A/N: …As a rule, my Erik is Leroux-based, his past from Kay, and very little from ALW.
Disclaimer: Don't own, not making any money!
Warnings: Not much. It's my first PotO chapter fic, but I've read the book, and Kay's Phantom, seen the 2004 and 1925 films as well. And this is not a slash fic.
Main Characters: Erik and Nadir
Additional Notes: I would like to note that this story takes place about four or so months after the events of The Phantom of the Opera. One last note, as well: I realize that this beginning is a little cliché—but I'd already written it when I found out, and so could not easily change it. Please, just bear with it… It is from Erik's POV.
Be My Shelter
Prologue: Of Fears and Demons
The rain beat small symphonies into the pavement and cobblestone streets of Paris, and as I walked I could not help but listen to it with a bitter smile. The saddest songs come from the rain after all. I sighed heavily as I turned down the Rue Godot de Mauroy and into a convenient and comfortingly dark side alley. I had little care of becoming more soaked than I already was—I doubt such a thing was possible! It had started to rain when I was halfway from the Garnier to the L'église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, and I had been soaked to my bones before I had ever reached the church. Still, I made the pilgrimage. Though I had never really been a "practicing Catholic," much to my poor mother's dismay, I have always deeply admired the architecture of the old buildings, and the L'église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine was no exception. That was the reason I had gone there that night. I had wanted to be surrounded by such glorious beauty, but far too many insufferable humans had gathered there, forcing my revelry short with their pretentious funeral. I had left the la Madeleine with no higher spirits.
I leaned back against the old brick wall of the alley wearily and let the symphonies of Heaven's tears remind me of my beautiful angel, my beloved Christine. I am ashamed to say that I was very nearly lost to the misery and memories in the side alley off the Rue Godot that night. That is, until Fate deemed it necessary that my wasted life continue.
The scream was a harsh one, and I was somewhat stunned by the nearness of it. Immediately, I felt for my mask, the pure instinct for cover in the face of threat flooding my body. It was still in its place and relief replaced instinct; I turned my attention, instead, to the scream. The scream had issued from the southwest of my small alley, but it could not have been much farther than the Boulevard de la Madeleine. However, it was none of my concern—as I was not involved in the slightest. At least, that is what I told myself.
Despite my assurances to myself, I could not bring my feet to move down the Rue Godot. My throat was dry as I glanced toward the Boulevard, toward the scream. The scream had been that of a woman's—that much I was certain of—and had quite effectively reminded me of Christine's terrified cry at the sight of my accursed face. Christine…
What would she say, your angel, if she could see you now? She would think you a monster whispered the venomous voice from the farthest corner of my mind, for allowing that plea for help to go unheeded… I grit my teeth but it was too late. I knew the treacherous voice spoke the truth, and my feet had already begun to carry me back toward the L'église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine as swiftly as they could.
I was fortunate—or rather, my burden of a conscience was fortunate—in that I found the cause of the scream easily. It was a young woman, awkward and somewhat ungainly on her feet, running down the Rue de Seze, a small pack of five or so men following her at a leisurely pace. I took an alleyway to head her off. I waited, listening to the sounds of the rain coupled with the gritty sound of the woman's uneven footfalls. When she neared, I was ready, and I pulled her into the alley. I clamped my gloved hand over her mouth to stifle any screams she would undoubtedly attempt. And attempt she did.
"Quiet, mademoiselle," I hissed softly, "Or they will hear you." After a moment of stillness, I released her and she rounded on me, nearly launching herself into my arms.
"Monsieur!" she sobbed as quietly as she could. "Please! Help me—they mean to kill my child!"
Child? With a start, I realized that the woman had not been merely "awkward and ungainly"; she was obviously pregnant. "Mademoiselle—"
"Please," she interrupted, oblivious to my words for her fear, "I beg of you!"
My infamous impatience flared for a moment and I snapped, "I am helping you, mademoiselle." She sniffed, looking up at me with hopeful wide eyes. "Now you must—"
A chorus of angry shouts interrupted me and the woman whimpered piteously, clutching closer to me and burying her face in my side. She was shivering terribly and was as soaked as I was. The voices of the men grew louder as they neared, calling for their "petit prostituée." I felt my anger on the woman's behalf rise, with the bile, in the back of my throat. So that's what they want—filthy pigs!
"Mademoiselle," I whispered, attempting to pry her off of my cloak. "Be calm—I'm going to help you, but first you must release me." She whimpered but complied hesitantly, throwing a fervent glance toward the nearing voices of the men. "That's better. Now, hide yourself behind those crates—the shadows will hide you well enough for my purposes."
I moved to hide myself, as well, in a separate shadow, but her small voice stopped me. "Monsieur…"
The plea was written clearly in her emerald eyes. Don't leave me! I softened my voice and posture to calm her and convey a smile as best I could through my mask. "I will only be from your side for a moment or two—do not fear." I put my will into my voice, not so much commanding as a calming wave to give her the courage she currently lacked. She shuddered, but seemed to calm slightly and did as she was told, huddling as best she could in the dense shadows by the abandoned crates; I pressed myself into the shadows of the wall, covering my mask with my cloak to hide myself more completely.
We were not forced to wait for long, thankfully, for the men to find the alley, although they were slow—and half drunk, no doubt. I removed my mask as I heard their caterwauling and a moment later they had rounded the corner and entered our small alley. I smiled, feeling rather merciless to their "plight." They were still calling for their "petit prostituée," and I was beginning to feel sick at the thought of what was implied. There was no need for this to continue.
"She is not here," I said darkly, throwing my voice to the center of the alley. "Go back to your cathouses and leave me in peace." I lowered my cloak somewhat to see their reactions to my seemingly disembodied voice.
The men, I must say, were poor specimens of the gender—but then, that may only be my opinion, and who am I to talk of such things? Regardless, they were horribly ugly, by normal standards, and filthy, with thick necks and their bellies that resembled small stovepipe ovens. They were hardy men that had more than likely whiled away their lives at the wharf or in a bar. In addition, the one with the air of "leader"—and I use the term in the loosest possible sense—looked as though his favorite childhood pastime had been torturing cats and other small animals. They were men of the lowest order.
The leader snapped to alert, his watery beetle-like eyes searching for me in the dim. I was surprised to find that he pulled off one of the best displays of simultaneous aggressiveness and defensiveness I had yet encountered. "Who's there?" he barked.
I laughed, throwing my voice onto his shoulder. "No one of any consequence," I hissed, "But you may call me Death, if you like."
The leader's eyes widened in surprise and he stepped back before the rational side of his undoubtedly undersized brain began to overpower his superstitious nature and he remembered that he did not believe such things as Death walking among men. "I'm not a fool," he growled, grabbing the pistol at his fat waist. "You're no more than a damn trickster! Show yourself!"
My harsh laugh echoed on the bricks of the alley and seemed to be everywhere at once. "A trickster? Hardly!" I slipped into the center of the alley—I knew that, to the men, it would seem as though I had appeared out of thin air. "You wish to see Death?" I murmured, my head bowed to hide my unmasked face. "So be it."
For a gilt-edge effect, I raised my gruesome visage slowly and allowed a moment of shocked silence before I gave them a sneer with my twisted lips. "Come! Feast your eyes on the fate of your "petit prostituée! On the fate of all men!" For added effect—and because I could no longer contain myself in the face of their cowardice—I laughed, my voice nearly deafening in the small alley; I watched with relish as the men tripped over each other all the way down the Rue de Seze. Smiling to myself, I replaced the mask with a practiced motion and a sense of satisfaction.
When the men had left, I turned back to the woman cowering in the shadows, her hands pressed against her ears as she trembled. I sighed. "Mademoiselle? They are gone now—you are safe." She made no move to take the hand that I offered her and I suddenly felt ashamed of myself for frightening her. I shifted uneasily, my hand still waiting for hers. "Forgive me, mademoiselle," I said quietly. "I did not intend to scare you. I am a mere trickster—as they surmised—and you have nothing to fear from me." When she did not answer, I frowned, concern tugging at my mind. "Mademoiselle?"
"Mignonette," came the soft whisper. "My name is Mignonette Desrosiers." Still, she made no move to get up.
"Mademoiselle Desrosiers," I muttered, "Where do you live? I shall take you home."
In the rain-filled silence, I could see her shudder and her face fell as she dragged in a wet breath. "Gone," she whispered shakily. "They…burned it to the ground, Monsieur; I have nowhere to go."
She began to cry after that—I couldn't stand it. I had never been able to stand anyone crying in my presence—especially women and children. Her tears reminded me horribly of Christine's, and that was a memory I was yet unprepared to face, and rather unwilling to confront. "Mademoiselle Desrosiers, please do not cry." I wracked my brain for any words of comfort and grimaced at what I had turned up—it wasn't even comforting, to be honest, but it was all I had at the moment. He would not be happy with me, but I could not endure her tears any longer, and it was the best I could offer. "I know of a place where you may stay and be safe for a time."
Her emerald eyes snapped to my mask in surprise. "Monsieur…"
I smiled and held out my hand. "Erik. My name is Erik."
To my immense relief, she did not flinch at my offering but took it with a kind of broken hope in her eyes, and I pulled her to her feet. She sniffed, wiping away her tears with her tattered, soaked sleeve; she smiled sheepishly at me. "Th-thank you, Monsieur Erik…"
"Just 'Erik' is fine, mademoiselle. Now, come."
There was hardly a soul out that miserable night as I led young Mignonette down the Rue de Seze and across the Boulevard to the Rue Cambon, heading ever further from the safety of my opera house. Though she was nervous, she never once faltered from fear. However, we were nearly to the Rue Saint Honore when she stumbled. I caught her before she touched the paving stones but nothing could be done after that; she was simply too exhausted. She did manage to walk, leaning heavily on my shoulder, as far as the Rue de Castiglione before I took her in my arms. She was asleep within minutes.
I made my way down Castiglione to the Rue du Mont Thabor, then to the Rue D'Alger—finally, I turned onto the Rue de Rivoli, where I expected a less than warm welcome. The street was blessedly dark and empty, and I found Nadir's modest flat with relative ease—though I must admit that I was rather tired myself by then. I managed to knock soundly three times with my boot before Nadir himself answered the door, looking somewhat annoyed. He opened his mouth in surprise—to chide me, I've no doubt—but I silenced him with a glare; he closed his mouth and ushered me in to a small guestroom where I was able to lay Mignonette in a comfortable bed. At length, Nadir and I retired to the small sitting room and I was permitted to relieve my aching feet.
The moment we were out of earshot of the guestroom, Nadir rounded on me. "Idiot!" he hissed. "What are you doing here? Allah! What were you thinking? You could have been seen!" I only raised an eyebrow behind the mask as I took a seat in the old armchair; I decided to let him rant for as long as he liked—and I was sure that would be a good while. I was not disappointed. "What if you had been seen?" continued Nadir. "You could have been arrested or any number of horrible things!" It went on that way for a time and I was nearly asleep when I felt his fingers wrap themselves around my arm. "Erik," he said grimly, staring into my eyes. "What happened?"
I sighed, brushing his hand from my arm. "She was being pursued by a pack of filthy men and beseeched me for help; she has no home to return to—and I certainly could not have taken her to mine…"
Nadir groaned, falling into the adjacent armchair and massaging his temples. "And so you assumed she could stay here?"
"Would you really put a woman with child on the street?" I asked; I couldn't help but smile. "Even I am not such a monster as that!"
"No," he sighed. "I don't believe you would—and nor can I. Damn you Erik!"
I chuckled and cocked my head to the side. "Come now, daroga; is company truly so unwelcome in your house?" Slowly, I began to slide into a memory… "That is not how I remember it once being." I sighed, somewhat wistfully, as I recalled a child's happy laughter and the taste of sorbet.
Nadir snorted in response, but smiled regardless. "It is only unwelcome when it is uninvited and unannounced." He looked tiredly toward the slowly dying fire. "She may stay here until other arrangements can be made."
"Thank you Nadir," I murmured.
He seemed surprised at my genuine admission of gratitude but he hid it as quickly as it had appeared. There was silence for a moment, only broken by the dry crackling of the withering fire, before he spoke again. "How far is she?" he asked softly.
I shrugged. "It was not something I thought to ask. My own guess would be seven, or perhaps eight." He nodded and the fire began to lull the both of us into a refreshing sleep.
A/N: Well, that's the end of the prologue. I hope it was good, and I promise you it shall get better as well as gain longer chapters. As I have said before, my Erik is Leroux/Kay-based with some very faint ALW-ness. As another note: Mignonette will not be a Mary Sue. I promise—because Mignonette and Erik will not be a couple (sorry ErikXOC fans; it's just not gonna happen in this story). Anyway, please, review!