A/N: Highly specialized headcanon ahoy! Came up with this idea very late one night after I'd had a lot of Nutella and then discovered that it actually made sense. Go figure.
No characters involved are my property.
"...and then, if you'll believe me, we threw him in the river! Ridiculous suit and all!"
Satine nearly doubled over with laughter, clutching the gold silk dressing-gown around her waist to hold it closed. Chuckling himself, Christian leaned back against the window frame.
"You should have seen his face," the writer continued. As his lover's mirth subsided, he shifted on the threadbare cushions. "But really, we were a bunch of little hellions. I'd have hated myself at that age."
He shook his head, amused, then glanced over at her. "Enough about me, though- what was your childhood like?"
A shadow seemed to pass over Satine's face; she rose slowly from the bed and crossed the tiny room. Turning away from Christian, she began to absently wind one coppery curl around her finger. The gesture was so uncharacteristic that the young Englishman was vaguely unsettled.
"Sweetheart? Come inside, child; Daddy's home!"
She was nine. A dozen half-crushed wildflowers dropped from her hands to the desiccated ground. It hadn't rained much that summer; for years it would be remembered as the summer the river nearly dried up.
It was the summer that everything changed.
"There's not much to tell, really. I had parents, like everyone. They raised me until I left home." The courtesan began to examine the framed prints on the wall. She raised a hand to trace the graceful lines of a painted flower, stroking the purple petals as if they were real.
After a moment, Christian broke the silence. "But what was it like? Where did you play; what friends did you have?" he asked eagerly, leaning forward. Satine turned slowly to face him. That beautiful, eager smile creased his eyes up at the corners, so innocent and hopeful. It was a smile that couldn't possibly live in the same world as the answer to his question.
"...have to tell me what's wrong!"
She was fourteen. A slightly younger girl stared at her arm, soft brown eyes wide as a frightened doe's. One delicate finger gently touched the mottled purple bruise. She pulled away.
"It's not nothing!" the thirteen-year-old exclaimed. "That's the second time you've come to school with a new bruise, and so many old ones besides."
She gazed down at the yellow and green marks beneath the purple. Maybe if she stared hard enough, they wouldn't be there anymore.
"Hush now, Liebchen."
Even in Paris, even years later, the weight of the memory crushed the breath from Satine's lungs.
"Come now," Christian was saying. "It can't be so bad. What-"
"No!" The shout burst from her without any conscious intent. Her manicured nails tore tiny strips from the cheap wallpaper. There they were, the first tears burning at the corners of her eyes; she was fifteen again and such a bad girl, a little slut who no-one would ever believe.
"Please, Christian," she said quietly. "Don't ask me anymore."
The young writer's brow furrowed with concern, and he started toward her. "Satine...love, what's wrong?"
That was all they had ever wanted to know. "What's wrong?" as if they could do something about it. As if anyone but her could hold this mess together. Remembering herself, the courtesan straightened and even managed a little smile.
"Nothing, darling. I just...my childhood was…" She paused, searching for appropriate words.
Before he could come any closer, she began to speak, almost as if reading from a textbook. "I left home when I was fifteen."
"Where will you go?"
"Away. Somewhere I can sleep at night." But she still couldn't.
"Fell in with some artist types- I suppose that's my curse in life." A laugh- good. Calm, flippant, totally in control. The poised, collected star of the Moulin Rouge, who never fell apart. "I came to Montmartre when I was eighteen, following a painter who paid more attention to the bottle than the paintbrush."
"Come with us. Please, there's nothing for you here."
"Where are you going?"
"Montmartre, in Paris. It's the center of the Bohemian revolution; they say you can be free there. Free to express yourself, free to love- free to learn, if you like. You know Paris is full of libraries and museums, too. Please."
"I can't. I'm sorry."
"They're dead, Melchior. You can't-"
"I'm sorry. I hope you have a good life and find what you're looking for," was all he said, before walking away down the leaf-strewn street.
"The money only lasted a month; then he sent me into the street to make more. One too many clients who played rough, and I ended up on Zidler's doorstep."
Blood in the gutter, blood on her fingers, so much that she wasn't sure where it had come from- her nose or the gash on her arm. And, of course, there were bruises.
There were always bruises.
Slowly, she attempted to stand, leaning against the dingy brick wall of the pub. But the heel of one cheap slipper cracked beneath her weight, and she collapsed to the pavement again. Lances of pain shot through one knee. It became apparent that walking was not an option.
The nineteen-year-old managed to crawl down three streets and across another before slumping against a set of wrought-iron gates, exhausted. Footsteps sounded on the wet cobbles behind her, but she barely heard them. A muffled exclamation of, "Amour de Dieu, what's this?" registered dimly in her mind before the darkness swallowed her.
Satine raised her eyebrows. "Not much to say after that. He took me in, Marie cleaned me up, and I started working my way to where I am now."
Christian stood silent, seeming to process what he'd just heard. Even the abbreviated version of the story must have been shocking, she mused, to one who'd grown up on tales of True Love and happy endings. But after a few moments' silence, his face grew calm again.
"If you don't mind my asking," he began, glancing up at her, "where are you from? Chartres? Rouen? Nice?"
Her laughter was real this time. "Not even close."
"Then where?" He relaxed a bit, worries eased by her smile. Drawing closer, the man raised a hand to gently stroke her cheek.
"Germany," she whispered, and cut off any further questions with a kiss.
Whatever the past had been, she was here now. In a tiny flat in Paris, in the arms of a man who loved her- really loved her. A man who, for the first time in fourteen years, made her feel less broken.
A/N: Before you ask, French was considered an essential part of girls' education throughout Europe for a very long time. And total immersion is the best way to gain fluency in any language. So yes, it is plausible that she could speak French.