dressed and cultured… polite. She is one of those rare gems who is always looking for something special in someone and who never ever considered having flings. She will probably only ever love one man all her life."
Dom could do nothing but stare at Erik, wishing he knew what had gotten the man so riled and offended, it would seem."Well, that was… profound. Listen, Erik, I think you are taking this too seriously. I think you're annoyed that Raoul pretended to have your job just to get her attention and you're annoyed that he is having so much fun. Forget it. I'll tell him not to bring her back here again and he won't and then we'll move on and you'll forget this ever happened."
Paying very little attention to Dom at all, Erik continued to view the young lady from his vantage point inside the kitchen door. She could not be lovelier to look upon, so he thought. "She is just sitting out there all alone… where is he?"
"Perhaps he is having a shower… I really wouldn't know. Go talk to her if you are that concerned – come on, I was just about to take her out a cup of tea."
He didn't object and followed Dom with his arms folded across his chest.
Still sitting perched upon his chair, the goddess smiled brightly at them as they returned to the living room and clasped her hands together, truly interested – unlike some other girls that Dom could name that he'd met because of Raoul and who had tapped their foot impatiently and ignored him and been only interested in seeing Raoul hurry up. They had no manners that he had observed. But this girl was different. She was polite.
"Thank you, Mr. de Chagny," she lilted, no less brightly as she accepted the teacup and saucer from him, balancing it elegantly on one hand as she held the handle of the cup silently in her left hand. The teacup and saucer were an unspoken joke that Dom and Erik played on each of the girls they ever found waiting for Raoul… if they couldn't hold it properly, the cup and saucer would rattle together as though they were shaking, and they had, as yet, never found one who could hold it silently. Until this one… who not only managed that, but seemed to manage looking distinguished while sitting on the arm of a chair, her legs crossed and her hands over her knee, back held straight, and her dog obediently sitting in front of her. "It is very kind of you."
"You're quite welcome," he answered, sitting himself down on the sofa as Erik stood awkwardly off to one side. He wondered if he should politely whisper to the poor girl that she was sitting in Erik's chair or if he should just let the grumpy old man stew. "I'd like you to meet my friend, colleague and flatmate – Erik," he announced instead, gesturing towards the man whose blazing eyes were probably frightening the dear girl with their scrutiny.
"It's nice to meet you, sir," she acknowledged, standing up to give Erik her hand to shake in greeting. "My name is Christine Daaé." While Dom had told her to call him by his first name, she had politely refused and, not knowing Erik's, had obviously given him the respect that his more senior generation deserved. Truly, they both wondered if this girl had stepped out of time somewhere along the way.
Erik grasped her fingertips lightly and watched as she sat back down again, wishing he had been able to keep that delicate, precious little hand in his for longer. She was so beautiful – her hair natural and uncommon, curly and gloriously dark, hanging to her lower back, her eyes a dazzling blue, her skin the palest white. He wanted to paint her in that moment, sitting on his armchair – as the angel she appeared to be, perched over his shoulder, her darling gaze falling lovingly down upon him. He was mad, he acknowledged, but he did have his fancies and his whims too – and the one at the forefront of his mind now was to paint the angel before she flew away. Not that he would ever forget a single detail…
"Mr. de Chagny was just telling me that he is a producer at the Opera House… may I ask, sir, what you do?"
"He's my underling," Raoul answered humorously from his bedroom door, finally coming out. "That is to say, he works for me."
Erik lifted his eyebrow and then narrowed his eyes at Raoul in warning. Just push it, boy… give me a reason to show you up for the deceitful bastard that you are. And he would have – straight away too – if he had trusted his stutter not to show itself up at such an inopportune moment. But he could not trust it, ever, and she was making him so nervous in all of her glory that he knew he would lose her interest straight away if he'd started talking – trying to talk – to her.
Dom quickly tried to fix it before Raoul messed everything up for himself and he chuckled falsely, smiling at Christine. "What Raoul means, of course, is that he is the Composer in Residence at the Royal and Erik is a visiting conductor…"
"Whom I'm training," Raoul added, his overconfidence only just falling short of surprising Erik.
Christine looked between the two of them and frowned. Personally, she could not see how it was possible for a twenty-something young man to teach someone much older than him how to conduct or compose. But, as the well-brought-up young woman that she was, she kept silent on such a subject. "I see. No wonder there are so many books of music and art and culture in this flat, then…"
"All mine," Raoul proclaimed needlessly as Christine stood up, taking hold of the dog's lead.
"It was a pleasure meeting both of you," she said, smiling at each of the older men individually as she shook their hands again. "I hope we see each other again some time."
Erik watched, helpless as her unending smile absorbed him and he could not do or say anything until she had been ushered unceremoniously – and rather rudely, he thought – out the door, by Raoul.
"A turn up for the books, then," Dom commented. "My son has landed a girl whose IQ is higher than her bra size…"
"By pretending to be me… And show a little respect – she was nothing but courteous to you. And your son couldn't conduct to save his life… he'd probably have the first bass's eye out with the baton and then tell the percussion section to join in the middle of a violin solo. She will find out on her own eventually if he continues like that. She's not stupid. And if he ever calls me his underling again, I feel I may just have to gut him."
Dom laughed and shook his head. "You wouldn't do that… you'd have to start paying his share of the rent – and we both know that you are a miser."
"I noticed the dog's harness," he started after a while. "What do you think it means…?"
"I don't know… but at least we know that she's not blind."
"Tell Raoul he can bring that girl, and only that girl, back here any time he wants… during the day," he added as an afterthought. "And nowhere passed the living room or kitchen… His – not to mention, your or my bedroom are off limits for them to go in together at any time. Of course, she may use the bathroom, or a bedroom by herself…"
"Shall I write him a list?" Dom asked, laughing. Really, his friend could go overboard sometimes… but at least he was progressing as far as not minding another's presence in the flat on occasion. "Besides… I don't think she looks like the type to just do that sort of thing. It'll be fine. I'm sure he'll be just thrilled to have earned your blessing."
"He will never have my blessing. But she is a gem. She should be cherished." And he sulked off to his own room, suddenly aware that he had not even said one word in passing to the perfect creature that had graced his armchair that afternoon.
"My God, that woman is a mewling donkey! She couldn't hit that E flat if I marched up to her and booted her so hard up the backside that my foot shoved her vocal cords into the right bloody configuration!"
"Calm, Erik…" Dom said, watching in amusement as his masked friend barged into his office on cue that morning, like he did most every morning when they were doing rehearsals. "She is a hack, alright, I get it. But she has a contract and there is little I can do about it. It's not my fault that the panel out-voted us on who to hire… you were all for hiring none of them and scrapping the whole bloody idea."
"It would cost you more to replace her than me, and yet, I am the one the whole production would fall apart without!"
Dom smiled and stood up from behind his desk, heading over to the mantle to pour his friend a drink. "Well, aren't we big-headed this morning? Your ever increasing self-worth can be a bit overwhelming at such an hour. As much use as you are, Erik – you are not a soprano and we can't put on this production withoutone of those…"
"If she ruins my music," he growled, jabbing Dom in the chest with his finger, "I will kill her, you will be down a soprano – though I use the term loosely, the production will lose millions and we will all be out of business."
Dom shrugged and pushed his hand away, leaning over the decanter as he poured an even amount into two glasses. He was used to Erik making angry threats against people's lives – he was used to Erik making angry threats against his life… he was even used to Erik dropping into casual conversation the urge to dismember people. So it did not mean much to him as he listened to the man complain about his least favourite woman on the planet. "If it annoys you so much, why don't you give her private tuition until she can hit the note?"
Accepting the glass, he shuddered at the mere thought and leaned back against the wall. "Sometimes, in my nightmares, you say things like that and you actually mean them… then I waken up in a cold sweat and am thankful that you're not that much of a plonker."
"Suit yourself," he shrugged again and walked back to his desk. "You always bloody do anyway," he mumbled.
Erik half-huffed and half-growled, knocking back the short of brandy and then flying out of the door in a rage, barely noticing where he was headed until he was three streets over and standing outside a quiet restaurant called Chez Laurent.
Adamant not to let his absolute abhorrence of unknown places force him to sulk back to the Royal and that pig of an opera singer, he made himself go inside and somehow managed to get shown to and seated at a table near the front by the host. It was too close to the windows for his comfort, but he could hardly have argued.
A few minutes later, a young blond waitress appeared at the table, casting a bored, cursory glance over him. She flipped her order pad open and stared down at it intently. "What can I get you?"
Deep breath… deep breath. "I – I – I… I'd… I'd like s – s – s – some …" Oh, Christ, Erik…
He looked at her semi-apologetically and tried harder to articulate his simple request. And to his utter dismay, she looked at him as though he was wasting her time, stuffed her pad into her apron and just walked away from him, back to the kitchens. He was mortified… and just about to flee from the humiliating scene when he felt a gentle hand upon his shoulder, staying him.
The goddess was with him again… leaning over him in concern, her precious blue eyes sparkling in their compassionate gaze, so close to him that he saw something he'd never seen before there. He saw her scar… the imperfection clouding her right eye. And his heart broke for her, though he didn't know what it was or how it affected her life in the least. And then she smiled at him so serenely that he fell back to his seat ungracefully in surprise and tried to control himself.
"Why don't you tell me, instead…?" she asked of him sweetly, sitting down across from him at the table, her obedient Alsatian coming to lie down beside her feet. "It's alright… I have all the time in the world."
"I – I – I couldn't…"
"It's alright," she assured again, placing her hand over his on the table. "I'm a waitress here," she explained, "I'm just about to start my shift but I heard what happened with Cass when I came in. She can be so uncaring and mean-spirited… unfortunately, she is also Laurent's niece. If you tell me what you'd like, I'll get it for you," she promised softly, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
He stared at her, hopelessly lost in her sweetness and amazed that she had touched him when she did not need to. And he found himself telling her what he wanted, riddled with pauses and breaks, yes, but he had told her nonetheless.
She smiled at him and nodded, standing up again. "I'll bring it straight away… would you like anything to drink?"
"T – tea…"
Patting his hand one final time, she clicked her tongue and the dog stood up, following her towards the kitchens, his shining yellow harness visible even in the dim light of midday.
It was beyond him how he could be so eloquent one moment and so hideously un-so the next. It was frustrating and awful and humiliating that he could not control his own speech… but she had made him feel better and he was so thankful. She had been so considerate of him… staying there faithfully as he ordered, not once trying to finish his sentence for him and not once asking him to repeat himself. He respected her like he respected no other for that one little act of caring.
"I'm sorry for the way Cass treated you," she apologised again, coming to stand beside him as she laid the teacup on the table. He shook his head and she smiled at him, earning him another rush of happiness to spread throughout. "I recommend, though, if you don't want to see her again, you could sit in any of the other sections…"
"Y – You –Yours…?"
"Mine?" she smiled and pointed towards the back. "Mine is over there."
He committed that to memory and stood up, carrying the empty teacup with him so that she'd follow, and he took a seat right in her section, happier for so many reasons as she smiled at him and poured his tea. Now, if only he could forget that she was spoken for…
© Copyright of CrawfordsBiscuits, July 2006
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